He sits in the living room in front of the television, watching the test pattern he didn’t even know they still used, and his phone rings. He picks it up, and it’s his brother, Todd, panicked about something that probably isn’t happening. He should call the police, but the police know him and won’t send out cruisers anymore. He listens to Todd until he talks himself dry, and as he hangs up the phone, the test pattern changes to a disclaimer, then someone is selling knives.
He picks up the remote and clicks off the television, feeling disturbed without knowing why. He walks to the refrigerator and opens the door, and feels a migraine coming on. He pours a glass of milk and slouches back to his recliner just as the worst of the pain hits. He clicks the television back on and remembers why he never turns it off, and as he washes through the channels, the sounds of night start seeping into his head like dew drifting up through the grass. Over the talking heads, he can hear the night breathing and the ground moving, worms turning ground to grow flowers. He feels the bees stirring in the hive in the eaves, and tries to focus his attention back on the television when the phone rings again. It’s 2 in the morning and he’s already talked to Todd, so he doesn’t know who to expect.
It’s the police, they’ve heard from Todd, because of course, and after fifteen calls they’ve decided they need to do something even though there’s no cruiser in the neighborhood. He wants to tell them not to bother, that Todd’s been like this since he got back, but they already know and he’s afraid so he tells them to check it out and he’ll meet them there.
He leaves the television flickering and walks into the bedroom. Muffled noises drift in through the doorway but the sounds from outside are louder now. He shakes his head to clear it but it only makes them echo, and he pulls on some jeans, grabs his keys, and heads outside.
Driving, he can feel the pavement moaning passionately beneath him, and as he turns a corner, he sees a woman dressed in a short skirt and a half shirt. He wants to stop and ask her, can she hear the earth too, and does she want a ride, but he knows he’d have to pay her and he doesn’t want to know badly enough. A block later, he nearly hits a bum stumbling across the road. The bum looks at him, his eyes glinting sparks in the dark, and he can feel the blear and alcohol. He can’t hear when the man says, but something washes over him and makes him feel dirty. He turns on the radio, distraction, but it doesn’t distract, it heightens. Now it’s overwhelming, and he pulls the car over to the side of the road. Someone swears at him from the dark and he hears them skitter away. Who knew this town was alive at night? He can’t cross the street without disturbing something. He suddenly thinks of Todd running in front of his car, too close to avoid, and he feels the tires roll over and the bones crunching, and the spies all gone. Last time he checked on Todd he found him curled in the corner, but the time before, he was curled in the bed.
He pulls into the driveway, his lights shining eyes on the gaping garage. There’s no cruiser here; it was a ploy to get him to take care of his own, but he doesn’t mind. He turns off the engine and sits, hoping to hear Todd’s gentle snoring in the air so he won’t even have to get out. He hears crickets in the bushes and lightening bugs disturbing the air, and he feels Palmetto bugs standing in rank and file beside the driveway, waiting for him to go. Once he woke up with one on his face.
He walks through the garage, illuminated by his headlights and a blinking alarm clock telling him something happened at 3:32pm. A garden hose flexes its coils and he tells himself to be calm, but he isn’t feeling it. A nail on the floor reflects ominously; perhaps there’s a trap. He’s the only one who can think these things, so maybe they’re true. The plywood tool-board on the back wall looks like a torture rack, and he knows the wood itself is scheming. It has plans for these pliers, for these calipers, for this crowbar, and someday it will grow and change and carry them out, but not tonight, he hopes. He reaches the door against all odds , and as soon as he opens it, he can hear Todd weeping.
He turns on the hall light, and his brother is there, laying supine on the floor. His eyes are as red as the bum’s, and his fingers are bloody from clawing at something only he could see. Maybe his bedroom door was locked. He kneels down beside the form.
“Todd, I’m here.”
Todd looks up, confused, and screams, mouth wide open as the garage door. A shudder runs through his body, and he is lifting Todd, screaming, totemic Todd, and carrying him to the living room. He lays him on the couch and sits beside him, saying words that mean nothing just to speak. Slowly, screaming quiets and turns to hesitant gibbering. After an hour, Todd falls asleep.
He is not so lucky. He sits in the semidarkness, looking at the microwave, its display also blinking. 4:15am, it says. At 9am by the microwave, the sun rises, and he feels his eyes closing. He snaps them back open and leaves, closing the garage door behind him. In his car, it is 6:02am.