My name is John, and I’ve recently escaped from prison. No, not the prison that’s visible on the Coast Starlight train back from SBA. It’s not the place you peons call Phelps Hall, with its walls of infinite possibility and varying spatial dimension. And it most certainly is not the confines of my body, as some philosophy majors continue to try to convince me of otherwise.
The rather peculiar events slowly crept into campus following the closure of UCSB, following Spring Break. All around campus arose punctuated by extremely powerful shocks of massive dark energy pervading every inch of space. The toilets, living areas, kitchens, and lecture halls of the campus were engulfed in a massive burst of what I could only describe as the pure embodiment of something. In the wake of finals week, I began to prepare my belongings for my sojourn back home, to the refuge of my soft pillowy couch and a bed that I thankfully did not have to share with a roommate unfamiliar with the terms “deodorant” and “showering.” Heaving heavy sighs, I lifted my bags and proceeded to walk out the door of my DP apartment to roam the streets. My G-Shock read 11pm, but I wasn’t too worried. IV was always lit in more ways than one during the night, and my familiarity with these lovely slums made long treacherous blocks of darkness feel like old acquaintances, ready to be embraced with open arms.
But that night had different plans. That night would set me on a crash course with destiny… if destiny was a real bitch and hated me for no goddamn reason.
I sauntered down to Parking Lot 22, where a friend was currently parked to drive me back home. He’d offered to go directly to my flat, but I declined due to the lightness of my load. Sabado Tarde, Trigo, Sueno, and Pasado Road all passed me by. These icons of stability in the ever changing scene guided my path to the phosphorescent glowing Pardall Tunnel. Seeing the light faintly in the distance, I leaned my body towards Pardall, and began to reflect on my time at UCSB. As a graduating senior, this would be the last time making these rounds, and memory lane start d from my freshman years. The MacDaddy bread bowls at Buddha Bowls, the Regular Chicken Bowls at Hana Kitchen, the El Capitan Salad at Silvergreens, a half-pizza from Blaze, and a Peanut Butter Shake from Blenders… now at the corner, I look to my left at FreeB!rds, the monolithic institution of culinary culture that provided sustenance for many a hangover, albeit at an admittedly overmarked price. In that moment, if you had told me to reminisce on my food adventures here, I would have glowed with Gaucho Pride, but things change. Almost unconsciously, my eyes drifted away to some more familiar corporate conglomerates and settled upon the Starbucks, Habit Burger, and Subway, when I felt a thunk upon my head, and gravity’s malevolent pull to the ground. Losing feeling in my limbs, I slumped to the floor unconscious.
When I awoke, I found myself in a metallic room, the temperature from a thermostat reading -1 degrees Fahrenheit (because of our stubbornness to use Celsius for lack of better words). The room was freezing and I was shivering, but something about the room smelt oddly familiar. Aromas wafting through the freezer made my nose tingle with nostalgia, and I began to speculate that I was hallucinating. I thought this quietly to myself because I could have sworn I saw a man in there with me. I shouted at him to come and free me from this icy prison, and he responded, “Oh, you will all be FREE!”
Or did he? Assuming a fetal position to maintain body heat, I could hear commotion outside. I began to wonder if the cavalry had finally arrived. My knights in white armor flew down from the heavens to answer my pleas and save me. But alas, they were not saviors. In fact, they weren’t even human. In place of a mouth, they had beaks. Where we had hands and arms, they had feathery wings. In place of our toes, they had prickly talons jetting out of their toes. Looking at one another, they conjured noises resembling a series of clucking and cooing, which I could never understand for the likes of me. Eventually, one of them untied my restraints and motioned me to move towards a figure that appeared to be their leader. Eyeing me up and down, he took my weight, measurements, and physical characteristics before shoving me back inside the freezer.
Terrified for my life, I begged them to spare me. Maybe it was just a fever dream? I pinched myself so hard I started to bleed, and they came back in to check on me. Upon seeing the blood, they went cuckoo. They viciously hit me with the backs of their feathers, and I could have sworn in the commotion I could make out a bit of English: “SPOILED!” They decided my restraints were not enough, and strung me up by my limbs like in those old-fashioned medieval dungeons. Weighed down by a heavy chain, I could not move an inch. At this point I began to weep. Tears flowed down my face before someone said, “Y-o-u… h-a-v-e… t-o… l-e-a-v-e!” This time I could make out somebody in the room, the silhouette of someone in the darkness. I asked him for his name and he said Mark. Slowly but steadily, he explained that I would eventually die if I remained in those restraints, which was not reassuring at all to hear to say the least.
But, he knew a way out. While he distracted my captors, I could use a piece of bone from the freezer to pick my way out of the locks on my chains. Using the chain, I could incapacitate some of the guards and make a beeline for the backdoor for a quick escape. I asked the man why he would sacrifice himself like that so callously for me, and he said something I’ll never forget, “t-h-e-y’-v-e… a-l-r-e-a-d-y… s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e-d… m-e!” I mustered up all my remaining strength, and waited for them to enter the room.
When they did, my secretive helper was ready. He chomped down on the thighs of my captors and they recoiled in pain. “Y-u-c-k! N-e-e-d-s s-a-u-c-e!!!” he exclaimed as his gag reflex kicked in. Wasting no time, he quickly tossed me a piece of jagged bone from a tiny humanoid, wrapped in strands of long beard hair. A leprechaun perhaps?
I freed myself in record time, and used the ball-and-chain conveniently available by my feet to beat my captors into submission. Thinking perhaps now was the time to save my friend, I ran towards where the mysterious voice originated from. But what I saw was unbelievable: a torso missing all limbs save a head, bleeding profusely from what appeared to be various flesh wounds in several cavities. Blood gushing out of the eye socket like a rusted red waterfall, a lone eyeball keeping watch over all. His brain was exposed to the air, maggots writhing over its crevices. This was no man, it was something far worse. He barely had teeth to form sentences, and his mouth had no lips. As I turned in abject horror to try and say something, he weakly shook his head and told me to go.
Feeling like a real piece of shit, I sprinted to the backdoor, and closed it shut and I looked around… I was back on Pardall. To my right was Blaze Pizza, and I could see Chase Bank across the street. As I peered to the left, once more coming face to face with the Habit, Subway, and Starbucks, a profound wave of disbelief washed over me: I had been inside FreeB!rds. But, they had closed during the pandemic, right? I run to the door:
SORRY, DUE TO RISING COVID-19 EPIDEMIC, THE HEALTH OF US AND EMPLOYEES ARE AT INCREASED RISK, STOPPING EVERY COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY STARTING WITH FOOD, REOPENING SOON!
Maybe I was hallucinating, and this was all a dream. It’s been a few weeks in quarantine now, and I’m finally beginning to wean off that nightmarish night, but something keeps drawing me back to it. What did I witness? Who was that first voice I heard? And what happened to my ally in the freezer? At one of my therapy sessions, I underwent hypnosis and I all the signs finally made sense:
Sorry, dueE to Rising coVid-19 Epidemic the healtH of Us and eMployees Are at iNcreaSed risk, StoPping Every commerCIAL actIvity Starting with Food, REopEning soon!
Or did they?