"Come on! We're late!" Madeline's voice rasped on Glen's last nerve. Vacation was supposed to be relaxing, yet right now he was feeling more stress than he did just before a raid on an occupied meth house. Glen picked up his pace a fraction, but was still falling behind his wife's frantic strides. The terminal was deserted this time of the night, and unfortunately there was no way they would be getting separated. She looked over her shoulder at him, and gave him that exasperated face he hated so badly. It was the same one that she gave to people who disregarded her medical advice because she was "just a nurse". He had seen it thousands of times, and at one time he had even found it amusing. Now, it was just another reason to turn around and run away from three weeks in Bermuda alone with her. Yet he persisted. He had not yet reached the point of full retreat. Not yet. The emotionless voice over the PA system announced that portal 64B with service to Bermuda would be closing in five minutes. Madeline looked over her shoulder and screeched in her loudest harpy voice: "That's us! We're going to miss it, and then we will have to wait another solar cycle before it opens again! Let's go!"
Glen picked up his pace. The thought of having to wait in the terminal with this woman for another solar cycle was finally enough to encourage him. He caught up to her just as they reached the end of the moving sidewalk and turned down the corridor leading to portal 64B. The odd metallic scent of inter-dimensional travel was strong in the air as they passed other portals, some open and admitting passengers into the silvery blue fog of the wormhole. Passengers lounged here and there, managing to look bored and anxious at the same time, much as travelers have looked in the various way-stations of travel for millennia.
Glen turned his attention back to the slim figure of his wife walking a half-dozen paces ahead. He had to admit that she was still quite stunning, her brown hair cut short and her figure firm and trim. But he had a hard time recapturing the excitement her beauty used to give him. He wondered again, as he had many times over the past few months why that should be. Before he could properly get very far into that line of thought, a dim overhead sign indicated that they had reached portal 64B. A tired looking agent was already gathering up all of the portal passes and preparing to leave.
"Wait!" Madeline shrieked, startling the portal agent who jumped and dropped the sheaf of passes on the floor. His face registered annoyance, but Madeline was as blind to that as she ever was to her effect on those around her. She walked up and shoved two portal passes in the man's face, actually walking on the dropped passes as she did so. Glen saw that the poor man was about to explode and quickly knelt down and began picking up the passes while mumbling an apology.
"Sorry man, she is really excited to get on with vacation." Madeline looked down at him in surprise, then realizing what he was doing her face changed to a sneer. Glen didn't even need to look up to feel her scorn.
The man looked back and forth from the portal passes in Madeline's hand to Glen kneeling on the floor and an internal debate was framed briefly on his face. The customer service side must have won, because his face suddenly became a friendly mask, and he nodded to Madeline."Yes ma'am, you made it just in time. Please place your luggage on the luggage belt, and step this way." He gestured towards the portal with one hand, while taking the passes from her with the other.
As she stepped towards the portal, Glen retrieved the last few passes from the floor and stood up, straightening them into a neat stack as he and the portal agent stood watching her drop her bags on the conveyor belt and step through the round doorway into the silvery fog.
Glen handed the stack of portal passes to the agent, who shook his head and smiled wryly. As soon as Madeline's form had melted into the swirling inter-dimensional fog he chuckled. "You know, if you want, I could accidentally send you to a completely different dimension."
Glen smiled, and actually pondered it for a few seconds, before shaking his head. "Nah, she would just track me down and follow me. Then where would I be?"
The agent nodded knowingly. "I understand man. Try and enjoy your trip. I hear the bars in Bermuda mix their drinks strong!"
Glen chuckled and stepped up to the luggage conveyor. He placed his bag on it, and stepped through the round doorway where his wife had just disappeared.
The agent shook his head, straightened the pile of passes in his hand and casually tapped a button on the control panel. A steel mesh door slid into place over the round portal doorway and the agent walked away, not noticing the flashing red light on the control panel.
Madeline stepped through the portal doorway quickly, her face red with embarrassment. She hadn't really intended to be disrespectful to the agent, she was just in a hurry to get through the wormhole before it closed. Why did Glen have to rub it in her face by being such a Boy Scout? He had seemed even more surly and distant than ever lately, and she was at her wit's end trying to figure out why. Didn't he recognize how hard she worked to make him happy? This vacation was just another example. She had been planning this for months, and the closest he had come to showing gratitude was when he stopped insisting he didn't want to go. She actually preferred active resistance to this new silent, passive-aggressive attitude. Oh well. He could stay miserable if he wanted, she was going to enjoy her time off work. No whining patients or arrogant doctors harassing her, no inferior co-workers to infuriate her with their incompetence.
As she passed through the silvery-blue fog of the portal entrance, she felt the familiar cold chill of inter-dimensional travel. She hated it, but it usually only lasted an instant, and then she would be stepping out of the far end of the wormhole and into the destination terminal. This time though, something was wrong. She continued walking, which was weird, since in all her past travels she never remembered taking more than just the one step. Pick up your foot and step through the portal, and it came down on the floor of your destination. Surrounded by the silvery blue fog, she began to panic, and then she felt something grab her wrist.
Glen stepped through the portal with the same casual indifference as Madeline. He also was immediately surprised when after three or four seconds he was still surrounded by the silvery blue fog. He felt the panic rising in his throat, but he forced it to the back of his mind. In his long years as a cop he had learned that panic is normal, but given free reign it would make it nearly impossible to think rationally. Instead, he funneled the burst of adrenaline to focus and sharpen his thoughts. He was no inter-dimensional physicist, but he knew that the human body could survive perpetually in the murky environment of the wormhole tunnel. In fact, while the body was in the midst of inter-dimensional travel it was in a sort of suspended animation and ceased to be affected by time as we know it at all. So on the bright side, if he was somehow stuck in the tunnel he would not die. On the other hand, he could conceivably sit here for centuries with nothing but his conscious mind for company. Complete sensory deprivation would wreak havoc on his sanity. He quickly squashed the memory of a story about a scientist in the early days of inter-dimensional travel who had become lost in a tunnel, only to emerge a century later irreversibly insane. He struggled to make some progress, not sure if he could actually make himself move, but the sensation of physical effort reassured him somewhat. As he waved his hand around him he thought he felt it brush against something. Instinctively he grasped it, amazed to find anything tangible in this murky place. As he grasped the thing, a terrified scream burst through the murk.
Madeline screamed, frozen with terror. Something had a hold of her wrist, and was gripping it with a cold viselike strength. She screamed until her lungs should have been emptied of air, but the scream continued. The fact that she could not feel the scream, nor the panic of having no air in her lungs made her even more terrified, and she screamed all the louder. Another hand grasped her arm, just a bit above the other and she felt as if her sanity was slowly slipping away. Then she heard a voice. It was a calm voice, speaking with a quiet authority tinged with annoyance and disgust. "Calm down Maddy, you are going to hurt yourself."
The surprise of having her hysteria interrupted by Glen's disgusted voice drove the panic immediately from her mind. She wanted to be angry, she wanted to hurt him. But the relief of understanding what the mysterious thing was that had grabbed her battled mightily with the impulse and finally won. "Glen? Is that you? What is happening?" Her voice trembled with fear and anger, battling within her mind for control. She reached her other hand out and placed it over his hand where it grasped her wrist. Glen's maddeningly calm voice answered, seeming to come from everywhere at once.
"I'm not a freaking scientist am I? Your guess is as good as mine. It seems like we are stuck for some reason."
"I told you to hurry! This is all your fault."
Glen could not believe what he was hearing. Had she really gone from hysterical to catty that fast?
The portal agent whose name was Bill and who was looking forward to going off shift in five minutes entered the control room and dropped the stack of portal passes on the counter in front of a technician named Ted. Without looking up from the tablet he was reading, he mechanically picked them up and dropped them into an auto counter which immediately began flipping through them.
"Which portal?" his bored voice intoned.
"64B" Bill answered with the same amount of interest. He didn't even slow down to watch, but headed directly for the break area in the back. He was stopped a few steps later by Ted's voice, which was no longer bored and disinterested.
"Which portal did you say?" Bill turned and repeated the portal number, watching Ted's face curiously. Ted's next words made his stomach do a flip.
"Are you sure all of your passengers went through?"
Bill and Ted stared at the display and the slowly blinking red indicator. "It looks like your last two passengers never arrived at the destination. Apparently they closed the destination portal before they even entered on your end." Ted's voice was a little bit shaky, and Bill's face was turning a light shade of green.
"What does that mean?" He asked.
Ted shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "Not sure. Never happened to me before. I suppose I should look it up." Ted was trying to remain calm, but he had never really paid any attention to the emergency procedure briefings when they talked about castaways. All he could remember was that there was a procedure, and that he was supposed to follow it. He couldn't even remember where the manual with the procedure was located.
"Shouldn't you call the Boss?" Bill asked uncertainly. He knew for sure that he didn't want to.
"I don't thing that is part of the procedures." Ted answered, also absolutely sure that he didn't want to call the Boss.
"Well, I guess we should find that manual then, right?" Bill said, relieved that the boss was not in danger of being called.
"Yep." Ted answered. He got up and walked towards a sagging bookshelf.
Glen resisted the urge to let go of Madeline's wrist and just let her float away. As a police officer he had been trained to preserve lives no matter how repugnant he found them. This was the only thing that kept his hands tightly clasped around her wrist now. He could see nothing but the silvery-blue mist swirling around him, could feel nothing but the warmth of her skin in his hands, and hear nothing but her voice. In fact, he discovered that he was not even doing that in the classic sense of the word. It was more like she was inside his head. He also noticed that when he spoke, there was no sensation of moving his mouth, or the vibration of vocal cords in his throat. "Great!" he thought sarcastically. "Telepathic communication with someone I have no desire to communicate with."
"I heard that!" Madeline's voice shrieked.
Glen's hand trembled with the effort to keep holding on. He had learned over the past few years to be very careful of his words, and now he would have to watch even his thoughts.
"Darn right you need to watch your thoughts mister!" Madeline snapped.
"Will you shut up for just one minute? Do you have any idea what kind of a predicament you are in right now?" Glen thundered back. He felt Madeline recoil slightly, and was surprised at the amount of fear he felt in her mind. Not fear of being stuck halfway through a dimensional portal, but fear of him. The realization froze him momentarily. He had never considered that her constant attacks and criticism were nothing more than a defense mechanism against someone she feared.
Madeline seemed to sense his confusion and pounced on it like a starving cat. "Of course I am afraid of you. I have heard the stories. I have seen the pictures."
Glen knew instantly which stories she meant, both because they had already had this conversation, and because he could see them flashing through her mind. Anger rose hot in his throat, even though he understood more perfectly than ever before that she was provoking an argument simply to cover up her feelings of inferiority and fear.
"What would you have had me do? Just let them torture that woman? They would not have hesitated to do the same and worse to you if given the chance." Glen was not sure why he even tried defending himself. They had been around this particular mulberry bush a thousand times, but he couldn't help himself. Her self-righteous attitude about his work...
"I am NOT self-righteous, you brutal animal! I spend my life trying to save lives and you spend your life finding excuses to take them. You and your power hungry cronies..."
Glen let go of her wrist and her voice immediately disappeared. The silence was crushing, complete, and to Glen, blissful. Even his own thoughts were muffled as if they were a voice coming from a great distance. Nevertheless, he was glad to be free of the shrieking voice of his wife. Apparently the physical contact in this non-physical dimension had been the medium by which they had been communicating. Well, he had no idea how to find her again. And he had no desire to even try.
To be continued ...
Originally appeared 2009-06-08
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