Chapter 3 - A Faded Reality
A distortion of sounds vibrated throughout my ears. Screams. Crashes. Laughter. An array of color washed over my vision. Each color intertwining to create blurred images, but only for a moment. Buildings crumbled and skyscrapers ascended. Movement of scenes crafted in my sight. Unfamiliar worlds, objects, people. My perception of reality unable to keep up with these foreign complexities.
My forehead creased, overwhelmed by the displays. The lights. These images. Sounds. My eyes squinted from the escalating wiring that pierced my skull. Pulsing through my ears.
The tension in my arms and legs disappeared, no longer bound by restraints. My body spiraling into a free fall. No machine, no restraints, no one. Just me...
Suddenly, my feet hit solid ground. My insides folded at the skin once my body slammed against a metalic building. My lungs faltered due to impact. Hands scraping against the uneven pavement below. A puff of air escaped my lips, visible in the chilly air. Aches covered my body as it laid still on the ground.
The bitter winds coaxed my chapped lips. The building beside me, washed in a gloomy gray, rose several stories high. It’s architecture unusually glossy. What part of the city had buildings this, strange? None that I could remember. Even newspaper articles of Wall Street never depicted anything... Like this.
A smudged reflection stared back at me, it’s face bruised with thick brows curled by confusion. The sky still rumbled a dastardly storm, dulling the oranges and pinks that waltzed across the evening view.
An alien noise rang throughout the alley. Sharp and unsettling. Like a lamp breaking from it’s coil. Unsettling in the way a heated kettle wires on completion. Fearful curiosity crept into my conscience, an itch in my brain urging me to investigate- BEEP. My back arched forward, startled by the noise. A soft moan escaped my lips as aches hugged several bruises. The harsh redness pressing into my stomach. Staggering to my feet, I brushed off the gravel that clung to my clammy hands.
A cut surely laid beneath my pants, the dirt caked onto it’s already browned shade. The pain straining my muscles tested their will to function. The time between roaring engines came to a close once I limped out of the alley. The city looked; wrong. The people around me, looked even worse.
Their pants tight-fitting with bleached ends. Some of which were ripped to shreds, although these rips didn’t showcase poverty, in fact, it seemed to highlight a sense of wealth. Women wore.. Pants? And no man objected. I only spotted a singular woman wearing a dress, which raised incredibly high to her hips.
Not that I was looking in a perverted way!!
Just, these people were dressed oddly. All of them unique in their own ways and displayed an array of colors, some of which were new to me. Unfamiliar.
A couple’s laughter drew my attention afar, where a white woman held hands with a... Black man. My heart stopped dead as my jaw dropped. What were they doing?? I scanned the surrounding frantically, praying no one was looking. Their love was going to get them killed. Or at least the black man.
Occasionally you’d hear stories of black boys hittin’ on white girls, and it never ended well. My panicked searching quickly died once I observed the behavior of onlookers. All who exchanged tolerant nods. No, it was more than that... Accepting nods.
The couple’s hands linked in unity. His dark skin glowed in the orange light while her's shimmered. I found myself captivated by their contagious laughter and blissful smiles. In public. My heart pulsed with pride. Mama and our neighbors would always talk about unity among races. But they just meant economic equality, not social integration. But this... This was intimate. Whatever city those drunks took me to warmed my heart. I wished the rest of the world could witness this beauty. This was the normalcy I strived for.
I couldn’t help but be drawn to the woman’s clothes once again, which were way different than I’ve ever observed. Her clothes incredibly revealing, wearing blue pants that hugged her curves while the front of them ripped strategically to reveal her pasty skin. Her white shirt tied up just enough to expose her belly button, and lowered just enough to avoid the revealing of breasts. My breath hitched at the sight. Not that it did anything for me! But... What society have I stumbled upon that allowed both women and men to dress in such revealing pieces?
This couldn’t be real...
The attention shifted to the buzz within the surrounding area. Most people’s heads hung low, attached to these rectangular boxes within their palms. A soft light highlighting their features as they lined the sidewalks.
Some poked at it, others spoke into it like a friend. I began to recognize a pattern among these individuals; those talking into the box had small, white, oblong pieces protruding from their ears. Many seemed to be swaying their heads back and forth, seemingly unaware of their surroundings. Soft music played as a stranger with these pieces hurried past me. Gripping my collar with desire I stepped out of the alleyway, in the midst of a crowd. People gave me weird looks as they passed but I couldn’t have cared less. The fascination of their detailed patterns and strange habits enthused me much more.
“Are you lost?” The unwanted touch from a white man pulled me back to reality.
His bulky face contrasted his lean figure. “No sir. Thank you for asking.” His cold eyes prevented me from brushing past.
“Are you sure?” The stranger inquired again, taking a step to violate my space.
My heart dropped, the wonders of curiosity vanished. “I’m positive, good sir. Thank you for your concern.” I nodded abruptly before turning the other way.
Pushing all pain aside, my pace began to quicken with the increasing speed of my heart rate. No white man every sincerely asked a black man if he was lost. A hollow feeling coiled around my throat, persuading me to get lost in the crowd and as far away as possible. A light breeze from the autumn air swept beneath my coat, lifting the ends in an angelic manner.
This chaotic society began to overwhelm my senses with its constant noises bustling about, every direction strung another string of vibrant lights. Some so bright my eyes began to water, forcing me to view through a squinted lense. These unnatural lights contrasted the natural tones of the earth, what was left of it anyway.
Droplets of rain splashed down onto this concrete jungle. Mist cascaded down the towering buildings, transforming the world’s lense in a golden hue. Ironically, the rain washed away my troubles, offering temporary comfort in this unusual situation.
A weight tightened around my wrist, jerking me back. “I think you’re lost...” My eyes now greeted with the crooked smile from the stranger, “Raymond Walters.”
He was one of them!
Yanking my arm, I managed to lose his grip. Thoughts scrambled my brain as the pace beneath my feet turned to a run. Weaving through the masses, onlookers appeared concerned. But not enough to care. He was after me. They were after me. THUMP THUMP. I felt my heartbeat in my neck. Consuming tunneled vision with panic. Heavy panting escaped my lips. Not... Used... To- BAM!
My body collided with another, tossing me to the ground with arms outstretched. Wheezing for breath I noticed a honey-toned woman beside me. Her cocoa eyes reeled from the interaction with her long, tailed coat beneath her with scratched knees.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am!” I frankly apologized, noticing the contents of her purse scattered about. Pens, documents, makeup...
She took a second to fix her flawless afro with perfectly manicured nails before cleaning the mess. Her shock transformed into concerned lips, “Are you alright?” She stood up.
“Yes of course ma’am..I uh..” My gaze shifted from her freckled complexion to the man in pursuit. “My apologies. You have a good day!” I stuttered, turning into a full sprint in the other direction.
The soles of my shoes burned as I slid into an ally. Attempting to escape. But I failed. The stranger followed and cornered me. My lungs burned as they screamed for air. Energy pulsed through my hand but nothing would form. No light. No hope. I yelled to myself, praying my light would arise. Nothing. I couldn’t escape the first time, I won’t be able to escape a-CLICK. The daunting familiarity of a loaded gun resonated down my spine. The white man smiled, taking a leisurely step forward.
“You’re even more pathetic than the rest,” He watched pitifully at my attempts to call my light. “Usually, they’d pick up a fight. But you... ” He took another step, “Are too weak to fight back. But that’s okay...” The cold metal pressed into my forehead. “We can change that. You’ll be reborn. You’ll beco-” THUD. His speech cut short as he dropped to the ground, unconscious.
The woman from before stood in his place.“That was too close.” She looked me in the eyes with her freckled complexion, almost disciplinary.
I turned to run, but my bruised limbs failed me. “Hey,” She approached with haste, “Hey...” My quivering lip caused a shift in tone. “I’m not here to hurt you.” Her slim figure now kneeled in front of me, a sympathetic smile displayed across her facial features. “Or I would have been on Mr. Monolouge’s team..” She chuckled to herself, glancing back at the intruder.
I remained silent.
Her bright smile faded once she turned to me. The woman’s forehead creased as empathy poured from her eyes. “Blake Talyn.” Blake extended her well manicured nails, finally close enough for a handshake. That bright smile of hers naturally reappeared.
I stared blankly at her hand.
“Well, I can’t quite help you if you won’t let me. At least tell me your name?” Her words were kind and soft, different from these various white men who put me here.
What exactly was, here?
I agreed to take Blake’s hand, causing her cocoa eyes to shift. And not in the typical way, but they flickered with, agony? Anxiety... Fear. Hazy like the sky above. Lingering only for a moment and then, gone. The intimacy of the movement dwindled once her hand broke away. Blake’s body shuddered as she stood up, pressing her thumbs on the hem of her tan collared jacket to straighten it.
Her humble presence coaxed my bewilderment. She saw through me as if I were a transparent paperweight. Or maybe I was just really bad at concealing my emotions... It was more likely that. The feelings I kept locked at my core now fully visible. Hidden from the outside world but clear to her... Why her?
“Raymond Walters.” I spoke, finally gaining the courage to part my lips.
“Mm, you felt like a Raymond.” Blake nodded.
A raised brow led Blake to chuckle again, “I know you’re not from around here. What time are you from?”
My brows twisted, “Time?”
She bit her lip. “Right..” Blake paused, “Um, are you familiar with the concept of ‘Time Travel’?”
My puzzled expression provided the answer Blake was looking for: “Ah fuck. Well.. What year is it?”
“Okay.. That’s not too bad..” Blake seemed to be talking to herself more than me. “Well, it’s not actually 1920. I don’t know what you went through to get here, but these men who’ve been chasing you are bad people, looking to hurt people like you. You’ve been transported to the future.”
“What do you mean it’s-“-”I’ll explain more later. But we need to leave.”
Blake looked over her shoulder, “Away from here. It’s not safe out in the open.”
A well formed at the pit of my stomach as Blake stood to make her way towards the foreign world. The future... I’m in, the future? The couple. The strange boxes. The nauseating neon lights... My stomach ached. Reeling from the knowledge of, the future? The couple. White articles. The neon lights illuminating the city. The connections made sense. I had been transported to the future, and ended up, here?
Is this really what the future looked like? Aside from it’s oddities many of the buildings resembled memories of the past. Old sturdy brick walls and concrete structures, while new buildings shimmered in an unnatural beauty. A headache creased my forehead... Where am I?
“We’re in lower Manhattan. Not too far from your home in Brooklyn.”
“How did you..?“-”Your accent. Distinctly Brooklyn.” Blake smiled, “I would have asked if I was right. But your reaction answered my question.”
I refrained from speaking, cautious towards this stranger. “I can explain more once we get to a safer space.” She encouraged, urging me to follow. “Those men will come for you if you don’t” And with that, I followed.
Blake informed me that we were traveling to her apartment. Which conveniently, was only a couple of streets down. We rode an elevator to the desired floor, this one being a lot sleeker and smooth from the ones in my time. I recognized many objects, most of which were decorated with a more modern appeal. The same applied for when Blake unlocked her apartment.
Upon stepping into the apartment, all the light fixtures turned on.. On their own? Blake stood diligently beside me, so she couldn’t have turned them on. And the strange design of the apartment only fueled my perplexity. Soft gray wood complimented the pearl white walls. Futuristic furniture huddled around a fluffy rug with their box like structures in the middle of what I’d assumed to be the living room. Strange trinkets laid sparingly around the apartment. Abstract and covered in gold and silver. The walls facing the outside were made entirely of glass, giving us a full display of the Hudson river. I found my legs drawn to the seemingly familiar sight.
Although, something had changed. The Hudson was worse off than I remembered... Blake joined my side, staring out at the murky green water. Bits of blackened waste floated around it’s depths.. Even in the weakened light I could see ghosted figures huddled around on boats, picking up the discarded masses that I’d imagine other humans left.
“Why is it so, polluted?”
Blake frowned, “Humans. To put it lightly, we’ve been reckless with our waste.”
The room fell silent as my gaze wandered. In awe of the technologies of- “What year is it?” I asked.
“2020.” My heart sunk.
A whole 100 year had passed. Those visions that passed through me as I fell, were they a lapse of time itself? Both the creations and destruction of man? It must have been. By the looks of it, much has changed over the last 100 years.
Like these glossed articles strewed along her walls, the entire apartment was colored in cool tans and soft whites. Aside from these oddities, the only things hanging on her walls were an assortment of framed certificates. “Blake R. Talyn. Graduate of 2019. Washington University.” “Mx. Blake R. Talyn. Nobel Prize in Medicine.” “Mx. Blake R. Talyn. World’s youngest leading Neurologist. United Nations.”
I stood in the presence of a genius... Who appeared to be both incredibly skilled and highly compassionate. Her intelligence surely outweighed mine. I assumed every woman was granted an education in this society. A fascinating concept, one that intrigued me. I never had the privilege to go to college. Mama and Father didn’t save up enough money and I couldn’t afford it on my own. Any college that allowed black students costed too much for me to be able to scrape up on my own. Despite this, I loved to learn. Although my time in school ruined my enthusiasm. The thrill of intelligence always intrigued me. The concept of having my eyes opened to a more complex world than my own was something I strived for.
“‘Mx.’” I squinted my pupils at the word, “What does that mean?” Noting its appearance on every frame.
“That’s one of the positive things about the future...” Blake’s eyes crinkled by the large smile growing on her face. “People now have the liberty to live their truth. This truth comes at a cost. But it’s a price worth paying.” She nodded to herself before locking eyes with me. “I’m non-binary. Not quite a woman, and not a man. Something in between.”
“Pardon my..” I bit my lip, “Lack of comprehension, but.. Don’t you have a woman’s body?” Trying my best not to gesture to her body.
I anticipated Blake to be offended, but she was anything but. We continued the conversation without the weight of the room shifting: “I do. I have a female anatomy. However being non-binary has nothing to do with anatomy. It’s who I am in here.” Blake rested her hand on her heart. "‘Mx.’ is a gender neutral alternative to Mr. or Ms. And instead of using he or her pronouns. I use they.” Blake explained.
I’ve never heard of such language. Although I tried my best to remain respectful. “Isn’t ‘they’ used for a group of people?”
“It can be.” She responded, “I like to explain it like this: You know when someone talks to you about someone, and you’re unaware of their gender? See what I did right there? I defaulted into using ‘their’ since I don’t know the gender of the person we’re talking about. We both know the person is singular, and not plural..”
“That sort of makes sense... But I’m not sure I completely understand.”
“And that’s perfectly okay. It takes a while for most to grow familiar with it.” She- no, they spoke.
A ball of stress strained my forehead, this would be difficult to adapt to. How many people used they to self identify? This change in language felt wrong. But the look on Blake’s face made me realize it was worth the effort.
“So, why am I here?”
“Because you’re not safe on the streets with those people trying to catch you.”
“No,” I shook my head, “Why am I here. In 2020?”
“Because you’re a minority, Ray.”
“Same thing.” Blake dismissed the correction with the palm of her hand, walking over to a vibrant plant seated along the wall, tending to its leaves.
“What does being a minority have to do with me being kidnapped and beaten?”
“Because those people in charge of your kidnapping work for the Lothar Corporation. A power hungry family seeking global domination disguised as a family owned “business” running a third of the world’s economy, in one form of another. Straight out of a comic book, I know... They’ve been pulling minorities from all across time to be used as their weapons, convincing the world that we’re dangerous beings who are lesser than them.”
My arms crossed one another. “But I don’t have any military experience. I’m just an ordinary man.” I stuttered.
“But you have powers. And that, Ray, is the only thing they care about. You were tossed in that alley because there was a glitch in the system. The company’s grasp of time travel isn’t perfect. 2% of The Forgotten are transported to the desired time, but not place. They’re captured and detained into Lothar’s soldiers.”
“I apologize for my skepticism, but how do you know so much about this?”
Blake’s chin lifted, “Because I myself have powers.” Her- NO. They. They studied my bitten lip. “Lothar sent their men after me three years ago. A group of minorities displaced in time came to my aid, they too were transported to the wrong place, and escaped capture. Come.” Blake beckoned me, still standing beside the plant. “Give me your hand.”
Blake’s soft palm grasped mine, the heat resonating from their palm shifted into a warm tingle that traveled up my forearm. Intertwining within my muscles and through my veins. Once this sensation journeyed to my chest it turned cold over my bruises, clutching them in a chilly clasp. My body was soon covered in cooled areas that squeezed my wounds before returning to a warm tingle once more.
As the cooling began to fade the plant beside Blake began to wither. One hand holding onto mine while the other held to a branch. They had their eyes closed, focused on this peculiar task. The darker the leaves turned the more the pain from my bruises faded. The leaves crinkling in a deathly tone, being deprived of life. Blake’s nose wrinkled as they shifted uncomfortably. They breathed deeply as their hand released. My hands grazed over my stomach, pressing lightly for bruises that seemingly disappeared.
“Damn...” Blake huffed, beads of sweat huddled across their forehead. “You took quite the beating, didn’t you.” Their eyes polished in affliction.
“I hope you feel better now.” Blake filled the empty air, “I’ve been categorized as an “Empathic Healer” by the government. So, in short, I specialize in healing ailments within the living. Those bruises you got should be gone now, your eye already looks much better...”
It was true, my eye opened widely without the restrictions of swelling. My finger pressed over the bags under my eye, only to feel their squishiness right above the bone. The aches that covered my waist and legs were now gone.
“So where are these other people?” I stepped away, slightly uneasy from the intimacy of the moment.
“They’ve made a home in an abandoned terminal in Brooklyn. I’ll be taking you there tomorrow, they’ll know how to help you.”
Blake disappeared momentarily, leaving me to my thoughts before reappearing with a pillow and a large blanket. Making their way to the couch centered in the room, beginning to make a makeshift bed. They instructed me to sit, a choice that immediately filled me with joy. The softness of the blanket unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. I glided my hands over it’s fuzz and ran circles with my fingers as Blake moved to the kitchen, grabbing a handful of items. Minutes later, the sweet scent of tea wafted throughout the apartment as Blake walked back to me with a steaming cup and a handful of chocolates. I indulged in these delicacies as Blake further explained the plan for the following morning.
For the first time since leaving Mrs. Bonni’s shop, I felt a sense of content that I hadn’t felt before. The warm tea soothing my dry throat, the chocolates satisfying my taste buds. The trickling rain from outside soothed my chaotic thoughts and began to lure me to sleep.
Once I finished, Blake turned off the lamp beside me, “Goodnight, Ray. See you in the morning.”