Thurman stood and walked over to Jeffries, eyes wide, mouth convoluted in a warped smile.
“I am reality!” he screamed into Jeffries’ indifferent face. “I am being!”
Richard cowered behind Barker, the largest of the bunch. The three men looked over at their ranting comrade with growing unrest.
“I must find an outlet,” Thurman said, suddenly forgetting his raving. He tried to push past the long-haired Barker, who would not let him by. Instead of using more force, Thurman approached the nearest X-ray palette, which was situated in front of the oven. He looked through. The metal of the oven was real, and there were no greenish, asterisk-ish spots characteristic of entity outlets.
“I think it’s time to suppress the union.” Jeffries said, looking to his left at the white lever in the wall.
“There will be no suppression,” Thurman bellowed hoarsely. “I am the essence of being! I am the sense of reality!” He looked confused for a moment, then saw Jeffries. “I will take contro–”
Jeffries yanked the lever with one jerk of his arm.
Thurman recoiled and fell over by the toilet. He rose, looking very ill, then plunged his head into the hole and vomited. Jeffries approached and gazed into the toilet. He flushed the ovalish, oily red beads after a brief pause.
“Thurman?” Jeffries asked, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Is it…”
“Please,” Thurman gasped, “get me a drink of water.”
Jeffries went to get the water and Richard came out of hiding, feeling like an idiot. It was obvious now that the Gas had been expelled from Thurman. Still, as if the fluid was slowly beind sucked from his spine, Richard felt a very funny sensation shoot up his back. He looked around to gather his bearings.
The four men stood in the bathroom of the house (if it was a house; oddly enough, Richard was not sure). Jeffries, the dominant, calm leader with his neatly trimmed dirty-blond hair and mustache; Barker, the enforcer, a menacing 6-foot-2 with long dark hair but a somehow very friendly, and constant, expression; Thurman, the logical one (which was ironic because he had been taken and driven to madness), dark-haired and green-eyed, who seemed to possess an aura of intelligence about him (seemingly making up for his lack of physical stature); and then there was Richard, the unsure, confused one, as far as he could remember. He had indifferent brown hair — brown by default, not at an extreme of black or red or blond, not with any special characteristic, but it was as if his hair had been chosen as a default — and brown eyes, with a medium build and a nervous demeanor. This time, though, his nerves had a reason to be acting up. Something was not quite right.
Richard gazed around the room as if in vertigo. It was fairly large for a bathroom, and very dim — much like most of the other rooms. The only items within the bathroom were the toilet (which Thurman was still keeling over), the sink, the lever (it had been there when the house had been built — strangely, its only purpose seemed to be entity expulsion, which allowed for experimentation like what had happened with Thurman), and an X-ray palette pointed at the oven.
The palettes were all over the house. Every metal-based appliance had one. They looked like metallic canvases, about the size of a fairly large painting, with one eye hole in the center. The purpose of the palettes, of course, was to discern if an object (the appliance, usually) was currently metal or nonmetal. Nonmetal appliances were in essence a fakery of matter, chiefly an illusion created by different sources (including entities). Objects, supposed to be metal but exposed as nonmetal, were not to be… tampered with. Some real, metal objects had tinier outlets of nonmetal which entities used for… sub-corporeal travel, wasn’t it? Richard was alarmed and puzzled by the apparent lack of detail in the purpose of the palettes etched in his brain; he tried to recall more but could not. The palettes served to X-ray objects. The entites must be avoided. The humans are at war with the entities.
Thurman had risen and was in the process of drinking heartily from a mug Jeffries had fetched for him. Jeffries was asking if he was all right.
“Did that scaaaare you, Richie?” Barker asked Richard with a big, benevolent grin on his face.
“Screw off,” Richard said, but grinned anyway. It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea how old any one of them was. Richard — Richard was 19, yes, 19, the youngest of the four. The others were about 20 or 21, were they not?
Suddenly it hit Richard. What was wrong.
The oven, he said to himself. There are no ovens in bathrooms.
Richard turned pale. He was vaguely aware of Jeffries’ hand on his shoulder.
“You OK, Richard? Listen up — I need you to go get us some cola from downstairs, OK? From the real fridge. We need something carbonated.”
Richard nodded at Jeffries. It was more like his head was bobbing up and down on a broken neck, but his friend did not seem to notice the odd and distant behaviour.
Jeffries went over to Thurman and they began discussing something. Barker looked at Richard and smiled again. “Let’s see some speed there, Rich! Come on, the General asked you to do something!”
But Richard was no longer in good humour. There was a feeling — a feeling of impending doom, a feeling that he was not in the real world but a painting of it. He exited the bathroom.
The hallway which greeted him was at least somewhat familiar, to Richard’s relief. He walked down it slowly, a voice in the back of his mind warning him about inhaling strange vapors. He passed several other rooms, doors closed, and descended the staircase.
As he walked, he thought.
Something is definitely wrong here. None of them thinks it’s strange that an oven is in the bathroom. And wait — good god, wasn’t it Thurman who had blond hair? Oh Christ, I can’t even think–
Richard reached the bottom of the stairs and walked around to the kitchen. It was also a greenish, dark room, and contained only several appliances: a sink, two fridges (one was large and one was a sort of mini-freezer), and a toaster. There was a bowl of fruit on the counter, but it was so dim that Richard could not make out what any of the fruit was. It all looked black.
A palette was situated in front of each refrigerator. Richard looked through the first one at the large fridge.
The view through the X-ray palette was a bizarre one, but not entirely alien. The fridge seemed magnified and bathed in a soft-green aura characteristic of medical-type X-rays. What was different, however, was the fact that in the X-ray, the door of the fridge was omitted. Instead there was a gaping greenish hole, and Richard could see the bottles inside.
Of course. Nonmetal. The false fridge. A mental connection that was not as nearly as familiar as it should have been clicked in his mind. He quickly went to the other refrigerator (after looking through its palette, of course — no asterisks of green, no missing parts) and took out a large brown bottle of generic cola. Avoiding the other fridge as much as possible, he ascended the stairs and returned to the bathroom.
The three were in heated discussion. “Look, Jeffries, if we bring out the Gas it’ll just try and possess me again. What if I leave the bathroom? How will you be able to get me back?” Thurman inquired of Jeffries, who was deep in thought.
“Yes, but if we don’t continue experimenting, how will we learn how to kill the entities?” Jeffries asked.
Thurman frowned. “I don’t think I’d be able to take being possessed again. It’s already weakened my mental state — one more little excursion and the entity might take me with it when it’s expelled.”
Jeffries nodded and turned to Barker. “You up to it?”
Richard interrupted. “Hey, I brought your cola.”
“Thanks.” Jeffries said, taking the bottle from Richard and placing it on the sink. “Remember what happened last time when Black-Entity possessed Thurman, and he drank the soda? The carbonation has some deteriorative effects on some entities, apparently.”
Richard felt even more distressed. He did not remember any black entity, nor did he recall when Thurman had been possessed by it.
“Hey guys, we’d better get out of here. I see an outlet in this oven!” Barker exclaimed, having looked inside the oven’s palette. “we better relocate before — uh, you know — something comes out of it.”
The four left the bathroom, Richard trailing. He felt as if this was all some well-rehearsed script — if he were to bump into the wall or say something unnecessarily vulgar, maybe someone would shout CUT! Take two! or something.
But he steered clear of the wall and followed the others into the living room (a room Richard found he did not remember either), where there were several greyish chairs and a television. There was no palette in front of the TV.
“OK guys, what’s the plan?” Barker asked, standing while the others sat.
“Christ, we left the cola in the washroom,” Jeffries sneered.
Thurman, meanwhile, turned to Richard for the first time that he could remember. “Something must be wrong, Richard. You’ve barely said anything today. What’s up? Not feeling well? You haven’t inhaled a vapor have you? Remember the signs — nausea, strange th–”
“I know the signs!” Richard blurted, but it occurred to him that he didn’t. “What the hell is going on here, guys?”
Thurman looked perplexed, as did Jeffries. “He muffd bepssd…” Thurman whispered to his comrade, looking again at Richard.
“Stop it!” Richard bellowed, shaking his fist. “This is all very confusing to me. I honestly don’t know what the heck is happening! Where are we? In some sort of ghost house? What the hell is this entity crap? I can’t even remember the significance of these bloody palettes anymore!”
“Everything’s OK, Richard,” Jeffries said, gesturing to Barker, who began approaching. “Just calm down, OK? It’s fine.”
“It’s NOT fine,” Richard said in a quieter tone, but then his voice rose again. “It just occurred to me. Do you idiots have any first names? Any at all? Do I have a full name? You guys are like underdeveloped characters in a story. In fact, so am I. This is not real!”
Barker reached for Richard, a concerned expression on his face.
Richard deflected Barker’s arm and darted past him. This must be a dream! he thought with some elation. That’s it. That’s why it’s all so bizarre. A damn dream — just a realistic one. Sheesh, I had myself worried for a minute there!
Voices were behind him. Richard darted to the kitchen, and a thought occurred to him. He shouted hysterically.
“HA! What do you do in a dream if you want to get out of it? Act crazy! Ha! Nuts!” Richard ran to the first fridge. “Fake metal, eh, morons? Want me to get you some cola? Hah-hah!”
Jeffries and Barker, followed by a somewhat spent Thurman, entered the room. “No!” Jeffries blurted, pointing to Richard. “Stay away from that fridge!”
Richard chuckled. He grabbed the palette in front of the large refrigerator and tossed it aside. It landed with a bang. Then he grabbed hold of the door of the fridge.
What the hell was that? Richard thought to himself. Was that in my mind?
Something was happening. The fridge seemed to melt and cringe in his hands. The door quivered. Was it moving? Was it really convoluting in his hands? The sleek whiteness of it seemed to liquefy. It shifted with the consistency of jelly.
Oh god… Richard muttered, not knowing whether he said it aloud. The fridge door made him sick, it twisted his stomach and throbbed like a heart. He wanted to vomit. Instead–
* * *
Light. No, just a different kind of darkness. The greenish tint was gone.
Richard was in bed. In a room that was dark only because the lights were off, in a room that had no odd objects or strange people pretending to be his friends.
He rose, and then suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh god, I knew it! I knew it! Ha, nice try, but you’ll have to throw quite a few nasty nightmares at Richard Frost to faze him!”
Richard Frost. His identity had been restored. Richard smiled, truly relieved, and got out of bed. He felt as if a missing part of him was somehow rejeuvenated. Yes, he was Richard Frost, a writer, and he lived alone. In fact, he wasn’t even 19, but 28.
Richard left his bedroom. He was still in his bedclothes, which consisted only of a pair of striped boxers, but he didn’t care.
The house was dark, but again, there was no eerie tint. Almost floating, he happily descended the stairs and into his kitchen. Might as well get a snack, he mused.
He approached the fridge.
Opening it and gazing inside, Richard removed several eggs. Can’t neglect your health, he said to himself. Need those vitamins. Vitamins give inspiration.
Then he closed it.
“How about some eggs on toast, Richard? Why yes, that sounds pretty-goddam-decent! Ha!” Richard took several pieces of bread out of a bag near the sink and placed them into the toaster.
He grasped the setting dial and was suddenly aware he was screaming. His stomach wrenched and his face went white.
* * *
“God, how the hell did that happen?” Barker asked, brushing his long hair from his eyes and looking down.
“‘Why’ is more the question,” Jeffries, the leader, said. His blue eyes gazed endlessly downward. A frown spread across his lips and he let out a deep, pained sigh.
“No. The question is, What was he thinking — using the toaster without looking into the palette? God, that’s senseless. This could have been avoided.” Thurman knelt down by Richard’s bloated, sticky corpse, and removed a copy of “Collected Poems by Robert Frost” from his twisted hands. “What is this?”
Nearby, in a bed that had recently been slept in, Dream-Vapor floated up from behind the pillow and exited through the wall. *
About the Author: James I. Wasserman is a 29-year-old Ph.D. student in Psychopharmacology; he is a scientist as well as a writer. James is mostly a horror writer but dabbles in dark humor and fantasy. He is always looking for opportunities to display his work and has a featured story, “The Expiring Man”, in the online magazine The Dogwood Journal as well as stories in an upcoming issue of Wild Violet magazine and the online journal Zygote in My Coffee. James is always open to comments or other venues to publish or a chat.
(c) 2004 James I. Wasserman firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Andrew G. McCann paints what he’s not really sure he sees.
(c) 2004 Andrew G. McCann email@example.com