Adrian gazed around in wonder. He’d never seen a place so alien; a burning crimson horizon fading to fiery orange further up, overlooking twisted trees and steaming rivers. This was definitely not Earth.
This is it. For real. All my life I’ve dreamed of something like this actually happening to me – countless times attempting to use the Force to summon something from across the room, or willing myself to suddenly develop flight. Countless nights spent constructing elaborate fantasies in my head, long, intricate narratives where I encounter the supernatural, am transported to another reality, or uncover lost arts thought to be mere myth and whimsy.
He walked across the dry, arid plain in a daze. And it’s finally happened. Just wait till dad hears about this. Alright, Adrian, don’t be stupid now. This is much more than daydreamed fantasy. He stopped, a small cloud of brown-orange dust flying up about his heals. “If anyone’s summoned me here or anything, I’d like to talk. I’m sure we can help one another.”
No answer, or at least not one that he could hear – beings who communicated solely via telepathy couldn’t be ruled out just yet.
This place doesn’t even look like it’s inhabited, he mused, regarding his barren surroundings. If it isn’t, though, this presents a priceless opportunity. An entire empty reality, or at least planet, that only I know about. I wonder if the laws of physics are different here. Adrian looked down at his feet, then bent his knees and gave a tentative push against the ground. His hop sent up another cloud of dry dust, and he watched the burnt-looking particles of dirt settle slowly to the ground. Gravity’s not noticeably different.
“Well,” he said aloud, comforted by the sound of his voice amidst the emptiness, “may as well look around. See what possibilities this place allows for. Certainly a lot of real-estate. Jared’ll love the color scheme.” He smiled, pushing away associated thoughts, thinking only about how his brother would react when Adrian returned.
With a trail of floating dust at his back, Adrian set off towards a grove of the dark, twisted trees he’d spotted earlier, thoughts circling around the multitude of business ventures he could enter into if it this curious planet proved to be nothing more than an empty hunk of rock.
Would it be too much to ask for a bearded wizard in a pointy hat? At least a native offering me a quest or something.
The silence seemed to deepen as he approached the trees. Though the oddly cloud-streaked sky masked the location of whatever type of sun this planet belonged to, he was sure that the darkness beyond the edge of the grove could not be accounted for solely by shade provided by the leafless, skyward branches of the ashen trees. Now we’re talking.
The deeper into the trees he went, the thicker the branches grew. Before long, the ceiling of branches was so thick and thorough that he was sure there should be no light getting through at all. Yet the ambient illumination had not changed since he’d stepped past the first tree. Soon, there appeared trees with green leaves upon those branches, and then white flowers among the leaves. A minute’s walk later, he came into sight of a few trees laden with a peculiarly shaped fruit. Adrian’s mouth instantly began to water.
“Not a chance,” he told himself. “Eat nothing until you can be sure of its lack of toxicity, or general edibility to humans. As ridiculously appetizing as that fruit may be…”
“Please, help yourself,” said a wry voice.
Adrian whirled to his right, heartbeat pounding in morse code against his ribs, telling him in no uncertain terms to run now, be curious later. He agreed, and began to-
“You- you’re human,” he said, stumbling to halt before he’d taken more than two steps. Well obviously I’m not the first one to find this place, that was being entirely too optimistic and naive. Magical entrances to far-off places that only have a one-in-a-million chance of being stumbled upon are stumbled upon all the time when the world’s population is almost eight billion.
“In a manner of speaking, sure.” The man stood knee-deep in crystal blue pond, whose waters promised quenching the likes of which had never been experienced. Above him, branches piled with the mysterious fruit dropped down. His eyes were dark, almost black beneath his heavy brow. He was unshaven, and wore only rough-hewn pants rolled above the knee, tied around his waist with a length of rope. His gaze flicked to the fruit for a split-second, almost a tic, before returning to Adrian. “Are you here by yourself, or with a guide?”
“A guide?” Is this place an intergalactic tourist stop of some sort? “No, I came to this place on my own. Where exactly are we?”
The man nodded to himself, then blinked mournfully at the mirror surface of the water. “So what’s your story?”
My story? “Listen, is this place populated? Settled?” Adrian gestured to their surroundings. “Or is this just your personal oasis in this scorched hell-hole, devoid of intelligent and helpful life.”
He laughed, though it sounded more like a dead cough, dry and full of cracks. “You are correct, for the most part. There only a few who truly live here, though I am not among their numbers.”
Is he visiting from somewhere else? Still, this means there’s a chance I can do something with this place. “Where are you from? Are the individuals who live here human?”
“How did you get here?” the man asked, as if he hadn’t heard Adrian speak.
“I just want to know where I am. Is this an alternate reality Earth? An alternate timeline Earth? Was I simply transported to another planet within my own universe?” Simply. Right. With just the knowledge of how do that I would happily return home. “Do you at least know how I came to be here?”
Those nearly black eyes peered out at Adrian, unperturbed. “Do you?”
“What? Do I- Why else would I be asking you!?”
“Often, we ask questions not whose answers we do not know, but whose answers we are unsatisfied with.” The man’s sad smile triggered a burning anger inside Adrian, an anger from nowhere, from everywhere, from an origin unexplainable and too well-known all at once.
“Stop speaking in riddles, damn you! Tell me where the hell I am and how I got here!” Though his nails bit savagely into the flesh of his palms, he felt no pain, enshrouded as he was in the sudden rage.
The sadness spread from the smile to the dark eyes, and the anger blossomed in Adrian’s chest, and ache threatening to split him apart from behind his heart. “You truly do not know? Your choice of words…I thought…but no, you are being sincere.”
“What! What is it already!” The words were wrenched from his throat, the beginnings of a wracking sob. Confused tears crept down his face, marking paths through the dust coating his skin. I..I don’t know where I am…why I’m here… The edges of his consciousness shied away from something he wouldn’t let himself face. I don’t…I don’t know. I don’t. “Speak, damn you…”
The cracked laugh sounded again, and then the man was crying too. “Oh, they have,” he whispered to himself, though in the artificial stillness of the place the sound carried as easily as dust upon the wind. He reached a hand out to the water, and Adrian watched in bitter, terrified, aching silence as the crystal surface sank away from his fingertips. “they have.”
They stood in the impossible light beneath the twisted branches, tears their only expressions, thoughts buried behind mountains of emotion.
Of course there was no alternate reality. No alternate Earth, or alternate timeline. No fantasy world. Just the supernatural summons, in the end. Adrian covered his face with trembling hands, and mourned many things.