This story is by S.J. Siedenburg and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The buzz of Coast-Port City is invigorating. People swarming the streets, cars honking with anger, and the smell of cigarette smoke. The best part of Coast-Port City is the coast where it sits. At the crest of a hill you can look down upon the shimmering water and the busy docks.
Yet I don’t have time to enjoy any of these scenes. A hot latte is burning my hand as I balance it on a recyclable tray next to Ms. Kendal’s breakfast. As long as it’s still hot she can’t get mad at me if I’m late. Well, she will make my day miserable, but she won’t fire me.
The “WALK” sign lights, and I pick up my pace. A black car comes screeching to a halt a foot from my legs. I jump away, and the latte spills, scalding my hand.
I keep going on 43rd and Channel. Just one more block to reach the shining glass panels of the tall media building.
My quads strain up this wicked hill. I’m coming to the alley: a half block left to go.
A solid force collides with my right side. I hit the ground, and so does the latte.
I’m so fired.
“My apologies.” A male voice speaks. An arm reaches out and he helps me to my feet. I turn to get a good look at the idiot before I tell him off, but I stop my mouth.
The man is tall, has brown shoulder length hair, and he is wearing a medieval costume. He has the baggy pants, the tunic, the belt, and even the massive leather boots. Some silver catches my eye. A realistic looking sword rests at his side, and behind him pokes feathers from a quiver of arrows.
“Are you injured?” He talks in character with his outfit.
“I’m fine.” I turn to leave.
I sigh and glance back. “What?”
“My name is Damian Meverel.” He pauses, expecting me to give mine in return.
“Excuse me, Mr. Meverel. I’m late.” I distance myself from the weird guy.
I’ve got to get to the office. Ms. Kendal is going to be livid.
I’m knocked hard to the ground, and the man is on top of me.
“What’s your problem?” I scream the words, and push him away, but he keeps me down as his eyes search the street.
“That is.” He points above him. I see a bare deciduous tree, and a black-feathered arrow is lodged in the trunk.
“They saw you with me. Come!” He grabs my hand and pulls me up. He flies back towards the alley, and I fall after him.
Anxiety leaps in my stomach. I can’t follow this crazy man. I try to break his grasp, but his grip is too strong.
He gives an extra pull that almost dislocates my shoulder and I meet his side. “Hold on!”
He grabs both my arms. Then there is no air. I can’t inhale. My vision is a sea of fog and shifting shadows. A gust of wind swirls around me. Then the fog is swept away. I stumble out of my run, and the air fills my lungs, but the air is wrong.
All the smell of the city has evaporated except for the salt, and what remains is a stench of sweat and manure.
I raise my head, and I’m even more scared. Where the tall buildings of glass and steel had stood are now short wooden structures. Where there were cars now stand carts and horses on roads of dirt and stone. The people are present and bustling, but they dress in the same medieval costumes as the man beside me.
My pulse quickens.
He yanks on my arm again. “We must move!”
I don’t want to follow him, but I have no idea where I am.
We run uphill on this new street, and these new people also like to stare.
We squeeze between two horses, and run towards a cart. A black-feathered arrow appears in the wood.
I slip on mud, but he pulls me up without breaking pace. As we crest the hill, the noise quiets. The people have run off. My heart drums in my head.
He pulls me behind a stack of wood crates. “Stay here.” He unsheathes his sword and steps out of my view.
Pressure rises in my chest. Why is he leaving me? My blood courses, flushing me with heat despite the bitter air.
I hear footfalls, and I see three men in hoods between the slats of the crates. Voices speak in a language I don’t know—maybe something Oriental—and then there’s silence.
Shouts call out, and metal clanks and scrapes. Stroke after stroke they deliver to each other. Color flashes in and out of my vision.
One of the men falls into my stack of crates, and I leave my spot, just missing the cascade. Another man sees me. I grab a crate, and his arrow splits the wood.
The third stumbles in my direction. I smash the crate on the back of his head, and Meverel thrusts his sword into him. The enemy staggers. Meverel pulls out his sword, and swings it at another.
I run to an abandoned cart for cover.
A hand grabs my neck from behind, and whirls me around. His arm holds my back against his chest, and a cold object presses against my neck.
The other two hooded shapes are sprawled defeated on the ground. Meverel faces us with his bow raised.
We stand staring, waiting, wondering who will give in first.
A swoosh of air passes my face, and a thunk sounds by my ear. There is a jolt, and the arms fall from my chest. He lays dead on the ground.
Meverel walks towards me, his bow at his side, and his brow furrowed. “Are you harmed?”
Blood stains the ground around lifeless bodies.
He puts his hand on my arm.
“Who were they?”
“Assassins from the Naissim Dynasty. They keep being sent for me.”
“And you always kill them?” It sounded harsher aloud than in my head.
His face hardens. “I believe I am justified when they are trying to kill me.”
“Why do they want you dead?”
“I am an enemy to many.”
The cold bites my skin. I see my surroundings again, clear and strange. My pulse rises. “Where am I?”
“This is the city of Blackburn in the east corner of the Thator Kingdom. Or if you prefer, 43rd and Channel of Coast-Port City.”
I furrow my forehead. “What?”
“It is a parallel existence. We live in the same world, the same space, but the occupants are different.”
I shake my head. “No. I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
“Few people know about the breaches between worlds, and even fewer know how to use them.”
“And you do?”
I note the alley, the angles of the streets, and the view of the port with wooden ships below the hill.
I know this can’t be true, but I know what I see is real.
My mouth forms a smile. “Sierra Snow.”
Meverel holds out his arm, a smile brightening his face. “May I escort you home, Miss Snow?”
A grey veil falls on Blackburn, and the air is gone. Then the wind casts away the fog to reveal sky scrapers, the media building, and the bustling people of Coast-Port City.
Meverel lets go of my arms. I don’t know what to say.
“There you are, Sierra. I’ve called you ten times.”
I swing around to face Ms. Kendal. She stands with one hip out, flaunting her attractive figure.
“What happened to you?”
I can imagine what I look like from all the falling, running, and world traveling.
“Ms. Kendal! I’m so sorry, I—I can explain.”
“No latte. No breakfast.”
“The blame is all on me.” Meverel steps up to Ms. Kendal and bows. I am horrified. He has no idea what he has gotten himself into.
“I required assistance from Miss Snow, and delayed her in a rather unpleasant situation. My deepest apologies.”
Ms. Kendal turns to Meverel with her brows raised. “Who are you?”
“Damian Meverel.” He gives another bow with flourish.
She cocks her head to take him in. I hold my breath. “Well, I guess not too much damage was done.” She tosses me a squinted glare. “Sierra, make yourself presentable and be at my office in thirty minutes.” She turns and walks off.
I face Meverel. “Thank you.”
“It was only a small repayment for your inconvenience, Miss Snow.”
He smiles. “Till we meet again, Sierra?”
He turns, a smile still on his face, and disappears in the entrance of the alley.
I rush down the hill to my apartment. A salty breeze rolls behind me, and the sun peeks through the clouds.
I laugh, and I swear I can hear Meverel laughing, too.