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Mary began walking around inside what appeared to be a bombed out Kmart. There were others milling around as well including a white man of retirement age who wore black-rimmed glasses and could have benefited by losing a few pounds. Outside of the ceiling and concrete beams there were grey flakes falling onto the branches of the dead trees that stretched into a never-ending horizon.
“Excuse me – I’m new here…” Mary said, trying to catch the attention of a tall black man in his thirties.
The man was surprised to have someone talk to him, but he tried to be as polite as possible in these circumstances. “I think we’re all new here,” he told the elderly white woman, trying to be honest but not overly hopeful.
She thought for a moment about what her next question should be. “Could you tell me where ‘here’ is?”
“Well it’s hard to describe as I’ve only been here for two days…at least it feels like two days…it’s tough to tell since the sun never moves."
A blaring voice suddenly interrupted the elevator music that had been playing over the loud speakers. “That’s right…Ch...es… YOU have just teched-out so please report to Hanger 51 within 60 seconds for transport back to your life. And now back to our endless assortment of classic elevator music.”
Tall Black Man turned quickly to Retired White Guy and frantically asked, “Did you hear what that name was?”
“You mean over the loudspeakers? – No I couldn’t make it out exactly. I hope it wasn’t Jack because that’s my name. I’m Jack.” Retired White Guy puffed up just a little as though he was proud of his name.
“Did you catch it?” Tall Black Man asked a girl nearby who was wearing a flowered sweater.
“Did I catch what?” she replied, obviously confused.
“The Name. What was the name of the person who just teched-out?”
Retired White Guy broke into the conversation. “I didn’t hear the name, but whoever it was only has 60 seconds to report to loading dock 51 before their time is up. I hope they make it.”
Mary was still trying to get a grasp on the whole situation, but even she could see that getting someplace on time was of upmost importance. “Where are people supposed to report to when their name is called?”
“I think somebody said ‘Area 51’,” answered Girl in a Sweater. She, like everyone else, was constantly in motion - weaving in and out of the conversation. “If you hear your name called it means you have teched-out and you’re supposed to report to Area 51 for transport back.”
Tall Black Man swooped into the discussion. “Jeez lady, I know you’re old but didn’t you hear the guy on the loudspeakers? When you tech-out you report to loading dock 51.”
“No, I’m new here…” Mary replied sadly, as if apologizing.
“I think we all are...” said an Asian Girl with short black hair who seemed to have popped in out of nowhere. The girl looked at the small group assembled in the bombed out Kmart and moved closer to the edge of the building's shadow.
The elevator music stopped suddenly and the enthusiastic announcer barked out “An...opus! Yes you have just teched-out! Remember - you have only 60 seconds to report to Loading Dock 51 to get onboard for YOUR ride home!”
Before the elevator music could even start up again, Retired White Guy began frantically shaking Mary. “Did you hear what name he called out?”
“No! I wasn’t listening! I am still trying to figure out where I am and what’s going on here…” The man released her, rushing out from under the ceiling into the sunlight. “I don’t even know what Teched-out means!” she shouted to no one and everyone.
Young Asian Girl was floating past again and turned her head to talk to Mary. “We all want to tech-out. That’s when you’re down here but your body is up there and someone is up there with technology to bring you back to life – like an ambulance worker maybe and if they’re successful then you can tech-out of this place but you need to…”
“…report in 60 seconds to Bridge 51…” announced the man on the loudspeaker.
Retired White Guy was back now, touching the arm of Young Asian Girl. “Did you hear what name he called just now? Was it my name?”
“Well what is your name?” she asked, looking at him.
“It’s…it’s…that’s funny…I’ve forgotten my name for the moment…but if I hear it called I’ll remember. Yes, I’ll just listen for my name.”
Tall Black Man came back under the ceiling of the bombed out shelter. “Do you know if there is any food around here?”
He was asking everyone but Mary was the first on to jump on the subject. “I do so love to eat. I hope there’s food close.”
“Me too!” said Tall Black Man. “I love donuts and milk shakes and cheeseburgers and Hostess Cupcakes.”
“I used to love Twinkies before they stopped making them,” said Retired White Guy wistfully.
For the first time Mary was excited, “You must not know! Twinkies are back! There was such an outcry that Hostess started making them again.”
Retired White Guy’s eyes got big, his heavy black-rimmed glasses making his pupils appear huge. “Really? Because when I left people were hoarding those things.”
“How long have you been here?” asked Mary.
“In this way-station? A couple of days…” he answered, quickly losing interest before wandering away again.
“Well, I’m new here...” said Elderly White Woman.
Asian Girl touched the old woman on the back to reassure her. “I think we’re all new here. We’re all just waiting to see if we’ll tech-out.”
The elevator music stopped and the announcer was blaring again. “Yes B...iski, YOU have teched-out and should start heading towards Area 51 within the next 60 seconds to transport back to Your Life.”
“Did you hear what name he said?” a college boy with blue hair asked Young Asian Girl.
“No I missed it again!” she answered, glaring at Elderly White Woman. “I was talking to this woman!”
“Stop talking to her or you’ll never get out of here!” demanded College Boy with Blue Hair, leading Young Asian Girl away from the shadow of the bombed out Kmart.
Suddenly Retired White Guy began to glow, a shimmering brilliance enveloping his body. When the halo effect was over, he was suddenly wearing a brightly-colored, highly embroidered wool marching band uniform. “Wow! Look at this! I always loved marching in my high school band and this uniform! I think I used to play the trumpet.”
“Do you have a trumpet with you?” asked Elderly White Woman.
“No but since I have a uniform I’m certain the instrument is sure to follow. Maybe all of us will get uniforms so we can all play in a marching band together. Isn’t that great?”
“Isn’t it a little warm to be wearing a wool band uniform?” asked College Boy with Blue Hair.
“It’s never too warm to wear a uniform! You’ll see!” shouted Retired White Guy marching away to a drum only he heard inside his mind, disappearing into a subway entrance halfway between the shelter and the never-ending horizon.
“Yes MARY you have teched-out! If you’re within the sound of my voice and I know you are…hurry to Room 51 to transport back to the Real World! Your Life is waiting!”
“Did you hear what name he called?” Elderly White Woman asked a blonde haired girl who had just suddenly appeared. “It sounded like my name.”
The girl looked at her blankly. “I didn’t hear any name called. I’m new here,” she said. “I’m Stephanie. What is your name?”
“It’s…wait a minute…it’s Marion or Marsha? I don’t remember just now. I knew it just a moment ago. Isn’t that funny?” Elderly White Woman shrugged her shoulders and was amazed to see an antique oak desk materialize between the shadow of the shelter and the subway entrance. It beckoned to her, tempting her to see what was inside its beautifully sculpted drawers. She walked over to the desk and saw stacks of cloth-covered journals lying on top. Opening a few, she discovered the pages were blank and lined.
She happily slid out the top drawer to find a Uni-ball Vision Elite black ink pen lying inside. It was her favorite kind of pen, even having a removable cap. She remembered that she loved to write. She enjoyed writing short stories and flash stories and postcards - and even writing the ABCs was an enjoyable event. What wonderful things she could write now – even with the infernal ash that kept smudging the pages. Someone was announcing something over the loud speaker but Elderly White Woman didn’t care now. Soon the speakers would be pumping out soothing elevator music so she could pour her heart out onto the blue-lined journals lying in front of her. Joy!
She picked up the wonderful pen, touched it to the paper… “My name is unimportant as I am at a way-station in time...” Suddenly the ink no longer flowed onto the paper as the pen had run out of the black ink. “The Kmart in Queens probably has more pens. I could run there and come back here to my desk. It won’t take long,” she thought. Elderly White Woman got up from her seat, stood behind the red wooden chair, pushed it in under the desk to be tidy, and wandered into the subway entrance promising to be back momentarily.
micheledutcher - This was literally a nightmare that I had. When I woke up I wrote it down to shake it off because it was so upsetting. Re-reading it now, it still has an unearthly feel to it.
micheledutcher - Sorry to break in but Quantum Muse is having a humor contest with the winners being announced in June. Cash prizes. Check out the NEWS section for specifics
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