A large handwritten sign caught her eye as she was walking to brunch with Alex and Kate at Cervantes. It said BOOKSALE – AS LOW AS A DOLLAR in painstakingly written black letters. The sign was hanging outside of a small shop she had never noticed before, wedged between two of her favorite clothing stores. That’s odd, she mused. I figured I would notice this before. In the window there was a display of classic love stories lovingly stacked in a tower, their covers old but still eye-catching. Marie looked inside. A few people were milling about, looking at covers and rustling through bins of books. She took a deep breath. She was feeling inexplicably nervous for some reason. To hide her nerves, she opened the door quickly and stepped inside, raking her hair back with one hand and tilting down her sunglasses with the other.
The bell on the door chimed noisily, but no one even looked up or glanced her way. Marie suddenly felt stupid. Of course none of these nerds would know her and expect a showy entrance. She stepped inside lamely, feeling anticlimactic, and looked around.
The shop was bigger than it looked from the outside and extended farther back then she thought it would. It smelled like old paper, an oddly familiar scent. She suddenly recalled the library where she used to spend hours as a kid and smiled fondly. At the front by her feet were bins full of books that seemed like the source of the musty smell, with a sign that said 1 DOLLAR in the same bold print as the sign outside hovering above the bins. Marie crouched down in front of them, her feet in her three-inch heels protesting, and grabbed the book off the top. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, in paperback. The cover had been ripped off and taped back on badly. She fingered the creases in the tape with one hand. Wasn’t this a movie with Colin Firth in it? She hadn’t realized they had written a book about it. She put in on the floor next to her. She was a big Colin Firth fan.
Twenty minutes later, Marie stood stiffly, wincing and kicking her feet, but triumphant. Her legs were sore and asleep, but she had five books bundled in her arms – Pride and Prejudice, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, My Life in France, by Julia Childs, a prettily bound hardcover of the Ramayana, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was proud of herself. Marie hadn’t read any of the back covers, but the assortment would look good on her coffee table.
She looked around for the cashier and was surprised to find the store was deserted, save herself and an older looking man reading quietly behind the cash register in the back. Walking up to him, Marie was overly aware of how every click of her heels on the floor disrupted the silence of the store.
The man at the cash register looked up as she approached and smiled, leathery skin crinkling along long worn laugh lines.
“Hello,” he said, still smiling. “I see you found what you were looking for. You were digging in those bins for quite a long time.”
She put her books on the desk and dug in her purse for her wallet. Finding it, she took out a twenty and dropped it unceremoniously on top of the pile but stopped as a cover caught her eye.
On the wall behind the cash, on a ledge built into the wall, there was a set up of old children’s books. Side by side sat The Neverending Story and The Phantom Tollbooth. She stared for a second and stopped him as he was about to hand her change back.
“Wait,” Marie said slowly. “I’ll take The Neverending Story as well.”
The cashier pulled it down from the shelf and put it in a bag with the other books, then put the money back in the register and handed her change and the bag of books. She took them without thanks and walked hurriedly to the exit, pulling her cell phone from her purse as she did so. The old man watched her go curiously, then shook his head and reopened his book.
Marie pulled up in front of a brick building with weeds growing around the broken stones in the walkway. It was an Earth-seventies style design with bright yellow trim and a flat, angular roof. The fence, a rusty chain-link that towered over her head, bent slightly inwards towards the building, shying away from the street. Marie pushed open the corroded gate with hesitation, nearly tiptoeing up the walk.
The list of residents was water-stained and yellowed, adding to the neglected charm of the place. A lone spider dangled mournfully from it’s silken thread. Written in the slot for 2-C was Williams, Claire, in messy print.
Marie hit the buzzer somewhat nervously, half praying she wouldn’t be home. Her nerves doubled when Claire’s voice came through over the buzzer.
“Hello?” Claire said, voice fuzzy over the connection.
“It’s Marie. Everard.” Marie said back.
There was a long pause before the door lock clicked open.
Shit, Marie thought. She hadn’t expected that.
She took the stairs to the second floor and knocked on 2-C. Claire opened the door almost immediately. She wore striped pajamas and square framed glasses, and her dark hair was frizzy and somewhat greasy. She looked unapologetically disheveled.
“I didn’t fire you,” Marie blurted out.
“You did order me to ‘Get Out”,” Claire said flatly.
“Yeah, of my office,” Marie said in defense. “Not of the company.”
“Wait, what the fuck?” Claire said, running her fingers through her hair. “You chased me down in a different dimension on a different planet to tell me I wasn’t fired. Do you not have better things to do?”
“Listen, it’s been a weird day, but the bottom line is that you’re an awesome secretary and you’re not fired.”
“Don’t start sucking up to me.”
“I’m not sucking up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Look, we both said things that were hurtful. Yours just happened to be the truth, and I needed to hear it. Badly. If bettering myself means having someone around willing to kick me in the ass when I deserve it, then so be it. Especially on a different dimension with weird-ass shit happening. Like, I so don’t want to be dealing with this shit alone anymore.
Claire stared at her.
“I have. Inter-dimensional travel does that to a girl.
Claire sighed, and rolled her head in a long, languid circle. Marie looked down at her worn slippers, which at one point might have been fuzzy and pink, but were now matted and had holes in the toes. Her pajama bottoms were clean but neatly patched on the knees and lower legs. They showed about three inches too much ankle.
“Shit, what does a secretary even do here?” Claire asked. “Do you even have meetings to manage?”
“You’d be surprised, Claire.”
I’m backtracking a bit. Deal.
* * *
Marie hurried through the double doors and nearly walked straight into Dakota, who quickly grabbed her shoulders to prevent a straight-on collision. They stared at each other briefly in surprise before Dakota broke into a wide smile.
“Couldn’t get enough of me?” he asked jokingly. “I’ve never had a stalker, but it’s pretty flattering of you.”
Marie was thrown off guard, and blinked.
“No, this is my office building,” she explained, jerking her thumb back towards the Everline skyscraper. He looked up at it instinctively, following her motion.
“And of course I’d be stalking you, who else would I stalk?” she added coyly, a beat too late.
He shot her a sideways glance.
“Out for lunch?” he asked innocently.
“Care to join me?” he added.
“That was the plan,” she shot back. He chuckled and started walking again, Marie tagging along.
“Where do you work?” she asked, to fill the silence.
“You know the old library down on King street?” he asked. Marie didn’t, but nodded anyway. “I work the special editions section, you know, all the really old or rare stuff. Cataloguing mostly, but some research stuff. It’s pretty fun.”
“So what are you doing in this part of town? King street’s nowhere close to here.”
“Oh, running some errands,” Dakota said vaguely.
He stopped in front out of a small restaurant with Vera Jon’s painted above the door in a pink that stood out from the garrish green door frame.
“How’s this?” he asked, looking down at her for a reaction.
“Here?” she blurted out incredulously.
She shrugged. Because I’ve never heard of this place? Because no one important probably ever comes here? Because hippies smell weird?
Dakota led her into the small restaurant, which had a bunch of small wooden tables packed between its crumbly brick walls. The chairs and tableware were mismatched and brightly colored, and several surrealist charcoal drawings hung on the otherwise unadorned brick walls. It had the air of a coffee shop, complete with several college students poring over piles of books and a shy couple out on their first or second date.
The perky hostess, who wore a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her weave and had different colored fingernails, led them to a back table between a student reading Shakespeare and a group of middle aged women clearly on lunch break. She handed them each an organic looking menu with Vera Jon written brazenly across the front, told them her name was Shay, and left them to her own devices.
They flicked open the menus and read in silence for a while. The restaurant was advertised as a ‘sandWhich’ shop, and the menu featured 3 or 4 pages of creative options. All could be eaten on gluten-free bread or as a wrap, and all could be halved and eaten with either a soup or a salad. The most expensive was 10 dollars and had lamb, avocado, basil, balsamic vinegar, walnuts, and pear slices between its two slices of challah.
“Ham and turkey on multigrain with cranberries, sliced apples, mayo, and cheddar cheese,” Dakota mused.
“Bacon and marmalade on pumpernickel?”
“Grilled cheese on country white with pesto, pine nuts, sundried tomatos, bacon, and garlic paste.”
“That sounds simultaneously terrible and amazing,” she said, looking at Dakota over the top of her menu.
“Most of these sound simultaneously terrible and amazing,” he replied. Marie nodded.
“But in a good way.”
“In a good way.”
Continued from here.
At some point the dog disappeared.
Marie wasn’t paying attention. The stream of tears and mucus and smeared mascara flowing from her face was coming too fast and too furiously to concentrate on anything other than trying to stem the waterworks. It was never ending. Marie kept trying to find the tissues in her purse, before remembering she no longer had her purse, which made her cry harder. She searched around her and found a large leaf, which she blew her nose into with a loud honking snort.
God, she hadn’t cried this hard since her former high school boyfriend had left prom with her former ex-best friend.
There was a rustling in the bushes. The dog reappeared, leaping from the long underbrush with his mottled tail held high. Marie gave a little shriek of surprise and threw her arms up over her face. It was a useless defense, because the dog managed to lick her face anyways, panting and mashing his huge head againse her chest. He seemed somewhat more exuberant than he’d been earlier, and although the light had change, Marie could have sworn he was less grey around his face.
“Milo, heel!” A gruff voice called, to which the dog immediately responded, bounding over to the side of the grizzled looking woman who had called him. She was leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing, her tan arms crossed over her chest, which was not ample.
Marie stood up, sniffing.
“Who are you?” she managed in a thin whine.
The woman gave her a once-over, snorted, and jerked her head without speaking.
Marie gave her a long uncomprehending stare.
“Follow me, you halfwitted bimbo,” the woman finally said, “and stop sniffling. You’ll get us both shot.”
Hey internet. This is post 150. Just in case you were wondering.
Marie woke up in a cold sweat as the sun began to rise.
She was not in her office.
She was not having a hallucinogenic episode.
She was still barefoot in a tropical rain forest with no money, no purse and no way to get home, and there was something slimy touching her foot.
Marie shrieked and jumped out of the way. Instinctively, she slashed out with the hand that was still gripping the broken piece of Louboutin heel.
The dog that was sniffing at her instep merely blinked and sat down at her reaction. It was a chubby, short legged mutt of some kind with a snout that was too long for its small face. He snorted and licked his nose in a way that suggested that he was far too old and apathetic to care about her shenanigans, thank you very much.
Marie sat up and brandished the broken heel at the mutt, but the dog didn’t move.
“Shoo,” Marie hissed, fluttering her hands. She was not a dog person. Not even in a tropical jungle.
The dog wagged his tail once, hitting the earth with a soft whumph, and squirmed his way forward so that he could rest his head on her shins. Marie tugged her leg away.
“Shoo,” she repeated, a little louder. The dog got up, turned around in a full circle, and delicately sat down on top of her leg. Marie made one more futile attempt to scare it away, but the dog closed its eyes and wheezed a long sigh, and she decided to let the issue drop.
Marie rubbed the sleep out of her eyes with her left hand and sighed as the dog snuggled into her lap. Around her, the jungle was starting to wake itself up with all the customary screeches and calls.
The dog in her lap let out a contented fart.
Marie started to cry.
Continued from here.
It was hours, or perhaps minutes, or perhaps days later when Marie broke into a clearing and took a few stabilizing breaths. She sank down onto a grassy patch in the shade and put her head between her knees. She had long since left beneath any signs of gunfire, and the only noise that accompanied her own ragged breathing was the occasional flirtatious chattering of the birds in the trees, and the shrill yodeling of a solitary monkey. The sun, which was hard enough to see through the dense foliage of the jungle, was flickering just a few feet from the horizon now, and had little chance of making much headway between the ranks of thick old tree trunks.
Marie took her right foot into her hands and pulled it into her lap. The bottom was cut and bleeding, and for the umpteenth time, she cursed herself for dropping her purse and her extra pair of shoes behind her. In New York, she had prided herself on her baby bottom soft skin, pampered by weekly pedicures and mud baths. Now, she wished she’d made a little less fun of girls who went barefoot habitually and had callused heels.
Out of habit, she reached into her back pocket for her cell phone. Her jewel encrusted iPhone was missing, but she pulled out the forgotten Loubouton heel and turned it over in her hands. She found the reminder of home vaguely satisfying.
At the thought of home, Marie finally confronted her surroundings. She had never been the outdoorsy type, but she distantly remembered watching a survival show on T.V. once, and her family had a vacation house in Puerto Rico.From the location of the sun, she was able to determine that it was almost nighttime. Marie recalled that there were other things she could determine from the sun, but she could not for the life of her remember what those things were.
Marie closed her eyes and leaned back against a palm tree trunk.
Okay, she thought to herself. Nighttime in a tropical jungle. I went from the office to a tropical jungle. How did that happen?
All of the sudden, she felt extremely tired. The adrenaline was finally wearing off, as was the last cup of coffee she’d had with lunch.
She had had a weird lunch with Dakota earlier at a bizarre, hippy cult restaurant.
Perhaps I’m tripping.
The thought struck a satisfactory chord. Marie had never done any hallucinogens, but she knew what they were, and she had eaten a sandwich with mushrooms in it. Besides, she didn’t have a better explanation of how she’d gotten here.
I must be on drugs, Marie thought to herself. I’ll wake up in my office, and my PR team can take care of everything tomorrow.
Reassured, she readjusted her grip on her piece of heel, squirmed down into the bed of wild grasses she was sitting on, and drifted to sleep.
When the elevator door opened, Marie was finishing a text message to Kate, asking if she wanted to meet up after work for happy hour.
If she had bothered to look up, she would have noticed that she was no longer in the Everline building.
She was not, for that matter, even on Earth.
She was in a tropical jungle where the afternoon sun was at the apex of its journey across the sky. It was about 88 degrees Farenheit, and there was a war on.
Marie did not look up, however, until she realized that she had no cell service where she was, and by that point it was far too late.
She blinked in the sudden sunlight, felt behind her for the elevator, and, feeling nothing, turned around.
The movement attracted the attention of the closest sniper, who fortunately enough for Marie, had been drinking before he was called in. He took aim with unsteady hands, swaying slightly in his tree perch.
The bullet whizzed by her right ear taking out a few branches behind her before embedding itself deep into an old palm tree. Marie had never been particularly athletic, but she executed a nearly perfect sideways jeté attempting to scramble out of the way of the attack, dropping her iPhone somewhere in the underbrush.
Upon landing, the spindly right heel of her favorite pair of Loubouton’s snapped off at the stem. Miraculously, she managed not to fall.
“Fuck!” Marie cried.
“Fuck,” the sniper thought to himself, taking aim again.
He shot and missed again as Marie bent down and grabbed the broken piece of her heel, staring at the shiny red underside.
Close by, somebody else screamed as they were successfully hit by a sober marksman.
With shaking hands, Marie opened her purse and took out the pair of folded-up black ballet flats she always kept on hand in case of emergency. She tucked the broken heel into her back pocket and stood up to change her shoes, as a wild woman came charging out of the bush and shoved her.
Marie fell back, losing her grip on the flats. She swore again.
“What the fuck?”
“Gurgh,” the woman replied, clutching at the bullet wound in her chest. She gave Marie a long look, as if she wanted to say something very important. Her dirty fingers clenched reflexively as the red stain in her shirt started to widen.
“Gurgh,” she said again, more insistently, before keeling over.
Marie took that as her cue. She kicked off her broken Loubouton’s and ran.