This is the seven-thousand, eight-hundred and seventieth day of my life. 7-8-7-0. The seventh day of my week begins at eight o’clock, 0-8-0-0 (standard or military), with my alarm fading in across the oblong room. My alarm tone is called “Springtide,” and I chose it because it’s friendly, but not too friendly. It’s eighty-seven degrees outside, and was seventy-eight last night— enough to justify the fan that now blows at the exact frequency as my alarm. This, your honor (for I call my body this derogatorily), is why we cannot rise— facedown, frozen, and odiously awake. “Springtide” has reached its saccharine swell, shedding all semblance of zen to reveal its unforgivable friendliness before I’ve even had breakfast. Friendly, unfriendly— either way, it always ends in a slap to the snooze button.
All it takes is a flick of a switch on my bedside lamp to jumpstart my seven-thousand, eight-hundred and seventieth day. One flick to spark the bulb, one bulb to light the walls, one light to peel the shadows away from the seven-foot naked man across my room, watching while I wake. He sits sunny side up beyond the perpendicular bookshelf that divides my bedroom, but soon launches from his crouched knees and bounds towards me. I’m on my feet before my brain can register and breathing like a marathon runner, but I haven’t dodged a thing— and certainly not a man. No, its grin is far too wide across a head stretched like a lemon, and though it leaps on feet like a kangaroo, it’s too aimless to have aimed for me. It can only ricochet around my room— a bug trapped beneath a mason jar, finding paths with ones and zeros. Stimulus, response. Entomologists call that taxis. If it was my job, I would too.
I now know this is a rare Forest Minstrel, and I know it because knowing is my job. I make puzzles for kids, seven so far with an eighth on the way, that teach them of the dangers that lurk within the woods. Between a Good Fairy level of reward and a Bunny Foo Foo level of risk, most field mice are best left in the nest. I have seen zero Forest Minstrels in my own woodland forays, zero like the empty, animal 0 behind its black eyes. I’ll need to film this one and film it good if anyone is to believe me, so I record its scattered bounces with my phone, already in hand. Eight seconds in, and I remember to turn out the light to show that shadows cast across it unlike cheap VFX. The darkness works too well— swallows the Minstrel whole as it leaps just behind the bookshelf. Zero visibility on my next artistic reference.
I turn disappointedly towards the bedside lamp, only to find myself nose to nose with a drooling face. The Minstrel stands on the bed next to me wearing a smile wider than the span of my shoulders. Its breath sends a stinging breeze across my eyes, shot between thick gaps in dozens on dozens of square, wet teeth. A giggle hisses through its clenched jaw like a less friendly zen alarm. But still, zero behind its eyes— like eye contact with a parrotfish, empty as outer space despite eerily human teeth.
Then, still hissed, a hushed command: “sssshhhh.”
I oblige as it drapes my sheets gently over my face, and I have no choice, your honor, because they’re tucked so tight. And isn’t this only part of the Forest Minstrel’s show? They’re born entertainers, after all, like the imp clade they hail from. It lays me down in bed and the room braces in silence, silent like my muscles that stay still even though they’re screaming. From here, seven possibilities: I’m skewered, I’m bitten, I’m tossed or tickled by spindly, overgrown fingernails; I’m thrashed, I’m smashed, I’m snapped in half by a wound-up kangaroo stomp. I simply make us freeze and wait, your honor, because seven-thousand, eight-hundred and seventy is a nice round number; feels penultimate, like October, without proclaiming too much grandiosity. It even slides nicely off the tongue: 7-8-7-0. That’s all I’ve got, and it’s enough. I can accept that. Still— silence.
“Springtide” lilts on, seven unblinking minutes later. Soft, sourceless footsteps on the carpet advance to muffle it before disappearing, returning after another eight minutes to repeat the cycle. Taxis. This is the Forest Minstrel’s show— I can accept that, even respect it. I stop fighting sleep, picture the moral of the story on the back of my eyelids: I’m safest asleep in the nest.