Image by TheDigitalArtist.
Shiro paid the street vendor for his lemonade, unfazed by her curious glances to the glove on his hand. Any other day, he would have answered the unspoken questions of the smiling woman with a light quip. A bit of banter went miles in getting people to overlook his many...eccentricities.
Today though, he couldn't muster anything witty. Throngs of people were milling about the square, mindless to those who were in a hurry. His quick errand run had become a snail-paced slog behind wandering looky-loos. The brown jacket he wore was sodden thanks to the blistering bake of the summer sun. He'd give anything to shed his sweaty layers but the memories of what had happened the last time...
Compounding his exhaustion were his ever-present traveling companions. Their desperation for his attention had begun fraying his nerves since he left home. Ignoring their antics and way they clung to him had worn his energy to a hair's breadth. Sheer obstinance was all that kept him from screaming at them in the middle of the crowd.
Shuffling aside to savor the crisp drink in the shade of the over-sized umbrella, Shiro felt something crunch beneath his heel. Dammit! Whatever he had broken, it sounded expensive.
Behind him a voice shrilled, "You're paying for that!"
Shoulders slumping as he fingered his wallet, he turned. "Sorry! I didn't know...", his voice choked to a halt. Not because the person was intimidating. The blonde slip of a girl glaring daggers at him wouldn't have been able to frighten a hamster. Nor was it due to her beauty, as she had been graced with an unfortunate nose.
It was the reaction of his companions that stole his breath.
Gone were the shadowy undulations and static flickerings who had doggedly followed Shiro since he was a child. What remained were swirling vortices of crimson and pitch. Amorphous, they writhed. They wailed. The air thickened with the depth of their need.
Without warning, unctuous tendrils sprang. Shiro cried out but it was too late. Oozing with hunger, his companions snaked to envelop the girl. Her wide hazel orbs rolled to the heavens before she collapsed to the ground.
Shiro crouched down next to her and cried out again, this time for help.
“Does anyone know first aid?”
He reached out and gently shook her, unable to think of anything else to do. To his surprise, she grabbed onto his wrist with both hands and sat up, her back ramrod straight. One of her hands slid upwards, bunching up the fabric of his long t-shirt and exposing him to her touch.
Each time his skin was exposed or touched he experienced some new, awful phenomenon. This time he felt her fingers sink deep into his flesh. There was no pain but he let out a groan of disgust at the sensation before the ground gave way beneath him and pushed everything else from his mind.
He and the girl were falling, hurtling downwards through a vast darkness. They screamed and clung to each other for what felt an eternity until they slowly realized their freefall had stopped. There was no slowing down or crash landing, they were just suddenly still in a featureless black space.
At first, it seemed as if the blackness stretched out unbroken forever, but he began to make out distant, weak lights flashing around them. They grew closer and brighter before Shiro sucked in his breath, recognizing them as the flickering creatures which had blighted his whole life. Was this the hell they came from?
A neon sign popped up in front of him.
A U R A L A N D
“Worst. Theme park. Ever,” the girl declared, drawing Shiro’s attention away from the sign. She laughed. “But really, this is a weird dream.”
“Hey, I’m real!” protested Shiro.
Her lips twisted into a bemused grin. "Sure."
The Auraland sign flashed and then faded, replaced by a new one.
We have sought for eons to find the spark to bring you here. We have an exciting opportunity for you!
“What? Who are you?” asked Shiro.
We are the watchers of humanity. We need your help.
The girl laughed again. “My help? God, this is so weird.”
Shiro. We need your help, Shiro. Take this.
A small glass jar appeared in his hand. It glowed eerily.
Use it, so the others will see and will know.
Shiro stared down at it. The girl reached towards it but recoiled as it sparked with electricity.
“Ow!” She cradled one hand in the other and looked into Shiro’s eyes for the first time. Her own welled up with tears.
“I think this might be real,” she said in a small, pitiful voice.
He nodded and turned back to the sign. He felt sorry for her, but he didn’t have time to comfort her.
“I don’t understand. What is this? What do I do?”
It is like toothpaste if toothpaste were an emotion. Use it in a way that feels correct.
Shiro stared blankly at the sign.
Toothpaste emotion, but also mixed with felicitations.
His forehead slowly creased into a deep frown. “You’ve tormented me my whole life because you want me to advertise toothpaste for you?”
There was a long pause as the auras closest to him flashed and flickered rapidly.
Yes. Advertise. Go forth and honor your vow to advertise.
“I didn’t vow–”
Shiro was cut off by the rush of air around him as he and the girl hurtled back upwards to Earth.
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