I am standing in a vast place. That is the only word I can use: place. For how I got here, I do not know. Surely, I could not have walked here all the way from home. Home is where I was merely seconds ago.
The only sign of life is a building bookended by flat, unoccupied land. Dry, dead land. It stands against a blue sky. When I say blue, I do not mean the happy kind. It is dull and foreboding. The building I see is a simple, one-story building. There are few windows. I try with great exertion to peer inside the world contained by the walls, as if waiting for a face to appear and scare me.
An anxious, sickly feeling spreads through me, beginning in my stomach and churning all around my body until it reaches my head. It is as if my body recognizes this pace, but I am somehow disconnected from the know. I can tell that this is not a place I want to go to.
“Hello.” An oddly cheery voice sings off to my right. I turn and cringe slightly at her smile.
I do not reply, but simply scrutinize her. She is wearing a flowing white gown, this kind being the ‘happy’ kind, though it still displeases me somehow. Her hair is a rich brown, natural. Her smile is one that would be contagious if I were the type of person prone to such things. I am not. If one were to look upon my face they would see no residual wrinkles from smiles or laughter, only the indent on my right middle finger from the two contracts I had just signed. And perhaps dark spots beneath my eyes, but I have never been prone to sleep either.
“Are you going to come in?” She remains happy and my irritation only increases. I want to walk away and forget this place and yet I feel that is not possible.
“I am afraid to.” It is not the answer I was expecting to say, but she does not act surprised by my answer.
“Don’t worry, everyone is, but it is never quite as bad as you think it will be.” She holds out her hand to guide me, but I refuse it, uncomfortable. This does not faze her elation either and I get the urge to shake the pleasure right off her perfect face.
We are walking toward the building and the discomfort inside me is only growing. I am trying to ignore it and soothe it to comfort. This does not work, even with her words still ringing in my ears, so I simply think of other things. Surely this is a dream? The air is non-existent. The ground we walk on is solid and meticulously flat. There are cracks running along the ground, creating a pattern, as if placed there with extreme particularity. There is no path to follow and yet the girl walks as squarely as the ground as she leads me to the building.
We enter the building. There are people all around and I am suddenly overcome with deja-vu. The inside of the building is seemingly mundane. The walls are a muted white and the only décor are seats placed along either side of the room. I see no doors other than the one we have entered from. There is only an elevator. The crowd does not relax my unease, but intensifies it with a great flash of heat. My heart beats to a deathly march as I try to ignore what my head is telling me.
To my left some people are pacing back and forth, just as fearful as me. Others are excited like the girl on my right. To my left are also eerie characters with expressions of sin and nonchalance. As if they have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. One man is even surfing through a magazine. However, there are a few, on my left, that are fizzling with bottled fear and anxiety. They sit, then stand, then wipe their brows and glance towards the elevator doors as the next name is called and someone else enters and is enveloped by the doors.
On my right, the scene is more relaxed. They are all seated and chatting as if awaiting a hair appointment. This enrages me for some reason and I can feel red in my expression.
The girl that walked me in speaks, “Come on.” I jumped, forgetting she was still by my side. She grabs for my arm without asking and I do not stop her. Suddenly, I am very aware of my actions as I can feel all eyes on me, even ones I cannot see. And they are not gazing with approval. Those on my left smile up at me and those on my right have sad smiles that fall upon me without judgement.
My name is called out and I snap toward the sound. It is the person at the front desk.
She calls out my name once more as I am frozen to the spot, unable to move.
“Party of one!” she adds onto the end of my name this time. The girl beside me urges me forward with a soft touch.
I am greeted with a smile as I come up to the desk.
“And how are you this evening?” The smile is very large and I wonder how her teeth are not falling out with so much open space. This smile is not like the girl’s beside me, though. It is somewhat smug and unnerving.
“What is this?” I ask, instead of answering her insipid question.
“Are you ready for the elevator?” Her smile is plastered on and I hesitate to answer. I look to the girl, who is still attached to my right. Her eyes hold information and I try to snatch it from them with my own, but she will not release it.
“Are you ready?” the girl copies, her mouth now holding the same sad smile as those on my right.
“Am I ready for what?” Now I am angry. Where in the hell am I? This must be one really fucked up dream. I have no memory of coming here and now I have to converse with a bunch of whack-jobs? Most of my dreams had consisted of sexual urges and winning an award, whether the Oscar or the Nobel it does not matter, for I have had both. I much preferred those to this one. On the other hand, it is so vivid and clear, so unlike the others. I am much more aware.
“It is alright. Just be honest and be genuine. It is your choice, remember that.” The girl speaks, and her eyes are desperately trying to tell me something. Her words are like a fortune cookie, allusive and hold no meaning to me.
She turns her gaze slowly toward the elevator doors as they re-open from their last trip. That was pretty long for an elevator ride…in a one story building, I think.
She releases my arm and I walk, feeling weightless, to the doors and ignore everyone else in the room as their eyes follow my steps. I hold my head slightly lower than usual. When I step over the threshold I see a man. He is dressed normally, but I know he works here too. I was half expecting a red and golden costume, with gloves and a hat. However, the man before me wears khakis and a white button up shirt. I saw him earlier as he ushered in the man before me.
I nod a hello and he does so in return. The doors close and my last sight is the girl in the white dress, waving a cautious goodbye. I don’t even bother raising my own as the man turns towards me and simply asks, “Up or Down?” I give him a quizzical look and stumble for an answer.
“What do you mean Up or Down? There are no floors!” These people are really beginning to get on my nerves. Unfazed, slightly tired actually, he only repeats himself. I search for an answer in his eyes, trying to discover the words he wants to hear in them. Although they seem to hold the world, my voice falls flat, no words to make a sound. My mind is blank.
“I-I don’t know…” I answer, the uneasy feeling grows again and I search for an exit. Then something appears in front of me. I had not noticed when I entered earlier, but there is a screen embedded in the wall. I hear a click as the screen comes to life before my eyes. There is static and gray, then all of sudden, there is me.
Me, in the womb. Then, being born. I see the first time I smile, the first time I cry. The first time I throw my hand at my mom and the first time I fall in love. Moving at unbelievable speed, I am now a teenager and am yelling at my parents. I see my brother, fearful of me. I see my friends following by necessity. I see my boring job and my marriage. I see my divorce and the restraining order. I see sleepless nights and endless fights with the man upstairs. I look over to the man beside me, embarrassed of what this screen is revealing to him. His face is solemn, yet void of any judgement. He seems unsurprised by the indecencies being displayed. I turn my face, covered in a mixture of green and red. Then I see a car, it is fast, and it is not paying attention. Then I see black. That is when I get it.
The screen turns off and I take my time returning to the man in the elevator. My mouth has run dry and I find it difficult to swallow, as my throat is rough and jagged with fear.
The man speaks, “So, Up or Down?” Still he is blank and still I send him a questioning look.
“What do you mean? It’s not my choice. You saw the screen. It has already been decided.”
The man shakes his head and shows the first sign of readable emotion and thought. In fact, a small smile appears and he evens chuckles slightly. The sound is intimidating, sounding strange coming from him, but also oddly comforting. Suddenly he goes in and out of focus. I find myself reevaluating him even more. Is it even ‘a him’? Now it looks like a woman. And is she Latino? No, Asian. Wait, he looks like he is black. I shake my own head feeling as if glasses with another’s prescription have covered my vision. I fight the urge to scream. I have no thoughts, no coherence.
“Stop! Please, just tell me what you want me to say!” I try to gaze up at what is now a white child.
“I cannot tell you what to say. You have free will, child. You can choose.” Just when I feel odd at having a child call me child, she changes again into a middle aged man with an average face and physique. My head is trying to find something it can wrap itself around, something that will make it all make sense.
My head is spinning and I feel like there is no up and down, only falling. Nothing seems normal anymore or natural. I have no sense of my body. Am I tall, short? Male, female? White, black? Young, old? I do not know and somewhere deep inside I know it does not matter.
I cannot even see in front of me anymore. I do not see an elevator, nor a man. I see white and images, reiterating the person I was before this building. I cringe and cry. Still falling, still lost. Everything that had made sense before, now does not. In fact, it all seems stupid and unimportant, yet all so very important.
The falling sensation is enlivening all my senses and I am awaiting the crash, the end. Through the cracks of my now faulty vision I can see the man in front of me is looking down at me with worry and sadness etched upon his brow. I close my eyes, his expression burning me to my very core.
I do not want the end, I think. Then I speak, “I’m sorry. Please…forgive me.” It is barely above a whisper, but somehow I know he hears me.
The falling ceases, but I feel nothing. I am inside my skin again and can muster the strength to open my eyes. My hands fall from my head and they are white and shaking. My eyes are wet and tired. Then, I look into his eyes and feel rested and safe. His expression no longer starts a fire within me, but calms the heat that had been darkening my core. I feel at peace for the first time in my life.
“Let there be no more tears.” He smiles down upon me and I feel myself smile as well. Suddenly more sure.
He speaks once more as he reaches for one of the only two buttons, “Up it is then.”