The sound of the cat’s sick-making wakes him. It cuts through the drone simulation of his sleep, turning into the whirring blades of his hangover, then the helicopter crashes against his pillow as the cat brings all its hee-yucking to a finale on the carpet.
His insides feel like desert, his head like hot sand. His skin is wet. Light is sharp like cactus.
The cat finishes vomiting then wanders around for a bit, miaowing and purring. It jumps on the bed and curls up, all better now.
He gets out of bed. The floor staggers beneath him and he wonders whether they have been put out to sea, him and the house. Maybe the cat is seasick. He gulps down water, hoping it will fix him, but instead it makes everything worse. Fills another glass anyway, guessing that it has to help.
In the hall, he spots what the cat has puked up. Whatever it is.
Whatever it is, it’s still moving.
He approaches, unsteady, nearly loses balance as he stands over it and looks down, has to put a hand on the wall for support. What he struggles to comprehend is that it doesn’t appear to be an animal, a rodent of some sort, like usual.
No. It looks human.
He lowers himself slowly, until he’s kneeling on the floor, closer to the thing.
And it definitely is human, only it is just a couple of inches long, seemingly impossible, but nevertheless. Covered in what must be bile from the cat’s stomach. The legs it has left are so severely masticated that they are now one mangled mess. It grabs tufts of carpet and pulls itself forward, dragging its body across the floor.
In a sober parallel, he – who is usually so curious, precise, inquisitive – would be keen to find out exactly what is crawling across the floor of his house. He might have trapped it gently, taken photographs, scoured the net for information.
But right now he feels utterly terrible. It is no kind of a solution but he folds himself up on the carpet, and being horizontal again provides some brief respite.
Now his eyes are only about a foot away from the little person.
He sees it turn its little head, and then it looks right at him. He looks right at it. It looks away and resumes crawling, as if pretending, hoping, convincing itself it hasn’t been spotted. Somehow, he feels the same.
Thinking about reaching out with a finger to touch the little person, he gets his hand only halfway there before deciding to leave it alone. His thoughts are muddled. He drank too much last night, hasn’t slept long enough – right now he feels like only dying right there and then would provide sufficient rest.
The little person continues to progress across his field of vision. He strains his eyeballs upwards, but the little person disappears, out of shot, and he has to tilt his head back, shifting the angle of his gaze, bringing the it back into view. This new position brings only fresh waves of nausea.
But now he can see what the little person is struggling towards, the purpose of all this exertion. Just yards away, the cat’s bowl.
A mirage, a castle of water.
The cat jumps on him again, and he gets a second attempt at waking up.
This is a much calmer experience, a feeling like that of slowly returning to the real world after a film has finished. The credits might be running a little slowly and at an angle but things are clearer now. He feels better. Both brain and body are more amenable to the idea of being conscious.
The light no longer feels like an assault. The clock tells him it is early afternoon. He downs pints of water and then soaks for five minutes in the shower. As he dresses, he sorts through text messages, the remnants of his night out. Given fresh impetus, he tries to claw back the stolen hours of the lost day by doing as much as he can in a short space of time.
It is only later, when he goes to refill the cat’s water bowl, that he remembers the encounter. The memory is hazy – he has to make himself a cup of coffee, then he sits down and thinks about it.
The day, which has been moving along quite quickly, slows right down as he realises the memory is solid, something he can firmly believe actually happened.
And now that he is fit and sober, he thinks it should have been possible to overcome any pain and discomfort. No matter how bad he felt, he should have been able to take some action.
He tries to make amends, scouring his home for the tiny person, the cat following him around, getting in the way as he tries to search beneath and between and behind all the furniture. He tries online, searching using every term he thinks could bear fruit – ‘tiny person’, ‘real borrower’, ‘gnome’… But he finds nothing, nothing that matches his experience and he knows now he never will find anything about what he saw, that it was his one chance, unless the world should happen to slip up again.
He looks up from the laptop screen. In the hallway, the sound of the cat: