A figure approached from the east side of the house, undid the dead bolt, and turned the knob to allow whomever was knocking in.
There stood Larry standing on the front porch, looking in. Larry had an expression of joy on his face, to greet whomever answered. But that expression faded quickly as he saw the appearance of the person standing before him.
Before Larry stood Jay, inside the foyer of his home. He was disheveled, still wearing his pajamas and the sheets from the bed draped over his shoulders. His eyes had dark circles under them and were puffy. His nose was running and he looked as though he hadn't eaten or slept in a week. Larry stood there, his mouth agape, processing the look of his friend and colleague. Finally he uttered some words.
"Jay? You look like hell, man!"
"Nice to see you too, Lar. Care to come in?"
Jay pulled the door open more, but Larry didn't move.
"I don't know if I should. I don't want whatever the hell you've got."
"Believe me, it's not contagious. I'm glad it isn't."
Larry walked through the door, and once clear Jay closed it behind him. Larry examined the main living room and it was apparent he wasn't the only one not keeping up with things lately.
"What happened in here, Jay? Your house is usually immaculate?"
Jay sniffled and whiped his nose with the sheets. This prompted a look of disgust from Larry as he watched the atrocious act.
"Linda hasn't been here much lately."
Larry stood there, stunned by this revelation.
"Jay, did you guys split up?"
Jay started laughing, hysterically it seemed.
"Did we split up?", Jay repeated gasping for breath to say the words through his laughter.
Larry was utterly perplexed now. He's lost his mind!
"No, Linda has been living out in the camper behind the house for the last few weeks. We both think it's safer there."
"What? What are you talking about, Jay? Safer? What does that mean?"
"Why don't we sit down and I'll try to explain."
Larry walked into the living room, stretching his legs over obstacles strewn throughout. Everything from sheets, to pillows, to toys were scattered throughout the room. When Larry turned he caught a glimpse of the two front rooms and saw they were as equally in disarray. It was as if a tornado had whipped through the house. Larry moved some of the stuff off of a chair to find a place to sit. Jay sat on the sofa adjacent to him. As he sat, Jay stared at the floor for a moment, while Larry observed his friend.
Larry wasn't sure what to say or do for his friend. He was just worried about him and worried about his wife and children. Where are the children in all of this? He's gotta make me understand this.
Jay came out of his daze and looked back up at Larry.
"I appreciate you coming by, Lar. Bringing my stuff from class."
"Don't mention it. Do you think you're any closer to coming back?"
"I don't know. I've been hoping, praying I could, but nothing has worked out."
Larry tried to lighten the tone for a moment.
"Well, you have to come back before the Super Bowl party. You can't miss that."
Jay laughed as he looked down again.
"Penny for your thoughts, man?"
Jay did not respond.
"Man, have you at least been to a doctor, I hope? Have you eaten lately? You want me to get you something and bring it back?"
"No, no, I'm not hungry and believe me I still have a good appetite. I have too."
Larry didn't understand the last part, but went on.
"Have you slept much, any?"
Jay began to chuckle again. As he laughed, Jay reached down into the pocket of his pajamas and pulled out a little pill bottle. He held it up so Larry could see the label.
"Does this answer your question?"
The bottle was for caffeine pills, and it was almost empty.
"Why haven't you been sleeping, Jay? That's not healthy."
"Neither is what I've been going through."
"What have you been going through?"
Jay looked straight down and took a deep sigh.
"Jay, if you don't tell me I will never understand. I just wanna help, man."
Jay looked back up at Larry.
"Larry, I'm dreaming things. Bad things. Very bad things. Everytime I put my head on the pillow and go to sleep the dreams just get worse."
"What kind of dreams? Like nightmares or night terrors?"
"I only wish they were nightmares. But they are so intense and so vivid, it's hard to even call them a dream."
"What are they about?"
"I keep seeing dead people. People I know, people I don't know. But they aren't lying around me in coffins, they are walking around just like you or me."
"What like the zombie thing you talked about a few weeks back?"
Jay took a big gulp before answering.
"I at least know that kinda stuff isn't real. But these, these things are."
"I don't understand, Jay?"
"Everytime I close my eyes to even sleep for a minute, they come for me. All I can do is run. There's nowhere to hide, no one to ask for help. I'm completely on my own with them. And when I wake up, they are gone and I'm back here."
Tears were starting to well up in Jay's eyes. Larry could see the anguish, the fear in his friend's face. He reached out to him and held his hands.
"Jay, you're not alone in this, man. Ok? We can find you some help. You're never on your own. I'm sure Linda is more than willing to help. There's no reason for them to feel unsafe."
"Yes there is, Larry. Because what I told you wasn't even the worst part."
Larry leaned back a little.
"What's the worst part?"
"Linda has told me that during the time I'm supposed to be asleep, I'm actually awake."
"She says that when I go to sleep not long afterwards I wake back up and move about the house, the yard, heck she said once I even took the truck out for a spin. And each time I come back, lay back down and fall back to sleep. Then I wake up screaming, sweaty, gasping for air like I had been running for miles. I even feel like I have been. That's why my appetite hasn't changed. You see, I'm losing weight because I keep having to run for my life in the dreams. And when I get back here I can eat and replenish myself. I've just been trying lately not to sleep, but sometimes I just can't help it and doze off. Then it happens again. And to top it off, Linda says I'm a completely different person during this time. It's like I'm a whole other man."
Larry just stared at his friend, completely taken aback by this. He really was beginning to think his friend had lost his mind.
"Stop looking at me like I'm crazy, Lar. Crazy people don't know when they're crazy and the people around them certainly don't act like they are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then tell them about it rationally."
"Dude, Jay, this is maybe a bit too intense. People don't loose weight in their dreams because they aren't really doing anything."
"And I'm trying to tell you I AM!"
Jay stood up, flabberghasted by his friend.
"Easy, Jay. You're in a safe place."
"Don't patronize me! I'm telling you these things are real! I have lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks, not because of anorexia or some sickness, but because I've been running for my life from....from..."
"And while you're doing this, you're a completely different person in real life?"
"That's what Linda has told me."
"Does this other person have a name?"
"She's never said. He just brings up the word Anderson and talks about it like it's a place, not his name."
"I've never heard of anywhere named Anderson. Has she communicated with this person much?"
"As little as possible. She said he is hyperaggressive, mean, hateful, remorseless, violent, and looks at her like he could..."
"Like he could what?"
Jay stopped looking around the room and looked down at his friend.
"...like he could kill her."
"Ok, I just wanna say I didn't mean to patronize you, but you have to listen to me right now. What you're saying to me is pure insanity, Jay. Because I have alterior motives for coming here other than just checking up on you."
Jay stopped pacing now and stood there facing his friend. He sat back down on the sofa and listened intently to what Larry had to say.
"The school wants to fire you, Jay. They need all the help they can get right now and between this with you and Britton a few months ago, they have to have people that can work. So they also asked me to come by and see if you're fit to come back."
Jay nodded in acknowledgment of what his friend was saying.
"Now, I could go back and make up something, but if you keep not showing up they'll fire you and me for not reporting it. But if I go back and tell them what I've seen and what I'm hearing..."
"I know, Lar. I'm sorry you're caught in the middle of this. But it is the truth. I don't know how else to explain this."
"I've never heard anything like this before, Jay. But, I'll tell you what might help?"
Jay was all ears.
"A nice shower and a shave."
Jay chuckled again as he looked down and nodded in agreement with his friend.
"Listen, why don't you jump in the shower and I'll wait here for you. Then we'll go see the Dean and let him know how you're doing together. Then maybe we can talk to a buddy of mine. He's been doing alot of research lately on the human mind. He might know something we could do or someone we could talk to about your problem. Cause I know shrinks are head cases themselves. They'll just make you even more crazy than you already are."
"You're right. Just wait here and I'll go with you."
Jay got up and left the room. Larry sat there pondering what his friend had just said to him. That's pure insanity. There is no way that story will fly with the Dean. How can I convince him to say something else? While Larry thought, Jay was in the shower.
Jay let the warm water soak him down. He thinks I'm crazy. Jay tried to keep his mind as clear as possible and focus on the shower. He didn't want to think about anything else at the moment. A shower and a clean shave sounded spectacular. Jay couldn't wait to trim the stubble off inch by inch.
But the sound of the shower running was suddenly disturbed by utter silence. No water continued to come out of the shower head. Although Jay was soaking wet, the shower itself was not. The shower actually contained massive amounts of dust and a little debris from the dry wall surrounding. Then Jay heard audible footsteps approaching. Big footsteps, that were determined in their gait. Jay began to become afraid. He looked to his left to see the faint figure of two people having just entered the bathroom. Their images were obscured by the semi-transparent glass of the shower door. He then heard the sounds of rumblings coming from his right, like that of thunder.
The audible sound of a radio communication then came through with one of the figures responding to it. The dialogue sounded very much like military talk, but Jay did not understand it.
Another rumble occurred, this time louder and caused the house to shake all around.
Then Jay heard another communication.
"E.T.A. sixty seconds. Stand down and secure."
The soldier, at least that's what Jay thought, acknowledged the communication. Neither of the figures had taken notice of Jay standing in the shower.
Suddenly a massive jolt rocked the entire house. Both of the figures lurched around grabbing hold of anything nailed down. Jay lurched backward in the shower as dust and debris rained down from above. Jay couldn't take it anymore. He opened the shower door.
When he stepped out the soldier on the ground took notice and aimed his weapon up at Jay.
"What the hell?", the soldier yelled.
The other soldier, holding onto the counter top, turned around and saw Jay standing there, completely nude.
"What the hell are you doing in there?", the second soldier asked.
The second soldier's voice was distinctly female.
In both cases Jay was hearing their voices through radioes connected to their gas masks they were wearing.
Jay had no idea what was happening. He just knew that one second he was showering and the next he was standing in his bathroom with two soldiers and what sounded like a war happening outside.
Another jolt shook the whole house tossing Jay and the soldiers about again. The soldier on the floor had to cover himself from falling debris from the ceiling as the other soldier lunged toward Jay. Jay moved quickly passed them both and out of the bathroom, making his way around the corner into the hallway.
"WAIT!", yelled the female soldier.
Jay turned the next corner and ran into his own foyer. What he saw was beyond belief.
The entire front side of his home had been blasted out, fire and debris strewn all around. The gaping hole allowed Jay to see the landscape before him. In the distance fires raged, and light flashes went off with the sounds of missiles streaking across the sky. He heard gunfire, machine gunfire. Jay was acustom to hunters in the area, but never machine guns going off.
It literally was a war zone right outside his home.
What is happening? Where the hell am I?
Jay could then hear the sound of the radio again, from one of the soldiers in the other room. He could hear it getting closer to him, but more importantly he could hear what it was saying.
Jay knew it was a countdown, but he had no idea as to what the countdown would lead to.
Then Jay felt a tug on his shoulders as one of the soldiers grabbed him and yanked him backward to the now empty living room. None of the furniture or clutter was present. Jay was now flat on his back, the jarring collapse almost knocking the breath from his lungs. He looked up and backward towards the back of the house. The windows were all blasted out and holes were present in the ceiling. Nothing looked like it had moments earlier when he was talking to Larry.
"Stay down! Do not get up, sir!"
Jay wrestled with the man holding him down now. As he struggle a piece of newspaper hit him squarely in the face. Jay grabbed it and pulled the sheet away. It was the front page of the newspaper, half torn away. But there was enough for Jay to read the headline:
HEAVEN HELP US!
THE APOCALYPTIC ONSLAUGHT OF THE...
The ending had been torn away from the heading and no picture was present. It also had been torn away. One thing did remain and that was the date and city of publication. The date was two weeks earlier and the city was Anderson, South Carolina.
A bright, blinding light shown through the decimated front of Jay's home. Jay let go of the newspaper and covered his eyes. He could feel his retinas burning with intense pain, having caught a glimpse of the light before covering them. The next he heard was the roar of something approaching quickly. He tried to look up and see what was coming, but could bearly see anything at all. However, he did see the faint image of something completely recognizable in the distance. He saw the image of a mushroom cloud rising into the air, just before the concussion wave hit and torn the house apart all around him.
**********************************************************************************Jay was screaming and thrashing about. Suddenly Jay realized he was not incinerating. The room all around him was back to normal, normal for how it had looked when Larry arrived. Hovering over him at the moment was Larry, trying to get him under control.
"JAY! JAY PLEASE GET HOLD OF YOURSELF!"
Jay stopped thrashing and sat up. He looked around the room to get his bearings and see if everything was all right. He was breathing heavily, laying in the middle of the floor still nude and wet from having left the shower. The shower was still running in the bathroom and there was no war going on outside. Jay then paid attention to his friend Larry.
"Jay, what is happening?"
"I don't know. But a nuclear bomb just went off and destroyed Anderson, South Carolina. It all happened today, right here, right outside this house."
Larry could only stare at his friend, having seen the man run into the room, throw himself to the floor, then start thrashing as if he were on fire. He had no way of explaining what he saw, he just knew it happened and had to finally say something to his friend.
"Jay, there's no such place as Anderson, South Carolina. You're in Smithville, South Augustina. South Augustina in the United States of Columbia."
"I know that. It's not here in this world."