What if you woke up in the woods and had no idea who or where you are.

"It's dark!" I said in my head. A head that felt like hundreds of pounds. "I can't see! I can't speak!" I started to really freak out. Calm down. I've been scared before, freaking out never helps. I have to take a mental inventory of myself.

1. "Where am I? I don't know."
2. "Why is it dark, am I blind? I don't know."
3. "Am I breathing? Yes."
4. "Move your toes. Ok, done."
5. "Raise your arms. Ok, done. It was difficult though and I can't be sure they actually moved."
6. "What does the air feel like? It feels cool. A little wet. It smells mossy. There is a breeze blowing across my nose and through my eyelashes."
7. "Open your eyes Reid. Reid? Is my name Reid? It is. I'm Reid Samson and I'm going to open my eyes because I am not blind. I pulled them from the top eyelid as hard as I could until the piercing lights punched through whatever shades had been drawn on me.

I began looking around. I was in  the woods, laying on the ground. The wind was  blowing through the trees and the branches were swaying as if they were dancing. It was peaceful, but my body wouldn't respond to simple commands, so I felt so uneasy. I don't remember how I got into the woods. I laid there for a few hours trying to figure out my own body. After intense effort, I was able to lift my head from the ground for a moment. By the next morning, I was able to sit up. Then on the evening of my third night in the woods, I rose to my feet.

I was wearing a grey suit. Above my head on the ground, I found my grey fedora that I had no idea was there until I stood above the place I was laying. I had always kept my wallet in my inside pocket, but it was missing. I had something crusted on my neck, but I couldn't tell what it was. Some came off in my hands and it looked like mud. I began my search for home. I wanted to see Eli so bad. The longing was more than I had felt for anything in my life. I needed her.

Eli was 6 when her mother died of the flu. We were each other's legs. We could not stand without each other. We weathered this terrible storm that tore us to pieces, but we had each other. She was my little girl and I was her protector and her papa. I thought about her with every difficult step out of the woods. I knew that there was an end of the woods in every direction, so I just put one foot in front of the other and tried to make my feet dance like the branches of the trees. I needed to become one with everything around me to take my mind off of the confusion I was feeling.

After 5 nights and 6 days, I emerged from the woods. I grabbed the last tree in front of me and thanked God for my arrival. I didn't recognize what was in front of me. It was a giant building made of bricks, and I'm guessing painted blue and white. I had never seen a building so large before. I heard there were big buildings in the city, but I had never left home; never found a reason to. Everything I wanted was right here. I walked around the perimeter to what looked like the face of the building. It had a large sign that said, "Walmart." I had no idea what that meant, but it looked like a city center with people coming and going. I moved to the front door, which opened by itself and caused me to shout in fear...and everyone around who looked strange to look at me strangely.

I walked through the doors and was gut punched with confusion and stimulations. Everything was moving and so loud. There were so many people and so many shiny things. I got nauseous and got sick onto the mat on the floor. I said I was sorry to the person in front of me and hurried out the door. I started walking as fast as my heavy legs would limp. I had one goal, and that was to get to Eli. But first, I had to figure out where the hell I was.

After a lot of questions to strangely dressed passerbys, and a very nice man in some kind of truck, I arrived at my home. I thanked the man and got out and hurried to the door. My stomach hurt I wanted to see her so bad. I didn't understand the longing, and I didn't think too much about it. I had just seen her this morning when I dropped her off at the bus stop. I had made her a butter and cheese sandwich for lunch and hot cereal for breakfast. She had asked me for 5 cents for a Coke a Cola that she would get on a field trip to the zoo. I gave her 10 cents for two.

I got to the door and knocked. I was impatient, so I knocked again. The door swung open on the third knock, with an angry young negro glaring me in the face as if he were trying to vaporize me. "Hello... I'm Reid, who are you?" "I'm Calvin, and you can get your ass off my porch. I don't want anything you got. And don't walk across my lawn on your way back home." "Boy, who the hell do you think your talking to?" I asked. "What did you call me? Boy? Get the hell outta here before I kick your ass into the grass." I said, "This is my house, and where is Eli, my daughter?" He replied, "I certainly don't right know who da hell you talkin bout massa, but I'zza try to figga that one out foi ya. Now if you could get the hell out of here before I have to kill you, that would be great."

The name plate on the door said Jackson. I was confused by that at first, but now I was questioning my sanity. "Sir, I don't quite know what's going on, but I'm looking for my daughter Eli. I thought that this was our home, but I must be mistaken. I'm sorry for the offense, I just want to get home to her." He looked at me silently sizing me up. "Why are you dressed like a crooner?" he asked. "I'm a vacuum salesman sir" I replied. "Like Kirby vacuums or something?" he asked. "Electrolux sir," I replied. He asked me my name and I told him. We spent the next hours going over who I was and when I last saw my daughter. Every clue led to this house, but nothing about this house matched. He asked me three times if I was on medication. I don't know why, but he kept looking at me funny. I walked out the door more confused than when I walked in.

As I stepped down the porch stairs that had somehow repaired themselves overnight, Calvin stopped me. He took me to the garage and led me inside. He turned on the lights and pointed me to an epitaph on the cement in the corner. I didn't even need to get closer to recognize it. I began to cry and could not stop myself from trembling. I walked closer watching the words appeared more clearly as I got closer. Eli and Papa 1961. I ran my fingers over where hers had carved out those words. I didn't know why I was crying so hard. Calvin didn't either, but after a few moments I realized that he was full on hugging me.

I pushed away and asked if he knew where my daughter was. He didn't, but led me to the house to pull out the deed to the home. It told me the house was sold from Eloise Samson to Calvin Jackson on December 19th 1988. I didn't understand. He asked me a litany of questions. I answered them all wrong. I was wrong about everything it appeared; even the year. During the vigorous interrogation, I broke down again: Again, having to push away from Calvin's embrace. It was now my understanding that it was the year 2017, and I was 54 years old. I had aged 38 years in one long night in the woods. I had lost 38 years of my daughters life. We had a lot of drinks and Calvin found my daughter on a machine. He pulled up her picture, almost instantly. It didn't look like her, but it also did. She wasn't little. She was beautiful, but not what she was yesterday.

Calvin asked me if I wanted her address. I told him I did. I had to see her; even if she wouldn't believe who I was. He wrote down the numbers and I stood up and walked out the front door. As I got to the side walk, Calvin shouted from the porch, "How you gettin there boy?" "I was gonna walk. The cars around here are a little bit scary." Calvin flipped his keys around his finger, "I'zza good driva Miss Daisy, I'zza could take ya myself." I smiled and headed toward his car in the driveway, and we were off.

My daughter's house was almost as big as Walmart's house. She must have married rich...if this really was 2017. Calvin shook my hand and told me he'd wait for my signal on whether he should leave or start the getaway plan. I thanked him for everything and walked to Eli's door and knocked with the big brass lion that hung there. I was less impatient this time, and far more scared. The door opened to a young man in a t-shirt and plaid pants. He smiled and asked what he could do for me. I asked for Eli. He asked again who I was. I told him that I was an uncle from her childhood. Frank was my name. He let me in and went to get her. "Eli! he called. You have an uncle who looks like an ex boyfriend here to see you."

I waited at the bottom of the stairs clinching my fists. I was sweating and my stomach was in knots. How was I going to explain something I didn't understand myself to her? What if she didn't believe me? What if it wasn't even her? It seemed so long and  I waited anxiously for her. Then she entered my eyes. I knew it, even though my vision was blurry. It was her. She walked the same. This was my little girl in front of me grown up. She came down the steps and I lost any words and just stared at her. She looked at me in bewilderment at first, waiting for me to speak. I couldn't say anything. She looked at me for a few moments, then her eyes became glossed and pink. A tear rolled down and she she said one word; "Papa?"

I told her everything I knew and remembered. She affirmed the things I knew and filled in some blanks. Some of the blanks were that I went missing while she was at school. The police came and took her to my sister's house, who is now dead of cancer. They suspected that I had seen something I shouldn't have while trying to sell a vacuum to the wife of a mob boss. They never found my body. I was laying there alone for 38 years and Eli was looking for me. But she eventually moved on. She got an education and never married. She became the CEO of a huge financial company. None of it meant anything to her.

We spent all night talking. We shared memories of each other and she told me what life was like without me. My gut wrenched at those parts because she spoke while her hands were shaking. I felt her words. I told her about the cement in Calvin's garage and the difficulty getting here. She explained to me what Walmart was. We talked until 4:30 in the morning when her eyes began to flicker, then fade into the darkness. I let mine close too; somehow knowing the shades would never be pulled again and I would have to let Eli go. I woke up somewhere different.



For more, go to insearchofwhales.com

Submitted: March 21, 2017

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