One: a mango-wood pencil cup. Hollow sound. Clat. Juke on the desk. Two-inch shimmy. Slip the pencils out, expecting a lizard. Empty, then. Indonesian piece. Carved, bas-relief delphinium. Smell of oil, deadwood. Wag the cup to your ear. Listen for termites.
An old mentor once said the greatest weakness of the journalistic medium is its inability to explain the supernatural without doing some injury to the truth. A certain immobility of the mind is encouraged at the newspaper. Even the most fantastical occurrence––the hop of a mango-wood pencil cup on your desk, example––must present itself as a colony of insects, or the unwitting knock of your own knee on the underside of the desk.
You need to explain.
Two: a stack of colored notecards, sailed off the tabletop as if struck by a hand. Heart-thumping moment, watching them flutter to the rug. An open window? No one home. Mice? Kick away from the desk, hunt out clues. Peer inside bookshelves, under lampshades. Scavenge the office.
In the murky absence of rational explanations, everyday objects take on a surreal edge, as if someone has outlined them in black sharpie marker.
Three, few days later: a steel bowl spins violently on the quartz countertop. Watch in throaty horror, from a distance, broiling the tilapia. Your wife comes in just as the bowl is rimming, clinking to a halt.
"Did you see that?"
"What about it?"
Consider the question.
"Has the house been shaking lately? Are they doing launches at the Cape?"
She dodges into the white glow of the fridge. "I don't think so."
"You haven't noticed anything. Odd?"
"I don't think so."
Flip the fish.
Four, same evening: a vase of calla lilies topples off the headboard. She mutters a single word from the bed, though you are shaving in the bathroom.
Rinse the razor.
In the drowse of night pillows, you tell her you want to to exercise more, to take up transcendental meditation. You tell her you need to go gluten-free. But she is already asleep. Creep out to the living room with the laptop. Research, research. Psychokinesis, elasticity theory, quantum entanglement, wave function collapse.
Five, next morning: a crunch and scurry at the bottom of the trash bag. Mice. Mice, after all. Tricky devils. Slinking in bowls. Rodentia make you second-guess yourself. Cinch the bag shut, run outside with it. Lay it out on the pavers.
"Daddy, what are you doing?" Your son, at the garage door.
"Have you seen mice in the house?"
"No. I don't think so."
Sift through. Pluck an item. Inspect. Pluck another. Slime your fingers with yogurt. Your daughter now, behind your son, clapping you with that same look as her mother. The look to make you wonder if you haven't lost your head.
Six, seven, eight: wooden chair screeks on the dining room floor; Rouen cathedral frame jitters the drywall; bathroom drawer opens. Air dynamics? A pressurization issue in the AC ducts? Or else, a mild shivering of reality... You seem to recall the sensation from earliest childhood. A little thing the brain trains itself to filter out.
Blink of bathroom lights. Rustle of bedsheets. Entropy, inexhaustible torrent.
Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen: slap of plumbing pipe in the wall; guitar crashes off the peg, vrum; broom shushes concrete; coffee cup clinks; door slams; toilet flushes. No one home but you.
Lean back, close your eyes. Hear the house crawl. Breathe.
To accept the existence of phantasms or demons is the worst way out of this. Here is your old mentor, inside your blackened lids, silver coiffe writhing, tendrilized, as if underwater. "Go somewhere," he says.
Outside, then. Go. Fire up the truck. Rip out the driveway.
Fifteen: concrete light pole bows low before the truck. Explosion of secret neural system. Vibration of poinciana. A peeling back.
You need to explain. Need to clarify. To quantify.
But here is the reflection of all visible rays of light: everything that is lives. See that. Shimmer.
About the Author: Dan Reiter spent the past year experimenting with the ultra-short form. You can read some of his results at Tin House, Hobart, Spork, [PANK], and McSweeney's. Better yet, go to www.dan-reiter.com. He lives three feet above sea level.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone