You trip in front of a puddle and fall. Straight through it. To another dimension.
My day started off on the wrong foot. After waking up late, I missed the train. I ended up having to wait 30 minutes for the next one, delaying my arrival by a whole hour. Today was the first time in three years that I was tardy. It continued to get worse though, because they were making an example out of everyone that came in late. They fired me upon entry. Reluctantly, I packed up my things in a cardboard box and got on the next train back home.
After stepping off the train, I struggled to carry the box in the pouring rain. It left me open for an attack. I knew better. Not following my gut instincts cost me when they ran into me and took off with my purse. Now I was unemployed, and broke; with no ideas on how to replenish what the muggers took from me. Everything I had in the box was now scattered on the ground, and the box was slowly disintegrating in this torrential downpour. Water soaked through all my clothing and my hair clung to my face as I struggled to pick up my meager possessions. I stuffed as much as I could into the floppy box and slammed it into the garbage with an audible thud leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Why did I take anything from that office? There was nothing there worth all this aggravation. I blew out a frustrated breath as I took cover from the downpour on one of the covered benches.
When the rain finally stopped, I got up and started walking, hoping I’d change my run of bad luck. There were puddles everywhere, which after the downpour was to be expected. Suddenly, I remembered a game that I used to play as a child after it rained. A smile formed on my face as I jumped from spot to spot, avoiding the puddles but nearly falling in the process. I laughed out loud when I landed on my feet successfully after a particularly huge jump. Feeling exhilarated and a little bold, I saw my next puddle jump, though it looked a little different. The puddle had that sheen of iridescence reflecting the now clear sky. I knew it was likely the water had a slick layer of oil on top. I didn’t think much of it and jumped, anyway. I almost cleared the jump, landing on my toes. I teetered back and forth before I finally lost my balance and fell backwards into the water. To my utter surprise, I didn’t hit the ground. I fell through it.
I fell for what felt like ten minutes, but was probably only seconds. It was bizarre, to say the least. My body felt light and weightless, but I knew I was moving. I watched in awe as the colors swirled around me, changing every time I touched one. At first, I thought I must’ve hit my head hard and was hallucinating, but it suddenly launched me through the earth. I flew through the air briefly before landing on my ass in a puddle of murky water. When I looked up, I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t know where I ended up, but I knew it was not my Earth.
I wondered if perhaps I had fallen into another dimension because we didn’t have dragons on my Earth, and they were everywhere I looked. They were more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined. There were dragons of every color and size, and they were freely roaming and flying around. As I took it all in, I realized there were no people anywhere, nor were there any tall structures. Any existing buildings lay in ruins. As I struggled to get up, a beautiful amethyst dragon noticed me. It’s body and tips of its wings seemed to glow a bright fuchsia. I was so caught up in it’s beauty that I didn’t realize how much danger I was in. The dragon opened its mouth as the fire started to ignite, but before I could become a barbequed human, something tackled me to the ground just as the fire came down upon us.
Whatever or perhaps whoever was holding me down was covered in a fire-retardant suit because there was no intense screaming or melting going on. I could tell they were trying to shield my body with their own so that I wouldn’t get burned. They must’ve done a decent job of it because as I felt the heat flow over my body, I didn’t feel pain. As soon as the fire receded, the mystery savior scooped me up in their arms and ran. I looked around as they ran, completely bewildered by all of this, and wondered where would we go that would be safe from dragons? I saw it not a minute later. There was a small building up ahead that looked like it had taken a few hits from dragon fire. As soon as we entered, I was unceremoniously dropped on my ass. Irritated but thankful, I took stock of the tiny building. There was hardly enough room for three people to stand, and my savior was about as big as two. It was then that I finally inspected him. I was assuming it was a him, anyway. His suit was made of some kind of heavy black material. It had fins and spikes coming off if it in odd places. It also had streaks of fluorescent red that seemed to glow the way the dragon did. He even had a solid helmet on, with long horns coming off the top. Honestly, I didn’t know how he could even see out of it. It must’ve been to camouflage against the dragons and it worked because they didn’t come after us. My savior was facing my direction, his head angled at my legs. I was wondering if he was staring at me. He pointed down at my legs as I stared at him, trying to figure out what he wanted.
Just as I was about to ask what was going on, he stomped on a metal plate on the floor. Ten seconds later, it was swinging open. He pointed at it with his finger and then gave me a slight push. I looked down and saw the ladder. As I descended into the unknown, I started smelling somewhat familiar smells. Although familiar, the smells were strangely mixed. Lavender and cooking meat, bread and grease, cotton and dirt. The closer I got to the floor, the stronger the mixes were. When I stepped away from the ladder, I realized why. All the humans were here, underground. There was a city here larger than I would’ve ever imagined. Everywhere I turned, there were people. They had shops selling all kinds of things, from clothing to weapons. There were little shacks all over the place selling different kinds of food. I even spied a bar where people were drinking and singing merrily. This was all so very bizarre.
The stranger gave me a not-so-subtle push as he guided me forward. I could tell I irritated him. I didn’t like being pushed around, but I allowed it given that I was in unfamiliar territory. As we walked down what I could only assume was a makeshift road, I couldn’t help but notice all the little homes and activities going on down here.
We reached a building that seemed a little more official than everything else I’d seen so far. It was cleaner and in pristine condition. When we walked inside, it smelled sterile, like antiseptic and was completely white. Not a speck of dirt to be found. Oddly enough, this disturbed me as much as the dragons. Everywhere else in this underground city seemed a little gritty and dirty. This place was way too clean. There was some mumbling going on ahead of me. There were two people standing in front of me in all white with their hair pulled back from their faces, wearing gloves and masks, surveying me as I waited. The three of them kept staring, whispering and gesturing to my legs. They were arguing with my savior, who still had not taken off his gear.
I looked down at myself to see what all the fuss was about. I was filthy. Falling through two muddy puddles didn’t help that. My hair was still dripping down my back, and there was dirt everywhere. As I looked over the condition of my clothing, I was a little taken back to see that my pants were half gone, the edges singed. When I got dressed this morning, my solid black pants fell down to my ankles. I was now looking at tattered shorts that fell just above my knees. You could tell they had been through fire, which was strange. I didn’t get burned myself. I remember feeling the heat, especially over my legs, but it didn’t hurt. It was oddly comforting. I didn’t know what to think about the reason my pants were burned, but my skin was not. I dismissed it as something I’d have to revisit later as I continued looking over myself. I grimaced as I tried rubbing off the dirt from my arms. The dirt and soot seemed to stick to my skin, making it feel stiff and hard. I longed for a shower. I hated feeling this grimy.
Someone clearing their throat brought me out of my internal assessment. When I looked up, my savior had finally taken off their helmet and was watching me with a smoldering intensity that made me nervous. I wasn’t sure what the look was about, but it looked like desire and hatred rolled into one look. Heat rose to my cheeks and butterflies took flight in my stomach as I took him in. I was not expecting someone so ruggedly handsome under there. He had long black hair that clung to his face from the helmet. His gray eyes were framed with long lashes. There was a long scar that ran down the side of his face that somehow made him even more alluring. He had stubble growing in thick that framed his strong cheekbones and square jaw. The sterile people seemed to respect him and his authority and quickly moved out of his way when he pointed to the door. I sighed audibly as I walked past him and through the door. There was a long hallway that ended with a large room. The room was sparse with a table and two chairs. It was an interrogation room, I realized. The sterile people promptly secured me to the table after I sat down. Why did they feel the need to cuff little ole’ me? People never took me seriously because I looked more like a teenager than a grown adult. At only five feet tall and 110 pounds, I knew I wasn’t intimidating or threatening to look at. At 26 years old, I still got dirty looks when I bought an alcoholic drink because they always assumed I was a teenager, even though my body clearly did not resemble one of adolescence.
When he walked in, I could feel the power radiating off him. It felt like a heavy blanket settled in around my shoulders. It was heavy and my whole body tensed against it. He slammed his helmet on the table to intimidate me. It kind of worked. He slowly but gracefully sat down in his chair and proceeded to stare at me. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t even blink. It was unnerving. What was his problem? I started fidgeting unconsciously, not knowing what to do with myself when he finally spoke.
“What the hell were you doing out there, alone?” His voice was deep and husky. It matched his brooding personality, but the tone of his question rubbed me the wrong way. It was an accusation. Like I did it on purpose and was waiting to be saved. It pissed me off and made me want to be snarky. Which was strange because I’m wasn’t that girl. I was the quiet one that did what she was supposed to do, day in and day out, without getting noticed.
“I was obviously in the mood to become dragon barbeque.” I put as much sarcasm into the sentence as possible as I glared across the table. Involuntarily I pulled my arms to cross at my chest and only hurt myself as the handcuffs pulled against my skin. His eyes widened slightly, and his eyebrows went up a bit at my sass. He wasn’t expecting that. I almost laughed because it was funny. Almost. I could see that this man didn’t get people who talked back to him, but I didn’t want to die, so I kept my laugh to myself.
The power in the room intensified, making it harder to breathe. With a deathly serious tone, he asked again. “What were you doing out there, little girl? Answer me honestly this time or I will drop you back where I found you. Perhaps you won’t fare as well on your own.” Between him crushing me with his power and speaking to me like a child, my irritation grew. My temper flared, and the words flew from my mouth without thought.
“First off, don’t mistake my lack of height to mean I’m a child. Your observations are sorely lacking if you cannot discern that I am indeed a fully grown woman. To further my point, you have not noticed that I do not match the women here. My style of clothing is vastly different from what they wear, is it not? Doesn’t it seem odd to you that I did not react the way someone who’s grown up around dragons would? The answer to your question is quite obvious, but I’ll spell it out for you since you’re being such a gentleman right now.” I rolled my eyes and paused for a beat so that my sarcasm would hit its mark. “I am not from your world. Earlier today I fell through a puddle and landed here in your world. I know it sounds strange, but that’s the truth.” I looked off to the side as I finished my rant. I could give a shit if it pissed him off. I was grateful that he saved me, but irritated with being treated like a prisoner and a child.
I felt his power finally recede, and I took in a full, deep breath. I watched him now, wondering what kind of reaction I would get to what he surely wouldn’t believe. His brows drew together as he sat in contemplation for a moment, taking in my answer. He kept looking me over and really staring at my face. “What do you mean you fell through a puddle into our world? What world did you come from?” He squinted his eyes as he awaited my answer.
“One that is completely different from this world. There are no dragons in my world. They are just a myth. We live above ground and are free to roam about without fear.” I said in a monotone voice.
My smug and cocky savior gaped openly at me. “What do you mean, free to roam without fear? What hunts you?” He asked incredulously, eyes wide in disbelief.
“Nothing, well, I guess just bad people.” I said as I remembered getting mugged, knowing it probably could’ve been worse.
He scoffed, shaking his head no. “I don’t believe you.” His words dripped with venom.
I shrugged carelessly. Not sure what he wanted from me.
“If that is the case, why don’t you seem eager to return?”
The thought hit me hard for a moment. I hadn’t once thought about how I would get home. Did I even want to go back? I was in no rush, knowing no one was missing me. I contemplated his question for a moment. How did you explain to someone who’s had to fight their entire lives just to survive? To constantly live in fear over something you had no control over.
“I guess when you grow up in my world, you take your existence for granted and you stop appreciating things. We don’t have to fight to stay alive the way you do. The world and the people in it become obsessed over materialistic things and we lose sight of what’s really important. It can be a very lonely existence when everyone is only looking out for themselves.” I felt the loneliness and sadness settle in. My place in that world was so small it was abysmal. I was pretty sure he didn’t understand, but I honestly didn’t know how to explain it better. So I didn’t add anything else.
“Why didn’t your legs burn? I tried to keep them covered, but I know I wasn’t able to cover them completely. Your pants burned away from your body and part of your shoes have melted, but your legs are unscathed. Would you care to explain that?” His hostility was gone for the moment. There was an open curiosity in his question. I sensed he honestly wanted to know.
Confused, I looked down at my legs again. Did they get hit with fire? He was right. I didn’t notice before, but the whole bottom layer of my shoes looked thinned out and fused with the rest of the shoe. I had already noticed my pants. “I don’t…I…I don’t know.” I stammered out as I looked down at my legs again. I had the overwhelming urge to touch them, but my cuffs wouldn’t allow it. I was distressed about this information. If it was true, what did it mean? Was I fireproof?
He must’ve sensed what I needed to do. When I looked up, he was unlocking the cuffs so that my hands could be free. I dropped off the chair and pulled my legs to my chest. They felt like my legs. Nothing different. I rubbed my hands up and down my legs in a soothing manner, as I rested my head on my knees. I was lost in thought when he crouched in front of me. There was a tenderness there that I didn’t know such a hard man could possess.
“Are you alright?” He tilted his head to the side and looked into my eyes, reading me. I nodded briefly but didn’t speak aloud. After a few beats of silence, he asked what I knew would come next. “Would you be willing to help us here?” There was a hopeful glint in his eyes. Maybe I was crazy for considering staying. I thought about my life on my earth. I thought about my sad and lonely apartment, about my lack of employment. I thought about how my parents were no longer around and how I felt utterly alone most days, but mostly I thought about how if I really was fireproof, maybe I was meant to be here to help these people. That gave me hope and a purpose.
I looked up into that handsome face and smiled. “Yes, I think I would.”