The Rats are on Autofeed

You know when you’re sick, but not too sick, mostly just tired, and you half fall asleep? You think you’re awake, but really you’re dreaming, and heaven help you if you’re disturbed.

One time, that happened, and someone tried to wake me—hey, Socar. Get up. You forgot to feed the rats.

In my dream, I could see the rats. They were safe in their cage, eating lab blocks from a tray. The tray was attached to a timer, which was attached to more lab blocks, and that was all cool. It’s okay. They’re on autofeed. I’ll play with them later.

I couldn’t wake up right then, but when I did, I remembered. I remembered the autofeed. I thought it was a dream, and mostly it was. I never opened my eyes, but I did open my mouth. I did shirk my rat-feeding duties, and I did it because I was asleep.

Today, in my sleep, I answered the phone. It was my ex, but I thought it was Mr. Boose. I only thought so for a minute, but in that minute—

yeah?

“…?” (I’m not sure what she really said. In my dream, she asked if I’d read the manuscript she sent over, the first draft of some horror novel.)

...that’s not how you do horror. You got it backwards, wrong end first. You’re doing it like romance, the sand, not the pearl.

“Excuse me?”

...the sand. In romance, y’know? You start with the grit. With the sand in the shell. He’s got a deal to close. She’s got a kid. You see their shit before they see each other. But horror’s the opposite. You give ’em the pearl, this perfect opening image. Nostalgia’s easiest—play to that, you can’t go wrong. Give ’em the pearl, then burrow inside. Three hundred pages to the grit, so make it gnarly. Make it rot. That pearl’s an abscess, don’t forget….

I’m not sure I said all of that, or with any semblance of coherency. But that’s what I thought I said, and what I got in return was a shout in my ear. I woke up, fumbled for an excuse, couldn’t think of one, and told the truth.

“I figured,” she said. “Waking you up always sucked.”

I thought of saying something back, like how would you know? You barely stayed over. But then she’d have said “because you never let me,” and that would’ve been true. Anyway, she just wanted to see how I was doing. How I was doing was sleeping in the middle of the day, but I said I was fine, which is mostly the case.

That wasn’t the first time I sleep-answered the phone. Once, twenty years ago, I did it at work. That time, it was my boss, and it went something like this:

hm? Where’s the…where…ah, hello? Is this on?

“Socar?”

fucking…where’s the—

“Socar? That you? What the fuck?”

[Silence. I’m awake now. I understand what’s happened, but not what to do about it.]

“I know you’re there, Socar. Are you on drugs?”

“Of course not.” I poke at the keypad, beepity-beep. “I was, uh…there was this guy, just came in. Said he kept getting our voicemail. I didn’t think we had one, so I—“

“What are you talking about? We don’t.”

“I know that, but he kept insisting, so…anyway, I was trying to find it, and I guess you, uh…I must’ve switched to line two. I didn’t know I was talking to anyone.”

“Well, you are, so answer properly.”

“Good afternoon! This is Socar.”

“Not now, stupid. Next time. And bring in the trash cans. I got a complaint they’re still out.”

…it’s funny. Back then, I mistook the phone for my alarm clock. I thought I was home, but I was at work. Today, I made the opposite mistake. I had a work conversation at home. Not that I’d talk that way at work. I don’t read manuscripts. I write them, and I write what I’m told. I used to ask questions, but I don’t any more. There’s only ever one answer: it’s fine the way it is.

I kind of want to do that, though, write a romance like a horror book. Write it like a Stephen King. Not one of his recent ones, where he’s fumbling around trying to apply his ’50s nostalgia to the oughties (sorry, man. 2007 wasn’t that long ago. We didn’t confuse texts and IMs). One of his classics, though, Christine or The Body, those pitch-perfect glimpses of a certain kind of childhood, a certain kind of adolescence…I want to stick that in a romance, some hunky motherfucker visiting his childhood home. He rolls up in the golden hour, and the first chapter’s just that, this slab of beefcake sipping Pabst by the lake. Looking over at the willow where the tyre swing used to be, where there’s still a divot in the grass from generations of dragging feet. Where a black widow once ran up his leg, and he sat frozen, waiting for it to bite, but it never did. Maybe he had his first kiss there, his first heartbreak too. His first glimpse of some terrible truth—

—well, not that, but you know. Classic King trowel-feeding, laying it on thick. And then you’d have the meet-cute, sweet but doomed, like the date in The Dead Zone…I mean, written like that, same tone, same foreboding, but the plot’s straight romance. They meet. They just can’t, but they can, so they do, but oh no! They break up. They make up. They become their best selves. They still do all that, but with this overlay of melancholy, this pall of creeping wrong….

It’d be awful. Just the pits. Worst book ever.

(I’m halfway through Stephen King’s latest, a collection of novellas. I devoured the first two and stopped cold at number three, which is one of those detective ones—God, I hate those. It’s even got the same characters, the ones from the Bill Hodges trilogy and The Outsider, the ones I can’t stand. I might skip that entirely, but the first two were good. Not great, not classic King—the first felt unfinished, like it stopped short of the payoff. The second was done at the end of act one. I mean, shit, that was perfect, till you fucking went on. So, not great, but still good. Worth the price.)

…anyway, that’s why I was dreaming of horror, and of writing horror, and of arguing with my boss.

One more thing, unrelated: yesterday, my online Russian course taught me to say I can’t live without you. Я не могу жить без тебя. (I initially read it as “без зонта”—without an umbrella—which, living in Vancouver, might prove more useful.) But I can’t live without you…when would I ever say that? When would anyone? Is this Russian love, all bound up with guilt? Love me back or I’ll die: ha. Take that. (I mean, maybe? If you’re Eugene Onegin?) See, love and horror. Meant to be.

I think I’ll go back to sleep now. Just a nap. Or all night.

…it’s okay.

The rats are on autofeed.

The rats are on autofeed.

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