Bed Move – New Fiction by Liam Keller

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Short Fiction

There had been a rumour that Roan’s bed moved in the night. That was all. Roan went to sleep to one side of his unclean and sort of dark and generally disagreeable bedroom and woke up on the other. Like, it was unmistakable. His bed had moved at least eight or ten feet to where it blocked his door, as if he’d barricaded himself in, and his nose was practically jammed up against the brass knob when his eyelids shot open that a.m. and it was just unmistakable. Roommates heard not a thing. That was all at first.

But Roan is a truthful person to a depressing fault, you should know. Roan does not know how to invent whatsoever. I think if he tried, the effort would be transparent. But he’d never try. It’s unthinkable Roan could render that story, painting so earnestly, just, the abject horror of waking with his bed to the wrong unpleasant side of his sort of dim room and his nose being jammed up to brass, the smell of brass utterly suffusing his nostrils first thing as his eyelids flashed open and registered the wrongness of his entire situation. For Roan to produce such a yarn would be more off in its own right than any nighttime bed-moving could be. So I heard Roan himself vouch for the rumour, and that was all for me. His word is golden. Besides, he was only the first.

Hallewell Academy is many great slabs of dreary stone. It is coated in ivy like rivulets defacing a huge plate of melting ice. The silver maples that line Hallewell’s imposing, north-facing front gates have a tendency to whisper at you from overhead in the fall and there is a sense of something namelessly old, and unfriendly, and possibly dangerous that hangs about the place and its narrow halls. The ceilings are too low. There is a sense of something clinging to your back as you walk. It rains or snows perpetually, like the sky is spitting on you for being here, and yet something abstract holds you in place, and the grounds have a harsh, uncommon beauty to them.

This is an academy where we ski. There are the alpine skiers and the Nordic skiers, very different camps forced into close proximity. Roan is a Nord. There is academics, too, of course, interspersed between athletics. I am also a Nord, but I was an Alp before and I don’t think that’s been received well. Switching sides isn’t outright unheard of, but it’s very uncommon. Mostly it’s not a logical thing to do. It’s sort of an apparent step backwards, any way you cut it. If you want to know, I just found I liked the flats. I just developed a dramatic fear of falling down on an incline. Cold sweat kind of fear. I became emotionally affected by an incident involving my ski boot and a shoe horn decorated to resemble a mallard.

It just got old sitting on the chairlift up Collingwood Mountain so many times each week and staring at, two thirds of the way up, the same rusty disfigured cedar tree I’d picked out to stare at, as a progress marker or something, and eventually I started dreaming about the cedar, hand to God. But then the flats are really hellishly boring and I’m getting sick of them too. I’m definitely not fond of things moving inexplicably. I guess I’ll drop out of Hallewell before long.

The second incident was more dramatic. It eclipsed Roan’s bed-moving. It had to do with what they call the Top Shack, on Collingwood Mountain. The Top Shack is a sort of mildewy wooden structure next to the clearing on top of Collingwood where the main lift deposits skiers. Unpleasant things are known to be done there, on nights off between Alps, events that cause the Faculty to purse its lips and disapprove without addressing anything too directly. I didn’t spend much time in the Top Shack but I was fond of it on a philosophical level: because it was pretty unhinged, and lawless.

On February 14, Valentine’s Day, last week, the Top Shack lost its floor. The event was unsettling and not at all romantic since it made the little space unlivable, practically. Now clothes would need to be layered on rather than stripped off. The nasty cold frost-coated ground being right there, within immediate sight and reach and all.

I suppose the floor wasn’t lost so much as it was taken. That was a theory that caught on anyway. But actually no one could say where the floor went―when Jonathan Lockhart and Ben Almoznino were deposited first by the chairlift on the 14th and wandered into the Top Shack probably to share a joint before plunging down the mountain, the floor was absent. Gone without a trace.

In the next few days the questions being asked were, to my mind, not very interesting. People were concerned about the logistics of the stunt, as to how students could have pulled off something like that. I’ll admit it was unclear. Just the previous afternoon there had been people inside the Top Shack, people who confirmed vehemently and independently the presence of a floor. But what I wondered at was the motivation.

The Faculty was all giddy over it: they declared the building’s structural integrity had been compromised and cordoned it off by noon. It was a Saturday, meaning it had been a Friday yesterday, presumably when the floor vanished, and also the 13th day of the month. Which really gave people the willies. 

I was talking with Mallory Goff last Tuesday. The two of us made up one of three groups remaining in the caf this late past one in the afternoon, the caf which was filled with dull wintry light that had arranged itself in oblong patterns across linoleum. Mallory is an Alp. “What will I talk to Mirrie about?” she pleaded with me, as if I were forcing her to interact with Mirrie. She made a gross face. “Pop culture?” The words practically dropped from her mouth to the floor like stones.

“Mirrie has the face of a stork,” I said, meanly. I have to be mean around Mallory Goff or she won’t take me seriously. I’m very conscious of these things. As it stands I am very mean and she takes me perhaps more seriously than anyone else.

Mallory giggled. She said, “Mirrie knows forty-seven words and has run out of possible arrangements for them. I heard her repeat the same sentence four times yesterday.”

I considered this seriously. I thought of which forty-seven words I might choose in the same case. The idea struck me as really alien.

“If you only knew forty-seven words, which would you choose?” 

Mallory scoffed. The question didn’t seem to interest her at all. “I wonder,” she said. She sort of picked at the remains of her Greek salad. I mused on the consequences of choosing just four-syllable words, for instance, and the silence stretched out and started to get boring. 

Eventually she asked, almost offhand, “So what’s with the lower gym equipment?”

I didn’t know what she meant. My not knowing seemed to trigger something in Mallory: the shift was immediate. Her eyes widened and became celestial. There was a new tension between us, all at once, and I couldn’t tell what had produced it.

“You haven’t heard?” 

I shrugged.

“The lower gym equipment.” Her eyelids lowered now to frame something like malice playing beneath them, but something innocent too, a medley of things in the careless blue eyes that Mallory Goff possessed effortlessly. “The treadmills and everything, not just the weights, it’s all in Boucher’s classroom. Like, stacked there. All of it. Someone moved everything up to Boucher’s classroom on the third floor. It must have taken hours. For no reason.”

And I felt, very slightly, like shy hands in a classroom, the hairs on my arms rising.

I confirmed it later. Boucher, who taught French, had entered his classroom earlier that day to find the small world he presided over and controlled for so many of his daylight hours, upended. Formerly tidy rows of desks had been displaced and in their wake was equipment from the lower gym. The rowers and kettlebells and racks and cages, et cetera, the weight plates, everything, had been arranged into an utterly neat and interlocking spectacle that maximized use of space and demonstrated, it was theorized, something obscure. It couldn’t quite be said what was being demonstrated, actually. But the event went beyond pure chaos. There was something being proclaimed here.

The equipment arranged so delicately, balanced so deftly, nothing so much as scratched, the precision and utility of the act―it took hours to disassemble; how many to put together?―like a complex puzzle that had been expertly made up. The whole arrangement of it formed an almost perfect cube, I heard. Surely what Mallory had said was inaccurate. It was typical of her to think as much. But this wasn’t done for no reason.

The desks are gone. Yet to be found.

It was the next day that Hallewell was stormed on and I got caught in the snow walking home with Marlon Nabi from dryland training in the lower gym, which by then had regained most of its equipment. The flakes were so fat and fell so heavily that I was sure they’d overwhelmed me a little. I was no longer working through them; they worked through me. The snow was not an obstacle through which I had to make my way home. I was an obstacle to be struck down by the snow in its unvarying drive to the earth. 

Marlon and I pushed ahead in silence, our labour focused and grim. I remember lifting my eyes briefly at front campus, glimpsing neo-gothic hints of the Hadfield building ahead, all frigid towers and its huge clock like an eye, its arches like raised eyebrows conveying judgement. I remember thinking how truly beautiful the fog of snow was. The silence it had bestowed.

And when I arrived to my dorm, wet and sullen, I found the first note. Slipped under my door. Without a name, paper with only three words scrawled childishly on it:

You’re like me.

This morning I am speaking with Marlon Nabi in the back of Calc I. We’re suppose to be learning to integrate but I’ve already written that off. I’ve asked every person I know over the age of thirty when he or she last integrated something manually, by hand, and not one of them could give me a date. 

Marlon is back on about the lower gym equipment. The Faculty, tight-lipped as of yet, will finally face these strange happenings head-on: there will be an official address next period in the auditorium. Something has to be said. But I already know the line they’ll take: students are to blame. What else could they say? I hear Marlon mention something about Who do I think is behind it, just now. I grab him physically by the shoulders and shake him, and say, too loudly, “It’s not some prank. It’s more than that!”

I really believe that. Marlon is shocked for a moment, but then he breaks into a grin and takes it as a bit of theatrical hyperbole. He takes it as a joke. My being grandiose for his benefit. Parsons, our teacher, from the front, basically tells me to irreversibly sew my lips shut.

This is when things really start to fall apart.

After class we glide down long busy hallways to the auditorium and I watch my feet landing one at a time, again and again, on dull, speckled vinyl flooring designed for thousands of feet to trample it every day. I’ve decided after some thought to stay quiet about last night’s note, slipped under my door. I’d woken uneasily this morning, thrown on a black Cranberries t-shirt and jeans, slipped into the bathroom I share with three others. There I’d splashed water on and regarded my face in the mirror. A bit red-eyed. But at breakfast no one seemed to notice. I couldn’t bear to bring up the note, for whatever reason. 

As we walk the halls now as a class, I think of it again. You’re like me.

Then I am seated. The auditorium is large and cool and fills impassively, as with a tipped hourglass being fed sand. Students chatter in groups as they drift by. Nabi is to my left; to my right was an empty seat until just two moments ago when Mallory Goff spotted me and wound her way here to fill it. She’s chewing spearmint gum. “Zombie” has been going in my head all morning because of this tee that I’m by now wearing under my collared white shirt, covertly, because we can’t wear tees during school hours, we must all wear the same clothing, and I’m beginning to sweat a little, almost imperceptibly.

Then someone is addressing us, all 300 of us or nearly. It’s Larsen, an actual Norwegian who is hilariously (people agree) an Alp and not a Nord, and who is also vice president at Hallewell. Larsen is saying something but I can barely understand it. I have the strangest sense of lying underwater, in a shallow kind of pool and looking up toward the sun, someone standing before it, blocking it slightly and looking back down at me. A couple bubbles escape my mouth and fly zanily to the surface. I smell spearmint. 

And then we are in Philosophy. An elective I took instead of something comparably generic. Benhabib is up front and facing us and is leaned back against her desk, providing a pretty casual air, but ultimately she retains the simple authority lent by a height advantage, her being upright and the rest of us seated in tidy rows facing her and looking, for the most part, up.

“Nietzsche used the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus to represent two halves of human nature. Anyone know what those halves might be?”

Benhabib points one lethargic digit in the direction of Tremblay, who blinks. He barely hesitates. He says, “Good and bad.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Like, innocence and evil.”

Benhabib wears what appears to be not one, but two cardigans, the one over the other, and is visibly perspiring. She says, straightening slightly, “Not really. Apollo represents rational thought. Lawfulness and order. Dionysus here is frenzy and ecstasy. An inability or an unwillingness to categorize and structure things. Sculpture is Apollonian. Music is Dionysian. Make sense, Tremblay?”

Tremblay gives an exaggerated shrug. He laughs a little under her continued gaze. “I guess.”

“I think we can all picture these personality types. But Nietzsche would argue that Apollo and Dionysus exist, both of them I mean, in each of us, and that both are necessary. Why do you think that is?”

There’s a drawn out silence and Benhabib says something like: Anyone?

Benhabib’s apparently voluntary decision to dress herself in multiple cardigans is baffling and climatically inappropriate. No one else seems to have noticed. She is looking right at me now; she says my name and I keep my composure. Although, I’m jiggling one leg and it’s causing my desk to vibrate―nervous habit. “What about you?” she says. “What do you think?”

I feel, very suddenly, a revulsion for my surroundings. Everything about the setting is all at once abhorrent to me; the order in every dimension. Us, an even twenty students, uniformed and hair combed, arranged so meticulously in four rows of five and Benhabib, perched on her desk now and facing us down with such flawless symmetry. That’s it maybe, the symmetry of the scene. I almost can’t take it. I want to pick the class up in its entirety and shake it, I want us to fly from wall to wall and sob and kick chairs aside and flip tables and kill that pulselessness. Manically, violently untuck our shirts. I want to smile like a shark.

The words seem to arrive fully formed. I don’t even have to create them; I’m not even sure of the question. What I say has always been there. It’s been waiting to propel itself from me.

I say: “Order is the opposite of humanity. Authority is against our nature. It murders anything human. It flays us and coats us in rubber. It makes me sick. It’s worse than evil. Evil is a facet of humanity. Would you choose to be evil, or inhuman?” People are looking, mildly interested. The tone of my voice, the word sick. I say: “I would rather be evil.” 

At the back of the class, somebody giggles.

Later, I swallow cold water in huge gulps. I can’t recall the last time I had water; I just forget. I’m feeling very weird. I’m so horribly thirsty. I’m leaned against the raised wall panels of Gersham Residence’s west wing hallway, which are of oak and are stained dark old, wealthy shades. I can hear the polished and echoing click of someone’s shoes very far down the hall, but I can’t see anyone else. It’s curiously empty here. I’ve never seen it so empty.

There’s something I need to do. But I don’t know what.

I wake up the next morning on my hardwood floor and still in my jeans, with muddy boots by my bedroom door, under which the second note has been slipped. I’m wearing a Sonic Youth t-shirt. I sit up groggily and grind the palms of my hands into my eyes and retrieve the note. It’s a bare minimum thing once more: no address, no greeting, only a few words scrawled on a lined sheet of paper. The thing is folded in half diagonally. It’s very eerie, actually, that fold, because no one folds paper that way. I read:


As I fold the note back along its diagonal and stand, finally, I notice I am no longer myself. I am slightly removed from myself. Do you know the feeling of being beside yourself? That’s where I am, a little to the side, still tethered to my physical self in a funny way but no longer in total control of him. I’m sort of just a viewer. And it isn’t funny, really, it’s a little horrifying, because I know there will be repercussions for the actions of my body, surely there will be, but I no longer have any control over it.

I can hear excitement outside my door. Running, raised voices. Heavy steps flowing down my unit’s hallway, all in one direction, mad, weird scuffling. I hear someone yell in a tone I’ve never heard, something almost like joy and terror together, from someone still deciding which to choose, then they’ve run past my door too and their voice is lost. It sounds like bulls going by. A big herd.

I burst through my door―I see myself do it, from the side―and grab Roan by the shoulders, arrest his intense motion.

“Man, what is it?” I practically scream at him. Something is making me exceptionally nervous.

Roan is wild-eyed like I’ve never seen him. “Hadfield,” he says to me, and I know he’s incapable of lying, “it’s turned around!”

“What? Turned around?”

“You just― just come see it!”

I try to respond but then Roan has wriggled free and resumed his sprint, and there are others flying past me too, fully running.

I follow the crowd down this hallway, and then down two flights of stairs. I follow it through the reception of my residence, where the receptionist is absent although she’s never absent, and I feel the excitement of the others rushing past me and carrying me forward in huge waves, building my own anxiety until I think I might just disappear.

I am outside now. It’s late February and bitingly cold. I have no coat on, but nobody seems to. It’s as if everyone dropped what they were doing and ran at first word of this. But the cold isn’t important. My boots leave dirty imprints in the white below them. 

Now down Moore Street and then onto College, and through Orleigh Park onto Back Campus, which looks ugly in this light, ravaged by three-hundred crisscrossing sets of tracks. Snow churned up. When I reach it Front Campus is worse. It looks like it’s been dug up. In fact, the snow is barely there, replaced by slushy mud, one grotesque brown pool. But that’s not what draws the eye.

It seems every student at Hallewell is here, standing in a loose ring around Front Campus, humming and arranging ourselves in mismatched, shambly groups. A few of us stand alone―I do. And in front of us is Hadfield building, only it’s facing the wrong way. Everything about it is normal, but it’s been turned 180 degrees. It’s exactly like Roan said. I can’t explain it.

It’s odd, as I stare, it’s like Hadfield is gazing back at me. 

There aren’t only students here; everyone is here. Teachers, custodians. The huge building’s arches of time-darkened stone are somehow more pointed now and somehow meaner than they ever were. I drop my eyes and gaze down to my boots, which are still caked with mud. Old mud, dried mud. From where?

There is someone beside me: Mallory Goff. She’s saying something to me. I make a concerted effort to hear her.

“What’s with your face?” is what she’s saying.

“My face?” 

She gives me the strangest look and turns her eyes up to Hadfield. She seems subdued, timid, for once.

I press my hands to my face and feel it, and I can tell suddenly that I am smiling. Not only smiling: I’m grinning. My face is ecstatic, I can feel it, my cheeks taut, every tooth displayed. Utterly beaming. My eyes are dancing, I know it, they’re bathed in joy.

From beside me someone says, “Why would they do this? What’s the point?” and I’m laughing all at once and I say, “Why wouldn’t they do this?” I’m receiving some funny looks. But mostly everyone is riveted to the building, which looks so weird in this position.

Someone screeches, “They’ll have to re-landscape!”

“How will we get inside now?”

This is like a seam in reality come undone. Hundreds of cheeks are pink from the wind. Mine too. But I’m no longer looking at the Hadfield like the others. I’m looking past it and to the sky and something serene is happening to me.

It’s just the sky is blue like I’ve never seen, and it’s crisp, like a sheet that’s been plucked from the line and spread deftly and tucked so evenly and severely, and I feel myself being dissolved into it. Like sugar into coffee. The chattering and hushed voices around me fall back like I’m on a conveyor sliding away from it all. I have a feeling like spring as I breath in and fill my lungs to their maximum and I almost can’t bear it. The cold is utterly absent. I feel, suddenly, the infinity of this single moment.

There’s so much time, still so much time, and so much potential. For once I understand this is only the beginning. And I almost go to pieces, with the ecstasy of it all. Just something about it.

Liam Keller is a technical writer living in Toronto, Canada. His creative fiction has been published in Sunspot and Meet Me @ 19th Street literary journals.