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The Essence of Reality
'Why won't the city just shut up?' moaned Leo Sparks as he rolled out of bed. It was the first day of summer vacation, but apparently the gods had decided to make New York City, normally one of the loudest places in the United States, even louder. He looked at the clock. 7 A.M. Once he was awake, he was awake, so he hopped up, threw on a pair of Nike shorts and some generic novelty tee; he had a vast collection of those ranging from ones that said 'Make yourself a dang quesadilla,' to 'I'd be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees,' and decided to be productive and make himself breakfast.
Living in a high rise had its perks and its disadvantages. Living in such close proximity to human beings, aside from family, can be a stressful experience, but every morning when he got up to make himself breakfast, he would stick his head out of the front door and smell what the other tenants were cooking and base his breakfast off the smell. Hash browns and sausage was on the menu for this particular morning.
His parents were still asleep as he entered the kitchen. He saw his phone on the kitchen counter and turned it on. Two texts, no surprise, from both Willa and Jeff. They both said similar things, but it surprised Leo at times how different they could both be for being his best friends. Jeff's text said, 'r u still up for the annual event dude' while Willa's said, 'Hey, I was wondering if we are still planning on doing our 'First Day Of Summer' adventure?' Leo shook his head, 'Jeff with his text-lingo and Willa with her perfect grammar,' he thought to himself as he grabbed the sausage out of the fridge. He heard the toilet flush and decided to make breakfast for the whole family.
Leo's family had originally moved from Washington to New York on a job offer when he was six; Leo's dad was now running the Central Park Zoo, while his mom worked at a law office a few miles from their apartment. Leo's brother, David, was currently attending Texas State University on a basketball scholarship. Leo, on the other hand, was a junior in high school, and couldn't be any different than his brother. David has always been gifted in athletics while Leo had always had a knack for humor and was always one of the top students in his class.
After the breakfast in which he and his father discussed politics, a normal topic of conversation at the breakfast table, Leo decided that he would stink no more. After the shower that took an excruciating 20 minutes of Leo's life, he was down 17 stories to the scorching pavement and was attempting to call a cab, something he had always had trouble doing the eleven years he had lived in the city. In a matter of five minutes, he was in a cab with an overly friendly man named Taj that smelt of spoiled bologna. Oh, the joys of New York City.
Leo, Jeff, and Willa had made a habit of taking the North Metro Railroad out to the East River every year on the first day of summer vacation. They had done this for three years. They would sit all day underneath the Cleveland Expressway and remember the good times, the bad times, and the times when they almost peed their pants from some emotion. They got off the Metro around 12:30, stopped at a hotdog vendor and bought three of New York's finest and then continued toward the bridge.
'Ahh, there it is,' said Leo. 'You know what this means, don't you? Another year of teen angst, drama, and pregnancies done with.'
Jeff laughed, 'Well, I don't know about that pregnancy thing, Leo, with you and Emily talking regularly'in the next couple of weeks''
'Oh, stop it,' said Willa impatiently. 'Let's just go under the bridge so the greater portion of New York doesn't applaud and cheer when I finally kill you.'
'She wants me,' whispered Jeff to Leo as Willa walked ahead. Typical Jeff, thinking the whole world wants him, thought Leo, if only Jeff had known he was right.
The East River cut New York in half. It separated Long Island from Manhattan Island. In Leo's opinion, it separated the rich from the poor. The group veered off the main sidewalk and headed beneath the bridge. It was a scorching New York summer day- 95 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Leo felt carefree; it was days like these that made him realize that life doesn't have to be an ever-growing rat race of wealth, beauty, and power; it could be purely aesthetic and amusing. The group neared the waterfront and could smell the river; it was alive in everything. The smell made Leo nauseous and his head began to spin.
Under the bridge, the group remembered why they enjoyed coming here every year: the sound the river made was tranquil. The sound of the water would slosh, hit the top of the bridge, and reverberate back toward anyone beneath the bridge. They could sit there for hours, close their eyes, and imagine themselves in a far off cave where no one could disturb them. This would have been the scenario on any other day except this particular one.
There was a pile of garbage beneath the bridge. This didn't surprise Leo much because there were piles of garbage all over New York. He still wasn't feeling well. He rubbed his eyes and tried to feel better, but was failing. Jeff and Willa went to look at the pile. A scream then cut through the air as Leo jerked around to see the pile of garbage standing up.
It was a homeless man, lank and mangled. His rags stuck to him from the heat, and his hair was matted and greasy. He was attempting to speak, but it seemed that words were failing him. Willa screamed and moved a far distance away from him. Jeff stood his ground and only stood ten feet away from the man.
'Hey, we're sorry to have bothered you. We'll just leave, and you can get back to whatever it is that you were doing,' said Leo, apologetically.
'NO,' the homeless man screamed. He seemed to have regained his voice, 'Please don't leave me. Please stay here with me, please'please,' his tone of voice had turned to a panic.
'Okay, okay man, don't freak out! We'll stay,' said Jeff in mock-sympathy. He made it perfectly clear that if the homeless man tried to mess with him or any of his friends, there would be trouble. The homeless man had not seemed to pay any attention to the subtle threat and continued to edge closer to the group.
'Jus'just listen,' said the homeless man, 'it's not often I get people to talk to me, and'and I just don't want to be alone anymore. Don'don't go! Just' listen to what I have to say!' This last statement was not a statement of pleading. It was a statement of pure fact. The tone of his voice echoed in the hollows of Leo's spine, made Willa shudder, and left Jeff blinking stupidly.
'Don't worry, we'll stay,' whimpered Willa, 'but, maybe we should get to know a little bit about you first. Maybe your name?'
'I used to be called something, but now I am just called The Truth,' the man, who was suddenly calm, said.
'The Truth? The Truth? Yeah, this guy is totally off his rocker,' thought Leo as he stared at the man.
The Truth went on, ''but now I live alone, here, under this bridge.' He removed something from his pocket and continued forward. It seemed as if he was only talking to himself now. 'They tried to ruin me. They don't understand what I had to do to get where I am'where I was.'
Jeff interjected, 'But'but what do you want from us?'
The Truth now seemed to change; his eyes were no longer darting back and forth. It looked as if he had seen something he didn't see before. 'Maybe you can help me.'
He extended his hand. In it, there was an ordinary key, something that would unlock a house or a car. Jeff, being the closest to The Truth, walked forward and tentatively took the key and returned to his original spot.
'That key will show you the way,' said the man. 'The way to the truth, and the truth will set you free.'
The Truth pointed to the base of the bridge, a large concrete beam about 10 feet away from them. Leo had seen it many times, but had never noticed that near the center there was a small keyhole. The group stared in amazement. They walked forward, as if some invisible force was pushing them. Willa turned around, and The Truth was gone. They reached the concrete beam. Jeff looked nervously toward the other two, and he put the key in the hole and turned.
Instantly, the concrete formed lines, as if there had always been a door and hinges there, and it slid open. The group walked inside, still dumbfounded by the actuality of this event. The room was dank and cool. Once the three were inside, the door shut and resealed itself. Their hearts pounded as the floor shook and began to move downward. The room had become an elevator. The only light, a small light at the ceiling of the cavern, was moving away and the group lost sense of their surroundings. They plunged down in darkness and had no idea of where they were until the elevator stopped. They were at the bottom.
Leo noticed that there was light coming from his right, and he could just make out the shape of a small room with something in its center. Words had failed the group, and Willa was crying as she and the other two made their way into the room. Jeff put his arm around Willa as they walked, and Leo's sickness was at its peak. There was a small book on a pedestal in the middle of the room. It was a journal. With a heavily weighted hand, Leo opened the book to the first page and stared at the entry, dated to three years previous, today's date. It was his journal.
'I can't even think right now. The worst thing has happened. Willa is dead. She was walking on Broadway Avenue and some bricks fell off the building and killed her. If only she had known how much Jeff really loved her. I can't bare to see him now. I need strength. I didn't even get to tell her goodbye. We made plans to go to the Cleveland Expressway and sit beneath the bridge, but I slept in. If only I wasn't so stupid.' The entry continued and filled the page.
Leo stared at the other two in horror and flipped to the next page. It was dated to two years previous. How could he be reading a journal from the past, when both of his friends were clearly alive? He read aloud his own words.
'Best friends are everything in the world to me, and now I have lost my second. Jeff died today. I can't even bear to say those words aloud. He was driving in North Hampton and some drunk lunatic hit him, and he ran into a dumpster. He was paralyzed, but his parents pulled the plug today. He was driving because I yelled at him, because my brother was home, and I didn't feel like going under the bridge, like we had planned, in honor of Willa. My God, I am so stupid.' This passage, yet again, had filled the page. Leo was almost afraid to flip to the next page. He did and he saw his own obituary, pasted into his journal, probably by his parents.
'Leo Sparks, 17, of New York was tragically murdered today by a cab driver. Leo was supposedly headed to Manhattan Island, when the cab driver, 43-year-old Taj Rehlevh was overcome by the heat, pulled out a gun and fired it on Leo. Services will be held on Tuesday at United Lutheran, on 43rd Avenue.'
The group blacked out. They awoke outside of the bridge, in the soft sand. They looked around, and then looked at each other. A silent agreement was then made. Wherever they are and wherever they were going to be, they would return to this bridge on this day, and live the life they had. For, without the bridge, it would have been the life they would have had.