Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 07 - "Away From Home"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

Red-Light / Green-Light

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2008-12-19 - Updated: 2008-12-19 - 2191 words - Complete

“So, what do you think?” Shades asked from outside the changing booth at one of the mall’s seemingly endless list of clothing stores.

Shades himself had never been that into shopping. For toys, of course, when he was a kid, but the whole thing had somehow lost its charm over the years. Especially clothes. Often, he already had a good idea of what he wanted, and most of his browsing consisted of finding an acceptable price. In the last three weeks, he had had to dabble in degrees of fashion that he ordinarily reserved as girls’ turf in order to stay one or two steps ahead of the guards. In this twisted game, shopping somehow became a bizarre means of survival.

“They’re fine, I guess,” Max replied. To him, this place, though the styles were otherwise unfamiliar, looked like the entire wardrobe of the Islands all in one giant room. Many times, he pondered how worn and damaged his clothes had become, and of course there was nothing he could do about it, but over the years he had simply grown accustomed to wearing them. It wasn’t until he tried on new ones here that he realized just how poorly his old ones fit, as well, for neither the Cyexian nor the original owner were hardly one of his stature.

As they talked, Shades was strategically analyzing just how different he looked compared to when he walked in. The Interloper’s New Clothes, all over again. Much like how he had come to feel with each successive disguise change, like he was shedding his Earth skin, and donning subtle new armor for the Sixth Dimension. For Max, simply going native.

“Just make sure they’re not too tight,” Shades advised him, “most of this stuff shrinks in the wash.” In retrospect, he was now glad Mom had made him start doing his own laundry when he was younger; it had saved him a lot of potentially fatal mistakes at the hotel’s coin-op laundry. “In here, you can never have too much freedom of movement.”

When Max stepped out, he looked nothing like transdimensional fugitive that beat security guards black-and-blue as if he had trained to fight much stronger foes. Which Shades decided was a good thing, as Max had become the Outlander here, and was having a hard time keeping a low profile in this alien environment. This guy’s even more socially inept than I am… As the first real friend he had found here, he decided to take Max under his wing. And hopefully not abandon him, as he felt he had somehow done to John; though everything sort of just happened, he felt, in retrospect, that he had been too reckless that night.

Generations of military heritage seemed to frown on him at moments like this.

“Hey Shades!” While his friend was lost in thought, Max had ducked behind one of the sales racks. When he jumped back out, he was wearing a long grey coat vaguely matching the descriptions from Shades’ story. “Does this make me look like one of those hitchhikers?”

“Um… Yeah.” To him, Max looked a lot like a hitchhiker. Too much like one, in fact. The way it played right up to his last line of thought spooked him a little. Then, he regained his composure, saying, “That’s really creepy, Max.”

Max shrugged out of the coat, putting it back on the rack. Shades had told him about his harrowing ride home from work, and apparently he had underestimated how much the experience disturbed his friend. Hadn’t expected his attempt to make light of it to backfire like that, but it only took a moment to figure out why.

“Tell me more about John.”

“Sure…” Shades trailed off. There was a nameless fear that prowled this rambling building, and he suspected that Max was beginning to notice it, too. Its true nature still eluded him, but something, perhaps the place itself, seemed to feed off the very life-force of those who lived and worked, and died, here. Something malevolent, and almost alive. After a moment, he focused and continued, conjuring up the brighter days to lift the dark fog that was always trying to settle in around him anymore.

“Well, I first met John after Christmas Break when I was in the seventh grade,” Shades told him. “I came back to school and he just showed up in gym class.” Which was good, because before, that was the year none of his other friends were in that class with him. “We just sat and talked before class, and everything just sort of clicked.” Carlos extending the scope of his grudge to include Shades’ newest friend had only served to fortify their connection by the end of the week. “When I told him where I lived, I found out he didn’t live very far away. My old friend Arthur practically lived in Kalispell, and even Tom’s house was pretty far, so I didn’t get to see him very often outside of school. John actually lived within walking distance of my house, and we used to walk all over town, and go hiking out in the woods and stuff…”

Even as Shades spoke, Max pictured some of his old stomping grounds in the Islands, what he remembered of them, tried to imagine what it would be like if any of his closest friends had lived on another island, but mostly remembered all the fun he and Cleo and Lance used to have.

“Later,” he continued, “when we were in high school, John met this dude named Sandy who was trying to start a band. Later, another friend of ours, Vince, got in on the act, but it wasn’t until they hooked up with Becky that it really took off. We mostly used to just goof around, they’d piss off the neighbors trying to learn favorite songs and I’d mess with the minds of those who called to complain, but in about the last year or so, they got a lot more serious. They’ve even made a few original songs in the last few months.”

“What else did you guys do?”

“All kinds of stuff,” Shades replied. “I’ve thought about it over and over since I came here… How this whole place seems like something out of the Twilight Zone.”

“What’s the Twilight Zone?” Max wasn’t too sure he even liked the sound of the name.

“I’ll tell you more about it later.” Shades figured he would have to explain a lot of strange and unpleasant things about this place, and he didn’t know if he could even find the words to describe his impressions. “It’s too much like those crazy stories I used to tell Tom on the bus when we were in middle school. I’d just make up a series of bizarre events, and see if we could piece it together. Just making shit up as you go along… kinda like how I’ve been living these days.”

“You used to make up stories?”

“Used to? I never stopped!” Shades laughed. “Then again, most of my stories were based on stuff I’d read about paranormal events and stuff, but of course, when you get older, one day it just becomes uncool. You just don’t get as much of an audience anymore, and sometimes I think I’ve gotten a little rusty. But back in those days, Max, I thought they’d never end. We used to walk and ride the bus together every morning… Back then, it seemed like it would always be that way…”

“You had good friends.” After all, Max knew from experience. “Real friends.”

“I know.” He had never really thought about it before, and in recent days he had come to realize just how much he had taken each of them for granted. Still had trouble picturing resuming the journey of life without them. “Just that week, I was making plans with Arthur… putting the finishing touches on a road trip this summer that we had been planning since we were in middle school. I guess things got pretty fucked up.”

“Road trip?”

“Oh yeah. I forgot. You guys don’t have highways.” Don’t need highways. “Way out west, there were miles and miles of roads, probably more than you could explore in a lifetime… When we were in middle school, we promised each other that, after we graduated, we were gonna drive to Alaska and back. Just for the hell of it.”

Just for the halibut… as Arthur used to say. Just one last adventure.

“Alaska…” Max said, seeming to savor every syllable, as he often did when picking up the names of places he had never heard of. Though, Shades could tell, still hoped to see for himself one day. “Where’s that?”

“Well, it’s kinda hard to explain. I’ll see if I can find any maps from my world—”

That was when it happened.

Neither of them could explain. The only thing Max could compare it to was the expression that crossed Bandit’s face when he sensed something bad. To Shades, he simply felt something “shift” in the back of his mind, that must be how a mouse felt right before the cat pounces.

Anymore, he could smell a pig from a mile away.

Shades just happened to catch a glimpse of a security guard, flanked by several more, talking to a store clerk. “Max!” Shades hissed, pulling his friend down behind the rack, just a moment before the clerk pointed in their general direction. In the first of several mini-manhunts to come, it was clear to both of them that they were planning to rush the place, already storming in onto the sales floor. Peering over the side of the next rack, he saw that they had left a man at the door.

There would be no quiet way to leave.

“Shit!” Shades hissed, his mind scrambling for some kind of plan.

“What now?” Max whispered, already sizing up the numbers and possible strength of his foes.

Then the inspiration struck as Shades realized just how childishly simple the solution could be.

“This way…” he said, popping a mint and offering one to Max for good luck. “Just do what I do.”

A few moments later, a couple guards came through, combing through the aisles and wandering among the racks. They prowled around for several minutes, barging in on the dressing booths, much to the indignation of several occupants. Heading the party was a guard with his arm in a sling, and another who wore a band of gauze around his head, plus Fat and Fatter had also joined the party.

After searching for several minutes, they regrouped near the entrance.

“Dammit!” the guard in the sling muttered. A guard had sighted two people matching the descriptions of the two who had attacked them the day before, but it had taken time to bring together a suitable party to capture them. “We missed them!”

“We even looked in the restrooms,” said a guard who just walked up to them.

“Bastards must’ve left just before we came in,” the one with the headwrap commented, pounding his fist against a display counter. “Come on, let’s get the hell outta here.”

With that, they turned and stomped out.

Once the guards were gone, two coat racks started moving, almost simultaneously. Shades emerged from one, yanking a trenchcoat off himself; Max shrugged off a couple pairs of pants he had draped over himself.

Damn!” Shades muttered. Quite frankly, he was surprised that such a cheap trick actually worked. He had spent every second holding perfectly still, ready to knock the whole rack over on anyone who ratted him out. Lying in wait more than he was hiding. A little camo, plus that old ninja trick of taking advantage of the simple fact that the human eye needs motion to track things— hell, now that he thought about it, he had fooled Tom and John with similar tricks playing war games out in the woods on a few occasions. “I can’t believe that worked.”

“That was close!” Max agreed.

“You can say that again.”

“That was close!”

Then Max saw the comically exasperated look on his friend’s face.


“I think we need to find another hiding spot,” Shades observed as the moved to the farthest checkout stand from where the guards had made their search as possible.

“I think you’re right.”

He knew he would have to talk to Max about the deathwatch. After all, one would have to be insane to just keep listening to it. This place shows some scary pictures, and he was grateful that he no longer had to face its mind games alone.

All the same, he suspected that Max was worried about Bandit, and he didn’t blame his friend one bit; even as they prepared to make their getaway, he wondered what this nightmare must be like for that poor cat.
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