I pull my car onto the side of the road. The sun is warm on the back of my neck as I walk up the driveway. I hear a loud noise from inside the house. I run up the front stairs and open the door. It’s unlocked. In the living room our old brown side table is lying on its back. Pieces of a drinking glass lie on the floor in a pool of what looks like beer.
“Really, guys?” I ask.
Then I spot my housemates. Thomas is sitting on the sofa, game controller in hand. His mouth is wide open. He is screaming, I realise, but without sound. Carly is on the ground in the foetal position, his face screwed up in pain.
“What’s going on?!” No one replies. “Sonny?” I whisper.
My third housemate is nowhere to be seen. I chuck my backpack onto the kitchen table and run into the hallway. Her room is the fourth door on the right. It is wide open and I can see Sonny standing motionless looking straight at me. Her lips are moving but I can’t hear what she is saying. She is expelling air without sound. In all this time no one has uttered a word.
Someone laughs. Sonny raises her arm and points behind me. I turn to see something glide past the door. It heads towards the lounge room.
“I’ll be back,” I say to Sonny. I can’t be sure if she hears me.
In the living room the something stands over Carly. I can see now that it is person-shaped but not at all a person. I can see straight through it. Its body is made of static, like the images on an old broken television.
“Hey!” I yell.
I don’t know what it is I am talking to. The ghostly figure turns its head around. It has a face. Not male or female or even completely human, but a face with eyes and a mouth and a nose. It smiles.
Someone behind me screams. I turn around to see Sonny’s friend, Jessica. She looks real. She’s moving her whole body. She can make a sound. I realise that she’s the first truly living thing I have seen since I arrived. I reach for her, trying to check that she is as solid and alive as she looks. She flinches. She runs to the front door and opens it. Outside is nothing. All I can see is empty whiteness. I look out the window. The same whiteness. Jessica slams the door shut and starts moving spasmodically. She steps into the wall – half of her body engulfed by solid matter. She walks out, moves to the next wall, gets stuck again. It keeps happening.
I turn so that I cannot see her. I close my eyes. This has to be a dream. I open them. Nothing has changed. I drop to my knees, pulling at my hair, trying to wake up. I can feel the pain I inflict on myself. You can’t feel pain in a dream, can you? I’m losing my mind. Soon the men in white coats will barge into that door and take me somewhere warm and safe and pump me full of drugs. I’m praying for it. The alternative is too horrifying to contemplate.
I turn back to the men in the lounge room. The ghostly figure is gone. The lights around us flicker. I stand up. I pace the floor. Maybe I’m not mad. Maybe it’s magic. I try think of what kind of magic this could be. I don’t believe in magic.
There is a phone sitting on the kitchen bench. It wasn’t there earlier this morning. It’s an old-fashioned phone, the type with a dial you stick your finger inside and turn. My elderly neighbour had one when I was a kid. This is an old house. It must have had a few of these. I start to dial. I don’t care who I reach. There’s no dial tone. My eyes burn with unspent tears.
Sonny. I left her. I go back to her room. When I get there her whole body is flickering. One minute she’s there and the next she’s not. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I open them she’s gone. Acid rises in my throat. I run back to the lounge. Jessica is stuck in the wall with half her body hanging out. She has stopped moving. Half of Carly’s body is missing and Thomas has become transparent. I look around the house and I notice that things are disappearing. Furniture, books, lamps: everything is blinking out of existence. I look back to the lounge room. The guys have disappeared.
Everything that remains in the house turns white, the blue walls of the lounge room changing so gradually that I feel I am watching them be painted. The carpets beneath my feet are no longer black. I fall to the ground and look up at the ceiling. It’s gone I can see a face. I feel like I’m floating. The panic is gone. The eyes blink at me. I shut my own and open them again. The face is still there. Smiling down at me.
My body begins to feel even lighter. I’m not just floating. I feel like I have ceased to exist. What a crazy thought. I move my hands into my line of sight and I realise I can see through them. A second later they are gone. I start to panic again. I try to sit up but I can’t. It’s like someone sapped all the energy from my body. I look up at the face again. It smiles gently.
“It’s a pain,” it says, “I really liked you. I’ll have to start the whole simulation again. Might try to avoid global warming next time, yeah?”
The voice is reassuring. I try to get off the floor. There is no floor. There is nothing.