He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was falling, weightless and suspended all at once. Cliff had often experienced such dreams. He’d be on the brink of sleep, a pretty girl with a soul-shattering smile on her lips dancing at the edge of his subconscious and suddenly, bam! He’d kick the covers and sheets to the floor, his heart rate elevated, sweat on his brow, and the unshakable feeling that he’d slipped or fallen. It was just like that, only this time Cliff was powerless to stop it, and not altogether sure he wanted to.
He had almost no sense of time or self in the void but he was vaguely aware of direction, both up and down. There were two lights. Up above was something radiant and soothing, a white light that filled Cliff’s being with calm and serenity. He liked to look upon that light, and longed to bask in its radiance for he could feel so much love there. In that timeless paradox he felt his mother and father’s love, his grandparent’s love, that of the son he’d never have too, and he felt that in that soft light up above Happiness was a limitless potential. No, it was more than that, it was contentment as well and freedom from struggle and rapture all rolled into one… something too complex for words. Part of him was there already.
How he longed for that place up above.
But there was another presence. He was trying so hard not to acknowledged it, the red down below. A place overrun with fear and contempt, spite and guilt… oh yes. Cliff could not ignore that place, for he was already there too. Just as he could sense his better nature up above he knew, that down in the deep and painful red below he’d made a home too. Where in the soft light above Cliff knew Happiness, in that deep red below he knew fear, oh yes.
Fear was man, clad in milk-white skin, with blue eyes and blond hair, and he wore black suede shoes. His fingernails were sharpened to ten razor-sharp points, and the gold watch on his wrist glistened brightly in that deep red. Cliff, try as he might to avoid the man, Fear, made eye contact with the creature, and in that shared gaze he felt his heart clench up tighter than a fist.
Fear hurt to look upon, as much in the void as it did in the waking world of flesh, blood, and bone. As he wept Cliff watched in horror as the man he knew was Fear pointed at his golden watch and tapped it as if to say, “It’s only a matter of time boy, till you be mine.” Fear grinned, revealing the sharp, pearly-white points of his teeth, and Cliff tried to cry out… but he had no lungs with which to breath. And even if he did he had a vague suspicion that this place, this void, had no oxygen to speak of, and still he could feel his pulse quicken.
Fear tapped his golden watch, tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap, and the sound filled his being with dread. He shut his eyes, blocking out both the red in the deep and the comfort up above. He couldn’t stand another second with that vile being, tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap… the sound was following him as he fell on and on through the void in-between the waking world and rest in peace promised by the grave.
tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap.
Cliff tired to run. He knew he had no legs, but he had to try. He felt movement. He was moving forward. Bright light scattered and flowing hit his eyes as his face ran into something tight but pliant. In his mind he could still hear Fear’s tapping, and the golden watch that was counting down the seconds between the now and the moment where Fear would get a hold of Cliff for the rest of all time recorded and the ever after.
The water was cold but refreshing as it swept past his body. The surface he’d run into face first pushed back and sent him floating backwards across the bag. His vision, at first preoccupied with his coming into being, sharpened. There was a monster surrounding his bag, hideously distorted but through the veil he thought he recognized a woman’s shape. Her broken and twisted arm was pinching something above him.
He was in a bag, a clear plastic bag to be precise. He spun in a circle and something the color of bright fire caught his eye! Cliff had no idea what it could be but it vanished as soon as he saw it, and another thought struck him as hard as a bullet shot at 4000ft. per second… He was underwater. I should be drowning! Help! Why aren’t I drowning! To his relief and horror Cliff found his lungs were not waterlogged, but it didn’t make any sense. I do have lungs, right?
He spun the other way and saw that bright flash orange again for just a second. He spun faster and faster and there it was, that orange phantom, always in his periphery. Cliff went until his body ached from the exertion. He was exhausted, and there, floating in that bag held by the monster woman he saw the world beyond for the first time. A concrete pathway, patches of shade covering the ground, ivy of some sort, and there were steps leading up too… number 18. She was taking him into her apartment!
Through the door there was a single room, shelving for books, a kitchen around the corner, a TV mounted to the wall, a porch surrounded by trees, and finally she held him before a tank. Through the transparent film of the bag he saw them, the fish. There were six of them, maybe seven. Some were bright and had bulbous brains, other’s had long flowing tails… tails of bright orange!
Oh, no! This is terrible! He spun in a tight circle, again he saw a flash of brilliant orange disappear behind him and he knew it was true. Oh that’s fucking great… I’m a fish! I don’t know the first thing about being a fish!
A fish of deepest black, with eyes bulging out on either side of its head was floating before him in the tank. It peered at him with a knowing expression, and Cliff couldn’t shake the feeling that the bug-eyed black fish had the answers he desperately needed. “Hey!” He tried to shout, but his mouth just opened and closed without producing a sound. “Hey I said!”
It was futile, and the black fish just stared at him with a sideways glance.
The hideous woman leant in behind him and smiled something fierce that sent shivers down Cliff’s spine to the tips of his fins and back. “My god…” he mouthed and turned his attention back to the black fish. “Help! Save me!”
The woman spoke. “Don’t worry little guy, we’ll get you sorted out in a couple days and then you can join the rest.” Through the water her voice had a ghostly quality to it, and again Cliff was reminded of old man Fear and his, tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap… anything, even being a fish, was better than keeping company with that blue-eyed devil.
She plopped him in a smaller tank near the kitchen and there was already another bag sitting there next to him. In it was another fish, a little blue ball without back-fins, and with a brain as big as any he’d seen. Cliff had a neighbor. He peered up and saw the woman probing the water with a little strip of paper. The paper once brown, began to change color.
“pH looks good!” She smiled. “Once you’re a bit more acclimated I’ll let you out!”
From that angle, the woman wasn’t so distorted. She couldn’t have been much older than he, when he’d been human, and in that natural light beside the kitchen window she looked… not as hideous as he’d originally thought. She had a pleasant face at the very least, auburn in her eyes, and dimples when she smiled.
tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap.
He looked on her and remembered Fear, and suddenly he was drowsy. Above all he needed rest. Though he couldn’t close his eyes, and though the eyes of his neighbor seemed to be trained on him, he slept soundly. In his dreams he was bartering for pastries, a young Starbucks manger was being responsive and eager to help instead of blank-eyed and oblivious, and best of all the police never came, and the bomb never blew, and life had gone on without a hitch or a swish.