Jeff woke up late, at almost 11. His mouth tasted like an old sock and he groaned when he tried to sit up, remembering that after he'd finished his twelve pack of Coors he'd actually drank some of Stuart's Woodford Reserve with some Coke.
He was drinking a lot more since Thorsen's death. Strangely, he was also writing a lot more, even though he certainly didn't feel like the drinking was helping his process, as it did for the man upstairs.
Still, he had blown past 100 pages of Danny's Dime last night and that was probably worth a hangover.
He didn't bother showering, just went straight upstairs and poured himself some OJ. He chugged the first glass without stopping, then poured himself a second. Already he felt better. His stomach rumbled and he realized it had been almost 18 hours since dinner last night. Cereal wasn't going to cut it, but he had bought a big bag of pre-baked biscuits the last time he'd been at the grocery store.
As Jeff had started to drink more, so Stuart had devolved into the eating patterns of his 21-year-old self. He had eaten chili twice in the last three days and showed no signs of stopping. Jeff had learned, to his regret, that he could not digest the chili he made for Stuart, which called for hot sauce, Tobasco, and jalapeno peppers. His time on the toilet two mornings ago had been miserable, so he ate his right out of the can without Stuart's accouterments.
To accompany his two biscuits, Jeff found some sausage gravy in the back of the fridge. It was at least a week old, but when he snapped open the Ziploc container, his stomach sat up and begged like a hungry dog.
“Done,” he said, and microwaved his breakfast.
He took his breakfast and a third glass of OJ into the living room, as there was a cigar butt in an ashtray on the dining room table, looking like an abandoned turd and he didn't want to smell it or be near it when he ate. The air, he finally noticed, was scented with the smell of the cigar smoke, not unpleasant, and he realized there was a thin blue haze around the light fixtures.
When he was done eating, he got a plastic grocery bag from under the sink, where he had started to keep them, and disposed of the ash and the cigar butt. He tied up the bag and put it in the trash.
With that done, a clearing head, and a full stomach, he decided to keep cleaning. He put on the rubber gloves and gave the half-bathroom off the living room a once over. Then he rotated the laundry, remembering that he'd given up asking and just changed Stuart's sheets for maybe the third time that summer. It had gotten to the point that when he walked by the room with the door open, he could smell them, musty and dark. It was just one of the many things that Stuart let go unnoticed when he was hard at work.
And, like Jeff, he was very hard at work. He had told Jeff that this was going to be one of his long ones, possibly as long as 600 pages. Although his books nudged into the fantasy genre, they were typically more of a length that fit the mysteries that they actually were, around 400 pages. Stuart was approaching that mark and, “I know the end, now, he said, but I'm not there yet.”
Stuart had shared another chapter of Tomb with him after the Thorsen mess, and it had been riveting. Jeff didn't even really know what was going on but the chapter smoked with action, much more so than a regular Alistar Wilcox novel. Vic had even hinted that he might let Stuart read the thing at the end of the summer, if he'd decided it was good enough before he started editing it full-time.
The cigar smoke was still noticeable when Jeff finished with the laundry and cleaning the kitchen, so he opened the dining room doors.
He was not exactly surprised. The sight was shocking, of course, dramatically, almost obscenely, out of place, but Jeff remembered most of his dreams now. He froze and stared and heard the blood rushing and pulsing in his ears.
“Oh, God,” he said, as if someone had just told him about a disaster. There was pity and sorrow in his voice.
It was snowing. He had been looking out the kitchen window moments ago, and there was nothing but now, there were already flakes starting to build up on the table and the railings. The flurry was thick and dense, the flakes were not drifting but pelting down as if they had something to prove.
Jeff took a step forward and hissed at the cold of the snow beneath his feet. The cloud cover had lowered to the tops of the trees that surrounded the house, so even though he was now outside, it felt like he had simply entered a larger, brighter room with a fuzzy gray ceiling.
A small part of him wanted to go out into the snow, he'd always enjoyed the peace and quiet of the snow, the way it seemed to suck the sound out of the world, creating a white cocoon of world for you to enjoy by yourself. But the snow was unnatural. Most of him was reviled by just the idea of it, false, improper, out of place...
The word evil occurred to him as well, but he quickly tried to quash that thought. Snow didn't have consciousness. The snow wasn't malicious, it was just in the wrong place. Or the wrong time.
He closed the doors, banning the alien snow from the house. He crossed to Stuart's bedroom on stiff legs, anxious and pushing down much larger, bolder sensations like panic.
He opened the door without knocking and shook Stuart, who was face down on his pillow. For a heart-stopping moment Jeff was sure he was dead, that the snow had killed him, even though the body was warm and there was a drool stain on the pillowcase. He wasn't snoring. He always snored.
One eye half opened.
“Mmmf tha fuck?” he mumbled.
“Vic, it's fucking snowing. I'm freaking out.”
The eyes opened completely. “Did you say it's snowing?”
Stuart closed his eyes and sighed. Then he opened them again. “It's okay,” he said. “I kinda thought this might happen.”
“It's OKAY? It's July, Vic and...Jesus this has happened before, hasn't it?”
Stuart nodded, his head rotating against the pillow. “Just once. The second year I was out here, the first year I was out here alone.”
“And I freaked out like you were, but nothing happened. It's just snow, man, moisture. It'll go away when it's done.”
“This is not right.”
“All the other weird ass shit you're okay with, but this bothers you? I said it happened before. The world didn't end then, it's not gonna end now.”
Stuart just looked at him.
“Doesn't anyone notice?”
“It stops at the base of the driveway and the edge of the trees. It probably looks like a fog bank from above. Who's gonna notice?”
Jeff opened his mouth to say that he thought the neighbors might damn well notice, but then he realized there were no neighbors. Not any more. The only real neighbor they'd had was dead. A sense of dread melted in his stomach. It was as if the house had been waiting for him to die so it could do its thing. Or as if...as if the house had gotten Thorsen out of the way.
Stuart looked at the clock and grunted. “I only went to sleep at six, kid, so I'm gonna try to get another hour or two, okay? Just ignore it, it'll go away.” He rolled over, dismissively and after a moment, Jeff left him alone, closing the door behind him.
Beer wasn't strong enough. Jeff reminded himself to get a bottle of something stronger the next time he left the house, which sure as hell wouldn't be today. He poured himself another Woodford and Coke, grimacing at the taste and the memory of how it had made him feel when he woke up. He stood at the kitchen sink and stared out at the snow as it fell in a fuzzy-edged box around the carport. He stood and watched it snow for a long time.
Then, he pulled the blind. Following Stuart's example, he went back to his basement and returned to sleep, hoping, praying, craving, that when he woke up the world would be back to normal.
As he lay there, more and more details of his dream, the dream where it had snowed just as it had today, returned to him. Back-spiraling, the word had been and the more he thought about it, the more its meaning became clear to him. Back-spiraling. The unwinding of progress. The unspinning of the world.