The plank above the door reads “geisteskrank.”
This is not where he meant to be. That much he knows. The darkness seems to shift around him, shadows lifting and falling like waves before a storm. A hissing noise, not so much mechanical as the sound of a machine breathing, voices in the fan above him. There’s a small window in the door to his right, the door under the sign, a porthole, and he can see the dried blood smudged across it on his side, four lines that taper into nothing, left to right. The answer is just beyond that glass, but he’s too scared to see what may or may not be. And so he sits, propped against a wall of wooden crates that he somehow knows rises taller than the ceiling, shifting his hands and hips in the dark muck that may or may not be blood, may or may not be his own blood, wondering what to do next.
The scuttering to his left startles him, whipcrack of a head turning, and he thinks he hears himself ask who is there, but there’s no echo from the steel walls around him, nothing but the dry beating noises of a rundown engine from somewhere in the distance. And so he shifts again, the ashy sand sifting through his fingers, so dry, he left wondering if there is any water left anywhere in the world.
The bay window under the sign to his right, a large crack running it’s length, a river travelling north to south. Beyond the glass, a brilliant blue reflection of calm waters and a still beach. He sees her, walking alone, exactly as he will always remember her. Her shoulder-length hair bobs gently with each step, swinging alongside her cheeks and the sunglasses that cover the shadowy pools of near-black. He smiles as she moves, gliding across the white sands without a care, taking in the day and leaving a little behind for everyone else to enjoy.
He calls her name, and she doesn’t hear, or doesn’t respond. He knows that it is time for him to rise, to follow, to go after what he wants. He starts to rise, and feels the floor beneath him shift. The wall of crates is no longer behind him, but on all sides, wavering and groaning, the weight of impossibly tall wooden mountains trying to speak to him. He hesitates, breathing heavy and pupils constricting; she’s suddenly so far away, moving like a sheet of tissue caught in a light breeze, so slow but so far away. Between them, in the space where there was sand and ocean and beautiful summer day, there is a black grass that may be summer in shadow of an elm, or perhaps something else, something living and waiting for him to run across. The air shimmers, heatpulse rising to the sky. The sign above the archway is now blank, a wooden plank that says nothing but for him to remember what he knows, what he has learned, what he wants.
“Geisteskrank,” says a voice to his right. He turns, and there in the sunset light is a face that he hadn’t expected ever to see again.
“I didn’t sneeze,” he says. “I’ve got to be going, though. It’s time, right?”
“You’ll never be sure. That’s the best part. Oh, geisteskrank.”
“I didn’t -” and his denial is interrupted by a sneeze. The world turns blinding white, then fades to black, just like all good movies do.