“Your God isn’t being very helpful,” I said.
We had been watching the portal for the past hour as it cycled through a variety of locations, seemingly at random. Sometimes it would show alien landscapes, bizarre vistas that I had trouble even comprehending, like something out of a surrealist painting. Other places were more normal: a grassy field, a beach at sunset, an ocean, and yet even these always had something off. Maybe the color of the sky was wrong, or the plants just too exotic and foreign. Occasionally we even saw living creatures, although nothing I could identify, never any humans. And even if the portal showed us something that could possibly be home, what then? I’d have less than a minute to jump through, and even then there was no way to be sure it was the right Earth. And Harold was still out there…somewhere. I couldn’t leave without making sure he was okay.
Plus, I would need to deal with Scoria. Ever since I had realized what “God” was, Scoria had been acting strangely towards me. He had seemed relatively carefree compared to the other underground people, but now he was looking at me as if I was about to stab him in the back.
“What?” I asked, trying not to sound too accusatory.
He shook his head. “It’s nothing.”
“Okay…Cause if you’re going to go freaky cult on me, I’d like to know”
“I’m just trying to understand everything you’ve told me so far. You want to go inside God?”
“I, er, guess that’s one way to put it. Look…” I picked up some of the sand that had come through the portal. “You said God has ‘given’ you your material and tools. Well, it goes both ways. This sand came from an actual physical location by basically falling through a giant hole. Your clothes…well, I have no idea where they came from. Some weird 80s planet maybe.”
Scoria tilted his head, like a dog that doesn’t understand what its master is saying.
I waved my hand in the air. “Nevermind. Look, the point is, it’s a two way street. We can go through the portal and appear in the places it shows us. Heck, we already have.”
Something I said must have struck a nerve, because Scoria turned bright red. “I’ve never done anything like that!”
“You have, though!” I said. “You all woke up here, right? With a portal this big, it’s completely possible that you all just happened to get sucked up from…wherever you came from. Maybe even a dimension similar to mine, considering you look like-“
Scoria didn’t let me finish. “I came from here. We were born from God, he’s cared for us, and I have no reason to leave. And now you fall from above and think that you can just change everything.” He walked over and placed himself between the portal and me.
“Okay, but I do have a reason to leave!” I said. “This might be my only way home, and trust me, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life living in a cave.” I took a step forward. He was larger than me, and I was close to the point of exhaustion, but I wasn’t going to let someone block my one escape route (even if I wasn’t sure myself whether it would be a good idea to even use it).
But Scoria seemed to be distracted by something outside. I stopped and listened; it was distant but unmistakable. People outside were screaming. A lot.
Scoria glanced at me for a second and then put on his helmet and dashed out of the room…leaving me alone with the portal. For a brief second, I considered jumping in and hoping for the best. I had seen enough of this world to know that I wanted no part in whatever new nightmare was out there.
As if it’s going to be any better somewhere else.
Outside, Scoria had disappeared. In fact, everyone was gone. But the screams were coming from further back, closer to the main living quarters.
I’m really going to regret this, aren’t I?
As I headed back through the central archway, I could feel the tingling presence of the portal fade away. So that was the “holy ground” Scoria had talked about. But why did they feel the need to cover themselves when they were outside the portal’s influence? Was it just superstition?
Good questions, but I’d have to deal with them later. The screams had gotten louder and it didn’t take long to see the cause.
Across the city, people had been…drained. The collective stark whiteness of their discolored bodies almost hurt, but that wasn’t why I looked away. Across the floor, half-alive people crawled forward, sections of their body simply erased, as if vanished completely.
And in the middle of the chaos, the Janitor never stopped moving. With one hand he would drain the color from anyone he touched. The other hand, the one with the broom, finished the job, wiping them away like they were wet ink on a page.
Even if Scoria was still there, I wouldn’t have been able to tell him apart from the others. Everyone was still wearing those damn helmets…except for me.
I looked over at the Janitor and we locked eyes.
Then he began walking in my direction.