Sunday, August 16, 2009

Daily Story 123: Into the Fire

I watch the old lady run out of the room, and I try to get my bearings. I'm in a file room, surrounded by shelves and cabinets. It's definitely not a doctor's office. I was sitting down a minute ago but there's no chair, and that raises some interesting questions about exactly how much of what I'm remembering is real. My ex husband would have attributed this to some form of feminine weakness. It's possible I was imagining him as well, though I don't know what that would say about my subconscious. Probably nothing worse than what actually marrying him said.

He was probably real, and the shelves and files around me feel real. That narrows it down somewhat. It seems safe to say that my insanity was limited to the time in which I was actively hallucinating, but that would include my visit to the doctor since I am clearly not in his office like I should be. That means the first thing I have to do is make an actual doctor's appointment. The imaginary doctor at least seems to have fixed my hallucinations, since the room has stayed the same since I arrived - other than the chair that I was sitting in not being here, and the old lady who acted like I appeared out of nowhere. She was probably just in my head.

I open the door and step out into an average-looking cube farm. It's a lot like the office I work in, but unfortunately not close enough; I'm trespassing. I can see the exit down a short hallway, and so I head that way while trying to look like I belong here. Someone almost runs into me, but he barely even looks up from the scrap of paper he's staring at as he heads outside. I stop in the lobby and watch him looking around nervously, but I'm startled by the receptionist.
"Can I help you?"
I'm at a loss. Too late I realize I could have just said no and left, but now I've taken too long to answer. Logically I know that I can still just walk out, that I'll never see this woman again and I don't care if she thinks I'm nuts, but some strange ingrained sense of social normalcy won't allow it. I ask her if I can use the phone, instead. She lifts it up onto the edge of the desk, and I have to think fast about who to even call. I settle on my friend Stacy, who is less likely than most to ship me off to an institution.

The phone is missing a button. I stare at it for a moment because I don't want to sound like an idiot, but then I can feel the receptionist's eyes boring a hole in my skull so I finally ask.
"The what?" She asks, with a hint of amusement. I repeat myself, asking where the ampersand button is. The hash button is there, the asterisk is there, but no ampersand. How am I supposed to dial anyone?
"So... you think you need to dial an ampersand before you can complete a call? And it's always been this way, on normal phones?" She sounds almost excited. Am I so crazy that I'm just randomly inventing the most basic information? Will shoelaces turn out to be a figment of my imagination next? I look up just in time to see the man who left ahead of me lean towards the sculpture in front of the building and vanish. Just... gone. I think I'm insane. Wait, did I say that out loud?
"Ma'am, I'm sure you're not insane."
Oh, shit.

She's trying to calm me down, but I'm not listening. I turn away from the door and look around me at the office, the phone, everything. It seems so real. The man I just saw vanish walks past me, looking very... there.
"It may sound odd, but I think my boss might be able to help with this." She dials something, something with far too many numbers - at least twelve.
"It's Alice. We have someone here that I think belongs to another branch. Can you get clearance from Mr. Tweed to bring her over? Yes, I'll hold."
She turns back to the books that are laying open in front of her. There are notes scribbled all over the margins. She catches me looking, and smiles.
"Just a... research thing. I'm into codes and riddles. Hidden messages. Though it would be easier if half of it wasn't just nonsense." Suddenly she turns away and continues talking into the phone. "No, mister Tw... Dundee. She doesn't look like a shambling horror." A shambling horror? Either I've just been insulted or this is part of my hallucination.

The vanishing man walks past me yet again, and turns to the receptionist. "Alice, I just threw up so I'm going home, but my car is dead so... can you call me a cab?" She looks up from the call and nods. "Sure thing, Des. Just as soon as... what? Yes, Mr. Dundee. What do you mean, as a control group? Fine. Okay." Alice hangs up and closes the books - one is Through the Looking-Glass and the other is called 'Alice's Adventures Underground' - and also takes a framed picture off of the desk. "Change of plans," she says, "I'm giving both of you a ride."
I try to tell her I'll be fine, that I was just joking about the phone and really I need to get going.
"Really? You do know that you've still got electrodes glued to your head, right?"
Son of a bitch. I try to peel them off, and Alice glances around as if looking for someone. She starts poking at her arm for some reason, almost like typing, and out of nowhere a sort of glowing doorway appears. The man seems stunned and she has to half-shove him through, but before she even tries to convince me I walk in on my own. I'm done fighting it; I'm clearly crazy.

In for a penny, in for a pound.