Fiction: The Other Place
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
The car swerved, and Tyrone’s heavy eyelids popped open. “I’m going to get myself killed if I don’t do something to stay awake.” He rubbed his face, then switched the radio to a soft rock preset. The music coming from the speakers was just loud enough to boost his alertness.
After signaling down an exit ramp, drowsiness returned with a vengeance. Tyrone took a deep breath and opened his eyes wide, hoping to dissipate the cloud of fatigue, but the hypnotic passing of headlights counteracted his efforts. Again, Tyrone closed his eyes for a second, and they snapped back open. Sighing as he mentally admonished himself, Tyrone turned the radio up a little. Then the signal cut out, leaving no static or jittering sound of a song struggling to come through, just silence. Intrigued, he pressed the power button twice on the stereo, but nothing happened.
“I just got this last year. How could the radio be busted already?” He hit the dash in frustration, then noticed there were no other cars on the road and the sun was ascending over the horizon. Tyrone gawked at the clock on the dash for several seconds to make sure he was reading it correctly. 10:06 PM.
“What in the world?” His eyebrows furrowed. In the light of the new day, Tyrone saw the trees on the side of the road were void of leaves, despite the thermometer in his car displaying a temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The base of the trees started vertically for about 3 feet but then bent at a 90-degree angle and continued to zigzag in every direction, resulting in a gnarled, intermingled mess. No grass sprouted between them, just dead gray stone. The sun was mostly obscured behind heavy cloud cover, a marbled mass of gray and black, yet somehow it glowed an angry red through the ominous soup.
To the left he spied a couple dozen people shuffling stiffly toward him as if any movement inflicted great pain. Tyrone slowed down to get a better look. When one lifted her head toward Tyrone, he gasped, for she had gray skin and cataracts so thick it was impossible to discern eye color. She and the others were all dangerously thin, akin to walking skeletons. Despite their physique, Tyrone’s gut told him they weren’t human.
“This can’t be real. Did I fall asleep?” He pondered aloud. “No, it’s too vivid. Things like this aren’t supposed to be real, though.”
A hum slowly reverberated through the vehicle’s windows, gradually increasing in volume. Tyrone cried out, doing his best to cover his ears and stay on the road. Just when he couldn’t stand it any longer, he shut his eyes for a second, and the hum stopped. When his eyes reopened, the haunting wasteland still greeted him. Tyrone’s hands and legs tingled. He pondered whether it was wiser to continue driving or pull over. Something told him not to stop, though he couldn’t rationally justify it.
To Tyrone’s left, he spied a dusky mass in the auburn sky. It started as nothing more than a small wisp of a cloud, but within seconds it grew exponentially, consuming all it touched. Mountains, deformed trees, and everything else melted away in the darkness’ embrace. His foot pressed down harder on the accelerator. Licking his lips, Tyrone placed both hands on the wheel, skin stretched taunt across his knuckles. Crimson lightning cracked the sky, making the man jump. He watched, mouth agape, as the terrifyingly beautiful lightning flashed. Like all else before it, the black mass snuffed out the lightning, and a minute later the sky went completely dark. The only light came from Tyrone’s headlamps, which he switched to high beams.
“What is this place? How do I get out of here?” Panic eroded at his mind. The speedometer read 92 MPH, yet he couldn’t gain any distance on the consuming void. Before he knew it, everything had been devoured, and as he was about to slam on the breaks, the blackness wafted through the cracked passenger door. Tyrone instinctively raised his hand to defend himself, and tendrils of the shadowy cloud kissed his middle finger, initiating an intense, pulsating burn through his hand and up his arm.
Soft rock came through the speakers again, and after a quick blink, he saw the familiar road once again. Tyrone would have believed it to be a lucid nightmare or hallucination, save for the missing digit on his right middle finger. “Impossible, there’s no way that could have been real,” He murmured, realizing he had only gone a quarter mile from the exit ramp.
Once home, Tyrone embraced his wife, Nia, without a word, refusing to let her go.
After a few minutes, she giggled. “What’s this all about?”
“I’m just really glad to be home with you, that’s all.” He planted a kiss on Nia’s lips then tenderly held her again, wondering how to explain his hand.
R. Michael lives in rural Minnesota and is happily married with one son and a border collie foot warmer. He has four books published on Amazon with works featured in “365 Tomorrows,” “Altered Reality Magazine,” and “Ink & Fairydust Magazine.”