There sat the darkened, semi luminous glass again. The right hand was supporting the chin, the left unnaturally resting on some sort of smooth, tepid object.
There was no startling awakening.
The eyes snapped open, but otherwise there was no indication of consciousness. The left hand twitched, just slightly, and the dark glass re-illuminated itself. Its previous hints of phosphorescence became painfully obvious to eyes only just recently rendered capable of sight.
The soft, resilient chair did not so much as creak.
Only in retrospect did the bass laden thunk register to human consciousness. The smell of tobacco, incense, and something familiar yet cloyingly exotic filtered through the haze. On a plain white plate sat a few small dribblings of coagulated blood.
The right hand was still completely numb.
The eyes conveyed meaning without focus, directly to a still sleeping mind. This mind, enraptured in a lucid dreaming state, was filled with symbols and foreign images, a Rorschach whirlwind to the active subconscious...
And that's when the stupid alarm went off.
In Caroline's dream, she sat on a warm, gentle foothill. There, she was counting flowers and gazing at the clouds, interpreting the patterns they revealed. She watched the chirping birds come and go from the nearby mountain stream. One bird, some kind of raven, buzzed shrilly as it approached. Its silhouette slowly grew outside avian proportions, and its abrasive cries soon blotted out the song of the whippoorwills. The closer it came, the more Caroline realized it was not so much flying as falling. It spun through the air, its death cry modulated with each revolution like a siren: "Grawk! Grawk! Grawk!" It left a rain of blood on the ground underneath it, and grew to monstrous proportions in Caroline's eyes as its screams became louder and louder. The beast's toothy maw was leaking blood; its broken leathery wings were flapping impotently in the wind of its flight. It struck the mountain, spraying blood in every direction like mist. Its unending scream continued even as it rolled down the craggy peak towards her...
But it wasn't a dying dragon. It was the damn alarm clock. And she'd fallen asleep at the computer.... again.
Caroline fell out of her chair onto the floor, and rolled with the grace of a one-legged gorilla into the bathroom of her tiny apartment. She had the water on before she'd even risen to her feet. That was actually fortunate, because it created less impact when she fell into the bathtub.
It took only a second for the icy cold water pouring out of the faucet to soak through her oversize t-shirt, ending whatever modicum of cozy warmth she'd retained from sleep. Her eyes opened wide with the shock of both the impact and frigid temperature, and she saw the clock on the wall said 7:33, meaning she'd be three minutes late even if she skipped her shower.
This being a singularly secular moment, she used the one name in vain that could even remotely be of comfort:
"GEORGE DUBYA BUSH!" she hissed under her breath for catharsis. If she hadn't stayed up all night arguing in that stupid political BBS, she wouldn't have fallen asleep at her computer. If she hadn't fallen asleep at her computer, her back wouldn't hurt, she wouldn't have a bump on her forehead, and above all, she wouldn't be late for work.
Finally, hot water streamed down her face and back, and the mind numbing cycle of work and breaks began anew. It was lunch before Caroline felt like herself again. Then again, Jaleesa tended to have that affect on her.
"Damn girl, do you ever get a good night's sleep" Said Jaleesa's feminine baritone.
Caroline's eyes closed as her head rested against the wall behind her chair. The soft hum of the microwave and her belly full of homemade bean burritos made alertness a futile effort.
"No" she mumbled, although the mumbling was mainly for show.
"You need to sell that computer and use the money to get out more. If I didn't have any kids, I sure as hell wouldn't be at home at ten o'clock at night," Jaleesa said, her neck flapping like a flag on the 4th of July. Jaleesa was 35, and only her two youngest children lived at home.
"Yeah, but you also like other people. Besides, I already have money. If I had more, I'd only blow it on booze" said Caroline.
"See, that's where you've got it all mucked up" Jaleesa said, "All you do is pay the cover, the MEN pay for all the booze. That's why your ass is so bony now, you don't shake that thang enough".
"Have you ever seen me try to dance?" Caroline asked.
"Oh, yeah... never mind," said Jaleesa, making a face that said she had seen Caroline try to dance, and "try" was definitely the operative word. Luckily, lunch was over before any other of Caroline's inadequacies came up for conversation.
After work, Jaleesa waited outside the door, smoking a cigarette. As Caroline walked past, Jaleesa waved to get her attention.
"I've been thinking about it, and you DO need to get out more. Here's a club flyer for a place that plays that techno you like," supplied Jaleesa.
Caroline took the flyer. Anything was better than waking up in that chair again.
"When was the last time I was in a club?" Caroline thought to herself, "It's either now or never."
Caroline was what you'd call a bit of a wallflower. Between her love of Japanese manga, her love of Reese's cups, and her hatred of assholes, she didn't even attend prom. She'd never wanted attention; she hated people like that. If she didn't know for a fact she'd end up asleep in that stupid chair again, she'd have never gone.
The club did not play the kind of techno she liked.
The club played Skinny Puppy. The club played Mindless Self Indulgence. They did not play Darude. They did not play Paul Oakenfold. The only vinyl in the place was made into a pair of pants and worn by an overweight twink talking to a queen in the corner. And she was staring straight at him.
"Hey girl, never seen you around here," said the twink in a voice that was much more masculine than Caroline expected.
"That's because I've never been here before." Caroline said, reaching for a cigarette. She only smoked when she was nervous, so she'd bought a pack to keep her hands busy. The twink already had his lighter out before she'd even looked up. While she fumbled for her Bic, he'd already lighted her cigarette. She'd taken two drags before lifting her own lighter to her face.
"Wow, you really are new. They call me Straight Mike around here," he said. Embarrassed, Caroline put her lighter back into her purse.
"That didn't take him long, did it?" said an effeminate lisp from the corner. The voice belonged to a 6'5" man wearing blue jeans and a plaid button up.
"Damn you Todd!" said Mike.
"Whatever. You've had something to prove ever since you let a trannie blow you in the bathroom." Todd replied.
"She was wearing a choker!" whined Mike, who ducked out and quickly walked to the bar for another drink.
"Sorry about that.... What was you name?" said Todd conversationally.
"Caroline," she said in return.
"Well, as you may have noticed, I'm Todd." He said as he extended his hand graciously. Caroline shook it, noticing his soft skin and gentle touch.
Caroline heard the DJ spin yet another breakcore beat, and winced visibly. The cover had been low, but the prices on the bar were sky high.
"I noticed you haven't ordered a drink yet," said Todd conversationally.
"That's because even piss is three dollars a bottle here," said Caroline, a little more waspishly than she'd really meant. Mike's greasy demeanor had put her off.
"It doesn't look like you're having a good time here, and none of my friends showed up," offered Todd. "Why don't you come to my apartment and cry into a glass of Shiraz with me? I need the company." Despite having just met the guy, Caroline already wanted to leave with him. After all, he was clearly gay, AND he had wine. What could go wrong?
"Sure," said Caroline. "Is it far?"
"You can walk there from here," said Todd. "C'mon, let's go."
Todd wasn't gay.
Somewhere between the parking lot and the street, Todd pulled a flask out of his coat.
"Care for a nip?" he quipped in a decent cockney accent. It was only 8:00 PM.
"Bloody right, mate," replied Caroline, in what had to be the worst Australian accent ever. Todd giggled, and they both took a swig from the metal pint bottle. Caroline's cigarette from the bar was still burning.
"Here it is," said Todd, "It's small, but it's mine."
Todd led Caroline up two flights of stairs to his one bedroom efficiency. Inside, the television was on, and a Goth kid was sitting on the couch smoking a bong that was all of two feet tall. Caroline had never even seen a bong before except on television.
"This is Raz," said Todd, "Raz, this is Caroline."
"'Sup Carl," said Raz, holding out the still smoking bong meaningfully. Todd took it, and took a huge hit, leaving Caroline in awkward silence with Raz. Raz squinted at Caroline and then at Todd.
"Is Butterfly at the bar tonight?" Raz asked Todd. Neither of them knew anyone named Butterfly.
"Yeah," said Todd, "She was asking about you."
"Fuck this place, then," said Raz, "Nice meeting you Carl." Before Caroline had said a word to him, he was already gone.
"Was that your boyfriend?" asked Caroline.
"No, he's definitely my man-friend," answered Todd. He wandered to the kitchenette part of the main room, and grabbed a bottle out of the fridge. "Do you like Noir? I have a collection. The movies, not the wine, I only have this one bottle of Shiraz."
"I don't know much about it," admitted Caroline.
"It's about the play of light and shadow. Metaphorical juxtapositions of good and evil. You know, gay art crap," explained Todd, motioning for Caroline to sit next to him on the couch. He leaned over and pulled two glasses and a corkscrew off the shelf. The apartment really was small.
Caroline sat down next to Todd, who took another hit from the bong and passed it nonchalantly to Caroline.
"It's got a carb, so put your finger over this hole before you hit it. Let go of the hole to clear it," informed Todd, as if he knew Caroline didn't smoke weed. Already buzzed from the alcohol, and bewildered by Todd's seeming generosity, she gave in and hit the bong while it was still lit.
She might as well have thrown her panties at him.
Caroline woke up with a prickly sensation on her back. She was lying on a soft cotton sheet. She reached behind her, and grabbed the offensive crinkly thing that woke her. She squinted at it in the light of Todd's alarm clock. The ripped packing read "Tro- -jan," with a clean rip between the "o" and the "j." Her lipstick was on the packet. Todd was frying eggs and watching the news in the other room.
Caroline crawled out of bed, wearing only a sheet.
"Did we..." She asked Todd, sticking her head through the bedroom door.
"Well, I sure did. And from the sounds you were making, you did a couple of times." With those words, the last night came flooding back to her. The wine, the movies, the blanket, the footsie, the cigarette burns...
There was a plane crash on the news.
Todd turned to face her. He was shirtless, and the word "Caroline" was scratched deeply into his chest in angular letters, as if done with a box cutter.
The news anchor said the company that owned the plane was Dragon Inc., a discount passenger service.
"Did.... Did I do that?" asked Caroline, disturbed. She'd never been into sadomasochism before.
"You sure as hell did," said Raz, sitting up from where he was laying on the couch.
The news anchor said there were frantic cell phone calls from the passengers. The victim's families said you could hear the spinning plane rhythmically knocking the breath out of the screaming victims. They said it sounded like a raven, or an alarm clock.
Sometimes it takes a minute for your brain to register what's really going on in the background. Only 10% of your brain actually thinks. The rest is just a filter to block out unimportant details, like gravity. But if you're Caroline from Pugh's flowers, it's only 7% doing the thinking. That other 3%? That part dreams of the future...