The brown beer bottle reflected eyebags that sank down to Alice’s cheekbones. Wrinkles branched out almost determined to reach her hairline. Maybe the convex curvature exaggerated her features, or maybe it better showed what the average mirror couldn’t – an overworked, fifty-year-old accountant. All tinted in the shade of shit.
Alice swayed on her stool to the song that played through the speaker. She couldn’t make out the words, but she liked the strum of the guitar. She always had. She even learned to play it when she was a child, but she hadn’t picked it up for god knows how long. The long nails on her left and the short nails on her right hand tapped along to the beat and scratched up some wooden shavings on the bar.
She gave herself a push, and her chair spun until it placed her right back to her drink. Alice inspected it. Peered up from underneath. Sloshed the pleasure poison side-to-side creating little back-and-forth waves confined within. Should she finish this one too?
The beer rolled down Alice’s throat until all that came out was air. Alice shook and tapped the vial with one of her long nails. She peered into its tiny nozzle thinking she could see into the darkness without falling in. She was wrong.
The bar’s fluorescent lights peaked off the rim like a solar eclipse. Alice held her arms out wide and spun around in the smell of alcohol. The chilly air tickled her skin. Alice pulled down the sleeves of her shawl to wrap her knuckles before touching the frosted glass. Now the whole world was the same color as crap.
There were still many people left in the bar. A group of college students sat in a corner by the window. In a tiny table a few feet away from her sat another group of friends, and a gay couple flirted just stools away.
The bottle shook as it was lifted off the table. Water flooded in, submerging Alice. Her limbs grew heavy. The weight of the water pushed back as she tried to swim to the top. Halfway there, Alice was swept to the side. Her shoulder blades banged against the walls. She swirled round and round smacking different parts of her body. Arms, knees, temple, shoulder. Little bubbles fluttered out of Alice’s nose and mouth. She somehow got to the top and gasped for air a second too late. She plunged back down and swallowed a gulp of water. Alice bobbed up and down the edge, then it tipped. The water rushed out. She landed on her side and huddled in a fetal position on the freezing, hard surface.
Water spurted out of Alice’s mouth. Her ankle-length skirt draped over her legs while her shawl and blouse clung to her upper body. Bundles of wet hair wrapped around her neck and down her shirt into the crevice of her breasts. Numb lips trembled.
Alice pushed her palms against the icy surface. The muscles along her forearms stiffened as she got up.
Glancing across the way, Alice saw her reflection off the stainless steel. She seemed pale. Her black and gray hair clumped in wet locks and covered her face and hung over her breasts. She staggered towards her other self and nearly fell over the outer edge of her foot but managed to catch herself mid-fall. Her hand reached out to touch her silver face, but she couldn’t quite reach. She wobbled closer. Her hand reached out feeling for the stainless steel. She wanted to touch it. Wanted to grab it and hold it tight and never let it go because it’s hers. Then she fell.
Standing on all fours, she finally saw herself more clearly. She caressed the flat surface of her face. It was cold and lifeless.
She rolled onto her butt. How to get out? The sink was too tall to climb. Regardless which direction she took, Alice would reach the edge of the sink. This left only one solution – down.
The drain looked bottomless. Was this really the best way out? If only there was someone who could guide her. Show her the way out. Show her how to get bigger. Then bigger and bigger until she had everything and became everything. Where was this fairy godmother to bibbidi bobbidy help her?
Alice glanced around, but no fairy godmother appeared. Once again, she was on her own to solve her problems. Alice jumped.
She plunged down and down the pipe. Maybe it was bottomless? Alice tilted her head up and saw the fluorescent bar lights shrink smaller and smaller as she sunk deeper into the darkness. Alice raised her arms up, and her shawl fluttered like a flag. The air dried her lips, and they became flakier and flakier. Despite the long fall, her clothes stayed drenched and heavy. Her mind drifted.
There was still that report to file. How long would that take? Plus, someone mentioned catching an error in the balance sheet. Finding that error would take forever. Wasn’t there someone’s birthday next week? Who was it? When was the last time that Alice read a book? Who has time to read anymore? Isn’t that one movie coming out this Saturday?
Alice hit the bottom like a rock. The fall sent a spike up her spine, and she screamed.
“Shut up!” someone yelled.
Alice peaked up and saw a large gecko crawl by.
“Excuse me,” she called, but it didn’t stop.
Alice held the bottom of her back and winced as she stood up.
It was like Alice was in a giant tunnel. Alice pulled her arms to her sides and stiffened. Geckos and roaches crawled the walls and ceiling, while rats, frogs, and some other humans wandered up and down. A river ran down the center and separated another walkway where more vermin and other humans roamed. Alice plugged her nose. The whole place smelled like a public bathroom. If Alice moved, would she step in something that she wouldn’t want to step in?
Maybe one of these people could help her. “Excuse me!” Alice called. “Excuse me!” But no one listened. “Excuse me!”
“Watch where you’re going.” An old lady pushed Alice, and Alice stumbled into a river.
“Help! Help!” Alice coughed up water. It tasted like a strange mixture of slime and chlorine and smelled like rotten eggs. Alice gagged and spat, but more water washed in its place. “Help! Help!” Alice flailed.
Something tugged Alice’s wrists. When Alice got out, she saw that her savior was an old man with a missing tooth.
“You know that’s dangerous,” said the man with the missing tooth. “That’s the sewer. Best not swim there.”
“Thank you,” said Alice.
“Course. We humans gotta help each other. Ya know.”
Alice gave him a smile as she wrung out the sewer from her clothes.
“Can you help me now?”
“Of course, sir?” Anything for the man who helped her.
“Ya see, I have this surgery coming up that I can’t pay for.”
“I’ll need fifteen hundred dollars.”
“You can afford that, right. You’re rich, right.”
“Sir, I can’t give you that money.”
“Oh, please oh please oh please oh please.” The man forced his lower lip to quiver.
“I can’t give you that much money. I barely know you.”
“You know me. I fished you out of the sewer.” Alice backed away. “You can help me.”
“I’m sorry.” Alice turned and walked as fast as she could without turning her walk into a run.
Alice weaved herself through the crowd. Her back and front grazed against varying textures of course, slimy, smooth, and squishy. All of which smelled awful, and Alice didn’t care to find out to what they belonged to.
She stopped walking when she figured she was safe from that man. She stood there and sighed. Immediately, something shoved her from behind.
“Watch it, you old bitch.” It was a woman who appeared only a few years younger than Alice. What did she mean by old?
Sobs echoed off the walls. It sounded like a little girl. Poor thing. What was a little girl doing in a place like this?
Alice followed the voice. No one else seemed to notice the cries, and if they did, no one seemed to care.
The screams led Alice to three rickety doors. Above the doors was a neon sign that flashed Choose Wisely.
“Which one has the girl?” asked Alice. The little girl’s cries could still be heard.
“You want to find the girl?” A rat poked its head out of the sewer.
“Jesus,” Alice felt her heart thumping in her throat. “Where is she? Did you lock her up?”
“She’s trapped here just like everyone else.”
“Who would lock up a child?”
“Most children are locked up.”
“No. That’s an actual crime.”
“But most people lock up their kids. Children are fragile and stupid. If you let them wander around, they could fall in a hole and die. Like this kid. Except, she’s not dead. Just stuck down here like all the other hopeless people.”
Poor girl. “She shouldn’t be locked up. How do I get her out?”
“Choose a door.” The rat pointed behind Alice. Signs appeared on each door. “She’ll be behind the one that holds the greatest singular truth.”
“Why don’t you help her?”
“Lady, I don’t have time to solve your problems let alone mine.” The rat dives and appears up the sewer. Opposite the current away from Alice.
On the first door, it read, “Play the Guitar.” That’s way too specific, and there’s no way that was the greatest singular truth. Plus, how would Alice know if the girl likes to play the guitar?
The second sign said, “Live the Life You Love.” Too preachy.
The third sign said, “Hard Work Pays.” That was the door Alice chose, and pain engulfed her.
Alice closed her eyes as her muscles cramped tighter and tighter. She thought her muscles were shrinking, and she would soon become nothing. Her brain squeezed as if it were dehydrated. Her forehead throbbed and the ache flowed down her nostrils and extended out to her cheek bones. Alice let out a large wail.
When Alice found the strength to open her eyes, she noticed that the room was a black void. She hovered in blackness while her body slowly became nothing. Alice’s chest felt lighter. She turned to exit the door, but it was gone. She was trapped.
The rat lied to her. It had to have lied to her – it was a rat. How could a rat help her? All it knows how to do is crawl around in garbage and spread diseases.
“It’s the rat’s fault!” Alice yelped at the sound of her voice. It didn’t sound like hers. It sounded like a child’s.
“Hello?” It still sounded like a young girl’s.
A frigid wind frosted over Alice and deadened the shrinking pain. It wrapped around her arms, legs, and neck and pricked against her skin. She walked through the darkness despite not being able to see where she was going, then she flew up.
Her neck and limbs lingered behind her body as something tugged at her chest and pulled her straight up. Up to where, Alice didn’t know. The black void stayed black. She remained in the darkness flying up. Her heart ached as it was pulled. Her mind became dizzy.
Alice stopped. Her legs dangled in the air. She tried to find solid ground but couldn’t. Her swinging legs caused her to spin round and round. She turned and turned until she saw another her. Much, much older if that could be possible. Her hair fizzled out like a gray tree. Everything sagged. Everything dulled.
"What happened?" Alice said in her child-like voice. "I'm dying."
Alice touched her face and the other her mirrored her. Her hands yellowed and dragged the loose skin on her face. What had she done? Everything had aged. The only thing that stayed the same were that her left nails stayed much longer than her right.
Alice curled and uncurled her fingers. “I want to play the guitar.”
The doors appeared. Without thinking, Alice opened the first door. The door that told her to play the guitar.
The room was unpainted. Just grey concrete. In the center sat the girl rolled into a ball. Her white dressed fanned over the floor, and her black curls covered her face. Despite this, Alice recognized her immediately.
“Hello?” said Alice.
The girl sat up. Eyes red from crying, and her cheeks were streaked with tears. The girl hiccupped.
Alice bent down and cupped the girl’s hands. “You’re me, aren’t you.” Alice’s voice was back to normal.
The girl nodded. “How did you find me?”
Alice tried to speak, but the words didn’t come out immediately. “I think it has to do with the guitar. But to be honest, I’m not sure.”
“I like playing the guitar,” said the girl. “But, I’m not good at it. I don’t have a good teacher. It’s hard learning by yourself.”
“And you’ve left me alone for so long.”
Alice petted the girl’s hair. “I’m sorry.” Alice surveyed around the room. “Do you know how to get out?”
The girl turned and pointed. “Follow that door.”
Behind the girl was a brown door. It didn’t seem particularly old like the last three doors, but it wasn’t particularly new either. Just a normal brown door that will lead Alice back to her normal, boring life.
The girl grabbed Alice’s arm. “You can’t stop at just that door.” She plead. “You have to walk through the others and the others. Some doors are traps, but you can’t walk through just this one door.”
“Thank you for telling me,” Alice tried to remove the girl’s hand, but her grip was too strong.
“And also,” said the girl. “Remember to come back for me.”
Alice tilted her head.
“I don’t like being in here alone. You need to remember to come back for me. Figure out a way to take me with you.”
“Okay,” said Alice.
The girl would not let go of Alice’s arm. “Promise me.”
The girl still wouldn’t let go. “You’re not good at keeping your promises. I know because I’m you. Please keep this promise.”
Alice ripped the girl’s hands off her arm and kissed her forehead. “I promise.”
The girl’s voice trembled. “Even if you don’t come back for me, you need to remember to keep going through the doors. At least remember that.”
“Thank you,” Alice said. She left the girl behind and walked through the door. Alice woke up with her face tucked in her folded arms. She grabbed the brown beer bottle. Turned it around and analyzed the person casted on it.