Patrick walked briskly to the house’s burgundy front door with the old-fashioned triple windows that cascaded diagonally. He put a hand on the knob, and it turned and gave, just like Marty’s door. Unlike Marty’s apartment, the one-story house had signs of life. Dishes lay neglected in the sink. A warm, almost empty Miller High Life rested on a coaster on a glass table in the living room. All the electric lights and appliances had been shut off for the day, but natural light poured in through the windows. The stained carpet wasn’t clean and a good vacuuming would probably reveal a surprising amount of dust, but there wasn’t an ocean of playground sand.
This is a home, Patrick thought. People exist here.
Parts of the house were religiously decorated. It was tasteful, but maybe a little hokey. There were a few nice crosses here and there, but no actual crucifix—a Protestant family, Patrick reasoned. The kitchen had those signs you can buy at Hobby Lobby that had nice sayings or Bible verses that had sentimental, domestic rings to them. A sign near the refrigerator said “I am the vine, you are the branches” and “John 15:5” in curly script. He had always thought it ironic that a hobby store sold pre-made home decoration items that didn’t require any crafting at all. The irony was lost on this family—there were at least a dozen throughout the house.
The carpet was a strange color. It’s ugly drabness reminded him of the terrifying blankness of the umbrella he had found outside his room. The walls were a light blue that would be understated if it weren’t clashing with the carpet.
The living room reminded him of the set of Roseanne. An overstuffed couch with a knitted blanket over the back was the centerpiece of the room. A recliner with felt upholstery was next to it, angled so it was facing the television. There was no second floor, but a set of five steps leading to a landing gave the house an illusion of elevation. The landing turned into a hallway, which was darker than the rest of the house. Light stretched from an open bedroom door at the end of it. It was white and soft like the natural light in the living room. He heard a quiet thump coming from a bedroom and he felt a moment of panic. His best instinct was to press up against the dim wall, but he knew it wouldn’t keep him from being caught. A shadow bounced out of the bottom of the doorway, prancing on spidery legs. When the shadow was halfway between him and the doorway, Patrick could see it was a house cat.
Patrick’s lungs burned from the breath he had been holding and he exhaled in relief. His heart beat in his ears, partially because it was grateful for the oxygen and partially because it was coming down from an adrenaline burst. The cat slowed its approach, but quickened its step again when Patrick squatted and held a hand out. It maneuvered its skull under his palm and he massaged the calico fur between its ears.
“Hey, buddy,” Patrick cooed. The cat’s motor started running. How many thieves petted the family animals when they broke into homes? Not that he was here for thieving. He stood straight again and walked down the hallway cautiously. The cat came with him, rubbing his legs in a figure eight as he stepped. It stopped when he reached the first door on the left. It was a sudden stop, but the cat didn’t jump or hiss. It lost all interest in milking Patrick for another head rub. That was his clue. It was this door.
If the door hadn’t swung out, Patrick wouldn’t have been able to open it. The floor of the room was covered in half a foot of sand. Not a speck crossed the door’s threshold, even when he opened the door. Patrick stared. He felt numb. He was tired of fear. Patrick fumbled for a light switch on the wall to the left of the door. He assumed power still ran to the house, unlike Marty’s dead apartment. He found a switch and flicked it up. The sand glowed under the yellow light.
Aside from being spotless from knee-height up, it was obviously a teenage boy’s bedroom. Fallout Boy and sports posters hung above his bed. A small flat screen television set and a PlayStation were on a dresser on the east side of the room. The window was painted black. A lamp adorned with cowboys was next to the bed. The teenage boy who slept in this room probably thought it was ironic. Or he was clinging to it, Patrick thought with a twinge of guilt as he remembered a stuffed giraffe he kept in storage. A thick book with gold-tipped pages lay open on the bed. It looked expensive.
The sand shuffled and crunched under Patrick’s feet as he made his way to the side of the bed he couldn’t see from the door. From his vantage point he couldn’t see any signs of life, or death for that matter. But, he knew where to look. He’d done this before.
He saw the knife first, then the hand. He turned the corner of the bed and tried to take in the whole body at once, but his eye was drawn to a jagged, dark line on the skinny boy’s neck. He was shirtless. His torso wasn’t as pale as Marty’s, but his dark skin had a chalky-white quality to it. The sand around his neck was clumped and red.
Patrick sat down on the bed and folded his hands. He wasn’t afraid anymore, just sad. He looked over to a coat stand in the corner that had a Subway apron on it. A plastic tag with the name “Tommy” written with a label-maker was pinned to it.
Tommy deserved to have someone with him at the end. So did Marty. Since Tommy didn’t have that, Patrick would sit with him now. If he ever got the courage up, he would do the same for Marty, but he would never have the courage to haul those bodies out of these caves for a proper burial. He hoped a quiet moment devoted to Tommy and only Tommy would be enough.
Patrick didn’t know how long he sat on the bed with his hands folded and his eyes cast down at the sand, but it felt like a long time. He twisted around to pick up the big book with the gold-tipped pages. It was a King James Version of the Bible with an unworn leather cover. He plopped it in his lap and read Matthew 7:26, the one verse on the right-hand page that was circled by a thick layer of red crayon.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.
Patrick tasted the half-rhyme on his lips as if he’d read it out loud. Man-sand. Man-sand. He put the Bible aside and folded his hands again. Patrick had never prayed more than a blessing before big late lunches at his grandmother’s house on Sunday afternoons, but he said one now. He didn’t know how to pray anything other than a form letter thanking God for fried chicken and lima beans, but he figured just whispering with eyes closed and hands folded was enough. He wasn’t even sure what to ask for—he just asked that everything be okay with Tommy and Marty. And himself.
He thought about being a teenage boy. He thought about playing Goldeneye on his Nintendo 64 all night long with friends he long since lost touch with. He thought about making out at Titanic with Lindsey Wu and her getting mad at him for breaking away to ogle at Kate Winslett’s breasts. He thought about getting his first car, a Chevy Nova that lacked air conditioning or a radio but made up for it by always leaving generous amounts of orange ceiling foam in Patrick’s curly hair. He thought about the dead boy next to him and hoped he had done at least one of those things before his end.
It didn’t come to sprinkle dreams in your eyes, or put up its pretty umbrellas. It didn’t even come to cart you off to the moon. It wasn’t the gloomy hero that traipsed about with Death and Delirium and Destruction as Gaiman would have you believe. It came for the burnouts and the slouches and the ones who feared success and responsibility—the dreamless— and it put its horrible blank umbrellas over their whole lives, then it took them away forever and buried them in a desert tomb.
Patrick would not let the bastard come for him.
It’s easy to get laid off from a corporation, but hard to get fired. Even as menial as the job was, it was a moderate cost to train a new insurance salesman, so Patrick got off with the biggest, grayest “formal warning” he had ever seen. He had given a flimsy excuse for missing work for a week by explaining that he had thought he had asked for vacation time off, but he must have filled out the paperwork and then forgot to send it in, and then he lost his phone, and boy wasn’t that just like ol’ scatterbrained Patrick. When he sat back down at his desk, Jakyla immediately began rattling off her news from the last week. Somewhere between her friend having a new baby and how good those new Doritos were, she managed to ask Patrick where he went on vacation. Patrick had actually forgotten to formulate this part of his lie, and it somehow didn’t come up during his conversations with faceless corporate spooks on speakerphone. His in-office boss hadn’t even cared—she merely asked if he had a nice time in between hold sessions with the zero-personality HR robots.
Patrick thought for a moment about how to answer the question while he looked at Jakyla’s face. Her sparkly green eyes always looked wet and a little too big for her face. She kept a small barrette on the right side of her hair, which extended just past her jaw. Without it, her hair would have fallen into her eyes. A few of her teeth in her toothy smile turned the wrong way. It was adorable, somehow.
She cocked her eyebrows and her smile faded a little, but Jakyla didn’t say anything or break eye contact. Patrick cleared his throat.
“Do you want to have dinner with me?”
Jakyla’s smile brightened again. She didn’t shake her head this time.
Patrick Kruscal sipped his coffee. It didn’t help his nerves.
He cradled his cell phone between his cheek and shoulder while he used his one free hand to unlock and open his apartment door. Jakyla was in the middle of a long story about her mother, which was equal parts ranting and gushing. Patrick had not said much, but had listened to every word. When he finally solved the puzzle of his door handle, he stumbled inside to the relief of central heating.
“Jakyla?” Patrick said softly. Jakyla stopped talking immediately. He had never interrupted her before.
“Yes?” she said.
“I’ve been cleaning my apartment for a month,” he said, “Like, deep cleaning. It looks like those model apartments real estate agents use to convince people their lives will be this clean. It looks like Patrick Bateman’s apartment,” he said.
Jakyla giggled at that, like she did at all of Patrick’s terrible jokes. “You’ll just have to change your last name and the transformation will be complete!” Jakyla said, fighting off cracking until the end of the sentence, when she exploded into a short fit of laughter. Patrick joined her.
“I don’t clean unless I have a good reason, of course,” he said. He knew he sounded a little too rehearsed. “I do have a good reason. Jakyla, do you want to move in with me?”
The line was quiet. Patrick stood in the middle of his living room, waiting for an answer. Why was it so cold in here? He looked around for a moment to give his mind something to do other than be terrified of Jakyla’s answer. He may have cleaned too well-- he’d practically scrubbed the color from the walls. It was amazing how different the carpet looked after a deep shampooing.
Jakyla was taking too long to answer. “Jakyla?” he said in the same soft tone he had interrupted her with earlier. He heard a gasp on the other end.
“Patrick, I’m sorry, I forgot you were there.” Jakyla’s voice sounded scared. “Hey, I have to go, okay?”
Patrick stammered out a “what?” before Jakyla hung up. He stood for a long time in the quiet of his extraordinarily clean apartment. The shock and confusion was slowly replaced by rage. He clenched his fists, squeezing his phone in his hand. The screen went blank as it crashed and shut down, a further frustration. He tried cycling the power twice, but the phone never got past the first logo screen.
He stomped to his bedroom bathroom to wash his face and calm down. How many times had she pushed him to do something scary because she thought it would make him happy? How many times had she been wrong? He had a thought about a time she had been very, very wrong, but he pushed it away before he had to face the memory. And hadn’t they been getting along so well? She seemed happy with him, and they practically spent all their time together, anyway.
The water felt good on his face. He felt the rage calm, only to be replaced with green burning anxiety. He needed Jakyla here. She was the only person he felt comfortable around since… something he pushed away from his mind. All he needed to know was that it was stressful. Was that it? Was he spending too much time with her? He had barely spent any time with anyone else since they started dating. Maybe she thought that wasn’t healthy.
Patrick stopped the faucet and held his breath. He could vaguely hear something he shouldn’t be hearing. On top of the clicking of the thermostat, the hum of the central air, and car tires pulling into parking spaces, he heard a new, constant noise, like a murmuring. He thought for a moment that he was just hearing the water from the faucet drain down the pipes, but it persisted too long for that to be the case.
He gingerly walked into his bedroom, trying not to make a sound with his feet. Was it his cat? She did that sort of whistling snore that cats do. But, he found her sitting awake on the top of his computer chair. He walked out of the room and down the hallway. The murmuring grew slightly louder. Could it be the television? Patrick thought he might have left it on before leaving his apartment earlier. No, he thought again, it hadn’t been on during his strange conversation with Jakyla.
He emerged from the hallway into his living room, and the murmuring stopped. He turned to look at his television just in time to see the news turn off. Had he turned the TV on? Was the power flickering on and off?
He stood rooted to his spot on the carpet, feeling afraid and unsure of what to do next. He realized he’d left his phone in the bathroom, and started to retrieve it to try turning it on once more and check to see if there were brownouts—
Murmuring again. He was halfway down the hallway when he heard the faint sounds of television news again. He ran back into the room, a feeling of confused dread sitting in the pit of his stomach like he’d eaten a brick. He rounded the corner just in time to watch the TV shut off again.
His living room felt cold and dim. The lights in the room were on, but they seemed useless, like they only cast light upon themselves, like the light was shrinking back into the fixtures. He fought his memories, but they returned. He thought he would crumple to the floor in panic, but instead he just felt cold and hopeless. The brick grew heavier.
He knew he shouldn’t. He knew. But, he also knew ignoring it wouldn’t change anything. He thought about his mother, who was certainly not thinking about him. He looked in the corner. He remembered what she said about sand.
Once it gets in, it never comes out.