A strong, reviving wind slams into my face, and I’m starting to wonder where I’m going because shouldn’t there be some light in the distance? Like even a speck of it? But I’m running into an immense chasm of black.
I hear waves.
I arrive on a beach.
There’s no moon, but the stars are vivid enough to suggest the roiling surface of Lake Michigan.
I look inland toward the office park, catch incoming, wind-cut voices, and glimpse several flashlight beams slashing through the dark.
Turning north, I begin to run, my shoes crunching wave-polished rocks. Miles up the shoreline, I can see the indistinct, nighttime glow of downtown, where the skyscrapers edge up against the water.
I look back, see some lights heading south, away from me, others heading north.
Gaining on me.
I veer away from the water’s edge, cross a bike path, and aim for a row of bushes.
The voices are closer.
I wonder if it’s dark enough for me to stay unseen.
A three-foot seawall stands in my path, and I scale the concrete, barking my shins on the way over and staying on all fours as I crawl through the hedgerow, branches grabbing my shirt and face, clawing at my eyes.
Out of the bushes, I stumble into the middle of a road that parallels the lakeshore.
From the direction of the office park, I hear an engine revving.
High beams blind me.
I cross the road, hop a chain-link fence, and suddenly I’m running through someone’s yard, dodging overturned bicycles and skateboards, then darting alongside the house while a dog goes apoplectic inside, lights popping on as I hit the backyard, jump the fence again, and find myself sprinting across an empty baseball outfield, wondering how much longer I can keep this up.
The answer comes with remarkable speed.
On the edge of the infield, I collapse, sweat pouring off my body, every muscle in agony.
That dog is still barking in the distance, but looking back toward the lake, I see no flashlights, hear no voices.
I lie there I don’t know how long, and it seems as if hours pass before I can take a breath without gasping.
I finally manage to sit up.
The night is cool, and the breeze coming off the lake pushes through the surrounding trees, sending a storm of autumn leaves down on the diamond.
I struggle to my feet, thirsty and tired and trying to process the last four hours of my life, but I don’t have the mental bandwidth at the moment.
I trek out of the baseball field, into a working-class South Side neighborhood.
The streets are empty.
It’s block after block of peaceful, quiet homes.
I walk a mile, maybe more, and then I’m standing at the empty intersection of a business district, watching the traffic lights above me cycle at an accelerated, late-night pace.
The main drag runs two blocks, and there’s no sign of life except the shithole bar across the street with three mass-produced beer signs glowing in the windows. As patrons stagger out in a cloud of smoke and overloud conversations, headlights from the first car I’ve seen in twenty minutes appear in the distance.
A cab with the Off-Duty light illuminated.
I step out into the intersection and stand under the traffic light, waving my arms. The taxi slows down on approach and tries to swerve around me, but I sidestep, keeping its bumper on a collision course, forcing it to stop.
The driver lowers his window, angry.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I need a ride.”
The cabbie is Somali, his razor-thin face splotched with patches of a beard, and he’s staring at me through a pair of giant, thick-lensed glasses.
He says, “It’s two in the morning. I’m done tonight. No more work.”
“Can you read? Look at the sign.” He slaps the top of his car.
“I need to get home.”
The window begins to rise.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the plastic bag containing my personal effects, rip it open, show him the money clip.
“I can pay you more than—”
“Get out of the road.”
“I’ll double your rate.”
The window stops six inches from the top of the door.
I thumb quickly through the wad of bills. It’s probably a $75 fare to the North Side neighborhoods, and I’ve got to cover double that.
“Get in if we go!” he yells.
Some of the bar patrons have noticed the cab stopped in the intersection, and presumably needing rides, they are drifting over, shouting for me to hold the car.
I finish counting my funds—$332 and three expired credit cards.
I climb into the backseat and tell him I’m going to Logan Square.
“That’s twenty-five miles!”
“And I’m paying you double.”
He glares at me in the rearview mirror.
“Where’s the money?”
I peel off $100 and hand it into the front seat. “The rest when we get there.”
He snatches the money and accelerates through the intersection, past the drunks.
I examine the money clip. Under the cash and the credit cards, there’s an Illinois driver’s license with a headshot that’s me but that I’ve never seen, an ID for a gym I’ve never been to, and a health insurance card from a carrier I’ve never used.
The cabbie sneaks glances at me in the rearview mirror.
“You have bad night,” he says.
“Looks that way, huh?”
“I thought you are drunk, but no. Your clothes are torn. Face bloody.”
I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pick me up either, standing in the middle of an intersection at two in the morning, looking homeless and deranged.
“You’re in trouble,” he says.
“I’m not exactly sure.”
“I take you to hospital.”
“No. I want to go home.”
We cruise north toward the city on the vacant interstate, the skyline creeping closer and closer. With each passing mile, I feel some semblance of my sanity returning, if for no other reason than I’ll be home soon.
Daniela will help me make sense of whatever’s happening.
The cabbie parks across from my brownstone and I pay him the rest of his fare.
I hurry across the street and up the steps, pulling keys out of my pocket that aren’t my keys. As I try to find the one that fits the lock, I realize this isn’t my door. Well, it is my door. It’s my street. My number on the mailbox. But the handle isn’t right, the wood is too elegant, and the hinges are these iron, gothic-looking things more suited to a medieval tavern.