Otto's Time

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Otto's hand rested on Olivia's hip, and he listened to her breath her way deeper into her dreams. Her skin was warm and tender underneath her pajamas, and he mindlessly caressed her thigh.

They lay together in the darkness as faint streetlight stole into the room and painted the floor. Silence pierced Otto's ears with the maddening din of quiet as he tried to forget his day and entice the oncoming sleep. Michael would be up again in a few hours – his two-year-old molars were on the way – and baby Jessica was finally asleep with a clean diaper and a burped belly full of milk. So he concentrated on Olivia's breathing and imagined that he was inside her lungs, warm and humid and dark. Inside he heard nothing but the hurricane of breath surrounding him: inhale, exhale, inhale – and the ringing silence faded.

Oblivion finally came, the restful darkness that turns hours into minutes and seconds into days. He expected to drift off that night and wake with birds singing outside the window and morning light streaming in. But when he awoke, it was still dark in the room, and the glow from the streetlight had faded. His throat felt caked and sticky, and he reached for his glass of water, but it was not there. Nuts, he cursed under his breath, now I have to get up! Why can't I just sleep? He swung on his bathrobe and fumbled in the dark for the doorknob.

The first crack of the door let in a streak of blinding, white light and he slammed it shut, hoping immediately after that he hadn't woken Olivia. Cautiously he pulled the door open and stood in the bright, white light.

"Olivia," he said in a hoarse whisper, turning his head toward her but not looking her way. "Olivia, wake up," he said and turned to look at her.

But she was not there. Nothing was there where his bed had been a moment before, and his feet stood on nothing at all. Startled, he hopped through the doorway and tumbled onto the floor. He crawled back to the open door on his belly and peered over the threshold.

A shaft of light cut out into the absorbing darkness. Otto stuck his arm out through the doorway and felt for his bedroom floor, but it was not there, only the cold emptiness of vacant space. He stood and shut the door carefully, but the latch sent a resounding echo. As as soon as it was closed, the knob was gone as well as the door, as if neither had ever been there.

He groped around the walls, trying hard to control his panic, searching for a crack or an opening or a draft. But the walls were solid. He was in a small, square room with white walls that glowed of themselves. It seemed like hours went by as he poked and wiped the walls, scratching, listening, and feeling for anything that might be a way out; but there was nothing.

Finally, he relented and collapsed to his haunches. He pressed the palms of his hands into his eye sockets to block out the light, but it was no good. The light was too intense.

When he uncovered his eyes he saw a rope securely fastened to the wall where the door used to be; it was a massive, braided rope nearly as thick as his arm and coiled in a neat column almost as high as his chin. It was covered with cobwebs and a thick layer of dust. A distinct, musty smell like a damp basement or a rotting log wafted off the rope almost visibly. The fibers in the rope were as fine as the strand of a spider web and looked just as delicate. Some gleamed in the bright light, but most of the rope was covered with a dusty sort of mildew making it appear as a deep, military green with flecks of silver.

Cautiously, he reached out to touch the rope, to feel the strands and rub the delicate, green dust between his fingers. But then he reconsidered. He was becoming too involved in the dream, and he wanted to wake up. It was all too real to him, and he was afraid of what might happen if he did touch the rope. But his fingers could not stop moving. They stretched away from his hand like tentacles growing, drawn to the coil. He pulled his hand away, he stepped back, he grabbed the rebellious fingers to hold them back, but they squeezed through his grip like putty.

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