“There you are!” my roommate shouted out, making me jump halfway out of my chair as he burst into my room. “Come on, mate, I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
Trying to force my heart to calm back down, I spun around to stare at him in confusion and frustration. “What the hell, Lex?” I burst out, glad at least that there was nothing too offensive displayed on the screen of my computer.
Lex, however, didn’t even spare a glance at the computer as he dashed forward, reaching out to grab my hand. “Come on, we don’t have time for squabbling!” he practically yelled in my ear as he bodily pulled me up out of the chair. “We have to go!”
“What are you talking about?” I shouted back, trying to pull free of the man’s grip. His fingers were like iron, however, and he resolutely tugged me towards the door of my room, even as I tried to sink in my heels.
The man didn’t reply out loud, but he thrust his wrist out at me, as if this would answer all my questions. I looked down blankly at it.
Lex always wore a large, bulky, rubber-edged digital watch. I assumed that it was one of those fancy models that simultaneously tracked his motion, heart rate, bowel movements, and any other meaningful statistics. I occasionally found the man sitting in our crappy little living room with the watch plugged into his computer, and I assumed that he was syncing it up or something.
Right now, however, the watch’s face displayed a series of flickering numbers, constantly shifting. Half of them looked more like alien hieroglyphics than actual numbers, but some sort of activity was definitely happening.
“What? I don’t know what that means,” I complained, as the man pulled me out into the hallway and down towards the stairs.
“It means that we’re in deep flarg, that’s what it means!” Lex snapped back at me. He took a moment to look down at the watch himself. “Now look, do you have your exit kit prepped?”
“Exit kit? What?”
The man rolled his eyes. “Yes, you know, the basics! Toothbrush, seashells, chocolate, bowler hat?”
I just stared back at him. “There’s, uh, some chocolate in the kitchen?” I suggested weakly.
“Well, go grab that!” Lex yelled at me, shoving me away in the general direction of the kitchen. “And find a hat!”
Still confused, I stumbled into the kitchen. Not quite sure why I was doing this, I rummaged through the pantry cupboard until I located a few sad Hershey’s bars that had managed to escape the post-Halloween feasting a couple months previously. I shoved them into a tote bag, and then, on impulse, also pulled a baseball cap off of the hook by the back door.
As I stuffed the cap into the tote bag, Lex came bounding into the kitchen, triumphantly holding aloft something small and shiny. “Good – we’re almost out of time!” he called to me, as he ran for the back door.
“Out of time before what?” I asked, still feeling bewildered.
“Before we miss our exit window! Now come on!” In front of the back door, the man shoved the small, glinting key in his hand into the knob, turning it as he twisted the door.
I opened my mouth to tell my roommate that the door was unlocked – I could see that from the deadbolt above the knob. But as my roommate opened the door, the words died, unspoken, in my mouth.
I knew our back yard quite well. It was fairly small, mostly just dead grass. Over in the corner was my attempt from last summer to try and start a vegetable plot; I hadn’t managed to grow anything except for a denser patch of weeds than the rest of the yard. Now, there wasn’t much left except for some plastic stakes and a rusting shovel that I’d borrowed from someone and never returned.
When I opened the back door, I could always see down the couple of steps into that patch of dirt, bordered by the tall wooden fence that separated us from our neighbors next door.
But now, when Lex opened the back door, I did not see our back yard.
Instead, I was staring into a dark and dim expanse that looked like the inside of an industrial storehouse. Large stacks of mysterious objects formed pillars stretching up towards a high ceiling, their contents shadowed and shrouded.
“Wha?” I choked out, wondering if I was going crazy.
But next to me, Lex looked overjoyed. “Yes! Now come on, the bridge will only hold a few seconds!” he shouted – and lunged forward, pulling me with him through the door!
I tried to protest, but I could either make a noise, or resist his pull, but not both. A sad bleat slipped out of my mouth, but I was half-tugged, half-dragged in through the doorway, into this mysterious and alien scene on the other side.
A second after we had stepped across the doorway, I heard the door slam shut behind us.
Once on the other side, my legs suddenly felt incredibly odd, and I felt my ankles slip out from under me. I tumbled down onto the floor, landing in a sprawled pile of limbs.
“Lex, what the hell is going-” I began, as I pulled myself up.
As I looked behind me, however, I once again lost my voice.
The door through which we had just passed, the door leading back to my rental house’s kitchen, was no longer there. Instead, I found myself staring down a seemingly infinite hallway, flanked by hundreds more of these pillar piles of stacked boxes and other items I couldn’t name.
“Oh good, we made it,” Lex commented next to me, sounding relieved. “Here, let’s get up and find a spot to stow away before one of the crew-“
The noise sounded like a sadly obese older man attempting to gargle a too-large swig of mouthwash. I turned towards the direction of the sound, feeling ice-cold horror flood my veins.
From out behind one of the pillars, a massive… something had crawled. My best description of the thing would be a giant knot of worms, if each of those worms had a single large eyeball and a beard of electric blue hair. From somewhere inside the wriggling mass, the creature made the gargling noise again.
Next to me, Lex hopped up lightly to his feet. “Just a moment, good sir!” he called out to the nightmare, pasting a wide smile across his face and reaching down to haul me up to my own feet beside him.
“Lex, I – what – how – who,” I stammered out, my mind desperately trying to cling to the last shreds of sanity.
“No worries, mate, no worries,” Lex whispered to me, the smile still spread wide across his face. “By the way, did you happen to grab any chocolate?”
Chocolate. Yes. This was the first thought I could actually understood. Mutely, I reached into the tote bag and pulled out one of the candy bars.
“Perfect. He’ll probably scalp us on the exchange rate, but we’ll kick ourselves for that later,” Lex murmured back to me. And then, before I could respond, he held the bar out to the giant worm-ball in front of us!
From the mass of tentacles, a smaller, slimmer appendage slid out and wrapped around the candy bar, pulling it from Lex’s hand. The creature made another noise, this one sounding more like the same sad obese man as he tried to climb into an overly full bathtub.
“Great! We’ll just head down to the mess hall, shall we? My buddy here could use a few hits of Karnquatz juice,” Lex called cheerfully up to the worm-ball monstrosity as it turned and trundled away. “Thanks for having us!”
After I was fairly confident that the worm-ball wasn’t about to lunge back and devour us somehow, I turned to Lex. “What?” I asked him, doing my best to imbue that single word with all the incomprehension and confusion that filled my head.
“No worries, mate,” he replied, looping his hand through my arm and gently walking me down one of the corridors. “Get some juice into you, and you’ll feel right as rain!”
“I don’t want to feel right as rain!” I burst out, even as he walked me away. “I want to go home!”
For a moment, a cloud passed across my roommate’s features. “That, um, that might be a little tricky,” he said, a note of somberness in his voice.
“Well, it doesn’t exist,” Lex commented, looking a little uncomfortable. But then, his expression perked up once again. “But hey! We made it off before the wipe, and this ship might have Karnquatz juice. Things could be worse!”