1. swoodson

    swoodson New Member

    Aug 28, 2012
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    Mile Zero

    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by swoodson, Dec 5, 2013.

    Mile Zero

    By Scott Allan Woodson

    The room was white and square and featureless. There were no windows or doors, no carpets or paintings, not a single chair or table, not even a speck of dust. In fact there was nothing in it, except for the three people lying unconscious on the floor.

    In the center of the room was a middle-aged man dressed in a polyester suit, wide flowery tie and too shiny shoes. Next to him curled up fetal-like, was a young woman in a skimpy, impossibly tight black dress cut low and revealing. At their feet, almost as a counterpoint, lay an older black woman dressed in a shabby pink sweater and worn green pants.

    There wasn't a sound to be heard, not even breathing. After a moment, however, something was heard. As one, they all sucked in their breath like lung-burst divers.

    "What...? What the hell happened," said the man sitting up. "Where am I."

    The young girl opened her eyes, lay there for a moment, and then scrambled crab style over to the corner of the room. "Who are you!" She looked at the man closely. "I don't remember you being at the club. Did you drug me or something?"

    The black woman stood up and looked down at the man and spoke almost nonchalantly, "Hey white boy, you got any smokes?"

    "No lady, I don't smoke," he said looking at her with mild disdain. "You got something to do with this?"

    "No," she said rubbing her eyes. "I ain't got a clue what's goin' on." She held out her hand to the man, but he ignored it. She shrugged and went on. "Name's Winona, but everybody call me Winter. What's yours?"

    The man stood and straightened his tie. He looked at the girl in the corner with a smug face. "My name is Dominic. And I don't drug women, I don't have to." He looked back toward the black woman. "You don't seem too surprised lady."

    "I'm fom' New York. Ain't nothin' much surprise me no mo'."

    "It looks like somebody is playing a little joke on us," he said looking around. "But when I get a hold of them," he said raising his voice, "they're gonna be laughing out their assholes."

    "What do you mean, a joke?" said the girl. "The last thing I remember is being at work. This real nice guy was about to give me a big tip. The next thing I know, I wake up in here."

    "Ya," said the man, "I was having a drink with this cute little number at the bar. Boy, was she nice. I had my hand on her leg... and she..."

    "I don't wanna hear that crap, lily dick," interrupted Winter. "Is pussy the only thing men ever think about?" she asked looking at the girl.

    "Ha, ha. Hey, you're wrong there, I like titties too.” He said. “And nice tight buns...."

    "What's wrong with you people! What's going on here?"

    Winter walked over to the girl and held out her hand. "Come on honey, it’s ok, stan' up and tell me yo' name." The girl hesitated, then grasped the hand and pulled herself up.

    "Lana. My name is Lana."

    "Whew," Nick whistled. You're not too bad lookin' sweet thing."

    The girl blushed, but obviously didn't mind the complement.

    "Keep yo dick in yo' pants white boy. We got somethin' mo' important to think about. We gotta figure out what's goin' on here. She looked back at the girl and smiled. "You said somethin' 'bout getting a big tip. Is you a waitress?"

    "No, I'm a dancer. But I do have to wait tables and talk to the customers between sets."

    "She's a stripper!"

    "Why don't you just shut up and let me talk to the girl."

    "Nobody tells Nick Burroughs what to do...," he began in a flustered tone.

    "I gonna bust yo head if you don't shut yo’ mouth."

    Nick frowned, but shut up.

    "Now, honey, is that what you do? You takes off yo' clothes fo' a bunch a horny men? And don't get me wrong," she said patting her hand. "Sometime a girl gotta do whatever it take to put food on the table."

    "There's nothing wrong with what I do," she said in a defensive tone. "I like to dance. And besides, I get paid a lot of money for what I do."

    "Honey, you look mighty young to be doin' what you do."

    "I'm old enough," she said pulling down the edge of her skirt with one hand.

    "Come on honey, you can't fool old Winter."

    "Well, I'm 17 next month," she said straightening up. "But I look older than that when I wear my makeup. I developed faster than the other girls in school did. I had to wear a bra when I was 11, but the boys didn't seem to mind too much."

    "I sure don't mind," said Nick staring at her breasts.

    The girl looked down at herself absently and pulled up her strap.

    "Don't you gotta be 18 to be a stripper?" asked Winter.

    Lana pursed her lips. "So I lied. But they didn't check too close anyway, they just took my word for it. I bring in a lot of customers for them. Besides, the men like to look at me... I make them feel good. The owner says I'm one of his best girls," she said proudly."

    "Ha, ha. Boy are you stupid. Do you believe everything a man tells you?"

    Winter glared at Nick.

    "Ok, ok..."

    "What about you, Winter?" asked Lana. "What do you do?"

    "Like I said, I'm fom' New York. I work in da' garment district sewin' fancy clothes for da' rich bitches in Manhatten. It don't pay much, so sometime I take home a little somethin' extra," she said with a grin. "I ain't been caught yet, an I ain't gonna be neither."

    "You steal clothes?" asked Lana with surprise.

    "Ya, them foreign bastards I work fo' is cheap as hell. So I takes somethin' now and then and sells it to my friends ta' make up fo' it. They gets somethin' nice to wear, and I gets money fo' smokes. Den' everybody happy.... 'ceptin the boss. Ha ha ha...."

    Nick looked around the room and declared in a shocked voice, "Hey, there's no door in here! And there's no damned windows!"

    Winter and Lana looked around.

    "They gotta be a door somewheres, otherwise how'd we get in here?"

    "Ya, how did we get in here?" asked Lana.

    Nick walked over the wall and ran his hands along it. The surface was smooth and hard like glass. "Come on. Don't just stand there like stupid women. Do something! We gotta find a way out of here."

    Winter and Lana looked at each other and shrugged. All three of them moved around the room feeling and searching the walls. No one found a seam or crack or anything that might possibly be an opening.

    "This is bullshit! This is impossible! All right where are you," he yelled at the ceiling. "Why the hell are we here, and what do you want with us! Were gonna run out of air soon!"

    "Calm down white boy. We won't get nowhere like dat. We gots ta' think about dis' a minute."

    "Listen you black bitch," he said pointing a shaking finger at her. "I'm tired of you telling me what to do. I don't let anybody tell me what to do. Especially your kind."

    Winter calmly reached inside her sweater and pulled a switchblade from the elastic band of her pants. With a quick movement she flicked it open and held the blade tightly to Nick's throat.

    "Now you listen you motha' fuckin' red neck," she said with a tight-lipped mouth. "I ain't gonna take no mo' a yo' shit. I'd as soon as cut your balls off as look at ya," she said staring into his eyes. "But I'd probably have a hard time findin' 'em."

    They stood there facing each other, the tension building.

    "Wait! Stop it!" Lana moved forward to split them up. "What are you doing... this isn't gonna get us outa here. Winter is right, we need to think about this," she said to Nick. She turned to Winter. "And you put that away.... What are you doing with a knife anyway?"

    "A girl's gotta watch out fo' her self," she said eyeing Nick. "Ain't nobody gonna do it fo' me since my man up and died."

    Lana put her hand on Nick's arm and tried to pull him away from Winter. "Come on Nick, stop it." He finally gave way and stepped back. Nick's face relaxed as he turned toward her. "I'm only doing it for you darlin'.... just for you."

    Winter let her arm drop down slowly. After a moment she snapped the blade back and stuck it in her waistband. She pulled her sweater around her and crossed her arms. Walking over to the wall, she sat down and leaned against the hard surface. She rummaged around in the pocket of her sweater and pulled out a crumpled pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. She removed one, lit it and took a drag, blowing out the smoke with a sigh.

    "Hey. Stop that. We might not have much air in here...," said Nick in an angry tone.

    "So why don't you jus' hold yo' breath...," she said with a smile. "And do the world a favor."

    "Why, you damned...," he said moving forward.

    "Come on Nick," said Lana in a coy voice as she took his hand. "Why don't we go over there and sit in the corner and you can tell me all about yourself." She guided Nick toward the opposite corner of the room, glancing at Winter with a quick sideways shake of her head.

    They both sat down against the wall. Lana pulled her too short skirt further down. She wet her finger and ran it across a tear in her stocking. "I don't know why I bother..., this never works."

    Nick stared shamelessly at her legs. "Do you always dress like that darlin'?"

    Lana shook her head, flipping back her long red hair. "I only dress like this when I’m working; I make more money this way. At home I usually wear blue jeans and tee shirts."

    "How much you girls make a night, honey?" asked Winter.

    "Well, on good nights I can bring in about three-hundred dollars, and that's all tips. The least I ever made was fifty-seven dollars.... but I was sick that day and really didn't give a shit. So I went to the doctor and that's when I found out I was pregnant with Matthew."

    "You got any pictures of him?" Winter asked.

    "Ya!" she said searching around her. "Oh shit I forgot, my purse is at work, so I guess it's gonna be hard to show 'em to you. But he's a real cute kid... My boyfriend is watching him tonight. We kinda have this agreement. Charlie said he'd watch him while I'm working, if I promise not to cook," she said laughing. "It's a good thing he likes kids or things might be difficult. He's a great guy, he says wants to marry me and adopt Matthew."

    "So is you gonna marry him?" asked Winter.

    "I don't know... it would be good for the kid, but... I have to think about it some more. It's a big decision."

    "I hope you don't think I being too nosy Lana, but what do he think of you being a dancer?"

    "He doesn't mind. He knows other guys stare at me all the time... I guess as long as they keep their hands off me he's okay with it. He loves me... and he trusts me. That's what attracted me to him. He's different than all the other guys I've dated before, he loves me for me," she said putting her palm on her chest.

    "So, did one of your customers knock you up?" asked Nick with a smirk. "Too bad it wasn't me..."

    "It's none of your damned business!" said Lana angrily.

    "Ok, ok, I was just kidding," said Nick holding up his hands. "I didn't mean to push your buttons." He was staring at her breasts again.

    "Hey white boy, you show gotta way with da' women!" said Winter with exaggeration. "I bet they be poundin' down yo door."

    "If you don't stop calling me white boy, I'm gonna come over there and stick that knife up your black ass," said Nick coldly.

    "Ok you two, why don't you both just chill for a while. If we don't get out of here soon I'm going to be in trouble," she said with a strained look.

    "What cha' mean honey?"

    "Well..., I gotta go pee," she said nervously looking around her. "And I don't see any place to go... except the floor."

    "Don't you worry darlin'," said Nick. "I won't mind at all...ha, ha."

    "That's what I'm afraid of. You might not think so, but believe it or not, I'm kind of shy," she said with a slight blush. "At least when I go potty."

    "I think if we in here a while, we all gonna be in the same fix honey. But don't you worry none. I'll make sure he don't mess with ya." Winter looked over at Nick, smiled and patted her waistband.

    They all sat there for a while, Winter puffing on her cigarette, Nick glaring at her darkly and Lana chewing on her nails and crossing her legs back and forth.

    "You know what we does," said Winter dragging her stub across the floor. "But you never said nothin' about you."

    Nick pulled out a hanky from his pocket and carefully shined a spot on his shoe. "Well, you might say I'm in sales."

    "Wait. Let me guess," said Winter putting her finger across her lips. "Is you a car salesman?"

    Nick looked down with an embarrassed expression.

    "I knew it! You got dat slimy look dat all you car salesmen got. I bet you'd sell yo' sister for five bucks." Winter rocked back and forth with laughter, holding her stomach with her hand. "No wait, I bet you'd take two... Ha, ha, ha."

    Lana spoke up before Nick could respond.

    "I just can't wait any more," said Lana suddenly. "I gotta go. I knew I shouda' gone before my last set." She looked around her again as if she might have missed something. Perhaps a 'little girls room' that she had overlooked. "Damn, damn, damn," she said in frustration.

    She stood and walked to the corner of the room opposite from Nick and turned while biting her fingernail.

    "Ok, now. I don't want you watching me. I want you to turn around and face the wall Nick. I mean it."

    Nick smiled and shrugged. "Oh, you can trust me baby," he said smoothing back his greasy salt and pepper hair with one hand.

    "Ya, like a snake," said Winter as she stood. She walked over and stared down at Nick. "Well, mister whitey, why don't we both just be polite like and give her some privacy."

    Nick stood and faced her with arms crossed and brows furrowed. After a moment he turned and they both faced the wall and waited.

    "You make sure you stay turned around now..." Lana waited a moment, still biting her nail, then squatted after quickly pulling down her panties. After relieving herself, she stood and smoothed her dress with a sigh.

    "I just couldn't wait any longer. I was about to explode!"

    Nick and Winter turned around and looked at Lana.

    "Holy shit," said Nick.

    "I know," Lana said with a self-conscious look. "I piss like a racehorse. But I couldn't help it!"

    "I don't think that what he mean honey," said Winter. "Look." She pointed to the corner where Lana had just been, but there was nothing there.

    Lana turned around and sucked in her breath in surprise. The floor was dry and clean.

    "Where'd it go?" asked Lana.

    Winter walked over to where she had been standing before. The cigarette butt was not there, and there wasn't a mark on the floor where she'd ground it out.

    "Curiouser and curiouser," said Winter.

    Lana gave her a puzzled look.

    "Dats fom' Alice," she said. "Ya know, Alice in Wonderland. My granny used to read it to us kids when we was little." Winter turned her head to the side, a little smile forming on her lips. "I always used to love ta listen to her tell us stories; she show loved her books. I sometime wonder if that man who wrote Alice smoked a little of what that the caterpillar had," she said with a little laugh.

    Nick looked around nervously, shaking his head. "This place is...is all screwed up. We gotta get out here." Nick walked to the wall and banged on it with his fist. "Open up the damned door!" He paced back and forth wringing his hands. Dark stains were showing under his armpits even through the wool jacket he wore.

    Winter and Lana looked at each other, shaking their heads back and forth.

    "Come on Nicky, why don't you sit down a minute and relax," said Lana in a cool voice. "I'm sure Winter would let you have one of her cigarettes."

    "I don't smoke, remember."

    Winter held out her pack anyway, a cigarette poking its head out.

    Nick stopped pacing and looked at it. Without a word he snatched it out of her hand and shakily removed a cigarette. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a lighter. "It's for the customers," he said apologetically. "They love it when I light their cigarettes for them... it makes them feel important."

    Nick held the lighter up to end of the cigarette and spun the little wheel several times before he could get a flame to appear. When it finally did, his hands were shaking so badly he couldn't light it. Lana took the lighter and calmly lit it for him. He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath and held it. When he blew it out, he seemed much calmer.

    "Where'd you get that old thing," said Lana pointing at the lighter.

    "It's not that old," said Nick with annoyance.

    "So you don't smoke huh?" said Winter in a sarcastic tone. "Dat was my last one, I hope you likes it."

    "Twenty-eight years...", said Nick staring at the floor.

    "What?" said Lana.

    "I smoked for twenty-eight years.... I only quit three months ago, you know. My wife said that if I didn't stop she would leave me. So I stopped cold turkey. It was a real bitch. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. When I told her, I expected her to be proud of me, but she just slapped me and walked away. It turns out she left me anyway," said Nick with a nervous laugh. "She ran off with our stinkin’ Realtor! And that's not the worst part..."

    "That's terrible Nick," said Lana shaking her head. "But what could be worse than that?"

    "Our Realtor was a woman."

    A moment passed without a sound.

    "So I guess her wanting me to quit was just an excuse to leave huh?" he said lowering his voice. "She never expected me to quit did she?"

    Lana led him to the corner and made him sit down. He was mumbling to himself something about having a drink. Lana went back to Winter and pulled her across the room by the arm.

    "I'm worried about him Winter," she whispered. "I think he might crack if we don't get out of here soon."

    "Don't I know it honey," she said shaking her head. "He about as stable as a rowboat in a hurricane. Ok, let's think about this, so far none of us got anything in common." Winter turned and looked at Lana. "You not from New York is ya?"

    "No, I'm from Los Angeles"

    "I thought you talked funny," said Winter with a grin.

    "Hey, Nick, where you fom'?"


    "What city is you fom'?"

    "Pittsburgh," said Nick finally.

    "See," said Lana turning back to Winter.

    "So what. That only tells us what we don't have in common. That doesn't help us any."

    Lana paused and bit her nail. "I got a really dumb question."

    "Honey, right now I don't think any question is dumb."

    "Well, all right, but you'll probably thing I'm stupid for asking...."

    "Ask away, honey."

    "What year is it?"

    "Ha, ha. You right. That is a pretty dumb question. It's 1963."

    Lana's eyes got wide and her mouth dropped open. "No way!" she said finally. "It's 2030!"

    "Honey, has you been smoking somethin'?"

    "You mean drugs? No, nobody does drugs much anymore... at least not the chemical kind," she said. "It's mostly electronic stuff now. All that Virtual bullshit."

    Lana bent down and picked up the empty pack of cigarettes. "I saw Nick's antique lighter and this pack when you were holding it out. I couldn't believe you had cigarettes, since they're mostly black-market now."

    "This is too bizarre," said Lana pacing back and forth. "I can't believe this is happening. I feel like I'm in the zone..."

    "The zone?" asked Winter.

    "You know, The Twilight Zone. It's a real old show I watch on the Vid sometimes."

    "You mean the one with that Rod Sterling guy. I seen a couple of shows, but that only been on a couple of years. Some a dem' is pretty weird."



    "His name was Rod Serling," said Lana. "Not Sterling."


    "So, it looks like we not only came from different places, but different times. But I'd better ask Nick," said Lana as she started to turn away.

    Winter grabbed Lana's arm and whispered. "Wait now honey, you best be careful how you ask. We don't want him freakin' out on us."

    Lana frowned and nodded her head. "You're right."

    Lana went over to where Nick was sitting and knelt down beside him. "How ya doin' Nick?"

    Nick was still holding on to the lighter. He was flipping the lid open and closed over and over again as he stared at it. "Huh. Oh, I'm fine I guess. I was waiting to wake up from this nightmare."

    "Ya know, I bet you're younger than you look," said Lana coyly “How old are you anyway?"

    Nick sat up a little straighter. "Well, my dear, next month I turn fifty. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true.

    "So, when were you born then?"

    Nick shook his head side to side. "Sweet thing, you may be pretty, but you're dumber than my dog; 1924 of course. I guess you were never a math whiz in school."

    Lana laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess you're right Nick." She patted his arm and went back to Winter.

    Winter and Lana put their heads together and continued whispering. "Honey, you was right. If I figured correct, this would be 1974 to Nick."

    "So where does that leave us, Winter? I mean, what do we do now?"

    Winter went over and sat down against the wall, she stifled a yawn and leaned back. "I work graveyard honey, and I is tired. So I think I is gonna take me a little nap an' chew on this a bit." With that she put her head back and closed her eyes.

    Lana, not thinking of anything better, lay down near Winter and did the same. Nick too, nodded off after a while, still holding the lighter in his hand. All was quiet in the blank room except for the rhythmic breathing of the three strangers.

    Lana woke first. She lay for a moment staring upward. Something was different, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Then she started to scream. She was staring up at emptiness. In every direction she looked she saw an endless void.

    Winter, startled by the noise, struggled to open her eyes. She reached out, pulled her close and hugged her before becoming fully awake and aware of her surroundings.

    "What wrong honey," she said patting her on the back. "You haven' a bad dream?"

    "Look!" said Lana pointing.

    Winter opened her sleep filled eyes wider and finally did see. "Oh my dear lord help me Jesus!"

    The walls had disappeared. They were floating, apparently without support, in blue-sky emptiness.

    Winter closed her eyes and held tighter to Lana, trying to force down the panicky feeling that was welling up inside her. Nick groggily responded to the noise Lana had made. When he sat up and saw the nothingness surrounding them he bolted. Lana and Winter looked on in amazement as Nick stood and ran across empty space and slammed smack into an invisible wall, knocking himself out cold. He flopped onto the floor like a punch-drunk boxer down for the count and lay still.

    They looked at each other for a moment, dumbfounded, neither able to say a word. When they finally snapped out of it, they crawled over to Nick. He was bleeding from a large gash on his forehead. It was swelling quickly to the size of a golf ball.

    "Oh my God," shrieked Lana. "Is he ok?"

    "He fine honey," said Winter calmly. "I seen cuts lots worse den dis before, believe me. Here, help me get dis pukey lookin' tie off him. And take that hanky outa his jacket. We can use it to stop the bleedin'." Lana carefully loosened the knot and slid the tie from around Nick's neck. She removed the handkerchief from his pocket and handed them to Winter. She placed the folded hanky carefully on the cut and tied the tie around his head, to hold the hanky on the wound.

    "He kinda looks like Rambo," said Lana with a chuckle.

    "Who?" said Winter.

    "Never mind. I'll explain later."

    Lana felt around the floor experimentally. It still seemed solid as ever, but now you could see through it. While they slept, the walls had somehow become transparent. She looked around her. In every direction, she saw what appeared to be blue sky. She looked down hoping to see the ground below them, but all she saw was more empty space. She stood gingerly and tried a few steps. It was frightening, but also exhilarating. It was the closest to flying without wings she ever wanted to experience. She held her arms out in front of her like a blind girl, carefully feeling for the wall she knew must be there.

    "Winter I found the wall," she said excitedly. She ran her palms across it wonderingly. "This is so weird, I can feel it but I can't see it." She worked her way around the small cube shaped room until she was opposite from where she started.

    "Wait a minute Winter look at this!" exclaimed Lana.

    "It looks like some sort of crack in the wall," she said. "It's hard to make out, you almost have to be in right in front of it to see it."

    Winter went over to investigate. "Honey I think you found somthin' important."

    On the wall, like an etch in glass, ran a razor thin line about three feet in length.

    "Look around fo' some mo' a these lines," said Winter. "I gots an idea."

    Winter and Lana carefully searched the wall checking every inch of it. It was only a moment before Winter found what she was looking for.

    "Well, lord a' mercy, look at dis Lana."

    Lana moved to where she was standing and looked. At first she didn't see anything, but when she moved closer to the wall she saw it. There wasn't just one line, there were four, and they were connected like a square, three feet on a side in the center of the wall.

    "Wait jus' a minute." Winter reached into her sweater pocket and pulled out a little leatherette change purse and opened it up. She pulled out a tube of lipstick and twisted it. "Ya never knows when a good lookin' man might show his self," she said grinning. "A girl's gotta be ready for anything."

    She carefully drew where the lines were, marking a square box on the wall. It stood out like a pink neon sign hanging in space.

    "Cool color Winter," said Lana with a giggle.

    "I only steals da best."

    They both laughed till tears ran down their cheeks. When they stopped laughing they both surveyed her handiwork.

    "Ya know what we gots here girl?" said Winter with pride.

    "A square?" said Lana.

    They both laughed like schoolgirls again. But finally Winter said more seriously, "If I be right, it's a door. A door outa here, into God knows where..."

    Lana's eyes got wide. "Do you really think so. If it's a door, then where are the controls? I don't see any."

    "Controls? Oh, you must mean the door knob," said Winter. "They ain't no knobs. So we gots ta' find our own way. Hang a sec', I wanna try somethin'." Winter put her hands in the middle of the day-glow square and pushed. Nothing happened. She pushed harder, straining and leaning. Still, nothing happened. "Okay, you bitch, open! Come on," she said turning, "You young and strong, help me push on 'dis thing."

    Lana and Winter both shoved at the square as hard as they could manage, but still it didn't move.

    "I have an idea," said Lana. "Here, give me that lipstick." Lana pulled off the gold top and unscrewed the waxy rod. "Here's what we need," she said with a giggle. Lana drew a circle on the right edge of the square. "A doorknob."

    "Lana, honey, is you off you rocker...?"

    Before she could say another word, Lana pushed on the 'doorknob', and the square swung quietly outward.

    Winter and Lana both stared at each other, their mouths wide open. "Eeeeee, you did it," Winter shrieked. They hugged each other jumping up and down.

    "Now that I opened it, what do we do?" she said looking at it.

    "Well, honey, we sticks our heads out and sees what we can see."

    The first thing they noticed was how thin the walls were. They couldn't have been more than an eighth of an inch thick, though they felt solid as concrete. When they put their heads through the opening they felt wind on their faces. It was blowing very lightly and it smelled something like lilacs.

    "Winter, this room or cube or whatever the hell this is we're in... What's holding it up? What if we're falling! Lana pulled her head in and covered her mouth with both hands. Her face went white as paper. "We're gonna die," she whispered, her eyes fixed on empty space.

    "Honey, we could jus' as well be floatin'. I learned a long time ago not to worry none about what you can't change."

    A groan came from Nick. He sat up slowly holding his forehead. "Man, I feel like I been on an all-nighter. What the hell happened to me?

    "Nick, listen a minute," said Lana carefully. "Don't open your eyes just yet. Ya see, you ran straight into the wall a little while ago and hit your head pretty hard. I don't know if you remember or not, but the walls have kind of... disappeared.

    "What, do you mean disappeared," he said, still a little groggily. He sat there a minute and said finally, "I think I remember now. Yea. I thought I was dreaming..."

    "Well, this sho' ain't no dream," said Winter. "So just open your eyes slow, and try not to freak out on us again. We gots somethin' we wants ta show ya."

    Nick opened his eyes and looked first at Lana and Winter then around him. "Holy.... Shit!" He quickly closed his eyes again. "Ok, ok. Tell me what happened to the walls."

    "It's okay Nick. The walls are still there. You just can't see them," said Lana in a comforting tone. "We all took a nap, and when we woke up, they were gone. They sorta went transparent on us. But look over there," she said pointing to the open square. "I think I found us a way out of here."

    He opened his eyes and looked. "What's that pink shit?"

    "Typical man...," said Winter with a grin. "He don't know a sexy color when he see one."

    "That's a door to the outside Nick, I found it when I was feeling my way around the walls after you knocked yourself out, then Winter marked it with her lipstick. But, wait a minute...," she said looking around. "Why didn't we see the lines in the wall before?"

    "Ya, I was jus' thinking the same thing," said Winter. "I bet we can only see the lines when the walls is clear."

    "I wonder why they changed?" said Nick gingerly touching his bump. "I mean what's the deal here?"

    "I'm getting hungry," said Lana. "What time is it Nick?"

    Nick pulled back his sleeve and checked his watch. "It's 7:18."

    Winter felt around absently in her pocket for a cigarette, then froze looking at Nick. "Wait now.... jus' a minute. Nick, is it morning or night?"

    "My watch says A.M. So I guess it must be morning," he said sarcastically.

    "It sounds like you're feeling better Nicky."

    Winter interrupted Lana. "I think I know what's happening, at least part of it. We all got snatched at the same time, and that was at night, right? I was workin', Lana was dancing and you was bein' an animal. It seem like durin' the 'day', the walls go clear and at 'night' they go solid."

    "Well, that's one of the stupidest ideas...," started Nick.

    "Nick," said Lana excitedly. "I think she might be right. It makes sense when you think about it. But the only way we can be sure is if we sleep in shifts and watch to see what happens."

    Nick stood up slowly swaying side to side. "Ok, let's see what you found." He walked over to the cutout in the clear wall and stopped, leaning on the edge of it. He stared out the opening for a while, looking in every direction. "So what do we do now?


    He looked at Winter. "And I think you should go first, since you are the one that found it. Here, I'll help you." Nick held out his hand to Winter, smiling slyly.

    "Very funny, white boy. When I learns to fly, you'll be the first to know. You got any money on ya?"

    "Of course I do, why?"

    "Here, give me a dollar bill."


    "Don't ask stupid questions, just give me one."

    Nick looked at Lana, but she just shrugged. Nick pulled out his wallet and handed Winter a twenty. "Here, this is the smallest I have."

    She took it and threw it out the door.


    They watched it fly out and up, tumbling end over end until it disappeared from sight.

    "Why did you do that?" demanded Nick.

    "Oh, I just wanted throw out some of your money to see what would happen."

    "You mean you have your own?"

    "Of course I do. You don't think I'd be stupid enough to throw away my own does ya?"

    Nick moved toward Winter. "I think it's time I threw you out. I'd love to see what happens to you."

    "Wait!" said Lana with surprise. "Look at that,” she said pointing upward.

    High above them, almost out of sight, floated a dark speck. They watched as it got bigger and bigger, moving in a lazy zig zag pattern.

    "What is it!" said Lana with alarm.

    "It's probably just my money."

    "Nope, I don't think so. It moving this way on purpose. In fact, I think it comin' right fo' us."

    It was true. The speck got larger and larger until there was no doubt. It was indeed coming straight toward them. As it got closer they were able to make out more detail. It was about the size and girth of a small hippo, except that it was hairy. In fact it was very hairy. The hair was thick, brown and rope-like and about six inches long. Even more unlikely, it had four tiny wings, about the size of serving platters. It seemed impossible that those small wings could possibly hold up such a large creature. It was akin to those of a bee, who was also thought impossible to fly.

    "What the hell is it," exclaimed Nick with distress.

    It was very close now, only about fifteen feet from their door. It simply stopped and hovered there with its wings extended. It appeared more balloon than beast. The breeze seemed more than sufficient to hold it up. The wings were only control surfaces to guide it's bulk through the air.

    Its eyes were very large, about the size of salad plates. They were sad and wet, reminiscent of those little girls in cheap velvet paintings. And it was purring like a big cat with a bad cold.

    Then surprisingly, it smiled. It had a very toothsome grin. The teeth, like it's eyes, were enormous.

    "What's that," said Lana pointing to the thing's mouth.

    "Hey, it's got my twenty!"

    Stuck on one of its fangs was Nick's money, pierced right through Jackson's face.

    "Awww. Look, it brought back your money Nick," said Lana. "Just like a big puppy."

    "Yea, a puppy on steroids," commented Winter. "Watch it honey, don't get too close to that thing. It might bite."

    "Na, just listen to it. It's purring like a pussycat." Lana moved toward the opening and held out her hand. The creature flapped its wings once and gently floated toward her. It nudged up against Lana's hand and made a sort of snorting sound. Lana laughed and rubbed between its eyes.

    "If you ask me it's ugly as hell and it sounds like a pig," said Nick in a disgusted tone.

    "Well, white boy, I think you just described yourself to a tee."

    Nick ignored Winter and stepped forward. "Move outa my way darlin', I gotta get my cash back from this ugly bastard." Nick pushed Lana to the side and reached out to grab his money from off the thing's tooth. It clamped its mouth shut and grunted at Nick.

    "Come on, give it back you piece of shit!" Nick smacked it hard on the face and waited for the mouth to open again.

    It did.

    Fast as a cobra, the beast opened its mouth wide enough to swallow a dishwasher. Out slid a long tongue, which proceeded to wrap itself around Nick's face. With a quick jerk Nick was pulled into its mouth. It closed, muffling his screams. Nick's kicking feet stuck out for a moment before they too were pulled in with a telltale slurp. The beast chewed Nick with the relish of a sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat rib joint. The crunching sounds were followed immediately by an appreciative belch. It smiled again and winked at Lana.

    Lana screamed and fainted.

    "Well honey," said Winter dryly. "I guess it don't like salesmen much neither, 'cept maybe as a main course."

    After a few moments Lana came around and Winter helped her up.

    She swayed a moment then leaned against the wall.

    "I think I'm going to be very sick..., said Lana between white lips. "Poor Nick. What an awful way to die."

    "Ya, it too bad. That lighter might a' come in handy."

    "Oh Winter, stop it!"

    "I'm sorry honey, I jus' couldn't resist one last dig," she said as she laid her hand on her shoulder. "Besides, he was a pain in the ass, we better off without him."

    The beast started purring again, this time a little more gently. Its tongue slipped out and snaked toward them. They both backed up out of range, not wanting to be desert. Wrapped in its tip was the twenty, apparently held out to Lana.

    "Lana, I think it like you. It tryin' to make friends with you."

    Lana looked the beast in the eye, which wasn't hard to do, and shook her finger at it. "You're a bad boy! You shouldn't eat people like that. It's not nice!"

    "Bad boy," it repeated in a low growl. It got a pouty expression on its furry face and dropped the bill at Lana's feet. It flapped its stubby wings and started to back off.

    "Shit! It can talk!"

    "Wait now Lana," said Winter tensely. "Don't let it get away... It might be our only way outa here!"

    "Ok, ok...," said Lana with irritation. "Come on boy. Come on back now. "I can't believe I'm talking to a hairy balloon," she said out the side of her mouth.

    The creature immediately snorted and grinned widely. It was a frightening sight. It moved back toward them purring loudly.

    Lana held out her hand and stepped toward him. "Good boy! Good boy!" she repeated in a positive voice. "You're not gonna eat me are you?"

    "Eat me," it mimicked.

    Winter laughed. "We got us a comedian here."

    The beast copied Winter's laugh with astonishing accuracy. Then it was Lana's turn to laugh. After a moment, all three were laughing. Each giggle and guffaw reinforced the last until it built to a roaring crescendo. They laughed and pointed at each other and then the beast, who shook like Jell-O. Tears ran down their faces. They laughed till their sides ached and they couldn't laugh anymore. When they finally stopped they leaned against the wall breathing hard. They put out their hands and rubbed the creature’s nose causing him to purr louder. "Jus' don't hit him," said Winter quietly. "I don't think he like it much."

    "Don't worry, I won't."

    Winter examined the creature carefully. "Ya know, I bet we could both ride this thing. There's plenty to hang on to."

    "You can't be serious!"

    "Would you rather stay here an' starve? Not this old lady! I'm gonna go if you is or not. Whoever or whatever brought us here seem to have forgot us. Anyway, whatever happens, I ain't gonna go back to that damned sweatshop. So make up your mind right quick honey, there's gotta be more to this world than this, and I aims to see it."

    "Well," Lana said pausing. "I'm tired of hanging around all the Vid freaks anyway. I know Charlie will take care of Matthew until I get back, if I ever do... Lana bit her nail and looked around. She looked back at Winter and smiled. "Ok, you convinced me. I'm in. Let's check this place out... Besides I'm getting hungry, maybe our friend here can find us something to eat."

    "Well," said Winter. "If he gonna be our friend, we gonna have to give him a name. An since we found this world, I guess we got the right to name him any damn thing we want."

    "Hmmm. Let's see," said Lana scratching her chin. "What can we call this hairy thing? How about Max... Max the Porkypotamus? I used to have this big fat cat named Max, he kinda reminds me of him." She turned to the beast. "What do you think boy! Should we call you Max?"

    It wobbled side to side grinning and said, "Max! Max!"

    "If I didn't know better I'd think this thing was waggin' its tail," said Winter raising her eyebrows. "Well, I guess Max it is!"

    Lana coaxed Max to turn sideways next to the door, and they both carefully climbed onto its back. They grabbed big tufts of hair and Max floated away from the cube. He flapped his little wings hard and they flew upward. After a few moments they could no longer see the pink square Winter had drawn. They flew on for hours, taking naps in turn while one kept watch. They tried to teach Max some words along the way, but they weren't sure if he was just parroting them back or if he really understood what they said. When night fell they were astounded by the sight of countless white cubes floating around them as far as they could see.

    As the light faded they appeared slowly, coming into focus like the first stars of night. These cubes, like the one they had woke up in, had transformed themselves from crystal clear to pearl white. They seemed to glow with their own inner light.

    They traveled all night until finally in the morning, they saw something far off in the distance. It was a huge continent, and it stretched away as far as the eye could see.

    "Well, honey, it look like we found us a home. I gonna call it Wonderland if that ok with you."

    "Sure, that's a good a name as any. What do you think we'll find there?"

    "I don't know, but I expect we gonna find out soon enough."

    "Winter?" she said pausing.


    "Why do you think we were brought here? And by who?"

    "I don't know if we'll ever know that, honey. I only know that ya gots take whatever life gives ya and make the best of it. That's all any of us can do."

    The End

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