Hidden in the shadows at the back of the musty smelling bookstore, I run my fingers over the hardback spines that wear no titles. Instead, each book is stamped with small symbols in a language I don’t understand.
I stare at a gold-framed map of the world that hangs on the papered wall, and red lines mark countries I’ve never seen before.
The dusty chandeliers rattle overhead, and the dim lights flicker as a train passes behind the decaying building. Music, from a time I don’t recall, plays on a loop through speakers that crackle, heavy with static.
Through the broken face of my watch, I recheck the time—11:59 a.m.
I kneel and unzip my backpack. Inside, the sphere of warm light buzzes softly, and as I run my fingers across its cold surface, it hums and burns a brighter shade of yellow.
Forty-eight hours ago, this sphere transported me here, to this world of strange similarities and distorted differences. Perhaps I’m dreaming, maybe I’m dead—my mother did warn me never to speak to strangers.
This morning, when I woke in the back alley to the pungent smell of rotting garbage, I found a note in my bag instructing me to come here at twelve noon.
A bell rings as the front door of the bookstore opens. I pretend to browse the untitled books and sling my backpack over my shoulder ready to make a quick exit if I need to.
The sound of footsteps in the next aisle grows louder, then stops.
I peer through a gap in the shelf. A tall guy wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans has his back to me. His cropped black hair is slick and styled. It’s him, it’s Henry, the stranger from the laundromat who gave me the glowing ball of light that brought me here.
He turns and his wide brown eyes meet mine.
I gasp and step back. My hands tremble.
‘Gretchen.’ He smiles and the dimple on his cheek appears. ‘You’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you.’
My heart thunders. I march down my aisle and into Henry’s, only stopping when I can smell the minty gum on his breath.
Henry’s chest rises and falls. His eyes are fixed on mine like he knows everything about me, and he touches my arm like I’m a long-lost friend.
Who the hell does he think he is?
I grab the knife that is tucked into the back of my jeans and push the blade against his ribs.
Henry’s brow furrows and beads of sweat trickle down the side of his face.
I tighten my grip on the knife and lean in closer, ‘You’ve got some explaining to do.’
© Michelle Upton