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


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

garbage or postage?

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2009-01-08 - Updated: 2009-01-08 - 2197 words - Complete

Shades and Max sat in a secluded corner of the food court, munching on burgers and fries from some place with a late-Sixties slant on futuristic. It was a new place, and much like other new places, where they came from and where they went was a total mystery. Staffed by the usual cast of cardboard shadow-employees. Back on Earth, Shades had sometimes wondered if the people he saw had any sort of life beyond that of their public face, sometimes even after he and his friends had made their own debut on the wage-slave scene— he feared these people no longer did. That their only reality was on stage. The way they had learned to simply not notice certain things. He suspected they wouldn’t even know how to go about quitting anymore. He often got the feeling that he and Max were seeing, walking through, a different world than those around them.

After two days, cooped up in their hotel room, it was time to catch a breath of fresh air. Or at least as fresh as any air here could be.

Shades was telling his friend more stories from his childhood in Lakeside. Wistfully recounting sunny summer Sunday afternoons; long lazy spring weekends; carefree romps through fresh winter snow; cloudy, moody autumn days. No job, no pressure, no problem. Sort of peaceful dreamy…

“Shades?” Max asked. He had told Shades all about his Crow’s Nest before, and now, “Did you have a place to go to think about stuff?”

“Yeah.” Shades often thought about his own Lookout in this place. About bringing Dad’s old binoculars up there years ago, pretending he was spying on enemy territory. More recently, going up there to practice his Karate. And nowadays, wondering how often Amy had passed through over the years. “And mine was a cliff, overlooking Flathead Lake.”

He often used to imagine it was an ocean. As a child, he had read not only of the Unknown, but also of epic adventures; it was how he thought his life, how the world, should be. That electric current of sensation as he stood up there, the wind whipping through his hair, that breathtaking sense of adventure and mystery that had followed him everywhere he went as a kid.

Had never really stopped following him.

Now that he thought about it. From the moment he was first told to get a job, it had merely gone underground, biding its time. Now, since he had wound up in the Sixth Dimension, it had resurfaced. The belief that he was destined for more than just work and worry.

Back then, his heart and mind were filled with visions of he and his friends going off on some big adventure. He suspected that he and Arthur’s road trip pact was some remnant of that. Somewhere along the way, he had fallen into the rank-and-file, discovered at first that he was actually afraid to leave his high-maintenance comfort zone. Even as he talked to Max, he vowed that if he ever escaped this air-conditioned hell, he would never go back to his old life.

He now had Max and Bandit at his side. And John and Amy to search for, for he still felt they had somehow not seen the last of each other. Just hitch a ride all over the Sixth Dimension…

After they finished their meal, they made their way along the least-used route they could find, Max finished his drink, tossing it into a blue trashcan built into the wall.

“Say Max,” Shades intoned as he noticed what Max was doing, “just were you planning to send that?”

He couldn’t help busting out laughing as a vision popped into his head of them receiving an angry letter telling Max to quit sending his garbage to their dimension.

“What did I do?” Max had seen Shades use the trashcans before, and he was quite sure he was doing it right.

“Well, you see, that’s a mailbox, not a trashcan…” At first, Shades was trying to figure out how to explain postage, when another thought occurred to him. He had probably wandered past those mailboxes any number of times, and only now did he realize an interesting possibility. “You can use it to send things to other places…”

“What is it?” Even with those opaque glasses, Max could see his face light up.

“I’m not sure… I think you just gave me an idea, Max.” Somehow things still got in and out of here, and he still had no idea how. “I’ll have to think about it later.”

And think about it very seriously, but for now Shades told Max to not put his garbage in the mail and they continued their conversation about Lakeside. The more Shades told him about his old home, the more Max wanted to see it for himself; hell, the more Shades told Max about it, the more he himself wanted to go back. Not just back through the dimensional rift, but back in time as well, back to when Lakeside was still a secret. Of course, he couldn’t help laughing when Max took his figurative California Invasion literally, though he found the image of a ragtag army of locals marching down to the lakefront rather laughable.

And Max found himself wondering, didn’t he and Justin once talk about California not too long ago? He wondered if this “California” Robert had spoken of from his travels, and this land Shades mentioned were one and the same.

“That reminds me…” Remembering when Max found his license in the bathroom the other night, Shades was reminded of something he wanted to show him. Reaching in his jacket pocket, he whipped out his wallet. “You asked me about my friends, and I knew there was something I was trying to think of yesterday…”

He then proceeded to show Max several wallet-size photos that he usually carried around with him. Of John and the band in Sandy’s basement. Arthur’s school picture. His mother and father in what was the last picture ever taken of them together.

“Your mother is a very beautiful woman,” Max told her. And he could see that Shades had very good friends, indeed.

“Thanks.” Shades found himself wishing he had a photo of Amy. At another mall, in another life, the two of them had walked past a photo booth. Admittedly, he was worried about being late for work, but he also hadn’t wanted to come on too strong.

Now he wished he had.

As Max looked through these glimpses of this friend’s life, he remembered a gizmo from Dad’s Outland treasure-trove, a device called a camera. His parents brought a few tantalizing pictures of the outside world home with them, and also several extra rolls of film. Of course, there was no place to develop them, so they remained locked up in a chest. It all made him wish he had a few photos to show Shades. Wanted him to see Cleo and Lance and Mom and Dad, wanted him to see the Islands, in spite of himself.

Found himself wondering how they had changed, what they might look like now…

As the two of them continued to talk, Shades began to feel the weight of this place on his mind. It was hardly the first time, but it still bothered him every bit as much as it did then, for he feared getting used to it. He could sense it was also bothering Max, but talking about old friends, good times, elsewhere, seemed to help more than he originally thought. Though he feared even that would eventually reach the limits of how much good it could do.

This was like a vacation in Hell.

Of course, with the Card, there were so many things he and Max could do. Except leave. With the exception of the guards, everyone acted friendly and chirpy. Too much so, and it was all fake. Everything looked like the most ultra-hip, ultra-modern suburban fantasy.

Underneath this front, though, Shades felt as if everyone was living in a bad dream that was trying just a little too hard to put on a friendly face. Everything felt like a mask. The place looked tantalizing on the surface, even though he had grown bored with the shallow trappings of malls a long time ago, still he sometimes got the irrational idea that if he put his foot through the sheetrock and plastic and cardboard, it would all be just as hollow as a movie set. Though he wasn’t sure he wanted to see what lay underneath the glossy surface, picturing shadowy cameramen, alien maggots oozing out, or just hungry darkness behind the stage sets.

It put him in mind of the one time he had tried to see what lay behind the scenes in this sinister place. Perhaps he had gotten a little too cocky right after he first obtained the Card, and he decided to take one of the side doors in the halls. In real malls, there were hallways and corridors used by everyone from janitors and security guards to shipping for the various stores, and he had wondered if perhaps there was an exit back there somewhere.

Sure enough, just like in his world, there were long passageways with occasional doors along the sides. Yet though it could have been his imagination, the halls seemed somehow dimmer, and dingier their real-world counterparts, and he quickly lost his nerve to even look behind any of the doors, as the entire atmosphere back there quickly flashed him back to his nightmare’s about Amy’s aimless flight through halls that looked entirely too much like these ones for his taste. That sense that, rather than escape, only traps or hidden dangers awaited him behind any of them.

Before he could regain the nerve to explore, though, he was interrupted by footsteps. Striding, patrolling footsteps, the sound alone of which made him certain it was the guards. When he fled in the wrong direction to get back out in the main hall, he quickly found himself racing down various passages trying to evade footfalls that seemed to approach from every direction. Rolling carts, talking voices, and the dread certainty that if he was caught back here, he would see a side of this place never seen by the public…

Just when he was certain that he was trapped back there, hopelessly lost and on the verge of getting caught, he bolted around a corner and found himself right back out in the mall proper. If he had thought his first-day experience with the pay-phone was unsettling enough, he quickly concluded that the back ways were never to be used as a hiding place or an escape route. The other day, after the pool incident, Max had tried to drag him into one of those doors when they nearly ran into some guards, but Shades resisted fiercely, at the time merely telling him it was a bad idea.

Later, would recount his harrowing experience behind the scenes while telling spook stories that night.

His time here held all the stretched-out timelessness of summer vacation when he was a kid. As if it could last forever, a thought that, in this place, he didn’t find very reassuring. Unlike this new nightmare, he actually loved summer vacation with a passion he held for no other season, not even Christmas. And mourned its loss, pining away for endless hours at work these past two summers. Time had seemed almost to stand still when he was a child, doubly so in summer. Which somehow seemed to last as long as the other seasons of the year put together. At least until the last week or so of August, when the gods seemed to press fast-forward. He would go to sleep one summer night, and the next morning Mom would be waking him up early and telling him that no son of hers was going to be late for school on the first day of the year, and, once upon a time, Dad telling him that fun was fun, but discipline was also important. Of course, Douglas MacLean was a man who also managed to have plenty of fun when he was off-duty, hunting, fishing, out-of-town vacations…

In spite of the dullness and complacence he resisted reflexively, he feared there was no time left for sleeping in. More and more certain was he that summer was passing into autumn, and Halloween would be hot on its heels. And something told him that he wouldn’t want to stick around for when the masks come off…

So naturally, he was in a hurry to test his new idea. With increasing frequency, he was plagued by nightmares about the guards capturing them, leading them away to a part of the mall he knew no one else ever got to see. Of being thrown out the “back door” into the void.

No return from 86… he thought and shuddered, wondering if it could be real, if that was what really happened to those who disappeared.
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