I know before I open my eyes. The sheets don't feel right and I'm lying on something hard. My thoughts aren't whole yet as I try to shake the fatigue and cloudiness in my mind. I know I need to open them, but they won't. Is it the sleep or my apprehension in sensing that this is bad.
I open them, slowly, trying to make sense of things through the haze that comes with knowing that you're not just waking up, but coming to. I can't piece together how long I've been out. There is light, but it's faint and I can tell that it's natural and not artificial; it is daylight but I can't figure out what part of the day I've just woken into. Looking around, all I see is stone. Stone walls, stone ceiling, stone floor. The windows are small and barred. I'm lying on a narrow, thin mattress. I fold my arms across my chest and run my hands down the side of my torso. I feel pain, but can't pinpoint where it's coming from; all I know is that I don't feel normal. Moving my hands more, I feel the cold metal bed frame. I'm covered in a stiff, starchy sheet that offers no warmth from the cold, dampness of the room. I'm wearing similarly thin and starchy pajamas, a beige color with wide, faded blue stripes. I've never seen them before.
I can feel the panic creeping in. I need to think, but I can't calm my mind enough to focus on a single thought. I close my eyes again, helplessly trying to will my conscience into thinking logically. I know who I am, but now how I got here, or why.
The last thing I can remember is leaving The Den after one too many drinks. It's our favorite after work drink spot. As we have for the past four years, Kathi, Luarel and I were attending the annual Halloween Witch's BrewHaHa. This was the first year I wasn't feeling the normal level of excitement in picking out a costume and putting in the effort. I was going through the motions hoping that eventually I'd find myself enjoying it. My costume this year was uninspired and anything but unique; a forest green unitard left over from dance recitals of years past adorned with dollar store vines and sequins. Add in some green face paint, some outlandish makeup, a few scales, and suddenly I'm a slithery serpent. Any other year, I would have spent months planning ahead and coordinating with the girls. This year, I was the third wheel to their elaborate angel and devil combo. I guess it could be stretched that my serpent functions as the juxtaposition of temptation between good and evil, but to the typical bar patron eye, I was just the odd one out.
Laurel is a sucker for anything theme based; one too many signature Witch's Brew cocktails and a twenty minute bathroom boot and rally, and we were stuffing down chicken fingers waiting for an Uber. Kathi hates waiting as much as Laurel loves kitschy bar parties. I remembering finishing my own drink, throwing back the rest of Laurel's and chasing Kathi out a fake cobweb covered door. My memories are alcohol foggy but I remember Kathi yelling down the street as a Ketchup and Mustard costumed couple jumped in the Uber meant for us. What I don't remember is the conversation that followed or why we decided on walking over a mile in the opposite direction of my apartment. Laurel and Kathi both have condos in separate but close complexes only a short distance from our office. I, on the otherhand, am the third member of my family to inhabit the bottom floor apartment of a hundred year old duplex that lies on the outside border of our local state college campus. Not big, not practical, and certainly not where I am now.
Walking with them, I must have decided to switch directions and carry on alone. It's a short walk from downtown and our hangout spots to the campus. I remember doubling back by The Den and approaching the end of the business district. I remember the tiredness creeping in, heavily influenced by the alcohol, and willing myself to continue on as my walk wouldn't take but ten minutes more. My last solid memory is noticing the last alley between an old Italian cafe and where the residential areas begin with rundown undergrad apartments. I remember being startled by a rustling in the shadows and, with a racing heartbeat, shaking my head at my own jumpiness; surely it's one of the many alley cats that spend their days mooching off of college girls who won't say no to a furry face and whiskers. That's it. That's where it ends. I can't recall if I made it past the alley but obviously I didn't make it home. Where are my friends? Is it the next morning or have days past without my knowledge?
The calm I've managed to drum up is steadily being replaced by the panic again. I turn myself slowly around in circles observing the room and desperately willing myself to remember anything at all. I'm about to slump down in defeat when a piercing scream shakes my concentration.
"HELP ME! SOMEONE PLEASE!"