“I’m taking a day off,” I said, plopping on the couch and staring at the ceiling.
“Rough week at work,” my friend asked.
“Kinda, more than that I just really want a lazy day, y’know?”
“A lazy day you say?” He had a grin curling in the corner of his mouth. “Follow me.”
He took me to the attic of the house. I thought to myself, ‘only god knows why, nothing but a bunch of trinkets up there.’
It wasn’t until we were actually in the attic that I had realized what he had been doing the past few days because he had quit his job. He had cleaned the entire attic, top to bottom. He was in the corner rummaging through some stacked boxes when he let out, “Ahhhh, here we go!”
He held up a small ornamental box with the locket missing from its latch. “Let’s open it,” he said.
“Of course,” I said stepping forward, “Nothing at all foreboding about a creepy little box you found in the attic of your grandfather’s old house. Hey, while we’re at it, wanna hold some lit firecrackers in our hands? Might be fun,” I said sarcastically.
“C’mon man, it’s just a box.”
“Yeah, so why don’t you open it, it’s my lazy day, remember,” I asked.
“Couldn’t dip out on being an ass either, could’ya” he breathed.
“Oh, nothing,” he said. “I’ll open it. Probably just more of grandpa’s old war stuff. I always wondered how he didn’t go crazy from the stories he told.”
As soon as the lid even moved, it flew open. My friend had dropped it in panic. Gushes of wind began pulling us towards and into the box until we had fallen through what looked like a door in the sky.
We landed softly, face first on the asphalt somewhere. I looked up and saw what looked like a pizza sign. Loud noises were coming from behind us. My friend and I both looked at each other, and then turned to what was behind us.
A large pizzeria was tucked in the middle of nowhere. Divaeted, it was placed on a long stretch of highway leading all the way up to and away from it. It was simply a building and sign in the middle of nowhere. I’d even count the asphalt if I’m being honest. It was nothing short of barren.
Apart from desert floor, mountains could be seen in the background. Anything before or after them seemed like an oasis of nothing. It was starting to make my head hurt, the sheer emptiness.
“Dude,” I said, questioning. “Where are we?”
“I—have no idea,” he said, bewildered. He changed his tone as if to make light of the situation. “Buuut, I’m gonna see what deals this place has on deep dish, I’m starving.”
I watched him walk forward. “Wha—-Really!?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s not like there’s other places to choose from.” As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I got up and joined him.
Where the desert was hot and dry, dust wafting the air and unwelcoming, the pizzeria was the exact opposite. Walking through the first set of doors cooled you down, but the second set made the leap from uncomfortable to pure bliss. The smell of garlic and melted cheese with notes of marinara were present just enough to make your mouth water.
To the left was a buffet counter; the kitchen and offices lay tucked away neatly behind it. In the center were assorted tables, just like at any pizzeria, but the dining area was small in comparison to the size of the building.
Past the ambient dining music we began to hear it. Whirring and buzzing, Bleeps and blips of something from the back brought flooded out heads with fond memories of an arcade. It took up most of the store by comparison to everything else. My friend threw his hands in his pockets, “This place may not be so bad.”
“Of course it’s not,” said a gruff voice from behind the counter. The voice belonged to an old man dressed in military fatigues, cutting one of the pizzas. My friend looked at him with recognition.
“Grandpa,” he asked.
“Who else, ya twit,” he laughed. “Now, come over here and grab a slice. I know you and your friend there must be famished. That damned box will do that to you.”
After half an hour of enjoying what the place had to offer, we had almost spoke at the same time, “Grandpa, where the hell are we?” He asked what had been on both of our minds.
“I’m surprised you don’t recognize the place,” he grandfather said, sounding a bit morose. “Once your father got tired of coming, I started bringing you along. When my health went to hell, I decided to stay for a while. I figured you might come back one of these days, and here you are.”
“But, what is this place,” my friend asked, a bit of fear was woven into his voice.
“When I was in Nam, I met a gypsy woman, Katrianna, if I remember correct. She told me that the war needed to end, and fast. I explained to her that I just wanted to see my son, your father,” he said pointing, “and spend as much time as I could with him. So, she showed me the box, explained what it did, and told me that I could have it if I resigned.
“She must’ve had hundreds, because soldiers were going to her every day. Hell, probably why half of’em are crazy. This damned place,” he said looking around. “Point is, the box stops time and lets you spend it with someone you care about in one place for however long you wanr, but it can only be used one time in a matter of twenty-four hours.”
My friends head seemed to jerked a bit. “What happens if you visit more than once,” he asked, concerned.
A rumbling sound began to shake the building. Tiles from the ceiling began falling. Tables toppled, glass began cracking, and the games in the back began to falter their sounds slowing. A ringing from the jukebox pierced the air when I saw his grandfather run and hop over the counter, grabbing something.
The jukebox began echoing synth music from the eighties much louder than before. “What is this,” I asked.
“I have no idea,” my friend said.
“HEY! Catch,” his grandfather shouted, tossing two guns our way and hopping back over the counter with a third. The rumble was low and vibrant under out feet now. The place was wrecked. Cracks began to form in the floor.
“If you visit more than twice a day–” his grandfather said. “Well, let’s just say shit gets a little too real around here for my taste.” He cocked his weapon, aimed, and waited.
“What the hell,” my friend breathed.
“What did you get me into,” I asked.
“I don’t know man. I seriously just thought it was a cool box.”
“Well,” I said, cocking my own gun, “guess I don’t get a lazy day after all.”
To Be Continued…