Universe W-0202: A Wooden Gazebo
What Goes Around…
An Alien Planet
A brilliant white light consumes Jack, blinding all of his senses and sending him spiraling through a vast, imperceptible nothingness. He loses all semblance of self, of reality, of mind, body, and soul, of his entire existence. He’s deconstructed at an atomic level, and although he’s still aware of it, Jackson Monta ceases to exist entirely.
Until he wakes up in darkness at the center of a hollow room.
Jack pulls his face out from the sludge and sits back, feeling an unsettling moisture soak in through his short shorts. The air around him is heavy and musty, alive with spores of mildew and asthmatic to breathe. He reaches around and feels nothing, but when he tries to stand, he feels something light crumble against his scalp.
“Dakota?” he hopes, his voice being absorbed by whatever the loamy nonsense that encases him is. “Coach? Scoompa, Thenure? Isabelle? Anybody?”
Silence, accompanied by the distant cooing of some strange thing, a bird maybe, although he’s never heard a bird guttur such a sound. Whatever it is, Jack’s positive it doesn’t frequent Treering. He crawls forward until a soft, almost squishy wall hits him in the dome. It’s curved, concave; keeping his right hand against it, Jack crawls in a circle for what could be hours, never returning to the spot at which he started. Or maybe he did and just didn’t realize it – dude never made any marking, any indentation in the surface to indicate where his starting point was. This is all so foreign to him, what happened to the pavement of Treering Ave? Where did that dead-eyed woman go, where are all Jack’s teammates? Did he pass out after the bus got split in half and miss the meet? Is he even awake right now? Could all this be a dream?
The cooing explodes into a shriek and then stops altogether, the echoes slowly fading into the soundless noise of wind blowing higher than the trees can leaf. Jack is alone in the darkness again.
Shortly after, he hears something get dropped on the other side of the wall. Something heavy, something wet.
Then, a ripping noise. A starved tearing, the snapping of bones, the lapping of thick liquid and a heavy breathing, as if some kind of animal was tearing into a freshly maimed carcass mere feet away from poor, isolated Jack. He must be dreaming, this is too surreal.
It’s not like he’s never had these kinds of dreams before. He would go to bed and wake up in an empty void of darkness all the time, unable to move his legs or arms, unable to speak, unable to see or smell. He could only hear, and the voices he would hear always frightened him.
It was usually his Mom’s, sometimes his brother’s, sometimes a foreign male voice that he recognized as his father’s, and always a voice with an English accent. The English voice consistently spoke in a calm, practiced demeanor – not putting any stress or emphasis on any of his words, delivering his news with a steady collectedness. And what was that news? That Jack was in a coma; that the reason he woke up with foam coming out of his mouth was unable to be determined, but that he was essentially braindead, and that he would never get better. His brother would always be weeping, his Mother screaming and yelling and threatening to sue the doctor, nay, the hospital for gross malpractice, his father asking if the kid had life insurance. Regardless of which of his family members’ voices he heard dancing on the other side, though, the conversation always ended on the same flat note: the English voice declaring to his Mother that a decision had to be made.
And the choice was always the same: pull the plug.
But this dream, this strange, lucid experience that he’s currently engrossed in, there’s no voices in this dream. Just a breathing, a growling, a chewing and a swallowing, all originating from the same feral source. It’s in front of… no, it’s behind him, or is it… is it on all sides? No, it’s definitely in front of him, and it seems to be coming closer. No… no it’s gone now, how can that be? Jack presses his ear up against the wall, the rot crumbling and filling his ear canal with an unsightl–
Jack goes reeling back, the squishy material hardly absorbing any of the impact from the other side and effortlessly transferring it to Jack’s head. On the bright side, there’s now a crack in the wall, a sliver of light piercing the veil. When he’s finished rubbing the little bump above his right ear, he crawls over to the breach, the mucky ground no longer gross to him now that he’s covered in it, and peers through. He can’t see much, the crack is too small. There’s a tiny bit of light pouring in, but all he can see is darkness, almost as if…
Wait, it just blinked. ‘It’s a fucking eye!’
Jack screams and something monstrous roars in return, shaking the structure around him. Whatever’s out there clearly knows Jack’s in here, and it sounds very hungry. Curled up in a ball as far away from the crack as possible, Jack starts to whimper to himself until a thwack smashes him in the back and his face breaks his fall. He hears the something leap atop his prison and repeatedly bat at the structure on all sides. He tries to scurry away and avoid it, but wherever he goes a thwack follows, as does the falling of dust and debris from the ceiling above him.
Then, something that’s equally miraculous and horrifying goes down: a piece of the prison’s wall collapses, giving Jack a way out. The thwacker doesn’t seem to notice the escape route, or it just wants to bring the structure down on Jack and kill him by crushing him, but either way, our boy’s only real option is to crawl through that hole and run like hell.
And that’s just what he does.
When he’s finally outside, a scarlet glow hits his skin and he sees that he’s totally caked in a rich, blueish muddy substance. The grass reaching up around his ankles is red, and, after putting some distance between himself and the prison, he realizes that the prison was a hollowed-out tree stump. Then Jack looks on the top of the tree stump and realizes, undoubtedly, that he is on an alien planet. And he is very afraid.
It’s not the fact that he’s not on Earth that scares him. It’s not the fact that everything is bigger on this planet, further along the evolutionary line, as it were. It’s not the fact that the trees are barked purple and their branches look more like sausage links than they do tree branches, nor is it the brown leaves that turn green upon wilting that scares him. It’s not that the sun is red and the sky is a soft pink, because all of that actually looks pretty lovely. No, what scares him is the thing that’s staring him down from atop the tree stump.
Picture a snow leopard. White, kind of husky, long tail, black spots on its sleek and well-groomed fur. Now imagine it as a saber-toothed tiger, archaic, fur unkempt, larger head and jaws, giant fangs hanging from its mouth. Now imagine that your saber-toothed snow tiger is feral, rabid, foamy drool dripping from its gaping jaws, a souless look in its eye. Yes, eye, as in singular; it has a second eye, but it’s been reduced to a shriveled-up sack that hangs from the point of the large bony spike that protrudes from the monster’s eye socket.
Oh yeah, I didn’t mention, the thing is covered in black, bony spikes. They’re popping out everywhere, from its head, its legs, paws, stomach, back, fucking eye socket; even its tail is covered, and it ends in a spike ball.
And it’s taller than Jack, even though it’s standing on four legs.
And it smells like the dirtiest wet sloth you’ve never smelled because you live a life of privilege.
And it’s pissed the fuck off, like it has a weird genetic mutation that makes spikes protrude from every surface/orifice of its body.
And… well, and nothing. Jack’s dipping the fuck out.
To where, you may ask? I was wondering the same thing – I’m just happy that the kid’s alive, and even though he may not hold that status for long, whatever brought him here lends very interesting implications to the whole life after death thing, now doesn’t it?
If Jack died back in Treering, that is. I’m not really sure what happened to be honest, let’s keep reading though.
Oh, oh well that’s a shame; the thing chased Jack down. Maybe he tripped and the thing caught him, maybe it just covers more ground in one stride than Jack does in ten paces; I was talking to you, so I’m not really sure. What I can be sure of, though, is that its paw is larger than Jack’s torso, and judging by the look in the thing’s eye, Jack’s meaty thighs are looking mighty tasty.
The thing positions itself, the loose skinflap hanging off its neck swaying and slapping against the spikes, and opens its mouth up wide, releasing a pong that smells worse than that bong you used during college and didn’t clean once in your four years of schooling. Then, a hearty crunch burns itself into Jack’s eardrums as the thing’s jaws clamp down on his left leg, ending his running career forever.
Yes, that’s what Jack Monta is thinking of when the thing sinks its massive teeth into his leg and turns him into a cripple. That he won’t be able to run cross country next year with his friends. Oh this precious boy, bless his soul.
The thing then releases its bite, drawing its head back and licking its chops, savoring the taste of Jack’s foreign blood. It roars again, bellowing with victory just like it did when it first realized a little hairless rodent was hiding in the stump that it devoured its bird nex–
The thing, and all of its body weight, and spikes, falls down next to Jack. Still in shock from having his leg taste-tested, he doesn’t even look to see if it’s dead. He doesn’t even try to figure out what happened, he just lays there looking up at the sky. The soft pink sky, the silver clouds that dot it. The pulsating red sun that doesn’t burn his eyes, even though he’s looking right at it. If Jack had to choose a place to die that’s not next to Isabelle Portman, this would be it.
Thankfully he doesn’t have to make that choice, because before Jack fades out of consciousness from blood loss, a large hand grabs him by the collar of his shirt and lifts him clean off the ground, like he was a ragdoll in the hands of a child.
The Human From Earth
When the synthetic sedatives that were administered after the endogenous sedatives wore off wear off, Jack slowly opens his very heavy eyelids to find himself underneath a wooden gazebo. He tries to move but his limbs just aren’t having it, especially his left leg. It’s wrapped in more bandages than a mummy, and his chest evidently sustained some damage considering the cast and the tubes and whatnot. His arms are strapped to the cushy table underneath him and, frankly, he doesn’t feel like moving his head. He doesn’t feel like being awake either, but the steady monotonous beeping of a heart rate monitor won’t let him drift back into sleep.
Finally, not necessarily wanting to be alone anymore, Jack calls out for help and immediately shuts his mouth when the only thing that escapes it is a thick gurgling sound. He then starts coughing until he hacks up a wad of what he hopes isn’t clotted blood. Not wishing to keep the glump in his mouth, he looks to his right and spits it out. On the bright side it’s not blood, just gelatinous green snot, and on the even brighter side he seems to be atop a mountain. Jack never hiked much back home, but now he sees why Sam loves it so much – the view of the surrounding mountains from up here is incredible. Earth mountains are probably nice too, but these…
Now that his throat’s clear of blockage, Jack calls out for help again. That’s when a voice behind him says, quietly, “I’m right here, there’s no need to shout.”
Jack feels the bed rumble as it slowly rotates to face the origin of the voice. It’s a human, or… no, it can’t be, the guy’s like ten feet tall. And his skin is… golden. Otherwise he totally looks like a human, just like the
Zeroc did. But this dude’s no Zeroc, that’s for sure. He almost looks familiar; Jack can’t put a finger on it, but he feels like the man’s face is one he’s seen before… oh well, whatever, he clearly saved Jack’s life today, Jack should talk to him. Silently staring at another being is so rude… but what to say?
“Uh… hi there,” he whispers, not realizing that speaking would require so much effort. “You uh, you… you saved me, right?”
“Yes, child,” the being says with a deep voice, eerily calm, like finding small children in the forest is a totally normal thing for him. “I certainly have. Now tell me, what is your name?”
“I’m Jack, Jack Monta. A human from Earth,” he slowly drawls, remembering the TerryTeam20 protocol for waking up on a foreign planet and knowing that somewhere, Sigmund is proud of him.
“Hmm…” the being hums, “Jack Monta, the human from Earth. Very interesting… you’ve no idea where you’re, do you?”
“N…no, I don’t.” After a moment, “Who are you?”
The being smiles, his mouth warping into a malicious, knowing sneer. The icy mandibles of a most unholy fear grip Jack by the brain as he remembers why this guy’s face looks so familiar.
“You can call me…” as he gazes up into space, his eyes catching the sun’s glow and combusting into twin red orbs. “…The Utopian.”