Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. They left all the lights on, apparently. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within. Apple, sure. He peeled off the sticker, threw it in the trash, then hopped up on the counter, and began munching. About three bites in, he jumped back down to the floor. Mom hates it when we sit on the counters. Forgot about that.
He walked along the thick carpet in the living room and plopped down on the dark blue couch, across from the small flat screen TV they rarely used anymore. Rob took the Xbox with him. Insert snobby PC superiority comment here. Another substantial chunk of apple gone, the juicy crunch of his bite breaking the silence of the apartment. He stretched out on the couch in the meantime.
Mom and dad should be back by tonight from their little second honeymoon. Definitely need to wait for them. Rob and Sam should get here by tomorrow or so. Got nothing else to do right now. He finished off the apple. Need something to do. He wriggled on the couch, angling so that he could pull his phone out of his pocket.
Did I throw away that apple core? I think I did. He scrolled through the various updates and memes of the day. This got old after about ten minutes, or twenty, or thirty. He lost count at some point. How much time he felt had passed and what the clock said seemed like two completely separate things. He looked up at the various wall decorations, the old Pakistani rug dad had brought home, the two lighthouse paintings mom favored, and that was it for the walls.
Need something to do. He pushed himself out of the cushions of the brown couch, stood with purpose, then promptly forgot why he stood in the first place. Need something to do, right. Dad’s birthday gift shouldn’t arrive for another couple days. Ben walked back into the kitchen, opening various cupboards. Got enough food, dishes are all clean. Damn. He shut the last door, the rattling of the bowls the only sound in the apartment. Or was it cups? Whatever.
May as well check on the old room, see if there’s any evidence of dad’s claims that they’re renting it out to a hobo while we’re gone. A quick five steps down the hall between the living room and the kitchen later, and he poked his head in the mostly empty room, with the bunk bed and normal bed pushed against the wall. Nothing else in here?
Crap, left my stuff in the car. He turned around and began fishing his keys out of his other pocket as he walked. He came to the door right as he got the keys out. Except… He stared at the blank expanse of wall where the door should have been. Where the fuck is the door? Why the hell-
Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within. Apple, sure. He peeled off the sticker, threw it in the trash, and hopped up on the counter and began munching. About three bites in, jumped back down to the floor. Mom hates it when we sit on the counters. Forgot about that.
He paced until he finished his apple. Need something to do. From what I can tell, everything’s covered for the party, though. Cake was in the fridge, presents for dad are incoming, can’t think of anything else. He pulled out and twirled his keys around his finger as he continued to pace.
Just need to wait for the rest of the family to get here. Just want to see dad again, now that he’s finally retired from the Marines. But this is still boring, and I’ve only been here for about ten minutes. Or has it been thirty? Whatever.
May as well check on those plants mom keeps by the window sill. Those bulb things with water in them are cool and all, but then mom keeps forgetting about them. He entered the living room. Huh. Could have sworn there was a window in here. Their room, maybe? I know she doesn’t trust the three of us to keep a thing alive.
He poked his head into the master bedroom. Queen sized bed, a dresser with a large attached mirror for mom’s various accessories (or whatever they’re called), a sizable painting of a mountain background over the bed. No window in here, either. Bathroom? No window.
This is weird. I don’t remember there being no windows in here. Hell, how long have they even had this place? He poked his head into his old bedroom, the one he had shared with his brothers. Beds, a desk, my backpack, and no fucking window. The hell?
He ducked back out to the hallway and scratched the back of his head. I do not remember the no window thing. That is definitely not right. I can’t remember how I got here, actually. Hell, I can’t even remember-
Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within, though he closed the door a minute later. Too quiet right now.
He bounced on his toes for a bit, first considering crashing on the dark red couch in the living room, then at the dining table. Waiting for dad. Just gotta wait for dad. And mom, her too. He drummed his hands against a nearby countertop, a rapid beat that could’ve belonged in any rock song.
Need something to do. It’s too quiet here. No cars or neighbors or anything. He eyed the empty bottles on the counter in the corner. He sighed. Mom been drinking again? I thought she got over that… when? She never got over that. Wait, she did. Last year? Last time dad got back? Ben shook his head, willing the cloudiness to go away and the memories to return.
Dad… came back? When? That doesn’t seem right… don’t know why. But I’m waiting for him right now. So why can’t I remember-
Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He began the process of kicking off his shoes, then something stopped him. I’ve done this before. Maybe. He moved on, not bothering to remove his shoes.
Gotta wait for dad. Gotta wait for Sam. Gotta wait for Rob. Just gotta wait. Just a bit longer. He passed by the cracked wall where that red and white lighthouse picture used to hang. I need something to do. Hell, what am I doing? Not here, in general. This is Maryland. But… I was living in Colorado. No, I am living in Colorado. Last thing I remember, Rob was talking about Bri the day before she visited. Then… what-
Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Home sweet fucking home. He kicked an empty bottle out of the way as he worked his way inwards. Half these lights need changing. The fuck is mom doing? The hell is dad doing? Why are me, Sam, and Rob even bothering coming here? An aluminum beer can crunched under his foot. He spat and kept walking.
A couple thuds came from his old room. He went into defensive mode, hands up to protect from or punch whatever made that noise. I know damn well I’m the only one here. No hello or hug from dad, no slurred retardation from mom? No one else here but me that belongs in here.
“Ahh. Fuck,” came a ragged but familiar voice.
He stopped by the door. I know that voice from somewhere. He went in, then stopped.
Miya pulled herself up from the floor with the help of the nearby bunk bed, facing Ben. That’s not what made him stop.
A good half of her face on the left side was gone. Blown off, more accurately. Fractured, exposed jawbone. A couple teeth. Flayed bits of cheek. While not pouring blood like Ben would’ve expected an injury like that to, some still seeped from exactly where he expected. Namely everywhere.
She pressed a hand and the tattered remains of a tank top to the left side of her stomach as well. More blood there, too. He didn’t look too closely. Even her left leg bled, from a presumably similar grievous injury.
This sure as fuck ain’t real. But fuck it, she needs help. Nah, she need a hospital, not that little first aid- His thoughts were scrambled as what felt like the flaming penis of Satan himself came up from hell and directly into Ben’s brain.
“Shit, fuck, cock, ass, bitch,” he managed as he stumbled forward, barely catching himself on the floor. After a second, the pain began to recede. Slightly.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” he continued, in the hopes that it would make the pain lessen by any noticeable degree. It did, but that was probably more due to the passage of time than anything on his part.
By the time he could gather his thoughts, Miya was standing again. Right. Get up and quit your bitching. He grimaced and pushed himself up to his feet, noting the thin sheen of sweat on his arms. And, from how cold it was all of a sudden, the rest of himself too.
He looked back up at Miya, staring at him. “The fuck was that? How the fuck you get in here? I thought I was waitin’ for…” No. No, no, no, no, no. “Fuck.” He turned away.
I thought dad was still alive. I thought he was still alive for whatever reason, and the whole family was back together. He tapped his head against the doorframe. Idiot. He’s still dead. Another tap, a little harder. Idiot. Some fucker brought in my fucking family against me. In my own mind. I’m surprised they didn’t use Heather and that cage while they were at it. FUCK. He slammed his fist into the wall.
The wall did not care. His knuckles might have been bleeding, they hurt enough. A cough from behind him. Right, an audience. He faced Miya and pointed. “Answers. Now.”
She’d taken a seat at the edge of the bed, head hanging low. “Don’t know,” she rasped. She turned her head so that the right side face him and stared off to the side.
“Not fuckin’ good enough. I’m rememberin’ some shit now, an’ it ain’t good shit, lookin’ back. Somethin’s makin’ this lie, an’ I wanna know how to shoot it fulla bullets ‘til it’s dead.”
“You think I’m not in the same boat?” asked Miya, half turning her head until she stopped herself. “Fucking look at me. I should be dead at this point, so this obviously isn’t real.”
He pressed his non-bleeding fist against the wall, rather than punching it. Take a step back. “How did you even get in here?”
“How did you even get free of the mind control stuff goin’ on?”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “What do ya know?” he asked.
“Same as you,” she replied.
“Yep.” He sighed again. “Look, I’m sorry, alright?” she burst out. “You aren’t the only one going through hell right now.” Defuse, defuse.
“S’all right but wha’ happened to ya?” She glared. “Hey, half your face looks like a hamburger. Ya can’t jus’ not explain that. Surprised you ain’t screamin’ in pain right now.” So much for the defusing bit.
“Not your fucking business,” she spat.
Don’t punch her in the stomach, no matter how tempting. No idea if that will kill her or what. I know I don’t want to talk to her about this place. “Fine, whatever,” he said, throwing up his hands. “But you’re in my fuckin’ brain right now, keep that in mind.”
She looked around the blank room. “This is it?”
“There’s more, don’ worry,” he said. “Come on.” He led the way out.
They sat down at the dining room table. Miya made sure that the shredded part of her face pointed away from him the whole time. Idea.
“Gimme a sec,” he said, getting back up and running off to his parents’ room. I remember remembering that there was something in here. There it is, that old scarf non-existent dad brought back. Fuck it. He grabbed the somewhat musty red scarf and returned.
He passed it to her and sat down again. “Ya look super self-conscious. Can wrap that around yer head if ya want.”
She nodded and did so, leaving only her eyes exposed. There’s probably a better way to do that than with a simple knot, but whatever.
“Ya good?” he asked. She nodded again. “Alright, let’s compare notes. Last thing you remember before all this?” He pointed and twirled his finger.
She closed her eyes and looked down at the table for a moment. “I… I think I was out back, behind the lair. I was trying to get this one carving to work, when my golem saw some shadow guy. I jumped up, then… I was… someplace else. And… how about you?”
Well,” he began, leaning in his chair on the rear two legs. “I took a nap, the day after Bri left. Same as you, yeah?”
Miya nodded, so he continued. “Olivia asked me to help her out with her old place, make sure there was nothin’ left there. We went, got some of her old stuff, an’ left. Nothin’ happened there. We got food, ate it on a roof, an’… headed back. Last thing I remember was runnin’ on the street at… about midnight, I’d say. Never saw a shadow guy though. Well, might have, it was dark.”
“Sounds like he grabbed us at about the same time then,” said Miya.
“Alright, think he got the others?”
“Why would he have? I can understand him just grabbing people off the street, we were just unlucky. We’re in a city full of people, he has options if he’s breaking and entering.”
Why us indeed. He chuckled. This is stupid. This is so goddamn stupid. He started laughing. Kinda funny, actually. He couldn’t stop laughing. Miya stared at him as if he’d lost his mind.
“Ben…?” she asked cautiously, on the edge of her seat.
“This is,” he managed between laughs. “This is so stupid. We have no clue what’s goin’ on. We don’ know who this guy is or what he wants or how he’s doin’ all this, an’ we can theorize all day an’ put our best logic behind it an’ still be stupidly fuckin’ wrong. Think of any question, any question at all, an’ the answer is ‘fuck if I know’!”
“This is serious,” scolded Miya as he composed himself again. How is this not funny to you?
“No, this is stupid. Come on,” he replied.
“He might have gotten Olivia first or something,” commented Miya.
“Aright. So, how’d you find me, then?”
“I don’t,” began Miya. “Let me think.” She went silent for a minute. “I was… trying to figure out how to get out. Like, think of any way to get out of where I was. I… kind of panicked, and it was a bit of a blur. Sorry.” Are you really feeling the gaping holes in you right now?
She caught his glance at her side and leg. “Painkillers,” she said, inviting no more comments on the matter.
“Alright. So we jus’ gotta… what? Think about it? Tha’s stupid.”
“You just said this whole situation is stupid. Which I kind of agree with now, actually.”
He laughed. Fuck it. Why not? Let’s just think about pretty fucking rainbows and quadricorns while we’re at it. The hell? Am I supposed to be concentrating on something? A concept or a physical thing?
Cars. Fuck it. Why not? Cars go places. As places is plural, that includes not here. Cars, cars, cars. Cars go fast on a road and have tires and I’m wasting my fucking time. And sometimes they break down and-
Suddenly, Ben found himself above a different table, still in the same sitting position. With nothing to support him, he fell back. He reflexively rolled to avoid smacking his head on the concrete below him as he fell off the side.
Miya had appeared sitting in a chair around the table Ben fell off of, and leaned over about an inch out of the way of his fall.
She snickered as he climbed to his feet and said, “Sucks to suck.”
I think I pulled that off rather well, considering the circumstances. Miya got up from her chair and helped him to his feet.
Before he could take in the surroundings, someone said “What was- hi, guys!” Some bare feet slapped on the concrete in a run.
He turned to the source right as something hit him and Miya at about his chest height. That something proceeded to crush his torso, and from the squeaky grunt thing to his side, Miya too. They collectively stumbled back and almost fell again, before whoever was making him see stars and almost blackout caught them and hauled them fully back to their feet.
The pressure on his chest eased off, and the unknown person took a step back. He got a good look at her. A small, teenage girl with messy brown hair, a t shirt and cargo pants that both looked a couple sizes too big, and a wide smile. Who the fuck is this? And come to think of it, where the fuck are we?
He whipped his head around. The lair? Also, I’m getting tired of asking questions. It was the lair. Same scratched up, folding plastic table near the center with the various chairs. Amanda’s desk nearby, covered in all sorts of fancy techie gadgets. The pseudo-bedroom area, with the dividing curtains him and Chris had put up almost a month ago.
It wasn’t quite the same as he remembered, however. The lighting actually worked and the floor had a remarkable lack of old oil and grease stains. Less… craptastic, overall.
“Where have you guys been?” asked the girl.
“Places. Who are you?” responded Ben. You seem familiar for some reason.
“What?” Her smile faltered a bit. “You don’t… Oh!” Her smile returned.
“Where do I know you from?” he asked. Hold on. Quiet voice, messy brown hair, human eyes, but with silver irises, same face as…
“Olivia?” asked Miya. No fucking way.
He looked up and waved a hand over where maybe-Olivia stood, right about where her shoulder might have been. Nothing but air.
“Olivia?” Ben repeated.
“So…” began Miya.
“Oh my gosh. This is great. I’ve been waiting for you guys to come back,” said Olivia, rapid fire. “This is so cool. I can balance on my toes.” Someone’s more enthusiastic that I’ve ever heard before.
She stood up on her toes, arms held out to either side. “Or back on my heels.” She rocked back to her heels for a moment, then stood normally. “I sat in Amanda’s chair with the backrest and everything and I don’t really get the appeal but it was great. And look.” She stuck out her tongue.
Ben glanced at Miya, who shrugged. “Uh…” he began. What the fuck?
She caught their exchange, so she explained, “It’s not forked anymore!”
It was Ben’s turn to shrug when Miya glanced at him. “You have, er, had a forked tongue?” he asked. Wait a sec.
“Yes. Or, no, not anymore. Whatever.” She bounced up and down on her toes.
“Ya know this ain’t real, right?”
She stopped as her smile vanished. “Wh… what?”
“This ain’t real. One,” he pointed to her, “How? Two, notice there’s no doors in here?”
“But… but,” she protested, eyebrows furrowed. “Then…”
Now in a sitting position above the table once again, and once again without a chair to support him, Ben felt himself falling back again. He caught himself in a rough roll, keeping most of the force from hitting just his head or spine. Again, damn it?
“Damn it,” he muttered under his breath as he pulled himself back up.
“That was weird,” commented Miya. “Wait, we’re back. That means ‘she who has a poor grasp of normal human strength’ is still here,” she said as she started to get up. So we’re going with this is how we view ourselves, or something like that?
Ben heard feet slapping on the concrete. Oh no. Olivia slammed into him and Miya with a bear hug again. OWWWW. After she released them and caught his breath again, he massaged his ribs and said, “Hi there.”
And of course she remembers nothing of our conversation from twenty seconds ago. Let’s get this over with. “You look different.”
He tumbled off the table again. “Motherfucker,” he growled.
Miya deigned to help him up that time. “How old is she?” she asked.
“Fourteen? Fifteen? A really young looking sixteen?” he said as he braced as best he could for the incoming Olivia. They started the process over again.
“Everything looks and sounds all fuzzy. I don’t know how you guys stand it but it’s great!”
“I tried eating some carrots earlier and it was so much easier!”
“I can actually feel stuff with my fingertips and hands now. I never noticed that before, but I can now and it’s so cool!”
Ben managed to turn the tumble into a cool looking roll and stuck the landing on his feet. I’d feel better if I wasn’t in the process of corroding my soul. Because if this isn’t, I don’t know what would. What are we on? Try ten? Twelve? She actually burst into tears in a couple of them, and me and Miya are trapped if this doesn’t work at some point. And I have no clue if there’s a time limit for us or something.
Miya grabbed his arm. “This isn’t working,” she hissed.
“Worked for me,” he replied.
“She’s not you or me.”
“You got a better plan?” he asked as Olivia made contact. Why does she have to be so enthusiastic about this?
One painful bear hug later, and the same explanations, Miya said, “Hey, Olivia.”
“Yeah?” said Olivia as she hopped up on the tabletop and swung her legs beneath her. Don’t let her kick you, whatever you do.
“What…” began Miya. “How did this happen?”
“What?” asked Olivia.
“What is the last thing you remember?” asked Miya. Where are you going with this?
Olivia looked down, concentrating. “Well, I flew back, then… I got back. Then, this,” she said, spreading her hands for them to see.
“OK. How?” asked Miya.
“Well, you know,” said Olivia with much less certainty. “I… um… I can’t remember. W-why can’t-”