The Hu Factor (tentative title) Book 1 Chapter 3
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Ben awoke in darkness. It was dark and it was cold. He reached his hand out for Doris but didn’t find her. He also didn’t find sheets, blankets, or anything comforting. Instead his hand found a bare concrete floor.
He tried to remember where he was, but he couldn’t seem to shake the nightmare he had just been having. It might have been easier if he had woken up in his home, with his wife, in their bed. He sat up, trying to see where he was. He had a horrible feeling that his ‘dream’ might have actually happened. Bizarre weather, his shop collapsing on him, a strange rescue… In remembering his rescue he became certain that it had all been a dream again. If he had been rescued, where were his rescuers? Where was the strange vehicle he had seen? Maybe he was still dreaming.
It might be a dream, but that didn’t change the fact that he was cold. He carefully stood up, not knowing if he would bump his head. Where the hell was he? He was naked. His clothes might be nearby, but they certainly were not on him. He stretched his limbs out experimentally….everything felt pretty good. He reached up to his head, checking for the gash he remembered from when his shop had collapsed on him. It wasn’t there. Maybe it had all been a dream. Maybe this was a dream. Whatever it was, it was confusing, cold, and dark.
The floor was bare under his feet. His five foot ten inch body didn’t feel like it had just had a building crash down on it. In fact, he couldn’t remember feeling quite as comfortable in his body since he had been in his twenties. There was a distinct absence of aches and pains that he had felt for years. Feeling fairly goofy doing it, he reached to his head again to see if his hair were thick and wavy the way it had been when he was young, but no, it still felt like his hairline had receded. The volume felt like normal. So much for waking up in his twenties from a dream of his fifties. He chuckled to himself.
The sound echoed in the room. He started to feel his way along the wall, hoping to find a door, light switch, or window. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the lack of light and he could make out that he was in a fairly bare room. After turning a corner and going fifteen or twenty feet, he came upon the window he had been looking for. At least that was what he figured it was. It seemed to be covered with a piece of plywood. Not knowing if he were wasting his time, he tried to pull the wood from the wall so that he could get access to the window, or whatever it was that was behind it.
It took him a short while to find a section of the wood where he could jam his fingers between it and the wall. By placing both hands under the wood, he was able to achieve some leverage. It felt awkward, but it was the best he could do. It occurred to him, that if he were to be attacked, he would have a very difficult time defending himself in the position he had placed himself in. Again, he chuckled, this was a totally unreal situation and he had a very difficult time taking it seriously. As he got ready to heave on the wood, it occurred to him that he might be in some sort of coma. Maybe he was having one of those unconscious battles with his mind. Maybe he was trying to reach his own body from within his mind….Again, he chuckled, he was or had lost his mind. That was increasingly becoming obvious to him. But what could he do?
He pulled on the wood with every ounce of effort that he possessed. The light that streamed into the room blinded him as he fell backwards with the wood in his hands. Because of the angle he had been pulling from, he landed fairly hard. He didn’t seem to have any permanent damage, but he would certainly have some bruises on his right side and ass. At least he was getting somewhere. Maybe he would wake up now.
Then again, maybe not. From his new vantage point on the floor, he could see that he had uncovered a window. His eyes had not adjusted to the intense light coming in from it yet, but he could finally make out a little bit of his surroundings. As he had guessed, he was in a cinderblock room about twenty feet square. The floor was bare concrete. The walls appeared to have been painted white at some time in the distant past, but now were mostly the cold grey color of the blocks beneath the ancient peeling paint. A large pile of rubbish blocked what appeared to be a doorway. The top of the doorway was visible behind the midden heap. It went to blackness.
It was then that he reached up to push his glasses up his nose and realized that he wasn’t wearing them. He scanned the room for them or his clothes or anything that might be useful, but aside from concrete rocks and the unidentifiable pile of rubbish covering the doorway, he couldn’t see anything that resembled anything. In fact, the room was very close to empty.
Carefully, he picked himself up off the floor and walked to the window. What he saw, didn’t fit with any of his expectations. He didn’t know what he had been expecting to see, but it was definitely not what lay before him. He was obviously standing on the fourth or fifth floor of a concrete apartment building. He knew this because, looking out the window he could see dozens of similar buildings before him and not much else. He looked toward the ground and saw unpainted roads running between the apartment blocks. He looked back at the buildings, trying to figure out what it was about them that struck him as so odd.
Then it hit him. They were dead. The buildings were dead. There was no glass in the windows, no clothes hanging from the balconies, no landscaping. It was like he had woken in a Russian industrial disaster area. Make that a nuclear disaster area. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t in Portland anymore.
He looked for something that could identify where he was, but there was nothing. He couldn’t make out any mountains in the distance. He couldn’t see, hear, or smell the ocean. In fact, he couldn’t hear anything except the sound of his own breath. He could see his breath too. It hadn’t gotten any warmer. He looked for something in the room that would give him a clue where he was. There was nothing he could see right away. He didn’t see any electrical outlets or switches. It had occurred to him that he might find 220 volt outlets if he were in Russia…or elsewhere. There were no outlets though. He moved to the large pile of debris he had noticed before. Maybe he could find a book or newspaper or something similar.
What he could see of the pile looked more like shredded tires and broken blocks of concrete than anything else. He went back to the window to look for cars or pedestrians. Maybe there was a fire escape. This was turning out to be not only a confusing nightmare, but a frustrating one too. He looked out the window in amazement. There was nothing below. Not only was there no fire escape, ladder, or walkway, but he couldn’t see a single car, pedestrian, bicycle, or city bus. Of course. He needed his glasses.
He went back to the pile in the doorway. He had no choice. There was no other way out of the room and nowhere else where he might find anything useful. He was becoming painfully aware of the fact that he was wearing no shoes as he walked back and forth across the rough pebbles on the floor. And he was freezing his naked ass off. He began pulling pieces from the pile, hoping he would find his shoes, his clothes, and his glasses.
He grabbed what looked like a long section of tire from the top of the pile and pulled on it. It came away without too much effort. It was actually a kind of thick rough cloth. It was filthy and about the texture of burlap. It was larger than he had thought at first. It seemed to be about four feet long by two feet wide. He smelled it. It smelled like creosote. It was some sort of tar cloth. He didn’t care. It might give him some warmth. He wrapped it around his waist like a towel and continued to search through the pile.
Being a man who had devoted a significant portion of his life to printing words, he was very aware that he was finding no paper, no writing, and no printed matter of any kind whatsoever. There wasn’t even a beer can, hamburger wrapper, or empty cigarette pack. Ben had traveled enough to know that printed litter exists everywhere. Everywhere except where he was now. After searching through the pile for what must have been at least an hour, he had found very little. For his efforts, he had a pile of the black material, part of which he then ripped and tucked into a makeshift sarong, poncho, and cape. Tearing thin strips, he braided them together to make rough ropes with which he tied multiple layers around his feet. It was a little like having his feet in burlap sacks, but the four layers made his feet hurt a little less.
Other than the material, the pile had contained rocks and blocks. No glasses. No shoes. No clothes. No books. No newspapers. No printed rubbish. He kept expecting to wake up, but he didn’t. He listened for the noise of other people, but heard nothing. He could make out a dark hallway on the other side of the door. He was torn whether to wait or to brave it. He could only imagine what he looked like in his garbage cloth outfit. The thought caused him to laugh so hard that he had to sit down on the pile of rubble he had created behind him. If anyone he knew could see him now! He was probably not only dressed like a third world charcoal maker but was also probably covered with dust and soot himself. His laughter roared through the room, out the hallway, against the walls and echoed back to him. Suddenly it sounded like a hundred men were laughing at some great joke. Well, the joke was kind of on him, wasn’t it!
Finally, after laughing himself out of laughter, he listened as the echoes died away. It was then that he heard the man’s voice coming from the hallway.
“Hello!! Can you hear me? Is there someone there? Hello? Can someone come help me? Help me! Please!”
Ben wondered if the man had been panicking before his peals of mad laughter had torn through the building.