I feel dizzy. I want to get up, grab my wife and follow the note's directions, but my ass feels like there's an anvil that's been sewn in it. I can't move. I'm frozen. I look at the note again, it reads: GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN. I didn't see the man's face, just the back of his head, which looks very much like the back of everyone else's head who's here tonight. This is gotta be some kind of prank. A sick joke someone's playing on me because I'm being honored tonight, that's all it is. There's no reason to be worried at all.
“Frank.” My wife is looking across at me, she looks concerned. “Are you okay dear?”
“Fine,” I say. “Never better.” I take another drink of my wine and look at the stage I’m about to go on.
“Don’t do it, sir.”
I turn my head, looking for the voice I just heard in my ear, but there’s no one near us.
My wife looks more worried than before. I can only imagine how I must look. I fix my tuxedo and put my hands down on the table. “A bug flew in my ear,” I say.
She smiles, knowing there’s no bugs in here.
“Don’t go on the stage, sir.”
I smile at the voice. And look across at my wife, “I need to use the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”
“Sure,” she says. “Don’t be long though. You’re going up next.”
I nod. I scan the room as I make my way to the restrooms. Everyone looks preoccupied with their tables. No one looks at me. I’m the next honoree, but right now I might as well be a stranger at a park.
I pull out some change for the guy at the door offering warm napkins and go inside. I look around, there’s a guy in the stall, no one at the urinals. I rest over the counter and stare into the mirror. I look the same. Getting older, no longer a 20 something man, but that’s all. I don’t look crazy.
“You’re not crazy, sir.”
My hands shake, and I struggle to keep myself standing up. I grit my teeth. “What the fuck?”
“There isn’t time to explain. Simply know that you are not crazy, and that I am here to help you. The note was true. You have twenty minutes before you’re supposed to take the stage. In fifteen it will be too late.”
“Too late…what the hell are you talking about?”
“The stage isn’t what you think it is, sir. This isn’t a celebration, it’s an assimilation.”
A guy walks in behind me and spreads his legs in front of a urinal.
“You have to get out now.”
“Shut up,” I say.
The guy taking a leak shakes and leaves without washing his hands.
“Leave me alone.” I splash water on my face and head back out.
Pamela’s waiting for me. She takes my hand in hers. “It’s time to take the stage.”
“Already?” I say.
“There’s a ripple,” the voice says. “It’s starting earlier since we’ve changed things.”
“Changed things?” I say. Pamela’s smile disappears.
“Don’t speak, sir. She’s working with them.”
Pamela pulls me toward the stage, but I stop walking. “Frank,” she says. “It’s time.”
“No,” I say. “I’m not going.”
“Frank…you’ve earned this. This is what you’ve always wanted.”
“She’s not talking about what you think she is,” the voice says. “Get out now.”
“I’m not going,” I say. “I’m leaving.”
She looks horrified. “But you can’t.” She looks around at the other guests like she’s thinking about reaching out and grabbing one.
I move back from her faster. I bump shoulders with someone, but don’t bother looking at them. I keep my eyes on Pamela, who looks like a wild animal.
“They’re afraid. They know this is wrong. Run, sir. Run!”
I do as the voice says. I run past the busy people who are no longer talking to one another, they’re all staring at me now. And as I run through the double set of glass doors I can hear their piercing screams behind me echoing off the glass.