“Any moment now,” Greg tells the strangers that sat across from him. They wait with anxiety. Knees bouncing, toes tapping, eyes flying from one end of the cell to the other.
You have nothing to do with this.
Everything is going to be fine, they think, trying to convince themselves more than anyone else. An hour passes, then another. “What is taking so long?” asks Abby. There was no response.
“Hey guys,” announces Jordan. “I spy, with my little eye, something green.” Enthralled by a sudden distraction, the group pans the room for something green.
“That sign!” answers Karen
“Nope,” replies Jordan.
“That hat over there?” Phil asks, pointing to the green, triangular hat that lay across the room on the floor in the hall. “Wait, who would just leave their hat in the middle of the hall like that?”
“Yeah, it’s a really nice hat,” adds Abby. “I have a really cute skirt I would wear with that.”
“Oh my gosh, it matches these new shoes I bought online a while back,” Karen says.
“I feel like I’ve seen that before, but I don’t know where,” Annette says, joining in.
“It kinda looks like Peter Pan’s hat!” says Abby.
“Oh you’re right,” the two agree.
“Peter Pan is like my favorite thing ever! I played him a few times in a show,” adds Abby.
Karen wonders, “Wait, they couldn’t find any guys?”
“There weren’t any guys good enough,” answers Abby. “At least that’s what they told me.”
“Dang, you must be on Broadway!” Annette suggests.
“No yet, but that’s my goal. That’s why I sing at the restaurant every week. You can’t just walk on stage and audition. It takes connections to get anywhere. I’m trying to get discovered.”
The three of them chat about clothes, Disney and dreams of the future. Jordan and Phil craft stories about what happen to whoever left that hat. “I bet it was some drunk guy who fell over and just forgot it,” Phil suggests.
“Nah man, definitely from some girl who probably came in to argue a parking ticket,” says Jordan says with a laugh.
“Haha, dude, I bet it’s from some guy that just got snatched by the police or something,” Phil says jokingly.
“That’s what happens to the ones they need to get rid of,” Greg interrupts.
“…What does that even mean…” Phil says, looking over at Greg.
“Remember, I said no questions. Just run when I tell you.” They all slumped back in their seats, reminded of the predicament in which they were still trapped.
“Alright, new color. I spy something white!” says Jordan, trying to revitalize the mood.
“Everything’s white. We’re in a police station,” retorts Annette. “Enough of these games, we need to get out of here.” She rests her head on the back of the bench and looks to the ceiling. She closes her eyes, praying that the next time she opened them, the nightmare would over.
“This is a reality you can’t escape,” says Greg, surprising Annette with his suspicious sense of omniscience.
They go stir crazy from the mind-numbing boredom, desperately searching for something, anything, to preoccupy their time and distract them from the paranoia that was plaguing their thoughts. In the silence, stomachs growl and moan. None of them have eaten yet, as their meals were interrupted by the sudden arrest. Their hunger adds to their frustration. Their frustration adds to their insanity. “I hope we don’t end up like whoever owned that hat,” Jordan jokes, half serious, waiting for someone to reassure him by telling him how ridiculous that was. There are no words.
Three officers approach from down the hall, keys in hand. One officer unlocks the cell and opens the door. Confused, yet delighted, the group mistakenly overlooks the fact that none of them remember posting bail, a minor detail they unanimously agree to overlook. The promise of freedom supersedes logic and reason.
“Finally,” announces Annette. “Let’s get out of here!”
“Yeah, for real. I want to go home,” agrees Phil.
“I want to EAT,” growls Karen. The group nods in support. They walk towards the door.
“Not so fast,” demands another officer, standing in their path, arm outstretched. “We didn’t say you were free to go.”
“Excuse me?” demands Abby. “What do you mean? We’ve been sitting here for more than four hours, locked in a cell over nothing. You have to let us go.”
Annette chimes in, “You can’t hold us here without cause. We have rights. We haven’t even seen a lawyer. Let us go. Now.”
“You will be free once we’ve finished processing you. It will only take a moment.”
“A moment? You had over four hours worth of moments and you didn’t do anything with that?” Abby snaps.
“I’m leaving,” Annette announces, walking towards the door, “and you can’t stop me.”
The cop draws his gun. “Oh, can’t I?”
“Well, maybe you can,” Phil remarks, stepping between Annette and the gun. “Annette, chill. We’ll get out of here soon enough.”
“Just come with us and this will all be over soon,” orders an officer. Greg walks past the group towards the front of the line and whispers to each of them, “When I say go….” Their nerves erupt uncomfortably.
The officers lead the group down the hall, past other cells and offices. They walk towards large metallic double doors in the back of the building. Two officers hold them open, letting the other lead the group into an empty corridor. Their footsteps echo against nearly blank, concrete walls, their vast expanses of off white occasionally interrupted by random streaks of red . The air is colder, much colder, than before, and damp, rotten with the smell of mildew. The ground beneath them is riddled with small stones and chunks of cinder block. The passage is lit only by two big hanging lights, swinging with the slight breeze through the open space, leaving a small patch pure shadow in the center of the corridor.
There is a slight but definite decline, progressing gradually, ever downward, as they walk down the hall. Their ears pop, signifying the degree of their descent. The ground becomes softer, the air more humid, the walls less and less white.
“Where are we?” Karen inquires.
An officer looks over his shoulder and answers, “Don’t act like you don’t already know.”
“I’m sure you’ve seen where we handle our problems once or twice. It hasn’t been that long. Don’t play dumb.”
“What do you mean by ‘handle’?” demands Abby. There is no response. The group continues its descent. The reach a point where string of lights on the ceiling are eventually replaced by industrial fixtures, powered by a generator that had not yet been turned on. Ahead of them is pure darkness. Greg looks back at the group, making eye contact, then looking forward again.
“I thought you said you had turned it on already,” says the officer in front, looking back.
“No, I said I hooked them up, not turned them on,” explains the officer in the rear, now moving forward to the officer in front. “And lower your voice,” he whispers. “The last thing we need right now is confusion.” The third officer keeps careful watch over the group as the other two ahead sort the issue.
With a sudden lurch, Greg dives forward, arms outstretched, grabbing the officers ahead of him. The fall into the void. The third officer draws his weapon and aims into the darkness.
COME OUT NOW
They vanish from sight. There is the sound of a struggle, until it is overtaken by silence. The officer inches toward the shadows, gun aimed at nothing. Karen gulps nervously in the back of the line. Jordan sweats under the weight of the tension. Phil and Abby look to each and breathe deeply, preparing for the worst. Annette is jittery, hands shaking slightly, but her movements do not match her emotion. She anticipates the next move.
“NOW,” Greg screams. Without hesitation, the group charges in the other direction. The officer turns and aims at their backs.
BANG BANG BANG
The officer crashes to the ground. The group looks back, only for a moment. They see Greg sprinting toward them.
“Head for the door!” he screams. The rhythm of rapid footsteps was muffled by the panting of desperate lungs. The air is too heavy, too moist, the hallway, endless it seems. Jordan is the first to reach the double doors an eternity later, bolting through. Shoulder first, he falls through the entrance, falling to the cold tile floor. The others follow close behind.
“I heard gunshots. What’s going on here?” asks a curious officer at his desk from across the room. It appears he is alone, and the group takes notice. Their eyes peer at the door marked “Exit” to their right. The officer catches on.
“Hands where I can see-”
They dash, determined not to wait any longer to hear the end of the command they intend not to follow. Sprinting down the hallway, the turn the corner, hopping over chairs and vaulting over desks with the officer in hot pursuit, no longer alone. Phil grabs a stack of papers off a nearby counter and flings them over his shoulder, obstructing the view of their pursuers as they hide behind a row of filing cabinets.
WHERE DID THEY GO?
I THINK I SEE THEM OVER THERE
They wait until they can no longer hear the tapping of shoes before regrouping. “This is crazy!” Abby shouts in a hushed tone. “We have to get out of here now!”
“There’s a way out, and it’s not through the front door. That’s way too dangerous. We have to get to the third floor and cross at the roof.”
“Wait WHAT?” says Phil, emphatically.
“I know. But if you want to get out of here alive, you’re gonna do it my way or not at all. Now, when the cops notice we haven’t made a break for the front door, they’re gonna make a pass through here again. When they do, we slip out around the desk without making a sound and run up the fire stairs to the third floor. Everyone understand?” They shake their heads, reluctantly, but in agreement.
Footsteps become more audible from around the corner. A string of officers tear through cubicle after cubicle across the office space. The group hunches down and crawls along the floor to avoid detection. Greg leads them to a small auxiliary hatch that opens up to a set of fire stairs. The door creaks ever so slightly, but the roar of papers and desks across the office drowns out the noise.
One by one, they climb through the opening, as quietly as possible. First Greg, then Annette and Jordan, followed by Phil. Karen is next. She presses her arms against the walls for support and raised her left leg over the threshold. She loses her balance, causing her hand to slip and her leg to kick against a drawer. It tumbles to the ground, taking with it a storage unit, a set of poster boards and a stack of boxes. The sound is thunderous, almost as loud as the sound of her jaw hitting the floor.