Yellow light flickered along the edges of Kaden’s vision and he rolled his eyes at the lightning and groaned. Just what today needed. He wouldn’t know those flashes of light had come from somewhere else entirely, someplace far stranger, until after he’d travelled to and from another world.
Rain dripped through the corner of the passenger-side window and splattered against the already soaked seat. He had to sit at an awkward angle to keep from getting wet. “I thought we fixed this stupid leak.”
Kaden’s mom sighed. “Your father said he did. It does seem to be flowing a little less.”
“Yeah, but it used to dribble down the door. Now it’s all over me. That makes it worse.” Kaden tried to plug the leak with a finger, but cold water rolled down his arm into his armpit and onto his shirt.
“Don’t get snippy with me, young man. If you’d been home when you said you would, we could’ve beat the rain.”
Yellow light flickered again in his peripheral vision. “And now there’s more lightning. They’re going to cancel. I don’t want to go. I’m too old for soccer anyway.” Kaden gave up on his attempt to stop the flow of water.
“Lightning? Where? I missed it. And that makes no sense about being too old for it. There are adults who get paid good money to play soccer.” She put a hand on his knee and glanced over. “I know you’ve had it rough at school, but soccer isn’t to blame.”
They rounded the corner just before the bridge and Kaden pulled his knee away from her hand, getting wetter as it sent him closer to the window. “I know.” He muttered the last part, “You are.”
She didn’t seem to hear him or pretended not to. “This is the last move, I promise, kiddo.”
“Yeah. You said that the last three times. Besides, I want to move this time. I hate it here.”
“You’ll make a few friends and then— ”
They drove onto the bridge with the thump thump of the transition, but the old sedan slid sideways toward the far side railing.
“I’m trying!” She cranked the wheel, but the car didn’t respond and their momentum sent the car into the railing. It bounced off with a crash and then spun toward the other railing like a pinball between two bumpers.
The car skidded to a stop against the concrete rail with a crack as the front signal lens shattered. Kaden let out a breath. “That was freaky.”
His mother laughed, a nervous giggle. “Whew, ice in Arizona? Who knew? You okay?”
“Yeah…” A truck entered the bridge from the other side and they stared in horror as it reacted to the ice in much the same way their car had, skidding, bouncing off the railing, and sliding their way much faster than they had been moving. “Mom?”
She didn’t say anything, just put the car in reverse and hit the gas. The tires spun on the slick bridge, a cold, rubbery hiss that hung in the air.
The truck drew closer, slowing to a crawl as adrenaline fired out into his veins, altering his perceptions. He put a hand on the door, muscles tensing as his mother’s arm went over his chest.
The truck smashed into them and Kaden’s head slammed into the window he’d been so preoccupied with earlier. It shattered, spraying him with pea-sized pieces of glass and drops of water. Warm liquid rolled down his face that didn’t mesh well with the cold rainwater as the car slid up onto the railing with a high-pitched shriek and then launched over.
Kaden thought how strange it was that the car hadn’t teetered on the edge like in the movies, instead it had spun gently out into open air. Gray sky and the muddy rock-filled ravine alternately filled the spider-webbed windshield as Kaden clung to the seat and door.
The edges of his vision blackened and he fumbled with his seatbelt in some vain attempt to flee, but then a point of light formed in corner of his right eye and spread until golden light surrounded him, like a bright amber egg with him at the center. The light banished the darkness and filled him with a moment of warmth and peace as he continued to fall.
The car crumpled in on itself, louder than Kaden would have thought possible, and glass, metal, plastic, and muddy rocks flew everywhere, but Kaden felt nothing apart from the pain in his head from the window. The warm golden light still cocooned him as he hung upside down.
I’m alive. He ran a hand through his hair. It came away slick with blood, visible in the amber glow. His head felt weird, dented in a way that made him sick to his stomach, but he had survived. A sick feeling grew out of his stomach and sunk into his bones as he remembered he wasn’t alone, his brain seemed to move slow and sluggish as he spun toward the driver’s side. Mom.
He nearly passed out as the motion filled his head with an excruciating pain that thundered in rhythm with his blood. He would wish forever that the amber light hadn’t lit the interior of the car.
Her mouth was open as though she was just about to say something and her eyes glistened with moisture. She had a few scratches on her face from flying glass, but they weren’t deep. But the roof on her side had come much father into the car. Her head rested against the crumpled remnants of metal, padding, and cloth with her neck bent at an unnatural angle.
“Mom? Oh no. Mom.” He reached out to her, but as his hand touched the shell of light, the amber glow flickered and then spiraled in to where his hand hung in the air before her face. The warm light gathered at the tips of his fingers, concentrating into intense brightness before collapsing in on itself to form a swirling, silver-rimmed hole.
What? The hole floated between his mother and himself for a moment before swimming forward to envelope his hand. A tingling sensation started in his fingertips and crawled up his arm. Kaden tried to pull away, but his muscles no longer responded as the hole grew, swallowing his wrist, his arm, his elbow, and then Kaden ceased to exist as he fell through the hole into absolute darkness.
Kaden sped through the dark, sensing movement without feeling any. His body felt far away and numb. He concentrated and could still barely feel the seat belt digging into his neck and shoulder as he hung upside down. The pounding in his skull was there too, though distant.
Am I dreaming? He tried to call out to his mother. Mom? No sound came out, his voice failing to work in this place. Please! Help us. My mom’s hurt.
He screamed and kicked, but could find no purchase as he continued to fly through the emptiness. His feet and arms swinging in a vacuum, without even the familiar sensation of air against his skin. He made to run a hand through his hair, but his fingertips touched nothing, passing through where his head should have been. What? What’s going on?
A rush of air, sound, scents, and light answered him, slamming into his body and forcing him to his knees. He coughed up yellow bile on the thick blue grass as he blinked away tears.
He looked up through the blur and shivered as a cool breeze tickled his sweat-soaked skin. Um, where’s my clothes? He glanced down at himself, naked where he knelt on a lush, grass covered hill, overlooking a valley rimmed with massive trees, the tall grass rippling like water in the light wind. The blue color of the grass and leaves added to the fluid effect. Where am I?
Something like a deer, if deer had five horns and grew to be the size of a Volkswagen bus, drank water from the crystal clear river that cut through the sapphire grassland. From Kaden’s vantage point he could see a silver and black tiger crouched not far from the deer. It crept closer, the prey unaware of the danger.
The deer lifted its head and then darted away, but too late. A streak of silver and black followed and flew through the air, rolling the deer as huge jaws bit into the vulnerable neck with a spray of purple blood.
Crap! That just happened. Kaden shivered again. I need to get out of here. Wake up. Wake up!
A growl behind him raised the hairs on his neck and arms. He turned slowly, the sharp blades of grass cutting into his knees. Another tiger lay crouched in the grass. Up close they were even more terrifying. Even hugging the ground it looked huge, the size of a small moving van, with large muscles bunched and ready to pounce. Sharp yellow teeth curved out of its mouth that curled back with a snarl.
Kaden’s heart sped, thundering in his chest. This is no dream. “N-n-nice kitty.”
The cat flinched back at the sound of his voice and growled again. Kaden stood, slowly, fighting the urge to run. I’m sure I’ll freak out about this later, but running is a bad idea. I’m sure of it. “You’re not used to your food talking back to you, are you?”
The tiger took another step back.
“Yah! Get out of here! Go on, get!” Kaden shouted, waving his arms over his head. I really hope this works.
The monster cat turned and ran toward where the other one still tore into its recent catch. Kaden watched it go and sighed in relief. That relief was short lived though. Two other tigers joined them; four pairs of eyes turned Kaden’s way.
“Oh crap.” He looked around for any sort of cover, finding none on the grassy hill, his nakedness making him feel even more exposed.
The cats left what remained of the deer and made their way through the tall grass toward Kaden’s hill. He took a few steps backward and almost tripped over something in the grass. A stick is better than nothing. He picked it up, but it wasn’t wood. He held up a large ivory colored bone. Kaden overcame his initial disgust and didn’t throw it away. Still better than nothing.
The growl of four tigers brought his attention back to the advancing threat. I suppose “yah” and “get” won’t work this time. Come on, think, man! Where are you? How did you get here?
The golden cocoon of light surrounded him once more as the memory of it entered his mind. He could see through the shell that the silver tigers had crested the hill, spreading out as they approached him. One, the biggest of course, broke from the ranks, springing toward him.
Kaden screamed and held the bone out like a trembling sword. Time slowed as his hand touched the amber light. He faintly saw an image flicker along the glowing shell, a battered car lying upside down on a riverbank. The tiger reached him in two bounds, but the claws sliced through empty air as Kaden once again found himself disembodied, flying through unending darkness.
Kaden pulled the top drawer out of his desk and upended the contents into a cardboard box he’d set on the floor. He set the now empty drawer on his naked bed. He’d stuffed the sheets and blankets in an earlier box that bulged against its tape by the door.
Kaden pulled hard on the bottom drawer. It tended to stick, but gave way on the third tug. He dumped it out on top of the mound of mostly garbage that filled half the box. He set the heavy oak drawer next to the other one and smiled at the blurred ink stains, melted crayon chunks, and bits of lint that clung to the bottom and stuck to the dovetailed corners.
Mom would never have approved. She’d have made me pick through everything and throw away the junk before packing a lick.
Kaden ran a hand through his thick black hair, running fingertips over his scalp. He could feel the dent in his skull even though he knew no one could see it. What did you expect? Six months now. Time heals all wounds…except big dents in your head.
He sat on the edge of his mattress and opened his Egg, the glowing sphere only he could see. It had followed him from the accident, from the world of tigers, from the hospital. My doorway to other worlds. My mother’s last gift in a way…and a constant reminder that I failed her.
Kaden threw a few images around the interior shell of his Egg with his thoughts. He swallowed a moment of bitterness and allowed the golden glow to comfort him and calm the fears he had over yet another move for his dad’s job. Despite the hatred he felt toward the Egg for saving him and not protecting his mother, it also reminded him of her light blonde hair that glowed in the sunlight, linked to happier memories.
Kaden closed his eyes, the spherical cocoon still visible without them. He sat at the center of the golden shell, like an embryo, as circular images flashed and rolled around the interior, a vortex of colored light.
Kaden reached out with his mind and willed one of the circular images to slide along the shell until it hovered before his face. He took in this image, a dark blue sky filled with red nebulae that spun over darkened forests as the silver leaves hissed with their own breath.
He waved it away and pulled another image forward. Mountains of broken crystal shimmered beneath three suns as giant insects tunneled through the shards like some insane ant farm. Kaden pulled another image around and saw fire rain down from a blood red sky as wispy shadows sped over the blackened ground, eating ash.
Languages and sounds filtered through with the images. The wet clicking of mandibles, songs of alien birds that trilled and hummed unlike any earthly counterpart, the hollow screams of shadows without mouths.
Sometimes he could even taste and smell bits and pieces. Salt, bitter ash, fresh mountain air, ozone. He felt each image as though they were old memories of places he’d once been.
Kaden pulled up an image of rust orange mountains edged by a sea the color of green radiator coolant, shimmering in oily waves under the bright white sun. The chemical sea fumes stung his still closed eyes. He wiped the tears away as he selected another image. Massive trees fenced tall blue-green grass as black and silver striped tigers hunted one of the giant deer creatures.
Kaden shivered despite the warmth of his sun-filled room. I’m lucky I made it out of that one alive.
He selected another image. Pure energy exploded in empty space, beyond hot, beyond the superheated gasses of dying stars. Dangerous, volatile energy swirled, blinding, into the void. The sensations that came from this image didn’t fit into Kaden’s mind, scalding him from the inside out with searing pain.
Kaden sent the image away, cold sweat pouring down his face. Need to remember not to touch that one. That’s worse than the tigers.
He pulled up another, tasting the clean desert air and listening to the wind rushing across rose colored sand dunes. Nothing dangerous appeared as he held the image in place for several minutes. Okay, looks like a good place for another trip.
The image grew as Kaden focused on it. His extremities tingled as the portal opened and his body ceased to exist.
Night swallowed him, blacker than any he’d seen before discovering his Egg and the wormholes it created. The darkness sped by, empty, unfeeling, and relentless in its absolute opaqueness and solidarity. Kaden tried not to dwell on it much each time.
He opened his eyes as the tingling sensation returned and then dissipated. He stood naked on the top of a dune, the warm wind flowing over his pinpricked skin. I really wish clothes came through with me. A stop watch would be even nicer.
“Trip number five to another world.” He announced to the lifeless desert. “I’m also staying five minutes this time. No bus sized tigers hiding out there, right? Here kitty, kitty.” He smiled as no answer came but the shifting wind, blowing soft sand in fluid-like waves down the steep dune across from him. “Good.”
He kept the Egg open, the image of his bedroom hovering before his face, ready to leave if anything strange popped up. He’d tried using the alarm clock by his bed, still visible this way, to track the time on an earlier trip, but that hadn’t worked. The numbers had remained frozen and after about two or three minutes he’d come home to find himself in the exact moment he’d left.
Kaden had determined to make it to the full five minute mark without being attacked, mauled, eaten, or shot by locals. He started counting. “One, two, three, four…”
He reached roughly four minutes and twenty seconds when a swarm of black insects with orange spikes on their backs crested a dune in front of him. Thousands poured over one another as they headed toward what Kaden assumed was west by the reddish sun’s place in the sky.
They must have spotted him as the swarm changed directions and started clicking pincers with an excited buzz. “Of course, I should’ve known.” Kaden tapped the image of his bedroom and left before he reached his five minute goal.