finding the Dipper
Shades was not entirely sure what just happened. For a moment, he could have sworn he heard an engine behind him. Yet before he could turn around, the air started wavering like heat waves, just like it was around that weird building. A split-second of vertigo, of displacement.
Now the air was back to normal, but he was unsure of whether anything else was.
He noticed he was still in the woods. But no longer on a dirt road; instead he was standing on a well-worn trail. Gone was the humming noise, replaced by near-total silence. And above him the sky was clear and cloudless, the earth below showing no sign of rain recently. He could look up and see the stars shining with uncommon brightness.
Just out of curiosity, Shades turned his radio back on. Nothing but static up and down the dial. At first, he paced back and forth, but was unable to “step” back to where he was. Unable to think of anything else to do, he started following the trail, hoping it would lead to some answers.
After a few minutes, he ears began to pick up indistinct sounds ahead. About ten minutes later, he neared the edge of the woods. Soon he could see lights through the thinning trees. After all of the dangers he had passed through thus far, he approached the edge with great caution.
“I don’t think we’re in Kalispell anymore, Toto…” Shades commented to no one in particular as he gazed upon the vast parking lot stretching beyond the edge of the woods. Just from here he could see hundreds of cars lined up to where a colossal building dominated the horizon. “Damn! That thing’s bigger than… well…”
After a moment, he had to admit that it was bigger than any building he had ever seen; somehow, all of this just did not belong out in the mountains.
The nearer he drew, he more the place looked like a mall to him. For years he had heard activists claim that one day “they” would tear down the forest and build a stripmall, but this was too much.
“Well, any port in a storm…” he decided as he set forth across the expanse of parking lot. Any port in a storm, he thought, looking up at an ironically clear sky. That, of course, he reminded himself, must be at least part of the problem; only minutes before, he had been trudging through a storm.
He scanned the sea of stars for his Dipper, finding, to his dismay, that he could not place any of the constellations. Thought of an old filmstrip he was shown when Dad was stationed in Alaska years ago, but couldn’t quite remember the legend. Something about some Eskimos and a bear…
Still he couldn’t find it.
This troubled him greatly. The Dipper was friendly— it was the only constellation that didn’t try to hide from him. For no matter how many times he looked through astronomy books, he was never able to make the heavens conform to those star charts.
But what troubled him still more was noticing, upon closer inspection, that the stars almost seemed to have a pale green cast. He continued to scan the alien sky, sure he could find his Dipper if he just looked in the right direction. Certain that if he could just find his Dipper, everything would be okay.
It felt weird to be walking among cars in a place where he should be walking among trees. Something about this place felt wrong— terribly wrong— but he couldn’t really figure out what he was supposed to do about it. Still pissed about his bike, and the rest of his ordeal so far, he settled for writing If you can read this, it’s time to wash your damn truck! on the back of a particularly dirty pickup with his finger. He was cold and confused and unable to figure out how to get back to the place he was before, so he decided to step in and thaw out before he got sick or something.
Other people passed through the lot, all of them dressed in familiar clothing. Some of them gave him peculiar looks, and Shades had no trouble seeing why; they were likely trying to figure out how he got so wet and muddy when it clearly hadn’t rained around here in at least a day or two. He shrugged off the occasional rude remark as he made his way to the monolithic structure before him, having more urgent matters on his mind right now.
If I’m in the future, he contemplated, then people sure haven’t changed much. And if he was in another world, he couldn’t really tell the difference. Even the cars looked like any others he had seen in his life. Unimpeded, technology moved in only one direction: fast-forward. The technology here looked like that of the present, rather than that of some distant future. Yet he could never imagine anyone in his lifetime building a mall in the middle of the mountains.
Well, there’s only one way to find out…
He opened the door and entered.
Beyond were grand halls lined with benches, booths and displays, storefronts marching up and down both sides. Much of the upper architecture was outlined with neon tubes of various colors, the floor done in familiar patterns of colored tiles. Everything looked brand-new.
Before I check anything else out, he decided, I’d better try to blend in a little more. To that end, he turned and looked at him self in the door’s glass panel. They were right.
“I do look like I escaped from a war-zone!”
“You sure do!” some passerby assured him with a laugh as he passed.
Not far from the entrance was a map, and it only took him a moment to find what he needed.