After his eyes adjusted to the near blackness he managed to find his house shoes. Worn as they were, they still managed to provide some decent level of comfort. He could have resolved the issue of his cold floors by having the house properly insulated, but he never found it easy to part with money, more so when that meant parting with thousands of dollars, and especially when his pair of slippers, worn as they were, cost him a paltry $75 and had so far lasted him four winters.

He made his way to the kitchen, where, the sole embodiment of activity at that early hour (which was what he felt to be the only time he could really think during the day), he perused his usual first-thing-AM haunts. Social media feeds, news sites, all projecting a false sense of warmth into the otherwise dark kitchen. They didn’t offer him too much in the form of entertainment—not anymore—but he nonetheless stuck to them as part of his morning ritual. It helped him, reset.

More of the same political nonsense on Stateside. More of the same political nonsense on Feedlink. Every now and then a gem surfaced in the form of a GIF (which he pronounced “griff” for some reason escaping even him), paired with a quote or snippet of text that, although mismatched, made for an occasional, if shallow, laugh.

What there was to truly laugh about anymore, he could no longer reason.

“Beep, beep, beep,” the stimulat machine called to him from his nearly unbreakable fascination with his Sitescan feed. He may as well have been a disadvantaged sea critter, in a sea of black, staring into the glowing orb of an angler fish, not aware in the least that he was about to be swallowed whole.

“Beep, beep, beep,” the stimulat machine called to him like the chiming of a lighthouse fixed on his position as he, captain of an oil tanker, hopelessly drifted toward the shallow bedrock. He knew it was too late to turn about; that his crew would not survive the frigid sea.

“Beep, beep, beep,” the stimulat machine called one last time, as the final utterance of a long-dead companion, whose final consolation was a fading memory, one that he knew instinctually he needed to hold on to.

Hold on.

Look up. Shut off feed. Pour coffee. Wake the fuck up. A routine that defined him as much as it did his morning.

It was his program. And he had work to do.

Keith Hamilton