The realization hit me that I had no choice but to leave now. How could I put two universes in jeopardy for my personal happiness? I wouldn't let that happen again.
I missed my friends, my mother- my home. I missed the California sun. I didn’t like being alone somewhere so entirely new to me; it was unnerving.
But, at the same time, I was beginning to like this place. More than I should have. These people accepted me like one of their own almost immediately, and it had taken me years to make any friends back home. Hollywood felt more like home than California did at times….
Along with all that, I couldn’t shake all the questions nagging at my brain: What if I left and could never come back? What happens if I can't go back? What happens if I stay? Is my mom worrying about me? Are the boys? Would I be welcome if I wanted to stay? For God’s sake, is this place even real?!
My head, obviously, was spinning. In an effort to try and put my mind at bay, I started asking a lot of questions about Hollywood. Crab and Sandman seemed a little shocked at my random game of 20 questions, but they warmed up to it. I learned quite a bit and got the chance to bond with HS Crab.
"So, I'm just going to point out the elephant in the room here…" I said. Crab and Sandman looked around, confused.
"Where?" Crab exclaimed.
"There isn't an actual elephant!" I giggled. "It's a figure of speak," I explained. Comprehension washed over them.
"Aha," Sandman said, relaxing. "You see, in our world, if someone said that they would mean it seriously,"
"I've actually encountered a situation like that…." Crab said. "But that's beside the point. What were you trying to ask, Allie?"
"Well," I started after a pause. "When I came here, you said you hadn't seen a normal-worlder in 15 years…and I was just wondering… um… why not?"
They looked at each other. "It's a bit of a long story…"
"I'm pretty sure I've got time," I said with a raised eyebrow. Crab sighed.
"I suppose so…" he shrugged."A long time ago, when I was just a child, our governor decided that there is no reason why our two worlds shouldn't know each other. He created a portal through the very television you fell through so that people from both sides could visit their adjacent universe."
“Oh… why did he decide that all of a sudden?” I asked.
“It was a way of making peace and sharing knowledge, initially. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…” I nodded.
“So what went awry?”
“Well, people from opposite universes began to get married and start families in other worlds. It was wonderful,” Crab said, wistfully.
“Though, It was a bit weird having everyone's doppelganger walking around," Sandman said, laughing a bit.
"I don’t understand- that sounds like the perfect model for assimilation,” I said, trying to imagine what it would be like to have both universes together.
"A number of things went wrong, Allie," Sandman said. "A new governor was elected on our side and another president on your side. And people grew fond of our world, and we of yours, but, there is never a new bond formed without conflict."
“What kind of conflict?” My brow furrowed.
“The usual- riots, fights, etc.” Sandman responded. “The whole situation created a new form of racism that neither of our worlds had ever seen… it got quite out of hand near the end,”
"But that's not the worst of it," Crab chimed in.
"Wh-what do you mean?" I asked, not really wanting to know.
"Around 1992, strange things started to happen…"
"Things began to be wrong; very wrong," he looked up at me. "Some days, the sun wouldn't rise. It snowed in august, earthquakes happened almost daily, the flowers wouldn't bloom; you name it. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. My predecessor had no control over luck, Donnie's predecessor couldn't catch anything, the past Mr. Sandman could only deliver nightmares, and the past Mr. Benzedrine could even fix the sorrow…"
"It was a disaster," Sandman said, downcast.
"Why was this happening?"
"By opening up our world to yours, they threw off the balance," Sandman said.
“The equilibrium of our universes,” he explained."They discovered that people couldn't go back and forth as they pleased. It set off the ability of our worlds to stabilize each other,”
“And children who were born of parents from both universes had lots of problems…” Crab noted.
“They were often sickly or premature,” Sandman spoke again, “Besides the fact that the
people against our worlds being together tried to kill as many of these children as possible. Only a lucky few survived; it was a nightmare," he shook his head mournfully.
“So what did they do?”
"The only logical thing to do- we had to close the portal. Our new governor and your new president made an agreement that you had to stay in the world you were born in. There was a mass exodus from both worlds and then we sealed the door," Crab looked down at his hands.
“What did the kids do who had parent from each universe?” I asked.
“They had to stay in the place they were born,” Crab said. “But, of course, that wasn’t
always the case. Most children were snuck over through the portal or vice versa. And there was no way to have trials under the circumstances,”
“The whole thing was quite traumatic,” Sandman put in.
"Wait…" I started. "If this was such a huge event in our worlds, why don't I know about it?" I asked, confused. "Why doesn't anyone on my side know about it?"
The boys looked at each other, almost guiltily.
"Well…" Sandman started quietly. "Our governor didn't want anything like that happening again,”
“You understand that, right?” Crab asked, nervously.
“Yeah, I get that, but there is something you’re not telling me,”
He bit his lip.
“He… he had all the people in Hollywood who had powers, like ours, to use their magic to wipe your world's memories,"
"What?" I exclaimed.
"They didn't want to do it!" Crab defended, "No one did, but it was for our own good, Allie,"
"You-you wiped everyone's memories? Everyone’s?" I said, heatedly.
"I know it's a lot to take in," Sandman said, "I still have a hard time believing it."
They gave it a moment to let it all sink in. I waited till I calmed down to respond.
"Then…how could I have fallen through?" I asked, puzzled.
"I wondered the same thing when you came," Crab said. "I was hoping Ben would figure something out while he was testing you,"
“No,” Crab shook his head, “Not yet, at least,”
I looked over at Ben who was patiently working on a formula and simultaneously pouring some liquids into a set of beakers. He paused for a moment to push his glasses up from the end of his nose, just like Patrick would've done back home.
"Am I throwing off the balance by being here right now?"
"I…I'm not sure," Sandman said after a beat.
"I mean, none of the bad things started happening until a lot of people came to our side.” Crab said, “I wouldn't worry about it, Allie,”
I nodded, with an attempt at a smile. I was worrying about it. This didn't make sense, none of it did. I was just trying to wrap my head around it. I could feel my face growing pale.
"Are you alright?" Crab said, gently.
"Yeah," I responded. "I…I guess I’m just am surprised at how much I didn't know."
"I understand," he said, nodding.
It was quiet for a little, the only sound was from the bubbling beakers near Ben.
"If it's worth anything," I started after a pause. "I'm glad I got to meet all of you,"
"We’re glad we got to meet you, too,"
The realization hit me that I had no choice but to leave now. How could I put two universes in jeopardy for my personal happiness? I wouldn't let that happen again. I could feel tears forming in my eyes. Crab, sensing this, pulled out a kerchief and handed it to me. I tried furiously to stop the tears and tried to hand it back to him.
"It’s okay," he said, putting it back in my hand. "There's no reason to explain."
I wiped my eyes quickly.
"You know what?" Sandman said, breaking the tension. "I think we should have some fun
tonight. Let's give Allie the Hollywood tour. Make the most of our time together, you know?" he said, his voice light.
"That’s not a bad idea, Sandy," Crab said. "What do you think?"
I smiled, "I would like that." I nodded. "I would like that a lot,"
"Ben?" I asked, walking up behind him. He was writing something down furiously with his pen. "Ben?" I asked again, putting my hand on his shoulder.
"Allie!" he said, coming back to reality with a jump. "What's up?" he said with a smile.
"Well, Crab and Sandman invited me to take a tour of Hollywood with them and I was wondering if you would…want to come?" I asked, biting my lip nervously shuffling my feet.
"I…I'm not sure if that's a good idea…" he said, looking down.
"I mean, I really should keep working if we want to get you home soon," he said quickly.
I nodded, slowly.
"I understand…" I started. "I just…I don't know how much time I have left here and I wanted to…" I sighed. "I'm not doing a good job of explaining myself…"
He bit his lip and looked down at his notebook. After a pause, he looked back up at me with a smile on his face.
"You know what? A few hours couldn't hurt," He smiled.
“Really?” I said, excitedly.
“Yes,” he laughed, "May I accompany you this evening?"
"You may," I responded with a laugh.
I liked the sound of his laugh.