Ancestral

The boy woke...
Charlie lives in a post-apocalyptic world, devoid of people, with barely any memories of the past. So he embarks on an adventure...only he didn't expect to end up being pushed around different dimensions by a person who calls themself 'C'.

And he most certainly didn't expect the truth

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2. The Box

Shrouding the outside world from the boy was a giant roof. The air gently caressing his face was pleasantly warm as well. Tropical warm complete with the almost forgotten annoying buzz of flies. He sat up, eyes widening at the gargantuan concrete walls on either side of him. Everything was still fuzzy and his head hurt like he’d slammed his head into a rock.

That’s right. He’d found a strange rock on the ground. Weird things had happened…Charlie…his name was Charlie.

Charlie frowned and brushed the dust off his shirt. For once in a long time he was thoroughly confused. In his short, miserable life so far Charlie had seen many things from death to the abnormal. This box was something completely different to anything he'd experienced. Not only was the box comfortably temperate but it had actual grass sprouting out of the floor and palm trees shooting towards the sky and a giant lake in one corner. Also, when he looked at the roof that hung above him he could make out puffy, white clouds and an expanse of sparkling blue. Grazing nearby were some horses with dirty brown coats.

Was this the place you went when you died? Had that strange stone killed him? He was sure he’d died. Yet here he was…

Charlie would have felt relieved to even set his eyes on another living creature after residing in that post-apocalyptic environment for so long but then, as if to make sure he was even more confused, the scene blurred and Charlie found himself standing amidst the bustling traffic of an early nineteenth century town in Britain. He’d ever been to Britain. It was distant memories of Sherlock Holmes that brought about this observation.

He was leaning on a frosted lamp post that flickered dully on the bleached ground being trampled upon by hundreds of rushing feet. His breath came out in white puffs like the tendrils of smoke that came from the cigarettes his father used to have. And when he inhaled a million little needles seemed to cascade down his throat. On those cold nights that happened every few weeks Charlie had grown accustomed to the icy daggers impaling his skin, but the air had never been this pure! Charlie hadn’t breathed such clean oxygen for a very long time. Whatever this place was, seemed too good to be true. He didn’t try to stop the smile creeping on to his flushed face as he tried to hug his jacket tighter around him.

His mind was being clouded by so many endless thoughts and observations that it was beginning to spin. How much he’d missed the soft feel of the scratchy wool covering his jacket that he’d somehow obtained had never really crossed his mind. Charlie glanced upward at the small flakes of stray snow that still fell from the concrete ceiling above, landing gently on his shoulders where they rested as contentedly as the beaming grin now plastered on his face.

“Where am I?” Charlie whispered in amazement, basking in the light from street lamp. His voice had grown a slight English twang to it now for no apparent purpose. This sparked another memory…his parents liked to show him a lot of British detective shows and Charlie would always say he wanted to have an accent just like theirs. Maybe his wish had come true. Maybe he was, for some odd reason, he was in a British murder mystery show.

Charlie breathed into his hands to heat them. Now that he stopped and really took in what was happening he noticed that some people stopped to stare at him with pity. Truth be told, he did look quite poor with his scruffy old woollen coat and scuffed red boots. However, Charlie sensed his heart skip a beat when he realised that they were people. Real people! With two eyes and a nose and a mouth and ten fingers and ten toes…

He’d done it! He’d found people!

Unconsciously, his hand closed around a small pendant that was dangling from a chain around his waist. And no sooner had his fingers touched the cool metal had he began noticing weird details about them. Like their pointed ears and the weird way they hobbled everywhere like they’re left leg was broken or otherwise barely useable.

Charlie took a step back in unease. He quickly pinched himself and winced at the sharp stab of pain. So he was alive. Or at least, not dreaming…these things were real and he was in a real place…

So what was this place?

This time Charlie was certain he was afraid and not suffering from unfamiliarity. This box happened to be was most certainly far from anything Charlie had ever seen in his life.

He inspected his freezing hands. He wondered if he looked like these creatures…then again…Charlie didn’t really want to know and he quickly tucked his hands into his worn pockets. He simply desired to go back home.

 Suddenly, he was pushed and he stumbled forward.

“Sorry!” a young girl exclaimed as she bumped into Charlie. The contents inside of the bag the girl carried spilled out onto the road and smashed against the hard cement, littering the footpath with shards of a sharp material that glinted wickedly in the non-existent sun. “No!” she cried. The girl knelt down and quickly tried to gather the pieces in her small hands but they’d already started to melt and soon all that left was a bigger pile of snow. “This ain't 'app'nin'! It can't be 'app'nin'! I'll be killed for sure! Thanks to yer I’ll be gone when tomorrow comes by. Now if yer feel any remorse yer can stop staring at what just 'appended. It's what Gray calls a Replica vase. Ain't the real thing but nobody can tell the difference so we make money out of it. Gray designed them, see? Real genius 'e is. But now 'e'll kick me out no thanks to you! I 'ave nowhere else to go. And it’s all thanks to you and yer stupid brain!” When she yelling so furiously at him, Charlie was reminded of the kindergartens at his mother’s child care centre on the occasion he accidentally knocked over their Lego structures. Another memory gained; Charlie smiled at this. He placed a consoling hand on the young girl's shaking shoulder. “Are you okay?” Charlie asked.

“What're yer think yer idiot? Do I look okay? Does me vase look okay?” the girl hissed, pointing irately at the pile of snow.

“I’m really, really sorry.” Charlie straightened and blinked. “I didn’t mean to, err…bump into you. I’m sincerely sorry I swear.”

A pregnant pause followed as the girl's shoulders relaxed and she sighed. “It's fine…Listen, I just get a little worked up sometimes.” She extended a hand to Charlie, “the name's Caera. Sorry 'bout snappin' at yer like that. Didn't mean no disrespect. Like I said, I get worked up sometimes. ‘specially when sometin don’t go right. So what's your name, mister?” Caera was tall for her age- only eleven or so. She had mousy brown hair that hung around her face like a massive balloon and two big blue eyes. Caera could have very easily passed off as human if her skin weren’t tinged green like everyone else’s; upon her arm was a weird mark that looked like it had been burned there. The symbol looked exactly like the one on the pedant Charlie seemed; a fish with its nose pointing upwards, but she quickly pulled her sleeve down over it as if suspecting him looking at it.

“Charlie,” Charlie said quickly. He accepted the proffered hand.

“Yer don’t say…Yer sound too posh to be one of us. But you look like you've been dragged through Gray's rubbish tip. Sight for sore eyes, I mean. Where're yer from?” Caera stood there with her hands on her hips, although she didn’t look angry at all anymore. She seemed to have completely forgotten about the vase.

“Nowhere. At least… nowhere near here. I mean…another place. That's just not here. Someplace that isn’t this place,” Charlie stumbled. His throat felt so raw and sore by then from the icy air. His smile was long gone.

“Yer mean you come from outside o’ the Box?!” Caera asked in amazement. “You've been outside the Box?! Can yer tell me what's it like? I mean, I haven’t been there meself so I’ve always been mighty curious. Gray says not much good lies out there but I don't believe him. Never ‘ave. Gray’s just go no imagination. So, do they 'ave rabbits? I think I heard some old folk talkin’ ‘bout ‘orses once. Are there ‘orses there?! Oh do tell me!”

Charlie wasn’t sure whether to tell her about that weird tropical room he’d woken up in or where he actually came from. Was it appropriate to tell a stranger that you think you were miraculously revived from probable death? “No...” Charlie said, opting for referring to his home world. “It's more like a wasteland. I guess this Gray was right. Not much good lies out there except for a mighty fine supply of rocks and ash. I'm not even sure how I got here. I’m pretty sure I died, but that's all I can remember...” Charlie inwardly hit himself. His stupid tongue had ended up rambling anyway.

Caera laughed. She didn’t seem disappointed like Charlie had thought she would be. “Don't ya worry, Charlie. That's the same story as everyone else here. The old in'abitants 'ere died out not that long ago. We just appeared 'ere too. Gray and me. I don’t remember where I came from neither. We’re all in the same boat. Birds of a feather, ey?” She’d retrieved her bag and had it hugged to her chest. Then she continued, “maybe Gray'll be able to explain it better. Follow me. I'll show yer where we live.” Caera grabbed hold of Charlie's hand and began dragging him away from the bitter wind and mobbed streets. Charlie gazed up longingly at the tall, two-storey homes that rushed past. Each separate building had pleasant warmth radiating out of the long chimneys. Strong wafts of thick stews and warm soups filled his nostrils and the familiar sound of a fire crackling in the distance crowded his yearning ears. It was different to what he was used to and it was ever so inviting. Welcoming...reminded him so much of home.

“Now don't you go thinkin' up a fantasy for yourself. It'll never 'appen. Slum folk like us never bother to try and get those rich snobs to take pity on us,” Caera spat. “Poor stay poor. Rich stay rich. And so do our acquaintances.”

He kept his eyes glued to the ground after that.

After a few more blocks Charlie began to notice subtle changes like how the houses were more decrepit with stained bricks and the streets, which grew narrower. The cobbled stones were chipped and worn with the use of carts and the working folk that traversed across them every morning and evening. Caera stopped outside a reasonably well kept house for the area they were surrounded by. She shoved the door open with her shoulder but stopped dead as it creaked open. “Oh crud!” Caera exclaimed, “the vase. Gray told me to bring it tonight so 'e could sell it! He'll kill me. He'll kick me out!” And so her rant begun again in full force.

Charlie, ignoring the pained child, peered through the doorway and took in a cosy living room, small kitchen and three beds in the corner. Caera hadn’t mentioned a third person; only this Gray, who didn’t sound that personable. Maybe they had guests often. “So it was a valuable vase?” he asked tentatively.

“No,” Caera snapped, peering up from between her trembling hands. “It wasn't really. That vase was paying for our food this month, is all. Now it’s no better than the snow we’re walkin’ on.”

Charlie took that as an indirect yes.

“Caera is that you?!” a deep voice called from within the house.

Caera eyed Charlie icily. “Don't say anythin', yer hear me? Gray's got one mighty temper when it comes to slip ups. If anythin’ ‘scapes, you’re the one who gets the canin’ yer hear me.”

Charlie nodded fervently. Somehow he felt like arguing with Caera would just make matters worse.

Caera scurried into the house and disappeared into a small, dimly lit room at the back. The house was startlingly toasty like the grassland Charlie had been in and he could smell the left over stew in the pot dangling over a makeshift fireplace. The scents of the beef and other herbs were intertwining into a forming memory of home and his mother’s cooking. Almost immediately his mouth began to water. He hadn’t eaten fresh food for what felt like an eternity. To avoid his saliva messing up the carpet Charlie dashed over to the room where Caera had disappeared off to and crept inside. Caera was sitting in a chair with an expression of deep solemn guilt weighing down her blue eyes.

“Who's that? Who’s there?!” the voice from before bellowed sharply. It was even more booming up close.

Caera didn't reply.

“Is it another one of yer friends, Caera? Tell them to go away.”

“It's a boy named Charlie, sir. E' says e' came 'ere like everyone else. Appeared that is. 'E 'as seen outside the box, Gray.” Caera kept her head down as she spoke. “Didn’t know much though. Says yer right about there not bein’ much.”

Charlie couldn’t see where this Gray person was standing. Despite the light hanging precariously from the ceiling it literally looked like Caera was having a conversation with herself in the middle of the room. Gathering what little courage he had left, Charlie decided up speak up. “Gray is it?” he said firmly, trying to sound more confident than he actually was.

There was silence at the intrusion.

“Lookey at what we ‘ave here. A posh one? Don’t need one of you lot ‘ere,” Gray grunted.

“I’m, err…I’m not posh, sir. At least, I don’t think I am. Caera brought me here and she said you could explain some things to me…”

“Hmm…did she now? Little rat probably wanted te pin the blame on yer didn’t she,” Gray chuckled, “Charlie right?”

“Yes, sir.”

The light in the room brightened for a brief moment and the shadows accumulated till a form of a man huddled by the window caught Charlie’s attention. Gray stood up and smiled, a genuine smile. He had little teeth with his remaining dentures tarnished a foul yellow colour and his gigantic stature dwarfed the room. “Well, it's nice to meet yer Charlie. Don’t suppose you have any money on yer? No? Didn’t think so. They never do. Well, we’ll just have te deal with what happened then won’t we. Now, Caera 'bout that vase…”

Caera's feet shifted uncomfortably. “Yer know, Gray...”

Gray raised an eyebrow. “Second time this year you broke sometin isn’t it? My tol’rance is gettin’ mighty thin.”

“I-I know Gray…but-”

Gray chuckled again. “Ah it don't matter, Caera. We got enough money for a week or so. Got a small job at the bak'ry just the other day workin’ night shifts. You're lucky, mind you. So just don’t mess up again or sometin may happen,” Gray warned menacingly. He cracked his knuckles as if to emphasise the seriousness of his threat. “Now, 'bout this newbie, Charlie. I'm goin' to show 'im 'round the place. Caera, you're on dinner tonight. Don’t do nothin’ wrong yer hear me? Don’t want no bones in my stew.”

Caera’s chest relaxed as she exhaled a giant breath that she'd been holding. “Yes, Gray.”

Gray smiled at Charlie again. “So, it seems like you been outside The Box. But, Charlie, yer ever been to 'The Other Place' before?” Gray asked, voice brimming on excitement.

Charlie shook his head. Gray was so much less frightening than Caera had made him believe. Maybe it was a small joke she’d played on him.

“Well,” Gray grinned. “This is goin' to be fun then. I always love their wee faces when I show ‘em.” He placed a bear-like hand on Charlie's shoulder. “Has Caera told yer 'bout what I do for a livin'?”

Charlie shrugged, “you said you work at the bakery. But I don’t suppose you worked that type of job till recently. She said you knew about outside the box so I gather you work a job there…?”

“Yeah,” Gray said, not looking at Charlie. “Sometin' like that.”

 

§§§

 

Gray seemed to hesitate as soon as they reached the richer parts of what he called 'The Box'. Along, the way Gray had stated how “’orrible and stuck up all those posh people were” as he put it. In fact he’d spent most of the walk rambling on about the goings on in everyday life and the ins and outs of politics. The Box had a mayor who was elected every four years. He (rarely ever a she), was actually of little importance because most of the important decisions were made by public vote anyway. Also, the shops on Fifth Street were overpriced and should be avoided. It was the shops on Third Street where Gray preferred to go. Mainly because he knew the owners. It was little facts like those that Charlie was bombarded with as they walked through the towering homes of the wealthy. Charlie couldn't see what was wrong with having different parts of the city since his home city had been like that before the apocalypse. He concluded that Gray possibly had a bad experience with the richer folk, which explained his prejudice.

As they rounded the corner of another housing block Charlie saw that there were small grates of public fires crackling all along the sides of the roads. Also, further ahead, there lay dainty little shops with doors that had bells which tinkled when opened. A small bakery excreted the aroma of fresh bread and pies, mingling perfectly in the frosty winter air. It reminded Charlie of a Christmas snow globe his friend had shown him once. Gray roughly pulled him back into the shadows of an alleyway.

“The Other Place is just ‘round the next corner,” Gray murmured. He crept out of the alleyway and wandered out into the firelight that illuminated the street. “You stay there,” he ordered

“But-”

“Yer know too many a question can earn a head chopping,” Gray warned. Like before his tone was threatening.

Charlie shut his mouth. “Although is it alright if I ask what you are? I mean, you’re obviously not human.”

Gray snorted, turning back to Charlie. “Definitely not human, Charlie. More like humanoid creatures I guess. I’m not even sure what our species name is but we’re no humans. Downright insult to be compared to those dimwits it is. Now shut it.”

Gray strode over to a cluster of stores sitting huddled at the end of the street and disappeared around one of them.

Charlie felt his skin grow clammy. It had suddenly hit him that he wasn’t even sure where he was and he was trusting a complete stranger. Plus, this stranger wasn’t even a human. What if ‘The Other Side’ meant that Charlie was going to be that said dinner Gray had ordered Caera to cook? Should he make a break for it before he was eaten?

“Come over ‘ere.” Gray beckoned to him from behind the shop. It had a big sign with ‘Tailors’ scrawled lazily in the centre.

Charlie tried his best to not fall down in the thick snow covered road as he ran over. He assumed that the point of hiding in the alleyway was so they weren’t caught. This meant that he had to run as quickly as possible. This also meant that he had to use what little muscle he had left on his skinny frame. Upon collapsing at Gray’s feet he experienced a sharp pain in his side from a certain leg. It reminded him that he still had the splinter just below his knee.

“Get up! We need to go. Normal people ain't allowed where we're goin’. If we’re caught it won’t be pretty.” Gray hauled Charlie to a standing position and helped him limp over toward a wall on the either side of the shop. “And get a bit fitter why don’t you; slowin’ us down you are.”

“I’m hungry,” Charlie complained.

“Well, we’ll ‘ave plenty of food when we get back. Now, don’t get freaked out when we walk right through-”

They passed through the wall. Gray let go of Charlie and let him fall forward onto soft grass. Charlie scrambled to his feet in awe.

“This is where I was before! Exactly where I was before! The horses and everything! The sky! The trees!” Charlie gaped at Gray who was sniggering at his boyish enthusiasm.

“I told yer not to get all excited. And besides yer can’t ‘ave possibly been here. Char-I mean Caera wouldna have allowed it,” Gray said stiffly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Gray rolled his eyes dismissively. “Charlie…err…Caera don’t like people messin’ up her garden.”

“Wait…you said Charlie, right? Did you say Charlie?” Charlie pointed out suspiciously. His level of panic was steadily raising. “'Cause I'm right here and I didn't tell you anything of the sort.”

“No,” Gray replied hastily, fervently shaking his massive hands. “Needn’t yer mind. Anyway, I would’ve taken food from here if I could’ve but it’s like this all just a hologram. I tried once and all I got was air when I returned. Same with the water. Pity. I’d love me some of those bananas.”

Charlie was a little disappointed himself. He would have liked to eat some fruit. “So how did you find out about this place?” Charlie observed the roof which had sprouted additional clouds and a fake shimmering sun that shone mercifully onto them, toasting Charlie's feet.

“Charlie told me.”

“There you go again. I’m Charlie. And I didn’t tell you anything. So are you going to tell me who this other Charlie happens to be or not?” The curiosity had over powered Gray’s intimidation towards questions earlier.

Gray shrugged once more. “Nobody. Ain’t nobody you know. Now, I’m goin’ to have to show yer the ‘orses. Pretty little things they are even if they aren’t real.”

Charlie frowned.

Gray’s eyes seemed to have glazed over like he wasn’t really there anymore. Likewise, his movements were funny. Of course he had that bizarre limp all the other town folk had, but this was different. Almost as if Gray were sleep walking. Charlie was unquestionably beginning to feel troubled at that point. “’Ello,” Gray said blankly. He stretched out a hand and stroked one of the horses’ noses, not realising that his hand was simply going right through it.

“Ah, Gray? Your hand?” Charlie said helpfully.

Gray waved him off like Charlie was simply someone in his wonderful dream.

Charlie frown deepened, which he figured out that he liked to do, and took a step back. Gray was starting to make Charlie think that this hadn’t been such a good idea. Quickly, he scurried over to the man stroking the horse.

“Gray.” Charlie waved his palm infront of Gray’s face. No reaction in the slightest. “Gray!”

Gray shook his head. His brow furrowed, “Ah yeah, Charlie?”

“Are you feeling fine?”

“Now that you mention it, C, I’m not particularly. Let’s go back.” Gray must have had his head in the clouds. All the time he talked his face stayed the same stoic expression. Then when he moved his movements were far stiffer and his strides more restricted than before. Besides, he’d called Charlie, C. Unless that was a nickname Gray had come up with. “So, you like it there?” Gray asked vacantly.

“Sort of…I mean, I like it there. I’ve just already seen that place. That was where I first woke up.”

Together, Gray and Charlie stepped back into the cold town through the wall. “Oh much better,” Gray smiled. The cloudiness in his eyes lifted slightly. “I hate the bloody ‘eat.”

“If you don’t mind me disagreeing, I really love it. This place is so cold!” Charlie shivered.

“Yeah well, when summer 'its you'll be very well wishin' it stayed nice and crisp like this. Besides, you’ll say yer wish it were winter tomorrow. Last day of snow. You'll get used to the seasons after a while though. They’re pretty regular and constant.” Gray considered the town clock, almost touching the roof of The Box. It had begun chiming seven. “Ah look at the time. We need to get back. Food’s probably ready by now. Caera doesn’t like waitin’.”

From Gray’s intonations and offhand comments it was as if Caera was the more of the leader. It didn’t really make sense especially since Caera had been so frightened by Gray earlier. And who was this other Charlie? Charlie was sure Caera hadn’t mentioned another Charlie. She hadn’t even been perturbed by his name being Charlie in spite of the importance it seemed to hold. Furthermore, if this was really around the early nineteenth century then how did Gray know about holograms?

 

§§§

 

Caera looked up when they got back with a smug grin. “I stole some ‘erbs from old Bailey down the street. Tastes real nice with the lamb.” She pointed at a pot, which was steaming happily over the wood fire.

“I told yer not to steal anythin' for a while, Caera. They'll get suspicious!” Gray chided. He sniffed, “does smell good though. Oh and we visited The Other Place...” Gray's eyes glazed over again at the words. “Charlie said he'd been there before.”

Caera glanced up sharply. Charlie was surprised that it evidently bothered her so much. He’d already informed her that he’d come from somewhere outside The Box, hadn’t he? Was it really such a surprise that he’d been in The Other Place? Charlie was starting to approach everything with a cautious wariness.

“’E can’t ‘ave! Everybody wakes up ‘ere. They made sure of that,” Caera said. “I didn’t think he was bein’ serious before…”

Charlie placed a hand behind to steady himself and it landed in a bowl of vegetables that tipped over and spilled. Realisation had hit him. For some unknown reason he knew that when Gray had been talking about the other Charlie he’d really meant Caera. Gray had even corrected himself whenever he’d said that. Then he’d called Charlie, C. C…C…that name seemed distantly familiar. Why did it seem familiar? Charlie began to back away towards the door.

“And where do yer think you’re going?” Caera asked. She whipped around to face him with the wooden ladle in her hand.

“I feel like some fresh air,” Charlie lied. He had to get out of there. He felt unsafe.

“Oh yer not hungry?” Caera asked innocently.

“No. I-I’m really not. Looks great but no. I’d much rather take a walk.” Charlie turned on his heels and made a break for it. He rushed out of the house and dashed through back the way he’d come and only when he felt the recognisable crunch of the white snow he relaxed. What the heck was going on?! Charlie had to escape. He just knew he had to escape. He pushed through the crowd that hadn’t even dwindled slightly since he’d arrived and somehow found his way over to the wall where they’d passed through to The Other Place. Charlie clutched his stomach and pressed his back against the cool concrete. During the time he’d been there all the snow was starting to melt and his hair and clothes were slowly collecting drops of water, dampening and becoming heavier. It felt oddly refreshing on his skin. Yet he couldn’t afford to rest long. Where ever this ‘Box’ was, he had to escape. Whatever that Caera and Gray were up to was far from agreeable. Charlie clenched his fists and stepped into the grassland. The sun was kissing his skin kindly much like before. Although, without Gray around it was almost like a completely different place. The whole scene was so much more inviting and affable. Any sign of tension had disappeared from the soothingly, snug atmosphere. The horses whinnied at him.

“I can’t pat you. You’re hologram thingys…” Charlie’s voice trailed off. Why was this place a hologram in the first place?

The horses whinnied persistently. Charlie sighed and reached out a hand. The palm of it appeared on the other side of the horse’s nose. “See?” Charlie said.

The horses whinnied again.

“I can’t pat you. See?” Charlie dangled his arm through the horse’s entire head.

Nevertheless, it still whinnied persistently.

“For the last time you stupid horse I can’t…” Charlie and the horse locked eyes. “You’re not wanting a pat are you? You’re trying to tell me something else.”

Charlie watched as great, ominous gaps in the sky swallowed the clouds and the sun to a dead darkness. The grass was slowly fading to an mouldy brown; even the lake now shone a sickly green. Charlie yelled out and tried to get back to the wall but when he pounded his fists against it all he felt was solid brick. “What’s going on?!” Charlie yelled. “I swear I died. I woke up. Now this is happening? What’s going on?! I don't understand!”

The whole room flickered and all at once pitch blackness fell like a heavy blanket over him. Charlie stopped hitting the wall and reeled back. He felt sick. His stomach was going to give away at any moment. He doubled over and heaved till he couldn’t empty his insides anymore. And it was only when he was finished that he closed his eyes and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He must've been delirious from the nausea because he thought he saw a small flicker of a flame.

“Charlie? Yer there?”

Charlie sat bolt upright. “Yes!” he squeaked.

A small beam of light lit up the darkness. Caera stood infront of him with a sneer on her pretty face. “Enjoying it 'ere?”

Charlie scrambled backward. “Caera what’s happening?!”

“Yer see…yer can never really trust anyone. I for one, ‘oped you’d learned that by now. Er’ry man for ‘imself as they say. Yer really disappoint me, Charlie. We gave yer all these clues and yer never figured it out. This place isn’t even real,” Caera clicked her fingers and they were back in the streets of ‘The Box’, “it was all a ‘ologram: a trick, an ‘allucination; to disguise what it really is but more on that later. Well, at least we told yer that much. They designed the box from my idea yer see ; a marvellous genius on me part, but I guess I’ve always been smarter than you. Also, I wouldn’t go ‘bout on this crazy venture. You won’t succeed. Oh Charlie, don’t pretend yer don’t know me. What with a name like Charlie. I’m Charlie by the way. Surely you’d have known that much by now. Me and Gray slipped so many times and yer never noticed. Now I don’t know why yer looking at me like that. If I can just get it into that thick skull of yours then we’d all be so much ‘appier. One more time shall we? I’m Charlie. You’re not. Get it? However, you like to call me C don’t you if I remember correctly. If we were going to be politically correct here then with all due respect Charlie, you’re C. ”

Charlie was frozen.

“While yer were all alone in your little world-”

“Wait. Wait a minute. You’re me? How can you be me? You said your name was Caera and now you’re saying I’m not Charlie. Rather you’re Charlie.”

“That is literally what I just said yer big Numpty!”

Charlie first noticed his shoulder shaking and then a scoff escape his mouth and then he was bent over with laughter and tears filling his eyes. For some reason, as a coping mechanism he couldn’t hold it in.

“Stop it. Stop laughing!” C yelled heatedly.

Some people poked their heads out of their windows to see what the commotion was all about.

“Stop it!” C repeated. “Gray, make ‘im stop laughin’.”

Charlie hadn’t taken any notice of Gray’s looming figure, but when his arms were seized and gripped behind his back his laughter faulted and he cleared his throat. Charlie was racking his brains for anyone who was called C that he happened to know. Deep down Charlie was certain he knew who C was. He just couldn’t remember properly.

C’s eye twitched irritably. “It must be because yer so stupid. Either that or you’re just like the rest of ‘em numpties!” he said. “Anyway, if yer really struggling then I suppose I shall have to summ’rise it for you. We were what we shall call ‘best friends’ remember? Or at that’s what They told you anyways. Oh and recall your twelfth birthday? I got in a car accident. And yer ended up being so worried ‘bout me that you visited me in hospital every. SingleDay. Then the big BOOM. Remember that? No? Well I shan’t go into that. I didn’t want to perplex your miniscule mind any more than necessary. Besides, I don’t have the time.”

Charlie shook his head. He was still so tangled up in all this new information that he didn’t know where to start. Even with that data he couldn’t surface any clear memories of C. Especially of them in the hospital or even this big ‘BOOM’. “That still doesn’t explain what’s going on,” Charlie said boldly.

“Ah. About that. When I say that none of this is real I literally mean none of this is real. Sorry to say that. Also, when yer wake up say ‘ello to me. Charlie, I mean. Not you. Me. Stop calling yourself by my name. It's not nice to steal other people’s identities.”

“What?!” Charlie tried to twist out of Gray’s grip who had grabbed him from behind.

“Exactly what I said. I’m a good actor aren’t I?” C mused. “Makin’ you think Gray was in charge of all of this when it was really me. Who’d suspect an innocent little girl? Anyway, They set up The Box as a sort of ‘earth adaptor’. Every season it changes settin’ to ‘adapt’ to the weather. I didn’t mean to scare yer Charlie. I really didn’t. The Other Place just had a sort of ‘malfunction’. It was the control room of this whole thing but They had to disguise it so if any unsuspectin’ person were to stumble across it they wouldn’t know what it was and go straight back the way they came. The horses were the alarm for when the engine was actin’ whack. Come to think of it, this body is quite fond of those creatures.”

Charlie eventually managed to twist his way away from Gray. He staggered forwards. “Wait. So this is like a…err…a…dream machine?”

“Well that’s certainly one way of puttin’ it,” C snickered.

“So…can you die in a dream?”

“I was 'opin’ that I wouldn’t find out, yer know? But then things went wrong. No. You went wrong.” C’s shoulders sagged, “see ya later, Charlie.”

Charlie’s eyes widened and he reached out to push Gray away so he could escape.

C held up a gun.

 The people from the windows gasped. “But those people up there are real, right?” Charlie stammered.

“Of course they are!” C said. “They’re all ‘dreamers’ like you. Stuck here in me little dream box. I make up great lies didn’t I? It’s excellent yer so gullible. Listen, I really am sincerely sorry. I wish I didn’t have to do this but you know the only way to get rid of you is to kill your body in your origin or its sister dimension. And the only way to get you to willingly move through dimensions is…well…killing you as well. A small sacrifice as they always say. That’s how you ended up here. So have a nice day...” C clicked the bullet into the chamber and aimed at Charlie's chest. “C,” C added as an afterthought. Then a loud bang resounded around the street.

Charlie grimaced from the excruciating pain that was already exploding in his chest. His whole body was growing colder than the ice that broke his fall. Bit by bit. Another jab of pain at the back of his head told Charlie that his brain was stopping. His body gasped for air. It was his pale face that landed in the snow first with a thud as the crimson red of life tainted the pure white of the frost.

Windows slammed shut in horror and the street was silent.

C gently kicked Charlie’s dead body to make sure it was dead. “Gray?” C asked.

“Yes boss.” Gray stood to attention.

“That was fun.” C tucked the gun back into his pocket and smiled, “thank you.”

“For what, sir?”

“I’m not sure exactly, but I'm feeling a bit forgivin'.” C patted Gray's back. “Now for some dinner. I’m famished. And you know, I'm glad really. For some reason I don't want ‘im to die.”

“Pardon sir? 'E looks dead to me,” Gray said.

“Weren’t you listen? Of course he isn’t!”

And they left Charlie lying in the snow for the morning to come and melt him away.

 

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