Backed up traffic again, must have been some drunk dumbass speeding down the freeway. The bright red of brake lights saturated the windshield, acting like a rude porter denying me access through his gates. And of all nights, I had to get to Meg’s school for her play by seven, and the clock on the truck’s dashboard mocked me with a glaring six forty-five. Damn it, traffic by the looks of it was not going anywhere, but I had only two more exits to go. I clicked on the radio in hopes of hearing something that would distract me from the situation at hand. All that blared through the speakers was a rhythmic beeping sound, staying consistent and even. Odd, maybe another station would work, and I flipped through all them, all of which continued the beeping incessantly. Maybe it’s some emergency warning drill, which happens, but usually it’s not entirely just beeping.
I punched the radio back off, grimacing at the thought of Meg’s soon to be disappointment. She really wanted me to watch her in play about the American Revolution, or was it the French? My guess would the American Revolution because most third graders don’t need to know about that French bloodbath. To add some excitement to the predicament, it had been almost six months since I saw her last since her bitch of a mother Cynthia would only let me speak to her on the phone after Derek convinced her so. When Meg finally convinced that woman to let me come watch her play, all of this shit has to happen.
Out of nowhere, the obnoxious red of the brake lights died out instantly. All modes of transportation cease to function at the exact same time. I opened the door and stepped out cautiously, realizing all my fellow prisoners of backed up traffic had vanished. Mini-vans, trucks, and sports cars were all vacant of any kind of life. I shouted a throaty “Hello?!” , which in turn yielded no response. Everything around me, even time itself, fell into a comatose state, with my own life being the one still holding on. I needed to find Meg and figure out what the hell is going on.
The beeping that I previously heard in my car become extremely audible, as if all the car sound systems started turned at the same exact moment. The blaring volume of the beeps pierced my ears like someone shot a nail gun into the inner sanctums of my ears, forcing me to clasp my ears in agony. I started to sprint away from the pain, towards the exit that was nearby my gray hunk of a pickup truck.
I continued running until the pain finally went away, which meant the beeping ceased. I had no idea where I was, but I could clearly see that the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles had turned into a desolate skeleton of a city. I had no idea what was going on, or where these people had went. All I wanted to do was find Meg, which I hoped was even possible at this point.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a pair of pink scrubs on the floor, reminding of Meg’s aspiration to eventually become of a doctor. Swiftly, I jogged over to them, picking them up hastily. A slip of paper fell out of the scrubs with the name “Amber Sky Diner” poorly scrawled onto it. I glanced at the building in front of me, which happened to be the Amber Sky Diner. I set the scrubs down and pressed my face into the glass, cupping my eyes with my hands to remove the glare. There was no food, plates, tables, not even chairs. It was just a big empty room, disconnected from life. I went for the door to the left and walked in, peering and pondering at the sheer vacancy of the food establishment.
I started to wander around the diner, hoping to find something that would at least make some sort of sense to me. The floor was not even tiled, just a dull plain concrete surface. Light streamed through the windows being the only source of light in the diner.
“Is anyone here?” I shouted, hoping someone would come out. Nothing, still complete silence, not even that god damn beeping could be heard. As I walked where a counter should have been, I noticed that there was a large wooden door with a large tarnished brass knob. This door seemed extremely out of place for a diner, so curiously I gripped the knob and turned it slowly, peering carefully into what was inside. There was just a long narrow hall with a pale pink carpet lined the floor and cheap wood paneling hugged the walls. A recognizable musky scent lingered in the air, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it was familiar. There was hardly any illumination in the hall, except for a vintage lamp sitting on a small curio table at the very end of the hall, which was just barely doing its job.
A distinct giggle echoed from the end of the hall, which sounded so similar to Meg’s cute laugh when she was excited, like she was talking about her favorite animal, toucans. My heart instantly started racing, feeling the beat of blood pumping sitting heavy in my ears. I sprinted down the dank hall to see that there were actually two wooden doors on each side of the lamp.
This is all so crazy. I am supposed to be in a diner right now, but somehow I am getting to a different place entirely. Why would Meg be here too? It doesn’t make sense why any of this was happening. I need to figure out what the hell is going on right now. I need to get to the bottom of this. I ripped the door to left of the lamp wide open, peering into nothing but sheer darkness.
I heard that giggle again, but this time it was coming from behind me, from the door to the right of the lamp. I could feel the adrenaline secreting through my body at this point, pushing my mind and body into overdrive because of fear.
After I regained some composure, I whispered to myself “Ok, maybe I should try the other door instead.”
I reached for the knob of the other door, which was frigid to the touch, and turned it slowly, feeling more and more uncomfortable each moment. No light was coming from this room either; it was filled to the brim with suffocating blackness. As soon as I opened the door completely, the lamp went out and the wooden door with the brass knob that led me into the diner shut immediately. I was in complete and utter darkness at that point, not knowing what to be frightened of. Fear became the master of ceremonies for my circus of a life.
“Meg?” I said quietly, hoping to hear at least her voice, which would be better than nothing at this point. Complete silence still ensued; my eyes and my ears were useless at this point.
The next voice that I heard was something that I knew all too well, it was Cynthia.
“God damn it Josiah! You really did have sex with that whore? I am your wife! How could you do this to me! How could you do this?” Deep sobs followed shortly.
It sounded as if she was in the room to the left of the lamp, but not in the same room as Meg. Both doors slammed shut at the same time, pushing the fear I had to the limits. Blindly, I ran back to the door that would lead back into the cadaver of a diner. I grabbed the knob and to my surprise the door opened.
Blinding light consumed my senses; all I could see was the brightness of the sun barreling down on my completely unadjusted eyes. As my eyes became more accustomed to the light, I realized that diner was longer there. I was in a beautiful forest, with a fresh creek running by. Smells of pine and wildflowers were sat thick in the air, and the creek gurgled in a soothing manner. Any fear that I had evaporated instantly as I stepped out of the doorway, and I felt the cool airs of the forest brush my face. I knew exactly where I was this time. The Falter Forest was somewhere I had been going since I was a child, and became an escape from my adult life. I had been meaning to come here again, but my life lately seemed to stop me. I could see in front of me there were wondrous trees, strongly green with life. The water in the creek seemed almost too refreshing, coaxing me to run and jump into it. I looked behind and saw that the entrance to the hallway was gone. There was a majestic mountain in its place, with the backdrop of a vivid blue sky. This place was indescribably glorious and breath-taking at every turn.
At the base of the mountain was a cave. It looked as if it was inhabited by someone, and there were torches within the cave that illuminated most of it. Within it, I could see a person standing solemnly, and he was walking towards me with clear intention. The man was enrobed with bright white robes, crisp and clean, and his face showing that his age was probably just around twenty years old. He looked completely clean and vivacious, with a gentle smile lingering on his face.
“Josiah, you’re here finally. I have been waiting patiently for you for quite a while. I am glad you found your way”, the man said while still keeping that pleasant look on his face.
“Wait, you have been waiting for me? How could that be?” I asked.
“You don’t remember do you? What do you remember?” The man asked in return.
“Well I was heading to see my daughter’s play, but then things just got weird, really weird. Do you have any idea what’s going?” I said.
“Try to remember. Are you really trying to get to your daughter’s play? Just take some time to really think about what is going on. You understand what’s going on, you just haven’t recognized it yet.” He said this while he placed his hand on my shoulder, trying to comfort me.
“I don’t understand?! How am I supposed to?! Please, just tell me what’s going on!?” I was getting frustrated, flustered by the confusion of all of this.
“Perhaps this will help.” He walked back to the cave and then walked back, but this time he was pushing something.
It was a wheelchair, which it looked very worn and used.
“How is this supposed to help?” I was becoming very frustrated by the situation.
“Please, just sit down. You’ll understand soon enough.” He said, somehow keeping his amicable composure, even though I was being difficult.
I sat down in the chair, and the moment I did everything that was once around me vanished. I was no longer in the Falter Forest. I was in a dimly lit room. I tried moving my hands but it took so much effort. I could see that my hands looked like they had been through years of work and pain. Cables and tubes were attached to my right arm, and next to me was an EKG machine, beeping rhythmically like I had heard in all the cars on the freeway. On a table in front of me I saw that there was a pamphlet which had a title “Amber Sky Hospice.”
I could feel a tear rolling down my face when I realized and understood everything. I finally understood. I closed my eyes, hoping that when I opened them again everything would be gone. I opened them and I was still in the room, with the hospice pamphlet taunting me. A woman in pink scrubs walked in and knelt in front of me.
She gently asked, “How are you today Mr. Nickell?”
I tried responding, but I had no strength. Everything began to fade very slowly, my eyes involuntarily closing.
“Mr. Nickell? Can you hear me?” she asked again.
At this point, I could barely hear her distressed voice as my vision was completely blacked out. The last thing I heard her say was “Call the family” to someone else in a very urgent tone.
I was back in the forest. The man in the white robes was still in front of me, smiling just like before.
“Do you understand now?” he asked.
“Yes. I do.”
He walked behind the wheelchair and slowly started to push me into the cave.