The time was coming up to ten minutes past ten and "Leon's Bar 'n' Grill" about two blocks away provided the perfect takeout solution. A promised window of twenty minutes from ordering up a storm via phone (off their somewhat limited menu) to getting it delivered right to your front doorstep. A quick, greasy one-stop shop. Though failure to adhere to their promotional guarantee resulted in a free meal at no extra charge. It had now been almost 18 minutes.
Dolores checked the clock on the wall twice within the last thirty seconds. "What do you think, babes?" She asked with a dry wink. "Maybe a bit of luck is finally gonna come our way tonight?" James was neither hungry nor in the mood to join in her tedious game of countdown. The spat on the way home from Dr. Grey's office was still fresh in his mind. Even several hours later, he found her sudden changes in temperament disturbing to say the least. Thirty minutes of bickering leading up to over four hours of the silent treatment. And now, the complete opposite to everything proceeding it. Joyous, unabashed delight as if all was right with the world. His feelings of segregation could have been the understatement of the year, he thought.
Every minute that passed by reminded James that sleep would take him at some point. Though where that would be was another matter altogether. An unrelenting sentiment of fear and dread were the only things keeping him awake. An unfortunate side effect being a heavy head and clouded mind confining him to a state of perpetually nullified senses. But his tattered consciousness still remained active. The main objective taken care of for now. An only defence against the real enemy that was now his own mind.
As if time itself skipped a beat, he found Dolores standing in front of him, holding a brown paper bag as delicious aromas wafted from within it. "You alright, James?" She asked. "I was calling you to come give me a hand with the bill. The food arrived one minute before the time limit expires. Can you believe that?" James did not respond, but instead stood up, making his way into the kitchen. The very thought of food at this point was enough to induce vomit.
A long, rubbery string of cheese dangled from the sizeable cheeseburger. He fingered the strands back in, only to pressurize a dollop of mayo out the other side. It hit the plate, spreading out like a five pointed blob. Since sitting at the table to dine, they had reverted back to the uncomfortable silence. Dolores bit down on a small morsel from the corner of her pizza slice. Oblivious to the fact she was being watched by James.
He studied her face, realizing this was the first time he had been able to collect his thoughts since God knows when. Not even twenty fours hours ago, his mother's face had somehow etched itself upon his wife's. Figment of his imagination or not, it had appeared as real as he saw her at that very moment. He contemplated further.
This artificial auditing system he had been hindered with almost since birth. Leaving a trail of detailed footprints along some binary timeline. James wondered how many times had he bore witness to that final fleeting glance of his mother before her horrific demise? Apart from the countless reruns in his head, he had tallied up three separate events in the physical realm. And because of this twisted version of a blockchain recording absolutely everything in sequence, how many individual snapshots had he snatched up last night alone? Four? Five? There was no way of knowing for certain. What was known was that life-defining singular image had been copied and pasted numerous times over within his personal filing cabinet. Never to be deleted, never to be changed, never to be tampered with. Just sitting there, fused into an invisible unending digital track. Our own personalized blockchain. Possibly the world's most revolutionary technological change in history. In effect, maybe too perfect.
"Could you pass the salt?" a voice called out from across the table. He awoke from the trance-like stupor and a flood of tingling despair cascaded down his spine. His mother, Debbie, was looking straight at him. Dead, black eyes locked onto his. The same smile, lip curled up on the left. Only this time a stream of matted brown hair fell upon her narrow shoulders. A further additional element to complete this portrait of utter horror. He shut his eyes, mouth trembling with fear. A second or two of nothing.
"James, what's the matter?" A familiar sound to his ears to ease the tension. He fixated on those words using every last bit of concentration he could muster. It was Dolores flowing through his eardrums and providing a shred of hope under the veil of madness. She is the one sitting opposite me, he kept repeating in his head. The chair grated upon the laminate floor in front of him. "Don't move!" He yelled. "I'm begging you! Please just stay there!" He gripped the sides of the table, fingers leaving smudges of grease as he did so. His hands shook with enough force to send two plates rattling to the edge and smashing into hundred of shards upon impact with the ground.
Dolores attempted to speak but was cut short again. "Wait!" He screamed. The shaking of his hands subsided to mild shudders. "Now listen carefully. And I mean very carefully. You are not going to do this to me anymore. This bullshit ends right here, right now." Dolores watched on in terror as her confusion gave way to a new understanding. He was speaking to himself. "I'm going to slowly open my eyes. And when I do, my beautiful wife will be back in the room. Just as she was a few seconds ago. You understand? Good. I'm going to count to three and everything will be back to normal. 1..."
She held a hand to her mouth, too terrified to move or say anything. Their quiet evening was turning into a nightmare from hell and all she could do was stare on in hopeless anticipation. "2..." An uncontrollable need to shriek as loud as she could grew inside her, but all that was offered up was a blank expression of disorientation and bewilderment.
"3...". He slowly opened his eyes and looked upon her again. A piercing screech shattered the air like a sledgehammer. James pressed both hands up upon his head, seeing something in her face that seemed to hack away at any stability he had left. James clutched at huge clumps of his hair on his scalp. "What in God's name!" He cried out, tears streaming down his face. "Stay the hell away from me! Don't come near me! Please!"
As pure survival instincts kicked in, she rushed over to the kitchen counter where her handbag sat. At the exact same moment, James fled from the room in outright hysteria. She emptied the contents out, spilling lipstick, a few coins and notes as well as a small black diary. But mixed in within the clutter, she spied what she was looking for. A small, silver-backed business card.
Grabbing the cordless receiver lying on the counter next to her, Dolores punched in the number embossed in white numerals across the front. In the background, she could hear the thud of shoes scrambled up a flight of stairs. "Doctor. I need help fast." She began as soon as he answered. "It's James. He's having another meltdown! It's even worse than before. What shall I do?" She listened, clasping her head with one hand whilst issuing a series of rapid nods. Somewhat relieved, she hung up and made her way into the hallway. The lights from the landing above cast long, parallel shadows of the upstairs banister upon their cream colored wall. Scared to make a sound, Dolores ascended each step with caution. Her mind bellowed out to get away as fast as she could, but the notion was cast aside a moment later.
Dolores took in a deep breath upon reaching the top. "James... Listen to me. Someone's on their way here to help us out. Just hang on and tell me where you are?" Only the deafening sound of silence was returned. She shuffled to their bedroom door and noticed it was slightly ajar. A ubiquitous house rule was to keep it shut when the room was empty. "You in there, James?" She muttered. "Baby, everything will be OK." Dolores pushed up against the door, turning on the light and peeking inside.
James was crumpled in the middle of the room, quivering while exhaling hushed sobs. Feeling the unpredictability of the situation she was in, Dolores called out again from the relative safety behind the chink in the door. "Baby, just stay there. We got some people coming over to help us. Just a little while longer now. They're almost here." Her words of calm consolation masked the unflinching panic she felt inside.