On the previous evening, Rachel had been awake for quite a long time. She had stayed up nearly all night working on grading the essays and quizzes her students turned in. She really knew better than to wait until the last minute, but she was the queen of procrastination. It was certain that those online games weren't helping anything either.
Rachel had settled onto the couch with her laptop and the student work, her giant mug of spiked cocoa to her right on an end table, a lemon poppyseed muffin on the cushion to her left; the television was playing her favorite musical--The King and I (with Yul Brinner of course). Rachel wasn't really paying attention to the tv at all, but it helped her stay awake to have noise in the room. Her muffin was too soft and would stick to the roof of her mouth as she ate it, somehow making it more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. The cocoa she'd made for herself was still entirely too hot to drink, so if she wanted to wash down the muffin she would have to move everything off of her lap and fetch something quick from the kitchen.
"Yes, that's what I'll do." Rachel thought to herself. "I'll get up only long enough to get a drink." Rachel had halfway moved her things out of her lap when she remembered the last time she got off the couch. It had taken her two hours to sit down again. There were dished in the kitchen sink that needed washing and laundry that needed folding. The carpet was covered with bits of leaves and mud from the dog trekking in and out of the house all afternoon. Worst of all, there was a thick, heavy layer of dust on the bookshelves. Rachel sighed and settled back down on the couch. "Stupid chores." She muttered to herself, fidgeting with papers again.
Rachel worked in silence for awhile. It was difficult to get through all that work, especially since each essay required comments on the level of craft itself. She had finished with a good handful of papers and felt like she was accomplishing something. She looked at her watch. "Seriously?" Rachel couldn't believe her eyes. "How did it get to be three o'clock?" Heaving a sigh of disgust, she pulled out the fattest essays she could find. There were four of them. Rachel sighed again. It would likely only take her an hour to do three. After that she would go to bed and finish the rest of the work in the morning.
When Rachel woke on the next morning, a bright and shining seven a.m., her eyes had a hard time focusing. It was no wonder really, that she couldn't see. There were four windows in her bedroom: two on the south wall, one on the west, and one in the northwest corner. The fourth window hardly counted because it was only a porthole window, placed high up on the wall. Rachel rubbed her eyes, rolled out of bed and wound her way to the bathroom. She started up the shower faucet and stepped into the tub, letting the steaming hot water pour over her. She must have stood there for nearly half an hour, just letting the water run over her skin. When she realized this, she washed quickly and shut off the water.
After dressing and pouring herself some Reese's Puffs cereal for her breakfast, Rachel nonchalantly scanned the labeling for the nutrition information. She found the appropriate panel, but all the letters looked strange to her. She blinked but nothing changed. Where the letters should have been were unfamiliar characters instead. It wasn't a matter of the letters being scrambled--they were entirely different. They did not look like Chinese or Japanese characters, nor did they look like Arabic ones. Not Egyptian hieroglyphics either. This was so strange. At least the numbers were the same. Rachel found her phone and called her boyfriend, Mark.
"Mark, are you playing tricks on me?"
"What do you mean? What kind of tricks would I be playing?" Mark sounded confused.
"I woke up this morning and my cereal box labeling is written in another language. Did you get a replacement box?" Rachel felt ridiculous having to explain this to Mark over the phone.
"What? Where would I even get a replacement box?"
"Well I dunno."
"Alright then." There was a brief pause over the line. Rachel was chewing on her bottom lip. "Well, there is a way to test it."
"So if it were a replacement box, then the inside plastic packaging shouldn't have been open already. Was the plastic already opened when you poured your cereal?"
"Yes, it was open already. Do you think it is some kind of special promotion? Should we take the box back to the store for its defectiveness?"
Mark chuckled at Rachel's paranoia.
"No, I don't think taking it back to the store would be any help. Look, it wasn't me that replaced the box. Did you check the other boxes? What do they look like?"
"Hang on, I'll look." Rachel pulled the other cereal boxes out of the cabinet. They were all the same with their garbled rubbish language printed on the box. "They're all this way, Mark. What the heck?"
"Look, I swear Rachel, I didn't switch your cereal boxes or anything crazy. Try putting eye drops in, maybe your contacts are dry."
"Alright, I'll try it."
"I have to get back to work now. I'll see you tonight, okay?"
"Okay. Thanks hun. Love you."
"Love you too. Bye."
"Bye." Rachel's farewell was almost a whisper, her voice faltering as if she were about to cry.
Rachel went to the bathroom and switched her contacts to her back up pair, letting her usual ones sit in solution. Her eyes did feel better, but maybe they were still dried out. She put in the eye drops anyway, just to be safe. Rachel returned to the kitchen to put the cereal boxes away and clean up after her breakfast. The boxes still had the same strange text on them. "Weird." The last of the boxes in the cabinet, she went to the living room to resume her grading. Once the papers and all other miscellaneous items were arranged on and around her lap, Rachel picked up one of the six essays left to grade. She was grateful for having so few left to do before her afternoon class. Usually she was more swamped than this. Rachel wrote the student's name on the top of the rubric sheet. "Rick Moore," it read. Perfect English. Rachel let out a sigh of relief. She was glad that Mark's advice had worked--a change of contacts and some eye drops seemed to be the cureall of the day.
Rachel set aside the rubric and held the essay in front of her. If she remembered correctly, the essay was supposed to be on the management of utilities at a local golf course. Rachel thought back to how much research Rick had been doing in class, and she regained her gusto for reading his essay. As she checked the header, the words began to scramble. "Rick Moore" was fine--no changes there. The date was also just fine. Numbers seemed to be unaffected by whatever was going on with her eyes. But isn't that strange? "If something is wrong with my eyes, then I should be having a much harder time reading numbers too, or even seeing at all. Everything should be blurry." Hurriedly glancing through the rest of Rick's essay Rachel found she could not read a word. None of it made sense. She called Mark again.
"Mark, its me again."
"Yes, Rachel. Everything okay?"
"Not really. I started grading again and the essay is in that same crazy language as before on the cereal boxes."
"Maybe you should make an appointment with your optometrist."
"Mark, I changed my contacts to my back ups and I added eye drops too. It doesn't seem to be working." Rachel was starting to panic. She had stood up from the couch and was pacing back and forth in her living room. Her toy poodle was following her.
"Rachel, I know you're freaked out right now, but I really think you need to talk to Dr. Jared. I don't know enough about eyes to tell you what to do now." Mark was getting frustrated. "I know this isn't your fault. Look, the boss is coming, I have to go. Call the doctor!"
Mark hung up. Rachel paced some more, effectively working up a panic. She reached for her favorite book on her bookshelf. The spine had those same funky letters on it. Rachel opened the book. Again, gibberish. She sat it down and opened another one. No luck. Rachel picked up another tome. Still not English. Again and again Rachel pulled books off the shelf, opened them to see their text. Every book she opened she tossed away in anguish and frustration and fright. Rachel went back into the kitchen and pulled down the cereal boxes. There was no change there either. Next came the boxes and bags of pasta and pop-tarts, the cans of vegetables and cake mixes, and spices galore. Rachel threw the bag of sugar and flour over her shoulder as well, sugar flowing down over the pile of groceries like lava, while the flour billowed into the air, covering the whole kitchen (and Rachel) in a layer of volcanic flour. Rachel screamed, stomping her way to the bedroom. Clothes labels, the tag around the sandalwood candle, and the newspaper clippings she'd hung in her room were all in the unknown language.
With a spark of inspiration she went back to the half-gutted bookshelf and found her German copy of Macbeth and opened it. Rachel was half-sad and half-relieved when she realized it was still in German. No funky language there. She checked her Spanish-English pocket dictionary. The Spanish was definitely Spanish. The English was garbled, jumbled, nonsense. Rachel fell to her knees in the scattered books and cried. After a few minutes she took out her contacts and called her doctor.
"Is there any way I could be seen today? It's an emergency." Rachel couldn't keep the hitch out of her voice.
"Yes, two would be fine. Yes. Thank you." Rachel hung up, and dialed the number for the school where she worked.
"Hi, Lauren. Could you help me out? I need someone to cover my class today. They're supposed to be working on gathering materials in the library for their next essay."
"Sure Rachel, no problem. You said class was at two?"
"Yes, just the one session today at two. I owe you one."
"Don't worry about it. Good luck at the doctor."
Rachel put the phone down, stood up, put her glasses on, and gathered her purse and both sets of contacts. She knew she would be early getting to the office, but she figured that would give her some time to be checked in and fill out paperwork. Plus she wasn't sure how difficult it would be to get there without being able to read English. Rachel locked the door behind her, and left.