Jack shuts his eyes tight against the specter of the multi colored doors. He thinks he can hear strange sounds coming from behind them – rinky dink carnival midway music behind one, the whooshing sound of a windy day, or maybe of air being sucked into a vacuum, from behind another. The sounds don’t seem like they should be scary, except for the evil clown laughter behind the purple door.
Then there is another sound, the sound of someone making his voice reverberate like a television announcer from the days of black and white: “Lost in Space,” the voice says. “Jack is Lost in Space.”
It’s Josh. Jack knows it’s his friend Josh. No one else is cheesy enough to imitate the announcer’s voice from a long ago TV show that no one else even remembers existed. Next he’ll say…
Jack waits, relaxing now, but still not ready to open his eyes.
“Earth calling Jack, come in, Jack.”
A flood of relief courses through Jack’s veins. He opens his eyes to see Pat’s familiar grimy corridor, and realizes he has walked past Pat’s apartment. The door number next to him is 4C. Pat’s apartment is 3C. Jack hears two more voices from behind him, one making “dee dee dee,” sounds, the other making “doo doo doo” sounds in what is supposed to be the theme to The Twilight Zone. Jack smiles. Good old Pat and Liz. He wonders what color Liz’s hair will be today.
Before Jack turns around to face his friends, he reaches out to touch the tarnished metal plaque of 4C, needing some tactile proof that he is in Pat’s corridor, not in the fun house of his nightmare or hallucination, or whatever that is… was.
He lets his fingers run lightly over the rough dirty wooden door – and wishes he hasn’t as his fingers meet something unpleasantly slimy. Grease from a pizza box, he hopes, rubbing his fingers on the liquor store bag in his hand. He turns, prepares to make some smart comment to his friends about their knowledge of old TV shows.
Cranberry. Liz’ hair is the color of cranberries.
Josh holds a can of beer under his chin as if it were a microphone, adopts a Rod Serling voice.
“Jack Spratt, 22 years old, thought he knew where his friend Pat lived. Little did he know that her corridor lead to a wormhole of …The Twilight Zone!”
Jack’s relief dissolves. “How did you know?” he asks, panic welling up. It is bad enough that he is experiencing fun house corridors that aren’t there, but how would his friends know what’s in his mind? Are they in on it?
Jack’s voice is loud and shrill. “How did you know?” he asks again.
“Know what?” Josh asks, uneasily. “How did I know what?”
“Nothing.” Jack pauses. So this is what being paranoid feels like.
Josh waits for an answer.
“The twilight zone wormhole thing.” Jack says, attempting to laugh it off. To his own ears at least, his laugh has a hollow, whistling past the graveyard tone, and Josh is starting to look alarmed. “I’m just messing with you,” Jack says.
The door to 4C opens and a crabby old face peers out.
Pat notices, beckons at Jack to come into her apartment. “We have to be quiet,” she says. Then: “is there something wrong?”
Jack gives himself a shake, replies, “wrong?”
“You walked right past us.” Josh says, “Did you forget where Pat lives?”
Another shiver goes down Jack’s spine. For a second he thinks that maybe there is something seriously wrong with him – then he looks as his friends’ faces; Pat, being concerned, Liz, being beautiful, and Josh clowning, as usual, and shrugs it off – determined, this time to get past whatever this is.
“I’d never forget where Pat lives,” Jack says, and gallantly presents his gifts of tequila and chips to her, with a theatrical bow. “You might.”
A shimmer of cartoon colors blinks in front of Jack’s eyes. He shivers again.
“Me? Why would I forget Pat?” Josh asks. “You’re the one who doesn’t even remember where she lives!”
Pat looks into Jack’s bag. “What did you bring?” she asks, but Jack doesn’t answer. He’s staring, Josh’s words echoing in his head, Lost in Space again.
Liz touches his shoulder.
“Jack?” Liz asks. “You okay?”
“Not enough sleep, too much coffee,” Jack answers. Then, answering Pat’s question: “Tequila. Want some?”
“Forget it,” Liz answers, “Not after last time.”
They walk into Pat’s apartment. It’s as much a “poor student” apartment as Jack’s – except that Pat still is a poor student. She’s a poor medical student, which has some perks. A bottle of the alcohol the hospital uses in the lab is on the kitchen cabinet, together with a blender, ice, and packets of Kool-Aid. Liz loads the ingredients into the blender, starts it up.
“Last time was fun,” Jack says, almost shouting to be heard over the noise.
“In your dreams,” Liz says, laughing.
“If only you knew,” Jack says.
The door to 4C opens and Jack is relieved to see an ordinary man come out. A crabby, old ordinary man, dressed in baggy sweat pants and an over-sized sweater. He looks like he might live on delivery pizza. Jack stops worrying about what might be on his finger.
The man gives the group a sour look as he passes Pat’s open door, takes a pointed look at his watch.
“It’s only 8:00,” Pat tells him. “We’ll be gone soon.” She shuts her door.
“You’re going to get me kicked out,” she says to Liz. “Why are you so late, anyways, Jack?”
“Work,” Jack answers. “Some of us work.”
“Oh, stop bragging,” Liz says. She pours the drink from the blender into a plastic cup and hands it to Jack. It’s a bright color of a shade never seen in nature.
Jack sniffs it suspiciously. “What is this?”
“Punch,” Liz says. “Drink up.”
“It looks horrible. I don’t even know what color it is,” Jack says.
Liz gives it a stir. “Chartreuse, I think.”
“Can’t I have some tequila?” Jack asks. “I brought tequila.”
“No,” you have to drink that,” Liz says.
“Or a beer,” Jack says. “Josh has a beer.”
“Josh never drinks Liz and Pat’s punch.” Josh says, ” Josh is afraid of being poisoned.”
Jack sips the concoction. It’s sickly sweet and nasty bitter all at once. Jack goes to look at the alcohol bottle and the Kool-Aid packet beside the blender. “Alcohol and Kool-Aid? Where did you get the recipe, Jonestown?”
“That’s right,” Josh says. “Liz is Reverend Jim Jones in disguise, and we’re all suicidal cult members. She’s planning to take us out, one by one.”
A shiver goes down Jack’s spine. He takes another sip, covering up. “Do I have to drink it all?”
“Don’t drink it at all,” Josh says. “That’s my advice.”
“Just because you’re afraid of being poisoned,” Liz says.
“Can we stop?” Jack asks, his voice strident.
Liz, Josh and Pat look at each other. “Stop what?” Pat asks.
“All this talk of twilight zones and being poisoned and forgetting where Pat lives,” Jack says, his voice unnecessarily loud. “Can’t we just have some laughs?”
Liz, Josh and Pat look at each other again. They all think they are enjoying themselves.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Pat says. She takes Jack’s drink from him and swallows it down.
“See,” she says. “No poison. And you know where I live, so there’s no problem there. Josh is going to shut up about The Twilight Zone, but I can’t promise he won’t bring up Gilligan’s Island or Flintstones or some other mouldy oldie TV show.”
“And Pat will probably sing some mouldy oldie songs,” Josh warns.
“That’s OK,” Jack says. “I like the Flintstones and Pat’s old songs.”
From outside there is a shuffle of feet on the carpet, coming towards Pat’s place.
“Great, another noise complaint,” Pat says. “Let’s go.” She refills the cup with what’s left in the blender, hands it to Jack.
“Where?” Josh asks. “The Bar None?”
“Good enough,” Liz says.
Pat leads the way out of the apartment, the door almost hitting the neighbor and another man, the manager, who are poised to knock. The manager gives Jack and Josh a hard look, memorizing them for future reference. Jack and Josh shield their drinks, try to look harmless.
“This is a quiet building,” the neighbor calls after them. “A quiet building!” His voice is loud, louder than necessary. Doors pop open on both sides of the corridor as Josh, Jack, Liz and Pat make their way to the elevator. Each of the other tenants is old. Old and crabby, Jack thinks, until one of the women yells out:
“Enjoy yourselves! You young people should go enjoy yourselves!” then, to the original neighbor: “Quiet, you old coot! This is a quiet building!”
Another voice, in support of the coot, makes a reply from across the hall, and by the time the elevator doors close, , it sounds like the entire third floor is shouting about being quiet.
By the time they reach the lobby vestibule, Josh, Jack, Liz and Pat are laughing so hard they can hardly stand up. There are no shimmers of color for Jack, no fun house corridors, just the plain brown ordinariness of Pat’s apartment building and the nice feeling of being with friends, just like Jack had been looking forward to all week.
“Come on, young people,” Jack says, “The Bar None awaits!”
Jack takes Pat’s drink and swallows some of the obnoxious mixture. The taste hasn’t improved any, but the color isn’t upsetting him any more.
Pat sings: “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober,”
Jack joins in: “Leave me alone, let me go home, let me go home and start over…”
Josh takes the cup, sips, and gives it right back.
“Definitely not fruit of the vine,” he says. Fruit of the lab, maybe.”
Jack takes the cup back. “Kind of grows on you though.”
“Bar None, here we come!” he shouts into the street, and charges forward, leaving Pat and the others in his wake.
Liz and Josh run to catch up. It takes a second for them to realize Pat isn’t following. When they look back, Pat is standing straight, staring ahead.
Josh makes his voice do the TV announcer thing again. “Lost in Space…” he says.
Pat blinks at him, her face pale.
“I don’t like clowns,” she says. “Save me from the clowns.”
The shiver comes back to Jack’s spine. He doesn’t know what Pat’s talking about until Liz says: “It’s only a street carnival,” and he sees them. Dozens and dozens of clowns, all galloping towards them.
TO BE CONTINUED!