"Thanks, bye, bye!" Ruel hollered. "Y'all enjoy that now."
Hooray, daddy gonna eat!
"Me hungwy too," said the crook of his arm, and Ruel uneasily laughed.
Shut your hole, baby!
The couple bought his last major appliance. Ruel bought two weeks reprieve from donating plasma. He stepped out into the cold night and locked his door. He waited until they were gone, then ran down the steps and rode off in his El Camino to wrangle up some burgers and a Chilly Willy.
Twelve minutes and two doubles later, he hovered over his kitchen sink and finished off a king size order of seasoned fries. Ruel chugged down half a bottle of cranberry juice and closed the fridge. Dislodging a few magnets, he leaned on the door winded from his gorge fest.
Ahhhh...now what? No T-Vo, no stereo, no porno.
For ten minutes Ruel stood there and stimulated his hypothalamus by twisting an unused ketchup packet to its near breaking point. "Eeeeee!" he cried.
Next he drank a pot of coffee, sat on the floor of his empty living room and pretended he worked at the DMV. "I'm on brake," he kept saying to the invisible mob. Then for a time, he read from Milton's Paradise Lost using the slurred voice of a blunt trauma victim. Finally, he got out his old high school yearbook and took the liberty to write some comments for the custodial staff.
This year has been great, Ruel. I enjoyed cleaning up your vomit. Call me this summer. Peace out, Mr. Throop.
He drank the rest of the cranberry juice and went to bed. Ruel put his glasses on the nightstand and turned off the floor lamp. He doubled up his pillow, laid back and kicked a free leg out from under a ragged, old, pink electric blanket. He turned it up to HIGH, glanced over at the clock - 11:05 - and closed his eyes.
Sleep tides rolled past Ruel's ankles, covered his knees, filled his bellybutton and stopped short of his upper eyelids. He felt the pesky rustle of a nosehair...now I lay me down to blah, blah, blah...student loans...the Hoover Dam...love you, pillow...the Atlantic Ocean...boobs...Old Faithful...
He slept and did not dream.
Then, like static on an AM radio dial, tattered thoughts began to flicker across his frontal lobe: What time is it? Did it rain? So, this is life, huh? Boobs.
Slowly Ruel became awake and opened his eyes. It was dark, and the clock still showed 11:05. He wasn't in bed, nor had he rolled off onto the carpet. He was on a bare, smooth surface.
"Whoooa!" Ruel shouted and sat up. He slapped for his glasses and felt only air. The glasses, the nightstand, they were gone. Nonetheless, there was the digital 11:05, two and a half feet off the ground. He grabbed at the clock, but instead was able to wrap his hand completely around the glowing, plastic front plate. Holding it in his fist, he yanked. It wouldn't budge.
With his left hand, he slapped himself hard in the face. He jumped up and reached out into the darkness for the lamp, the wall, a light switch, anything. Panic tripped his feet, and he fell over backwards.
"HELLOO, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ONNN!"
Wow, that sounded weird. There's no uh, what's that word, acoustics. And this dark...I can't see dick.
Ruel slept nude, and in fact, could not see his dick. All he saw was the two dots and fifteen short line segments of the digital 11:05.
He got on his hands and knees and began crawling away. With his right hand he gingerly brushed at the ground.
Knee, hand, knee, hand swipe. Knee, hand, knee, hand swipe. His breathing was heavy and halting in his ears. He marveled at the strange, smooth surface. He felt no dust, sand, grit or any moisture. It was not cold, hot or anything. It was just there.
What if I put my hand in a puddle? What if I touch a shoe? What if I feel the muzzle of a German Shepherd or the claw of a three-toed sloth? Hell, what if I fall off the edge?
Ruel calmed himself and concentrated on his task at hand. He paused to look over his shoulder.
He couldn't see the digital 11:05 and completely lost it. He screamed. He curled into a fetal position and rocked himself in primal fear. He felt like he was being watched.
After awhile, he composed himself and calmly thought this thing out.
Now I've been crawling about ten minutes. I've probably traveled about the length of a football field, maybe a little more. If I just turn around and go back, I'll at least regain my bearings, then I can start over.
But after curling up and freaking out like that, he wasn't precisely sure which direction he had come from. Using all the strength of his poor eyesight, Ruel squinted into the black.
This is not a lucid dream. I'm sure of it. Try to fly. Try to light a dream match.
Nothing. He did the "Y.M.C.A." hand signals in the air above his head.
Well, this is definitely not night paralysis.
Ruel bit his forearm, felt pain and tasted blood.
Ow, ow, ow...I guess that's a good sign, right? Uh, don't answer that, Mr. Black.
With supreme concentration, Ruel summoned his previous movements, chose a direction and began to crawl back.
What is this place? A warehouse? An underground bomb shelter?
His mind started to open door number three, and he quickly hummed Beethovan's "Ode to Joy" to block it out.
He puts the righteous and the wicked to the test, doesn't He...no, no...that way lies madness, dear old boy. Maybe someone kidnapped me...chloroformed me and swept me off in a white Ford Econoline van. No. Not unless they had the wrong address. Nobody even knows me except maybe that buxom plasma nurse and the night drive-thru cashier at Lip Smackin' Burger.
From behind a curtain of denial, his only conclusion emerged. He was unable to stop it.
Well, there's an ugly thought. Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care, Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care...
Ruel sensed a glimmering to his left. He stopped and rubbed his eyes setting off optic nerve fireworks. He looked again and saw its faint green glow. It was backwards.
Oh, isn't she beautiful. Eat your heart out, Bo Derek.
He got up and ran towards it with his arms outstretched. Without glasses, however, his spatial judgment was impaired, and he tripped, flipping over the hovering, digital 11 :05. His head hit the ground and his body followed, crumpling on top like an accordian.
Ow, ow, ow...
His head rang, and he rubbed his left ear. He turned and looked at the clock just as it flickered to 11:06.
Hey, stuff's happening here. Now we got us some entertainment, y'all!
Like a six year old watching cartoons, Ruel crawled over and sat cross-legged in front of the panel.
He counted the seconds along with it, singing out "Ooohhh, aaahhh," each time it turned.
Now he sang gibberish opera to himself, coinciding the changing numeral with an anvil crash from Verdi's Anvil Chorus from "Il Trovatore."
Yeah, yeah...no kidding? Oh, that bitch! Watch out 29, you're next.
Oh, 11:34, you are so SMUG! Don't get too comfortable!
The clock had stopped.
Hey, what's going on here? What a gyp! Don't stop now! I was just getting into it. The suspense is killing me! Who the fuck shot J.R.?
Ruel pretended not to feel the fear. He tapped the sides of the digital 11:34, wishing it had an antenna. Then he thought of the bird from B.F. Skinner's Box.
Hit the button, get a pellet. Maybe if I repeat my amazing somersault, this puppy'll kick back in, yeah, yeah...
Ruel got up and walked behind the LCD. He assumed a diving stance, jumped, and this time, did a tuck and roll.
Mid-dive, while upside down, he saw the number. It hardly even registered, yet it was there, and he could never blot that out. Ruel tried to pray, couldn't find the words and lost all hope.
He felt it first, then smelled it. A burning wind approached in the dark.
Ruel focused on the digital 11:34, and it blurred through beholden tears. Feeling like earth's first sun suckling protozoa, he closed his eyes and nursed comfort in its dim shine.