I saw Chaz drop his spatula and watched it go through the top of his grill. Then his grill dropped through the floor of the catering truck. The refrigerator and cabinets were next.
I yelled his name, but nothing came out. Something to do with the fact that I was next. And the last I saw of Chaz was his shocked face as he tried to reach for my hand, but I slipped beneath the floor of that truck and everything went black.
He was my lover, my everything, and now — like everything else — he was gone.
I heard Hami yell something, but I couldn’t make it out. Because my attention was on the stainless spatula in my hand that was sinking through the cast-iron top of the grill. So I let it go before I got burnt by that grill. Something I didn’t want to experience just to save a steel burger flipper.
There wasn’t any hole in that grill surface — it was like the thing just dropped right through it. And next went all the burgers and the buns warming on the back. Of course, I didn’t have anything in my hands to stop them. Hot grease wasn’t anything else I wanted to feel. But I was too busy watching them sink to save even a single bun.
Soon the grill top was completely blank and black. Still hot. So I started turning down the flame underneath — until I couldn’t reach the knobs, because the entire grill was sinking.
Then I remembered Hami yelling something. Turning to her gave me just enough time to see her sink through that truck’s floor. I tried running to grab her, but just missed her hand, as her face slipped beneath the floor.
Everything shifted at that, and I had to keep my balance. Because the whole truck then slipped beneath the ground. And I was left standing.
But it wasn’t where we had set up that day. There was no crowd waiting with orders for us, or anyone else. Or any other buildings.
Just a stretch of hard-packed, green pavement, that had a long dashed line heading straight down it. And waves. Green waves that smelled of ocean, and lapped at my feet and across the surface of that green highway I was standing on.
Not too hot a day, especially now I was away from that grill. Or, it was away from me. Hazy light of sorts. Even though it was a deep blue sky overhead. Dark enough that I could see stars shining.
We’d only been set up for a few hours, and we were in the middle of the desert. So I should have had a pale bleached-blue sky with a blazing sun nearly straight over head.
Now it was some dusk of a day with no sunset, in a place I knew nothing about and had never been before — with everything I knew and loved gone without any trace.
“Well, this sucks.” Out loud. With no one to hear it.
The road went right up the “beach” to what should have been north according to where we parked the truck earlier. But that “beach” just went on and on. No mountains, no hills. Just flat and green. Pavement and water. Even the waves were flat.
When I turned to what should be “south”, I could see some shimmery round thing lit up in the distance.
So I shrugged and started walking toward it. What the hell. Nothing better to do.
My bum hurt from landing on it. At least I was on the dirt, and not the asphalt. Out in front of our old saloon-turned-restaurant. Same old sign above the metal awning, “Hami & Chaz — Sandwiches, Etc.” In that old Western scrolling letters on its north side. Permanent shade. But I was squinting as I was still in the sun instead.
Instant hot again. But not like I wasn’t used to it.
Hearing thumps around me got me up and running for the building’s porch and its screen door. The spatula I’d seen laying between my jean-covered legs, the burgers and buns all in neat lines to my right.
It was the big thump of the grill arriving that got me moving. Because it landed too close to my hand. I wasn’t sticking around to see if my luck would hold for anything coming next.
Once I got to the wood frame that held up the awning, I paused out of breath to see what else had come down.
The coach itself was rocking on its suspension after arriving. But around it were all the other cabinets and supplies, spread out like some inventory — or like a clock repairman was taking it apart to fix something. Keeping track of every single item.
And it wasn’t long before things quit appearing. Even the condiments showed up. All separate from one another, but at least the ketchup and mustard were still in their bottles. Same for the milk and ice cream.
I almost went out to get those out of the sun, but stopped to pause for a little bit — just to make sure.
Instead, I turned to look inside the screen door to check out the saloon. Everything was just as normal, the fans rotating on the high ceiling. Lights off, bentwood “caboose” chairs pushed up around the round wood tables, floor swept, everything tidy and in it’s place.
So far, so good.
Turning around, I gingerly walked over to where the refrigerator content had arrived. Along the way, I picked up a large, sturdy cardboard box that used to be under the counter. That box held most of the coldest stuff with ease.
But I was still spooked, so didn’t stick around to double-check for anything else I could pick up for that haul — but just quick-stepped out of there and back onto the porch, through the screen door and into my familiar kitchen at the back of the long front room.
Inside my kitchen I could relax a bit. Nothing had changed since we left that morning. The big industrial refrigerator-freezers held the food I’d brought in just fine. And reminded me I needed to stock up — once all this weird day was over.
Thinking about that, I touched the gold-streaked turquoise pendant that hung on a leather thong around my neck and thought of Jean. He’s always the first one to call if something went weird. And my next thought was why Chaz hadn’t used his own pendant to call me.
Hope nothing had happened to him.
Then I sprinted back out through the front and around the food coach’s front, up in the open doors to the now completely empty interior. The worry lines eased a bit, only a bit, when I saw there wasn’t any blood on the floor. Only the tiny holes where the grill and cabinets used to be screwed and bolted down.
So what happened to him?
A throat-clearing behind me made me whirl. It was Jean. At the front door. Trying to not startle me. He had worry lines on his own forehead, but these melted into a wide smile he put on — just to set me at ease.
He came up the steps and I took the fast couple of steps needed to fall into his welcome arms, this old friend and uncle and mentor. Someone Chaz and I both knew since we learned to walk. A comfort hug. From his beefy arms and wide hands. I could smell the desert dust and wind on him as I put my red head next to his gray one.
Jean just patted my back and held me, waiting for me to say something.
While tears rolled out of my eyes and soaked his shirt collar, small sobs shook me from my heart outward.
No matter who I thought of through that pendant, no one was answering. Not Hami, not Jean, not any of the Lazurai, and no one at the Library. I couldn’t get anyone to contact me, let alone come to help me with this scene.
I was almost up to that shimmery circle now. It looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. Or maybe out of one of those Virtual Reality games where you ported to some other section of the game.
It just stood there, tempting me. Taunting me.
The bottom third of its gray metal edge was sunk into the green sand. Somehow, the water covered its edges on each side, so just maybe it could be “dialed” in from somewhere else. But for now, it was stuck in its shimmery mode, just beckoning me to take a trip through it.
Not so fast.
Looking around, I found a smallish green pebble and chucked it through with a sidearm pitch. And not too soon after had to duck as it came zinging back through.
So I just stood there and waited. If that was automatic, then there was no sense stepping into it. If some person threw it back, then I’d get something else coming through any time now.
Which prompted me to step to the side. My flat-bottomed white boat-shoe tennies were already soaked, so standing in ankle deep water was nothing. At least the water was cool — but not cold. This was some sort of sub-tropic scene. Like maybe San Diego or something.
Still, it was darkening now. And no place to lay down to sleep tonight unless I wanted to wake up looking like a prune tomorrow from the water that lay over almost everything here.
Didn’t have to wait long. Some note inside a plastic bag, attached to a weight of some sort arrived. Landing just barely beyond the edge of the circle’s shimmer.
I slowly stepped toward it. Not wanting someone or something to grab me from beyond the short distance from the bag to that mystery beyond. Bent down, crouched, and managed to grab it before scooting a dozen feet away. Just out of reach, I hoped.
Then opened up the plastic bag. It had been tied on to some sort of small wooden chunk, kinda rounded off like it had been weathered. A piece of walnut or something.
As I pulled out the note and began unfolding it, I was only hoping I could read whatever language it was written in.
And my eyes opened wide when I found I could…
Continued in Part 2…
Can’t wait to see how this turns out?
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Originally published at Living Sensical.