Foreign Shores

She sat in the dim light of her old TV’s glow. Nearly an hour had passed since Megan had, probably foolishly, decided to take the proverbial plunge into whatever the odd passers-by had left for her. The bottle of wine in her hand was mostly empty; she’d given up on the glass after leaving it in the kitchen. Outside, the wind was playing havoc with half-frozen rain. At least she hadn’t had to pay anyone for the pill. How long does it take for … oh, hell, she didn’t know what it was, so even scouring the internet would help.

Giving up on the idea of some grand, drug-fueled bender entertaining her for the night, Megan drained the last of the wine and let the bottle roll from her hand onto the floor. She gave a moment’s consideration to her bed, but its unbending dedication to remaining a full room’s length away won out. She pulled her faded patchwork quilt tightly around her and curled onto the couch, the flickering screen across the way shifting colors across her closed eyelids as she waited for sleep.

The illumination dancing across her vision became a blur, and Megan found herself wondering if she was already dreaming. The echoes of whatever inspid inspirational Christmas-miracle dreck played at this hour bounced off the walls, creating a nauseating din of saccharine pseudo-morality. Between the noise and the shifting hues of light, it became an unbearable whirl of excruciating activity; she grasped blindly for the remote, hoping to end the cacophany.

Absolute pandemonium. Where there should have been the soft folds of her quilt and the threadbare cushions of her couch that too often substituted for a bed, there was — sand? Megan’s fingers sank into it; it was warm and wet, and she was suddenly aware of the scent of saltwater. Maybe that stuff the kids had left on the table wasn’t entirely useless, after all.

Her mind struggled against itself. She knew, of course, that she was still resting lazily on her own couch; the smells and sensations might betray something else, but it was illusory. It had to be, and Megan knew that. She might be high as a kite on god knows what, but she hadn’t entirely lost her senses. It was time to take full stock of just how distant from herself she’d become. Hesitantly, dreading the dissipation of her fantasy, she opened her eyes.

It took her breath away. Nothing was as it should be. Her dim apartment, the damnable winter, the stagnant streets of her backwoods town — everything was gone, replaced by a bright, warm, sun-drenched beach. The broad strip of sand extended as far as she could see along the edge of the gently-rolling waves. The cold, gray sky of her home was gone, as well, and a brilliant blue expanse glimmering with an almost supernatural quality spread out above.

Megan stood up and glanced downward; she was still in the same jeans and faded band t-shirt she’d been wearing when she passed out on the couch. On the ground near her feet, the wine bottle she’d finished earlier lay empty in the sand. Where the hell — none of this made any sense. Megan knew she couldn’t very well leave the bottle where it was, she grabbed it from the sand and turned inland.

The beach stretched upwards, where it gave way to a dull, bluish grass and rocky terrain. There was someone walking in her direction; a small-statured figure in a dark green hooded cloak that obscured their features. They were moving quickly, in rapid short strides that soon had them stepping onto the sand. As they neared, they lifted their head. From behind wisps of black hair, a pair of steel-blue eyes met Megan’s gaze. She was pretty, with sharp features and a stern look of concentration.

Megan shifted the bottle in her hand. She tried to remember how it had come to this; she remembered the pill. She told herself this was some strange half-dream, half-hallucination. That in reality, she was probably standing atop her old, sagging furniture, brandishing a wine bottle at her thick-draped window. Maybe she was about to shatter the glass, flinging her inebriated body out onto the concrete and hedges outside. It was hard to say, really, but she was doing her best to remain grounded.

“You must be Megan,” the approaching stranger said. Her voice was clear and bright, confident yet kind. “I’m Delfine. We’ve been waiting.”

Megan took a step back; this made no goddamn sense, and wasn’t anything at all like what she’d heard from Julie or David about their “experimental” phases. This was something else entirely, and she had no idea what to make of it.

“I’m sure you’re confused,” the newcomer added. “We’ve all been there. Come with me, and we’ll explain everything. You’re going to be alright.” There was a definite sincerity behind her words, but Megan was still reeling. She tried to reply, or to prepare for a fight, or to scream — her brain couldn’t choose just one, and she flung the bottle uselessly towards Delfine, stammering out a “what the fuck?”

Delfine’s hand moved swiftly, snatching the bottle from the air; it wouldn’t have struck her, but it was clear that even a well-aimed, harder throw would have been no more effective at this. She smirked. “Come on, serving girl. This isn’t the time or the place for any of that,” she said. She turned, twirling Megan’s wine bottle in her hand as she started back up towards solid ground.

At least Megan wasn’t swinging it wildly at her window anymore, and the throw shouldn’t have been hard enough to go through it. She’d find out soon enough, she figured, and there wasn’t a whole lot of other options; with nobody and nothing else of note across the sandy expanse, she was bound to follow this Delfine one way or the other. She fell in behind her cloak-wrapped guide and tried to gather her senses.

“You’re probably terrified that you got a bad dose, or that all those horror stories about weird pills handed out by strangers were telling you the truth, huh?” Delfine was speaking without turning her head, but Megan could hear the smile on her lips in the light tone of her words. She was right, too, so maybe it was worth hearing her out.

“Don’t worry. You’re still safe, assuming you were safe when you got here. By and large, people tend to make sure they’re in a good spot before they swallow shit they’re not sure of, so hopefully you’ve got that going for you. Time doesn’t quite work the same here, so I wouldn’t fret. Like I said, you’ll be alright — long as you stick with me, anyway.”

Megan was trying to form a reply. Every time words came to her, though, they slipped back away like the tide sliding back behind her and out into the boundless ocean. The part of her that was clinging desperately to her unkempt apartment was losing hold of her thoughts as she was swept into — well, wherever it was that Delfine was leading her. They were following a worn-looking cobblestone road, passing by small shrubs and squattish trees that barely reached over her head.

She felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole, or Lucy Pevensie crawling out of the other end of the wardrobe. This wasn’t some melting-clock trip that toyed with her senses, but a fully formed world with no recognizable parallels to her home. Up ahead, a tall building made of some kind of smooth, almost silvery stone stood in the distance.

“Come on,” Delfine called out to Megan behind her. “I’ll introduce you to the others, and we’ll getcha all sorted out.”

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