It was a long, stressful day. Feeling a bit wiped out, I headed out the door into the night. It was quiet as I walked from my office to my parking ramp. It's about 9:00pm, the sidewalks were empty. I crossed the block without seeing anyone.
It's just barely warm enough that I've stopped wearing my parka. Unfortunately my long coat is thin, so I was a bit chilly. I cut through Engineering Hall for the warmth.
Engineering was as abandoned as the street. The doors to some offices and laboratories were ajar. I glanced in as I wandered by, but they appeared abandoned. I passed through the long building without seeing anyone else. All I noticed was the sound of my boots echoing in the halls.
As I approached the ramp I saw a pair of skaters, college age guys, trying to trick off concrete barriers near the entrance. They were quiet; skating one at a time. There was just the sound of the wheels on the ground, the silence after a jump, then the click as he landed.
I took the stairs up to the third floor.
I wandered to the far side of the garage, where I usually end up parking. An extended cab pickup and a little compact were there, but not my car. No problem, I must have gotten luck and found a spot on the second floor. I headed down to the second floor.
There were a few more cars, but still not my car. A quick trip up and down the lane confirmed that my car wasn't there. This was unexpected. Well, perhaps I had been unlucky and ended up on the fourth floor. It sometimes happens.
Back to the stairs. Echoing around the concrete I faintly heard the sound of small plastic skateboard wheels rolling along concrete. They were the only sign of human life and they seemed distant.
I headed up two flights of stairs and out to check the lanes. Still nothing. I walked up the lanes, then up the ramp to the roof. I've ended up parking on the roof before, but I couldn't believe I that I had today. Parking on the roof is unusual enough that I've always remembered parking there in the past. Still, it was possible.
I should note that I frequently misplace my car. Parking my car just doesn't seem important, so I don't remember it. Parking my car in the morning is worst. Mornings aren't really my time, I only have the foggiest memories of waking to my clock-radio, showering, and driving in to work while listening to public radio. This morning I remember waking to yet another boring discussion of Bush's current television ads. As the end of the hour approached Joy announced that in an hour they would have another guest to discuss the ads. I don't remember the topic in between as I drove in to work. Whatever it was, it was something I'd heard many times before, so I tuned to the 80s station. I remember nothing after that. I have absolutely no recollection of arriving on campus, parking, or walking to my office.
So, I arrived on the roof. No car. Very odd. My mind was too tired to be worried, or even concerned. I simply noted this as odd. As I headed back to the stairs again, I faintly heard the sounds of the skaters echoing off Camp Randall next door. There was one more option. Maybe, just maybe, I got lucky and parked on the ramp between the first and second floors. It's rare that I am so blessed, maybe it happens once per month. I find it hard to believe I wouldn't remember such a fortuitous event, but it's conceivable that I forgot. It had been a long day and my mind was tired.
As I headed downstairs, I considered the possibility that my car isn't there. It was probably premature to consider it, but as I wandered the ramp I didn't have anything else to do. I considered the possibility my car was towed. If it has been towed, I'd be out of luck. The parking offices are closed for the day. I would have to get a taxi home, then catch a bus or taxi in the next day, then spend time to find my car. Again, I wasn't worried, just thinking. My mind was very tired, I couldn't summon any emotion at all. I thought about possibilities as I head downstairs.
I arrived at the first floor. The ramp was, as usual, mostly full. I wondered if the people parking here ever move their cars. Perhaps they live on campus. Parking is expensive downtown, covered parking is almost unobtainable. Paying for a spot in the ramps might be a reasonable option. I wandered up the ramp looking for my car.
Still no car.
I briefly considered heading down to check the rest of the first floor, but quickly dispelled the idea. I had never parked on the first floor. I've never seen an open spot on the first floor. I've never bothered driving around the first floor to look for a free spot. It was time to check all of the rest of the floors again. I headed up. Still the only sounds were the echos of my boots and the skaters downstairs.
I didn't know where my car was and wasn't entirely sure what to do. All I could do is keep walking the ramp. I felt powerless, but I still couldn't conjure any emotion. I felt slightly out of touch with the world, with my own body. I felt I was looking out from behind my eyes, not through them. My tired but bored mind began connecting unexpected ideas together. It dawned on me that my own death might explain the situation. If I had died en route to work, it would explain why I didn't remember the trip and why my car was missing. Like Bruce Willis I might be ghost trying to relive moments. Death as walking through a parking ramp. Still, it seemed unlikely. I distinctly remembered making a coffee run with a co-worker a few hours earlier. I didn't think ghosts made coffee runs.
Looking back on this later, I think I remember the coffee run so vividly because I didn't have much human interaction today. I took a strange phone call from a woman asking about one of my hobbies, I traded a great deal of email, and sent and received some instant messages. I even briefly chatted with co-workers on a number of issues. But, with the exception of the coffee run, I didn't simply talk with another human being. Because I had worked so late I hadn't seen anyone, except the two skaters, for several hours. The entire thing left me in an odd state of mind.
So, feeling out of touch with reality I wandered the parking structure. Still no car on the first ramp. No car on the second floor. No car on the second ramp. As I approached the top of the second ramp I noticed that the sound of the skaters was gone. There were no other human beings nearby. I felt utterly alone.
I rounded the corner to the third floor. The little compact and the red extended cab Dodge Ram. No car. I walked down the lane. Then, hiding behind the monstrous pickup was a much smaller green car. My car.
As I approached my car and dug out my keys, I heard other people walking through the ramp. I heard a car start. I started my car and headed out. On the way out I encountered another car leaving the ramp and passed a woman walking to her car. Everything was normal.
Nothing had happened. I had simply overlooked my car. I hadn't walked the third floor lane before and the extra long pickup completely concealed my car. Yet, until I found my car I felt decidedly alienated. It wasn't scary, or worrisome, or exciting. Just alien and very, very odd.
Then I went and got some ice cream.
(In my defense, these sort of dark and alien thoughts aren't something I usually feel. If they were I wouldn't have though them interesting enough to write about. I have been thinking a lot about the nature of horror recently. I find horror role-playing games fascinating and want to run the best ones that I can. As my thoughts and notes become more organized, you can expect to see them with the rest of my role-playing notes.)