Xerxes stumbled out of gargantuan bed and took the elevator down to the floor. He never made the bed; it was too hard to wrestle half an acre of down comforter into place and he was totally alone anyway.
He wandered in a groggy early morning haze down the hallway, with its towering black walls of nothingness going up and up out of sight.
“Why don’t you love me?” the left-hand wall asked him in a whiny whisper. “You haven’t been down this hall for hours. “Are you avoiding me?”
Xerxes sighed and patted the wall absentmindedly. “I was sleeping, Fretty. It means I don’t move for a few hours at a time. If I’m lucky.”
“I knew you were sleeping,” the right-hand wall said. “You always sleep from 11pm to 7:15am sharp. It’s 7:18 now,” it added proudly.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Xerxes said. “Good job, Yes’m.” He went into the kitchen to forage for breakfast.
“You need more milk,” the wall above the sink said in a silky whisper. “Milk…”
“Fine, I’ll get some more milk.” A second later, there was a rapping at the window and Xerxes opened it to see a pigeon gasping for air as it clutched frantically onto a gallon jug of milk.
“Ah, Prescient Pigeon. Impeccable timing, as always,” Xerxes said. He took the jug and opened the fridge, only to see that it was filled with jugs of milk, most unopened, many past their expiration date. A few were crusted with green and had even passed their Exorcise with Fire date.
Xerxes sighed. “Seriously, Mr. Pettyevil. Why do you keep doing that to me? At least tell me I’m out of cereal once in a while so I can get some breakfast.” The wall in front of him sniggered softly but didn’t reply.
Of course, he didn’t have any cereal either. Every time he got some, the Cereal Python snuck in and ate it all during the night. And on top of everything, it was lactose intolerant, so it never used up any of the milk in the fridge.
“I could sure go for some cereal right about now,” Xerxes said, casting a sidelong glance at the window. It didn’t work. Prescient Pigeon was lying on the windowsill, apparently unconscious from its struggle with the gallon of milk and not in any condition to go anywhere for a while.
Xerxes poured himself a glass of milk from the new jug and stood in the kitchen, drinking.
“It’s laundry day today,” the wall whispered. “Laundry…”
“Shut up, Mr. Pettyevil. I’m not falling for your tricks again, at least for another hour.” He glanced at the calendar. Dang, it really was laundry day. He hated laundry day.
For one thing, the clothes he washed weren’t even his. He didn’t know whose they were; they just appeared in baskets in the laundry room every Monday and he washed them. It was part of his lease agreement. He never went out so his own clothes usually took up half a load. But what was worse than the laundry was the laundry room.
“What’s wrong?” Fretty asked as he walked back towards the bedroom. “You’re looking wan.”
“I’m not wan. I’m just hungry and—”
“Today is Monday, so that means it’s laundry day,” Yes’m interjected.
“Oh, laundry day,” Fretty said. “That worries me.”
Xerxes opened the third door from the bedroom and came into a small round room with a washer and dryer sitting in the middle. Hampers of laundry stood off to one side. As with the other rooms, there was no ceiling and the black walls towered up into obscurity.
“Well, you’re back, I see,” a sarcastic voice said from the walls. “Come to gloat, have you?”
“It’s just laundry day, Penelope. Just like every week.”
“Why don’t you come in here and talk to me more. I’m your girlfriend, after all.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just that I get busy, and, you know…” The day before, Xerxes had spent the entire day trying to build a house of cards that resembled a jaguar.
“I still don’t know how you ever tricked me into this,” the wall said.
Xerxes walked to the hampers and started picking up the items in disgust with a pair of tongs and flinging them into the machine. The one on top was a set of bloodied chainmail, followed by a filthy leopard skin and a set of tribble-fur underwear.
“I never once tricked you,” he said, “The real estate agent said I needed to find another wall for the house and you said: ‘If there’s anything I can do to help…’”
“I was hinting for you to move in with me!” the wall snapped. “Not that it matters now, I suppose. I’m seeing someone new, you know.”
Xerxes looked around the laundry in an exaggerated fashion. “Seeing someone? Who?”
“Well, another house, actually.”
“That’s impossible! There aren’t any other houses here. I’m the only one in this dimension. The real estate agent guaranteed it.”
“Well, all I know is that there’s a house near here with a nice wall named Bumble. We talked last night. He’s a dining room wall, with a china hutch pushed up against him and everything. Real posh.”
Xerxes didn’t respond. He turned on the machine and left to call his real estate agent.
Xerxes had a ShyPhone 4, which was always running away and hiding under the bed and high up in the corridors. Usually this was fine with Xerxes since he didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway, but now he needed to find it. He had gotten it cheap because it ran on eccentricity instead of electricity. In his house, it was always fully charged.
“Where are you, ShyPhone? Hello?” It liked to be serenaded with Metallica songs, sung in a slow, mellow tone. “Exit light, enter night, Xerxes crooned, “take my hand, off to never never land.”
There was some movement up by the top of his bed. “So tear me open, but beware,” Xerxes sang softly and tenderly. “There’s things inside without a care. And the dirt still stains me, so wash me until I’m clean.”
The ShyPhone fluttered down to the bed and Xerxes grabbed it. Its screen blushed as he dialed the number for the real estate agent.
“Hey, Conrad, this is Xerxes. Listen, what’s this I hear about other houses being in this dimension?”
“Who said that?”
“Ah, yeah, Penelope. How’s she doing these days?”
“Still furious. But listen, she said she met another house nearby. You promised me a place where I could get away from it all. From it all. I paid extra for it. In the ad, it describes this house as ‘a house of unpredictable eccentricity, floating in an abyss of viscous ether. Total isolation guaranteed.”
“You’re still isolated,” Conrad said. The ShyPhone was sweating heavily in Xerxes’ hand and he had to switch sides. “I admit, we had to push a few other houses into that dimension, but you’ll never know they’re there. I promise you. By the way, good job with the laundry. I’m hearing a lot of good things.”
“Thanks, but can they stop with the chainmail already? Some of that stuff weighs fifty pounds and there’s more than just blood on some of it.”
“Hey, chainmail needs to get washed too, you know. Anywho, gotta run. Say hi to Prescient Pigeon for me.”
Xerxes hung up and let the ShyPhone scamper away. He didn’t like the idea of neighbors, even if he couldn’t see or visit them. Hopefully nothing bad would come of it.
(to be continued, at some point)