“Can you get me a coffee, sweetheart?” Tarron asked, standing too close as he stared down Mirabelle. He was a wiry old elf who’s thinning hair did nothing to cover his pointed ears.
Mirabelle looked up from the giant stack of papers that she had to process to her boss, then over to the three other temps who were sitting at their desks, staring down at their phones, their desks empty, and finally back to her boss.
“Okay,” Mirabelle said, doing her best to keep the annoyance from showing.
Feeling her boss’ eyes on her back, Mirabelle entered the breakroom. Immediately two workers inside stopped chatting, stared at her for a moment, then wordlessly walked out. She was used to that too; she was an outsider wherever she went. Instead, she just prepared the coffee. She hated the break room. It was common knowledge that purebloods like her couldn’t stand even the smell of coffee, so she had no doubt that this particular chore was just another way to try to make her miserable.
Today, however, the coffee smell was drowned out to her by the stench of rotten eggs. She looked around for the source, but there was nothing obviously out; someone must have left their lunch sit out over the weekend. Mirabelle moved as fast as she could, the two smells combined were quickly making her nauseous. She fetched a mug from the cabinet; a quick glance showed that it hadn’t been cleaned. She glanced at the sink, then shrugged to herself and poured out some of the coffee, adding the milk and honey. As she worked, the rotten egg stench grew stronger and stronger, and she quickly hurried to the exit of the room.
In her rush, she didn’t notice it until she was caught up in it, but the air between her and the exit had impossibly begun shimmering almost like a mirage, and walking through it the air resistance grew until it was like trying to walk through thick mud, except all around her. Confusion turned to panic as the air around began to shriek a high-pitched sound that made her automatically reach up to cover her ears. The coffee, forgotten in her hands spilled all over her, but instead of falling to the ground, the mug froze in the air, and eventually was pulled towards the door, then disappeared into thin air. The shimmering air began to coalesce, becoming a hazy shape that eventually became raw, jagged earth and red rivers. Mirabelle stood transfixed, frozen with fear as she began to feel the same impossible gravity that the mug must have felt, pulling her into the nothingness in front of her. As she was dragged inwards, some of the objects sitting on the counter flew past her head; some mugs, the sugar container, someone’s lunch box. She grabbed at anything trying to catch herself, but the only things within reach were some chairs and a table that did nothing but drag along with her. She let out a panicked scream, but she couldn’t even hear it over the shrieking all around her. The feeling of being drawn in was being torn to pieces only to be built all over again, somewhere else.
The first thing that Mirabelle noticed once she had pulled herself together was the heat. It was as hot as a sauna where she was, and she felt every breath burning her from the inside out. The rotten egg smell was still there. The skyline was a dull grey with dark clouds and the only hint of a sun was a foggy glimmer of light. She found herself on a ridge overlooking a lake of a rust-red water that seemed to be on the verge of boiling. The ground that she was on was shear rock that was a dull red color. It felt sharp against the parts of her laying against it. Nowhere nearby was the slightest hint of green to be seen, or any sign of life whatsoever.
Near to Mirabelle on the ridge, she saw the same shimmering air as before, but this time the other side was the familiarity of the break room. Before her eyes, it was quickly becoming more and more hazy and indistinct. She bolted upright and lunged towards the safety of home, but from this direction, she felt herself being pushed away from the portal. Nonetheless, she gave it her best effort. She got close enough to feel the cold air of the office, but even then, the shimmering slowed and slowed until she was left completely on her own.
Mirabelle took a deep breath to calm herself, regretting it almost instantly as the air burned at her throat. She had no idea where she was, no idea what had happened to her, and almost nothing with her. She surveyed the land around her. There was no sign of civilization to be found, but she did notice a dim light standing at the edge of the horizon. Gingerly taking a first step, she set off for that light.
By the time that Mirabelle reached the source of the light she was dripping with sweat that did nothing to cool her down, her body was bruised and aching from several falls, and every breath felt like an ordeal. But finally she seemed to have some luck on her side, as the source of the light was a stone house with a lighthouse built into the top of it, emitting that brilliant white light that had guided her through the wasteland, and the place looked like it was actively used.
Too exhausted to worry about whomever the occupant was, Mirabelle walked over and pounded on the door with the last of her strength. A moment later, a strange, bulky figure in some sort of a leather suit from head to toe emerged and hurried towards her. When the person reached her, they pulled open the door and waved Mirabelle inside. The air was blessedly cool, and she gasped for air as she collapsed inside, only to be caught by the stranger and guided her to a chair. Once she was safe, the person left the room, then returned with a crude clay cup and handed it over.
Mirabelle drank greedily from the pure water in the cup, then stared up at the stranger figure still covered up head to toe. “Thank you. But I don’t understand any of this. What happened? And who are you?”
The strange person pulled off their hood and mask. “Well, that’s complicated, and I don’t exactly know how to answer it all.”
Mirabelle just stared at the person in shocked silence. The person was a human! She had heard of them, of course, but never actually seen one “Well, could you try?”
The human sighed. “Nobody knows why, but sometimes portals open up and drop people into this land. And sometimes they open up and just suck things here. Everyone you meet here is either come in the same way as you or born here from people who did. And, well, there’s no way to go back. None of the portals open into the same place, so even if a person did the impossibility of finding one that is open and jumping in, it won’t take you back to the same place. Unless they came in together, everyone we are sure about comes from a different world or realm than everyone else, and there are a dozen different races and species, that are all coexisting peacefully. Well, mostly. Like it or not, we are all trapped in here. But it isn’t all like this hellhole. There are nicer places too.”
“Oh,” Mirabelle replied, surprising herself at the lack of emotion she felt at this strange new reality, “will they hate me here?”
“No of course not. I mean,” the human said, then sighed once again, “there are some people who struggle to let go of their old hatreds, but we all do our best to make it a safe place for everyone.”
Tears welled up in Mirabelle’s eyes. “It feels like I should be more upset about this, but I’m not. I’ve been alone for almost my entire life, and everyone around me has always judged me for things that I had no choice in. I mean, I’m scared, but it also feels like a relief not to have to go back.”
“Everyone reacts differently to finding themselves here. There’s no shame however it may be.”
“So, what happens next? Do I just walk out of here?”
“Unfortunately walking is the only option here. Although the way to our little civilization isn’t as far as you might think. And once you’re there, everything will be provided for you as you make your transition into living here until you find your place among us.”
“A new home,” Mirabelle muttered to herself, smiling at the thought.
A bit of self-critique. Feel to ignore me, or don’t
This one has some closure, but I still feel like it hasn’t really earned it. Of course, that is mostly because of the page limit here. I tried to keep the story on the trajectory that I felt like it had, so both versions are mostly true to it, although acceptance isn’t likely going to happen this fast for her. And, yeah, there’s a bunch more I’d like to get to, which is why it probably turned out to be a not so great choice for a short story, but hey, I’m still happy that I went with it.
Other than the story itself, I think it would benefit me to work on the conciseness required for short stories. I’ve always thought of writing in terms of novels, and I’ve never really worked on editing my stuff, so there’s never been anything wrong with rambling on instead of getting to the point faster.