©2022 Michael Raven
He felt the telltale electric charge ionize the air of an incoming walk-in before he heard or saw anyone. Or fall-out, he supposed, because they always fell some distance, higher or lower when they came and out, well because they were leaving what they knew instead of coming home.
The hairs on his arms danced in place, twitching to the beat of arrector pili reaching out for the other side, or the charge in the air. He ignored it, the feeling had become more frustration than excitement in his time in this place as surrender settled in. The others were coming, not going and there was no leaving, no homecoming, for the likes of him as far as he could tell. So he set to drifting on, like he always did in this twilight place.
Not for the first time, he would consider himself likely lucky if they fell from high enough that they would just slip back to sleep. Or far enough away for him to escape notice.
He was in no mood to play the shepherd today. Or any day, for that matter. It was a thankless thing, showing them the ropes only to watch them move on while he mimed the Wandering Jew, looking for a door that might let his cross its threshold.
Such wishes! He had not taken more than two steps and part of a third when the air opened up and deposited the new arrival very nearly where he placed to place the fourth step.
The drop hadn’t been far at all, nothing like the five or six stories he’d hoped for. Nor was it out of sight of his shambling in this halflight. Hell, he wasn’t even far enough away to pretend he hadn’t seen anything and get lost between one of the empty houses that lined the suburban street.
‘Fuck you, too,” he muttered, certain that the choice of height and proximity was part of someone’s so-called intelligent design. He put his foot down on the broken asphalt, crushing a shock of grass growing through the cracks with the heel of his biker boot.
The fall-out nearly always groaned on landing and this one was no exception, sounding immensely weary at the prospect of pushing themselves upright. With the exception of those who died in their descent, they all felt aged beyond their years. It had been forever since he had be a newb fall-out, but he still recalled how he felt when he landed and didn’t blame them.
Imagine joining an ironman race, skipping training until the day of, collapsing and, instead of getting a hand to help you up, some wiseass decides to lay sandbags over every possible place they can find on every limb. And then, using others to stabilize the first layer just incase one might slide off. That pretty much summed up how you felt, whether you fell an inch or five feet.
They all groaned. And judging from the tone, this particular fall-out was a woman. He was thankful for that, if miffed about the rest. Men were always such pussies, yet they wouldn’t listen to a fricking word you told them about this realm, always certain you were doing something terribly wrong, they just had to find it so they could poke at that open sore all day until the fell back out again. The spent the rest of the time whining about amenities and conditions, as if being a fall-out entitled you to paradise-worthy accommodations for the inconvenience of the whole matter.
Women were the opposite: willing to leverage everything they could learn, often improving on it, and not once complaining about the situation they found themselves in.
“Wha– wher– how– ugh! Dammit!”
Swearing always made it better, he discovered. His newest acolyte was learning fast.
“Hurts like a sonofabitch, dunnit?” He leaned over, extending a hand for the woman to grab, wish he had washed his hands a bit more thoroughly after waking earlier, and his face, but there was nothing to do for that now. “Lemme help you up.”
Suspicious eyes looked up through the spaces in the tresses of ebony. “Who are you?” she asked, pointedly not taking his extended hand. “Where am I and what did you do to me?”
He flashed his most winning smile, the one that always endeared men and women alike to him back home. “I’m just a old drifter. I didn’t do nothing to you, you dropped in all by your lonesome.”
Her eyes and frown told him she remained unimpressed and untrusting. He was used to that as well.
“Listen, I don’t know where we are, but I have my suspicions. It’s not something you’re going wanna stay on all fours for, looking up at me with a bad case of stinkeye. It’ll take a spell to explain what I know, so why don’t you grab my hand and lets go see if we can drum up some tea or coffee to while away the time while we talk about it.”
She stood up on her own, ignoring his hand, brushed the dark curls from her eyes and went on giving him a better look-see at her untrusting dagger-darted eyes. “Can’t,” she said. “I’m supposed to be someplace. If I don’t get there, there are people who will start looking for me.”
His smile faded, a practiced thing. All the newbs thought there was some kind of mistake. Her anger turned to concern.
“Sorry, ma’am, but they ain’t gonna find you, I promise. And not because I have anything to say about it.”
“What the hell are you saying motherfu–“
He held up a hand. “I’m saying you should grab that coffee with me so I can explain that — for the time being — you aren’t in a place or when where they can find you, dear. You have become a fall-out. You fell out of your world and into this place.”
She looked around, noticed the odd perpetual twilight hanging over the world, turning nearly everything into shades of grey. And fell back down on her ass.
That, too, was fairly typical for newbs.
This time she took his hand when he leaned over to help her to a shaky standing.
“I bet that house,” he pointed at one of the random little blue houses lining the road, “has just what we need. Why don’t we go there and have a couple of cups and let you take it all in.”
She nodded, speechless, as she noticed more and more elements that made this place surreal.
“C’mon now,” he said, walking to the house he had just pointed to. “We’ve got a lot to discuss.”
He didn’t want to do it, but he couldn’t avoid it either. It was just something you did for the newbs if you ran into one. It was the right thing and, though he had been an ass before he came here, he changed his tune in short order.
“Let’s brew us up some coffee thick enough to stand a spoon up in, ‘kay?”