The Morning After

The sun is shining brightly, but Cliff Solomon barely notices. Laying out quite
comfortably in his beach chair, Cliff watches the others on the beach as they pass by.
Vaguely familiar faces drift by in a blur. They give Cliff a sidelong glance, but he hardly
even notices.

Cliff turns to his right to gaze at his wife. Her face is hidden by the large straw
hat over her head, and the shadow cast protects everything from the neck up with
darkness. She has her head buried in a book, and never once even considers looking up.
Cliff smiles none-the-less, feeling somewhat separated from his wife, only a few feet

Cliff looks back up to see two men standing before him. The typical noises of the
beach has suddenly died, and all he could hear was the roaring of the waves. The
constant splashing becomes louder and louder, almost irritating. Cliff tries to block it
out. It doesn't work.

Cliff tries to concentrate on the two men before him. The blue suits stand out on
the light brown sand. Their faces look vaguely familiar, too, but the sun glasses hide
their eyes. Their hard, cold expressions remind him of old army or police officers; their
costumes remind him of a movie with Dan Akroyd, but Cliff can't quite remember the

The hum of the ocean is becoming a piercing yell. Cliff tries covering his ears,
but all that does is make him feel foolish.

Cliff shoots a glance to his side again. His wife, however, is not there. He looks
down the beach to where he knew his children were playing moments ago; they have
disappeared as well. In fact, no one is left on the beach save for these two formal wear

The incessant roar of the water continues to rise. The sound is approaching a
deafening high. Cliff tries to move, to get away from the sound. There is something
wrong, though. He feels as if some invisible weight is holding him down. Every part of
his body feels like its wrapped in sludge, and he can't move a muscle.

One of the men, the shorter of the two, takes a step forward. Surprisingly, after so
long being silent, he speaks. Even more surprisingly, Cliff can hear him over the
crashing sounds of the ocean.

"We're not finished with you yet," he says in a chilling monotone.

The two men start to approach him. Cliff still can't move. All he manages to do
is shake his head, looking like a poor stuck child thrashing about. The roar of waves
reaches a traumatic climax as Cliff closes his eyes and screams.

With a gasp, Cliff sat up. He grabbed his forehead and tried to wipe the sweat off
his brow, but it came back in less than a second. He squinted and tried to look around, to
figure out where he was, but he was blinded by a glare that he did not know the origin of.
He felt as though his eyes had been out of the sunlight forever, and should a candle be lit,
it would make him blind as bet. Whatever light was coming through now seemed to be
poking at him with hundreds of tiny spears.

Closing his eyes to reduce the pain, Cliff felt around the ground a little. He was
on some kind of hard-wood floor. Except for the place he was laying on, the rest seemed
dusty. Very dusty. He knew immediately that this wasn't his house, and for two reasons.
One: His wife would never let any room in the house get this dusty. Two: Every room
in his house was either tiled or carpeted, so there was no way he could have woke up on a
hard-wood floor.

He tried to remember what happened last night, but couldn't. He didn't remember
going out to get a drink, but that doesn't mean very much. He could easily have gotten
drunk enough to not remember last night. And that might explain his eyes hurting, too.

He didn't feel hung over, though. He didn't feel sick or dizzy. In fact, he felt
more rested than he ever had in his life. And besides, even if he was drunk, he would
have ended up at someone's house and in a bed. Even if he had fallen out of bed, he
would still be nearby it, and there didn't seem to be one nearby.

After keeping them shut a short while longer, Cliff opened his eyes, thinking they
would be adjusted to the light by now. He was right. Although his vision wasn't crystal
clear, he could see clearly enough now to figure out where he was and to move around.

His feeling around proved him right; the whole room was coated in dust. It was
fairly large room, probably some sort of old warehouse or something. The few windows,
probably only used to let stagnate air get out, were boarded up. Slivers of light skimmed
through the boards, but it lit the room well, giving the area an almost romantic glow, if it
wasn't so empty.

And it was empty. There were a few pieces of glass strewn around the floor, and
a pile of empty boxes in one corner. Against one wall was a large but still broken piece
of mirror, and on the back wall (Cliff assumed it was the back wall; it was the only wall
without windows) were two sets of stairs, one going up and one going down.

Cliff tried to wipe the thin layer of dust off his damp clothing, but most of it
remained sticking. It was the same clothes he was usually wearing whenever he didn't
have to work: jeans, a nice, white collared shirt, Dockers and his favorite belt with the
rose in the buckle; his wife gave it to him about 15 years ago, on their tenth wedding
anniversary. He wore it whenever he went out.

He walked over to the broken mirror. Looking over himself in the reflection, he
didn't find anything strange; no bruises, no scars, nothing. He looked a little paler than he
remembered, but that was probably just the lighting.

Cliff sighed. "Well, I guess there's no point in spending anymore time here," he
said to his reflection. With a sudden feeling for odd humor, Cliff actually waved good-
bye to his shimmering self as he turned and headed towards the stairs.

As he came to the next floor down, he noticed that there was more light here. He
looked and saw that the windows here were not boarded up. Delaying leaving right yet,
he walked over to one of the windows to see how high up he was.

Cliff stuck his head out the window and looked down. He was really high up.
The roar of engines below barely made it up to his ears; he had to be at least twenty
stories up. And he was in a building with no elevator. Of course.

Cliff walked back over to the stairs and continued his trip down. He was very
energetic. His sleep seemed to catch him up for an eternity, and he felt he had more than
enough energy to spare.

As he went down floor by floor, he realized that none of the other floors had
windows boarded up, either. They all resembled empty warehouses still, but they were
much brighter than the room he started in. Suddenly curious, Cliff retraced his steps
back up to the room he started in, the only room so far which was dimly lighted. He
proceeded up another flight of stairs.

That room's windows were fine, too. The bright light of day shone through with
as much vigor as it did on the floors below.

Cliff went up another level, only to find the same thing. Now Cliff was even
more confused. Why would he go all the way up in a warehouse to the only floor with
boarded windows?

As Cliff started back down the stairs, another thought came to him: If he was
drunk, how in the world did he climb over twenty flights of stairs? Or better yet, why?

Cliff came back to the room where he woke up. He walked over to one of the
windows. Trying to find some clue as to why he was there, but still coming up with
nothing, Cliff involuntary began tracing one of the boards with his hand. It slid over a
few of the shiny metal nails and began tracing over one of the cracks where the light was
fighting with the shadow of Cliff's hand to get in the room.

Something tickled in the back of Cliff's mind. He tried to grasp it, but it slip past
like sand in an hourglass.

Cliff shook his head. He couldn't figure it out, and there was no point in trying
now. He might as well head off. There was nothing he could do here, and besides, his
family might be worrying.

Cliff started down the stairs. Each step he took, he seemed to speed up a little,
until he was almost racing down them by the time he got near the bottom. He didn't
know why, but he felt he had to hurry.

Finally, Cliff reached the bottom floor, which didn't look much different from the
other rooms besides the gigantic, half-opened doorway which seemed big enough to get a
16-wheeler through. Cliff walked through it without a second thought, into the morning.

Cliff finally figured out where he was. Out on the west side of the city. And he
lived in the north-east, just outside of the city. Whatever he was doing before he arrive,
he must have been busy to get here!

Cliff began to start walking again. He had a long trip home...

to be continued...

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