Mitchell dreamt that he was rising slowly through a long, dark tunnel, surrounded by uneven walls painted with viscous, slimy gray mud, blistered frequently by ugly outcroppings of jagged rock. He tried to remember how he’d arrived there, but the beginning of the tunnel was nothing but a dark pit in his mind’s eye. As he gazed at the walls around him, he thought he could make out faces in the mud. Were those smiles or grimaces? Laughing faces or screaming? As he gazed closer, the faces seemed to melt back into the walls, or perhaps they were never really there at all.
At length, Mitchell began to perceive that the walls were growing lighter, and the faces disappeared with the murk. Mitchell began to make out a light at the end of the tunnel, but he also felt as if the light was beginning to emanate from the walls. The air grew warmer, tickling his back and sides as it pushed from beneath. The tickling became more forceful until Mitchell decided it wasn’t really tickling anymore. It was more like scratching. He wanted the scratching to stop, even as an itching sensation came on that demanded it. These sensations intensified as the light brightened, blinding him so he could no longer make out the walls at all.
Mitchell woke up. Blue skies above, broken by bright, fluffy clouds. The sun was high in the sky.
What the fuck?
He didn’t say it, because he wasn’t really capable of speech at that moment. Or any physical movement, really. Mitchell’s head was wrecked with a pain he rated equivalent to a face-melting brain-freeze, coupled with a hundred cataclysmic collisions of rusty nails and chalky blackboards.
What the hell happened last night?
This train of thought quickly went off the rails as Mitchell took in more pressing matters, like what the hell was happening now. Mitchell was surrounded by nothing but a forest of wheat, rising green and tan several feet above his prostrate body. Mitchell took this moment to recognize that hay, for all its appearances as a delightful, soft bed to lay among, is incredibly itchy. Mitchell next recognized that the reason he was acutely aware of this at this moment was because he had no clothes on.
Mitchell lay, naked as the day he was born, in what appeared to be a wheat field, in the middle of the day, with a pounding headache, and no idea how he had arrived in this compromising position. And, to his dawning horror, he was unable to move a muscle, apart from his eyeballs and eyelids.
Am I paralyzed?
Mitchell summoned all of his current available focus and willpower into an effort to move his left big toe. After 20 seconds of strenuous effort, he felt his toe wiggle, and relief flooded his mind, only to be quickly replaced by a resurgence in his splitting headache. Mitchell’s world swam for a moment, and he shut his eyes to compose himself.
Seriously, what the hell happened last night?
Mitchell racked his brain for answers, but his brain felt sludgy, and every time he felt like he was getting close to something, it slipped through his fingers, and he was fumbling in the dark to hold on. He’d met Parker and Mike for dinner, and they’d stayed for drinks afterward.
He could picture dark hair, smoky eyes, a slight smile that curved slyly from only the left side of her lips. But he didn’t recognize her. No name appeared out the murk to attach itself to her, and when he tried to focus on more distinguishing features, she swam away from him. She’d been wearing a blue dress. Or was it a blouse? Purple?
Shit, what does it matter? There’s this naked in a field thing to consider. Yeah. About that.
Mitchell wasn’t sure, but he thought he could feel sensations of pins and needles gathering in his toes. He was considering whether it would be preferable to wait until he regained his faculties enough to search about for something to cover himself with, or for someone to come across him as he lay there helpless and offer help. Just about at this moment, Mitchell heard a low rumble in the distance.
Oh. Wonderful. Someone is working nearby. Maybe they’ll come across me and have pity.
Mitchell’s thoughts returned to last night. He definitely drank too much last night. No matter what came of this awkward situation, that much was clear. He cringed inwardly as he pictured the annoyed looks from across the bar as he yelled something inane to Parker and Mike. He had a propensity to get a little loud when he drank, and this had been a particularly long week at work, so he’d felt like blowing off steam. Mitchell reflected that he may have been a little out of control, but it still didn’t explain his present situation.
Who was that girl?
He remembered Parker frowning at both him and Mike as they observed the “hottie” at the bar. Felt her look of disapproval, as he knew the word SLUT was virtually emblazoned above the woman’s head, in Parker’s eyes, at least. Mitchell knew it was her protective nature. Mike met lots of women; he knew what to look out for, and how to handle conversations with a certain type. Mitchell was not so suave. His few success stories had been rare instances where he blundered his way into a relationship with a girl he was already friendly with. As it had been with Parker, last year, before that flamed out spectacularly. Mitchell and Mike both spent months repairing that particular bridge. They’d all known each other for years, and it didn’t make sense for their friendship to end just because Mitchell was sometimes stupid and insensitive. They all knew he was stupid and insensitive. They also all knew that he usually meant well. So, eventually they’d all started hanging out again, and here they were. Parker knew Mitchell was likely to strike out, and be hurt about it for days afterward, and she looked unhappy as he clearly began to gather courage for an approach. She’d been staring at him that way, as he took a sip of his cheap, bitter beer.
It had gone well, though, hadn’t it?
He could picture himself talking to the girl, so he didn’t think she brushed him off. She’d SMILED at him. That alone was a much more positive sign than usual.
That noise is getting closer. Someone really may be on their way over.
That was good, because although Mitchell could now move all of his toes with relative ease, the pins and needles were only just traveling up his calves, and he could do little more than lay there and think about what he had done. The girl had told him, what? She was a nurse? No. Teacher? Maybe. That seemed vaguely familiar. Mitchell could picture himself making some lame joke about her having summers off, something he knew wasn’t funny, or even really appreciated, but he’d said it anyway because he was nervous and couldn’t think of anything else to say about it. If he didn’t go with that line, it would have been something similarly tone-deaf and vapid. He remembered a weak, polite smile. Why did he have to be drunk to approach a girl? He always ended up getting his words twisted, and saying something inadvertently offensive. Had he pissed off the wrong person? Maybe her boyfriend had walked over and gotten offended that he was trying to pick her up? Maybe she slipped him something when he wasn’t looking. But what could he have possibly said to lead him that far astray?
That noise is either getting much closer, or it is much louder than I previously thought, or both.
Mitchell inexplicably began thinking of Superman 2. It was an old movie, but it had always resonated with Mitchell. He could relate to Superman’s desire to stop being the hero. To just be Clark Kent, and run away with Lois Lane. Mitchell often wished he could step out of his own skin and live his life differently, but he was always drawn back into his old behavior patterns, reluctantly, but willingly. Truth be told, it wasn’t Mitchell’s favorite Superman movie. He’d found Superman’s fate a little too uncomfortably predetermined. Superman 3 was more his speed. The ridiculous plot and Richard Pryor’s sense of humor added a bit of levity that Mitchell thought Superman 2 lacked. He also especially liked the scenes where Superman fought himself, and the scene where Superman saved little Ricky from the farm combine’s sharp oncoming blades.
Hm. Farm equipment is really dangerous, especially when one is laying exposed like I am, right now.
Mitchell felt a sheen of sweat break out on his skin, and it had nothing to do with the rising temperature under the hot sun shining high overhead. That noise was still growing louder, and suddenly Mitchell was very sure he did not want to be laying there in that field, for any length of time. He struggled to move his legs, but he could not turn himself over. He struggled harder, but movement was slow, and resisting, like in a nightmare in which he was chased by a monster but kept losing his footing even though he desperately needed to gain speed and break away.
I wish Parker was here. She’d probably know exactly what that machine was and set my mind at ease.
Parker talked frequently about a farm she used to visit when she was young. It was a big operation that her grandfather worked on weekends for extra cash, and he’d taken her along often to ride with him while he manned the farm equipment.
Mitchell couldn’t help reminiscing. He had really liked Parker, once. But, hoo boy, had he screwed that one up. He remembered her face that one night, after he’d gotten too drunk at the bar with Mike and Eric, and Mike had pulled him out of the bar by his collar when he found him making out with a random girl in the corner of the bar. He was sure Mike was about to punch him, and was bracing for it right up until he puked in the middle of the sidewalk. Mitchell was delivered, blubbering, on Parker’s doorstep, but there was no undoing it. Mike didn’t talk to him again until a few weeks afterward, after Mitchell had hounded both him and Parker for forgiveness incessantly. Still, that was the end of Mitchell and Parker, as an item.
Less thinking, more moving. That roar is getting louder.
Actually, Mitchell thought he could feel rumbling from the ground beneath him, and the air seemed to be humming with movement. He could smell the familiar odor of freshly cut grass, but while this smell usually brought him nostalgic memories of summer football camps, he felt nothing of the sort now. That smell meant something was cutting. And he was lying in its path. Mitchell tried to yell, but heard and felt only a weak groan emit from his chest.
Shit. No one is ever going to hear that.
With an immense exertion, Mitchell twisted his torso to the left, and then lay there, gasping, as he collected himself to move again. As he twisted onto the fresh hay beside him, he was reminded of the itching and scratching against his naked skin, and looked down at the ground, as he did so, what he saw made his blood run cold.
Written in red lipstick on Mitchell’s chest: “Nobody cheats on me. Ever. – PJ”
Parker Jacobs. No. Nonononono.
Mitchell, dumbstruck, thought back to last night, and the months leading up to it, and wondered how he possibly could have missed the signals.
Does Mike know I’m here?
He wondered whether his beer had been a little extra bitter-tasting as he walked away from Parker’s table, or if he’d simply gotten too drunk and passed out on his feet, possibly for the last time.
Mitchell’s heart racing, he found muscles he thought he’d lost contact with, and began to thrash on the ground. The sound in his ears from the farm equipment was almost deafening now, and Mitchell pictured a combine thrashing through his feet like so much butter, and churning up across his body until there was nothing but a mangled mess where the message was now written across his chest.
Mitchell felt the air swirling from the blades of the machine near his feet. With a final exhausted effort, as loud as he could possibly muster, Mitchell screamed, “HEEEEELP!”
As the toes on his left foot were neatly sliced off, Mitchell thought he heard a dip in the engine, as if it might be slowing, or turning off. He was hopeful as he lost consciousness, and slumped limply into the wheat laying beneath him.