Part 2 – Otherworld panic
I drove all night, not caring for the condition of the car or the risk or getting bogged. My fear for night driving wouldn’t even come close to the fear I had for the creatures that attacked me during the night. At one point, fatigue almost got the best of me and I needed to rest. When I pulled over I was attacked within minutes. Somehow I managed to get away before Betsy suffered any real damage, but it still put me too on edge to even think about stopping again.
At some point the sun began to rise and light spread across the green landscape.To tired and burnt out I could only feel grateful when I saw the creatures start to run from the light, heading towards a dark, distant forrest. With the built up stress leaving my body, I collapsed against the steering wheel and shut my eyes. Tears started to flow from my eyes as I realised that every night would be every bit as scary. I had been taking things too easily, thinking that I was in heaven, and hadn’t taken any steps to protecting myself.
I had used most of my water making a meal and cleaning myself instead of rationing it. I hadn’t looked for signs of other people. I traveled lazily in the direction I was facing at the time. In short, I underestimated the danger and could have died.
It was just like when I first started to travel. With my weak body and tendency towards illness, a doctor once told the ten year old me that I would probably spend most of my life in sterile rooms. I couldn’t take that, it was simply too sad and lonely. Instead I disregarded those words and started to go on hikes and camping trips. It started with taking a bus to try and climb a hill that was at the edge of the city; a popular climb with walkways to the top.
On the first attempt, I made it a quarter of the way up before collapsing. After that I had to spend a two weeks recovering from the resulting infection. On the second attempt I didn’t get much further up, but I had a friend with me that time, and they helped minimise the problem, resulting in only needing a week to recover. After a year, I was able to climb that hill by myself, both on the walkway and on the dirt tracks, without needing to go to hospital afterwards. It wasn’t long after that that I started to take weekend camping trips to a nearby mountain.
That mountain was far, far worse than the hill and it was like I was starting all over again. My doctor had asked me if I had a death wish, but I felt like that was the furthest thing from the truth. In the moments before collapsing on that hill I felt more alive than I had ever felt after being discharged from a hospital. It wasn’t until three years had passed that I could confidently climb that mountain by myself, but every time it sent me back home sweating, I couldn’t help but think that it was challenging me. By that point I had already started working at the coffee place during the week, needing money to pay for my trips to the mountain. My parents could see how much more healthy I was starting to look and supported my decision, even when I landed in bed for a week afterwards.
Even though I loved the feeling of challenging the mountain, I never forgot the feeling I felt when I first tried the hill. It resulted in me being bedridden for two weeks, but it also instilled in me a unique fear. At the time I had thought that climbing it would be easy and simply went there with nothing but gym clothes. The results being what they were, the doctor said that I had been fairly lucky, and it could have ended up with my death. Even my young self could understand how close it had been, how being halfhearted had been so dangerous. From then on, I had always been far more careful.
Yet here I was, acting like an idiot in an unfamiliar place and thinking I was safe for no reason at all. Wiping away my tears and taking a few deep breaths, I calmed myself down and made a resolution. Today wouldn’t be like yesterday; today I’d look forward, plan and survive. With that in mind, my first step was to sleep. I set the alarm on my phone for two hours, rolled into the back seats, pulled a jacket over myself like a blanket and went to sleep.
Two hours later, I reheated some pasta on a plate on the engine while taking a look around the area. I seemed to have traveled a long way in the night, and was approaching a mountain range. In the far, far distance, there was the faintest hint of what might be black smoke; it was the first sign of other people I had seen, and with a pure guess about the distance, I could probably reach it in around three hours. That said, I wasn’t about to go rushing straight to it. For all I know, that could be a tribe of cannibals. Instead I started to drive towards the mountain.
The mountain seemed to signal the start of a different enviromental region, as more and more fern like trees started to grow as I got closer. The mountain itself was rich with thick, barkey old trees. The fresh smell from the trees as the late morning sun warmed and baked the leaves game a refreshing sensation, one that seemed to fill me from the inside out. I hadn’t felt anything like that before, it was like a hot meal in the cold, but filling me with warmth at a somehow deeper level. Yesterday I might have dismissed it as my imagination, but today I was awake to this world. While I instinctively felt that the sensation was a good thing, I couldn’t trust that unknown feeling and instead wound the window up.
Making my way up to the tow of the mountain, by following a game trail, I made my biggest discovery yet; the horizon bent! Well, okay, Earth’s horizon bends also, but not like this. There was a distinct, unmissable curve to the sky that could be seen from as high as a small mountain. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much smaller this world was to Earth. On the other hand, despite the size difference, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference in gravity. Was there a difference and I simply wasn’t noticing it, or was the planet somehow heavier to balance out the size difference? I tried dropping a few rocks but I realised I didn’t know how fast they should fall in the first place. At the very least they seemed to fall normally.
That’s when I noticed the smoke in the distance again. Not only had I moved closer to it, but it moved closer to me. From what I could tell, it seemed to be edging slowly towards the mountain. It didn’t seem to be a forest fire, since it was contained in a line, it instead reminded me of a steam train. As a guess, I could drive to it in an hour and it would reach me in three or four. I thought about it for a while and made a decision.