The universe has not always been kind to Harold. As a matter of fact, it has been downright cruel at times. He is going into his thirty-fourth year as a bachelor, has never won anything—ever, and his Internet connection is atrocious. He lives alone in a modest house in a small borough just off the infamous Route 66 in Arizona. He was transferred to Arizona after being passed over for a well-deserved promotion in New York City.
New York City was on Harold’s mind as he awoke and slung the blankets to one side. He lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling for a few moments. New York had seemed so fraught with promise. If only he had been less socially awkward, the job would not have gone to Brad Ventron. Brad Ventron, what kind of a name is that, anyway? It is a superhero name, and Brad might as well have superpowers. He could sell advertising with the wink of his eye. Harold attempted to wink at the ceiling, but he had never been able to wink; the opposite eye closed a bit every time, even on the third of fourth attempt. And nobody gives you three or four attempts to wink properly. He had started every morning this way for the past two months. It wasn’t always winking; some mornings it was a sales pitch or a smile.
“Why do I even bother, Samantha?” Harold said to his closest friend, his tabby cat who was sitting on the floor next to the bed.
“Meow,” she said.
“Yes, I supposed you’re right. I should get up and get moving.”
Harold worked from home these days. In New York, he had ridden the train to an actual office where he interacted with living, breathing people—some of whom were female and attractive–but now he was a telecommuter in the middle of the desert.
He searched for a mug in the pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. During his move to Arizona, he had decided to become more of a minimalist and had done away with many of his earthly possessions. He regretted it, and now constantly found himself searching for socks, towels, and coffee mugs.
“There you are.” He pulled a mug from the mess of dishes. “I will wash you and hug you and pet you and call you…” Something outside caught his attention.
He leaned toward the window over the sink. His neighbor, and new friend, Carl Langford, dressed only in his boxers, was feverishly digging holes with a spade in Harold’s front yard.
Harold didn’t know what to make of it. He leaned closer to the window and looked around the yard. There were about twenty holes in the grassy portion of the landscaping and about twenty more in the crushed rock around the grass. The holes varied in depth and diameter.
“What are you doing?” Harold yelled through the window.
Carl continued to dig.
Harold unlatched the window and slid up the sash. “Excuse me, Carl, what on earth are you doing?”
“Well, yes.” Harold paused and looked around again. “I can see that. But why are you digging?”
Carl stabbed a new section of earth and hopped onto the shovel with both feet. “I have to find a portal.”
“A portal? You mean like a gateway to another dimension?”
“Yes, something very similar to that.”
Harold closed the window, locked it, and leaned against the sink. Carl had not appeared to be mentally ill any other time. In fact, he was typically very polite and put together, not that he had been rude just now. Harold shook his head for clarity and wondered if the police should be called. He looked out the window again. Carl was starting a new hole.
Samantha jumped onto the counter and looked out the window.
“He’s in his underwear looking for a portal,” Harold said to her. “I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”
There was a knock at the front door. “Harold, let me in. I have to tell you something.”
Harold scurried to the front door but did not unlock it. “Have you killed anyone, Carl?”
“What? No. Nothing like that. Let me in. I’m running out of time.”
“Running out of time to find a portal?” Harold asked.
“Yes, that’s right. Now let me in.”
“You are really starting to freak me out. I think it would be best if you went home.”
“Harold, let me in or I will have to break your door. I am not going to hurt you.”
Carl could hurt Harold if he intended to. Carl was tall, fit and trim. Harold’s medium, stocky build could withstand some punishment, but he was not a fighter. Harold weighed his options. The door was not fortified by any means, and a costly repair was not in his budget. Carl was coming in one way or another. He unlocked the door, immediately jumped back and took up a position behind the loveseat in the living room. He was prepared to sprint in any direction at a moment’s notice.
Carl burst in. “Thank you,” he said and then headed into the kitchen where he opened the refrigerator door and preceded to throw its contents across the kitchen floor.
Harold watched from behind the loveseat as eggs, milk, and leftovers blended together on the tile floor. “Is that really necessary?” he said. “I hope you know you’re paying for all of that, and I’m pretty sure we can’t be friends anymore.”
“I’m saving your life,” Carl said over his shoulder.
“Oh, yes, I’ve always felt very threatened by raw eggs.”
“I’m saving you from them.” Carl pointed at the kitchen window. Three men in black suits and black sunglasses peered in the window. Their heads moved side to side in unison.
“They can’t see us yet,” Carl added. “They are not fully here.”
Harold squatted behind the loveseat until only his eyes and top of his head were visible. “I’m not sure I’m fully here.”
“I will explain everything if we make it out of here alive,” Carl said.
“That’s reassuring. Thank you.”
The refrigerator was empty. Carl stood up and scratched the back of his head. His tone was becoming increasingly pressured. “I don’t get it. It said it was here.”
One of the men knocked on the window. “We have you now,” he said through the window.
The second man knocked on the window. “We have you now,” he said in an identical tone.
“It said it was right here!”
Samantha jumped onto the counter next to the refrigerator. “It’s under the refrigerator, Carl,” She said. “It’s under it!”
Harold couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. Sam had been his roommate and best friend for nearly a decade. She was smart and cunning, but she had certainly never spoken. He stood up from behind the loveseat and locked eyes with his cat. “Sam?”
Carl slid the refrigerator across the floor and let out a sigh of relief. He found what he was looking for on the floor: a symbol in the shape of an oak leaf. He shouted to Harold: “Come on, buddy. We gotta go!”
Sam jumped off the counter onto the floor.
Carl ran to Harold and scooped him up. “We gotta go.”
“I can’t leave without Samantha.”
“Don’t worry; she will be there… sort of.”
The third man knocked on the window, and the three men spoke in unison: “We have you now.”
Carl placed Harold on the symbol. “Okay, you have to do what I’m about to tell you. It’s going to sound weird.”
“The weirdness does seem to be stacking up this morning.”
One of the men broke the window and began to fumble with the latch.
Carl grabbed Harold’s chin and forced him to look him in the eye. “Listen to me.”
“Are you familiar with the song Gonna Make you Sweat by C and C Music Factory?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Yes, you know it. It starts with everybody dance now.”
“Oh, yes, I know it.”
“I’m going to sing it and we need to dance.”
One of the men climbed through the window and stood just three feet away.
“They all have to climb in before they can attack. Are you ready to dance?”
“It’s the very opposite of what I feel like doing, but let’s do it.”
“Perfect.” Carl paused and drew in a deep breath. “Everybody dance now! Dum, dum, dum-dum, dum, dum, dum-dum… everybody dance now!”
Harold swung his hips from side to side and poked his fingers into the air.
“Give me the music,” Carl sang. “Give me the music… everybody—.”
And the two were gone.
To be continued…