It was glare of the lights that stirred Kyle to consciousness. Emerging from the darkness, the back of his eyelids transformed from complete nothingness to a glowing florescence. The sound of disjointed voices, and shuffling chairs, emerged from utter silence.
“Where am I?”, he groggily thought.
His back and neck felt like an alligator was gnawing on them, and his butt cheeks were numb. A cold draft caressed exposed arms and legs that erupted into goosebumps, and he felt himself shiver. Stretching his body like a cat emerging from a long slumber, he discovered that, other than the back and neck, there was no other pain. The burning and often painful discomfort in his abdomen, which had become a constant companion and was a bone of contention between Kyle and his wife, was gone.
Mary was convinced something sinister was brewing inside his body, but Kyle, who worked marathon hours at the hedge fund company he established, had little time to spend on mundane things like his health. Or spending time with Mary and the kids. The arguments increased as his weight decreased, and the sour stomach and occasional acid reflux turned into frequent cramping and occasional bloody stools.
“Odd,” Kyle thought, but not in a worrisome way. Maybe this proved that Mary’s concern was misplaced, and that he had been right all along. As his Dad was found of saying, he might not always be right, but he was never wrong.
Slowly opening his eyes, Kyle saw that he was sitting on folding white metal chair that had seen better days, and was clad in a white crew neck t-shirt, white boxers, and white crew socks, which would explain why he felt cold when he emerged from…..whatever it was. Looking at his hands, he noticed his wedding band, Oystersteel Rolex watch and the braided gold bracelet were missing. Feeling for his neck, the St. Christopher necklace he had worn ever since his Grandfather gave it to him as a confirmation gift, what also missing.
“What the hell!?”
Looking around, he saw that he was seated in the front row of a square of similar chairs that had to be fifty chairs long and one hundred rows wide, and was among a sea of squares that, like the ocean’s horizon, appeared endless.
The room was massive, bigger than any airport terminal he had seen, but there were no windows, and the predominant color was white. White walls, bare florescent lights, and white furniture. The only item that wasn’t completely white was the pattern of white and black linoleum tile squares that covered the floor, similar in pattern to a chessboard.
“Wait a minute, how did I get here?” Kyle mused. He thought long and hard, but all he could remember was storming out their twelve thousand square foot house after another pointless debate about how he could miss yet another of Amanda’s dance recitals, and speeding out of their gated compound in his Model 3 Tesla.
“This has to be a dream,” Kyle concluded, which put him at ease. This one was certainly more realistic than those he could remember, especially the nightmares, which always seemed to stand out but had a fantasy quality to them. This one seemed benign, and might turn out to be interesting, so he decided to play along rather than wake himself up, which he typically did when a dream became too terrifying.
Studying his surroundings more closely, Kyle saw similarly dressed men and woman sitting in the same seats as far as the eye could see, but nobody sat next to one another. One row of empty chairs served as a buffer between the people that were there, and three empty chairs separated each person in each row.
Seated in the front row of his particular square, he observed that a white table sat in front of each square, across from what appeared to be a long, wide hallway. Young men and women which Kyle presumed were staff, clad in white from head to toe, sat at each table, which was adorned with what looked like a large I-Pad, a pitcher of water and two tall crystal water glasses. Interestingly, the pitchers always appeared full, and the staff never seemed to run out of glasses, even though Kyle could see what had to be hundreds if not thousands of people in this room.
The staff member that sat at the table in front of Kyle’s square was currently engaged in conversation with……what should he call them? He pondered that for a moment and settled on the term inmate. “What the hell,” Kyle figured. “This is my dream so I can call them anything I want.”
Looking at the people in the room that were in his line of sight, Kyle saw men and women of every ethnicity whose ages appeared to range from teenagers to the elderly. The younger population looked unsure and scared, and the older folks looked bored. While he could not see any young children or infants, Kyle sensed they were around because he could hear their distant shouts and cries. Trying to make sense of what this place was, Kyle turned to face an older gentlemen seated two rows behind him.
“Excuse me,” he said, but before Kyle could utter another syllable, the man turned to face Kyle, placed an outstretched finger in front of his lips, shook his head from side to side, then turned to resume staring at nothing in particular. Kyle then turned to a young woman seated three seats to his left and attempted to ask the same question, but got the same result.
“This is too weird,” Kyle mumbled to no one in particular. He decided that he had enough of this foolishness, and that it was time to wake up.
Using the tricks he learned as a kid to escape the clutches of his frequent nightmares, Kyle stopped after finding himself in the same strange room with all these strange people after every attempt. His tried and true methods weren’t working.
“What the fuck,” he grumbled.
Seeing that he wasn’t going anywhere, Kyle decided to play along and followed everyone’s lead. Staring straight ahead, he noticed that three unmarked white doors dotted the walls behind each table before a burst of motion grabbed his attention. The inmate at the table directly in front of his square was suddenly having an animated conversation, waiving his arms frantically, with the staff member that was interviewing him. The staff person repeatedly pointed to doors behind them while the inmate repeatedly pointed to a stack of linens that lay underneath the table, only to result in the staff person sadly shaking his head from side to side. Kyle thought it odd that he could not hear a word of what they were saying.
After a minute or two this stalemate, the staff person reached under the table to press something. Shortly thereafter a large man, who was also dressed in white and reminded Kyle of a bouncer, arrived. Gently but firmly, he reached under the inmate’s armpits, effortlessly lifted him to his feet and half dragged him to the door on the right. Producing a white card key, he waved it in front of the door. A whoosh of air emerged, and the door slowly opened. The large man escorted the inmate, who was now crying and appeared to be pleading with him to stop, into the open door. Kyle strained to see what was behind that door. All he saw was an opaque blackness, but he felt a powerful surge of fear and despair, as if all hope had been sucked out of the room. The large man emerged alone before the door closed, nodded to the person seated at the table, and silently returned to wherever he came from. The emotion Kyle felt vanished as soon as that door had closed.
This was getting too creepy for comfort, so Kyle resorted to taking a small section of skin near his ribs, dug the fingernails into his flesh and pinched the flesh as hard as he could, expecting to jerk awake in his bed. Fear began to emerge when that failed, so he desperately resorted to slapping his face. Hard. He heard the sound of the slaps echo in the vast room, but none of the other inmates seemed to notice. He gave up after a dozen or so slaps.
“What is this fucking place!?” Kyle thought, feeling his body shiver again, but not from the cold. “I’m so done with this shit! I’ve got to get out of here.”
He attempted to stand and start walking until he found a means of escape, only to discover he was stuck. Although he could move his arms, legs, and upper torso freely, Kyle’s ass was firmly glued onto the surface of that chair.
He obviously wasn’t going anywhere, so Kyle stopped struggling and began to ponder his next move when he noticed the staff member at the table the other inmate previously sat at was staring at him. She smiled at Kyle once their eyes met, which settled Kyle’s runaway nerves.
“Please don’t be afraid Mr. Callahan,” she said soothingly. “Nobody is going to to hurt you. Can you please come forward and have a seat?”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Yes you can. Please step forward and have a seat..”
Kyle leaned forward and was amazed to discover he could easily stand. Taking a deep breath, he started to walk towards the table, but not before making one last desperate attempt to wake himself by sliding his right hand under his boxers, and gently cupping his balls, giving them a squeeze. Instead of being greeted by the kind of pain only a man understands and waking up in his bed, he felt felt nothing, and the view did not change.
“I’m sorry Mr. Callahan, but this is not a dream. Now will you please come forward and sit down? We need to have a chat.”