Three years ago the US government closed its doors for two weeks and I went a little nuts on facebook dot com.
Day Two of the shutdown and the high is 85, no doubt due to the weather regulatory systems going offline last night. The news channels are saying nothing but I know this to be true. All food is free. No, not quite. Most food is free. The shadowy, bearded man behind the counter at Wawa told me he had some chicken strips left, but for a price. What that price was, he wouldn’t say.
Day Three. The cicadas have gone silent. No sound comes from the still woods. The heat is heavy. The plumbing has been shut down and I drink my water from the sweating leaves. Another sun appeared in the sky this morning. Unlike ours, it doesn’t move, but stays fixed: alight and unblinking. I met a man shambling down the path into the woods and I asked where he was going, but he merely hunched his shoulders against my voice and muttered something about clacking gears and peanut butter, his speech coarse and phlegmy. This stagnant air may drive us mad. The second, unholy sun calls me closer. I am drawn to it. Drawn to it.
Day Four. The streets of the town are as barren and lifeless as Wawa’s shelves. I am so alone here, and yet every step I take feels watched. The second sun continues to blaze overhead, mocking my continued existence. I have attempted to spear fish out of the Crim Dell, but instead of fish I keep pulling up articles of clothing from Triathlons long past. Do you remember Triathlons? Do you remember classes? Do you remember Sadler pizza? Do I? It seems like a lifetime ago.
Day Five. The heat. Exhaustion. Thirst. I lay out on my back in the midday suns and watched a line of ants move across the ground, their twin shadows centipeding forward under the looming grass blades. A buzzard glides overhead. I remember I always used to think they looked like they were waiting for something, and I realize now that this is true. They wait for the end, as I do. I raise my hand in greeting. This is no time for making enemies.
Day Six. There is a spider on the ceiling, skittering in ever-expanding fractal designs across the tiles. It’s been nearly a week, if “week” is even still a valid measurement of time here. I can’t decide whether my time has seemed longer or shorter. Earlier today I mustered up enough strength to crawl indoors and successfully broke into the Sexchange’s freezer. I have been eating raspberries and half-thawed Pillsbury cookie dough for hours. My mind seems to have mostly returned — whether this is a fortunate development or not I can’t yet tell. Would madness have been better, caught as I am in this solitary purgatory? What an existence is mine, to be so sane and so alone.
On the seventh day the heat broke and there came a storm. Not quite of biblical proportions but I will be the last to complain. At the first grumble of thunder I arose from the blanket fort I had made underneath a pool table in Sadler basement and ran outside and I raised my arms to the roiling clouds as the rain poured onto my skin and the wind tore at my hair and my clothing and my tears were indistinguishable from the thousands of tiny droplets running down my face in rivers. This is a SIGN, I thought to myself as my Birkenstocks squelched in the puddles under my feet. This trial will not be our end. I say “our” because I assume there are beings out there to listen to me. You are still there, aren’t you? It can’t be just me. Hello?
Day Eight. The rains have washed away all life from the earth. The leaves turn yellow, the crawling and chirping insects are gone, no longer do the birds trill in the deep grayness amid the trees. Puddles of water are creeping out of the refrigerators in the dining halls and I fear my time for foraging through processed and pasteurized provisions is nearing an end. There is no rest from this torment of living. I’m going mad for certain this time. I can feel it.
Day Nine. I am huddled for warmth under a blanket between two copy machines in the basement of Swem. It seems the power in this building is the last to go, and for that I am grateful. The rain has merely brought more rain and a chill driving wind today that forced me inside and down into the bowels of the library. I’ll have to find some books in the shelves upstairs tomorrow and see if I can figure out how the generators work. It will be necessary for me to become more resourceful as the days get shorter and the nights longer.
Day Ten. It feels more like ten years. If I could grow a beard I probably would have by now. Still raining. I hadn’t even noticed the leaves had begun to fall until I almost slipped on a damp pile of them as I walked down the steps of the library. I’d wanted to try to somehow catch fish in the Crim Dell, but halfway to the road I remembered there were still plenty of canned baked beans in the Sexchange and gave up. I went and got a few and then made a fire on the Swem patio to protect it from the rain and I am roasting one of the cans now, skewered on a stick, rotisserie style. It is the most delicious-smelling thing I have encountered in days. I suppose the library is my home base now. This does not surprise me in the least.
Day Eleven. Spitting rain. The sticky warmth of the night air has brought the insects out again. Along with something else, I think. As I was attempting to commune with the heron in the brook and get it to teach me how to catch delicious fish, I felt a presence somewhere behind me, but when I turned to look there was nothing. Rather, I saw nothing. But I know there is a thing in the woods now that was not here before. Or perhaps it was, and I have never been alone enough to notice it. Whatever it is, it has noticed me. I will try to keep the fire going for longer tonight.
Day Twelve. The woods have changed me. Chasing squirrels to fight off the boredom day by day has made me able to walk across the wet leaves without a sound. The trees speak an archaic and beautiful language that I cannot understand. I can now tell time using only the sun and my shadow. The clocks are running, so that last is still somewhat useless. This rain continues to dampen my spirits. Sometimes I fear the constant dripping may cause my skin to begin sloughing off, like a molting lizard.
I don’t know what I’m still doing here.
Day Fourteen. Numbers hardly exist for me anymore. I fell asleep in the gazebo last night because the thing in the woods was prowling around outside and it was the only shelter I could get to. I built a small fire under the roof and all around me in the darkness for hours I could hear its frustrated rustling and chittering. I finally fell asleep and when I awoke I was transformed. Metamorphosed. Something happened to me at night in the woods and I now understand the language of the wind in the trees, the flying and bounding creatures, the little live things crawling underneath the leaves, the buzzing clucking babbling murmuring centipedes worms mice and snakes silking over the dirt and sticks and blades of prattling grass. I reject my past life completely and now live to simply exist. No more thoughts no more questions. I have nothing left to ask.
Day Sixteen. They are coming for me. I woke up yesterday in a place I had never been before and it was only by sheer luck I was able to find my way back here. It seems my sleep deprivation-induced rapture was all merely a temporary fugue, and my mind has, unfortunately, returned. Whatever was stalking me in the woods has informed them of my location and they are coming for me.
I’ve been passing in and out of fits of realization and every time I remember the end is near I start to tremble and I can’t properly move mysdfakghslrtksgit happened again. Gotta stop doing that. They can’t find me in this state, it just wouldn’t be right. The terror. They have no faces. I hear a sound as if waves are softly breaking on a beach but I know it is only oblivion lapping at the shores of my teetering sanity.
This has gone on for far too long.
They’ve broken into the library. I can hear their loud boots clunking like demons’ hooves on the floor. Don’t track too many leaves in, please. I’ve done all I can. I only hope that someday, someone will find this. Maybe they won’t put me away forever. I can only hope.
They are at the door. I don’t have much time left. Already I can hardly remember the past two weeks. Were they so insignificant, that now they shrink and shrivel into nothing? I can’t believe that. I won’t.
There is no time. They’re here. I know it, I’ve accepted it. I am calm, and, God help me, I am ready for whatever end this will bring.
The door opens now.
I love my family.