Me From Another World
They took the light with them when they abandoned Arlo tied up in the cell. Arlo didn’t care so long as they were finally gone.
He shivered on the ground, unable to feel or move. His mind was in pieces, drifting between memories and reality. His head throbbed and Arlo wish for death if that was what it took to make it stop. Then he wouldn’t be stuck in a dark cell, inhaling the foul stench of vomit on his chest.
So he lay still, senseless of time. He woke up once and quickly wished he hadn’t.
Arlo wanted to go home. He wanted to see his parents, his sister, and cook them breakfast. He wanted to enjoy his first and last free weekend of the summer before he started his new job. Then go out on a trip with his friends before he returned back to college for his second year. The late night working hours and the endless essays were better than this. Anything was better than rotting here like this.
But the other him that stayed behind, he would have all of that. Maybe that’s why it all happened; the other him wanted to trade lives and live free. Just what kind of life did this other him have to warrant so much hatred and torture? Whatever it was, Arlo did not want to take the fall for him.
With gritted teeth, Arlo pulled against his restraints. He groaned as he pulled with all he had and then sobbed when he collapsed again. Physical strength wasn’t the right answer now. So before falling into despair Arlo racked his head for a new idea. One way or another Arlo would return home.
All his fragile determination shattered the moment Arlo heard the footsteps. His body trembled and his head throbbed. It hadn’t even been that long since they left. His mind wouldn’t endure another session. If his voice worked, he would’ve reduced himself to begging.
Two people in robes lead the group in the narrow hallway. One of them opened the barred door and held it open. A bird person entered, smaller than the ones that dragged him down there but intimidating just the same. Her sharp eyes, one blue and one green, told him they would offer no mercy, and her drooped shoulders revealed that she reached the dismal conclusion of whatever thoughts ravaged her head. Whatever she came here to achieve would be done.
The trembling was worse now as Arlo shuffled back into the wall. The bird woman’s talons clanked against the floor as she stepped forward. When she stopped a few feet from him she crouched to meet his gaze and asked one short question.
Arlo had nothing to give her and that was the obvious wrong answer. With a shaking and bound hands he pointed at his throat. He couldn’t afford to lose this chance. They needed to communicate with one another.
The bird woman said nothing so Arlo traced letters onto the ground with his finger. He hardly got through a couple letters when he heard her sigh. This fleeting chance passed as she stood and walked away from him without a glance back. Instead she spoke to the others, human and bird people in armor like her.
No, that couldn’t be it. Arlo gripped onto the wall as he forced himself onto his feet. She didn’t even try to understand. They needed to know that they had the wrong person.
Arlo took a step and stumbled to a sudden dizzy spell. This wasn’t the same sensation as that after his brain was scrambled. Instead his head throbbed and his body felt heavy, like something under his skin wanted to burst. Sounds were distorted while the world tipped and spun and doubled. But he could make out the bird woman leaving. Ignoring the strange feelings Arlo tried to call out, reached for her, and fell again.
“Alright, Traitor. Time to get you fed.”
The words weren’t English. They weren’t any language Arlo recognized but he understood. Everything still spun. But if it wasn’t a trick, if he really had heard someone he understood, there was hope.
Hands grabbed him and dragged him to the center of the room where he was pinned down on his back. A person grunted while carrying in a large crate. It was dumped by his head and the impact blew dirt into his face.
“Are we starting with the big one?”
It was another voice, above him. It was certain now. Arlo could understand them! Whatever questions, he could do his best to answer without looking like he was trying to hide anything.
“Yeah,” another answered, the bird man who pinned Arlo’s shoulder down. “Doesn’t matter what he says now, he’s not going to live for long.”
The words made his face go pale. He hadn’t fought against their rough handling and he couldn’t find the strength to. They intended to kill him using whatever was in that box.
The woman who carried the crate in tore off the lid and tossed it aside. She reached in with a grimace and started pulling something out with quick, short yanks. Another soldier helped her and between the two of them they held a large, wiggling worm. It was as thick as Arlo’s wrist at least. The woman gave a dry laugh when she saw Arlo’s wide eyes. “Never seen one of these, have you. Well, we brought this one in as soon as it arrived.” The deep hatred surfaced on her face as she gave her order to the others. “Open his mouth.”
This time, Arlo did struggle. They had each of his limbs pinned. A bird man who held his head in place began to pry Arlo’s mouth open. Once he had a small gap he thrusted his fingers in and held his jaw open wide.
Tears streamed down Arlo’s face. The giant worm thrashed with enough force to make the soldiers handling it stumble. The woman had a tight grip at the end and brought it to Arlo’s face. Its rippled, dark hued body smelled like dirt. When it touched the side of his mouth Arlo wanted to throw up.
“I sincerely hope you don’t suffocate so soon.” The woman said in a low voice. “That way, when we question you when it’s in your belly, maybe you’ll answer. Then we’ll grant you a quick death.”
With that she shoved the worm into his opened mouth.
Arlo gagged as the worm wiggled to the back of his throat, and then deeper. He flailed as much as he could. He couldn’t breath, couldn’t fight, couldn’t back away to get the worm out of his mouth. Arlo bit down and broke through the worm’s skin. But the worm thrashed harder and warm, thick liquid oozed out of its wound. Arlo retched from the disgusting taste alone.
All that existed to Arlo was the worm that stretched out his throat and blocked all air. His mind was full of panic and death that he didn’t notice one of the soldiers pull out a pendant that had slipped out of Arlo’s shirt.
“How—why is this here?” he cried out. “Pull out the worm.”
Relief washed over Arlo too soon because the worm was determined to dig into Arlo’s body. They had to wiggle it out in pauses, and when it slipped from their grasp and shoved in with force, Arlo cried.
The worm was hardly out of his mouth when Arlo turned away and couged. As stuffy as the cell was, the air never tasted cleaner. Then the wretched aftertaste settled in and Arlo vomited.
By the time he rolled his head to stare at the dim ceiling, only one of the soldiers remained with him. “How’d you get the pendant?” The birdman yelled. When Arlo didn’t respond, he huffed and pulled Arlo up by the arm. “Don’t think you’re safe yet,” he sneered.
The soldier heaved Arlo into the crate with the worm. Arlo tried to scramble out but he shoved him back in and the lid was shut in his face. There was a thump as the soldier sat on top. Arlo banged in desperation, stopping when the worm started to coil around him in the tiny space. Arlo was forced to sit still, tasting the vile skin and feeling it in his throat.
Take deep breaths.
The thought came so suddenly that Arlo held his breath instead. His head throbbed but he made himself focus on the command. He inhaled deeply, held it for a second, and released it through his mouth. After a few more breaths he felt his hands, clenched tight, start to soften. The initial panic cleared out from his head to allow him to plan his next move.
Right. Although his hand were bound Arlo still had his legs. Just as the plan formed in his mind his body moved to act on it. Alro’s skin still twitched and he clenched his jaw every time the worm moved around his body but he still managed to lay flat on his back with his legs against the lid.
What he was supposed to wait for Arlo wasn’t sure. The wood creaked as the person above moved. Then…
Arlo kicked and the lid went flying, smacking the birdman on the back of the head just as he was standing. He rolled out and got to his feet with the worm still coiled over his shoulder and waist. Just as the soldier regained his senses, Arlo jumped and drove his knees into the birdman’s stomach. The soldier gasped and couldn’t regain his breath. With that Arlo shook off the worm and dashed out through the unlocked door.
His thundering footsteps echoed in the stone hallway aligned with cells. They were empty. At least Arlo thought they were because it was hard to see much of anything in the darkness.
Arlo slowed, his feet quiet as he reached a heavy wooden door. Of course there would be a guard stationed outside. But somehow, he knew what to expect on the other side. One guard stationed outside, and two more at another door ahead. But Arlo would turn left before he encountered the other guards. To the left there was a safer place, a hidden place.
With little time to reason how or why he knew this, Arlo went with it. The door before him opened out. Arlo gave the door a solid kick and crouched. As soon as it opened and the guard appeared, Arlo sprang and tackled her to the ground and made a run for it.
Up ahead was another door, but to the left was a corridor. Down the stone floor Arlo turned right and went up stairs in a dark hall. He fumbled to turn a knob and continued to run thinking he heard steps behind him.
He blinked at the sudden bright light that came from the enormous windows lined against the wall. Stone turned to wood and lush carpet muted his steps. Arlo’s eyes adjusted as he ran down more halls and up more stairs in the castle.
Servant with sheets turned a corner as Arlo dashed past and she shrieked. It was only a matter of time before others flocked to the sound and captured him again. But the servant...seeing her gave him a sudden idea and he changed directions. He was going to run up more stairs, then his destination popped into his mind: a bedroom.
Arlo came to it fast. He panicked when he couldn’t open it the first time. Once in he slammed it shut and sprinted forward some steps before he stopped. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do in this empty bedroom. Maybe he was supposed to hide, it was big and lavished enough. But it wouldn’t work. Arlo didn’t know why it wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t and that was enough for him.
Still, he looked around for anything that might help and his gaze stopped at a long wood panel with fancy engravings lined up on the wall. It was one of many identical ones, but this specific one was different. Arlo walked to it, all questions blocked from his mind to work faster. Unsure of what he his actions would accomplish he gripped the edges of it with fingers and pulled.
To Arlo’s surprise, it popped off and swung open to reveal a narrow passage behind the wall. Arlo climbed in and did his best to close it tight and took a moment to catch his breath in the dark.
There was something wrong. Arlo had never been here before, he’d never once stepped into a castle. Yet it felt familiar. Rather than knowing the layout, he knew what to expect from the halls and the rooms. And in the darkness, he felt young, adventurous, as if stepping into traces of memories that weren’t his. Could they belong to the other him? The light that took his voice might have left these memories. Maybe the other him took Arlo’s memories and left some behind in the process. After all, the last Arlo saw of him was him aiming a ball of light at his head.
Arlo pondered this as he shuffled forward. It was all a guess in the end. The people in robes messed with his mind in the cell too. It could be anything. But if Arlo these strange memories got out of this he didn’t care where they came from.
Too soon Arlo had to leave the hidden passage to climb stairs to the next one. Arlo trembled before he took deep breaths and snuck out, undetected.
Then Arlo stopped, sensing he was at the end of the journey. Before he pushed open the hidden door, Arlo strained his ears for any indication that he wasn’t alone. Even when he heard nothing, Arlo tiptoed out and closed the door quietly behind him. He was in a bedroom, dimly lit by the sunlight that phased through the closed curtain. It was larger than any bedroom he’d ever seen, with a king sized bed, large wardrobe, long desk cluttered with papers, pens and ink. It was a castle’s bedroom, but with the lack of personalized items, maybe a guest room.
Arlo relied on the false familiarity to lead him on and moved around the bed. Dread and an intense sorrow brought him to a halt before he saw the blood.
It was more of a large, dark mark but Arlo knew it was made by blood. Someone died in that room recently. With a sniff, Arlo blinked away tears that weren’t his and struggled to bring back the sensation that told him what he was supposed to do. He thought that he was supposed to get something, some object. Why else would he go up rather than down and out?
It helped to turn away from the dried blood. What he looked for, what would bring him safety, was in this room. Arlo scanned the area and his eyes were drawn to the wardrobe. He opened it and stuck his head in, aiming for the far corner. Using his shoulders Arlo pushed a wrapped bundle out and onto the floor.
The loud clatter in the silent room made him flinch. He took a deep breath as he inspected the object that rolled out of its cloth.
Arlo blinked, not really understanding what this long, rounded glass tube with green-blue light sparking inside was meant to do. It was whole, but Arlo needed it broken. Arlo needed to think of a place while he broke it and he would be there. I can go home!
The more he thought of his house, of his neighborhood, of the other him who shoved him to this world, the stronger the sense that it wasn’t possible became. The tube wasn’t enough, but it could get him out of the castle.
A creak made his body jump and he snapped his head up. In the shadows of the room stood a birdman looking up from his creaking step. Their eyes locked and a relief Arlo couldn’t comprehend washed over him. Arlo didn’t want to trust him, not a birdman and Arlo buried it under his fear and raised his foot. He wanted to be anywhere but there. He wanted to be somewhere no birdman could find him.
With that thought in mind, Arlo stomped his foot over the glass. At the same time, the birdman cried out, “Senna, stop!” and dove at him. They collided in a flash of light and then the room was empty.