Bliss Point (1/5)

Waddling to the toilet at three in the morning, legs clasped as tightly as the latch to a jewelry box, she flings open the door of her bathroom, bare feet bouncing against the shock of the frigid tile. The blurry shape of the sink looms ominously. Groping in the dark, she flips on the switch to her left. Stingingly bright light floods her field of vision—but it’s not the interior of her bathroom she finds, with its dowdy fixtures and seashell wall accents, but a long, winding suburban street. She stands on the smooth tarmac, sandwiched between rows of identical two-story houses and manicured trees, all awash in the pearly, deep purple of summer twilight.

She has changed, too. Instead of polka dotted pajamas, she now wears a fleece hoodie, ripped jean shorts, and dirty off-white sneakers. It’s the outfit of an adolescent with little patience for respectability, and a strong desire to skulk around shopping mall parking lots, hood pulled up, rubbery cord tightened around her neck. Her urge to urinate, which had awoken her from sleep, has disappeared entirely. She breathes in, feeling the youth of her in-dream body as intensely as a drink of cool water. The air smells green, like lawn grass, wet from a parade of sprinklers, and faintly sweet, like fresh fruit.

There’s an arrow on the sidewalk, drawn in baby blue chalk. A few feet away, another, and then another. She follows the trail until it leads her to a house at the far-end and middle of a cul-de-sac, positioned along the street like a keystone in an arch. It is a standard, factory-made two-floor house made of white paneled wood and windows with green shutters. She inspects it from the driveway, feeling the wind play through her long hair. There’s no evidence of movement inside, but she feels antsy, expectant, as though sitting in a movie theater right before previews. She knows something is about to take place. Going around the back, stepping quietly on a path of cobblestones strewn through the grass, she arrives at the yard, where a mise-en-scène is silently unfolding.

Atop a white altar, a human form lies splayed, limbs hanging off every which way. The head lolls to one side, facing away from her. There’s a druggy stillness to the body that feels induced. Behind the altar, a massive Bengal tiger, easily three times the size of its counterpart in the natural world, paces idly. Its yellow eyes are the size of dinner plates. To the immediate left and right of the altar stand two figures: a man, tight-lipped, holding a scythe against his side, and an old, hunched woman, face eclipsed by a shroud.

On the street, a gas main erupts suddenly, releasing a fizzy tangle of fire. She doesn’t turn. Lying on the grass, at the end of the cobblestone path, is a bow and quiver of arrows. She’s never held a bow in her life, but she hoists it to her shoulder now with the practiced grace of a born archer, quickly nocking an arrow fletched with gold feathers. She has moments to choose a target—man, woman, body or beast—and no preternatural intuition that might lead her to the right choice. But she knows they will notice her soon. Her body hums with the tension, like the hour before heavy weather. She releases the arrow.

Immediately, she drops the weapon, turns tail, and flees, rounding the corner back to the stoop as fast as she can. The noise of their pursuit rings in her ears. Something—someone—grazes the small of her back as she grips the handle to the front door of the house, wrenches it open, and falls into a cool chamber. Gasping, the length of her body caught between tub and toilet, urine pouring hotly out of one pant leg, she feels for the wall and presses against it hard with both hands, as though holding a door closed against an intruder. After a few moments, she pushes herself into a seated position and nestles her head between her legs. The air tastes wet and fleshy, like a cooler of meat.

She realizes, belatedly, that Sal is perched on the edge of the tub, watching silently as she struggles to find a normal breathing rhythm.

“Mina,” Sal says, quietly but emphatically, like she’s casting a line into Mina’s mouth, drawing her back to the shore. “Hi.”

Mina spits out a wad of phlegm and wipes it into a balled scrap of toilet paper. “Hi,” she says weakly, crawling over the tile to rest her cheek on Sal’s knee. “I think we may be in trouble.”

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