At first, it was hard to find your watch. It had wandered off the end table and fallen into a pile of laundry. Then it was buried in the sock drawer. A week later, you found it tucked beneath a lamp shade wrapped around the light bulb.
You’d type your story into all hours of the night, look to your wrist and see only skin. Your hero traversed the ends of his world by the time you thought to check the clock on the monitor. It was frozen at twelve. You stumbled through a forum that said something about resetting “LOCATIONS SERVICES.” You gave up about three steps in. You said you would get around to it once you’d capped off the chapter.
Your characters had so much to say and here you were stuck playing stenographer. Their motor mouths did not pause long enough to afford you a bathroom break. You typed with your thighs clamped shut, with your knees shaking. It wasn’t until the sun reared its ugly face that you realized you were diving deeper into sleep debt than you could afford to go.
Feeling your end table, you found only cough drops.
That morning you took a shower. The water pooled up around your feet. The drain was clogged, but there was no stopper. A generous serving of Drano turned the water a frothy white, but did nothing to drain it. You slapped on the latex and dug into the void. That’s when you felt it: the shattered glass surface of the watch face, tangled up in a big ball of hair.
The next morning your alarm clock fell asleep on the job. The switch was halfway between ON and OFF. You flipped it, even tapped it into place for good measure. The next day it just quit without giving notice. Your tape had held, but it didn’t go off. Upon closer inspection, you found a clean cut straight through the cord. You tried to recreate it, running the cord along the edge of the end table. You couldn’t.
You set out to find the perfect replacement. This was a space-aged alarm with a translucent body. It had a direct feed to an atomic clock. In addition to an LCD panel, it projected numbers onto the ceiling. It didn’t make a sound, but rather it sent a signal to a bluetooth armband that vibrated when it detected you were coming out of R.E.M. sleep. It made you wake up feeling rested.
The next day you found its shattered remains crammed into the garbage disposal. Its cord had been severed several times over. Its LCD panel bled ink into the sink. When you searched the kitchen for evidence, you found that both the microwave and the oven timer were blinking twelve o’clock.
You tried to spread the blinds, to shed some light on the situation, but there was an ice pick driven into the chain. It locked them into place. You tried to pry it out, only to find it had been glued there.
You changed the locks. Bought yourself a bevy of baby monitors and mounted them to the ceiling. You took a stay-cation and paced the apartment in your boxers. You were a sentinel, a royal guard stationed to protect your studio apartment.
You were all alone with nothing but your characters to keep you company. They kept you going until your bladder nearly burst. You typed, hunched over your computer, until your back went sore and your ass went numb. The text spilled out as fast as the speed of thought. The word count grew so large you suspected a glitch in your word processor.
Your protagonist was on a journey from one flaming setting to another. He and his compatriots sought refuge but found only ruin. They were ill omens on anyone who thought to look upon them. You kept trying to steer them back onto the main roads, but they kept wondering off into the woods, chasing shadows and whispers. When your hero addressed his allies, with a word of caution, there was descent among their ranks. There was a mutiny a-brewing and there was nothing you could do to stop it.
You broke away to search for your notecards, flipped the desk drawers onto the floor, but they were no where to be found. You swore you had plotted a different path, one that lead your characters to the promise land. Your hero was not the shepherd his profile made him out to be. His flock had gone astray, wandering beyond the borders of your outline into strange new territory.
Now your story’s terrain looked nothing like its map.
Pacing the kitchen, you couldn’t find the will to cook. You’d open the freezer, close it, check the fridge, then check the freezer again. With the peanut butter jars hollowed out, you settled on cereal straight from the box. You were your story’s pet, subsisting on dry food, word pellets that gave you just enough strength to sit upright.
Staring at your screen, you watched the wreck unfold. You’d lost control of the wheel and everything had taken a turn for the worse. Your hero’s biggest ally abandon him in the middle of the night. This anti-hero tiptoed through the camp slitting his compatriot’s throats, helped himself to the better half of their supplies, then he ventured out into the wilderness to commune with the enemy.
You ran your fingers through your hair. None of this was in the rough draft. What business did the antagonist have with this supporting player? What secrets would he have to tell? How would this knowledge change the anti-hero’s final destination?
You looked over your shoulder, tried to peer through the blinds. Someone had punched a series of tiny holes through them, then bound them with string. You lift one and they all came up like a chorus line. There was a storm outside. It made it impossible to tell if it was night time or if it was overcast.
Looking back, the words shift back and forth on your screen, like shadows from a light source on a pendulum. It made you feel woozy. It made your mind feel knotted. You’d shoveled too many braincells into the engine. Your train of thought was about to derail.
You reached for the remote. Maybe the idiot box would even you out. There was a different shade of static on every channel, a marathon of ants marching in place. You pulled out the couch to find the cable cut.
The bedroom lights sparked as you flipped them on. You tried to thumb through your books only to find the pages glued together. Your mp3 player clicked upon startup. Then it greeted you with an explanation point. No matter, your headphones had been ripped from the headband.
There would be no escape. No escapism either. Someone had already seen to that.
There was only the screen and the words. The anti-hero waited to carry out his mission. He was the Judas cow ready to lead his heard into slaughter. He was the black sheep ready to lead his flock off a cliff.
You typed without the solid ground to set your prose on. The structure was all over the place.
The anti-hero charged headlong into the thicket, chopping the vines in his way. You could hear his machete cutting a swath toward the ending. The anti-hero leapt over the second act like a hurdle. He skipped right past plot point two. He had learned no lesson. He had gone through no change. He just kept chopping his way to the climax. His blade echoed, slicing and dicing, making splinters in your mind.
You typed and typed until you wrote yourself into a corner, and in that corner was a door. A door the likes of which your anti-hero had never seen before. A door you knew all to well.
A pecking echoed throughout your apartment. It was followed by the clang of metal on metal. Then the sound of your chain settling. The door creaked open. Someone breathed in the entryway. They kicked the heals of their boots against the wall.
You thought if you could only keep typing, keep describing the setting, that maybe you could stall him, but the anti-hero’s actions had a momentum of their own.
There were foot falls on the carpet. His shadow entered your peripheral vision. The glint of his blade shown over your monitor. The screen shook as his knuckles wrapped upon it.
You couldn’t help but type the words, “Knock knock.”