Vincent’s head exploded.
Or at least it felt that way. As he was falling asleep, in a half dreaming state where ridiculous notions and outlandish thoughts reign, he had a vision of himself. His perspective was altered, so that he saw his own form, curled up in his bed, as the trappings of his bedroom faded away. One by one, the faded carpet, the dresser, the linear shadows cast by the moon shining through his Venetian blinds, all faded into nothingness and his body was suspended there, in infinity. That’s when a blinding light and deafening blast overwhelmed his primary senses, violently jerking Vincent into waking. POW! Right on time, as every other night for the past three years.
The sleep specialist that Vincent had consulted last spring had diagnosed it as “Episodic cranial sensory shocks”, commonly referred to as “exploding head syndrome”. Outside of naming the phenomena, the diagnosis had not helped Vincent much. As the doctor explained, the causes of this syndrome are poorly understood, and treatments are numerous and varied.
Leveraging himself out of bed, Vincent fumbled for his slippers under the bed for a moment before donning his tattered bathrobe and padding softly toward the kitchen of the single story bungalow. The glow from the moon spilled onto the thin carpeting in the hallway. He declined to make use of the piercing fluorescent light as he reached the kitchen, settling for the soft glow of the refrigerator lightbulb as his groping fingers found a can of beer and cracked the top. The combination of low-dose alcohol and carbohydrates had proven effective at damping the reverberating echoes of his exploded head.
As he sipped the elixir, Vincent crossed the combination dining/living room to the sliding glass doors at the back of the house and stepped out. The pale, full-moon glow lit up the entirety of the small concrete patio that took up half of the fenced yard. Gently lowering himself into one of a pair of nearly vintage plastic lawn chairs occupying the space, he looked up.
“Aldebaran, occluded by the glow of the moon” he muttered to himself as he scanned the sky for his favorite star. “Lambda tauri, not far behind”.
Vincent sat in the lawn chair, absorbing the view and the gentle July atmosphere. It hadn’t been particularly hot that day, but the evening didn’t seem to want to cool much further. He listened as the various birds and insects gently hummed and chirped in the sparse vegetation between the houses of his suburban development, and a gentle, if not cooling, breeze blew across the yard. Stretching into the distance directly behind the house, was an expanse of tremendous nothingness, the plains of western Nebraska extending towards distant mountains. Living on the edge of this development sometimes afforded Vincent the opportunity to hear coyotes howling on the distant ridge. Whenever he heard the wild dogs, a jolt of adrenaline would shiver down his spine; the sound having an ancient fight or flight response in his hindbrain. But he heard no coyotes tonight.
As Vincent stared absently up at the gently illuminated starscape, a gentle prickling made its way up the back of his neck like a pinch, or a backwards drip of ice, not unlike the aforementioned fight or flight response. Before his fuzzball brain could remark about how strange the feeling would occur without hearing any wild dogs, he was blinded. The entire night sky had turned a brilliant white, luminescing with all-consuming intensity. The bizarre glow had turned every object in Vincent’s field of view into a halogen bulb that burned his retinas. Barely after he registered the light, he became aware of two things. First, the air that had moments ago been whooshing lively across his face had become deathly still. Second, the temperature of said air, and indeed his lawn chair and concrete pad patio as well, was dropping rapidly. However, before he could shiver, or even shout his surprise, the odd event was over, as rapidly as it had begun. In a blink, the sky returned to normal, and the wind resumed as if it had never left. The nighttime birds and insects, as if they had not just been stunned into silence a moment ago, resumed their gentle susurration.
Sitting stunned in his lawn chair, Vincent’s conscious mind caught up with the more efficient lizard hindbrain after a moment, and began to parse all that it had registered. He realized the whole event had lasted only a second, perhaps less.
Alongside an almighty crash, Vincent woke up again.
For an instant, he thought his head had exploded again, before a tremendous shaking overwhelmed his senses. Had he not be already in bed, he would have surely been bowled over by the wild undulations of his previously-stationary living room. The walls were vibrating violently, while the floorboards began to buckle and crack, pulling themselves away from wall seam. The word ‘earthquake’ had barely formed in Vincent’s mind when he became aware of another sensation, a rapid rotation, causing the points of daylight that streamed in the windows to whip haphazardly across the room – the entire house was spinning! A glimpse out the window (currently unencumbered by a curtain rod, which had sailed across the room a fraction of a second before), showed a blur of orangey-red landscape rush by.
Nearly as soon as he had become aware of the motion of his house, the shaking and spinning were beginning to ebb rapidly. Like applying the brakes in a car to bring it from sixty to zero, the house ground to a halt with unnerving suddenness. As he still lay in his bed, which was now canted at a dramatic angle due to the exciting new arrangement of his floorboards, Vincent tried to wrangle his brain to form a cohesive thought, and after most of a minute he managed to eek out, to no one in particular:
“What. the. fuck.”
A framed photocopy of an unused diploma that had been courageously clinging to the wall crashed to the floor in response. The house was obstinately silent. Vincent took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He closed his eyes and laid back again – perhaps this was a hallucination, and he had finally gone insane as he long suspected he would. Slowly, he opened his eyes again, and threw a glance about the room as this thought melted away, he’d no such luck. An intrusive beam of sunlight pierced in the curtainless window at a strange angle, and the motes of dust, and more likely former bits of house, were suspended in the light. The air was oppressively still, and the house so quiet that Vincent now wondered if he had somehow also gone deaf in the course of events, but the crunching slide of the bed down the floorboards as he shifted his weight to sit up provided an excellent counterpoint. Taking another deep breath, Vincent looked futiley about what was left of the bedroom for his slippers, before realizing what a ridiculous notion that was. Picking his way over to the toppled chest of drawers, and being very careful to not disturb the unstable flooring, Vincent pried his work boots from the bottom drawer. Feet now protected, and clad otherwise in his bathrobe, and underclothes, Vincent kicked the bedroom door in the middle, where it had already cracked as it wedged in the doorframe. A few stiff blows, and the door gave in, and Vincent was able to push his way into the hall.
This part of the house seemed less disrupted than the bedroom, although the floor still buckled nonlinearly as Vincent carefully picked his way toward the kitchen. Upon arrival, he repeated his earlier assessment, with different emphasis:
“What the FUCK?”
The far end of the kitchen had been rapidly updated with a enormous, jagged hole in the wall that offered an unobstructed view of a red, alien-looking desert landscape that was now littered with a trail of what appeared to be bits of Vincent’s house. The linoleum covered concrete of the kitchen floor seemed to be relatively solid as Vincent picked his way over the refrigerator that had fallen on its doors. He nearly slipped on a pile of broken dishes that had accumulated, but caught himself on the wedged-halfway silverware drawer. His mouth was agape as he ducked under the hanging timbers and scraps of insulation that lined the opening of the hole to step out onto the dusty sandstone plain.
His voice faltered before he could finish vocalizing his third assessment of the situation. He stood in bewildered reverie as he took in the scene around him: a wide, sandy desert stretched away from his feet. In the distance ahead and to one side, the shapes of large stone formations loomed, creating long shadows that stretched horizontally across the field of his vision. These environs were most definitely not the Nebraskan suburb where Vincent had last seen his house. The sun beat down, and Vincent could feel the heat radiating from the ground beneath him, and already beads of sweat had broken out across his forehead. He turned and observed what was left of his house, letting out a small whimper as the scene came into view.
A short survey around the building revealed that what Vincent had felt when he was rudely woken a few minutes prior seemed to be the result of the entire house, concrete slab included, skidding and bouncing along the ground for roughly a half a mile. This had taken quite a toll on the structure of the house, ripping off huge chunks of siding and splitting several walls at the corners. This impossibility took Vincent several minutes to process entirely, and he kept walking to the back of the house to look at the huge marks in the dirt, gouged out dramitcally by the house and extending into the distance. As he stood in front of the gaping hole in what was once his kitchen wall, he turned his face to the sky and wondered – not for the first time – if he was hallucinating.
This notion was quickly dispelled when a small projectile, roughly the size of a pencil tip, came whizzing out of the sky, punching a blazing hole in the cartilage of Vincent’s left ear before impacting the earth behind him with a thud and a small dust cloud. Vincent screamed. Clutching his ear, he crumpled, yelling in confusion and pain, and for the fourth time since he awoke, Vincent inquired of the universe:
“What the fuck!?”
After a moment, the stinging pain ebbed away, and Vincent pulled his hand from his head and was surprised by the lack of blood. He probed his ear with his fingers, and winced as they brushed a small hole that had not been there previously. Looking around, Vincent spied a piece of broken glass that had fallen from one of the windows of the house. He picked up the shard and held it in front of him, angling it such that he could see the side of his head in the faint reflection.
“I’ll be damned. Completely cauterized.” He remarked, incredulously. The edges of his fresh injury were tender and ragged, but bloodless. Suddenly, about fifty feet away in the sand, another “THUMP” threw up another dust cloud, leaving a small crater. Vincent instantly dove to the ground by his house, pulling his arms and legs into a tight ball. Seconds later, several more projectiles slammed into the ground around the house. Throwing his body into a sideways roll, Vincent scurried around the corner of his house and back into the kitchen via the hole in the wall. He clambered through the wreckage and let out a sigh as he sunk to the floor behind the overturned refrigerator. He became aware that a rapid, syncopated cadence had filled the air; the sound of hundreds of small projectiles slamming into the roof and walls around him, as though a battalion’s worth of bb guns had opened fire all at once. Vincent hunkered down into the space between the upturned refrigerator and the wall, not eager to leave any more of his body exposed to whatever was flying out of the sky. Panic started to rise in his throat, as Vincent mind, which had been making feeble attempts at grasping the situation up until now, had finally caught up to the present and found its grip. At the same time, Vincent became aware of a burning sensation in his lungs. Before this revelation could exacerbate his newfound state of mind, however, the lack of breathable atmosphere that it portended overtook Vincent, whose vision collapsed to pinpoints before he slumped further against the wall, unconscious.