The first golden leaves had begun to fall when Casper first experienced his curious curse. It had been weeks since he last left the area, living, working, shopping, and socialising all in a 4 block radius from his basement apartment. He’d been working just one block away at a small business operating out of a couple of apartments for the previous few years. It wasn’t the nicest of offices, but he loved working there. His walk to and from work passing a small row of shops, restaurants and bars. There was a doctors surgery in the building next to his office, and a pharmacy and dentist opposite his apartment. He really did want for nothing. So there was rarely a reason to actually leave the area. The occasional shopping trip down town, a party, or business trip out of town might claw him away, but failing that, here he could be found.
It was, with a chilling start, that he first discovered his prison. He’d been invited to a party at a friends house in down town, and was making his way there on foot. Walking along the small roads, filled with the ubiquitous two story terraced housing, he turned down an alley way short cut and found himself somewhere else. He came to a crashing stall. He turned and the alley way was gone. Rather than coming out on the outskirts of down town, he found himself standing outside his own apartment. How had he gotten here? As the hairs on his neck stood up, he started walking back towards the party, trying to convince himself that he had imagined it all.
When he reached the alley way he paused. Looking deep into the opening, the dark shadows daring him to turn back. His fists tightened as he took a deep breath and stepped into the abyss. With each step the darkness closed in, his heart rate thundered, his breathing deepened, and his fear rose. With a final, staggering step he fell through the exit and stumbled, landing on all fours. He stayed there for some time, unwilling to raise his head to see where he was. Too scared to face what might be. Too concerned it might have happened again.
After a time, minutes or hours he could never say, he summoned his courage. He closed his eyes and climbed to his feet. Counting silently to three, lips moving, but no sound escaping, he slowly opened his eyes and stared, dumbfounded at his own apartment. He had lost his mind. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Again and again, he raced through the alley way only to find himself back home. He tried different routes, hoping the alley way was the cause of his troubles. He skipped out the short cut, simply following the roads, even taking the long way around. It made no difference. Whenever he got to more than 4 blocks from his house he would find himself, inexplicably, back outside his small basement apartment. Eventually, exhausted, defeated, he gave in and descended the small flight of stairs and entered his apartment. Lying down in his bed he stared upwards at the ceiling for hours, before sleep finally took him.
The next day he awoke in a dazed state, convinced he had had the most unfathomable dream. He showered, dressed, and headed out for work, paying deeper attention to the rich world around him that he had ever before. Watching the people, some neighbours, some total strangers, as they left their homes to head out on their day. The parents with their push chairs, walking two abreast down the small pavements, causing others to quickly jump in and out of the road, narrowly dodging traffic. The students, in their multitudes, racing to the bus stops to head off to university. The dogs tied up outside the shops, patiently waiting for their master, or yapping at every passer-by.
After work he headed directly home, resisting the temptation to try to leave the area again. Deep into the night, still unable to sleep, his resolve to remain gave way. He flung his door open and fled his home. The door left swinging in the wind behind him, he raced directly down his road. Sweat started to form as he pushed himself onward. Never letting up the pace, he came flying up towards the 4 block limit from the previous night and, screaming with all his might, crashed on through directly back to his apartment. He collapsed, tears streaming down his face as he contemplated his new world reality.
Over the coming weeks he attempted to leave the area, but never with any success. He contemplated telling someone. Friends, family, colleagues, the police, his doctor. But what would they think? They’d think he was crazy. They’d probably be right, after all, he himself thought he was crazy. Come spring he had given up trying to leave the area, and come summer he had finally adjusted to his closed off life. He made excuses for parties, and instead hosted friends at his place. He dodged invites to meet down town and relocated to the local alternatives whenever possible. He managed to change his meetings to on-line sessions rather than site visits, or convinced a colleague to take his place when this wasn’t possible. Nobody seemed to notice that he never left the area, but then why should they? They had their own lives to worry about. Their own problems. Regardless, he was adapting well.
By the time summer gave way to autumn, he had almost forgotten about his little 4 block prison. Content in the fact that he would never again need to leave his cell. Making his way to work, the leaves were starting to fall again, and he felt totally at peace. When he entered the office, there was an excited buzz in the atmosphere. People were smiling and chatting. Business had been good, maybe we’d won another big client, he thought to himself. “Hey, Casper, have you heard the news?” a colleague shouted as he took his seat, “the company have bought a new office. As of tomorrow, we finally get to work with the big boys, down town!”