By the time I come to, I’m already running. From what, or whom, I don’t know. all I know is that my heart is pounding, my mind is racing trying to catch up with whatever happened to require me to run, and This. isn’t. home.
The memories return in flashes, as they are known to do. Confusion, pain, passing out. And now I’m in a “here” that is like my own “here,” but not. A world parallel to the one I normally live in- same neighborhood, except not. Same sky, except not. I don’t know how I know, I just do.
I realize what I’m running from when the car screeches around the corner I just turned, long-haired teen with her head out the window, a gun pointed straight at me. Shit. I try (again, my memory reminds me) to explain that I am not a threat, that I don’t want to be here any more than she wants me to be, but she probably can’t hear me between the roar of the car engine and the shots fired from her weapon.
I dodge. Roll. Get up and find myself… elsewhere, again. What now?
This place, I don’t recognize. It’s even more oppressive than the first, feels wronger for me to be here. There are people running somewhere beyond the fence that leads into a theme park, yelling… calling out a name? Someone is missing. Given where I am, it’s most likely a child. Never good when a kid goes missing, especially somewhere as crowded and noisy as a theme park.
But hang on… Is that him? I wander closer to the bathroom shed, having caught a glimpse of a small figure slipping inside. There’s a giggle, which means either the child is playing a game in very poor taste, or I’m about to get supernaturally murdered. Which wouldn’t be good, considering I need to get back to my body and get the hell out of here.
“Excuse me,” a frantic voice calls out from behind me. “Have you seen my son?”
Relieved that I am spared a gruesome otherworldly death, I point towards the bathrooms. “I just saw a kid run in there. Was about to check it out when you showed up.”
The man runs past me and rushes in. I hear exclamations of relief, more giggles, stern rebuke. Disaster averted, I begin to walk away, trying to find some way out of this strange place.
“Thank you!” the man calls out. I turn. He has his son on his hip. They are, adorably, in matching pink shorts and white tees, the only difference being the father has no hat to cover his bald head.
I shrug. “No worries, I was just in the right place at the right time, is all.”
“You’re not from here, are you?”
“…No. How can you tell?”
“We always know. The same way you know you don’t belong.”
“How do I get out?”
“Keep walking. Your body will call for you; you’ll find yourself where you need to be.”
“Just be careful. There will be beings that do not want you to go back.”
I think back to the homicidal girl I’d just escaped, and smile grimly. “I think I’ve already met one. But I will keep that in mind, thanks.”
With a wave, they set off back towards the park, and I pick a random direction to start moving towards. The city looms out ahead of me, tall buildings and bright billboards, all of it looking and feeling inherently wrong to my senses.
A ripple. A shift. The city looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. And then I’m back.
Not home, not yet. But close enough. The same neighborhood where I know my apartment building stands in my world. It isn’t quite in the same place right now. I should be able to see it from where I am.
A gun cocks behind me. Shit.
“No sudden moves.”
I slowly raise my arms. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“What are you doing here? What do you want?”
I hold up one finger. ”I woke up here.” A second finger. “And all I want is to get back to where I’m from.”
“So… You didn’t come here intentionally? You’re not here to profit?”
I laugh. “Profit? Profit off of what? I just got myself stabbed, and I’m lying in a coma somewhere on my planet, or ‘world,’ or whatever the term is. And I need to find my way back to my body so I can wake up.”
I hear the gun being put away. “You can turn around now.” When I turn, I see a little boy standing by the girl; he’s the same boy from the world I was just in. Huh. Interesting. Is there another me in this place too?
Raising an eyebrow, I ask, “Do you always bring little boys with you when terrorizing random people?”
“My brother is here to learn. We protect this place. It has the thinnest barrier between our world and yours, and plenty of people from your world have tried to take advantage. Create some sort of tourism business, as if the fabric could survive that.”
“I know nothing about that. I just want to get home. My body is in my bedroom, in my apartment, which in my world should be around here somewhere. But I can’t see it.”
“Tell me what it looks like. We know this place inside out. We’ll grant you safe passage. In exchange, you don’t come back.”
I reach out to shake the girl’s gloved hand. “Deal.”
Almost immediately after we’ve settled into her car, I hear growls from around us. “Um. What is that?”
“Shit.” She looks to her brother. “Don’t tell mom I said that.
“THAT is what we’re granting you safe passage from. There are things out there that don’t want people finding their way back. You’ve woken them up by coming here, and now they’re after you.”
“What do they want to do to me?”
“Whatever it takes to keep you from getting back to your body. We’re going to have to run. We’re sitting ducks in this car. They’ll tear through it instantly. But if we split up, they won’t know which one of us they’re looking for until – hopefully – it’s too late.”
Reaching forward, I grab one of the girl’s guns. “Guess I’ll be needing this then.”
With a nod, we shove the car doors open and sprint out in all directions. I can’t see anything yet, but I sure as hell can feel I’m being followed. Judging by the sounds that follow my new friends as they sprint off in separate directions, so are they.
The road gives way to dirt pretty quickly, and looking back I can see prints on the ground. Not human, of course. I try to run faster, and as I break out of an alley I almost cry in relief at the sight of my apartment building up ahead. Or at least, this world’s version of it.
The only problem is, whatever’s chasing me seems to have picked up on the fact that I’m the one its looking for, and is picking up speed. I’m going to have to fight the damn thing.
Pulling out the gun, I try to take aim at the space behind me and manage to fire a shot. I miss. Which only serves to piss the damn thing off, because now I can see it, humanoid, grey cracked skin, very sharp teeth growling right at me.
I take aim again, but nothing happens. The trigger is jammed, and I am screwed. As the demon thing bounds closer, I decide there’s only one thing for it. Bracing myself, I hold the pistol like a baton and beat the demon over the head as soon as it’s in range. While it’s still stunned, I stab the gun into its gut as far as it’ll go, which works surprisingly well.
The demon screeches, falls to the ground, and vaporizes like some cliche.
There’s a joke about knives and gunfights in this somewhere.
“You did it!” I turn to see the sister-brother duo running behind me. By the looks of the ash on their clothes, they killed off their pursuers too.
“Yeah! Your gun doesn’t work though. Please fix it.”
“Oh, no… You got Betty. She’s always jamming. I keep meaning to take her out of commission.”
“Doesn’t matter now.” I point to my building. “That’s home. I’m going to get going before more of those demons show up.”
I hand the girl her pistol back with a smile, and scruff the little boy’s hair. “It was really nice meeting you. Even if you were trying to kill me at first. I almost wish I could stay and get to know you guys better.”
With one last wave, and a sheepish goodbye from two (whose names I never learned, I’m realizing) I jog off towards home.
A ripple. A shift. The building looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. This had better be it.
And then I’m awake, stab wound and all. Clutching my side, I whisper out, “Thank God,” to the confusion of my nurse, and fall back asleep.
This time, I only dream.