When I woke up, Tony was staring down at me with the most adorable face. He looked scared and worried but yes, how had I missed the loving way he always looked at me? Somehow, that best friend had grown up and turned into something else. As I woke up fully, looking around at the strange place we were in, it all came back to me.
His people were monsters, Tony was a monster. He had been using me all those years, he didn’t really care.
I jerked up a little too quickly, dizziness startling me.
Tony reached out a hand to steady me, I wanted to pull away, but I was too weak.
“Easy,” he said. “The transition phase can be rough if you fight it.”
“If I fight it? You can bet your mom’s prized pie that I’m going to fight it,” I protested. “Wait, do you guys have pie?”
“Yes, we have pie,” he said with a chuckle. Then stood up quickly. “Do you want me to get some?”
“I want you to take me home to my family.”
“Jess, it’s just going to be more painful for you to see them right now,” Tony said. He looked unsure as to what to do with his hands, I knew he wanted to comfort me, but instead he shoved them in his pockets.
“I know that, fix this so I can go home and be with them, like it was before,” I begged.
“I don’t know how,” Tony said. “Everyone who comes here… the humans they… they never go home again. I told you that. But the bright side is they have much longer lives here and we give them whatever they want.”
“You’re all monsters!” I yelled. “How can you steal someone’s life and force them into something they don’t want? You’re hurting people.”
“Look who’s talking! All your people do is kill each other,” Tony said, pacing around the room angrily as though he was caged. “Let’s think about the real monsters, shall we? Wars and shootings and murder are all throughout your history and your present time. It’s a bloodbath on earth. We sacrifice our families and our lives to transition to your world to help bring about peace.”
“Well, I’ve never killed anyone. We’re not all bad you know,” I said, standing unsteadily. He tried to help, I pushed his hand away.
“I’ve never stolen a life either,” he said quietly, calming down. “Jess, do we have to fight? I figured since you were going to be here now… we could start all over. I know your parents can’t see you anymore, but we’ll be together, Jess. You promised we’d be best friends forever.”
“Yes, when I thought you were normal and not a leech,” I said. I realized I had gone too far when I saw his face fall. It was too late to take my words back.
Tony walked out of the small room without another word and closed the door gently behind him. What more could he have said? Thanks to him and his sister, I would never be able to go back to my world. Honestly, my parents were all I had to go back to, there were no friends. I supposed Ms. Reynolds would miss me as well. If I could just visit them and explain I wasn’t crazy, everything would be okay.
I glanced at the room and was startled a bit. Tony had recreated my bedroom, it was a little creepy but sweet. I could tell it wasn’t mine because of the strange light everything in this world had, the same strange light that radiated from me now.
I showered and got dressed, amazed at the attention to detail even with recreating all of my clothes.
He had really been paying attention over the years. I wish I could just accept his love and live happily ever after, but what about my parents? They must be worried, to them I had simply disappeared. My dad would blame himself for not listening to Ms. Reynolds. My mom would cry and cry, she would think I had killed myself.
I still thought the ways of his people were over the top. They didn’t seem very peaceful to me sucking the life out of us.
I stepped out of the room and found a version of my living room from home and the kitchen. I almost cried, instead I fixed myself a light breakfast and ate quickly. Traumatic times were no excuse to miss the most important meal of the day if I was going to find a way out of here I needed to be ready to run.
I took some granola with me for the road and went outside.
The world was ablaze with color and that strange light. Everything pulsed and vibrated with life, people talked and laughed in the street like everything was okay. I could see which people were humans who had transitioned over. The light in us wasn’t as bright and we all still looked like we were trying to fit in. Except they looked more comfortable than me, they seemed to have accepted their fate. I needed to get out before that.
I took a deep breath and took one step forward. A hand grabbed my arm.
“Excuse me, Ms. Jessica,” he said. I looked over at him, he was dressed up in a dark green suit and smiled faintly. “Sorry, I’ve been waiting for you to wake up. I’m Tony’s father and the leader of this city. My name is Faroul. Will you walk with me?”
Feeling I didn’t have much choice, I nodded.
He guided me through the crowd. I couldn’t tell if he was treating me as a child, or if he didn’t want me to make a run for it. To him though, I must be a child. He seemed as though he had lived through many centuries, there was a calm wisdom to him that comforted me. Maybe it was because he was a father figure as well.
We didn’t speak until we had walked to the outskirts of town.
“I am sorry for what my daughter has done to you,” he said finally, staring off into the distance and not at me directly. “Tony had marked you to be spared. Chelsea disobeyed that order and mine as well. She was never meant for your world. Only true peacekeepers are selected to pass over, to make your world a better place.”
I stood, silently. I appreciated his apology, but I needed to be home. Not these words of regret. A tear slipped down my face. I was surprised when he wiped it with a handkerchief.
“I know how we must seem to you, child. But we choose the humans to bring over here very carefully, humans like you who are on the verge of taking their own lives. We give them a peaceful quiet place to recover and if the memories of their world are too harsh, we take them away. Most people learn to love it here without those extreme measures and I’m sure you can agree your world needs help in achieving the peace that we have here,” Faroul said, stretching out his arm to gesture.
“This is not the way to spread peace and there are other ways to cure depression and loneliness,” I said quietly. “It was enough for me, just having a true friend. But I lost him. And now I’ve lost my parents, I can’t get back home.”
Faroul nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “There is a way. Tony does not know of it, many people do not. I should also tell you, none of our people have made a switch in a very long time. Tony was the first to go out in centuries when he sensed you. He didn’t fool me with talk of the switch, he loved you from the start. When he saw you crying, always crying alone. He wanted to be your friend.”
“So, you’ve stopped the practice?” I asked, still not ready to deal with how I felt about Tony.
“This city has, there are other cities who do not care but… I have lived many years. My children are one of my joys, I could not imagine losing them. After we had Chelsea, I realized the pain that parents must feel when their children simply go missing, never to be found again. I tried to teach Chelsea and Tony a better way, hoping that we could leave your world alone and enjoy ours,” Faroul said, rubbing his forehead.
“I am sorry,” I said quietly.
“If you take the gem forcibly from Chelsea, she will die,” he said, seriously. “You also won’t be able to grasp it in this form. But in order to return home, you must get the bond back from her.”
“But… sir,” I said, not sure how to address him. “You would let your daughter be killed for my travel back home?”
“It would break my heart. I am only telling you of the ways. You can choose your own decision. There are other ways, if Tony uses his bond to her as her brother, it will put him in your world and he can get the gem from her. However, he can only use this to cross over once. He will be trapped in your world. Normally, when our people cross over they get a normal life span and retain the ability to change forms. But he will die quickly, in a matter of human years.”
I swallowed. “Is there any other way?”
“We are trying to find one now,” he said with a sigh. “We haven’t done a switch in so long. I fear that I will lose my children either way.”
“Why do you tell me this?” I asked, seeing the pain on his face.
“Because, for the sake of your parents, I would return you home,” Faroul said. “I know already that Tony would do anything for you. I only ask that you take care of him in your world, he will have nothing. All he will have is you and a few short years.”