I stood in a round, white room with only a porthole-shaped window to break up the monotony. The view outside was nothing more than an inky void. The smell of tidal pools and rotting kelp seeped in through the cracks where the silicone had crumbled away. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there. But I knew something had summoned me.
I spun around, suddenly conscious of a door, and saw a saffron-colored glow spilling out from underneath the doorframe, mildly illuminating the stark walls. Chilled air flowed in with the light and tickled the tops of my bare feet. The blue nail polish on my toe was chipped, making it look like I had half a toenail. This caught my attention more than the cold hardwood floor and the rough splinters beneath.
The lights went out. The door whooshed open, almost soundlessly, and a huge rush of arctic wind battered my body, whipping my nightgown around me like a pink, polyester flag.
The floorboards creaked. I felt the weight of some unknown mass travel along the length of them to my feet. I couldn’t move and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
The lights from outside the room came on again, illuminating the air abrasively. My eyes stung. A pounding sound filled my ears. I covered them with my hands until I realized it came from my very heart.
In the doorway I saw a silhouette of a man.
My heart, and the pounding, stopped. The man came for me, a mass of unfathomable malevolence. I screamed and screamed until the black depths of his silhouette was all I could see. I fell into him, fell into the darkness, in one never-ending cry.
A pair of hands grabbed my arms and pulled me up. They shook me until the darkness behind my eyes bled out into a blinding white.
And suddenly, I was in my bedroom lying underneath a smorgasbord of tangled sheets with my sister Ada peering over me. Her forehead furrowed with concern, making her look years older than fifteen.
She let go of my arms and stepped back.
“You scared the shit out of me, Perry,” she grumbled.
I propped myself up on my elbows and looked around my room at the concert posters on the walls and stacks of vinyl and CDs in the corner, taking comfort in their familiarity. My rarely touched electric guitar rested haphazardly against the window seat, a pleasing contrast to my stuffed animal collection.
I eyed my alarm clock. Two minutes until it blared uncontrollably. The observation was hazy, like I was not quite in my body yet.
“Well?” Ada said, crossing her arms. She was still in her pajamas, but her heavy-handed makeup was meticulously applied.
“Well what?” I repeated.
“Um, hello! Any explanation why your screams made me put down my mascara in mid-stroke and come rushing in here?”
“You have good hearing?”
Her voice bordered on a shrill hissy fit. Ada was always a degree or two away from full-on teenage angst.
“Well, I don’t know. I had a bad dream. Or something…”
It was a dream now, wasn’t it? My memory was disintegrating into bits and pieces, and the more I tried to recall it, the more I came up blank. But that feeling, that horrible feeling of dread still clung to the recesses of my mind like sticky cobwebs. Even the bright autumn sunshine that shone through my window wasn’t cleaning it up.
“Or something,” Ada scoffed. “It sounded like you were being murdered, you know. You’re lucky Mom didn’t hear you.”
She peered at me closer, inspecting my face for signs of mental illness. She did that often.
I rolled my eyes and got out of bed, feeling self-conscious with my thunder thighs rolling beneath my long Bad Religion T-shirt that doubled as a nightgown. Ada was as thin as a rail, but in the most envious way possible. She got the wholesome, toothsome Swedish good looks from my mother’s side of the family. Smooth skin, bright eyes, naturally blonde hair that she bleached (for some reason) and a long, lean build.
As my own luck would have it, I got my dad’s Italian side. Short (I’m 5’2”) with thick dark hair and big gray/blue eyes that acted as a mood ring (so I’ve been told). I’ve got a curvy build…at least that’s what I say when I feel like being nice to myself. In reality, I used to be about sixty pounds heavier, but despite the weight loss, it’s not enough. The fact is, I’m always blaming everything on those last fifteen pounds.
I walked over to the mirror and searched my face for blazing signs of craziness. I looked like crap but often did in the morning before my five cups of coffee kicked in.
My alarm went off. Ada and I nearly jumped out of our skin.
She held her hand to her chest as I ran over and whacked the alarm off. I gave her a quick look.
“I’m OK, Ada. It was just a dream. I don’t even remember what it was about anymore.”
She cocked her penciled brow at me. “Okaaaay. But if I get called out of school because you were in an ‘accident,’ again, I’ll be very upset.”
She turned and left the room. I let out a snort. No you wouldn’t, I thought. You would love any excuse to get out of school.
And frankly, I would have loved any excuse to get out of work. I sighed deeply. I felt a tinge of bizarre sadness now that the excitement of the dream was over. The terror that had pumped through my veins faded quickly in the morning light.
I got ready for the day and left the house, making my way to my motorbike that rested in the driveway. At least my mode of transportation was still exciting.
I know, I know. A motorbike. I’ve heard it all: It’s dangerous, I’ll die, I’ll look like a douchebag. It’s all true, but I wouldn’t trade in Put-Put for anything in the world.
Put-Put wasn’t a big bike like a Harley (I’m not that kind of a douchebag) but a black 2004 Fireblade. I thought it was the bee’s knees. Sleek and quick as hell. I wasn’t a reckless driver, though, and most of the time I stayed at the same speed as all the other vehicles on the road. Until there’s a traffic jam, and then I’ll overtake everyone on the shoulder, yelling “Later, Bitchez!” through my helmet as I pass.
I got Put-Put four years ago for my eighteenth birthday. I was going through my “stuntwoman” phase, when I thought becoming a professional stuntwoman would be more exciting and lucrative than a career in advertising. After motorbike lessons, a year of karate, a few skydiving sessions, and weekends spent at the firing range learning how to use a gun, I abandoned ship and ended up getting a communications degree. Not that being a stuntwoman wasn’t for me, but I honestly lost interest. My mother calls me wishy-washy. I just think I’m delightfully impulsive.
Oddly enough, I kind of regret getting my degree. They say sometimes you have to go to school in order to find out what you don’t want to do versus what you want to do. And guess what? After four years at the University of Oregon, I decided advertising wasn’t the career for me.
But what can you do. After I finished school and moved from Eugene back home to Portland, the economy hit rock bottom and I was lucky enough to get a job, let alone one related to my degree. I got hired at an agency in Portland, which could not have made my parents happier.
I, on the other hand, could be happier. I’ve been a damn receptionist for almost a year. But as my parents like to remind me every time I complain, at least I have a job. A soul-sucking job I hate with all my being, but at least I have one. They have a point, though. At the moment, it’s really the only sense of identity I have.
Anyway, my job is where I was headed that morning. I brought Put-Put down the long driveway and contemplated taking my bike in the opposite direction. East would be nice. I could zip along the Columbia River until I hit Idaho, then maybe join the cowboys in Montana or head south to the deserts where my heart would soar like the mesa-grazing eagles. But as I had done every weekday before this one, I shook the fantasy out of my head and roared down the road towards the city and responsibility. Having a motorbike was such a tease.
“Good afternoon, Allingham and Associates, Perry speaking,” I said into the phone. Lunchtime was approaching and I desperately wanted this mundane morning to end. I transferred the call to the respective party and eyed the clock on my computer that counted down to when Alana took over as my relief.
Alana used to be the receptionist before I came along and I suppose the girl hated the job as much as I do. She was promoted to office manager and completely resents the fact that for two fifteen-minute breaks and one lunch hour, she has to cover reception for me. I cannot tell you how many times I have come back to find irate callers on the line. Something tells me that she answers the phone using my name and just treats people like crap to get me in trouble, though I haven’t been able to prove this yet.
Yeah, I’m the first to admit I’m not exactly the best receptionist material. I kind of feel like reception is beneath me, but because it’s with a reputable ad agency and I just got my degree, it’s necessary to pay my dues. I figured I could start at reception and move my way up.
That said, I hoped my “due” days were coming to a merciful end. I’d been there almost a year with not even a hint of advancement. The economy wasn’t making matters any easier.
I’m stuck. While I live at home in my childhood room and get nice home-cooked meals every night, I wanted to get the hell of out of Dodge.
I know I’m only twenty-two, but I totally thought I would have it made by this age. That’s highly ambitious, but I can’t help it. I’ve always grown up feeling like I was special, like I was meant to do something really amazing with my life and make an impact on people. That’s probably why I’ve dabbled in so many different genres over the years. From guitar lessons to stunts, to photography summer camp, to horseback riding, to taking painting and sculpting courses at the Y, to, last but not least, writing. I’ve tried everything to find my something and, in the end, walked away with nothing concrete to show for it. Maybe if I just buckled down and stayed with one thing it could happen, but my fear is that everything else might pass me by.
Naturally, I thought advertising would be the perfect platform for me to showcase my creativity and make an impact on the world but just like the ads themselves, nothing ever is as it seems.
“OK, I’m here now.”
The nasal voice of Alana shot through my thoughts like a drill. I looked up at her while removing my headset and gave her a smile. A fake smile, but a smile nonetheless.
I got up and displayed the desk proudly with my arms. “It’s all yours.”
She gave me a quick sneer before plopping down on the ramrod chair with an exaggerated sigh.
I grabbed my bag and quickly headed out the door before she decided to use the bathroom or something. I caught the elevator down and headed out to my usual bench beside a coffee shop and pulled out my iPhone to pilfer the free Wi-Fi.
It was a beautiful fall day with a sun that warmed your arms and nary a brown leaf in sight. The Pacific Northwest enjoyed an Indian summer this year, and so far the rain had taken a vacation for much of September. Usually, at this time of year—hell, at all times of the year—we are submitted to a daily battering of rain, general dampness, and a wind that likes to turn your umbrellas inside out.