The Parking Garage
Frank Frettatorio got into his car, started it, and then, carefully, backed out of the narrow parking space and into the way-too-narrow lane of the hospital’s parking garage. He threw the gear shift into drive, then began to inch his way forward between the jutting back-ends of poorly parked SUVs and pick-ups, all the while praying that no one was driving up to the top floor of the garage from the other direction. How the garage was two lanes was something he could never understand. It was a physical impossibility for two cars to exist side-by-side in there. As Frank slowly edged around the enormous, dented bumper of yet another Ford F-550, he began to wonder if even his two-door Mazda was too much car.
Still, he powered through, turn after agonizingly sharp turn, following the exit signs painted on the walls for what felt like forever. The radio finished one song and went into another. Then another. Lower and lower Frank went. Parking Level 5, Parking Level 4, 3, 2, Ground. Basement. Sub-basement. Parking Level A, Parking Level B, C, D.
Wait. That couldn’t be right.
Frank stopped his car mid-turn and glanced around, but everywhere he looked was just more parking garage -- cars, trucks, concrete, flickering lights, the inescapable smell of urine and despair. He didn’t remember there being letters when he drove in for his procedure earlier that morning, but he admittedly wasn’t paying that much attention. So Frank shrugged and soldiered on, still following the exit arrows, crawling farther and farther down the alphabet.
He passed through Parking Levels L, M, and N. The radio played a bunch of commercials and then moved into a thirty-minute block of Taylor Swift. Frank tried changing the station, but everything else was static. He swore under his breath, shaking his head, but still found himself singing along to the choruses.
Parking Level S. Parking Level T. Taylor Swift finished lamenting one failed relationship and moved on to cursing another. Tearing at the orange inpatient bracelet on his wrist as he continued to drive, slowly, incrementally ever forward, Frank made his way down to Parking Levels X and Y, and then, finally, Z.
Z. The parking garage was out of letters. A way out had to be nearby. Frank looked for the exit sign and saw the arrow pointing to his right, just around the large Suburban jutting out at the end of the row. He did his best to make the turn carefully, but the rising anticipation of fresh air and getting this day the hell over with led to him smashing his side-view mirror against the enormous bumper. Frank thought about stopping and leaving a note, but then he thought screw it, and kept driving.
He finished the turn around the SUV and the concrete column blocking his vision, fulling expecting to be blinded by daylight, or at least met by a toll booth and a ramp, but Frank saw only more darkness. Somehow, the flickering lights on this level were even sadder than usual. The cars looked more rusted and worn.
Parking Level… Frank couldn’t make it out. The wall was painted with some kind of unintelligible symbol. But still the exit arrow pointed right.
Frank Frettatorio knit his brow. This was getting ridiculous. Not seeing any other options, though, he kept going. He drove down the next level and turned another corner, then another and another. More symbols. Fewer lights. He could hear the pavement getting rougher and rougher before just outright turning to gravel.
Finally, Frank stopped the car. Enough was enough. He threw the Mazda into park, killed the engine, got out, and looked around. He squinted into the darkness. There were still cars parked, everywhere. They were older, yes, probably abandoned by the looks of things, and most of them had flat tires, but they were unmistakably parked. Frank could just make out the white parking receipts left on their dashboards.
The lane was unpaved, but it was still obviously a lane – the gravel clearly had grooves from cars repeatedly driving over it. The air was musty and the walls and columns looked to have mold growing over them, but, aside from needing some severe maintenance, nothing actually looked out of place.
Frank was still in the garage.
He stood, dumbfounded, looking around for some kind of map or directional key. He found nothing but more parking garage.
“Oh my God,” he mumbled, stumbling forward. “I must have died during the procedure. There must have been a mistake, something must have gone wrong. This is Hell, it has to be. The obnoxiously large vehicles, the never-ending parking levels, the Taylor Swift...”
Then Frank heard the honking.
He turned and saw, behind his own car, a tiny golf cart. All he could make out was the word “Security” written on the flimsy plastic enclosure draped over the cart.
“Oh, thank God,” he whispered.
“You’re going to have to move your car,” called the man driving the cart.
“I’m trying to!” said Frank, rushing back past his car toward the guard. “But I feel like I’ve been driving forever. How many levels are there? Where’s the exit? Did I miss it?”
He cleared his Mazda, and only then did Frank see the guard.
The guard was very clearly a goblin. Tiny, green, with long pointed ears and a long pointed nose, and wearing a crisply ironed jumpsuit with the name Wren embroidered onto the chest.
“What in the nine decaffeinated coffees of Saint Drogo...?” said Frank.
“What, you’ve never seen a goblin before?” asked the creature.
“Well, no,” replied Frank slowly. “I didn’t think they – you – were real, to be honest. No offense.”
“We get that a lot,” explained the guard with a shrug. “We keep telling the hospital to get better signs, you know, to keep people from ending up in the goblin kingdom? But they don’t listen. Say it’s not their problem. We’re actually thinking of bringing a lawsuit against them. I mean, we got no problem with humans visiting, but people get lost and freak out and then we have to spend our time getting them back to the surface, and, I’ll be honest, some of you people kind of suck. Like, a lot. Just don’t handle the existence of goblins right and start hitting us. It hurts, on multiple levels.”
The security guard undid the top three buttons of his jumpsuit and exposed a scarred shoulder to Frank.
“I mean, look at this,” he said. “Some lady literally stabbed me with the end of an umbrella. Three times. Who does that?”
Wren buttoned up his jumpsuit again.“Anyway, I’m going on,” the goblin continued. “Your exit’s way the hell up on Parking Level E. Follow me, I’ll show you how to get back.”