Well, now I was the big prize winner. Aside from my mom, I really didn’t have anyone to share this with. I had drifted away from my few friends from college, and I wasn’t really close to anyone at work or church. Maybe that’s why, the more I thought about winning, the less happy my thoughts became. It seemed like all of the color was draining from my world and the future was a black pit opening before me.
Work for me the next day was almost surreal. I had this big secret that no one else knew, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. If I told them, they would congratulate me and expect me to be happy, and I really didn’t feel that way. Besides, they were all so caught up in the workplace drama that I went unnoticed, as usual. When I was changing after my shift, I took all of my personal stuff home and put all of my work stuff in my locker and took the lock with me without even thinking about it. I had made a decision without ever consciously realizing it and never looked back. I then found myself home without even remembering the drive there.
“How was work today sweetie?”
“Mom, how about we take some of that contest money and go out to dinner someplace nice? Your choice.”
“Allen? This is a little sudden. Is something up?”
“This whole contest thing has really got me thinking. I’d like to talk to you about it.”
I’m sure she could tell something was up with me, because she looked at me hard but she didn’t comment on it. “OK, I’ll need a little bit to get ready, and you should get ready as well.”
We ended up just talking about my life growing up for the most part. I only mentioned in passing that I had decided to go on the contest trip as soon as possible and then turned the conversation back to reminiscing. It was a nice enough evening, but my heart wasn’t really in it, and nice restaurants that you have to dress up for make me really uncomfortable.
When we got home, I immediately got online and followed the directions that came with the airline ticket. I was connected with a Prometheus travel specialist by video chat almost immediately. When I asked how soon I could arrange for the trip, she surprised me by saying that I could leave tonight if I wanted to.
I considered this for a moment and replied that tomorrow morning would be fine and had my itinerary within five minutes.
My mom found me pulling an ancient, moldy smelling suitcase out of the attic. I expected her to ask me a bunch of questions and lecture me on the answers, but she just quietly helped me pack. (This was a good thing as I would have forgotten at least two-thirds of the things I needed if left to myself.)
After a night of restless sleep, mom dropped me off at the airport on her way to work. I went up to the baggage counter and got my first surprise of the day. When the lady at the counter ran my ticket, she gave a surprised “oh” and quickly called someone else over.
The new lady checked out the information on the screen, and gave me a winning smile, “If you would be so kind as to follow me, sir?”
I was immediately suspicious and began wondering if they thought I was a terrorist or and escaped felon, but I followed her anyway. I was led, not to an out of sight holding cell, but to a VIP lounge. You know those places where they have big comfy chairs, harp player in the corner and a waitress serving snacks and drinks on a tray while you wait? Me neither. It actually wasn’t as posh as they show in the movies, but it was a heck of a lot better than the standard waiting area.
It did have a small bar area where you could get complementary drinks and snacks, and that led to my first mistake of the day. I thought I would be safe enough eating a few snacks until my flight arrived. The problem was that I had arrived early and the flight was delayed and I ended up with over a two hour wait. Now I have a bad habit of eating when I’m nervous and I felt quite out of place in my old jeans and T-shirt in a first class lounge. I really hadn’t noticed how much I’d eaten until I stood up when my flight was called and instantly felt bloated and nauseous. That was when I realized that I had eaten three full sandwiches, numerous bags of chips and drank an untold amount of soda while I waited.
Now that I felt ill and out of place, it was time to parade me in front of all the other passengers so that I could get on the plane first. I just wanted to get to my seat and hide out for the rest of the trip unnoticed, but that was not to be. I think that every stewardess on the plane checked up on me at least three times during the flight. The worst part was that every single one of them really seemed to want to do something for me and seemed a bit disappointed that I didn’t want anything. This just added awkward and unchivalrous to my list of unpleasant feelings. Let me tell you, this vacation would not be one that I would be forgetting anytime soon.
The flight of eternal embarrassment finally ended and I disembarked with relief. My stomach was finally calming down and I was starting to relax … and then she found me. An impeccably dressed young lady with far too much energy was staring at me like a hawk in search of prey. She swooped in and grabbed my hand before I could even think of escaping and said,
“I’m Karen, Mr. Spencer, or should I call you Allen? It is a great honor to meet the winner of our grand prize, a full tour of Prometheus Corporation, which makes some of the world’s greatest computer games as well as the most powerful military hardware … “
At first I was waiting for her to pause so that I could answer one of her questions, or at least for her to take a breath, but she never seemed to. So after a moment I just gave up and let her guide me to a waiting car while a valet brought my ancient suitcase to join us.
Driving through airport traffic did nothing to slow her down, although she did add occasional comments to other drivers to her monologue. A three hour drive from the Denver airport to the Prometheus Headquarters Campus didn’t even slow her down. Even the five security checkpoints that we had to go through to get to the parking structure never caused her to skip a beat. I had heard that there were some unusual people at Prometheus, but this particular lady’s gift of gab surpassed even my wildest imaginings.
She drove into an underground parking structure that was built into the hillside and found a place a couple of levels down. As we were getting out, a little electric car like a golf cart drove itself up behind us and waited. The lady grabbed my suitcase and hopped in, so I clambered in beside her and the thing took off down a brightly lit corridor. Since there was no way that I could question her about it, I had to assume it knew where it was going. We passed a number of similar vehicles going the other way as well as a number of cyclists and the occasional skater in that corridor, but no pedestrians. After a while, the cart turned onto a ramp which led to a corridor where people were walking and brightly colored murals covered the walls and occasionally the ceiling and floor. It stopped in front of a door with a display plate that read; VIP Prize Winner: Allen Spencer.
She opened the door and carried my suitcase in and walked back to the door. “… and here we are safe and sound, at your apartment for the duration of you stay, Mr. Spencer. My name is Karen and it was a pleasure working with you.”
I was so surprised that she had stopped talking that I couldn’t think of what to say before the door closed. I stood there in a daze for a moment and finally shook my head and decided to look around. I was expecting something resembling a hotel room, but was surprised to see that this was a fully furnished one bedroom apartment and a nice one at that. It had a computer with an associated entertainment system, a full kitchen, and even art on the walls, but no windows. The lack of windows reminded me of an ancient episode of the Twilight Zone that I had once seen where an astronaut journeyed to another world that turned out to be inhabited. The natives welcomed him and gave him a nice house with no windows, and then one of the walls opened up and he found out he was a zoo exhibit.
Then someone said, “There is someone at the door for you,” and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I realized that it must be some kind of door announcer, but I was still flustered as I opened the door. I was greeted by a blond woman with a warm smile in bright clothing.
“Hello, I’m Sylvia Lawrence.”
I took her hand, “Allen Spencer.”
“I know. It’s on the door. May I come in?”
“I’m going to be guiding you during your stay.” She went over to my suitcase and opened it without so much as looking at me for permission. “Let’s find you something appropriate to change into and then we’ll head out for lunch.”
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