|For some people, 11-9 was the new 9-11.|
Note: This was a short story I wrote on November 9, 2016. I tried to sell it but couldn't find any takers. Oh well. It was meant, as you'll soon see, to be topical. Which means that it's now embarrassingly dated and will only become more so as time moves forward. Before it completely turns to dust, I thought I'd post it here. J.B.
Greg Samsa was having an incredibly detailed and stressful dream about being chased down a long corridor, Indiana Jones style, by a giant, rolling tangerine when suddenly, he awoke to find himself safe in his own bed in Schaumburg, Illinois. At first, not realizing where he was, he sat bolt upright and gasped audibly as his eyes darted nervously around the room. But soon enough, he started recognizing the familiar sights he saw ever day: the dresser, the laundry hamper, that chair in the corner that no one ever sat in. He sighed with immense relief, then laid his head back down on the memory foam pillow.
The sun was already up by then, and Greg wondered whether or not he had overslept or stupidly forgotten to set the alarm. "Shit," he thought, "Am I going to be late for work? Great, just what I need." He reached over to his iPhone on the nightstand to check the time. It was only 6:45. He could still sleep for another 15 minutes. But he was fully awake at that point, so he decided he might as well get a head start on his day. Could this be the morning that he actually had a decent, unrushed breakfast like a normal person for a change?
Greg rolled over on his side toward his wife, Debra, who was still asleep. She didn't have to be up until 8:30, that lucky duck. He studied his slumbering bride for a moment before realizing that something was noticeably wrong. Her snore was louder and more aggressive than normal, for one thing, and her silhouette under the covers was larger and lumpier than it should have been. Deb tended to put on a few pounds during the holidays but nothing like this. Had she worn a snowsuit to bed?
Only Deb's head was sticking out from under the covers, and she had her back to her husband. But from what was visible, Greg could see that his wife's hair was drastically different this morning. Her sensible brunette bob had been replaced by an unruly mane of golden hair, the flaxen tendrils extending in all directions like papers scattered by the wind.
With a mounting sense of unease and a knot forming in his stomach, Greg lifted up the covers to examine his sleeping wife. What he saw horrified him. It was the body of a 70-year-old man, clad in a white cotton T-shirt, saggy boxer shorts, and black socks held up with garters. This was not Deb at all!
Greg leaped out of bed and started screaming uncontrollably. Sounds escaped from his lips in short, sharp blasts, like an emergency siren: "AH! AH! AH! AH! AH!"
This was enough to rouse the stranger in his bed. The intruder squinched his face up and made some petulant snorting sounds before slowly and painfully raising himself to a seated position, resting his weight on the palms of his curiously undersized, doll-like hands. Beneath the queer mop of Day-Glo golden hair was an imperious, unpleasant face, the half-melted features molded into a grotesque, haughty sneer. The old man's leathery, wrinkled skin was the exact color of toasted Wonder Bread, except for two fish-belly-white rings around his cold, narrow eyes. Greg thought he'd never seen someone so hideous.
"Greg?" said the stranger in a raspy, whiny voice that sounded like a wiseass kid trying to imitate a gangster from a 1930s movie. "What's the matter? What's happening?"
"WHO ARE YOU? WHERE'S DEBRA? WHERE'S MY WIFE?"
"Greg, honey. It's me. It's Debra. There's no problem, believe me."
"YOU'RE NOT DEBRA! YOU'RE... YOU'RE..." At that moment, Greg Samsa finally recognized the stranger in his bedroom. "NO! NO, IT CAN'T BE!"
Greg then glanced down at his own body for the first time that morning. The paunchy, dilapidated physique he saw below the neck was not his own. He held his hands up in front of his face and saw -- to his unimaginable horror -- that these, too, were unfamiliar to him. Thay'd shrunk overnight and now reeked of cologne. And were the nails now somehow manicured?
Overcome with panic, he dashed to the small bathroom that adjoined the bedroom. Flipping on the light switch, he examined his own face in the mirror. What he saw seemed impossible: His facial features matched those of the stranger in his bedroom. The sagging jowls, the jutting lower lip, the cruel brow, even the uncanny complexion. Now quite nauseous, he hooked his thumbs under the waistband of his shorts and pulled the fabric away from his body. Glancing down, he saw a limp, grey, lifeless appendage somehow attached to his crotch.
What was happening? Greg, now all but delirious, ran to the front window of his home and looked out to survey the scene. The houses and cars and trees were all still in place, just as they'd been the day before. All seemed normal. Had nothing else changed? But wait! There, across the street, was old man Mulgreevy, whose formerly bald head was now adorned with the same, strange yellow hair that both Greg and Deb now sported. And just over there was Edna Fabish, walking that poop-happy Pekingese of hers, just like she did every morning. But now, both Edna and the Pekingese looked like sunburned Yodas, and they had the same ghostly rings around their eyes.
Greg was stunned beyond the capacity for words. In a daze, almost like a zombie, he staggered toward the front door, opened it, and walked out onto his front porch. From there, he felt compelled to keep walking until he reached his mailbox. He noticed then that the morning paper had arrived. Mechanically, as he'd done for thousands of mornings in a row, he removed the paper from its plastic sheath and examined the headline:
"AMERICA TO BE MADE GREAT AGAIN."
He let these words sink in for a moment, or at least tried to, then carelessly let the paper fall from his tiny hands onto the ground. November 9 was going to be a long goddamned day. That was all Greg Samsa knew.