IN THE LAND OF KEYS
By Larry O. Grand
AND the next feeling he felt, along with the blend of pure undiluted fear, raw adrenaline and overblown anxiety, was that of something warm and wet in his crotch. "Oh shit," he thought, "I just pissed on myself! Shit, shit, SHIT!!!" He leapt behind the dumpster as another bullet embedded itself in the brick wall of the alley. Rolling over and placing his back against the wall, he glanced down and realized, to his greater horror, that it was not urine that was flowing down his leg, but dark red blood from a very messy golf ball-sized hole in his left hip. He clenched his teeth to prevent himself from yelping in pain and surprise, as a hail of bullets briefly rained over his head. "Okay, okay ..." he mumbled to himself, as he fumbled through the pockets of his brown leather jacket, looking for something that wasn't there. "Ah, crap!" His left hand immediately flew down to his hip, clenching his leg in an attempt to squelch the flow of blood that refused to stop, despite the pressure that he was putting on it. His bloody hand wiped the sweat forming on his forehead. The firing had stopped, and he could hear heavy footprints stomping towards his general vicinity. He looked around, surveying his surroundings -- green dumpster, smelling of fetid coffee grounds; brick alley formed by two adjacent buildings; closed wire fence to his right. To his surprise he realized that he was not leaning against a wall, but a door. "Infinity Cafe" read the neatly painted sign, centered on the upper half of the door. He reached up with his right hand to grasp the doorknob. Turning it slightly, he discovered that it was not locked. He glanced back towards the alley; several shadows loomed around the corner of the dumpster. He gave the doorknob a full turn and leaned back slightly. The door slid open easily on well-oiled hinges. Pushing with his feet, he quickly scuffled through the open door and into the darkened storeroom. He looked down and realized that his hip, still bleeding, was leaving an easy-to-follow trail on the ground and into the doorway. Still, maybe there was a place to hide ... He swung his useless legs through the doorway and leaned against the door, sliding it back to a closer position. There was a faint click as the latch clicked into place. Gasping in a half panic, he reached out towards some wooden crates. Grasping the top of the wooden frame, he managed to pull himself to his knees. Grunting with pain, he managed to put his right leg forward to brace himself as he brought up his left leg to stand on both feet. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he noticed a faint light in the corner, outlining a door frame. He took an uneasy step, and then another. Every other step had a slight hint of moisture to it; he immediately realized that the gentle "squish" noise that he was hearing was the blood that had trickled into his left shoe. Moving forward cautiously, his feet brushing against something that he didn't really want to identify, he made his way to the door frame. Gently groping along the wall, he found a door handle and wrapped his hand around it. Pulling with slight ease, he opened the door. He was looking into a small bar. The dim 60-watt bulbs cast auburn shadows onto dark brown wood paneling. About ten circular tables were arranged between a small stage and a well-stocked bar. Two people were on the stage, working on tuning a guitar. One, a woman in her mid-20s, was also humming into a microphone. A bartender was busy wiping down his counter. The bar was otherwise deserted, except for the musicians and the few people milling about, who appeared to be employees. "Hey, you with the band?" A young man in a green turtleneck and an apron stood about five feet away, holding a bucket. "They've been waiting for you!" "Wha .... no, I .... ?" He shook his head and opened the door a little bit more. "Huh?" asked the man with the bucket, "What are you doing back there? You okay?" The two people on the stage stopped their tuning and looked directly at him. A look of confusion crossed the woman's face. Suddenly, there was a loud crash. He looked around to see that the back door had been thrown open. Light streamed in, silhouetting two figures, holding firearms. "There he is!" one of them shouted, pointing at him. He whirled around and pushed his way through the door, almost knocking over the man with the bucket, who had moved closer and was shouting something that he couldn't make it. He glanced around. "Exit .... exit ...." kept pounding through his head. Bar. Pictures on the wall. A picture of a diner. An old jukebox. Doors leading to the bathroom. A waitress carrying an empty coffee pot. An old poster on the wall. A neon beer sign. "Where's the EXIT??!!!!" he hissed. His eyes went back to the bathroom doors and he bolted forward, ignoring the pain that was shooting down his leg from his hip. He pushed his way through a couple of chairs, almost tripping twice. He hit the bathroom door, not noticing the sign that read "Closed for Cleaning," and roughly edged his way in. "Hey, wait!" shouted the bartender, but he was already inside. He heard heavy footsteps and the door that he had entered the bar through was thrown open. He stood with his back to the bathroom door as he heard the footsteps get closer. He gasped heavily and closed his eyes. He felt someone pushing on the door. His eyes flew open. It was a simple unisex bathroom, with a commode, sink and mirror. In the mirror he saw his own reflection, his face covered in blood, dirt and sweat, light brown hair matted in places, drooping over his eyes, and a bright yellow spiral on flickering lights appearing over his head. He glanced behind him as he felt the door open. The lights suddenly flared, filling his vision with a bright white, and even though he shut his eyes the luminosity still pierced through all the way to his brain, and he fell backwards, pain shooting through his hip, and as he anticipated hitting the floor he was quite surprised when he didn't. His ears filled with that loud roar that you hear when you don't hear anything at all, and the brightness faded away, and then he landed, on his back, on something soft and uneven and wet. He opened his eyes to a cloudy sky. A light rain splattered onto his face. He weakly reached up to touch the sky and found that he could not. Instead, he wiped the rain from his face and put his hand back down, feeling grass and dirt. He felt around with his hand and scooped up a small clodfull of dirt and grass. He lifted his hand before his eyes and confirmed that yes, he held a small lump of dirt and grass in his hand. Puzzled, he tilted his head to the side. The sky panned to become a tree-lined horizon and more grass. He blinked several times, to make sure that he wasn't hallucinating. "Or maybe I am hallucinating," he thought to himself, "and I'm not aware of it yet." He turned his head around in the other direction. The sky followed him back down to another row of trees, plus more grass and this time, a roadway and a sign. He dropped the clump of dirt and used his hand to push himself up to his elbows. He shook his head and focused his eyes. Now, he realized that he was lying in what appeared to be a field of grass, by a roadside, with nothing but trees in the distance, with a light rain falling on him. "Oh-kay." he mumbled to himself, "What the hell is happening here." He glanced down. His right hip was still bleeding slightly but appeared to have abated somewhat. He looked over his shoulder to make sure that the men weren't still behind him. There was nothing but green and brown forest. He looked at his hands. They were bruised, bloody and dirty, as usual. Confused thoughts shot through his brain. "Lemme see now ... I was in that bathroom, in that place, that cafe, it had a name on that door, can't remember that ..... Montoni's men were right behind me, I had run in the bathroom since I couldn't find the damn exit ..... then there was that bright flash, that light, and now I'm lying in this field in .... where am I? I don't know ...... okay, either I'm dead and I don't know it yet and this is heaven, or I'm out of my mind and I'm imagining all this or ..... I don't know what else I could be doing right now ...... okay, okay, okay, let's answer the questions I know the answer to ..... WHO am I? Now, that I know .... I'm Bill Nodal, that's what it says on my driver's license ..... okay, let's check that answer." He reached into his back pocket, wincing in pain from something in his right arm, and pulled out a beaten old black wallet. He flipped it open and pulled out the driver's license. "Bill Lawton." stared up at him in blue letters. His next few thoughts were jumbled and even more confused than before. You can probably imagine what he's thinking, but here's a sampling of the more coherent: "But ... but ... that's my picture, but that's not my address .... not my name .... not even my birthdate .... but how .... who .... what ..... can this be .... " He glanced around and once again noticed the sign next to the road. He struggled to his feet, ignoring the throbbing numbness from his right hip, and stumbled through the field and to the sign. It read "Welcome to Bullitt County, Kentucky" He leaned against the sign. "Oh-kay." he mumbled, "Now what ....?"
All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.