On The Shoulders Of Giants - Part 1
Footsteps echoed through the darkened hall. A large sign that read "Authorized Personnel Only" rested above the only door at the end of the corridor. Briskly and purposefully walking toward the door was the silhouette of a petite, young woman. As she advanced, she passed the shadowy outline of a hulking man leaning against the wall to her right halfway through the hall and started to slow. The man, without looking in her direction, spoke in a confident and commanding baritone, the woman halting altogether.
"In a rush as always, I see. Don't you have the manners to say goodbye to an old friend?"
"...I'll see you again," the woman replied assuringly after a short pause, "...even if it will be a while."
"A while," the man snickered. "Yes, a while. I've said this before but I thought I'd say it again: I won't be the same the next time we meet. Are you really prepared to face me in that condition?"
The woman smirked playfully. "If things go as planned, I won't have to. After all, we'll have him to knock some sense into you. That should do the trick."
The man stood upright, shaking his head and sighing. "I have to say, of all the humans I've met, you are by far the most persistent."
"If I weren't persistent, my wishes wouldn't come true. You'd do the same if you were in my shoes."
"If I were in your shoes," the man mused as he turned his back to her and smiled devilishly, "I would be crushed by the responsibility of my own existence."
The woman stood in defiant silence, grabbing her clothes as hard as she could to release her unspoken pain while the man began to laugh heartily. He then began to walk away.
"...But I suppose I have my own responsibilities to attend to. It won't be long until she shows up after all—"
The muffled thud of clothing meeting clothing rung around the two speakers as the woman hugged the man from behind.
"Goodbye, old friend," the woman whispered on the verge of tears. "Thank you so much. For everything."
A moment passed and she silently let go, turning and walking toward the door at the end of the hall. The man huffed in amusement before also starting to walk away. "And to you, human. It's been an honor to fight by your side. I wish you nothing but the best."
As the two shadows left in opposite directions, the woman stopped suddenly, a tear running down her cheek, while the man's footsteps start to fade.
"I wish you the best too," she murmured as she wiped the tears from her eyes and finally made her way to the end of the hall.
Still wiping the tears from her eyes, the woman approached the door, an out-of-place handprint scanner coming into view on the right side of the doorframe. The woman placed her hand on the scanner and after a short moment it beeped, a wave of light moving up and down her palm. It beeped once more, indicating that the scan was successful with a green light. The woman stood back from the scanner as the door shook, opening up right down the middle. On the other side of the door a small hallway appeared, much like an airlock, with another door at the other end. The woman entered the hallway and made her way to the other door, the previous one closing behind her.
After approaching the second door, the woman found another gadget on the right side of the door—this time a keypad with a display above it—along with a yellow box painted on the floor with markings that indicate where to stand. The woman stood in the designated space and punched in an 8-digit code into the keypad then stared at the wall. After a second the display above the keypad flashed green and a retina scanner popped out of the wall, scanning her eye in a manner of seconds before receding into the wall once more. Another flash of green light from the display preceded another keyboard emerging from a hidden pocket in the wall, this time on the opposite side of the door. The woman walks to the other device and typed in one, final password. Registering the code with a beep, the lights in the room turned completely green as the keyboard slowly retreated back into the wall and door to the next room slowly hissed open.
A wave of mist met the woman as the door opened further and she began to step through to the other side. The room was shaped like a large sphere, split by a floor in the middle. No other exit besides the way in existed. The woman followed the floor into the middle to the center of the room. There she approached a reinforced glass tube with a base which lowered as she approached it. The woman eyed the contents of the tube: a small, translucent, shining object shaped like a budding flower floating lazily in the air. As the woman reached the container the tube lifted from the base, more mist spreading out into the room. The woman slowly reached for the object but hesitated for a moment just before grabbing it. Holding the object in front of herself in both hands, the woman took a deep breath. She then brought the object close to her chest and it shone brightly, disappearing from her hands. The woman looked to the exit, then staggard, catching herself on the rail and heaving in pain before dragging herself back upright. Immediately klaxons blared to life around her and the entire room was bleached a deep red. Finding her strength once more, the woman made her way out of the vault back the way she came.
A moonless night sky dimly illuminated an expansive compound. The place was completely deserted, barring the insects making noise, with many signs of several years of neglect: heaps of junk littered the fractured pavement between several of many dilapidated buildings; a dozen rusting cars sat stoically on sides of the road, including one next to a garden overrun by weeds; and, among other things, what looked to be the upper portion of a radio tower half buried in the dirt. A section of trees overshadowed two neighboring buildings on the perpendicular curve of the road leading further into the location, the stars casting a faint glow over the green of the leaves.
Suddenly the bugs went silent. Above the buildings, the sky began to bend; stars extending into streaks in a circular pattern. A multi-colored shockwave erupted from the trees, knocking many of them over. Nearby buildings began to crumble to the ground, others more far away crumbled slightly, their windows being blown out. The stars continued to twist together, the wind picking up into a cyclone getting strong and stronger as the streaks coalesced into a blob of light that descended toward the buildings being ripped apart by the wind. The blob twisted as well developing into a cyclone of light that touched down as the wind reached peak speeds. Immediately after touching down, a deafening explosion split the air followed by a giant black and purple sphere with an undulating texture expanding and consuming everything it touches in a crimson tide—the remainders of the two buildings, the trees, the cars on the sidewalk, all swallowed whole. Eventually the growth of the sphere began to slow and it reaches peak size, silently resting in the night as the sky returned to normal and the dust settled. Finally, the sphere began to dissipate, becoming clearer and clearer until it all but vanished leaving behind a giant spherical crater glowing slightly from the occasional small patches of purple flames within its radius.
In the middle of the crater, the lone figure of a young woman with her head held low stood in the night. The faint white glow of parts of her flashy dress accentuated the ample curvature of her body around her chest and waist. A giant, elaborate, bronze key stretched from her right hand around the back of her long, orange hair and well past her left shoulder. The girl lifted her head and opened her eyes; two shining crystal-like pupils revealed her purple irises against the darkness. Without speaking a word, the girl swiftly swung her right arm inward and up toward her left shoulder, twirling the key in her grip to a more sword-like position, then swung the key outward to cut the air, putting out the unusual flames in front of her and leaving only her menacing glare and a sinister smile fully visible in the shadows.
The relentless droning of the alert klaxons filled the once-empty halls. Several figures in lab coats scrambled to relocate documents and machinery as several others frantically tapped away at computer monitors.
"What's the status on the base?!"
"We've lost all of D Block in some kind of explosion! But it looks like the rest of the base will hold!"
"How did we lose D Block!? Nothing was stored in D Block! And the reactor is in B Block!"
"Update on the reactor! Is it stable!?"
"The reactor is fine! All readings green!"
"What about the test subjects?!"
"No one can locate them! No word from the Overseers either!"
"Damn it!" the man said as he slammed his hands on the keyboard in front of him. "Did they abandon us!? What was all of this research for!?"
Just then the door to the room opened and the silhouette of a man in his twenties walked in nonchalantly. He clapped a few times to get their attention.
"Alright, people," the man began in a casual (almost arrogant) tone, "listen up."
The room stood still as mumbles of "thank God" and sighs of relief propagate among the scientists.
"This is not a drill, so move with purpose," the man said calmly. "If you're backing up data or taking hard drives to a safe location, keep doing what you're doing but move them to the living quarters. Otherwise, our first project is shutting down the reactor. We already have the maintenance team headed to the location. You should hear them over the comms shortly."
Many of the scientists took the cue to run out of the room with papers and machinery. The ones at the computers went back to monitoring the situation, one trying to contact the maintenance team over the comms. The young man who issued the orders walked next to one of the scientists, a woman, while she fiddled with various displays on the computer in front of her.
"What's going on out there?" she asked in a nervous tone.
"We have confirmation of someone on the compound grounds linked to the explosion," the man said while looking around as if in a dream of his own creation.
"Are we under attack? That doesn't make any sense! No one should know we're here!"
"No, not under deliberate attack," the man said casually. "The explosion was a preternatural phenomena. This event should be treated like contact with Test Subject 001."
The woman stopped for a moment in shock.
"You don't mean…"
The man smiled devilishly.
"Yes. By chance or by fate, we've found another one. Or, rather, it found us. We don't know if it's hostile yet so we've sent the head scientists to make first contact. The test subjects with combat capabilities are on standby in case we have to engage."
"What about Test Subject 001? Shouldn't he be out there too?"
The man almost snorted in laughter. "He would be, but I had a personal errand for him to run. He'll head there as soon as he checks back in with me."
"You seem way too confident about this. Are you sure those two are going to be enough?"
The man stared at the ceiling and grins, then turned to stroll out of the room.
"As long as I have my guardian angel on my side, this is all for the best."
At that, the man reached the door, opened it, and stepped out into the red-light-drenched hallway. Instantly upon exiting, however, he encountered a recognizable hulking mass in the shadows leaning against the opposing wall.
"Oh, there you are," the young man said happily. "I was just on my way to find you. What's the status of the base's interior?"
"No other intruders to speak of," the large man said shaking his head. "It would seem they came alone."
"Good. Now then, your next task is to go greet our unwelcome guest with the others. They should be making first contact soon. I'm sure the others can handle it, but I'd like you there just in case."
"Understood," the titanic man said, straightening up to fulfill his task. "Although before I leave, I thought I'd tell you something you may like to know."
"And what would that be?"
"While I was checking security footage of what was left of the base, I noticed that your fiancé was in the vault."
"Ah, yes, I love her mind sometimes. Best keep that item nice and safe," the young man replied cheerily while spinning blissfully before starting to walk off.
"Last I saw her she was on her way to C Block."
The young man froze on the spot.
"C Block? Why not come to me? Did you talk to her?"
The giant started to walk away, waving over his shoulder.
"I did. She said she had to borrow your latest work. 'Apologies in advance,' or something like that."
"SHE WHAT!?" the young man screamed turning around to face the giant man who had vanished from sight. "Of ALL the times to do this! What is she THINKING?!" He promptly turned tail and sprinted in the opposite direction.
In the middle of the giant crater, the girl in the glowing dress stared at the stars. The bugs had since resumed their chorus, the only other sounds being the wind and the occasional falling rubble as the mangled, decrepit buildings continued to crumble. Two figures in lab coats stepped up to the scene just on the edge of the crater.
"Wow, what a mess. I'm going to have to clean this up, you know."
The girl in the glowing dress turned to look at them, her eyes filled with malice. Before her stood a man and a woman; the woman, the one that spoke, scratched her head and yawned while the man stood still with his hands in his pockets.
The man chuckled. "Careful now, it looks to be a foul mood."
"I would be too, knowing what just happened to her," the woman said while stretching. "In any case, let's get this over with." The woman called out to the girl once more. "So...if you understand us, don't be afraid to talk back. We just have some questions we'd like to ask you."
Without any hesitation the girl in the dress swung the key in front of her, buffeting the two scientists with a gust of wind. The scientists shielded their faces from the wind blast until it subsided. The girl began to walk toward the two, battle ready. The two scientists took battle ready stances themselves, the man taking his hands out of his pockets and opening up his coat to take hold of a fancy sword at his belt. The woman readied her fists and took a deep breath, a white aura cascading around her body.
"Doesn't look like it wants to talk," the man said excitedly. "I guess that means we can capture it and make it into a guinea pig."
"Always right to the experiments with you," the woman retorted. "Just remember that she's a living being, just like us."
The man smiled. "We'll see about that when we get it under a microscope."
With that the girl in the glowing dress charged at the two, the two scientists engaging to counterattack.
Spinning lights bleached the darkened halls an ominous red as the shadowy figure of the petite woman dashed past a deafening alarm. Coming to a haphazard halt at a cast iron door, she quickly tapped a password into the keypad by it; it gives her the green light and the door opens for her with a rumbling sound. She slipped into the room, the sirens still sounding in the background. Walking slowly, the woman looked around the room filled with strange, mechanical contraptions until one of them caught her eyes: a enormous, spacecraft-looking machine with equally large reflective panels on either side and a metal ladder leading to the cockpit. She quickly made her way over to the machine, stopping at an operating panel a few yards from its base. With haste, the woman inputted something into the panel and ran to the ladder while a countdown sequence began. The machine began to emit a low roar, so loud that the room began to shake but the woman was undeterred. The hatch of the machine slowly started to close as the woman reached the top of the ladder and sat at the very edge of the inside of the machine. A sudden movement from afar alerted the woman to a presence in the room: she looked up and locked eyes with the young man from earlier and both were speechless for a moment.
"What are you—" the man started to say in disbelief, but before he could finish the woman kicked the ladder out from under her and it hit the ground with a clang. To two watched each other in silence as the woman stood up and the doors to the machine finally sealed together with a high-pitched hiss, cutting the woman off from the man's view. Finally, the moment caught up with the man and he immediately moved into action, running to the console while yelling at the woman to stop. Too late: the countdown hit the point of no return as the machine kicked into overdrive. A sound so loud that it drowned out all of the man's dissents filled the room and a rainbow-colored fog accumulated around the machine. The machine started to fade but the persistent man sprinted toward the machine and yelled at the top of his lungs one last time.
"WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! WHAT ABOUT MY PROMISE?! I DID EVERYTHING FOR YOU! WHY ARE YOU LEAVING MEEEEE!?"
Inside the machine, the woman lowered her head and placed it against the door while grabbing the clothes around her heart. Only three words rung out above the noise.
I love you.
With that, white light enveloped the whole room as the loud hum became a whooshing sound. A calm graced the room as the figure of the young man sitting on the floor with his face in his hands confronted reality: she was gone leaving nothing behind. The man took a moment to collect himself, gripping his hands tightly, then got up and began to walk out of the room. Eying the door, the familiar figure of the hulking man appeared once more, leaning against the doorway.
"The intruder is gone," the figure said as the young man walked past him without even a second glance.
"Nevermind that," the young man said bitterly while walking out of the room. "Securing the prototype is our first priority. We must get her back...at all costs."
A gentle breeze drifted through the park, making ripples on a small (and positively dirty) pond not far off from the hill's base. The leaves of the trees rustled softly in the wind, and a flock of birds cawed and took off into the sky. Six boys lounged on the hilltop in various positions, silently watching the sky and reveling in the warm September night. A moment of calm passed by but was followed by a wave of anxiety. One of the boys finally broke the silence, acknowledging their predicament...
"Fuck," he lamented. "I can't believe summer's almost over..."
The statement was met by groans and complaints from the rest of the group. Josh, the speaker, flopped against the hillside and grumbled half to himself. "This sucks..." He placed his worn, red hat over his face and sighed.
One of the other boys, a few feet lower on the hill, bolted upright, grabbing his head in sudden realization. "Aw, shit, Josh! Don't remind me!" he wailed. "I fucking HATE school! I wish I could just burn it to the ground!" He snapped his finger and made a pretend explosion with his hands while making a mock-explosion sound with his mouth. "No more child slavery."
While this elicited chuckles from most of the group, the boy next to him groaned and pushed himself up from the ground into a sitting position with his legs in front of him. "We get it, Jory," he said, pushing his glasses up and rolling his eyes. "You hate school with a burning passion..." He wrapped his arms around his legs and added, "I'm not too thrilled about it myself, but all good things have to end eventually..."
A fourth boy, lying perpendicular to the others above the previous two speakers but below Josh, lazily opened one of his eyes. "Ben's got a point, you know," he noted coolly, almost lecture-like. "Nothing left to do now but enjoy it while it lasts." ("Byron always agrees with you," Jory whined at Ben, who only smirked and stuck his tongue out.)
"Yeah, the whole three days we have left," snarked the fifth boy higher up on the hill, who also sat up to speak. The last boy, lying next to the fifth, nudged his elbow.
"Oi, quit yer whinin', Drew mah boi," he slurred in a fake British accent. "It's not like it's gonna change anythin'."
"You know, Charlie," Drew replied, "I would say something along the lines of 'shut the hell up' but knowing you you'd nag me even more."
"Oh, you know it," Charlie quipped seductively.
Drew shrugged, then stiffened when he heard a buzzing noise. He dug his cell phone from his pocket and his eyes skimmed over the screen. "Well, time for me to go," he yawned, standing up and stretching. "Mom'll freak if I'm not back by seven like she said. God, she's making me get up early already..."
"You heard him, peasants, it's time to leave," Charlie chimed in, also getting up and patting his pants.
The other group members stretched and reluctantly stood to get going. Charlie and Drew began to pull off from the group, heading for the wooden stairs built into the other side of the hill. As they reached the top a strange sound filled the air throughout the park—at first very high pitched, almost like wind chimes, but followed shortly by an electrical sound and then a sound like a moving siren and then back to the high-pitched sound. The group looked around at each other, confused, Drew and Charlie turning to look at the others as well. Drew opened his mouth to speak, paused for a moment, then finally continued.
"...Did you all hear that or was that just—"
Suddenly an explosion occurred from above the forest sending the six to the ground after Josh barked the order. They clung to the earth in desperate fear and covered their heads as the shock-wave and trembling of the ground subsided just as suddenly as it had started. The boys looked on at the forest, a billowing cloud of smoke rising up from beneath treetops that began to fall one by one while strange, glowing-red sparkles littered the air where the smoke meets the open air. The only sound left after the last tree fell was an unsettled flock of birds that took off in panic all the while squawking in distress. Slowly but surely, the six rose apprehensively.
"What was that?" Ben wondered in shock.
Josh was momentarily dumbfounded, but instantly started reviewing ideas in his mind. "It looked and sounded exactly like something out of a Sci-Fi flick."
"I don't know," Drew said anxiously, trying to change the subject. "But it sounds like we should probably take our leave..."
I've arrived, promised ones.
A voice like a whisper spoke to the boys; it was quiet, and only a few seemed to hear it.
"Did you guys hear that?" Byron demanded.
"I didn't hear anything," Drew frowned.
"I think I did," Jory said uncertainly. "It was a girl, right?"
If you can hear me, come to the forest. Help me...
Byron, Jory, and Ben froze; the voice now beckoning them to the source of the explosion. The others seemed unfazed.
Charlie, oblivious to the voice, tipped lazily on his feet and looked back at the others. "Oookay? Now what...?"
Without warning, Jory bolted down the hill, heading for the edge of the forest.
"Jory!" Byron shouted, reaching out a hand too late to stop him. "What are you—dammit!" He took off after Jory with Josh following close behind. Drew, Charlie, and Ben were left wondering what exactly just happened, and awkward silence quickly ensued.
"...Wanna just leave?" Drew finally asked Charlie, jamming his thumb over his shoulder.
"Yep," Charlie answered, staring at the forest.
"...Any chance we actually will?"
"Works for me," Drew replied.
The two turned about and began to casually walk down the staircase away from the forest.
"Wait! But what about the others?!" Ben called to Drew and Charlie who ignored him. Ben, now left alone at the top of the hill, wavered. "I have a seriously bad feeling about this..." he murmured before giving in and rushing to catch up with Drew and Charlie.
The trees passed by quickly as the three boys wound their way through the forest. The sounds of heavy breathing and rustling foliage accompanied by passing shadows and flashes of clothing that sharply contrast the wooded surroundings were the only sensations that the boys could understand in their frantic journey. Moments later, and well into the forest, Byron finally caught up to Jory, who was tangled up in some brush and cursing up a storm. After rolling his eyes (as if to say "of course") and shaking his head in disappointment, Byron helped untangle Jory and brushed him off.
"Thanks, mate," Jory sighed, relieved. He brushed the leftover debris off of his pants. "I really owe you one—"
Whatever Jory was about to say next was quickly and effectively forgotten as Byron drew his arm back and knocked him upside the head, staggering him.
"Don't you dare run off like that again!" Byron snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at Jory. "What if this is some sort of trap, or becomes a restricted, police-investigated area because of that explosion? Besides that we don't even know what happened! It's just plain stupid to rush recklessly into something completely unknown—and furthermore, alone? Do you have a death wish?!"
"I didn't think—"
"You absolutely didn't!"
Jory got up. "Okay, geez, Mom..." he said disdainfully as he rubbed his head. "You expect me to think better by smacking my head…? Anyway, are you coming with me or not?"
At that moment, Josh jogged in from some nearby shrubbery, having followed the two through the forest.
"Who the hell enters a forest," Josh remarked a bit strained from his run, "when there's a path going through the park? Seriously Jory, this is a new level of dumb even by your standards."
"But I was just trying to…" Jory began before realizing he doesn't have an argument. "Shit."
Josh sighed, coming closer to the other two while rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck. "...So are we gonna wait for the others, or...?"
"I would have liked to," Byron said pointedly, shooting a glare at Jory who winced in response. "But genius here took too many turns in the wrong direction." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "We'd be better off trying to bump into them on the way to...whatever that thing was."
"Well, ex-cuuuse me, princess," Jory mutters mutinously.
"Why don't we just call them?" Josh pointed out. "It would be easier, and they can't be too far away."
"True," Byron allowed. "But then what about that unnatural explosion?" Behind Byron's back, Jory started mimicking him mockingly. Josh couldn't help but smile, holding back his laughter. "This whole situation is just bizarre as hell. I didn't see anything flying there, but given that smoke trail, something fell out of the sky. Maybe it's mobile. Maybe there are people looking for it besides us. If the others took the path and are closer to it than we are—" Byron whipped around after reading Josh's face, glaring at Jory again, who instantly stopped and innocently acted like he wasn't doing anything. "...Then we might be putting them at risk by giving away their location."
Josh pondered this for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess so. So then what are we going to do?"
"We get out of the forest as soon as possible," Byron replied. "Open spaces are safer since we can see everything around us."
"Well I tried to keep track of where we are and we had to have turned completely around to be in the forest still. So I guess we just keep going forward and we'll end up about where we entered," Josh mused.
"But what about—"
"Save it, Jory," Byron interrupted. "In this case our own safety definitely comes first."
Josh began to move past Jory and Byron crossed his arms to signal to Jory that he's not going to allow him to go toward the explosion anymore. Jory sighed and begrudgingly accepted his position by following Josh. Byron took a quick look in the opposite direction but shortly followed.
Drew, Ben and Charlie strode across the grass islands in the middle of the parking lot by the pavilion at the entrance of the park. Ben has fully caught up with the other two and has passed Charlie moving toward Drew all the while whining about their current situation. His complaints have reached their height and his worry is showing on his face.
"...We're already in way over our heads and then Jory just up and bolts toward it! Not only that, but then we separate and now we have no idea what happened to them! And on top of that—are you even listening to me?!"
Drew looked down at his phone and then looked up, still pacing toward his car on the far side of the lot right by the exit.
"Alright, unless you literally have wooden underpants and a horde of termites getting all up in that, you need to take a chill pill," Drew finally replied.
"Drew, I'm serious!" Ben begged. "The others haven't come back yet! Who knows what happened to them?! You should be way more worried!"
"Cool story. Honestly? Don't really care," Drew said flatly. "Mom's gonna throw a fit again as usual so I'm not in the mood to go and play park ranger."
"Look, I get that you have your own agenda," Ben started while pinching the bridge of his nose, "but don't you care at all that our friends could be in danger? Things don't just explode out of nowhere."
"I dunno, I'll check. Hey Charlie, what do you think of all of this?"
"Wanna hit up Mickey D's on the way back?" Charlie said jovially.
"And that about sums up how much I care."
"But what about the voice?!" Ben continued. "Don't you think that something odd is going on for something like that to address us directly?"
Drew continued walking toward his car, now a few feet away, with his back turned to Ben. "Listen, Ben, buddy, pal, amigo—there was no voice. And even if there was I still wouldn't want to go near something that just exploded out of nowhere."
"Rrrgh! You're impossible! Our friends' safety is on the line and—"
Ben was swiftly interrupted as a shoe sailed past his face and over Drew's head. Ben flailed in surprise and turned to see Charlie in a pose like that of a field-goal kicker frozen right after the kick. Ben stamped his foot and began to chew Charlie out while Drew's face contorted in confusion in the direction of the shoe.
"What was THAT for?!"
"I dunno, you figure it out," Charlie replied.
"Charlie, we don't do that to OUR FRIENDS!"
"Well I don't know that," Charlie said as if it's obvious.
Ben's lack of amusement wore on his face. "You're incorrigible."
"Ugh! Drew, come on, I need your help! Jory and the others need us! They could be lost or hurt or—!"
"Ben, gag it for a second," Drew said harshly. "Charlie? Scratch that Mickey D's plan."
"What, you a Taco Bell guy?"
"Haha, no. I mean we're not gonna be leaving."
Ben's expression went from worry and concern to sunken anxiousness. He looked over in Drew's direction and saw the shoe on it's side in the middle of exit way.
Drew walked up to the park's exit while speaking. "Charlie's shoe should have gone a lot further than that. But..." He raised his arm slowly and hesitated for a moment with his palm out in front of him. He moved his hand forward as if to touch something in the naked air.
It's only a small ripple at first and Drew immediately reeled backward half expecting it to take his arm off. After realizing it's safe Drew pressed his full hand against the invisible...thing. The air distorted like waves on a pond stretching out from Drew's hand. Soon after the apparent wall relaxed and returned to being invisible. Drew placed his other hand on the object and patted it twice with both hands sending two sets of waves through the air that overlapped and created a ripple pattern.
"Heh. That's...actually kinda cool."
Ben was stunned. Charlie looked at Ben curiously then back at Drew, smiling and narrating in a fun-filled-falsetto.
"Well, that's not something ya see everyday~!"
Ben sputtered a few times before he could collect himself and get his words across. "What the heck is that!"
"I dunno," Drew said plainly. He then walked to his left while keeping one hand on the invisible wall, the ripples following and showing the entire drive and then some was blocked. "...But it doesn't seem like we'll be going out this way."
"You've got to be kidding me!" Ben cried as he ran up to the barrier and pounded his fists against it. The ripples spread out across the air in every direction showing that it covered over the nearby fences as well.
"No! No! No! No! NO! Now we're trapped here!? Please tell me this is some kind of dream! OK Ben, nightmare is over! It's time to wake up!"
Ben pinched himself. Hard.
"Silly Ben," Charlie began, "you have to do so much more than that if you want to wake up from this dream. I can kick you in the nuts but it'll cost you five dream dollars to do it."
"...I'm good, thanks."
Drew finished his short inspection and turned to the others while tapping a message into his phone and hitting the send button. "Whelp, sorry Ma. Looks like I'm not going to be coming back in time. ...Aaand my texts aren't going through. Great." Drew pocketed his phone. "Well, let it be known for the record that this is not my fault."
"What the heck is going on?!"
"You want my honest opinion? Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that the explosion and this thing are linked. My guess is that random, supernatural occurrences like to party it up," Drew said.
"Oh great. That just makes things worse for us... Alright...so, will you two help now?"
"Well my one reason to not be here just became 100% impossible, so yeah, pretty much. Charlie?"
Charlie ran right into the forcefield and it rejected him causing him to fall flat on the ground on his back. Ben and Drew stared at Charlie in bewilderment as he began to pretend to writhe in pain on the ground. After a moment he stopped and looked up at the two with a smile.
Charlie jumped to his feet from his back and then went to collect his shoe. Drew sighed and looked over at Ben.
"Well...since leaving ain't an option anymore I guess we gotta see what the explody thing was all about."
"We should go look for Byron and the others though—they might know more about what's going on."
"Yeah, if we head to the explosion site then they'll eventually meet up with us, right?"
"Drew, there's like a ton of woods around here, that's not sa—"
"Too late, time's up, I'm right. Let's go guys," Drew responded as he began to walk toward the forest.
"McDonald's after?" Charlie inquired as he caught up.
"OUTTA MY WAY, BITCHES~!"
Charlie charged across the parking lot toward the forest, Drew trailing behind him. Ben sighed audibly and threw up his hands in frustration before following in suit.
On the other side of the parking lot, two figures peaked out from behind the wall of the pavilion observing the boys as they go. They wore long, black cloaks with hoods covering their hair (at least one of them could be made out to have the figure of a woman) while their faces were hidden by Japanese-style animal masks: the woman, a snake, the other a sheep. The figure with the sheep mask held a cell phone up, as if to take a picture of the boys, then pocketed the phone and the two turned and disappear inside the pavilion.
Josh, Byron and Jory had continued trekking through the forest, gingerly stepping over the fallen debris and trying not trip. As the three came across a small clearing, suddenly Josh stopped dead in his tracks. The two others, noticing the lack of their third set of footsteps, stopped as well and looked at Josh who was staring up at the canopy. Byron and Jory glanced at each other inquisitively then Jory broke the silence.
"If you wanted to stop for a break, all you had to do was ask," Byron said apprehensively.
"...This is wrong."
Jory and Byron looked at each other again. Jory looked back at Josh while Byron tilted his head in confusion.
"Us asking if you want to take a breakis wrong?" Jory challenged.
Josh rolled his eyes. "No dumbass," he said with a hint of venom. "...Well, sort of. I mean, this whole scenario is wrong. Something doesn't add up."
"Actually, now that you mention it, I'm inclined to agree," Byron added, crossing his arms and frowning. "Just how long have we been walking? Either we've been going in circles or something definitely isn't right."
Josh walked to the middle of the clearing and looked around the forest cautiously. "I'm not exactly sure of how long we've been here for or how far we've walked," he explained, "but I know for a fact that we've been walking straight this entire time. Yet just by looking around it doesn't seem like we're even close to getting out of here. And last time I checked the park isn't this big."
Byron and Jory paused as they took his words in. "Ok, well that rules out the 'circles' theory. But then that doesn't explain why we're still stuck walking through the for—" Byron stopped and recounted his words. "Stuck? Wait a minute. No way, that's not possible. There has to be some rational explanation to this that we've overlooked."
"I dunno," Josh mused, "What about that explosion that happened? Smoke doesn't come out of nothing and I've never seen anything like those red sparkles before in my life."
"Yeah, you call that rationally explainable?" Jory chimed in. "And what about the voice we heard? That didn't feel like it came from my ears and that girl was nowhere in sight."
"I think what you're describing is telepathy, Jory," Byron said as he puts his hand to his chin. "I had the same kind of experience. Odd. I mean, that would certainly explain it but it sounds like a terrible answer at face value. But I suppose it's not technically impossible, just incredibly unlikely."
"Oh, so now you choose to believe in supernatural forces?" Jory scoffed.
"It's a working hypothesis only. I'm not sold yet."
"I'm sorry, but what the fuck are you two going on about?" Josh said harshly.
"What? You didn't hear the voice? It was kinda hard to miss," Jory said.
"Really? Nothing at all?" Byron inquired.
"Nothing. Are you sure you two aren't hallucinating?"
Byron and Jory looked at each other. "But Jory, you heard it, right? Do you remember what she said?"
"It was something about us being there and that she was in the forest and wanted our help. That's why I ran into the forest. To go help her."
"Figures," Josh said flatly. "Jory hears a voice asking for help and he runs off to be the hero. Why am I not surprised?"
"Oh my God, drop it already, would you?" Jory protested. "If you heard someone ask for help you'd go help them too."
"I wouldn't if it was a random voice in my head. How do you even know it's real?"
"Because Byron said he heard it too!"
"It could just be mass hallucination."
"What kind of argument is that?!"
"I have to agree with Jory," Byron interrupted. "I heard the exact same thing and the chances that we both had the same hallucination are next to none."
"See?" Jory said confidently.
Josh frowned. "Great, now I feel like the crazy one."
"Ok, let's review this one more time," Byron said waving his hand as if to clear the air. "We've established that the explosion wasn't natural. I'll give you that. We've hypothesized that the voice wasn't natural but that it definitely happened. So that's two strikes against common sense. And now we find ourselves stuck in a forest after walking straight for more than it should take to get out…"
"Sounds like something unnatural is keeping us here," Josh concluded.
"Or someone," Byron added. "Let's not forget that hypothetically the girl did something impossible. If we're going to throw basic logic out the window we could very well be in some kind of manufactured trap making the path go on forever. ...But I'm just playing devil's advocate."
"Shit!" Jory hissed and kicked a tree. "We're stuck in a loop?! What, do we not have enough fucking power stars to get up the endless staircase!?"
Josh just gave Jory a long-practiced stare of befuddlement and exasperation. "The hell are you talking about?"
"You've never played Super Mario 64?"
While the two of them argued, Byron gazed around, thinking Jory's analogy may not be so strange, after all.
"No, and you should know that by now."
"Oh, cuz Nintendo games are shitty or whatever, right?"
"No, because I didn't have an N64 as a kid. Which you also know. Why are you using analogies you know I can't understand?"
"Then allow me to explain," Byron interrupted. "Jory might actually be onto something. There's only two possible cases if our infinite loop theory is correct. Either we're stuck here forever or there's some kind of condition for getting out. The question is: which one do we have on our hands?"
Jory started fishing through his pocket. "If it's the first one then we should tell the others about this," he said. "I don't want to risk all of us getting stuck in here."
"Jory, I said not to do that, firstly, and secondly that's not going to work."
"Yeah, whatever," Jory muttered as he dialed Charlie's cell phone number...then thought twice, deleting it, and called Ben's number instead. When he pressed the call button, though, the other end didn't even ring. "What?" Jory's screen liy up with the words 'no signal' and canceled the call. "Fucking—" Jory shoved his middle finger into the screen. "Fuck you, Verizon!"
"That's not normal," Josh said. "Verizon isn't known for service outages around here."
"No, you guys don't get it," Byron said. "If we're really stuck in a reality loop then it's likely that we're in some kind of alternate dimension. Radio waves can't hit their target if the target isn't in the same plane of existence."
Josh slumped against a tree. "So now we're trapped in here AND we can't contact the outside world... Wonderful."
"We're not doomed yet," Byron replied. "We just need to calm down and assess the situation."
Jory groaned. "I hate assessing shit."
"Yeah, right up there with thinking, huh?" Josh smirked.
"You wanna know what I'm thinking?"
"Knock it off, both of you," Byron snapped. "I need you to focus, got it?" When neither of them said anything further, he took a deep breath. "If we are in the kind of loop where a condition to get out is available, what condition would that be?"
All of them thought silently for a moment. Suddenly Josh stood, turned and took a few steps in the opposite direction.
"Whoa, Josh, where the hell are you going?" Jory asked. "We need to stick together! ...Eh? Eh? Cause—cause there's sticks—"
"Forwards," Josh answered brusquely, ignoring the godawful pun. "Or, rather, backwards."
"...And this accomplishes...what?"
Byron smiled. "Oh, I get it."
Jory turned to look at Byron now. "What? What is it?"
"You've tried going up the endless staircase in Mario, right?" Byron asked him. "What did you do when you found out that there was no way up there?"
"Duh, you turn back to the door and—"
"...Aand he sticks the landing," Josh drawled.
"The best way to get out of here might be to try going backwards," Byron agreed. "It takes us closer to the explosion but I suppose that's worth it if it gets us out of here."
"...What. The fuck." Jory said flatly. "Wait...hold the fucking phone. Josh, how did you know that was the answer?"
"It's Super Mario 64," Josh said with a tinge of disgust while stopping to look back at him, "everybody knows that game."
Jory's face curled in confusion. "But you said you didn't understand the analogy!"
The confusion swiftly turned to anger.
"JOSH, YOU MOTHERFUCKING—"
"Oh, for the love of—" Byron interjected. "Would you two just stop it! Your petty arguing is wasting time. The sun will start setting soon and I, for one, don't see our odds going up being stuck here overnight. Get moving. Now."
He looked at the two sternly. Josh shrugged and continued traveling in the direction he was earlier. Byron turned his head and raised his eyebrows at Jory as if to say, "Well? You too." Reluctantly, Jory followed behind Josh (followed shortly by Byron), but not before whispering under his breath.
"If we weren't friends, I'd use you as breadcrumbs to find my way the fuck out of here..."
To Be Continued