Misfortune

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A troubled man fears that he may dream himself into an early grave.

Submitted: May 20, 2017

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Submitted: May 20, 2017

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MISFORTUNE

by Greg Klepper

 

 

Hypnotically staring at the blank TV screen from his black leather armchair, Jimmy Pruitt strained to stay awake. High above him on a bleached white wall, the ticking clock screamed 12:01 in blinding red. Eyes bloodshot with dark circles, there would be no sleep tonight.  

Jimmy had not moved an inch as the sun rose into a blinding ball of white, casting horizontal beams through the blinds and into his tired eyes.  Grabbing the remote control from the end table beside him,  Jimmy clicked on a morning news program and began to slowly pry himself from the chair;  his vision now rife with spots that floated like phantoms across the room.

After a cold shower and three cups of bitter black coffee,  Jimmy slipped on his shabby brown overcoat, picked his keys up off the coffee table, and exited out the front door. 

That morning was the coldest in weeks.  Hordes of commuters bundled up tightly in their winter coats, shuffled through the city streets on their way to work.  As he walked among them, a familiar feeling struck Jimmy;  a disconnect.   It was an alternate reality.  A universe filled with people, whose days began with the morning and ended before midnight;  days that didn’t merge like a damp book with pages stuck together.  Jimmy walked the remaining fifteen blocks with his head down, watching the cracks and patterns in the sidewalk. 

Jimmy stopped in front of a mid-rise office building lined in shabby brick.  He took a breath and moved in through the lobby and up with the elevator, until exiting the fourth floor.   He stepped out of the box and into the office, a sterile cube with stained carpets, a dropped ceiling, and a miserable receptionist who greeted him with a wonky eye and gestured for him to take a seat.  

Dr. Clark always made him wait.  As Jimmy took a seat beside a fidgety 12 year old,  it had never been more apparent to him:  these appointments had become little more than a hollow ritual.   Jimmy was not taking the Ambien she prescribed him for sleeping and lately, the doctor had been pushing him toward hospitalization.  

and called Jimmy into her office to take his place.  Her face shone with disappointment.

The first minute of their appointment was marked by a deafening silence.  She observed, as Jimmy sat across from her, twiddling his thumbs.  

“I feel that we’ve hit a wall here.”  the doctor said, polishing her red rimmed glasses on the hem of her blouse.  “You don’t look good, Jimmy.  You don’t look good at all.” 

Jimmy sat in silence absorbing her words, navigating them slowly through the dense cacophonous fog.  

“Is this really how you want to live? Sleepwalking through life? Teetering on the brink of catatonia?”  Dr. Clark spoke with a subtle hopelessness.

She had spoken these same words to him many times and Jimmy’s attention seemed to be on the floor,  his eyes transfixed on the dated turquoise carpet.  The pattern of diamonds and circles began to intertwine, morphing with one another in an orgy of color.  Jimmy snapped out of it. 

in

. “I’m scared.”  

Dr. Clark looked at him curiously.  His sincerity had become difficult to gage.  

“So, then why do you do this to yourself? Every week you’re here on time.  You haven’t missed an appointment in well over a year, and yet this all seems to be nothing more than a distraction for you.”  Placing her hands gently onto her thighs, Dr. Clark leaned in toward him intimately.  “So tell me Jimmy, why do you come here?  What do you want out of our time together?” 

“I…”  Jimmy stuttered for a moment, struggling with what to say.  “I… want to live.”  The words escaped him in a display of vulnerability, a side not often seen by Dr. Clark.   Appearing even more frustrated by it, Dr. Clark let out a quiet sigh, before she spoke. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing.  If you continue on like this, it will kill you.  It’s only a matter of time.”

The words hit Jimmy like a pane of shattering glass.

The words were a sharp chaos, rising out of the cacophonous mire of blurred syllables and indiscernible speech to take on a life of their own. 

Looking sickly, Jimmy sat in silence for a moment as his palms caressed the color back into his face.  Then, in morose agreement, said:  “I know it.”  

He had not told her about the dreams.   Not dreams, nightmares.

 

Jimmy had not told her about what happened when hisgot to heavy; what happened when his attempts to keep himself awake would fail.   For the last 4 months, he’d fought to stay awake for one reason.   When Jimmy slept… he died.  

 

Lucid dreams.  Sometimes they changed, but the ending was always the same:

 He died.  Killed.  Brutal and cold, he awoke only seconds before slipping away.  

But with each new dream, those seconds grew fewer.  And as the seconds grew fewer, the gap between his dreams, reality, and a dark void began to narrow.  And Jimmy knew deep in his soul:  once within that abyss, he would not ever return.  It was for these reasons, Jimmy had to stay awake.

 

Later that evening, Jimmy clicked on an action movie.  He found an odd comfort in the explosions.  They kept him awake.  But as Jimmy yielded to the comfort of his recliner, the weight of exhaustion began to take toll.  His jaw began to drop;  and his eyes soon followed suit.  And soon there was nothing there but a body, which lay flaccid and helpless to the troubled mind within.

 

Freezing cold in the damp night air, Jimmy stood tall on the rooftop, desolate and bare, as he peered down at the city below.  He could see the cars below but did not hear them.  No sounds at all.  Just breath.  Despite this silence, he felt he was not alone.   Then he heard it:  

A muffled shot from behind. 

Whirling round, he saw no one. 

Jimmy sighed with relief, his breath casting a white shadow across the city night.

the pockets of his shabby leather jacket. Was something out there?  How high was he?  Jimmy leaned over the ledge to peer down toward the ground below.  Silence.   It happened too fast for Jimmy to see.  Before he could turn around, the air was ripped out from his lungs, with a violent rapid thrust.  Suffocating on his own terror, Jimmy barreled down toward the wet asphalt below.

Back in his living room, the first image of reality was the red glare of the clock.  “12:59 AM.” In a damp sweat,  Jimmy heaved in panic as his mind raced and tried to pull the pieces together.  Slow breaths.  Long slow breaths.  It took him a while to calm down this time.  

The clock.  Upon waking from the nightmares, his bleary eyes opened to one image.  The clock;  12:59.  Always taunting him with the same time.  12:59.  Never a minute sooner.  Never a moment later.  Always 12:59.   AM.  PM.  1 hour nap.  9 Hour coma.  12:59.  The dream never changed in it’s simplicity, and either did the clock that welcomed him back to reality.   The red numbers that gleamed at him like an omen from another world.  He was frightened of them. 

Jimmy drank iced black coffee from a glass pitcher till morning.  He made another for the afternoon.   It was around 2:00 PM that a knock came at his door.  It continued.Prying himself up from the chair took all his strength, but he needed to stop the knocking.

Behind the door, Charlie greeted him.   His best friend, who in these last few months he had grown apart from.  But Charlie never stopped trying.  And as Charlie stared in confusion and concern at Jimmy’s disheveled hair and bloodshot eyes,  he could not help but feel that the man he was now gazing at, was a stranger.

 

“Wow. You look like shit!” Charlie exclaimed, with a hint of sarcasm “What the hell’s going on with you, man?”

Jimmy took a few moments to decipher the words escaping his visitor’s mouth.  “Oh. Sorry.  I guess I haven’t slept much lately.”

“You guess?  Jimmy, man, you look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”

“I’ve just… been having a rough time lately.  Is everything alright?”

“Yeah. Everything’s fine, man. I was just gonna see if you wanted to go over to Joe’s with me to watch the game.” Charlie’s eyes stayed glued on his friend.

Jimmy hesitated a moment, then realized:   anywhere was better than here. 

After cleaning himself up for a minute, he followed Charlie out to the car.  As they drove, the two men listened to the radio in comfortable silence as armies of streetlights, stoplights and neon signs burned Jimmy’s retinas.  After about five minutes, Charlie pulled the car up beside a convenience store.   “What’re we doing?” Jimmy asked groggily.

“I just gotta run in here real quick,” Charlie responded. “You comin’?”

Without answering, Jimmy made his way out of the car and followed his friend into the store. Charlie was already at the counter buying a pack of cigarettes, and grabbing 

 

of lottery tickets. 

“Still bothering with those?” asked Jimmy with a tired smile. “You’re never gonna win.”

“Hey, somebody’s gotta win. Why shouldn’t it be me?” said Charlie, as he blacked in some numbers, seemingly at random. “Grab yourself a Pick 4, my treat.”  Jimmy declined the offer.  Charlie insisted.  Minutes later, there Jimmy was:  struggling to read the small print on the lottery ticket through achy eyes and a brain of fog. He couldn’t think. 

It was sudden like magic, that he saw them.   The four numbers that had been plaguing him for the past few months.   Surfacing in another dimension, they seemed to jump right off the card.  Jimmy took the small pencil and blackened the 1, the 2, the 5, and the 9;  he handed the card to the cashier to process. 

Jimmy got home a little past 11 that night. More alert than earlier but fearing the four beers he’d consumed might make it easier to succumb to the lure of sleep. 

the channels. After some commentary on the football game, he flipped to the news.  Medics wheeled off bodies from a tall building, with areas cordoned off by yellow police tape. Headlines changed from a local rapist, to school board cuts, and finally, lottery results. Jimmy had forgotten all about the ticket crumpled in his pocket.  Feeling a momentary excitedment

back at the ticket.  

After several drawings, it was time for the Pick 4 results. A pretty blonde clad in a tight red dress read the numbers off ping-pong balls as they popped up.  With a fake grin, her bleached white teeth gleaming, the blonde reported: 

“The first number tonight is…1, and the next is…2, and the next is…5, and the last is…9, making tonight’s Pick 4 winning numbers: 1,2,5,9. Tune in nightly for lottery results here on channel 8.”

Jimmy stared blankly at his ticket.  “I won.”

until he knew the words were true. His whole body ached.  Was this real life?

That night, the excitement overpowered any desire for sleep, an adrenaline which saw himself wide awake with ease.   Come afternoon, Jimmy gave a call to Charlie to share the news, and set out with bloodshot eyes to claim his winnings.

 

On the train, lost in thought, Jimmy nearly missed his stop. Quickly, he exited, ticket in hand. After walking in one direction, he paused, read the address from the ticket, turned around and walked back in the other direction, this time the right way.

After seven or eight blocks, Jimmy came to a tall glass building that towered over the street and cast a dark shadow.   Inside, he asked the receptionist for directions. 

“You can take that elevator right there up to the 12th floor.”

On the twelfth floor,  he spoke to a bald man in charge of prizes. After a 4 hour process to legitimize his identity and win, Jimmy held in his hands, the first check of several to come.  

Upon exiting, the sky had darkened and the streets were nearly empty, as the last of the commuters rushed home to their dinners, and to seek shelter from the freezing December air.   Jimmy walked, his hands in his pockets, his right clinging tightly to the check within.  He gave a glance at his watch, then the train station across the street. 

Once his check was cashed, he’d be rich.  Once his check was cashed, he his problems could dissipate. Traveling miles out of his way by train, to a stop he was not too familiar with,  Jimmy exited the station onto a desolate street, where his only company was in the loose bits garbage, floating violently in the wind.

Down the block, he saw it.  The big yellow awning.  He remembered it from last year.  His old doctor was right next door to it.  The big yellow awning with the words “24 Hour Check Cashing” in bold red letters. Light shone from inside the building.

and once called to the counter, handed the cashier the check.  “I’m going to need to get my manager for this one.” she said, before disappearing into a back room.  Jimmy was now alone in the shop.  He turned toward the door.  No one on the street.  It was silent.  Almost too silent. 

“Well, aren’t you a lucky guy?”

Jimmy whirled around nervously to see the young woman standing beside an older man.  

and forced a smile at the two of them.

into his hands from underneath the glass window. 

 

 

” Jimmy said.  He had never held this much money in his hands before.  It felt surreal.  

“You be careful with all that.” The manager called out from behind the glass.

As he reached the door to the shop, Jimmy quickly began to count the bills.  Suddenly, he was uneasy.  Jimmy felt the bumps rise upon his skin. Moving closer to the window, Jimmy peered out into the night.   Nothing.  Jimmy split the money into two piles,  sliding one into each of his coat’s front pockets, and exited out the glass doors into the night.

It had turned much colder and windier in the few minutes he had spent inside.  Jimmy walked back toward the train station with quivering lips as a violent wind stung his face.  It was only after one block that the unease hit him once again.  And he felt bumps rise on his skins through his many layers of clothing. Was it the silence?  Was his mind playing tricks?  Jimmy didn’t know.  But Jimmy knew that with each step, the feeling in his gut grew stronger.  The dread, he knew all too well was present.  It was almost as if he was not alone. 

Jimmy stopped short and peered back over his shoulder. Nothing there.  Nobody.  Silence.  Streetlights.  Nothing.  Trash dancing in the wind.   He began to walk again.  It was then that he heard them.   Footsteps.  Heavy and foreboding.   Faint.  . Footsteps from behind.  Stopping short, Jimmy bit his lip and whirled around. Nothing. Nobody there. The streets were as empty as they had been all night.  He continued on.  And with each step the footsteps came.  And when he stopped so did they.  Jimmy’s breathing grew faster,  as did his pace.  He was walking so fast he was nearly running.  A panic began to set in.  With every few steps, his head peered back over his shoulder. Jimmy's heart began to beat out of his chest. He began moving faster.  Consumed with paranoia.  Footsteps sounded again from behind. This time faster and clearer than before.  Consumed by fear.  Another glance over his shoulder and Jimmy’s bones turned to ice.   He could see a shadow of a man from behind.

Jimmy began to run, and his throat choked hard on the frigid night air;  his whole body stinging with every breath.  Shaking uncontrollably, at the end of the block Jimmy turned a sharp right and continued to run.  Suddenly, he stopped short.

alley way.  A dead end; the adjacent street fenced off due to a construction project.   And as the feeling of dread washed over him, Jimmy knew that he been here before.  This was a place torn from within his nightmares. 

Jimmy shivered uncontrollably as he glanced around, and drew in rapid heaves of freezing night air.  He saw no one behind him. Everything was silent.  Looking straight ahead, Jimmy noticed the dumpster beside the fence, and realized he could climb over. He took a deep breath and moved quickly.  Onward through the narrow way.  Freezing hands.  Deep pockets.  Jimmy gripped tightly onto the money.

“HEY!”

A muffled shot came from behind as a dark shadow cast itself over the alley.  Jimmy stopped dead in his tracks.   He didn't look back.  Jimmy held his head high and continued to run. Running.  Faster and Faster.  Almost there.  

BOOOM.. 

The bang erupted from behind.   The wind flew out from his lungs, as Jimmy was flung forward onto his stomach.  

Howling out in pain, Jimmy clutched his back as the blood oozed out from under him, collecting in a dark puddle. He listened to the footsteps.  They were soft now.  Slow. Walking the short distance between them.   Jimmy’s eyes now stared at a pair of dirty black boots that stood before him;  his eyes traveling upward to reveal a fading face.

A man in grimy jeans peered down at him.   An icy stare.  Scarred face.  Gun in hand.

“Empty your pockets.”  The man demanded.

Jimmy clutched his bleeding back. Tears poured from his bloodshot eyes as he struggled to breath. 

“I said empty your pockets or I‘ll shoot you in the fucking skull!” the man suddenly barked at Jimmy with fury. “Now!”

Convulsed with fear, Jimmy moved his fallen arms toward his bloodstained coat. As quick as his injury would allow, he reached his left hand into his pocket and flung a large wad of bills at the dusty black boots.

A hand sheathed in black leather picked up the pile. 

“Empty your other pocket” ordered the man who now spoke lightly. “Now.”

 As his hopes drained along with his blood, Jimmy struggled to comply. Finally, after pulling out his right hand, he flung the second pile at the man. These bills had been stained. The man picked them up in fury before slamming his steel toe boot into Jimmy's face.  

Jimmy cried out in agony, spitting out a mouthful of blood, as he watched the man, now a formless dark shape,  slide the gun out from the in of his coat.   Mustering all of his strength, Jimmy was unable to speak a word.

 

The second loud bang echoed out into the night.  The man disappeared down the far end of the alley and everything was silent again.  Jimmy was left near motionless in a pool of blood.   His eyes shut tight,  what remained of Jimmy‘s face looked completely serene.  

Dead in the freezing cold,  Jimmy was gone soon after.   And as he was finally set to rest, the clocktower high above him sounded out a lonesome chime.  It was no longer 12:59. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Greg Klepper. All rights reserved.

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