At the foot of the bare mattress, Jason’s feet hung out from a striped comforter. His feet kicked left. They kicked right. His eyes darted back and forth beneath his eyelids while the loosely wrapped comforter tossed and turned. It squirmed gently at first before it unraveled and Jason jerked up wide-eyed in a cold sweat with his T-shirt stuck to his upper body. Breathing heavily, he brushed his hair out of his face and glanced at the clock on the night stand. The pale, blue numbers flashed and the bedroom light was still on. He swung his legs out, planting his feet on the carpet and sat there recalling his dream, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t remember. Jason rubbed his eyes and freed the stowaways in the crevices as he walked over to his dresser and pulled out the second shelf. There were three pairs of folded shorts in the drawer and he reached for his favorite blue ones. Jason shimmied out of his sweaty clothes before slipping into his fresh attire. He stopped, remembering his glasses on his night stand. Jason picked them up and gazed at the crack glimmering in one of the lenses.
Four months ago, at Jason’s old apartment, after a late night of work, he found three strangers inside tearing through his belongings. Before he could fully understand what was happening, one of the intruders was on top of him, wrestling him to the ground. They beat him severely, only stopping when they realized he was unconscious. He laid in his own blood for two days before his sister had found him. Jason spent a week in the hospital, but the damage was much deeper than just physical injuries. Refusing to go home, he moved in with his parents, into his old room. Jason startled easily from then on and he battled his parents regularly for several weeks before agreeing to see a therapist. His manager felt sorry for him, so he was switched to days from then on. It wasn’t long after that, that he decided to strike out on his own once again—sort of—he was going to move into a new place with a roommate.
Jason shuffled into the hallway towards the bathroom. Stopping at the empty room belonging to his roommate, Michael, who had yet to move in.
Five more days, and I won’t have to sleep in this empty place alone Jason thought.
Michael lived at home with his alcoholic father. His mother ran out on them when he was young, but Michael’s home-life wasn’t always bad; he loved his father, but his drinking problem had gotten worse. His father crashed his trash-truck into several cars in a McDonald’s parking-lot as he attempted to maneuver his way to the dumpsters. The drunk bastard went about his days route without stopping. His father got fired from the sanitation department as a result. From then on, he sat at home everyday drinking. The old man had once stolen Michael’s savings hidden in his room while he was at work. Michael finally decided to leave home. He reluctantly agreed to move into a new place with his friend Jason as he couldn’t afford to live on his own just yet, and there was nowhere else for him to go. Michael refused to move in until he had money to contribute, even after several attempts from Jason begging him to reconsider.
Jason wandered into the bathroom still shaking the sleep away as he rummaged inside his basketball shorts, lifting his sweaty testicles, unsticking them from his inner thigh. He parked in front of the toilet and tugged down the elastic waist band freeing his penis. His mind drifted back to earlier in the day. Michael and Jason had an argument after bringing the last of Jason’s belongings to the new apartment. Jason was eager to return to his old dwelling to get a head start on the tedious task of cleaning the filth and grime of a bachelor’s one bedroom domain. It was a high priority, because he wanted nothing more to do with the place and he wanted to get it over with.
Cleaning had never been a major concern of Jason’s, so the apartment was in serious need of some deep restoration. His car was even in the shop due to his lack of maintenance and upkeep. Jason wasn’t much of a car guy and ignored the attention his ’06 Volvo wagon demanded. It was in perfect working order before his parents gave it to him. He didn’t even know what was wrong with it, only that it wouldn’t start. His parents had it towed over to their house, because all of Jason’s money was tied up in the new place’s deposit and moving costs, so he relied heavily on Michael to provide him with transportation until his car was fixed. Jason had also hoped that he would assist him in his mission back at his old apartment, but Michael had other intentions.
Michael backed up through the townhouse’s door frame holding one side of Jason’s black pleather futon.
“I need to stop for a second,” Jason pleaded from the doorstep.
“Come on, stop being such a little bitch about it. We’re almost in, just keep pushing,” Michael said.
“But it’s slipping, my palms are sweaty.”
“You’re such a girl. It’s not even that heavy.” The two wiggled the piece of furniture in through to the living-room; Michael rested his end down gently, and Jason plopped his down as if it were of no value to him. Jason sat exhausted as Michael stood watching in disbelief without having broken a sweat.
“How the hell did you move all your stuff from your parents to your old place?” Michael asked.
“My uncle and my dad helped me with all the large pieces.”
“You need to start eating your vegetables and doing some push-ups,” Michael said as he dug through one of the many cardboard boxes scattered throughout the room. Jason took his glasses off and dug at his eyes when he noticed the box Michael searched was labeled video games. Michael removed Jason’s Playstation 4 and unraveled the cords making them straight as possible.
“What are you doing? We need to get back to my old apartment,” Jason yelled.
“What for? We did just bring the last of your crap over,” Michael replied without turning to face his friend. Michael proceeded in connecting the game console to the television in the middle of the floor where an exhausted Jason left it the day before.
“But we still need to clean the place,” Jason said.
“I’m not helping you clean that nasty cave you called home. The filthiness your laziness birthed is not my responsibility.”
“But you’re my ride.”
“Well, if you took better care of your car than you did with your apartment, you’d still have your own stupid wheels to haul your own stuff over,” Michael snapped back as he fished out two Playstation controllers, one black and one blue. “You got the internet turned on this morning, right?”
“Well, my plans for this evening consists of pizza, Red Bulls, and all the Call of Duty I can handle before I pass out.”
Jason was furious. He snatched his blue controller from Michael’s hand as he was wiping it clean with his shirt.
“But I work everyday this week, so I need to get a head start over there!” Jason yelled.
“I’m tired. I just spent all afternoon helping you move your stuff, and now you want me to go help you clean that dingy dungeon? Fuck that!”
“I’m sorry Jay, but I’m not gonna help you with your chores, and while we’re on the subject, I’m not gonna put up with you messiness when I get in here.”
Jason rolled his eyes.
“I’m dead serious. I’m not going to put up with it. Friends, lease or not, I’m out. I’d rather deal with my drunk dad or sleep in my fuckin’ truck than deal with your slop. I mean, look at this place, already. Everything is packed up in boxes, and this place is already a fuckin’ mess. You promised you were going to work on it. Those were the terms, remember?”
You wouldn’t know it if you visited Michael’s home, because the place was an alcoholic’s disaster. But his room, it was perfect. All his clothes hanging in his closet faced the same direction, were straight, and perfectly spaced. But you couldn’t see them because the mirror sliding doors were always closed—and spotless. Everything was always tucked away in its proper designated space.
“Well, we’re not playing games here tonight.”
“I live here too you know, I can stay here and play if I want to.”
“Not yet you don’t, and that was by your choice! You’re not gonna sit there and play my game, drinking my Red Bulls, while I’m out busting my ass cleaning!”
“My names on that lease too, and I have my own keys you know,” Michael said, holding up his set in the air for Jason to see.
“Fine, stay. But you’re not getting your team death match on, not over here!” Jason said while he unhooked the Playstation cables and held them close to his chest.
“You’re so god-damned selfish you asshole! Maybe you should find a different roommate!” Michael shouted as he stormed for the door.
“But remember, you signed the lease!”
Michael launched the black controller across the room. It hit the wall and it broke into several pieces, scuffing the fresh paint. “Fuck the lease!” Michael screamed before he slammed the door behind him.
Jason stood at the toilet fighting to keep his eyes open. His head rocked slowly as he struggled to keep it afloat. It shifted downward in small increments before it dropped and his chin fell into his chest. The silence was broken by a thunderous banging. Jason’s head flew up out of his chest and he jerked his dick to the side pissing on the toilet seat.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Jason shouted. He stared out the bathroom and at the staircase; it sounded like the front door. He flopped himself back inside his shorts and slowly shifted to the hall. From the top of the staircase he looked down at the front door.
Boom, boom, boom!
There it was again. Jason froze. The lights were not only on upstairs, but they were on downstairs as well, and again, came the bangs on the front door. He started down the stairs. It occurred to him that it could be Michael, or maybe his sister, or his parents. Maybe there was an emergency, maybe something terrible had happened. His father had been having some health problems recently and had been in and out of the hospital. Jason stopped. Then why hasn’t my phone rang, he thought. He stepped down onto the ice cold tiled floor, too afraid to answer the door. His breath was short and heavy and sweat dripped from his temple. With a small nudge, he straightened his glasses, eyeing the old crack in the lens. Jason looked through the peep hole.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! The whole door shook. He jumped back before he could see who was at his door.
Jason’s head flew up out of his chest and he jerked his dick to the side pissing on the toilet seat. He put himself away as little bits of pee dribbled down his scrawny hairy legs. In front of the bathroom sink, he splashed water onto his face. The water ran down his cheeks and onto his neck. With a twist of the faucet handles, the water ceased and he stood up patting his face with a towel left on the floor. Jason stopped and found himself in the mirror remembering his breathing exercises.
“It was only a dream,” Jason said. He left the bathroom without flushing the toilet and continued downstairs.
Boxes lay scattered in stacks throughout the apartment. The lights were still on, the faint aroma of fresh paint still lingered. The black pleather futon rested at an angle against the far wall where it had been dropped. Next to the furniture lay a pair of overstuffed black trash bags full of clothes and a pair of end table lamps on the floor. An unfolded card table in the small dining-room was stacked with three nights worth of empty pizza boxes and empty Red Bull cans. In the kitchen, topless boxes sat on the counter containing packages of dried foods and condiments next to a mound of unpacked dishes. Jason smiled to himself, thinking about how scared he had been in the dream.
Jason worked in a book store because he loved to read—mainly comic books. The employee discount came in handy and the store got quite a bit of his paycheck back. Breaks were spent at the magazine racks flipping through comic books alone. Jason didn’t socialize much outside of a small group of comic nerds and gamers, but Michael was pretty much it, because the others didn’t really care for him. Other than his attack at his old apartment, Jason had managed to avoid conflict of any kind, except with Michael, but that didn’t really count. They only argued about comics, video games, TV, movies, and all too often. Michael had to be right all of the time and became angry with those who challenged him.
“Nine-eleven was clearly an inside job. The evidence is overwhelmingly irrefutable you stupid fuckin’ piece of shit!” Michael once yelled at Jason and refused to talk to him for two whole weeks.
Jason fished through one of the boxes, snagging a package of Oreo cookies, his favorite. He shoved a cookie into his mouth, closely followed by a second and then wiped his hands onto his blue shorts. As he chewed the cookies, he pulled out his favorite cup, a goblet given to his by his parents. It was from Burger King emblazoned with Lord of the Rings Aragorn character. He always drank from it. Jason filled it with cold water from the kitchen sink and gulped it down. He refilled the cup to the brim and carefully walked over to the card table and shuffled through the pizza boxes hoping to find a lost piece, but there were none. Jason drank the water as he rearranged his testicles.
Hopefully Michael calms down and takes me back over to the old place later in the morning, Jason thought. There was so much to do over at the old apartment, and he had begun to stress over it.
In the living-room, all the boxes still needed to be unpacked and put away. Most of them were filled with collectables to be hung up or displayed somewhere, but Michael had a say in the common areas. He didn’t even want to start thinking about the headache that was going to cause. Jason didn’t really have that much stuff, just a bunch of toys and junk—that’s what his father would call it. He tilted his head back as he chugged the remainder from his goblet.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Jason dropped his cup on the tiled dining-room floor. It shattered, but he paid it no attention as he was focused on the front door.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Each time, the thuds got louder and louder. He wiped his sweaty palms on his shorts, but the stickiness wouldn’t rub off. The door stood calm, waiting for the next assault as he inched towards it. The door was locked, and that made him feel so much better.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Jason was so startled that he stumbled over his feet. His breath was short, and little by little he moved closer and closer to the chilly tiled floor. Jason stretched out, softly placing his hands, bracing himself against the door. On the other side stood a masculine figure, dressed in jeans and a dark pullover sweatshirt. The hood was pulled up over the slightly tilted head, shielding their identity. Jason’s legs trembled, and he stumbled back from the door. Exhausted from the day’s work, drowsiness overcame Jason as he stood staring at the door. His head felt heavy as he crept towards the peephole once again, wondering if anyone was still there. His head nodded.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Jason’s head shot back up again and he stood at the sink with his Lord of the Rings goblet overflowing with tap water. It had filled the sink and was spilling onto the kitchen floor. He flinched, dropping the full glass in the sink splashing more water onto the tile. There were bits of Oreos still in his mouth. He quickly shut the water off, walked through the wet kitchen, and searched for towels in one of the stuffed trash bags next to the futon. Jason rushed back into the kitchen and plopped a pile of towels onto the soaked floor. He backed up and gave the front door a good long stare. Minutes passed dragging on before he finally calmed down. Jason stared at the wet towels on his kitchen floor stretching his neck.
“Fuck this, I’ll deal with it in the morning.”
He looked up and noticed a wallet size picture stuck to the refrigerator door. He recognized the girl in the photograph, it was Raquel—Michael’s ex-girlfriend. The one he swore up and down he was over. Jason snagged Raquel’s picture off of the fridge and stared at it with a strange look. He hadn’t remembered seeing it there earlier in the day. Michael must have put it there.
Raquel confronted Jason once at his work after learning the two were moving in together. She said Michael had been stalking her and begged him to reconsider, but Jason didn’t give it much thought. When he informed his friend of the allegations, Michael was enraged.
“She’s just trying to split us up ‘cause she wants me all to herself. She’s obsessive,” Michael said, “We broke up because she was always bitchin’ about how much time we spent together talking about stupid comics and playing video games.” Jason didn’t really know the girl, and he wasn’t about to swallow a stranger’s story over his best friend. Eventually Jason had to have the manager ask her to leave after she refused to stop hassling him. Raquel seemed a little unhinged and Jason was glad his roommate wasn’t dating her anymore.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Jason held still. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
“What the hell is going on?” Jason asked himself. The set of kitchen knives his mother had given him as a house warming gift for his first apartment came to mind. Forgetting about the water, he darted for the open box that housed the cutlery. He reached inside for the wooden block spouting dagger handles. Jason wouldn’t be taken down so easily this time, but he was terrified. One of the knives was missing from the wooden block. The chef’s knife was gone, but Jason dismissed it immediately and he grabbed a steak knife.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
He stepped into the living-room quivered in panic, and tip toed through the maze of stacked boxes.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
He lunged to the door with the knife still gripped tightly. Through the peephole, he saw the shrouded stranger standing in front of the door looking back at him through the tiny glass window. The knife squirmed in Jason’s damp hand as he tightened his grip. The figure on the other side slammed his head against the door.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Jason jumped, and dropped the knife. It clanged on the tile as he tugged his feet back, worried he might lose a toe or two.
Jason’s eyes snapped open staring at the popcorn ceiling of his living-room. He was puzzled. How long had he been out? How had he ended up on his back? The sequence of booms that had been disturbing him echoed through his head. Jason sat up from his futon and rubbed his hands through his hair.
“I was dreaming again.”
Or was he still dreaming? He looked to the door expecting violent bangs on his door at any moment. The door was wide open. The night breeze filled the living quarters with cold air, that he had now felt for the first time. He searched through the cardboard box ripping the sides looking for the knives. All were accounted for—except the chefs knife.
“This isn’t possible,” Jason muttered, “I must still be dreaming.” There was no other explanation. The open front door urged him to flee and he hesitantly stepped slowly outside to the cold concrete, barefoot, trembling as he clung to the oversized steak knife. The evening air chilled Jason’s glazed face as he pointed his blade suspiciously spinning around investigating his surroundings. But there was no one there. The parking lot was empty except for the neighbors red Mitsubishi Spyder. It was just him and the evening’s stars twinkling above, rustling leaves of the maintained foliage scattered about the apartment grounds; the vague sound of the occasional car passing down the main street. Jason could only hear his breathing. The knife lowered and he blinked several times trying to wake up.
Off in the darkness, in one of the corners of the building where the shadows hung, something lurked just out of sight.
“What the hell am I doing out here? I’m freezing my balls off. . . I must be losing my god-damn mind.” He gripped his small pair of biceps rubbing them vigorously as he shuffled down the short walkway leading to his open door.
Jason saw a glimmer from the missing knife emerging from the shadows clenched in the dark figure’s fist. His heart stopped. With a quickness, he tried to escape the oncoming onslaught through the opening of his apartment. Jason hammered his big toe like a head on collision and howled in agony as he crumpled inside. Rolling over he saw the hooded maniac turn the corner of the cracked concrete with the knife raised. Jason climbed to his knees slamming the door shut and latched the deadbolt before his would be killer joined him. Jason fell back on his ass and laid back in relief as he tried to catch his breath. A sharp pain in his ribcage demanded his attention. Looking down he found his steak knifed lodged in his right side and he was bleeding profusely. Jason gripped his wound. He had forgotten all about the knife in his panic back inside and must have stabbed himself when he fell in. A substantial puddle of blood had gathered around him on the titled floor. Seconds passed like minutes as everything slowed down. His heart was beating so hard, it felt as if it jumped out of his chest with each beat.
After several minutes, Jason climbed up the door smearing his palm prints all over the clean white door and reassured himself that the deadbolt was locked. He slid back down and sat contently for a moment, leaning against the door. He looked down at his wound. Blood spilled over his hand and added to the lake that had formed around his legs. The phone was upstairs, if this wasn’t a dream, he would have to get to it and call for help. The movement on the other side of the door returned. It sounded like his knife scraping across the wood. Jason looked up over his shoulder imagining the dark figure carving some terrible message on the other side of the door.
BOOM! The blade pierced through the door two inches from Jason’s right temple.
He screamed as he sat up in bed, sweating, gripping his comforter looking around his dark room. The bedroom doorway—it was dark. There was no light traveling up the staircase. All the lights in his apartment were off. A smile crept across his shadowed face as he sunk back in his bed. His breathing slowed and he let out a large sigh of relief.
“Thank fucking God.”
Jason stretched his arms out settling them behind his head as he chuckled. He thought about the deranged tale he would have to share with Michael in the morning as he felt the tingle inside his shorts.
“I hope no one comes a knocking while I’m pissing,” he uttered with a laugh trying to calm his still shaken nerves. Jason swung his legs over the edge of the bed and settled his feet on the bedroom floor before a sharp pain surged through his upper body. Jason shrieked and leaped to the light switch and with a flick of a finger, and to his disbelief, he found a bloody crater in his right side. There was no knife, but the hole poured a thick stream and the stinging pain pulled deep from within. His shirt was torn and soaked in blood. A large red blotch stained the sheet-less mattress. Jason wobbled to the staircase, stumbling down a few steps before he completely lost his footing, bouncing down like a beach ball spattering blood across the freshly painted walls. Jason lifted himself up off to the cold floor. His right side was on fire, and his ankle was broken. It dangled like a cracked tree branch clutching to life. Excruciating pain consumed him, but he pushed himself crawling through the obstacle course of stacked boxes. Jason knew what was next—what was coming. He wrestled with the box that housed the knife set and withdrew a serrated blade—except the booms never came. Sprawled out on what little open space there was in the small living-room, time slipped away from Jason. The fall down the stairs and the blood loss had taken a toll on him. He was feeling weak. Looking up, he discovered the front door was open, and standing in the door frame was a familiar face, his friend Michael.
“Oh my God, you have no idea how happy I am to see you,” Jason said struggling as he pulled himself towards his friend, leaving the knife behind. “You’re never going to believe me when I tell you about the night I’ve had, but I’ll have to tell you on the way to the hospital. My foot, it’s broken, and I’ve accidentally stabbed myself.” Michael hadn’t spoken a single word. He hadn’t moved. Jason glanced up his jeans and took notice of his dark pullover hooded sweatshirt. Michael peered down at Jason with a blank stare that sent chills through his crippled body. A wicked smile broke through his otherwise still face as he struck the open door three times. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Jason scurried back as best as he could with his injuries trembling at the colossal knife Michael revealed from his backside. He tried to escape, but there was nowhere for him to go. He was trapped in a labyrinth of cardboard. Michael slammed the door, then stepped towards Jason who had broken down in tears trying to maneuver through the goopy bloody path amongst the boxes. The steak knife was out of reach. Michael stepped over Jason and smashed his broken foot. Jason wailed. It was of no use. He rolled over to meet his best friend face to face.
“Michael! Mikey, what are you doing?” But Michael didn’t answer. “What the fuck! Come on man, what the hell are you doing? Please don’t do this Mikey. Please!” Jason pleaded with him. But Michael was stone faced and brandished the kitchen knife. Jason kept screaming, the veins and muscles of his neck and throat strained as his body convulsed from each roar. Finally excepting defeat and his fate, Jason let his body go limp and crammed his eyes shut as he waited for it all to go away. He refused to look at his friend. If he was lucky enough to awaken, he wouldn’t go back to sleep—not today, possibly not ever again. Jason shook his head from side to side with closed eyes pleading to God to rescue him before he was slashed to ribbons. He lay waiting. After several minutes his whimpering subsided and a stillness surrounded his frail damaged body. Jason wondered if Michael still hung over him; there wasn’t a sound in the air—nothing. No sound of the cool evening breeze shaking the leaves on the bushes and the trees coming from the open front door. No late night automobiles cruising down the streets shuttling those who had one too many home. No dogs barking off in the distance. He couldn’t even hear the sound of his breath.
Jason was too afraid to open his eyes and he didn’t know if this nightmare would continue for all eternity.
The sun poured through the open blinds of the bedroom window. At the foot of the bare mattress, a pair of feet hung out from the comforter. The bare feet kicked left. They kicked right. Eyes darted back and forth beneath eyelids while the loosely wrapped comforter tossed and turned. It squirmed gently at first before it unraveled and Michael sat up. He yawned and glanced at the clock on his night stand. The red numbers informed him that it was well after one in the afternoon. Michael swung his legs out and planted his feet on the carpet. He rubbed his eyes and freed the stowaways in the crevices and he shuffled into the hallway towards the staircase. The empty room that belonged to his roommate caught his attention. Michael smiled. For once, the other room in his home wasn’t occupied by a drunk. He trotted down the steps and stopped in the living-room to open the blinds allowing the sunlight to enter the apartment. Admiring the cardboard boxes neatly stacked off to the side and out of the way, he pressed the on button of the pre-filled coffee maker. The Fruit Loops in the corner pantry joined Michael’s morning as he placed them neatly on the right side of the counter. After removing a glass bowl from the neatly organized cabinet he spaced it neatly next to the box of cereal. He poured himself a bowl and splashed it with milk before he shoveled spoonful after spoonful into his mouth while waiting for the coffee to finish. The bowl was empty by the time the machine sputtered to an end. Michael rinsed his dish and washed it before placing it into the empty dish rack. He relocated to the living-room with a freshly poured cup of black coffee and sat down on the futon. Setting his coffee cup down, he turned on the Play Station and picked up the blue controller as he kicked his feet up and gently rested them on Jason’s bloody corpse.
“Good morning Jason,” Michael said smiling as he started his game.