I opened my eyes. I reached out of my bed, trying to feel the smooth surface of my phone. Sure, I could have just picked myself out of bed, faced my stand, and snatched up my phone, but I was too lazy to put in any of the effort. Suddenly it dawned on me, why did I need to use a phone to tell the time in the first place? Isn’t that what clocks were for? Imagine using a phone to tell the time! I laughed at such a crazy idea.
I turned myself over to take a look at my alarm clock. At first, I found it strangely hard to read. The combination of lines and rectangles seemed foreign to me. There were two needles in the center, one large and one small. The large one was hanging over the six, while the smaller one hung over the eight. I kicked my mind into overdrive. I knew this contraption was trying to tell me something, but what was it?
8...8...8:30? Yes, it had to have been 8:30! I didn’t know why it took me so long to tell the time.
I was never slept so late in my life! I was about to doze back off when my mind began to panic. It was practically screaming at me, saying Late to...late to... I gasped. I was going to be late to work! I yanked off my covers and leaped out of bed. I swung open my closet doors and grabbed the first clean shirt and pair of pants my hands could find. I slipped on a pair of socks and a pair of brown shoes. I strapped on my belt, and the last thing for me to do was put on my tie. My mind drew a blank as I held up one end and then the other. I almost wanted to scream in frustration.
“Come on, Will!” I said. “You’ve done this a thousand times! You should know how to do this!”
I forced myself to remember. I needed to remember; otherwise, I’d be the laughing stock for an entire week! After a moment of glaring at the two ends, it all came back to me.
“Cross, through the loop, and pull down,” I recited. It was something my dad taught me growing up. I grabbed my wallet and wristwatch and bolted out of the room and down the stairs.
The kitchen was filled with the scent of fresh pancakes and the mouthwatering aroma of bacon and sausage.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” my wife asked me. She was wearing a white apron over her cute blue dress, the one with pink roses. Her curly brown hair glistens in the sunlight along with the dark blue bow strapped firmly on the back of her head.
“Off to work, Honeysuckle,” I said before giving her a kiss. “I’m extremely late.”
She gave out a small giggle.
“What?” I asked. “What’s so funny?”
“Well, it’s just that,” she gave out a chuckle. “Don’t you know what day it is?”
“Sure, it’s July...” my eyes widen. “July 4th! Of course, oh how silly of me!”
“That’s alright,” my wife said lovingly. “Now, sit down and let me serve you some breakfast.”
A sudden wave of peace and calmness washed over me. I need some relaxation, and the 4th of July was exactly what the doctor ordered.
I sat at the front of the table and saw that my wife placed the newspaper decently on my plate.
“THE DAILY SUN” it read. “JULY 4TH, 1952.”
I felt my wife pour out some hot coffee into my “World’s #1 Husband!” mug when we heard a knock at the door.
“Who could that be?” I muttered to myself.
“Let me get it,” my wife insisted.
“It’s no trouble,” I said, getting up. I held her close to my face.
“I wouldn’t want anything to distract you from your marvelous cooking, now would I?” I kissed her right above the lip. She bit down, only slightly, and allowed her thin, pink tongue to slip into my mouth. The sheer taste was spellbinding!
“My hero,” she whispered. The person at my door knocked again with more force than the last time.
“Coming!” I shouted.
I looked at my wife one last time.
“You better get that,” she said, heading back to the kitchen. I watched her attractive hips sway for only a second or two, then I reluctantly headed to the front door.
“Yes?” I asked, opening the door. What stood on my doorstep made my skin go pale. A hooligan with a red cap over his head looked to his left then to his right.
“You got the money?” he asked, scratching on his neck.
It was then I noticed he wasn’t wearing a belt or even suspenders. He had to hold his pants up with one hand to keep them from falling.
“I’ll be honest with you, sir,” I began. “I’m not too comfortable with your presence on my property. So, until you brush up on your appearance, have a good day!”
I began to close the door when suddenly, the hooligan shoved his hand through and grabbed on to the edge.
“You owe me money!” he screamed. He forced the door open and pulled out a gun that looked like a pistol. It was an oily black and blockier than any pistol I had ever seen.
“You think Stringy’s going to let you get away with a free high?” he exclaimed.
“Now hold on, calm down,” I said, putting my hands up. I remembered that I had a shotgun under my pillow but that wall the way upstairs; too far away and not enough time.
“Don’t you dare tell me what do!” the man said.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Just put the gun down.”
“What did I just say? Now I tell you what to do. And I want you to give me the money by the count of three! One...”
“Could you just...”
I opened my eyes. I reached out of my bed, trying to find my phone. Suddenly it dawned on me, why would I need a phone to tell the time? How silly was that? I turned myself over to look at my alarm clock. For a while, the line and rectangles looked foreign to me. I squinted at it, trying to figure out what it was trying to tell me.
8...8...8:30! I was late!
I nearly tripped down the stairs in a blind to put my clothes on.
“Where are you going in a hurry?” my loving wife asked. I could tell just by the smell she was making her famous pancake, bacon, and sausage breakfast.
“What do you mean?” I asked her, confused. “Don’t you know I’m going to be late to work?”
“Work?” she exclaimed. “Honeybun, don’t you know what day it is?”
I thought about it long and hard. My eyes widened.
“It’s the 4th of July!” I said with a sigh. “How could I have forgotten?”
“Don’t worry about that,” my wife instructed. “Now sit down while I pour you some coffee.”
I picked up the newspaper my wife had placed oh so delicately on my plate and opened it up. I blinked. Why were the words so terribly blurry? I couldn’t even read one letter, let alone a single
paragraph. The only thing I could make out was the date, but even that looked like a collection of dark storm clouds.
I didn’t have too long to think about when I heard a sudden knock at the door.
“I’ll get it!” my wife said, headed to the door.
“Don’t you dare,” I said to her lovingly. “I wouldn’t want to stop you from cooking the best breakfast in the U-S-of A.”
I gave her a kiss on the lip and head to the door.
“Yes?” I asked, opening the door wide. My eyes grew wide in shock. A man dressed in a star-spangled shirt, dark blue jeans, and a red cap stood on my front porch. He pulled out a harmonica from his pocket and blew out a note in D-major. Once he was done, he pulled the harmonica away from his mouth and began to sing.
“William Shelstrop went to town, riding on a pony.
Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni,
William Shelstrop keep it up!
William Shelstrop dandy,
Mind the music and his step,
And let his wife be handy!”
My wife gave the man a hearty applause, which nearly scared me to death because I still though she was still in the kitchen not right behind me. The man gave a polite bow before taking a card out of his front pocket.
“Thank you for your service, singed John and Clarrie Sting,” he recited. He placed the card away and gave out a grin so wide it would put those creepy wind-up monkey toys to shame. Even when I gave him a generous dollar and twenty-five cent tip, he still wouldn’t stop smiling. Something about him looked oddly familiar. I couldn’t say precisely what.
“Come on, honey, you’re gonna miss out on your pancakes.” My wife stretched her arm around me to reach the doorknob and closed it in front of the smiling singer.
“What an odd fellow,” I remarked.
I began to follow my wife into the kitchen when suddenly I got an excruciating headache. It was like a freight train was ramming itself into my head. I had to close my eyes because of the pain. A barrage of visions flooded my mind. I saw myself fighting in a far-off land. I remember looking around as I watched my comrades die all around me. Despite how realistic and vivid these memories felt, there was something off about them.
For one, I didn’t know how to load a gun, let alone fire one. Secondly, why did I remember these things now? One would think memories from the battlefield would stay vivid in my mind forever. Thirdly, the events playing before me resembled more of watching a movie than living through the experience. Sure, I saw myself holding a gun and shooting down Nazis, but I couldn’t remember feeling the debris in the air or the wind brushing against my skin. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.
“What’s wrong, Honey?” my wife asked, holding me up.
“Nothing,” I said, clenching my teeth in agony.
“Have a sip of coffee. It will make you feel better.” She directed me to the kitchen but gently pushed her away.
“I will, but first, let me get some aspirin.”
“No, I think I should be able to manage.”
My wife gave me a worried look as I stumbled up the stairs.
The mirror’s lights glowed as I forced my way into the quaint little bathroom. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I couldn’t help but feel attracted to myself somehow. My jaw law was incredibly sharp while my shoulders were broad enough to be a wooden plank.
I undid my tie and lifted my shirt to reveal a full set of rock-solid abs. I held my shirt up with one hand and sent the other one to caress my stomach. I was expecting to feel lumps of raw muscle, but to my shock, there was nothing. I don’t mean that my hands went completely numb, I could feel the skin and bone, but I couldn’t feel any muscles.
I ripped my shirt off in a panic. I patted my Olympian body up and down, the same thing. I could feel the skin, I could feel the bones, yet I couldn't feel the muscles that defined my entire body!
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked myself. I needed proof my body was real. I needed proof that I was real! I threw open the mirror and grabbed the razor. Very carefully, I moved the blade against my arm.
I gasped. I expected to see blood flowing out like a waterfall. Instead, the knife went straight through. I couldn’t feel the blade go into me. I dropped the razor. It fell on the floor with a loud CLANK!
What was I? A ghost, a Spector? Wait, I was able to put my clothes on. I could see my reflection in the mirror. I could be a ghost, but that didn’t make me feel any better. I didn’t know what to do. So many questions crowded my mind, it was impossible to decide on what to do next. What else wasn’t real? Was my wife real? Was my job real? My head began to spin. I looked up to see my wife in the doorway with a concerned look in her eyes. Despite her affectionate glance, the fact I didn’t see her coming or knew how long she stood there terrified me.
“How long have you been standing there?” I asked, quivering. She didn’t answer.
“Were you there long enough to see this?” I picked up the razor and stabbed it into my heart. The blade went straight through without a single ounce of blood or the slightest wound to my organs. I took it out of me and showed her how clean the blade was as if I’d never stabbed myself to begin with.
She didn’t answer, but the gleam in her eyes was all I needed.
"What Am I? What is this place?” I begged.
“Now, Honey, you have to stay calm.” She walked towards me with her arms outstretched.
“Get away from me!” I backed up only to fall back into the porcelain tub. I expected a pounding headache against the tile wall, but a headache never came. My wife bent her knees so she could look at me right in the eyes.
“Don’t worry, it will all be over soon,” she said with what was supposed to be a comforting grin, but to me, it looked cold and ominous. “Just stay calm and look deep into my eyes.”
I placed my hands over my eyes in protest, only to feel some brick-like structure blocking my hands from my face. I felt around. The invisible object was held up by two invisible straps, both on each side. I placed each hand on each side, surprised my wife showed no signs of protest. She just had a look in her eyes that said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
With every fiber of my body, I yanked the contraption clean off.
The first thing that hit me was a foul and putrid smell.
I was lying on a cold, hard, and uneven floor. I could hear police sirens in the distance. The room was utterly dark save for a sliver of moonlight. My stomach screamed in pain. I placed a hand over to keep it from hurting, but it just made me feel worse. Although I couldn’t make out much, I could see how my arms looked like two toothpicks. When I placed my hands over my stomach, I couldn’t feel a thing, like someone had scooped my insides right out of me.
I felt something digging into my side, something round and sharp. I forced my hand to pick it up. Once I held it close to my face, I could tell it was a needle with some liquid still inside it. After observing its shape, I noticed hundreds if not thousands of them were scattered on the floor.
Just like that, my memories, my real memories, started to flood in. They felt more real than just some movie playing in my head. I was no war hero. In fact, I spent thirty years of my life protesting against the very concept. I never went overseas, and when the chance came, I found an excuse not to go. I never had a wife, I had late nightstands, a girlfriend or two, but that was it. The only real thing in my fantasy world was Stingy coming to murder me. I owed him a lot of money, and I was afraid he would find me sooner. The fact that I was still alive gave me little comfort since I knew e would find me sooner or later.
All I could do was cry. I was a real screw up. I could have been somebody, and I had to waste it all away. I was a loser, a drug attic, a nobody, and a failure.
Suddenly, I heard a voice coming from my VR-headset above my scalp.
“Honey? Sweetie? Are you there?” it said.
With one final look at the sorry excuse of the real world, I slipped the headset back on.
It was July 4th, 1952, again. I was still lying in the fake bathtub with my fake wife looking over me. Although I knew she was just a jumble of numbers and code, I could tell from her worried eyes she loved me dearly. To her, I wasn’t a loser. I wasn’t some bum off the street. She looked at me as a hero, her idol, her best friend, and her husband. She would take care of my every need and then some?
“Ready?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I whispered, “I’m ready.”
“Okay, look into my eyes,” she commanded. I did what I was told.
I opened my eyes as Mr. William Shelstrop, a proud American veteran with a loving wife. Every day is the 4th of July. My wife and I celebrate by attending neighborhood BBQs and watching fireworks light up the night sky. Everything is perfect as it should be and how it will remain for the rest of my life.