The streets were glassy as they caught and held the light from the lamps and robots. Windscreens were speckled, wipers whirred in 5 o’clock peak hour traffic. A choir of drumming fingers. In the gutters flowed small rivers… and in a dark room a little girl sat with her thumb in her mouth.
She could not see the rain but she could hear it on the tin roof. It sounded like the beating of many drums and she was scared. She curled up in a foetal position on the cold concrete floor and wished for her mommy.
“… and the weather service forecasts rain in the Easter Province for another two days. Can you believe it?” said the man in the purple tie, giving his co-host a cheesy grin. His co-host’s red lips mimicked the expression, “Unbelievable Simon. I thought this was supposed to be a winter rainfall area!”
“It is, Jane, but someone obviously forgot to tell that to the rain clouds.”
They both laughed for exactly two seconds before returning to the serious business of the news.
The man in the purple tie straightened out his papers and the said in a deadly serious voice, “In other news, survivors are still being dug out from the wreckage of the New Selwyn Public Library. This after an explosion yesterday morning left at least twenty dead. The police spokesperson says that no arrests have yet been made and that we can not, at this stage, rule out terrorism.”
With green eyes firmly on the autocue, his co-host added, “Our thoughts are with the families of those lost.”
There was a brief pause that may have been interpreted as a moment of silence before she continued, “And in the Hope disappearance case, the police are now pointing fingers at the young girl’s uncle as a possible suspect. Young Erin Hope disappeared from her Main Street apartment two days ago. Her parents have offered a hefty reward for any leads, but so far no one has stepped forward. We will be interviewing the chief investigating officer after the break, so stay tuned.”
The rain was all-consuming, the roar of it hitting the roof drowned out everything except her fear.
Her papa had once told her a story about the rain, and she tried to remember it. Rain was the life-giver, he’d told her one night when a thunderstorm had made her dash to his bedroom. It was a gift from the heavens, a gift that provided food and drink for all mankind. But what about safety? Was the rain enough to keep the mean men away? The ones who’d brought her here, who’d said they wanted something from her parents?
In the darkness, she hugged herself and tried to imagine that it was. She tried to imagine that the roar was that of a great beast who would protect her, who would keep anything horrible at bay. Something like a dragon or a mighty lion. She almost had herself convinced, she almost had herself distracted enough to not feel cold or hungry, when the room seemed to shudder.
A crashing bang tore the air, like thunder but louder. Like thunder falling on the roof and echoing through the room.
She scrambled to her feet, afraid it was the nasty men again… that they were going to do something bad to her. But it was not men that entered the room, it was light. It started as a pinprick, then grew larger and larger.
A warm breeze ruffled her blond hair and her pink sun dress. Somehow the light was familiar. Like something out of her memory and yet something forgotten. She squinted, trying to find the source of the light… it seemed to be coming from the corner of the room. The light, the warmth.
She walked towards it.
And was gone.
In another time. In another place. Far away from the man in the purple tie and the woman with the red lips, there walked a boy.
To call him a boy would probably be considered an insult. Ray was 20. No longer a teenager, not yet quite an adult.
His name was Ray and he was a little worried.
This wasn’t exactly the safest part of town.
He lodged his hands into the pockets of his over-sized grey hoodie and regretted that particular clothing choice. It advertised, in big blue letters across the front, the name of his university. It declared him a student. It declared him, in other words, a target. Students had money. Well, in general they did. His parents had money, and they’d taken it with them to a small island on the other side of the world when he’d started studying three years prior. But potential muggers weren’t to know that. He shoved his shoulders back, shook his overgrown dark hair from his eyes, and took a deep breath. He had read somewhere that you were usually mugged if you looked like you were nervous. So he pulled his face into the most un-nervous expression he could muster considering the banging of his heart against his rib cage.
It had been a bad idea. He had known it from the start. The parties at 39 Brownleaf Avenue were always a bad idea. They started out fine and then the alcohol came out and then the drugs came out and then the clothes came off… and then the police arrived…
Ray shook his head trying to clear it of disturbing images. The last party he’d been to at that place had involved spending the night in a prison cell. Why had he allowed himself to be dragged back there? Hannah – his ex – would have said that he was just gullible. He had hated her ‘mightier than thou’ attitude… but she had been the one to bail him out the last time so he supposed he should be grateful. Still, it wasn’t that he was gullible… it was more like he was… trusting?
Ed had insisted that he’d have a good time, that he needed to de-stress before exams. Ed had a way of being convincing. In the two years that they’d shared an apartment, Ray didn’t think that he’d once seen Ed without glazed-over eyes. He wondered if the glaze became permanent after a few years of heavy marijuana intake. Nevertheless, Ed was far more socially adept than Ray and somehow always managed to get better marks. And so Ray had followed him to this party… and ended up walking home alone. There’s blind subservience for you.
He was jolted out of his contemplation by a movement in the dark nearby. A cold feeling crept over him. He grit his teeth. The wind. It was just the wind. Or a cat. Maybe a cat.
“Ray?” a small female voice.
He stopped dead. His mind immediately flew to Hannah. But the voice was too high-pitched to be hers. He squinted into the shadows and gradually he began to make out a rough silhouette. It might have been anyone. While he had been lost in his thoughts he could have been killed.
“Ray? Is that you?” The voice asked again.
He opened his mouth to respond, but his voice caught in his throat as the owner of the voice stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the streetlamp. She was his age, of medium height, and beautiful. Like something out of a magazine. She had locks of white-gold hair that tumbled over her shoulders and she was wearing… she was wearing nothing but a small brown tunic that barely covered her.
“I…” Ray gulped. “I don’t know you.”
The girl’s face lit up and her pink lips broke into a huge grin. “It is you.” He hardly had a moment to collect himself before she’d closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him.
He took hold of her shoulders and moved her away, eyes scanning her face, trying to think if there was any possibility at all that they had once met but he’d forgotten. No. He would have definitely remembered. “You have the wrong guy. I don’t… know you.”
“I was so scared,” she said, as if she hadn’t heard him at all. She buried her head in his chest and started, inexplicably, sobbing.
They stood there in the dim light like that for a while, he patting her back, stunned. Eventually he peeled her off him again and asked her quietly, “I don’t mean to be rude but… um… who are you?”
She sniffed. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head and looked down at her bare feet. “This must be very confusing for you. Usually I’m more…” she lapsed into silence.
He waited for her to say more, but nothing more was forthcoming. She wrapped her arms around herself and he noticed she was shivering. He pulled the hoodie over his head and draped it around her shoulders. “Do you live far from here?”
“Yes, very far,” she replied, cryptically. “Can you take me home?”
“Sure…” he agreed tentatively, “Where’s home?”
“No… I mean to your home”
“To my home?” he stared at her.
“Why do you want to go to my home?”
For a second she looked like she was about to cry again. “Because,” she said, controlling herself with visible effort, “then I can explain everything.”
Hannah would have said he was being gullible, but Ray reasoned he was being curious. And after all, what damage could a girl like her do? It wasn’t like she could hide a weapon anywhere on her.
“Sure” he said.
“Excuse the mess.” Ray flicked on the light and walked into the apartment he shared with Ed.
There was clothing on every surface in the open-planned room. Directly opposite the door was a large window that looked out over the street to the university campus. She strolled over to the window while he walked into the kitchen and flicked on the kettle. The only thing that made the kitchen a kitchen was a few tiles on the floor, and a counter, otherwise it was just a part of the lounge with a fridge and a stove.
“Erm… Can I get you anything?” he asked. What else did one do?
She shook her head and smiled, glancing at him fondly. The look made him uncomfortable so he busied himself making coffee.
She folded herself neatly into an armchair that faced the kitchen. “I’m sorry I got so emotional earlier. You’d think I’d be used to this by now…”
He didn’t look up at her, “used to what?”
“Meeting you for the first time.”
“What?” he looked up, thinking he hadn’t heard her correctly.
Her face bore the expression of a teacher who has been asked to explain the same thing for the hundredth time but does so patiently because she knows it’s her job. “Since I was about five years old I have jumped continuously to different universes. All are completely different except for one thing. You”.
He got such a surprise at her answer that he spilled hot water over his hand. He dropped the kettle on the floor and it splashed more hot water on his jeans. He was so busy jumping up and down swearing that he didn’t notice her slip past him to the fridge. Next thing he realised, she was standing beside him, holding his burnt hand in a dishcloth filled with ice.
“Shit.” He ended his bout of swearing meekly.
She smiled wanly up at him, “Are you ok? Usually you don’t take that part very well.”
He looked down at her honest face and wondered if he had gone mad.
“I just… spilled boiling water on my hand.”
It crossed his mind that she could be playing with him. “That is the most bizarre pickup line I’ve ever heard. You’ve gone to a lot of effort… tracking me down in a dark alley… dressing in that… what is that?”
“The dress of the Yahadu slave girls.”
“That dress of the… what?”
“The previous universe I…” she stopped and a look of concern crossed her face. “I’d rather not talk about it. Your hand will be okay. We got ice on it in time. Do you want to sit and talk?” She gestured to the sofa. “I can answer any questions you have about who I am.”
He followed her to the sofa, too astonished to protest, “Okay, so who are you?”
“My name is Erin.”