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.”
TO BE CONTINUED!