Author: Ed Lazer

Lew was panting by the time he opened the door. It was 98 degrees outside, and the cool air gave him a chill. Lew noticed the new concession stands as he made his way to the restroom. Even the bathroom was updated – brighter, cleaner, smelling of pine needles. He peed and washed his hands and face. The old sign was still above the hand dryer:

• Are you being abused?
• Are you being forced to do work for no pay?
• Are you being forced to have sex?
WE CAN HELP. CALL 888-555-1212

Lew was deciding between a burger and a chicken sandwich as he headed for the exit. He walked down the short hall, took a left, but found himself back in the bathroom.

“What the hell?”

Same bathroom, different people. A father hustled his son from the hand dryer to the exit. Lew followed behind, went down the hall, turned left, and entered the bathroom—again. This time it was darker. One light above the sinks was out, another blinked. The people were seedier, the smell of stale urine overpowering. A guy with ragged clothes holding a “Please Help” sign stared at him.

Lew ran to the exit and down the hall again with the same result. Except now, the bathroom was even gloomier, and the toilets and garbage bins were overflowing. The floor was wet and filthy. The guy with the sign was still eying him. Now it read, “Abandon all hope.”

Lew panicked. He went to the sink, splashed cold water on his face and tried to calm down. He went to the drier and looked up at the sign. It had changed.

• Are you stuck in a cycle of despair?
• Have you lost hope that your life will get better?
• Are you unable to find an exit?
WE CAN HELP. CALL 111-111-1111

Lew fumbled for his phone and punched in the number. It rang three times.

“Restoration Services. How can we help you?”

Lew stammered. “I can’t get out of the bathroom! I try to leave, and I keep ending up in the same place. Except it’s darker and dirtier, and I’m losing my mind!”

“I see, can I have your name please?”

“Lew Laszlo.”

“Yes, we can help you. Proceed to the exit, and this time do not take your right hand off the wall as you make your way out.”

“Hey, you!” yelled the sign man. “Where do you think you’re going? Get back here!”

Lew ran toward the exit. He kept his right hand on the wall, holding the phone in his left. The hall got progressively darker until there was no light at all.

“Are you still there?” Lew shouted.

“Yes, you’re doing fine. Just keep going.”

“How much farther?” Lew yelled.

“NEAR!” the voice shouted. Someone pounded into Lew’s chest, and he almost fell. The hall seemed endless.

“Are you still there? How much longer?” Lew gasped.

“I’m HERE, you’re NEAR.” the voice yelled. Again, someone smashed into his chest. Lew dropped his phone and lost contact with the wall.

Lew felt like he was floating. Voices were getting louder in the hallway. The light was getting brighter, but everything was blurry. Lew felt something on his face. He was jostled as shapes hovered around him. Suddenly, he felt a warm blast. His vision finally came into focus, and he saw the flashing lights of the waiting ambulance.