At his door, Ty was surprised to find a small package lying on the floor. It was marked Swiss Post, but the sender was listed only as “Shipping Center” with an address in Reinach, Switzerland.
He wasn’t expecting anything-and certainly wasn’t used to Swiss Post delivering boxes of this size to his apartment door when he wasn’t home.
Inside, he put the package on the dining table and set the food Indra had given him in the microwave. He was famished. Soon, the smell of chicken, rice, and spices filled the one-bedroom apartment.
His place was, in short, a mess. The IKEA bookcase next to the door was filled to the brim with nonfiction books. So was the floor. The volumes sat in stacks, like makeshift walls of a book maze in his living room. The coffee table was littered with professional journals and two decaying takeout boxes.
The walls were covered in articles he had torn out and pinned there, sometimes with yellow Post-its with his notes.
The kitchen wasn’t much better. Plates were piled up in the sink (the dishwasher was broken). Bottles of supplements and prescription medications lined the wall like chess pieces.
The supplements and medications were part of Ty’s years of personal health experiments. He was constantly looking for new ways to enhance his mental clarity and energy-to hack himself, in a way.
The first row of bottles contained his current pill regimen.
A notebook beside the bottles recorded the observations of his experiments. Each row held a date and data consistent with any science experiment, which was exactly how Ty had come to regard his health.
As the timer on the microwave ticked down, he twisted the pill bottles open and downed the tablets for tonight’s scheduled doses.
He had to admit: the apartment really was a pigsty. Even more than normal. His last attempt at cleaning up had been a month ago, when Penny had come over. He thought he had done a decent job. Penny… well, she had been less than impressed.
“What happened here?” she had asked.
He glanced around. “What?”
“Ty, this place is a mess. It looks like a police stakeout.”
“Actually, it looks like a police stakeout conducted by a serial killer who is, in fact, unbeknownst to him, actually in a padded cell in a mental institution. It’s that crazy in here. We’re going to my place.”
“Because part of Netflix and chill is to chill-and I can’t relax in here.” She put her bag down. “In fact, we’re going to sort this out right now-I don’t even think I can relax at my flat knowing yours is in such a state.”
And with that, she had set about cleaning up Ty’s apartment, like the whirlwind force of nature that she was.
Ty was smiling at the memory when the microwave beeped. As usual, he had overheated the dish-he could barely touch the plastic container. Popping the top released a plume of steam hot enough to take half his face off.
With some finesse, he set the plastic container on the dining table and stirred it with a fork, trying to disperse the heat.
When it was still hot enough to burn his mouth but not enough to matter, he dug in, eating as he always did: quickly.
And as usual, he took out his phone.
No calls or texts from Penny.
Instantly, he regretted looking. He wished he didn’t care. But he did. Particle physics was a lot easier than dating. Science made sense. People didn’t.
He checked his email, half expecting to find follow-up questions from the attendees at his talk. He found none. That was odd.
When the pace of his eating-or rather, shoveling the food in his mouth -forced him to take a breath, Ty ripped open the package he’d found at his door.
It was an alarm clock. A cheap one.
That, he hadn’t expected.
It already had batteries, but the time wasn’t set. It simply blinked 12:00
a.m., which annoyed him enough to set the time: 7:09 p.m.
Maybe it was a gift from his mom or sister? He was always late for things, and they hated that. Maybe this was a reference to that. Or possibly a gag gift from a college friend? A way of saying time was running out? If so, it was sort of lame in his opinion.
He considered calling his family to ask about it, but it was 1:09 in the afternoon in DC, and they would be at work. The clock wasn’t worth interrupting them. He’d call on Saturday.
When the plastic food container was empty, he washed it out in the sink. He realized then just how tired he was. He didn’t know if it was the stress of the presentation or the weeks of long hours building up to it, but all of a sudden, the only thing he wanted to do was lie down.
He typically read a novel before drifting off to sleep, but tonight, even that was too much effort. He slipped off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, not bothering to pull the covers back. He put his wireless headphones in and tapped his phone to start an audiobook.
As he lay there, the story drew him in, deeper and deeper, as if he were falling down a well. He knew he needed to get up and brush his teeth and wash his face. He made a compromise: he’d just brush his teeth. He was too tired for anything else. He’d get up and do that-in a few minutes. Just a few minutes more.
Ty woke to the sound of a long droning.
It came again, a buzzing in his ears.
It was an incoming phone call-ringing in his earbuds.
He turned, but his body responded slowly, as though he had slept on all of his limbs, cutting the circulation off.
It was dark out, and quiet. How long had he been asleep?
Finally, he grabbed the phone. Penny was calling.
At 2:30 a.m.
Something’s wrong-that was his first instinct.
“Hello?” he croaked. “Get out!”
“Ty, get out of the apartment!”
“Stop saying what! Wake up. Get out of there!”
He was moving now, off the bed and into the living room. He pulled the apartment door open and staggered into the hall and onto the stairs that shared a wall with his bedroom.
In his sock feet, he descended the risers two at a time.
“Penny, what are you talking-“
The blast hurled him into the far wall of the landing, so fast he didn’t even have time to brace before everything went dark.