[My parents were doing some housekeeping and found this. It’s a short story I wrote for my creative writing class during my sophomore year of college.
I remember turning it in and expecting the professor to hate it. Then to confirm my fear, the professor singled me out before class and asked me to stay after to discuss my story. I fully expected him to tell me that my story was terrible and that I should drop the class. After all, I was a chemistry major, what am I doing taking a creative writing class?
I braced for the worst sitting through that 50 minute class. And then, he told me that he loved it and wanted me to submit it to a writing competition.
This story is the beginning of my twenty year love/hate relationship with writing. I retyped it from the pdf scan Dad emailed to me (with a few small edits… because of course I would).
Enjoy – CH]
The consistent blaring of the clock radio shook Norm from his sleep. He had been dreaming he was cliff diving in Hawaii, or at least he suspected it to be Hawaii. Norm had never been to Hawaii nor had he ever tried cliff diving. If presented with the opportunity to cliff dive, Norm probably wouldn’t do it. Too many risks involved for Norm’s liking. A strong gust of wind could alter your descent, causing you to crash head first into the jagged rocks.
Not a good way to die, Norm thought as he sat up in bed. Too much time to think about your demise on the way down. Skydiving would be worse of course. Plummeting at a hundred fifty miles an hour, pull the cord and nada. That leaves a good thirty seconds to think. Nope that’s definitely no good. I’d probably try to repent for my sins in every religion in the world.
While contemplating whether to repent as a generic Christian or as both a Catholic and a Protestant during freefall Norm realized his alarm was still going off. He thought he had set it to play music but the buzzing sound of the alarm made it sound like a garbage truck was backing into his bedroom.
“Shut the hell up,” Norm uttered as he reached over and reset his alarm for seven, making sure to queue the radio this time. Thus began Norm’s morning ritual.
Norm would always set his alarm for six, wake up, and then reset his alarm for seven and sleep for another hour. Norm cherished this last hour of sleep. He had read somewhere that the last hour of sleep is the “deep sleep” when the body reaches maximum relaxation, and Norm wanted to be able to enjoy it. Most people sleep through this last hour of sleep without even realizing it. To Norm, it was like eating the last cookie in the box without realizing it was the last cookie. You reach for another but, alas, the box is empty. You find yourself darting your tongue around your mouth, between your teeth, trying to find bits of the last cookie to make the taste last because, after all, it was the very last cookie. It leaves you feeling empty, yearning for more. Norm didn’t like that feeling, so he made sure to savor every last cookie, and of course, every last hour of sleep.
Norm laid his head back down on the pillow, closing his eyes. He was almost asleep again when he heard a noise. Or at least he thought he had heard a noise. Norm wasn’t sure if the noise he heard was real or leftover dream impulses from his earlier excursion of cliff diving. He sat up in bed, listening for the sound again.
Just a dream, Norm convinced himself. That is, until he heard it again.
“What the hell is that?” Norm said, sitting up in bed. Definitely not a dream. He reached over to the nightstand and switched on the lamp. His eyes ached from the jolt of light in the dark room, so he held his hand over his eyes until they adapted. He looked around the room, searching for the source of the noise. The lamp only managed to throw more shadows on the room, causing the small recesses to appear as deep chasms. He sat still, listening, trying to get a bearing on where the sound was coming from. The only sound was Norm breathing and flicking his teeth with his fingernails, a nervous habit that stuck with him since childhood.
Must’ve been a tree limb on the window, Norm thought, still flicking his teeth. He let out a big yawn and stretched, popping every vertebrate from his head to his ass. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked over at the clock. 6:17 a.m.
“So much for that last hour of sleep,” Norm said, speaking aloud to break the silence. “Might as well get up and fix a pot of coffee, big meeting today.”
Norm was an accountant for a manufacturer of novelty items, Bags o’ Gags. It was the largest novelty manufacturer in Minnesota; in fact it was the only novelty manufacturer in Minnesota. They made all sorts of stuff: fake vomit, whoopee cushions, pepper gum, chattering teeth, you name it. Norm was tasked with allocating funds for their newest novelty, SilliSnot. It works just like SilliString: shake the can, point and shoot. But instead of shooting string, it shoots a gooey, stringy, snot-like substance. Norm gagged the first time he saw it. Almost all new products at one time or another are tested on Norm; for Norm was not only an accountant, he was an easy mark for pranks.
Norm scooted to the edge of the bed and was about to put his feet on the floor when he heard the sound again.
Click! Click! Click!
It startled Norm because it was close. Very close.
“Definitely not a tree limb,” Norm said, moving away from the edge of the bed. The sound was definitely coming from inside the room. It sounded as if something was tapping on the hardwood floor.
This time Norm was listening close enough to get a bearing on the sound. It was coming from under his bed.
“I really don’t have time for this shit,” Norm said, talking to himself and to whatever was making the sound. “I need to get up. I need to prepare my presentation. What I don’t need is to act like a scared child because I heard a noise. It is time to get up.”
Norm moved back to the side of his bed. He positioned himself cross-legged, looking down onto the floor. The sun had made it’s ascention into the sky, casting an orange hue over the room. He could begin to make out the grain in the floorboards. He could hear the sound of cars being started by his neighbors, people who had already gotten out of bed to start their days.
But Norm could not bring himself to stand up.
He uncrossed his legs and lowered his feet onto the sideboard of the bed. There, that’s a good start, Norm thought, collecting himself. His bed, a large colonial style four poster, sat high off the ground and his feet couldn’t touch the floor while he was still sitting on the bed. With the box spring, the top of the mattress was almost four feet from the floor. The woman who sold it to Norm made the joke that he would need a stepladder to get in and out of bed. So there was no way to get up slowly or get up half way. It was all or none.
Click! Click! Click!
The sound was coming from under the bed, no doubt about it. And from where he was sitting, Norm noticed something else when he heard the tapping sound.
“Oh shit,” Norm said, bringing his feet back up onto the bed. Something moved. It moved, whatever the hell was under the bed, it moved. Norm drew some ragged breaths as his heart thudded against his ribcage.
You didn’t see anything, calm down, Norm thought to himself, trying to get his breathing and heart rate back under control. It was just your mind playing tricks on you. Shadows, only shadows. Or maybe the silhouette of a bird or plane flying by.
“There was no plane, I would have heard a goddamn plane fly overhead,” Norm said, arguing with himself. He looked over the edge of the bed again, hoping to see something, but also hoping to see nothing. He glanced over at the clock on his nightstand. 6:47 a.m.
He looked over the side of the bed again, but saw nothing. What the hell did you expect to see, Norm thought. A monster? Elves? Elvis? Norm let out a nervous laugh. “Elvis ain’t dead, his fat ass is stuck under my goddamn bed, and his mouth is stuffed full of pork rinds. Next thing you know Bigfoot will walk through the door and piss on my head.”
Maybe it’s an alligator.
Yeah, Norm thought. An alligator crawled up from the sewers, opened the door, moseyed its way up the stairs and sat himself under the bed. Norm remembered reading something in the paper about a small child that was killed by an alligator that had crawled into a house through an open door. He had also watched many nature films on alligators, mostly on Discovery Channel, which was Norm’s favorite channel and home to his favorite television event, Shark Week.
I wonder if he’s hungry? Norm thought.
“Probably not,” Norm answered aloud, “Elvis is probably sharing his pork rinds with him, you dumbass!” Now was not the time to let the imagination run wild.
Click! Click! Click!
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Norm asked himself. “It’s not an alligator. What the hell would an alligator be doing in Minnesota? In November? In your goddamn bedroom?”
Norm looked at the clock again. 6:54 a.m. Almost time to get up. The only way I’m going to get moving is if I look under the bed and find out what is making that noise.
Norm took a couple of deep, calming breaths to settle himself. He moved to the side of the bed closest to the window for better lighting. He gripped the sheets tight in his left hand as he leaned out onto the nightstand on his right, craning his neck to get a better viewing angle of the floor under his bed. The dust ruffle around the bottom of the bed fell to about four inches off the floor, blocking his view. He cursed himself for ever buying the damn thing. It gave the room such a feminine look, and was now the only thing standing between Norm and his sanity. The lady at the store said it added to the decor of the room, or some shit like that. Norm wasn’t really paying attention to her spiel about the importance of dust ruffles, but had apparently nodded in agreement and didn’t want to make a scene at the register when she rung it up.
I gotta reach down and lift up the ruffle, Norm thought.
Norm released the sheets from his left hand in order to lean out onto the nightstand a little farther. Bullets of sweat were forming on Norm’s forehead and upper lip. He wiped his left hand on his pajama bottoms and leaned down, trying to grab the ruffle. It was still out of reach. No good, Norm thought. Gotta lean over a little farther.
Norm twisted onto his side and moved more of his body off the bed so that only his lower extremities were still on the bed. The nightstand creaked from the weight of Norm’s torso. The beads of perspiration on Norm’s forehead accumulated into one big drop at his brow, which trickled down his nose and fell with a tiny splash on the floor below. He eased down farther, his right arm straining, trying to support his weight and hold his position. Norm took a deep breath, pushing it out hard through his nostrils.
It’s now or never, Norm thought.
He reached down with his left hand and grasped the dust ruffle, lifting it.
Except for a couple dust balls, the floor was empty. But even from this angle, more than two thirds of the floor under his bed was outside his line of sight. He pulled himself out farther on his right hand, his muscles shaking from holding his position. Norm was about to lower his head down for another look when he screamed.
K95.7, your favorite in the morning. That was Eric Clapton’s Layla. We’re still waiting for a caller who as the correct answer to today’s trivia question-
It was 7:00 a.m. The sound of the DJ’s annoying morning drivetime chatter filled the quiet room, scaring Norm half to death. Apparently music wasn’t better than the buzzer.
Norm’s right arm collapsed from fatigue. He was falling. He reached for the handle on the top drawer of the nightstand, just barely catching it with his fingertips. He dropped the dust ruffle and grabbed the corner of the sheet dangling from the bed. The sheet was caught under his legs so he was able to steady himself. Then the handle on the drawer broke.
Norm rolled from his side to his stomach, trying to hold himself up using the sheet. His head came forward and smacked on the sideboard of the bed, bloodying his nose. Norm gripped the sheets with his toes and reached for the post by the headboard with his right hand. His right arm was aching, about to cramp up again, but he managed to hold on and scoot himself back onto the bed fully.
We’re still waiting for that correct answer to today’s Morning Stumper. Let’s check in on Highway Joe in the K-copter for traffic-
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” Norm snatched the cock off the nightstand, ripping the cord out of the wall. He wrapped the cord around the clock radio and threw it across the room, where it exploded against the wall into a thousand tiny shards of plastic. Norm then removed the case from his pillow to clean the blood from his face. His heart was pounding.
Calm down, Norm thought, trying to slow his breathing. Let’s not have a heart attack.
Click! Click! Click!
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Norm screamed. The blood from his nose trickled down into his mouth, leaving a salty, coppery taste. He wiped his face with his pillowcase and threw it on the floor. Norm moved into the very center of his bed, hunching up his knees so that no part of his body was near the edge of the bed. He was shaking violently.
“Please leave me alone,” he said, pleading. He started crying, blubbering like a two-year-old every time he heard the
clicking sound. Eventually he fell asleep.
Norm awoke rudely to the sound of his phone ringing. The morning sun shined brightly through the window, warming the cold, dark room. His nose had stopped bleeding, leaving a trail of crusted blood on his face. Norm answered his phone just before it went to voicemail.
“Norm?” It was Dave Rothstein, his boss. “Are you still at home?”
“Huh?” Norm sat up, trying to gather himself. “What time is it?”
“It’s 9:35, don’t you have a clock, Jenkins? You have to give that presentation to the board in an hour, remember? You sick or something?”
“Ah, no sir. I guess my alarm didn’t go off,” Norm said, looking over at the pile of plastic which used to be his clock.
“Well get your ass in here,” Mr. Rothstein said. Norm could tell he was not in a very good mood. “We need to go over that presentation one more time before the board sees it. See you in thirty?”
Norm sat in silence. But there’s an alligator under my bed, Norm thought, but couldn’t bring himself to say out loud. He was already late for work, and he didn’t need his boss to question his sanity.
“I’ll be there,” Norm said, dropping his chin to his chest. He hung up the phone.
I have to be at work in thirty minutes, Norm thought. It’s a ten minute drive, so that leaves twenty minutes to get ready. Norm reached up and felt his stubbly chin and scratched flakes of dried blood off his face. Five minutes for shaving. Skip the shower, wet the hair, comb it, throw on some cologne and some deodorant. That leaves approximately ten minutes to get dressed. Should be plenty of time.
“I almost forgot about you.”
I have to get out of bed, get my clothes from the closet, and get dressed without disturbing my reptilian friend, Norm thought. He looked around the room for a way out. The window was the easiest exit, but he couldn’t go to work in his pajamas. Plus his keys were downstairs. Not to mention the ten foot drop to the ground.
His dresser sat six feet from his bed.
I could jump, Norm thought.
He stood up on his bed and looked up at the ceiling which was only three inches above his head. Nope, not enough clearance to jump.
Then Norm got an idea. He crawled down to the end of his bed, grabbing the bedpost with both hands and pulled the top portion of the post away from the baseboard. I’ve freed Excalibur, Norm thought. I am the true king of Camelot! Norm laughed. “Maybe I am crazy.”
The post was about four feet long. Perfect.
Norm stood up and walked diagonally across the bed to the corner opposite the dresser, counting off his steps from one corner to the other. Four steps. He repeated the process again , just to be sure. Definitely four steps, Norm thought.
“No time to repent,” Norm said. He clutched the bedpost in his hands, his fingertips white from his grip. He crouched down, bouncing up and down on the bed. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. Upon exhaling, he opened his eyes and ran towards the dresser, counting his steps.
Norm lept from the bed, feeling his hair brush against the plaster ceiling. While in midair, Norm thrust the bedpost towards the ground and pushed off. He extended his body, reaching with his feet for the dresser, landing with a crash and kicking over a bottle of cologne. Norm smiled. He had just pole vaulted off his bed onto the dresser.
“Can’t celebrate just yet,” Norm told himself. He dropped the post and opened the first drawer on the dresser and removed a pair of boxers and a pair of socks. He shut the drawer, opened the one below it and pulled out a tie. Norm stripped off his bedclothes and threw them towards the bed. Standing naked, Norm walked down the dresser and reached into his closet for his suit, placing it on the dresser beside his underwear. Norm then proceeded to get dressed.
Shoes, Norm thought. I need shoes.
He walked down his dresser to his closet again, and could see his black loafers on the floor. He tried reaching down and picking them up but they were out of his reach.
“Shit.” Norm, sensing that time was running out, bent down and removed his socks. Then, he stretched out and snatched the top of the closet door with both hands and let his legs fall from the dresser, leaving him hanging from the door. The hinges on the door moaned in protest.
This was a brilliant idea, Norm thought, mocking himself. He reached with his toes on the insides of the door frame and pulled the closet door almost closed. Norm used his toes again to reach down and pick up his shoes, grabbing them by the heels.
“Got ‘em,” Norm said. “Now what?”
Norm’s fingers were losing their grip on the top of the door as sweat poured off of him. He pushed off the back of the closet with his foot to open the door again. He reached down with one hand and grabbed the shoes from his toes and tossed them onto the dresser. Panting, he placed his hand back on top of the door and bent his knees, lifting his feet back up onto the dresser. With his feet, Norm walked backwards, pulling the door towards the dresser. When his knees were finally on the dresser, he let go of the door. He was back safe on the dresser again.
He put on his socks again, and then held his shoes over his head as if they were a trophy.
“Yes!” Norm put his shoes on and walked down his dresser to the doorway of his room. The door stood open a couple feet away.
“It worked once,” Norm said, and jumped from the dresser.
Norm once again found himself hanging from a door. The force of his body slammed the door into the wall, leaving two concentric circles in the drywall where the doorknob hit. He placed his outside leg on the wall and pushed himself and the door away. As the door swung closed, Norm released his grip from the top of the door and jumped back, grabbing the doorknob and pulling his bedroom door shut.
He was out.
Norm ran down the hallway to the bathroom and shut the door. He turned on the faucet and placed his head in the sink, wetting his hair and removing the rest of the dried blood from his face. Norm then dried his head with a hand towel and combed his hair. He unbuttoned his shirt and applied a good coating of deodorant, then applied a second coat for good measure since his cologne had been sacrificed during his pole vault landing on the bed.
Hair looks okay, Norm thought. Don’t smell all that bad either.
Norm opened up the bathroom door and shot a quick glance towards his bedroom. Still shut. Good. He grabbed his cordless razor off the counter (I can shave in the car) and ran down the hall to the stairs, taking them two at a time. He stopped briefly at the kitchen counter to pick up his wallet, briefcase and keys. He looked at the clock on his microwave. 9:51 a.m.
“Damn I’m good,” Norm said, opening the door to the garage. He pushed the button to open the outer garage door and jumped in his car. After fumbling with his keys, he managed to get the right one in the ignition. It started on the first try.
Norm threw his car into reverse, backed out of the driveway and sped away from his house, leaving treadmarks on the street.
“See you later, alligator,” Norm said, laughing hysterically.
* * * * *
On his way home from work, Norm stopped off at a grocery store to buy some earplugs for when he went to bed that night. He wasn’t about to tell anyone that he thought there was an alligator under his bed, nor was he going to stick his head under the bed to look. Norm figured he had to go home eventually, and he didn’t want to waste money on a hotel room. He just hoped that the bedpost was close enough to the dresser so he could vault back onto bed.
I’m going to have to start setting my alarm for 5:30 if I have to do this every morning, Norm thought.
Norm also stopped by the meat department and picked up a ten pound turkey.
Norm smiled. “Alligators like turkey.”