New fiction to bring in the weekend! I feel like there could be a lot more to this story. So if you read this and find it interesting, definitely let me know (comments, Facebook, Twitter, anywhere really). I have ideas for where this is going, and I'm interested in the characters, so I'd love to hear what you think.
Robbie and I had talked about "the shop" for years. Everyone did. It had stood there, empty, since before I was born. At least, I think it had. Robbie thinks it might have closed down just a few years ago, when we were still in grade school. And he says that he might have seen the inside once when it was still open. He remembers there being lots of people wearing hard hats and goggles, moving big pieces of metal around, sparks flying from welding rigs, and a lot of cursing and music. He remembers seeing a picture of a naked woman tacked to the peg board on someone's workbench, and his dad pulling him away before he could get a really good look.
I sort of believe him. Partly because his dad was some kind of engineer who really did visit places like that every now and then. But mostly because most guys wouldn't lie about details like that. Although, Robbie was a pretty good liar, and he knew what I knew — details sell the story.
"Let's go inside," Robbie said.
I looked at the shop, covered in graffiti, weeds and out of control landscaping grown up along its walls. There was a chain link fence between us and the building, but that wasn't a problem. We'd gotten inside the yard of the place hundreds of times. There were gaps everywhere, and no one bothered to fix them.
"Cole, c'mon. Let's go in!"
"OK," I said, and then I led the way to one of the holes in the fence that I knew about.
That's part of how I do things. Kind of a system. Once I've decided to do something, I lead the way. I take the first jump or I start running first or whatever. I try to always be the first one to do something, once I've let someone talk me into it. That way no one can say I let anyone walk all over me or bully me into anything. I choose, and then I do something.
We squeezed through the fence, and then I had to untangle Robbie. His hoodie was caught on one of the wires of the chain link, and he couldn't reach it. There was a second there when he panicked. I could see it, even if he wouldn't admit it. His adrenaline was up already.
I stopped and and looked at the shop, like I was studying it, and took some deep breaths. Not because I needed to, but because he did. He saw me, and without even thinking about it he did the same thing, and he calmed down.
I didn't wait long before moving again, didn't give him a chance to ask what we were waiting for. I just ran for the shop.
There were at least three ways to get inside that I knew about. On the ground floor was a rusted roll-up door that had a gap between it and the ground. It was narrow, but we could probably squeeze through it and just get a little dirty.
Around back there was one of the big air conditioning units that you could climb to get to a small window. It was broken, with bits of jagged glass still hanging in it, and I figured it was maybe a way in but probably wouldn't be fun.
The third option was a ladder that led to the roof, which was blocked at the top by a curving metal cage and some razor wire. Lots of kids had tried to figure out a way around that, to get onto the roof, but I'd never heard of anyone pulling it off. But halfway up there was a wide-open window with a piece of plywood hung over it. The plywood was loose, and I'd seen at least one kid pull it out and away from the building once so he could climb inside, letting the board fall back in place.
I wasn't sure why someone would choose that route over the other two, especially the roll-up door option. To get to the window you would have to stretch out along the wall, wedge a foot and a hand under the board to grab the window frame, and then hang in mid-air, pretty high up over a pile of broken bricks and cinder blocks, before pulling yourself inside. As entrances go, it was the most dangerous of the three. But it was the only one I'd seen anyone use, and there had to be a reason for it.
I've wanted to know the reason for a really long time.
I started up the ladder.
"Cole, wait! There's an opening under the door! We can just crawl in."
"Go ahead," I said, still climbing.
He wouldn't. I knew that. Robbie was a lot of things, but brave wasn't top of the list and neither was "independent thinker." He would go my way because he didn't know whether or not I knew what I was doing. He'd just assume that I did.
I didn't. I was making a guess.
When I was level with the window I reached for the plywood. The space between the ladder and the window was wide enough that I couldn't stand with both feet on the rung and still stretch far enough to reach the window frame. I had to shift my position, hold on with my left hand, and stand on the outer edge of the rung with my left foot, then reach for the window's edge. It was a stretch, and took some time, but I was finally able to work my fingers under the plywood. Then I had my foot in there, standing on the bottom of the window frame.
I let go.
For a few seconds it was like I was clinging to the outside wall of the shop, like gravity had no effect on me and I could stay there all day. But my arm and my leg started aching from holding me up, and I had to move quick to get my left hand in front of me, push the plywood out a bit more, and then wriggle under it and into the window.
Inside the shop, it was dark except for a wedge of light coming from the edges of the plywood.
"Cole! You OK? You in there?"
"Yeah," I said. I was standing on something. Some kind of large shelf. There were big hunks of metal on either side of me, and I could see that I was standing in a very narrow space, just under the window. The bottom of the window frame came to my waist as I stood there. I pushed the plywood outward again and leaned out to see Robbie gripping the ladder and looking a little worried.
"Come on!" I said.
He shook his head a little, like he was going to say no, but instead said, "It's a long way down."
"Don't fall," I said, and I really meant it.
He reached out then, for the edge of the window, and went through the same process I'd just went through. More or less. He had me to help by holding the plywood shutter open. It made it easier for him to get a foothold, and he quickly scooted into place and climbed inside. We stood in the gap on the shelf, a little too close to be comfortable.
"How do we get down?" he asked.
I looked around, but didn't see anything from my angle.
"Wait," Robbie said, looking around the chunk of metal that was blocking his view. "I think I see something, but it's dark."
I pushed the plywood out a bit, letting in more light.
"OK, I see something. We can climb down over there. It's the edge of the shelf. There's a vertical piece that goes to the ground."
He started climbing around the metal hunk, and then grabbed hold of the shelf support, working his way down. I followed as soon as he was clear.
On the floor of the shop, we could see a little better. The shelves lining the walls were above a set of windows that still let in light because they were covered by metal mesh. Some still had glass, but most were broken to bits, and the mesh was all that kept them from being wide open holes.
The shop was a large space. There were piles of metal all over, rusted hunks that looked dirty and oily. Some of these were machines, like generators or large pumps or something. Some were something else. Knotted and twisted looking hunks of metal, like something had melted it.
I wished I had a flashlight. It would make this easier. But all I had in my pocket was a money clip I'd found at the public pool, and wedged in that was my school ID and five bucks. A fortune, for sure.
"Do you have a flashlight?" I asked.
"No," Robbie said. And that was that.
The space stretched out a bit, and eventually disappeared into darkness on the far end. It smelled like oil and dirt and what I figured must be years of pot and cigarette smoke. On the floor there were tons of broken glass, glinting in what little light came through various windows and holes in the shop's walls. There were some old blankets laying around in piles, and a pillow or two with those. Bottles, empty cans, chip bags, and other bits of debris were all over too. There was graffiti on practically everything.
"Come on," I said, moving toward the darker end of the room. Robbie hesitated as he saw me move further into the dark, but followed and caught up quickly.
As my eyes adjusted, the small bit of light helped us move deeper in without crashing into anything. At a certain point, with machines and metal and shelves blocking direct light, details just fell away entirely. I was a little disappointed, and was just about to tell Robbie that we should come back with some flashlights, when I spotted a small, blinking light in the darkness.
It wasn't bright, and I got the impression that what I was seeing was actually a reflection, something blinking and shining on the grimy cement floor that was still just polished and smooth enough to catch a bit of light. I moved toward it.
"Cole, maybe we should ..."
"Hold on," I said. "I see something."
In front of me was a huge hunk of metal that looked melted and twisted. It was sort of rounded, and looked a little like what I'd think an asteroid or a meteor or whatever would look like. There was a small gap between it and the floor, where a molten bit of metal had bubbled a bent to form a small hole. The blinking light wasn't visible from where I was standing now, but I could remember it, and I knew it was coming from underneath the slag metal.
I got on my knees and looked into the hole.
"What are yo doing?" Robbie asked.
"I see something," I said again.
"What is it?"
I didn't answer, but instead reached into the hole. I could see my hand in the greenish glow of a light blinking slowly, shining from above. I tried to twist my neck and look upward, but the edge of the hole blocked my view. So I took a deep breath, and reached further in and up until I touched something inside.
It was round and smooth feeling, but it had a definite edge. I ran my fingers all around it, feeling the lip, and then I gripped as best I could and pulled. There was a snap, like the feeling of a two magnets separating, as it came loose in my hand.
I sat up, pulling my hand free and holding the object. When I brought it out of the hole, Robbie knelt beside me to get a look. "Whoa," he said. "What is it?"
"No idea," I said, shaking my head.
It was a small disk, and in its center there was a pulsing glow. It was weird, though, because there was no lens or glass or plastic there. It wasn't an LED or a bulb or anything. It was just smooth metal, as far as I could tell. The metal just glowed.
I turned it over and saw a pattern of lines and ridges on the underside. It looked like it was meant to fit perfectly in something, whatever was inside the hole. But other than those ridges, it was perfectly smooth and flat.
"Can I see?" Robbie asked.
I handed it to him and he looked at it, turning it over and over in his hands, running his fingers over the smooth top of it. "What's making it glow like that?" he asked.
I shook my head but didn't answer.
He handed it back to me, and the two of us stood and looked around the room, and then freaked out.
Everything in the room was different.
There was light, for starters, though it wasn't bright. It was just sort of everywhere. Like everything in the room was lit up from within.
The slag metal that had been all over was gone, and instead there were hundreds of machines everywhere, all apparently running. We couldn't hear anything, but I could feel the vibration of them all. We were in a working shop now, not the broken down shop we'd known.
And then we saw the people.
Men in hard hats and goggles, just like Robbie had said. And people were suddenly working on some of the machines, or carrying bits of metal, or welding.
"What's happening!" Robbie shouted, and I grabbed his arm to tell him to keep quiet. But apparently no one heard us. Maybe it was too loud, where they were, because I didn't think they were actually here. Or that we were actually there. I wasn't sure, but something seemed out of sync.
"Come on!" I said, and I ran back in the direction we had come, to where we had climbed down from outside.
We got to the spot quickly, now that we didn't have to be careful about walking in the dark. It was no longer an empty spot filled with blankets and broken glass and graffiti on every surface. Now there were neat stacks of what looked like metal rods, and I watched as a forklift came and lifted one stack, turning to carry it somewhere deep into the shop.
Then something truly weird happened.
I heard Robbie shout, a sort of "GUH!" like he'd put his hand in something gross, and I turned to see him standing with his back arched and his arms flailing, as a man with clipboard stood half in and half out of Robbie's body.
"Get him out! Get him out!" Robbie said.
I ran to him and reached outward, intending to grab the man and pull him away. Instead, my hands passed through him, and I ended up pushing Robbie instead. He fell backwards, landing on his butt on the floor.
My hands, as they passed through the man, felt tingly and cold. The man didn't seem to notice anything, though.
"What ... was that?" Robbie said from the floor.
I reached out again, passed my hand through the man's head, felt the cold tingle, and then pulled my hand free. After a few seconds the man looked up, and then walked away as if nothing had happened.
"I ... I think we're out of phase or something," I said.
"Like in the movies. We're out of phase with this reality or whatever. Like maybe it's the past, or another universe or something."
Robbie got back to his feet and slowly spun around, looking at the shop. "It's different," he said.
"Yeah, it's like everything is new and still working."
"No," he said, "It's more than that. It's really different. Look," he said, pointing upward.
I looked to see that the shelf, where we had climbed down, was still there, but the window we'd used to climb in was gone. This wasn't the same shop. It wasn't a different time. This was somewhere else. Another reality, maybe.
I walked away, toward where the rolling door would be, and Robbie followed. We passed equipment and stacks of metal and dozens of people moving around, and when we came to the door it was wide open. We walked through.
Everything looked different. It was like someone had taken our neighborhood and just redesigned it a bit. The grounds around the shop were all neat and kept up now, and the chain link fence was in perfect condition, but the street leading in was angled to the right now instead of the left. And in the distance, instead of the Baeler Bank building, which was the tallest building in the neighborhood, I could see three really tall buildings I didn't recognize, and what looked like the top of a bridge that shouldn't be there.
"Are we in the future?" Robbie asked. He was standing back, still partially within the open doorway of the shop, a few feet from me.
I shrugged. "Maybe, but I don't think so. There are differences that it wouldn't make sense to change, like the direction of the street. Maybe they would have sealed up that window we came through, I don't know. But this doesn't feel like the future, you know?"
"What does the future feel like?" Robbie asked, rolling his eyes.
And I didn't have an answer for that.
I reached into my pocket to pull out the small disc I'd found. I had slipped it in there by habit, like when I put away my money clip. Outside, in the daylight, it was harder to see the light blinking, but I could just make it out. I ran my finger over the smooth surface.
And everything changed.
The street suddenly shifted back to the way I was used to it. The Baeler Bank building was back, and the others were gone. And when I turned around, I could see the roll up door of the shop, almost completely closed.
But Robbie wasn't here.
I freaked. I felt my heart pounding. I almost ran, just anywhere, to get help or something. And then I stopped and I l looked up and away, and I took some deep breaths. This happened after touch the disk. I did it again, running my finger over it, and suddenly Robbie was standing out by the street screaming his head off.
"Robbie!" I shouted.
He turned, a look of panic on his face, and ran at me like he was going to either tackle me to the ground or hug me. I didn't want either of those, so I held up my hands to tell him to slow down. He did, and soon he was standing in front of me, panting and still a little scared. "I thought I was stuck here," he said. "I thought I was dead."
"I was back," I told him. "Back home, in our world or whatever!"
"How?" he asked.
"I think its the disk. When you run a finger over it, you move between here and home. That's my guess so far, anyway. And I think it has a range. When you did it inside, we were close enough that we both went. When I did it out here, you were too far away and only I went home."
Robbie shivered, like he was cold. "So we are never more than a foot away from each other from now on," Robbie said. "I am definitely not going to get stuck here alone.
I nodded, and held up the disk. "What is this thing?" I asked.
Robbie shook his head and said, "I don't know, but can we go home to talk about it? I really don't want to risk being stuck here."
Again I nodded, and I was just about to run my finger over the disk when I paused. "Grab my arm," I said. He did, a little too enthusiastically, and "activated" the disk. The world shifted again, and Robbie and I were standing back in the weed-filled grounds of the shop.
I looked at the disk closely. "We need to find out more about this thing," I said.
"Yeah," Robbie said. "But what a cool thing."
"Right," I said. "And think about what it means. We were able to move out of that building by walking through an open door in that other world and shifting back here. That's cool."
"Hey, that's true!" Robbie said. "Wow! Maybe we could use that somehow."
"Maybe," I agreed.
We left the shop and made our way home. We agreed I'd hold on to the disk, since I was the one who found it. Robbie wasn't all that broken up by not getting to hold on to it himself. I think it scared him. It scared me, a little. But it was a good kind of scared. It was the kind of scared that made me want to try it again, like riding a roller coaster.
I left Robbie at his house and made my way home. When I was there, safe in my back yard, behind the garage in the narrow easement I thought of as "my space," I took the disk out again. I looked around, trying to memorize everything I was seeing, and then I ran a finger over the smooth metal.
The change was weird to watch. It wasn't instant. It was more like watching the world rearrange itself into a new pattern. It was quick, but I could sort of watch it happen. Lines shifted, trees moved or "ungrew," buildings changed shape.
Suddenly I was sanding in an open patch of ground. There was a fence on all sides, creating a yard. The house that should have been mine was very different. It was much bigger and newer looking, and it was oriented in a different direction.
I touched the disk again, and I was back in my yard.
And then I started laughing. Because Robbie was right, we could use this somehow. We could move around in the world without caring much about walls or barriers. We could escape into Green World. That was the name I gave it. Green World, where everything was slightly different, where no one could see us, where we could move around and reappear somewhere else back home.
We. Or maybe me.
I was going to have fun with this.