Globe Without Goodbye
I. The Shore
When Jeffrey Hamen came to his senses, he knew he had never before seen this shore. He stood on bare feet, on gray sand. Dark water stretched out to his right. Gray dunes sloped up to his left. He recognized the clothes he wore as his favorite jeans and long-sleeved shirt, strangely leached of color. Slate clouds completely hid the sun. His shadow hovered beneath him, soft and purposeless.
Jeffrey could last remember driving home from his office job, wearing work clothes, on a specific Thursday afternoon in May. He had been frustrated as he drove, like usual after work; he always felt like a shark in a tank full of minnows at his job. None of his co-workers seemed to understand his ambitions. Unsurprising, as he couldn’t articulate those ambitions very well, even in his own mind. They ruled him despite his lack of understanding. Jeffrey sometimes mused about how Christopher Columbus would have felt if born into a world where the West Indies had been charted for centuries – without the knack for hard science that made a good job at NASA possible.
Jeffrey never encountered a larger body of water on his drive home from work than a retention pond, designed to prevent suburban flooding during the seasonal thunderstorms that plague the Midwestern U.S. But instead of that tame pond, when he turned to his right and strained his disbelieving eyes, he saw…
The mother of all oceans.
Perhaps not an ocean. He had visited Lake Michigan a few times in his life, and it too had stretched across the horizon. So perhaps this was not actually the mother of all oceans – who talked like that, anyway; perhaps this was just Lake Michigan on a very cloudy day. His memory tugged at him. Dunes. Lake Michigan had dunes. In Indiana, right? If this were Lake Michigan, and those were Indiana Dunes, if he walked forward far enough, wouldn’t he find Chicago? Couldn’t he get home?
How far had he walked already?
He turned away from the water to look for his footprints. He should have left prints in the damp sand. Waves hadn’t touched his feet for as long as he had stood still; the tide must have been low. What he needed to regain a sense of normalcy was to see his own footprints. He didn’t like the quiet –the lack of birdsong, or other animal noises. No natural water sounds. Really he didn’t like anything about this scenario, but as long as he saw his footprints, things would be normal enough to figure out what to do –
Nothing. No tracks. Not his, or anyone’s, or anything’s. The gray sand was blank as a fortune-teller’s crystal ball.
He considered yelling for help, but the fear washing up from his stomach told him to keep the element of surprise while looking for others who might be around. He felt unsafe confronted by so much neutrality. How he had come to this place?
Jeffrey stood, stiff as an oaken floorboard that no one has stepped on for thirty years. For the first time, he had no road map. His parents and teachers had once served in that function. By the time he had moved out of his parents’ home, Jeffrey had internalized how to move through a day. He knew a routine of work, a routine of socializing, a routine of quiet private time. Now all of that had been stripped away.
He had adapted well enough to deal with other circumstances that had jarred him out of his routines in the past – minor setbacks, great joys – but nothing had prepared him for transport to a featureless beach beside the mother of all oceans with no tracks and no sounds to guide him.
At least he was wearing his favorite shirt.