It was that same dream yet again, falling from the thirteenth floor; that woke Mitch from his slumber. Bleary-eyed, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and rolled over. The glowing red numbers on his alarm clock read 8:45. He sprang from his bed in a panic. The alarm never went off, though he was certain he had set it the night before. His tiny apartment was bitterly cold. Despite the landlord’s insistence that there was nothing wrong with the furnace, his thermostat registered 61 degrees. Flipping the switch and cranking the dial did nothing to coax warm air from the vents. Furious, Mitch stalked to the bathroom and turned on the space heater. After gathering his toiletries, he turned on the faucet in the shower full-blast. Huddled over the ceramic box he rubbed his hands and waited for the room to fill with steamy warmth before disrobing. The heater crackled and hissed then, after a loud pop, promptly died. Mitch muttered a curse and slammed his fist down on the top of the heater. He stepped back for a moment, as if expecting it to miraculously start working again but it did not. Yanking the plug from the outlet, he tossed the unit into the hall and slammed the door. Parting the shower curtain, he tentatively stuck his hand under the spray and abruptly pulled it back again. The frosty water was not inviting. Since time was not on his side, Mitch quickly brushed his teeth, combed his hair, swiped some deodorant under his arms, and pulled on clean clothes. He spritzed on a little extra cologne and hoped it would suffice as he sprinted to the elevator.
“Just my luck,” Mitch sneered as he rounded the corner and realized the elevator was blocked by a moving neighbor’s mattress and box spring.
With no time to waste, he crashed through the doorway to the stairwell and leapt down, clearing two or three at a time. Panting and out of breath, he reached the bus stop only to be left behind in a grey cloud of fumes. With no other option he flagged down a cab and rattled off his work address, better known as the nether-regions of Hell. One traffic jam after another sent his blood pressure to its boiling point. Finally, at 10:45 the cab pulled up to the curb. Mitch dug through his pockets only to realize that, in his rush, he had forgotten his wallet.
“Oh my God!” He exclaimed angrily. “Could this day get any worse?”
The cabbie was not sympathetic and demanded payment immediately. With no other choice, Mitch scurried inside to beg his friends to loan him cab fare. His pals were all short on funds so he was forced to accept help from Anne, a dour, unpleasant woman whose sole motivation was to humiliate Mitch at every turn. After a few choice words, the cabbie left and Mitch clocked in two hours late. His backside had barely touched the seat in his cramped cubicle before his manager summoned him to the office. Anne scurried from the manager’s office with a smug smile plastered to her pursed lips.
“Hateful witch,” he sneered though no words dared to escape his mouth.
Instead his mind reeled with the fantasy of one day telling everyone in that God-forsaken dump how he truly felt. His daydream ended the moment Mitch slumped into the chair across from his manager. The name plate resting on the manager’s desk read Devin Milton yet Mitch always believed it was a typo. It should read Devil’s Minion, he decided.
“Mitch,” Minion began, “I think we need to talk about your time card.”
Every syllable after that was ignored as Mitch struggled to keep the look of sheer disdain from his face. The daydream was back, only this time he was pummeling Minion “Fight Club” style while his coworkers cheered.
“Did you hear what I said?” His manager shouted, snapping Mitch back to reality.
There was no need to lie: his blank stare had answered for him.
“No, I didn’t think so. You show up two hours late and no phone call. Then you have the nerve to harangue money from your colleagues. We’ve talked about your tardiness before, Mitch and now you’re being downright disrespectful. You've left me no choice…pack up your things. You’re fired.”
A torrent of hate-filled profanities spewed from Mitch’s lips, unleashing the pent up frustrations from his eight years in Purgatory. In response, his manager picked up the phone and called security. Escorted by two burly men, Mitch gathered his meager belongings and placed them in a cardboard box. A moment later he was standing outside on the curb, shivering. A damp snow had begun to fall making the sidewalks slick and treacherous. Tromping through the slush to the bus stop, he realized his bus pass was still at home in his wallet. He sighed; a dejected, bitter sigh then turned to walk home. In mid-turn, his foot landed on an icy patch and slid. His awkward and painful fall was “The Three Stooges” worthy. Cold, wet, and aching, Mitch hauled himself to his feet only to slip again, landing directly on top of his box. The few trinkets that hadn’t shattered in the first fall were destroyed in the second. Using the remnants of a broken picture frame, he scraped away the ice exposing the splotchy brownish-grey pavement. With safe footing, he rose and stalked off, leaving his box of broken junk on the sidewalk.
An hour later, Mitch arrived at his apartment building only to find that the Board of Health had condemned the building. The front door was chained and locked tight. The notice taped on the door proclaimed the landlord had failed to appear at a condemnation hearing and the building was declared a health hazard.
“Get away from there!” A woman’s voice shouted. “That building has been condemned! It’s not safe.”
Mitch scanned the surroundings and noticed a sharply-dressed woman leaning out of her car window, shouting to him. Slipping and sliding, he rushed to the vehicle.
“You can’t condemn the building! I live there,” Mitch whined. “All my stuff is in there!”
In a cold, professional, tone the woman apologized for his predicament but insisted that it was unfit for human residence. She proceeded to tell him that his landlord should have given him notice.
“Well, he didn’t! Now let me in so I can get my things!” He snapped.
“I’m afraid I don’t have the authority to let you in. You’ll have to obtain written approval from the Board of Health before you can enter. Sorry.”
She waved her hand dismissively, rolled up her window and pulled away. Dazed, Mitch stood there watching her vehicle fade into the distance. His snort of derision quickly evolved into a loud, hysterical, almost maniacal laugh. Tears streamed down his cheeks yet the terrifying laughter continued. Unable to stop, he doubled over as the sounds emanating from his body echoed down the alley. When the noises faded and his eyes finally dried, Mitch had lost track of time. Whether he had been sitting there for minutes or hours, he could not say but in his post-breakdown state, he hatched a new plan. He would break in and collect whatever belongings he could liberate but until then, he needed to find someplace warm. He wandered to the nearest grocery store. As the first wave of toasty air enveloped his body, he breathed a sigh of relief. A snarky patron muttered, “Cold enough for ya?” but Mitch ignored the comment, still savoring the delightful heat. As he meandered up and down the aisles, he was offered samples of the tasty morsels that were on sale: port wine and cheddar cheese dip on crackers, mini-quiches, non-alcoholic eggnog, cocktail meatballs, cranberry scones and sparkling cider. The longer he chatted with the ladies offering samples, the more they fed him. He strolled to the hot beverages aisle in hopes of some coffee or perhaps hot cocoa. The intoxicating aroma of freshly ground beans drew him closer and he ducked around a display to reach his destination.
“Whoa! Watch out!”
A large jar of pickles slipped from the stock boy’s hand and crashed to the floor, barely missing Mitch. Startled, he jumped back.
“Oh no!” An elderly woman gasped. “You walked under his ladder; and on Friday the Thirteenth too. That’s terrible luck”
The woman made a sign of the cross over her chest and scurried away nervously, unwilling to absorb a double-dose of bad luck. Mitch rolled his eyes at her and stepped out from underneath the ladder only to have another jar crash down on his head, followed abruptly by the stock boy and his ladder. The store manager found both Mitch and his employee sprawled on the floor surrounded by shattered glass and cucumber spears, stinking of pickle juice. The rotund man barked into his handheld radio for the cleanup crew and safety team leader. Armed with a first aid kit, a middle-aged woman tried to wipe away the blood from Mitch’s cuts, instead she only managed to rub salty liquid into his wounds. Once he convinced the manager that he was fine and would not be suing the store, Mitch left the store and walked back to his apartment building. The sky had turned a deep, inky, blue and the temperature plummeted below freezing but still he trudged on. Hidden under the cover of darkness, Mitch crept around to the back of the building and snatched a landscaping brick from the border. He peered cautiously around for witnesses before hurling the brick at a window. A spider web crack crept across the glass and for the first time all day, he smiled. Bolder now, he grabbed another brick and with all of his might smashed it against the fractured glass. He removed his coat, folded it over and used it as protection from the shards as he crawled through the opening. Finally inside, Mitch knew the building like the back of his hand. Even in the dark, he expertly navigated the stairwell and finally reached his floor. Never before had his front door looked so welcoming. Relieved, he inserted his key in the lock and opened the door.
“What do you think you’re doing,” a raspy voice hissed.
Mitch froze. He had assumed he was all alone in the building but his inner voice reminded him what “assume” stood for.
“The loot is supposed to be all ours,” a second voice chimed in angrily.Thieves. His inner voice stated the obvious. Run. This time his inner voice was the voice of reason and his legs gladly obeyed. The hallway echoed with the sound of pounding feet, angry shouts and bullets ricocheting off the walls but the only sound Mitch could hear was the hammering of his own heart. He crashed through the door to the stairwell and was met with two more scoundrels charging up the steps. With no way down, he dodged the men and raced up to the next floor. His pursuers were hot on his heels so he climbed higher and higher until his only option was the roof. He slammed the door behind him and tried to wedge it closed but the thugs were able to force their way through. Mitch tried to plead for his life but the bullet tore through his chest with such force that he toppled over the roof’s edge. The feeling was so familiar, just like his dream. The building had twelve floors but the rooftop made thirteen. Falling from the thirteenth floor on Friday the Thirteenth, his inner voice announced before it all went black.