“Inkling” by PD Penley
“Damn, another pen burst.” Aldous glared at the black splotch on the right thigh of his khaki pants. He reached into the pocket to fish out the faulty pen, but succeeded only in staining his middle and index fingers. The pen must have fallen out of his pocket.
He stumbled through his front door, exhausted after a long workday, and removed his stained, forever-tarnished pants in the bedroom. He put on some shorts and carried the pants into the kitchen to toss them. These stains bested him before. No amount of club soda would be the savior of these khakis. Yet another cloth casualty. Moment of silence.
Aldous walked into the living room. The hardwood floor beneath him lay riddled with black footprints from his right work shoe. “You’ve got to be kidding. Where’s the squid that keeps following me around?” he asked aloud. He made a note to clean the oil slick from the driveway in the morning. Tonight, his eyelids were heavy.
Bedtime, once his favorite event of the day, now felt like domestic drudgery. The body’s need to lie dormant one third of every day seemed a waste of time; time that would be well-spent in productive and potentially exciting ways. It was these would-be productivities that Aldous pondered as he tried to fall asleep. Enter insomnia. A mild type, he slept a large part of the evening, but an hour or two was required of lying still, eyes trained on the ceiling, before his mind gave in to rest.
Some hours later, Aldous regained consciousness as he felt the cold dampness of his bed; his sheets soaked in sweat. For several minutes he tried to ignore the uncomfortable sensation, to earn a few more minutes shut-eye, but the clammy cotton against his skin and the globs of hair against his forehead were too great an inconvenience. He rose from the bed and, arms outstretched, felt his way through the dark to the bathroom. He leaned his face over the sink and rushed cool tap water over his palms, slapping a few drops upward into his face. As the water ran down his cheeks, he looked into the mirror. The moonlight from the window illuminated the vanity. Splotches covered his face like tearful mascara.
Aldous flipped on the bathroom light. His hands left black smudges across the off-white wall. He stood disoriented and half-awake; his equilibrium still dormant. Aldous ran back to the bedroom. He groped at the wall where he knew the bedroom light switch waited. He stared at the spotlit bed and soaked in the scene.
His once-white sheets appeared black, liquid flowing from the threads. It was not sweat that soaked through his sheets. The bed fittings, and every cloth in the room, had transformed to dark ribbons that spouted fresh gobs of ink like a fountain. He watched the ink dribble uniformly, each separate puddle with a common destination. Aldous turned around and searched for the oily footprints on the hardwood. They stepped toward him casually, in unison with the crawling hand prints on the wall. The murky pools and obsidian blots closed in on him.
Aldous remembered only his car keys as he fled his home, still wearing stained, satin pajamas. He hopped in the car and fumbled the keychain to the floor, his hands trembling. He fingered blindly for the keys and lifted his eyes toward the windshield. An object hovered on the dash, balanced impossibly upright on its nib: a fountain pen.
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