I must have passed out and my head felt like I’d been bashing it against the proverbial brick wall. I could hear someone moaning nearby. What the hell had happened? The last thing I remember was being in a truck with Tania. Where was she--? We must have crashed, but where was the truck and that guy--- Ted? Tania was few metres away from me, close to a stream flowing through----WHAT!
The trees were a funny colour. Jesus--- the crash really did bugger up my head. God---‘Tania--- are you OK?’ She was barely moving. I tried to stand--- it took a moment or two, but once I was on my feet, the pain in my head subsided a little. ‘Tania, answer me--- look at those trees. Have you seen anything like it?’
Kabooom! ---a sound like I had never heard before interrupted my attempts to check out Tania. A flash of emerald green, only on a scale that I put down to some sort of brain damage accompanied the sound and then---Mick emerged from the green light. ‘Oh shit--- I’m in Lula land.’
‘Don’t think so son, but I’d rather you didn’t ask me too many questions right now.’ He had a look on his face that mirrored my thoughts. He seemed pretty stuffed up too. Not only were trees a funny colour, they also moved---well I thought they did. I could have sworn that the gnarly looking specimen nearest to me just got a little closer.
‘Come on Mick--- we should get Tania out of here. Hey where the--- the truck? Didn’t we just crash and where the crap did you come from? This is one mean dream.’
‘Didn’t I just say--- questions--- let me get my head right.’ Mick moved over to Tania and knelt down. ‘She’s a tad dazed, then—what’s that make us?’ Tania opened her eyes.
‘What happened Uncle---ah--- Mick?’ Tania sat up. She looked quite a bit better than I felt. ‘Oooh--- what a lovely colour and look at the water.’ The stream gurgles away like any other but the colour was from one of my old comic books--- a dark red--- blood red. ‘Oh my God--- is that blood—is it from the other guy--- Ted? --- where is he--- the truck!’ Tania searched desperately for Ted and his truck; they were nowhere to be seen.
I slapped my face--- hard. It didn’t help and only brought a rude comment from Mick. ‘Don’t do that boy--- I can do a much better job, but it won’t make any difference and it won’t answer your questions. The last thing I remember was following you guys out of that rest area and then a mist came over the road--- now--- well you know as much as I do.’
‘Are we dead then, Mick?’ I asked. I felt stupid asking that, but how else could I explain these unworldly sights? Red rivers and evil looking trees--- come on. To make matters even more baffling, it started to rain, just a few drops at first, and then a torrential, sweeping downpour. What made that worse was that it itched when it hit my skin. The other two scrambled for cover under a large tree. It didn’t matter anymore if the damn thing was strange, even when it opened up and enveloped all three of us.
‘Now what?!’ shouted Mick. ‘This is getting crazier by the minute.’ That was outing it lightly. We were in a dark place, but gradually our eyes adapted to an eerie glow. I could see the faces of my sister and Mick. They were either scared shitless or the effects of the light made them look that way. I started banging on the inside of the tree--- what the hell were we doing in there? It wasn’t as small place; it was quite deceptive, given the dimension of the tree from outside.
‘Hey! --- bashing that won’t get you anywhere,’ a voice said from above us. ‘Shut up for a minute you lot and you’ll get some answers.’ A figure slowly emerged from a rope that dropped in front of us.
‘Perhaps you can tell us where the hell we are for a start,’ Mick replied. He was way past being surprized anymore--- or so he must have thought.
‘I think you better sit---over there on those logs. That serves as our reception area,’ the owner of the voice replied. He was young, about twenty- something and his clothing was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. Not only that, he also carried a weapon that could only have come from some film studio.
‘So you survived the ‘rift? I can tell you now that quite a lot come through a bit less intact than you. I won’t frighten you with the details’ He smiled—only he thought it was funny. ‘I guess I better let you down slowly.’
‘Actually, any information you give us might go down better than you think. Either I’m pissed or deluded, but please--- just get on with it,’ Mick implored. At that moment, we were joined by another person, this time an older woman. It was hard to tell in the weird light, but I thought she was Maori.
‘Stop teasing them Jed. I think they have been through enough without you making it worse. We better start with the rift.’ Her eyes took us all in, finally settling on Tania. ‘Poor girl--- come here.’ Without waiting for a reply the lady reached out and took Tania in her arms. Tania reacted by setting up a wail that would have awoke the dead--- us, in my view.
‘Let it out girl. Hell, I know that when I came through the rift, I was pretty miffed too, but somehow I think you brought sadness with you. Anyways, it’s from those further up the line you need to hear from now. By the way, I’m Rangi.’
I was beginning to get weary of the mystery of our whereabouts. ‘Look where the bloody hell are we. Damn, a few minutes ago we were in a truck heading to TeKuiti and now----well, spill it.’
‘Right, just hang in there and we’ll take you upstairs. Up the ladder---all of you; but try not to slip on the rungs. I think you have more enough tumbling for the day.’
I shrugged. The lady was right. I encouraged Tania to put her left foot into the first rung. If she was out of sorts, that soon vanished as she concentrated on her task. After Tania had gone up about three metres, she almost got lost in the gloom. I followed her while the others waited on the floor of whatever the hell we had entered. Tania pulled herself through a trapdoor while I tried not to swing with the rope. A few seconds later, I joined Tania I a room like none other I had ever seen. Something told me that I was going to be thinking along those lines for quite some time.
‘Welcome,’ a deep almost musical voice intoned. ‘I am Luden, leader of this community.’ I couldn’t help noticing his dark green eyes, even in the poor light. He looked right through me. Damn--- can he read my thoughts? I was reaching that point where ‘surprise’ didn’t come with a capital ‘S.’ I take it you want some answers.’
‘Mate---- I don’t even know how to ask anymore,’ I replied, as Mick and the others followed us into the room. .How about you tell us how this room is bigger than the one below—you know the tree should get thinner as it goes up, not fatter----bigger--- whatever?’
‘Yes, you are correct. It must feel like your eyes are playing tricks on you. Suffice it to say that the word mutation should cover you question nicely.’
‘MIck chirped in. He had been quiet for the last few minutes as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. ‘Where the fuc---? Oops sorry Tania----Where are we? I almost feel like I should have said---when?’
Luden smiled, his face crinkling up like a frog’s butt. ‘You got the second part right. No doubt this all seems strange to you all. Do you remember Rangi mentioning a ‘rift’ a little while ago? I’ll keep this simple and say two words--- time travel.’
‘Bullshit!’ I exploded. ‘What have you been smoking you old git? Damn--- you lot should be locked up.’ I was on a roll. ‘Somebody punch me will ya--- I want to wake up!’
‘Steady on young man,’ Rangi said kindly. ‘You are not the first to feel like that on arriving here. Tyr to keep our voices down--- we don’t want the ‘searchers’ discovering our hideaway.’ Luden nodded and indicated four wooden seats, all uneven as if carded in one piece by several different artisans.
I sat down along with the others. Time travel my ass!