I woke up slowly. Not with a start, as you might expect from such a tale.
The room is sparse. The bed is uncomfortable. It is a university dorm room, after all. In my day, the rooms were similar to what you might expect from a boarding house on the row.
Not that the room itself has changed much, I would imagine. But we weren't allowed much of anything. No microwaves or anything like that. Television, yes. But giant, affordable flat-screens were decades away.
Besides, neither my roommate nor I bothered to do anything to fix the room up. We didn't paint the walls or put in carpet or rug. I didn’t waste money on the same stupid posters that everyone had. Jimi Hendrix’s multi-hued face asking me whether I was experienced. Or a glossy print of Klimt’s “The Kiss”. Perhaps I was uncouth.
Perhaps it just seemed silly. A corridor full of rooms painstakingly adorned, yet each identical to the first and the last. This appeared more depressing than the barren, dirty, buff-yellow brick walls. At least in that emptiness, there remained the possibility for something different. Something more unique. Something mine. Not that I would ever see fit to turn possibility toward that new reality.
I never spent any time in there other than sleeping. My roommate was an oafish fool. He wouldn't know how to create a less austere space had he ever had the gumption to do so. He did not. He was slothful and dull witted. Somewhere in his head lie firing neurons. They just weren't used for anything to do with the affairs of daily living.
Such was the plain, sterile landscape of this room. Not a living space, really, so much as a place to cage animals.
I felt disoriented and let the world come to me. Rather than try to shake loose the cobwebs of my own accord.
I think I was still fucked up. It had been a rough night. Or a rough day. I wasn't even sure which. February in Evanston is drab and gray regardless of the time. The dorm was always in motion. Muffled noises of carousing; the passing of people. To late night study. Or back from early classes. Stumbling bed-ward at all hours. Lustful grunting or perhaps something less wholesome even than that.
I didn't care. It was all the same. Or it should have been.
That's what I told myself. But laying with my eyes closed, trying to figure out how I stood with my circumstances, it didn't feel the same.
Too quiet perhaps? The light seemed odd. I tried to force my eyes open; to see what it might be. Perhaps the roommate was up to something strange. Most assuredly he was, but perhaps he was doing it in the room.
Even as I managed to force open my eyes against the light, through the crust of too much…something. Drink and drugs. Of what, I did not know. Didn't care. The result was the same. Forgetting the grind and the worry and the constant work.
Everything seemed hazy. Everything was hazy. I knew instinctively that it was not the perception of a clear mind. Whatever I had ingested was clearly still rooted firmly in my brain. Coursing through my system and firing false impressions.
I felt nervous. The kind of nervous that accompanies those idiotic school-boy dreams. Of being on display. Most all of us know the classic dreams of being naked in class or being unprepared for exams. I didn't have those, but I knew the feeling. I didn't need to dream of it.
It was then that I realized the wall had a peculiar glow. Any glow would be peculiar. But it seemed mightily more peculiar than the normal peculiar.
This is, at least, was the thought I had. As silly as it seemed even in the moment. For it was silly. I was just high. I knew this.
Yet that knowledge wasn't helpful. It did not facilitate a return to normality.
It didn't prevent me from looking up and seeing a face on the wall. Not a person's face. A lurid, intense smiley face. It peered at me awfully. Harshly. Judging.
Judging what, I could not say. It didn't say. It didn't speak at all. It just stared, that Face.
The kind of face that seemed misshapen, yet wasn't. The sort of thing you knew in your heart was WRONG, but could never quite place why it was. Why you were so certain. What exactly was out of place.
Other than the fact that it was grotesquely large. Towering over my too-short bed. Three feet high, at a guess. More oblong than round. Taller than it was wide.
Glaring still. Even as I laid silently pondering it. Fretting. Wondering if I should just close my eyes. Somehow will it away.
I could do that, couldn't I? This was just a mental construct, surely. I knew this. I had to know this. There really wasn't any other way to deal with it, but to convince myself that I knew this.
And so I closed my eyes. I might have dozed off. I am uncertain. I have no way to judge how long my eyes remained closed. The mind is like that. It has its own time. Thoughts swirl at the speed of light. Faster even. At the speed of dark. Chasing the light. Gaining ever so slowly.
When I cracked my eyes open again, The Face was still there. Glaring still. Still. Stock still and glaring.
What the fuck did it want? What was I supposed to do.
Maybe this was how it would always be. Perhaps this was my new roommate.
But that is just nonsense. The kind of thing beatniks think about. The kind of thought that terrorizes junkies. The idea that I have woken into some new reality for myself.
One where a giant, menacing, silent, green smiley face watches over me while I sleep. Always watching.
Was it waiting for something? It must be waiting for something. How could I know what?
I thought briefly that I might wait it out. If it waited for something, I would not give it what it wanted. I would do nothing. It would get bored. Or frustrated. And depart. To whatever Hell it had appeared from.
Back into my subconscious where it belonged.
It struck me, just then. This might be exactly what it wants. To stop me.
This is the kind of thought process that could go on infinitely. Do. Or don't. What?
How the fuck should I know? Why would it even bother with all this? I couldn't possibly know how to react to such a thing.
I felt catatonic. But I knew I was not. I could do something. I could do anything. What, in fact, could a face on a wall do to stop me. Then again, how could a face be on a wall in the first place.
I was sliding back into circles. More and more circles. Thoughts of circles. Round and round we go. I go. He….it was a he. I knew that. I think. He didn't go. He stayed. Motionless. Meaningless…but mean. Intense. Focused.
I couldn't take it anymore.
I jerked up, as one does from horrid nightmares. Sweat-slicked and cold. Panting. Heart racing. I laughed.
And I turned to face…The Face. It was still there. I had not, in fact, changed anything other than my own physical orientation. What was required was a change of mental orientation.
Here come the circles. Again.
I realized that I was about to piss myself.
This is the kind of thing that anyone can grasp onto. Such a pressure.
Focus. Focus on that pressure.
So I rose up; I bolted for the door. I ran for the bathroom. To harsh institutional lighting; cold, impossibly hard tiled floor; a wall of reflection that would not allow you to be a dreamer.
And I didn't go back.
The Face could stay there. I didn't want to know.
But I did know. It…He would still be there. Nesting in my room. Waiting. Glaring. Hating.