Like the best cliche of any opening move my feet pound against the pavement. Men pursue me like an escaped convict. Or a wild animal loose from its inclosure at the zoo.
Perhaps I’m both convict and wild animal.
My mind races faster than my feet, jumping to crazy conclusions of what’s become of Jacob, Lacey, Mother, Father and all the rest. Have they survived? Why are they being held like prisoners?
My hands tighten with sickening dread around the key card. My arm burns from a long scratch where the man tried to stop me from taking it.
“There she is! Stop her.” The voice just pushes me to run faster.
I don’t know where I’m going. I need a map. Some park goer watches me pass them with wide eyes, they clutch something to their chest. Do I look as crazy as I feel right now?
It’s then I realize they’d had a map of the park. I need to get my hands on one. My eyes scan the path in front of me for a stand of postcards and maps, or the litter around my feet. Hoping. Praying I’ll find what I need. And soon.
I hear several pairs of feet following me but I don’t dare stop.
Turning a corner I look for somewhere to hide and duck into a boardwalk alley. Long palms block my view of the full path and I hope, as I duck under and past them, that they’ll hide me from my pursuers. No one, park attendant or tourist, seem to be on this stretch of walkway and the silence makes my thoughts scream.
Jacob is alive!
Tears sting the corners of my eyes, threatening to blur my vision. I wipe them away and duck into a screened building. An old Neil Diamond song filters through the disheveled space. Old records lay on the floor, broken and trampled. Both Sides Now skips and repeats as I move into the room.
Someone sings along with the song. “… dreams and schemes and circus crowds …”
A tattered brown robe comes around the corner. Followed by an almost empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The amber liquid sloshing as the man who holds it steps into a shaft of light. He lifts the bottle toward me, pointing. Recognition full on his features. “You. I knew you’d come eventually,” the man stumbles toward me, pushing thick back glasses up his nose, “Are you here to kill me?”
“I — I think you — Dr. Roads?”
He sways on the spot, arms stretched wide, “In the flesh.”
“What’s happened to you?”
“It’s not my fault,” the whiskey sloshes again as he shakes his hands, “They said this would make people remember. That’s all I wanted, you know.”
The key card in my hand digs into my palm. “Can you help me?”
“Me?” he sets the bottle down and shuffles slippered feet toward me. Records and old magazines breaking and tearing as he comes. “I’m so sorry.” He says my name, “I should never have signed that contract. Gave it all away, didn’t I?
“But I know why you’re here,” he puts a finger to his greasy nose and taps it, eyebrows raising. “I’ve seen him and you’re gonna get him out. Who knows maybe there’s more,” here he winks at me with an exaggerated air. “But I can’t help. I’ve got no control now.”
“Please, Dr. Roads, can you help me find the way in?”
His whole body seems to shrivel before me and his eyes clear a little, “I never wanted this. Was supposed to be a memorial, not a spectacle. Not a prison.” Then his eyes fog again with the drink, “But I didn’t know, did I? How was I supposed to know the technology and fire would work up such magic. Such creatures.”
My brows furrow at his words. “Dr. Roads.” I grab his shoulders and shake him until he looks at me, “Help me fix it. Help me find Jacob.”
Tears fill his eyes, but he nods. “They’ll kill me, but you’re right, this is right.” He shuffles away before I can stop him and starts searching through files, papers, magazines, and old takeout containers that litter what I presume is meant to be a dinning table. “Ah, here it is.” He pulls a very crumpled paper out and hands it to me, “this is a map of the park.”
I unfold it and he points to a spot, “this is where we are,” then his finger drags a heavy line across the paper, “And this is the back entrance to Farm World — such a ridiculous name too. I told them so when they named it, could have found such a better one, don’t you think?” He continues to ramble, but must catch the anger in my eyes, because he stops with an abrupt, “Sorry.”
“How far away is this?”
“About two minutes, I think.” He moves back to his bottle, and sinks into a brown armchair, it almost matches his robe. “Wish I could go with you — redeem myself so to speak, but,” he holds up the drink, “Afraid I’d only get you caught sooner.”
Feet pound the boardwalk and my heart seizes. They’ve found me.
I don’t know how he moves so quick, but Dr. Roads’ scruffy face is suddenly before me. “Go, I’ll stall them.”
“I’m so sorry.” He pushes me away. “Go.”
I run toward his front door, then stop and turn, “Dr Roads,” he turns to lock eyes with me, “Thank you.”
A tear splashes down his check unchecked. And then he’s running toward the back and the boardwalk. I hear half of his sentence, complaining about the noise, before I disappear into the crowded street.
Following the map I duck between pretty painted buildings, each a representation of the cultures and civilization before the Fires. Finally, I come to a locked gate. I double check the map and know it’s the place I’ve been looking for.
The key card won’t work here. I place fingers into the metalwork and climb the chain link.
“We’ve got her, over here.”
More voices join the first two, but I try to ignore them. Something lands hard on my back. They’re throwing rocks! Feet pound closer and I grip the top of the fence, where curling barbed wire crowns it. My body goes numb, ready to forget the pain I’m about to make it endure.
Someone grabs the toe of my shoe. My hands grow slick from fear. I kick my assailant and launch over the wire. Something strikes my head and I’m falling. But at least I’m on the other side.
“I think I got her!” Triumph.
I land hard onto too bright grass. My heart swells, even as my mind fogs. I push away the dark that seeks to claim me. Forcing limbs to work. Adrenaline to course. I’m in the Too Bright. But there’s no saturated farmhouse or barn. Instead a city of neon illuminates the world around me.
Tires screech and a horn honks. A shimmering white sedan halts in front of me and I realize I’ve stepped out onto a sparkling road. “Hey, watch it!” Leaning out of the driver’s window, a too bright girl, with perfect curls scowls at me. Even her anger makes her beautiful.
Maybe she can help me. “Do you know Jacob?”
“Get out of the way.” She honks again.
“Please. Can you help me?” I walk toward her window, but as soon as the road before her is empty she races off. I’ve nothing else to do except to keep going.
God guide me.
A building in the distance catches the lights of some neon sign. And something inside tells me to start there. As I make my way, some part of me wonders if I haven’t stepped into Neo’s matrix.
Not many looks at me directly. Those that do, make me feel something sinister from them, so I dodge them. Ducking into buildings, alley’s, even a park at one point. The whole time, I keep my focus on the building. It seems to take forever, but when I finally reach it, it’s like I’ve been here before. I walk straight for the elevator, push in a number and wait for my floor.
The doors open onto a plastic surgery waiting room. And as if on cue a surgeon in a white coat, complete with clipboard exits one of the rooms and looks directly at me. His eyes widen for a moment, before he resumes his “role” and approaches one of those sitting in the waiting area.
I don’t know why, but I rush at him. Grabbing his arm. “Do you know Jacob?”
He drops the clipboard and pulls me into a smaller room. No one in the waiting area seems affected by our little scene. Maybe they’re not real?
“Who are you?” he locks the door, and peers out the small window, before turning to advance on me. “Where have you come from?”
“I …” I have no words. Maybe I’m starting to go into shock. The pounding in my head, the cuts all over my body fight to be recognized. Focus. “You know Jacob,” it’s not a question.
“Yeah I know Jacob, but it’s not like I go bragging that we’re friends or something. Do you have any idea the damage you could have done if there’d been a VIP or agent out there?” He grabs his head and I imagine he’s trying to hold all his thoughts at bay, just like I fight to narrow mine to focus.
I tell him my name and the doctor goes still. He reminds me of Monroe from Grimm. And the words that follow make me wonder if perhaps I’ve somehow landed in an episode of the sci-fi/fantasy tv show. “You’re you. He’s been looking for you for years—”
“I’ve only been gone for a little over a year.”
Monroe shakes his head. “Not here you haven’t. It’s been ten years. A lot’s changed since you left.” His brow crinkles as he continues, “How much do you know about this place?”
“Not much, can you take me to Jacob, is he ok?”
“Yeah, Jacob’s fine. I can take you to him, but we’ll have to wait. If you just got back in the place will be swarming with agents. I’ll have to hide you for a while. But I promise you’ll be safe here.” He shakes his head, “There is so much that you need to know.”
“Ok, then tell me.”
“Yeah … ok, yeah I can tell you. Well, Jacob is what the agents call a hunter. He was recruited when the city was first built, and after the first few incidents. He and the other originals could see it before it happened. Well, what I mean is,” he paces away, caught up in his story, “he could see us.”
“Us?” My mind spins as I search for the hidden cameras. If he starts talking about people turning into mythical beasts I’m gonna freak.
“Yeah, ok so the CGI of this place it reacted somehow with the ashes left from the Fire. We’re not supposed to know this is fake, but there are those of us who, well, we became sentient. Alive.
Life finds a way. Too many movie metaphors come to mind.
“He hunts us, actually killed my dad before we became friends, but now he knows we’re real, he’s doing what he can to stop them.” Monroe stops pacing and stares as me, “and I help him when I can.”
I spiral. I was just getting used to a dystopian life. Now Grimm, iRobot, and X-Men fight to make sense of my world.
Monroe places a hand on my shoulder, calling me back to the present. He speaks slow, “Now that you’re here, everything will be saved.” He smiles.
How can I help them? What difference can my life make?
As if reading my mind, Monroe continues, “You started it all when you left, something about your DNA mixing with the CGI.”
I try to hear more, but somewhere distant, an alarm begins to blare. They’ve found me. It grows louder. “Wait, how does my DNA help?”
Monroe keeps talking, but I can’t hear him over the buzz. My vision starts fading. He grabs my shoulders, trying to keep me with him, but the familiar buzz of an alarm calls me away.