There was a bench. Behind that bench was a stone wall. It was no Great Wall of China but definitely a wall too hard to climb over or even see over for that matter. In front of that bench was a gravel road that went on for miles with no indication of slope or incline. On the other side of the path was a small pond with two apple trees on either side. The water in the pond was similar to glass on a mirror. Past that pond seemed to be an endless stretch of green also with no indication of slope or incline.
Two men sat on the bench, one at either end. They were sitting there motionless for quite some time until one man opened his eyes. He looked around unaware of his current location but also unaware of the severity of his situation, as if he were asleep with his eyes open. He looked to his left and saw the other man still motionless, unconscious. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, but no shoes. The conscious man looked down to discover he was dressed in the same attire.
The man got up and walked to the pond. He saw his reflection in the water and realized many things were different. His head was shaved, his face was clear of any trace of a mustache or beard, the bags that were usually under his eyes due to insufficient sleep were gone, and the multiple scars he had earned over the years had also vanished. His facial features were still the same. He had his Roman nose, his blue eyes, his freckles, and his thin, light eyebrows. Astounded by the sight of himself he took off his shirt to discover more. His body had no chest hair, no cuts, no bruises; his skin was the perfect mix of dark and light, and he had even seemed to have lost some weight in his gut. He still felt like himself but more fresh, as if his old body was worn out and he had just bought a new one. The man cupped his hands and splashed some water on his face to clear his eyes and make sure he wasn’t seeing an illusion. He wasn’t. As the splashes of water hit his face they began to drop back into the pond and make ripples obscuring his vision of his mirrored self. When the ripples concluded he discovered the other man looking into the pond, gently stroking his own face. They looked almost the same. Of course his features were different. He had a celestial nose, brown eyes, no freckles, and dark brows thicker than the other man’s. His features were different but his skin tone was also the perfect mix of light and dark, and he too was free of any unnecessary weight, hair, and ailments. He was much smaller than the other man by a good fifty pounds. They looked like separate models of the same make.
After a minute of puzzlement the man with blue eyes and freckles started to talk but stopped short when he noticed something different about the bench. It was a piece of paper that had been folded over itself. The two men got up and headed for the bench. The blue eyed, freckled man opened the note and read its contents. Out loud he read, “Wait here for Vincent.”
“Friend of yours?” said the smaller man with brown eyes.
The man with blue eyes turned and said, “Nah, don’t know who it’s talking about, but I’m not sticking around to find out.”
The blue-eyed man started to walk down the path; he walked past one of the apple trees, then past the next, and finally found he was confronting the brown-eyed man and the note yet again. He tried to walk down the path a second time and again ended up next to the brown-eyed man and the note. He did this one more time until he gave up and read the note again. Still, all it said was, “Wait here for Vincent.”
The brown-eyed man said, “I guess we’d better get comfortable until he gets here.”
The two men took their seats back on the bench with the note between them. The brown-eyed man stuck out his hand.
The blue-eyed man accepted the hand and responded, “Jackson.”
Gregory was about to say more but only got out, “So how did—” before Jackson got up and started walking toward the endless field of green.
Jackson stopped after the pond and looked around. He saw nothing in front, nothing to the left, and nothing to the right—just endless green and sun he felt was getting closer. He didn’t bother looking back at Gregory; he didn’t care if he ever saw him again. Jackson walked for what seemed like hours. He felt the time pass but the sun in the sky never moved. It stayed at a somewhat two o’clock position the entire time he walked. Jackson never looked back at Gregory. He felt he didn’t need to.
Nothing ever changed; there was constant green all around him. He felt like he was walking against a conveyer belt, losing his energy but never making any headway. After what seemed to be four hours of walking Jackson’s knees ached. He fell to the ground with a thud and looked in every direction. In front of him nothing, to the left nothing, to the right nothing. Everything was exactly as it was before. He turned around and looked back where he came. Gregory was sitting on the bench only a dozen steps away from himself. Jackson couldn’t believe it. How could all that walking only manage to get him to the exact same spot where he started?
Jackson walked to Gregory and said, “How long have I been gone?”
Gregory kindly responded, “You never left.”
Jackson approached Gregory, grabbed him by the shirt, and pulled him close until their faces were almost touching. “What are you trying to do to me? What are you talking about? I was gone for about four hours. How is it that I wind up back here?”
“Look, pal, you never left. You were standing right there past the pond for only a few seconds before you came back here to the bench.”
Jackson pushed Gregory back onto the bench. Jackson sat down on the other side of the note, cupping his hands over his face and breathing heavily. “Who are you?” said Jackson.
“I know you are, but who are you? What do you do? What is this place? Why am I here with you?”
Gregory started, “Well I’m a writer from New York, no wife, no kids. And as for what this place is and why we’re here, I’m not exactly sure. How about you?”
“I’m from New York as well, and let’s just say my business is nothing I should be talking about with strangers,” said Jackson.
“Oh, I see,” said Gregory. Gregory got up and looked in all directions. He saw nothing other than what was right in front of him, which was the bench, the path, the pond, the trees, and the wall. After a few minutes of looking Gregory finally spoke up. “Man, I’m hungry,” he said, trying to make small talk.
Jackson just sighed and gave a nod of his head.
“I wish I had a big slab of skirt right now,” said Gregory.
Just then in front of him appeared a plate with the most delicious looking cut of skirt steak Gregory ever seen. It came with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy.
“I ALSO WISH I HAD A COKE TO WASH THIS DOWN WITH,” he yelled.
A can of cola appeared next to the plate.
Jackson got up and stole a bite of the steak before Gregory had the chance to offer any. It was the best steak Jackson ever tasted. He gulped down a swig of Coke before Gregory could offer that either. It gave Jackson the boost he needed. He took the plate and started eating slices of steak while still sipping on the Coke. “So you say you’re a writer huh?” said Jackson. “What kind of books you write?”
Gregory said, “Mostly murder mysteries.”
“Have I heard of any of them?” asked Jackson.
“I highly doubt it; I’ve never really finished one. If only I had my draft with me here right now.” Just as he said that Gregory saw something appear on the bench. It was a pen and a note book.
“What’s that?” asked Jackson.
“My latest book,” responded Gregory. “I can finally finish it.”
Just then the steak Jackson was eating began to taste dry and absent of flavor, and the Coke turned flat. He spit out the Coke and threw the steak on the ground. “What’s the point? Who’s gonna read it?” exclaimed Jackson.
“That’s not the point,” said Gregory. “Then what is?” asked Jackson. “Just knowing I can finish it,” explained Gregory. For what seemed like two hours Jackson and Gregory sat there on the bench in silence while Gregory worked on his book. Randomly Jackson would make a slice of pizza or a glass of scotch appear in front of him but when they met his palate they were all lacking in the flavor and texture he was used to.
“When the hell is he going to get here?” yelled Jackson.
“The guy Vincent. When will he be here?” said Jackson.
“Oh yeah, almost forgot about him. So what are you in for?” asked Gregory.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, before I got the steak I was looking around pondering to myself, and I came to the conclusion that this place, whatever it may be, is some sort of testing ground. Someone put us here to evaluate us. Something we do here will assure what happens to us next. I’m not sure what exactly it is we have to do, but I believe my destiny has something to do with me finishing this book.”
“Look, pal,” Jackson said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking but someone’s got the wrong idea. I’m not supposed to be here.”
“Maybe it has something to do with the business you’re so unready to talk about,” said Gregory.
“Hey look, buddy, I told you once and I tell you again. Don’t ask me about my business.”
They sat for an unidentifiable amount of time. Gregory worked on his book while Jackson muttered to himself. Jackson grew sweaty and tense as the time passed. He got red and hot and took off his shirt. The sun seemed to grow more intense to Jackson, but Gregory did not complain at all. Jackson crawled to the pond and splashed water on his face and mouth but nothing would quench his thirst. Jackson got up from the pond, picked up the note on the bench, and still it read, “Wait here for Vincent.” Jackson screamed at the top of his lungs—nothing specific, just a scream. He tried climbing up the wall but obviously it was no use. He ran down the path at full speed, panting all the while. He must have gone past Gregory about ten times before he was too tired to continue. He fell to his knees behind the bench. Gregory was aware of the whole ordeal but kept writing his book as Jackson screamed and ran.
“This needs to end, something has to stop this, this needs to be stopped.” Jackson said, trying to catch his breath. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly. When he opened them again a revolver and a single bullet were lying on the ground in front of him. He loaded the bullet into the chamber and stood up.
“I finished,” yelled Gregory. Those were his last words before the bullet entered the back of his head. Gregory’s body fell on the path.
Jackson started to hear a noise; a clicking noise. Jackson looked down the road and saw a man in a black suit and fedora. The suit was cleanly pressed and the hat fit just right. The man’s jet-black hair seemed to be in the cleanest, healthiest shape.
He approached Gregory’s body, knelt down, and tapped him on the shoulder. “C’mon, pal, get up. I ain’t got all day,” said the man.
Gregory got up and looked as if he didn’t have a scratch on him. The man in the suit grabbed the note from the bench and stuffed it in his coat pocket before he and Gregory headed down the path. The two followed the path until Jackson wasn’t able to see them anymore. He tried to follow but every time he just wound up back at the bench again. Only this time, no Gregory and no note.