You can’t find your keys in the morning, so your wife drives you to work.
At dinner, it seems, the salt is lacking, but when you attempt to add some more, the shaker is bare.
The only consolation at the end of such a troubling day, of course, is Aurelius, but he too is absent from the shelf.
When you waken in the middle of the night, the bedroom grows long, the blankets constrict the body, stretching over with elastic tension, blood stagnates in the head, and the ears sharpen to the muted creeping of thieves, careful things, biding their time in air vents and drains and the narrow crevices between walls, watching through miniscule peepholes.
Every day you notice something amiss: a sock, the lid of the blackberry jam, the spiral binder of your notebook. All that remains is a new scuff on the floor, and then the next morning the scuff too has vanished.
Things fleeced never return, things that were your life: a living room full of books and machines, kitchen stocked with food and garbage, bedroom decorated with modern art, cage-free eggs, excruciating whitening mouthwash, wedding ring.
Your life an aesthetic list.
You can’t catch them. All the traps you lay—the tripwire, rat catchers, fishhook nets—all triggered and taken. The shadows of subtle pilfering evaporate when you flick on the lights in the middle of the night, the little thieves darting into unseen corners.
Then one night the light doesn’t flick on, the bulb gone, the muted sounds of thievery persisting defiant in the dark.
One day, when your wife doesn’t return from work, you realize the thieves have become so emboldened as to rob you of her warmth.
The place barren now—skeletal frames of furniture and appliances with no content to fill them—life has descended into a new level of emptiness, the pinnacle of enforced austerity. But there is always more that can be taken away.
The next morning you find they have absconded with your doors. When your return from work, the windows are gone. Your house has become a Second Circle wind tunnel, every corner in constant, restless motion.
Then the frames of furniture drift away: the cushionless couch, the chairless table, bed frame, book shelves, carpet, refrigerator: more items struck off the list. Finally, all that is left is you curled into the corner of your bedroom at night, watching the hunched forms of the thieves flit through the shadows.
Bolder and bolder.
The less there is for them to have, the greedier they become.
It is only a matter of time before—a longing throb—you find the nail of your pinky toe missing, plucked neatly from your body.
By parts, they pluck pieces from you: a foot, a forearm, a calf, a bicep… One day you awaken to find a stillness in your body: the beating of your heart silenced. You can only imagine the pit left behind, flanked by slabs of lung.
One by one the organs of your body are ripped from you, cleanly, without any disturbing scar, just the memory scar of that wholesome feeling of filled body space.
By now you can only shamble about, the bits of you that still poke out exploring the parts of you with holes. With the exposed retina of the one remaining eye you piece together that they have stolen the entire left side of your house, parts of the roof, the floor. Beyond that are giant, empty bites out of the earth, the sky, existence.
Worst of all, you realize, staggering on the brink of a void, somehow, throughout it all, they managed to steal your volition and motivation to fight back.
Finally, the pathetic scraps of sleep and solace that had been left you are yanked away: at night all there is to do is watch their slight, bird-clawed shapes lurching through the darkness as they plunder through the pathetic remnants of your ravaged life.
As you stare blankly, they rip the digestive system out of your mouth, the circulatory system out of your chest, skeleton out of the hole in your arm, and then, with their little thief hooks, your entire nervous system out of your nose, brain and all, leaving behind the deflated folds of skin that had once been the mask people had called “you”. Then, of course, that goes too. It all goes, every atom, until you are not really sure what it is the thieves were charitable enough to leave behind.
Nothing, it seems.
The edges of vision.
But then you see it flashing in the corner of your mind, distant and tantalizing.
Your car keys.
Your reach out and grab a hold of them with psychic energy, reel them into your essence, and from there associations begin to branch out: your car and travel coffee mug, your house and fence, your refrigerator and wife, all the books and wood, paint and carpet, paintings and spaces. It all begin to fill back in, and you find that you are not only grasping the keys mentally but are also gripping them physically, can feel the metal biting into your palm. There is more, as well. Carpet fuzz beneath the feet. The sight of the disorganized kitchen counter. The cloying smell of overripe fruit in the fruit bowl. The sound of your wife preparing for work in the bathroom.
Everything seems miraculously as it was before the thieves: so present.
As you drive out in the sunlight, the universe is not full of holes, but you can’t shake the feeling that this dangling keychain, this car, these thick hands, this brain, none of them belong to you.
Tim W. Boiteau’s fiction has appeared in journals such as LampLight, Kasma Magazine, and Write Room. He was a 2012 finalist in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open contest.