She smelled smoke.
The world came to a standstill, like someone far away had paused everything. Quantities of thoughts streamed into her head; viruses infiltrated the motherboard.
Had her pen had somehow lit the papers littering her desk or her clothing? Hadn’t she turned it off? Disappointment for herself grew. She should’ve checked eight times; she had only checked six.
Another sequence of events grew. Did someone break into her house and set her room on fire on the way out? Were the neighbors having some kind of midnight barbeque?
The bathroom spun, and she gripped the sink. She was on her knees now, overwhelmed and drunk with worry. Did they see her vaping? Would they tell her mother? Did they know her mother? A list of neighbors who potentially saw her raced through her head like an amateur police lineup.
More absurd scenarios soon appeared, scattered within her mind into an endlessly growing giant cork board filled with thumbtacked theories. The theories grew and grew, strung together with string, until Faith collapsed onto the ground. Tears dripped onto her shirt, which she quickly removed. Stains bothered her.
As messed up as she was, she remembered the smoke, and realized she needed to find out what had happened. She crawled out of the bathroom pathetically, shivering.
Twelve steps to walk to the bathroom, but sixteen to crawl, apparently. She made a mental note of this.
But then time froze yet again, and she was lost within herself.
Plumes of smoke drifted from her room, and upon opening it, the smoke only got thicker. And thicker. Faith covered her nose with her sleeve, thousands of small barely-off details were like pins jabbing into her body.
She clenched the edge of her table, helping herself up, knees shaking. She draped herself along it, and grappled for her pen. Feverish hands were met with the cold metal of her pen, and Faith let out a long sigh, releasing some of her tension, but that only eliminated one cause of the smoke. Another wave of panic was released.
Faith’s balcony door was closed, and tiny beads of condensation grew on its panes. Gagging, she clutched her stomach and steadied herself with one hand on the door. The room was still shaking, and her arms felt locked up, as if she was in a straightjacket.
She slowly padded around the room, surrounded by plumes of smoke. Then she saw it.
Faith dropped to her knees and whispered a mantra her grandmother always said when she meditated, but it didn’t disappear.
Something was digging into her thigh, but she didn’t notice at all. She noticed nothing, she noticed everything. She didn’t know how long she sat there, just staring. She stared like she was watching an animal freak show, or an array of fireworks.
But then she tried to speak.
She did so, if only to break the silence. With only the clock, going like a metronome, and her raspy breathing, she had to do something to cut the silence. It made her increasingly uncomfortable.
Faith took a breath to speak, but it beat her to it.
“Why did you wait 26 seconds to speak? You could’ve waited for 30. Or earlier, at 25.”
It glanced around the room, the smoke rising. “You moved your desk, it’s now off center. And your pen? How could you possibly leave it at negative 34 degrees?”
Her mouth was stuffed with cotton, and the dark room began swaying again. Faith began trembling harder than she’d ever thought possible for a human to tremble.
She stared up at what seemed to be thirteen bulbous eyes, connected to thick, dark, hairy stems, which grew out of a large terra cotta pot. Mucus hung in stringy bits, like phlegm and spittle, connecting each eyeball and leaving drips all over her room.
Drip. Drip. Faith was broken out of her stupor. She dashed to her private supply of paper towels and hurriedly wiped up the mess. A small bottle of bleach also appeared from a side drawer, which was immediately poured onto the ground. The puddles were gooey, and spread like egg whites. She hyper-focused on the stain, crouching over and rubbing the same spot repeatedly.
Faith sat for five minutes. Just scrubbing the floor, watching her.
“Your hair is bunched up and uneven. Look in the mirror every 300 seconds, would you? And your sweatpant strings are uneven.”
Its voice sounded like it was garbling through a mountain of rotten compost, and every so often, it would secrete more mucus to keep itself moist. More and more dripped onto the floor.
She sat and cried. Faith had spent nearly an hour rubbing the floor, racing around to try and wipe up all secretion, and she was exhausted. The bed seemed so comfortable; it was ready and waiting for her.
But she wasn’t done. She was stuck in a loop, and she couldn’t break free.