They walked through the center of town, although town was probably a generous term. It was more of a mismatched collection of houses in a bizarrely mismatched collection of styles. The house Marie was sleeping in looked almost like a Spanish or Italian casa, orange on the outside, with large open doorways and a tiled roof. The house next door, however, had sliding paper walls straight out of Japan, and the one next to it was almost an English colonial.
Everything was made, however, of the same plaster, and most of the houses looked poorly maintained. Marie wondered if they had any concept of gardening on this planet or if that was an Earth thing.
Alice led her straight out of the town, back into the forest. It was brutally hot, and Marie could already feel her shirt gluing itself to her lower back, but under the trees it was a little cooler. They kept walking, and the trees kept getting bigger. Milo trotted patiently by their side, his gait a little awkward, like he was stiff.
“Did something happen to Milo?” Marie asked, used to his usual frolicking presence.
Alice said nothing.
“Okay then,” Marie muttered, flipping her hair out of her sweaty face for the umpteenth time.
Soon, they were entirely surrounded by trees, and although Marie was by no means a botanist, she couldn’t name any of the species. Although the trees seemed to be getting more numerous, the leaves seemed to be getting thinner around them. She realized the trees were actually quite far apart from each other, and that actually, the tree trunks were the widest that Marie had ever seen.
They kept walking and the trunks kept getting wider. The air was completely still and hot, and the jungle was silent apart from the occasional cry of some distance and unrecognizable species.
Alice stopped by one and put her hand on the truck, which was about as wide as a small house.
“Look up,” she said quietly.
“Good god,” Marie said quietly, craning her neck as Milo sat down next to her and leaned against her leg.
It was a height she couldn’t fathom, perhaps taller than any skyscraper she’d ever seen. The canopy was so far above them, Marie couldn’t distinguish between the leaves. All she saw was a yellow green sky, slightly blurred as if the canopy was moving in a wind she couldn’t feel.
“This single tree,” Alice said, “is older then your planet. Much older. There are others in this forest older by two or three times, measured by a unit of time you don’t even have.”
“Wow,” Marie said, having nothing else to say.
“I know you’re freaked out right now,” Alice continued, “and that you don’t want to believe that this is real. But the evidence that this is real is right in front of you, so the quicker you can come to terms with that, the quicker you can find a way out of here.”
“There’s a way back? I thought you said you couldn’t send me back.”
“We can’t, no. But there are plenty of people on this planet who can.”
“And where are they?”
“On the mainland, mostly. We’ve managed to track down a general location, but we aren’t entirely sure.”
Marie sighed and absentmindedly reached down to pat Milo, who was now leaning the vast majority of his weight onto her leg, on the head. At the touch of her hand, however, Milo promptly over, his front legs akimbo and his neck oddly twisted.
“Milo?” Marie asked.
Alice bent down and put her hand her hand on Milo’s chest. The dog was extremely still, and at the touch of Alice’s hand, he started to pee. Marie jumped back.
“What’s wrong with him?” she cried.
Alice shook her head.
“What does that mean?” Marie asked heatedly.
“He’s dead.” Alice said in an matter of fact tone, as if Marie could have obviously come to that conclusion herself.
Word count – 16502