tagSci-Fi & FantasyUnknown Ch. 01

Unknown Ch. 01

bysensanin©

Chapter One

I never drank water growing up. I was on a strict diet of sugary drinks and carbonated things that resembled water. I didn't see a problem with this. Still don't. I can't drink the water here anyway.

My mother might have stopped me, if she'd been alive. I'm not sure, and I don't really care. I got by. Life's knocked me down plenty of times, rubbed my face in the mud. I just get up, dust myself off, and keep on. It's all I can do.

When I was thirteen, I broke my arm. Bone popped out of skin, blood ran like a river, and the pain was the third most intense sensation of my life. I'd been running away. I was always running from something.

Thing was, I didn't panic. Didn't break down and cry. I tore my t-shirt off, ripped it down the middle, and tied it around my arm. Then I forced myself out of the tangled mess of my bike and down the street.

I still have that scar at twenty-three. Sometimes it throbs, meshing with the almost constant headache I have. I can't remember the last time I drank real water, and I can't drink from the tap anyway—not that I ever did. Just saw someone do it in a movie once, when I had a time and a safe place to live. Haven't had one of those in a while.

The place I call home now is not where I'm from. I'm not sure where I'm from. My face doesn't pinpoint a location either. Skin like toffee, eyes shaped like an almond with the color of a nickel, a nose too large for my face, and bee-stung lips that are always dry. I look like I'm from every corner of the other world.

This isn't the apocalypse, and it's not post anything. I'm in the shadow of the world, of America—I call it Sharica—trapped in between. Something happened during the last eclipse three months ago. Half the world was taken over, mirror to the one we remember.

We. I say that like there are other people with me. There might be, but I've never seen them. It's okay, I'm used to being lonely. Been that way forever.

A cool breeze rushes over my skin. It used to bother me, because cool is being generous. I've walked too far into the cold part of this place again, and a few more steps will turn me into an ice cube. Ice sticks to my broken skin and I shudder all over, breaking it off. I adapt.

It's a cold world. I like it though, suits my tastes.

I'm on a cliff right now. Not a metaphorical one either. I'm teetering, ready to fall over. And I do. But the sensation is gone so quick I forget it because I'm back upright. It's like a painting I saw when I was little and camping out in a museum during the day. I'd walk around, moving through the crowds to avoid security. I learned the most there, traipsing through the Smithsonians, running up stairs, scrounging through the trash for meals.

There is this painting, stairs moving in all ways, right side up and upside down. People walk whichever way they want. That is this place. Jump too high and the gravity will yank you down with enough force to break something. Ground's safer, but just barely. Shadows are shadows for a reason, and people have good reason to fear them.

A noise behind me stops my feet. I hold my breath, don't breathe, don't move. Snake like things slither around my body and dance in between my ankles. I hold my breath until my cheeks turn purple.

They pass me completely and I breathe again. Shadows. They're not people, not things. They have different rules. I can see what looks like a cup of water on what looks like a table, but sure enough it'll change. I haven't learned the rules that garner this place yet, but I'm getting close.

I avoid any animal like thing, because I'm never sure what animals they actually are. Snakes curling around my ankles can just as easily be the distorted shadows of cats. Shadows stretch, blend into each other and become different things.

I start moving again, faster, following the glinting bread crumbs I left myself. I scoop them up as I walk. Night is worse here only because I can't see what I'm stepping into, can't discern the shadows from each other. Behind me stretches mountains and streams, things that look like scenes and places I remember. I turn back around and pick up my pace because I know they aren't.

When I finally get to the large structure I think is my home, I check. Cut my palm open and fling my blood out. It colors the building like paint and I see the comforting dips and ridges. I would never have known to do that if I didn't almost die a hundred times over in this place. Curious, but anything from my body adds color to whatever it touches. My tears make my food and drink a blue tinted clear color, my blood turns things crimson, and my other bodily functions come in handy, too.

I'm quick, following a familiar path. Blood dries fast, meshes with the gray and black and lighter gray until it's not even distinguishable. I need to be able to distinguish things. Lose sight for a second and I lose my life.

When I finally reach my home, I look around. Something is always different, rearranged. The room is smaller or bigger, a tables on the left or the right. Shadows move, and nothing stays constant.

That's a lie. What I had when I arrived remains constant, and thankfully I arrived with a lot.

I remember the day, though the edges of the memory are fuzzy, faded with time. My life wasn't pretty on the other side. I was a thief, not bad but not good at what I did. I was mediocre.

I'd been sent to steal some couple's clothes and jewelry by my handler, Rob. Rob inherited me after Britney died. I'm not sure if that was her real name or if Rob was his. We all lied to each other, with the only truth being our marks.

The couple's hotel room was large, nice, filled with things I'd never be able to afford and felt wrong even wanting. The woman's outfits lined one section of a closet bigger than the apartment I was renting. Just walking into it made my skin crawl. I wasn't used to the finer things in life, and so I did everything to stay away from them. But I had to eat.

I packed as many suitcases as I could, loaded them onto a cart I borrowed from the bellhop desk and started to wheel them down the hallway to the elevator. TV was on, and I heard a reporter's drone voice talk about the eclipse. It was happening then.

Halfway down the hallway the lights went out, but I didn't stop. I kept pushing down the hallway, through the darkness and right into the shadow world, Sharica. Those clothes and jewelry hang off walls that mark the way to my home now. I choose bright colors, so that I can always see them. I broke the jewelry, and mixed it with mud or something that I found here to make a path of sorts. I walk on that path to my room, jewels beneath my feet, shirts blowing like curtains in a never-ending breeze.

It's terrifyingly beautiful, with an emphasis on the terrifying.

My bed is a collection of gray animal skins and fur coats. I go past the makeshift bed and into a colder corner where I store my food. I blink hard a few times until tears stream down my face and I crotch and let them fall on my food.

I'm not sure what I eat or drink. Nothing has a flavor or color, just a texture that resembles chicken and a drink that tickles my nose and tongue like soda. I chew, swallow, and repeat. Eating is for necessary, as it's always been.

I don't mind. The struggles of my life prepared me for this. And as much as I disliked the trials and tribulations I went through, I didn't resent the experience. I wanted to die so many times, that when death finally grabbed my wrist I realized how much I wanted to live. Life was being, in any shape or form because death was nothingness, a gnawing non-existence worse than the limbo I was in.

At least that's what I thought it was. I wasn't ready to find out though.

When I'm done eating I crawl into bed. I might be lonely, but that doesn't mean I'm altogether alone. There are no people here, none that I've met, but at dawn and dusk the barriers between this world and Earth slim down to a flimsy veil. I still can't cross it though, but there is a person on the other side who can see me. He's the only one so far, and we talk sometimes. I can hear his voice, but I can't see anything but a darker outline of where I think his body is. But the image becomes distorted depending on where he is and where I am. It's like looking into a mirror with another mirror at your back, an infinite number of images pop up, some close, some far away, and they all change depending on the reflected image.

I'm that swaying image, caught somewhere in between and I'm forced to move with him. So if his location changes, so does mine. That's why I think it's more like a mirror and less like another world or reality. I just need to find the mirror that leads back to Earth, and not deeper into reflections of reflections.

That journey's not for today though. So, I close my eyes and burrow further into my makeshift bed. I sleep to dream. Escape into colors that Earth carries like children. The shadow world is barren, my mind a ripe womb. I was going to be a poet if I ever made it out of poverty. I used to imagine meeting a rich man, like Annie. But a dark reality would force me to see the other side, the one with pedophiles and serial killers.

I liked movies when I was little, a treat when I snuck into movie theaters and ate people's leftover popcorn and candies. Sometimes they'd leave water and the perpetual headache I had would fade. But the older I got the less I liked movies, or the ones I saw anyway.

I wised up, got all my shit together early. I lived all those folk tales parent told their kids. Don't trust stranger. Hitchhike. Take unknown candy. I'm always surprised I survived this long.

Fourteen rolled around with the New Year. My birthday—the one I gave myself—was New Years. I grew up then, started doing everything and anything to survive. Feburary I robbed my first person, a pimp who thought he could dress me up and put me on the street. May rolled around and I was scooped up by Britney. She trained me for a year and a half, taught me how to speak, dress, steal. Britney wasn't my mother, and her place wasn't my home. She tried giving me a name, Jasmine—because I reminded he of the Disney princess, though I was never sure why—but it never stuck.

She was the closest person I'd ever gotten to, but people like Britney didn't last in the world. She wasn't at the top of her game, wasn't the best thief on the board. Pity and sympathy weakened her, but I didn't have the same crutches.

I shed the name she gave me and took up her slack. Rob trained me after that, made me more of an efficient thief. But past's the past. Future's what's got me by the throat now.

I wake up hard and fast on the thought, always expecting the worse. Everything is normal, which is strange. I climb out of bed, eat the mysterious, cold food in the corner, get dressed, grab my pack of jewel-crumbs, and leave.

I've gotten lost in this place a lot, days on end struggling to find my way back. Not anymore. I finally crushed the rest of that jewelry with the heels I took and made breadcrumbs, things that wouldn't blend in with the area.

I walk now, trying to find a way out. Soon enough I'm shivering, freezing cold. Some spots are colder than others, some warmer. I'm never sure why because I can never push myself too deep into the cold areas, and can never stand the burning heat of the other ones. I drift in a place that's right around sixty degrees. I should move closer to the warm part, but I'm not familiar with it.

I turn as my teeth begin to ache from chattering so hard, and follow the breadcrumbs back, scooping them up as I go.

I'm starting to feel my fingers and toes again when a sardonic male voice flows to me. "You wanna die?"

It's a person that's not a person, a voice that's not a voice. He's on the other side, but for some reason he can sense me.

"Maybe." I keep walking, moving. Stay still too long and I'll freeze. But my little hidey-hole isn't far away. Never is.

"What's your name?"

He always asks me the same question. I think he has OCD. Can't help himself. We play a game of tag with words.

"Guess," I murmur as I tuck my head into my fur coat. It's warm, but still smells like dried blood. I killed the animal a week ago, but the scent of death still clings. Not sure what it was, but maybe it was like a skunk except it sprayed death on itself so that the killer never forgot the life it took.

"We were at G's last time, right?" he asks, knowing the answer. "Glenda. Georgia..."

I listen to him as he continues but I don't answer. I still don't have a name, and I don't hold onto those given to me. Someday I'll chose the right one, and it'll fit me like my skin does.

"You there?"

Another rhetorical question. Where will I go? Everyday I turn to the gray sky that darkens and lightens depending on its host, hoping to see something resembling an eclipse. But if I saw it what would I do? Go back to Earth? I don't have an education, no birth record, or identification. I am invisible, able to blend in everywhere but belong nowhere.

"Gwen, are you there?" he asks worried, a little impatient.

"That's not my name," I respond, curling the coat around me. It's sunset now. I'm not sure where the day went.

"They think I'm crazy, you know," he says quietly. "They say you're not real. Just a figment of my imagination."

"They who?"

"Your name first."

Tag. We play a game that neither of us wins. We just run after each other shadows.

"Grace..." His voice is farther away now. The curtain is thickening.

I smile, cheeks cracking as ice hits me. "Try again tomorrow."

***

I love and hate the past. I keep trying to forget it, live in the moment, but the moment is dull, boring. I view my past like a movie behind my eyelids. It keeps me sane. Except, I can't remember anything before I was seven. My first memory is of an imposing building with a swaying cursive O attached to the front of it. I remember standing in front of it, raising my little fist, and knocking.

I know now that it was an orphanage, set far back in the mountains of Lithuania. I spent six months there, learning the language, before my exotic features caught the eye of a rich American and I was shipped to the states. The journey was hard, but I somehow survived it.

When the dark box I was in stopped shaking—what I now know to be a cargo container on a ship—I kicked at a small hole of light I saw in the back. I was tired and hungry, but something inside me told me to run. I kicked, kicked, kicked, hurt my little ankle and kept with it with the other foot. Eventually some other women helped me and we were able to make a hole large enough to crawl through. Not everyone went. Some were scared, others dead.

At seven going on eight I experienced how terrible life as an orphan truly was. No family and no home meant no one cared about you. Some people tried, but they never had the right medicine to treat my wounds.

Tears stream down my face and I open my eyes, disliking the real-life movie playing behind my eyelids. For a second I don't feel cold, and I wonder if it got warmer, but the second I think about the cold I feel it again. Sometimes I can tune out the weather, and float on nothingness.

I get up, suddenly angry. I'm sick of being here, sick of feeling so helpless. It's been six months, twenty-four weeks of scraping by and surviving, not living. I want to live. I look out to the hallway that glitters with bright clothes and jewels, light pierces my dark cave and I feel like I'm seven again and trapped in a shipping container.

I kick the sheets off of me, and run toward the light. I run right out of the hole, keep running, feet beating hard against a dark surface. I run off a cliff, around one. Realize I'm running down a mountain, skidding fast, falling.

"Shit!" I cover my head with my arms a second before I crash down and start to roll. Jagged edges cut and bruise my flesh. I don't fight it, just go with it. Eventually I stop, land in something soft.

I try to pull myself up immediately knowing soft it never good. Is it a sand pit, mud pit? Some sleeping animal ready to attack me?

My hand crashes into the ground and pain rushes into me as I realize it's ice, snow. I blink debris out of my eyes. I don't know where I am, but I know it's a place I'm not supposed to be.

Cold bites hard into my skin, and the warm energy I built up from the run seems to freeze. I'm colder than I've ever been.

"Hey!" He's back and I smile faintly at his voice. "What's going on?"

I've run into the heart of the cold zone and I know hypothermia will set in soon and I'll die. I force myself up, push at the ice around me until I gain my feet.

"N-nothing out of t-the u-usual," I chatter out, trying to decide what to do. I'm lucky I sleep in all my clothes, but still stupid because I didn't grab my warmer coat. I don't know where I am, and without my bread crumbs, it could take me days to get back. I won't survive that long, I know it.

I turn in a wide circle. It's lighter gray, the only sign that it's dawn on Earth. "You sound weird, what's going on?"

I'm starting to lose feeling in my limbs. I can't waste anymore time. I start to run forward, not sure if I'm going deeper into the cold or further away from it.

"G-getting closer to the r-reaper is all," I joke, forcing myself to sound normal. "I r-really enjoyed t-talking to you, mystery guy. What's y-your name, a-anyway?"

He barks out an angsty laugh and I watch the sky darken than lighten, then darken. I think he's pacing. "You never asked me. No names. You didn't know mine, but I've always wanted to know yours."

The shadows stop moving across the sky and the cold gets worse. Another few minutes then I'm dead. I've almost died so many times that the thought doesn't even faze me. I'm not going to die, for some reason I know this. Well, I hope this.

Cold's getting to me, ice collecting on my lashes reminds me of Snowpocalypse in D.C. I'd been living on the street during the worst snow the storm the city saw in my lifetime. I'd been close to hypothermia, and if not for a random patrol car rumbling down the street, picking me up, and taking me to George Washington Memorial Hospital, I would be dead.

There aren't any patrol cars now. No people, and I think maybe there never were. Maybe I was hoping for a we that was only ever me.

"It's Lexiss!" he screams at me, jarring me out of my thoughts. "What's yours? Tell me now!"

My movements are getting sluggish. "Never h-had one." My legs feel like lead and I'm not cold anymore, heat's beginning to infuse me. "G-gimme one."

"Laverna," he says quickly as if I'm sand slipping through his fingers.

I nod, not that he can see. My feet slip, I fall.

"Laverna?" he's calling me, but his voice sounds so far away.

The snow cushions my head. I wonder if I ever saw that light from my room or was it just my imagination. Tricky things imaginations. I've always imagined that I'm in some extended nightmare or coma and I can't wake up. My life isn't this bad, and I'm not an orphan or a thief or caught in a space between. I have a mother and a father, a guardian to take care of me, food on the table, a roof over my head.

My body begins to heat up and the heat sparks my need to survive. I rummage around on the ground for a jagged piece, find it, and stab my arm. Pain blinds me and I scream out.

"Laverna, what happened? What's going on?"

The pain keeps me alive, forces me not to give up. "N-nothing, Lexiss."

"You said my name."

I smile as I get up and continue to walk, digging into that wound so the pain doesn't dull. "I d-did."

"Are you really going to die, Larena?"

He keeps using the name he gave me, forcing me to accept the new identity. For some reason I can. I like the name. It's mysterious, foreign, matches me. "N-not if I can h-help it."

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