The note has been on my nightstand for about 3 months now. A simple, blank, white sheet, marred only by a scribbled date. 01/01/25. New Year's Day, 2025. And what a year it promises to be. I pull back the curtains hesitantly; everything is still as I remember. It's still dark, and the streetlights shine, dotting the thick snow on the pavement, illuminating the white flecks whirling about in the air. I exhale in relief. It hasn't happened yet. Good. I don't want to face it hungover anyways.
I know better than to take black coffee for a hangover. It's not my first, and hopefully not my last. However, two hours of sleep and a lack of caffeine does not lend itself to clear thinking, so I put on a pot. It is a cheap slog of a brew, but with a reassuring stimulant to make sure I'm alert and aware of my foreboding predicament. The water boils, and a blackening tint diffuses, painting it all the colours of the mud spectrum. My house is trashed from the previous evening, and looking around, I'm almost hoping it will all be gone soon, if only so I don't have to clean it up.
I open my cupboard. Not much, to be sure, but there's a half-empty bag of cereal lying open, and I pour it into a bowl. I take out a carton of milk, and it reads "Expires 26/12/24". Last year. I open it up, and take a cautionary whiff before taking a big swig. Still good, I think. The cereal is a comforting influence, and the fresh, cold milk is an excellent catalyst for forgetting the disgusting coffee, which was also, as it turns out, rather cold as well. I make a mental note to look for a new coffeemaker when I go for supplies. Supplies, supplies, supplies. I'm reminded of the crate in the basement, and wonder if it was raided last night. I can't imagine I have much left. On my way down, I spot an open can and smell a distinctive "herbal" odour, leading me to doubt that there's food left. I check my supplies. Yep, nothing but some lids and a half-empty can of beans, which has been left spilt next to the crate. Sighing in frustration, I consolidate what remains. Aside from the wreck of my food, my tools are mostly still here. A flashlight, a small repair kit, a portable generator, and, of course, a roll of duct tape. My can opener, however, to no surprise of mine, is gone. Shaking my head, I start back upstairs and check the time. 0630. Good enough. I go to my room, get dressed, throw a jacket on, and make for the store. I know I should shower, shave, probably all sorts of things, but even though it's a Wednesday, it's also New Year's Day, so there could be a crowd if I don't hurry. At this point, I doubt my head could handle a crowd.
I wander the streets, pressing down on the windswept blanket of snow under my feet. Step after step, one, two three, one, two three, a grim waltz to the melody of the calling wind. I always do this when I'm cold. Never been a dancer, but this weather provokes all too well the serenity of the coming fray. Looking back, I see my footprints. A step, a turn, a twist, a leap; unmistakably mine. In time, the store blurs into view, and with an idle twist, I saunter across the parking lot, leaving in the snow a conspicuous step-by-step guide to my maddened march. It's just before 7, and the store hasn't, in the most technical sense, opened yet. However, I flag down an employee walking by, pale-skinned, average height, with scruffy hair and impossibly tired eyes. He staggers over, opens the door for me, and shivers, gesturing for me to hurry in. A wafting blast of snowflakes accompanies my entrance, and he slams the door behind me. He opens his mouth and, as the aroma of fresh snow and industrial winter air leaves me, I realise, from the pungent odour, that, in fact, this man's eyes are not bloodshot from sleep deprivation. Not to say he isn't so, simply that it's not the only cause.
"So…uhh…" he begins, distracted by his own eyelids, which are subconsciously creeping down his eyes, "what are you in here for so early?"
"Nothing left from last night." I pick up a basket from behind him, hoping to cut off the conversation. Not just because time is short; I can't stand this man's odour
"Riiiiight," he says, smiling dopily, "I know that feeling." He begins to chuckle, then laugh, then forget that I'm here, and I take the moment to hurry away quietly.
I wander the food aisle for some time, meticulously checking nutritional values on canned foods, looking at weights, working out value, and eventually remembering that I have no way to open all these cans. I could buy a can opener, I suppose, but I need to think multi-purpose. Not exactly loaded with funds as it is. I head to the hardware section, and after browsing about four hundred cheap knockoffs, I manage to find a genuine Swiss army knife. I quickly look around to ensure that no one's watching, then liberate it from its packaging to check that it's all as it should be. Satisfied, I return it as cleanly as possible, and drop it in my basket. I head for the cash register, where a different employee stands guard. This one seems much less dazed than the last, but still only half-heartedly into his job. He doesn't question anything, not the massive mound of canned goods, not even the open product in my basket. After checkout, he bids me an obligatory goodbye, and I head for the doors towards home. As I leave, I see one other person enter, from the same path I took. I don't wave or even make eye contact; I simply trace back my steps home. I barely recognize the tracks I made, though. They seem too straight to have been me at the time. I'm a quarter of the way home before a realization hits me. These aren't my tracks. One other person was on his way in, and as I look behind me, my new tracks are disappearing as quickly as they appeared. This is it; it's happening. I have to get to something certain. I have to get home, it's my best chance, I think. If I stay there, can I be ignored? I could be an extra, my house nothing more than scenery. I run, stomping harder, and trying futily to make tracks in the snow, but again and again, nothing happens. I shout out as I run, "Leave me alone!" to no one in particular, and it garners no response. Around me, buildings shift and distort themselves, changing into seemingly random structures. I run further, but my house is no closer, and I'm now racing the tide as the world rearranges around me. I throw down my supplies in desperation, my last chance for survival, and begin to sprint. There, slowly drawing closer, in what may as well be salvation's own spotlight, is my house.
I run to the porch and put my key in the lock. I turn, and turn, and turn, but nothing happens. I grab the knob, and it fades from my grasp. The door disappears, so I run inside, but in short order, my house suffers the same fate, and I'm just standing in the snow. I run further into the street until the snow becomes a void. For minutes, I'm running in this void, until I see a series of blue, horizontal lines in front of me, like the lines of a page. I fall to my knees. Just another writer's scrap.
"Change the protagonist," an editor says, over the writer's shoulder. "The audience needs to relate, and I'm not feeling it." The writer opens his mouth in protest, but just sighs instead, hammering the backspace key until half a page of work is done. Later that day, in spite of his editor, he picks up a scrap piece of paper, and jots down his protagonists character description. Looking back at his manuscript, he sees a date jotted in the margins. 01/01/25. Revision day.