Imagine for a moment, that you are staring up at a rectangular piece of sunset-bleeding
The ground is freakishly warm beneath your back, and you back feel uncomfortably sticky
and your legs are numb. Your mind is struggling to catch up with flooding thoughts and
lingering soon-to-be-forgotten dreams. A headache is pounding its way out of your forehead
with something akin to a sledgehammer.
There is an incessant ticking in the air.
No, it is more than that. It is the air. It is a heartbeat.
If it stops, you wonder –
What will end?
Your nerves are on edge, you are sweating and your limbs are too heavy. What you would
give to curl up in a ball and sleep away this strange dream.
And to drown out that ticking; that ominous heartbeat.
Beneath you, the ground begins to cool. You know you have to move. You prop yourself up
on your elbows and you gaze around. Shock has calmed you somewhat, you assume, because you
know, you know, you know
– you should not be here. But other than a feeling of
discomfort, you are not panicked to find yourself in an alleyway.
Two red-bricked walls stand coldly beside you and you sniff disdainfully. It stinks. There
are garbage bins either overturned or overflowing and you can see rats scavenging amongst
the scraps. You shudder and finally, you can feel the belated alarm arrive. You inhale
But you don’t scream. The breath flutters past your lips and you stare. A black
messenger bag is leaning against your leg. You wonder why you didn’t notice – why you
didn’t feel it. It takes up your vision. It swallows your thoughts. You reach for it.
You shake the bag against your ear – a reminiscence of Christmas morn. When it reveals
nothing you drop it onto your lap. You stare at it. You stare and you stare and you stare,
before realizing that staring will not reveal the bag’s secrets. With itching fingers,
you flip it open.
You don’t know whether to be sorely disappointed or relieved that all you find are
nameless bars of muesli, clear bottles of water and as you tip the bag over, you discover
a pistachio-white envelope. It floats from the bag and onto the cold ground. It nudges
your fingers. You pick it up. It burns your curiosity.
Would you read the letter?
Because I did.
To whomever this may concern,
I write this letter in haste; the Ticking may stop any moment, and being outside while the
Shadows roam free is much too dangerous.
You may be wondering where you are, why you are here, and how you got here. The answers
to all those questions are both simple and difficult to understand. You, dear reader, are
a being from the world known as Earth – or, as the Professor would put it, a ‘Child
from The East’. Yes, reader. You are no longer in the world you originally inhabited.
You are now in the world of Barthrium – the South Dimension. Let me elaborate quickly on
dimensions. Dimension is the term used to explain the space of your universe, my universe
and the other two universes. However, your world is not much different to ours. Should you
wish to learn more, you must find the Professor.
As to how you got here, I know not exactly. What I do know is that the Professor told
me that you and many others from East would come. Our worlds are connected by very
powerful strands and very, very few have been able to travel along these strands. Only
those chosen by the Everlasting. He also told me that someone else would be after you.
Unfortunately, I had not gotten to you and the others in time. I only managed to conjure a
quick spell to get these letters and supplies to you and the others before I had to lead
the Shadows away from you. Perhaps something educational and helpful will come out of your
Why you are here is an easy question to answer. Everyone knows it.
You and the others of the East are here to save us.
- Your faithful assistant.
I laughed loudly. Perhaps a little too loudly. I immediately winced when the brusque sound
echoed against the two walls and hit me square in the face. Still, it did not drown the
Or maybe it was my heartbeat that thudded in my ears. The letter was still in my palm. I
sat, musing. Should I throw it away? Let the rats gnaw on it until it’s unrecognizable
just like the scraps that lay scattered; permeating the air with its ungodly stench? For a
wild moment, I considered keeping the letter.
The piece of paper found a place in a pocket of my jeans folded neatly. I could feel it
through the denim against my thigh. It scalded me.
I stood. My joints creaked and my stiff muscles ached, making it ridiculously difficult to
move forward. Had I forgotten how to walk? It was a disarming thought and I almost fell. A
rat wandered close to my shoe, sniffing the messenger bag – I hated rats. Giving a
muffled yell, I kicked at the rodent making it squeak indignantly before scurrying over
the bag and away. I slapped it clean and swung it over my shoulder.
I couldn’t stay here. I would force myself to walk.
The blood was beginning to pump through my legs once more. Still, I did not stride my way
on out of there. Besides the obvious, something was very, very wrong. Could the letter
then – as absurd and as ridiculous as it seemed – could it have been true? Bah! But I
couldn’t dissuade myself.
I ignored the rats as much as I could and kept my eyes forward. The rectangle opening out
of the alleyway showed only a snippet of a building and a road. I frowned. An empty road.
The streets of London were rarely empty.
I touched the wall to my left. It was freezing and a shiver trickled down my spine.
“Goodbye,” I said. My voice was grating from lack of use. “Too bad I couldn’t stay
longer or anything.” I looked backwards to where I had been lying. A rat excreted where
my head had been. I winced.
I did not see the pole until my forehead made contact with the cool metal with a muted
clang. Glaring at the offending object, I decided that I would exact my revenge with a
good kick to its base. But before my foot could even come into contact, I caught sight of
the sign perched atop the pole.
Just how far away from home was I? I had never heard of such a street – save for the one
in Rome. I highly doubted that I was in Rome. The sign shifted in a non-existent breeze.
I felt hot. And then cold. And then hot again. Goosebumps dotted my arms and I rubbed them
through my too large sweater. I bit my lip. ‘Vicus Street’, it read. ‘Vicus
Street’. The name pounded in my head.
I stepped away from the pole and I turned away quickly, catching my reflection in a dusty
window. A closed sign hung crookedly against the glass. I gawked stupidly at myself. My
otherwise tomato-red hair tied in a short ponytail gleamed dully in the window. My green
eyes were wide and my spidery lashes would fool anyone into thinking I was a girl.
Pipeline lips gaped in the shape of an ‘o’.
I wanted to smash the window. I didn’t want to see my reflection. It seemed too small
and so weak and pale – my fingers traced the dark rings under my eyes. I found it
disturbing that even I could easily mistake myself of the female population. My fingers
moved towards my shoulders, straightening them. I turned sideways, still looking into the
glass. At least my shoulders were broad enough and my chin was not too pointed.
Something flickered behind me and I turned quickly, eyes scanning my surroundings. Nothing
except for tumbleweed that rolled down the road followed by a few scraps of paper. I
almost laughed. Another shadow flickered in my peripheral vision and I whipped my head to
the right. Still nothing.
My heart started to thump faster; out of sync with the ticking. Had it slowed, or was my
heart going too fast? The shadows were making me paranoid. I patted the pocket that had
the letter. The letter had said something about Shadows –
I never knew that the silence could be so deafening.