Chapter 2 - Awakening
The pain was gone. Jason blinked his eyes trying to fight off the disorientation. The confusion was quickly replaced with panic as he realized he was no longer in his kitchen. He was outside. The blazing sun was beating down on him as he began to take in his surroundings and try to make sense of the situation. He appeared to be in a cornfield, but where, he had no idea. Did he have a stroke and blackout? He had heard of people entering a “fugue” state where they wandered around doing things without actually remembering them. Had that just happened to him?
Jason instinctively shot his hand down to his pocket searching for its normal inhabitant, but his phone was not there. In fact, he didn’t even recognize the clothes he was wearing, simple brown coveralls. Was he going crazy? Was it possible that he was just hallucinating all of this and he was really still on his kitchen floor having some sort of seizure?
“This certainly seems real enough,” he thought and he decided that he needed to assume it was real until he found evidence to the contrary. He took a deep breath and tried to start thinking logically. The next thing he noticed was his hands. They were caked in dirt, but beneath the filth they appeared weathered and deeply tanned as if he had spent a lifetime working out in the sun. His hands were rough and covered in thick callouses in direct contrast to his normally soft and well-manicured computer programmer’s hands. A memory of Beth teasing him about his “girly” hands flashed through his mind.
“Oh God, Beth!” he thought, the panic returning. She must be looking for him. What would she have thought happened to him? He quickly pushed down the concerns before they could overwhelm him.
“First things first,” he thought, trying to focus himself. “I need to find out where I am and then I can call for help. If this is a farm, then there has to be a farm house somewhere.”
He looked around in all directions but all he could see were 6-foot-high corn stocks. He picked a direction at random, and then started walking down the row between the stocks. “The field has to end sometime,” he thought. Once he got out of the field, he’d be better able to orientate himself toward possible civilization.
Jason walked for what seemed like several hours, however he couldn’t be sure of the time. He had never really been the outdoors type and hadn’t bothered learning any of those related skills. Finally, the field opened into an enormous square shaped clearing. A concrete pad approximately 100 yards on each side and 3 feet tall filled the empty space. The corn field densely surrounded the clearing with no end in sight. Jason couldn’t understand the purpose of the concrete pad. There were no roads leading to it and no evidence that further construction was forthcoming. He guessed that it could be the foundation for some sort of huge warehouse, but the location seemed odd to say the least.
“Hey, you!” a deep, frantic male voice in the distance suddenly broke the silence of the moment.
Jason looked toward the call and saw a massive figure quickly making his way toward him from the opposite side of the pad. As the man got closer, Jason noticed he looked to be in his forties and was wearing an identical brown pair of coveralls. The man was huge, at least 6 foot 5 inches with shoulders that would put an NFL linebacker to shame.
“What the fuck is going on here, mister? Where am I?” the man croaked out as he finally reached Jason.
“What?” was the only weak response that Jason’s confused mind could muster. Just physically voicing the single word had actually hurt his throat and he began to cough violently.
“Did you kidnap me? Are you some sort of child molesting pervert?” the man spat wildly, ignoring Jason’s coughing fit.
Jason put his hands up in a calming motion. “Whoa man. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m just as confused as you. I just woke up in this field a few hours ago. The last thing I remember is cooking breakfast in my kitchen,” Jason managed to croak the words out before launching into another coughing fit.
“Shit mister, I’m scared. My family is gonna be shitting bricks. Do you have a phone?” the man asked.
Jason shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I was looking for some sort of farm house so I could call for help,” Jason explained. “But this is all I’ve found so far.”
“We’ll there’s nothing in that direction for at least a mile either. Shit, mister what are we gonna do?” pleaded the man.
Jason found the man’s speech rather odd. By the look of him, he was at least twice Jason’s age and much bigger, but he sounded like a scared teenager or younger. He seemed to be deferring to Jason as well, even though the man was obviously the elder and much larger to boot. Maybe he was a little on the mentally slow side, Jason theorized. Either way, at least he had a person to talk to, but the fact that the stranger was just as confused as Jason, didn’t bode well for their situation.
“My name’s Jason,” he said extending his hand.
The stranger looked at the outstretched hand suspiciously but finally returned the handshake with a crushing grip, “Mike Hagen”.
“Where are you from, Mike?” Jason asked, rubbing his hand.
“Sunrise, Florida. It’s just outside of Fort Lauderdale.”
Jason looked surprised, “And that’s where you were before waking up here?”
“Yeah, I was just heading into school, when I suddenly felt this horrible pain everywhere.”
“I experienced the same thing. I was…,” Jason cut himself off as he finally processed what Mike had said. “Wait… you were going into school… like to drop off your kid or something? Are you a teacher?”
Mike cocked his head strangely, “Huh? No, I’m a junior at Piper High. hell mister, do I look like I could have kids in high school?” Mike blushed.
Jason’s expression took a serious turn, “Actually, you do. Look like you could have kids in high school, I mean.” A horrible thought crossed Jason’s mind. “How old are you, Mike?”
“I’m seventeen, eighteen in December,” Mike answered proudly.
Jason was afraid to ask the next question but he knew he had to do it, “How old do you think I am, Mike?”
Mike seemed confused by the question, but shrugged. “Hell, I don’t know… sixty? Did I get it right? Am I close?”
The two men had been walking though the fields for almost an hour when they stumbled upon the water spigot sticking out of the ground. They both greedily drank as much of the warm, metallic water as they could, before continuing down what appeared to be an ever-widening path. Finally, they were rewarded for their efforts by exiting the cornfield at the edge of a small ditch. A tiny single-story home stood a short distance away. Much of its roof looked like it had collapsed years ago, which only matched the missing windows and rotting siding. However, it was the first structure either of them had seen since awakening and they were ecstatic to see the rundown eyesore.
They cautiously entered the building, afraid that the floor or remaining roof would give way at the slightest prompting, but both seemed to hold, at least for the time being. It was obvious that no one had been there in a long time, but Jason quickly found what he was looking for buried in a pile of debris on the floor. He picked up the shattered piece of mirror and cleaned it off as best as he could with his dirty sleeve. Then, slowly, he raised the reflective surface to his face. The experience was shocking to say the least. The face that greeted him was not his own, at least not the one he remembered from the night before in the bathroom mirror. He remembered thinking how horrible he looked then, but the reflection that he was seeing now was beyond disturbing. It was definitely him, he decided, but he looked so damned old. The person in that mirror had led a hard life tolling out in the sun every day. His skin was loose and leathery. The hair was thin and grey with wild bushy eyebrows and coarse dark hairs jetting out from his ears and nostrils. He did look like he was sixty, or at least a hard fifty.
“How the hell could this happen?” Jason mumbled while poking his heavily lined face with his finger to confirm what he was seeing was real. He then handed the mirror to Mike who had been waiting patiently for his turn. Mike looked into the shard without hesitation then stroked his own greying hair.
“Bitchin’,” was the first word that came to his teenage mind. “I’m old. I mean really, really old. At least buying beer won’t be a problem anymore.”
Fortunately, Mike had been a boy scout and actually knew how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together. As evening began to settle in on their first night in this strange world, they managed to build a small fire outside of the dilapidated house and were cooking several ears of corn over a makeshift grill. They had also returned to the mysterious spigot and collected water using some ancient looking empty plastic bottles they had found in the house. They had food, fire, and water, now all they needed were answers.
“What do you think is going on, Jason?” asked Mike while rotating the corn on the grill with a stick. The two had been almost completely silent since discovering their new appearances. For some reason, not talking just felt natural for both.
“I really don’t know,” Jason answered despondently.
“I don’t mind telling ya that I’m scared, man,” Mike confided.
“I am too,” Jason responded honestly, reminding himself that Mike was really just a teenager. “I think I might have seen a road some ways off before we lost the light. Tomorrow, I say we gather as much food and water as we can carry and head that way. Roads lead to places, at least they used to,” he added darkly. “There’s got to be more people around here. Someone has to know what the hell is going on.”
Almost on cue, a strange voice spoke up from just beyond the radius of the campfire light. “Excuse me, gentlemen.”
Both Jason and Mike jumped to their feet, startled by the sudden intrusion of a rich, southern gentlemen’s accent.
“Who’s there?” demand Jason. “Come where we can see you.”
An elderly looking black man emerged from the shadows and slowly stepped into the light. His hands where raised in a gesture that indicated he meant no harm. His dark skin contrasted heavily with his snow-white hair and beard.
“We didn’t mean to scare you. We saw your fire and were hoping we could join you,” the stranger explained.
“Who’s ‘we’?” demanded Mike suspiciously.
“It’s all right. Come on,” said the man into the darkness behind him.
A group of five other people cautiously materialized out of the night and into the warmth of the campfire. They were all wearing the same brown coveralls and looked just as displaced as Mike and Jason. Not a single one looked younger than fifty. Sensing no threat, Jason invited them to join Mike and himself by the fire and they began to talk and take turns staring at their new, much older faces with the mirror shard.
The first man who had appeared was named George Willard, a sociology professor from the University of Arkansas, Jonesboro. George seemed to be the new group’s unofficial spokesman and he went on to describe very similar stories from all the new people. Everyone had experienced the same thing. They were all going about their normal business this morning, suddenly felt tremendous pain, then found themselves in this cornfield just like Jason. No one had any additional information on their current circumstances.
“I’m telling ya it's fucking aliens. Hell, we probably aren’t even on Earth anymore. I mean how else could some’em like this happen?” exclaimed Ray Parker, a rail thin car mechanic from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Normally Jason would have scoffed at any theory that involved alien intervention, but this time he had to admit that it made as much sense as any theory that he had come up with. Here were all these different people, from all over the country, seemingly snatched right from their homes, aged thirty years for some weird reason and dumped in a cornfield. Nothing made sense. It was as if they had all just skipped the last thirty years and Jason wanted that time back.
“It’s not aliens,” announced Tammy Jenkins, a five foot one accountant from Akron, Ohio. “If this is really happening, and I’m not ready to admit that this isn’t just some crazy dream yet, then it’s the government. It’s probably some sick experiment gone wrong and gotten out of control.”
Jason stood up to get the group’s attention, “The fact is none of us know what’s going on and wild speculation isn’t going to help tonight. Mike and I are planning on taking that road tomorrow and seeing where it leads. All of you are welcome to join us. There’s safety in numbers and we have no idea what we’re walking into. Hopefully, we can find some answers out there somewhere.”