I woke up.
But not where I expected, oh no, not even close.
I woke up in a strange town, a river to my right, houses to my left.
But not ordinary, not even close.
Everywhere, something was... off.
The whole place shimmered, as if it was flickering in and out of existence. The way the water flowed, it seemed to shine from above and
below. And the people. The people were the strangest part. They appeared and disappeared before my very eyes. They talked in a language like English, but it hurt to concentrate on it very much. And they changed. Their appearance and clothes - I would blink and they would look a bit taller, or maybe shorter. That person's hair was black a moment ago, now it's brown. And I'm pretty sure she was wearing a dress, and now pants.
Is this place a dream?
I felt my hands, my clothes were intact. I took out my wallet, and everything was still there.
How can this be?
A stranger approached.
She walked up to me, and said, "Hello! Are you new?"
"Yes," I nervously said. "Where is here?"
"Oh! Welcome to Reality
. This is Sacramento
"What?" I said, straining to understand the words.
She was speaking in sounds - and - something else.
I couldn't put my finger on it, it just felt different. Wrong. She was speaking in a way that couldn't be done. She spoke meaning itself. Her thoughts became words. This penetrated my mind - like a blind man who had just seen color. There was no comparison for this experience. I had no reference point.
And the strangest part was - I understood her. As if I had been gifted not just sight, but the knowledge to parse it. This was the first moment in which I realized that I had changed by coming to this place.
I stood up. And said the first thing that came to mind.
"This looks like a nice place and all, but how do I get back home? To Cleveland? On Earth?"
She looked at me quizzically - then said, "I have never heard of such a place, but there is a rumor of an interdimensional Federation beyond the bounds of Reality
. They could take you anywhere
An interdimensional Federation? I feel I'd scarcely heard either word before today, but at least they were ones I could understand normally.
"Sure, they sound capable enough, how do I meet them?"
"The portal to exit Reality
is on the other side
. It is a very long journey! I don't know anyone who's been there, I've just heard about it in passing."
This lead just got a bit colder, and with more of those words I couldn't seem to comprehend. Well, I could, but I didn't want to think on them for too long. It was similar to the feeling when you read a word too many times and it stops looking like a word anymore? It's like that, but for things I'd never seen once.
"I'm willing to ask around, unless you have a better idea?"
"I don't know, but someone else might," she said, "strange for a person to want to leave just when they've been created
"I... don't think I was created
here," I said, "but... that's why I want to get back. I'm rarely one for exploring the frontier."
"Then good luck on your journey
I followed her directions down this shifting street, by a few restaurants, and over a set of railroad tracks. She said there was a train station nearby which could take me to the nearest... city? I think that's what she said. She didn't have a map or anything, just a general direction. I was to head to Volnar
, and there a portal outside of reality could be found. I knew this would be a long journey, so I settled in to walking for now.
This place looked a bit like a small town, what with the scarcity of houses, and abundance of trees. I was told this was the outskirts of a larger city, but it didn't feel like it. Maybe it was because I couldn't see very far ahead, only a quarter of a mile, tops. And not because of fog, or at least not any kind of fog I'd ever seen. It was as if the world just ended there - but when you approached, more got filled in. It lead to a feeling of wandering a maze, but one that people lived in, strange as they might be. Another strange thing was that sunlight just streamed from everywhere, no sun or clouds in the sky, just a strange bright blue - no markers of north, south, east, or west.
But the most amazing thing of all, was that despite my astonishment at every corner, no-one else seemed to bat an eye at me or the surroundings. Despite feeling more out of place than I ever had before - even on my trips to other countries - everyone else considered me as normal as them.
I approached what must be the train station. It was little more than a gravel walkway next to a set of railroad tracks. A small group of these strange people waited here, a few with luggage, so I thought this must be the spot.
I approached one of them, and asked if this was the train to... well, I couldn't pronounce the name, but was it towards the other side? And the portal out? They nodded in agreement, a bit taken aback by my inquiry about such a far-off place.
I settled down to wait, but was only there a few minutes before a large electric train pulled up to the stop, opening its many doors on the side.
Once inside, I noticed the train was rather nice and modern, and certainly very clean, if a bit cramped. I sat down on a seat near a window, as the doors closed quickly, and we took off into the forest.
Winding through pine trees, we went over a few wooden bridges, other tracks criss-crossing nearby. More forest greeted our view, until no more than 15 minutes later, we came upon houses and a low cityscape.
Pulling alongside a large wooden platform, suspended above the grassy field below, the doors opened and we all disembarked from the train. I followed the crowd walking across the platform and down a staircase out of this almost historical-looking station. Here I could see we were standing in a small city square, cobblestone streets all around, and a smattering of shops nearby. From here, I saw another small river in the distance, but was unsure of which direction to follow.
I walked up to a pair of people talking next to a souvenir shop, and asked them which way to Volnar
? I've never heard of it," one of them said.
"Maybe try asking the taxis?" the other said.
He pointed to another corner, with a line of yellow and orange cabs waiting. This city seemed too small for such an assortment, especially given we appeared to be nowhere near an airport. If they even had such things here.
I walked up to the first taxi, and asked if he could take me to Volnar
"I can take you as far as Grass Valley
," the cab driver said, "from there, you can take a bus to Tvozi
, they know how to get anywhere in Reality
This was the first time I had heard of either place, but having a scarcity of options, I took the offer.
We drove along strange streets - I can't imagine anywhere under the speed limit, if these roads even had one! Frankly this driver terrified me more than any I had known, and once we reached the freeway, things only became stranger.
Traffic sped along at incredible speeds, especially with so little of the road visible ahead. Cross-traffic was merely inches away from us at any moment, and lanes appeared and exited with seemingly no regard for logic. We passed under another street, and went through a short tunnel. Getting on another freeway, which was a tad more serene, we ended up in a small town, looking to be little more than a main street, with hills visible nearby.
I paid the taxi driver, and looked around for a bus stop. The street signs were all written in the strange alphabet I had seen before, and somehow I knew this was the same language spoken by the people here. The symbols and letters drifted together, meaning and form intertwined in ways my brain struggled to comprehend.
I knew what they said, but I could not understand the true nature of it.
I eventually decided to ask for help in one of the shops, and found that I had been wandering next to my stop the entire time. However, upon exiting the shop, a strange thing began happening. The world suddenly began fading, not as if it was getting dark, but as if it was going to sleep.
The world slowed, and my sense of reality faded out to black.
• • •
I'm not sure how much time had passed - but as if it had been just a moment - the world came to life again. Color and sense returned, and the light faded back in. I turned around, and asked the clerk what had just happened. She seemed a bit taken aback that I did not know, and the word she gave me had no relation to anything I had experienced. Apparently in this world, individuals did not sleep, but the whole world slept at once instead.
Shaken from this experience, but seeming no worse for wear, I headed back outside and waited at the bus stop. A few minutes passed, and I saw the light in the sky dim. I suppose it was becoming night - a strange thing for a world that sleeps.
An oddly-shaped bus appeared around a street corner, and pulled up. I asked the driver if this bus went to Tvozi
and he nodded his head in return, although indicated it was a long ride. Sitting down on a high seat near the back, we drove down the street and into the night.
Enjoying a much more pleasurable ride than the taxi - although still a bit fast at times - we sped through suburbs and country roads alike. Across fields and through patches of neighboorhoods, stopping every so often, for more turns that I could reasonably count.
We eventually came to a section of rolling hills, the view opening up a bit more than before, as I saw the road snake around and by what appeared to be the ocean. Coming across a few more stops, we suddenly came upon a great downtown, tall buildings towering in the nighttime, a few stars visible above.
The driver indicated this was the last stop, and so I got off onto the lonely streetcorner - a few others hurriedly rushing off to places unknown. I saw a light nearby, a small selection of restaurants open at this late hour.
Walking down the stairs into this small mall, I perused the selection, passing by a coffee shop, and decided to skip what appeared to be a hardware store. I settled on a small restaurant, appearing to be Japanese-style, and ordered a chicken and rice bowl with tea.
The tall waitress brought it over, and I tasted the food. It was quite good - certainly some of the most ordinary I'd had so far. Strange that I would consider that such a compliment in these times.
I asked her if this place was Tvozi
and she mentioned it was right next to it, I just needed to go up
. Not the normal up, not at all. But 'up' in another dimension, a way of traveling I could not see, but had experienced many times over already. She explained to me that through this mall I could get there, as long as I followed the stairways correctly, and chose to go up
instead of down
After finishing my meal, I attempted this small journey, heading down the hallway and through a shop, exiting on the other side. Here I saw a most strange stairway, seeming to flicker between upwards and downwards. Closing my eyes, and wishing for the best, I climbed up
Finding myself on a street corner, I could now see it was day, and I was in the most magnificent city yet. Supertall skyscrapers soared above me, both rectangular and exotic in shape. I walked around this city, marveling at the modernity. People wore what I assumed was high fashion, and this entire downtown could be seen at once, the strange fog seemingly lifted for a moment. As well, I could almost see a sun in the sky, as diffuse shadows were cast across the ground, never creating total darkness, but nonetheless making this place feel the most real yet.
I found a group of people walking into a wall. No. It wasn't a wall, but a kind of plane where vision ended. Almost like a sheet of frosted glass, where you couldn't quite make out what was on the other side. Perhaps this was another of those strange dimensions? I followed them through and found myself on the edge of a great ocean, standing on a walkway, waves crashing below.
I walked up to the railing, and felt the spray of water on my face. Turning around, the city was nowhere to be seen, only the strange glass-like texture, similar looking from both sides.
Having finished sightseeing, I approached a few people, and asked them the way to Volnar
. They said the fastest way was the sky train to Hawaii
, across the ocean. Now this, I had to see.
I walked back into the city, and found the building they had mentioned, a glass exterior and a large circular glass sphere on top. I walked inside, and saw a line to board the train. It snaked around the lobby of this building and into the floor above. Getting in line, I could see a pod-like train car waiting above, as a few people got in, and it took off into the sky. Only a short wait later, it was my turn, and I boarded along with five others. The door closed over us, and we stared out the window as the cityscape rapidly flew beneath us.
We passed effortlessly through those glass walls again, and ended up over a great blue-green ocean, waves sparkling below from the reflected sunlight.
Not five minutes later, we saw a small island in the distance, and approached to land atop a small metal platform. A single stairway led to the ground below. We disembarked and walked down these stairs, following a dirt road into a small town. The others vanished around corners, certainly knowing far more of where they were going than I, as I approached a smoothie shop to once again ask for directions.
He indicated that there were no roads or trains that could take me to Volnar
, but that the research institute on the next island over had an office in both places. I inquired as to what that meant, and after one quizzical impression from him - he explained that obviously the insides of both facilities were connected.
Following the instructions to find the docks, I walked along a dirt path. Sheer cliffs down to the crashing waves below were only a few feet on my right. I climbed over a rocky path, waves crashing in between the sea-sprayed boulders occasionally, and came to another small town.
Here I saw a selection of individual speedboats for hire. I was hoping they would look a bit more sea-worthy - but given the nature of this place - I'm not sure why I would expect anything else.
I asked around, and found a boat headed to the next island. Getting on, we skimmed over the waves, approaching what appeared to be another glass wall, upon the ocean itself. Passing through it, the ocean now appeared a much deeper blue, almost indigo. The other island came into view ahead, seemingly smaller but much more developed.
We pulled up against a stone docking port, carved-out structures dotting the rocky cliff face ahead. I climbed up a set of stairs carved into the mountains, wondering why this area appeared to be abandoned.
I eventually came above the rocky face, and saw a patch of grassland with small paved pathways leading in a variety of directions.
Turning around, I had my answer as to why the lower sections were abandoned. A tidal wave like no other I'd seen rose up from the surrounding ocean, and crashed mightily into the rock wall. Hopefully the boat had made it safely back out to sea!
Another wave crashed ashore, sending blue mist sparkling into the sky above me. I wondered if I needed to head to higher ground, but other than the futuristic-looking buildings behind me, this was the peak of the island.
Another wave approached - the water rose into an amazing crest, high enough to wash the island clean.
But then I saw her. The goddess of this Reality
. She had been mentioned a few times before, but I didn't think much of it. After all, everyone has a right to be religious.
But this was different. She was there, in all her glory, flying above the island. The water crashed around her - she waved her hands and it turned to mist and foam.
The spray hit my body, but that was no shock compared to what I had witnessed.
She floated down on a puff of fog, and talked with a few people before vanishing from view.
And with this, I felt the world darken. It was once again time to sleep.
• • •
As the light returned to the world, I remembered by quest. I entered a nearby building and found rows of people working on holographic computers.
Asking one if there was a way to Volnar
, they gave me a list of incomprehensible directions.
I thanked them, and entered the first door to attempt to find my way.
This room was a sizable research lab, or at least looked like what I would imagine one to be. People in lab coats moved tiny volumes of liquid between small tubes and spun them around in strange box-like machines.
I nodded my head, to indicate I was merely passing through, and entered the next room.
Here I found a towering spherical device, two stories tall, held up by foot-thick metal legs on all sides. A few people checked some graphs on more holograms, but paid me no mind.
The next place was a cafeteria, and it was apparently lunch time - given the variety and number of people eating.
I asked a few for directions, and realized I had gone too far.
Traveling back into the room with the sphere, I instead took a door in the back, looking at first glace to be no more than a maintenance hatch.
Here, I found a very dark hallway, lit only by the light emanating from a glass wall on the left. A wide variety of exotic sea life drifted by in the water on the other side, looking to be an underground coral reef.
Taking the door on the other side, I was now in another office. This one had more ordinary-looking computers - possibly even dated - and matching people typing away on them intently.
I took a look out a window, and saw a small river, and something I couldn't quite make out on the other side.
Walking out a door, and down a small metal grated stairway, I saw that I was here.
Just across the small stream was a massive portal. An art-deco engraving stood around it, and a ripply view of a city at night could be seen on the other side.
Two people stood guard on either side, as I approached them, crossing over the river by way of a small stone bridge.
"Is this the portal out of Reality
?" I said, not entirely sure how I managed to pronounce the strange word.
"Yes, but what does it concern you?" one of the guards said.
"You must have a reason to travel to Yokazan City," the other said.
I paused for a moment. I was sure of the answer, but it still took some time to properly formulate.
"I'm looking for a way back home. To Cleveland, on Earth. It's planet probably far from here, and much more ordinary," I said, "I was told this portal could take me to a Federation. And they could take me nearly anywhere."
"Earth? Sounds familiar," one of the guards said.
"There are so many planets out there I forget all of them," the other said, "but yes, the Federation can take you anywhere that exists."
Thank the heavens. The first person who had heard of my planet, at least!
"You can go through if you wish," the first guard said, motioning to the portal.
Great! My ticket back home was as good as stamped. Just walk through the portal, and I can be home before anyone had noticed I left.
But I didn't move.
What reasons would there be to not go back?
. . .
I thought for a moment. Then realized something I had known all along - but hadn't admitted. To myself or anyone else.
People don't come here by accident.
I saw it in the way people moved. Talked. Lived.
This place had purpose
- and I saw the maker of that purpose with my own two eyes.
It didn't matter if my home was ordinary, or this place was incomprehensible.
Or that I had accomplished what most here had heard of only in rumor.
What mattered was that I was here.
. . .
And I didn't want to throw that away so lightly.
What would people say if I returned?
Earth knew of no such thing as an interdimensional Federation. There were no reports of aliens or people disappearing into other worlds for days on end. That kind of thing, well, it just didn't happen back there.
This place, whether it was an afterlife or not - I knew one thing.
If I returned to Earth? I would not be going back as myself.
. . .
So what did I decide?
One of the guards asked me if I wanted to go back home.
I replied, "I already am."