The last thing I remember before my alarm went off was trying to run.
I was exerting a great deal of effort but was getting absolutely no
response from my legs. It was a dream and worse, I was aware of that. I was
cognizant of the fact that I was dreaming - what the experts call "lucid
dreaming" - and yet I still could not get my legs to move. I could, though,
move my head. Not that I wanted to, but it certainly was an option. I
refused to turn my head around because I was petrified of whatever I so
desperately wanted to run away from. I had no idea what it was, simply that
it was coming.
In fact, it was already there.
A shadow as black as the darkest night fell over me. My instincts
were screaming at me, sending me in two different directions at once. First
they yelled: "RUN YOU FUCKING IDIOT! RUN!" then, practically at the same
time: "Turn around, already! see what the hell this thing is!". Fortunately
I was spared from actually making such a conflicted decision.
The alarm went off - a loud, incessant buzzing in my ear. The dream -
the nightmare - melted away as waking consciousness took over. I opened my
eyes and looked at the buzzing alarm clock. Giant green numbers glared
cruelly back at me.
It was eight a.m..
In the morning.
I turned the alarm off and groaned. I hadn't been up this early for
months now. I didn't need to. After switching to afternoon and evening
shifts at work, I started staying up later and later watching old
television shows on my newly acquired cable television. The switch to the
night life was natural which meant to subsequently have to wake up at eight
a.m. after not going to bed until after three a.m. would be considered
nothing short of unnatural.
I pushed myself up into a sitting position, all the while wondering
why, oh why did I agree to work the morning shift today? The answer was as
obvious as the big green numbers on the alarm clock: I needed the money. To
be honest, life had been just less then spectacular the past few months. My
roommate (who had paid most of the rent) disappeared without so much as a
note, I failed the previous semester at the university and lost the
scholarship that kept me attending the place to begin with, and, to top it
off, got dumped by the one girl who ever showed me the slightest bit of
romantic interest my entire life.
Money was the main reason why I agreed to work the morning shift. The
second reason was to try and keep busy. Which was a slightly flawed plan.
The staying busy part was smart - if I didn't I would've fallen into such a
deep depression about my stasis in life I probably wouldn't have come out
of it. The less than intelligent part of this plan is that I work at a
library. And since it's the tail end of Spring, of course everything has to
grind to a halt. Meaning going to work involves sitting around waiting for
someone to come in and look for a book. Which means I had a lot of time to
dwell on such unpleasant thoughts such as how much of a complete failure I
The smart thing to do, I realized, was to just keel over and go back
to sleep. I mean, what did it really matter in the long run? The problem
here is that if wanted to maintain any semblance of hope that I might just
survive in the world on my own, away from my family, well, I needed money.
It was with these thoughts that I pulled myself together and got
ready for work. As I showered and got dressed, my dream slipped into the
back of my head until I forgot about it completely. I focused my attention
on how much I didn't want to go to work and how I would much rather just go
back to sleep.
I had a quick, small breakfast before heading out to the car, locking
the apartment up behind me. As I drove to work the radio station I had on
bragged about its uninterrupted blocks of music. Then there was a long set
of commercials before the DJ came back on, once again broadcasting the fact
that this station played the most music and the least amount of
commercials. I turned the radio off before another set of commercials could
The drive to the library is a very brief one - five minutes, tops. It
was Saturday morning and the roads were pretty quiet. The complete lack of
human activity only served to remind me how much I would have rather had
just stayed in bed. Of course, it was far too late now to actually do
anything about it .
My usually wandering eyes were watching the road, kind of out of
focus. I knew the route and wasn't really thinking about it. I was about to
turn onto highway twenty (the road that ran through the city and proved to
be the main line of transportation for getting anywhere) when something
caught my attention in my peripheral vision. My gaze shifted to what had
looked like some kind of shadow in the sky, but there was nothing there.
Not even a cloud. The fact that it was such a beautiful day out was
starting to get to me - I was going to spend it pent up in a dusty old
I arrived at the library and parked in a distant spot. One of my co-
workers asked me once why I parked so far away. I told her it was so I
didn't have to around giant trucks or SUVs if they parked on either side of
me. Yes, I had to walk a little bit farther parking out in "no man's land"
but it was easier in the long run.
Getting out of the car, I started walking towards the building. A
dark shadow fell over me and I got a distinct sense of déjà vu. Glancing
around, I saw an expansive shadow slowly consuming the whole parking lot. I
craned my head back and saw a black cloud rolling across the sky. It wasn't
a rain cloud, I know that much. It reminded me of smoke from a brushfire,
except it was darker and it wasn't billowing straight up but instead
I had no clue as to what to make of the cloud. It made no sense to me
whatsoever. A minute ago it had been clear and sunny out and now the last
rays of sunlight were being blocked out by the darkest cloud of something I
had ever seen.
And there was something else. I sniffed the air and caught the scent
again. It smelled like smoke - there was something definitely burning. The
temperature was dropping and the air felt different, like an electric storm
was only moments away.
I turned around, looking at the sky, wondering what in the hell was
going on. It had to be a thunderstorm or something. I mean, what else could
it possibly be?
Entering the library I saw two of my coworkers already bringing the
circulation desk up for the day. There were two ladies - the same two who
open the library every weekday. Susan Pratt was in her late forties and had
been working at the library for six and a half years. She was a tall woman
with long brown hair. Despite a friendly, outgoing personality, she had
never married and remained undeniably single. Mary was the other clerk. She
was fifty-five, shorter than Susan, and had black hair styled in a simple
bob. If there was one thing Mary would want someone to know about her it
would be by how much she disliked the library and how much she was
anticipating her coming retirement after fifteen plus years of
"Morning, ladies," I said. They tended to get fussy if introductory
formalities weren't exchanged at the beginning of the day.
"Hello," Mary said.
"Good morning, Martin," Susan said.
If there was anything worse than formalities, it was routine
formalities that have to be exchanged on daily basis - if not an hourly
basis. The thing gets said, the same exchange occurs each time I come into
work. All day I would have to put up with it with each patron that came up
to the desk to check out a book.
"Hello, I would say to them. "How are you today?"
"Fine," would be the reply. Or 'good' or 'not too bad'. Rarely would
anyone actually say that they were less than satisfied with how their day
was going. "And how are you?"
Like they really cared. I would reply with the briefest, simplest
response, just to keep things going and get them out of my face. Each
exchange would end with me saying, "Have a good day."
Which of course, I don't mean much less remotely care. And so goes
routine formalities. They don't mean anything but are a necessary evil if
you work anywhere that maintains any semblance of customer service.
"Did either of you notice that black cloud out there?" I asked as I
stepped behind the counter.
Susan stopped what she was doing to look out the windows. The sky was
just as clear as I had left it. She looked at me confused.
"Black cloud?" she said. "There isn't a cloud in the sky today."
"Well not now, there isn't. It kind of blew right over."
Mary stared at me. I regarded both of them and got the distinct
impression that neither of them knew what I was talking about. I decided
not to push it. As it was, I wasn't exactly on good terms with the library
and the people I work with so it didn't exactly make sense to encourage the
notion that I was a few options short of a combo meal.
"If you didn't want to come in to work today you shouldn't have
agreed to work the extra shift," Mary pointed out.
I nodded as I grabbed a cart and walked over to the book drop next to
the front door. "Thanks, but I actually wanted to come into work today."
"There's a first," Susan said to herself.
"You're telling me," I said. "You know, I was this close to just
staying in bed this morning." I held my index finger and thumb a half an
The book drop easily filled up two carts and we spent the next half
hour discharging the material before the doors opened to the public. I kept
my eyes on the windows, waiting to see a change in the weather - at very
least another black cloud. But there was nothing. The minutes rolled into
hours and the day progressed (at a pace that could only be described using
words such as "extremely" and "lethargic") my patience began to wear thin.
It was the little things, really, that were starting to get to me. The
routine formalities - incessant and never ending - just as soon as you
finished the routine with one person another came to take their place. It
was a neverending cycle and it was beginning to drive me crazy.
The events that followed seemed appropriate. It would be the
equivalent of the universe sucker punching me in the gut.
A guy came into the library. He was familiar because he was always
loitering in or around the place. He was tall and gangly, his shoulder-
length brown hair grungy and full of dirt. His clothes were old and worn.
If you were to pass by him too closely you probably would be overpowered
with the odor of a man who hadn't washed in weeks, if not months.
I called him Mitch. He never checked anything out of the library - he
didn't have a card to do so. He would come in and spend his days reading
magazines or the occasional book. Loitering outside the library, he would
eat the occasional lunch and drink a liquid from the same Pepsi bottle
Today, Mitch staggered into the library making his presence very much
known. He pushed through the front doors and staggered up to the counter,
grabbing it for support. The man looked worse than ever. His dirty hair
hung in his face, obscuring his eyes. And he groaned. As I think about it,
it could have been a moan. Either way you could tell the man was in some
kind of anguish.
Susan, who had been standing next to the counter, lurched backwards at
Mitch's entrance. He reached over the counter with a grimy hand, stretching
out to grab her.
"Help ... me ..." The words came out in a low, raspy voice.
Susan stepped back even farther and Mary came up behind her.
"What's the matter? What's wrong?" Mary demanded.
"... crawling ..." Mitch groaned. "They're all over me!"
The last part came out as a scream and Mitch started jumping around,
swiping at his body as though covered with unseen bugs.
Mitch did his mad dance. Most of the people around him were smart
enough to get out of his way but he still managed to bump into one or two
people. It was at that moment I saw sparks in my peripheral vision. It was
only for a second - it looked like fourth of July sparklers going off. I
jerked around to see what caused the sparks but saw nothing. My eyes must
have been playing tricks.
Mitch collapsed to the floor and began convulsing, spittle flying
from the corners of his mouth as he cried out. Mary stood there watching as
Susan went for the telephone. Not knowing specifically why, I stepped
around the front desk to get a better look at Mitch as he writhed on the
ground. As I came around the corner and he came back into view, my breath
caught in my throat. Covering Mitch nearly completely was a layer of black,
insect-like creatures swarming all over him. They didn't stop moving - they
were like ants at a picnic.
Each creature was about the size of my thumb and looked to have six
legs each. The head of the bug had pointed pincers underneath a pair of
hideously long feelers. And the bugs were black. Light didn't reflect off
of them, they were like empty voids.
"Get them off!!!" Mitch managed to yell.
I took two steps towards him before the stench of his body odor hit
me full force. I dropped to my knees, not having a single clue what I could
possibly do for this homeless bum.
And then the bugs stopped. They froze and all turned at once to face
in one direction. I felt a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach and
realized that these unearthly creatures were staring at me. With a renewed
furor, the bugs attacked Mitch and began to pick at his skin. I sat there
in shock and watched as the bugs burrowed into his body.
The convulsions reached a fevered pitch as the bugs slowly
disappeared underneath his skin. Mitch's erratic seizures slowed to
twitches and then, after a moment, he lay perfectly still.
A hush fell over the library.