The warm, muffled silence provided by my earbuds promises a small respite from my mindless work. With a tap of the phone, an airy, mystical theme begins to play, whisking my mind away from the unbearable boredom of this warehouse.
Then she speaks. A sweet voice announcing, “Hi. Welcome to Dreamland...”
Those were the first words I ever heard her say, and they held an intimacy that I couldn’t explain. I can’t shake the feeling that they are uniquely delivered to me.
“I want to start off with a story” the podcast continues, “and as with all stories that truly matter, this one is about you.”
I smile. Alright, let’s hear it.
“It’s an ordinary day” she begins, “you faithfully go to your regular shift at work and go through all the necessary motions. You can hardly stand the mindless tedium.”
OK, very accurate so far.
“You think to yourself, ‘Why do I waste my time here? There must be more to life than this!’ Out of the corner of your eye, you see movement. Something furry and brown.”
I sigh. I can’t deny that those thoughts cross my mind very—Wait, what was that? Out of the corner of my eye, I do catch sight of something small and brown hop across the floor.
“You turn and see a rabbit sitting in the middle of the floor. How strange. But cute, right?” She laughed softly.
Uhhhh...yeah? I stare in astonishment at the rabbit that just hopped into view, nibbling on something in the middle of the warehouse floor.
This must be the craziest coincidence...
“The rabbit turns and hops away, down an aisle and out of sight. You feel compelled to follow the rabbit.”
As if following a choreography, the rabbit turns, hops and disappears at the exact moments that she speaks those words. I, too, begin conforming to her words because there’s no way I’m not following that rabbit.
“You walk down the aisle, intent on catching up to the mysterious rabbit. It’s not until you’re halfway down the aisle that you realize the shelves around you are wholly unfamiliar.”
Oh no. I glance around me and it’s true, I don’t recognize where I am. The shelves, the floor, the stacks of boxes are familiar, but their configuration isn’t one I’ve seen before. This aisle...it doesn’t exist in the warehouse.
“Puzzled, you continue following the rabbit...”
With her voice as my constant companion, I lose track of how long I’ve been following the rabbit. I pass rows upon rows of shelves and go down uncountable branching aisles I don’t recognize.
Finally, in the distance, something changes. The aisle opens up into a large room. It resembles the warehouse, but my warehouse does not have a massive wrought iron gate dividing it down the middle. It’s strangely out of place in its elegance, with ornate iron bars that intercross and form a sprawling labyrinth.
The rabbit has stopped, and leisurely grooms itself in font of the iron gates. Her voice in my ear has also stopped, and a long silence follows.
“Are you still there?” I say, forgetting for a moment that—being a podcast—she won’t answer me.
“...Yes?” Comes her familiar voice in reply.
I breathe in sharply in shock, not because there was a reply, but because it came from across the room. On the other side of the gate, a figure approaches hesitantly. It’s a young woman with dark auburn hair, a look of awe and wonder on her face. I suspect I have a similar expression on my face.
As we stand face to face, with only the iron bars separating us, I ask, dumbfounded, “Are you...her?” Not knowing how else to phrase the question.
Her eyes widen when she hears me speak. “You’re...him.”
It is her. Her voice is unmistakable.
She reaches to her right ear and takes out a white earbud. She holds it out towards me. Without a word, I reach for mine as well and offer it to her. We take each other’s earbud and put it on. A moment later, two voices began speaking again as if on cue. Her voice coming from my earbud, my own voice coming from hers.
“This is the centre of the labyrinth.” Our voices say in unison, “But what’s beyond the gates?”
I look up through the gates at the woman. There’s an infinite number of questions I want to ask. I decide to start with something simple, as I pull the gates open.
“What’s your name? I’m—”
But there’s no one on the other side. As the bars of the gates swing open and pass over her for a split second, she doesn’t appear on the other side. The rabbit is gone too, and so is her voice in my ears.
I step forward in confusion and realize that this room is very familiar to me. And it isn’t so empty after all. At the far wall, I can see someone working.
It’s me, working my shift, going about my unbearably mundane existence. I feel a pull towards my body and in a blink, I’m back in my body again. I stand in front of a familiar shelf and my hands work away mindlessly.
My phone chirped cheerily; it’s the end of my shift.
I lay on my bed and can’t help but replay the strange events over and over in my mind. A single desire grabs ahold of me and pushes all other thoughts aside. I will find her again.
I look at down at my hand, holding my now mismatched earbuds, mine grey, hers white. Suddenly, I know what I must do. Gripped by inspiration, I rush to my laptop and take a minute to gather myself. There, on the centre of the screen, is a red record button. I take a deep breath in, and all the words seem to flow naturally out of me.
“Hi.” I begin, “Welcome to Dreamland...”
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Wayne, This is the first story that I've read on this site that I liked. I liked it a lot. It is the first time that I've read a story that I wished I had written, although fantasy is not my strong suit. Because your story was so good, I have only two minor comments. I looked it up and it apparently is now common in usage, but I prefer "all right" to "alright" (fifth paragraph). More substantively, I would consider adding the following sentence after the first sentence in the third to last paragraph: "I've day-dreamed at work before, but I...
Hey Dave! Thank you for the in-depth feedback and your kind words. I really appreciate it.
A rabbit, what else would it be in a warehouse? Like it.
That was fun! Creepy yet dreamy. Thanks for this.