Angelina lay face-down in the lumpy bed, resting her chin in her hands as Chelsea dabbed disinfectant on her wounds. Belfry had done his best, but as it turned out, bats weren’t the best at applying bandages.
Without the nightgown on, the air was cold enough to make her shiver a bit, but somehow, Chelsea’s face looked redder than before. Hopefully, she was feeling alright.
“I’m so sorry,” said Chelsea. “I should’ve done this to begin with. It’s just been such a… a weird, weird day.”
“It so has.” Angelina nodded emphatically. “This is nice, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“This. Being here with you.”
“It is nice,” said Chelsea. “Not exactly how I pictured our first meeting, but nice.”
“I always kind of hoped I’d meet you at my first Goldfish Technique show. Like, we’d see each other from across the bar and run over to each other all excited and hug in slow motion.”
“Once we get home, I’ll take you to see them.” Chelsea twisted the cap back onto the disinfectant tube and removed the bandages from the first aid kit.
That sounded like the kind of thing people said because it sounded nice, but Angelina really hoped Chelsea meant that.
“When I was 17, I took the train five hours to stand outside when they opened for The Blame Collection in Milan. I could kind of hear them. It was the most beautiful-est sound in the world.”
“You didn’t go in?”
“You had to be 18. I wanted to sneak in, but I couldn’t find a way.”
“Wow,” said Chelsea. “That’s dedicated.”
“Lachlan said I was like a crazy person,” said Angelina, “but he’s always telling me if I was a real fan, I’d have seen the band live.”
“That’s not fair. He lives in the same city as they do. He can see them all the time.”
“He says if I really loved them, I’d have found a way to see them by now.”
“It’s easy to be a fan if you’re lucky enough to see them every weekend,” said Chelsea. “You’re on another continent, and you single-handedly founded the Italian street team.”
“Lachlan said the Italian street team doesn’t count because it’s just me, you, and my sister.” Angelina sighed. “You’re not even Italian, and Martina’s only 10 and she doesn’t even like the band.”
“It counts,” said Chelsea. “How many street teams has he founded?”
“If you and I never get home, do you think Martina will carry on her big sister’s legacy and help the street team live on in my memory? Probably not, right?”
“Don’t say that,” said Chelsea. “We’ll find a way home. If there was a way here, there has to be a way back too, right?”
“Maybe not. Maybe it’s like a… space thing that sucks in planets and stars. I don’t know the English word for it. In Italian, it’s buco nero.”
“A black hole?”
“So it’s basically exactly the same words. Now I feel dumb.” Angelina pursed her lips and stared out the window at the dark silhouettes of long-empty houses. “It can’t really be like a black hole anyway. Things from here can go back to the normal world. When I was in the crater, I saw things from the town appearing, like lamps and envelopes.”
“Lamps and envelopes, huh?”
“And other stuff. It wasn’t just a field full of lamps and envelopes.” Angelina giggled at the idea. “Just an endless field full of lamps and envelopes! That would be so weird!”
Angelina tried and failed to suppress another laugh at the idea of a field of lamps and envelopes. Chelsea laughed too, which was nice, because most people probably wouldn’t have found the idea funny.
“Anyway, if lamps and envelopes–” Angelina stifled another giggle and continued. “If lamps and envelopes can come back from here, you’re probably right that we can also go back.”
“Did you notice any patterns in how the things appeared?”
“Not really,” said Angelina. “It seemed completely random. I don’t think we could predict it.”
“This might sound weird, but I’m not sure I believe randomness exists,” said Chelsea.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how computer programs can’t really generate truly random numbers?”
“Yeah,” Angelina lied.
“Since they have to use algorithms, the numbers can’t actually be random. They have a pattern you can predict. Then there are the random number generators that use radio noise from lightning. A lot of people say that’s completely random, but lightning can be predicted too…”
Angelina nodded, watching Chelsea’s reflection in the window as she spoke. Her red hair was falling into her face as she leaned down to apply bandages. She was so smart–she probably knew everything. She was so pretty too, even prettier in person than she’d been on video or in pictures.
“…even things like dice rolls and roulette wheels,” finished Chelsea.
Angelina realized she had missed most of what Chelsea had said.
“My point is,” said Chelsea, “it’s possible to find a way out of here. We just need to figure out the pattern.”
Angelina hoped she was right.
Naomi, Jen, and Falcon walked together across the cold, dark concrete expanse, heading for a distant ledge where the concrete appeared to drop off into nothingness.
Naomi had left her pen in the car, but fortunately, Jen had been carrying another pen in her pocket. Unfortunately, that pen had turned out to be a pink, glitter gel pen shaped like a cartoon cat. The writing it produced was barely legible, and even worse, holding the stupid thing made Naomi feel so silly and childish.
‘Have you been to this place before?’ Naomi wrote.
She passed the notepad to Falcon. For Jen’s benefit, he shook his head no instead of signing it.
So they didn’t even have a guide. Fantastic.
She held out her hand, motioning for the notepad back. He handed it to her, and she wrote another message.
‘Please, at least tell me you know something about this place.’
He wrote something on the pad and handed it back to her. Jen craned her neck over Naomi’s shoulder to see what he had written.
‘It’s dangerous. My brothers and I always thought of it as a death sentence.’
‘Thanks for the reassuring words,’ she wrote back.
Jen motioned for the notepad, and Naomi handed to her.
‘Sarah said there was dangerous stuff in here. do u know what kinda stuff?’
Falcon shook his head again.
Jen wrote another message.
‘look on the bright side! at least up here nothing can sneak up on us!’
She drew a smiley face at the end of her message, despite this being in no way a smiley face type of situation.
A strange screeching roar came from somewhere below them, causing Jen and Naomi to jump. Naomi took the notepad.
‘Something could still come after us from below. We need to be careful.’
‘we’ll be fine!’ wrote Jen. ‘we just need to stay positive!’
She added another smiley face. This girl was really something else.
How were they supposed to stay positive when they were stranded in some kind of pit between realities? When there were unknown monsters lurking below them and they didn’t know if their friends were alive or dead?
They were not going to be fine, Naomi was sure of that much. Right now, though, she had to focus on finding Chelsea. After that, there would be plenty of time to worry about how doomed they all were.
The roar sounded again, louder this time.
‘Something is roaring,’ wrote Naomi. ‘It’s getting closer.’
‘hey now we don’t know that sound is something scary!’ wrote Jen. ‘maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds!’
‘Please be less optimistic,’ wrote Naomi.
The roar came a third time, this time rumbling from almost directly below them, shaking the concrete they stood on.
Falcon looked down, concerned. He gave Naomi and Jen a questioning look, as if to ask ‘was that it?’. Naomi nodded.
Jen didn’t respond, instead staring vacantly at the horizon. It was strange–she’d been annoyingly positive moments before. Now, she looked almost paralyzed with terror.
Before Naomi could ask if Jen was okay, the concrete in front of them began to crack and splinter. Writhing tendrils erupted from the cracks, so vivid blue in color they seemed to glow in the dim light.
So much for staying positive.