Chapter 1:

The Other Him

Me From Another World

No one was supposed to be in the house. No one but Arlo in the lone kitchen, eating leftover pizza. His parents were out dancing and his younger sister was sleeping over at her friend’s house. They had no pets, no other relatives or guests in the house. So who or what made the sudden thump above his head?

Arlo put down his food and slipped off the chair as quietly as he could. His room was above the kitchen. Maybe someone broke in through the window to steal. Or it was a ghost, except that in the ten years they’ve lived there nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Or maybe something fell over, even if Arlo couldn’t think of anything heavy enough that could make that loud of a sound.

Arlo quickly switched his phone to silent and stared at the ceiling, straining his ears for the slightest creak. He couldn’t shake the feeling he wasn’t alone. Forcing his breath to slow he slowly crept towards the front door. His heart nearly burst when the door groaned as he opened it, but he managed to slip out and close it shut without an event.

Arlo jogged into his neighbor’s yard and looked up at his house, rubbing his arms in the cold night air. The window to his room was shut and the curtains closed. He couldn’t find a way anyone could scale up there in the first place. The wall was flat, with no trees nearby or any ridges to hold on to. If anything, his parent’s room with the balcony was the easiest to get into.

So then the question became, what now? Arlo was outside with his phone, unsure if this was the time to call the police when all he had to report was a sound he was too scared to investigate. He fidgeted with his phone, shivering as he stood in a loose shirt and exercise shorts, barefoot.

“What are you doing out so late?”

Arlo whirled around to see his neighbor come outside. Margaery and her husband were retired and lived alone in their home, often relaxing on the porch and eager to talk to anyone who passed by. They also gave Arlo and his sister candy and looked after them when their parents would be home late.

Margaery waved him over as she fixed the soft blue shawl over her shoulders. She was a large woman who looked much younger than she claimed to be. Though she had sharp eyes and stern face, when she smiled she was the warmest person Arlo knew.

Arlo walked onto the porch and looked back to his room. “I thought I heard someone upstairs. It was just a loud thump so I don’t know...”

“Did you see anyone?” Margaery removed her shawl and wrapped it around Arlo’s shoulders. She tied it into a firm knot before Arlo could protest.

Arlo huddled into the thin cloth and shook his head. “No, just heard something.”

“Then I’ll go look with you.” Margaery moved past him and stuck her head into her house to yell out, “Howard! I’m going next door. Stand out here and call the cops if something happens.”

“You want me to go out in the cold?” Howard yelled back.

Arlo rushed to Margaery. “You don’t have to. It’s late. Maybe it was nothing.”

“Nonsense child!” Before she closed the door again, she grabbed a cane. “Howard! I’m taking your extra cane!”

It would be embarrassing to go in and find nothing wrong, though Arlo hoped that would be the case. He was glad he wouldn’t be alone either way.

They walked to the front door, Margaery up front with her cane in her hand like a bat. Arlo shuffled slightly behind her until they got to the door and Arlo came forward to open it.

The lights from the kitchen were still on, enough for Arlo to find an umbrella by the door. He gripped the smooth handle and hoped his sweaty palms wouldn’t cause him his life.

Margaery wasted no time. “Anyone here!” She called out into the house. “Better come out now or sneak out the way you came.”

Nothing responded. As they moved about the house, Margaery prodded and poked the cane at everything. Into cabinets, closets, and when they made their way upstairs, under beds. Then they entered Arlo’s room.

Arlo swallowed and held out the umbrella, ready to hit whatever moved. But nothing was amiss. All the books were in their place on the bookshelf. The desk was cleared. The sheets on his bed right under the window didn’t have a single wrinkle. Except…on the other side of the bed where it met the wall, the tip of his tall lamp poked out fromunderneath. Arlo bent down, expecting a hand to grab him and pull him under but too stubborn to admit he was afraid. The lamp and the bulbs were intact and unscratched. Arlo lifted it up and fixed it in the corner of the room where it belonged.

Although the thump he heard earlier was much heavier than what this lamp could have made, Arlo gave an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry I made you come here for nothing.” After all, they found nothing odd. The lamp had to have tipped over after he bumped into it earlier and it just couldn’t hold itself up any longer. That was it.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s better that we didn’t find anyone in here.”

With an air of relief about him, Arlo accompanied Margaery back to her house where Howard sat on a rocking chair, watching Arlo’s house. They exchanged a few words and once Arlo thanked them, returned to their homes.

It was already eleven thirty. For an older couple, Margaery and Howard slept late. It was Arlo’s luck that they helped him.

Still, Arlo was doubtful in his own home. He locked the front door and turned off the lights as he headed up. “It’s nothing. It’s nothing,” Arlo told himself as he went through each room to turn off the lights that were left on in their search.

He closed the door on his sister’s messy room and went to his. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said as he turned the knob and opened his door.

He was instantly shoved inside and wound up hitting his chin on the wooden floor. His heart raced as Arlo twisted his body around and froze.

The intruder stood above him staring right at him. What terrified Arlo wasn't the intruders' blank, unhesitant eyes, but that they were Arlo’s eyes. It was as if he looked at a reflection of himself. Their dark hair, birthmark by their left ear, small frame, it was all the same. The only difference was the intruder’s clothing, wearing loose pants, short violet jacket, and long boots. If it was old style clothing, Arlo couldn't give the era.

The intruder rushed at him, not giving Arlo a chance to get away until he had a hand tight around his neck. There was a flash of light that left Arlo lightheaded and then grip was gone.

He was given a few seconds before the intruder pulled him up by the collar. Arlo blinked, gaze transfixed on the soft, light blue in front of him. Like Margaery’s shawl. As his mind cleared Arlo realized that they now wore each other's clothing.

Confused but not weakened, Arlo scratched at the hand holding him still to no avail. The intruder then raised his other arm which glowed with an intense white light. Arlo stared at it with fear, not knowing what would happen to him. He tried to yell but his voice made no sound.

The intruder held his glowing hand near his own head, said a phrase Arlo didn't understand, and he shoved Arlo away.

Arlo skidded back against a hard surface in the newfound darkness. The intruder was nowhere to be seen, and neither was his room. Arlo scrambled to his knees, his eyes scanning as they adjusted. He wasn’t in complete darkness, dim light emanating from the short candles around him. A shiver crept up his spine when he caught the black ink on the ground beneath him, connecting to the candles. Like a magic circle.

His face paled and he ran out of it. The rest of the place wasn't any more promising. He was at the end of a cave just high enough for him to stand in with no exit in sight, only a shrinking tunnel at the other end. However, there were piles of...something along the back. Arlo considered taking a candle but retracted his hand. There was no telling what might happen if he messed with the circle. Instead he squinted at the closest pile, about knee high.

With a soundless cry, Arlo jumped back as he realized that he stared into the empty sockets of a skull. It sat at the top of a pile of bones, a total of seven similar piles curved along the rocky wall.

Arlo ran. He left the light for the tunnel, scampering to his knees when it shrunk. The long boots guarded his knees, but the sharp gravel bit into his palms as he escaped the cave. It was a place of danger, of evil.

Then he was out. He crawled out from behind a bush and into the night. He stared at the still pond before him as the crickets sounded without end. During the day, the calm open grassland would've been peaceful, but now it was foreboding. With no idea of where he was or how to get back, not even the vast starry sky could look beautiful.

Arlo looked around him for anything, or anyone and spotted a large building above the trees not too far. With its pointed towers it appeared like a castle. He hurried towards it then stopped after a few feet. He tested out some words but again, his throat didn’t make a single sound.

The other him did something to his voice. But even if he could talk there was no telling if the people here spoke the same language. The other him didn't. If there were guards at the castle’s entrance, they might attack if Arlo couldn't explain that he wasn’t an enemy. Still, wandering with no plan was not the best idea. The castle would be plan B or C. He needed a plan A.

Arlo turned back to the bush he crawled from and broke off a few branches then piled some heavy rocks as a mark. Just in case, he would be able to identify it again. Then he looked around him for landmarks and started to make his way around the pond.

Maybe it was luck, or his formless plan actually did something, but the trees eventually thinned to reveal open ground and the edge of a city. It was difficult to see in the dark, but the structures stood close together. That was how he could get information. One way or another, he would find a way to communicate his problems. At the very least, he would find someone who would be willing to help him and lead them to the underground room as proof that something wasn’t right.

Flapping wings thundered above Arlo’s head. Large figures with enormous wings flew above him from the trees, speaking in a language he couldn’t identify. What Arlo did understand was their angry tone as they screamed. Then they dove down towards him.

In a panic, Arlo sprinted with the dread of knowing he would be caught. There was no place to hide, nothing to protect himself with. One tall figure landed in front of him with wings outstretched. The human face glared at him and screeched. Long arms for wings, pale legs that bent unnatural for a human ending in fierce talons—talons that lunged for him.

Arlo sped up and dove to the ground at the last minute to skirt past the bird person. But he didn’t get far after as sharp talons scratched his back and sent him to the ground. Hands and claws lashed out at him and he believed that they would tear him to shreds. Instead, Arlo was twisted and pulled to his feet. Distinctly, he felt hands along his back and something slip out from his waistband. The bird person wasted no time in thrusting the object into Arlo’s face, screaming at him.

Arlo blinked at the long object, tried to make out what the glinting thing was. When he realized what it was, he gasped and backed away. The knife was bloodied, and the blade thin and pointed. Did the other him carry that? Either way, it wasn’t Arlo’s. He shook his head and was slapped across the face and yelled at more.

Not finding the answers they wanted, the bird people started to drag him away. Arlo fought but was quickly stilled with a sharp punch to his stomach. As he tried to breath, they bound his body with rope, as tight as they could.

They talked above him until they started to flap their great wings. Dirt flew into Arlo’s face, but he held onto the desperate hope that maybe they would leave him there. The last one to take off gave a bounce and grabbed onto the rope with her talons. Arlo gasped as the sharpened talons scratched his shoulder.

The ground vanished beneath him as Arlo stared at the shrinking trees as he was taken up higher. He thought he saw a small section of the town but it was soon devoured by darkness. All he felt was the stinging, cold air. But he didn’t dare shiver. If he moved at all, he might be dropped and he was certain he wouldn’t survive from that height.

The fear and confusion churned in his stomach and all he could do was let the endless questions fill his brain with no way out. He was going to die. He was going to be eaten. He wanted to go home.

Suddenly, he was released and his heart must’ve stopped. But the drop lasted a second and he slammed onto a hard surface and rolled. The stars blinked before him, bright enough to blind him. The world rushed around him as he was dragged further on.

With a flurge of dread, Arlo peered up and was met with grand doors that opened to let them in.

They were just a step in when a small group of humans rushed at him. Relief at seeing humans like him washed over Arlo. It was shattered quickly when the humans in long black robes met his eyes with hateful glares. The closest one grabbed his hair to pull his head back and snapped a thick band around his neck.

They moved aside and Arlo was taken deeper into the castle, down a narrow staircase hardly lit by dying torches. They entered more doorways until he alone was shoved into a small empty room and shut away. Only then was it silent.

Arlo struggled to sit up. His entire body was sore, and his wounds ached. The blood was barely flowing to his arms. The band at his neck weighed on him. Any tighter and he wouldn’t be able to breathe properly.

For now, he was alone with the chance to try to make sense of his situation. There wasn't much to piece together except for the fact that they wanted something from him. Information that had to do with the knife. It seemed like they thought Arlo was the other him. His first task then was to explain this misunderstanding.

If the language was different, then writing was most likely out of the question. Drawing then? But how would he do that? Arlo figured he could try if they gave him the chance. One way or another he needed to get it across. Once they started questioning, they’d realize.

Arlo both dreaded and hoped someone would come soon. The longer he was alone, the more intense the pain became. He wanted to cry but that wouldn’t help him. If he thought it would get him sympathy, then Arlo would allow a few tears, but there was only contempt and hatred in every pair of eyes that met his. No one here offered anything but malice. So Arlo took a shuddering breath and bit back his cries.

The heavy door creaking alerted Arlo and he snapped his head up to the dim-lighted hallways past the barred door. Then the tall shadows slid across the stone floor. It had horns at the top of its head and Arlo gasped and scurried back. A demon, however, didn’t glare down at him with sharp, red eyes. It was a young woman with short red hair, scar down the side of face, wearing a large embroidered dress and a golden crown on her head.

She stood as steady and solid as a fiery volcano, Arlo thought, because with one look at her and at the guards that stood behind her with no hands on their weapons or poised to strike at any moment, he understood that she stood at the center of everything.

When she spoke to him through the bars in the same unknown language, her words were short and sharp. Even if Arlo understood them, he wouldn’t have been able to reply straight away.

I don’t understand, Arlo mouthed as he shook his head.

It was the wrong answer. The young woman sneered at him in disgust. Then she thrusted a large key into the door and threw it open. Arlo threw himself back in surprise when she stomped in and stood above him. Her voice was louder, more desperate as it cracked and she stopped talking altogether. Then she uttered a single word, so broken and sad that it clenched Arlo’s heart.

But Arlo couldn’t say anything.

The young woman huffed and turned away from him. In her place, a figure in black robes knelt before Arlo and placed a large hand on top of his head. The touch split his head open. Arlo screamed without sound. That touch entered his mind, searching for something with brute force. It lasted for a second before it was gone just as fast as it appeared. Everything was white and blurry, just like when the other him held his throat. But this time it was painful and left Arlo drained and with an intense headache. He didn’t even notice when he fell over until his vision cleared and everything was sideways. Amidst his labored breathing, he heard voices above him.

When he turned his head the young woman was gone. The person in the hooded robe knelt beside him. The shadows hid the person’s eyes, but the tight sneer was all too clear. The person held a hand and slowly brought it down. This time tears burst as Arlo choked on his soundless cry. The pain would come again and Arlo could do nothing to stop it.

Joe Gold