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No Place for the Unknown

By Judah Lamey

3rd Place Winner for Teleport’s 2019 Fantasy Contest

 

Image by Naseeb Zeeba

 

Walking somewhere between a trudge and a shuffle, Disander made his way through the loading dock, toward an empty truck bay. One by one the lights flicked off, as the other employees closed down for the night. Grabbing the rolling door above his head, Disander stepped off the dock and pulled the door down as he dropped to the ground below. The three foot drop was far for most, but not him. Turning he made sure the door was latched before looking over and longingly watching the other employees leave via the regular exit. Laughing and talking about the day and shouting back and forth about what bar they should meet up at as they made their way to their respective cars.

     Disander had showed up uninvited once, having overheard their plans and knowing the bar. It had not gone well, and he had never tried again. Walking to the far side of the loading dock’s expanse of pavement, Disander closed and locked the feeding trough. A shadow passed over him and he looked up to see the shape of a gryphon gliding gracefully through the air, a large container gripped casually in its claws. A local delivery then, anything further was sent via Dragon or Rok courier.

     Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, he slumped his shoulders and let the scrape and clop of his hooves lull him into a thoughtless stupor as he began the long walk home. Absently he wished he had somewhere else to go, but this was a small town, in the middle of nowhere. The only real things to do were to hang out with friends or complain about the day over some beers with coworkers. Online there was a thriving feeling of mutual acceptance between all the races and species, and most cities had businesses built to accommodate the full spectrum of creatures. This town had neither. Thus as a Minotaur, standing seven feet tall if you counted to the tips of his horns was not an accommodating place. His hide was a dark red brown, not dissimilar to well-dried blood, and his black horns curved up from a wide, harsh-featured, bulls head. The rest of his body was muscular but not too different to a human’s if you discounted the hairy hide, at least until you got to his massive hooves, each as large around as dinner plates.

     Twelve years ago now, a cadre of witches and wizards had opened a portal connecting Disander’s world and this one permanently. The iridescent thirty foot wide doorway had launched the small town of Lockport, New York into the rapt attention of not only one but two worlds. There had been talk of war at first, but both worlds were far too curious about the other to contemplate destroying each other. Slowly at first and then, shockingly fast they had bled together. Trading resources such as magic for technology, had created a booming economy for both worlds. Then tourism began on an unimaginable scale. What had been a small town on one side of the portal and an abandoned field on the other, was now known as Lockportal and was a sprawling city, growing to truly mammoth proportions.

     Disander had come through the portal to explore this new world and all of its wonders with what, at the time, he hoped would be his mate. They had traveled and marveled together for nearly a year. This town had been on their way to the next red circle on their map. Life on the road however, had not been easy for them. They had been too close, for too long, too soon in their relationship. They had fought, and fallen asleep angry in a hotel room that was far too small for one minotaur, let alone two.

     When morning came, Disander awoke to find he was alone, with no form of transportation and no money. It was then that he learned that life here was just as dark as life in his world when you fell out of grace. He also learned that Other-worlders, what his kind had been named, were loosely broken down into two categories when it came to earthlings perceptions of them.  There were the mythical and the monstrous, from what Disander could gather this was all somewhat subjectively based on earth culture and media. Whatever the case, Disander found himself in the monstrous category. This meant that, despite the fact that he had never raised his hand to harm another creature, when he ducked into the grocery store, parents would grab their children’s arms and in hurried hushed tones pull them away, with barely concealed glances of fearful anger. Then of course there was the first time that he had gone to cash his paycheck at the bank, the security guard had pulled him out of line to question his intentions, with his hand on his gun the entire time.

     Now he deposited his check via the ATM outside and shopped at night. A local wana-be gang had even approached him to see if he would be interested in making some “real money” and the local cops watched him as if he had said yes, which he hadn’t. The worst part was that he was constantly overcharged for anything and everything to the point where he could barely afford to live in this place, let alone get somewhere else.  The irony was that this town was keeping him here when neither it nor he wanted to be here, which was not lost on him.

     So he walked on, not paying attention to the murmur of conversations that were perpetually in his wake. In his world, he would have been considered highly educated, and he even had a job working as a teacher of linguistics, though he suspected that if he could make it back there, his job would not be waiting. Here in this world where he was viewed as a monster, he had been lucky to get a job working on the dock of the local discount department store. Though it had, and to be honest still did, rankle him that when he was hired, they had not even looked over his meticulously put together resume but simply asked him how much he could lift and put him to work on the dock.

     A muffled screech caught his ears, interrupting his thoughts. Even stifled as it was, Disander could tell that is was a bird, wounded and scared. Worse yet, he knew that sound but it was not from this world. Eyes suddenly bright and alert, he looked around. There was a panel van slowly crossing into the wrong lane as the driver was turned around looking into the back. As it passed, Disander recognized the driver as one of the men that had approached him about joining the gang. Then the sound came again and Disander realized what was going on.

     “Oh no.” the words escaped his lips as the horrifying realization fully dawned on him. Those fools were attempting to smuggle a phoenix. Disander quickened his pace, breaking into a jog to keep up with the van. It swerved more drastically, tires squealing on pavement as it tore a mirror off a parked car.  Then punctuated by a scream of agony, flames filled the van.

     Bright tongues of fire licked across the inside of the glass, and the scream cut out. The van jumped the curb glancing off a parked car with a screech of protesting metal. Mud and grass sprayed in an arch as the van cut through a yard the flames inside growing brighter by the moment. It careened through a cluttered porch and crashed into the front wall of a run down home. The impact shattered the windshield of the van, and the rush of fresh air fueled the magical fire within. Flames exploded out of the windshield, curling into the house. Disander was rooted to the ground, unbelieving and shocked by the sudden ferocity of it.

     Then he saw a window on the second story open, and beyond it a man holding a baby in his arms. In three leaping steps, Disander crossed the road, and the small front yard, vaulting himself onto the porch roof, hoping it was sturdy enough to hold his weight. It groaned in protest, and through his hooves he could feel it shift, his ears picking out the sounds of timbers creaking. With his face twisted in horror the man recoiled from the window, shielding his baby with his arms and his body. With one hand braced on the side of the house, Disander grabbed the window frame and after a moment of straining, accented with the whine of metal and wood being pushed past their limit, the window casing gave way and ripped free. Glass shattered all around him, as he threw the mess of broken wood off to the side of the porch.

     “Come, I’ll lower you down.” Disander gestured urgently with one bloodied hand.

     Either the sincerity in Disander’s eyes, or lack of options urged the man forward, and he rushed through the opening. Flames began to flicker up around the corner of the porch, and Disander could feel it shift further, pulling away from the house. As the man adjusted his baby to one hip, holding them tight, he took the minotaurs outstretched hand. As Disander lowered him to the debris littered yard he asked,

     “Is there anyone else in the house?”

     The man looked up, with tear filled eyes. “Yes my wife, I think she was downstairs.”

     Not sure if the porch roof would support him a moment longer, and not having time to find another way into the house, Disander ducked through the jagged hole of the window. His horns scratching shallow groves in the ceiling as he hurried across the room, turning sideways to squeeze through the door. If he wasn’t careful he could easily become stuck in the house, and already the smoke was becoming thick.

     “Ma’am, I’m here to help, where are you?” He called into the growing darkness.

     Coughing caught his ears through the crackling of the fire. It sounded like it was indeed downstairs. Grabbing the corner of a wall, Disander pulled through a narrow door, feeling the wood splinter and break around his shoulders. The smoke was growing even thicker now, making it hard to see and breath. Disander slapped his palm into a window shattering the glass as he rushed down the hallway. He felt the sharp pain of a fresh cut on his palm, but he didn’t spare the time or thought to worry about that now. Smoke billowed out through the opening as he ducked his head lower.

     Rounding a corner he saw the stairs through stinging eyes.  Breathing was becoming nearly impossible, and if the stairs gave out under him would he have time to free himself before the flames and smoke took him? Heaving himself forward, he half jumped, half fell. As his hooves connected with the ground floor, something gave with a horrifying chorus of snapping wood.  Stumbling forward, his shoulder smashed into the wall. Drywall chunks and dust peppered the ground as he pulled out of the wall and oriented himself. Ahead of him was an open doorway showing a room in chaos. Furniture was scattered about the floor, while flames rolled across the ceiling. Putting up a hand Disander shielded himself from the sudden intensity of the inferno before him. Across what was left of the living-room, the smashed front of the van sat atop the ruined remains of a sofa, both engulfed in flames. Sitting amid the dancing fire sat a phoenix, grooming itself. Another cough caught his attention and Disander turned toward the back of the house. His shoulders scraped the walls, and he could smell his own coarse hair beginning to singe.

     In the kitchen he saw her laying on the ground, her ankle twisted or broken, blood in her hair as she struggled toward the back door. Disander bent down to gingerly pick her up, but as she turned and saw his horned bulls head, backlit by the flames of her house, she screamed and flailed out at him. This was not a surprise to him, and Disander took the abuse as he continued to carefully find a way to pick her up without hurting her foot. A fist caught him in side of his face, dangerously close to his eye, and he had to crane his neck back as he picked her off the floor. He could feel his lungs burning with the need for fresh air, as she struck him again and again, aiming for his face, his eyes. Pulling back, he kicked out with one massive hoof, shattering the back doors glass, and tearing the hinges off the wall. The twisted remnants of the door clattered onto a concrete path behind the house, and Disander crashed through the new opening. He made it three steps into the back yard before his knees nearly gave out, and he had to set the woman down to stumble over, catching himself on a prefab play area. He was racked with a coughing fit, as he struggled for fresh air.

     More voices were yelling, and Disander turned to see two wide eyed police officers training their guns on him.

     Whether it was the pain of the smoke in his lungs, or the adrenaline from the fire, Disander couldn’t keep his indignation in check.

     “You have got to be kidding me!”  His words came out harsh, his voice strained from the smoke, and his temper stoked by the sheer injustice of it.

     The gunshot was quieter than he thought it would be, as his vision went white.

#

     Consciousness came to Disander with a flash of pain. A groan escaped his lips and it felt to him like some malevolent giant was taking turns squeezing his head, like one would pop a grape, and pushing a telephone pole into it.

     “Take it easy big guy. Best to keep your eyes closed for a bit more here.”

     As the words came to him, Disander became aware of the pressure of two small hands on his forehead.

     Disander’s throbbing brain was able to come to the conclusion that listening to whoever this was might be a good idea. So he gritted his teeth against the pain and tried to ask in a level tone. “Who, if you don’t mind be being so blunt, are you exactly?”

     The feminine voice chuckled, “My name is Susan, I’m a paramedic. You seem to be doing quite well for having been shot in the head.”

     Disander snorted, “Lucky he shot me in the head and not the heart, I have a thicker skull than I do a hide.”

     Susan laughed outright. “I imagine this would be the first time anyone has said, ‘lucky he shot me in the head.’”

     Disander nearly cut her off as his mind began putting the pieces back together, “How is the woman?”

     “My partner is tending to her at the moment. It seems she had quite the change of heart regarding you once her husband filled her in on the whole story. Open your left eye please.”

     He did so, and Susan checked him over for a concussion and then helped him to sit up. Looking around, Disander saw that the fire was largely under control now. As he watched, firemen entered the house trailing a thick hose that slithered through the muddy puddles of the yard. Smoke still curled around the home but there were no flames visible through the broken jagged windows. Taking in the full scope of the yard, Disander saw the family huddled close together as another paramedic dealt with the mother. Farther off to the side he noticed the two police officers deep in conversation, sparing him furtive glances, leaving him little doubt as to the subject of their whispers.

     “The man there, sheltered his baby with his own body when he saw me, like I was there to steal it. When I tried to save the woman she screamed and went for my eyes, even as I carried her out. Then after saving an entire family from a burning building, the police were so scared of me they shot me in the head.”

     Susan’s hands faltered, “I can’t speak to any of that, as it was before I got here.”

     Disander waved a hand dismissively, “I read up on the concept of lawsuits, as part of my study of your culture and I am not fishing for witnesses. Suing is not something that we have in my world, we are a little more…” Disander paused while he thought of the right word, “direct, with our problem solving.”

     “I can’t advise a direct course of action here.”

     Disander laughed, “As you say here, No worries. I’m more passive than my visage would lead you to believe.”

     “In all honesty, you are not what I was expecting.”

     “Cheers to your bravery for dealing with the monster then.”

     “I’m the rookie.”

     Disander snorted again, “Yes, now that is a concept that we do have in my world. I believe you call it hazing yes?”

     Susan laughed, “Indeed we do.”

     His focus faded as Disander’s good mood dissolved.  In a more somber tone he quietly spoke. “This world has no place for me.”

     Susan moved on from his forehead, working her way along a muscular shoulder, pulling splinters out with some trouble. She paused and looked into his eyes, “Not that I’m trying to get rid of you but why stay then?”

     Disander snorted again, flinching as she pulled a particular large splinter free.

     “It’s a simple thing, I can’t afford to. I had my documentation stolen, and after I pay for rent on a too small apartment there is not a lot left, especially after groceries. New documentation is not cheep, plus the travel of getting back to the portal for a creature of my size can be a daunting expense.”

     Susan was quiet for awhile as she worked. “Well then, if you can’t go back and this world has no place for you,” Looking up she met his eyes, her own brimming with sincerity. “Make one.”

     Disander tilted his head, regarding her curiously. “That is a nice sentiment. I think I saw it on a t-shirt at work.”

     Susan ignored his quip. “You just saved a family from a burning building, and you got shot for your trouble. Why?” Before Disander could respond she continued, “Because this world sees Minotaurs as monsters. Humanity as a whole is very good about seeing things as good or bad and not seeing the ocean of options that lay between the two. In our world, up until the rift all we had were stories of your kind, and most all those stories painted you as a blood thirsty killer.”

     Disander blinked in shock at her candor. He opened his mouth to reply, but she continued, cutting him off and gesturing to him with a jagged splinter still slick with his blood.

     “Are you so blind that you think you are the only one suffering from these views? What about the other minotaurs? What about the Orcs and the Trolls for that matter? Are you telling me that there is no such thing as prejudice in your world? I don’t know what life is like on your side of that portal, but I can tell you that here we have been dealing with that very thing, very poorly, for a very long time.”

     Disander mulled over her words as she went back to work a little sheepishly after her outburst. “How? Go out and do good deeds?”

     Susan was thoughtful for a moment, “Possibly, but you will be dealing with that prejudice while you do, it seems like it would be easy to get overwhelmed.”

     In his mind’s eye he saw the terrified face of the woman beating at him, while he tried to save her from the flames.

     “True.”

     Susan, finished with his arm, and turned his hand palm up to pick out some glittering glass shards. “Find a way to make your voice heard. You may not live long enough to see the world become what you wish it was now, but you might just make it a better place for the next creature to find itself in your shoes.” Disander lifted one of his hooves into the air, and Susan rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

     Their conversation was interrupted as Disander heard one of the police calling to the other. The younger of the two officers was approaching, his hat held in his hands.

     “Hello, my name is officer Ryan.”

     Disander nodded slowly, “Disander.”

     “I am not supposed to talk to you, and I am definitely not supposed to apologize. But I’m the one who, um…” Officer Ryan fidgeted with his hat.

     Susan supplied, “Shot him in the head?”

     The Officer nodded, “Yes. When my partner comes over we will have to be official but before that starts I just wanted to say I was sorry.”

     Disander looked at the man for a long moment and then nodded again, holding out a massive hand. With a hint of trepidation the officer reached out, and Disander engulfed his hand within his own.

#

     Later that night, once the sun was long gone and the moon was high, after Susan had put him back together and the Police had all the statements that anyone could ever need, Disander took a detour on his way home. In many ways nothing had changed about his life, tomorrow he would wake up to a new morning and the same job. Like a clock, the hands would tick off a new day and yet it would be the same path they took the day before, new and yet the same.

     In one very important way however, something had changed for Disander. Where before  he had spent all of his free time pining after a life that was long gone, he now had a goal, a purpose.

     Dropping the plastic bag adorned with the logo of the corner drugstore, Disander removed three cheap notebooks with small wire spines, a box of pencils and a tiny, to him, pencil sharpener. Biting his lip in thought Disander’s mind raced while he slowly spun a pencil in the sharpener. For the first time in a very long time, a smile spread across his face.

     Flipping open one of the notebooks, Disander the Minotaur lost far from home, put pencil to paper and wrote.

     Chapter 1 The Unlikely Heroes.

     His smile spread wider as the sounds of passing cars and the neighbor’s television faded, and his apartment was instead filled with the sound of the scritching and scratching of his cheap pencil turning a blank sheet of cheaper lined paper into something far more. A new story, a new world, a small nudge in the right direction.

The End

 

Bio: Judah Lamey finished writing his first “book” when he was twelve. Thankfully his stories have grown from video game fanfic and have become more and more creative and unique. His novella What Stories Letters May Tell will be published soon on Amazon, and that will be far from the last thing you hear from him. Follow Judah on Twitter @GlintofMischief to be kept in the loop. https://twitter.com/Glintofmischief

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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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