Bill was now bleeding. Sadly, in an effort to wake himself up, he had been pinching his arm as hard as he could possibly manage for the next five minutes. Or maybe it had been the past five minutes? Everything was feeling a little out of shape so it was hard to tell if he was living time that hadn’t yet passed, or if time was living a him that hadn’t yet come to be, or if there no longer was time and he was an independent variable in an unintelligible sea of neon shit.
Or time was just passing normally and the shock of the whole ordeal was getting to him. The last one seemed to be the most likely, but he wanted to take all possibilities into account.
The big question was whether or not this was a dream, but to find that out he had to consider a multitude of other factors. So far, most of the evidence pointed to him being awake, but there was room for error in that assumption.
For starters, he needed to know where he was. Was it a place that would appear in one of his dreams?
A cliff, overlooking a boundless eternity of space. In his peripheral vision trees shivered, a nearly imperceptible breeze ruffling through their frail green leaves. Below him, he could barely glimpse sandy, brown dirt clinging to the soles of his shoes. Only the edges of his vision were cradled in these comfortingly Earthen features.
But beyond that, the world that stared at him head on. It was far from anything he had ever seen. An endless cavity bound in nothing, the stars, it’s innumerable denizens glared back at Bill from his perch on the cliff. Each one shone a feeble beauty against the eternity of galactic purple that threatened to envelop every object that would interrupt it’s uniform pattern.
There were offenders other than the stars themselves as well, but they were few enough to be counted on his fingers. Seven. Seven giant landmasses, each one shaped by absurd terrain and etched into space with a neon blue outline. Kind of like Tron. Have you ever seen Tron? With the bikes and those dim glowing outlines they’ve all got? Yeah, it’s like Tron.
These seven plains climbed upwards ahead of him, each one sitting in the shadow of the next until there were no more worlds to give shade. The very top.
There sat the biggest of all of them. It looked almost like Earth. Large and round, commanding the attention of every star around it. The only differences as far as he knew were two towering structures, placed where the North and South poles might be. They stretched far into the sky, warping the blue outline with small outward bubbles where it would otherwise be perfectly spherical.
He had seen space in films and pictures. Heard it described countless times by writers and poets, painted by painters, seen it himself on proud display in the night sky.
None of the feelings evoked by these experiences came close to what he felt at that moment. To see space was one thing. To be in space. That was…
Complete fucking malarkey. He had to be dreaming! No way in hell was this real! No chance! No way! Fuck that! Nuh-uh.
Yet, no matter how he denied it, Bill couldn’t wake himself up.
He tried going to sleep within the dream. Clicking his heels three times with thoughts and wishes for home. Chanting whatever superstitious mantras he could think of. Nothing worked. He was left with no solid leads beyond his basic surroundings.
He turned around to examine the terrain on the other side of the cliff. It was much more familiar, at least. A semicircle of trees surrounded the area, closing him into a small clearing furnished with dirt and fallen sticks. Just at the edge of the treeline was a quaint log cabin with no light coming from it’s windows.
His (nonexistent) detective skills failed him, and he found himself unable to decide on something so small as what to investigate first.
Think Bill, think!
Amazingly enough, a cheer was all he needed.
Or so he thought. Bill’s mind wasn’t exactly… Working, at the moment. After being caught up in the end of humanity, traveling through an inter dimensional rift and being made to witness a universe he wasn’t yet capable of comprehending, his brain was more or less fried. The metal was rusting, the gears were grinding, and data was being transmitted at a snails pace along a viscous flow of dirty oil that ran course beneath his skull.
And in that state of mind, he realized he had been going about this all wrong. Now he had the perfect five step plan to get him out of this. He couldn’t exactly remember what the five steps lead to, but they seemed universally applicable. Every step was an increase in figurative elevation. That had to mean something, right?
Step one was denial, which he felt like he had covered well enough with the bleeding arm and the clicking heels. What was step two?
Anger. If he recalled correctly. What was he supposed to be angry at? The world? Himself? Henry? That one worked. He could feel rage flowing through his body as his ex-friend’s face flashed through his mind. What an asshole.
That felt satisfactory. It was only step two of five, but he couldn’t help thinking that something was happening. He was wrong, of course.
Step three was… Was… Bargaining! Of course! Yet, even with knowledge of the what, the who eluded him. Who was he bargaining with? There wasn’t a living soul around for miles, a conclusion he came to by looking around the small forest clearing. No stores, no real estate agents, no stalls in which to haggle. How was he supposed to bargain around here?
Perhaps, Bill thought, devoid of even the smallest shred of intellect. Perhaps I’m bargaining with myself?
And in his mind, he had already succeeded. His sanity had been traded away for the absurd notion that this place might actually possibly have even the smallest chance of being real.
Alas, he couldn’t think of the next step. He had no clue what else could be in this five step plan that he assumed would ultimately lead him back to his wedding, and was entirely disheartened by the thought. He allowed himself to fall to the ground as his body commanded, where he stared in utter disrepair at the bland earth beneath him. But with that depression, something good came about. Bill realized that this was just how it was. Finally, he accepted that-
Wait, where the fuck is Henry?
What a good question he had asked himself. Where the fuck was Henry, indeed. Assuming that his memory was reliable, Henry was the man who had brought him here in the first place. Admittedly, he wasn’t sure he could trust his mind at all at the moment as he couldn’t very well remember what he had been doing for the past five minutes, or why.
“Henry? You there?” It was a poor strategy, but it was worth a shot.
“Hey! So you’re finally done talking to yourself out here? You know I was trying to get some sleep, you might want to pipe down with your weird soliloquies.” Henry burst out of the house, carefree and playful as ever. At the forefront of Bill’s ruminations was how his friend even knew the word ‘soliloquies’, but that could be brushed aside in favor of discussing one of the lesser issues.
“Would you mind telling me where the hell I am?” Perhaps he hadn’t properly finished the second step earlier. There was definitely a strong, fervent remainder of anger bottled within him. “And where the hell my wife is? And where the hell literally everything else I’ve ever been familiar with went? Man, sometimes you just go too god damn far! Usually they’re just small pranks, but this is actually inexplicable! I’m not sure if I want to know why you did this or- or -or how but I know I’m absolutely furious with you!”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. You’re allowed to be angry,” Something about having permission made Bill want to calm down out of spite. “But I’ve kind of been warning you about this for years. I’ve always been telling you that the world was going to end soon. I’ve been saying it even more often in the past couple of months and yet you always just laugh it off. I guess I thought that was your coping mechanism. Anyways, uh, everyone you know is dead.”
Something profound and covert in the words spoken made him feel a very strong sadness. Or maybe it was something blatant and harsh, but it was really hard to tell. It could have been the fact that ‘everyone you know is dead’ is a complex anagram for ‘everyone you know is dead’ or it could have been the blunt declaration that ‘everyone you know is dead’.
“Anyways, I took you here with me so you can help fix all this, you dig?”
“Dude, just answer my question; Where in the stupid fucking cock sucking dick fuck are we?” Bill was no chef, but he knew enough to be well aware that two parts anger and one part vocabulary was a recipe destined for failure. In fairness, he wasn’t really in control of what emotional ingredients he used at the moment. His groggy, dysfunctional mind seemed to pick elements at random.
“More or less you’re here to save the world, congrats man,” Still no answer. A few more questions though, so that was positive in some regards. “Oh, and ‘here‘ is, uh. Well, here is just a bad place where you might die and I will explain the rest later. The important part is that making it through this gauntlet will save your race from annihilation!”
“What happens if I fail?” Bill hated himself for asking it. With that question, he was accepting it. Admitting that this was real. That this was actually happening.
“Come on man, we’re not here to talk about that! You’re not going to fail, not with me on your side! As I mentioned before, I happen to be pretty fond of the human race and I’m not too intent on letting them all die. But, you know, if you do fail, which you won’t, but if you do; humanity is completely donezo for like, ever my dude.”
“Great.” This probably won’t surprise you, but he had no illusions that this was great. In fact, his mind was leaning more towards the ‘not great’ end of the spectrum. “And what help are you going to be?”
“Look, I know you’re angry my guy, but I’ve still got feelings. I can help you. I’m a Demi-God.” Oh for fuck’s sake.
He was, in fact, a Demi-God.
“Granted, I spend most of my time out of the house chilling in other dimensions so I’ve missed out on a lot of the power I could have, but let’s focus on what I can do. I can transport you from island to island so you can get through this place, and I can be your brother in arms.”
“That’s it? Jesus Christ, man…” Strangely, the situation lit a spark of excitement in Bill. It was also absolutely terrifying. Mostly absolutely terrifying, actually. But a little exciting, which was something. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t think I can do this. You know, I think it’s just that I, man, I just don’t believe in myself. Me? The savior of man kind? Do you really think I can do it? I sure as hell don’t…”
“Hey, man. You know I love you, and I care about you, and you’re my friend. But I need you to miss me with that gay shit, okay? Alright? Take those emotions, and just… Just don’t share them, preferably. Keep them to yourself where, you know, where I don’t have to hear them. Cool?” Henry stared at Bill, smiling carelessly. Somehow, he had no clue how big of an asshole he was. No idea. Not that that made it any better.
And with those words, he passed out for the second time that day.