Liam looked to Perdita who he assumed would have said something to this man that looked like a human version of the mayor from Nightmare Before Christmas. His head was a little too long and his hat skinny and elongated. He noticed, looking at the crowd for the first time that all the faces were longer and skinnier. But even that wasn’t a problem. It was the fear that seventy-five percent of the entire population, including the four-armed race that was waging war against a six-armed race forty-two lines over: public speaking.
Amara was tending to Perdita as best as she could leaving Liam standing in front of this strange looking man with strange looking people in front of him. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat, wiped his hands on his pants, and spoke.
“Hi,” he said.
“Welcome travelers!” The mayor said and threw up his short arms. “This is the realm of Yerwark Tikalundicus Americanas. Or the YTA for short! The free land for all Humequus!”
Everyone was cheering and throwing up their hands to the vast blue sky that stretched out above them. Liam was smiling, not because he liked the attention, but because he was uncomfortable. He held up his hand to wave back and that’s when there was an audible gasp through the crowd. The faces seemed to stretch even longer as they were staring up at his hand.
“Well how do you do?” The mayor said into the microphone.
Liam lowered his hands and watched uncountable eyes lower to stare at his hand. He looked at their hands and noticed that they had a large bulbus thumb and two fingers. Each fingernail was black. He also noticed that their shoes were black, rounded, and shiny. Every single one of them were wearing the same shoe. He looked to the mayor’s feet.
“Those are not shoes,” he said out loud.
“Well of course not!” The mayor laughed nervously patting him hard on the back.
“Shut the fuck up and act normal,” he whispered.
“Where have you come from great and wise travelers?” the mayor asked.
“From many, many, many, realities away,” Liam replied. “How did you know about us?”
“There was the great golden light, the prime light,” the mayor said.
When he mentioned the prime light, everyone bowed their heads and made a noise through their throats that sounded like a high-pitched vibrating scream. That’s when it started to add up what these people originated from and for some reason, he didn’t like the idea at all.
“She came through the sky and told us that travelers would come from another place and carry knowledge that would help lead our people into another way of travel, so that we may do the work that needs done!”
The cheers started again, and Liam nodded pretending to understand what they were talking about. Obviously, Perdita Prime had anticipated them coming here which mean that she could read the future even if they were out of it completely. That bothered him even more and he wondered if the vibrating lines wasn’t the last layer.
Behind him he could hear Perdita moan and Amara whisper something to her. Neither of them had a chance to look and see what was going on, nor did they know what was about to happen. Liam didn’t see anything coming, but knew, with the mention of the golden light, that something was going to go wrong.
One of the things that they knew that they had to do, was travel together no matter what. They knew, that once that they split, there would be absolutely no way to figure out where they had went. As Perdita stood, Amara was struck from behind with a long device that jolted her stiff and then she collapsed. Perdita started to say something but was struck by the same thing.
Liam didn’t want to jump lines so he did the only thing he could think of and jump backwards in time. The world shifted and the multitude of the same people moving stretched out before him and he started to move backwards. But the sound came rushing back and the mayor stepped through the haze and shook his head smiling with large, square teeth.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “This isn’t going to hurt too much.”
And with that he shoved the metal prod into Liam’s stomach, and everything went black.
It was cold. When he woke, he was in a dark room with red lights. In front of him Amara and Perdita were strapped to tables completely stripped of all clothes and belongings. Perdita was missing her bracelet, but the machine was still plugged in the back of her head. They were both staring at him with wide eyes.
“You’re alive,” Amara gasped.
She still had her eye.
“Yes,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Don’t be alarmed,” Perdita said. “But look down.”
Liam suddenly didn’t’ want to look down. There was something that told him if he looked down it would be over and that would be that. So instead, he looked around the room and noticed that a figure in a lab coat was bent over a table.
“Excuse me,” Liam shouted. “Where the fuck are we?”
“You need to look down,” Perdita said.
“You hooved motherfucker,” Liam shouted. “Where are we?”
The figure raised up stiff, turned to look at him. The face was elongated like the rest with a wide nose. There was whisps of a white beard and mustache on his skin. He raised up and clacked over to him.
“You don’t know what you just said,” they said. “So, I’m going to explain something to you.”
“Don’t make him angry,” Amara said.
“You shut up,” they said. “I’ll figure out your means of travel soon enough.”
Liam could see Amara blink, look over to Perdita as if realizing something.
“I’m Ranger Harder,” he said. “Lead scientist.”
“I’m a scientist too,” Liam said.
“That’s nice,” Ranger replied. “Then you can observe that you and I are very different.”
“We are,” Liam said.
“I think,” Ranger said. “Instead of evolving from the horse like the rest of us, you evolved from some kind of other animal that we don’t have.”
“That’s also not hard to figure out,” Liam sneered. “What kind of scientist are you?”
“Liam,” Amara whispered.
“Even your organs are different and placed differently. Ranger reached out with his hand and pulled on something around Liam’s belly. When he looked down, he could see the three fingers was holding one of Liam’s kidneys. That’s when he noticed that he was pinned against the wall, and his skin had been peeled off and his body carefully split open.
Liam screamed and screamed and screamed until he couldn’t scream anymore. He tried to move his limbs but they wouldn’t respond. He could just feel the dead weight of them pinned to the wall. Somehow, he could feel the cold air on his organs and exposed muscles, but it didn’t hurt.
None of it hurt.
“You are interesting,” Ranger said after he screamed.
“You’re fucking sick,” Liam shouted.
“I’m a scientist,” Ranger whinnied.
He leaned down to get a closer look at Liam’s organs and Liam, though he didn’t want to look down as well. Ranger pulled at the intestines and made a noise as he realized he could unravel it. With care, he uncurled the intestines and counted out measurements to a recording device on the other side of the room. Liam gagged and then threw up on himself.
Things were getting harder and harder to process. He knew that Amara and Perdita were on the table, but when he looked over, he could only see Perdita. There was a loud sickening crack above them that he had heard a few times in their shift. That meant the line had shifted and there were two different instances of this timeline running now.
But how did that happen? Who, he wondered, had broken the rules?
That’s when Amara stepped into the room fully clothed with her guns. She shot Ranger in the head sending his body tumbling sideways. He thrashed back and forth, his hooves scraping against the metal floor as he was in his death throes. The unfortunate issue was that Ranger was still holding Liam’s guts, so they were being pulled at a rapid pace out of his body.
Amara cursed and disappeared once again.
All of a sudden, they were all standing in a room with a dead Ranger. Liam wasn’t pinned to the wall nor was his body flayed open.
“I’m not good at judging time jumps like I thought,” Amara said.
“I wish I could go back and erase that from my memory,” Liam said.
“I wish I could remember what just happened,” Perdita said. “It feels bad.”
“It’s all fucking bad,” Amara said.
“Do we need to stay here anymore,” Liam asked. “Or can we fucking go?”
“We can go,” Perdita said.
So, they jumped, and they didn’t just jump a few over. They kept going skipping over as many lines as they could. Humans that weren’t humans made them feel wrong and sideways on the inside. So, they skipped line after line after line until Perdita found one that looked calm, tranquil, and serene. So, they stepped through and found themselves on a small narrow road surrounded by vibrant trees. Leaves tumbled down around them. The houses were close together with small yards. They could see a bit a way up the road a man bent over something holding a bag.
“Do they look human?” Liam asked.
“From what I can tell,” Amara said.
As they neared the house where the man was now hanging a bird feeder in his tree, they stopped and looked at him and he looked at them. He was wearing a hoodie with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow displaying a bunch of tattoos. His hair was pulled back and he had a well groomed beard. They noticed that even though it was chilly he was wearing a pair of sandals.
“Hello,” Perdita said.
“You know,” the man said. “I was always worried this was going to happen.”
“What is that?” Amara asked.
“That I was going to lose it,” he said. “End up talking to trashcans, or worse, people that weren’t there.”
“We’re here,” Liam said.
“That’s what they’d say,” the man replied.
“You’re not crazy,” Perdita said. “I promise.”
“Nice meeting you,” the man said. “I’m going to go in here and shoot myself in the head.”
He turned and started going toward the house. The three of them looked at one another and then Amara ran toward him and tackled him on the ground. The man grunted as he rolled with her and when he was on his back and looked at up her with recognition.
“So you’re real,” he said. “Amara, right?”
“Yes,” Amara said. “Are you still going to shoot yourself? Because I’m in a bad mood and I think I could hit you.”
“I figured you wouldn’t like me,” he said. “I don’t think any of you really will.”
Liam and Perdita had pulled Amara off the man and the man stood up and dusted himself off.
“What’s your name,” Perdita asked. “And how do you know us?”
“The second part is a long story,” the man said. “That I don’t understand fully.”
He cleared his throat and looked them over.
“My name? Patrick Johnson.”