Angels Among Us [MultiFormat]
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eBook by C. E. Barrett
eBook Category: Science Fiction Sime~Gen Reviewer's Choice Award Winner
eBook Description: Take five individuals from different times, planets, and realities, put them together in another time and place and discover the resulting consequences. Add two unseen dimensions--one good, one bad--each trying to influence the outcome. The result? Adventure, romance, confusion, emotional turmoil, and a book you won't be able to close until the end.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, Published: SynergEbooks, 2001
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2008
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14 Reader Ratings:
The force of his landing drove the air from his lungs in a great "whoosh." He lay, stunned and disoriented, for a long moment before pushing himself up onto his hands and knees. He stared without comprehension at the bent and crumpled long grass where he had lain. It should have been the icy concrete of the streets of Montreal.
Hmmmm, he thought. I must have hit my head on something when I fell. I'm dreaming, I suppose. I hope someone calls an ambulance soon. Maybe I'm already on my way to the hospital. He felt his head for a bump and laughed to himself. That's silly. I wouldn't have a bump in my dream. But I've lost my hat. He shrugged philosophically. Dreams were like that sometimes.
He stood upright and looked around. The grassy meadow stretched to the horizon in all directions but one. To his right, a road ran along the side of a hill. A brilliant sun shone high in the sky. He removed his gloves and put them in his coat pocket as he began to walk towards the road.
What the heck is this? She rose, somewhat unsteadily, to her feet and essayed a cautious look around. This is not at all right! Of her car, the parking lot, the grocery store, her entire town, not a shred, not a speck remained to be seen. Even the contours of the land didn't match Weymouth's topography.
Over there! A road, perhaps? Something, anyway, that made a straight horizontal line along the hillside in that direction. All else was a seemingly endless field of grass, tall, yellowing and waving gently in the warm breeze. She turned in a slow circle; straining her eyes for a glimpse of anything she considered "civilization." Nothing.
She remained perfectly still for a moment, letting the scene sink in. There was an almost dreamlike quality to her surroundings, and she was more than a little disoriented. Then she shook herself mentally and decided that, dream or not, there was no point in standing here.
To the road it would be, then. She picked up the grocery bags she had dropped when she hit the ground. She had tripped over a pebble in the Foodland parking lot on her way to her car, and had thrown out her hands to catch herself. Now, though, she had no idea where she was, and did not intend to abandon her purchases, even if a lot of it was junk food.
She waded through the grass, the hillside slowly looming larger. The horizontal line was somewhere above the top of her head, but the slope to it wasn't too bad. She should be able to make it in one trip, even with the groceries. She would just hang them all on one wrist and use her free hand as needed.
As she got closer, she could see that it was, indeed, a road. Quite a ways in the distance were small groups of people. Some were heading this way, some resting, and some apparently milling about aimlessly. Halfway up the hill she paused to rest, and realized she hadn't been alone in the field, either. Dotted here and there were other lone figures with paths behind them leading from sudden flat spots. Her own trail through the grass looked just like theirs.
What the heck? She wondered. It looks like we were all just 'dropped off'. But ... never mind right now, Seren. Just get up to the road, and take it from there.
She resumed her climb. For miles in either direction, others were doing the same.
The road, when she reached it, proved to be a two-lane blacktop with the familiar yellow lines down the middle. She looked left and right, wondering which way to go. Off to her left, the road turned away, disappearing behind the breast of the hill, only to reappear further on, continuing its journey. To her right, it ran straight, disappearing in the distance.
She crossed the road, dropping her bags to the level shoulder. Sighing, she sat with her back to the uphill slope, much steeper than the one she had just climbed, and considered her situation. Paved roads meant civilization somewhere, preferably not too far away. But no vehicles had passed, and there were far too many pedestrians, most of whom, even from a distance, appeared to be as lost and confused as she was herself.
"I hate dreams like this," she murmured to herself, knowing she often recognized dream states and was frequently a lucid dreamer. "I hate thinking it's real, and getting sucked in until I wake up. I don't want to be here ... so, TIME TO WAKE UP!" she yelled at her subconscious. "WAKE UP!! I have to get up and go shopping." She waited. "Dammit all!" She tried every trick she knew to control the dream, to restart it in the parking lot, to fly, anything--everything. Nothing worked.
Maybe I'm not dreaming, she thought, and on the heels of that, thought, Oh, yeah. Like when you think the flying dreams are real, too, and then you wake up.
She opened a grocery bag. She knew that in her dreams small tangible items tended to be distorted or senseless--written words that could not be understood, or remembered, that changed every time she read them. Everything in the bag looked real enough. She pulled out a box of cereal. The name was right, and the ingredients made as much sense as a mouthful of chemical compositions could. And the polysyllabic words were the same when she reread them.
She tapped the box with her fingertips and returned it to the bag. "But what if..." she asked herself. She smiled to herself wryly. She had read enough Science Fiction to entertain the idea that she had dimension-hopped, or quantum-leaped, or some such thing. How come it couldn't happen when she was out camping and had a bunch of survival gear on hand? Of course, she hadn't actually gone camping in about four years, but still.... The possibility that she really had traveled to a parallel world or something equally improbable began to sink in. Panic nibbled at her mind. She didn't know where she was or how to get home from here, and her children were waiting for her. She stepped on the panicky thing that was struggling to overwhelm her. I don't have time for you right now! You're not helping.
A sudden alternative popped into her mind. Maybe I'm dead, she thought. Maybe I smucked my head on the fender when I fell, and this is the afterlife. She pondered this possibility for a few moments. But why would I be carrying groceries, or ghost-groceries to Purgatory or wherever? That just doesn't make sense.
Oh, and being in Dimension X or on Planet Wheretheheck does, replied her sarcastic side.
"Either way, sitting here is getting me nowhere, and if I want to find a town or something, I better get going." The sound of her voice gave her courage. Once again, she gathered her plastic bags and set off down the road, taking the long straight route that disappeared in the distance. To her right, the people scattered through the meadow were slowly approaching. Just ahead, a man was climbing onto the roadway.
His heavy overcoat was much too warm for the weather. His balding head gleamed with perspiration, which trickled down his temples and face into his neatly trimmed beard. He reached the top and rested, bent over with his hands on his knees, to catch his breath. As Seren drew closer, he straightened to his full height.
He was easily over six feet tall, and was quite stoutly built, firm rather than flabby, and well dressed. His blue eyes regarded her with wary curiosity. This woman in front of him was not what he had expected to see. He studied her briefly, noticing little details; the deep pockets of her shorts, the bulge in one where something wallet-sized sat, her bare ankles above the leather of her sneakers. He wondered what she represented. Weren't people you met in dreams supposed to have some meaning? He was somewhat bemused by the whole situation, and was more than half-convinced he was hallucinating after having hit his head when he fell.
Still, there was no point in being rude. His voice, when he spoke, was pleasant and cultured, with a hint that it could become supercilious and snobbish at the drop of a hat. He merely smiled politely and said, "Excuse me ... but are you from around here?" He indicated the grocery bags. "I see you've been shopping and I was wondering if you would direct me.... "His words trailed off as she shook her head.
"Sorry. I came from out there, too." She jerked her chin at the field behind him. He turned, and for the first time realized the situation as he noticed all the people making paths from nowhere. Most were moving toward the road, but some were wandering in seemingly random directions.
"Where did they all come from?" he murmured and looked back at her with a quizzical expression. She shrugged. "Well, then, I don't suppose there's any point in asking if you know where we are, or how, indeed, we got here."
She shook her head. "Nope. I know as much as you. One minute I was in the Foodland parking lot, I tripped over something and BANG! landed here."
"I was running for a taxi, and stumbled over the curb." He frowned and looked back over the field. This isn't real, he thought. I'm hallucinating. I must be hurt worse than I thought. Maybe I'm dying. He felt a momentary pang of regret for the symphonies he would never direct, the pain his family would feel at his death. Then he pulled himself together. He was not a man who fell apart easily. He had spent too many years developing the control for which he was well known. He reached into an inner pocket of his coat and pulled out what appeared to be a tiny cell phone. She watched as he pushed a button with his thumb, and held the phone to his ear.
"Nothing," he said. "Not even static." He switched it off and returned it to his coat pocket. "It was worth a try," he said.
"Too bad it didn't work," she said sympathetically.
They looked at each other. He indicated their clothes, his heavy overcoat, her T-shirt and walking shorts. "It would appear we're from different latitudes," he said. "Where, exactly, were you?"
"I was in a small town in Nova Scotia," she said, and added automatically, "Canada."
"Really? I was in Montreal. There'd been a heavy snowfall just a few days ago."
"In June? That's hard to believe, even for Montreal."
"No. January the fifteenth." He looked at her clothing more closely. "You were in June?" An eyebrow lifted as he considered this. He wondered if she meant the June past or the one coming up. "What year?"
They stared at and then through each other. He began slowly to think he might actually be awake and aware. He couldn't explain how or why they were here, but the reality was sinking in.
"Oh good. We're not only from different 'wheres' but different 'whens', too," she said. She focused her eyes on his face. "This can't really be happening. I bet I hit my head when I fell and I'm in a coma in the hospital and pretty soon, I'll come to, and everything will be okay again."
He made a tentative gesture, as if to pat her shoulder reassuringly, but withdrew his hand, wiping it across his forehead instead. "I rather doubt we are sharing a coma dream, Ms...."
"Baker," she supplied the name automatically. "Seren Baker."
He held out a hand. "Daffyd ap Owen."
"Pleased to meet you," she shook his hand and then laughed. "I can't believe we're doing this ... acting like we've met at the mall or something. I mean ... LOOK!" and she dissolved into laughter. He chuckled quietly with her. She was right. The situation was insane, and their reaction possibly more so, for all it seemed so 'normal'. She regained her composure, but with occasional snorts of suppressed giggles.
"Well, Mr. Owen or ap Owen?"
"Mr. ap Owen ... no sense standing here. I think I'll keep moving along."
"Do you mind if I join you? I can carry a couple of those for you." He didn't relish the idea of being alone in this place. It made him uneasy, which he successfully hid under his confident demeanor.
She shrugged. "Sure. I don't mind." He seemed nice enough; not really the ax-murderer type. She grinned inwardly, thinking she had written one horror novel too many. But she supposed there were worse things than having company in this strange world, especially when the company in question was this pleasant.
He took off his heavy coat and draped it over his arm. "I'd hate to be returned to Montreal without it," he explained, relieving her of a pair of grocery bags. They headed down the road in companionable silence. Occasionally they passed a lone person sitting or wandering on the side of the road. No one responded to their greetings, so they didn't bother to stop. There was enough weirdness going on today without them going out of the way to add to it.