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The Shift - Short Story

Speaking softly through the corners of my mouth, I whispered, “Does he know we’re even here?” My acquaintance looked at me and shrugged. We looked together back to the man in the corner of the room.
    He had made himself at home on a cushion, red, bordered by a braided gold cord. Tassels, originally four, now only three, hung from the corners. His legs were crossed out in front of him, his squat, swollen feet splayed, toes spread open. His eyes occasionally closed, then opened again, slowly and thoughtlessly, like a programmed animatronic statue in a theme park.
    I opened my mouth to “ahem,” and instantly felt a pang. It felt wrong to disturb him. I turned once more to my acquaintance and pointed my finger to the ground, signaling for us to sit down. He opened his eyes wide and shoved his shoulders forward, prompting me to say something.
    I was about eight feet from the seated man. Despite my discomfort, I lowered my body to the ground, crossed my legs and placed my hands on my knees. I didn’t want to look at my acquaintance, for I could feel his sentiments etching themselves on the side of my head where his eyes were pointed. After a few moments, he sat down as well, making a point not to be seated directly beside me.
    I started to close my eyes, when-
    “Ah, ah, ah,” a smooth baritone voice interrupted. “Eyes open.” The man had spoken.     My lips instantly made their way into a smile, though I felt like scowling. “If we can manage to keep our eyes open as we access our greater reach to universal consciousness, we can experience power in its ultimate, unbridled state.”
    I heard my acquaintance gulp. My eyes and mouth were both profoundly dry, and this was only exacerbated by the incense I could smell burning: clary sage and sandalwood.
    “If we can ignore the mishigas: the smells, the dancing lights and shadows, and focus here,” he said as he drew his arm upward and placed his index finger to his forehead between his brows, “we can utilize all of our potential, without any room for excuses. Empowering, no?”
    I could feel my acquaintance stifling a joke, perhaps a quip about how much happier he would be once he could finally ignore the incessant droning his wife and kids. I only nodded.
    “You’re quiet,” the man said.
    “Well, we,” my acquaintance began-
    “That wasn’t an invitation to speak.”
    In this state of increased awareness driven by discomfort, from the corner of my eye, I could see the pallor of my acquaintance’s face change; first ghostly white, then to a shade of red close to that of the pillow the man was seated upon.
    “That was a joke,” said the man. My acquaintance let out an artificial guffaw, and I only exhaled. “You’ve got something for me. Let’s hear the pitch.” I opened my mouth to speak, and the lights in the room went out.
    “No worries,” said the man. “Happens all the time.” The only sources of light in the room now were two candles, one to each side of the man’s body. I allowed my eyes to adjust, then began to speak. I could barely eek out a “we,” before I felt a shift. The floor was moving. A heavy rumbling emanated from underneath the tile.
    “Nothing to be alarmed by,” he said. The artwork on the walls rotated and turned under themselves, like the floor and ceiling were fighting over control of them. “You were saying?”
    My heart began to race. I felt sweat beading up at my hairline.
    “We have this idea,” I began, as I felt my body being thrust upward, the tile underneath my body moving up with me on a column of cement. The sound was like nothing I had heard before, like the prolonged bray of a donkey filtered through something mechanical, metal and artificial.
    “I’m listening.”
    “It’s about-“ my acquaintance blurted, before the tile he was seated on rose a foot or two in the air, and began to slowly spin clockwise. He placed his hands to his head to stop the spinning, as if it were from the result of too many bourbons rather than outlandish external means.
    I tried to remember why we were here in the first place. I closed my eyes to focus, but that only brought terrible pain to the sides of my forehead. I peeled them back open. What was the story that we were to pitch this mysterious man our agent had insisted we meet with? All that came to mind was nonsense. Doubt had taken hold and painted every inch of our original pitch with inadequacy and meaninglessness.
    I felt fear, and impending loss bubble up inside of me, and as my brow furrowed and a bead of sweat dripped from the top of my head to my ear, I felt myself clench, then a burst of energy swell up inside of me, and I shouted, “It’s about faith!”
    The noise stopped. What was before a room filled with sounds of ripping and tearing, concrete and tile grinding against each other, was now dripping with silence. I breathed deeply, and the sound as I exhaled echoed back at me from the walls.
    “It’s about remaining resolute in the most extreme circumstances.” The tile underneath me began making its way down, slowly and silently. My pulse began to lower, and my body began to cool down. The sweat on the sides of my head now felt refreshing rather than anxiety-provoking. “Knowing that what you have inside of yourself is enough, even when every sign around you reads, ‘Give up.’” A satisfying clink reverberated as the tile locked into place, and I was finally level with the rest of the floor.
    The artwork on the walls turned, upward and straight, returning to their previous positions. The lights in the room came up slowly. My eyes came back into focus.
    “I’m listening,” the man said.
    I looked to my right to get a peripheral glance of my acquaintance, but he was gone.
    “Looking for something?” asked the man. My gaze shifted back.
    “No,” I said. “I’ve got what I need,” and began to paint a story with my words.

Cameron Harrie