Four’thirty-five in the morning. Hilter cannot take it anymore – this is the third time he’s woken up tonight, it’s clear that his body does not want him to get any sleep. Abundantly clear. Leaving his bed messy and unmade, Hilter gets himself dressed in a huff and storms down the stairs of what used to be the Flannigan household before he bought it, then goes outside to take a walk through the darkness, slamming his front door behind him.
The sun is blazing in the sky both like and unlike Cooper’s older brother is blazing on the roof of Hilter’s house right now. The high school hippie waves hello to Hilter as the exhausted man – the man so exhausted that he couldn’t sleep for more than fifty consecutive minutes after the first time he woke up at thirty-three after three, and speaking of which, what is with these numbers? First the synchronous triple threes, then the second time he woke up it was three’forty-five, as in ascending numbers, and this time it was four’thirty-five, misordered ascension. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Is Hilter out of synchronization with the Universe, is he fucking up this therapist gig? He certainly fucked up his appointment with Cooper… but, no he didn’t, they reached a breakthrough together, Cooper said he accepted the death of his older brother, he said he felt like he didn’t need to come back.
What does it all mean?!
Hilter storms past the algae-laden pond at the end of Fricker Drive, ignoring the laughter of the neighborhood children as they run around and dance in the lawn. There seems to be a block party going on, all of Hilter’s neighbors are there – the Johnsons, the Flannigans, Cooper and his older brother, the single guy who got murdered during the second break-in, the man in the ski mask who murdered him, plus a bunch of humans Hilter’s never seen before. He should stop and mingle a bit; it would be good to get to know everybody, especially those unfamiliars who probably live on the next street up, which is less a street and more of a dirt road, but what do semantics matter in heat like this? When Hilter goes for his walks he usually sticks to Fricker, which doesn’t provide him the opportunity to meet the friendly folks living up on Barnstatter Path. This would be just that opportunity.
Then again, Hilter is in a fantastically foul mood this morning, and the heat falling down from the blazing sun (which resembles a crystal more than it does a star, a detail Hilter would find very perplexing if only he would look up and stare straight into it) is only boiling his blood further, so perhaps socializing isn’t the best idea. Hilter bypasses the pond and stomps his feet from asphalt to unpaved dirt. Rather than going past the Dead End road sign – because that is a sign from the divine if Hilter’s ever seen one – he goes right and heads up Barnstatter towards Stonetown Road.
The first house he passes is off to his left, it’s a ratty old shack with moldy plywood doors and a big deck made of knickknacks situated a bit further up the hill than the road is. Between the deck and the road is an expansive garden which sports plants that grow full pizza pies with toppings ranging from bacon to chicken to straight up unopened plastic bottles of ranch dressing. Hilter’s so taken by the sight of the pizza garden that he doesn’t notice the road rising under his feet – with each step taken forward he climbs about a foot, give or take a few inches, and suddenly, Hilter finds himself at the end of the shack’s driveway, at level with the ratty shack itself. Inside one of the windows next to the front door he sees a man wearing a ski mask. The man waves, and Hilter waves back, then continues to walk.
The next house Hilter sees, set below the road this time with a lawn of green grass bridging the gap rather than a garden, is a ratty shack with moldy plywood doors. There are two large naked men wearing ski masks in the lawn pushing rusty motorless lawn mowers in paths with no discernible intelligence in their design – aside from the fact they’re avoiding all the knickknacks strewn about the lawn like ornaments, that is – and neither of them wave at Hilter, which is fine. Hilter just wants to take his walk anyhow, although he does wonder how the men are wearing those stuffy black ski masks in this unbearable late-night sunshine.
Barnstatter descends to an elevation roughly halfway between the bottom of the uphill stretch past the pond on Fricker Drive and the mouth of the first ratty shack’s driveway. To Hilter’s left is an impenetrable wall of trees – smoothback beech trees, oaks with piles of acorns at their bases, patches of bamboo covered in blood, an odd maple – and to his right is a line of ratty shacks. Ratty shack after ratty shack after ratty shack, all of them inhabited by large naked men wearing ski masks, all of them bursting at the seams with old knickknacks, all of them doored with moldy sheets of plywood. The men all wave at Hilter as he passes. What choice does he have but to wave back?
At the end of Barnstatter, on the right side of the dirt road just before the Stonetown Road turnoff point, is not a ratty shack. It’s not a mere house, either – it’s a mansion, an elegant white and gold Victorian fortress standing eleven stories high complete with towers and windowless spires capped with gargoyle statues… no, those aren’t gargoyles. Those are djinns, muscular incense djinns with their arms folded before their chests. The structure is so tall that it blocks out the sun, which Hilter is very grateful for – had he been forced to spend so much as another second being exposed to the ridiculous heat of the four o’clock a.m. hour, he would have stripped down and went for a dip in the clear water of the pond between the mansion and the road.
“I could just keep walking…” Hilter says aloud, looking to the traffic climbing up and down Stonetown Hill. The cars are bumper to bumper and they’re moving, they’re hauling ass and squalling gas, they’re going so fast the colors of the paint all blend together into one ugly blackish-brown blur, they’re like an army of coked-up ants marching in a row trying to find more cocaine because they went and consumed the first pile they happened upon while they were out looking for a picnic to spoil. “I could keep walking… but there’s something about this mansion. I need to see who lives inside.”
Hilter turns to face the mansion and notices, for the first time, a rickety old rope bridge suspended over the moat of murky water which surrounds the building. He approaches it and grabs the rope on the right side of the bridge, shaking it a little to test if it’ll hold him.
“Ack, I have no idea what I’m doing. I may as well just go.”
And so Hilter goes, and so each and every board supports his weight.
When Hilter is halfway across the bridge, he hears what can only be described as the pained wail of a tormented banshee. He looks down into the dark water and sees something swimming just beneath the surface, something large and serpent-like, something with hollow, bulbous eyes and tentacles beneath its gills and bones on the outside of its body. It’s swimming back and forth from edge to muddy edge, as if it’s searching for something, something very important to it that it has lost – or rather, that’s been stolen from it – and by the tone of its demonic cry, Hilter gets the feeling that The Serpent knows it won’t find what it’s looking for. He presses on, stepping gingerly over the boards as not to accidentally crack them and fall through.
At the end of the rope bridge is a wide, rocky trail that runs a lengthy four feet – with an extra four and two-fifths inches tacked on at the end, Hilter is utterly sure of that much – before stopping at a gleaming marble staircase. Hilter climbs the stairs and then reaches for the loop dangling from the mouth of a bronze feline’s head, a feline Hilter recognizes as Fluffy, the housecat who came with the Flannigan household when he bought it. Hilter thinks about how he goes days and weeks without seeing or feeding that cat and wonders how the wily little mongrel is always so lively, so frothing with energy and vitality. Then, as the thought takes its leave from his awareness, Hilter bangs the knocker against the door three times.
The door swings open before Hilter’s hand falls back to his side. Living in the mansion is a six-foot-tall egg, an egg with a translucent shell and a glowing orange orb at its core.
“I’m an eggy boy,” the giant egg says without any discernible mouth. “I’m an eggy, eggy boy.”
The sound of knocking bombards Hilter’s ears with the force of rolling thunder. He falls to his knees and plugs his ears with his middle fingers, as if to tell the cacophony to fuck off, but it does not listen. It probably can’t even hear him because of how teeth-grindingly, ear-splittingly, skull-fracturingly loud it is, and it only gets louder and louder and louder and
“GRRAAGGHH!” Hilter screams into whatever it is that’s pressed against his face. He begins to flail his arms and legs around but it’s no use, whatever it is that’s covering his body has him good, it’s wrapped around him like a cocoon of silk, suffocating him like a pillow pressed to a face, heating him up like a sauna.
‘I was dreaming,’ he thinks to himself, his thoughts coming clearly and pristinely to his mind despite the fact that his body is continuing to scream. It seems that Hilter Odolf Williamson has disassociated from reality. ‘I thought it was real, but I was just dreaming. My brain was trying to tell me something.’
Hilter begins to convulse as the sheet tightens around him. He can feel the sweat leaking from his back and out his armpits, and his nose is confronted with the stench of his dry morning mouth.
‘There’s been a string of robberies in the area lately, only knickknacks and worthless decor pieces were stolen.’
Flailing his arms is no longer a viable option, as the sheet has tightened them to his torso like a straitjacket.
‘The shacks in my dreams were filled with knickknacks, and Cooper found a ratty shack in the woods yesterday.’ Breathing is beginning to be a difficult task. ‘Cooper said a man in a ski mask was living in the shack, just like the men in my dream.’ Hilter’s struggle becomes mobile. He flings himself off his bed, thinking, ‘The first break-in was just a robbery, then the second involved a murder. The third was just a robbery. The man is now in my house, he’s continu–’ until his head bashes the tile-top nightstand next to the bed, reassociating his mind to his body.
All thoughts disappear. The sheet loosens, allowing Hilter to breathe. As the pain creeps its way from the grenade-sized egg on the back of his head into his brain, he registers the knocking as an actual sound. Someone is at his door, and he’ll be sure to answer it just as soon as he dispatches the man in the ski mask.
Ripping the sheet from his soaked, clammy body, Hilter kicks and punches the air like a toddler throwing a tantrum. He connects with nothing, of course, because there’s nobody in his house, a fact he realizes when he finally opens his bloodshot eyes and feels the burn of the sunlight pouring in through the windows. All at once his limbs drop to the floor in a series of paired thuds. His hairy chest rises and falls in an erratic rhythm.
“Good God, Hilter,” Hilter says to himself under his breath. “You’re losing it, you’re really losing your fucking mind.”
The knocking continues to assault Hilter’s front door. With a groan he sits up and rubs the back of his head until he accepts that the bump won’t go away without an icepack, then he grabs the damp sheet, balls it, and throws it towards the hamper across the room. It goes in like a basketball through a hoop, which makes Hilter smile. He’s on the right path aft–
‘No, stop,’ he tells himself. ‘You just threw it well, it’s not a sign from the divine. Get dressed and answer the door.’
Hilter throws on a pair of black slacks and a plain white tee, then hustles down the stairs and answers the door. Standing on his stoop is a tired-looking boy with eyes that are too close together, lips that protrude from his mouth like the nose of a lying wooden puppet, and frizzy hair that seems to be thinning. If Hilter wasn’t a professional psychologist he would think the boy has some sort of developmental or just regular mental defect, but that’s probably not the case. He’s probably just ugly.
Neither of them say a thing for four (and eleven-twenty-fifths) seconds. They only gawk at one another with surprise, as if each wasn’t expecting to see the other.
Then, Hilter bridges the gap (moat) with, “Erm, hello there. How may I help you?”
The knocker, who’s holding a brown glass bottle in each hand, says, “Hi. Sorry, I–… you’re the first one on the street to answer the door, I thought everyone down here knew who I was and didn’t want to talk to me.”
“I… see,” Hilter sees. “Well I own all the houses on this street, so there’s your answer for that. Also, I have no idea who you are, I was just a bit… eh, preoccupied, so I couldn’t answer right away. My name is Hilter Odolf Williamson. I’d shake your hand, but,” he gestures to the bottles.
The ugly boy looks down at his bottles, then jumps a little with recognition. “Oh yeah, uh. I’ll… my name is Gill Milligan, Cee-Eee-Oh and head salesman of Gill Bottles. My sales haven’t been doing very well lately… or, or ever, to be honest, uh… um… so, so I’m going around offering free samples to my neighbors to try to spark some business.”
Gill holds out the bottles and Hilter stares at them for a few seconds, then resigns to taking them. They’re old, one of them’s a beer bottle (with quite a bit of dried grime on both the inside and outside of the piece) and the other is… well, it’s definitely a glass bottle. Hilter has no idea what to do now.
“Well… thank you, Gill. I don’t really… you sell these?” he asks, slightly exasperated.
“I try to,” Gill says, looking at his shoes. “I find them when I go exploring around in the woods behind the pond up the street. The guy who owns the auction hall across the dam says there’s a great market for old glass bottles as long as they’re not cracked or chipped, and I only take back the good ones. I clean ‘em up real good, too.”
“Uh huh, I can tell.” They stand there in silence again, Hilter holding the nasty bottles, Gill with his hands in his back pockets, holding his butt. “Well I suppose I can find a use for these, but I can’t promise you any business. You said Cyrus Morgan told you that these things sell?”
Gill looks up at Hilter so fast that he gives himself a spell of whiplash. “Who’s Cyrus Morgan?”
“The man who owns the auction hall across the dam. You’re talking about The Keeper’s Finds, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the place!” Gill says, shaking his balled fists. “He says the bottles always go in his auctions, so there’s clearly a market for them out there somewhere. I’ve even bought some of my inventory from him. Got it at a hell of a steal, too.”
Hilter smiles, but it’s not a particularly happy smile. “I’m sure you did… Gill Milligan, you said your name was? Why does that sound familiar…?”
Gill looks back to his feet. “Probably my Father, he’s kind of famous. I think he’s the richest guy in Treeburg, we live in the big house at the beginning of Barnstatter.”
As something tightens in his mind, Hilter puts it together. “Ah yes, those Milligans! I’ve been meaning to come up and introduce myself, I recently moved to the area.”
A few seconds go by, and Hilter decides that if Gill was going to say something, he probably would have already. “Well, is there anything else I can do for you, Mister Milligan?”
Gill’s head snaps back up like a mousetrap snaps down, his eyes wide like they’re bulging from his head (because they are). “Why’d you call me that?”
Hilter takes a half step back. “Erm… because your last name is Milligan, and I assume you’re a boy. Er, male, I mean to say.”
“No… I mean yes, I mean… usually Mister Milligan is my Father, but… well… someone once called me an eggy boy–”
The string linking Hilter’s perception to the reality around him continues to tighten, approaching breaking strain.
“–she even called me an eggy man, but… maybe she was just a dream.” He looks down, then back up at Hilter, allowing their eyes to meet. “Are you a dream, Mister…” Gill gulps. “Mister…” Gill’s mouth breathing begins to intensify, the stress spews from his pores in liquid form. “This is a dream, isn’t it? This is all a big dream.”
Hilter drops the bottles (they don’t break, as they land on the straw welcome mat and roll off to the sides) and lunges forward, grabbing Gill by the collar of his damp shirt, bringing him in close. “What do you mean, Gill?! Why,” a haggard breath, “why are you saying the things you’re saying?”
Gill’s breathing evolves into a wheeze and Hilter damn near throws him clear off the front stoop, but then he composes himself. “I’m… I apologize, Gill. I don’t know what came over me. You seem very distressed, and you’re not talking sensibly; I’m a world-renowned psychologist who studies the schizophrenia spectrum, and I recently began a general psychotherapy practice – would you like to come in and talk a bit? Pro bono, of course.”
Gill looks left and right, then over his shoulders. Then, “Why do you ask me that? Did my Father put you up to this?”
Hilter smiles again, but it’s not unhappy this time. It’s more empathetic, more understanding. “No, I’ve never spoken to your father. Please, come right in. I’ll make us some tea if you’d like.”
After staring up at Hilter for a few tense seconds, Gill walks quietly into the house. Hilter bends over and stands the bottles up, meaning to put some flowers in them or something later, if he remembers, it’s really not important, he’ll probably just recycle them after Gill leaves, then goes inside himself, closing the door behind him.
Gill doesn’t want any tea, so Hilter doesn’t bother making any.
“Wow, nice living room,” Gill gushes as he steps into Hilter’s living room. The floors are warm hardwood planks, there’s a large (and fully stocked) bookshelf standing against the back wall, and in the middle are two armchairs facing each other, one of which is touching arms with the couch between them. Next to each chair is an end table, one of which has a pen and a notepad sitting on it.
“Thank you, Gill,” Hilter answers, moving instinctively to the armchair with space between it and the couch. “Believe it or not, I have all of my living rooms set up just like this. I find it makes for a comfortable and stress-free talking environment. Please, take a seat wherever you’d like.”
“I’ll take the chair, if that’s okay,” Gill says. He’s standing in front of the chair but not making any moves to sit down. When Hilter affirms his choice, Gill sits down. “Thanks. I’m not allowed on the couch at home.”
Wielding the pen and notepad, “And why not?”
“My Father doesn’t want me spilling my eggs and ruining the fabric. He’s usually sitting there anyway, um… can I talk to you about something, Doctor?”
Hilter looks up from his notepad with what can almost be described as surprise on his face. “Of course, speak on anything you’d like.”
Gill slinks down in the chair a bit and stretches his legs out, crossing them at the ankles, then he folds his hands behind his head. “It all started with Rose, Doctor. She’s the one who called me an eggy man. I was her eggy man.”
“Well that sounds wondrous,” Hilter says, scribbling away. “Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I assume she’s no longer in the picture?”
A rueful smile spreads across Gill’s misfortunately arranged face. “Yeah, that’s right. She’s gone, vanished. Poofy.”
“Poofy,” stated with all the seriousness in the world. “She was the only woman I’ve ever had, Doctor, the only woman I’ve ever loved. She’s probably the last one, too. I’m not exactly a looker, Doctor.”
“Perhaps,” Hilter admits. “But physical appearance isn’t the only variable in the formula of attraction. It certainly helps, don’t get me wrong, but those who rely on it tend to be lacking in other areas. And please, no need to call me Doctor. I’m just a man, like you. You can call me Hilter, or even Mister Williamson if you’d prefer.”
A jolt runs through Gill’s body at the mention of the words Mister and Williamson, as if he was struck by a taser.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m… so uh, can… can I continue?”
Pen to notepad, Hilter nods.
“We met at my front door. She said she lived on… well, she told me she lived in the area and that she was out of eggs. I didn’t even get a chance to offer her some of my eggs, Hilter, she just started kissing me. We even fell over on the floor; by the end of the day, I was a man. An eggy man.” Gill sighs. “I’ll never meet another like her. I don’t even want to meet another woman, she sucked the soul clear out of my body.”
Hilter nods along, still writing.
“And before you accuse me of living a fantasy, she was real. I sometimes have trouble telling if I’m dreaming or awake – that’s why I said what I said earlier, by the way, to answer your question – but this girl… this woman was real. She lived in my house with me for three days before she disappeared. When I woke up to find her gone, all of the messes we made were still there.” Gill leans forward, then, “And we made a lot of messes. I had to wash my Father’s bedsheets four times just to get the smell out.”
“Your father’s…” Hilter begins to ask, but then he gets it. “Ah. Right. So erm… am I correct in saying she left your life just as quickly as she appeared?”
“Yep… and, and you know what else?” Gill says. His legs are crossed at the thighs now, and he’s sitting straight up, hands balled in his lap. “Right before she knocked on my door, and right before she said goodbye, I um… I burned an incense cone.”
Hilter’s penstroke pauses long enough for Gill to notice.
“What? Why did you stop like that?”
“I… let’s save my side of the conversation for the end. Please, continue.”
“What if that is the end?” Gill asserts with a question. “What if nothing weird happened, what if nothing that I can’t possibly explain went down, huh? Maybe she just smelled the smoke of the first cone and liked it and it attracted her, and then she smelled the smoke of the second one and left!”
“Gill…” Hilter says as he sets the pen and notepad down on his lap. “Tell me what really happened. I will not judge you, nor will I insinuate that you’re lying, and it will not leave this room.”
Gill is beginning to sweat. He’s a sweaty, eggy boy. “How do you know that isn’t what happened?” he whines, his eyes darting back and forth across the room. “How do you know??”
Resuming control of the pen and notepad, Hilter says, “Well, there are certain ways a therapist can tell if the patient isn’t being totally straightforward. I have a hunch that may be the case here. I may be wrong, but… well, I don’t think I am.”
“What, then?!” Hill spews, unleashing his repressed agitation, the spittle splattering against Hilter’s hardwood floor like smelly yolks from dropped rotten eggs. “If you’re so psychic, then why don’t you tell me what really happened!”
“I…” Hilter begins, then sighs. ‘Tread carefully, Hilter.’ “It wouldn’t happen to involve a djinn, would it?”
“A gin?” Gill spits. “I don’t drink, Mister Williamson. Rose was not an alcohol-induced hallucination!”
Although it’s hard to uphold, Hilter keeps his straight face. “That’s not really how that works, Gill… perhaps I should have said genie?”
All the anger falls out of Gill Milligan’s face, unlike the sweat leaking from his armpits, which abruptly stops flowing. “How… how did you know that? Have you seen them, too?”
“I eh…” he begins, then considers the safety of Scotty Mells, an ex-incense salesman who nearly lost his life when he gave up the gig for good. Scotty now lives under the care of Hilter’s bank account in the first house on Fricker Drive, which would have been Gill’s final stop had he kept going to peddle his free bottles; when Hilter found him, the boy Mells was floating face-down in the Monksville Reservoir with deep ragged slits in his wrists. At first Hilter thought the djinn nonsense was just that, nonsense, a sort of delirium brought about by living isolated in Treeburg’s industrial park and consuming the spoiled fruits of the polluted environment. But now there’s corroborating evidence… and how convenient is it that said evidence presented itself at Hilter’s front door. How convenient indeed… but there may be more to this Gill boy than he lets on. He could potentially be dangerous, especially to Scotty in his weakened state.
“I had a very strange dream last night. I walked up Barnstatter Path and there was a luxurious mansion at the beginning of it, presumably where your house would be if I walked up there in real life. There were djinn statues decorating the spires, and…” he sighs. This is all starting to venture into the realm of being far, far too much. “Let me ask you something, Gill: do you think dreams have any bearing on reality?”
Gill looks sideways at Hilter. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you think dreams are just dreams, or do you think they’re potentially… do you think they’re…” he sighs again. “I’m so tired, Gill. Ever since I moved to this neighborhood my life has only gotten stranger and stranger. I started compulsively acquiring all these houses for reasons that I can’t explain, I’ve met folk who claim to interact with metaphysical creatures and the like – one teenager told me there was a sea monster living in the Wanaque Reservoir, for God’s sake, and you know what? I believed him, that’s how far from baseline things have come for me. I’ve been having dreams that seem to be trying to tell me something, but every time I think I’m understanding the message, something else happens which only serves to thicken the plot. And now you’re here, Gill Milligan, you with your nymphomaniac ghost girl who appeared out of thin air, stayed with you for three days, and then disappeared. Life is ironic, I know that better than anybody; hell, I tell my patients that to help them cope, but… but this is just…”
With his elbows on his knees, Hilter lets his head fall and catches it in his hands. “Everything seems to be connected in a way that… it’s getting to be too much for me to handle. I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe what Gill Milligan is feeling right now, but he sure doesn’t like the look of Hilter’s desperation. “Um… I don’t know if this will make it worse, but… and I never told anybody this, not even my Father–”
“That statement means nothing to me, Gill,” Hilter says, his voice bursting with dismission and wormy self-pity. “My father died when I was very young, I didn’t have him to help me grow up.”
“Oh…” Gill says, feeling like a frog in the middle of a desert. “What happened to him?”
“My Mother murdered him in cold blood and stuffed him full of the fluff she pulled out of my stuffed animal collection, which she massacred along with all the neighbors’ pets and some of the local wildlife.”
“Oh… well my mother died during childbirth, so… I don’t really know how you feel, but… I think my Father resents me for it, I don’t know. He doesn’t really look me in the eye. I think he’s embarrassed of me, but can you blame him? He owns all of the Buyify company, and all I have is Gill Bottles.”
Hilter straightens in his chair. He looks to his notepad and the messy, chicken scratch notes he took, then uncaringly tosses it and the pen aside. They land on the hardwood floor with a slap and a clack. “You’re a good man, Gill Milligan. Don’t let your father torture you into thinking you’re not good enough, all right? You said you sometimes have trouble telling whether you’re in a dream or in reality, correct?”
Gill nods slowly, then says, “Yeah. I keep a dream journal and it sort of helps a little, but sometimes I still can’t tell. The journal sometimes appears in my dreams, too.”
“Well that might come from your lack of self-esteem. Your father is very successful, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s a god. He doesn’t get to decide whether or not you’re good enough. I had a fair share of issues with my Mother after… oh, what the fuck am I doing? Do you even want to be here, Gill?”
“I think I should tell you what I wanted to tell you.”
Hilter doesn’t even try to hide the rolling of his eyes. “Sure, fine, go ahead. I very much doubt I’ll keep up this therapist gig after this, anyway. I’m Goddamned shot. Go ahead, Gill, what do you have to tell me?”
“Rose said she had an uncle named Mister Williamson who lived on Fricker Drive when she first introduced herself, and then right before she disappeared, she said Mister Williamson was an only child, that he didn’t have any living siblings.”
This catches Hilter very much off guard; so off guard, in fact, that his guard shatters like the fracture edge of reality he had been clinging to until this point. As his psyche plummets into darkness, Hilter stands up, arms dangling at his sides like a ragdoll, and in a perfectly flat and toneless voice, he says, “Get the fuck out of my house. Get the fuck off my street. Go home and give up your shitty bottle selling dream, nobody wants to buy old glass bottles.”
“But, but Mister Williamson–”
“They were thrown into the woods for a reason, Gill!” Hilter shouts. “They’re fucking trash, nobody wants to buy your trash! Now get out before I call your father, you deformed little snot!”
Gill scrambles out of the chair as the tears begin to fall. He runs across the living room to the front door, his feet moving like a dog’s when it tries to run on a polished wooden floor. The bottles standing on Hilter’s steps don’t even catch his eye; he leaps down to the lawn, runs to the street, and disappears behind the trees. The wind, which had picked up as the sky darkened during Hilter and Gill’s conversation, slams Hilter’s door.
The loud noise knocks the pin out of the rage grenade nestled in the throbbing lump on the back of Hilter’s head. He stomps to the front door, rips it open, and storms out to his front lawn. The rain begins to pour as soon as his right foot bends the first blade of grass.
“What are you trying to tell me, God? What is it?!” he shouts at the sky, shaking his clenched fists at the rumbling black clouds. “All these troubled humans who I keep meeting, all these strange events that keep happening, all these odd fucking dreams and their corresponding real life incidents, it’s all too convenient!”
Lightning strikes in the near distance, sending a booming clap of thunder rippling through the sky.
“This is too much, God, this is all too fucking much! I can’t fucking handle it anymore, just tell me what you’re trying to say! If you have something to show me, then Goddamned show me you almighty COWARD!”
Just then, the downpour starts. The rain is ice cold and strikes Hilter’s face like bullets of hail. He stands against it at first, but then his shoulders slump, his arms fall, his legs bend slightly at the knees. Holding this defeated stance as the rain pours and pours and the wind continues to blow, Hilter mutters, “Maybe… maybe you’re the one who’s become too much, Hilter. Reality is under no obligation to make sense to you, you arrogant fool. Just go the fuck inside and shut your rotten mouth.”
With his drenched clothing sticking to his body like the sheet when he woke from his “symbolic” dream earlier, Hilter goes the fuck inside. He leaves a trail of soak up the stairs and along the hallway, a trail which ends at his bedroom door where he strips off his therapist’s uniform and leaves it for the carpet to drink dry. After drying off in the bathroom, Hilter slips into a pair of sweats which match the color of the sky and decides not to put on a shirt, because at the end of the day, all Hilter really amounts to is a hairless ape with a broken brain that works too fast for its own good. Hairless apes don’t need to wear shirts, especially those who own many houses. Hairless apes who own many houses can do whatever the hell they want.
But what good are all those houses when Hilter has nobody to keep him company? Nobody besides his catatonic murderer of a Mother, that is, who Hilter hired a hospice nurse to take care of so he wouldn’t have to spend time with her. All this confusion started when she came back into his life, all these connections started to appear the moment after he got the call where he offered to take her catatonic ass out of the facility for the criminally insane, and why did he even do that? Because he’s her son, because he didn’t want the burden of that woman to rest on the shoulders of the employees of the facility? ‘They all get paid to take care of her, Hilter, and all you’ve done is pay for it ever since.’
“You’re a Goddamned fool, Hilter Odolf Williamson. Gill’s old bottles aren’t the trash, you’re the trash. You should have just stayed in your old bungalow up in New York, none of this mess would be happening if you hadn’t been so unnecessarily altruistic. Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that she’s slipped into a semi-comatose state. Listen, why don’t you just pull the plug? Put the old girl out of her misery; God knows she’s better off dead. Ugh… if only I could go back. If only, if only…”
Hilter takes his laptop off the nightstand next to his sheetless bed and sits down. He opens the computer with the intention of bringing up some relaxing lo-fi instrumental music to accompany the raindrops pouring against the thin roof of his house, but he never makes it to the internet browser. A window is already open – it’s the security program Hilter installed along with all the many cameras on his many houses along Fricker Drive. It seems that someone has broken into one of his many houses, the one with the atrocious turquoise deck in the back.
‘The man in the ski mask,’ Hilter thinks to himself, forgetting all that self-loathing crap he was spewing about losing his mind. ‘The burglar. He appeared in my dreams, and now he’s struck again, he’s returned to the scene of the murder he committed to pick up any goods he may have overlooked.’ Hilter doesn’t bother with the phone, the cops would take too long to arrive, nor does he bother checking the footage the cameras captured – Hilter has to deal with this right now, he has to deal with it himself. Hilter will be enough. For the ski mask burglar, Hilter Odolf Williamson will be enough.
Draped in a hoodie and strapped with the dirty old beer bottle Gill gave him – that’s why God sent Gill, to make sure Hilter had a weapon to dispatch the burglar with! Of course! – Hilter Odolf Williamson takes off into the rainy afternoon, fully believing he’s racing towards his destiny.
In fact, one may say he believes it too much.
And the rain pours and pours.
And the wind continues to blow.