Cole sat up in his bed. He was having trouble finding his breath…
He perked up his pointed brown canine ears. To his frustration, they flopped back in on themselves, as they were prone to do. His lighter brown tail had already beaten the rest of his body out from under the covers, as it usually did in the middle of the night. He looked around the room, seeing very little in the pitch black of…
What time does that clock say?
His eyes were having a hard time adjusting to read the clock, so he gave up. In the red light emitted from the timepiece's digits however, he saw something familiar, but also quite out of place; the foot of a teddy bear. One he feared he was familiar with. He groped underneath his bed until he found the flashlight he kept there. The lamp might hurt my eyes… he thought, referring to the lamp he got last Christmas. It was in the shape of a character from one of his favorite sci-fi shows. Seriously, who gives somebody a lamp for Christmas?
He flicked on the flashlight, and aimed it at the nightstand, revealing the fuzzy, beady eyed bear that caused so much stress for him five days a week. Cole was almost certain that the bear's owner didn't know where he lived, and he would never keep a plushie this strange in his own house.
In the back of his mind, he knew that he shouldn't do it, but he reached for the back of the bear. He felt around for a knob, hoping it wasn't going to be there. However, unfortunately, it was there. He couldn't keep his hand from turning the knob in his barely lucid state. The noise that haunted him every day at work started…
Boomm~ Boomm~ Boomm~ Boomm~
Cole shuddered as he twisted the knob back, positive that this was the bear that belonged to his coworker. The knob didn't want to move, however. The bear kept its rhythm.
A girl at work insisted it was designed to lull babies to sleep, simulating the sounds a baby would hear while in the womb, but coming from a bear with eyes that stare into your soul, it was the beat of a timpani: an advent of doom.
Everyone else agrees, but she is the boss…
Cole kept trying to twist the knob back until it finally broke in his hands. He swore as his heart pounded faster. The only thing he could think of doing to this fuzzy menace was to dismantle it using the tools that were kept in the garage.
He didn't bother turning his light on as he left his room, and went down the hallway past his little sister's room.
The booming faded as he reached a bend in the hallway that led to the kitchen. The garage was further down the hall, however. He heard a bump down the bend, which made Cole reflexively turn his flashlight towards the kitchen…
His light bounced off the mirror at the far end of the kitchen, which was right next to the hutch. One of the plates that his mom kept on display had fallen over.
Cole directed the light back down the hallway towards the garage…
Boomm~ Boomm~ Boomm~ Boomm~
Cole jumped as the beat started again, and his flashlight revealed another bear… or maybe the same one? It was sitting between him and the garage door. Feeling the need to defend himself, and also prove to himself that this thing was just a stupid toy, he walked right up to it and punted it out of the way.
It flew high into the air, bouncing off a light fixture on the ceiling, and landing a foot away from the entrance to the garage. The booming had stopped. Cole froze.
What have I done…?
The bear was going to get him for sure now! He rushed out to the garage to get the tools he thought he needed: a screwdriver, a wrench, and if it comes down to it, a hammer. This bear was NOT going to get the best of him.
As he stepped back into the hall, the bear was upright again, but something had changed. He was back down the hallway by the entrance to the kitchen, and its beady eyes…
They were missing.
The flashlight blinked out, and Cole panicked. He shook it a couple times to see if the batteries had anything left in them. He could hear a familiar and dreadful sound getting louder from down the hall…
boomm~… boomm~… Boomm~…
The sound got closer as the flashlight flicked back to life. Cole pointed it back down the hallway to see if he could find the bear.
BOOMM~ BOOMM~ BOOMM~
The bear was right in front of him! He let out a panicked yelp as the bear let out one last earth rattling
Cole shouted as he opened his eyes wide.
He took a gasp of breath in, confused temporarily, and taking in his surroundings.
What just happened?
He sat up, hearing the sound of one of his favorite songs coming from his clock, which clearly said that it was 8:32 AM.
Oh my gosh, I HATE that bear!
He steamed. It was just another nightmare. Of course it was.
He got moving slowly, taking a warm shower and eating a cold breakfast of week old refrigerated pizza. The rest of his family wasn't up yet. It was Saturday, after all. Nobody in their right mind was up before 10 on a Saturday in Cole's family. The only reason he was up was because the world of retail never sleeps, and it was drafting him into service. Cole comforted himself by remembering that a shift this early meant he would be off before the sun went down.
The store he worked at never hired enough employees. At the moment, there were people quitting left and right. They still didn't think that they needed more people, apparently. Cole wasn't about to complain though. It was a job after all, albeit one that was getting harder every day.
He tried to think of other things as he walked in to work, but all he could think of was that he regretted not grabbing the screwdriver, wrench and hammer from the toolbox before leaving home for the day.
It was a regular day at work. Not everyone that was scheduled to work that day was there, and everyone had more work than they could finish in eight hours. The teddy bear was sitting in its normal spot on the desk that served as the hub for anyone that needed to come see what their next task would be. Just beating away. It was warm in the store, so a miniature desk fan was whirring, drowning out only a little of the bear's haunting percussion.
"Good morning Cole!"
Cole's boss said as she entered the room with her unnerving smile, most likely brought to her face by the nightmare she kept on her desk. She was a short chocolate lab with an impressively shiny coat. Very attractive for her age, which happened to be way too old for Cole.
"How are you doing today?"
Cole imitated a zombie as he walked up to her table.
"Euuuugh…" Cole groaned.
Ginger just rolled her eyes, and pulled up Cole's list of tasks on her computer.
"Okay, well, let's see here…"
Cole was hoping for either a laugh or for her to be creeped out. That was an underwhelming reaction.
"Sorry, this is kinda early for me to be up on a Saturday." Cole mumbled. Ginger still had her muzzle stuck in the monitor.
"Early?" she said from behind her screen. "It's practically ten o' clock!"
She started mumbling, on a rant about how employees in this store don't know what it means to actually do business.
"Your first job today is to pick up everything that's on the floor in the Menswear section." Ginger finally decided.
Cole gave a nod of confirmation and went in his way. The men's section is usually pretty messy. He thought to himself. Well, it's something to do…
The day droned on as Cole went through his tasks. He was ready for lunch the moment he was able to take were merciful enough to give him a full hour for lunch, so he went to the break room in the back of the store and pulled more of his stale pizza out of the associate refrigerator. He took his favorite spot right in front of the one television in the room. They were lucky to even have that. The news was on, raving about the latest story of what appeared to be gang violence. Cole started watching too late to know for sure.
After the news, there was an infomercial for what appeared to be a fight club.
A fight club?
Cole paid closer attention to the screen as it showed scenes of what appeared to be war, along with the warriors who were obviously not too thrilled to be there.
The TV was very quiet, but the room was empty enough for him to catch most of the details.
The Clash Events! Be immortal! Be one of the first to enter this brave new sport! The objective is simple! Leave no man standing as you make your way to the top! All interested parties are welcome! This is a new world of sports entertainment, so we're looking for our next top dog!
The scenes of participants from other parts of the country were being played as the background for this obviously caffeinated narrator. As Cole looked at the scenes, one thing became apparent: none of the participants seemed to be really enjoying themselves. They were all grimacing or letting out a battle cry. If there was a smiling one, it was a very crazy looking person. Either that, or the smile didn't last very long as the person was gunned down. The strange thing was, after they were hit, they seemed to disappear.
It must be an editing trick. Cole thought.
One of his coworkers came to sit down beside him.
"Hey Cole, What's up?"
"Oh, hey Bryce. I didn't think you were working today." Cole said with a smile.
Bryce was a very light colored cat, slightly older than Cole. He had a couple of orange blots along his otherwise white fur coat. His ear was very slightly nicked from a fight with the store's trash compactor; an accident that cost the store a free '100 days of safety' pizza party, but got Bryce enough money from worker's comp to host 5 pizza parties. It was worth all the dirty looks, Bryce would say.
"Well, here I am." Bryce said. "Ooh, are you thinking of entering the Clash Events too? You know how that disappearing trick works, right?"
"Actually, no. I don't know how that works. And if you do, I'd love to hear it." Cole said with a smirk.
"Well," Bryce began, "MalTech came out with a new piece of fancy electronics called a respawner chip. It makes it so that if someone dies, they basically disappear and reappear in some kinda capsule."
Cole let out a little huff. "Sure. That was very descriptive of you." He said teasingly. "Have you been reading this out of a magazine?"
"As a matter of fact, I have." Bryce stated, noting the challenge in Cole's tone. "It uses electromagnetic pulses to restart the entire body, the same as if it never got made into swiss cheese." He revealed a sharp toothed grin. "I just didn't want to burden your tiny dog brain with the details."
"Oh, snap." Cole said, only paying half attention to Bryce, and still focused on the TV.
"The entry price isn't cheap, but I'm gonna try for it anyway." Bryce said. "I've been saving my money for who knows what, maybe this'll be my big break."
A positively burly man walked across the small screen, and was immediately clubbed in the back of the skull by an inhumanly ripped crocodile with a giant wooden club.
"Are you sure you want to fight that?" Cole said."
Bryce let a visible shiver run down his spine. "I'll go if you go."
The idea of going into some kind of fray like this amused Cole. He laughed.
"Sure. Maybe I'll try out if I'm feeling especially macho."
Bryce left Cole to his viewing for the remainder of his break.
The break concluded, and Cole went back into his department. Ginger was waiting in her usual spot. "Cole, you have more than half of your list left, so we have to step it up, okay? Your next assignment is…"
The rest of the work day went pretty quickly, as Cole continued to go through the motions. His mind kept going back to that commercial for "The Clash Events". His drive home was equally distracted.
Cole could smell real food as he stepped into his home. His favorite smell immediately wiped all the cares from his mind. Cole's mom was making a savory dinner of shepherd's pie, with a side of green beans. Cole didn't really care for green beans usually, except when his mom made them with shepherd's pie. She sautéed them in some of the fat from the ground beef that was used in the pie. It gave them an aftertaste that made them rather palatable.
"Cole! You're home!"
His little sister almost tackled him as she gave him a great big 'puppy hug'.
"Yep. Here I am, Erika." He said with a smile.
Erika returned the grin as she released her grip on him. She was 5 years his junior, with much brighter fur than Cole's. Her fur hadn't finished maturing yet.
"I missed you! Why do they have to keep you there so long?" She said, pouting. Cole half shrugged.
"Well, here I am now. Did I miss anything fun?"
Erika grabbed his arm and squeezed lightly, then walked upstairs. Ever since they were little, the two of them had a few 'secret language' gestures. They were used when they were little as a way to stump their parents, but most of the signs were so obvious that it didn't work very well. They used them so often that they stuck. This was one of them, and it meant 'follow me'. Cole headed istairs and back towards his sister's room. Erika was perched cross legged at the foot of her bed, phone in hand when Cole came in. She held up the phone, which was several decades smarter than his.
"Look at this commercial!"
She showed him the movie viewer. He took the phone, watching a recording of the TV in the living room that was playing the same thing he was watching on his lunch break earlier in the day. Their dad had interrupted her recording by shooing her out of the den so he could watch something.
"Doesn't it look cool?"
Cole was surprised by his sister's interest in the event that had occupied the back of his brain all day. She wasn't exactly the kind of girl that would want to watch a show that looked as violent as this. Her room was covered in rainbows and unicorns. Literally!
"Uh, yeah." Cole said, looking back and forth between the screen and his sister. "I saw it earlier at work." He handed the phone back. "Why did it catch your eye?"
"Well," she started, looking a little sheepish. She put her hands in her lap, and looked up at him. "I thought you might think it was cool, so I recorded it for you…"
Cole sensed one of his sister's 'half-truth' tells, but decided to dismiss it.
"Yeah, that is pretty cool." He gave her a big smile, which she immediately reflected. Cole's mom called from downstairsl. "Kids, the food is ready!" The siblings looked at each other, and headed down to eat, licking their chops.
Dinner was very good. Cole complimented his mother's cooking, as he did every time she made this meal.
The food was finished and each family member went off to do their own thing. Cole went to his room, more occupied with this 'Clash' than ever. He couldn't focus on too much, so he decided to play some video games. The choice of the day was a shooter, straight and simple. It didn't really help him get his mind off of it.
Why is this so stuck in my head?
Erika came in, and sat down next to him on the adjacent bean bag chair. Cole paused his game, which caused the immediate death of his avatar. Cole had forgotten he was playing online. The explosion caused his sister to flinch a little bit as Cole backed out of the game to the console menu.
"What's up, sis?"
Erika didn't take long to compose herself. This wasn't the first time Cole played a game like that.
"Not much, I guess." "
You guess?" Cole said with a smirk.
The tell that Erika had earlier was starting to come back.
"Really, what's happening? You've been acting kinda funny today."
She looked away, and took a deep breath. Cole knew she was trying to build up courage. He shifted a little, knowing this must be something big, since they shared almost everything with ease. He gave her a supportive look as she continued to center herself, and finally, she looked away and said it.
" I feel like God told me to show it to you… That commercial, I mean."
Cole felt his face go a bit red under his fur. Yes, Cole's family was all Christian, but it wasn't something that came up too much, or at least not in this context. He couldn't really say why, but it felt really awkward to get this deep into their religion. There was a moment of awkward silence as Erika turned again to lock eyes. Cole was trying to find words to say to break the silence. He was very curious, but he didn't know what he was trying to ask.
It just came out as a weak "Why?"
Erika visibly shuddered. "Well… I can't think of another way to explain why I wanted to record it…"
She straightened up, seeming to feel more comfortable with the conversation, hoping that the awkward part was over.
"Can you think of any other reason why I would brave a program like that?" She wagged her tail slightly. Cole smirked.
"All the hot guys competing?" he teased.
Erika made a face of disgust. "Eugh! Were you even watching the commercial? They're like, all beefcakes!"
Cole snickered and smiled at his sister. "Okay. Thanks."
Erika let loose one of her 'heart melter' smiles, and immediately changed to an expression of expectancy.
"Can we play a game?"
Cole nodded and went over to the game closet. He pulled out a party game and popped it into the console.
"Are you ready to get your butt handed to you?" Cole said. Erika's eyes lit up.
"I call dibs on choosing the level!"
The two played for a while. Erika made it look like Cole was keeping up, but He was pretty sure that she was going easy on him. He lost every time. He feigned frustration as she left for bed, refusing his request to play best 11 out of 21. Cole had an easier time focusing on the game while he was playing with his sister, but now that the distractions had ended, the commercial popped back up into his head.
He crawled into bed, his brain still buzzing like there was an annoying song stuck in it.
Cole tried to clear his mind. This only worked occasionally, and not for very long.
All interested parties are welcome!
He was able to drift off to sleep after his body decided not to wait up for his brain.