I volunteered to take over the department inventory. This led me to running between office spaces and jotting down what was kept in what room, what occupied which filing cabinets, and what was housed in which cubbies. At the end of it, I settled that things were too spread apart. Items went missing before I took over, falling between the proverbial cracks.
I printed the list of items we should have and just went at it. I counted single, loose items and jotted down the amount we had coupled with the amount still packaged. I reorganized the cubbies and shelves, making sure to compartmentalize the items within the columns.
“You’re good at that,” Evelin said.
“Let me walk you through,” I responded, dusting off my jeans. “In the first column here, we have repressed feelings. Secret affections on the top, followed by inner anger, pride, and sexuality. Right on the counter underneath that, we have, of course, fear of rejection that comes with each. As you can see, that’s way too much to shelve with the other items.”
“And what about these?” she asked, motioning to the pile I have laid out on the tables.
“The first table here contains the memories I don’t know what to do with,” I shrugged. “Minor things that hold no significance to the Host. Bits of trivia that aren’t conversation starters. Really don’t know where to file these away.”
Evelin assessed the cluttered and the organized and nodded. “Seems like you have a better knack at this than the last person. This job really drove them up the wall.”
“What can I say,” I said. “I’m a natural.”
I kept up with work, making sure to sort anger in the proper receptacle, labeling the serotonin and dopamine properly, filing away the important, life-changing memories in their proper storage bin. I cataloged conversations by subject and audience. Archived text messages and letters. And tucked away the sentimental value of objects in their proper exhibitions.
They started some time ago. Too long for me to pinpoint an actual date. Maybe two, maybe three years ago. Possibly more. Just one night, I started having them. Dreams. But not quite. The sort of dreams that feel more like memories. The kind that after waking up the next morning, you’re tearing through the house looking for that thing you lost because you suddenly remembered where you last left it. And when you inevitably don’t find it, you furrow your brow and just question the reality of it all.
They were of that variety of dream. The ones that stuck around. And as soon as you began to let them fade beyond the realms of memory, they came back to you at night.
That is until they became more recurring. From every so often to every two weeks to every week to just about every time you close your eyes. And they left me waking up in the middle of the night, getting on my phone or tablet or laptop and just searching for answers. Every search left me without nothing. Not an inch closer to an answer.
It affected my work. I could see it in the eyes of my coworkers. The way my superiors spoke to me. Saw in the disappointed looks of my family. And how my friends would text me at random. Some even calling, their voices heavy with concern.
I shrugged it off, of course. Told everyone it was nothing. That I was just preoccupied.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the question repeated with each phone call conversation or text message.
By the end of it, the dreams became more vivid. And the warning repeated itself: Stay away from Night Ocean.
A searching online for it led me to a short story by R. H. Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft. It led me to a novel by Paul La Farge. It led me to countless articles and essays about the two works of fiction, but nothing concrete. And having never read either, it made no sense to me why the warning would echo in my ear.
I thought it was crazy. Or maybe I had been going a bit mad. These dreams were eating away from my sleep schedule. Perhaps I heard the title of the story in passing. Or maybe I misunderstood the warning in my dream. And I shouldn’t dwell on it. After all, they were just dreams. And dreams are nothing more than the subconscious speaking to us.
A lot had changed in my corner of the world. It’s not too far fetched that I would have some unaccounted stress lying below my facade. Later that morning, I phoned a friend whose profession was to assist trouble minds like mine. He, of course, wouldn’t take me in as a patient and I hadn’t expected him to. My reasoning was merely to ask for a suggested therapist. Someone as good as he if not better.
He chuckled at my slight stab to his ego, “Glad to have you back, Marrow.”
“Glad to be back,” I replied.
After making an appointment with one Doctor Angelina Cortez, I readied myself for work. The day, uneventful as it were, went by in a blur. People smiled at me. Most were happy not to see me sulking around. And my supervisor called me into her office and told me, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up. I’m glad to have the old you back.”
On the way home, I stopped at the book shop I frequented often. Black Spire books stood hidden on a block of coffee shops and delis. I’m told it started off as a mom-&-pop store. It stayed within the family through the generations. And due to our small town nature, it thrived. The current owner, the great-granddaughter of the original owners, greeted me as I entered the building.
“Marrow,” she said, “long time no see, man.”
“Sorry about that Shelbs,” I said, “I’ve been preoccupied a lot with work.”
“Nah I get it, man,” she said. And her smile faltered, “Listen, I know we don’t really like talk outside of this place or whatever, but if you ever need to talk about it, we can.”
“Really, Shelby, it’s fine,” I managed before changing the subject. “Got the latest issue?”
“Are you kidding me? You haven’t been here for months, I saved you the back issues too.”
From behind her counter, Shelby pulled out a small stack of publications, issues of a poetry magazine that I’d taken a liking to.
I thumbed through one issue as Shelby asked, “You ever gonna publish anything in that magazine? Your stuff is good, Marrow. Like really good. The people at the poet’s corner really love it.”
“Maybe,” I replied,
And then I saw it. Inside the April issue: “Night Ocean” by Amber K. Gonzalez.
“Hey Shelbs, I gotta go,” I muttered. “How much do I owe you for this?”
I paid and got back into the car, dropping all but the April issue – just last month – onto the passenger seat. I flipped to the page and read the three-line poem, the only one published by Amber. Amber, who I hadn’t heard from in all this time. Amber, who blamed herself for the misfortunes of my life. Amber.
Arriving home, I found the mail scattered on the floor. The seasick green envelope standing out among the others. Her name written on the corner in her perfect script: Amber K. Gonzalez 42 East Gilman Avenue, Night Ocean.
No state. No zip code. Not even a fucking stamp.
I rip the fucking thing open and out slipped note. Small. Handwritten. Smelling of her perfume and the sea.
“It’s beautiful here, Marrow. “Come find me. “Everything goes quiet in Night Ocean.”
The same three lines as her poem. The poem I can no longer find within the pages of the April issue.
It takes me longer to notice the blood stained fingerprints left at the corners of the page.