This is part of a short story I started last summer as a way of expressing what my divorce has felt like. It's part 1 of ? and I'm not sure when I will write or post part 2. I figured the best motivation to write it would be to go ahead and post this one.
Part 1: Who Are You Anyway?
I awoke to the sound of a steel gate sliding open with no regard for the sleeping. Eyes stretched open in early morning confusion, and I found myself somewhere unfamiliar. Concrete walls around me, and a hard cot beneath my back. Sat up to see bars on a window and a small aluminum toilet in the corner of this small cell. A man in a uniform stood at the entrance he’d just opened, staring at me with a grin. He wasn't much taller than myself, but seemed a lot more solid than I am. Shoulders a little more broad. “It’s your lucky day, son” he said with a hint of sincerity.
How did I get here?
I stood up, trying to gain some composure. Trying to remember where I was, why I was there.
Have I been here long?
Outside the cell was another uniformed guard. His grin a bit more genuine and his eyes seemed slightly glossed over. He was taller than the other guard; face had more of a round shape too. Not quite as fit, but still not someone I’d challenge to a fight unless I absolutely had to, and yet, there was something jolly and disarming about him. I felt a little more at ease, but no less confused.
What is going on?
I followed them down a long corridor, cells with other men sleeping on hard cots on both sides of the path. All of them still sleeping. All of them motionless except for the occasional rise in their chests as they pulled air into their lungs in long, deep breaths.
“Wher – Where are we… going?” I finally managed to choke out of a dry throat that felt like it hadn't been used in years. “You’re no longer welcome here, so we’re taking you out,” chuckled the first guard. Trying to remain calm, I turned to look at him when the second guard chimed in, “He’s fucking with you, son. You’re being set free today.”
Being set free from what? From where? To where?
I must have been silent for too long, because the second guard spoke again. “You've been here for 8 years, son. No, you aren't crazy. Well, you may be, but not about this. Today you are finally being set free.”
“Why am I here and how… did I end up here?” I said swallowing hard. The confusion was only worsening as I was becoming more alert. He gave me a sympathetic smile. “You put yourself here. Everyone here comes here by choice. None of them really know where this place is, or what it is that they are putting themselves through, but they all do it. You too. Marcus and I have been your guards since the day you arrived. My name is Sean.”
I looked around at Marcus and then the other prisoners we were passing. All of them were out cold, unfazed by the sound of our loud footsteps and voices echoing throughout the concrete chambers around us. Not even a twitch.
I nodded toward one of the cells, “When will… they be free?” “They won’t,” boomed Marcus, “Most don’t ever see freedom again. Honestly, we didn't think you’d ever see it again.” “Don’t say ‘we,’ Marcus!” Sean gleefully interrupted, “I believe I bet you $50 that he would make it out of here before year 10.” “Yeah, yeah, try not to get too wet over there. It’s just one $50 bet, not like you won the lottery or anything.”
We reached the end of the corridor, and Marcus started working on the series of locks that were keeping us inside. I turned to Sean and he had the look of a man that knew exactly what I was thinking, as if he’d gone through this a thousand times before. “They’re to keep people out, not to keep you in. When people come here, it is to get away from the rest of the world. Our job is to make sure they stay out and do not disturb you while you are here.” He sighed and continued, “Most people never see the outside world again once they enter here. They stay here, believing they are happier than they could possibly be out there, not even realizing they are not out there…” He trailed off, staring at something far beyond the floor his eyes had turned to. “Your agent will explain everything when you get outside.”
Marcus finished opening the last lock, and we walked into the brightest goddamn room I had ever seen. Solid white marble from floor to ceiling, except for one window on the opposing wall from where we stood, that seemed to have the sun blaring directly through it, illuminating the place like a tanning bed. The only hint of a shadow in the place was being made by the tall man standing in the middle of the room with a smile that reeked of salesman. He was well dressed, thin, and had his hand motioning for us to come forward.
“Go ahead,” nudged Sean, “he isn't going to bite you.”
I walked forward and the slim man reached out to shake my hand. As I took his hand, he smiled and showed teeth as bright and white as the room we were in. This man has teeth like God’s shoeshine. That song will never sound the same again. That is a real song, right? What if everything I thought, every song I loved, every movie I ever saw… No, they’re real, they have to be real. This man must be my agent. I have to know. I reached out to shake his hand and smiled as I said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m –“ “Jordan Reeves. I’m well aware of who you are-," he gleefully interrupted. Jordan Reeves. My name is Jordan Reeves. I remember that. "and everything about you. I’m your agent, Mr. Godbee. Barry Godbee. You can call me Barry,” he said with much enthusiasm. Much more than felt necessary. I was nobody, and he sounded like a fanboy talking to the cast of Firefly. I hope I didn't dream up that show... or do I? Is it stealing if I steal something from someone in a dream? Focus, Jordan. Focus. Figure out where you are and what is going on right now.
“Okay… Barry. Why don’t I remember… coming here? Where exactly is here, and… why have I never heard of a place like this? It clearly… isn't a mental institution, or at least not like any I have ever seen. Why… am I suddenly being set free today?” I felt myself getting worked up and my throat was feeling worse, so I cut myself off, hoping he’d answer at least one of my questions. Explain some things to me. Anything.
His enthusiastic smile changed from fanboy smile to the small smile a doctor gives a patient before informing them that they have cancer. My heart sank, hands started to tingle, and my already dry throat became a barren desert. “Let’s go for a ride, Mr. Reeves. We have much to talk about.” Agent Godbee placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me toward a door in the corner that I hadn't noticed before. It was nearly invisible in this bizarrely sterile white room.
What the fuck is going on?
As Agent Godbee opened the door, I turned back to Sean and Marcus, and they were both smiling. Sean gave a nod and half yelled across the large room, “Don’t worry, Jordan, everything is going to be better than you ever thought possible.” “Go on, you lucky bastard,” Marcus said with a dismissive wave and friendly laugh. I turned back to Agent Godbee to see him holding the door waiting for me to enter… or was it an exit? I stepped toward it and looked back at the guards again, wondering why they could not accompany us. Marcus was shaking his head and pulling a wallet from his front pocket.
The door took us into a hallway with lights that came on as we walked, but I could see no censors anywhere. There were no doors, and it was barely wide enough for the two of us to walk side by side. Sharp turns at random distances made the place feel like a maze. Agent Godbee was walking next to me, humming a tune I recognized but could not quite place.
I know this song. Ugh! It’s right there, on the tip of my tongue. We turned another corner in the hallway. Fuck! What is that song?
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Mr. Reeves! You must be dying for something to drink, and I have not offered you a thing. Would you like some water, or some juice? Anything?” As thirsty as I was, I had been so distracted by the confusion of everything that I had not thought to ask for anything to drink. “Yes, please. Anything will do.”
We stopped in front of the only door I’d seen since entering this hallway, and Agent Godbee removed a key from his front shirt pocket. When the door opened, there was nothing in it but a vending machine. Not any vending machine I had ever seen before, either. It was covered completely with buttons, each with an image representing a flavor drink or food. He stepped aside and motioned for me to make a selection. There was no place to insert money anywhere among the wall of buttons before me. I pressed the one that had an image of a mango on a soda can and the one that looked like a bottle of water. A can of mango nectar and a bottle of water fell into the slot at the bottom. I removed them and immediately opened and chugged the can of mango juice.
I have never tasted anything so delicious.
I finished the juice, and stood there breathing heavily and sighing with relief at how amazing the juice tasted and felt on my parched throat. Agent Godbee pointed to a slot on the lower right of the machine. I placed the can in the slot, and heard it sucked into oblivion.
“Thank you,” I said as I opened the bottle of water and took a sip, “I hadn't realized just how thirsty I was. It feels like I haven’t had anything to drink or eat in years.” You haven’t,” he said so matter-of-factly that I wasn't sure how to respond.
Haven’t? Haven’t? How have I not had anything to eat or drink in years? Didn't I have pizza just last night with my wife? Oh, god! My wife! My son! Do they know I’m here?!
“Barry, where are my wife and son?” I tried to sound as calm as possible. “Do they know that I am here? Are they okay?” He placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry, Jordan. Charlotte and Xavier are fine. Everyone is fine. I will explain everything on our ride to your new life.”
That’s a relief… New life? What?
We reached the end of the hallway and stood there as Agent Godbee went through another series of locks keeping us inside, and everyone else out. He was much more efficient with the locks than Marcus was. He opened the last lock, and we were outside, bright yellowish white sun beating down on us. It hurt my eyes, but felt nice. I closed my eyes, and took in a deep breath with my face to the sky.
“This way, Mr. Reeves.” I opened my eyes and shook myself back into focus. Taking a long drink of my water, I followed Agent Godbee toward a gate about 30 yards from the door we just stepped out of. On the other side was a long, silver limousine. The ride to my new life. I don't know what that meant, but I knew I was almost free of a prison I had no idea even existed until 20 minutes ago.