THE ORIGINAL HOST
“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”
Another day. I wanted to punch the alarm clock but I knew that wouldn’t do me any good. Robert was already awake and dressed. He was halfway out the door. How did he do it?
“Are you up, Eva?” he called from the living room.
“Y-yeah…” I replied, tossing my sheets to the side. I stretched and groaned as I rubbed my head.
I couldn’t stand those Monday through Friday schedules. I never understood them. I never understood the hours, and I never understood how anyone could work them day in and day out. They were exhausting. The weekends were nothing more than a tease. You call that time off? A measly 48 hours? Man. It gave me just enough time to catch up on sleep. I rarely slept. I couldn’t force my body down at night.
I heard Robert leave. I thought he said “goodbye” over his shoulder, but I was so dazed that I wasn’t exactly sure what I heard. I knew I’d see him later that night, though. His office was on the east side of Detroit, so he usually didn’t make it back to Novi until the traffic died down. But of course if he had to stay late for meetings, I wouldn’t see him until the next morning. This was typical.
Hours later, when my brain finally decided to wake up, I found myself sitting at work, behind my desk. I would sit there for 8 hours a day. The job was nothing important, just a desk job. Customer service. Pretty high-end stuff, am I right?
It was something to tide me over until I found something better. I had a Business degree, but did that matter? My four-year degree had about as much professional validity as any high school diploma. I was up shit-creek without my MBA. Seemed like all the other “drones” out there earned one. They pounded it into our heads for years that you needed to earn a degree to be successful. They never mentioned the fact that school loans would be astronomical compared to the peanuts you’d end up working for.
My coworkers seemed delighted to be at work. They stayed after and toiled until late hours. They acted quite happy about it. How could they keep up that daily facade? Didn’t they ever have bad days? Didn’t they ever get tired, stressed, or sad? It never seemed like it.
I rarely spoke to them anymore. I was social at first, when I began the job. It was awkward. One woman, in particular, was the poster child for the socially inept. I’d mention a book or a movie and her response gave no indication of her opinion on the matter. She always brought the topic back to the workplace. Didn’t she have any other interests? Didn’t she go out on the weekends? Had she never seen a play or visited a museum? Was she aware that books and films and other forms of creativity even existed?
“Gotta stay on task,” she would say. That was about all she said.
That was all anyone talked about. Work. What they were doing at work, what they planned to do for work, how they wanted to improve their work, and how to stay on task.
I watched the clock impatiently, wishing I could spin the hands forward. Several grueling minutes later I found myself clocking out, rushing toward the door. I had to pee – but I didn’t go back. The workplace was a Black Hole. If I went back in – would I come back out?
I settled into my car. My little Escape Pod.
Now, some would argue that the commute was worse than work. On certain days, I’d have to agree. Imagine multiple cadavers lined up in a row, attempting to be somewhere. But wait, they are cadavers. How can they even move? Now imagine yourself pinned in the middle, pushed up against their stiff flesh. Paralyzed. That was the rush hour commute. The dead waited on the highway, staring blankly into the Abyss. Each corpse clung to its Humanity, begging the same thing –
I just want to go home…
Eventually I realized that I shared my commute with others who refused to stay after hours. They were just like me. They tried to get out. They tried to break free. They were people I had never met, never had drinks with, and yet longed for their company. They were kindred spirits. We all wanted to return home, get back to reality, and back to life. We wanted to get back to that human beneath the business suit. That little, hairless ape, flawed and playful in its design. Wasn’t that all we really were? We didn’t want to push papers.But long did we cower beneath that 9 to 5 pendulum…
I often ended up frozen in the parking lot, unable to drive home, though I wanted nothing more. Sometimes I caught myself talking to no one. Doctors have told me it’s a symptom of being unhappy, or worse, insecure.
It’s kind of stupid, right? How could I be unhappy? I’m married, after all. Robert should be able to quell this morbid sense of isolation and fear…
But the more I brought up Paranoia and Depression to Robert, the less he seemed concerned. I rarely saw him. He was always “away” for work, gone on long business trips. Isn’t that the typical story? Unoriginal, I know, but within that cliché I wondered if there was truth. I often suspected he was having an affair, though I never found any real evidence of it.
The truth was, aside from my own mental issues, we had a fairly decent marriage. We rarely fought, if that counted for anything.
Well… except once.
I sat in my car, staring off through the parking lot, reflecting on the one incident that left me with an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Once we had a very serious argument, which led to revelations of betrayal, unfortunately. The story involves our lengthy attempts to get pregnant. But pregnancy did not happen. Beyond the chore of sex, I tried everything else. I took supplements to boost my progesterone levels. I clocked my cycles. I even followed a special diet, though my wiser half told me that was pointless. I visited doctor after doctor for exams and fertility tests. Nothing was wrong, they said. Everything was fine. I argued, but they showed me the results. Everything was fine.
So, it had to be Robert, right?
When I approached him about scheduling a fertility test, he flew off the handle. He insisted a fertility test was out of the question, calling it a waste of time. When I broke into tears, he finally came clean.
“Look, Eva,” he said, “I had a vasectomy years ago. It was before we met.”
As he spoke, I sat on the couch and cried. Disgusted, I refused to look at him. How could he have kept this secret from me? So many years went by and he never mentioned this? He let me go in for all of those tests. He let me worry and agonize over something that was obviously beyond my control – something beyond my awareness. As I questioned him, he replied that he had his reasons for doing it. He gave me no further explanation.
“This is not a safe time to have a baby,” was his final word.
He said nothing more and walked away.
I was livid.
I screamed and pulled the wedding ring off my finger. I was ready to throw it to the ground, but I hesitated, staring at it in my hand. I placed the ring back on my finger. The subject of children never came up again.
I snapped out of my daze, realizing I was still in my car. I needed to get moving if I wanted to be home on time. Throwing the vehicle into drive, I exited the parking lot. While merging onto the highway, I shook the awful memory from my brain.
As I drove, I remembered I had rental movies to drop off. Frustrated, I flipped my signal and cut across two lanes, kind of being a jackass about it. After merging from the exit ramp, I followed the service road to the movie store’s plaza.
With the DVD’s on my lap, I was ready to jump from my car, drop them into the slot, and get moving. But as I turned the corner, a man dashed out in front of my car. I nearly hit him. Swerving my vehicle to the right, I smashed into a curb and slid into the grass. Shaken and irritated, I glanced into my rearview mirror. The nutcase hurried toward my car. He was short with dark hair and even darker eyes. Knocking on my passenger window, he yelled at me through the glass.
“I need to speak with you!” he demanded.
Frantic, I rummaged through my purse for my cell phone. Not thinking straight, I didn’t call the police. Instead, I dialed Robert’s number. It rang repeatedly until I reached his voicemail. My only option was to leave a message.
“Robert! It’s me. I ran off the road. I’m okay. But this idiot just threw himself in front of my car. And now he’s banging on the window…”
“Eva let me in,” said the man.
How did he know my name?
I hung up the phone. Robert would call me back. I tried to drive off the grass but the car wouldn’t budge. The man reached into his jacket and revealed a handgun.
“Who are you?!” I screamed. Holding my hands up in front of my face, I tried to duck away from his aim.
“Let me in.”
I refused to open the door. He smashed the passenger window with the grip of his gun, reached for the lock, and climbed in. I lowered my hands and sat straight up, the barrel now inches from my head.
“Drive,” he instructed. “There. To that diner. We must speak.”
“But the car won’t move…”
I floored the pedal until, finally, the car shifted and moved backward, rolling across the pavement. The ride was brief and silent. The man kept his gun pointed at my head. We pulled up to the diner and he lowered his weapon.
“Don’t try to run.”
We exited the car and walked inside. A waitress led us to a booth with brilliant red seats and a table soiled with coffee stains and sugar granules.
“Here let me wipe this for you,” she said. Then she laughed, “Our busboy is out of town this week so I have to clean up behind every customer. Sorry about that!”
As the waitress walked away, the man spoke.
“You’ve been having nightmares, Eva.”
“Everyone has nightmares,” I replied.
This would be one of them…
He never took his eyes off of me.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Call me Noé,” he smiled, “And yes, everyone has nightmares. You are right. But yours…” He paused a moment. “They are different.”
“Different?” I asked.
“There is a name that haunts your dreams.”
At that moment the waitress returned. “Can I get you two anything to drink?”
“Two coffees, please,” I said, my eyes fixed on Noé.
He was right. There was a name. A name that I heard only in my dreams. And it wasn’t an ordinary name. It frightened me. That name. It wasn’t real, but it was always in the back of my head. With the waitress gone, he pulled a pen from his coat pocket, and scribbled on a napkin. Then he showed it to me.
The longer I nervously stared at it, the more my stomach churned. I had never spoken the name or written it down before. But Noé, whoever he was, had brought it to life.
“How do you know about this?” I asked.
“Seeing that name scares you, doesn’t it? Has it always been in the back of your mind?”
“Yes. For as long as I can remember. But how-”
“I will tell you,” he cut me off, “But in return, I want you to trust me.”
“You had a gun to my head.”
“I could not risk losing you. You see, someone has stolen something from me, and I need your help.”
The room began to spin. He reached into his coat pocket. As he pulled out a small, black computer tablet, I caught another glimpse of his gun. I started to panic.
He touched the tablet’s screen with his fingertips, scanning through information.
“I have a list of street addresses,” he said, “I want you to tell me if you recognize any of them…”
My throat tightened. His words passed me by.
“… on pieces of mail or in your husband’s office?”
I need to run.
“… or taken trips to these zip codes?”
I dashed from the booth. A shot rang past me, shattering the glass door. Customers screamed and ducked under tables. Another gunshot. And another. I ran as fast as I could to my car. Shaking and gasping, I clumsily shoved my key into the ignition. Screeching along the pavement, my car sped from the parking lot.
My stomach spun, twisting itself around in a sick, dizzying way. Hot acid burned up into my mouth. I ignored it and kept driving – faster and faster. The core of the world around me erupted, as my car tore through it.
Maybe it was the Depression, as doctors had told me. Maybe it was the Paranoia attributed to everything else. Or maybe it was the events that took place that day. But, after that day I saw the world in a light that suddenly flicked on.
Everything seemed mechanical.
I rushed through the front door of my house, frantically locking the bolt behind me. Turning off the lights, I peered out the window, shuddering with fear. Then I turned away and closed the blinds.
“Rob!” I screamed. No answer.
Where was he?
My head began to ache. I couldn’t see straight.
“Robert!” I yelled louder. My voice even cracked.
Silence fell to the echo of my words.
Is he coming for me now? …Noé?
I held my breath. My heart pounded into my head.
Someone was watching me…
“It’s a case of Paranoia,” the doctors all told me. “It’s typically brought on by anxiety and stress. The Depression doesn’t help either, I’m certain. You need medication. It’s the only way. That will relieve your Paranoia. You… have been taking your medication, haven’t you? Haven’t you…?”
At that moment, I blacked out.
If you’d like to finish Ati’s story, as well as have the artwork which is included in the official copy, you can purchase the full 25 chapters of Nails Jane via Amazon, lulu – digital, lulu – print, createspace, Barnes and Noble, or smashwords. Prices vary from vendor to vendor. Nails Jane is available in print and ebook format.