You wake up in your bed. Something feels off. Smells off. No matter, you mind your own and get up to brush your teeth. Your toothbrush isn’t where you left it. No, it has been neatly organized for you in a little compartment beside your sink. You find this odd because you’re the brush-in-cup type of person. Oh well, says your sleepy brain. Nothing to note here. As you reach for your brush, a tinge of bad taste becomes bad smell in between the motions of an exhale and inhale. The toothbrush doesn’t budge. In fact, the whole organizer containing your brush and paste comes up with your dominant hand. Now your brain is waking up. Since when were your bathroom counters made of marble?
You tiptoe back out of your restroom, noticing that everything is a bit off. Beside the bed’s rumpled complexion, this home of yours looks completely unlived in. Odd. Strange. Exciting? For a brief moment, you consider that, perhaps, this is the miracle you asked for. By some strange case of serendipity, you’ve woken up in a different home, maybe even a different life. You rush to the mirror. Nope. Despite everything, it’s still you.
The photographs placed strategically on the shelves are of people and places you’ve never seen before. Things only get stranger. The sunlight coming through your windows is unchanging and too light to be regular sunlight. It’s not a window you realized as you stumble through a doorway.
“What are you doing here?” asks a voice behind you. You swivel around to see a burly man in a blue shirt.
You try to speak but words won’t come out.
Not a moment passes. He charges. You turn to run, slipping over a pair of indigo curtains, snapping them off of the rack. The bar comes with them and down they all fall, draping over you like an angry ghost. The man is wrestling you now. Grabbing. Tugging. Catching bits and pieces of you. You push. Punch. Kick. Gasping for air, you slip out from under him. You’re running now.
The world around you looks… the same. Everything is the same. The sky is grey, complete with scaffolding, the houses have no roofs. You pass by someone’s kitchen, then another, then someone’s pantry. The homes all seem to be connected. Is it an art museum? This is the last thought you squeeze out before getting sideswiped by a blue blur. This time it’s a woman in a blue shirt. Her face is red and her eyes frantically dart over you. She lunges, you twist out of her way and are back on your feet, running.
You see them. Hundreds of people running through the empty kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, offices. In the well lit universe of household appliances, you don’t stand much of a chance. But there! Through an opening in the wall of angry blue-shirts, there is an exit. You run onto one of the many wood tables, slipping along its slick surface. The hands reach out around you. Bouncing from one hand to another, you slip out of the blue horde’s grasp and hit the ground running. You glide through the exit.
…Only to find yourself in yet another room of rooms. You blaze through them, following the arrows on the floor. Someone speaks calmly into a speaker. It isn’t English, you decide after a moment of translating. Something European.
You come across a flight of stairs and an escalator ascending toward you. Down, not up. You hit the base of the stairs with a THUD and pause before preceding. A small café. The chefs behind the counter stair in awe at you. You’ve caught them in the process of putting away their food. Nothing wasted. The trance is broken as a chef slams down a spatula and hops the counter. She grabs water bottles out of a bin and starts chucking them at yoy.
You turn. Another flight of stairs. You’ve always wanted to and now seems like the right time: you slide down the rail, speeding uncontrollably until you botch the landing. Your body zooms across the floor until you crash into a bin. Small objects rain down on you from above. Colored pencils, thick for children’s nubby hands. You pull yourself together and are once again sprinting through a labyrinth of the consumerist museum. Now the architects weren’t even trying. The lamps are all clustered together, as are the wall decorations, bathroom supplies, and so on. Finally, heaving your remaining breaths, you see an EXIT. An actual exit, this time. No more stairs. No more rooms. The sunlight hits the grey concrete outside. You brush through the plastic greenery until you escape.
You close your eyes and extend your arms outward in the sunlight. It buzzes around you, casting the scaffolding and even more furniture yet in shadow. The buzzing grows louder as the blood racing through your ears begins to calm. You eyes open. Flourescent lights glare down at you. Not a sun, not a photon of natural light, not even a window. You are in a warehouse. Unfathomably big, infinite. You hear the scaping of sneakers on the perfectly slick floor, the scuffling of feet. You turn slowly to see the blue shirts and the occasional white-dressed chefs. They’ve formed a wall around the exit you stumbled through.
They don’t cross the line between the art museum and the warehouse.
“After hours,” mumbles the man you evaded in the curtains.
“After hours,” replies the woman who body-slammed you in the kitchens.
In a chorus of whispers, all the workers begin to mutter the same phrase, the same idea, the same fear. They become indistinguishable.
“After hours.” The voice in the speaker spoke in perfect English.
The furniture in the warehouse creaks, snaps, cracks, and pivots. The legs of armchairs extend outwards. Lampshades hover. Bookshelves twist.
Not a single worker stays behind to watch as the furniture tangles around you at lightning speed. They return to their work, whispering to themselves all the way home the same phrase over and over as you feel your flesh become wood and you blood become steel. Your thoughts leak away as your fiber becomes furnished plush and hardened marble.