Mr. Riley sat comfortably at his desk. He had done so many times within the year in the span of a decade as many of his peers did. He did not care to lament the condition of the human species tied to the cycles of materialism and time. Nor did he care to mull over the condition of the soul. He simply did as he was told. He simply stood in line like everybody else waiting his turn, or hoping he at least had a turn. In this world of first class cynicism and lowered expectation, he found that he was okay with that. There was a message in there somewhere for him. There was something his astral guides and guardian angels were trying to tell him, but he lacked the receiver, and the signal went on into the fragments of space.
It was noon. At noon time he had his second meal of the day. At half passed noon he would return to work. He opened his lunch bag, a blue rectangle with a black zipper. The contents were a sandwich of rye bread and roast beef with provolone cheese and green leaf lettuce and mustard, a few pickle spears, and a can of soda pop. The flavor was red. He didn’t quite know what flavor it was exactly. It could have been vanilla or bubble gum, or a combination of the two. But it had a kick to it. He thought it would help his digestion. Mr. Riley went about eating his lunch like he’d do any day. He had a handful of hours yet before his work day was done and then he’d be off to go have dinner before relaxing in front of the television and then climbing into bed. He finished his meal with just enough time to relieve himself before continuing his work. Mr. Riley stood up and left his desk and his tiny closet like office. He walked to the men’s room, paying no attention to the other people who worked in tiny offices around him, too. They walked around the hallways, not really paying attention either. They kind of just stared off into the distance as if there were no one else present in the room, not even so much as a twitch of a pupil. He wasn’t exactly sure what the function of his co-workers were. They all crunched numbers for some agency or corporation, but beyond that he had no clue.
He entered the special needs bathroom which he preferred because it was a single use bathroom and offered him more privacy. Mr. Riley sat and thought about his day. It helped to pass with greater ease. Mr. Riley was about done cleaning himself when the lights in the bathroom switched off. His heart kicked in his chest before slowing to a heavy, thumping pulse. They flickered and turned off again. It was black all around. He was startled and began fumbling in the dark for the toilet paper dispenser. Having found it he gathered more paper and carefully guided the wad for a final, cleaning wipe. Next, he reached in his pants, crumpled on the floor, for his phone. He jabbed the screen and it flashed on providing a dull gray light in the darkened white ceramic bathroom. He put his phone screen up on the dispenser and proceeded to pull up his pants. His heart had stopped thrumming and slowed. He briefly wondered what was going on, and figured a circuit had blown out or something. He wondered if it affected the whole building, or just the floor, or what? Great, he thought, now I’ll get behind on my work. The thought of working after hours because of a blown fuse was irritating. He finished washing his hands and retrieved his phone from the dispenser. He opened the door, but when he did, Mr. Riley wasn’t sure he knew exactly where he was. His heart kicked up again.
Benjamin Riley slammed the door to the bathroom. He found himself in blackness again. He took a moment to think. The light had still not turned on. It seemed the fuse was still blown. He reached his hand to open the door. He turned the knob. When he opened the door what he saw on the other side was not the office as he remembered it. It wasn’t an office at all. It was some place he was certain he’d been before, but at the same time he wasn’t sure. He seemed to be in a corridor of some sort with closed doors lining as far down as the eye could see. The hall was dimly lit, the carpeting was elegant, dark and highly styled. He walked into the corridor. He walked forward and turned directly to his right. There was a telephone bank of four gold-pleated phones and an elevator foyer. He looked at the elevators. He was on the 14th floor. He pressed the down button which in turn lit red. A few minutes passed before the bell signaled the lift had arrived. The doors opened revealing a standard size cabin with tan and burgundy striped walls and stained cherry wood base-boards and dividers. Gold-plated buttons and decorations accented the cabin. A man stood to the left side of the elevator. He seemed to shrink inside himself and jitter, nervous-like. Mr. Riley pushed the ground-floor level, the one marked with a star and the number “1.” Ben Riley was still at a loss for where he was. He stood silently in the elevator, feeling strange vibes from the man next time him. He wondered who he was. The lift moved steadily down without falter or stop. Finally about the fifth floor, Ben Riley turned to the other passenger, looking at his piqued demeanor and shrunken-in eyes and pointy nose. He was also bald and gray of color.
“Excuse me, but would you mind telling me what building we are in?” Ben asked with lack of confidence.
The man looked at Ben Riley for a moment as if he weren’t sure he was talking to him. The man’s head seemed to shrink into his shoulders. A grin began to crack around the corners of his mouth. The smile was dehydrated. The elevator bell sounded, just as the man began to laugh and cackle gleefully. He shook Ben Riley’s hand proudly and scurried out of the elevator leaving Ben more confused than before. Ben exited the elevator before the door closed again. He found himself in the lobby of what looked like a hotel. The carpets and the draperies were a deep maroon color. The walls and furniture were bone white. Gold and deep cherry-red mahogany accented the room’s architecture. People moved around. There was an electric quality to their energy. The room seemed to buzz. He walked forward. As he placed his foot down there was a rumble in the ground. An unanimous whimper released from the lips of all the people scurrying about the lobby. Another rumble vibrated through the floor, this followed by the very building itself seeming to shake. The lights flickered. He realized people weren’t just scurrying, they were moving with a true sense of urgency. He looked at the current of people and decided to follow the biggest stream of them. He was rushed towards the exit and into the great outdoors. The sky was blue, though his surroundings seemed to have a gray tint to it. Before him were many concrete structures, like roads or highways, bridges, overpasses. People scurried along on these as well. There were several plumes of black smoke billowing in the sky. Ben heard another low rumble and the sound of an explosion in the distance. He heard a rush of noise coming from not far either. It sounded like a maddening crowd of people. It was unlike anything he’d heard before.
“Run!” He heard someone yell. He wasn’t sure what to do. People all around him were running. It didn’t seem that anyone really had a plan where they were going. They were just going. Ben ran from the hotel to the streets. He saw bonfires smoking in separate clusters. Trash littered the ground. People ran in every direction. Ben ran for an over pass, looking to take cover underneath it. Gun shots rang out in the distance.
Ben began to get the feeling that there was some major event happening and he somehow got trapped in the middle of it. He was far away from the bathroom. He was further from his desk and his office. He picked up his pace, his feet falling hard on the concrete as he rushed to the over pass. The ground inclined and narrowed into a concrete pit beneath the overpass. Gunshots and explosions continued to sound off in the distance. There were others in the pit already, ducking against the wall, some with their hands over the head as if to protect from falling objects. The ground rumbled and vibrated again. Ben Riley walked over to one of the men in the pit. He was tall and bearded. His beard was a salted auburn pelt, wiry and bushy. He was dressed in all black: pants, coat and shirt. His coat was corduroy. He wore thin oval specks and had pointed ears and a long rounded nose.
“Excuse me.” Ben called to the tall man. “Excuse me, but what is going on?”
The man turned to Ben, looking down somewhat surprised, but not. “Well, don’t you know what is going on around you?”
“I guess not.” Ben replied. The man grunted.
“The signs have been around you the entire time. Here you are, now. We had to find some way to tell you.” Ben heard screaming in the background, he heard more voices yelling, muffled as they were coming from above the over pass. Gunshots and explosions continued to pierce the silence that was vacuously present when nothing else sounded. The tall man turned toward the wall and looked up. The concrete ceiling of the overpass seemed to be much closer than before, a mere handful of feet above their heads. There were slats cut into the concrete, as a sewage drain on the side of the street, that allowed them to see the people rushing about on the street. There was more black smoke in the sky. Ben could really see the people now. They were running, looks of fear on their faces. They were running for their lives. Others seemed to be fighting. He couldn’t tell who the provocateurs were. He didn’t see any police. He only saw people running and smoke billowing in the sky. There was another rumble in the ground and the concrete pit shook. Dust and pebbles fell from the ceiling. Ben suddenly didn’t feel safe.
“I think we should move.”
“We may very well have to.”
Ben looked out the concrete slat again to the street. He saw a lady running. She was running full speed ahead when suddenly she fell forward, as if an unseen force had pushed into her. Her face contorted in pain and she began to scream. But then, her mouth seemed to cover over with flesh, like it’d been sealed shut with a layer of skin, and she was silent. She lay on the ground struggling. Then her flesh and clothing began to sag, and she seemed to melt and become part of the ground, a puddle of flesh, cloth and hair that sank into the concrete, becoming it. Ben’s heart again began to thrum tensely. He felt the need to leave immediately.
“You will have to leave now, sir.” The tall man told Ben. “We can’t have you hanging around here much longer.” He turned to Ben looking him straight in the eyes. “Be gone now.” The tall man lifted his hand and slapped Ben Riley on the forehead right between his eyes. Ben saw a flash of light, as one does when hit in the face, and a pool of blackness. He heard his heart thrumming. It was pounding in his ears. He heard it pounding in the blackness. Pound! Pound! Pound! Ben opened his eyes. It was dark. There was silence. A narrow light dimly lit the room. Ben was disoriented. The pounding came again. He jerked upwards. The lights turned on with a click and an electric buzz. The room was white and tiled. Ben Riley sat on the commode, his pants around his ankle. Someone was pounding on the door.
“Hello!” Came a voice “Is someone in there? I have to go!”
Ben’s heart jumped. His ass felt tingly and ached from sitting too long. The visions of whatever illusion he’d hosted faded away.
“Uh, occupado.” He called through the door nervously. He finished up, hurriedly pulling up his pants, fidgeting with his belt, nearly forgetting to flush. Ben exited, bumbling and apologizing to the employee who scowled at him from her wheelchair as he hurried back to his desk.
The Perfect Distraction is an original work by Michael Aaron Casares. All rights reserved.
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