Homage to The Adjustment Bureau

Dwayne Hurbsen stumbled backward off the curb, gazing up at a building that should not be. He scanned left and right verifying that he was on the correct block. He was sure that he was standing on South Michigan Avenue, at the corner of East Jackson Boulevard, facing away from the lake. He peered down the street, and not even the elevated rail that ran over Wabash was present. Dwayne shook his head in disbelief, hoping he was not going mad. He gawked at this towering, fifty-story building before him, taking notice of the sign above the overhang of the front door which read as Baxter Condominiums. This was all wrong.
It should be here, Dwayne thought to himself. It should not be a skyscraper of archaic stone, but rather, a twenty story structure of glass and steel. Feeling hopeless Dwayne began muttering to himself. Just then, an elderly couple passed by. Their feet shuffled along, the man’s a bit more aggressive and hasty, while the woman’s was inquisitive. Dwayne approached them.
“Please help me,” Dwayne pleaded.
“We got no money for you, ya bum,” the elderly man groaned
“Maxwell!” his wife gasped. She turned to Dwayne, a soft and welcoming expression glowing upon her face. The wind played with her graying, brown curls. “Though rude, he’s right; we have nothing to give young man.”
Dwayne shook his head, “no, I don’t want money.” He turned away from the skyscraper that should not exist. Sighing, he continued, “I’m sorry. I just, I need to know where I am. This is South Michigan, right?”
“Dang tourists!” Maxwell muttered. His wife shook her head, frowning at his disgusting behavior. Maxwell pursed his lips, curled his brow, and turned away.
“I’m not a tourist,” Dwayne claimed. “I live just outside the city, but have worked here, downtown, for years.” He gave a quick glance back to the skyscraper. “I just, I guess I’m just having an off day.”
“We need to go Regina,” Maxwell blurted, as he grabbed his wife’s arm, attempting to pull her along.
“One moment Maxwell,” Regina replied, her tone firm yet somehow pleasant. She pulled her arm away. She was a feisty and independent woman; Dwayne could see that easily. No one was going to force her to do anything she had not wanted to. Dwayne was nearly mesmerized by her small stature and warming smile, yet confident and firm stance.
Regina looked Dwayne over, sizing him up, questioning his sanity and honesty. “What is it that you need help with then?” she finally asked.
Dwayne swallowed hard, took another quick glance at the skyscraper. “What happened to the Chicago Architecture Foundation building?”
“The what?” Regina asked.
Dwayne motioned toward the skyscraper, “right here, in this spot, where I have worked for nearly a decade, it was a building called the Chicago Architecture Foundation. What happened to it?”
“See?” Maxwell groaned. He cupped Regina’s soft hands, turning her toward him. He looked deep into her eyes, pleading for her to come with.
Regina refused, reluctant to leave a stranger so helpless. That kind of compassion was mostly extinct in Chicago these days. “I’m not sure what has happened to you, young man,” Regina turned back to Dwayne, “but this has been Baxter Condominiums for too many years to count.”
“That can’t be!” Dwayne was beside himself. He was losing his mind. He looked back down East Jackson, seeking the elevated rail. When he verified again that there was none, he dropped his head into his hands. I’m not crazy, he thought to himself. There must be a reason for it; some reason other than madness.
“What about the rail,” Dwayne pointed down the street. Maybe the couple could ease his troubled mind by confirming what had happened to it. “Where is the rail-line that traveled over Wabash?’
“He’s on that mess or something,” Maxwell grunted. “Let’s go!”
Regina was physically moved by the stranger and his situation. “Sweetheart,” she began, “I think you may be ill. There are no more elevated rails in Chicago, nor a Wabash Avenue. Not for at least thirty years.”
“What!?” Dwayne’s jaw dropped. No elevated rail? No Wabash Avenue? I am crazy, he thought.
“The mayor got rid of the rails years back,” Maxwell grumbled. “They were not efficient enough to warrant their cost. Any native Chicagoan would know that!” Maxwell had had enough of the stranger. To his wife he told her he was standing around no longer to be irritated by a fool and their jests.
Regina darted Maxwell the darkest gaze Dwayne had ever witnessed. Before she could say anything, Dwayne amazed her by agreeing with her foul-tempered husband. “He must be right. I must have something deeply wrong with me.”
“Sweetheart, you just need to see a doctor.” Regina suggested.
Her voice was kind and patient. She was right; Dwayne needed to see someone about what was wrong. All the years that he lived in Chicago, with elevated rail and the Architecture Foundation, could they have been some exaggerate illusion? Could he be that mentally unstable, that he’d fashioned an entire life?
He tried to thank the couple, but when he spoke they remained eerily silent. And absolutely still. Dwayne waved his hand in front of the couple’s faces. They did not budge. Suddenly, the world shook, violently. An immense creaking sound thundered through the sky. And an inexplicable pain shot through Dwayne’s midsection, tumbling him over. It was the same intense pain that had woke him that morning.
Dwayne had been sound asleep, dreaming of dragons and knights and warrior princesses, mostly because of the dragon marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel the previous week, but he would be lying if he claimed alcohol had no influence over his dreams the last month.
Just as Dwayne, in his wild dream, had flung an old-fashioned stone-axe at a dragon that barreled down upon him, his midsection had groaned with intense discomfort. He had not been attacked, in the dream that is. In reality though, something had surely found its vile self in the midst of Dwayne’s belly. Within the dream world, and in real life, his body had wretched itself side to side while his mouth drooled with nausea, until he flung himself to the ground, curling into the fetal position. When his eyes finally opened, Dwayne had found himself on the cold, wood-paneled floor of his quaint and expensive condo, his blankets scattered about the room. He had assured himself that it must have been some sort of nightmare that escaped memory. With that slightly, comforting façade, Dwayne had decided to just begin his day.
Ignorance is bliss after all.
In front of a skyscraper that should not be, there was no delight in not knowing what was attacking him. Whatever had occurred earlier that morning, it now revealed its malevolent presence again. Dwayne let out a heart wrenching howl in response to his insides feeling as if they were being torn from his body, kneaded on sharp quills, and then sloshed back into place without care.
He could feel the ground beneath him tremble, as if the world itself had the shivers from a passing, chilly breeze. His eyes clenched tight, in a pointless effort to find comfort from the endless agony. But while eyes closed, Dwayne could not see how the sky frantically danced upon itself, changing from its normal, peaceful blue hue into an intense and vibrant ruby. Then change again, from the intense ruby to an inky and thick, molasses black. Dwayne rocked side to side as the ground trembled and the sky twisted and swirled, his entire body as if just off the autopsy table.
His ears thumped with a steady pulse, as if someone were playing a melancholic harmony on massive drums, inside his head. He could feel his heart flirting with fatal explosion. His moth fell open and the cries of anguish and bedlam from all existence seemed to pour from it. He was not a praying man, but his mind sought anything that could bring peace, even if it were oblivion. For a split second he wondered why the pain was far more intense than it had been earlier in the morning. But only a split second was allowed. The searing pain shot through him again, as if it were jealous that his thoughts were elsewhere.
Suddenly, from that overwhelming darkness, burst blinding white. Behind the awesome glow, which Dwayne missed, the blue hue of the tranquil sky slowly took over the horizon, as if a film reel were coming back into focus after the projector was violently jarred. The trembling dissipated and the pain faltered.
Life was getting back to normal, he hoped.
His eyes were still closed tight when he heard a familiar voice. “Look at that,” the voice said disgustedly, “another bum, right in front of the Architecture Foundation. Is there no decency left in the city?”
“Couldn’t say there is dear,” another familiar voice replied.
Dwayne slowly opened his eyes, gazing up. Standing over him, peering down in abhorrence, were Maxwell and Regina. But they were not the same; intricate differences stood out to Dwayne like pulsating neon signs. Regina’s hair was all white and balding; the bouncy, graying-brown curls gone. And on Maxwell’s face set an awkward pair of horned-rim glasses, semi-hiding a scar over his left eye.
“Get up!” Regina grumbled at him. The tenderness and compassion in her tone was absent, and it had been replaced with discouraging disapproval.
“What, what happened?” Dwayne grumbled, as he stumbled to his feet.
“Not sure, but you need to get away from this building, and off this street,” Maxwell groaned. “Decent and civilized people would like to walk this sidewalk without vagabonds bothering.”
Dwayne looked up, and there it was, the Architecture Foundation, the building that held him prisoner everyday between seven and five, for the last eight years. He looked down the block, and sure enough, the elevated rail that ran over Wabash was there. “What the hell happened?” he muttered aloud, not realizing it.
“Looks as if you drank yourself stupid,” Regina spat.
The rudeness, the disdain, the harshness, it was all very much Chicagoan. Sad and depressing as it were, Dwayne found that his thoughts agreed with them. Must be a product of all the harassing beggars I’ve encountered in my life, he thought.
Dwayne stumbled pass the couple, “thanks Max and Regina. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’ll get inside, I don’t want to be too late.” Dwayne staggered up the stairs, passed through the glass doors, got on an elevator, and slowly made his way to his cubicle. Downstairs, and outside, the elderly coupled asked one another how the young man could have possibly known their names; a minor argument ensued.

It had been more than two months since the incident outside his work: no night terrors, no inexplicable convulsions, no unexplainable skyscrapers sprouting overnight where they should not be. Dwayne had not seen Regina or Maxwell either. And he was more than delighted to forget the whole ordeal.
He never called his doctor to ask what it all could have been. He wanted no one to know that he had pretty much went insane for several minutes. It would be one of the few secrets he kept, that would be taken to the grave. None were the wiser about the psychotic episode, and that was good.
As his phone rang the world began to tremble. “An earthquake!” he cried out. Wait, in Chicago? He still reached for the phone, but found he could not pick up the receiver; it felt as if it weighed a ton. His computer screen flickered violently before going black, while he struggled to pick up the receiver. As he yanked at the immovable object he knocked over a pen, which never hit the floor. It remained floating in midair and Dwayne stared at it. That’s when the nausea and pain slammed him into the floor.
He curled up under the desk, squeezing his belly as the pain seared through his body. He began sobbing as the pain built. And as the pain grew the world twisted upon itself until it was a chaotic meld of unrecognizable shapes and colors. Then, the world around Dwayne began glowing, changing from reds and oranges, to teals and violets, and from yellow to inky black. It was all happening again.
Dwayne screamed for it to stop; and for the third time in his entire life, he found that he longed for a God to be at his side. The world shifted instantaneously, the pain subsided, and there was only inexplicable white. He looked around and could see no horizon, just endless white. He remained on the ground fighting nausea as his inner equilibrium tried to grasp at something tangible. Am I dead?
“No,” an odd and vaporous voice replied. Dwayne looked around but saw no one. “You are very much alive. But it would seem you have fallen out of time.”
Suddenly, a feminine form crackling with teal energy and warmth sprouted from the endless white. She was at least ten feet tall, and her hair was a vivacious scarlet of gaseous nothingness. Dwayne stared in awe, fright, and admiration. He found that he could not turn away, even though his mind begged him to. From the darkest reaches of his inner self he heard his psyche screaming that he was seeing that which should not be seen. His lips trembled and a heavy sigh escaped. “Oh dang!”

Submitted: September 01, 2022

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