THE COUCH WAS HIS, the safest place to be and where all energies fragmented throughout the week could be gathered up again.
His wifi connected laptop resting on the cushion with the Michigan State/Kansas game at halftime, his blackberry set to vibrate in case clients needed tech issues routed to the engineers about the Singapore telephony servers, the call of duty headset looped behind both ears, the rumble gaming controller in his hands and his broadband connected squad of Texas Hold’em and driving range buddies evenly distributed throughout the digitally-captured warehouse, homing in on guerilla freedom fighters in pixilated beige and green fatigues on the high-def LCD, too big to be viewed at a single glance, the central air blowing full blast in late September, the latest IPA chilled in his favorite mug, just within reach—his stocking feet, his ass groove in the couch, his Michigan State flannel pajamas.
This Saturday morning was going to be his, as much as a Saturday morning could still be his. His wife of 3.2 years, the pregnant one, the one on her third trimester, the one he couldn’t get sex from even though the birth control she’d been taking since a year before they’d been married had gotten every cell in his body attuned to once daily clockwork sex, the sexual schedule of a harem-wielding, thirteenth century Persian king now dispossessed from this twenty-eight year old junior account executive in his empty, Pier One and Pottery Barn resplendent, 3.5 bedroom McMansion tract house in West Indianapolis, that’s right: the suburby side that had big aspirations but that everyone knew, in the final analysis, was no Old Town Chicago, no Manhattan New York—heck, pound for pound it probably wasn’t even…ah, what was the point…? His wife—she was going to a bridal shower that afternoon and he didn’t have to go. Because he had the blackberry on his knee and he was On Call and it was Saturday morning and they didn’t know that couple that well, anyways.
“Working hard this Saturday?” She asked, pointedly, on her way outside the family room, a bag purse over her shoulder and a Nalgeen water bottle in one hand with their unborn child kicking, stirring—growing ceaselessly beneath the thin, white, cotton sweater. “Are you going to at least call the guy about the security system?”
“In a minute,” he responded.
“Ahhh!” she said to herself softly. He surrounded himself with so many things. None of which had anything to do with her. But she knew that she wanted things and that he could get her things: things seen on TV, things her friends had, things her friends would have, things unseen, things for babies, sweet things to put inside her mouth, smelly things to bring to her nose, glimmering things, things her friends didn’t have, things her friends couldn’t have, socioeconomic things, things that vibrated, things that sung, things that kept her safe, healthy things, things that kept the poisons of pollution out, things that could buy her time, things that could keep her young, things that could give a girl options. THINGS! Yes, things…they were each symbolic of something after all: love? effort? devotion? Things didn’t come cheaply, after all.
He listened for the sound of her SUV starting up. The garage closed and he exhaled a sigh of relief. The house was his again. The way it had been his before she had come. Michigan State was up twenty points at the beginning of the second half. The deluxe pizza inside his stomach was making him sleepy. The steady monotonous cadence of the announcer was making him sleepy. The last of the third ice cold IPAs were making him sleepy. It was easier to let his eyelids sag close.
Something jabbed him in the shoulder. Not a gentle jab, but—he yawned, such a soft couch—but an impatient jab, a sharp jab that could not be a finger. It was—the mitered iron gun barrel. An antique. From his collection upstairs. Pointed at him by a—a hand! A hand connected to—
“What is it?” he blurted as his eyes focused on the monstrous shape sitting on the couch next to him. A yellowish, molding Cool-Aid t-shirt with the neck torn out, deep brown skin, sweaty, orange slim matted into his unkempt black hair, the fissure of his deviated septum burrowing through his upper lip and mouth and teeth and palate leaving a disfiguring gap above the mouth. He felt self conscious for referring to the person as an it. The blood rushed to his head and he blurted, again “What is—”
“El Malo Sonar,” the young man said. He couldn’t have been older than seventeen.
He flashed back a confused look at his assailant. He thought of the time and effort it must have taken to find and load his own antique gun. “El…what?” he asked.
“The Nightmare,” the young man explained, his severed lip flapping with a strange benevolent compassion in his eyes. “El Malo Sonar!”
“We can figure something out,” he blurted.
“Muy bien, Padre,” he said. The hammer on the antique gun snapped down. It clicked. It flashed. The barrel popped out grey smoke like an impotent child’s gag. Something huge and vicious hit him in the left breast like a cinderblock going a hundred miles an hour and time slipped away like a nitrous oxide mask and a doctor counting back from ten. Only the doctor was El Malo Sonar. El Malo Sonar was getting up off the couch and bracing himself for the spoils of his house.
“Don’t—” he began to say but he was saying it to a distant white light that he was flying towards. Flying closer and closer, closer and closer—it seemed a silly unimportant goal but he would get there.
And when he awoke he was back on the couch. Without the chest wound. No assailant to be found only he was hunched forward with the rumble controller in his hand and the headset looped over his ears in the middle of a game of Call of Duty. He didn’t feel at all anxious. It was as if reality had just skipped over a little stitch and now things were normal, again. Had he had a dream earlier?—a nightmare? Yes. A nightmare that seemed much too real. He had died in the nightmare. Then there was that moment where he wondered if he was still dreaming and a feeling of uncertainty as to whether or not he could prove his awakeness one way or the other.
“Goofball One to Wolverine, you going to check the perimeter?” his headset asked. The voice seemed a little unfamiliar, a little more immature than any of the players on his squad that he remembered.
“I’m—I’m on it,” he said and twitched his thumbs a little distractedly. Someone had messed with the settings menu in a time-out because the warehouse looked a little darker. Wait, he thought. Goofball One? “Goofball One, are you sure you’re on my squad? Is there some sort of glitch on the mix-up queue again?”
“You don’t recognize my voice, do you,” Goofball One said.
“It’s Sammy Majorner from fifth period English. Mrs. Burson’s class?”
He dropped his controller. He walked toward the TV. “But you fell off Danny Thompson’s roof?”
“I grabbed you out of the queue as soon as I saw you come up on the screen of available players.”
“I’m not an available player!” he yelled, nervously grasping the little microphone of the headset.
“It’s best to start playing right away. That’s why I snatched you right out of the queue. It may seem insensitive but this is the best way to go. Some players, they think they need all this adjustment time but they end up whining on and on and never letting go. It’s best to get back into the game. To hop right back on this horse. You know what I mean, bro?”
“We just play video games all day. That’s how it is?”
“Day? Day—night…these terms don’t apply. You can play as little or as much as you like.”
“But, I—I always thought. I thought that afterwards there would be something else. You know, something substantial.”
“Like what?” Sammy asked.
“I don’t know…”
“No seriously. Like what?” Sammy pressed.
“Angels…birds, trees…the outdoors…harps, clouds.”
“You can play all those games, too. We’ve got those kinds too, man. Find your remote control and turn on your preview guide. It’s fucking awesome!”
“I don’t want to play them as games.”
“I want the experience.”
“You didn’t want the experience before.”
“Well, I—I want it now!”
“Well, how much of an experience do you want? How are we supposed to know how much of an experience we can give a guy like you without making you so overwhelmed that you go all comatose on us and stop being the same person that you’ve always been? It’s the same argument with the new ones every time. They still want to be their exact same selves right when they arrive; then they want something that they’ve never experienced before, but they don’t know what that is. We’re all supposed to guess. They don’t like the way we got things set up. They don’t want to be scared. They don’t want hardships. They want to recognize the things around them at least a little. They think that we can afford to just make some small, fancy changes and not have those changes change us by huge amounts over time. We tried that. We made things fancy and weird and, over time, everything turned monstrous and then everyone that came here was terrified. Do you think I like constantly meeting hundreds of terrified people? Because I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Just relax. Enjoy yourself.”
“I can’t relax,” he said. “I have to know what’s happening to my wife. SHE’S PREGNANT!”
“Just look it up online,” Goofball One said.
“Online?” he muttered. “Online?” He noticed the blackberry resting on the couch and stooped down to pick it up and examine it closely. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I can not believe it.”
“I’ve got full-bars here.”