This chapter is no longer canon. It never happened. It is remaining up for the curious and because I’m quite proud of it.
Warnings: Language, hints of gun violence
Hannah – Monday, Sept. 30 , 2019
Joaquin wasn’t at breakfast on Monday. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen him around on Sunday, either. Judging by the scent drifting across the yard from the stable, he hadn’t been by at all.
When I asked Mom if she knew where he’d been, she pursed her lips and told me that was “his business.”
So he was flaking. Great. I couldn’t really blame him – after that stunt Ben had pulled with Omar, Joaquin nobody at school would shut up about him. Speculations flew around like gnats, buzzing with rumors regarding nature of his relationship with Ben, which, Ben had assured me when I’d confronted him about it, didn’t exist. Still, I didn’t wonder why wanted nothing to do with us right now.
I was still processing everything that had happened last weekend, though. Where had my father come from? What had he been doing in the middle of the woods? What did he mean when he said he “wasn’t supposed to talk to me?”
My head still spun as soon as I opened my eyes Monday. My thoughts churned, my brain alight with questions and not able to produce any logical explanations. I’d spent Sunday in a daze, and even this morning found myself feeling a little lost.
The doorbell rang as I finished my breakfast. I squinted at the clock, which didn’t even read eight o’clock yet; who was visiting this early?
Stifling a yawn, I stood and made for the front door. My mother had slid across the foyer already, and she held up a silent hand, gesturing for me to stop.
I froze. She shooed me away, and I looked at her, confused, but she kept doing it without a word. I slowly backed into the dining room, and I heard her open the door.
I heard a man’s deep voice, but couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.
“There’s no one here by that name,” I heard my mother say.
What? Who are they looking for?
I wanted so badly to peek around the doorframe to see who our visitors were, but something deep inside me told me to stay out of sight.
The man said something, and Mom repeated what she’d already told him, firmly.
I heard another voice, a woman’s, sharp and commanding. The floorboards creaked as whoever these visitors were entered the house. I heard footsteps in the parlor, inching closer with every squeaking floorboard. “I’m getting a reading of abnormality here,” the man said.
“We’re close, then,” came the woman’s voice.
My pulse quickened – were they looking for me? I panicked further as I spotted movement outside the window. I ducked instinctively, though I didn’t know why or who these people were; the situation sent a shiver down my back and overwhelmed me with a strange feeling of dread.
I heard the back door squeak open – now there was someone approaching from the opposite direction. Great; I’m the monkey in the middle. I stood and turned towards the kitchen, preparing to surrender.
Joaquin appeared from behind the doorframe. I looked at him, surprised, and he held a finger to his lips and extended a hand towards me. He cocked his head back, quickly, the silent sign for c’mon, let’s go!
I reached towards him, but hesitated. He widened his eyes at me, urging me to hurry up.
“No one’s here, Sam,” my mother asserted from the foyer, her voice strained.
“You know, there’s no reason to lie to us,” the sharp woman said, “we’re not the bad guys here. You know that.”
My heart beat so fast that it threated to explode. I stepped forward and grabbed Joaquin’s hand. He pulled me back into the mudroom and out the back door, quietly. Once we’d escaped the house, he let go, wiped his hands on his pants, and said, “Follow me! Quickly!” before disappearing into the woods.
“Hey you, stop!” the man bellowed as he barreled out of the house behind us. He pulled a gun out of a holster, but didn’t take aim. “Come back!” he ordered.
“Don’t let her get away!” I heard the woman call as she joined the pursuit.
“HANNAH, RUN!” Mom cried.
So I took off into the woods after Joaquin. I turned and went off the path into the brambles and thorns, the same sort of ones I’d torn through on Saturday. This time, though, at least I had shoes on. I praised whatever god was listening that my ankle had only been badly twisted that day and had already healed.
“This way!” I heard Joaquin hiss.
I whipped my head around and caught sight of him to my left. At the same time, I felt a blast of intense heat fly past my cheek. I had to force myself not to scream as I scrambled through the underbrush towards Joaquin. I found him standing in front of a strange, swirling blue light floating right in front of us.
“What the -”
“Not the time,” Joaquin urged as he turned to face me. He grabbed my hands and looked me square on. “Do you trust me?” he asked, his voice strained.
I opened my mouth to respond but couldn’t decide on which answer would be truthful.
“This is for us,” he said, pulling me towards the weird, colorful thing, “I’m sure of it.”
“What?” I asked, my voice shaking.
He shook his head. “You have to jump in. We’re not safe here,” he said, just as I felt another blast of heat nearly singe the back of my hair. I jumped forward, nearly falling into him, and he caught me and pulled me towards the weird floating light.
“Trust me,” he begged.
Finding my throat too dry to let out any sound, I could merely nod in response.
And then he fell backwards into the light and pulled me down with him.
Ben- Mon, Sept. 30, 2019
The silence instantly creeped me out as I slipped in the front door after school. I could feel something troubling about the energy inside, but I didn’t know what that something could possibly be.
“Mom?” I called out. No response. I walked upstairs and poked my head into her room. Guess she’s not home.
I turned to check in Hannah’s room for any signs of life. As I cracked open the door, I heard a loud thud from the ceiling. Curious, I poked my head through the doorway and saw the attic trapdoor hung open and a faint light shone down through the ceiling, illuminating the rafters.
“Mom?” I called up to the attic.
“I’m here,” I heard her say weakly.
“Whatcha looking for?”
“Uh… nothing, really, it’s fine, Ben.” She sounded slightly hysterical despite trying to mask it.
I climbed the ladder, no easy feat with my cast, and popped my head through the hole in the ceiling to find Mom frantically tearing through boxes and boxes of boxes labeled Oliver.
She dumped one out in front of her and clawed through the pile of my father’s old things. She threw a leather jacket to the side, and I reached to pick it up. I examined it as I said, “Hey, Mom, c’mon, don’t break anything, please. Let me help you.”
“No! I don’t need your help!” She snapped before she just broke down sobbing.
I sat next to her, feeling super awkward and not knowing what to do or say. I’d never seen my mother cry before – she’d always stayed so strong for us.
“What are you looking for?” I asked her at last as I pulled out another box with my father’s name on it and gently opened it with my good hand.
She shook her head, her chest heaving, and she clutched her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth while she blubbered.
I looked down at the box and pulled out a journal, the first thing inside that had caught my eye. I set it down next to the box. Mom snatched it almost as soon as I let it go, and she urgently tore through the pages, whispering, “this is it.”
“What is it?” I tried to ask, but she’d already hopped down the ladder before I could get the words out. I sighed and started to re-pack the boxes with all of my father’s things.
After I’d packed everything but the leather jacket, I looked at it for a moment before I slung it around me. It fit perfectly on my broad shoulders, and I smiled a bit to myself before I turned the light off and climbed back down after her.
I fell for both a long time and no time. It was, in fact, outside of time. Atemporal. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew it to be the truth.
I kept my eyes squeezed shut, but I felt Joaquin’s hand in mine, gripping tight. His touch grounded me to something here, even if it was only him.
Falling turned to floating, and I cracked my eyes a bit. I saw nothing around me but different colors, colors that looked otherworldly and new and yet at the same time, familiar. This whole experience felt oddly familiar. I could still feel Joaquin gripping my hand, and I turned and he smiled at me, a little, sad smile, and he pulled me upright. He didn’t speak.
I tried to, but I couldn’t hear anything here.
We floated, and I tried to do a backflip, for fun, to ease the terror inside me. Joaquin shook his head at me, but his eyes sparkled.
And then my feet hit solid ground, and the colors around me turned to grey, and the colors faded to sterile white lights.
Joaquin stepped forward and pulled me with him.
The woman leaning against a metal desk in front of us scowled at us through the strands of tight black curls that had fallen into her severe face. I hastily dropped Joaquin’s hand and blushed as if I’d been caught doing something embarrassing.
“Welcome, Peters. And… friend.” She cocked her head to the side and studied Joaquin for a moment. “You weren’t on the invite list,” she said with a sigh as she pushed herself off the desk.
Joaquin’s shoulders slumped and I instinctively gritted my teeth. I didn’t like this woman at all. She walked in circles around me, like a shark would surround a swimmer in the ocean, glaring at me. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Confused,” I answered honestly.
She rolled her eyes. “I mean physically, how are you feeling?”
“I feel fine.”
“Really?” She grumbled. “Hell. He’s not going to be pleased about that at all… at least I get to say I told you so for once.” She sighed. “How are you feeling, kid?” She asked Joaquin.
“I’m fine,” he said, shrugging.
The woman turned on her heel and walked through the door, which slid open with a hiss. I got the feeling she expected us to follow her. She led us down the narrow passageway and through another automatic sliding door. I glanced around as we walked; the florescent tubes washed everything out, but it was all colored in stark whites and greys anyway. It reminded me of an Imperial spaceship in the Star Wars movies, the ones I used to watch on VHS over and over after I found them buried in my mom’s closet in a small box labeled “Oliver.”
I shook the memory away. “Where are we?” I demanded from the woman as the three of us walked through the door together. “And who are you?”
“You may call me Denona; I’m in charge of the two of you, for now – I’m the one who deals with the newbies. Wright is my boss.”
Wright? That’s –
“Your father, I presume, Peters,” Denona said, as if reading my thoughts. She stopped in front of a door and waved her hand in front of it. “Here’s the bunks for the girls,” she said to me. “There’s some clothes on your bed. Go change.”
I entered and the door slid shut behind me with a hiss. The empty bunk beds stretched down the room for what felt like miles to my dazed state. I stepped forward until I found a pile of clothes on one of the bunks. I pulled the grey shirt on quickly. Nothing around here seemed normal so far, but at least the clothes reminded me of home.
I couldn’t even think straight. I closed my eyes, clicked my heels together and whispered “There’s no place like home” to myself several times. I sighed when I opened my eyes only to find myself still in this strange, foreign place. Surprise, surprise; it’s real. But I still didn’t know what the fuck was happening. Obviously, Joaquin did.
I stepped towards the door, and it slid open for me without any effort on my part. I stepped into the hallway just as Joaquin emerged across the hall, pulling on his red beanie.
Denona eyed him. “The hat isn’t part of the uniform,” she said.
His eyes flashed to me for a split second – or did I imagine that? He opened his mouth, presumably to argue, but then shook his head and pulled it off, placing in Denona’s outstretched hand. She opened the door and tossed the hat expertly onto his bed.
She continued down the hall, and Joaquin fell into step just behind her while I shuffled at the back, thoroughly confused. We reached a dead end, and she ushered us through another door into the first normal room I’d seen since we’d arrived. The wood-paneled walls glowed in the soft sunlight filtering through the large windows that lined the wall to the left. I noticed Joaquin perk up slightly as he caught sight of the myriad of potted plants scattered about in a manner that pleased the eye.
In the center of the room sat a wooden desk, framed by some nearly over-stuffed leather chairs that looked cozy and inviting.
“Nice office,” I commented, admiring the fine desk.
“Nice view,” Joaquin breathed. I looked up as he said it and stepped towards the windows, sucking in a gasp at the view. We looked out over the thick evergreen forest that lay in the valley between the neighboring mountains. A river wound lazily through the trees, bending naturally with the curves of the Earth.
I heard Denona sigh, and then a light clicking noise. The view outside flickered and blinked, morphing from a forested mountaintop to an ocean view. I stepped back, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Joaquin’s face fall.
“There’s nothing out there,” Denona said simply, rolling her eyes.
“Where are we?” I asked.
She pressed another button on her watch, making the beach disappear and pulling up a map in its place. It looked vaguely like the maps I’d seen in school for years, only… off. The continents looked slightly smaller, as if the edges had been swallowed by the sea. Florida had been entirely wiped away, as had many of the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Denona pointed at a pulsing red dot at the bottom of the map, explaining, “we’re in an old underground mining settlement in Antarctica. But you didn’t really ask the right question.”
“What year is it?” I whispered.
Denona crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at me. “That doesn’t really apply to us,” she said, “but technically, I believe the year is 3163. No, wait…” she counted silently on her fingers before correcting herself. “3173. But, again, that’s not the right question.” She pushed herself up onto the desk and leaned back on her hands, studying us. “The real year doesn’t matter. Everyone here comes from a different time, a different place, all over the world. We are, you could say, atemporal outlaws.
“It doesn’t matter what year or what city or country we all came from,” she continued. “We have the ability to travel anywhere, to bend time and space. From here, in this underground tunnel system at the bottom of the Earth in the 32nd century, we can go anywhere.”
“That’s impossible,” I sputtered in disbelief.
Denona raised an eyebrow. “Is it?”
I faltered, unsure. I’d just crawled into a weird light thing that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the woods behind my house. And then I’d fallen for an amount of time that both seemed to last forever and only an instant.
“Trust me, Peters,” Denona said after I failed to speak up, “it’s far from impossible.”
Ben, Tuesday, Oct. 1
I didn’t see Hannah before I left for school the next morning. That didn’t surprise me; she usually left before I even set my first alarm to snooze.
The unusual part of the morning was her friend Steph asking me where Hannah hadd been the last two days.
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully, “I haven’t seen her. She’s probably around here somewhere; she’s never played hooky in her life.”
“I sit right next to her in four classes, I think I would know if she’d been here, Ben,” Steph said, trying to sound sarcastic and rude, but I could tell she was perplexed and worried beneath the bitchy act.
I furrowed my brow and bit my lip, a nervous habit I’d inherited from my mother. “Well, I’m not sure where she is,” I repeated.
“Okay,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll ask Jamie. She probably convinced her to skip with her, finally.” She gave a small wave as she walked away.
“Starbucks?” Becca sang out as we walked out of school together after the final bell. “Pumpkin spice lattes are baaaaack!”
“Oh, uh, I was actually thinking about hitting up the arcade today and – what?!” I got defensive as I noticed her suspicious expression.
“Oh, nothing,” she sang. “You’ve just gone there an awful lot lately, and I couldn’t help but notice that someone named Dean signed your cast, and I don’t know anyone in school named Dean, so…” She waggled her eyebrows.
I could feel the heat in my cheeks; I knew they were crimson. I silently cursed my innate reaction, because Becca knew me well enough to recognize my blush as confirmation.
She smirked. “You have never been good at keeping secrets, Ben,” she said, smirking.
I ran a hand through my hair and shook my head. “Nah, you’re just too good at reading me, Becca,” I said. “Oh, uh, by the way, have you seen Hannah?” I continued, changing the subject off of yet another straight boy I’d become slightly infatuated with.
She looked at me funny. “Why would I have seen Hannah?”
“I don’t know, just, you know… around. Steph said she wasn’t in school today, so…”
“Miss goody-goody?” Becca rolled her eyes. “She must’ve had a valid reason, unless she suddenly decided to drop the sanctimonious bullshit and get cool again. Which, by the way, that is an epic jacket. You’re definitely the ‘cool’ twin.”
“Becca, c’mon,” I warned her, frowning.
She held up her hands apologetically. “Sorry,” she huffed, “It’s just bullshit.”
“She’s still my sister,” I reminded her.
“She certainly doesn’t act like it,” Becca pointed out. She reached out and squeezed my arm before she hopped off the curb and walked towards her car.
Dean wasn’t working today, the very bored-looking girl attending the arcade had confirmed without looking up from her magazine.
I thanked her and hopped back in my truck, trying to quell my disappointment. Without a thought, I threw the car into drive and pulled away from the curb. I told myself I didn’t know where I was heading and honestly, I don’t remember the drive.
It felt like I snapped out of a trance as I hopped out of my truck and walked across the pavement towards a group of guys sitting around, several skateboards strewn around them. They stopped chatting as I approached, turning to look at me with wide, gawking eyes and, for one of them, a full-on glare. My heart started to race as I recognized all of their faces from school.
“Well, well, well, look who’s decided to grace use with his holy presence,” the angry-looking one spat, prompting his closest buddy to kick his foot and shoot him a look.
I swallowed, my hands shaking. I felt adrenaline pumping through my veins, and my mind went blank – fight, flight, or freeze? I had the overwhelming urge to turn on my heel and sprint back to the truck, but I found myself unable to move a single muscle. This was definitely freeze.
“What brings you out to our humble neck of the woods?” the guy who had kicked the rude one asked, slowly, suspiciously, as if he felt the same way as his friend but had enough tact to not be rude about it.
I bit my lip. I scanned the concrete skate park – a few people zipped around on skateboards, including one on the halfpipe performing some impressive tricks. I turned back towards the group of guys and opened my mouth to ask if they’d seen Dean, but my throat was dry and the words stuck in my throat.
I didn’t know what I’d been expecting. Of course these guys didn’t want me here – I was a football star, a “popular” jock, and even though I wanted nothing to do with Omar’s crew (obviously) some of the non-jock kids still disliked me by default.
“Ben, did you really knock Omar out?” the third guy asked. He looked younger than the others – a Freshman, maybe – and he sounded much less hostile.
I nodded, holding up my cast as confirmation. The kid’s wide eyes sparkled as his face broke out in a gigantic, goofy grin. “Fuck yes! Omar’s had that coming for so long!” He sized me up, looking impressed. “Way to go!” he said, standing up and holding up his hand for a high five. “I’m Ethan, by the way. You’re not too bad, Ben,” he said.
I shrugged and smiled sheepishly at him in thanks. Well, at least one of them doesn’t mind me being here. The realization put me a tiny bit at ease, and I finally managed to speak. “Have you guys seen Dean around?”
The three of them shared a look that I couldn’t interpret.
“Yeah,” Ethan said, snickering and tilting his head back towards the guy doing tricks in the bowl-looking thing. I didn’t know what it was called – it looked like a dried out swimming pool.
“Uh, thanks,” I stammered, thrown off by his sudden amusement. I stuffed my good hand in my pocket and walked off towards the half pipe.
Dean zoomed past me once, riding up the side of the dried-out pool thing and getting some rather impressive airtime. He turned towards me as he rode past again. He didn’t do a trick this time, and he slowed himself down to a stop as he rolled back down to where I stood.
He kicked his skateboard up, grabbing it and tucking it under his arm. He shook his magnificent waves out of his face and grinned at me. His smile made me feel tingly all over.
“‘Sup, Ben?” He called as he took a step towards me. “Ooooh, killer jacket, dude!” He put out a fist, and I bumped it with my cast, smiling sheepishly.
“Those tricks were incredible,” I said.
Dean shrugged and averted his gaze, a touch embarrassed. “Thanks, man.”
I ran a hand through my hair. I didn’t know what to say next, and I didn’t want to stammer out something that might embarrass me. I exhaled.
“So,” we said at the same time.
Dean smirked, and I bit my lip – he looked so fucking sexy with that expression. It made my legs turn to jelly. “You first,” he said.
I shook my head, worried I would just spit out some incoherent nonsense and look like a blubbering idiot.
He shrugged before he said, “the park closes in like, ten minutes, and the cops’ll be here five minutes before that to make sure us degenerates clear out and don’t cause any trouble.” He rolled his eyes.
I deflated slightly. “Oh.”
He cocked his head to the side. “I’m having some friends over at my place on Friday, though. You should come.”
I couldn’t help but smile at him. I probably looked ridiculous. “Yeah, sure!” I said, too enthusiastically.
He chuckled. “Okay, cool… I gotta head home, but I’ll see you then!” He waved and started to walk off. “Oh!” he chirped, turning around and pulling his phone out of his pocket, “I’ll need your number to send the details.”
He handed the phone to me and I entered my number. I had to start over a few times because my hands shook so much from nerves.
“Awwwwwesome,” He sang, grinning at me. “I’ll be in touch!” I watched him walk back towards the other guys, and I couldn’t help but notice how he did a little skip-hop a couple of times on his way, which made me chuckle. He was adorable! He stopped to say something to his friends, and one of them turned to look at me while Ethan grinned and gave him a high five before he continued on his way.
I smiled to myself for a second before I headed back to my car. I could feel all six of the other guys’ eyes on me as I walked past. Ethan grinned at me like an idiot. The nicer of the other two studied me with one eyebrow raised, and the asshole shook his head and sighed.
I heard one of them grumble something to the others just as I passed out of earshot: “you don’t actually believe that bullshit, do you? It’s not like Omar…”
I felt my heartbeat quicken. I knew exactly what they were talking about – it seemed that about half the kids in school knew about my sexuality, even if they weren’t sure of the rumor’s truth, and the other half thought Omar was full of shit.
This was exactly why I hadn’t told anyone the truth – I knew some people would treat me differently. I rolled my eyes and sighed. I hoped I’d never see that rude guy again. Homophobic dickwad.
My excuse for how long this chapter two is summed up in one word and an emoji: sets 🙄 This was such a fun chapter to shoot, actually, save for all the stupid set building I stressed over only to half-ass in the end. I’m especially proud of all of the shots with the Vortex, especially the one where they’re inside it. And before you ask – no, that wasn’t Photoshop. In fact, I didn’t use Photoshop to so much as crop any of these because I’m super lazy. The lights are all in-game effects from the fog emitter! And the colors/DOF/AO is of course ReShade.
I have to warn you all that this is where the story starts to get kind of ridiculously crazy. I like it and I think it’s a fun ride, though, so I hope you’ll buckle up and stick with me through the nonsense. I’m currently writing chapter 13 and there’s a lot of stuff that still hasn’t been explained properly (on the page. I know the explanations in my head for most of it, of course).
Now I can relax for a few days before I start the work on next update – I’m hoping to get at least one more in this summer since I’m moving to NYC in September!