'Theo's Wish' - Fourth Instalment
‘Theo’s Wish’ – Fourth Instalment
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
‘The Real World’
Joh opened his eyes to find himself spinning uncontrollably in a huge vortex of light. His body was being tossed around like a piece of paper amid a swirling, spiralling mass of multicoloured light, surging and whooshing around him. Glancing sideways, he saw Cheryl on the other side of the vortex. He stretched out his arms to try to reach her, but she was just as helpless as he was, her body too at the mercy of this massive swirling torrent.
Suddenly, within this overpowering turbulence, came a deep resonate rumble, and as it gathered in pitch and volume, Joh instinctively held his breath, expecting some inescapable impact. Then, as the sound intensified and reached fever pitch, complete darkness and silence descended on the two helpless travellers. Their bodies slowly stabilised and then they suddenly felt gravity take hold, and plummeted downward through the darkness, powerless.
Somehow Joh and Cheryl found each other and clung together in panic, screaming wildly as they fell, their hair flapping frantically as the air roared past like a violent gale on a seashore. Then from below, they noticed a distant light that grew larger and larger as they plummeted to God only knew what.
‘This is it!’ shouted Joh, holding tightly on to Cheryl.
‘I’m sorry! It’s all my fault!’ sobbed Cheryl. Suddenly their fall came abruptly to an end with an almighty thud, followed by a metallic clatter. Everything went black.
From within a darkened alley, Joh began to stir. Next to him, Cheryl had already opened her eyes and was struggling to remove a mass of soggy paper and rubbish that covered her.
‘What’s that smell?’ she moaned, spitting a rancid morsel from her mouth and awkwardly trying to sit up.
‘Are you all right?’ asked Joh, reaching over and taking Cheryl by the hand.
‘I think so, yes, I’m OK! You?’
‘I guess…’ muttered Joh, suddenly trying to work out where they were.
Cheryl shook her head and cleared her vision, realising that wherever they were they had surprisingly arrived without any major damage. She clambered to her feet and grabbed a hold of the cold metal wall of the container they were in. She lifted herself up and peered over the side of it. It was dark, but they appeared to be in a wet, dank alley. Not only that but they had landed in a disgusting rubbish bin filled with smelly, squelchy contents.
‘That’s the smell,’ groaned Cheryl, looking down to discover that she was standing in a pile of rotting vegetables.
Both disenchanted with their predicament, Joh and Cheryl quickly climbed out of the bin and landed stiffly on the hard pathway below. They clung together and looked around to try to get some sign that they had arrived in the real world. Their wait was only a short one. From around the corner of the alleyway stumbled a drunken man, singing some shanty tune.
‘We must find some shelter and get warm,’ suggested Joh with a shudder, rubbing himself briskly. After the drunk had gone he took Cheryl by the hand and hesitantly led her to the street at the end of the alley.
‘So this is the real world,’ said Cheryl as the two slowly ventured into the desolate street.
Joh looked at her with a lost expression, feeling like a trespasser in this world and unsure of himself. They huddling together and made their way along the footpath, looking for an open door and somewhere in which to find shelter.
In the far distance the city skyline rose through the darkness like monoliths of steel and cement, their multistorey floors lit up like an organised Milky Way, competing for supremacy in the heavens.
‘It’s beautiful isn’t it?’ said Joh. But it was more than that, and for all his anticipation and dreams of being there, it sure didn’t feel welcoming or safe for that matter. Cheryl said nothing, feeling more than overwhelmed with this massive city.
Two blocks further along, both Joh and Cheryl were just about frozen and desperate to find shelter. They kept on the move until Joh rested his hand against one of the doors along the street and unexpectedly, it opened. So, with a furtive glance over their shoulders, they gingerly crept inside and eased the door shut behind them.
They found themselves in a stairwell that rose three stories up. Graffiti covered the grey, uneven cement walls, and the metal stair railings were a patchwork of layered, flaking paint. High up above them on the top floor, a flickering light emanated and with trepidation, and their need for warmth far outweighing their fear, they slowly climbed the stairs toward the light.
Cheryl approached first and peered around the doorway into the room to see the drunk from the alley, curled up against a wall, with a small fire crackling in front of him.
‘Excuse me, Sir?’ There was no response.
‘Try again, a little louder,’ Joh whispered, happy for Cheryl to take charge.
‘Hello!’ said Cheryl. ‘We don’t mean to bother you, but can we share your fire?’
The drunk mumbled more words from his song, intermittently taking a swig from his bottle, but did not respond. Cheryl’s lip drew thin and hardened, and with little patience left, she marched right over to the man.
‘Look, I know you’re preoccupied, but you could have some manners!’
The man ignored her. She was now fuming, and without thinking gave him a swift kick to the shin. The man sat up in shock and suddenly drew back against the wall.
‘Who’s there?’ he shouted, his bottom lip trembling, his eyes nervously scouring the room.
‘I’m standing right in front of you!’
She nudged his leg again and the poor man nearly leapt out of his skin.
‘My God, what do you want?’ he moaned, frantically looking around, with Cheryl placing her face in front of his, trying to get his attention.
‘I promise, I’ll stop drinking. Just leave me alone… I beg you,’ he blubbered, hunched up in a ball against the wall.
‘Is he blind?’ asked Joh, confused.
‘I don’t think so.’
She then leant over and picked up an old tin can in the corner of the room and rolled it across in front of the man. His eyes were like two plates as he watched it roll from one side of the room to the other.
‘Please leave me alone, I’ve done nothing to you. Look, I won’t touch another drop, I promise!’ he added, smashing his half-filled bottle against the opposite wall and drawing himself further away into the corner.
‘He can’t see us,’ said Joh. ‘To him we’re invisible.’
Cheryl knelt down by the fire and looked at this poor wretched man. ‘We can touch him and he can feel it, but he can’t see us or hear us.’
Joh walked over and sat by the fire. ‘At least we’ll get no argument from him. My bones are just about frozen.’
Cheryl huddled up next to Joh. ‘Perhaps by morning everything will look a bit clearer. I just want to see the sun. This place is too gloomy.’
Joh placed his arm around Cheryl to comfort her, and more so perhaps, to comfort himself. If no-one here could hear or see them Joh thought, even if he found Theo, how could he communicate or change anything?
Theo was now on Joh’s mind more than ever, the enormity of this quest suddenly feeling far out of reach. Joh could see Theo’s face in his mind, as clear as crystal, his yearning for a brother so compelling and desperate. He closed his eyes and felt confusion and doubt chipping away at his confidence.
As the sun crept into the abandoned factory, shards of light burst through the cracks and old nail-holes in the metal roof above, Joh flinched, aroused by the chill of morning and the growing light. Sitting up, he sleepily scoured the bare room.
‘He’s gone,’ Joh mumbled, finding he and Cheryl alone.
Joh rose to his feet and walked through the broken glass and discarded papers on the floor, to a dirty window on the outside wall. He used a piece of paper to wipe away some of the dirt and there for the first time, he saw the real world in daylight. It was magnificent, with those huge spires reaching up to the sky, cars flooding out into the streets like ants from a hive, delivering their inhabitants to wherever they chose. It was simply magical.
Suddenly Joh realised that Cheryl was standing next to him, peering out into the human world, awe-struck. ‘It’s so big…so scary,’ she said, softly.
‘It’s where we belong, or at least where we could belong,’ replied Joh, still overwhelmed by the enormity and possibility of the city.
Suddenly Joh realised something and looked across to Cheryl excitedly. ‘No-one can see us. We can explore the world and no-one will bother us- we just have to be careful,’ he explained, opening his hand expectantly. Cheryl placed her hand in his and they both made their way down the stairs and into the street, to begin their adventure.
This time the street was not desolate but humming with workers heading to the docks. Parked cars filled the streets and pedestrians were off to address their responsibilities: to work, to shop, to do all those tasks the real world demanded. Joh and Cheryl waited until all the pedestrians had moved on and quickly joined the pathway that headed toward a bridge leading to the city centre. As they drew closer to the city, they passed small shops of every kind, all with colourful signs that were complete in wording. Everything was complete and finished in this world, and so unlike the Half World, that they felt free for the first time in their lives. People seemed happy, all rugged up from the morning chill and greeting one another as they passed. ‘Bit nippy this morning,’ they would say. ‘Have a nice day.’
Joh was fascinated. The mere fact that everything was whole and existed without the irony of opposites seemed so compelling and right, somehow. They strolled along wide-eyed, soaking up the ambience of real life, and not missing anything.
Eventually they reached a huge intersection with cars humming along and beeping and tooting. They turned right and headed for the long bridge that crossed a small body of water on the edge of the city skyline. Below the bridge, ferries and barges chugged along on their way to wherever; the fresh salty smell of the water mixed with a fresh breeze whipping up into a frenzy around them.
‘It’s just…just amazing, isn’t it?’ said Joh, overwhelmed by all the movement and colour.
‘I’m a little scared, Joh,’ replied Cheryl, hesitantly. Joh put his arm around her and gave her a reassuring squeeze.
‘This‘ll be a real adventure. Don’t you worry about anything Cheryl, you’re safe with me.’
As the two finally walked into the streets of the city and into the shadows of the huge skyscrapers, a cold chill whistled into the streets. Most of the pedestrians had now disappeared into the buildings, and only a few remained, scurrying to their final destinations.
Joh and Cheryl stood still and watched the last of them disappear, then looking up at the dark buildings above, they clung together feeling suddenly uncomfortable.
‘It’s so big,’ said Joh, peering up to the top of the skyline. Cheryl said nothing and snuggled into Joh’s chest, wanting to find refuge.
Just then, the two heard a faint voice. ‘Help me,’ it said. ‘Please help me.’
A few feet from where they stood, there was an alley and the sound was coming from there. Joh tentatively moved toward the sound with Cheryl still attached to him.
Joh, ever so slowly, peaked around the corner. It was a dark dank space with a few battered garbage bins and rubbish strewn everywhere. Just in front of the bins against the left-hand wall there was a long metal grate set into the ground and from it rose clouds of steam. The tiny voice sounded again.
‘Can anyone hear me? Please help me, I’m stuck down here.’
Joh suddenly lost all fear and rushed over to the grate, looking down between the metal bars. ‘Where are you, I can’t see you.’ he shouted, waving his hand to try to clear the rising steam.
‘Closer,’ replied the voice. ‘Come closer.’
Cheryl, not comfortable about this, ran over and grabbed Joh by the shoulder to pull him away, but it was too late. As Joh put his hand down between the bars of the grate, a strange blue light emerged and with one almighty tug dragged Joh clean through the grate to disappear out of sight.
‘Noooo!’ screamed Cheryl, in fright. She quickly laid down on the ground with her arm through the grate, feeling around, trying to find Joh. ‘Joh, grab my hand. Joh?’ she shouted. But to her surprise, that blue light rose through the grate and she suddenly felt herself fall and land with a thud at the bottom of a tunnel floor beneath the alley. She shook her head in confusion and then saw Joh sitting next to her, just as perplexed as she was. She grabbed him nervously and they embraced, for a moment wondering what had happened. They looked up above them and realised the bars of the grate were no more than a few inches apart.
‘How could we get through?’ asked Joh, more than bamboozled. Before Cheryl could answer, they heard a muttering of voices echoing down the tunnel, and they rose to their feet peering worriedly into the darkness.
‘Who are you?’ demanded a regal sounding voice.
Joh and Cheryl glanced nervously at each other.
‘I’m Joh, and…and this is Cheryl. Why don’t you show yourself?’
‘Are you human?’ asked the voice.
‘I used to be,’ replied Joh, a little sadly.
‘We are from the Half World,’ Cheryl intervened.
‘Half World? Never heard of it!’ replied the voice. Suddenly a strange figure entered the tunnel from an adjoining passageway. Joh and Cheryl stepped back in shock. The figure was like a soft blue transparent mist, definite in shape but softer, without hard edges.
‘Who are you?’ asked Cheryl, now fascinated. The figure glided forward and smiled. Both Joh and Cheryl felt a little more at ease.
‘I am Zandra, leader of the ‘Mist People’. We were once human too, but now are trapped here, in the middle of two worlds. The humans cannot see us, but we can sometimes help them, and can do other things as well.’
There was an eruption of giggling from the side passage and moments later some ten figures stood before them, huddled in the tunnel, smiling openly at the intruders.
‘You have no face, and she is half young and half old. How can this be?’ asked Zandra.
‘In the Half World nothing is complete. We are the remnants of incomplete dreams. That is why we are here,’ finished Joh.
Zandra turned to the others for approval and then turned back to Joh and Cheryl and smiled. ‘We will not harm you. Please follow us, you must have somewhere to stay.’
Zandra and the other Mist people then turned and continued down the side passage from where they had come, with Joh and Cheryl following closely behind.
The tunnel seemed never-ending, weaving its way beneath the real world like a snake- left then right, then right and left again, until they had lost all sense of direction. The tunnels all joined with other tunnels like a massive maze and both Cheryl and Joh wondered how these people could possibly remember where they were going.
After some time the tunnel opened out into a central chamber. It had a huge glass dome at its top with a soft light of some kind radiating through it. The walls were tiled and Joh immediately thought that it must have once been an underground railway station. But as his line of vision lowered from the ceiling he realised there must have been over one hundred souls just like Zandra, standing in the chamber, staring rather inquisitively at he and Cheryl.
‘We have some new friends,’ announced Zandra. The Mist people looked strangely at one another not understanding who or exactly what these people were. As Zandra called Joh and Cheryl to follow, the people spoke in hushed tones, no doubt deliberating their possible origin.
Leading them into a small room, Zandra showed them two stretcher beds.
‘Perhaps you could use these. We do not sleep and have never had use for them.’
‘Why did you call us, take us down here?’ asked Cheryl.
Zandra looked a little embarrassed. ‘It was just mischief really. Some of us simply haven’t grown up. Scaring people has become a pastime for many. Tara and Max were just going to give you a scare that’s all. They didn’t mean any harm.’
‘You mean it was a joke?’
‘One that backfired,’ added Zandra. ‘Max and Tara got a fright when you both came through the grate. It told us that you were different; neither human nor one of us.’
Joh and Cheryl sat down on one of the stretchers, and Joh looked up at Zandra. ‘It appears that we have a lot in common- both stuck in worlds we don’t want to be in,’ said Joh.
Zandra smiled, but her expression quickly subsided. ‘The humans call us ghosts, lost souls. I suppose that is what we are. Something keeps us all here, and until we find out what, I suppose this is where we will remain.’
‘Maybe we can help you?’ suggested Cheryl.
‘How could you help us?’
Cheryl slowly rose to her feet. ‘Only a day ago we were in a different world, and now we are here in the real world. Joh has found out how to find his dreamer and if we can achieve that, then perhaps he’ll get a second chance at real life.’
‘But we are not from your world. How can you change our predicament?’ asked Zandra, now curious.
‘Perhaps you just need to find out why you are trapped here, just like Joh found out about his dreamer. If you could find that out, then maybe you can break the tie and move on.’
‘You are a bright young girl, Cheryl,’ said Zandra, with a smile. Cheryl turned to the side to reveal her old self and looked back to Zandra. ‘And a wise old woman, I’ll have you know.’
They all laughed heartily and then left the room to join the others in the main chamber.
‘What next?’ thought Joh. ‘It’s comforting to find a friendly face in this world, but how are we going to find Theo, one small child among millions of people?’
Theo's Wish by Tony DeLorger
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