A Hard Day's Night
Ann Arbor, Michigan; Maureen is riding her bike home after a long, very long day at the office.
It was a good thing she took this same route home every night, she thought to herself. She was so zonked out by now, that it was only habit that kept her on the road.
It had been a long, miserable day. No, make that a long, miserable week. Actually, it had been a long, miserable month, and Maureen was sick and tired of the whole thing. She was particularly sick and tired of the Halloween concert. She shuddered at the thought of the "dreaded H word."
It wasn't bad enough that the theater she worked for had two shows opening in October within a week of each other. That was enough right there to keep her box office hopping. But then, on October 2nd, the order forms for the Halloween concert starting pouring in through the mail. It was a trickle, the first day. The deluge came on the second day, and it didn't let up for three weeks. Trying to keep up with the workload, Maureen had come in at dawn and left long after dark for the past three weeks. "Sleep? What's sleep?" was her motto every October.
Four days ago, she finally caught up with all the paperwork. She had gone home at a decent time, for a change, had a good night's sleep. She spent the next couple of days catching up with real life. She didn't get much sleep, though--stayed up late for a party one night, very late the next night to watch Forever Knight--but it didn't really matter. The day after that, she had planned nothing but sleep, sleep, sleep. Then, late in the afternoon, she'd get up and go to the concert.
Her phone rang that morning. She had fallen asleep on her sofa, as usual on Saturday nights when she stayed up to watch FK at 1 a.m. She nodded good morning to the life-size cutout of Ger as Pericles that stood behind her sofa. It was a leftover from a MediaWest party, and it hadn't seemed right to stick it in a closet. The living room seemed as good a place as any for it to be. She just hoped her fellow Mercs and Cousins wouldn't find out she talked to it, or she'd be drummed out of the corps.
You know that awful feeling you get sometimes before you pick up the phone, when you just know that it's going to be terrible, awful news? Well, Maureen didn't get one of those, but the news was still awful.
The concerts had been rescheduled.
It seemed all the conductors had been at a conductors conference in Utah, and an early blizzard was keeping them from coming home in time to conduct tonight's Halloween concerts. The auditorium was booked solid for the next month, except for this Wednesday. Of course, there was no way to inform the audience until they showed up for the 5 and 8:30 concerts. In costume. With their kiddies. Fortunately, there was no need to re-ticket the shows (Maureen shuddered at the thought). However, there'd probably be people who couldn't come on Wednesday (especially at 5), or who would be angry, just on principle, and demand a refund. Could Maureen come in and handle the box office.
So, here she was, several long hours later, riding her bike home late at night, zonked, exhausted, sleepless, and just too out of it to notice anything. She made it home, somehow, trudged upstairs, and collapsed on the sofa.
She woke up a few (too few!) hours later, grunted good morning to Ger--she stopped, and did a double take. That wasn't Ger. It was dressed the same, the pose was the same, but the face wasn't Ger's. She rubbed her eyes, forcing herself to wake up. She looked again, and froze. It still wasn't Ger. The Roman tunic that ended above the knee was still there, but those were not Ger's knees. The helmet was still held in the right hand, but that was not Ger's hand. The hair, still tightly curled, was dark, not blond. The innocent, yet heroic, half-smile had been replaced by--Maureen shuddered at the sight (she was getting to be awfully good at shuddering). It was the most horrible, awful, terrible thing she'd ever seen. [No, Maureen, it wasn't Paul].
It was Al Bundy, as Pericles.
After a few moments, she was able to force herself to move away that thing.She staggered to the kitchen. She needed reinforcements, and the tub of Ben and Jerry's that she kept stashed in the back of the freezer for emergencies was just what she needed. If this wasn't an emergency, she couldn't imagine what was.
Another shock. [Author's note: no, the Ben and Jerry's hasn't been tampered with; I'm not that evil-minded]
It was her refrigerator door. In her mind, she could see how it had looked that morning. The downloaded photos of David Duchovny, the small one of Gillian, the really nice one of Paul Gross.
Now, the photos looked the same. But the faces were different. Al Bundy. Again. Everywhere. The Vanity Fair replacement photo was particularly hideous. She'd never be able to see Ralph Feinnes again without feeling a bit queasy.
She recoiled from the sight, but the thought of the Ben and Jerry's inside forced her nearer. She closed her eyes, and, with shaking hands, rummaged through the freezer and found what she was looking for. It was a bit harder to find a spoon in the drawer with her eyes closed, but she was determined not to look at her refrigerator door. She must've been really sleep-deprived to be imagining such horrible things, and she knew that a good session of Ben and Jerry's would clear her mind.
Still keeping her eyes closed, she staggered to her bed and settled in. As she opened the ice cream tub, she had a horrible thought, so she looked under the lid very carefully. Whew! At least that was safe. She took a spoonful of the ambrosia, and froze. Again.
She had just looked at the pictures on her wall.
On both sides of the bed, lining the walls, was picture after picture of < gasp > Al Bundy. All her lovingly framed stills had been replaced by almost-identical ones; Al Bundy as Agent Mulder, sneering at the scene of the crime; Al Bundy as Fraser, sneering in a red Mountie uniform; Al Bundy as Nigel Bennett, "To Maureen the Mad, Mercenarily Yours"; Al Bundy as Diefenbaker, sneering at a fire hydrant; Al Bundy as the complete cast of Forever Knight (it was months before Maureen could erase from her mind the image of Al Bundy in Janette's dress). You get the picture.
Maureen dove under the covers and hid there, trembling, mechanically eating ice cream, making little whimpering noises.
She must've fallen asleep at some point--after finishing the whole tub of Ben and Jerry's. It was daylight when she woke up. Carefully, she peeked over the covers at her bedroom walls and dove under again. Everything looked normal. She peeked again to make sure. Yep. Normal.
No Al Bundy.
She checked the kitchen. Paul Gross' face beamed at her from the downloaded photo taped to the refrigerator door. All was fine in the kitchen.
With trepidation, she tiptoed into the living room and looked behind her sofa. It was Ger. Yes. It was Ger.
The nightmare was over.
Maureen was too shaken up by the experience to go to work that day (the next couple of days, actually), and she called in sick. As she dialed the phone, she fingered the pink Chuck-E-Cheese tokens on her telephone table, and wondered where they had come from. She had never been to Chuck-E-Cheese.
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