Tony woke up and stretched and felt wonderful after the nap. Unexpected as the nap was, he felt really recharged. Scooping up the ukulele in front of him and strumming a few chords, humming a little with the sound. The shadows from the day crept around the apartment living room, until Tony noticed how dim the room was with no more direct sunlight pouring in. So it must be getting on past 5pm now. Will need to start think about getting something together for dinner, but kept softly strumming and humming away. The last of the days rays disappeared and twilight settled in briefly.
A firm knock upon the front door startled Tony out of his preoccupation with the ukulele and the notes that he’d been working on getting into his head. A little longer and he was sure he’d have it and get it all written out without any interruptions. But the knock rapped again and still with that same firmness. Must be one of his neighbors needing something or the Super. Better get it, and just as he put the ukulele back into its cradle by the TV that same firm knock made itself resound through the entryway. If possible it seemed louder than the last one.
Calling out in case it was the Super, “Mr. Jennings, I’m coming. Hold on!” and reached for the doorknob and opened the front door. But it wasn’t the Super, Mr. Jennings. It was someone he’d never seen before.
“Hello. Can I help you?” I kept my hand on the door knob not letting the door swing any wider, deterring the stranger from crossing over the threshold into his home.
“Good evening Tony.”, the dark stranger responded.
My eyebrows raised on my forehead and I looked down the stranger and back up into his eyes. I know I’ve not seen him before! Surprised at his knowing my first name. A little shook I replied, “Hello, do I know you?”
“No Tony. But everyone eventually comes to know me very well.”
Now I was not only perplexed but a bit intrigued by his statement. But next I thought, ‘ah a salesman’. “I’m sorry but if your selling something, I’m not interested.” And I stated to pull the door closed, the dark stranger just reached his hand out a bit and stopped me from closing it.
With a quick glance behind me, “I notice that you have not had dinner yet.” Again taken by surprise, how does he know this? OH! But of course it’s easy, nothing can be heard sizzling or bubbling in the kitchen and no smells that there is food being prepared.
“No haven’t started dinner yet. But that is next on my list. Now if that is all, I bid you a good evening.” And I tried to close my door again. But again, he put out his hand to stop me.
“Let’s have dinner together. My name is Sam and I’m new in town. I’m sure you know of a good local place?”
I take a breath and take stock mentally of my cupboards. I really didn’t have anything to make dinner with. Much less tomorrow’s breakfast. I knew that giving an excuse such as working on my music was a lame one at best to skip having dinner. And my stomach started to rumble, just loud enough for the new neighbor to hear.
“Hope you like pizza? There a really good local dive just down the street with true Chicago style pies.”
The strangers lips spread and a full set of white teeth sparkled back at me. “Yes, pizza is great. And I’m all for trying the Chicago style. It’s been,” with a slight pause, “a while since I’ve had one.”
“Okay, give me a few minutes to wrap up in here. I’ll meet you downstairs?” He nodded and stepped back. “Oh, by the way don’t change it’s real casual.” He nodded, and headed down the hall towards the elevator. I close the door and take a quick glance around, and go over to the lamp by the sofa and twist the knob to turn it on. A soft glow cuts the dark gloom that had crept into the apartment since the new neighbor had knocked on my door. I worried the new music that I had been working on earlier would fade but it seemed to be sticking with me. So hoping that it would through dinner, I quickly glanced away from my coffee table that had my music sheets ready for it. It could wait. I quickly looked down at my attire and the tan shorts were okay, but my beat up college Alma Mater shirt was definitely sporting some stains. So I quickly strode to my dresser, pulled open the middle drawer and pulled out a clean nondescript brown t-shirt and put it on.
Grabbing my house key from the hook by the door, I exited my apartment. Locked the door and met my new neighbor downstairs. I came up to the doors and he was looking outside. The ceiling to floor glass was tinted to keep the entry cool and allow tenants a way to look out without being seen by passersby from the street. My sneaker-ed feet made little sound but the soft squish they made seemed extra loud. My neighbor turned and greeted me with a full smile.
“Sam, I hope your hungry. I seem to be starving.” I grinned back at him. “Come on let’s go.” I pulled the entry door open and waved Sam out ahead of me.
We turned left and walked a block down until we reached a faded yellow sign over the door for “Ricks’ Pizza Place“. I reached out and pulled open the glass door and out wafted the wonderful smells of pizza, sauce, garlic and cheeses. Makes your mouth water instantly. Sam even commented on it, “Wow if it tastes as good as this smells it will be a good evening indeed.”
I picked a short booth half way down the aisle on the right. Slid in and sat with my back to the door. Sam slid in the other side. I took a moment to just see my new neighbor. Sam was about the same height as me. I was only a modest 5 foot 9 inches. Sam seemed just a little taller. Maybe 2 inches taller. It was hard to tell Sam’s age but I guessed he was in his late 30’s. There was no grey in his curly hair. No wrinkles showed. No paunch under his black t-shirt that was tucked into his belted black jeans. A waitress I knew by sight stopped by our table briefly to take our drink and pizza orders. Sam let me pick the pizza and was willing to share the bill too.
The drinks were dropped off and we both drank. Sam spoke first. “Tony, I knocked and I thought I heard music something like a guitar?”
“It’s a ukulele that I was working on. I was working on a little something. I think it’ll turn out to be a good tune.” I take another drink and continue. “I was working out the song with humming mostly. Trying to get the sounds right before writing it down.”
“Ah, a ukulele is a small instrument compared to a guitar.” Sam replied. “Sounded youthful and soothing.” Our waitress returned at that moment with plates, silverware, napkins and our Chicago style pizza. The aroma from the pizza made my mouth water so bad, I immediately cut the pizza and served us both up some wonderful. Sam picked up his silverware, fork and knife, to cut into the pie as it was still steaming from the oven. Once it cooled down we’d be able to pick it up with our hands. We both didn’t talk until we’d consumed our first piece and served up the next slice.
Sam wiped his mouth and started to speak,”Tony it wasn’t chance that I knocked on your door tonight.”
I was still chewing the last bite and spoke out the side of my mouth, “It isn’t?” Frowning now and scrunching my face a bit. I finished my last bite and swallowed. Washed it down with some soda too. “What do you mean?” Suddenly I was no longer interested in my second slice of pizza pie.
I sat back a bit from the table and looked at Sam a bit more closely and frown lines formed between my eyebrows with the concentration that I missed something and needed to catch up. Again I said, “What do you mean it wasn’t chance?”
“Tony”, he also sat back and folded his hands together on the table in front of him. Pushing his plate aside as he did so. “I am here to take you to my homeland.”
“Huh!?” I shook my head a bit and thought I’d heard him say, “..take me to his home.” “What are you talking about? I live at 1820 South Main, apartment 512. And I don’t plan on going anywhere!”
“Tony, come on I have a lot to explain.” He motions for the waitress to come over and in a few minutes the pizza is boxed and the bill paid for. Sam waves me out ahead of him and I find myself back on the street heading home. Sam walks right next to me holding the box of pizza. We reach my apartment building and I naturally fish out my key to get inside. But at that moment I pause and I look over at Sam and get the weirdest feeling. A slight tingle makes the hairs on my arms stand up. I want to shove him aside and rush inside and hide. Hide away and close the door on this night. But Sam is motioning me to unlock the door to go in.
“Come on Tony, let’s get the pizza put away and I’ll explain everything.” We take the elevator to the fifth floor to my apartment. Unlocking the door the room is gently lit by the lamp from the living room. Giving a false sense of coziness that I was not feeling at the moment. Sam walked in behind me, closed the door and put the pizza in the fridge. I went into the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Leaving the chair near the TV for Sam to sit in.
“Come on Sam your my new neighbor. You knocked on my door. Why are you now telling me your going to take me to ‘Your Home’? Your not making any sense.” I don’t relax on the sofa, it seems important that I hear every word that Sam has to say so I sit up close off the sofa leaning my elbows on my knees.
“Yes I am your new neighbor but I thought I’d be here for a while so that we could get to know each other very well. Well, well enough before I had to invite you to my homeland.” Sam relaxed back into the chair and crossed his right leg over his left. “You see Tony, I was supposed to get to know you and you me. So that when you finally left the mortal world for the Underworld you’d be prepared for the trip.”
I exploded, “WHAT!” I stood up so fast my head felt light-headed.
Sam waved me to sit. “Tony sit before you fall down.” I slumped a bit when I sat back down. My eyes were wide open and I was all ears. “Tony earlier today you awoke from a nap feeling the best you have felt in a long time.” I sputtered…”yes, but..”. Sam stopped me with raising of his hand. “You awoke from a nap am I right?” I nod my head.
“That nap was you awakening from the dead. You have died Tony.” I shook my head vehemently from side to side and muttered softly “No, no, no, no…no!”
“I am NOT dead!”
“I’m Not!” I look up at Sam and notice that his face has not changed. No anger, no shock just a simple courteous look. His dark eyes I had not noticed before, have no emotion in them whatsoever. I stop talking, at a loss.
“But I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m talking. I ordered pizza for ‘Christ’s Sake’! I ate it too!” I bounced up then sat right back down.
“Tony when you passed on, your body is behind you in the mortal world. But we continue on not seeing ourselves when it first happens. I had hoped to discuss the afterlife with you and what happens, theoretically speaking of course. But that is no longer possible.” Sam reached out his hand to me palm up. “Come. You need to see.”
I got up from the couch and swallowed something fierce. I felt like my throat was dry as the Sahara desert. Sam started walking to my bedroom and looked over his shoulder for me to follow. I came behind but Sam turned sideways in the doorway and left me plenty of room to walk in. I saw my bedroom and took a quick stock of my dresser to the left of the door where I’d just gotten a clean t-shirt for going out to dinner. Directly ahead there was some old stacked luggage that I collected. Black steamer trunks, old brown leather luggage and one handsome black doctor carry bag to give my room a sense of traveler at rest. My bed was king size and covered in a blue coverlet. But was unmade. I always make my bed after I wake. And walk over to fix the mess when I realize as I walk up alongside the bed that it’s not messy, that I’m looking at me. I am seemingly asleep.
I feel cold and feel like I’m going to be violently ill. I reach out, but my hand passes through my hand. I shrink back and look with wild eyes as Sam.
“Yes it’s true.” He nods his head. “You are no longer among the living. I’m here to take you to my home the Underworld.”
—-To be continued….