It was all a joke.
An elaborate, cruel joke.
At least, that's what Rob repeated again and again in his mind as he was roughly pushed out of the building he lived in for ten years by a man he'd known for four of them. Somehow Dracula's daughter had gotten to those around him and they all agreed to be a part of this miserable, sick joke.
He twisted his head around to look at Jerry, who had the collar of his coat in a tight grip. "Jerry, please, whatever she's paying you to do this, I'll double it."
Jerry raised an eyebrow skeptically. "I think you ought to save your money for some help for yourself. Now, don't let me catch you around here again." He pushed Rob briskly out the door and onto the pavement.
Rob stumbled backwards and managed to keep his balance. Immediately he tried to run back to the building, but Jerry pushed him back again, using enough force that he fell backwards onto the concrete.
He stared up in shock at the doorman's cold, angry face. "You think I'm playing games, asshole? Beat it or I'm calling the cops!" He shut the door to the building behind him with a loud, final thud.
Rob slowly got to his feet, and brushed off his coat. "Loser!" someone called from across the street.
"Okay, don't panic Rob," he said softly to himself. "Don't panic."
Rob walked the ten blocks back to his office. He hated walking in to work looking like that – dirty, disheveled, and worn – but he had no choice. He needed help getting back into his home.
Brenda was just hanging up the phone at the reception desk when he approached it. Her pudgy face fell out of its smile when she looked him up and down.
Rob held up his hands. "I know, I know, I'm a mess. Did I leave my wallet in my office?"
Brenda narrowed her eyes. "I'm not sure, sir. Which office do you work in?"
Rob felt the blood drain from his face. Brenda was in on it too! What sort of hold did Kendra have on these people? Still, he'd learned from Jerry's treatment of him that it was better to keep his temper as long as he could. "My office is on the fifteenth floor, Brenda," he said carefully through clenched teeth. "The only office on that floor. The office I've had for seven years."
Brenda leaned forward grimly, the fat on her compressed jowls making her look all the more somber. "The fifteenth floor office belongs to Mr. Brick Dennison."
"B-Brick…" Rob sputtered, his eyes wide in horror. "And I suppose…you have no idea who I am?"
Brenda stared at him as though he were insane. "No. Should I?"
What the hell was going on? Disbelief and horror quickly turned to rage as he struggled to process this. "This has gone on long enough!" he exploded, banging his fist on the desk so hard that the Swarovski kitten Brenda kept on the surface jumped. "I don't know what that girl Kendra did to convince you all to go along with this, but I'm done!" He turned swiftly on his heel and headed for the elevators. He ignored Brenda's calls to stop, and tuned out her cries to security for assistance.
He might have been kept out of his home, but not his office. No one was going to keep him away from what he'd spent over twenty years struggling and sacrificing to earn. He strode menacingly towards the elevators and roughly shoved away the poor sap who was about to board it.
His heart was pounding in his ears as he rode the mechanical car up to his office. He tried to take a deep breath and calm himself. It was all a misunderstanding. He'd get to his office, see his name engraved in brass on the outer door. Julie would be standing there with her clipboard, ready to brief him on his agenda for the day. Bernie would probably be nearby too, wanting to discuss the week's priorities.
But as he got off the elevator, a horrible sight met his eyes. Instead of the brass plaque reading, "Rob T. Kingson," it read "Brick F. Dennison".
"No," Rob whispered. He was shaking his head from side to side, not even realizing it. He was completely numb with shock. He didn't even flinch or fight when two security officers yanked him back by the arms. He could faintly hear the exchange of words between familiar voices, but he still was in a fog.
They'd just about pulled him off of the floor and onto a waiting elevator when Rob snapped out of it, and screamed wildly like a banshee, "Nooo! That micro-brain and his lemoncello hair aren't taking my life!" He tried to wrench himself from their grasp, but he was overpowered at last, practically dragged out of the building and into a waiting police car.
At the police station, Rob was asked exactly what someone who'd violated the security of a place of business would be asked: who was he, what was he doing there. A search of his person yielded no identification, or, luckily for Rob, any weapons or other incriminating evidence. He tried to tell them who he was, but the NYPD's database had no record of a Rob Kingson. They quickly shuffled him off to a crowded cell and shut the door, forgetting him like so much miscellaneous clutter.
Rob hadn't expected jail to be so bright. The four white walls with a colorless floor to match, all illuminated by the buzzing fluorescent bulbs rigged into the ceiling – it made his eyes burn and he saw blue spots wherever he looked.
Of course, that was the least of the sensory assaults. There was the rank, stale smell of urine, the loud, cutting curses of the men around him, the seeming lack of any heat in the room. As he sat on the hard, wooden bench that encircled the little cell, Rob fought the urge to lean his head against the wall, fearing the layers of dirt and God-knows-what-else on the surface. After nearly an hour in the cell, however, he finally gave in and rested the back of his head against the wall, closing his eyes. He was so tired.
He knew that this was all real, that it was really happening to him. It was all too sharp and painful to be a dream. He had nearly come to resignation about his situation – nearly. This was how it would end for the great Rob Kingson – rotting away in prison, unknown, unremembered. Everything he ever worked for gone. It was his worst nightmare.
"Hey! Wake up, Sleeping Beauty!" a gruff voice shouted, followed by the clicking sound of fingers snapping together.
Rob's eyes flew open and turned upward to see the police officer standing above him. Had he drifted off? He'd completely lost track of time.
"What time is it?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.
"Time to check out," the cop said, pulling him roughly to his feet and pushing him out of the cell and to the front desk.
"Check out?" Rob asked with a frown. "Where am I supposed to go?"
The man shook his head and stamped some papers. "Not my problem. Keep out of trouble, and you won't have to come back here again." When Rob just stood there, in shock, the cop raised his eyebrows and shooed him away.
The cold air hit Rob like a hard shove to the chest as he exited the police station. It was night, and though the city was lit up from buildings to streetlamps, pockets of darkness dotted the landscape. On a chilly night like this, all you wanted to do was get off of the street and into a warm house. But there was no such place waiting for Rob. Everything had passed him by.
He wandered the streets, trying to figure out what to do next. He'd never realized how loud the city was, never having really walked the streets like this before. It was practically deafening. He almost wanted to clutch his ears from the layers upon layers of car motors, horns, people's voices.
As he passed by a greasy burger joint on one of the street corners, his stomach growled ferociously and a gnawing pain hit him. Automatically his hand came to rest on his belly. He realized he hadn't eaten since this whole nightmare started. He was starving.
Cold, starving, and tired. This was a new experience for Rob. If that witch was trying to teach him a lesson, it was working.
Maybe all he needed to do was apologize. He was reasonable enough to admit that whatever Kendra had done was beyond his ability to change it on his own. And after all, Kendra was still a woman, and twisting women around his little finger was Rob's specialty.
But how to find her? He had no idea where she lived or what her number was. And he certainly wasn't willing to wait around and see if she'd find him. He wouldn't spend another day on the streets. He simply couldn't.
He'd call Kyle and ask him how to find his former classmate. Even if Kendra had been able to manipulate everyone else, she couldn't have changed his outlook. After all, Rob was Kyle's father – you couldn't forget the guy who gave you life.
Rob walked back to the greasy spoon, and before going in, gave himself a look in the glass. He looked a little run down, a day's worth of stubble on his face. But his clothes were high-end and still in good shape, so that would have to count for something. He just had to play it cool and not look desperate.
He strode in, trying to look as casual as possible. He exhaled in relief when he saw that it was a young girl at the counter and not a guy. Being able to turn up the sex appeal just a notch would help.
"Hi," he said to her, flashing his most enchanting smile. "I've got myself in a bit of a bind. I got separated from my son while we were on a tour of the city, and he's got my cell phone and wallet. I just need to call him and give him directions on where to find me. Would it be all right if I used your phone?"
"Sure!" the girl exclaimed, flashing a yellow, crooked smile that Rob tried not to wince at. She brought him a black cordless phone.
Rob dialed the Kyle's number, trying to look as casual as possible. He had to dial it from memory, but fortunately for him, he was excellent at remembering complex sequences of digits. It had been extremely helpful when he had to do interviews and pull random statistics out of his head at the last minute. His heart tightened when he thought back to his old life.
The phone didn't ring. Instead it went straight to voicemail, and instead of Kyle's voice, it was the older, gruff voice of a salesman that met Rob's ears.
Rob held the phone away from him in shock. Had he dialed the wrong number? Avoiding the waitress's concerned stare, he dialed again, only to get the same stranger's voice on the other line. He was certain he'd dialed the right number. He'd paid for Kyle's phone, after all.
Gently he put the phone on the counter and began to walk away, ignoring the girl's offer to be of any further assistance. He walked to very back of the diner and sat down at an empty booth, not wanting to go out into the freezing darkness again if he could help it.
Rob's heart was pounding. He was beginning to develop a suspicion, but it was just too horrible to be true. No, it couldn't be what he thought it was.
"Having fun, Rob?" a voice asked him. Startled, Rob looked up quickly to find Kendra sitting casually across from him at the booth.
"How did you…" Rob began to ask. He hadn't seen her come in and sit down. Where had she come from?
She held up her hand to interrupt. "Not important. What is important is for you to understand what's happened, so that you can start to fix it."
Rob laughed bitterly. "It's an elaborate practical joke you've played on me. You've gotten everyone I know in on it."
Kendra's eyes twinkled like stars. "It's no joke. This is reality, or rather, an alternate reality to the one you knew. A reality where you never existed."
"You must be on crack to think I'd believe that."
"Oh? How do you explain the police department's database having no record of you? How would the newsstation have been able to remove your name and face from everywhere in the building overnight?"
"You've….pulled some strings."
She laughed. "Oh yes, I have. I've tugged on the building blocks of time and space in order to teach you a lesson. I hope you can appreciate it."
Rob rolled his eyes. "Just what lesson do I need to learn? That 'it's a wonderful life' like that God-awful movie?"
"Quite the contrary. I'm trying to show you that your life isn't wonderful – not by half. You think you've made an impact by pushing away all the things that matter most, but you haven't. I have shown you that the world doesn't revolve around you – that it can do quite well without you. Now it's up to you to make your life mean something."
"My life did mean something!" Rob snapped. "I led the life everyone would kill to have. And you've taken it away from me. Just like you did to Kyle."
"Kyle? Oh yes, finally, you think of him!" Kendra cried sarcastically. She shook her head coldly at Rob. "I wish I could say that the spell I've cast is purely a lesson in ethics, but it's also an act of avenging. You need to pay for the pain you caused your son."
"Back off," Rob growled at her. "I made sure he was taken care of. What does it matter anyway? He's happy and healthy again, and traipsing through Europe with that girl he shacked up with. He's fine."
Kendra looked down. "No, he's not."
Rob frowned. "What do you mean? What did you do?"
"What does it matter to you? Have you even wondered why you can't reach Kyle by phone?"
"I…got the number wrong, that's all."
She shook her head, her eyes full of pain. "You got the number right. He's just not there, that's all."
"Well, where is he?"
Kendra sighed. "You really don't know? Rob…Kyle doesn't exist. He was never born."