I don’t remember how I got here. I don’t remember much of anything from last night. But despite how much I drank, the one thing I tried to forget still haunts my thoughts…
My best friend straddling my fiancé’s lap twelve hours before I was due to walk down the aisle. And to think, I was saving myself for him, by his request, until our wedding night.
I rise slowly. It doesn’t prevent the sudden onset of pounding in my brain. I look around the room. There’s nothing identifiable to tell me where I am. Just a bed, a closet, a chest of drawers with no mirror.
Oh god, please tell me I didn’t come home with some random from the bar. I deserve payback for the betrayal, yes, but not like this, not at the expensive of my own self-respect. Let Jess be the homewrecker whose man who will leave her just as he got her. As for me, I will remain pure.
I slip into my pumps only to discover the heel for one is broken and opt to go barefoot, bracing myself against the wall to tame the sudden-onset vertigo. Never again. Never again will I allow myself to fall this hard, to get so lost in a whirlwind romance that when it inevitably ends, I wake up in a place I don’t recognize with memories I can’t recall.
When I get to the end of the hall, I realize the pounding in my head is knocking on the front door. Crap. Just what I need is an angry girlfriend on the other side. Apart from the knocking, the house is still. I’m sure there’s no one here but me. It’s odd that my bar guy would leave me here alone. I could rob him blind—if there was anything to take.
The knocking continues, aggravating my migraine. Might as well tell her now. She’ll find out anyway when she sees me trying to sneak out. It’s best that she knows now. If not with me, it’ll be someone else. End it now, sweetie, before he really breaks your heart.
To my surprise, standing on the porch is a little man, barely taller than me, wearing pleated pants that look a size too large and holding a casserole dish of some sort of glop that looks like it could’ve been oatmeal in another life.
“Morning!” he says cheerily.
I shield my eyes from the brightness of the new day. “Uh, huh.”
“Welcome to Centerville!” He presents the dish to me, and I take it, not really knowing what else to do.
“I’m sure you must be hungry. I would’ve had your refrigerator ready sooner, but we don’t always know when someone new is, uh, moving in.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“It’s best you just accept it.” He shoves his hands into his pockets. “It’s easier that way.” Without saying anything further to explain what the hell that even means, he skips down the steps and trots across the yard to the house next door.
I slam the door, needing to be enclosed in darkness to give my headache relief. It’s only when I’m able to fully open my eyes again without squinting that I notice there’s not a single light on in this house. I can’t even find a light switch. Does anyone live here? They must. Why else the welcome wagon? Bar guy must have just moved in, and the neighbors think I’m his wife or something. That may help me when I try to make my exit. But where is he? And where on earth is Centerville? I’ve never heard of it, but the name sounds just as bland as this house.
I will say, the neighbor was right about one thing. My stomach growls in agony. I can barely stand I’m so hungry. I found Jess a Tom together just minutes before the rehearsal dinner was served. So of course I skipped it. Maybe I ate something at the bar. Home chips? Hot wings? Christ! Why can’t I remember?
I stumble into the kitchen and put the dish on the table. As disgusting as this goop looks, it’s all I’ve got. I’ll eat enough just to replenish my energy, then I’ll figure out how to get out of here and get home. I move to the cabinets, guessing which drawer might hold the silverware, but no matter which one I try, none will budge.
“Sheesh, are these glued shut or what?”
Fine, I’ll eat with my hands. I sit down, get ready to scoop a good handful, when I notice the refrigerator to my left. What did that guy say about the refrigerator? He needed to get it ready. Why is that the neighbor’s responsibility? I get up and open it. It’s completely empty, apart from one lone loaf of bread that’s not in any container or wrap or anything. It’s just sitting on the bottom rack totally naked.
I bend down to poke it. “The hell?” It’s plastic. Not only that—the refrigerator is completely warm. There’s no steady hum. It’s not on!
I look behind it to see if it’s even plugged into the wall, but when I press my face into the tiny space between the wall and back of the refrigerator, it moves. The fucking thing moves! Like an inch or more! There’s no way I’m able to move an entire refrigerator with just one nudge. Hungover and hangry? There’s no way. No way.
Stepping backward, I nearly fall over the chair behind me. I catch myself by planting a hand into the slimy “not quite oatmeal.”
“Ugh.” I look around, but there’s nothing to wipe my hands. Nothing in this kitchen. Nothing in this goddamn house at all. I have to get out.
I sprint for the front door. I ready my eyes for the light and haul ass out of there. I will go to the neighbor’s. I’ll demand he explain plainly where the hell I am. I’ll tell him I work for the state, and I know for a fact there’s no place anywhere on the map called Centerville. I’ll make him give me information on the guy who brought me here—where can I find him, how can he take me home.
Across the street, I notice a woman standing in her yard and staring right at me. I start for next door, but her staring unsettles me. Something about her eyes hints that maybe she’ll give it to me straight, so I run to her instead.
“Excuse me?” I say breathlessly. “Can you tell me where I am?”
So much for not being cryptic. I glance behind at the house. I feel it watching me menacingly. Something’s off. Something’s very off.
I turn back to the woman. “Listen, I know this may sound weird, you seeing me come out of that house and all, but I don’t actually live here.”
“You do now.”
Does anyone in this town not speak in riddles?
“No I don’t! I’m from Atlanta! Can you tell me how to get back to Atlanta!”
“You were brought here. Like all the rest of us.”
Her eyes shift to something behind me. I turn around and see the next-door neighbor standing in his doorway. “Hey!” I don’t know where I find the energy to run back across the street. But I muster enough without collapsing and reach him to painfully block the door with my bare foot before he can close it.
“You’re going to tell me what the fuck is going on, and you’re going to tell me right goddamn now.”
The cheerful look he had when I first met him is replaced with that of a frightened child. He has no reason to be scared in my opinion, but he can’t even look at me directly. Instead, he talks to my neck.
“You can’t go back. You can never go back. It’s impossible.”
“What does that mean!” I screech.
“It means. It means—”
God, why won’t he just say it? Why won’t anyone say it? I think back to what that woman said when I asked her what this place was.
“Oh my god. Oh…my…go—” I walk backward, breathing heavily, until my back hits the porch column. “Am I…am I dead?”
“Oh, no, no, no, no! Nothing like that.” He rushes out, takes my hand and helps me to stand straight. “It’s just— To those at home, you might as well be.”
I frown at him and shake my head. Nothing said to me since I woke up in a stranger’s bed has made sense, and I’m too tired, too hungry, too lost in my own heartbreak…
Seeming to notice my frustration, he helps me to sit down on the top step of the porch and pats my back. “There, there. It’s not as bad here. Maybe you’ll find you’ll like it better than your life before. Some do. God, she takes care of us. But you have to accept it. If you don’t…” he motions to the woman across the street. “You’ll be miserable. Always trying to escape. Always failing. And then you will die.”
“My life before? God? She? Die?” It sure does sound like hell.
He points toward the horizon, and I follow his finger, past the trees, past the tops of the houses, up into a cloudless sky, a blueless sky…
A sunless sky.
There’s only the face of a monstrous child looking down on us. And then everything goes black.
This story was inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” only, the quiet town is a little more populated these days…
“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” served as inspiration as well.
This was your first hour in the Twilight Zone. I know I said I would keep these stories at 100 words—that was a lie! Haha! Some stories just have more to say. 😉 Come back in an hour to see where we go next!