A dull, white corridor. Decaying linoleum tiles, scarred dark with scuff marks. The tiles reflected the fluorescent lighting back into the dreary atmosphere. Yet it was familiar.
A few paces forward and around a corner I found a vending machine. There were people with money discussing, deciding, between the last few available drinks.
I needed to have something to drink. It was very important that I was not thirsty later on, so I had to drink something now.
My hand reached deep into my pocket and pulled out a single dollar bill. The others kept discussing their choices without noticing me.
There was hardly anything left, so I chose the one that would quench my thirst the best. A bright orange fluid contained in a clear bottle with a white wrapper.
I put the money in the slot and waited for my drink to vend.
Ka-chunk. The bottle was cold to the touch.
Finally, the other people in the room noticed my presence and a girl who looked about my age complemented me on my choice of drink.
“That’ll quench your thirst real good,” she said.
I nodded and unscrewed the lid and looked at my beverage. What had been a bright orange liquid now appeared dull and pulp-filled. The chill of the bottle was also gone, now. I gave it no thought, considering it to be even more thirst-quenching than before.
I raised the bottle to my mouth and tilted it as I began to chug the lukewarm fluid. The others cheered me on and as I drank the pulp began to disappear and before it was all gone, the liquid began to transform back into its original state, bright, clear, and cool.
When I finished, I exhaled and a feeling of lightheadedness overwhelmed me. I lost my balance, but caught myself on another vending machine. The others didn’t pay any notice to me and began making their own selections from the machine. More people started to enter the room as I slipped into unconsciousness.
I awoke in a friend’s basement, surrounded by two figures. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized who they were.
“You okay, Eric?” said one of them—a girl. Beth.
“I knew you were alright,” said Amir who disappeared up the stairs.
“Would you like some popcorn?” said Beth. “We’re just about to watch a movie.”
“No thanks,” I said. “I can’t be thirsty.”
“You won’t get thirsty.”
“Maybe later,” I said.
The basement was dull, like the vending machine room, except the walls were painted a soothing orange color and the floor was covered in thick shag rug. On one wall, an enormous plasma screen television hung quite proudly and heavy blankets scattered the floor beneath it.
“Lay with me?” said Beth, invitingly.
“I’ll just sit.”
I heard footsteps and assumed Amir would be joining us shortly so I sat beside Beth and wrapped myself in a comfortable blanket. The television turned itself on and began cycling through thousands of channels.
Someone ran downstairs but it was not Amir, it was a different friend of mine, Nikolai. I looked at him questioningly as he took a spot between Beth and I on the floor and covered himself up in a blanket.
“Do you think Amir will be mad that I am here?” he said.
“Yeah, I think he will,” I said.
And then I heard footsteps upstairs again, and I saw the scene of a hospital flash before my eyes.