To Pass Us By

📅 Published on July 4, 2021

“To Pass Us By”

Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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“Hey, Derek!  Come here!  Plissken’s got a new video!”

From his cubicle, Sean Bannister watched as Derek rolled his chair down the aisle to Jacob’s desk, and even though the day was late, most of the senior staff had gone home, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on. They were still trying to stay quiet, watching a video on Jacob’s phone.  He heard them trying to keep quiet, though, between the phone’s tinny speaker and their constant snickering, they weren’t doing a very good job.

“Hey, everyone, this is Wake Plissken, and today I’m heading deep into ‛Beyond the Forbidden’ to see if it’s as scary as everyone has been telling me it is. Okay, it is opening the door of the mansion. Oh, a guy in a tailored suit is here greeting me. He looks like the love child of a zombie and Vincent Price, but who cares, right?  Gotta expect a few weirdos in an old, abandoned mansion, but why is he taking care of the old abandoned mansion, anyway?  So, let’s see, the kitchen is-”

Sean heard a faint roar, and the guy on the video suddenly got over the top dramatic.

“What?  Oh, no!  I heard something in the freezer!  I shouldn’t open that. I should probably just…oop, the door locked behind me, and no windows, so I guess we’ll have to….WHAT IS THAT?  WHAT IS THAT?  Oh, run run run run run run run!”

Derek and Jacob started laughing themselves sick as the air filled with enough expletives to fill a Tarantino movie.  He just sighed, looked at the spreadsheet he was working on, and then his eyes wandered around the cubicle.

Above his desk was a shelf, and on the shelf was a variety of knick-knacks.  He’d listened to a self-help video not too long ago, telling him that the best way to encourage productivity and focus was to make sure you had reminders of the things you loved best.

Among the knick-knacks was a cup from when he saw Star Wars in the theater when he was only ten years old.  Next to it, a little statue of Peter from Dawn of the Dead.  The figure itself wasn’t old, but it was the first movie he was too young to see in the theater.  It never got a rating from the MPAA, so it had to be amazing.  It turned out to be the reason he was scared of malls for years afterward.

A signed picture of Kurt Russell, a foul ball from the season the Tigers won the World Series…and finally, the tipped-over picture frame.  He stood it up again, and there was a picture of his little girl. She was six when the photo was taken in the early 90s, Christmas, sitting and smiling while in front of her brand new Super Nintendo system.

That was the last time he had seen her.  His wife, Mary, took them and left, leaving divorce papers for him to sign.  The last Christmas gift to him.  He didn’t even know what to say.  “No ambition, no direction, no interest in us at all,” she had said in court.  In the end, he hadn’t even bothered to fight it. He’d felt so pathetic, so lost, that he had no defense.  He didn’t even have to pay child support because she didn’t want it; she’d found a job several states over, and if he ever wanted to apologize for his ways, maybe he’d be able to talk to Christine again.

But he didn’t understand.  He didn’t know what he needed to apologize for.  He thought everyone was happy.  He thought everything was fine.  But apparently, he just didn’t see the writing on the wall and hadn’t for a long time.

He thought his life would change dramatically, but in the end, it didn’t.  He had started as a file clerk in his company and had gotten promoted to account supervisor. But that was about where he stayed.  He was comfortable enough.  The salary wasn’t crazy, but he could afford to keep up the apartment where Mary had left him, and he ate just fine.  He would come home from the office, watch TV, and then go to sleep.

That happened, on and off, for the past, what, thirty years, now?  He’d become a fixture at his office. A smiling face, always eager to help, knowledgeable about stuff.  That was Sean, in a nutshell.

Now he was fifty-something, and the most change in his life was the desktop he used.  First, the company had tried its best to hold onto its aging Commodore 64s, but they eventually swapped to the IBM, and he went through the 386, 486, the Pentium, and now he stared an LCD screen and a spreadsheet program.  The keystrokes differed, and the graphics, but the process still remained the same.

He looked again at his shelf and collection and then the sounds of his co-workers, new hires, kids, listening to their shows about guys playing video games.  He remembered when the thrill was the high score or enjoying a LAN party after hours in the office on DOOM.  Now they watched other people instead of doing it themselves.

He never used to understand his parents, and how they loved all that big band music, which never interested him in the slightest. He would run over to an arcade cabinet with a stack of quarters while they sat a distance away, chuckling to themselves but shaking their heads.

Now he knew.  He understood it all, exactly.  He could tell Derek and Jacob that Wake Plissken was a reference to Escape from New York, but would they care?  The early 80s was ancient history to them, just like he couldn’t understand what they saw in a moron in a headset babbling about a game.

The world was passing him by.  It wasn’t long ago that he had celebrated his 50th birthday.  He was a dinosaur now.  The promise of his youth was long gone.  His dreams resided in the remembrances of a few objects he kept on a shelf.  Preserved, just as they should be.

Just like he should be.

He checked his phone for the time.  He sighed, punched his electronic timesheet, and shut off his monitor.  He stood, groaning at his aching legs, and watched the sunset through the glass walls that made up the office building floor.  The orange was fading, surrounded by dark, purpled clouds that showed a thunderstorm was coming.  He was going to be driving right into it.

He sighed once more, looking over to where the two were still huddled, oblivious to the world outside.

“Good night, guys.  Be careful out there.”

A hand came out and waved but was followed by yelps as something must have come barreling out of a door somewhere in the game…armed with a chainsaw, by the sound of it.

He shook his head and left them to their devices and went out to his car, along, getting in just as the first patters of rain hit the windshield.

Sean had been driving for well over an hour and was still far from his apartment, or even a place to get a burger.  Construction.  Always construction, even in the pouring rain.  Why did they have to keep ripping up the road and repaving it?  Maybe if they did it right the first time, it wouldn’t be like this.

His Book on CD ended, and he ejected it, hearing the radio come on.

“…Lovelein died at home, surrounded by loved ones.  A memorial will be held in his honor, as prior students come to pay their respects to the teacher that meant so much to them, having retired a few years earlier.

He shut off the radio.  Lovelein.  That had been his tenth-grade math teacher.  God, the man must have been, what, in his eighties?  He always seemed ‛old’ when Sean had been taking classes, though he was probably younger than Sean was now when he had been taking his classes.  They had never necessarily been ‛friends,’ but he had always gotten along in those classes, and Mr. Lovelein had praised him more than once on his work, thinking he’d be a great financial whiz someday if he applied himself.

And look where he was now—another pang of irredeemable loss.

All his heroes were going.  His mother had told him he was named for Sean Connery, who was still in the part of James Bond when he was born.  Now he was gone, too.

Nothing was forever, not even diamonds.

He saw the exit on the freeway coming up and nobody getting off of it.  He knew it was nowhere near his normal exit, but at this point, he didn’t care.  He couldn’t take another minute of sitting in the pouring rain, hungry, tired, and miserable.  He gunned the engine, pulled onto the shoulder, passed the yellow pickup that honked at him, and got into the turnoff lane.

He wasn’t familiar with this part of town, but he found a Wendy’s quickly enough, and one drive-thru spicy chicken sandwich later, put his address into his phone to GPS the best way there.

It wouldn’t work.  It wasn’t unusual, especially in this weather, for it to sit there and blink at him like it was, but at least he could shut off the routing system and navigate with the built-in map.

But even the map wasn’t working properly, either.  It just showed an arrow in the middle of nothing. That couldn’t be right because he was traveling on the road right now.

He slowed down and tried to find some road signs.  But even as unfamiliar as he was with the area, he knew something wasn’t right. He appeared to be driving along a back road, somewhere in farm country. But there were no farms this close to the freeway this far south. He was sure of it.

After a few more minutes and no other side streets to pass – yet another oddity – he turned around and headed back towards the freeway.  Even if he were stuck in traffic, at least he’d be able to find his way home.

He started to get concerned after driving for another half an hour, and no sign of the freeway emerged. He knew he couldn’t have missed it. Hell, he definitely couldn’t have missed the Wendy’s, either.  Just this one road, with the farmland visible past scrub brush and small, stunted trees, the thunder and lightning making it seem much emptier than it probably was.

He stopped the car, rechecked his GPS.  Still blinking, no roads visible anywhere.

Confused, he drove on once more, keeping an eye out for anything resembling a landmark.  Anything that could get him back to the suburban areas he knew so well.

The patter of the rain was beginning to drive him nuts.  He turned on the radio.  Instead of a station, all he heard was the wavy static of a million out-of-range stations, occasionally catching a word here and there.

With the car still going and not seeing a soul on the road beside him anywhere, he ducked down to look for a CD from his wallet to slide in.  He had podcasts on his phone, sure, but he loved having something in his hands.  It made everything more real that way.

As he dug through, finally coming across Helmet’s Meantime, he was struck with another hit of nostalgia.  All these bands he used to listen to, rocking out in the car with his friends. Now, as he held the CD in his hand, he thought of those memories and realized how his life had turned out. Spreadsheets?  Divorce?  Mid-fifties and nothing to show for it except a collection of old music and movie memorabilia?

He shut his eyes and thought long and hard about a life not worth living, having ended back at that Christmas.

To be back there again and have everything the way it was.  But that couldn’t happen.  Not now.

He opened his eyes to a screeching sound.  The CD flew out of his hand and bounced under the passenger car seat as the car came to a stop.

He thumped his head on the steering wheel, but only mildly.  Groaning, he looked ahead and saw he had drifted to the side. His car had somehow found the only thing that existed on this stretch of road…an abutment that, though it probably screwed up the paint on his car, kept him from plunging into a roaring river a few yards ahead.

His headlights, through the rain, picked up a bridge spanning the river and what appeared to be some sort of building on the other side, just at the edge of the light.

He wondered a lot of things. First, how something as obvious and significant as this bridge, the river, and the building could have popped up so quickly without him noticing (though he chalked that up to the rain). Secondly, why it seemed to be so difficult to find his way back to the freeway, and finally, what river this was, it wasn’t as wide and grand as, say, the Mississippi. Still, it was more than a basic trickle, and it didn’t seem like the weather should have made it as fast-flowing and turbulent as it looked…and no river that fast-flowing was familiar to him at all.

He tried to back his car up, but as he did so, he heard an awful ratcheting noise and, after getting out of the car to look, found the front bumper had gotten lodged between the guardrail and the concrete.  If he kept pulling, he’d rip the entire front of his car off.

He sighed, went back to the car, and reached in to grab his phone from the dashboard holder.

It wasn’t there.

He dug underneath the seats, seeing if maybe it had gotten lodged there along with that CD.  But he came up empty.

He tried to dial out using the display on his car, but it claimed there was no connection to the unit.

He checked the ground outside, but if it had fallen out of the car, he’d never find it in this weather. Even if he could somehow turn his headlights around at the ground below, the rain-soaked road, now growing puddles, would need him to dig around and search on his hands and knees.  Besides, if it had fallen into a puddle that deep, it would be done for, anyway.

Considering even his car couldn’t find it, he had to expect the worst.

He got back in the car and shut off the engine.  It may have been wet, but it wasn’t too cold, and sooner or later, somebody would be bound to see him.  Even most trail roads had to have somebody come by. Nobody would have made the road otherwise.

But no other cars came.  He checked his car’s clock occasionally, and when it finally reached 10:00, with the rain still pelting down and not wanting to risk his battery anymore, decided that maybe that building across the bridge might be worth seeing.  Even if it was just a warehouse, he was sure, considering the weather, that if security showed up, they’d be able to help him.

Hell, even if he was arrested, it would be something better than sitting in his broken-down car.  At least it meant he had somebody to explain things to.

Turning his car off, he tried to make it over the bridge before his headlights cut out, as there didn’t seem to be any street lamps anywhere.  He made it three-quarters of the way, and then, he walked on in the darkness, trying not to think about the rushing river beneath his feet, keeping the sound behind him. Still, his mind played tricks on him, not used to being out in unfamiliar territory, soaking wet, unable even to use starlight to help him.

Then, he was nearly blinded.  There was a loud pop as electricity crackled in the air, and some sparks and the building ahead of him beamed light for a moment before flickering and then calming to a normal level of intensity.

It was a hotel.  Out here, in the middle of nowhere, a three-story, fairly modern hotel.  A few assorted cars in the parking lot and glass double doors led into what seemed a nice and well-kept lobby.

Why it wasn’t lit up before became slightly more transparent when Sean saw a figure wearing a plastic poncho emerge from a shed off to one side of the parking lot, which itself was surrounded by a tall fence and electrical warning signs.  The figure walked out of a gate, squeezed a padlock shut, then walked back across the lot to the front door.  Now nearer to the door, if they were normal-sized, then Sean reasoned the figure had to be close to seven feet tall.

The figure, still wearing the dripping poncho, held the door open, and at that moment, Sean realized the figure was holding the door for him.  He raced as quickly as he could across the sopping parking lot and in through the door.

It was more running than Sean had done in a while, and he tried to thank the figure as he drew in several long breaths and put his hands on his knees.  He knew he wasn’t in great shape, but he never guessed just how a little running would have winded him so much until then.

“Sorry about the lights, but we don’t get much help coming out this way, especially in this weather.  I usually end up doing everything myself.”  The figure removed the poncho and flung it onto a coat hook alongside the lobby door, the movement reminding Sean of a stage magician in its fluidity and grace. Now visible, the figure, a lanky man with longish, graying hair in a pressed suit, went behind the counter, steepled his fingers, and sat down.  In his seat, his great height was drastically reduced, but his presence no less imposing.  “Thankfully, it was a fix that didn’t need a world-grade electrician, and luckily I got them on before you fell and broke something important.”

Sean blinked a few times and, still recovering his breath, looked around the lobby.  The interior consisted of marble walls and floors, alternating between the traditional white and black with a pinkish color.  Two brown chairs faced a television that was turned off. But the television itself was old.  He was older than he even was, clearly a product from the mid-50s, with the oval screen barely visible in the middle of the wood and fabric-covered box.

Yet, despite its apparent age and design, it didn’t seem out of place.  Though Sean knew his family had a TV just like that, which broke before he was born, and his dad had kept it out in the garage, in the vain hope of repairing it someday to avoid having to buy a new one.  Common sense and the pace of technology eventually won out; well, that, and that the TV cabinet had a record player and a radio in it, making it weigh as much as a grown man.  It stayed in the garage under a pile of rags for a long time before his dad finally spent a day lugging it out to the curb.  He ripped a few tendons in his hand during the move, but he did get it out there.

Another memory of better times.  Dad had been gone for almost a decade now, a victim of a car accident.  Mom hadn’t been the same after that; when she hit her head on the stove a few years later and had to go off to the nursing home, she barely remembered him now.  Even beyond selling the house, the worst, the absolute worst, had been going through all her possessions and photo books and memories.  What he couldn’t bear to sell, he kept in a storage unit.  Maybe someday, he would be able to go through that and make wiser choices.  But then, he barely had the guts to go see her, and one day he got the phone call saying she was gone, too, out of the blue, just like that.  He hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye to either of them.

“Sir?  Is everything all right?  Perhaps I was wrong about you not having hurt yourself?”

Sean suddenly realized the man behind the counter had been speaking to him while he’d been lost in thought.  “I’m sorry, it’s just been a very hard day for me.”

“Some days generally are.  But am I correct that you walked all the way here because you are having car issues?”

“Yeah, yeah.”  Sean rubbed the back of his head, trying to get his mind back to the present.  “I just need to see if I can contact a tow.  I have AAA, but I can’t figure out where my phone went off to.”

“Not a problem, sir.  Unfortunately, we do not have a phone out here in the lobby for visitor use, but if you have your card, I would be more than happy to go to our landline in the back and contact them for you.”  The man gave a warm but tired smile as if this was something that happened often.

Sean got out his card and handed it over.  “No cell phones or lobby phones?  That’s a little strange in this day and age.”

“Keeping up with the times can be harder than you would think.  We make do with what we have.  One moment.”

Sean watched him go into a room behind the counter and heard, of all things, a rotary dial being spun. A moment later, the door closed, and he could hear a muffled conversation taking place.  He strolled back and forth in the lobby, not wanting to go too far, but he could see a small dining area for continental breakfasts, as well as a hallway leading to first floor rooms and, if the sign was correct, a pool and weight room.  Glancing down the hall, he saw a red-carpeted floor leading down a hallway lined with red doors, all lit with a soft, yellowish glow.

For some reason, it looked like the hallway was a lot longer than could fit in the building, but it just must have been the night messing with him.


The man at the front desk had returned, handing back his card.  “Unfortunately, due to the weather and our somewhat remote location, a tow truck will not be available until the morning.  I deeply apologize for the inconvenience, sir.  I’d be more than happy to arrange a room for you, complimentary, to alleviate any issues.”

Until the morning, a pain in the neck. But he’d already had dinner, and besides, what was he in such a rush to go home to?  An empty apartment?  Maybe an evening away from those same walls would do him good.  “Sure, sounds great!  I appreciate it.”

“I sincerely hope you will, sir.  You’re not the first person who has gotten caught up in bad weather, I assure you; it’s not a problem to help.”

Sean looked around for the computer to get his information entered but realized there wasn’t one; the only thing was a leather-bound book on a stand, a ballpoint pen next to it, opened to a page for name entry and date.  He signed it, and in his haste, suddenly noticed the previous signature.

It was dated two months ago.

How does a hotel stay open if no one has signed in for two months?

“Do you need my license or any other info?”

“You may leave your ID here to pick up in the morning when you leave.  It’s all the collateral I need.”

Still confused and a little off-put, Sean slid his driver’s license out of his wallet.  The man regarded it, got an envelope from a desk drawer, and placed the license inside, with a small yellow tab attached, which appeared to be for reference.  He then reached into another drawer and rummaged through it, clinking and clattering.

Room keys. Sean looked at the drawer and nearly gasped. Not the keycards he had become so used to, but honest-to-God keys with little number fobs on them. The drawer was literally full of them.

Maybe he hadn’t been wrong when he thought that hallway seemed a little long.

The man returned with one labeled “1041767.”  “Here you are.  On the first floor, follow the hallway around when it curves to the right.  It will come on you more quickly than you might think.  If you have any questions or concerns, dial #67 on the yellow phone.”

Sean thanked him, finding the man cordial, but the situation growing stranger by the minute.  Why such a high number on a room key?  It didn’t make any sense.

Yet, the man was right.  Getting to the right turn took nearly forever, but the room was almost immediately on his left when he did.

He put the key in the lock and turned it.  He pushed the door open, ready to throw his wet jacket on a chair and watch some TV.

He had only just closed the door behind him when he heard a noise come from deeper in the room, and when he looked to see where it had come from, he dropped the key to the floor in astonishment.

His daughter, just as she was back on that Christmas, unwrapping her Super Nintendo.  Six years old, hair up in little pigtails, wearing her Little Mermaid pajamas, the tree in the corner of their old house. No hotel bed, no hotel amenities…no hotel, even.  It was their house, their old house, and a quick look back to the door confirmed that the door he had come in through was now the hall that led to their front door.

His wife, smiling with delight at Christine, a mug of coffee in hand, sitting in the armchair, looking as beautiful as the day they married.  The window looking out at the snow-covered backyard, still dark out as Christine had woken both of them up at 6:00, only a few hours after they had prepped everything the night before.

She looked up at him, her freckled face overjoyed.  “Oh, Dad!  See what Santa brang?”

Brang.  Not brought.  He felt his lip quivering, tears fighting to emerge.

It was the last day, the last perfect day.

He ran over and gave her a big hug, and he felt her tiny arms wrap around him.  It was a warm, loving embrace.

And then he looked at his wife.  She stood up from the armchair.  “Well, I think it’s time I got breakfast started.  Who wants bacon?”

Christine gave one last squeeze before racing to the kitchen to see if she could help cook.

The last, perfect day, before everything was over.  He looked in the mirror, hanging on the wall next to the tree, and he saw himself as he looked that day. He was in his mid-twenties, having not shaven the night before, wearing his Motley Crüe t-shirt and some flannel pants, hair longish but not unkempt.

It wasn’t how he was, but how he remembered himself to be.

Was it…was it a chance to start again?

He moved into the kitchen and just gazed at them as they worked in the kitchen together, making Christmas breakfast.  There were cookies in the refrigerator.  Christine would sneak one of them in a few minutes, but it didn’t matter on that day.

He reached for them to tell them how much he loved them and that everything would be better from here on out.

But then he saw his hand.

His hands, outside of the mirror, were still those of a man in his mid-fifties.  He looked down at himself and saw his rumpled work shirt, trying desperately to stay buttoned over his expanding middle.

Reality broke through.  He saw his wife looking at his daughter as they cracked eggs and huddled around the stove.

No, not the last, perfect day.  Already in her mind, she had been plotting to leave, giving him just this one last Christmas together before she would leave, Christine in tow.

He stepped back, saying nothing.  At that moment, no longer were they the flesh and blood people he had seen when he walked in, but some sort of two-dimensional image, a fake, a fraud, fragments of a memory.

He looked around for the hotel door but didn’t see it, just the frame of the movie set, or whatever it was, that looked like their old house.  He began to panic until he remembered the man’s words at the counter…a yellow phone.  But what was the number to call?

He felt his panic rising again until he saw the keys, almost buried in the brown carpet on the floor.  He snatched them up, going to the front hallway where they used to keep their phone.

There it was, the yellow, corded phone on the wall.  It had to be the one.

He picked up the receiver, hearing the dial tone, hoping it would jog his memory.  It was pound something…pound what?

He looked at the keys and noticed what he had missed the first time.

His birthdate.

He typed #67.

“Front desk.”

“This is…this is room…”

“Mr. Bannister.  Yes, you had a question?”

“I…”  He swallowed, hearing the happy sounds from the kitchen.  “I can’t take this room for the night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  Please look to your right.”

Hanging up the phone, Sean looked to his right, and there, almost like it had been placed there by somebody just dropping it into their house, the hotel door and the surrounding panel work around the doorway were visible.

He opened it and stepped out into the hallway.  Sean looked up and down the hallway.  The door next to his read “1111439.”  Sean moved toward the door and pounded on it, trying to see if maybe he had just temporarily lost his mind and everything would be okay.

There was a rustle behind it, and a woman, dressed in a polka-dot dress and what Sean remembered his mother calling a “Victory Roll” hairstyle.  “Yes, sir?  Can I help you?  If you’re collecting for the war effort, you do remember it ended last year, right?”

“Mama, who’s there?”

Sean’s face turned white as he looked into the room and saw a man, well, into his 80s, turn around in a chair at a kitchen table.  A mirror hung behind him, and in it, Sean saw a boy, probably no older than six or seven.

Sean gulped and tried to compose himself.  “I’m…I’m sorry, Ma’am.  I believe I made a mistake.”

With a sigh, the woman shut the door.

“Are you okay, Mr. Bannister?”

Sean turned in surprise and slammed his back against the door, still reeling, with a tightness in his chest from what he had just seen.  It was the man from the front counter, somehow appearing there without making any noise. The man didn’t seem upset or, considering what he had just witnessed, demonic or filled with evil thought…he appeared genuinely concerned, and that, more than anything, threw Sean out of sorts even more.

“What…what is going on?  What did I see?  Why were my wife and daughter in my room?  Why was that man a little boy in the mirror?  What is this place?”

The man looked at the number on the door behind Sean and nodded.  “Mr. Clintworth was six the day he went for his first day of school, having had to work on the family farm to keep things going.  His father would meet him at school, having finally returned from the reconstruction effort in Europe. However, they would die young, and despite steady work in the automotive fields, he never achieved the greatness he thought he would.  This, for him, was his favorite day.”

His favorite day…

“I asked you, what is this place?”

The man smiled.  “It’s a place where a moment of happiness is caught, a fleeting thing, and given as a gift, forever.”

“Forever?”  Sean looked at the door and its plaque.  “But they’ll die.  It…it can’t be forever.”

“It’s a memory, Mr. Bannister.  It’s frozen in place.  Those who want it badly enough will never die.”

Sean slid away from the door, keeping his eye on the man the whole time as he moved down the hallway.  He passed by more doors, the numbers glancing by as he watched.


He stopped.  The dash in that last one, why was that there?

But then, as he waited, he heard something filter under the door. It sounded like a musical instrument, like a violin. No, too light and fast.  A fiddle?  He listened closely. It sounded a lot like The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  It then stopped.

Play it again, father…play it.

The voice that came from under that door, he would have never heard it if he wasn’t paying attention, but its guttural, dried, decayed sound.  It was a voice older than anyone had a right to be.

They are forever frozen in time.

No.  The memory was frozen in time.

He turned, running back down the hall, but the hallway seemed to continue on eternally, no turn off back to the lobby.  Red doors led everywhere.

He turned, but the way back was the same.

He turned once more, and there was the man.

“Are you sure you do not wish to stay, Mr. Bannister?”

Sean gasped, falling to the floor.

“No!  Let me out of here!”

“Then follow me, sir.  We are nothing, if not courteous.  We’re in the service industry, after all.”

The man walked down the hall and turned left, almost seemingly into the blank wall.  Sean pulled himself up and went to the spot and found the wallpaper was designed in a way that fooled the eye, an optical illusion that hid the way back to the front entrance.

Or, at least, that’s how it appeared, now.

Back at the desk, the man waited as Sean cautiously came over.  He waved to the guestbook.  Sean took one look at it and the pen next to it.  He ignored the pen and ripped his name out of the book.  The man didn’t even bat an eye.

“I apologize, sir, that you had to come here this evening.  It was thought you needed lodging.  But perhaps you were less interested than previously believed.”

Sean held the ball of crumpled paper in his hand.  “How…how can you live with yourself?  How can you keep them all here?”

The man leaned forward, steepling his fingers, and gave Sean a sad smile.  “Who said I’m the owner here?”

Sean backed away from the desk, the man keeping the tired, almost pitiable expression in his view, feeling for the door behind him.

He kept the man’s face in view until he missed one of the steps, slipping on the wet concrete and falling backward.  He hit the parking lot hard on the flat of his back, but the only pain he registered was a twisted ankle.  Standing up, he looked back over to where his car sat, still stuck on the bridge abutment.  It was only a vague shape in the dark, out beyond the edge of the hotel lights.

Maybe it was stuck, but anything was better than here.

Limping on his injured foot, he moved as quickly as he could through the pouring rain, away from whatever it was that he had left behind.

He left the ring of light and fell into complete darkness, hopping towards the sound of the raging river, following the road back to the bridge, hoping that he didn’t miss it in the dark and plunge into the water below.

He slipped once more, his face clanging on the metal grating of the bridge, hearing the water rush by underneath.  He felt a rising panic now, not quite sure why, but he felt now like he needed to hurry, that if he didn’t move, all this would be for nothing.  Even though his out-of-shape body fought him the whole way, he got to his feet and clanged on the metal, reaching out for where he knew his car had to be.

His hand nearly plowed into his windshield.  Feeling forward, he grabbed the driver-side door handle and pulled it open.

Out of the rain, and with the interior lights now on, he slammed the door shut, looking out as the rain streamed over the glass.  For a moment, he thought he saw something move in the dark, but what it may have been, he didn’t look harder to see.  He looked down to see where his keys were.

As he looked, the interior lights dimmed.  But after a moment, he realized he was still able to see.  And quite well.

He looked up.

Outside, the world had changed.  The man was no longer anywhere near a stream, or a bridge, for that matter.  It was morning, and sunlight was coming into his car…very early morning sunlight, at that.

He opened his car door, thinking maybe it was some sort of trick, but no.  He was on some side industrial road, going past some buildings that clearly had not been used in some time.  He heard the slight buzz of traffic on the freeway, a short distance away.

His car had pulled up slightly onto the curb like he had drifted to the side after falling asleep at the wheel.  Had that been what he had done?

He winced as he moved his leg, the twisted ankle still hurting.  He’d never been on this road, would never dream of pulling off here for any reason.  Whatever it was he had seen, it could not have been a simple dream.  But whatever it was, it had vanished, along with the night.

He didn’t feel tired, though.  That was a concern.

He started the car and checked the time on the dashboard.  It was only then he noticed his phone back up in its little holster as if it had never left.  He typed in his workplace.  He would arrive in plenty of time if he left now.

That day, Sean had gotten several looks from his office mates, partly because he was in the same clothes as yesterday, but his boss also complimented him by the way he had completed this week’s spreadsheets so quickly.  Sean surprised him again by saying that, even though he was a little late in asking if it would be possible to move into a management position…something with potential mentoring capabilities.

Once during his lunch, he went into a corner and dialed up a number on his phone. He spent the better part of his break talking with someone, almost excitedly.  After he finished, he grabbed the picture on his desk and stood it up.

Just as he was leaving for the day, he stopped at Jacob’s cubicle, where Derek was just about to come in to watch another video. Inside were a Star Wars glass, a statue from Dawn of the Dead, and a couple of other things.  Not the foul ball, though; he was going to see what he could get for it from an auction. They were surprised when he offered them a plastic bag and asked if there was anything they wanted since they seemed like collectors.

They smiled and eagerly picked over the stuff.  “Thanks, Mr. Uh…”

“Bannister.  It’s okay, I know I haven’t talked to you guys a whole lot, so I’m not embarrassed.  But I figured this stuff will mean a lot more to you than it does me now.”

Derek held the signed Kurt Russell picture and beamed.  “This is awesome!  Ever see Escape from New York?  I know it’s old, but I love all those old 80s movies.  But why?  You’re not going to go…like, jump off a bridge or anything, are you?  There are hotlines you can call.”

“No, Derek.  Quite the opposite.  I just…”  Sean stopped thinking of just the right phrase for a moment, but nothing wise came to mind.  At that, he just smiled, wished them well, and stepped out the office to his car, not wanting to wait another minute to see what lay ahead.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Seth Paul

Publisher's Notes: N/A

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