It wasn’t like a news report or a television show. It was more like paintings. Detailed saturated paintings. Flashes that explode—weighted down with emotions—tethered to the trapped moment.
The dreams were like that.
On Wednesday July 15th Frances curled herself into her boat like every other night. She heard the humming from her bees—the continuous buzzing as they ventilated the hive. The hive never slept. But Frances did.
Frances folded herself into her favorite quilt. It had kittens on it and one kitten’s head was not quite aligned with the seam making her sweet face warp and sneer. The kitten's eye unblinking and enormous. This was France's favorite kitten. She slept with that kitten cornered against her cheek. This intimacy was easy. Not real. But real enough.
When Frances was younger after her grandmother had died gasping like a trout in her deathbed—but before Frances bought her boat—she had an affair with a sailor. He’d had a mustache that curled and Frances thought he might open her up. Sex sometimes did that. She’d read about it. And Frances felt so far away from her classmates at the boarding school her rich bored parents deposited her at every fall and through most of the summer. She thought she might have a grand romance. The sailor would set her on fire and speak French and she would feel things. Big things. But instead the sailor had kissed her wetly and asked her if she could make a little growly noise he liked while he climbed on her and she drifted away. Like always only more so. It turned out the sailor was an ordinary man that smelled pleasantly of pistachios and left her feeling a little lonelier. He didn’t speak any French. After that, Frances bought a thick quilt and down pillows and concentrated on dreams. She didn’t regret it.
On this Wednesday her dreams were delicious—a weeping woman fell asleep dreaming of eating ravioli from a can—a cat snaking around her ankles. She tasted like heartbreak and Parmesan cheese. Salty.
And then another dream unfolding—a man holding his head which became a moose then a bottle of rum then a stuffed monkey gibbering.
A boy dreams of dogs. Dogs that eat his small enemies. A boy dreams this and makes plans. Someday.
Frances could eat all of these dreams, enjoy the taste and feel only the pleasant satiation of the observer. Adrenaline and dopamine—but just a little. Just enough.
And then—like a kick to the mouth—it all went black. A howling void. No dreams at all. And Frances—not dreaming—felt herself split open. This was not the distanced hummy buzz she knew. This was now. This was bitter and world ending.
Frances woke covered in sweat. The boat swayed. Eerily quiet. Frances opened her bedroom door—walked onto her deck. The hives were silent. In the cool moonlight—the water around her boat was on fire. And when Frances looked down at her bare feet she could see that her deck was covered in thousands of dead bees. Frances had never been more awake.
Across the lake in her one bedroom apartment—with a lake view. Almost. Almost a lake view if you squinted from the kitchen. Audrey was also awake. She was looking at whatever was in her sink. It was sticky. That was the first thing. And warm. Like blood maybe but it wasn’t blood. It was something gray and it was coming up from the kitchen drain.
She had called Tom Tiddle the landlord. He was part of a big management company so no one called back and they wouldn’t until later in the week. Even with the shut down—the management company was strictly 9-5 Monday through Friday. If that. So Audry had all week to worry about the gray sludge. She figured she could probably plunge it but she didn’t want to—thinking what was behind it—some kind of animal or a dead thing or something worse. What was the sludge and what was going to spurt out? She looked it up on the internet and gray sludge was usually some kind of backlog of bits of food and maybe roots growing into pipes. But there wasn’t anything wrong with any of the other drains. So Audrey did what she did best at and avoided it. She used the other sink and left it alone.
Audry was alone and she figured whatever it was was probably smarter and stronger than her—even if it was only mold. Tonight though—watching it—it had changed. It was moving writhing, undulating, you might say, if you were the kind of person to say that. A gray twisting mass that glittered and now made a noise. A noise like hissing. Audrey felt drawn to it. She found herself in the kitchen losing time just looking at it.
It was getting bigger. And louder. And by midnight it wasn't just hissing it was cooing and making sounds like a baby crying. And the gray glop had formed itself into a hand. A tiny hand. Of course Audrey questioned her eyes—her mind. She’d been alone in the house for weeks. When the shut down first happened she was texting coworkers and calling her Mom looking at memes but that had—it had dwindled off. She’d gotten used to being alone. She liked it. The quiet. She wasn't insane. She knew that. She could see the strangeness of course. But it was all strange these days we were all becoming different versions of ourselves. Manifesting in ways that were unexpected. She had always considered herself a social person. But she found the lack of people—no work—no crowded bus tunnel—no smell of gasoline, wet dog, fried food, dog shit—the smell of people crushed together—she didn't miss it—she didn’t really miss anyone at all.
So yes, there was a tiny hand in her kitchen sink clawing its way over the edge of the dish drainer and it was crying. And that was something… new. But it was all new. And was new necessarily bad? So she did what anyone would do—she picked it up. The tiny screaming hand. She held it in her hand. And it stopped wailing. “Well,” she thought. “It was probably just scared like me. Alone here. It’s all alone living in a strangers sink nothing more than a helpless hand.” She wondered what it ate. Did it sleep? She let it creep around the fridge but it didn't seem interested in noodles or celery or even cake. The hand seemed to like Audry well enough. So she let it perch on her shoulder while she watched the news and it curled itself pinky first into her hair while she took a bath.
The kitchen sink was still stopped but the gray ooze had hardened. Audry didn't need that sink. Not really. She called the management company and told them she didn’t need them to come. There was no problem. And there wasn’t. She stroked the tiny hand until it was settled and still against her that night. The hand seemed to like that. She turned off her phone. She didn’t want to explain. Audry wasn’t the person they are calling. Not anymore.
The hand it seemed at peace nestled near her belly. And then, the hand—it started poking. Pushing at her. Tickling maybe but more insistent until it was almost painful. She pulled it away but it was so strong. And it was digging. She couldn’t remove it. The hand it dug and dug ripping and pulling until it broke the skin. Audry’s skin. She watched the blood dripping and a sudden quiet. The hand had settled. It was dipping one delicate pinkie into the blood. The hand was—it was eating. So, Audry let it. She didn’t mind. Now that the pain had stopped it was surprisingly soothing watching herself bleed. Watching herself be consumed. The hand sliced her open and reached in.
Audry felt herself fading in and out. Dreaming about a woman on a boat holding a fistful of dead bees. Dreaming about just black. Some kind of ending. When she woke up—Audry knew—eventually, she’d run out of places to slice and what would happen then? Then abruptly, the hand seemed agitated- less present. It didn’t rest itself in the crook of her arm or twist her hair in its fingers. And just as the sky started to lighten the hand returned to the sink, it faded gray grayer and grayer turning liquid and dissolving into the drain. The hand was gone.
All of her little gouges would scab over in time. Audry hoped there would be scars. But now, Audry felt alone. She had only her nightmare. If she poured her blood down the drain would the hand come back? Her drain was working now and she had plenty of blood left.
Things in the lake were bubbling up. The lake was on fire and its secrets were rising to the surface. Some of it had started churning underneath a long time ago. Brent Dubble had drowned in the lake thirty years ago. His Mother thought he had just run off one day. Brent was a troubled kid—a bully and a big mouth—he had a scar on his back from a knife fight and a gun hidden in his sock drawer—he was on his way out. Everyone knew that. But he hadn’t run off—he’d fallen asleep cuddling a bottle of Everclear and the slick drag of the lake had pinned him to the silty bottom and sucked him under forever. Until tonight. Tonight Bret Dubble’s jaw bone came floating to the surface. Along with lost rings, watches, flippers, bathing trunks, dog collars, plastic straws, a baby tooth, a switchblade with a blonde hair caught in its coiled springs—the slivers and scraps from forgotten children and used up dreams—the city's invisible histories.
The lake was on fire and Frances could see the end of the world. And she was afraid. Afraid of what was coming—what was new. The Queen bee was somehow still alive—flying blindly into the edge of the railings. Frances watched numbly as the Queen plunged herself into the lake like a sacrifice—disappearing into the black water.
Audry wasn’t afraid—she stood at her window—as the lake offered up its whispery confessions, burning a path for whatever was next. Purging itself of human heart break and hopes. Audry opened her palms wide. Whatever was coming was welcome. She had plenty of blood left.