It all started with the dream.
I had just gotten home from a shift at the shelter and was completely exhausted. My feet hurt, head ached. All I wanted was a shower, a shot of whiskey, and some sleep, not necessarily in that order.
I got myself taken care of and settled into bed. Most nights, to actually close my eyes would have taken an hour at best, but this night was different and I was out right away.
I suddenly found myself in a white room. It feels incorrect to call it a room really as the walls were so white that the seams between them had all but disappeared entirely. The only object in the room was a black coffee table with a small box sitting on top.
The box had a built in seven-digit combination code with dials to change the numbers. As I went to touch it, a person popped up.
“Hello there,” s/he said. Even after taking a second of pause to investigate the being in front of me, I was unable to tell whether they were male or female.
“Welcome,” they continued, offering a little bow.
“And, where am I being welcomed to exactly?”
“The center,” they said. “Welcome to the next step. Warning, it’s a turn.”
“Do I want to be in this ‘center’?”
“Ha,” they chuckled. “We don’t care much for ‘wants’ with these things. They kind of either come or they don’t. Few really want them because many don’t even know they exist.”
“And this box?” I ask, picking up the small cube.
“That’s why you’re here.”
“Why I’m here? Why am I here?”
The being took the box from my hands and placed it back onto its surface.
“To put in this code.”
“To the next step…”
“Yes, to the turn.”
“Okay, to the turn… Will I like this turn?”
The being laughed lightly again.
“We don’t care much for ‘likes’ either.”
“Right, well why would you,” I reply snarkily.
“Okay, so where do I get this combination?”
“You should know it.”
I found myself stunned. I had no distinct memory of this code I was somehow meant to know. No one had ever slipped me any paper detailing the digits to place that would open this lock.
“How… How would I know this number?”
“These numbers actually. Seven significant numbers given to you throughout your life.”
“Given? By whom?”
“By us. The ones who knew them before you.”
Despite my interest, I was beginning to feel confused. A sense of foreboding came over me, a deep feeling that I’m not certain I can fully explain.
“By you?” I ask. “Okay. So if you know them, can you tell them to me?”
“I don’t have to. You already know them.”
“I DON’T THOUGH!”
“You do,” they stated peacefully.
“And what if I don’t figure out this combination?” I ask, getting angry.
“You must.” And that was that, they disappeared.
I stared for a long while at the box in the white room. I picked it up, put it down, fiddled with the dials, and attempted to input some random options. No luck.
“HOW DO I DO THIS!?” I shout to the world.
There’s no one in the room so the asking seemed futile. Until, suddenly, the room shifted, and instead of a completely white space, it was a comfortable little office with a barcalounger and a bookshelf.
The shelf wasn’t any higher than my chest, but it was filled to the max. The books weren’t great pieces of literature or well-worn works of fiction, but instead albums, pictures of…me. I picked out the first one and began to thumb through the pages.
It was the album of my birth. Each picture held so many faces, people who were still alive and others who have since gone, surrounding me, holding me, loving me. Page after page, row after row, the photographs celebrated my arrival to this world. I closed the book in silent and happy reflection.
The front of the album was covered in beautiful markings. Strange icons and symbols that made little sense to me, although they seemed to work together. One glyph stood out amongst the others: a line over an inverted triangle over a crescent moon with small curves encasing a single dot.
Three. The day of my birth, the first number significant to me.
I put it into the box. The dials clicked and turned into place, and when it settled, a dim green light appeared, shining from behind the number.
“Must be right.”
I returned to the bookshelf, feeling slightly more capable than before.
I looked through a few more albums, before finding one that was as ornately decorated as the first had been. The signs and symbols on the front were different, however, they didn’t seem as celebratory. They felt grim. I opened the cover to find a blank page. In fact, most of the pages in the large album were blank. I ran my thumb along the edge until I found a break that stuck out. A lone picture of a young me, laying on a bed, crying.
“Six.” The number came to me clear as a bell. “It has to be six.”
I put the figure into the box and low and behold, the green light got brighter.
“Okay, I’ve got this – two out of seven, we’re almost there!”
On to another album, another chapter.
The next book was very small, nothing more than a short pamphlet really, but there were three sections to it.
The first was a woman I knew, but didn’t know. Tina Turner, a star beyond stars. I Might Have Been Queen” titled the page, my favorite song from her 1984 album. I could hear the lyrics play as I studied the pictures of myself dressed as Tina every year for Halloween.
“Soul Survi-vah, on the riv-vahhh, but it won’t stop…”
The photos are adorable and I find myself leering lovingly at the spunky young girl, rocking her heart out into her pink plastic microphone.
“Soul survi-vah, on the riv’vahh, but it won’t stop. I know the sacred combination. Soul survi-vah on the riv-vahh, but it won’t stop.” The song played on in the background.
The second section was just one photo, taken not so long ago. There I sat, in an overstuffed chair, with my newly checked out library book in hand: ‘1984’ by George Orwell.
“Hmm… Okay. Seems the next number has something to do with the year I’d guess.”
I tried a variation of combinations: 198, 984, 489, 891. Nothing. I turned to the third section of the album, and there I was, sitting at the computer creating my first ever email account.
I input the numbers and on came the green light.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. “I really was given these numbers, over time. Only two left.”
There were at least a hundred more albums on the shelf.
“Which do I choose next?”
BUMP, BUMP, BUMP.
“What in the hell is that?”
BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, BUMP…
“Sounds like… music. Carribean music. No, Cuban music!”
A colorful spine caught my attention as its baseline seemed to rock the shelf that held it. I grabbed it from its space and was delighted to find the inside filled with sunlight. The book was shining and emitting sounds despite any obvious reason as to why or how. The beat was beautiful and movement was inescapable. I started to dance and wiggle, and without ever getting to the pictures, I knew the number was seven.
“This is Cuba, where I got my domino necklace.”
It was a charm that had arrived in my life upon traveling to the small island and had not left my person since. I put the number in. No green light appeared.
“It must be seven, it has to be.” I tried putting the number in again. Still no light.
I looked through the pictures which were indeed of myself and the necklace; dancing, eating, singing, learning.
“That must be it, there’s something wrong.”
I looked through every photo, coming upon the final two. One of my mother holding a tiny baby in her arms, eyes brimmed with heavy tears, and another, a close up of the domino: six and one.
“Oh my god.”
I remembered back through the stories of my childhood, my mother telling me of her difficulties having children. Six miscarriages she had around me. Three before and three after. I was the one in the center. The one in six.
Carefully I put the numbers into the box, hoping I was right. The little green light flashed proving I was.
“3-6-9-4-8-1-6. That’s the combination?”
Up popped the person.
“Hello,” I say. “Did I do it? Did I solve the puzzle?”
“Not much to solve really, you already knew the code.”
“Can’t you just be happy for me huh? Proud? Nothing?”
“Congratulations,” they said flatly.
“Well thanks. Now what?”
“I have, I found all the numbers I needed.” I turned to the box.
“Hey! What the heck? There’s an extra digit. You said it was only seven!”
“I lied. Sort of.”
“Well, where do I get the last one?”
“You don’t get it, you give it.”
“The last number is not for you to find, but instead for you to give to the next one who will need to enter it.”
“I have to come up with the next one? How do I choose?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Well, how did you choose the number you gave?”
“I can’t tell you that either. Mostly because it’s been so long I actually don’t even remember.”
“Great help you are.” I turn back to the box. “Okay, okay think here JB, think. What number would be important for the next person, the next… me, to retrieve?”
The room slowly began to turn back into its crisp white origins. It started at the back and moved throughout until the shelf was replaced by the coffee table and the walls were erased of their cozy configuration. The being was still there and they sat on the edge of the table.
“Don’t think about it too much,” they cautioned. “You already know this number too.”
“How did I get through my life never realizing I was collecting numbers this way?”
“As I said before, few ask for this space to arrive as many don’t even know it exists. Hard to be conscious of something that doesn’t appear until it does.”
“Your riddles are a bit off-putting, you know that? Just thought I would say.”
“You’re no expert conversationalist either, but I thank you for letting me know.”
Ignoring their last comment I searched my mind. What is the one thing I want to pass on to the next generation? What could fit into this code to make sense for them. I thought about all the albums and the pictures found inside. There was something that tied them all together, but what was it?
“Me!” I thought. “Duh – me. I’m the constant.”
“Almost,” they said. “Not me, but…”
“Not ‘I’, but…”
“1. One us, one life, one person, one history. I am one.”
“We are one,” they said, finally smiling.
“We are one.”
I put in the final number into place and the space around me changed again. This time the room was pitch black.
“HELP! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!”
“Then make something up,” they said through the dark.
“WHAT?! I’M REALLY NOT IN THE MOOD FOR MORE OF YOUR RIDICULOUS RIDDLES! WHAT DO I DO?”
“Imagine the path forward.”
“Imagine the path? Imagine what path?”
“Any path you so chose.”
“Imagine the path. Huh, okay.”
With a single thought, a path arrived in the darkness. It shined a bioluminescent blue light. I began to imagine that beside the path were flowers, and in no time at all, they appeared.
“I can bring to light anything that I imagine?”