FAMILIAR: a Short Story

She signed up for an experiment offering the chance to relive her entire life again after death. The fateful day comes and the experiment begins. But a malfunction occurs, causing her to experience the last day of her life over and over.

 

Happy Halloween weekend. enjoy. xoaew

 
 
 
 

I was intrigued by the possibility. And the thousand dollar payout just for signing up. I needed new winter clothes and tires for my car. 

 

What happens after our eyes close for the last time has always been beyond me. I didn’t prophesize or place weight on hopeful scenarios. If it was darkness, it was darkness. I liked to live presently, but signing the form to allow something so unheard of striked a new level of my curiosity. I’m sure I would have backed out if I read the fine print. There had to have been something nestled there mentioning the probability of what would ultimately happen to me.  

 

The night the experiment began wasn’t soon after I opted in but it was unexpected. The moments moved fast and every so often I would recognize the scene before chalking it up to deja vu. I re-loved the same and re-lost the same and re-learned every lesson. It all played out the way it had the first time around. 

 

Then came the day that would never leave with its stained leaves and tied scarves and an orange filter on the sky. I stood under the overcast and breathed. A sense of discovery called me. I wondered how it knew my name and where to find me as my body answered. I knew the air was different. I knew the chill that struck my lower spine was meant to pull me back into the warmth of my home but I took it as a challenge. I walked and daydreamed about changing like the seasons and wished I could learn to let go like the leaves. 

 

And I landed in a coffee shop. 

 

Keyboards tapped with gusto and the smell of pumpkin spice reintroduced itself. I begged heat to form between the palms of my hands but still ordered something iced. Outside welcomed a smile as I returned to the sidewalk and collided with another body before I could take the first sip.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she said as she kneeled down to pick up the device. 

 

“No, that was me, I should have been more careful.”

 

Her eyes let go of mine to travel downward. The cold drink raced down the front of my jacket. My hand was soaked. 

 

“Shoot, girl, I’ll get you some napkins,” she grabbed the cup and its damaged lid from my hand and a spiced breeze swept against my face as the entrance to the coffee shop closed behind her. I stood still as if any movement would increase the mess. People pretended not to stare as they walked by. I thought of how I shouldn’t be here. I’d been standing in the same spot waiting for a stranger with coffee spilled on the front of my jacket for so long, anticipating how I would force my feet to take me home over and over. I imagined retiring to my couch and hanging up the call to discover the world today. Then I imagined her returning just to find me gone and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Then she finally emerged with napkins in one hand and another cup of something iced in the other. 

 

First, I was awed by the ability of a stranger to be so friendly. Now, suspicion harbored in the pit of my stomach, analyzing her every move for signs of simply good acting. 

 

I wiped my jacket and tossed the napkins in a nearby trash can. She handed me the fresh drink. “It’s the least I could do. Peppermint mocha, right?” she laughed. “I can smell it.”

 

“Yeah,” I smiled, suddenly noticing the minty scent coming from my stained jacket. The beverage now slightly repulsive. “Thank you.”

 

She introduced herself and we walked along her life story. How she just moved here. No family on this coast. No friends yet. Just started back dating but it’s been hard. Loves being alone but hates feeling alone. Hates starting over. Struggles with new people and their motives. 

 

I listened to the loneliness in her voice and swam through a wave of information only someone desperate for connection would share so soon and so fast. I felt bad for her.

 

She told me about a guy she’s been seeing that invited her to a get-together this evening. “It may be far fetched since we just met, but it’d be nice to have another woman with me. I don’t want to go by myself, but I do want to go. I told myself I would get out more and this could be a start. Sh*t, inviting a person I just met off the street is a start too.”

 

Her smile twitched. I knew what it was like to be nervous. Afraid of rejection, hopeful that taking the chance will result in the response you need and not the one that will make you regret stepping out of comfort. Now, the nerves on her lips read differently. She knew what to say to get me to sympathize and I took the bait. 

 

“Sure, I’ll go with you.”

 

I stared at my reflection in the dim light of my apartment. My favorite jeans. A t-shirt under a brown jacket from the thrift store. New combat boots I wasn’t sure were appropriate for what I was about to walk into. I was tempted to call and ask if it would be more formal or casual, but I decided to trust myself for once.

 

She sent an address and the new tires on my car spun toward it. I’d rarely ever visited the area and only knew of certain restaurants I’d passed that night that I always wanted to try but never did. I noted them again, the fact I’d never get the chance completely unbeknownst. 

 

I parked on the street outside an apartment complex in which her location showed. I held onto my pepper spray inside my purse and pressed the lock button on my key fob several times, letting anyone who could hear know that my car’s alarm was set. The sound of music grew less faint as I approached a building outside of which a group of smokers discussed a documentary passionately. Then I spotted her standing a few feet behind them. She waved me over then looked back down to her phone. Mine went off with a message. 

 

She’s here. Coming inside. 

 

“You haven’t gone inside yet?” I asked.

 

Her furrowed brow urged me to show her the text I just received from her. I knew it wasn’t for me. The first time, I figured it was for him. This time, I figured the same but the malice was potent. 

 

She smiled and grabbed my arm. “Of course not. Not without you.”

 

I followed her into the apartment. The only lighting in the living room was a red neon sign reading No Regrets. The kitchen light was bright but the bulb flickered. A man approached and she hugged him as she introduced us. He held out his hand and I hated the ring on his middle finger from first sight. She poured tequila and orange juice and I felt eyes on me from the dark red of the living room. I felt out of place, but couldn’t place why. I wondered if my boots were weird. 

 

I missed my couch. 

 

When she handed me my drink, I decided to drown my nerves. After two sips, the cup was nearly empty. We joined the rest of the guests under the red lighting and I opened up more. We talked and laughed and the music helped. She placed a hand on his knee and I looked out the window, studying the smokers standing in the same spot they were in when I arrived. My eyes focused onto one face of the group, so plain and indistinct. For a moment, it felt familiar. This space I’d never been in before didn’t seem new and it felt off and I felt like I should leave but I’ve felt this before in so many situations, each one seeming to have happened just yesterday with its details and my feelings and my misgivings being so clear. Every time I wanted to leave I would leave and I harp on what I may have missed. This time I wanted to stay. It’s harder trying to live with what could have been. And after the last drink she brought us back from the kitchen, it was harder for me to speak. 

 

“Are you okay?” she frowned. “You’re blinking a lot.”

 

I tried not to blink and my eyes stung. “Yeah, I just haven’t drank in a while.”

 

“We can step outside for some fresh air.”

 

She grabbed my arm and our breath showed in the night. First the chill relieved me then I felt uneasy. He followed behind us. 

 

My head started pounding. 

 

This night was becoming surreal. A meshing of scenes I’d seen before but while I breathed the familiar air a part of my mind held constant to the belief that it was just deja vu. 

 

Her voice faded away. “I’ll grab you some water.”

 

No. I knew what came after this. I knew what this was. But I wasn’t me. Reliving came with the same emotions and feelings and truly being immersed in every experience of my life, but I was just looking through a glass. I had no control. I couldn’t change a thing. I didn’t think it would include this part at all, let alone repeatedly. I should have read the fine print. 

 

I should have pressed her to stay with me. It may not have changed much, but I could have tried. I should have trusted my first mind. 

 

She disappeared into the apartment and he tried to lighten the mood. It worked the first time. This time, I wanted to cry through my ignorant drunken smile. I didn’t want to burden them. I hated how childish I felt, unable to hold my liquor around people I hardly knew. That part of me looked at the door of the apartment and waited for her to return while the silenced part of me knew she wasn’t coming back. Maybe she was in on it. Or maybe someone inside got to her too. Perhaps the answers would have come, had I not signed away the chance to know what lies beyond. 

 

“I’m gonna go to my car and call someone to come get me,” I heard my words clearly but he looked confused. 

 

He let me walk away. He let me believe I would get to my car safely. I reached for the key fob and looked through my purse for the green case of my phone. I struggled to tap my thumb against the brightness of the screen. Then I remembered being a woman out in the middle of the night alone and not sober and dug into the bag for my pepper spray. I reached the curb my car was parked beside and tripped over it. That’s when he grabbed my arm. 

 

I looked up, ready to press down on the pepper spray but it was him and his familiar face. “I couldn’t let you walk off alone.”

 

I hesitated. He seemed so genuine. I was awed by the ability of a stranger to be so friendly. Then he snatched the pepper spray out of my hand and the green case of my phone hit the concrete. He picked me up and my boots no longer touched the ground as the ring on his middle finger pinched my lips and he pressed my fear inside and it intensified. I sounded the alarm on my car and he snatched the key fob out my hand before dropping me to the ground. I barely saw him raise his fist, but I focused on the cool Autumn air every time it struck my face. My eyes closed for the last time. The last moments of the last night of my life happened in darkness. I didn’t want to see what came next. I didn’t want to believe it was the end. Now, I wish for nothing more than for it to end. I should have read the fine print. 

 

I was intrigued by the possibility of reliving my life. Now I contemplate the concept of no regrets as the experiment restarts again and again with the orange filtered sky. A mistake I signed up to make. I should have been more careful.

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