False Alarm

At 8:15 the alarm clock emitted a piercing wail whose pitch undulated like a siren. Charlie thought it was possibly the worst sound he had ever heard, more persistent and even far shriller than his mother's whine. At least you could hit this and it would shut off.

At 10:00 the phone rang, but Charlie let it go. It couldn't be that important. Not enough to get out of bed. Besides, he would probably be too late after finally finding it under all his shit.

At 1:00 Charlie rolled over, right onto Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. He tugged at it, and managed to pluck it from under his side. It made an unsticking sound, like pulling tape off a table. He was about to chuck it into the pile on the floor, but didn't. The small letters looked so friendly. The front cover had fallen off and the soft paper felt comfortable in his hand. Charlie opened the book, flipped to the last dog-eared page and began to read.

At 2:30 Charlie, the book, an empty tape case, and his blanket all rolled off the bed. It wasn't very high, in fact only a mattress, so nothing was hurt. The entire mass lay motionless for a few minutes, and then got up.

Charlie rubbed his eyes for almost two minutes, forcefully rotating his large hands in the helpless sockets. The soft thwacking of colliding lubricated surfaces mixed with his deep but uneven breathing. When he stopped, Charlie's home slowly came into focus. A pile of assorted clothes, paper, books, cd's and other stuff lay dormant on the floor. Two wooden slightly off kilter chairs played king of Charlie's heap. One held a homemade chessboard and about ten pieces, while the other housed a small stereo system.

Charlie's empty stomach guided his eyes towards the left, where a bare and opened fridge and a 70's style green oven leaned against the wall. The cupboards above were bare, except one which displayed an empty chocolate milk container and a box of Lucky Charms.

Still looking for a reason to move, Charlie glanced straight across the room. He saw two areas sectioned off by plasterboard, one offering a small rusty shower and the other a toilet and a sink. Seeing as behind him was only the bed sheltering itself in a small cubby, and he had already exhausted all his other choices (and he was tired of just standing still) Charlie headed to the window on his right. He lived on the sixth floor of a five story building, and while it may have been a tiny and illegal apartment (why could he not receive mail?) Charlie paid the owner (his friend Cal's father) only thirty five dollars a month rent. Another upshot was that he could take the screen off his window, climb out his room and onto the roof.

Once outside Charlie's skin began to whiten and little bumps appeared all over his body. Charlie pulled the blanket closer around him and cursed the cold. Noticing a pair of tennis shoes a few feet away, he swore at himself for forgetting them out there as he had worn sandals the last few days. He walked tenderly forward, the pebbles on the roof bearing the October chill, and slipped his feet one at a time into the shoes.

He advanced to the edge of the roof where he would often sit for hours just staring at the nearby river. The water didn't look blue, and it didn't look brown, like it all to often did; it was charcoal and moving fast. The trees around it were swaying one way then the other, propelled by the same swirling wind that blew up under the blanket and over his naked body.

Charlie pulled the comforter even tighter around himself. As he did so, the tape case and the book dropped from folds in the blanket. The book fell flat on the ledge with a loud slap. The tape hit the ledge, too, but it caromed off and out into the crisp air. Charlie watched it fall, spinning uselessly. When it landed, he couldn't hear anything, but he did see a dark form mis-step and look quickly up.

"Sorry!" Charlie hollered, grinning.

The form seemed to be saying something in response, but Charlie couldn't hear any sound that resembled a human voice. Charlie lifted his hand to his ear. The form cupped its hands around its mouth. Still nothing. The figure raised its hand, pointer finger extended in a gesture to wait. Then it strode briskly away. Watching the person, Charlie realized he couldn't see it very well. There was a dark trench coat and a messy bob of brown hair. It walked a little then stopped at a pay phone.

Charlie meant to turn his attention back to the river but the wind made the pages of the book flutter loudly, as if it was speed reading. Charlie thought that it would have been a good thing if the trees and the buildings could read Siddhartha. But then he wondered if that would be missing the whole point. Anyway, wasnUt it all supposed to be there, in the colorless and hollow flow, always moving but staying still...

Sirens wailed in the distance, a familiar noise. It rose fitfully over the rustling of the leaves and struggled to drown out the wind. It continued to come closer and closer, and Charlie soon saw two police cars turn on his street. To his great surprise, they stopped almost directly below him. He watched as four policemen scrambled out of the cars. Two ran towards the entrance of the building and the others opened one of the trunks. After fishing around, one cop walked away from the car holding a white oblong object. He raised it to his mouth.

"Listen son" came an amplified voice. Charlie realized the man was holding a megaphone.

"Everything is going to be alright. Just stay calm and keep your cool." Charlie's eyes opened wider than they had in a long time, and his eyebrows raised almost to his hairline.

"Don't jump. Everything will be alright. Just don't jump!"

Looking down at his bare ankles meeting the comforter, then glancing at the police below, Charlie suddenly divined the events of the next few hours and thought,

'Should have known better than to get out of bed.'


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