Alright, try to think about this logically what was Josh doing just before he vanished? He was playing with her ring, the ring she got from the cereal box. He was trying to get it off when he was suddenly whisked away. Did the ring take him somewhere? If that was it then she had to find another ring like it and that would lead her to the same place. Whatever that other place was she was sure she could get him out of there, she had some money on her all she needed to do was to go to the shopping centre and find some cereal boxes that contained the ring. School was now an afterthought and she quickly left the school yard to find another ring.
It was a quick walk to the supermarket where Anna bought a pack of cereals. The pack looked the same and there was nothing there that made the pack looked different. Excited she walked out of the supermarket and sat on a bench in front of it. She opened the cereal box from the bottom of the pack instead of the top, it was a little trick her dad taught her. The toy is usually heavier than the cereals he used to say, so when the pack is moved from the factory to the supermarket it finds itself at the bottom of the pile. At the bottom of the pack she could already make out a price, she quickly opened the bag and took out the toy.
She stared at the toy in surprise it wasn’t a ring like she expected it to be but rather a small red toy car made from plastic. How was she supposed to use the car to get to where Josh was? The ring was a simple matter, at least she assumed it was an easy matter, she just had to put it on her hand and that would be that, but with the car things were more complicated. Assuming that car even worked and got her to the same place what was she supposed to do with it?
Anna closed the cereal box and put the car on the bench next to her and ran it back and forth. She stared around her hoping that perhaps something would have been different but it was all the same. The bench, the supermarket everything was the same, she hadn’t left and was still stuck in the same boring reality while Josh was lost somewhere. She tried to think about it a bit further, what would Josh do if he found himself in a strange place? He would most likely just cry or be utterly useless. He was hopeless without her, she was sure that it was her only option. She had to help him somehow she had to find a way to get to him to save him from whatever horror was assailing him right now. Secretly she was hoping he needed her, she tried to reassure herself that nothing too bad was going to happen to him but that he would be just scared enough that he would need her to save him. For that she needed to get to him however.
She got up and walked back into the supermarket, she needed to buy another pack of cereals and try to get one that had the ring in it. She entered the supermarket and was surprised to see that it was empty. She was just there and although it wasn’t very busy there were several cashiers and several costumers walking through the shop. Now she stood there on her own.
She walked through the empty supermarket, looking for costumers, workers or any at least someone that could confirm that they were just there. She sat only moments on the bench it was impossible for everyone to leave while she sat there. And why would the cashier leave? It made no sense. She passed aisles and rows of products but she could find no people anywhere. If they were here they were hiding very well. She wasn’t afraid of the sudden change only surprised. She walked to the cereal aisle, if there weren’t any people around she might be able to get the ring she needed. She went to the cereal the she ate this very morning and reached out to grab it. She gasped in horror as her hand went right through the box as though it wasn’t there. Anna stared at her hand in shock and when she was reassured that her hand was really there she stared at the cereal box, it looked just like any other cereal box. It was blue with a large white bowl on the cover and a slogan in red and the price in every box caption.
When the fear had settled a little and she was now sure that nothing would attack her and that she was more or less safe for the moment at least she reached out for the cereal box again. Again her hand passed right through it, as though it stopped existing on this plane of existence, or maybe there was something else going on. She tried to touch other things in the supermarket but she couldn’t. Everything was rooted to its place and she could touch nothing. Fear slowly crept back into her heart like a leech tugging at her, what could she do now? What would she eat or drink? She couldn’t hold a book in her hands anymore, or play videogames or even use the toilet.
Maybe it was a joke? She thought hopefully. Yes that must be it why else would there be no one around. The whole shop or aisle at least must be a hologram or something. Maybe a projection of some kind aimed to trick me.
‘Ha good try! But I got you now’ she called out to no one in particular expecting people to jump out from behind hidden areas in the shop and shout surprise or something. Although it wasn’t her birthday and she was now actually breaking the rules by not going to school, her little break was now no longer a little break but rather skipping class…
She waited several more moments until she decided to give up on waiting for someone to jump out of his or hers hiding place. If they didn’t do so already it meant that whatever was happening to her was most likely real. Another thought occurred to her, what if the things that happened around her weren’t actually happening to the things but rather to her? Maybe she was now where Josh was? If that’s the case then she needed to get her toy back, the little red car, she left it on the bench outside. She had a nagging suspicion that it was too late though.
Outside the world was still, the wind, birds, cars and all manner of sounds and smells were incredulously absent. She did let it get to her and continued to walk towards the bench, she saw the pack of cereal sitting there and next to it was the little red car.
She bit her lip and reached out to hold the car in her hand. Her hand slipped right through it. How stupid could she be? She just lost her only way back out of this… whatever this was.
When Josh vanished she was jealous of him, she thought he must have disappeared to a miraculous place filled with wondrous animals, beasts and many other rarities only available in her own imagination. But now that she was here she couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. There was nothing of what she wished for, and worse still she was all alone without the ability to interact with anything and the strangest part of all was the people. Where did they all run off to? Why couldn’t she see them or interact with them at least?
She clutched her head in frustration, how could I have been so stupid? She cried. She wasn’t alone Josh went to this strange place too right? So he must be somewhere next to the school, or maybe he went home when he couldn’t find anyone, she decided not to think about it and headed out to the school.
It was eerie the way the streets were empty of all the people. It wasn’t just the people though, there was nothing alive anywhere, no animals or at least no pets and birds, she didn’t check the zoo but she assumed that they were similarly empty. As she continued down the street to her school she realized that the absence of people and animals was only one part of the strangeness around her. She didn’t notice it before but as she was walking she noticed that there was no air around her, it wasn’t the wind that just stopped blowing but rather the air itself that was strangely still. She tried to take a deep breath expecting to hear the suction of air into her lungs but when she took a deep breath she noticed that no air was coming into her lungs. There was no air for her to breath. She wasn’t dead though she was sure of that and even if she was dead then where were all the other dead people? She didn’t know how many people died, but she knew that history was only about people that died, so the streets should be packed with people and not empty.
It was the same with sounds. There were always sounds around, from cars driving around and the people chatting or walking or listening to music but now it was as though all the air and noise was sucked away and she was walking through a plastic replica of her world.
There were other things as well that kept nagging her, things that were not normal but she couldn’t tell what they were. One of them though clarified when she looked up, she didn’t notice it at first because she hardly ever looked at the sky anymore, not like when she was younger, she used to love looking at the sky then she could spend days doing nothing else. For a moment the sky seemed normal she could see clouds and a big ball of fire and light above it slightly blinding her, on closer inspection though the sky seemed very different. The normally white or grey clouds weren’t white at all they were dark black and the sun was a strange mixture of colours. It looked like there was some brown and black there but also some dark green or blue, she couldn’t really tell but it hurt her eyes to look at it too long which made it at least a little similar to the normal sun. She knew now without a shadow of a doubt that she wasn’t home anymore, that this wasn’t her world but a mirror image of it.
When she reached the school she first went to the back of the school to where she and Josh sat down when he vanished. The place was empty, no sign Josh was ever there.
Alright she thought if I was Josh where would I go? Her first thought was actually where is that good for nothing fool, but she then thought that that wasn’t very nice and that she had quite a fright herself when it first happened to her. Although Josh was now much longer here then she was so maybe he lost hope of ever going out, or maybe he put the ring on and off again and got out of this place, leaving her stranded here. She pinched herself painfully in her arm for allowing herself to think that way and went back to the front of the school.
From the corner of her eye she thought she saw something move, she turned to look at it, but there was nothing there. She shrugged and walked into the school. She walked up the stairs and straight to her classroom, she walked quickly and got to her classroom in no time. She opened the door and looked inside. The room was empty, it was a strange sight she never saw the classroom empty before. There was always someone there when she arrived at school it was scary to see the class ready for a lesson but without pupils to fill the chairs or a teacher to stand in front of it.
Anna quickly closed the door and walked down the hallway, could she have missed Josh? Was she now stuck here forever? The thought never entered her mind but now she had nothing to hold on to. She hated to admit it but she had put her hope on Josh, he was supposed to be here, he was supposed to be the one to take her back, so where was he? Did he go back already when she went to get the car from the supermarket? If that’s what happened then this was it, her life was over.
She broke down and sat on the floor in the middle of the hallway, tears were now running down her face she couldn’t control them and they fell in large puddles on the floor. Her thoughts swirled between her family and the few good friends she had, now forever lost, which only increased the flow of the falling tears that were now accompanied by all out crying.
She suddenly stopped, there was something wrong. Fear came over her again and she quickly got up, something made her stop a noise or a movement of some king. She listened carefully and heard a clinking coming from somewhere in front of her. She walked slowly but steadily to the origin of the sound. She stopped in front of a maintenance cupboard and slowly opened the door. Inside cowering in the corner sat Josh, his head held down his body rolled into a ball. Anna’s emotions ran from happy to pity to simple confusion in seconds.
Josh slowly lifter his head and stared surprised at Anna. ‘Anna?’ he ventured.
‘Yes silly. What are you doing in the maintenance cupboard?’ she asked.
He looked at her closely and asked ‘were you crying?’
‘No I wasn’t’ she said a little too quickly and tried to wipe away the remainder of the tears that were still there. ‘More importantly what are you doing?’
Josh suddenly shook himself as though he forgot something important and grabbed hold of Anna. He pulled her into the cupboard.
‘Hey what do you think your doing?’ she called angrily.
Josh motioned for her to be quiet. ‘Did you see the shadows yet?’ he asked.
‘What shadows?’ she asked. It was then that she realized what had been disturbing her this whole time. There were no shadows, although the trees and buildings were all there as well as a fake sky, they cast no shadows, it was only now when Josh had mentioned it that she noticed that they were strangely missing, there were no shadows anywhere.
‘The shadows move here, at first I thought there were no shadows but that’s not true there are shadows you just notice them at first’
Anna looked at Josh he seemed so sad so fragile. ‘What happened to you?’ she asked.
Josh looked at her and then past her to a place only he could see. ‘I was sitting on the bench and then I was here. I thought it was a trick or something but when you didn’t come back I headed back to class but I found no one there. I thought maybe I would just wait for my dad to come and pick me up that’s the first time I noticed the shadows. At first they follow you from the corner of your eye keeping just out of sight almost like they are studying you. But then they stop following you and try to attack you, several of the shadows chased me down the building until I found this maintenance closet and hid in it’.
‘Don’t worry Josh’ Anna said ‘they won’t attack the both of us right?’ she asked trying to reassure him.
He looked doubtful ‘I don’t think that’s how it works’
‘More importantly, do you still have the ring?’ she asked him.
Josh looked at her blankly.
‘The ring you took from me!’ she said angrily losing her calm.
Josh seemed to remember and reached with his right hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out the ring, silently he handed it over to Anna.
Anna looked at the ring pleased with herself. Now they could both get out of this strange place. She opened the closet door and got out.
‘Wait’ called Josh ‘it’s dangerous out there’
‘Don’t worry with the ring we can go back home now!’ Anna said smugly.
‘Really?’ asked Josh a glimmer of hope returned to his eyes.
Anna put the ring on her finger, now all she had to do was rub, or hold the ring like Josh did and she would be back home. But what about Josh, she had to take him with her somehow. Suddenly from the corner of her eye she saw something move, she turned to face it and saw a shadow move quickly towards her. This was what Josh had been talking about; she pushed the fear down and swallowed hard, if only she could get the ring to work for both of them they would be out of there. Shadows were now visibly moving out of their own accord towards her she stared for a moment in pure shock, she was surrounded by shadows that started walking or crawling or gliding towards her. Next to her Josh was shaking visibly.
Anna grabbed Josh with one hand and told him to grab hold of her. Josh very slowly as though he was dazed grabbed her arm.
‘This should work…’ She said out loud trying to comfort herself as much as Josh but Josh wasn’t looking at her his gaze was focused on one thing only a large shadow that looked like it was standing in front of them. Anna then held the ring like she saw Josh do and pulled it slightly…