The voice reached Justin through his sleep, but it wasn’t a normal voiceit was a voice in his head.
"Wake up," it said again.
It wasn’t like talking to himself; it wasn’t his own voice he heard. It sounded deep and slightly distortedlike on television when they’re trying to disguise the person and they’ve blacked out the face and digitally modified the voice. But it was also strangely familiar. It was like when you’re having a dream and you suddenly realize you’ve had this dream before, though you never actually recalled it while you were awake.
"Wake up, Justin" the voice commanded.
Justin opened his eyes.
He half expected to wake up in some strange, unfamiliar place, but there was his room, looking just like it always looked. Clothes were scattered so thick over the floor, you could barely see the carpet, and there were old glasses and plates on almost every surface. There was a time when his mother had insisted he keep his room clean, but that hadn’t been the case for almost a year. Since his brother died, his mother didn’t seem to care how messy his room got.
"What are you doing now?" the voice said in his head.
When Justin answered, he didn’t actually speak. He didn’t need to. The voice was inside his head, so he just thought his responses.
"Just lying here," he said/thought. "The alarm hasn’t gone off yet."
At that moment the alarm went off, and he reached out and slapped the snooze button.
"It’s just gone off," he amended.
"Then get up," the voice told him.
Justin didn’t want to get up. He just wanted to lie there, not thinking about anything.
"Get up," the voice commanded.
He sat up on the edge of the bed. "Okay. I’m up. What am I supposed to do now?" he asked.
"You tell me," the voice said.
So Justin did what he usually did. He got out of bed, picked a pair of jeans up off the floor, and put them on. Then he picked up a shirt. He was about to put it on, then he hesitated and gave an experimental sniff under the arm. He made a face and threw it away. Picking up another, he sniffed that, frowned, sniffed again, then shrugged and put it on.
Justin performed some version of the same ritual every morning, but today it felt different. It felt like he was going through the motionsand at the same time, he kept a kind of running commentary going in his head: "Now I’m putting on my pants. Now I’m finding a shirt. Now I’m going into the bathroom."
When he got into the bathroom, he switched on the light and stood there a moment in front of the sink, staring at himself in the mirror. He did this every morning because his face in the mirror was always a surprisenot because it looked different, but because it looked the same. He kept expecting that if you felt so different on the inside, it should eventually have some effectcause some sort of changeon the outside. But it was always just the same stupid face.
He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and splashed some water over his hair, smoothing it down with his hands. Then he pulled open the medicine cabinet and retrieved a bottle of vitamins from the shelf. Turning on the tap again, he filled the glass he kept by the sink. He shook a vitamin from the bottle out onto his palm, looked down at it a moment, then tossed it in his mouth and drank the glass of water.
"So you take your vitamins?" the voice asked him.
"No," Justin said. "It’s practice."
Still looking at himself in the mirror, Justin opened his mouth wide, like the patients in mental hospitals when they get checked to see if they’ve swallowed their pills. Then he closed his mouth, stared at himself in the mirror, and spit the pill out. It bounced off the mirror and fell into the sink.
"Nice trick," the voice said. "When do you use that?"
"You’ll see," Justin said.