By: Wilfred R. Robinson

Self-awareness crept in like the high tide, slow, almost unnoticeable.  It brought with it that morning’s epiphany of existence.  He was still in the pre-boot sequence, the part where the rest of the human-machine starts turning on before the operating system loads.  On most mornings, that goddamn alarm clock cut this process short, but not this morning.  He assumed it must have been a weekend morning.  At the moment, he lacked full cognizance, but he knew that was only temporary.

Next came the triggers, the sensations that allowed him to know where he was, the mattress he lay on, the pillows beneath his head, the thin sheets covering him from the knees down.  He slept on his stomach, legs apart, fingers laced together under the pillows.

He took a deep breath of the morning air.  The room smelled of lilac and hyacinth, the scents wafting in from Shauna’s garden outside.  Shauna, the thought of her made him smile.  He smacked his lips, the taste of last night’s stout, and pub-food, still lingering under the morning dryness.  It wasn’t unusual to find Shauna out there toiling away, making something grow from nothing.  When it came to creating life, Shauna had gifts.  He wondered if she was out there as he slept, pruning some flower or herb before making them breakfast.  Somehow, he didn’t think so.  She was pretty drunk last night as well.  He thought he could feel her weight next to him, but he wasn’t sure.

There was a dull throbbing ache in his groin, another trigger.  Like the food, it was a leftover sensation from the previous night.  They didn’t bother to turn the lights on when they got in.  He led her by the hand up the steps.  They clumsily, drunkenly, stripped away each other’s clothes, pawing their way through the darkness.  He threw her on the bed.

Shauna once told him, “A good night leaves its mark.”  He reached from under the pillows.  His fingers lightly tracing a line of scratches that originated somewhere on his back, and came around to his chest.  Waves of tender pain exploded from the lacerated welts.  He wondered how the bruise around her neck looked.  He hoped that her clothes could cover it.  The memory made him smile again.  It was a good night.

He felt something small and warm nuzzle into the base of his back.  Probably Cullan, their four-year-old Bichon.  Shauna must have gotten the dog after the sex.  He could never recall much after he finished, maybe a few scattered emotions, or a word or two.  More often than not, he was usually asleep within moments.  Shauna preferred it that way.  It gave her the freedom to do whatever she wanted, which usually just included cuddling up to him, but not always.

That’s when he felt her press her breasts against his back.  It must not have been Cullan after all.  She threw an arm lazily around his shoulders.  He snuggled back into her, stroking her arm where it rested just underneath his chin.  She placed a leg between his, pressing her knee against the back of his exposed testicles, crushing them on the mattress.

“What the hell are you doing? “  He said without opening his eyes, “Trying to turn my balls into jelly?”  They had been with each other long enough to know where the limits were.  She knew he didn’t like his testicles handled roughly.

He pushed off his stomach, rolling over to his side.  As he did so, she retreated slightly, relieving the pressure on his balls.  He considered turning into her, but she steadied him with a gentle hand.  He would have been well within his rights to berate her for crossing that line, but that might cause an argument.  They were both, strong-willed, prideful, and short-tempered enough that an argument usually turned into an all day affair.  He had no interest in dealing with that kind of fight.  Not for what could amount to no more than a simple errant placement of her leg.

Before he could make up his mind, she threw her leg around his body, wrapping it in such a way so that it hung across his stomach.  She wormed her other leg between him and the mattress, locking the back of her knee with the bridge of the hanging leg’s foot.

Shauna was never one for Mixed Martial Arts, or television wrestling.  She often referred to the latter as “wrasslin.”  When she was in the room, and it was on, she usually buried her nose in an E-book.  She must have picked something up from all those nights, however, because she had the makings of a pretty good Rear Naked Choke.

He relaxed into her, his hand rubbing her thigh.  He considered tapping out, but didn’t think she would get the joke.  In one motion, she sprung, locking the choke around his neck.  His eyes damn near popped out of his skull as she pulled the choke so tight that he could feel his windpipe on the verge of collapse.  He rocked against her, grabbing futilely at her arm, trying to pry it away from his throat.  Her breath felt hot on the side of his face.  She let out a giggle as he struggled against her.  He could feel her panting with a nervous excitement.

He tried to spin around, to face her, but she held him like a rider holds a bull.  How was this happening?  Why couldn’t he move?  He outweighed her by sixty pounds.  Reaching his arm back, he grabbed onto her skin at the shoulder.  His fingers dug deep into her flesh.  From beneath his probing digits it pulled like soft elastic.  It felt insubstantial, not like skin, more like uncooked dough.  He shifted his weight.  He meant to throw her off the bed.  She held her grip as he bucked.  With one final thrust, he turned his body.  She shifted her own weight in the same direction as his, forcing them both to roll off the bed together.

Before he went over, he saw something that caused an eruption of fear to explode from somewhere inside of him.  He couldn’t help but let out a small mewling cry of unbelief as he looked at Shauna sleeping comfortably on the far side of the bed.  Her head cocked to one side, her mouth open as a small amount of spittle ran down her face.  Her exposed breasts rose and fell like two buoys on an unsettled body of water as she breathed.  Cullan lay curled into a ball at her stomach.

Then who, or what, was on his back?  He pulled hard at the chunk of shoulder he held in his hand.  It ripped away from the bone with nary a sound, separating from whatever was on his back as if it were made of nothing more than clay.

“Shauna!”  He screamed at his wife.  “Shauna help me!  Shauna!”

As soon as they hit the floor, he intended to spring on the intruder.  If he could get out of the chokehold, he was fairly sure that he could get the upper hand.  He felt the impact, but it was a soft, spongy, impact.  It didn’t feel like they hit hard wood, but more like the surface of a bouncy castle.  The floor stretched, accepting them like soft mud accepting the wheel of truck.  It became a steady, slow, sink down into whatever depths this thing dragged him.  He grabbed at the sheets on the bed in a last desperate attempt to hold on, but his fingers slipped away from the soft fabric.  He passed the lip of the hole.  A slick, black, earthy substance, like oil mixed with mud rose up around him.  He could still see his bedroom, but he was slipping away from it.

The earth closed in around him as he dug his fingers into the oily walls, but he couldn’t get a grip on anything.  He slid further and further down that dark, slimy corridor.  He felt as though he was looking out from the bottom of a grave.

He continued to yell to his wife, “Shauna!  Shauna!”

He should have been in his living room by now, but he wasn’t.  There was only more of that oily earth, and the thing with the terrible grip around his throat.

“Shauna!”  He screamed for his wife to save him.  “Shauna!”