The alarm was going off, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. About fifteen minutes prior, Rose had rolled over and slapped the snooze button, not ready to wake up and face the day. It went off again, and when she reached for it, it was gone from the bedside table.
Reluctantly, Rose sat up, grousing at having to leave the warmth of her blankets. The morning autumn chill was there to greet her. Glancing around the room, she spotted it. The little black box was precariously perched atop her slightly ajar bedroom door. With a sigh, she got out of bed to retrieve the alarm clock that was still screeching away.
As she reached up for it, the door slammed shut of its own accord. Rose jumped at the sound and the clock fell to the floor. The screeching died instantly as the back popped open upon impact, sending the batteries flying. Rose heaved another short sigh. Yep, just another day.
Picking up the pieces of the alarm clock, she tossed them on her bed and went to the bathroom to get ready for the day. She did the usual morning routine; showering, brushing her teeth, and combing her hair. Wrapped in a towel, she went to her closet to pick out something to wear, only to find her clothes pulled from their hangers and piled on the floor of the closet. Rose made a noise of irritation.
“Kyan…” She uttered the name like a curse.
Ignoring the mess, Rose grabbed a shirt, a pair of jeans, and a brown hooded jacket to wear. The shirt in question was a Goosebumps shirt, which was gray and notably faded after three years of wear. It didn’t have holes in it though, and it still fit comfortably, and that was good enough for her.
She checked herself in the mirror, seeing bruising at the base of her neck and on her right arm. Even after a week, they still hadn’t faded completely. She pulled off the shirt and slipped on a thin, long-sleeved turtleneck underneath it. Perfect. She pulled on the brown hoodie to complete the ensemble.
As she was tying her shoes, her eyes caught sight of the glass cat statue on her dresser. It was a hideous thing, really. Its eyes were too large, its neck too long, and it was bathed in enough colors to make it look more like a peacock than a cat.
Aside from her miniature library of books and movies, it was the most important thing in that room. Probably the last remaining possession from her birth father, who left when she was still a baby. One year, while in the process of moving, her mother had been tossing out his things. Rose had rescued the cat from the purge, keeping it for herself.
After all these years, her mother didn’t seem to take notice of it, much like she didn’t seem to take notice of her own daughter. It was proof that, at one point in time, her father existed, and she liked to imagine that he loved her. She even liked to imagine that he had left it behind for her specifically. She’d probably never know for sure, because she was forbidden to even mention him around her mother.
Gingerly, she picked it up, feeling the cool, smooth glass against her skin, then gave the top of its head a small kiss. She placed the cat back on her dresser with care. Then, grabbing her backpack, she slung it over her shoulder and made her way downstairs to the kitchen area.
Her mom was sitting at the table, deep in conversation on her phone, bowl of oatmeal untouched save for the spoonful she was gesturing with. As Rose stepped into the kitchen, her mother’s body shifted in her chair so that she was effectively facing away from Rose. This wasn’t anything new. Her mother had been perfecting the art of avoiding looking at her daughter for nearly a decade now.
Shuffling around the kitchen in search of a quick breakfast, Rose found some bagels that had only just started molding. She picked off the gross bits and popped the bagel in the toaster. Rose then went to the fridge to check and see if there was any cream cheese left. The moment she pulled the door open, an egg fell out and splattered onto the floor. She groaned.
Before she could continue her schmear search, a blaring horn honked incessantly from outside. If only she had the choice to ignore it. Slamming the fridge door shut, she cleaned the egg off the floor and snatched the slightly charred bagel from the toaster.
As she headed to the door, she called out in a scripted voice, “Love you, mom.”
Her mom gave a short wave in answer. Or maybe it was more of a shooing motion. Either way, it was more than what Rose usually got.
Sure enough, Chad, her mom’s boyfriend, was waiting for her, lounging in the driver’s seat of a horrendous metal beast he called a truck. He might’ve been decent looking, if it weren’t for the pornstache and hair that was veering dangerously close to mullet status. Working on cars kept him in decent shape, but he always smelled of grease and tobacco. If only people could see the monster hiding behind the smile he was always sporting. The one solace she had was that after taking her to school today, Chad was scheduled to go on a week-long trip with his buddies, so at least she would be spared his presence for a few days.
Grudgingly, she walked over to where he was parked and reached for the back door. The car lurched forward and Rose snatched her hand back. She shot a glare at Chad who wasn’t even looking at her, but she could imagine the stupid grin on his stupid face. After a few moments she opened the door and moved to get in. The truck reversed this time, and she wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way as the open door slammed into her, knocking her down onto the sidewalk. Her chin painfully scraped the cement, but Rose caught herself enough to avoid any more damage. Chad wasn’t usually this public about it. Maybe he was trying to make up for the time he’d be away.
Picking herself up off the sidewalk, she tossed her bag in the back seat before climbing in as quickly as she could and slamming the door shut. Chad didn’t so much as acknowledge her existence as the truck leapt forward, pressing Rose back into her seat.
Her fingers brushed over her chin and a smear of fresh blood painted the tips. With a silent curse she dabbed at the stinging area with her sleeve. The brown would hide the dried blood. And, hey, at least, if on the off chance anyone should be bothered to ask, this time she could use the excuse ‘I fell down’ with absolute sincerity.
Rose leaned towards the window, watching the streak of houses and gardens steadily give way to business buildings and restaurants. The city itself was nice enough. It was decently spread out, not too industrial, and it had a good balance of all four seasons. Though Autumn had worn out its welcome weeks ago, having come early this year. Most of the trees had already surrendered their leaves, leaving them bare and skeletal.
A part of her, a very small part that wanted to cling to the familiar, was going to miss the place. However, the stronger part of her could not wait to get the hell out of this world. Away from her mom, away from Chad, away from that place she couldn’t even bring herself to call ‘home’.
Her first step was to eventually make her way back to the other world. After that, there was so much to discover. The idea was both daunting and thrilling all at once.
Chad’s truck screeched to a stop at a red light and Rose’s body jerked against the seat belt and her head hit the headrest in recoil.
As she attempted to readjust in her seat, something caught her eye. A short-looking man was wandering around the outside of one of the buildings. It was completely covered in tarping, as though there was fumigation going on. Curious, she watched as the man lifted one of the tarps, revealing a brick wall. Rose’s eyes widened as the man walked right through the wall and vanished from sight, the tarp settling back into place.
Rose’s heart leapt in excitement. Magic. It had to be. She tried to get a better look, but the truck pulled forward and the building was soon out of sight. She made a mental note of the cross streets.
By the time Chad pulled up to the school, the warning bell rang out and students began flooding into the building to make it to class on time.
“Thank you,” Rose murmured and quickly got out of the truck.
She heard him reply, “A ‘thanks’ is the least you can do.” Then he drove off, disappearing around the corner.
Jerk. Rose sighed in relief, feeling safer now that he was gone.
A breeze blew in, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t a negative degree wind chill. Rose curled into herself, hunching against the biting wind, keeping her hands firmly tucked in her pockets. As she walked, she couldn’t help but think back on what she’d seen earlier. A man who walked through solid brick. Undoubtedly, he was from the other side. If that was true, if it wasn’t just wishful thinking on her part…
To hell with school. She needed to go investigate. She could always forge an excuse note from her mom later.
Mind made up, Rose glanced around, seeing nobody save for the crossing guard who was heading inside, paying her no mind. Pulling her hood up, Rose crossed the street and started her trek away from school.
She backtracked to the cross streets nearest to the building. It wasn’t difficult to find. Even without the tarping, the structure appeared oddly out of place between the more corporate looking buildings on either side of it. It looked older, condemned, and she had to wonder why it hadn’t been demolished.
Rose glanced around, checking for anyone watching. There were a few people here and there. Most of them either focused on where they were going, or fixated on their phones. Turning back to the building, she went over to the area where she saw the man disappear.
Pulling back the tarp, she saw a very solid looking brick wall. Rose licked her lips, her heart pounding in excitement at the thought of returning to that place, of experiencing its wonders again. She knew it couldn’t possibly be that easy. However, there was still that fanciful part of her brain that wished otherwise. What was the harm in trying? So, taking a breath, she reached out to touch the wall.
Rose never experienced an explosion first hand. However, that was exactly what she thought was happening when she heard a loud booming sound and felt a wave of force that nearly knocked her off her feet. Car alarms went off and there was screaming. Her head whipped around to see what happened, and she was greeted by the second oddity she’d seen that day.
Across the street was a crater large enough to fit a small car. The shock wave had subsided and the few people around were cautiously approaching the crater. Some of them were pulling their phones out, then complaining they’d gone mysteriously dead.
Rose was baffled. Had a meteor fallen from the sky? Before she could cross the street to get a better look, there were shouts of surprise. Within the crater, a man stood up. He was covered in blood and his clothes looked worse for wear. But more surprising than any of that, she caught a brief glimpse of his ears. Long and pointed.
The man leapt from the hole, jumping atop one of the blaring cars and nearly tumbling off it. Then he propelled himself off the car and landed clumsily onto the ground before darting down the alley next to Rose. Unthinking, she chased after him.
First a man walked through a wall, and now this. It had to be related, and Rose was determined to figure out how. Plus, he was an elf. An elf who fell from the sky and then got up like it was nothing!
He was fast, but his movement was staggered and uncoordinated. Rose didn’t have problems keeping him in sight and was quickly gaining on him. Her years of therapeutic jogging through her local park were finally getting some use.
As Rose drew nearer to him, she could see his hair was pitch black and his ears were definitely pointed. He turned another corner, and she followed. He dashed across a street, and she followed, nearly getting hit by a pick-up. The driver honked irately at her as she ran past.
They’d covered a couple blocks and at this point Rose’s lungs were burning and she was sweating. She was used to long runs, not long sprints. However, she could tell he was losing stamina because the distance was closing. His movements were also becoming more erratic.
The elf glanced over his shoulder and spotted her not far behind him. He raised his hand, and a glowing blue rift split the air in front of him. There was no time to contemplate, no time to debate whether or not her next move was a dumb one. Rose used what was left of her stamina to take a running leap and tackle the elf from behind. The momentum carried them both through the oval of blue light.
One second they were in a city alleyway, the next, Rose was taking a hard landing in dirt and grass. She had no idea where she was, but she didn’t have time to focus on that because she was currently wrestling with an elf who was acting, for all intents and purposes, like a cornered animal. He tried to kick her off and elbow her, but she clung onto him.
“Calm down! I’m not gonna hurt you!”
He paid no heed to her words. However, instead of continuing to try to get away, he focused on attacking her. Rose grunted in pain as the elf flipped her onto her back. She stiffened when hands closed around her throat and began to choke her. Her hands grabbed at his, trying to pry them off while she struggled beneath him.
Rose looked up at him, and saw gray eyes surrounded by bloodshot red. Wild, fearful, feral. “Please…” she gasped, her eyes beginning to water, blurring her vision. The elf glared as he continued to strangle her.
A moment later she felt Kyan’s familiar presence, a warm rush that inexplicably always gave her chills. Then a powerful blazing sensation pulsed through her. Her body was a conduit of burning energy flowing through her hands and into the elf on top of her.
He froze, his eyes drifting shut for several moments, his grip on her throat slackening. When his eyes opened, they appeared calmer, no longer tinted with red. The elf looked at her, then his eyes widened in something akin to recognition and he removed his hands from her neck. Rose coughed and she took in a deep breath, and then another, her neck feeling very sore. Oh, great… more bruising to try and hide.
She flinched when his fingers brushed over her forehead, pushing her tangled hair away from her face. His eyes examined her, pupils the familiar almond shape of a full blooded elf. He was panting, sounding as winded as she felt. He looked so thin and gaunt. His hair was long, much longer than hers, and matted in places. His clothes were oddly human. A long-sleeved, black turtleneck, and what appeared to be army pants, both ill-fitted on his lanky frame. The most startling thing, however, was that his face was a bloodied mess, but she couldn’t find any signs of wounds on his dark olive skin.
“Could you… get off me… please?” Rose said between panting breaths. Then she realized she was still speaking English. She repeated the words in Tradespeak, the common tongue of the other world.
The elf quickly backed up off her but kept her within his sights. Rose sat up and assessed her surroundings. What she saw knocked her for a loop. They’d landed in someone’s backyard. A generous stretch of lawn with flower beds lining the house, a small play center for kids, and a large tree with a tire swing. Thankfully no one seemed to be home.
“How did we…?” Rose looked to the elf who was cradling his hands close to his body. The fingers were blackened, as though they’d suffered horrible burning. “You used magic, didn’t you?”
The elf was still staring at her intently, his eyes hardening at her words.
Rose sighed, rubbing at her still aching neck. “I dunno how long you’ve been here. But from what I’ve seen, you’re pretty freaked out. So I’d guess you’re not terribly familiar with this place?”
The elf looked away, eyebrows drawing together as he released a soft grunt. Weird… she wondered if he couldn’t speak. Then again, perhaps he just couldn’t speak Tradespeak very well.
“Can you understand me?” she asked.
He glowered at her before nodding.
She raised her hands in defense. “Just checking. Well, look. I know where you’re from, and I’d like to help you get back home.”
His expression became dubious.
“I’m serious. I…” She bit her lip.
It’d be so easy just to tell him, but then she’d be breaking a promise. Was there a point to keeping it though? Now that she knew Macklass and the others? Not to mention it had been years, and yet she was still here. What was the harm in telling a native from that world that she’d been to his home before? However, Rose decided against it. She didn’t want to further risk any avenue to possible freedom. So how could she convince him then?
“I know you don’t have any reason to trust me.” Rose took a deep breath before shaping her hands into the Sign of Greeting, a traditional elven gesture she’d been taught. “But I’m here to help.”
He stared at her for several long moments, and she wished she knew what he was thinking. Finally, he returned the gesture, seeming relaxed for the first time. Then he fell over.
“Oh, gosh! Are you okay?” She reached out for him, however, she thought better of it and withdrew her hand.
The elf didn’t move. He must’ve fallen unconscious.
“Kyan, can I trust this guy?”
‘Let me take a look.’
Rose hesitated, knowing she couldn’t afford letting Kyan do much more today without it taking a serious toll on her body. Her curiosity spurred her on and she hovered her hand over the elf’s head. Once more she felt a brief surge of force move through her.
‘He’s scared. He’s running from something. And he thinks he knows you.’
Rose frowned. She looked at the elf, trying to recall if she’d seen him before, but he didn’t look familiar. “Knows me, how?”
‘Dunno. I’d have to delve in deeper.’
The elf was clearly magically inclined. It was probably best not to try delving in further. “Do you think he’d try to hurt me again?”
‘I won’t let him.’
Kyan’s reassurance was comforting. Now she had a choice, leave the elf to fend for himself, or help him. He did try to strangle me, but then again, I did tackle him first… Rose thought about all the literal magic happening today, and for the first time in years, she felt closer to the other world. Longing tugged at her heart. She needed to see this through. This elf could either be the answer to all of her problems, or a barrel of new ones.
The elf stirred, letting loose a small groaning noise. His breathing was heavy and his hand rubbed over his stomach. He coughed, swallowing a couple times as he looked at her, exhaustion evident on his face.
“I’m guessing you’re hungry, huh?” Rose glanced about, once more ensuring no one was around. She pulled off her jacket and handed it to him. “Come on. Let’s get you some food. You can wear this to hide your ears.”
The elf pushed himself up, looking weary but determined. He took the coat from her, looking at it dubiously. He gave it a subtle sniff before slipping it on. He was much taller than her and had broader shoulders. So, even being a size larger than what was appropriate for her, it was small on him. Still, the hood covered his ears, so it’d have to do for now.
“Just follow me and stay close, all right?”
The elf sighed but nodded once more in agreement. Rose went over to the wooden fence and pulled herself up to check for anyone passing by. Seeing the coast was clear, she pulled herself up and over, dropping onto the gravel alley between houses. The elf followed suit, his movements surprisingly precise and graceful, only slightly stilted. It seemed grace was just an inherent trait among elves. Unless they were Jerome.
It took some exploring and looking at street signs for Rose to figure out where they were. The mystery elf had transported them to the opposite end of town. Well, no big deal. She considered maybe taking the bus, but chances were there would be far too many people and being surrounded would likely freak the guy out even more. She could always ring up Macklass or Jenkto to come pick them up. However, when Rose pulled out her phone to dial them, she hesitated.
Even though they were elves, and likely willing to help one of their own kind, there was no guarantee this elf would get along with them, or not cause problems for them. She didn’t need to give Jenkto a reason to kick her out.
Rose looked to the elf who was busy keeping a lookout, eyes darting every which way, twitching at any sound or movement. She wondered if he was like Macklass with his super sensitive hearing. The poor guy must feel so overwhelmed. She couldn’t just leave him to fend for himself. No telling how people would react if they saw him.
After considering her options, she decided maybe it was a bad idea introducing him to too many new people so fast. She’d wait until he was fully comfortable with her first. As much as she dreaded it, she would have to take him home with her. Just for a night or two. Chad would be away, and she doubted her mother would notice anything. It should be safe enough.
So, Rose found a small, nearby park which only had a couple parents with their toddlers playing. She called for a driver and gave them the cross streets. The entire time the two waited for their ride, the elf was restless and fidgety, and Rose could tell he was just one surprise away from bolting.
“Hey,” Rose said to him. He looked at her questioningly. “It’ll be okay.” She offered him an encouraging smile. “I’m right here with you.”
For a moment, he looked startled. Some of the tension left his body, his shoulders loosening and his posture relaxing. Then, as though catching himself, his face soured and he turned away, shoulders hunching and failing miserably to hide himself within the too-small jacket. Rose bit her lip to keep from laughing.
“Oh, shoot… We need to clean that blood off of you.” Rose shrugged off her backpack and pulled out a handkerchief and a bottle of water. She soaked the cloth with water and handed it to him. “Use that to wipe your face.”
Giving her a short look, he did so, cleaning the blood off until there was barely any trace of it. Some of it had dried in his hair, but it wasn’t that noticeable. Rose still couldn’t see any signs of injury. So had that been someone else’s blood? A small shiver ran through her, and she hoped that wasn’t the case.
He wordlessly returned her handkerchief and she carefully folded it up and put it in her bag. Even with the blood cleared away, Rose couldn’t recall ever seeing this elf in her life.
When the driver arrived, Rose opened the door wide and gestured inside. “All right, hop in,” she said, turning back to the elf.
He was looking at the car, and then at her, eyes wide, face pallid. Slowly he backed away.
Rose lifted both hands placatingly. “It’s all right, everything is going to be okay. I’ll be with you the whole way. Right here with you. I promise.”
Promises, she knew from Macklass, were a very big deal. You never made one lightly. The elf paused in his retreat, eyes focused on her.
“Do you want to hold my hand?” She asked, tentatively reaching a hand out to him. “Would that help you?”
His hand twitched up a moment, then he abruptly turned from her to the car and got inside.
Feeling relieved, Rose got in with him. Then she gave the driver the cross streets a few blocks away from where she lived, and they were off. During the ride, Rose noticed the elf was back to fidgeting, his eyes darting fervently all over the place. What the heck happened to this guy? And he still hadn’t said a single word.
By the time they reached their destination, it was mid-morning. Rose got out of the car first and made sure to give the driver a generous tip. No sooner was she out than the elf scrambled out behind her onto the sidewalk. Rose was ready to grab hold of him in case he decided to bolt again, however, this time he seemed less frantic. He was looking around, as though trying to figure out where they were.
Rose waited until the car was out of sight, before she led the elf to her house. Her mom was gone for the day, but she snuck in with little noise as possible, just in case. Once she was certain no one was home, she allowed the elf to come in after her.
“Make yourself at home,” she told him as she shut and locked the door behind them. Rose went around making sure all the curtains and shades to every window were shut. The mystery elf wandered the living room, aimlessly looking around, no doubt perplexed by everything he was seeing.
Rose went to the kitchen and pulled out leftover chicken salad she’d made herself, bread, and mayo. She fixed up two sandwiches, and filled two glasses with water from the sink. When she found the elf, he was resting on the couch, looking like he was ready to pass out again. Her ears picked up a faint grumbling noise that she guessed was his stomach.
“Here you go.” She handed him the plate with the sandwich and set the glass of water on the coffee table in front of him.
He cautiously picked up the sandwich, looking it over, giving it a sniff. Was he checking for poison or something? It was then she noticed his hands looked normal, the blackened burns completely gone. Weird… did he have healing magic? But then, even that would be difficult if not impossible to use here. It was why Macklass and the others were always so cautious about casting here on Earth: there was barely anything to fuel it.
The elf tore off a corner of the sandwich and held it out to her, his expression intense.
Rose stared at him. “What is it?”
He jabbed the piece of food towards her, making a snapping gesture with his teeth. Did he want her to try it first?
“It’s not poisoned,” she said as she took the piece from him. “But fine, if it’ll make you happy.” Then she popped the food in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed, making a show of it.
He waited for several moments, keenly watching her. At last, the sandwich seemed to pass inspection because he began taking ravenous bites. At one point Rose swore she heard a soft moan leave his throat. He finished it off in seconds. Then he grabbed the glass of water and guzzled that down too. A soft sigh left his lips and he slumped in his seat, appearing satisfied.
Seeing this, Rose cautiously pushed her own sandwich plate towards him. He looked at the sandwich, then at her, his gaze questioning. “I’m not hungry,” she lied.
He considered this before taking the offered sandwich and began eating, though with far less gusto this time.
“Why don’t I show you my room?” Rose suggested, standing up. She’d rather not chance her mom coming home early to see a complete stranger passed out on their couch. An elven stranger, no less.
The elf shrugged before getting up as well and following her upstairs. She led him to her room and once more ensured the blinds were drawn and the curtains closed.
“So, I know it’s not much,” she said, feeling self conscious. She’d never had anyone in her room before. Not even Macklass. Discarded clothes littered the floor. An open box of thin mints sat on her desk, as well as a bag of chips with nothing more than crumbs left over. She hadn’t expected to be entertaining anyone. “Sorry for the mess.”
The elf took a few cursory glances around the room before his eyes settled onto her twin-sized bed. Without a word, he shuffled over to it and collapsed onto the mattress, the half eaten sandwich slipping from his hand. His eyes shut and he passed out near instantly. The poor guy must’ve been running on nothing but steam the past hour. Rose grabbed a spare blanket from her closet and carefully draped it over him.
Even knowing that magic and a whole other world existed, she could hardly believe the day’s events. Now that danger of discovery wasn’t immediately present, questions buzzed in her mind. Where did this elf come from? Why did he fall out of the sky? And there was still the man she saw disappear through the wall.
Rose picked the sandwich off the floor and placed it on the nightstand by the bed, in case the elf wanted to finish it off when he woke up. She quietly shut her bedroom door and locked it, then preoccupied herself with sketching in her journal.
Her pen moved in quick, hurried strokes as she sketched Jerome trying to force beer on Macklass at the concert, the other people faceless blobs around them. Jerome’s smile was bright and laughing, while Macklass was sullen and withdrawn. The two really were like night and day, and the sketch lines reflected as much, with Jerome’s being light and thin while the lines on Macklass were dark and hard.
Rose couldn’t help but smile at the two, wondering what they would think about her harboring one of their own in her bedroom.
A soft snore reached her ears and she glanced up to see the elf’s face half buried in her pink comforter, blissfully calm. It was such a bizarre sight.
Rose flipped to a blank page, her pen getting to work. Deep dark lines defined the long hair. Lighter, smoother ones sculpted the face, reflecting the calm and peaceful expression. Except instead of blankets, Rose made the sheets look more like fluffy clouds. She looked it over for a moment, then as an afterthought, added a half eaten sandwich next to his head. She smiled. Perfect.
As she kept watch over her new guest, she wondered about what to do next, and how to possibly deliver on her words of helping him get home.