I woke up in a motel room. There was an impenetrable fog outside. I couldn’t find my keys. For a reason I couldn’t explain, I was fully clothed. I moved out into the fog. I sensed that someone was watching me and looked to my left, where my car was parked. A man of medium height stood partially hidden in a white t-shirt with a fedora that obscured the top half of his face, except for his eyes which glowed white. There was a scar on the outside of his left forearm that ran halfway to his elbow, starting at his wrist. I could still see where the stitches had been removed. The man reminded me of a private investigator. I wasn’t sure why I could see him so clearly through the fog.
The man noticed my intentions to confront him and turned, walked quickly, eventually breaking into a run, toward the motel lobby. A subconscious line ran information to my legs without relaying my forebrain first and I was in chase. Motel room doors and windows gained their form to my left; they were all nearly identical: a blue door with brass knockers and blood red trim, jasmine walls and two-panel windows, some shades drawn, some open. The parking spaces to my right alternated between cars and empty space. Every car was parked flawlessly and was the purest shade of blue, red or green imaginable. They were SUVs and compacts and sports cars and pickups and station wagons.
I lost sight of the scar—and the rest of the man—near the door of the motel. The fog was playing tricks on me, varying degrees of visibility without changes in the wind, clouding my eyes like macular degeneration and relieving itself in other directions I was not yet looking.
The door to motel lobby was a long, dark-tinted window. I stepped inside, stern-faced, looking into every corner of the lobby. There were maps to tourist destinations displayed, a hunter green carpet with paisley designs, tacky plush couches all in ruby with matching ottomans, low veneer tables of cheap particle board. The motel clerk’s eyes looked over me frantically, sensing the panic I felt and the intensity of my search. No one. The rat fink wasn’t in sight. Intuition leveled reason and assured me he could not be hiding.
A memory flooded back. An image translated into information. There was an imprint of a pistol on the man’s back, projected onto the screen of his white shirt. How had this eluded me? I’d watched the patterns of the motel passing, scanned the lobby, but I barely felt like I knew what I was looking for. Was this a man I wanted to find? Was he afraid to confront me in a crowded place, or had he tried not to be seen by anyone, including me? I suddenly felt I should not be chasing him, he should be chasing me.
In the window behind the clerk was the man again. I could see his face more clearly now. I saw his nose that was too big for face, his lips too big too and his long hair. His eyebrows and eyes formed the Spanish Inquisition. I felt like a pet under the gaze of an owner during his last attempt at benevolence. The clerk, old but still with years or decades ahead of him, turned too and his expression gained perplexity. I heard the man’s footsteps echo on the pavement outside while I looked for an exit, but there was only one. (Strange how quickly an entrance can turn into an exit.) I reached for it, fled outside, and noticed a corridor that ran against the lobby to a parking lot out back.
The corridor was clear of fog but dimly lit. I turned to catch a glimpse. He gave me a look as if to say, “Only false hope could inspire a man to run from fate. I will be with you soon.”(The gaze lingered in my mind long and interpreted it rather elaborately. Perhaps it is my own fabrication.) There was something different though. The scar on his arm had moved! It was smaller too but the same straight line, about half the size and closer to the elbow. What did this mean? Were my eyes to be trusted? In the past they had been such faithful image-makers as well as compasses. Was it the fog? Or was the fog in my mind too? Was the world in my mind, the man with the scar included, my hands and nose and elbows and voice and throat and cancers and warts and insecurities and Anxiety included?
I was out back. The yard behind the motel looked like it had been used for scrap heaps before the town was told of its terminal disease, the cancer of that comes from a lack of commerce and usefulness. But really, there wasn’t much to see. The parking lot emptied onto a two lane street, maybe the main thoroughfare, more likely travelers’ quickest method for jettisoning this town.
By the time I reached the street, about 50 yards from the corridor, I could still hear the man’s footsteps echoing on the smooth pavement of the motel and on the approach. I found the abandoned factory directly across—and almost on—the street without looking much, again completely assured in my decision: it was the only shelter. One last look behind me at the factory’s door and I could see a shadow unsettling the fog far behind me.
It was a poor decision. Inside the floor wasn’t anything more than dirt. The factory didn’t even appear to be fully formed there was so much space. No cross beams or support beams or equipment waiting for a looter’s salvation. I interviewed each wall with my eyes, asking if they knew of any place, any place at all where a man of my exact dimensions could make himself invisible.
Could I stack time up before me? Could I watch the events that lie before me, frame next to frame, all at once, to know my fate? Would I make it through this, or not? I ran north, my north, straight ahead then to the left, my left.
I made it to the far corner before I realized he was standing at the door. The great, tall roof created a sound vacuum. The air moved slowly, or didn’t move at all.
He was still very far away but I knew he could hear me so I asked very frankly, “What is it what you want from me, or is it something I need from you?”
“I’m content to watch the panic you have in your eyes right now.”
What? Was he a sort of movie villain sadist? It is hard to comprehend the ideas of someone completely motivated by fear, pain, the inner chaos of others. I faced the entrance with my hands on each wall. To my left, a ladder that could be slid up and down, leading to a chute that obstructed the ladder and eventually a small platform that led outside to what I imagined was another small platform. I jumped for the ladder, my fingers touching the last rung. A miss but it gave me enough confidence that this was a real escape route. I jumped again, pulled it down and started climbing before the ladder stopped sliding, grinding with the rust of years unused.
Up I went to the end of the moveable rungs. I pulled the ladder up from underneath me, held on with my right hand underneath the vertical arms of the ladder, right leg on the wall for support while my left leg dangled behind me to make way. He was below, but with no way of reaching me now. I looked at the scar. It was moving up and down his arm, shrinking and growing, but keeping its shape and details. He looked only vaguely frustrated. I didn’t want to talk or hear his voice, hoping that would keep him at bay.
On the platform—most likely the place where the factory’s old manager had watched the production floor, verbally shaped employees into efficient mechanized human parts with various threats in a hoarse voice—I watched the man with the moving scar walk back toward the door. Below the outside platform was another ladder down to the ground, red with rust and flaking. It was detailed by corrosion, by oxidation. The man couldn’t know this ladder existed. Even stranger, he seemed to have lost interest in me just as I appeared out of reach. I felt relief, but also a little let down. Was I not important enough for the investigator’s/assassin’s/sadist’s foul intents? Was I not recognizable as a target? My emotions swung back to relief.
I climbed down, fully realizing that the man may still be on the hunt. It was the only second time that day I felt I could be wrong. I stuck close to the building moving right, stopped at a gap where the factory ended, darted across to what looked to be a miniature golf course. There was a giant angry gorilla facing the road, a sneaky poacher, a waterfall with dyed turquoise water. There was no one playing, no one working—probably due to the oppressive fog that was now lifting and making details in every direction clearer.
I walked to the other side of the course, looked out down the road, then back to the motel and decided to make it to my car as quickly as possible. The door to my room was still open and my keys were on the bedside table that butted against the far wall. The idea that I had overlooked them earlier didn’t seem so impossible to me. Plenty of impossible things had happened already, plenty of things had been overlooked.
You know when you realize you’re in a dream? Usually it’s toward the end. The dream starts to mesh with reality, waking reality. The dream feels more real then, too, as real as any memory you’ve ever had. Maybe that’s why people are so eager to tell you their dreams: they are almost real, or maybe they are real. Reality with a fantastical bent, reality on steroids. But unfinished, always unfinished. Reality on steroids.
In the car, on the road, the man appeared in my rear view mirror in the back seat. “You realize who I am now, don’t you?”
You’re the Anxiety I tried to chase away, but futilely. You always get the upper hand, even in my dreams.
reality on steroids