In a sunny park, a young child played with his trucks, one yellow and one red. He'd found a small spot of sand that wasn't already taken over by the bigger boys, and he was content with that. The older boys didn't seem to pay him any attention, letting him drive his trucks around in tight circles, his quiet vroom noises drowned out by their louder shrieks and booming sound effects as they worked.
His mother and aunt sat on a nearby bench, keeping an eye on him and talking to each other in soft tones. He ignored them for the most part, his too big hat falling down over his forehead as he pushed the nose of the red truck into the sand and moved the yellow truck in to rescue it. The trucks interested him; conversation did not.
Without warning there was a huge noise, both sound and sensation, and everything around him stilled. The children sharing the sandbox with him looked up; the mothers, fathers and other watchful adults all stopped talking. The birdsongs stopped, and even the wind seemed to cease rustling the leaves. As a unit, a collection of marionette puppets, everyone in the park turned to look.
They had not heard the scream of metal tearing, or the horrible crash and boom of rock; it was a gong, almost pleasantly musical if it hadn't been so dark and deep. The sound of terror and pain vibrated through all of them and, unable to stop themselves, they looked.
The boy knew that the sound had come from the other place, the place where the people and structures were gray. He knew he wasn't supposed to look there, that there were rules about it, and that he was supposed to ignore the other people. He'd been told that for months, for over a year. His aunt had told him many, many times not to pay attention, to do his best to pretend the other people and the other place were not there. It was hard, but mostly he tried, because it made his mother happy.
But this time he looked, just like everyone else, even those who were old enough to know better.
Most of the geography was the same, save for the fact that the other place had an addition of a small stone bridge over the creek. It was from that bridge, gray rocks in orderly formation from a gray bank, that the noise had come.
The stones had tumbled, shaken from their mortar by a truck that had barreled into the side of the bridge. And from the truck, dark gray metal twisted into a hideous wreck, came the sound of the gong, and a lighter, airy tinkling of bells. The two sounds had different feelings to them, one scary and tight, the other hopeful and happy.
Sound whooshed around the boy, enticing and entrancing him as he took a few wobbly steps toward the scene, peering through the overlay of color and not-color before his hands were both grasped. On one side stood his mother, on the other his aunt, and they were both as silent as the solid, colorful people around him.
In the other place, people were screaming and running, some toward the wreck and others away. Mothers scooped up children, fathers ran toward the wreck, a woman shrieked that there was a person in there that needed help.
Time dilated and then shrank, and the boy watched curiously as emergency trucks came, their flashing lights not red and blue and orange, but still somehow bright in their gray drabness. A woman cried out, unseen but certainly felt; it was the first time the boy had felt terror, and he had no name for the taste of it, the sound of it.
The firemen, in their light gray uniforms with reflective tape, yelled that she was having a baby, right there in the wreck, and all around the boy people swayed a little closer, as if they could see. No one spoke. The voices from over there seemed to pick up on the sounds of terror and then hope, adding to the sound of the gong and the tinkling of bells.
The boy, curious, tried to move forward but was thwarted by the hands holding him back. With a sigh and a little bit of a struggle, for he was only three years old, he stayed where he was and watched. There was the excitement of the men cutting parts of the truck away, and the confusion of the people there shouting for the lady to hold on, and then, suddenly, to push. She had pushed the bridge right over, what else was there for her to push?
And then the tinkle of bells and the boom of the gong met. People in both places drew breath and held it, and even the boy stilled.
When the baby wailed and a fireman yelled for help to get the mother out, lifting the new infant high, cheers erupted, almost overwhelming the sound sensation of the baby's birth. Almost.
"It's a boy!" someone said, in one of the places.
"When can I play with him?" the three year old asked, looking over his shoulder as the baby was wrapped in a blanket and his mother tried to lead him away, back to the sandbox.
"You can't, honey. The baby isn't for you to play with."
That didn't seem right at all, and the boy looked back, once more. He saw the mother being lifted from the wreck, and he saw her reach for her child. "Ari," she said. "My son, Ari."
He saw her reaching, saw a tiny baby in the fireman's arms, and didn't understand the sudden yelling that she was slipping away, that they were losing her. She was right there, he could see her.
As his mother and aunt turned him once more, the boy decided that Ari was a good name. It was the perfect name for a new friend.