The edge of the forest loomed up in the night, like a row of dark sentinels.
"Run for the shadows!" shouted Rafe, laughing, drunk, naked. He stumbled, fell, went silent, then burst into another round of laughter.
"Come on!" said Jessica, giggling. She wore nothing but a loose cardigan draped precariously around her shoulders. She carried an empty champagne bottle and stopped to lick its rim before dropping it on the ground between her feet. She watched it fall and topple over into the frozen grass. She turned to chastise Rafe with a withering glare as he rolled around in the grass, clutching his ribcage, and she saw the barn behind them, with its yellow eyes and the party within that lazily burbled on without any recognition of its missing participants. "It's cold..." she slurred.
Rafe stopped rolling and stared up at the winkling stars. Jessica stomped back to retrieve him, pulling him by the elbow.
"No, stop. I'm sick," said Rafe. She dropped his arm.
"Roll over then, so you don't suffocate on your vomit."
"Go on without me."
Jessica looked back at the dark tree line, wobbling on her feet. She pondered the situation for a few blurry, blinking seconds.
Rafe nodded once briefly, then grimaced, turned to the sod, and threw up in a steaming pile.
"Better out. Ech," said Jessica.
"Go!" Rafe blurted, before releasing another flood of stomach fluid.
"Alright, alright. That smells."
Jessica tottered and stumbled towards the trees. She stopped at the perimeter of the wire fence and waved her hand over a barb.
"You sure?" she yelled back to Rafe. "They say this forest is full of dangerous things...that it never sees sunlight..."
"Yeah, but nothing's going to touch you. You're golden!" shouted Rafe, before laying his head down to spy on her from between blades of frosty grass.
"I'm golden," murmured Jessica to herself, giggling again. She ducked and awkwardly inserted herself between two lines of the wire. A barb caught her cardigan and she toppled over, smearing freshly turned soil over her face. She laughed again then managed to pull her cardigan free but leaving a string of the yarn to unravel. She got to her knees and wrapped the cardigan around her tightly. Her head began to buzz and vibrate and she started to sweat. She stood and the world spun around her--she stumbled forward and leaned on a thick black tree with smooth bark. She leaned her forehead against it and breathed in an earthy, calming, mossy smell. She stood there until her inner ears and her brain hashed out which way was actually up. The music from the barn faded.
She turned to look back at the barn but it was gone. She slowly turned all the way around, but there was nothing but the outlines of slick dark trees lit by the blue light of the moon. Her heart convulsed.
There was silence.
"Rafe!? Where are you?"
The silence crept further in until even the breeze was quiet and her ears began to hurt. She closed her eyes tight and shook her head, and behind her eyelids glowed a light, throwing her capillaries into contrast.
"Who are you?" whispered a high female voice.
"Why have you invaded the sanctuary?" asked a soft male voice.
Jessica opened her eyes but the light was gone and there was nothing but the trees. She circled around, looking in all directions. She closed her eyes again, rubbing them, and the glow returned. She opened them again as fast as she could but there was nothing but darkness.
"Don't try seeing us, because you can't," said the female voice.
"Answer us," said the male voice.
Jessica gulped hard and stumbled backward and forced her spine against a tree.
"I don't know who you are, but there's a whole bunch of people just a couple of yards back there...and my boyfriend!" Her breathe grew shallow. "He knows jujitsu!" she added forcefully.
"Answer us," said the voices together.
"No, you tell me who you are first!" she shouted.
There was silence.
"Hello?" Jessica peered into the spaces between the trees, trying to focus on the abyssal darkness without success. "If this is a prank of some sort, the jig is up!"
She blinked and saw a flash of light and yelped. She closed her eyes again to see two distinct glowing blobs through her skin, and she simpered and sunk to the loamy soil at roots of the tree.
"She doesn't know us," said the female voice.
"No, I don't know you..." said Jessica, starting to cry.
"This is tedious," said the male voice.
"Who are you?" asked Jessica, sobbing.
"Your culture knows us as angels," said the female voice.
"Angels? Aren't you supposed to be nice and stuff?" Jessica wiped her tears with muddy hands against.
"We're great warriors, so do not anger us," said the male voice.
Jessica slowly released a high-pitched whine.
"But we want no part of the war that rages around us," said the female voice.
"But you're invisible!"
One of the lights grew intensely, searingly bright, and Jessica's entire back spasmed in a charlie-horse. She screamed.
"Oh enough," said the male voice. "It is a simple creature. We do not need to show force."
The light diminished and the pain stopped. Jessica slumped over, breathing hard. She forced her eyes open.
"Who are you?" asked the male voice.
"Jessica. I'm an artist. I don't really have any money if that's what you're interested--"
"Is that where you're from?"
"Artist? Is that where you're from?"
"No. That's my occupation. Who are you people?"
"Where are you from?"
"What constellation is that in?"
"Your planet, Maine," said the female voice with agitation, "what constellation is that in?"
"Uh..." said Jessica, blinking rapidly. "It's not a planet?" she answered with a question.
"What planet are you from then?"
"Earth of course," said Jessica slowly.
There was silence.
"Oh..." said the male voice. "That explains a lot."
"Wait a second...if you knew what culture I'm from, wouldn't you know my planet?"
There was silence.
"You two don't make any sense."
"Earth is one of many planets with humans," said the male voice.
"It was lost early in the war," said the female voice.
"Uh...so the bad guys got it, do you mean?" asked Jessica.
"No, its location was lost. There was a worm that ate the location--"
"What the hell? How can a worm eat a planet?"
"This is ridiculous," said the female voice. "We're using its own words and it doesn't understand us."
"I'm not an 'it', I'm a Jessica!"
"It ate the location, not the planet, Jessica," said the male voice.
"We've given her enough information," said the female voice. "Why have you invaded the sanctuary?"
"I didn't invade anything. I came here on a dare. It was just a big spooky forest. I didn't see any no trespassing signs. If I've crossed onto your land without your permission, then I apologize."
There was silence.
"I still don't get the worm thing," said Jessica.
The female angel screamed shrilly, until she vibrated the air into standing waves. Bits of soil started to drift into the air. Jessica stared forward into the darkness, stunned, her hair rising around her in a halo.
"Have mercy," whispered the male voice. The female abruptly stopped screaming. "Jessica?" he asked. "Close your eyes, and concentrate on me."
"Okay." She did as she was asked, and the male grew into a bright vertical line. Her body flooded with warmth and her muscles relaxed.
"A few thousand of your years ago, give or take, was anything written to document the presence of angels?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess."
"And then abruptly, it just stopped."
"Um, not really. People still talk about angels and stuff, but they're sort of cheesy. I guess, commercialized in a way? I always thought they were a proxy for earlier ideas about animism. But maybe, I guess...not."
"This is not interesting," said the female voice, from a distance.
"But there haven't been stories since that time of cities being razed, or humans being raped by spectral forms?"
"Uh...the first one no. So by 'rape' I take it you mean nonconsensual sex between humans and um, spectral forms?"
"What other sense would there be? Is that not an accurate word for that act?" asked the male voice.
"Well it's just...uh...never mind. What does this have to do with the worm?"
"The reason why the stories stopped is that the worm ate the location of your planet. It was effectively removed from the environment."
"The active universe. Earth was cut off, isolated. It's ironic our sanctuary contains a portal to it."
"Um, yeah, lost me again," said Jessica. "I have to say, this is a very elaborate prank."
"How can she still not believe us?" screamed the female from behind the male. "Let me at her!"
"NO!" bellowed the male. "We do not torture the innocent! That is not our way."
"Uh, thanks," said Jessica, beginning to shiver involuntarily. "So not a prank. Then I'm probably hallucinating..."
"Of course you are," said the male.
"All humans live their lives in an altered state of reality. It gives you your blindness and allows you to function without wanting to end yourselves."
"Oh. So...it's not just now...it's all the time."
"Ask her," said the female voice.
"Did anything follow you in here?"
"No," said Jessica. "My boyfriend was going to come with me, but I think he passed out."
"And he is human, like you?"
"Uh, I really, really hope so," said Jessica.
There was a long period of silence.
"Are you guys talking to yourselves when you go all quiet like that? I can still see you behind my eyelids."
There was silence.
"Are you still there? What is this place exactly? This sanctuary? Where am I?"
"It's an energy sink," said the male.
"It absorbs excess energy from all parts of the active universe. It also masks our signal and hides our presence."
"You're warriors...and you're hiding from the war? Doesn't that make you cowards?"
"We're not cowards! We are not hiding!" screeched the female. "We're protesting! The war is unjust and we do not have the strategic numbers to end it!"
"Don't say that name!" screamed the female. Intense heat suddenly radiated from inside Jessica's body, and her throat constricted into a knot, and just as suddenly, it passed, into a deafening silence. Jessica fell forward into the uncovered soil and passed out.
When she woke, her head throbbed. She forced her body to turn over and she looked at the unchanged moon.
"Hello?" she called out groggily. "Angel people?"
There was no answer, but she could still hear the breeze slipping between the trees. She sat up and clutched her stomach, groaning.
"You could have at least told me how to get out of this place!" she shouted into the darkness. "Some angels you are."
She got to her feet and brushed dirt from her cardigan. She noticed the unraveled yarn at its edge. A mess of it pooled at her feet. She pulled up on it, wrapping it around her hand until it was taut.
"Oh, I am so golden," she said with a small smile. She followed the yarn for several feet when the forest spun around her, and suddenly she faced bright sunlight and the the wire fence. The light made her cringe and cover her eyes with her palms. She stood and slowly let a bit of light in through her fingers so her brain could adjust. She pushed her way through the fence and unsnagged the yarn. Then she stood tall and surveyed the field ahead.
It was hot, the height of summer. Butterflies and insects flitted above the tall grass. Directly ahead of her was a large ruin of rotting gray wood.
"Oh no," she said under her breath. She walked forward, then hit something hard with her toe and stumbled, falling. She drew up her hurt foot and massaged it, then looked for the offending object. Her hand came across a curve of weathered glass, embedded into the ground. She worked furiously to dig it up with her fingers, and she unearthed the champagne bottle, filled with dirt. She looked back at the ruin.
"I think I missed my ride..." she said ruefully, then burst into tears.