Inferno

“Without fire, the phoenix can never rise.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Seven

Blaze of Glory

In my late teens (early twenties) I helped manage a sandwich shop. The best perk of employment were the breaks and the food discounts.

In the back room the owner had varieties of entertainment which the staff had permission to play and engage in when not on the clock and working; to include video games. No quarters needed. Just hit the start button and enjoy a game on the house and have a pleasant break.

Of course, me being me, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Each break, lunch or otherwise, was spent playing Centipede, Pacman or Donkey Kong. Sometimes I’d come in early and relax before my shift with a hand of solitaire or Galaga.

The owner made attempts to provide a comfortable area for his staff to enjoy themselves in between the busy times.

Situated around short tables he used empty pickle buckets for seats and we could play cards or socialize. Posters hung on the walls, a dartboard, and for those who smoked, two lawn chairs sat by a backdoor each with cup holders and individual ashtrays.

In the middle of a heatwave one bustling afternoon, the air conditioner stopped working.

The ovens and grills continue to operate at full steam. Folks expect to eat regardless of AC.

I can’t be sure what the building’s interior temperature was when I began blacking out and falling to the floor, but when I landed on both knees and crumpled forward I had no concept of reality, time, my surroundings, or the screams by other customers and staff.

All I saw was a tunnel of crawling black creeping up from both sides, swallowing my vision, and the greasy tiled floor coming to greet my face.

I had just enough time to drop my elbow and forearm to the ground, stopping my fall, and the world was awash in a dizzying haze; gray and out of focus.  The items I could see clearly in my field of vision had no meaning to me, and while trying to swim back to the real world, I had no recollection of the equipment’s purpose.  My head swam with confusion and discomfort and two staff, accompanied by a customer, helped me to my feet and escorted me to the break room.

They called an ambulance and the EMT’s said I had dehydration and was overheated.

Once I came back to reality and wasn’t considered in any danger, I was left alone in the back room to rest and recuperate. I sat on a pickle bucket, sipping cold water and pulled in deep lung fulls of air; trying to relax and calm down. The staff left the heavy wooden door open to the kitchen area for when I was ready to return, but I had no desire to get back to work any time soon.

Take the rest of the day off.  You’re not yourself.

My inner voice was 100% correct this time. No debate. I was certainly not feeling like myself. I centered my attention on the break room cribbage board and watched the small holes move around, weave together, doubling in size…

… I drank more water and diverted my sight elsewhere.

You can’t go back to work like this.

No kidding.  They said take all the time you need.

I need the hours.

Is it worth dying for, or a one way trip to the ER? No. Didn’t think so.

I remember feeling inept and out of control.

Then I became angry. I crushed the Styrofoam cup and launched it away from me. Of course being lightweight Styrofoam, it didn’t travel far, so to prove only to myself how upset I had become, I brought my sneaker up under the table’s surface and kicked it’s contents to the floor.

I straightened up and looked to the ceiling, sucked in air, and the break room door slammed shut.

The noise jumped me right out of my skin. My stomach fluttered, I swallowed a lump in my throat and dashed away from my bucket. I ripped open the heavy door, bolted around the corner and rushed to the cooks and staff.

“Did anyone close the break room door?”

Each person in the kitchen looked to one another and collectively replied with shrugs of the shoulders, “No.”

“Did anyone go outside just now?  Through the front door?”

“No… You ready to join the land of the living again? Got a big to-go order that could use some help.”

I scrunched up my forehead and looked back to the break room. “No, not yet.  I’ll be in soon.”

I returned to my pickle bucket and sat slow upon it.  Keeping my attention on the now reopened door which was perfectly positioned in it’s former spot, I waited for it to move again. I turned the smoker’s fan towards it, opened and closed the smoker’s door trying to create suction and motion of wind, and checked the ceiling vents for air flow to debunk all possibilities.

The only thing that made the door move, was when I applied a forceful push to it with the palm of my hand.

What made the door close?

Maybe you have superpowers. Channel your anger… try to replicate it. 

Shut up.

OK, let’s be realistic here. I know I don’t have superpowers. What a foolish notion. Absurd to the point of laughable. But when the two possibilities are ghosts, or superpowers? I lean towards unorthodox abilities and the potential of the mind.

I mean, seriously.  Who wouldn’t?

I still don’t know what made the door move that afternoon, but I know it had nothing to do with the power of the mind. In hindsight, perhaps it was ghosts. Who can really say?

Nonetheless, there I was siting on the bucket straining my inner powers and focus, concentrating my anger, digging deep for a possible wellspring of magic, struggling to make the door budge before my watching eyes and it failed to move an inch.

“Oh well,” I whisper as I return to my duties. “At least I can say I tried.”

Within a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of time, for a passing fleeting second of my existence on this world, twenty years ago, I had a silly moment where I believed my anger was a source for sorcery.

Can you believe that?  Yeah, neither can I.

In the basement supply room of the print shop, ensconced in thick darkness with flickers of lightning flashing through the few windows around the foundation, for a second time, I felt magical again.

Even though it was all in my imagination.

*****

The foreman hit the floor with a thud and Doug crashed into the door frame. The lightning was quick and bright and thunder backed each strike in perfect unison.  The storm was directly over the building.

Not daring to move a muscle and potentially end up like one of my superiors, I sat firm on my pile of boxes and moved my fingers around like a witch casting a spell.

I moved my head side to side, silently making sounds of explosions and destruction while they fumbled around the room and I know I had nothing to do with the storm outside, but for that strange moment in time it felt satisfying to think I did. It was fun to pretend that I was responsible.

I smiled at each bump and thump and curse word and when my eyes met the room across the hall, the singular bulb flickered above and activated.

It held it’s glow until I looked away. Once turning my attention to the floor between my feet the light deactivated and all we had again was flashes from outside.

The thunder and wind picked up. Hail fell in dime sized chunks and the staff who was outside wandering around the property rushed through the doors upstairs to find safety.

As soon as it started, the storm wandered off to harass someone else.

The lights came back on and I suppressed a smile as the foreman returned to the paper room. “Alright, excitement’s over.  Let’s get this day over with.”

I held my chin up high as I joined Doug on the trip for the files.

I apologized to the department in my own way, “Through an unexplained computer glitch, file 005 was not retrievable.  All that could have been done, was done. Can we have the default files?  This contract is important, for both of us.”

No problem.  Apology you say?

Doug never spoke a word.  It was good enough for him.

The next day I was introduced to the room. The light flickered on and the unkempt work space worsened once inside its congested walls. It smelled of musk and dried paint and three flies hovered over the rim of a small trashcan crammed in a corner.

“Here you go, Jeremy. A box of envelopes and mailers.  Your job is simple.  Place the mailers in the envelope, seal them shut and put them in a box.  When the box is full, take it to Helen and wait at your station for the next box. A routine will develop. This sponge and water will keep you from having to use your tongue. This space is yours. Ask Doug if you need anything.”

“That’s it?”

He stopped his walk and turned back around, “Yes.  That’s it.”

I lasted fifty seven days.

On the fifty seventh day, I was released from the small room and forced to find employment elsewhere.  They expected me to quit but instead, however, I was informed I was a part of the annual cutbacks.  Low man on the totem pole, and all that.

I didn’t take the news well.  I expected my situation in the envelope room to be a test. I thought if I worked hard and “proved something” I’d be allowed back upstairs.

No.  That never happened.  Only a heartfelt “sorry” and “take care” and “good luck with all your future endeavors” and I was back to searching for new employment.

But not right away.

I had something to do first.

I entered my home, grabbed my backpack, stuffed it with the items I needed and walked to a nearby friend’s house.

Behind the home at the outskirts of the property sat a large fire pit with stock piles of wood and debris aplenty to burn. He was inside watching TV and waved me away to go about my business.

I raised the flames in the pit to six feet high, sat away from the blazing inferno of my creation, and tossed my graphic arts portfolio as if it was a Frisbee into the popping red hot coals.

I fed the flames for three hours as I buried my dreams in cinders.

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