I ducked down a dark alley because that’s how my sister went.

“Nothing exciting comes without a little fear.”

It wasn’t her line. It was theirs. Copy-righted actually. You can’t even say it nowadays without your credits being debited a dollar. I always thought putting the word “fear” in a slogan was strange. Now I realized fear was exactly the word for it.

This dank endless alley wasn’t even the worst. Apparently there were doors deep under water, at the tops of the tallest buildings, and behind dressing room mirrors at bathing suit boutiques. As I walked further into the gloom, I told myself this was a long time coming. Before I even thought about life by group designations, I’d thought of myself as a first group kind of person.

And then the doors appeared.

Most people stayed behind during the first Elopement. Sure the impressive “They” offered A Better Life, but how could anyone be sure? Only crack pots went. Then only a few months later, the doors reappeared. And this time, someone walked out of one.

She’d been a school teacher here. Overworked, overstressed, unloved.

Now, she looked 10 years younger. And you know that feeling you occasionally get when, say, a hawk flies overhead? Of how miraculous this all is? She seemed to live in a constant state of that.

The second Elopement people left in droves. Everyone interesting. You think you hate that person at the party with all the stories until he’s gone and you realize all anyone else has to talk about is that five month old video of the dog eating the cupcakes.

For the next few years, I berated myself. I belonged to that second elopement group just like my sister had insisted.

“What’s here for you?” she’d asked.

And, “You always say you want to make a change.”

Barbara, I could have responded. But that would have made us laugh. Only now did I realize that the answers to her questions were “nothing” and “help me.”

Then this past Tuesday, the doors reappeared. “They” said it was the last time.

A Bouncer was waiting at the end of the alley. He had the same serenity as The One They Let Out. It wasn’t a creepy cultish serenity, but like he was mildly high, had just gotten a raise, spent it all on Chinese take-out and this was perhaps the best day of his life.

“Hello, mate.”

Mate, like we were sailors on the same voyage.

Screw Barb. Screw her and her walks. Didn’t she know no one left on Earth’s idea of an enjoyable evening was tripping over buckling concrete and seeing what wasn’t anymore?

My hands shook with excitement as I handed over my papers. My release form. My STD check. My proof that I loved life. That was a hard one. My sister took a cache of photos, cards, and letters of recommendation.

I had one sentence written on the back of a hamburger wrapper.

Wading in the ocean with my shoes off.

The bouncer flipped right past it with a faint, “Very good” making me think its requirement was a joke. Something they all snickered about on the inside.

“Looks like we’re all …”

I stepped forward. So long, Barb who wasn’t even tempted to Elope, not once. Goodbye constant television. Goodbye boxed food. I heard on the other side they didn’t eat so much as absorb aromas.

A beefy hand hit my chest.

“Whoops, one second. On the release date you’ve written a six over the five.”

We looked at my form. The Bouncer’s last job before closing the door was dropping the forms in a mailbox. It was symbolic. The postal service had been deserted since the first elopement.

I ___ of sound body and mine have chosen to elope to A Better Place.

The bouncer jabbed his finger at my affidavit where yesterday’s five was scribbled over with today’s six.

Fine. I had intended to come yesterday, but then Barb brought home Abe’s Fried and I figured what would one final farewell meal hurt? After that, it was food coma, and reruns and so what if today was the last day to elope? I wanted to go. I did.

The Bouncer and I kept staring at my release. Barb thought I’d gone for bagels. She was probably texting hurry up. I wouldn’t know. I’d stomped on my phone at the entrance to the alley.

“Paperwork needs to be clean. To make sure you’re certain.”

“But I am, this time.”

Okay, so I’d filled out all the forms for the fourth Elopement, too. It wasn’t my fault they aired a new episode of Who Did What Now? moments before the doors closed. Everyone who stayed still said the broadcast of that new episode was a government plot. Except for that elopement so many bureaucrats left, too.

“Rules are rules. Paperwork’s got to be clean.”

I knew if I grabbed my papers and jumped through the door they’d let me go. I was certain of it.

“Do you have another copy of the form?” I asked.

“Sorry, mate, I don’t. And we’re about to close up, so….”

“When are you coming back?”

I peered around him, inside the door. All I could see was a grey hallway. Only, the floor wasn’t connected to the doorframe. It floated an inch above it and a soft blue green glow emanated from the gap. The bouncer’s hand slapped my shoulder, the way you offer condolences at a funeral.

“Soon, I’m sure.”

What he meant was never.

It didn’t matter. I could change my life here. Before she left six years ago, my sister said, “Never mind what’s over the fence. Tend your own grass and make it greener.”

I should break up with Barb. I think I hated her. And I think she probably hated me, too. My job should go as well. There were so many great openings nowadays. Who cared if I wasn’t qualified? Look at George. He ran the zoo.

A couple jostled past, nearly throwing their paperwork at the Bouncer who laughed and waved them through. Then he stepped into the hall, and with a general nod in my general direction, shut the door behind him.

I was 43.

I should probably just marry Barb.

I shredded my paperwork. It wasn’t that bad here. At least I didn’t have to live with my sister’s disappointment anymore. I only had to live with mine.

And we’d been getting along fine for years.

Corrie Wang‘s debut novel, The Takedown, came out in April through Disney FreeForm books. She is co-owner of Short Grain food truck and is currently at work on her second novel which will release Fall 2019.

Dalton Pencarinha is a Charleston-based digital illustrator and designer. Find more of his work on Instagram.com/Dalton_Penc or Twitter.com/daltonpenc.

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