Each morning he’d emerge from dreams of flying free, suffering a brief moment of happiness before realisation stung him. He was still here, crawling through his life, sluggish and alone. The only escape was those nocturnal flights of fancy.
The doctors—and he’d seen far too many over the years—all had their theories, all had their cures. They spoke of episodes, of his subconscious giving him messages. They prescribed pills or therapy or hypnotism. They gave him bed-rest and exercise, told him to seek distraction or burrow into his work.
One sent him to an acupuncturist, but the walls of her office were plastered with posters upon posters, the whole facade nothing but a shell of paper. She buzzed around him, her yellow and black outfit too striking, the droning of her conversation scratching his ears. No way was he going to let a wasp like that stick anything in his body.
Sleep was hard, with the constant noise. Even with the window sealed—and he couldn’t risk opening them—it was impossible to avoid the chirping and the rustling and the buzzing. Sound came through the walls, and there was tapping overhead, like something eating away at the floorboards.
He still went to work, but the commute was worse than ever—streams of workers in their cars crawling along, following those hard black trails that stank in the heat. And then there was his building, with the bell-boy who was far too old to have ever been a boy. He’d extend a long, spindly arm forward, and his suit would shift, as if there were more limbs hidden within, wrapped around his ancient body.
He never used the elevator. It was a trap. Even when the doors opened he looked away, fearful of seeing the bell-boy’s victims all trussed up and hanging from the ceiling.
On the stairs he never grabbed the hand-rail. It curved round too much, and the mottled surface was ribbed, like it was built from many living sections. The thought of coming to the end of it terrified him.
He arrived at the office with a film of mucus-like sweat against his skin. The offices were a maze of cubicles, drones buzzing around the sticky atmosphere. And an hour later he sat across from his boss, writhing in his chair, unable to concentrate.
“We’ll do everything we can to support you,” she said, peering at him like some deranged mantis. “We wouldn’t want to lose such a fine worker.”
He thanked her, left before the rasping noises grew too loud. She no longer had that glass desk, but he could still imagine her legs rubbing together beneath her skirt.
The doctors suggested a holiday. It didn’t help. Trails around the airport, black-watch security, the rancid air on the plane. And then there was the heat when he arrived, the constant chirping around the pool, bodies like dead flies weakly flapping as they fried. Some of the hotel rooms had open doors, bodies writhing inside. One couple—and he knew he shouldn’t have watched for so long, should have left them to it—got into an argument afterwards, a slow build that only ended when she bit his head off.
The food made him want to be sick. He wasn’t sure, looking at the muck on the buffet, if others had felt the same. But people scooped the rancid stuff onto their plates and slurped it down.
The doctors explored his past, asked if he hated his parents, probed to discover if he was asexual. Did he have visions of budding, of flowers opening up? Maybe, they said, he needed to explore other options. There were clubs they could recommend.
He tried. For a month he visited different clubs, with their stink of pheromones, the hypnotising play of lights, the slaves to the drone, to the rhythm, to the ecstasy. There were fly-traps with jagged edges, and the dancers entered with abandon, ensnared every time. There were writhing bodies, maggots in the foetid corpse of decency.
He was offered strange nectar, strange powder. Others rubbed against him, leaving their scent on his body, marking him.
Proper sleep was a thing of the past now. He drifted through both day and night, following the complex web of connections, pulled along without a will of his own. He ate when hungry, rested most of the time, but never slept. The world blurred. The old mantis leered over him, but he couldn’t tell if she was from his office or one of the therapists. The busy-bodies buzzing around all looked the same, all sounded the same, just more noise.
The traffic was bumper-to-bumper all the time now, and it was impossible for him to tell where one car ended and another started, impossible to tell them apart.
The bell-boy almost got him in the lift, would have done had it not been for the web of hair hanging over his collar, a reminder of his true nature.
It was warm in his room, with blankets over the windows and doors, every surface covered. There were mattresses across the floor, almost level with the kitchen surfaces.
He ate. Far too much. Ice cream, cake. Bread. Pizza. He filled up, his body storing fat. And that felt good.
He didn’t walk so much as ooze, squirming along, especially across the bed of mattresses. He didn’t stand, even to undress. And when his clothes were off he wriggled into his bed, the one he’d been making for weeks now, getting it just how he wanted it.
With the covers sealed over his head, everything was dark. The only sounds came from the warm air emerging from his mouth.
Cocooned, he closed his eyes, ready for a long, long sleep. And prayed that everything would be different when he woke.
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