Wednesday, September 2, 2009


After getting through Sunday – somehow, Jack struggles out of bed Monday morning with no other thought than just getting through the day. He takes his razor and his shaving cream out of his bathroom cabinet.

“Put one foot in front of the other,” he says to himself in his mirror. “One foot in front of the other, and it will be over soon.”

He’s not sure what will be over soon – his nightmare, his life, his situation, his work day — but he knows he can’t spend his time cowering in bed, clinging to his Winnie the Pooh night light for sanity, wondering when he will follow Pat and Josh and Liz into… wherever they are. He doesn’t know, he can’t know where they’ve gone, but he’s pretty sure that fun house corridor that haunts his dreams figures in there somewhere. He wonders who replaced Liz. He wonders who will replace him.

He shivers, then grins into the mirror, with an attempt at laughing in the face of danger. A ghastly deaths-head grins back at him, and it is only then that he remembers he is supposed to get his doctor’s permission to come back to work. His illness of the previous week, that purely physical misery of dripping nose and phlegm filled chest has faded to insignificance against this horrible feeling of having the carpet of his life whipped out from under his feet. He wants to phone Josh and complain about work. He wants to go back in time to that tequila night with Liz, and replay it exactly as it was, with all of the coulda-shoulda-wouldas and frustrated desires. He wants the old Liz, the one thought of him as a buddy and who didn’t thrill and surprise him by taking him to bed. He wants the old Josh, the one who was his best friend and sometimes his rival, whom he understood and who understood him like no one else. And he really, really wants Pat. He wants to go with Pat to the next level, maybe even to that place where old married couples say: “Of course our marriage lasted. I
married my best friend.”

Sitting on the examination table in the doctor’s office, Jack opens his mouth for the wooden popsicle stick thing, and says “aww,” on cue. He holds his breath and takes deep breaths for the stethoscope on his chest. He even stands up bends over and coughs as directed. He doesn’t like the cough one, but he assumes the doctor has a reason for getting so up close and personal with his private parts. He suffers having lights shone into his ears and eyes, his blood pressure and temperature taken, and then his weight.

“You seem healthy enough,” the doctor says. “You probably just had a viral infection.”

The doctor sits at a little desk to write out a permission note for Jack to take to his boss. Jack decides that he’s not going to mention anything about Josh and Liz and Pat. But then the doctor ruins it all by saying: “Sometimes even after the obvious symptoms are finished, the runny nose and cough and aches and pains, you can be quite fatigued. Might take a few days until you’re feeling up to snuff.”

Jack suddenly feels very fatigued. He nods at the doctor, grateful to have a physical reason for his mental state, then freezes when the doctor asks, in a conversational tone: “Anything else bothering you?”

Jack wants to shake his head, to say “Oh no, I’m fine,” in a carefree voice. But his traitor mouth blurts out: “My friends are disappearing and being replaced by strangers.”

It’s the doctor’s turn to freeze. He even stops writing. “They are?” he asks.

Jack wants to deny it, say he was joking, but his voice seems to have a mind of its own. “Yes,” he says. “It’s happened over a few weeks. First Pat disappeared, then Josh, and now Liz.”

The doctor seems to be waiting, so Jack adds: “Alice replaced Pat and Peter replaced Josh, but I’m not sure who’s replaced Liz. I haven’t met her yet.”

“Are Alice and Peter duplicates of Pat and Josh?” the doctor asks in a suspiciously calm voice. “Do they look the same?”

Whatever the response Jack was expecting, it wasn’t this. “No!” he says. “How would they look the same? They’re different people.”

The doctor says, “There is a rare psychiatric condition where people become convinced that either objects or people in their lives are replaced by exact duplicates.”

“Really?” asks Jack. “Now that is nuts.” He looks doubtfully at the doctor, glances at the medical diploma on the wall.

“I didn’t make it up,” the doctor says, a bit defensively, ” it’s called Crapgras’ delusion.”

“Crapgras?” Jack asks, and snickers.

“Google it if you don’t believe me,” the doctor says. Then, taking back control: “Have you had any head injuries? Any sports injuries or concussions?” He picks up the little light to shine in Jack’s eyes again. “No,” says Jack. The doctor asks Jack about the replacement friends, and Jack does his best to answer, telling the doctor what they look like and who they are, and how they’re different from Josh and Liz and Pat.

“How do you feel about them?” the doctor asks.

This is a question Jack hasn’t considered, and it takes him a moment to figure it out.

“They’re nice enough, I suppose,” Jack says.

“So, you don’t feel ill-will towards them. You don’t wish them harm? You don’t want to hurt them?”

“No,” Jack says, confused. “I don’t feel much about them at all. They’re like people you meet at a party and never expect to see again. They’re pleasant enough to talk to, but that’s it. I just wish they didn’t all seem to think that they know me.”

The doctor sits back at his desk, swivels around in his chair a couple of times. “You’ve got me stumped,” he says. “I can get you in for some tests, but I don’t think you have a brain tumor or anything like that. You don’t have headaches?”

Jack shakes his head. “Brain tumor?” he thinks.

“I’m going to try and get you in to see a psychiatrist,” the doctor says. “but it might take awhile.”

Jack nods, glad he didn’t tell the doctor about the Winnie the Pooh night light. He imagines that might speed up a psychiatrist’s appointment, and he isn’t at all sure that he wants to see a psychiatrist. Especially if that’s not going to bring Pat and Liz and Josh back.

“I’m going to write you out a prescription,” the doctor says. “For your anxieties.”

Jack nods, reluctant.

“It’s mild,” the doctor says.

“Should I go back to work today?” Jack asks.

“Do you want to?” the doctor asks, surprising Jack.

“Not especially,” Jack says.

The doctor nods and tears up the note he first wrote, and scribbles a new one. “Two weeks off enough?” he asks.

“Two weeks would be good,” Jack says.

The doctor hands Jack the note. “We’ll get back to you about the psychiatrist appointment,” he says. Then, surprising Jack again with his sympathetic tone: “Get the prescription filled and go home. Take it easy for a few days.”

Outside of the doctor’s office, Jack slumps against the wall. A woman walking up the street makes a wide detour to avoid him, as if he were a vagrant or a crazy person: someone who shouldn’t be allowed out be themselves. A glance at himself in the reflection of the window makes Jack think she’s right to be scared. He doesn’t look too good.

Jack pulls himself together and heads off down the sidewalk towards the pharmacy to get his prescription filled. He keeps his eyes downcast as he walks, and because of that, he notices a glint of glass in the gutter.

As he gets closer, he sees that the glass is the crystal of a watch – a watch with an odd logo on the face of it, an Expo 86 logo.

Jack dives into the street to retrieve it, heedless of the cars that are going by, of the other pedestrians, of everything except that watch. Josh’s watch. He grabs it, and finds himself hauled to the sidewalk by a good Samaritan.

“You can’t just run into traffic like that.” someone says. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Jack looks into the face of his rescuer, the woman who’d avoided him outside the doctor’s office. He opens his mouth, expecting to hear himself thank her. Instead what comes out is:

“Lady, Expo 86. Was it real?”

The woman loosens her grip on him and backs away, frightened.

“Pardon me?” she says.

“Was there an Expo 86?” Jack asks. “I have to know.”

“Yes, there was,” she says faintly, backing away, and then Jack is off and running. He doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s going to do, but it’s pointless to get his prescription filled. Anxiety medication isn’t going to help.



Jack, buoyed by his incredible night with Liz, walks homeward with a spring in his step, and a song in his heart, and a terrible foreboding beneath his right ribcage, where he thinks his liver might be. He ignores the foreboding and looks for a place that sells towels.

Liz, Jack noticed, while in her bathroom, has an amazing number of towels. In his bathroom, he has one towel. It used to be white, and he had liberated it from a gym he was thinking of joining until he realized that he couldn’t afford the payment plan. He didn’t exactly steal it, or at least plan to steal it. It was wrapped around his swim trunks, and he forgot it was there until he started to notice a nasty smell in the bottom of his backpack. It had washed up pretty good, and now he used the edge of it to wipe his hands, the corner of it to clean up after shaving and the rest of it when he had a shower. It worked. But Liz! Liz had more towels than she had body parts. She had huge towels, and medium towels and tiny towels, and facecloths, and this weird puffy round scratchy thing that he was kind of scared to wonder about. If she ever came to his place, would she be happy to use his one all purpose towel that still had pale green streaks on it from the month it had spent in his backpack? He thought not.. He paused at the door of a bath boutique, girded his loins, and went in.

That was twenty minutes ago. Now he is out again, the broke proud owner of a face cloth, a hand towel, a bath towel, all impossibly fluffy and rather more pink than he’d intended to buy, a round puffy scratchy thing which apparently is an ex-foliator, whatever that is, and a bath bomb, that he hopes will work in a shower. He doesn’t know what it is, but it smells nice. Oh, and he also got some smelly pink soap shaped like animals and flowers. The sales clerk had been very nice, but for some reason, he got the feeling that she was laughing at
him. He turns to wave at her, and she gives him the thumbs up and winks. Jack checks his fly. It’s all good, so he figures she’s just being friendly.

Approaching his house, the sense of foreboding stabs Jack like a knife. He rubs his side, and carries on. His landlord is in the yard with Rover, doing some training exercises. “Sit, Rover,” he says. And Rover sits. “Stay, Rover,” he says, and Rover stays. “Speak Rover,” he says, and Rover lets out a sharp warning bark. The landlord gives Rover a piece of raw meat. “Come, Rover” he says, and Rover stands facing his master, waiting for the next command, looking as threatening as a Rottweiller/Doberman can, which is very threatening indeed. Jack is glad that the landlord is there to keep Rover away from him as he comes into the yard.

Rover looks away at Jack’s approach, and whines. The landlord hasn’t seen Jack. “Rover!” the landlord says. Rover lies down. “Up Rover!” the landlord commands. Rover rolls over, his stub of a tail thumping on the ground. Rover!” the landlord yells. The dog ignores him, looking to Jack with a pathetic expression. The landlord finally turns to see Jack.

“Oh, it’s you,” he says. “I should have known.” then: “Up Rover!” The dog doesn’t move, only looks to Jack, wiggling ecstatically, waiting to have his belly scratched. The landlord looks like he might kick the dog, then gets himself under control

“He’s supposed to be a guard dog.” the landlord says. Jack nods and eases past Rover and the landlord to get to his basement suite door. “Jack!” the landlord calls. “I want you out.”
Jack looks at him, ready to say, “but I paid my rent,” and the landlord continues. “I don’t expect miracles, but I want you out, and I want you out now. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the noise you make, I’m sick of the hours you keep, I’m sick of this pathetic thing you’re making of my dog. I want you out of my house.”

From Rover, there is a low, threatening growl. Jack and the landlord both look down at the dog. It’s on its feet. It snarls, and Jack recognizes that it is ready to spring. Only this time, it’s not ready to spring at him, from behind the safety of the chain link dog run, but at the landlord.

“Rover!” Jack calls. “Down!”

The dog snarls again, but lies down, his eyes on Jack, waiting for the next command. The landlord instinctively backs up, afraid of his own dog. “Here, Rover,” Jack says. Rover walks peaceably towards Jack and sits at his side. Jack scratches the dog’s ears.

“How do you do that?” the landlord asks, angrily. “He’s only supposed to obey me!” Rover growls at him, and the landlord modulates his tone. “Look Jack, I want to be reasonable. If you can find somewhere else to live in the next week,” the landlord says. “I’ll refund your last two months rent.”

“Sounds fair,” Jack says, and then to Rover: “Be good.” Rover thumps his stump of a tail on the ground and Jack goes inside, taking his towels with him. As soon as he’s gone, Rover trots back to the landlord, awaiting the next command.

“It wouldn’t do any good to tell you to attack him, would it?” the landlord asks. Rover growls.


Jack spends some time cleaning up his bathroom and putting his towels on display. Somewhere inside, he knows that there is no point, not just because he has to move, but also because Liz… well, he doesn’t want to think about that yet. He takes his faithful old towel, which, now that he looks at it, is even too ratty for him to use, and scrubs
out the shower, getting all the black gunk from out of the corners. He uses the towel to scrub out the sink and wash the floor, and then he uses about half a roll of toilet paper to clean the outside of the toilet and the seat. He doesn’t have a toilet brush, so he just puts some shampoo in the bowl and hopes for the best. He throws the towel into the garbage, and then takes the garbage to the door. He sees that the landlord and Rover are getting along fine, and doesn’t want to interfere, so he leaves the garbage bag inside his door for later.

The phone rings, and Jack dives at it, hope flaring up inside him. “Liz?” he says, eagerly. “This is the Pizza Place,” a voice on the other end says. “I have a record of you ordering a pizza last night, but no record that we made it, or that you picked it up. There was some kind of power failure and we had to close. I don’t want to charge you for it if you didn’t get

Jack thinks of the insulated bag on Liz’ counter, the uneaten pizza, and wonders whether to be honest.

When he’s finished with the call, he realizes that he must face his demons, or at least his phone directory. As he expected, Liz’ telephone number is no longer in his contacts list on his phone. He goes and has a shower, letting the hot water spray down hard on him and scrubbing himself with the ex-foliator and the pink elephant soap until skin is shiny pink; the elephant soap is worn down to a sliver that slips through his fingers and goes down the drain; and he’s not sure whether his face is wet because of water, or because of tears. He
decides to try the bath bomb, almost hoping that it will explode and take him away in a cloud of rose scented perfume, but all it does is fizzle away like an alka-seltzer tablet until all that’s left is a patch of goo in the bottom of the shower.

The picture in his annual, the picture that used to be of him and Pat and Josh and Liz, now shows him and Alice and Peter, and an out of focus blur that must be a girl because she’s wearing a dress. He’ll probably meet her on Friday. He doesn’t want to meet her. He wants to go to bed and cover his head with his blankets, and never come out again. He takes the Winnie the Pooh night light out of his jacket pocket and plugs it in. There is a silky piece of cloth in his pocket too. He doesn’t remember what it is, and is too discouraged to even
look at it. He throws it onto the table without looking at it and gets into bed, naked and afraid.

“It’ll be all right, Jack.” he hears. He sits up and looks around. He’s alone. “It will be all right,” he hears again, and notices that Winnie the Pooh is talking to him, really talking. His mouth is moving and everything.

“Am I going insane?” Jack asks.

Winnie shrugs. Jack is almost prepared to accept that his night light can talk. Shrugging, he’s not so sure about. He drifts into sleep, but his conversation with Winnie continues:

“It’s good that you’re asleep, ” Winnie says. “You have a busy day tomorrow.”

“I do?” asks Jack. “But it’s Sunday!”

“Yes,” Winnie tells him. “And every Sunday you go to school. You take a university course.”

“I do?” Jack asks, worried.

“Yes, you do,” Winnie says, and tomorrow is your big exam.”

“It is?” Jack asks, panic welling up, “but I didn’t study!”

Jack falls into dreamworld. It’s not the fun house dream, at least it’s not the fun house dream, but he’s still where he doesn’t want to be. He’s sitting in a university hall, surrounded by other students working hard at their exams.

Jack sits. He picks up the exam booklet.

“That should keep him busy,” Winne says.

“But I didn’t study,” Jack repeats. “I didn’t study!” All around him, the other students work, effortlessly filling in answers.

Jack opens the exam booklet. It’s all in Greek. Jack doesn’t know Greek.

He’s still concentrating on trying to make sense of the Greek, when Winnie says: “Hey, Jack, where are your pants?”

Jack looks down. He’s naked from the waist down. He screams, a long, silent scream.

Winnie smiles.

“An old, should be retired bear has to have some fun,” he says.



It is Liz’s turn to be woken out of a deep sleep, wondering what that ungodly noise is. Oh. The telephone. She looks at the clock. 2:43? What kind of moron is calling her at 2:43? Maybe she’ll ignore it and go back to sleep. But…

But somehow the idea of sleep isn’t restful. An odd notion, that, that sleep will not be restful, but there it is. It sits on her chest like some unwanted burden, like a child’s misunderstanding of the song: sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Liz’s eyelids drift shut. There’s something wrong. She doesn’t want to be here, where ever “here” is – the nothing world of that place where she finds herself when she succumbs to sleep. She doesn’t want to be here, and she doesn’t know how to not be – and then the phone rings again and she grabs it and clings to it as if it were a life raft. “Hello?”

Silence. There is silence on the other end of the phone, and Liz is far enough away from that other reality, that dream scape, that all she knows is that she’s annoyed. “Hello! Who is this?” Liz says sharply. She can hear breathing, but she’s not sure if it’s just breathing or if it’s the kind of breathing you get from an obscene phone call. She’s never had an obscene phone call.

“Hello!” she says again, then, warning: “I have call display.” She realizes that she actually does have call display. What a goof! She looks at the phone cradle. “Jack?” she says. “Why are you calling me at 2:43 in the morning?” Jack doesn’t know what to say. He hasn’t planned this out at all. He can’t say that he phoned her because his Winnie the Pooh night light
burned out and now he’s scared to go to sleep because the walking doll behind the big scary door in the fun house corridor will get him. “Jack?” Liz says again. “Are you all right?”

“Liz?” Jack asks, his voice at least two octaves above where it should be. He didn’t think he knew how to make his voice go that high. His voice probably hasn’t done that since before it broke. He tries again: “Liz? Is that you? I thought I phoned the pizza place.” His words sound false to his hears, and he winces, almost hangs up, but Liz … is laughing.

“Pizza? At 2:43 in the morning?”

“Yeah,” he hears himself say. “I had a craving. Do you want to share?” Well, that was dumb, but again, he is surprised.

“Why not?” Liz says. “I’m awake now. But you’ll have to come here. I’m not getting dressed and going out at this ungodly hour.” Liz isn’t getting dressed? That sounds promising.

“I’ll be right there,” Jack says.

Jack puts the Winnie the Pooh night light in his pocket. He phones the all night pizza place near Liz’s and sets off into the night. The streets are quiet. He doesn’t know what he expected – evil clowns and drunks, maybe, but there is nothing but stillness. A low fog is moving in, and maybe at another time it would have been spooky, but now it gives an otherworldly aspect to the night. It almost feels cozy.

The pizza place and the 24 hour drugstore beside it are the only signs of life on the street. There are no other people out walking, no cars or other vehicles on the road. Jack goes into the pizza place.

“I phoned,” he says.

The pizza guy looks in the oven. “Give it another five minutes,” he says, so Jack goes into the drug store and comes out with a small purchase in a bag, and a magazine to read while he waits. There’s no need, though. The pizza is on the counter, in an insulated bag. “Had to run out” a note says, “bring the bag back in the AM” Jack picks up the pizza and heads over to see Liz. As he walks away, the lights in the pizza place and the drugstore go off, and he has a momentary feeling of nothingness – of being alone in the universe.

It’s not an unpleasant feeling, he thinks, but he’s never been scared of being alone. He’s never been scared of evil clowns, for that matter, or drunks.

Up in her apartment tower, Liz looks out the window for Jack. The fog doesn’t seem cozy to her, and the absence of lights or vehicles on the streets seems sinister. She shivers and pulls her robe around her closer. She’s forgotten to tell him about the near impossibility of gaining access to her building without the code for her apartment and doesn’t know if he’ll have brought his cell phone. Most people would, but most people aren’t Jack. She watches to buzz him in. She’s still watching when there’s a knock at her door.

Liz looks through the peephole. Jack is there, chatting to some guy. Liz looks down at her self. She’s wearing more than she’d wear on the beach – a full length robe and fuzzy slippers. All that is exposed is her hands and her face, but she still feels kind of naked. She pulls the robe belt tighter and opens the door. “Hey, Jack,” she says, “come in.”

The other guy smiles in a friendly way and keeps walking. “Nice building you have,” Jack says. “That guy let me in, but came up with me and said he’d call the cops if I didn’t really know you. Must make you feel safe.”

It might have, Liz thinks, if she had any idea who the other guy was. Maybe he was some kind of stalker who found out which girls didn’t live with their boyfriends.

“He’s the night maintenance supervisor,” Jack says. “But why are we talking about him, when I brought pizza?”

He steps into the apartment. It all looks pretty much the same as last time he was there, helping her move in. The apartment came furnished, but Liz had still had two trucks worth of bags and boxes of stuff. Girls, go figure. All of Jack’s stuff would fit in a back pack with room to spare.

Now that he has the pizza, and he’s in her apartment, and she’s standing in front of him completely encased, but in a robe nonetheless, that hints of intimacy, Jack has no idea what to do next. This Liz seems friendlier and more interested in him than the Liz he remembers from high school, and the Liz who had apparently been going out with Josh since high school, but it doesn’t mean this Liz wants him to…

Liz steps forward and puts the pizza box on the table. She enters his personal space and wraps his arms around her. Then she kisses him. It’s not a buddy kiss, either.

“I’m glad you came over,” she says. “I wasn’t sleeping too well.”

“You must have been having a nightmare,” Jack says.

“I don’t get them,” says Liz. And she kisses him again.

“What about the pizza?” Jack asks, stupidly.

“What about the pizza?” Liz asks. “It’s too late for pizza.”

The next thing Jack knows, they’re on the couch and Liz isn’t wearing her robe anymore. He’s sure he’d remember doing … what they’re doing … if he’d done it before, but Liz sure seems familiar with him. She even knows about that tickley place on his back… He could do this forever. Hold her and kiss her, drift off to sleep with her in his arms…

“Wait a minute,” Jack says.

He get off the couch and finds the package from the drugstore. She watches him, curiously. He pulls open the bag and takes out a miniature light bulb.

She laughs. “That’s not what I thought you were getting,” she says.

Jack takes the Winnie the Pooh night light out of his jacket pocket and screws in the new light bulb. He plugs it into the wall, and Liz really laughs.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Making sure I have protection,” Jack says.

She waits for an explanation and doesn’t get one. When he comes back to the couch, though, she fends him off. “I can’t do it with Winnie the Pooh watching!” she says.

Jack pulls something soft and silky out of the couch cushions. He throws it over to the wall, where it slides down and snags on the night light.

“Oh bother,” says Pooh, blinded by panties.


Waking up, Jack feels better than he’s felt for weeks, since he was with Pat and Josh and Liz at Pat’s house, before Alice, before Peter, before whoever that crabby old lady was who lived where Pat was supposed to. Light is shining through Liz’ window. He’s sure birds are twittering outside somewhere beyond the soundproof glass. God’s in his heaven, all is right with the world, and he’s going to go buy some danish.

Liz looks up sleepily as Jack gets up and pulls his clothes on.

“I’ll be back,” Jack says.

“I’m getting up,” she says, stretching and yawning and pulling her robe tightly around her for warmth, and looking as though she has absolutely no intention of getting up. “I have to go to work for awhile,” she tells him.

“But it’s Saturday.” Jack says.

“I know,” Liz says. “year end.” Jack looks blank. “Accounting year end,” Liz says, “not regular old December 31st year end.”

Apparently this Liz is an accounting clerk, Jack thinks. It should probably bother him, that she’s not the proper Liz, but right at this moment, at this brief speck of time when he’s had a great night and a decent sleep, and God’s in his heaven and all is well with the world, and not even the absence of Pat and Josh weighs on him, all he thinks is: accounting clerk. Could be worse.

“Aren’t you going to take Winnie the pooh?” Liz asks.

And Jack does. He doesn’t even think that he is making a mistake as he pulls the night light out of the wall and sticks it in his pocket, still covered with Liz’s panties.

He pauses at the door and looks in on her, thinks how beautiful she is, and smiles when she looks sleepily up at him and blows him a kiss. Then he leaves the apartment.

Inside, Liz is sucked back into the nothingness of her nightmare, as if there had been no interlude, as if Jack had not come over at all, as if there wasn’t a complete pizza in an insulated bag sitting on her counter.

“Liz, Liz,” she hears, “Liz… come with us.”

And Liz doesn’t think, “No, take Jack!” She thinks “they mustn’t have Jack.”

And she goes into a nightmare of nothingness, with no top and no bottom. With no way out.



It’s Wednesday morning and Jack doesn’t feel so good. He got home early enough from the restaurant, so he can’t blame staying out late with Liz and Josh and Alice as an excuse for feeling crummy. His head hurts and his sinuses are full of gunk, he’s kind of dizzy and he wants his mom to be here bringing him tea and orange juice and toast, instead of being in Florida, sunbathing. More immediately, there’s a light hurting his eyes, a rainbow of color. He painfully turns his head to see the Winnie the Pooh night light shining cheerfully at him. He doesn’t remember plugging it in last night, but he must have.

It takes way too much effort to heave himself up so he can reach over and unplug Winnie, but he manages. Before he does, he thinks he hears Winnie say: “You’re going to be late for work.”

“Great,” he thinks. “Now I’m hallucinating.” He looks at the clock. His hallucination, or Winnie, was right. He is going to be late for work. He swings his feet over the side of the bed, then grabs the wall for support as the floor comes rushing up at him. His pants are lying in a puddle of cloth by the side of his bed. He leans over and fumbles in the pocket to find his cell phone. Looking at the number display hurts. Everything hurts. He scrolls down to “work” and hits the call button.

“I won’t be in, ” he tells the receptionist, his voice coming out in a croak so bad he doesn’t even have to try to make it sound worse. “Good,” she says. “Keep your germs to yourself.”

Jack falls back to sleep in a feverish fog, and spends the next two days in bed, rousing himself only to find cold tablets and juice, to make tea and eat toast. The only bright spot is that he is either too sick to hear his landlord tap dancing on his ceiling, or the landlord has given up his new hobby. Whenever he wakes, though, it is to the bright rainbow of color from the night light, and although he remembers unplugging it when the light irritates him, he never remembers plugging it back in. Friday morning dawns with the realization that he’s starving hungry and that he can breath through his nose and that his cell phone is ringing, and probably has been ringing for quite some time. “Hello?” His voice sounds perky even to him.

It’s the receptionist. “Oh good, you’re better,” she says. “I thought I’d have to phone for a temp.” Jack gets to his feet, wishing he’d had the forethought to sound sick, and pulls on his work clothes. They’re crumpled from spending two days on the floor, but he can’t make himself care. When he tosses the empty cold tablet bottle into the garbage, he sees that the expiry date was several months ago. Oops.

Jack checks the mirror before heading out the door. He looks pretty presentable, despite his shirt and pants being rumpled, and he looks like he has been sick. His nose is chafed and his eyes are bloodshot. Jack nods at his reflection in satisfaction. He’s learned that it doesn’t do to look too healthy after being off sick. He works with suspicious people. He walks out of his apartment with a spring in his step, greets the dog in a good natured way, and heads to the bus, surprised by the dog’s reaction. Rover didn’t bark or anything, just wagged his tail in an ingratiating manner.

The landlord, watching from above, calls to his wife: “You’re right. There is something wrong with the dog.” She comes out to look. “There’s something wrong with that Jack,” she says. “He makes me nervous. You’ll talk to him, won’t you?” “Tonight,” says the landlord. “When he gets home from work.”

At work, Jack clocks in and makes his way to the mail room. He pulls on his smock and sorts through the mail, arranging it for delivery, floor by floor.

“Nice break?” his boss says, coming in, then has a look at Jack’s face and back-pedals. “You’re not still contagious are you?”

“Hope not,” Jack tells him. “I wouldn’t wish this on…” he’s going to say “you,” then back-pedals himself to say “…my worst enemy.” An unfamiliar name in the mail catches his eye. “Peter Andrews?” he asks.

“Fourth floor,” his boss says, not even pausing to think.

“New guy?” Jack asks. The boss gives him a quizzical look. “No,” the boss says. “been here awhile.”

On the fourth floor, Jack steers his mail cart through the cubicles, dropping off and picking up, making excuses for his absence, enduring the attitudes of the least of the junior executives and clerical staff towards himself – the mail boy. Soon the only mail still to be delivered is that addressed to Peter Andrews. He comes through the cubicle corridor, and there is an office that wasn’t there before, a niche with solid walls built into the corner of the previously open floor plan, taking up the windows. An unfamiliar man in an expensive
suit, a guy about his age, comes out to meet him. He’s got a huge smile on his face, and Jack thinks, “who is this chimp?”

“Jack!” the person says. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Jack says. “Mr. Andrews?”

“Mr. Andrews? What’s wrong with you?” the guy says, holding his hand out for the mail. Jack hands it over and turns to go. “Hey,” the guy – Peter or whoever- continues, “you guys off to the Bar None tonight?”

“Us guys?” Jack asks.

“You and Alice and Liz.” Not Josh, Jack notes, and his heart sinks. “I’m free tonight!” the guy says, “so I can come with you!” Jack gives him a sickly smile. The guy doesn’t seem to notice, just keeps yapping in an excited way as if Jack should be thrilled to hear what he has to say. “Brenda’s off on some wild ladies night, so I get to go play!” Finally he notices Jack’s lack of response, and manages to misinterpret it, entirely. “I’m just kidding,” he says. “Can you imagine Brenda stuffing money into some guy’s jock strap? No she’s going out for dinner with her parents and grandparents, and told me I didn’t have to come.” Jack just wants to get out of there. He steers his mail cart away. “I get you,” Peter says. “Work is work and play is play. So, I’ll see you there tonight, right?”

Jack isn’t sure if he nods or not. When he gets safely down to the mail room, his boss takes one look at him and tells him to go back home, before everyone else gets whatever it is he has, and not to come back until his doctor clears him to come to work.

That night, Jack makes his way to the Bar None. He can’t not go, even though he doesn’t think he wants to know who will be there. He sees Peter sitting at their table and resignedly makes his way over. He can’t see Liz, which worries him, and he’s almost glad to see Alice, which worries him even more.

Then Liz comes from the bar, holding a large frothy drink in one hand and his favorite beer in the other. She’s back to being the Liz who drinks, he sees, and he can’t stop the huge grin from taking over his face. She grins back, plunks down his beer and shows him her arm. There’s a red mark on it that will probably turn into a bruise. “Next time you get the drinks,” she says. “Look at my arm!”

“Did someone hit you?” Jack asks, ready to kick some butt.

“Just jostled me,” Liz says. “An accident. But I banged into the bar.”

Liz puts her drink down, then pops herself onto Jack’s lap. “You could offer to kiss it better,” she says. Jack likes this Liz, he thinks, making a show of kissing her arm.

Alice asks Peter where Brenda is, and the conversation starts revolving around Peter, and Brenda, and wedding plans for Peter and Brenda. Jack drinks his beer, left out of this new dynamic again, not knowing what they know, his good mood evaporating. Liz moves over to sit in her own chair, and Jack hears himself asking: “Do you know my friend Josh?”

They all look at him, faces blank. Even Liz.

“No, who’s that?”

“Buddy from high school,” Jack says.

“Right,” Peter says, laughing. “If he was a buddy from high school, don’t you think we’d know him? What, you had other friends besides us?”

Liz and Alice join in the laugh, and Jack just feels sick. Liz’ laughter dies down faster than that of the others. He sees the concern on her face as she says: “You don’t look so hot.”
Touched, he makes an effort to smile. “No, I’ve got a cold. I think I’m going to head home,” he tells her. “Call me,” she says.

Later, Jack ponders her words. Call her? She’s never said: “call me,” like that. What does she mean? He makes his bed properly with clean sheets and gets rid of all the snoggy kleenexes scattered around the floor. He finds a last cold tablet under his water glass and takes it even though it’s probably expired too. He plugs in the night light, and is not rewarded with any kind of rainbow glow. The bulb is burned out. He pulls the night light from the wall, and then, even though he knows he’ll see Peter’s photo in the high school annual instead of
Josh’s, he checks it out. Peter’s there, all right, looking a smarmy eighteen year old version of himself, and there’s no Josh in evidence at all. Jack wants to cry.

Jack turns off his bedside light and stares at the ceiling until he drifts off into that fun house corridor of a dream, with clowns and walking dolls hiding behind closed doors, the voices of Pat and Josh crying out for help; the construction sounds that make him unhappily aware that the corridor is getting bigger all the time. The hammering gets louder and louder until Jack awakens. The sound is coming from his door. He is startled to his feet and he stumbles to the door. He lurches it open and there stands his landlord;

“For Pete’s sake,” his landlord says, “what the hell is going on down here?”

“I’m sleeping,” Jack says, confused.

“Then what is making all the noise, all the screaming and laughing and thumping?” the landlord asks, his voice rising with every word: “Night after night, then we get a break for a few days, and now it’s worse than ever. I can’t sleep, my wife can’t sleep, and the dog is hiding in the closet, probably peeing on my shoes, terrified. What the hell are you doing down here?”

“I’m sleeping,” Jack says, again. The landlord looks past Jack into the room. It all seems peaceful and quiet.

“Maybe you’re having a nightmare,” Jack suggests.

“Enough is enough. I want you out,” the landlord tells him. He stumbles back to his own door, where his wife waits, looking frightened. He puts his arm around her shoulders and they go inside.

“Crazy people,” Jack says. He gets back in bed, but knows he won’t sleep. He remembers Liz saying: “call me.” She probably didn’t mean at 2:43 in the morning, but Jack gets out his cell phone and finds her number in the directory and pushes the call button anyway.

Meanwhile, Liz, at her apartment, is having her own nightmare. Locked in that nothing world, she struggles against unknowable terror, hearing the voices of Pat and Josh, voices she should recognize, but somehow doesn’t. Another voice is calling her, the same voice that’s called her before, and all she can think is: “Jack! Take Jack!”



It’s Tuesday night and the four of them have gone out for dinner. Only Jack knows that they are the wrong four – that Alice has usurped Pat’s place, but he’s given up on trying to convince Josh and Liz of that. Now he’s sitting, waiting for the waiter to finish telling them what the specials are, and go get them some drinks. This is Alice’s treat, so Jack is planning on ordering a steak. If it was Pat’s treat, he’d find the cheapest thing on the menu and order that, but Alice, whoever she is, can pay for his steak. He figures she owes him, just for being there, in Pat’s place.

He doesn’t know why he’s there, at the restaurant with them – specifically with her. She’d phoned and asked him if he wanted to come out – told him that she was celebrating her promotion, but he doesn’t know why he agreed. He doesn’t know what position she was promoted to, doesn’t care what position she was promoted from, either. He has no idea where she works or what she does. No skin off his nose.

“And can I bring you a drink?” the waiter asks. “It’s Tequila Tuesday, and our specials are either a Margarita or a Tequila Sunset for $4.95.”

“I’ll have a Margarita,” Jack says, then to Liz: “What about you? Are you having one?”

Liz looks puzzled. “Oh, Jack,” she says. “If there’s one thing you know about me it’s that I never drink hard liquor.”

Jack thinks back to the tequila night that Liz won’t talk about, and to the night Pat disappeared, when they were all drinking grain alcohol and koolaid, to all of the drinking the original four have done since they were of legal age, and if he wanted to be honest, before that too.

If there is one thing he knows about Liz, it’s that she drinks like a fish. Beer, wine, hard liquor, doesn’t matter. If it’s liquid and contains alcohol, she’ll drink it. Josh, on the other hand, wouldn’t drink the grain alcohol, rarely drinks hard liquor, and would probably be just as happy to drink nothing alcoholic at all. If they need a designated driver, he always volunteers.

“I’ll have one,” Alice says. Then Josh orders a pop, and Liz orders a wine spritzer. At least Josh is ordering a pop, Jack thinks. Something in his world is still making sense.

They all start talking. At first Jack feels like the odd one out, but gradually, after a couple of drinks, and a pretty good steak, great actually, after all the hamburger and macaroni he’s been eating, he loosens up. Josh and Liz are being themselves, the friends he’s known since high school, and even if Alice isn’t Pat, she’s nice enough, he supposes. She even asked him if he’d found his friend, while Liz and Josh didn’t even seem to care that Pat was gone. Jack didn’t know what to say to that, so he just let it go, and the conversation went on to other things.

The only disturbing thing is the way that Josh and Liz seem to be holding hands under the table. They’ve all joked around, all four originals, flirting with each other and whatnot, but holding hands under the table? That just doesn’t seem like something Liz and Josh would do. When it’s time for dessert, they order one piece of pie and two forks. That doesn’t seem like something they’d do either. What they’d do, is that Liz would order pie, and Josh would sneak bites of it with his coffee spoon when Liz wasn’t looking. Jack doesn’t order dessert. He figured he’d sneak bites of Liz’s too, but he can hardly do that when they’ve ordered one piece of pie with two forks. Alice offers him some of hers, but he doesn’t like what she ordered. There he is, odd man out again, not eating dessert like everyone else because he felt bad about ordering the expensive steak when Alice was paying for it, watching Liz finger Josh’s watchband, as if she owned it.

“New watch?” Jack asks.

“Old one,” Josh says. “My parents are moving to Florida and cleaning out the house. Mom found this one in the back of a closet and gave it to me. It’s from Expo 86.”

“Your’s too, huh?” Jack asks. “What’s it with parents and Florida?

Josh shows Jack the watch. It has a logo on the face of it, with “86″ in big numbers.

“What’s Expo 86?” Alice asks.

None of them know. Just something that happened a long time ago, they figure, like Superbowl XXI.

A band is setting up on a small stage in the back of the restaurant. The waiter comes over with the bill. They all offer to pay their share, but Alice slips her credit card to the waiter, before they can even see how much the bill is, and that’s that. Jack starts to like her more.

“There’s a cover charge if you want to stay for the show,” the waiter says, but they all have to work in the morning. They make it an early night. As they’re leaving, the band is doing a sound check. They play “Stagger Lee” and play it well. Jack and Alice linger to listen. Josh and Liz go off singing the words, arms casually slug around each other’s shoulders.

“Go Stagger Lee, Go Stagger Lee…”.

“Cheerful song,” Alice says, and they start walking down the street.

“At least in the beginning of it,” Jack says. “The song. It ends up nasty.”

“I guess I don’t know all the words,” Alice tells him.

They pass a downscale bar, and a drunk comes stumbling out.

“Stagger Lee, himself,” Jack says, and Alice laughs. Up ahead, the drunk gets too close to Josh and Liz. Jack and Alice can see him saying something to Josh, see Josh backing away.

“Poor Josh,” Jack says. “If a drunk is out, he’ll find him. Same as Pat and clowns. Clowns don’t bother me, drunks don’t bother me, but they leave be alone.” As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he wishes he hadn’t said them – hadn’t said anything about Pat. He hopes Alice won’t ask about her again, and she doesn’t.

There’s silence after that. The silence goes on too long, and Jack breaks it, saying: “Josh and Liz seemed kind of cozy.”

“Cozy?” Alice asks.

“Yeah,” Jack says. “Like they’re an old married couple or something all of a sudden.”

Alice stops and looks up at Jack, a concerned expression on her face. “Are you all right?” she asks, then tries to lighten up by saying: “you haven’t bumped your head or anything?”

Jack shakes his head.

“Liz and Josh are an old married couple,” Alice tells him. “Or as good as. They’ve been going together since grade ten.”

Jack feels reality shift under his feet again, and has to stop himself from grabbing on to the nearest wall for support.


Liz and Josh make their way to Liz’ apartment, still humming the song, filling in the occasional line:

“Stagger Lee killed Billy, he killed that poor boy so bad…”

Until they fall into bed, mess around for awhile, and slip into sleep.

Josh sleeps like a log – at least at first. He wakes when Liz flails out her arm and hits him across the bridge of the nose.

“Ow! Why’d you do that?” Josh asks, sitting up.

Liz isn’t awake though, and isn’t about to wake up, no matter how much noise Josh makes. She’s in her nothing world of a nightmare again, in some void in time or space where she’s all alone and can’t see anything or feel anything and doesn’t know where she is. She hears voices though, voices calling her from a far way off, voices she doesn’t want to answer.

Josh lightly touches Liz’ shoulder, then, when that doesn’t wake her up, he pats her shoulder. Sill no response. He turns the bed side lamp on, but she just rolls over and scoots under the covers, still asleep. She’s moaning now, making strange fearful cries. It must be some nightmare, Josh thinks. And Liz says she never has them. He tries to wake her one more time, but she responds to his touch by lashing out at him. She’s already hurt his nose. He doesn’t want bruises. He gets out of bed.

Josh pulls his clothes on. He has to get home, get some sleep before it’s time to go to work in the morning.

He gives her a careful kiss on the cheek - and tiptoes away.

“Josh,” she says. He smiles, wonders if he should come back to bed, but he sees that she’s talking in her sleep. “Take Josh,” she says.


Josh walks home. He and Liz have talked about moving in together, saving on rent, but on a night like this it’s nice to have his own place to go to. If he’d lived with Liz, he’d have had to sleep on the couch. It’s not far to his place, and the night is nice. It’s still pretty early, just after 11:00, so there are people on the sidewalk, coming out of the bars and restaurants.

The drunk staggers toward him. The same drunk that accosted them when they came out of the restaurant earlier. Josh hates drunks. They scare him. They’re noisy and smelly and unpredictable, and this one is bad. He’s a real end of the road rummy. He’s got a big wet patch down the front of his pants, where Josh really hopes he’s spilled a beer, and his jacket is done up wrong. He has a loopy smile on his face, and he’s holding out a bottle.

“Come an have a drink!” the drunk calls out, slurring his words.

Josh pretends he doesn’t hear him. He walks faster.

“Come on, be sociable,” the drunk calls again. He staggers in front of Josh, giggling to himself.

“No, thanks,” Josh says. The bottle the drunk is holding has a poison label, he sees.

The drunk takes a swig from the bottle, and swipes his mouth with a filthy hand. “That’s a nice watch you got there,” he says.

Josh runs. The drunk runs after him, quick on his feet for a drunk. Before Josh knows what’s happening, the drunk has him in a headlock, is tilting his head back and plugging his nose, and then the vile stuff in the bottle in dripping down Jack’s throat, burning and gagging him. The drunk has Josh’s nose pinched off. All he can do is swallow.

“You afraid of being poisoned?” the drunk asks, and laughs. But by then Josh can’t hear him anymore, let alone answer.

The drunk strips Josh’s watch off his wrist, sees that it’s just a cheap thing – nothing but an old souvenir. He flips the watch into the gutter and walks on.

Where Josh was is nothing – nothing but a shimmer of light that dissipates and disappears.



Jack’s nightmares are getting worse. Since the night at the Bar None, the fun house corridor has filled with noises and voices that Jack almost recognizes, but not quite. Sometimes, he thinks he hears Pat’s voice, calling for help from a long way off. Other times, other voices are calling for Alice, asking where she’s gone. There is always the sound of construction, of hammering and sawing, and the corridor is, in some freaky nightmare way, expanding. The doors are getting taller; the halls are getting wider. Sometimes banks of fog roll in out of nowhere, obscuring the bright colors and high ceilings, but not making them feel any more manageable. Jack feels himself getting lost in there, and is afraid that he won’t be able to find his way back out to his real world of dumpy basement suite, boring job, and Friday nights with his friends at the Bar None.

Jack wakes with his heart pounding in his chest, and quite often with his landlord pounding on his ceiling. “All right, All right!” Jack calls out, but he’s never sure why. He gets out of bed and has a drink of water and a pee, and always, by the time he’s got back into bed has forgotten his dream and is left with only a vague unease, a reluctance to go back to sleep, and a growing irritation with his landlord for making so much noise above his head. What’s the guy doing up there? Has he taken up tap-dancing?

The week passes, and it’s Friday again. Jack rolls out of bed, late, feeling like he hasn’t had any sleep at all. He combs his hair and sticks out his tongue in the mirror, expecting it to be covered in green fuzz, from the weight and the feel of it. Nope. It’s just his regular pink tongue. He gargles with mouthwash and brushes his teeth and gets into his white shirt and tie, and black pants – his stupid flunky uniform. He grabs his jacket and heads out the door, wondering if the dog is in its run. Rover is insane, he thinks. He’s been acting even more strangely than normal, barking as if at something behind Jack, instead of directly at Jack – or at least that’s how it seems to Jack. Darn dog.

Jack leaves his basement suite, locking the door behind him. He glances up at his landlord’s main floor kitchen window. His landlord and the landlord’s wife are watching him. They’re in their robes and look kind of grouchy. Jack waves. Neither of them wave back. Jack shrugs and cautiously approaches Rover’s dog run. The doberman/rottweiller cross is in there, all right, and the door is closed. Jack prepares for the dog to rush at him, barking like a maniac, hitting the chain link fence, and then bouncing off. It’s happened every day for months, except for the times Jack would prefer not to think about – the times when Rover wasn’t safely locked away in his run, and the landlord had to come out and call Rover off, while Jack stood stock still, afraid to move, while the dog sniffed at his crotch. It wouldn’t have been so bad, Jack thinks, if it hadn’t been for all the drool.

“Rover! It’s me, you idiot,” Jack says to the dog, hoping to forestall the barking and rushing. It’s never worked before. He doesn’t expect it to work now. But the dog, who has been prepared to rush him, stops mid-bark, mid-rush. It stands for a moment, then cowers before Jack, thumping his tail on the floor of his run in a “don’t hurt me,” kind of way. Rover rolls onto his back in a submissive gesture, exposes his belly. Jack and the dog look at each other. The dog whines. “You must be sick,” Jack says.


It’s after work, and Jack is on his way to the Bar None. He’s phoned Josh and Liz, but he hasn’t been able to get a hold of Pat. The last time he tried phoning, he got a “this number is not in service,” message, and there was something wrong with her email address, too. His last email was bounced back to him. He wonders if she forgot to pay her phone and internet bills. She’ll probably show up at the bar anyways, he thinks. She knows where to find them.

It’s early, and there is no lineup outside the bar when Jack gets there. Jack smiles. No clowns, he thinks. Pat will be relieved. He stands inside the door for a moment, looking for his friends. He can’t see Pat, but Liz and Josh are sitting at the same table they had last week. Josh sees him and waves an empty beer pitcher at Jack. Jack nods and goes to the bar to get more beer before going up to the table.

As he is taking his pitcher of beer from the bartender, someone comes up behind him and gooses him. He jumps, almost spilling his beer. He swings around, ready to smack whoever it was. A woman he’s never seen before smiles up at him and winks. She’s about his age, pretty enough in an anorexic Barbie kind of way, but definitely not his type. He wonders what she thinks she’s doing, goosing him. He’s going to ask, but she says:

“About time you got here.” Then, “Go on to the table. I’m going to get a glass of wine.”

He smiles weakly, wondering how much she’s had to drink, wondering why he attracts all the crazies, and goes up to the table. Jack pours out beer for Josh and Liz and sits down.

“No Pat?” he asks. “Have either of you heard from her?”

They just look at him. It’s as if they don’t know who he’s talking about. After a second, the light dawns but they both shake their heads..

“She stayed with you last Friday night,” he says to Liz. “Did anything happen?”

Liz tries to remember. It must have only been a week ago, but the memory of what she and Pat did is hazy and she feels like she’s dredging it up from the depths of her mind. She knows she knows Pat, but she can’t quite picture her face; she’s not entirely sure what Pat looks like, or even, silly as it sounds, who she is. Jack is waiting for an answer, so Liz makes the effort to recall what she was doing last Friday night. Someone was sleeping on her couch, she thinks. She remembers washing an extra set of sheets and pillowcases and putting them back in her hall closet when she did laundry on Sunday. Someone must have used them.

“We went to sleep pretty soon after we got back,” Liz says, thinking it sounds about right, “but no one was there when I woke up the next morning.”

“Have you spoken to her since?” Jack asks.

The girl who goosed Jack is coming up to the table, a glass of wine in her hand. She plunks herself down in the chair next to Jack and makes herself at home. Liz and Josh look curiously at her. The girl smiles at them in a friendly way and remarks that it’s been a long week. She tastes her wine.

Jack edges his chair away from her, wishes she would go away. Liz and Josh don’t seem to recognize her either, but they don’t seem to mind having her sit with them.

“Have you spoken to her since?” Jack asks Liz, again.

Liz blinks. Her memory of Pat is no longer hazy. It has completely vanished.

“Spoken to who?” Liz asks.

“Pat!” Jack says.

“Who’s Pat?” the girl next to Jack asks.

“Who are you?” is what Jack starts to ask, but he’s interrupted when Liz blinks at Alice and suddenly reacts to her as if to a long time friend.

“Alice!” Liz says. “About time you got here!”

“It took me forever to get away,” Alice says.

Josh and Jack look at each other. Jack can see that Josh doesn’t recognize the girl either, but as she and Liz talk, Josh’s expression changes from someone who’s been confronted by a stranger to someone who is waiting to welcome a friend.

“Alice!” Josh says, when there is a break in the conversation between her and Liz, “Did you do something to your hair? I didn’t recognize you.”

“You noticed my hair?” Alice asks. “I’m impressed!”

The three of them laugh and talk. Jack concentrates on his beer. When he can’t stand it anymore, he says: “What about Pat?”

Alice, Josh, and Liz look up at him.

“Who the heck is Pat?” Alice asks. Josh and Liz want to know too.

“Oh, come on,” Jack says. “We were here with Pat last week. He looks to Josh and Liz. “The three of us were sitting right at this table.”

“I was here last week,” Alice says.

“I have never seen you before in my life,” Jack says.

“What are you talking about? Of course you know me. ” Alice says. “I was here last week. We were dancing and drinking. You were telling some lame story about your Winnie the Pooh night light, and your grandmother and some doll and your sister who snores…”

“Very funny,” Jack says. “I don’t know who you are or how they put you up to this, but enough is enough. I’m going to go find Pat.”

He leaves the table without waiting to check their reactions. The DJ is getting ready to start his show and The Bar None is filling up with other customers. Jack elbows his way out. As he leaves, he hears Alice say: “What the heck is his problem?”


Jack stands outside Pat’s apartment building. It looks the same, but Pat’s name isn’t on the directory beside the intercom. Where there should be typed card saying: “Apartment 3B - Pat Sprite,” there is a hand-written card that says “Apartment 3B – H. Finklestein.” The card is faded and fly-spotted. It looks like its been there since before Jack was born.

Jack buzzes the intercom anyways, and a quavering, elderly voice answers: “Who is this?”

“I’m looking for Pat Sprite,” Jack says.

“There’s no Pat Sprite here,” the voice says. “Who is this?”

“Sure there is! Jack insists.”Pat Sprite, Apartment 3B!” He is shouting and can’t seem to make himself stop. “Let me speak to Pat Sprite! This isn’t funny!”

There is the sound of an old lady in distress on the other end of the intercom, then silence.

Jack presses again and again on the buzzer but no one answers his call. After a moment, the door opens and the apartment manager comes out. Jack recognizes him from the previous week when Pat’s neighbor complained about the noise.

“Is there a problem?” the manager asks.

“I’m trying to find Pat Sprite,” Jack says. To his embarrassment, he is near tears. “I know she lives here. I just saw her last week.”

“There’s no Pat Sprite here,” the manager says, “and you’re scaring Mrs. Finklestein.”

The manager leads Jack away from the door. “This Pat Sprite. Where did you see her last?” he asks.

“At The Bar None,” Jack says. “It’s a club.”

They’ve walked a few yards from the door of the apartment building. Jack looks up. A curtain twitches in what should be Pat’s window, and an elderly, fearful face peers out at him.

The manager nods. “Look son, sometimes when a girl doesn’t want a fellow to bug her, she gives him a phony phone number and address, sometimes even a phony name.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Jack says. “I know her!”

The manager shrugs, skeptical.

“I know her,” Jack insists.

“Be that as it may,” the manager says. “there’s no Pat Sprite here, and you have to leave Mrs. Finklestein alone.”

He waits for Jack to nod in agreement, then pats him on the back. “There are other girls,” he says, going back to the apartment building.

“Not Pat,” Josh thinks. “There aren’t any other girls like Pat.” He considers Alice and makes a face. “No other girls at all,” he says, out loud.

The manager shoots him a warning look. Jack turns to go home, stepping over an iron grate. If he’d looked down, he would have seen keys on a chain lying at the bottom, the name “Pat” barely visible in the reflection of the streetlight.


Back at home, Jack pulls an old box out of the bottom of his closet: the box that his mom made him take when she moved to Florida. Jack opens the lid and piles the stuff on the bed. There’s a bunch of sports medals and trophies – a couple that he’s proud of, the others of the self-esteem promoting variety that everyone got. He puts those ones in his garbage can. Under the medals is his high school year book. In the back of it, there should be a photo of him and Josh, Liz and Pat all dressed up for their high school graduation. He starts to leaf through the annual, then stops after he looks at his own dorky photo and reads the bio of his high school accomplishments and dreams for his future. The next picture on the page is Alice’s. “Best Buddies,” he reads: “Josh and Liz and Jack.” Feeling sick, Jack slams the annual shut and puts it on the bed. He’s scared now, to look at the photo of him with Liz and Josh and Pat, afraid that Alice will be in it instead.

Next in the box is a container of Legos. He puts those aside. Never know when you’re going to need Legos; then a bag full of Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures. Never know when you’re going to need those, either, he thinks. Then there are some comic books. He yawns. He’ll go through them later, although he doesn’t know why he thought it necessary to save all of the Archie Digests. Right in the bottom of the box, tucked under a flap so he almost misses it, is a little box that used to have chocolate covered peanuts in it. In the box is his Winnie the Pooh night light – a small thing of Winnie, with a little smile on his face, holding his honey pot, sitting under a rainbow.

Jack sits with the night light in his hand. He’s so tired, and he’s so afraid to go to sleep. He thinks of his sister, telling him that he was too old for a night light all those years ago. Well, he’s definitely too old for it now, but he plugs it in anyways, and then barely makes it back to the bed before collapsing in exhaustion. He falls asleep where he lies, the high school annual and the Ninja Turtles and the Transformers and the Legos scattered under and around him, the sports medals digging into his arms and neck. He falls into a abyss of deep, untroubled sleep, safe from corridors and walking dolls and clowns and missing friends.

In the electrical outlet, the rainbow above Winnie the Pooh casts a warm friendly glow around the room. On Winnie’s face, though is an expression of concentration that wasn’t there before.

“Oh bother,” Winne says. “I’m too old for this.”



“You were afraid of a doll?” Liz asks, incredulity writ large on her face. “Pat’s afraid of clowns, and you’re afraid of a doll?”

“Well, it was a big doll,” Jack says, defensively. A big scary doll, he thinks, A big scary doll that moved even when it wasn’t being made to go by his sister. A doll that snuck up on him in the middle of the night…

On the dance floor, in front of him, the DJ is playing “Slow Dancing” at an appropriate volume. Couples are swaying to the music, and it looks inviting. Jack can almost feel Liz’ shoulder under his hand, smell her skin under his nose. Jack thinks he’ll ask her to dance, but then she says, again, “A doll!” and snickers.

Maybe he’ll ask Pat.

“What kind of a doll?” Pat asks.

Jack sighs. He might as well give up the idea of dancing, he thinks. At least he doesn’t have to shout now to be heard over the music.

“A walking doll,” he says. Pat and Liz nod. They both know what he means. Josh doesn’t. “It’s about yay tall,” Jack explains, holding his hand out about two feet from the floor. “My sister would stand behind it and move its arms and it would walk.”

“I had one,” Liz says. “There wasn’t anything scary about it .”

“Just because you’re scared of nothing,” Pat says.

“Sometimes it would move even if my sister wasn’t making it go,” Jack says, that shiver going down his spine. “I thought it was my sister, just messing around,” Jack says, to their “yeah, right” expressions, “but she snores.”

“Wait a minute,” Josh says, suddenly paying attention. “The doll snores?”

“My sister snores.” Jack says, realizing he has not made the situation clearer. “I was in her room, supposed to be sleeping and that doll moved, I swear. That thing was evil.”

His grandmother had been visiting, and when his grandmother visited, she stayed in his room. He didn’t know why. No one asked him for permission and it wasn’t like he had a vote, so he’d have to take his camping mat and sleeping bag into his sister’s room and sleep on her floor. There he was, five years old, trying to get comfortable on the sleeping mat in the sleeping bag, surrounded by frilly girl stuff, trying to block out all the noise his sister was making with her snoring, and there was the doll – on the foot of his sister’s bed. A blink and there wasn’t the doll – on the foot of his sister’s bed. There was the doll looming over him with it’s ice blue eyes and its…

Jack blinks. They’re staring at him again. He wonders if he made another seizure-like jump.

“You were sleeping with your sister?” Liz asks.

“My grandmother was visiting,” he says, defensively.

Josh makes a tent of his fingers and puts on a Sigmund Freud voice: “Evil dolls, and snoring sisters and now grandmothers! Your mental situation is getting worse.”

“Ah, smeg off.” Jack says. “That thing was evil,” he insists. “It followed me around until I got out my secret weapon.” He waits a beat. “My Winnie the Pooh night light.”

Gratifyingly, they laugh. He smiles, relaxes. Good old Jack. Just messing with them.

“Well you know what evil is backwards, don’t you?” Pat asks.

Jack shakes his head.

“Live,” she says, in an evil, Vincent Price voice.

Liz makes a Bwa haa haa sound, and what was left of Jack’s fear vanishes in laughter, as the four of them break into laughter.

The music volume goes up. “It’s Raining Men” comes on, and Pat grabs Liz to go dance, joining most of the other girls in the bar. Josh says something, but Jack can’t hear what. The room is filled with the rowdy laughter of girls dancing and of men watching – it’s all good again.

Josh taps Jack on the shoulder. “Winnie the Pooh night light?” he screams into Jack’s ear. “where do you come up with this stuff?”

Jack shrugs, grateful that it’s too loud to talk. He remembers rooting through his bedroom closet in the dark, trying not to wake his sleeping grandmother. He remembers finding the light and bringing it back into his sister’s room, where the doll, traitor that it was, was sitting pristinely on the bed, exactly where his sister had put it the night before. As he struggled to get the night light plugged in, the doll had turned her evil, live face to him, and her lips had parted to show dainty sharp teeth – and then the light was plugged in. Pooh and his honey pot sent a warm golden glow into the room, protecting Jack from the dark, and the doll was forced back into being what it didn’t want to be – an inanimate object. Jack fell asleep, confident that Winnie the Pooh would protect him, and didn’t even respond when his sister woke up to complain about the light and to say that he was too old for it.

The song is over. It’s stopped raining men, and the girls are making their way back to the table, laughing and exhilarated. A song Jack likes is just starting. He doesn’t know what it’s called, but it’s got his toes tapping and he’s ready to go. “When I get her in my sights – boom boom, out go the lights!” Josh has gone down to the bar for more beer and Jack now stands, ready to lead either of the girls, or both of them back onto the dance floor. He’s not fussy. He’s at that happy state of almost drunkenness where his inhibitions are lowered but he’s not sloppy or belligerent, and all thoughts of corridors and spooky dolls are gone from his head. Then Liz wrecks it. She looks around the table and says:

“Where’s Alice?”

The word echo in Jack’s ear, and he gets a glimpse of fun house corridor again. Pat is looking at Liz, wondering what she’s talking about. Jack sinks back into his seat as Josh, coming up to them with a hard fought pitcher of beer, asks:

“What was that?” Josh asks, pouring out the beer.

“Where’s Alice?’ Liz asks again, her voice growing uncertain.

They look at each other, questioning. None of them know an Alice, not even Liz knows an Alice.

“Who’s Alice?” Pat asks.

“I don’t know,” Liz says. “It just popped out of my mouth. Where is Alice?.” she gives a shaky laugh. “Who is Alice?”

Others around them hear her question and a chant goes up: “Who the heck is Alice?” and “Alice! Alice! Alice!” Soon it’s drowning out the song the DJ is playing, the song that Jack likes. The record comes flying off into the crowd, and the DJ says: “Annnd SMOKIE! For Twenty Four Years…” He holds his mic out to the crowd on the dance floor, and they holler back, as one: “I’ve been living next door to Alice!”

The crowd surges back onto the dance floor, then Pat drinks down her beer and pulls Josh up to go dance, and Liz and Jack come too, and soon they’re all swooping around in a circle shouting out words to the song:

I don’t know where she’s leaving

or where she’s gonna go

I guess she’s got her reasons

But I just don’t want to know

Cause for twenty four years

I’ve been living next door to Alice

And then the punch line:

Who the heck is Alice?

When they get back to their table, another group has taken it over, and it doesn’t look like they’ll give it up without a fight. The girls figure they’ve been at the club long enough anyways, so they gather their belongings and head out the door. They stumble out onto the street, dancing and singing, passing the people still waiting in line to get in, then Pat pulls up short.

There are clowns in the lineup.

Josh throws his arm around Pat’s shoulder, urges her along.

“I don’t want to go home by myself, ” Pat blurts out.

“Come home with me, ” Josh says. “I’ll protect you from the clowns.”

Pat walks with him a few steps, then checks back on the clowns. They haven’t noticed her. They aren’t following her. They’re still lined up to get into The Bar None.

Pat recovers from her fear, and giggles. She shrugs out of Josh’s clutches. “Yeah. Well who will protect me from you?”

She looks around. Jack puts his hand up, volunteering, but Liz says: “Come to my place. It’s closer than yours anyways.”

“We’ll walk you,” Jack says, but Liz shakes her head.

“Go home,” she says, “You’re drunk.”

Josh and Jack are left in the middle of the street, watching them go.

“That sucks,” Jack says.

“What do you expect?” Josh answers. “You’re never going to get anywhere with Liz. You’ve been trying since high school.”

“Yeah, and how long have you been trying with Pat?” Jack asks.

“Same amount of time,” Josh admits.

Jack and Josh head off in separate directions. Josh to walk to his place, Jack to catch the bus.

Jack wonders if his Winnie the Pooh night light is in the box of junk his mom made him take when she sold the house and moved to Florida.


Pat and Liz enter Liz’ apartment building. Liz hasn’t lived there long, and Pat has never been there. It’s a nicer place than Pat’s, a modern building with key card access to get into the lobby. Beside the entrance door is a panel with numbers and a speaker grille, but no directory.

“What’s your apartment number?” Pat asks.

“1213,” Liz says. “but you need to know my security code to call me.”

“What is it?” Pat asks. Liz swipes a key card to let them into the lobby.

“I don’t know,” Liz says. “I’ve only used it once, for the pizza guy, and I had to look it up.”

They go to the elevators, and Liz again uses her key card to access her floor.

“How do I get out, if you’re not with me?” Pat asks.

“You don’t need the key card to go down to the lobby. You just need it to stop at a floor.” Liz tells her.

Inside, Liz’ apartment is well furnished with furniture that could have come out of a hotel room. Pat almost expects there to be a coffee pot next to the television set, and a card propped up on the armoire, that says “This room was cleaned by ________. Enjoy your stay!” Liz hasn’t exactly personalized it with her own decoration scheme, but her stuff – clothes and candles, stuffed animals, and books, fills all the nooks and crannies of the room, making it hers.

Liz yawns hugely, and takes blankets and pillows out of the hall closet for Pat.

“I’m bushed,” she says. “You need anything else before I go to bed?”

“I’d like to know about you and Jack and the tequila,” Pat says.

Liz just shakes her head. “No you wouldn’t.” She starts taking the cushions off the couch to make up the bed. “Nothing happened. There was this moment, you know, where it seemed like it would, when Jack was looking good,” she makes a face. “And then he kissed me.” Liz pulls out the sofa bed…

“He doesn’t kiss well?” Pat asks, helping to put the sheets on the mattress.

“I didn’t find out,” Liz says. “I’ve known him since grade eight. I couldn’t kiss him. It would be like kissing a cousin, or even a brother.”

“Ewww!” they both say, and laugh.

“I could kiss Josh, though,” Liz says, after a moment, then: “I’m glad they can’t hear us.”

“Josh and not Jack? What’s wrong with Jack?” Pat asks. The bed is made. She’s putting the pillows into pillowcases, and yawning herself.

“Well for one thing, he’s scared of a doll!”

Pat shrugs. “Everyone has things that scared them when they were kids.”

“Not me,” Liz says.

“You didn’t have closet dragons or under the bed wolves?”

Liz shakes her head. She brings Pat a towel and a t-shirt to sleep in.

“You didn’t have toilet snakes or vindow vipers? No bathtub drains that sucked you into an alternate dimension?”

Liz shakes her head, again, laughs. “You’re making those up,” she says. “I was afraid of nothing.”

She leaves Pat to go to bed, and goes into the bedroom, leaving the door open between them. Before she goes to sleep, she asks, “Do you think Jack was just goofing around? Do you think he really likes me?”

Pat feels like she’s back in grade seven at a slumber party. “Jack has always liked you,” she says. She tries to get comfortable on the sofa bed. She wonders why she didn’t just go home – then remembers the clowns. She’ll wait to face them in the daytime.

Before she’s even close to being asleep, Liz is, and from the sounds she’s making, deep in the throes of a nightmare.

“No,” Liz is saying. “No…”

Pat pulls the pillow over her head and tries to block out the noise. She tosses and turns. Gets up and deliberately makes noise on her way to the bathroom. Nothing interrupts Liz’ nightmare. Pat walks into the room, looms over her. “Liz, wake up. You’re having a nightmare,” she says.

Liz surfaces out of her cotton batting world of sleep, the nothing world where there is no up or down or in or out, just space, just an abyss of nothingness. Wispy colorless space, neither dark nor light, that expands out for ever, leaving her in a state where there is no bottom to rest her feet, no top to aspire to – just nothing, where she is alone, all alone, and there is no one to knows that she exists.

Pat calls again, and Liz hears. The nothingness vanishes, leaving Liz grounded and tired, unaware of her fears, and more than a little annoyed.

“I’m trying to sleep here!” she says.

Pat goes back to the couch, thinking, “Afraid of nothing. Hah! Nothing doesn’t give you nightmares.” She checks her watch – almost 3:00 am, and settles down, but as soon as her head hits the pillow, Liz’ cries begin again.

After many minutes, and the realization that she’s never going to get any sleep. Pat decides to go home. Fuzzy-headed with sleepiness, she gets her things together – her purse, her keys with the key chain with her name on them, her jacket and shoes. She leaves the apartment, softly shutting the door behind her. She thinks she hears Liz’ voice again, saying “No,” and “Take Pat.” “Take Pat what,” Pat wonders. “Take Pat a present. Take Pat out for dinner?”

Down the deserted hallway Pat goes, then alone into the elevator. The lobby, too is deserted. Pat slips outside and hears the door click behind her. It is only then that she notices the clowns.

Clowns are coming down the street towards her, and she feels a moment of panic. But there have been clowns around her all night, she tells herself. Still she pulls on the door to the lobby – which won’t budge. She’d need Liz’ key card to get in. She looks at the keypad panel beside the door. She can’t phone Liz. She doesn’t know her security code. She feels her heart thumping in her chest, forces herself to take slow, even breaths

The clowns are passing, not even glancing her way She recognizes the girl clown with the ripped pants, and the green and red wig. “I thought I would flunk the audition,” the girl is saying to the clown she walks with. “Did you see me? In there late and all messed up?”

“You aced the audition,” the other clown says. “I wish I’d done as well.”

Pat breathes easier. They’re only people dressed up as clowns. It’s only a few blocks walk to her apartment. She can manage. She clutches her keys in her fist like a set of brass knuckles and sets off down the dark and rainy street. Nothing happens. There are no more clowns out. There are no more people out at all. She jumps at movement, but it’s only a raccoon, slipping through a fence, and she breathes easy. No one in their right mind would be walking alone at this time in the morning – which gives her a momentary worry about people not in their right minds, but it passes. There aren’t even any cars passing by. It’s actually kind of peaceful. The rain has washed away the city smells of cooking grease and car exhaust and … clowns… pops into Pat’s head, and she giggles, thinking of Josh promising to protect her from their peppermint breath. Still, when her apartment comes into view, she breaks into a run, like a horse bolting for the barn after a hard ride.

Just as she gets close to the door, she trips on a crack in the sidewalk. She puts out her hands to stop her fall, and her keys fall from her fingers and into the grate of a storm sewer.

“Oh, no,” Pat says. She pulls on the grate, but it won’t budge, of course it won’t budge. It’s a heavy metal cast iron grate. The sound of footsteps comes close and Pat looks over to see huge clown feet. She jumps, then smiles, another clown from the clown convention, or whatever it was, she thinks. Someone who will help her.

“I dropped my keys,” Pat says, not looking up at the clown. “I can’t get the grate up. Can you see if you can do it?”

The clown kneels. Pat notices the baggy, colorful pants, and the clown’s fat sausage fingers in white gloves as they reach to grab the grate.

“That’s a really good costume,” Pat says. “How’d you do in the audition?”

But something is wrong with those fat sausage fingers. They seem – plastic. They don’t seem real. They don’t seem like they can bend. And they’re not doing anything at all to lift the grate.

The clown doesn’t reply to Pat’s question. She looks up into his face, and it’s not a face at all, but a mask of red nose and grinning mouth, a fun house thing that makes her want to scream – and then he touches her, and there is no Pat at all. Just a shimmer of color, suspended above the grate, above the street, until the rain washes it away.