Naomi’s phone buzzed as she pulled into her parking spot. She picked it up, then placed it her pocked when she saw it was an instant message from Angelina. She really didn’t have time for that right now.
The phone buzzed again with a second message. Sighing, she picked it up.
“What’s going on?” said Jen. “Do you need to get that?”
“No,” said Naomi. “No, it’s just this girl I know from online. Chelsea’s friend.”
She climbed out of her car, then walked around to open the door for Sarah and undo her seatbelt.
“Thank you kindly.”
Sarah smiled at her as she stepped out of the car, struggling a little to steady herself without use of her arms.
“If she’s Chelsea’s friend, maybe she can help,” said Jen.
“No.” Naomi shook her head. “Trust me, she wouldn’t be much help. She’s, well…”
She’s weird? She’s childish? She’s an annoying teeniebopper?
Naomi paused. It was hard to explain Angelina to anyone who didn’t know Angelina without sounding mean. Even some people who did know Angelina, mainly Chelsea, seemed to think Naomi was being mean when she said those things. But then again, Chelsea was way too nice sometimes.
Chelsea was the type of person who’d try to peacefully reason with Sarah’s sisters, something that could get her hurt or worse if she wasn’t careful. They had to get her out of the pit soon, or… or…
Jen spoke, interrupting Naomi’s thoughts.
“She’s… well…” Naomi frowned. “She’s not very mature for her age. She’s definitely not a girl you’d want helping in a life or death situation.”
“What did she say?” said Jen.
“I don’t know what she was talking about,” said Naomi. “Something about a disaster in Italy.”
“A disaster in Italy?” said Jen. “That’s kinda random.”
“Well, she’s Italian, so it’s not as random as it could be. It’s still pretty random, though.” Naomi gestured to her small front porch. “This one’s my apartment.”
Sarah and Jen followed her to her door and waited as she turned the key.
“Did she have a reason for bringing it up, or was she just like ‘hey, check out this disaster in Italy’?” said Jen.
“It’s hard to know with her. I’m sure she meant well, but…” Naomi sighed.
“But she’s a distraction you don’t need right now?” said Jen.
“Yeah. Yeah, that.” Naomi opened her front door and held it for Jen and Sarah, then led them into the living room. “Come in. I’d offer you a seat but…”
She frowned at Sarah and gestured to her broken couch where it lay against the wall.
Sarah shrugged her shoulders, not even trying to look apologetic.
“Oh, yeah. Whoops.”
Jen’s eyes grew large as she took in the broken furniture, shattered glass, and crumbed drywall.
“Holy crap. It looks like Hurricane freakin’ Hugo hit this place. What happened?”
Naomi frowned at Sarah again.
Jen turned her wide-eyed stare to Sarah.
“You did all this?”
“Yup.” Sarah flashed her a grin.
“Holy crap,” repeated Jen. “Why?”
“I had a job to do.” Sarah smiled at Naomi and nudged her with her shoulder. “But I have a new job, now. Helping Naomi here in whatever way I can. Right, ally?”
“You’re laying the false charm on really thick for someone who tried to kill both other people in this room less than two hours ago.”
“She’s got a point,” said Jen. “You kinda sorta did do that.”
“Not to mention, two of my friends are in danger because of you,” said Naomi.
“Y’all are never gonna let that go, are you? I’m on your side, okay? I realized the error of my ways or whatever.”
“That would have been a lot more convincing without the ‘or whatever’,” said Jen.
“Look, you want to help?” said Naomi. “Fine. You can start by cleaning up some of the mess you made. The broom and vacuum are in the laundry room. I’ll cut your arms free, but if we even think you might be trying anything, Jen here–“
“Hi!” Jen waved.
“Jen here will kick you into another decade.”
Lachlan placed his fingers on the side of Sam’s neck. Sam’s pulse was weak but present, which scared Lachlan as much as it relieved him.
Sam was alive, but was he comatose? When would he wake up? What if another monster came after them? What was Lachlan supposed to do then?
Shivering from stress and cold, he pulled what was left of his shirt back on. With so much of it missing from the back, it did little to keep him warm.
The unmistakable copper smell of blood was relentless, assaulting his nose and making him flash back to the memory of Sam’s ruined fingers each time he thought about it. It was bad enough that he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to handle coins again.
If he ever got home, he’d probably never be able to work the register at Chaz’s Chicken Hut again without feeling sick.
As he rubbed his arms for warmth, sending flecks of Sam’s drying blood scattering to the ground, he studied his surroundings. Concrete stretched out around him as far as he could see, featureless save for the distant spot of light from the hole out of which he and Sam had climbed, and the trail of dark red leading from it.
The boundless concrete expanse was strange, but this place’s most noticeable feature by far was its sky.
In February, Lachlan had been in the car with his mum, stepdad, and sister, on the way to visit his grandparents. He had heard about the Bunyip State Park and Delburn fires a few days before, but they had felt distant and weightless, mere news reports that didn’t have much bearing on his everyday life.
Then he’d looked up from his book and out the window to find the clear summer sky had mutated into something sickly, yellow, and smoldering, the swollen crimson sun pulsing within it like a wound. The thought reminded him of Sam’s wound–deep blood red with explosions of yellow–and he almost gagged again.
The sky in this place reminded him of that bushfire sky, but with none of the heat behind it. It was green and black rather than yellow and brown, the glow it emitted somehow bitter cold.
The moment he had seen that smoke-deformed sky from the car window was the moment the fires had begun to feel real and frightening to him.
Now, sitting here beside Sam’s prone, blood-soaked body as the last of some unknown drugs worked their way from his system, the smell of blood so overpowering it left a metallic taste in his mouth, the gravity of Lachlan’s situation began to sink in.
He was stranded with no way home, in a reality with no sun and a monstrous seasick sky, surrounded by things that wanted to kill him. He was dimensions or realities or whatever away from his home and family, and he might never see them again. He was trapped in this strange, hostile place, almost completely alone.
He looked down at Sam.
If you don’t wake up, I will be completely alone.
Sam had been so annoyingly confident he would get them home. It had been obnoxious, but it had given Lachlan a shred of hope at the same time. He reached into Sam’s pocket and retrieved the notebook, on which the blood had left a kind of gruesome red marbled pattern. He opened it and stared down the blood-flecked notes inside, trying to intimidate them into giving him an epiphany.
Nothing came to him. Frustration welled inside him until he gave up, slamming the notebook onto the floor beside him. The impact wasn’t hard or loud enough to provide a satisfying outlet for his emotions, so he tried another outlet.
“FUCK!” he screamed into the frozen green sky. “Fuck, fuck, fucking motherfuck! Fuckity McFUCK!”
He felt a bit better, but not much.
He still had no way home, and no idea what to do.
When some people felt as though there was nothing they could do, they turned to their deity or deities of choice and prayed, but Lachlan had been an atheist since he’d been old enough to think for himself.
Before now, he’d never understood the appeal of prayer. But before now, he had never felt truly, utterly helpless. It was a feeling he hated more than anything, he decided.
He looked back up, facing that cold and forbidding sky, clasped his hands together, and addressed the closest thing to a higher power he had any iota of faith or belief in.
“Dear mad-scientist-who-has-my-brain-in-a-jar, hallowed be thy name, if you’re there and you’re listening, it’s me, Lachlan.”