Falling Between Worlds

Part One. -Jeff-

Early March in the North Country-

He was driving his step son to school in a mild snow storm. As he tried to make semi-cheerful small talk the boy responded with a sigh and rolled his eyes. School was hell for this kid and he didn’t know why anybody would want to torture kids this way.

The driver could relate to that. He remembered how bad school had been when he was a kid, almost thirty years ago? He’d grown up ‘old’; understanding way too much- wearing his heart on his sleeve and having every angry kid in the school trying to stab it with harsh words and even physical threats.

His size had saved him. He was over six feet tall, with a wirey build. He wasn’t what you’d call muscular, and his longer hair (in those days) made him a target for some teachers and administrators as well as some of the other students. But he was quick, and the one time a school bully had tried to sneak up on him and hammer him with a doubled fist from behind, he’d spun around and stepped aside, the bully had slipped, fell on his face and skidded down the hall, screaming, “He tripped me- that asshole tripped me!”

One of the cheerleaders came to his rescue, “Bulloney! We saw the whole thing- Edgar Carson tried to hit him from behind and he was just too quick for him-“

The boy’s vice principal, who had never tried to hide his contempt for long hair on boys, and might have had a soft spot for Edgar Carson, looked to the co-captain of the football team (walking beside the cheerleader) for some kind of second opinion.

The co-captain nodded, “Carson tried to blind-side him. Then he fell on his face when the kid was just too quick for him-“

The vice principal sneered.

The co-captain nodded a kind of semi-acceptance, “We could have used you last fall-“

He had winced and shook his head at the floor, “I couldn’t catch a football to save my life-“

The co-captain had grinned, “Yeah, it takes practice-“

But here it was, twenty something years later, and he was dropping his step son off at school, feeling like a hypocrit defending the system every time the boy complained or wondered why he should suffer through the pain of going to school every day in the first place.

There was an area designated for drop off and pick up- He eased the van to the side of the driveway, stopped. The boy sighed, looked defeated and depressed, a sick puppy who doesn’t want to play with his ball or chew his bone… he waved glumly as he stepped back and then pulled the van’s side door shut- then trudged off like his book bag/back pace weighed at least a thousand pounds.

The driver waved back, checked the dashboard to make sure the door had closed all the way, pushed the magic button that locked all the doors, and looked around, blinked and eased out into the steady flow of half awake parents dropping their kids off at school.

The town was a small suburb or a widely ranging city. The city had ‘amalgamated’, gobbled up or incorporated lots of smaller towns and farmland around it. This morning’s talk on the radio involved farmers complaining that city planners had no idea what farmers needed and maybe they should de-amalgamate and re-gain control over their more rural areas.

The driver listened, curious, hadn’t lived there long enough to know all the ins and outs of local politics. He’d never heard of amalgamation- of bigger cities gobbling up or incorporating all the smaller towns around them until those towns were now districts- he had no idea how that would work- and, when the boy had asked him earlier, “Why don’t you listen to music like Mom? Why do you care about this stupid stuff?”, he’d shrugged, “I don’t know- I’m just interested in the weird things that people do to each other.” He noticed that the boy hadn’t been looking at him, shrugged again and nodded to himself, “Among other things, I’m a student of the absurd-“

The boy had looked at him like he thought he was the weirdest step-parent anybody’d ever had.

But now it was snowing and it was time to leave the boy in school and drive home-

This town had a small, fairly densely populated core, around a small grid of stores and businesses that had grown there in the past couple hundred years. There had been waves of development- Old stone buildings surrounded by not so old brick buildings, surrounded by post war single and one and a half storey homes- surrounded by new developments of single and “semi-detached” duplexes-

There were maybe half a dozen six-to-eight storey ‘high rise condominiums’ dotting the grid, a couple slight hills and valleys, a couple streams that flooded those valleys in the spring and a couple farms that had held out in odd spots, cows grazing in ravines and nearly flat areas between housing developments- roads away from the central grid tended to become less straight, more winding.

He saw a bill board advertizing a local fast food outlet and felt a pang of hunger, shrugged and followed the winding road out around a couple of the larger farms, and then back toward the grid, where he took a right turn and headed out toward the highway and the cluster of fast food restaurants.

McBreakfast from one and big coffee from another.

He sat at the light at the edge of Fast Food Land and realized it had begun to snow with a fury. “Hmm-” he made sure the coffee was secure in the cup holder, the McBreakfast sandwich was within reach on the passenger’s seat.

Some impatient jerk behind him laid on his horn and zoomed around him, nearly got himself killed as a snow plow veered one way and the impatient pick up truck veered the other.

The pick up truck driver opened his window and shook his fist at the van driver. He roared something, undoubtedly blaming him for the near accident- and then nearly got himself killed a second time when another pick up truck emerged from the white-out and had to swerve to avoid another collision.

Now both pick up drivers were screaming at each other the first one still trying to blame the van driver, the second pick up driver pointing at the first one and turning red in the face.

The van driver saw an opening and drove slowly out into traffic, turned and slowly made his way into the white out, half expecting to hear sounds of apocalytic multi vehicle crashes, “Sorry guys, I don’t want to spend the whole freakin day talking to cops about what I saw and how it happened-“

There was a red light at a crossroads. He knew the crossroads well, signalled a left turn.

The light changed, he spun a little as he turned, the van didn’t quite fish tail- and then he was out of the intersection in one piece and the white out was actually getting worse.

“Ah Jeeze-” he sighed, “If I pull over here- I’m liable to get rear ended by some fool driving blind-“

He had an impression of blue lights flashing, then red and blue. “There must be an accident somewhere-“

The van suddenly bounced and lurched, dropped and skidded to a halt as red lights reflected off something directly in front of him and he’d automatically hit the brakes, “What the-?”

For a second it was completely dark, then the red lights came back then his lights reflected off something dark and faceted in front of him. He felt like the van had rolled a bit forward and skidded a bit to one side.

He double checked, he had shifted into ‘park’.

He caught his breath. Whatever the headlights showed in front of him- looked like shining coal or black marble? was probably about twenty feet away. He couldn’t see anything but dark off to the sides and more dark behind him.

His cell phone rang.

He scrambled to remember which pocket he had put the cell phone into, found it, looked at it, saw the caller I.D. indicating a bunch of weird symbols, flipped it open anyway, “Hello?”

The voice sounded a bit tinny- metallic- “Hello- English?”

“What?”

“English?”

“What about English?”

“You speak English?”

“Yes-“

“You’re in the van?”

“Yes? Who is this?”

“I am Brendan, a healer- is the van motor running?”

“Yes-“

“Turn it off-“

“Turn it off?”

“The fumes- will build up if you don’t-“

That almost made sense- he turned the key, the engine quieted.

The lights were still on. There wasn’t much to see, “Where are you? I don’t see anybody- I don’t see anything.”

“Are you in gear?”

“Am I- oh is the van in gear? Uh, I just checked- it’s in park.”

“You should probably use the parking brake too-“

“Where the hell am I?”

“What can you see?”

“Uh- looks like a black stone wall in front of me, and a lot of darkness all around me.”

“Do you see any flickering lights anywhere?”

He looked around, “No.”

“Turn off your lights and keep your hand near the switch, do you see any light now?”

“uh- No-nothing… wait- there’s a bit of flickering yellow light- looks like quite a distance away- off to the right, almost in front of me-“

“That is us- we are coming, are you human?”

He gasped. “Uh- what else would I be?”

Another voice, slightly less tinny, “There are five of us here- Are you from Earth?”

He began to shiver, “Earth? Yeah-” he nodded tentatively.

“Okay,” it was the second voice, “There are five of us on our way to you, two of us have wings, one is me, and I look like anybody you might see anywhere on the surface of your planet. One of us looks like an upright furry faced cat, well maybe more like a Lynx, and the last guy looks more or less human, with a very pointed, almost fox-like face.”

The van driver realized he had gripped the steering wheel with his free hand and tightened, almost tight enough to squeeze through it. He shuddered, managed to relax enough to lean back against his seat and slowly release a breath he hadn’t realized that he’d gulped, released it through pursed lips.

“I’m glad you warned me. What do you mean wings?”

“Brandon’s about six inches tall. He looks very human, which might be an insult if you said that to the wrong person, but he has wings and he flies. There is another person with us, again, looks almost human, he’s more like five and a half feet tall and has much bigger wings, and he can fly too- just probably not in here.”

The driver nodded, “What do you mean, ‘in here?’?”

“We’re in a cave-“

He shuddered, then nodded, “How’d I get here?”

“There was a storm-“

“The snow storm?”

“Maybe more like an electro magnetic storm inside the snow storm- does that make any sense?”

“No- I thought I saw flashing lights, like emergency vehicles.”

“That could have been emergency vehicles. It might also have been something going on inside the electro magnetic storm.”

“Okay, so there was a storm and now I’m in a cave.”

“Something like that.”

“Where’s the cave? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

“The cave is actually a time and space warp- between worlds.”

“Between what worlds?”

“Between Earth and a lot of other worlds.”

He shuddered some more. The flickering lights were coming slowly closer. He moved the cell phone from one ear to the other, flexed the cramped fingers on his hand.

“So what happens now? Can we get me back to earth in time to pick my kid up from school?”

“Probably not- If the storm was strong enough there will be others that may be somewhere around here- or you may be the only one.”

He drew a long, slow, nervous breath- “I probably won’t be able to call his mother and alert her to the fact that I can’t pick him up- can I?”

“Probably not- But don’t try until we get to you-.”

He nodded, then shook his head, “That doesn’t make sense.”

“You’re probably in shock, don’t expect anything to make sense for a while.”

“How did you find me?”

“Um- We fell into the same cave you did-“

“Dumb luck?”

“Something like that-“

“You know what?” he shuddered, “I think the light I see flickering is a reflection. A couple more reflections have started flickering, and they’re like, maybe up the wall- maybe quite a ways up?”

“Yes, we are climbing down to you, it’s slow going. Brendan can fly right to you, but we didn’t know whether the shock would be too much for you, or what.”

He nodded, sighed, “I don’t know either.”

“Can you turn your lights on and off?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, then laughed as he leaned forward and turned the knob that turned his lights on and off.

“Yup, we can see you-“

“How did you know I was in a van if you couldn’t see me?”

“Um, Brendan is psychic-“

“He knew I was in a van but he didn’t know whether I was human or not?”

The more metallic voice was back, slightly less metallic, “I saw an impression of a face partially lighted inside a van. Is your van blue?”

He nodded, “Yeah, dark blue-“

He could almost feel happiness at the other end of the phone call- “I like it when I get things right-“

The other voice came back, “Would you feel better or worse if he flew down to you?”

The driver shook his head, “I won’t know until it happens.”

“At least your honest-“

Brendan chimed in, “More honest with yourself than most humans from your planet.”

The driver sighed.

“Okay-” the second voice sounded tentative, “Brendan’s on his way down to you-“

The driver swallowed and gazed as a small flickering light moved away from a larger light and flew in a circling pattern down and then right toward him.

There was a tick ticking on the window and the driver slowly turned to see a flickering lantern and an arm, and a face, and then wings moving in a blur, catching light behind the arm and the face.

He shuddered, turned the key and pushed the button that lowered the window.

“Hi-” Brendan’s voice sounded almost comical. It also sounded like it reverberated from the radio’s speakers.

“Hi-” the driver relaxed.

“Should I come in?”

“Uh- maybe the other window-” the driver opened the window on the passenger’s seat side.

Brendan flew up and around and hesitated a second or two before he flew in through the window. He looked for something to hang his lantern on as he stood on the passenger’s seat.

Six inches? He looked taller than the driver had imagined, dressed in brown suede pants, moccasins and vest over a light blue silkey shirt. Brendan’s face was extraordinarily young, and probably handsome, rounded and innocent looking with a slightly upturned nose, large brown eyes and a mop of almost chocolate brown hair.

“Hi-” the driver chuckled nervously.

Brendan opened something on his lantern and blew the flame out, “Nice seats-” Do you have an ash tray, or something I can put a warm lantern down on?”

The driver sighed, “Uh- no- ashtrays don’t come standard any more. Everything’s plastic-” he reached up and turned on the inside light over his head, pointed behind the front seat, “There might be a puddle of snow back there- if you’re afraid the lantern might melt something or cause a fire…”

Brendan’s wings buzzed, he lifted off and flew over the front seat, around and landed on the floor- there was a slight hiss and the little guy laughed, “That should do it.” Then he flew back up and over the seat, hovered near the cup holder, set the cool lantern down in the cup holder and flew a foot or so, landed on the seat. “Might want to save your lights-“

The driver reached up and turned the lights off again.

“Would it be polite to ask your name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry- I’m Dan- most people call me Danny-“

“Nice to meet you, Danny- We may be able to get you and your van out of here, maybe not right away- We might have to leave your van here for a while until we can get some help with that-“

Danny tried to imagine winches and hoists trying to pull the van up out of a deep cave. He laughed nervously at the absurdity of his situation.

We may be able to get you and your van back to your world, maybe even close to where you disappeared. Maybe in a week or two- Maybe nowhere near the time and place you came from.”

Danny shuddered, sighed, fell back against the seat, closed his cell phone and slipped it into a pocket, “Huh- it’s not even warm.”

“Yes, um, we weren’t using your phone. This was mind to mind communication.”

“But it rang, and your voice was coming from the-” Danny shuddered again.

“I made it ring, because, we don’t know how anybody from your world will react to psychic communication.”

Danny shuddered again, then swallowed, nodded.

He had the impression that Brendan nodded agreement, “If you want- I can ‘zap’ you with some healing energy, help you relax, maybe even fall asleep.”

Danny shook his head, “No- I’ll be okay… I think-“

He got the impression that Brendan was grinning sympathetically in the darkness.

“Nice van-” Brendan said again, “Nice seats.”

“The seats were actually nicer a couple years ago- They’ve been trying to save money and make everything lighter so it uses less fuel.”

After an almost awkward few seconds of silence, Brendan spoke again, “We have a small collection of cars and trucks and vans and even motorhomes. A van like this would make a decent temporary home for people my size.”

Danny almost laughed, “Yeah, a nice vacation home somewhere- near a lake or something.”

“Wouldn’t rust in the right cave…”

“I suppose this wouldn’t be the right cave-“

“We shouldn’t be stuck in here for long, and like I said, we can probably get your van out for you- Nobody around here refines gasoline, so you might not drive it too far-“

“Oh-” Danny grinned, “This one has the ‘Flex Fuel’ option. It can run on alcohol.”

“I’d be careful who I said that too- I know some folks who are really fond of their alcohol and might not take kindly to sharing it with anybody’s vehicle.”

Danny grinned and settled back into the seat.

“Are you going to eat this now? or save it? All of it?”

Danny remembered his sandwich and grinned- “Why? are you hungry?”

“I wasn’t- and not really, I can smell the artificial ingredients in this…”

“Yeah, sorry- You know there are rumours that bad people are trying to manipulate us by putting evil chemicals in the food we eat?”

“You’re not as easy to manipulate as most humans-“

Danny shrugged, “Always did think the stork left me off on the wrong planet.”

Brendan chuckled, “It’s a good thing I talked to some other earth people, I heard that you tell your children that the stork brings them- not many people here would know that.”

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