The Bridging World

Chapter One: Zone Seventy-Seven



Jake Soloman's scope hovered over a town nestled unevenly in a clearing surrounded like a bowl by four mountains. He did not know the town's name, nor its history, nor who lived there. What he knew was that it didn't exist several hours ago.


"You in position, Jake?"

Jake grabbed the radio from his waistband and held it to his mouth. "I got eyes on Zone Seventy-Seven. Levon, you're not going to believe this. It's an entire town."

"Hold on, did you say town?"

"Yeah. I've never seen a Bridging Event this large before. I can faintly hear your trucks, so it should be coming into view for you shortly." Jake set his radio off to his left and repositioned himself over his rifle. He wiped the snow that had accumulated on the scope's lens and peered through them. Three large transport trucks, led by Levon, trundled between two of the mountains. Their diesel engines reverberated with a low rumble. At their speed, Jake figured they would make the town's border within the next ten minutes.

The radio crackled once more. "We see it. Hot damn, you weren't kidding. You could almost call that a city. I can't make out much because of the snow, but it looks like it came from Earth."

Jake swept his rifle's gaze over the town. He reached for the radio while keeping his eye glued to the scope. "Definitely from Earth. The buildings are in rough shape because of the transference... but I would recognize architecture like that anywhere. If I were a betting man, I would also guess an American origin."

"Any sign of people?"

Jake surveyed the town's streets and windows. "For the moment, no. I'll keep looking. This place, however, it's amazing. I've spotted a couple of gas stations, several vehicles, what looks like a small grocery store, and I believe a medical center."

"So, we hit the mother load."

"That's the understatement of the day. We'll be able to keep everyone back home fed for months and think of the trading value. Fuel, vehicle parts, medical supplies. Can we say gold mine?"

"Well, let's pick it clean before anyone else discovers it."

"Sounds good. Be careful in there."

"Will do."

A young, spunky voice chimed in over the radio next. "Hey, Jake. I know it's quite cozy up there all by yourself. I'm sure you're about to break out some hot cocoa and enjoy all this wonderful winter weather we're having, but make sure you're watching our backs, okay?"

Jake rolled his eyes, but his lips cracked a smile. "Don't you worry, Nicolae. I can multitask, but remember that I'm a hunter. Not a sniper."

"So, what you're saying is that we're screwed if anything threatening shows up?"

"I'm just saying that I hope you brought bullets today."

"Thanks, Jake. It's great knowing that I can count on you."

"Sarcasm noted, but you're welcome, regardless."

Levon's voice returned. "We're entering the town. Jake, you're our eyes up there. I'm going to need you to guide us. You said you saw a medical center, correct?"

"More like a small clinic, but I imagine there's plenty to scavenge. You'll want to head towards the center of town. That's north, northwest of your position. It's across from the grocery store. I'll let you know when you're on the correct street."

"Roger that. Heading north, northwest."

Jake found navigating the trucks rather challenging. Buildings hid the condition of several of the roads. In its natural setting, that wouldn't have mattered. Now, it proved cumbersome with the maze of rubble and shattered concrete. The weather only compounded the problems. It wasn't a blizzard, but it wasn't flurrying either. The rifle scope required wiping every few seconds, making Jake struggle to keep track of everyone's position. Worse yet, the surroundings demanded constant surveillance. With a Bridging Event this monumental, others would begin snooping around soon enough.

Jake tightened his jacket's collar. Two hours in, and his nose was raw from the cutting wind. His shaggy, sable-colored hair and luxuriant beard drooped from melting flakes. The extended period of lying in the snow had also left his clothes damp and heavy. A hot meal and warm fireplace became more preferable with every passing second. One thing kept him intrigued, though. A burning question whose answer eluded him.

"Hey, Levon?"

"Yeah?"

"During a Bridging Event, everything within the radius of the event gets transported, correct?"

"So far, from what I have witnessed, that seems to be the pattern, yes."

"Where are the town's residents, then? We should have seen someone by now."

Nicolae's voice chimed in. "I've been wondering the same thing. Unless evacuated or abandoned before the Bridging Event occurred, there should be people here. So, where is everyone?"

"I'm not sure," Levon said. "We know it's been quite a few hours since the Bridging Event took place. Perhaps the residents, in a state of fear and confusion, left."

"All of them?" Nicolae asked.

Levon sighed. "Kid, I don't know. A lot of reasons could explain it. We just need to keep our eyes alert."

"I don't know," Jake said, "something about it just doesn't sit well with me."

-----

It was midday when Levon and his team steered their trucks into the clinic's parking lot. An eerie silence settled in as the trucks' engines quieted. Light gusts of wind and pattering snowflakes brought the only audible sounds. Levon's skin chilled as coldness crept inside, replacing the warmth of the now absent heater. He glanced at the driver's side mirror, which reflected a plaza across the street. He could see the grocery store, but another store two units over held his attention longer. The name was unintelligible, but the large picture of an assault rifle advertised it well enough. The list of stops grew longer.

Levon felt the older gentleman next to him staring inquisitively. Silent Olek, people called him. Fitting, as Olek rarely spoke. It wasn't by choice, however. English was the primary language spoken by the colony. Back on Earth, Olek had lived in the country of Ukraine. This, mixed with his age, left him knowing few English words. Levon acknowledged Olek's questioning expression with a nod and pulled the keys out of the ignition. He grabbed his semi-automatic rifle, and both he and Olek exited the truck in unison. The air echoed to the truck doors closing behind them. Shouldering his rifle, Levon crunched his way to the back of the cargo compartment. He could hear the rest of his crew getting out of their trucks in response, and he waited as the four of them, which included Nicolae, made their way over to him. He stood for a moment studying them, his aged eyes calculating.

"Alright, here's the plan," he said. "We have three guns. That's it. There are six of us, so we'll need to split into three groups. Two people per group. One person carries the firearm and leads, while the other hauls supplies. For those carrying supplies, duffel bags are in the truck. Make sure you grab one. While inside the clinic, keep an eye out for civilians. Appear approachable and friendly should you run into one. Remember your own experiences when these events happened to you. A lot of us felt scared and confused."

"Now, let's be realistic. We won't be the only colony here for long. Let's try to hit as many locations as possible. That means don't waste time on non-essential items. Jake's our sentry lookout. If he reports unwelcome guests, we pack it up and leave. Remember, none of you are soldiers. Your weapons are for last resort. Do we understand each other?"

Everyone responded unanimously, "Yes, sir."

"Alright, I'll assign teams now. Alex, you're with Regina, David, you're with Olek, and Nicolae, you're with me. Make sure your radios stay on at all times, no exceptions."

Levon turned and climbed into the cargo compartment of his truck. He could hear Nicolae outside complaining under his breath. "Aw, man. Talk about some injustice. Alex gets Regina, Jake's sitting on his butt, and I got paired with an old man." Levon snatched a duffel bag and hurled it at Nicolae's feet. Nicolae stared up at Levon with disdain. "Seriously? You're making me the tote boy?"

"Sorry," Levon said. "I'm old."

Nicolae threw his hands up in defeat. "Okay. I admit it. I deserved that one."

"Let's try to keep the antics to a minimum, Mr. Danzer. You've completed several successful and non-eventful expeditions, I realize that. Regardless, you need to stay sharp. These excursions can go south at a moment's notice."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Relax, you old handwringer. Look, we're not the main squad. I get it. We haven't trained as long, and we have minimal experience. Your fears are justified. Don't underestimate us, though. I'm young and spry, David's strong, Jake's not a sniper, but he's a good shot, Regina's cute, Olek is Olek, and I don't particularly like Alex. Boom. A-Team."

"This right here is the reason I paired you with me."

"Why? Because you can't live without my charming personality?"

"Because I doubt you could live period without me."

Nicolae clutched his chest. "Sir, I'll have you know I am a human being with feelings."

"Uh, huh. Grab the duffel bag, Mr. Danzer. We have a job to do." Levon dropped from the truck and faced everyone. "Everyone carrying firearms, remember your safety training. The safety switch stays on until needed. If you don't plan to destroy it, don't point at it, and keep those fingers off the triggers until you're ready to shoot. Let's get this done." He then reached for his radio. "Jake, stand by. We're going in. Let us know if you see anything."

"Copy that," Jake said. "Standing by."

Levon unshouldered his rifle and chambered a round. Regina and Olek, who held the firearms for their groups, followed suit. Levon had only taken his first step towards the clinic when a sound caught his ear. Initially, he thought it was the dog barking off in the distance. There was something else, though. An unnatural... growl, of sorts. He stood a moment longer, straining his ear. The squad noticed and began scanning the surroundings.

The scream stunned them. Raised every hair on their body. A wailing yet guttural roar erupted as three shotgun blasts thundered in rapid succession. Another bout of screaming followed but ended in gurgling abruptness. Seconds later, the barking of the dog contorted into yowls of agony, and then nothing but a chilling moan of wind remained.

Upon hearing the first gunshot, Levon had grabbed cover behind his truck and motioned to the others to do the same. The unexpected suddenness of it made his adrenaline kick into overdrive. He tried to control his breathing, but it had taken him off guard. His mind drowned in a sea of questions, stress, and tactical decisions. He looked toward the others, their experience betrayed by their expressions. Fear and uncertainty. Their faces paled, bodies trembling. They looked at him, waiting for him to take control. He raised his radio up, trying his best to keep his voice steady.

"Jake, tell me you saw what that was."

The radio chirped back in response. "I'm sorry. I heard the shots, but up here, it's difficult to pinpoint the placement with everything echoing off of these mountains. Is everyone okay?"

It wasn't the answer Levon wanted, but it didn't surprise him. "Everyone's fine. Whoever that was, they weren't aiming at us. I need your eyes, Jake. We're using the trucks for cover. See what you can see and make sure nothing's approaching us."

"Yes, sir."

Levon turned to the others, noting their positions. He pointed to Alex, David, and Nicolae, who lacked a gun. "Stay low in the back of the truck and keep your survival knives at the ready." They obeyed and slipped into the truck. Levon directed his gaze to Regina. "Regina, safety off and cover the side of the truck opposite me." She nodded and complied. Levon faced Olek next, showing himself setting the safety to 'off' on his rifle. Olek acknowledged the command and repeated the action on his shotgun. Levon then motioned Olek to stand beside him as he peeked around the truck's corner. With his rifle only equipped with iron sights, he had nothing but his eyes for monitoring. Regardless, no immediate danger appeared charging in their general direction. Silence also hung in the air. Whatever just occurred had ended, and judging by the screams, the winner was apparent. The mystery of where the town's residents disappeared gained some clarity.

-----

Jake breathed heavily as he desperately searched for the source of the shots. Even with the mountainside's protection, choking panic wrapped its fingers around his thoughts like a poisonous vine. He had been on a few scavenging hunts by this point, but not much had occurred on them. Now, the safety of his team relied on his ability to fulfill his role as a scout. He gripped his rifle tighter at the sound of Levon's voice.

"Jake. I need that sitrep. What do you see?"

Jake attempted to calm his breathing before pressing the radio's button. "Nothing yet. I'm sorry. Snowfall's getting heavier, and there are a lot of hiding spots. However, the clinic appears safe. I haven't spotted any movement in the vicinity. You could probably make it inside without issue."

Five seconds passed before Levon responded. "I've got a bad feeling about this one. Right before they fired those shots, I heard something unsettling. Whatever that was, I don't believe we want to cross paths with it."

Jake hesitated a moment. "What do you want to do?" He couldn't help the tinge of hope in his voice. Another pause, longer this time.

"I'm not a fan of the idea, but we should pack it up and abort. We're not prepared to handle confrontation of any sort. I say we head home, wait for the main scavenging squad to return from their current mission, and then bring them back here. They're better equipped, and it'll make scavenging an area of this size easier."

Jake breathed a heavy sigh, feeling the tension in his body soften. "I think that's a good idea. It's not ideal, but I agree that we're at a massive disadvantage right now."

"My thoughts entirely. The safety of this squad is my top priority. Nothing we grab today is worth one of you getting injured. Better to return with more people."

"What are your orders?"

"Maintain overwatch while we vacate. Once we pass the town's border, make your way towards the foot of the mountain. We'll pick you up and head home."

"Understood. Stay safe."

"You as well."

Jake closed his eyes for a moment, letting out another hefty sigh. He noticed his hands shaking and took some deep breaths. It was fortunate that no one could see him right now.

The crack of gunfire startled him. A rifle and powerful at that. He raised his scope and searched for the trucks. Stress combed through his body at the realization that he hadn't been paying attention. Warm sweat mixed with droplets of melted snow. When his crosshairs landed on his squad-mates, he felt confused. They were scrambling towards Levon's sprawled-out body. Why was Levon on the ground? The blood drained from Jake's face, and he could hear the stuttering of his breath. Nicolae's frantic voice came over the radio, and Jake's heart sank at his words.

"They shot Levon. Jake, we're under attack. He's not moving... he's not moving..."


Chapter Two: A Town Stolen


It started with a screeching ring in his ears. Nathan Miller ripped his eyes open. Intense, white light forced his head into his pillow. Pain snaked through every nerve, his skin boiling. He smashed his hands against his ears and contorted his body into a ball. He screamed, but it went unheard to the endless ringing. The torment was unbearable. Tears ran down his cheeks. Then it was over. The burning subsided, along with the deafening onslaught of sound. He rolled over and blinked. His eyes needed to adjust, but he could see the outlines of his room. His dry lips muttered.

"What in the..."

"Dad!"

The sobbing cry of his daughter bolted Nathan out of bed. He snatched his red robe off the floor and dashed towards the door. "Lina," he called out. He was about to inquire about her status when he froze. Snow-dusted tree branches greeted him on the other side of his door. He stood in shocked silence. Too much had happened too fast. He decided it was best to ignore it for the moment. He needed to know his children were okay.

"Lina. Where's your brother? Are you both alright?"

"Dad, what's happening? What was that light? Why is there a tree in the middle of our house?"

"I don't know, honey. I'm trying to process that myself. Are you okay? Did you get hurt?"

"I don't know. I don't know. My body felt like it was burning."

"Mine did too. Is it still burning? Are you feeling pain anywhere else?"

"I... I don't think so."

"Good." Nathan took a deep breath and leaned against the door frame. "It's going to be okay, honey. We'll figure this out, I promise. Where's your brother?"

"I'm here." The distracted-sounding voice came further down the hall.

"Jay, are you okay?"

"Yeah, Dad. I'm fine, I think. Something really strange is happening, though."

"Yeah, it's called the past five minutes, Bro. Have you not seen the tree?"

"No, I mean, something 

really 

strange is going on. Look out your windows... it's snowing."

"No... it's the middle of May." Lina had said it more pleadingly than argumentatively.

"I'm telling you it's snowing. Seriously, look out your windows."

Nathan's blood chilled as he turned and approached the window across from him. Reaching out for the curtain, he could feel the cool breeze tickling his hand. He knew his son was right before even seeing the flurries of white cascading across his lawn. He stared, jaw agape. It wasn't just the snow. In the distance, there were mountains stretching past the view of his window. Mountains that he didn't recognize.

"This doesn't make any sense," he murmured. "What the hell is going on?"

Lina cried out from her room. "Why is there snow? It's supposed to be spring."

"Is this like some kind of apocalyptic event or something?" Jay asked.

"Not helping, Jay."

Nathan tried to repose his demeanor as he re-approached his door. "Kids, we need to stay calm. I know all of this is frightening, but if we panic, it's only going to make our situation worse. Let's try to take each challenge one at a time. Let's start by clearing these tree branches so we can access the hallway."

"I'm checking my phone," Lina said. "Maybe there's a news article or something."

"Good idea," Jay said. "I'll do the same."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "Sure. Let's do that instead." He tapped the wall with a thoughtful rhythm. He glanced at his phone, which sat on his wooden nightstand in taunting silence. With a defeated sigh, he walked over and grabbed it.

"I'm gonna call the station," he said over his shoulder. "Maybe they know something." He was about to open his contact list when he noticed the cell signal. There wasn't one. 

Odd. He raised the phone in the air and began walking around his room. He about tripped over the array of scattered clothes, papers, and trash.

Lina's concerned voice returned. "Dad?"

"Let me take a wild guess. You're not getting any signal?"

"It's not only that," Jay added. "Data's not working either, nor is the wi-fi."

"Wait," Nathan said. "The wi-fi isn't working?"

"I've tried everything. I can only use the apps. That's it."

"Oh my god, this is the absolute worst," Lina said.

Nathan checked his phone again. Everything Jay had said was true. No signal, data, or wi-fi. The wi-fi was the one that bothered him the most. He stood thinking for a moment. That's when he realized how quiet it was. He had been so preoccupied with the bizarre series of events that he failed to notice his fan wasn't blowing. Being on the second floor, the fan would have been pulling twenty-four-hour service with summer around the corner. There was no reason for him to turn it off.

"Don't tell me..." He walked to his light switch and flipped it. No light. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers. "Hey, did anyone check to see if the power was out?" He stopped and listened for a moment. It didn't take long before the ever-so-familiar disgruntled moans of his children flooded his ears. "Makes you wish we still had those landline phones, huh?"

"Not funny, Dad," Lina said.

"So, what do we do now?" Jay asked.

"Get dressed. We're going down to the station. I need to know how isolated of an incident this is. Hopefully, they will have a basic grasp on what happened when we get there." More moans ensued as Nathan began working on clearing the tree branches that blocked his way.

-----

The trip to the police station was surreal. Everywhere Nathan and his children looked, familiar mixed with the unfamiliar. Trees, rocks, boulders, and hills, that didn't belong, dotted and rolled through the town's yards, streets, and even buildings - much like the tree in their own home. This strange fusion of objects had damaged the integrity of many of the structures.

Nathan could see the foreign mountains more clearly now. They wrapped around in every direction like massive fortress walls. Their surfaces were a cold white, unlike the town where snow was only now sticking in small patches. Wherever they were, it had been snowing for a long time. Neither Nathan nor his children spoke the entire ride over.

Pulling into the rear parking lot of the police station, Nathan placed his old, red, single-cab pickup truck into park and slid out. He rummaged through the tight storage space behind the driver's seat and pulled out his police-issued jacket. He looked at his children as he zipped it up over his black uniform. They remained seated, waiting for his instruction.

"Come on, kids. You're coming with me."

"You sure it's okay, Dad?" Jay asked.

"I don't want you all out of my sight. I'll deal with the consequences if they have a problem." Nathan motioned to them with a coaxing gesture, and they piled out. Once they approached the staff entrance, Nathan pulled out an access card and swiped it across a small gray card reader next to the door. Nothing happened. Raising an eyebrow, he tried once more, but again, it made no sound. He reached for the door handle and twisted it. It popped open.

"Great," he said. "Looks like we aren't the only ones without power."

Lina piped up. "Wait. Don't police stations have like... I don't know... backup power or something?"

Nathan sighed. "They sure do." Without further comment, he strode in. Jay and Lina followed behind with timid steps.

The police station was a small, two-story building comprising the main floor that held the lobby, dispatch, booking, office, and locker rooms, and a basement where rooms like the armory, evidence lockup, and a couple of jail cells resided. It wasn't anything fancy, and the rooms that it had were cramped. Complaints had been filed over this multiple times, but town budget concerns had always put the priority of renovating the station at the bottom of the list. It came as no surprise that the place was run down. Dirty walls with faded white paint, tiled floors darkened by permanent stains, and a stale, bothersome odor that would scrunch anyone's nose if they weren't accustomed to it. Thankfully, the absence of light - except for what came through the windows - hid most of the unpleasant, visual appeal. If someone had visited the station without knowledge of the current situation, they may have mistaken the place for abandoned.

Nathan entered the dispatch room after rounding the corner. The two people already inside turned their heads in his direction. The first was Mary, who sat at the only dispatch console in the room. She was a middle-aged woman pushing fifty, dressed in a casual t-shirt and jeans. A clipboard filled with sheets of paper, covered in handwritten notes, rested under her hands, with a portable radio sitting only a few inches away. The bags under her eyes and chaotic locks of curled, blond hair advertised to Nathan how long she had been at her post.

The second was Ericson, who stood behind Mary, having been reading her notes before Nathan had entered. He sported the same officer's uniform as Nathan, but had already adorned his armored vest and utility belt. He was two years younger than Nathan, who had turned forty a few months back. The two of them had served together for most of their career, so Nathan picked up on the torment in his eyes.

"Thank Christ, you're here, Nate," Erickson said.

"Any idea what's going on?" Nathan asked. "I noticed the backup generator isn't working."

"Nothing's working," Mary said. Stress riddled her voice. She removed her thin-rimmed glasses and held them to the side, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "From what we've been able to gather, the whole town seems to be without power, save for the lucky few who still have working generators. Phones are dead across the board too. Not even the emergency landlines are working. The only way we've been able to communicate is by two-way radio. Best part is, we appear to be cut off from both the sheriff's department and the state police. I can't reach any of them. I've tried every frequency. That means we're it for now. Just five officers and my sorry butt."

"In other words, we're straight up screwed," Ericson said. At that, Nathan looked back at Lina and Jay, who stood huddled behind him. Their faces reflected the fear in the room. Nathan glared back at Ericson, the effect seeming to work as Ericson raised his hands in apology.

"Sorry, Nate. Young ears, I get it. Can we talk privately?"

"Yeah... sure. Kids, stay in here with Mary for a minute."

"Don't you worry, you two," Mary said. "I might not be the best of company, but I swear I don't bite." Lina and Jay attempted a smile, but their discomfort was obvious.

Ericson led Nathan out into the hall and towards an office room. He opened the door, and the two stepped inside. Once the door shut, Ericson placed his hands on his waist and started pacing.

"Nate, I don't know about you, but I'm freaking out, man. An hour or two ago, it was just a normal day in Maybury, and now I'm questioning literally everything I've learned in science class."

"Do we, or anyone else, have any idea of what's going on?"

"No, Nate. You probably know about as much as the rest of us do. Even the chief's scratching his head. This whole mess is fubar. The only explanation my mind can come up with, and I know this is going to sound crazy, is that we, along with the town, got teleported to either some other part of the world or maybe even a different world altogether."

"No, there's gotta be a better explanation than that."

"You got a better theory? Did you even look around when you came here? It's snowing in the middle of May. There are mountains that weren't there before, and there are trees, hills, and all sorts of weird crap growing out of people's homes. Damn, man. The entire fabric of reality just took a dump, and you want me to believe that there's a more 

normal 

reason for all this?"

Nathan lifted a hand. "I get it. I'm going to need you to tone it down a notch or two."

Ericson stopped pacing and shot Nathan a look of shock. "Tone it down? Really? You want me to tone it down? The world decides to give up and toss reality out the window, and you want me to... what? Be okay with that?"

"Look, Eric, I'm just as perplexed and terrified of the situation as you are, but I have children, and we both have a duty to the public. In times of crisis, we suck it up. If we can't keep it together, then how do you expect everyone else to? This is what our training was for."

"They didn't train us for 

this."

"Not for this exact scenario, no, but they did train us on how to be proactive, and approach 

any 

crisis with logical, problem-solving reasoning."

"Sure, 

okay."

"Look, right now, we're just in the shock of the moment. There's gotta be a rational reason for all of this, and I'm sure we'll figure it out in time, but right now... right now, we need to focus on just one thing at a time."

Ericson crossed his arms and broke his gaze with Nathan. He shook his head and rolled on his feet a few times. A couple of moments passed, then he let out a loud sigh. "You're right. You're right, Nate. I hate it, but I know you're right. I'm just... I'm just having a real hard time with all of this, you know?"

Nathan stepped closer and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I get that. Truly, I do. I can't explain to you how absolutely frightened my thoughts are right now, but I've gotta stay strong for my kids. For everyone. I can't do it on my own, though. I need you with me. I need you to try and keep it together."

Ericson gawked at Nathan and removed his hand. "Okay, 

Dad. I don't need you all lectury with me, now. I ain't your kid."

Nathan smiled. "It's the only way I know how to keep you in line."

Ericson let out a sarcastic snort. "Man, you know, you can be a real jerk sometimes. You know that?"

"Blame my upbringing."

"Nah, I think it's because you've been a dad for too long. Honestly, how do you stay sane?"

Nathan smirked. "I don't always. Getting back to the matter at hand, have you heard from the chief yet? Any chance he's already got a plan in motion?"

"Not yet. I just got here myself a little before you did. Mary says he went out to have a chat with the town manager. Apparently, he wants to gather all the town citizens in one place. Seeming we have no way to communicate with the public by regular means, I guess that would be the next best option. Ryan and Michael are already out on patrol. They're trying to see what the extent of our situation is. I haven't had a chance to check in with them yet."

"Alright, we should probably do the same, then. I'm going to go grab Lina and Jay and gear up."

"You taking them with you?"

"With the way things are right now, I want them close." Nathan then gave a sly smile. "Besides, Mary's a wonderful woman and all, but I would hate to torture my kids that way."

Ericson chuckled. "I'll be sure to let her know you said that."

The two left the office and returned to the dispatch room. Mary was in the middle of talking to Lina and Jay, but stopped when she saw them enter.

"You boys came back just in time," she said. "The chief just checked in a few minutes ago. He was able to find the town manager, and they both agreed that a good 'ole fashion town meeting was in order. They want to hold it in the gymnasium at East Garden High. Fire Rescue was able to confirm that their generator still works, and their gymnasium is the largest place we have for holding that many people indoors. He wants every officer to ride around town, letting people know where to go. He also wants you all to split off in different directions and drive towards the town's border to see what's beyond them."

"We'll do just that," Nathan said.

"Good luck. I'll keep in contact with you boys by portable radio."

-----

It was about an hour later before Nathan was reaching the east side border of town. Normally, it didn't take that long, but Nathan had made sure he went through every road on the way, broadcasting the message about the town meeting. Another factor that played into it was the condition of the roads. Several times he had to find another route because some large foreign object blocked the way. Despite this, he was happy to have gotten the east side. The area was more residential than the western and northern sides. That meant fewer shops. The last thing he wanted to deal with were looters.

The weather was becoming a problem, too. It had taken a while to reach this point, due to warm surface temperatures, but now the snow was sticking more prominently. The temperature was well below freezing, and the snowfall was falling faster than it melted. It was just one more problem to add to the ever-growing list.

Lina and Jay both rode in the back, despite how odd it was sitting where so many criminals had sat before. Except for a handful of casual comments, they had remained silent. Nathan couldn't blame them. The world had been flipped upside down. It was hard for him to know what to say. He was as confused as they were.

His mind became consumed by his ever-racing thoughts, so he failed to notice it until he was right on it. The town ended. Not because he was at the border, but because, after reaching what seemed like an invisible line, the town just ended. Nathan stopped the car and stared with unblinking eyes. It was like someone had taken a curved blade, miles long, and chopped off anything that reached past it. There were buildings missing parts, some even half of their walls. Roads that should have kept going just stopped abruptly. He even saw a person's car missing everything past its hood. Nothing of the town existed beyond that invisible line.

"Maybe Eric was right," he said.

"Dad, I'm scared," came Lina's voice.

No comforting words came to Nathan. He wanted to tell her everything was okay, but even he couldn't swallow that lie. All he could do was reach for the car's radio. "Bravo-One-Zero-Three to Dispatch." He hoped he had spoken loud enough for Mary to hear. The radio responded back.

"Bravo-One-Zero-Three, go ahead."

"Yeah, I've arrived on scene at town's end, east side."

"Copy that Bravo-One-Zero-Three. Town's end, east side. What do you see?"

"I don't know how to explain it. Everything of the town that goes past a certain point is just gone."

"Say again, Bravo-One-Zero-Three."

"It's gone. Like it never existed. There are missing sections of houses, lawns, cars, streets... 

everything."

"You mean like destroyed?"

"No, I mean gone. There's no sign that any part of the town was ever there."

"I... I'm not sure what to think about that. What do you think it could mean?" Another voice jumped in on the conversation. Even without identifying his unit number, Nathan could tell it was Ericson.

"I told you, man. We've been teleported. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"You know," Nathan said, "as insane as that thought sounds, I have to say, I'm beginning to think I might agree with you."

"How else could you explain it?"

"I'm... I'm really not sure."

Before anyone else could add to the topic, the radio crackled once more. This time, Nathan heard loud bangs distorting the speaker. They sounded like gunshots. The horrified voice of the police chief followed.

"Break, break, break. Alpha-One-Zero-One to all available units. I need backup at East Garden High, stat. Unknown wildlife pouring into school... They've started attacking civilians. There's hundreds of them. Get here 

now." Two more gunshots cracked before the transmission ended.

Nathan felt the dread trickling down his body, his hand frozen to the mic of the car radio. The only thought that rushed through his head was,

Where the hell are we?