his road to ruin
It started when he was young. The first time was at a steakhouse. It was crowded, it must have been some minor holiday or other as it was packed, and noisy and as he was sitting in the booth with his family he closed his eyes. When he opened them he was alone. The restaurant was dark and completely empty.
As if he was sitting in the same place just later that night long after it had closed. Something hung in the air but he was too young to understand what. He could feel his heartbeat in his ears.
He looked around and noticed details. Torn fabric on the chairs and the same bad pictures hanging on the walls. Lights from a passing car quickly moved across the tables, making the napkin holders twinkle for a second or two, and then disappeared again. It was completely quiet.
Until it wasn’t… and the soundtrack to his meal came flooding back along with everything else. He was back in front of his sirloin.
A few years later it happened again. At the country fair. He was standing in line for the tilt-a-whirl with his friends and then he wasn’t. He was standing in an empty fairground. The rides and the people and the dizzying lights and the obnoxious music were all gone.
There was a light breeze and he saw the grass gently swaying. There were birds in the background and he knew he was in the same spot just at a different time. It wasn’t just a black and white picture, although he’d later remember the colors as seeming a bit subdued, he was there. It seemed real. He just felt like it was a few weeks after the carnival had left town.
He took a step forward, in the restaurant he’d sat frozen in his seat, and felt the ground under his feet.
He walked to the empty parking lot and then retraced his steps, scared he’d get lost.
“Where did you go yesterday?” his friends would ask him later.
“I got separated” was his reply. He did not elaborate.
On his twenty first birthday he found himself standing outside his own front door, knowing that everyone he knew was on the other side waiting to yell “Surprise!”, and he briefly fantasized about walking in to find it empty. Imagining everyone’s surprise when the door swung open and there was nobody behind it.
He squeezed his eyes closed, opened the door and everyone yelled “Surprise!” and he acted surprised.
The incidents ended when he was in his mid-thirties. He worked in the city, in a big high rise. Just as before there were no warning signs. He was walking down the hall and then the hall looked different. Everything looked different. Smelled different. Of decay.
It wasn’t just a few weeks later, it felt like much longer.
The building was dilapidated. Crumbling. There were gaping holes in the walls and mildew covered everything. Water dripped from X to Y with no concern for Z.
His forward momentum carried him further down the hallway until he came to the stairs down. The same stairs he’d taken a hundred times before, but never with the fear that they would collapse under his weight. He noticed the hairs on the back of his neck weren’t standing up as they’d been during the earlier episodes (including the surprise party).
When he was on the street he looked around and saw a ruined city. Completely deserted.
Not as if it were the future but as if it was a future.
He bent down and ran his hand along some of the grass poking up through what was left of the sidewalk. It felt nice on his palm. That was the only thought in his head.
He walked on, no longer sacred of getting lost.
Back at the office they wondered where he was.
“I think he was headed towards the copy room” someone offered up.
A few weeks later everyone wondered where he was.
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