The evening air was calm, a pacific, statutory woolly beast keeping guard over the dim, sunlit lake at evening time in late August. The loud bullfrog croaks against the millions of tiny chirps from the crickets, a loud blaring tuba against a million soft piccolos weaving in and out of harmony in the symphony of twilight. The sun, falling over the mountain peaks in the distance, emitted a deep, warm waterfall of butterscotch light cascading down the landscape and across the lake. The houses, surrounding part of the lake in an imperfect semicircle, were warm welcoming, old friends grinning from ear to ear. Mr. Iris took in a deep breath, seizing a chance to relax after a hard day at work. He gazed at the serenity from the open aired back porch in a reclining lawn chair. The beauty of the evening was almost blissful.
Almost, except for a spelling error every paragraph.
Mr. Iris took out his grading pen and draws perfect slash marks over the misspelled words that even a kindergartener could spell with ease. To his frustration, he marked dash after dash, in a motion almost resembling striking a match against a matchbox, to set red inky fire to the bastardized spelling of the words, fun, happy, juicy, and swimming.He sucked in his cheeks as he wrote thirteen out of twenty on Sam Jones’ summarization of his summer in France in bold numbers. “Pay attention to spelling!” he scribbled in dismay. God, that kid’s in middle school, for Christ’s sake! he thought. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, pushing his glasses out from their ledge on his nose. He then rubbed his cheeks, then his temples to ease his headache, then back to his cheeks.
At last, the onslaught of the grading had ceased, the sun had set, and only the last of the light escaped from the rocky mountain peaks. He glanced at his wristwatch. 7:38 it read, the two hands almost on top of each other, swooping in for their one moment of chaste dalliance. He yawned with a wide stretch, releasing a sleepy demon from the depths of his lungs. Just a couple hours of strength was all he needed for his journey.
He stumbled into the kitchen, with his hand on his head. The kitchen, catching some of the last of the summer light, radiated with marmalade and crimson rays. The sweet tones were only enhanced by the the hanging bronze pans, drunk, giggly, big-bellied men, dangling from the ladders holding them above the counter. Mr. Iris reached into the light walnut cabinets for a glass of water, and dropped a tylenol in his mouth. Ah. Upon tilting the water-filled glass up, some of the clear tap water dribbled down the side of his face and down his sandpaper stubble. His eyes widened as he leaned forward to prevent the water from spilling onto his clothes, but to no avail. With an agitated sigh, he went upstairs to change into a t-shirt.
Once he had climbed to the top of the stairwell, his head slowly gravitated to the door at the end of of the long, dark hallway. Sharply inhaling, he snapped his head back towards his room. Sweat began to bead up on his forehead as he tried to ignore the darkness consuming him. He walked over to his bedroom door. Please, please, please stop this. He winced as he slowly turned the door handle, and pushed the door open. He flicked the lights on. Nothing was there. A short sigh escaped him.
With his navy blue t-shirt over his head, he flicked the lights off and bolted down the stairs, making bounds, in two, three steps at a time. He landed with both feet on the floor in a loud stomp. He breathed in relief, as if it were an intoxicating gas, a tangible thing. Straightening out his shirt, he walked over to the kitchen again. He reached up to the top shelf for his single-malt scotch whiskey, and a bourbon glass. Plopping an ice cube into his glass, he dropped a splash of whiskey and a splash of water into it to fill the glass halfway. He walked over to his study, and pulled out a book from the shelf.
Mr. Iris opened up towards the beginning of the book, taking out an old bookmark lodged between the pages. He set it over by the bourbon glass, and started in the middle of page 193:
I can only describe the lowest of the low as lonely. Some presence missing,
something that cannot be brought back, not ever. A man could look for a hundred thousand years and still not find that once it has been lost. Every poor man that I know-not to be confused with an underprivileged one-has lost something in some way. From my experiences, you should always hold on tight to what you have, because you might lose it one day. A man that is as lonely as this may as well take his life.
Mr. Iris quickly glanced at the cover of the book - An Outlook of Things to Come - A Philosophical Novel by Mejna A. Nellings. He looked, up. Towards the fireplace, the bookcases encasing him with the literature from two hundred years, maybe more, and towards the ornate mantle clock. A single tear rolled down his face. Cathy, he thought to himself. He shut the book with both hands, and squeezed it tight to his chest. He drew in a deep breath, and let it out. He downed the whole glass of whisky, in three enormous gulps. The whisky filled every orifice of his bloodstream, in a tipsy cleansing.
And then he glanced at that page again. “I can only describe”, “every man I know”, me, me, me, I, I, I, always me. No one else. No one else’s thoughts to be shared. Just one person. Forever. Why must all books these days be written from one person’s perspective?. How arrogant to consider your explanation of the world around you as the only one? And to go on like that for nine hundred pages, Jesus Christ above, and advertising one’s loneliness to the world? You destroyer of life, you-
A deep breath. A very deep breath. Calm down, Ashton. He put his hands to his face, resting the top of his thumbs against the bottom of his chin, his index fingers in the nook under his nose, almost in prayer. Maybe that whiskey sunk in a little too well, you’re getting cynical again. He buzzed his lips together. Forget this garbage. He placed the book onto the shelf, never to be opened again. Oh Cathy, only if you were still here.
The sun was now entirely gone, with no natural light in sight. On his way out the door, Mr. Iris glanced at the mantle clock. 10:46, it read. Wait, 10:46? Mr. Iris rubbed his eyes, and looked again. The stationary timepiece still read 10:46. Goodness, that was a long time to spend on a few pages. I should-
Mr. Iris stopped. Please no, not again. I know I need it, I have to get it, but I’m so scared, so afraid. In great reluctance, Mr. Iris walked to the front door. Shlick! He locked the door, his fingers lingering on the lock in contemplation. He walked around to the back porch, shut off the little porch light still attracting mosquitos and flies and locked the door as fast as possible. He ran towards the creamy artificial light coming from the halls, as if it offered protection; protection in exchange for dependence.
Mr. Iris flicked off the kitchen lights, then the study lights, then the front porch lights, each time racing back to the halls. He then turned on the lights upstairs. He took a sharp breath in through his nose, completely filling up his body, and holding it hostage. He then squeezed his eyes so tightly he might have had to suffer the darkness eternally. Please, please. Help me Cathy. He turned off the hall lights, and leaped up the stairs, a cheetah of light running from a pride of the jet-black pumas in the darkness. Mr. Iris intuitively moved his hand to the light switch without the aid of sight. He reached the top of the staircase. The pumas extinguished, he let out his breath in a huge puff.
Mr. Iris changed out of his shirt and pants, folding them up without a crease out of place. He returned them to their dwelling in the wardrobe. His pajamas, waiting patiently under his pillow, soon are on Mr. Iris. Shirt over head and pants through the legs, he walked to the bathroom. He reached into the drawer under the sink and retrieved his toothbrush and minty toothpaste. Once the toothpaste has been spread in a perfect line, he doused his brush in water, and brought it up to his mouth. The brass faucet, pounding the basin with profligate streams of water, grew weary as Mr. Iris brushed. He spit out his paste, and yawned, desperate for bed.
Returning the towel to the drying rack, Mr. Iris rubbed his face and looked in the mirror. First at his pointy nose, and then his chin, and then his whole face for anything that needed attention. After a few moments, his eyes started to wander over to the shade in the corner of the bathroom. The shade, almost humanoid in form, reached out its smoky wisps in an attempt to draw his gaze. He swiveled around with a gasp.
Nothing was there. Nothing unusual. A toilet, the shower, the hanging towel racks, throwing their heads back in humiliating, condemning laughter.
His eyes wander about the bathroom, and then he shut off the lights as he slammed the door behind him.
Back to his bedroom he stumbled, one foot in front of the other, teetering back and forth, back and forth, a zombie shining through in his shambling. He opened his bedroom door, and crashed into bed, lying down to slumber.
His struggles were over now.
Or were they?
A sudden deep moan escaped from the room across the hall.
A sharp sensation dribbled down Mr. Iris’s spine, an indescribable sensation only ever felt by the terrified and the mad. No, no , no , no, NO! He shut his eyes as he let out a small whimper. He cringed as he brought his covers up to his cheekbones, unwilling to walk out and investigate.
What was that? What was that moan? I don’t know. I don’t want to know! He rolled over on his side, his back facing the door to the hallway.
Ashton, a sweet voice whispered from down the hall, Come closer, Ashton.
Mr. Iris released his tension at once and brought down the covers from his face.
Is it you? Can it really be you?
Ashton, the voice whispered, I need you to bring a couple of things.
“What do you want me to do?”
I need a string. A lifeline to help me bring you here. A string thicker than steel, as coarse as burlap. Do you know of such a string?
“Yes, of course.”
He leapt out of his bed, and in a trance he walked over to his closet and retrieved exactly what the voice said from the top shelf bolted firmly to the wall.
Now I need something to support me, like a chair. Something to hold me up with ease, yet something that still requires me to support myself. Do you know of such a thing?
Get it and bring it here, please, the intoxicating voice beckoned.
He walked down the hall with a blank face, a blank chalkboard to be written on again. He dredged down the hall, one foot in front of the other, the tired undulating zombie present in his muscles.
He came to the door at the end of the hallway, rope in one hand, and stool in the other.
He put his hand on the doorknob, but paused for a moment. Do I want to do this? He entered a long, woeful sigh.
You’re almost there, Ashton.
“I’m sure now,” he said conclusively, “I’m coming, Cathy!”
He opened the door.