After graduating from college with my degree in abstract journalism, I’ve had a difficult time landing work—I applied to every newspaper within a hundred miles of me and all the online news sites I could get a hold of. It’d been roughly fourteen months since my last job and the bills were getting to me . . . I had to cut all insurance, gas, my cell phone, and towards the end I was considering cutting electricity altogether. To put it in some kind of perspective, my 1992 Ford Crown Victoria was looking more and more like my future housing.
Anyways, I open my mailbox after hearing the USPS truck roll past to find an orange envelope. I cut it open and pull out a letter from someone named Rachel telling me that she’s heard I was looking for work and to meet her at 1922 Downward Avenue tomorrow at noon. I stare at my empty apartment, my empty refrigerator, virtually empty closet, and decide that I don’t really have much to lose.
The next day, I eagerly put on the best clothes I had available—a collared plaid shirt and a pair of slacks I got from the Salvation Army. I locked the front door and made my way to the car.
Twenty minutes later I arrive.
At a barbeque restaurant.
I start to panic, clearly something is wrong; I check the address again and look at the street signs—it’s the place I was told to meet at. I hesitantly open the glass doors and make my way to the counter; a tiny, sweaty man with a nametag that read Maurice began to eye me.
“Hi,” I said. “I have a meeting with . . .”
His tiny blue eyes open wide, “Oh, thank God you’re here. I’ll go fetch him.”
He abandons the counter and scuttles his way to the kitchen area. I gingerly look around the rest of the restaurant to find that there isn’t a single other person in here. Without warning, a door marked “EMPLOYEES ONLY” swings wide and out steps a large black man with a completely bald head and a grin from ear to ear. It’s George Foreman.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” he booms, his voice covering the entire restaurant.
He reaches out and grabs my hand to shake it—his hand vastly outsizing mine.
“Ah, I thought I was meeting with Rachel!” I venture.
The smile evaporates from his face. “Please,” he said with narrow eyes, “don’t ever call me Rachel.” He motioned to a nearby table and pulls out two seats for himself, easily taking up both. We sit down and he ordered pulled pork sandwiches for the both of us. “Jason, I hear that you’re a warrior.”
My name isn’t Jason, but I don’t interrupt him.
He pointed his pinky finger at me, “You’re the future of this world. Did you know that?”
“I’m interested in working in the local news community, if that answers your question.”
“Right, you’re a warrior—just the warrior we need.” He reached both of his arms across the table and grabbed my shoulders. “Jason, the fact of the matter is that this world is in dire need of saving and you—you and me—are the ones to save it.”
I opened my mouth to speak and he released my shoulders. “Go on, tell me I’m wrong. I’ve had so many people sit where you’re sitting—all of them didn’t believe in the Dream, but you don’t need to believe in the Dream for it to be real.” He leaned back in his chair and snapped his fingers at me.
I wanted to tell him that he was batshit insane and that I didn’t know what the hell he meant by the Dream, but I didn’t. “I thought I was going to meeting someone here for a job interview,” I started.
“Jason, listen to me: you said you were ready to join in this fight, but I need to know if you’re serious.”
I never said that.
“I’m looking for a journalist position . . . do you work for this restaurant?”
He shook his head solemnly. “No, I don’t work for anyone.” The food arrives and he stands up and hugs Maurice as the man places the platters of food on the table. He sits back down and grips the pulled pork sandwich with one hand and finishes it within a minute. “Let me just tell you something, these people,” he motioned Maurice behind the counter and the cooks working in the back, “they’re out to get you. We need to expose the truth, Jason. That’s why you’re here.”
I give sort of a half nod, trying to follow along with what George is saying.
“I got in touch with your people—very nice people, by the way. They gave me the go-ahead for this upcoming operation.”
He slapped the table with his palm and ordered two more pulled pork sandwiches to go. Maurice approached us with the sandwiches in little Styrofoam boxes and handed them to me with a wink. George looked at me intensely.
“Alright Hernandez, you ready to go?”
It took me a second to realize he was talking to me. I’m not even Hispanic. “Where are we going?”
He just smiled at me for a moment, hugged me, and placed his hand on my back, guiding me towards the door. We exit the restaurant facing the parking lot and my 1992 Ford Crown Victoria was gone. I scanned the entire lot—it vanished. “God . . . someone stole my car!”
George shook his head. “No, it’s just been repurposed.” He pointed up into the sky and smiled.
I handed him the sandwiches and started walking furiously away. Out of nowhere a black van pulled into the parking lot, hopped the curb and pulled up beside me. The passenger window rolls down and George Foreman is staring back at me from the inside. Confused, I turn around to find the spot he was standing in was empty. George reached through the window, handed me one of the Styrofoam boxes, and asked me politely to get in the back seat.
Irritated and without any real alternatives, I reach for the door handle and get inside the backseat of the van. I look up to see the driver was fucking Rachel Ray.
“Jason,” she says to me, “do you know about the Dream?”
“I briefly mentioned it to him,” George responds.
“Hell yeah,” she replies and reaches under her seat to grab a flashing blue light—the kind that you’d see on undercover police cars—and stuck it on the roof through the window. The van lurched violently forwards, jumped another curb, and was back on the main road.
“Can someone please tell me where we’re going?” I ask eagerly, my mood changing from anger to fear.
“Listen to me, Jason Hernandez,” Rachel began. “You said you wanted to right the wrongs of the past—that you are a warrior. Well, if any of that’s true, you need to put your trust in us now. There are people out there looking for you—looking desperately for someone with your skills.”
None of that is true and I think I’ve been kidnapped, but at this point it’s too late to do anything about it. The van turns off onto a dirt road and we drive in silence for another forty minutes. I didn’t have a cellphone and I tried pressing the window control on my door, but it wasn’t responding. Rachel pulled the van towards a dark, looming tunnel jutting out from a hillside and explains to me that this place was used for destroying the Dream.
We exited the van and since my view isn’t blocked by extremely tinted windows, I can see very clearly that it’s an abandoned subway tunnel. George comes over and hugs me, whispering in my ear that everything is going to be alright.
Rachel walks ahead of us and calls out, “Hey, Jason. Come help me out here.” She’s standing above what looks like the door to a bank vault, with the giant metal hatch and everything. She and I turn it while George Foreman stands over us with his thick arms crossed. Eventually, we get it open and I can see an old rusted ladder disappearing into the darkness below. She gives me an army salute and begins to descend the ladder.
“George, come on man—”
He places his arms on my shoulders and presses his forehead against mine. “It’s too late to back out now, Hernandez.” He gives me another hug, then grabs me from under my arms and lifts me onto his back like I’m some sort of toddler. He then descends the ladder with me on his back, gently closing the vault entrance as we go down.
At this point, I’m really not too sure what to think. To begin—
“Okay, that’s enough of that,” George booms and he lets go of the ladder, freefalling with me on his back into pitch black.