- Mar 17, 2018
The light was blindingly bright everywhere, except on that spotless green door.
Dalton stood there for a bit, trying to take it all in. Not that there was much to comprehend - all he could see was the green door before him, utterly alien and yet profoundly familiar at the same time and in equal measure. He looked around again, taking deeper and deeper breaths with each passing second, scanning for anything new beyond the painted door before him.
Where am I?
His search rewarded him with nothing. His pupils darted back and forth, muscles tensed and hands trembling just a measure. He inched forth, placing his hand onto the doorknob and twisting to the left. Dust and bits of debris cascaded off of Dalton's uniform, everything slowing to a crawl before him.
Where the hell am I going?
More of the same blank landscape greeted Dalton as he stepped through the door and closed it behind him, but this time it subsided, giving way to a scene out of some eudaimonic fever dream - not the first, but the most recent. It was a celebration of sorts. There was nothing in the room to indicate what for, though the pleasant furnishings, lights and banners and food on the table told Dalton that it must've been significant enough. Dalton took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of food and the cheap but alluring smell of air freshener of a vaguely fruity sort.
Dalton halted his reluctant advance when he realised he wasn't alone in the room
Who are these people? Do I know them?
He thought he did. Or he thought he was supposed to. The people flanking him on both sides of his vision were well dressed and clean, in comparison to his utterly shambolic dress of infantry gear, caked in soot and dust and too much blood for it to be any of his own, the kind of stains that would never wash out even if he spent every waking hour trying to scrub them out. No, they dressed as though they hadn't a care in the world - as if the idea of a wasteland dominated by machines was foreign to them.
Perhaps because it was. But that thought didn't make sense to Dalton when he looked at the row of people on his left.
Deanna? Karina? Alex, Kato, Jordan, /Marilyn/?
Why were they here? Why were they so happy? Just what was going on? Where even were they?
Stop complaining. Stop asking questions. This is what you wanted, right?
Dalton opened his mouth to speak aloud to his compatriots, but nothing came out. Nothing audible, at least. It didn't matter - he couldn't hear anything they were saying, either. But they were happy, so Dalton resolved to join them. He couldn't hear what anyone was saying, but he joined them regardless. Food and drink was shared around, silent laughter and anecdotes were shared about nothing Dalton was privy to, but why was he supposed to care? He had shed his Sisyphean boulder, and could finally relax. They were smiling at last, after everything. And he was going to join them, even if nothing made sense.
Especially not the gathering of people to his right.
Stop thinking about everything for once. Accept this for what it is, man.
Dalton didn't know anyone to his right, and by the looks of things, they didn't know him either. They were as healthy looking and well dressed as his friends to his left, but they were staring daggers at him, looking him up and down and scrutinising every possible feature on his form, of which there were plenty. Narrowed eyes and furrowed brows missed nothing and made him feel like some sort of intruder, which he might very well have been. The interlopers to his right opened rank after what seemed like an eternity, revealing three people who Dalton knew all too well.
Please don't look at me like that. I just want to be happy here.
A man and a woman in their late thirties, holding between them half a dozen well worn books with curled up pages, and a young boy in between them, perhaps six or seven years old. The boy was looking at his feet, and his presumed parents looked at Dalton with a mix of apprehension and fear, lacking the contempt and fear of their peers.
It's me. I'm here again. Please, recognise me.
Time froze as Dalton gazed upon his parents and himself with misty eyes. He moved to take a step towards them and away from those he knew, but to no avail - he was locked in place like everyone else. That same light that had enveloped everything began to return, and with it, Dalton's hands began trembling once more.
Let me stay. God, let me stay. Don't take me away from here.
As everything faded into white once more, Dalton turned from the family he was once a part of so many years ago, to his new, adopted family. He started speaking into the void, begging for them to stay, but they hardly seemed to realise anything was wrong, those same satisfied and unburdened grins persisting. Dalton managed to break out of whatever stasis he was part of to grab Marilyn's hand, almost shouting for her to keep him here, or at least, to come with him.
But she just kept smiling. She was still smiling when she was the last person to fade away, leaving Dalton in that same pure landscape that he was stranded in before, minus any spotless green door.
Dalton awoke to a cracked and dilapidated concrete ceiling in a green cot. Coughing and groaning dominated the ambience in the room, coupled with the quiet buzz of a radio to his left. He took an almighty breath, as if he hadn't taken one at all during his deep sleep. It was brushed away with a shuddering exhale and two calloused hands running up and down Dalton's face.
After some time he gave up and just laid there on his cot, one thought echoing through his mind.
Let me go back.