Was I dreaming?
I shut my eyes, grinding my eyelids together as if this would halt time and reverse whatever distorted reality was lurking on the other side of them.
I opened them, expecting to be back in my bed, snuggled up with my favorite Jodi Piccoult book and cup of chamomile. I blinked again and looked around.
Here I was, in my bedroom; but this was not my bedroom. It looked like my room, but everything was different.
My bedside lamp was turned off, and there was a surreal blue-ish, grey glow haunting the room, but emanating from no particular source.
My window was wide opens and the curtains were gasping in and out of the window with striking gusts of wind.
My bed had no sheets or blankets on it; it was just an old, tattered mattress with ugly stains on it.
There were beer bottles and fast food carcasses littered all over the floor, that did not belong to me.
The paintings I had hung carefully on the walls were all black, and void of any color or substance. And it was cold. Very, very cold.
I grabbed for the small cloth hanging from my nightstand and held it to my nose to ward off the indescribable stench of death and mothballs,
leapt out of my bed and ran into the hallway of my apartment. The rug was torn and twisted, and the pictures on the wall were crooked.
Cold wind tore through the corridor and left me breathless and shaky, once again.
This has got to be a fucking nightmare. I've been watching too many horror movies lately. This is not real.
As I moved slowly through the hallway towards the kitchen, I felt a shooting pain tear through my foot and up my leg,
and I looked down only to realize that I had accidentally stepped on a shard of glass that belonged to a smashed picture frame half hanging from a nail in the wall.
I cried out and tried to staunch the blood with the the cloth I was still holding, when I caught a glimpse of the photograph inside the broken frame: Ava.
The time stamp on the photo: October, 2014. Ava and I were sitting on pumpkins in a farmer's market somewhere unknown, smiling obliviously at each other.
I felt a stone-cold pit forming in my stomach. My wife, Ava, died in 2010 from asphyxiation in the night.
It was sudden, and the doctors had said it was due to a heroin overdose, which had shocked me; Ava never used drugs.
It was a mystery to me then, and it was still a mystery all these years later. One I might never understand.
I would have given anything to ask her, why? What happened? But it was too late for all that now; she was gone, and I had finally started to accept that.
So what the hell was going on? Why had I never seen this photograph before? Why was it framed in my hallway?
How could it possibly have been timestamped in 2014 when she was already in a grave in 2010?
I started to shake uncontrollably; the gravity of my surroundings was too much to comprehend. I felt like I was going to pass out.
My knees grew weak and I felt compelled to fall face first onto the ugly, foreign carpet.
"Marcie? Is that you?" A voice rang out from the kitchen, stopping me from giving into the magnetic force that seemed to pull me to the ground.
All sensations of sleepiness and heaviness dissipated immediately and I stopped in my tracks.
My heart felt like it might explode at any minute and though I tried to say something, anything, I could not make any words leave my mouth.
The silence hung thick in the air and for a moment, I thought my bewildered mind had created the voice entirely.
"Marcie?" The voice called again. "Come here, will you? I need some help with dinner. I only have two hands! I can't cook all of this weird, vegan shit by myself."
My breath caught in my lungs and a mixture of a sob and a scream tore out of my throat. It was Ava's voice, unmistakably. She was in our kitchen.
What the fuck is happening to me? Can grief actually make someone go insane?
Tears were streaming from my face. I forced myself to take one step closer to the kitchen.
I was still several feet away when I noticed something: the same blue-ish, grey light from the bedroom was glowing from the kitchen which otherwise had no lights on at all.
I cannot describe it other than it felt like a thick, terrifying depression hanging in the air. I heard the sound of pots and pans clinking and clanking, but I did not smell food.
The awful smell from before had actually intensified and I had to force myself to take breaths.
I felt vomit rising in my throat but I choked it back down as I crept as silently as I could closer to the entrance to the kitchen,
where I heard Ava's cheerful voice humming and muttering to herself about nasty organic food.
As terrified as I was, I had to stop myself from running into the kitchen and taking her into my arms, breathing in her scent,
running my fingers through her hair and telling her how my life has been hell since she died. How I could barely breathe without-
"Marcie, damn it, get in here!" Her voice cut through the silence again.
I took one final step towards the kitchen and peeked around the corner.
There was nothing. No Ava. The kitchen light above the sink was dim and flickering on and off, and the entire room was in disarray.
There were empty pizza boxes and moldy food scattered across every inch of the table and counter, even spilling onto the floor. But no Ava.
How could I be so stupid? I knew she was dead; the insanity of this entire situation was making me hallucinate. I began to sob.
Sharp, gasping sobs that brought me to my knees, shook through my entire body. I was utterly, completely, alone. I felt the solitude like a stabbing knife through my heart.
Not only did I feel alone in my apartment, but it felt like I was the only human being on the entire planet. The loneliness was deafening.
This is why I jumped three feet in the air when I heard a cabinet door creak behind me. I veered around and saw that the cabinet beneath my sink was ajar.
The smell of rot, decay and dust violated my nostrils and I staggered backwards, catching myself on a chair.
My eyes were watering, and this time, I couldn't determine if it was due to the paralyzing sadness I felt overcame with, or that dastardly smell.
I tucked my nose into the nightgown I was wearing, and took a step toward the cabinet. I had to look inside.
If Ava's ghost is here, in this terrifying, alternate realm of reality, I knew she wanted me to look inside of the cabinet.
With each step I took, I felt dread coursing through my veins like acid, shredding my very cells to ashes.
It took all of the bravada I could muster to kneel down and peer inside of that cabinet.
I swear, on everything that I hold dear: my heart stopped beating and all of the air in my lungs evaded my body.
"Ava!" I screamed.
Only in that moment did I realize that the flies were not swarming around my kitchen because of the old pizza. They were swarming around Ava's corpse.
The rotting, 3 year old corpse underneath my sink. I could only tell that it was Ava because of the faded blonde hair protruding from the skull. Her eyes stared dully ahead of her.
I screamed, and screamed, until it felt like my entire body might spontaneously combust.
I flailed around the trashed kitchen, stumbling over my own feet, trying to get out of that room and away from my kitchen sink as quickly as humanly possible.
"Help me! God, help me!' I cried out, falling to my knees once again on the floor of the hallway, on that awful rug. I tried desperately to figure out how I got here.
Just a few hours ago, I was reading my book in my bed, enjoying hot tea out of my favorite mug. Had I fallen asleep? Was this another awful night terror? No, I didn't remember falling asleep.
And this was not like the other night terrors; I had blood and scars on my foot to prove it.
I drew my knees to my chest and leaned against the wall, shutting my eyes, trying to block out this new, horrific reality. I screamed one final time.