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“Was it exit 9A or 9B?”
Trinity looked at the map again. “9A. About a quarter mile.”
Robert, Joshua, and Trinity Greggs were driving back to Copperstone from their two-week vacation in Florida. Though he had enjoyed it, Robert was eager to get back home.
“Honey, can we drive past the woods? They’re so pretty in the sunset.”
“I suppose. There’s no hurry.” Joshua turned the car right after getting off the interstate and passing a dilapidated sign that read ‘WELCOME TO COPPERSTONE’. “Bah, it’s back to reality and that darned tire shop now,” he said.
Just as they neared the woods, the car suddenly began to speed up. Josh tapped the speedometer frantically. “Josh, slow down!” shouted his wife
“What-I’m trying! The brakes won’t work! I’m not even on the gas!”
“Well, why are we speeding up?”
“I don’t know, I’m not a mechanic! We should’ve had it serviced before we left. We’ll just drive until it stops or we run out of gas.”
“Josh, we need to get off this road at this speed.”
“Okay, just as soon as I find an exit.”
“Watch out for that guy.”
“That swerving truck over there. He’s going really fast.”
“Looks like he’s mostly in his lane. Some people-Gaahh!”
The truck had swerved into their lane and struck their front right corner. The car flipped off the road, sideways and backwards, and then rolled down the hill. They finally stopped as they collided with a tree, facing the road upside down. It had happened in a matter of seconds.
Robert was, miraculously, still conscious. He placed his hand on the crumpled roof and took off his seat belt, letting his feet drop. The floorboard above him pushed at his back. The door in front of him wouldn’t budge, so he opened the one behind him with his foot. It got stuck halfway open, forcing him to squeeze out backwards. He stood up and felt his head, which was bleeding from a gash in the side. But otherwise he was fine. He ran to the top of the hill and waved for help.
At the car, Joshua Greggs had just regained consciousness. He pushed the air bag out from in front of him, then planted his knees against the steering wheel as he took off his seatbelt, grunting as he realized his leg was broken. His door opened surprisingly easily. The shock from the crash caused him not to see his son waving down vehicles at the top of the hill. He walked around the car and yanked open his wife’s door, then pulled her out of the car. She woke up as he laid her down and sat beside her. Her head was bleeding, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Where’s Robert?”
He looked in the car. He had forgotten all about his son, who was not in the car. But the door on the other side was open. “He must have gone in the woods.” He stumbled to his feet, then helped Trinity to hers. “Why would he go in the woods?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t see him anywhere. Let’s just look a few yards in.”
They stumbled through the trees and called Robert’s name, but no answer came. Robert was in the other direction.
“There.” Trinity pointed to what appeared to be an electric something shed, but long since been abandoned. “Maybe he’s in there?”
“I don’t know. But we can look.”
They stepped towards the old cinderblock shed, Joshua favoring his good leg. “Why would he leave the car?”
“Maybe he was scared.”
“Robert doesn’t just get scared and run into the woods.”
“We don’t know he’s in the woods.”
“You know what I mean. We should all be dead, and we’re not. Why wouldn’t he try to help us?”
“He’s not a Boy Scout, honey. We’ve barely taught him any first aid. Maybe he went back to town to get help. Why would our car act like that anyway?”
“I do tires, not engines. Maybe something wrong with gas intake or something, but I don’t even know if that’s a thing.” He grunted as he shoved the door open, causing it to squeak loudly on its rusted hinges. They both stepped inside a short way, but there was no sign of Robert. There was a desk against the wall, running the full breadth of the room. On the wall were hundreds of switches, something like the switchboards from the 1900s. two chairs were in the room; one at the desk and another in the corner. They turned to leave, but the door creaked again and slammed shut. Joshua grabbed the handle and pulled, but it was stuck shut.
“You won’t be getting out that way.”
They both whirled around. There, in the chair hidden in the corner, sat a man where none had been before.
“Who are you?”
“Well, depends where I am. I could be Jacob, or Rolf, or Yong, or Jacques. But usually, I’m here. And here, my name doesn’t matter.” He stood up. Joshua put himself in between the man and Trinity. “Stay back! I know how to handle myself, you know.”
The man paid no mind, but looked out the dirty window. “I’m sure you do, Joshua.”
“What’s going on?”
“You won’t believe me.”
“All right. You may as well have a seat. I’ll stand.” He pushed the corner chair over and turned it around with a loud rattle, then did the same with the desk chair. Joshua and Trinity reluctantly sat down. “All right, I’ll give it to you bluntly. I’m not from around here.”
“I can tell.”
“I mean not from Earth.”
Joshua scoffed. “Then where? Mars?”
“Where? Oh, that red planet people are trying to live on. No, I’m not. I’m not from this universe.”
“Told you. You don’t believe me.”
“I might, provided it was proven.”
The man stepped to the wall of switches, observed it for a moment, then flicked one. The room around them began to shift. Trinity took Joshua’s hand tightly. Joshua felt that she was shaking. Or maybe he was.
Then the room began to vanish. The forest was gone, too. A great rainbow of color surrounded them. They looked down, and the floor had disappeared beneath their feet. Nothing was there. Just the many, many strips of rainbow light that appeared to be tubes. A haze of golden light covered everything. The unknown figure came back around the chair. “This,” he said, “is my world. Welcome to the Panthiverse. I am Ruyon, Guardian of the In Between.” He snapped his fingers, and they were returned to the small concrete shed.
“Yes. What do you want?”
“Want? Nothing really. But you came to the woods, and that isn’t common.” He flicked another switch, and lights came on. “There are three places as such you sit in this universe. Only one on this planet.”
“Where are we?”
“Should I start from the beginning? Probably. I’m not allowed to give you all the details, so I’ll just lay out the highlights. Should we go oral or visual? I say visual.” He flicked a switch, and everything became absolutely pitch black. Blacker than black. The couple couldn’t even see each other, much less anything else. “In the beginning,” the man’s voice echoed around them, “there was nothing. Except several very powerful beings.” Eleven round lights appeared in front of them, but nothing else was lit up. “Time didn’t exist. No one knows what was happening at this time. But every being created an area.”
“You mean like a universe?”
“No. A universe is for mortals. These were Infinities. A realm for the being that stretched on forever and ever. However, yes, the universe is technically part of the Infinity.” A blast of light emanated from the eleven original ones, and seemed to keep moving forever.
“How could each one stretch forever?”
“No one knows. It’s beyond you. You’re mortal. You exist in time, and the concept of timelessness or infinity seems nonsensical to you. Doesn’t it?”
“Right. So, these Infinities were created, each one with a master. This, in mortal terms, would be about seven thousand years ago for most.”
“The Wars of Eternity. I’m allowed to tell, but it’s a long story. It doesn’t affect the mortal universe, so don’t worry about it. However, after the wars, the Beings decided that their mortals needed ways to aid each other in the event that evil did again strike back. Which, by the way, was in the forms of three of the Beings.”
“We don’t follow.”
“All that doesn’t matter right now. The methods of travel in between universes are, you guessed it, portals. Not those weird, sparkly apparitions that hang in midair in those so-called ‘movies’ the mortals watch. These are tubes constructed by pure light and the power of the Great Beings, unaffected by time.” The rainbow-colored tubes appeared again, light flashing all around them.
“What does this have to do with why we’re here? Where’s our son?” Trinity asked desperately.
“Ah, that. I was hoping you would forget.” The lights dimmed, and they were again brought back to the shed. Ruyon was seated on the desk. “My friends, take a look at that clock,” he said. They raised their heads to a small clock on the wall. The hands were going haywire, spinning extremely fast at some points and then unbelievably slow at others. “What is this?” demanded Joshua.
“This forest is the area where things in your universe can travel to others. This room,” he flipped a switch, “is the portal.” He jumped off the desk, and the whole wall split in two. Behind it was what appeared to be the entrance to a long tube. One made of sparkling rainbow light. He flipped another switch, and the wall closed. “This area is unaffected by time. You could spend five minutes here, and five years would have passed out there. Or vice versa. If you walked out of this forest, your son could be fifty years old. Or you could grow to be a hundred, and your son wouldn’t be twenty-one yet. You two are on the edge of Infinity.”
“Then can we go see our son?”
“That’s what I didn’t want to tell you. Do you remember the rather noisy event that occurred two years ago?”
“The Copperstone Blast. Who doesn’t?”
“Most of the details lie in another universe, so I’ll tell you only this side. A large company had gotten wind of this area, and thus was born ill intent on their part; though the company was already sour anyway. The Master of your universe caused the Blast to ward people off.”
“The fact that your minds were emptied of fear for the woods is not insignificant. The Master erased it so you would come in. And I can’t let you out until He tells me why He brought you here and when I can let you go.”
Trinity nearly fainted. Joshua leapt to his feet and pushed the man to the wall. “You expect me to believe this garbage? This is all just a crock. This is some high-tech rig with some virtual reality junk in it. So what you’ve got a messed up clock. We’re going to find our son.” He went for the door.
“If you oppose Kyrios’ purposes, you will never see your son again.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I, though not a Being, do not live inside time. I can see every outcome of every possible choice that can be made. And I can most definitely tell you that if you truly wish your son to live, you will stay.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because you love your son. I am not the one in control here. I guard the In Between, where I can supervise everything that goes through these portals. That’s all.”
“What do we do?” asked Trinity.
Joshua was silent for a moment. “Will we ever see our son again?”
“Yes. I know this is hard, Joshua. But there are greater things at stake here. Why do you think I’m here and not in the In Between?”
Joshua looked up.
“Because something is coming. Something evil is about to fall upon your world from another. And your family plays an important role. What role, I’ll never know.”
Joshua looked down, sighed, then looked at his wife. “We’ll stay.”
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