Friday, October 16, 2009

Voices wake me. I roll out of bed, slip my shoes on, follow the sound outside. A fine summer night. Stars and a bright full moon. The garage door is open. I move through the garage to the back door. The voices are coming from the other side. I open the door, step out, and the door bumps shut behind me.

Two of my neighbors—two women—are finishing a conversation. They don't greet or even look at me, but the mood isn't unfriendly. They're cheerful because of the children. Down the mountain (a strange mountain, not the one we really live on) I can see half a dozen young ones playing hide-and-seek among the trees.

One of the women says some kind of goodbye to her friend (I can't make out the words) and sets off down the steep slope. She disappears into the forest. I can hear her calling the children home. The other woman heads off the other way, up the mountain. She doesn't speak or glance my way. I don't feel slighted, just pleasantly invisible. The mountainside sloping up from where I stand looks strange: a series of circular stone terraces with stone steps spiraled around them. My neighbor must climb the steps to move from one terrace to the next. She appears and disappears as she climbs, dwindling with each higher terrace, until she's out of sight. I look back down the mountain: no one. The black pines look intensely distinct in the strong moonlight. The stars overhead seem larger than usual and oddly active—quivering or writhing. I feel completely alone and a little afraid. "Time for bed," I tell myself out loud.

The door back into the garage is locked, so I decide to go around the house and come in through the side door. But when I clear the corner of the garage I see this isn't my house. I'm on a flagstone terrace. The sliding door a few feet away is open. In a state of confusion, as if to verify that this is really not my house, I slip through the sliding door and into an unfamiliar living room or den. From a tiled entryway across the room a staircase climbs in my direction and vanishes into the ceiling. Off to the left there's a shadowy kitchen. The only light comes from a narrow trapezoid of moonlight on the carpet. I move toward the stairway, wondering if anyone's home and if they might be sleeping upstairs. I slide my left hand along the wall that encloses the space under the stairs, feeling for a light switch.

From behind me comes a man's voice—strong but not fearless. "What are you doing in my house?" I try to turn and face him, but can't: I feel almost paralyzed. I try to say it's just me but my throat too is paralyzed. So I keep inching my way along the wall as if he might not notice. The man, voice rising in pitch with each word, calls out behind me, "I have a gun!" I keep inching forward until I reach the foot of the stairs, where I stop. Across the entryway I see the light switch glowing beside the front door.

Suddenly I feel completely empty—a profound resignation. I know I'll never be able to reach that switch.

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