My Childhood Friend Pulled Me into a Fantasy World
It wasn't reincarnation. There are no runaway trucks in this story. Nor was this tale set in motion by a robbery or death of any kind. It was a billboard ad. A job. That's all it was.
Once you get out of high school, jobs are tough. It takes effort to find them and they don't ever pay well. And as a university student you're going between your school and your home over and over again. In university, it never feels like it's the right time for a job. In a few months you'll be in a whole other place anyways, so what's the point? And it's not like any jobs pay particularly well anyway.
But that's the thing. Because of sneaky capitalist interests, minimum wage has stayed the same for ten whole years. Nobody is making enough money. You have to get a job as fast as possible and keep it for as long as possible just to get by.
I've only had one job in my life so far. It was a shitty fast food chain. I worked the closing shifts. I would clock in at six and leave work at two in morning at the earliest. Every night—or morning—I would get home exhausted. My knees developed bruises from kneeling while cleaning my station and the bathrooms, and my legs would simultaneously lose feeling and scream in pain by the end of each shift. It was a workout. After any given shift, I drank so much water that I could down half a glass in one breath.
Despite my dedication, I was constantly scolded by my managers. Especially during bathroom duty. I would clean them as fast as I could while still being thorough but I still wasn't good enough apparently. I was a decent enough employee and gave in my one week notice. I'm not sure if that particular manager knew it was my last day, but during the cleaning she bursted into the restroom and snatched the supplies from me. She berated me for one final time and told me to just leave.
I was unbelievably upset. Being kicked out made it feel like I was being fired. My face flashed hot and I felt my eyes water. I wanted to say something but what was there to say? I was just not good enough for that job apparently; not fast enough.
So I closed out that job by being kicked out by one of my managers.
In the deep night of that small city I called home, I walked home trying repeatedly to rub the tears from my eyes. The streets felt empty. I could only hear the rushing wind and the click-clacking of a late-night train. Everybody was asleep; they had been for a long while. They slept as I suffered.
When I returned back to my home, I chugged water as usual. Once I sat down at the kitchen table I couldn't move for at least fifteen whole minutes due to the strain on my legs, so I just sat there trying to rehydrate and get the whole experience of that job out of my head. It was only for a month, but it was my first job ever. I had gone through interviews and trials to get this job and it just resulted in pain and a few paychecks.
I moved sluggishly up the stairs. Each step hurt my tenderized feet. As I finally made it up, I undressed down to my underwear in one swift motion. I tossed my clothes into the washing machine and set it off. I lumbered to my bed, fell onto it, and spent the next hour trying to fall asleep. I was dead tired but working had somehow put me in a state of being hyper awake. The last thing I remember thinking before practically falling into a coma was how unhealthy that job made me; mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Months have passed and I'm scared of going back into the workforce. I'm just not ready to put myself into something like that again. The money wasn't worth that contraption I was pushed though. I think many people feel that way too.
You shouldn't push people past a certain point. Capitalism thrives off it though. And with the current minimum wage and lack of taxes for the wealthy, everyone except the elite is suffering just trying to stay alive and well.
I fear each time I remember that I'll not be able to live like a university student for the rest of my life. The day where I have to live on my own fast approaches.
I really wish things were the way they used to be.
High School was rough. It was rough in a way university will never be. I never had a saccharine sweet high school romance either. It's too late for that now. But at the very least I could be secure and not have to worry about money.
Despite all the worrying and fretting over lack of money, I decided to take a bit of a staycation. Winter break would be all free. An entire month of just chilling.
And so on this particular day, December 20th, it took an inordinate amount of effort for me to actually get out of bed, brush my teeth, shower, dress up, and go to deal with the recycling.
My boots clomped down the steps until I hit the driveway. Luckily, there was no ice. This little city is in southern Ontario, close to the Buffalo border. But our city is hardly even a city. It's more just a highly populated urban area with decently "advanced" public infrastructure and a downtown area a bit bigger than a normal town. Compared to some of the middle-of-nowhere places down in the center of America, this place might be considered a city, but people here still opted to journey over to either Toronto or Buffalo if they wanted a real city.
My home is a "complex." It's actually a small three-story building with each floor belonging as a different residence. There were many of these kinds of residences, especially in the downtown district where I lived. My residence was on floor two. Lugging the recycling bin up and down every other week was a bit of a hassle, but the guys on the third story had it the worst.
And at the very least, the complex was decently brined, so ice forming even in the winter months was pretty damn rare, though it did sometimes form on the ground right outside if whoever did the brining happened to be careless. Luckily, they weren't careless this time. I may have spilled all of the recycling bin contents everywhere in that case.
I slowly lugged the blue bin out the street corner and placed it on the curb. The ground was sheeted one a thin layer of snow that was already melting away. That's always how our town was in the winter months. I looked out onto King Street, the street I lived on. A clean, black road cut through the center of the town, bordered by a variety of bricked buildings, mine included. The colors varied from grays to blacks to reds. Along the sides of the street were street lamps all decorated in various Christmas and Hanukkah themed lights.
The lights shone in brilliance as the sun rose behind me from the east in the pale blue sky. It was a time when few people would be awake. It was maybe seven in the morning. Which meant that I got to take in this view all alone. Even the offices along the street were in a murky sleep.
I had been taking in the view so intensely that I must not have been able to hear the footsteps coming up behind me.
"Hey, Riley! You're really putting out the recycling this early?"
I turned around to see a girl of about my own age. Her shoulder-length hair was a very dark blue with milky tips and her skin was creamy and perfectly clear. She was clad in a white coat and muffler; though through the coat, one could just about begin to see the contours of her relatively generous proportions.
She was a very pretty girl, as she had been all her life. I would know; she was my dear childhood friend, after all.
"Luna. It's you. Sorry, I'm still a bit sleepy," I yawned groggily. Despite already having showered, it seemed as though the cold was already enough to put me back to sleep. How carefree.
"That's okay! How's everything going with you?"
"Oh, uh. I actually am not doing much. I'm taking the month off as me-time." It felt a bit careless to say those words for some reason. I mean, I was telling that to a 'peer' or 'colleague' who was probably way ahead of me as it was already. I couldn't help but compare myself to my peers in that way and so telling them about the little I accomplished in the time since I last saw them always made me feel horrible. Now here I was, basically admitting I already failed. I got sheepish right after I said it aloud and scratched my cheek.
"Oh, I'm actually doing the same!" Her eyes lit up.
I felt the nervousness immediately lift off my shoulders. Whew, so I'm not alone.
Not like it was particularly surprising. At least for Luna of all people. She'd been by my side since we were babies, so maybe we were destined to be at each other's pace.
Even aside from that, she was the kind of person who would never change. Though, that was actually something that kinda made me nervous. She was the same as she ever was and—despite her definite appeal to the eye—hadn't had a single boyfriend last I had checked.
"So how's it going on your end? Have there been any guys at university that catch your attention?" It may have been a strange, roundabout way to ask her progress on that front, but I felt compelled to ask. It was one thing for me to not have a girlfriend, but Luna was a very popular girl. Not in the typical sense of prestige and attitude but in the sense that many guys had crushes on her at some point in middle school and high school. If we really were destined to be at each other's pace, then maybe I was holding her back somehow.
"Huh? Th-that again? Uh... no, not really. And in terms of classes, it's just the same old same old." She fidgeted. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, you've never had a boyfriend. It's kinda weird. Though maybe it's even stranger that it's struck me this late..."
"You may not know it, but you were really popular in middle school and high school."
"Oh. Well I guess a lot of boys did ask me out... Well, I rejected all of them."
"What? How come?" I was stunned.
"Why? Umm... Because... I just didn't want to go out with them. It would be weird."
"What has you so interested in my love life? You started asking when we started university but never before that. Why now?" She asked with an air of urgent curiosity.
"It's not just your love life specifically... More like... How do I put this..."
I wracked my brain for a solid seven seconds before abandoning it and going right for my concern.
"Be completely honest, Luna. Am I holding you back somehow?" I don't know how I managed to put that out there, but it happened in the moment.
Luna looked stunned. Perhaps the sudden weighty question caught her off guard. "No! I don't think you are! In what way would you be holding me back? Do you think you're holding me back in terms of my love life? Well, I mean..." Her response started off strong but tapered off near the end. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. She seemed so sure but even questioned herself a bit.
"I didn't mean just your love life, I just meant in any aspect, really."
Maybe that means I do play some small role after all.
If there was any chance that I was holding her back, then maybe I needed to make my own intentions of moving forward clear. For her sake, I spoke up, "I've been afraid to start dating but I think I should get on it. I've already lost a chance at having a romance in high school. I can't sit by and let chances pass me by."
"W-wha..." Her eyes widened.
"Well I mean... We're really gonna be adults real soon. I need to get a move on building my life; finding a girlfriend and getting a job. I was just thinking that you should too. That's why I'm worried about holding you back. I'm far behind all of our peers and I don't want to drag you down with me."
Luna suddenly tensed up all over, her eyes had widened. She looked like a dejected puppy.
"Luna?" It was then that I realized that saying that stuff had backfired. Was it too personal? Was it too strong? Probably a mix of both. Either way, I had seriously hurt Luna in a way I didn't realize could cause her harm.
For a few seconds, Luna seemed as though she was struggling to say something, but it didn't come out. "I have to get back home now!" Luna suddenly blurted, her voice quavering. Her dark blue hair, milky blue at the tips, bounced as she suddenly turned on her heel and ran.
"W-wait!" I scrambled to repair the situation. I felt a gaping hole in my chest as I watched her, waiting for her to turn back.
But she didn't stop. She kept running.
Dammit. Even when I was supposed to be enjoying my break and not stressing, I still somehow managed to fret about it. And I even made Luna nervous about it too. In such a damn short conversation, no less.
I really am an asshole.
Luna ran along the empty street, panting heavily. She knew she was going to cry and she had to get as far away from Riley as possible.
He wants to find a girlfriend and get on with his life, but...
But what about us? Was I just stupid? Am I crazy or something?! I know it's selfish, I know it's mean of me to say, but I don't want you to go out and find a girlfriend! It hurts so much when you talk about our futures like it just makes sense that they'd be separate!
In the twenty years she had lived alongside Riley, she had always carried deep feelings for him. The two first entered each other's lives at only a few months old. Their mothers had met each other by chance and bonded over the struggles of pregnancy and motherhood. Becoming fast friends, their mothers still stayed in touch all the way up to the present day. As they struggled through motherhood, they would frequently spend time together.
Naturally, Riley and Luna grew up together, always being a part of each other's life. Their interactions lessened as the years passed, but they were inseparable when they were younger.
During this time, as she learned more and more about what would happen in her future—milestones like marriage and having her own children—she had always imagined Riley with her. It may have been presumptuous, but a child wouldn't know better. She hadn't questioned herself until the topic of university came around.
It was a given that the two would be by each other's side all the way through high school. But when higher education rolled around, Luna's future began to diverge before her very eyes. The moment Luna heard that they had accepted the offers of different universities, the idea that her future could be incorrect finally occurred to her. Maybe she also wouldn't end up with Riley after all.
But she reasoned with herself that if she could just end up with Riley, all would be well. It wasn't about being right about the future, but getting the happy ending she pined for. It just so happened that the happy ending she sought was projected as her future by her younger self. It seemed like the logical conclusion at the time.
But the idea of ending up with her childhood sweetheart was itself getting unstable. All of the deep emotions she had felt for Riley over her entire life were stirred by the words he had said.
The soles of Luna's boots clapped along the ground slower and slower. Luna eventually stopped completely and wiped away her tears. They kept coming. She slowly walked to the curb, seeing through her blurry vision. The mist of her warm breath hitting the frigid air was just barely visible to her, as were the street, sidewalk, and parked cars.
I... I'm really a total wimp, haha. In reflection over how short their conversation was and how fast she had fled, that was the conclusion she came to. It was a conclusion she came to about herself every so often.
I really want to go back and apologize for reacting like that. But even so, I can't. I really should go; but, at the same time, it's impossible. How would I even approach him after that stupid freak-out?
"Sorry, I just had to take care of something!" He wouldn't buy that. Nobody would.
I wish I stopped hindering myself...
In the frigid air that didn't care about this small misstep between her and Riley, Luna walked on. She stepped along the sidewalk—in the opposite direction of where she felt she should go.
In the grand scheme of things, this interaction was nothing more than a small bump in the road. It was a rock that only scratched the surface of the glass on a microscopic level.
But at the same time, it felt as though they didn't know just how much damage this interaction had caused. They didn't think it caused serious damage, but their eyes were closed nonetheless.
Though, while the damage was microscopic, it would impact their relationship in a profound way.
Luna and Riley—
The future bore down on them. The impending struggle, all the hardships ahead, the fleeting hope that maybe their goals could one day be achieved.
They worked hard. They were good, if not a bit awkward, young adults. The problem wasn't them; no, not at all. The problem was their world.
Their world was an unfair one ruled by individuals who couldn't care less about the rest of the world. Not only that, it was a world where strength of will meant nothing. Even if you had the strongest will out of all of humanity, you could easily be stopped by obstacles you have no control over.
And so it appeared before her—
Luna walked along he sidewalk dejectedly. She wondered how something as simple as small-talk could have gone wrong. On top of that, she had to just head home rather than finish what she was doing.
I have to cut my morning walk short, I guess.
She could have walked a different route to make up for it, but in her moment of self-doubt she felt as though she should just curl up in a ball under the covers of her bed as soon as possible.
Yet, as she walked the route she came, she noticed a billboard ad she wouldn't have—couldnt have noticed before.
It was an ad. It read: Now Hiring! Limited spots, physical labor, high pay. Call the number below! Spots guaranteed!
Luna stared at the sign for a moment as her cloudy eyes sharpened. She thought for a second about what Riley had said about the future and securing a job.
Before she knew it, Luna had reached into her pocket, pulled out her phone, and entered the number on the keypad screen.
The sentiment behind the words was something she still felt hurt by several minutes later. But at the same time, Riley wasn't wrong about needing to secure a stable future. It was a simple fact of life. A stain on the world they just so happened to be native to—in their time and place.
Luna stopped her finger before it could touch the call button.
A guaranteed job with high pay and guaranteed spots... That's way too good to be true.
Luna furrowed her brow as the last of her tears dried up.
This is totally a scam.
If only they hadn't the need to waste so much of their precious time just guaranteeing their futures be fine rather than truly living.
If only—then she wouldn't have felt the need to press the call button despite how shady the job sounded.
The green call button had barely shifted to red when the world around Luna crumbled, the last specks sprinkling into a vast void of black. There was no ground, yet Luna was standing on some surface in the pitch black. Only her body and her belongings kept their illuminated state as she stood in shock, eyes widened in surprise more so than fear. She hadn't had the time to compute any implications of her world crumbling
Then some lights came on. They gradually revealed the structure of a room coming into existence. The glorious green and pink crystal chandelier hung above like an aurora. The rest of the room was hit by the atmospheric lighting. A room about the size of the dining hall at Luna's university was what came from the shadows. The floor was tiled in marble squares that must have been polished to hell and back—it even reflected the ceiling above.
Luna turned to the far end of the room.
And then—She appeared.
A tall woman with the physique of an ancient marble statue appeared on the now illuminated throne at the far end of the room. Her pale pink hair cascaded to the bottom of her shoulder blades. Adorning her body was immaculate red and blue jewelry strung together running down from her neck across her torso. Underneath that was a thin, white cloth dress. A somehow dignified, yet casual wear. Her red eyes burned underneath her lazily drooping eyelids. Yes, she was tired. Whether sleepy or just mentally exhausted, not even she could answer.
"So, you called the number I put out? Good. That's the last one, I think. So, I guess I gotta explain this to you too... God, I've explained the sitch so many times!" The woman droned and moaned as she lounged on the large, cushy chair. She uncrossed her legs and crossed them again in opposite position. Her large breasts shifted just slightly under her gown with the adjustment.
Luna was stunned for just a moment, briefly mesmerized by the motion underneath the woman's dress. She then shook it off. "Hold up! Who are you? Are you the—uh—employer? For this 'manual labor' job?"
"Yeah. I'm a Goddess. My name is Dominia. You're working with me now. Feel free to use that coat rack behind you."
Dominia pointed behind Luna to a mahogany coat rack that very much did not fit the decor of the room, but it wasn't like Luna was going to criticize an actual Goddess for her taste in interior design.
Luna simply hung up her coat, as such was a formality.
"Weird location for a manual labor job... A magical throne room..."
"Don't tell me you thought that you were going to be moving boxes. That would pay like crap."
"Wait, so it's not? Then what the heckie am I in for?!" Luna's eyes widened as she broke into a cold sweat.
"Chillax, it's actually a solid deal."
Luna calmed down and perked up.
"Basically, your job is going to be 'being a legendary hero.' You're going to go to a fantasy world and fix that shit. It's a total mess. There's like four giant evil superpowers ruling most of the world and it's just a shit-show. These poor bastard civilians are just kinda fucked, which is why I'm hiring people. Anyway, you're going there to help them and I'm giving you a lot of fucking money in return."
A fantasy world. A world without Riley.
While Luna had been at university away from Riley for some time, their meeting just made her realize all the more how much she missed him.
Luna wanted Riley by her side. She felt as though she needed him in order to get through her biggest ordeals. She needed her end goal attainable for her will to come through. A world without Riley wasn't somewhere she wanted to be.
But then Dominia spoke:
"I'll also let you bring one thing with you to help you in that tough beginning stage. Y'know, beginner's luck is just bullshit spouted by jealous assholes. This is reality, my friend—well, fantasy reality..."
Dominia paused for a second, catching the irony. Luna was buried in her own dilemma, brow furrowed.
"Ignoring that shit, it could be anything from a metaphysical concept to a physical object. I could give you the legendary blade Excalibur if you so desire it! Or cheat abilities!"
Luna spat out her question forcefully, tense. "Could I bring a person?"
Dominia answered immediately, "Yeah sure, but cheat abilit—"
"Then I know who I'm bringing! My friend Riley has to come with me!"
Pausing for a second to process everything—and give an annoyed sigh, Dominia then raised her hand into the air. Pink lines began to glow across her raised hand. Suddenly, a single spark flew from her palm at the ground in front of Luna. The spark immediately spread into a large, complex-looking magic circle. The circle's light grew brighter and brighter until—
My scenery suddenly shifted from my home to some sort of throne room you might see in a video game or fantasy novel. As a few seconds went by and my senses came to after the sudden shift, my vision sharpened. The whole place seemed almost too real. More real than real life.
I was facing some kind of altar or throne. A beautiful woman with very light pink hair and a lazy air shifted in her seat a little.
Before I had the time to say anything at all, I heard a familiar voice behind me. In fact, it was one I had heard not long ago at all.
"Hey, uh, sorry about running off on you."
I turned around to see Luna, same as ever. She was averting her gaze slightly.
"Don't worry about it. It was my fault for being a pushy asshole!"
"God, I can't hold a normal conversation! I really feel like shit!" She smiled awkwardly.
"No, no. I was getting all stressed about shit and asking you dumb questions that don't even matter. Let's just put that weird incident behind us."
"So," I cleared my throat and took a breath. "What the heck is all this?!" I threw out my arms theatrically.
Luna tried to formulate an effective way to summarize the situation to me, or so it seemed.
However, the woman stole her opportunity.
"I'm a Goddess. My name is Dominia. Basically, your friend here signed up to be a legendary hero in a fantasy world for some cold hard cash."
"I put a billboard ad out."
Luma chimed in, "It looked like a total scam!"
"And you still called?"
Dominia clapped her hands together half-heartedly.
"Lemme finish, you bastards. Basically, I gave her the choice to bring anything to the fantasy world and she chose you. You happened to beat out cheat abilities somehow."
This is all too sudden and weird, but I'm in this weird room all of a sudden with this weirdo in front me. She doesn't seem to be lying and there's no contradictions...
In fact, if this is true, it's actually pretty cool. I may as well go along with it.
"So how long should it take? Won't people notice we've gone missing?" I asked.
Luna jumped, "I hadn't even thought of that!"
"Don't worry. I don't know how long it will take you, but the difference in the flow of time between these two worlds is so great that literal years in the other world is mere seconds in yours. It's an irregularity that started very recently. Luckily, time doesn't flow in a straight line here in my dimensional pocket, so I was able to get out that ad before it happened."
"Confusing, but okay..." Luna whispered.
Dominia got off her throne and walked until she stood in front of us.
She finished, "And you two will be rewarded $80,000,000,000 each for a job well done."
Luna and I stood shocked, processing the amount of money on the line.
"We've struck fuckin' gold!!"
We weren't particularly iffy on the job beforehand. But if we had been, all doubts were gone now. This would secure our future. This one job.
"But listen. If your friend isn't taking the cheat abilities, I'm not gonna sleep well at night with her out in the wild of that world. Oh, who am I kidding, I'm always going to sleep well! But you get the point, I'm just gonna give you some information abilities so you don't fucking die."
Dominia then leaned into my ear and whispered.
"Just keep that weirdo in line. I'm getting some weird-ass energy from her and I seriously do not vibe." She lifted herself back up and made her way back to the chair and plopped down.
"Hey, what'd she say?" Luna whispered into my other ear.
"Nothing important. Just her opinions."
Dominia spoke up, "My opinions are important. I'm God."
"So what are these information abilities?" I inquired.
Dominia sighed, "Basically, you have a map of the world. But the specifics aren't filled out until you get in range. It's in your head so you can manipulate it how you like. View it as a flat projection or as a sphere, which is more accurate."
"Alright, one last thing before you get started. You can't go over to the other world in that getup. People will get weird. You know how xenophobia is. Funny little thing. Causes genocide and whatnot."
"Laying it on a bit light there..." Luna quipped.
"Here's a fresh, new fit. And by fresh, I mean devoid of any personality. Be glad influencers don't exist in this fantasy world. I'll hold onto your stuff until you get back."
Dominia thrust out her hand and a flash engulfed the room.
On our bodies appeared some clothes made from basic-looking cloth, a few light armor pieces, and a sword for Luna with a staff for me. Looked like I was going to be the healer. I took my staff off my back and held it in my hands. It looked basic, but even basic looked pretty magical for a guy like me.
I looked back up at Dominia.
Dominia smiled. At first, I thought it was because of our drive. Thinking back on it, she probably was glad that she didn't have to give her whole spiel to anybody anymore.
The Goddess raises her hand and a magic circle appeared underneath us.
"Good luck. Don't be afraid to give a shout if you need something... Actually I don't like to be bothered, but if you really need guidance or if you're about to die, you can call me but I've got work to do up here watching both your world and the one you're going to. Anyways, you're off. Godspeed or whatever."
My childhood friend and I were cast down to a mysterious, unknown land in order to do a job we had no skills in, no knowledge of, and hardly any guidance at all.
"Wait, this isn't a deal at all!! This is just a normal job, but bigger!! And impossible!!"
The light of the magic circle enveloped both me and Luna as my consciousness shifted.