This story is by Alyssa McIntyre and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I always wanted to go to a different realm.
It’d be a dream come true. I’d learn how life worked, make friends, head home, no problems. The differences between that realm and ours would be significant and obvious, and I would get used to it. I’d have an adventure!
That was not the realm I went to.
That day, I walked to school, I crossed the road, and I tripped. Except, I couldn’t get up again. I couldn’t move.
I could still see, and what I saw was very weird. It was like the world around me was soggy paint, and someone with a paintbrush was swirling everything together. I couldn’t hear or smell, I could only breath as the concrete swam. Cars and people liquidised like a smoothie spilt across a tabletop.
Eventually, the swirling stopped. The world around me was dark and grey. It was just a flat, grey world with a grey sky that looked like a ginormous domed ceiling.
I stood up. Slowly, an ache spread across my body, like I had exercised too much the day before. It hurt more and more, and the more I moved – massaging my limbs or stretching – the worse it got. In moments, it was a painful throb. Groaning, I sat down to try and make it stop, but it was more painful than ever. Soon, I was screaming from the pain – Now it was like my body was on fire – unbearable – I writhed and screamed – Just STOP – I’m going to explode – I’m going to die…
Then everything went black, and the agony faded. Peace flooded my body. I was going to be alright. The hurt was gone.
I opened my eyes. Colours swam before me. It was the swirling again, but different. Instead of everything coming apart, it all came together. Colour upon familiar colour, assembling themselves into somewhere I knew.
My house. Normal in every aspect. Or was it?
I got up slowly and walked towards it, uncertainly. Was there a dreamy feel about it? Had I walked this path a thousand times, or was it a totally different place? I opened the door.
I wandered into the living room. I expected some goblin to greet me, or a magic wand to be lying on the dresser. There was nothing. No one.
Then it struck me.
I rushed to the kitchen, roamed through the bedrooms, and ran to the backyard.
My family was missing. Where did they go?
If it really was nine o’clock in the morning, as the clocks all said, then Mum and Luke would still be here. Luke wouldn’t need to start preparing for playgroup for an hour. I stumbled through the house again, calling their names.
I suddenly noticed I couldn’t hear cars or voices or bird calls.
But I could hear the wind. I could hear myself breathing.
I yelled, ‘Where is all the noise?’
I blundered to the front yard and onto the road. But there were no people or animals. It was my street, completely normal. Only it wasn’t; usually it was pretty busy, but without a single human other than me it was the least normal street on the planet.
Pulling out my phone, I dialled Mum’s number. Voicemail chattered in my ear. I called Dad, then my Nanna. No one picked up.
I ventured across the road and into Mrs Jan’s front garden and peered into the windows. I saw photos in frames and magnets on the fridge. I went to the door and knocked.
No answer. I tried the knob. It opened easily. I nervously stepped inside.
I’d been inside Mrs Jan’s house often for dinner. I switched on the lights. It hadn’t changed at all. It was just a typical 65-year-old woman’s house, but without a 65-year-old woman.
I turned on the tap in the bathroom, tested the gas stove, then went out the back to try the hose. They all worked. I opened the pantry. Bread, pasta, and all kinds of spices in the cabinet, leftovers and milk in the fridge- there was even a cup of coffee on the bench. But no Mrs Jan.
I stumbled back outside and onto the street. There were cars here and there and I went to one then another, trying to find a person. Nobody.
Visiting several other houses, I discovered that all doors were unlocked, and though there was evidence of humans having been there, there were no humans, as if they all suddenly disappeared in the night, leaving everything as it was.
What had happened? Was I in a different world? Or had everyone evaporated? I checked my watch, wondering if time had frozen, but the hands ticked steadily, and the sun was higher in the sky.
That afternoon, I wandered around the place where I ‘entered’ the realm, near the school in the middle of the road. I made myself fall over. I did anything I could think of to try and get back. But no matter what I did, nothing happened.
Until I figured out how to get back to Earth, I was stuck by myself… unless this wasn’t a different world and all the humans had disappeared. I broke into a cold sweat. Was this the end of the world? What should I do?
For a week, I tried to get back. I rode my bike all over the place, trying to find someone, or something, anything. I discovered one of the rules of this universe: there were no locks.
Whenever I travelled, the wheels whirred and the brakes shrieked, a sharp noise against a silent town. Every now and then, I broke the silence by yelling as loud as I could. I found videos of people on stray smartphones that I would play over and over for the sake of seeing other people. I took to playing music at the highest volume possible, wandering around, not exactly sure what I was looking for. Sometimes I simply lay on my bed, wondering about my family and friends.
After about three weeks, I crossed a line. If I went to the crossing near the school again, it was to browse the library, not to fall over repeatedly. When I walked about, I looked for parks to mess about in, not people. I marked off my days on my calendar, and a solitary month dragged by.
By then, I was staring at pictures of people for hours at a time, waiting for them to become real and return. Most often, I held the photo of Mum, Dad, Luke, and me, tracing their faces with a finger. The absence of family ached.
Sometimes I heard distorted voices, and in those times, I raced to the crossing and flopped onto the concrete. But nothing happened. I was going insane due to lack of interaction with people. The thought scared me. There was nothing I could do.
One afternoon, I turned on a radio in a car. White noise flickered from station to station.
‘“… and Mummy says you’ll wake up if we talk to you but you’re still asleep, you’ll need a lot of talking for it to work…”’
A voice struggled out of the speakers. I tried to adjust the settings to hear it again.
‘“…isn’t that long, Doc?” “Well, we’ll just have to wait, you keep talking to her…” “…she likes dinosaurs, but I like them more, she doesn’t know what a Brachiosaurus is…” “… thank you Doctor, we will, Jenny says she’s going to read to her…” ’
I knew those voices.
I jumped up excitedly. Except I couldn’t.
I was petrified, every muscle glued in place. The world started to swirl. Hope and dread filled my lungs. Was I returning to where I belonged? Would I have to pass through the grey dome of pain again?
The soggy paintbrush was at it again. The world swirled, colours meshing together and changing…
My body was floating. I was stretched out, cocooned in something, and there were wires, and a shiny light- I squeezed my eyes shut…
I was aware of arms hugging me tightly, and the sounds of crying and laughter.
“Mum? Dad? Luke?”
The white light came from a lamp above my head. Equipment surrounded the bed that I appeared on.
“Am I in a hospital?” I asked.
“Yup. Daddy says you can come home when you wake up and you’ve woken up, so you can come home!” My brother looked up from where he had his arms around my middle.
Dad was wiping his unshaven, laughing face. Mum was crying and clutching my hand. A smiling doctor stood by the door.
“You were hit by a car five weeks ago. You’ve been in a coma ever since,” she said.
They all nodded.
I leant back against the cushions.
Mum. Dad. Luke. Strangers.
This was the real magical realm.