It was time to leave the party. His mother had just called. She was at his home five minutes down the road and had something she needed to give him. Likely a housewarming gift. She called and called, and before he knew it 30 minutes had passed. 

It’s time to leave, he thinks to himself. He’s running late and his mother is waiting. The party he’s attending is in the subdivision next to his. He still doesn’t know his way around his own subdivision. He’s still so new to the area. He has a general idea which direction will get him home. All of the streets are a bit unfamiliar. He’ll find his way. I’ll find my way, he thinks. 

He starts jogging, making his way to the end of the block. He takes a left onto another street and keeps a steady pace. He knows what his new home looks like in his mind, but he worries that when he’s actually standing in front of it he won’t recognize it. All of these houses look the same anyway. He wouldn’t fault himself if he got lost. He’ll find his way eventually.

There’s a line of houses that separates the subdivision where the party is being held from his own. He passes between them through one of the yards and enters his neighborhood. 

He felt out of place at the party. Everyone there was so cliquish. He was sure people he knew 10 years prior still felt a certain way toward him. It’s the way they looked at him from afar while they stood in the living room or kitchen, as they passed him on his way up the stairs to the bathroom, and when he was seated under the tent in the driveway. There was this look they gave. It was brief. Their eyes told him a story. 

They still think I’m the same old guy. They haven’t given me the benefit of the doubt. I haven’t given them the benefit of the doubt either. Maybe I’m wrong and my mind is making this insecurity up. Stop, Phillip. Just stop thinking so much. You’re your biggest critic. You’ve changed, and if people really do feel a certain way about you, it’s to their shame. They’re judging you according to who you were. 

He was happy to have left the party. He enjoys his friend Chris and found his invitation to be incredibly thoughtful. Thanks Chris, he thinks to himself. I appreciate you and your hospitality. 

Phillip is looking down at his tennis shoes as he’s running. The pavement flies behind him and out of his field of vision. He’s thinking of an old dream he once had where he was gifted a pair of shoes by an older friend of his named Harold. Harold is a widower with teenage twins. Give Harold a call, Phillip’s conscience echoes before feeling a vibration in his jean pocket. 

Text message, goes Phillip’s brain. Better check it. 

So as he’s running, he pulls out his phone. The buzzing wasn’t a text at all. He had two missed calls from his mother. She’s probably upset. He’s a little after 30 minutes late. She has every reason to be upset with him, especially now that he’s missed two of her calls. He’s passing house after house. They all look the same. 

He lives off of 96th Avenue. Or is it 96th Place? Phillip has moved so many times in the last four years, he’s stopped committing his addresses to memory. It’s embarrassing, and he tends not to talk about it if he can help it. His friend Janelle knows this odd fact about him and loves to tell others as often as she’s able. 

Phillip approaches an old pickup truck parked on the street. A man is standing outside of it, talking to another gentleman seated in the driver’s seat. They’re arguing loudly, and Phillip waits until he’s out of earshot of them to dial his mother. When he calls her, he hears a ringing. He slows down and turns to look in the direction of a random house. It’s as if the ringing is coming from a bush in front of the home’s porch. It’s not possible, he thinks to himself. Mere coincidence. Keep moving. 

As he progresses down the street he tries to call his mother two more times, but she doesn’t pick up. She’s upset now. He’s certain of it. 

Phillip spots his street! There it is. 96th Avenue. He jogs down the row of homes, but none of them look familiar. They all look the same, but none of them are his. He must be on the wrong street. He’s sure of it, or at least he’s convinced himself he is. 

Where are you? Once he reaches the end of the street, he turns around and runs down the street once more. His eyes intensely scan left and right, left and right, left and right. Maybe I live on 96th Place? I must. Janelle would never let me live it down if she knew this. This is something I take to the grave with me, he thinks. 

Phillips travels two streets down and locates his home. Thank goodness. 96th Place. His mother’s silver car is parked in his driveway. He notices that it’s empty as he walks past it. She must be inside. 

He runs up the porch steps and opens the front door to a cool, air-conditioned living room. 

“Ma!” Phillip yells, “Where are you at?” 

He walks into the kitchen. Empty. He runs down the stairs and glances into the basement. Empty. Making his way back up the stairs, he enters the kitchen and is hit over the head with a glass. Phillip stumbles forward onto the kitchen table. He turns around to the sight of a large man charging him. He’s well over six foot and is built like an ox. The two struggle back and forth, breaking items all throughout the house. The room is spinning. 

Stop spinning, I need to see straight. See straight. Phillip tries to make his way out of the kitchen and back into the living room, but as he’s doing so the large man strikes him hard in the back. Phillip hits the wooden floor. He’s stunned. I can’t move, he panics. The large man picks him up over his head. I can almost touch the ceiling, he thinks as he reaches up. His vision is going. 

Phillip is thrown full-force down onto the floor. He’s winded, unable to breathe. He’s able to truly see his attacker. The large man is shirtless, covered in someone’s blood. He climbs onto Phillip’s immobile body and wraps his arms around him, squeezing tightly. 

Phillip’s skin crawls. He can do nothing to stop what’s happening to him. He’s helpless. As the man squeezes him, it’s as if all of Phillip’s skin and muscles fly off his bones. He screams and the man hugs him tight until he can no longer breathe. 

Phillip passes out yet he’s floating above himself in some sort of out-of-body experience. 

I’m no longer on the wooden floor of my home. Rather, I’m lying in a patch of dirt. I’m unconscious, shirtless, laying serenely as children’s hands appear all around me. 20 of them. These small hands. Some are covering me in dirt while others are tossing small white wildflowers upon me.

©Alchemy & Elegy 2020