Homecoming

The portal spat Ethan onto the sidewalk. Ethan didn’t like the portal much and he was pretty sure it didn’t like him either. Unfortunately, Ethan wasn’t sure that the portal was actually sentient. It was like a relationship one has with a car that won’t always start, or a table leg that seems to put itself where you’re stepping. Ethan was fairly certain his home dimension had a word for this sort of thing, but he wasn’t in school long enough to learn it. It had been a while since Ethan had the opportunity to think about school.

The sky is blue? Ethan thought to himself. He was certain he remembered everything about the day he was abducted, but for some reason the sky being blue wasn’t part of it. What color is it supposed to be, then?

Ethan remembered his parents. Or rather, that he had parents who loved him. He had a little sister too. For some reason he could picture her face better than those of his parents. She was always getting into trouble with her accurate observations about people, then being honest about what she noticed. People don’t enjoy excessive honesty in any dimension, Ethan thought.

Ethan noticed the patch of grass digging into his back through a crack in the pavement. Laying on the sidewalk wasn’t as bad as some of the places he’s had to sleep, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable either. He sat up, surveying his old neighborhood. It hadn’t changed from the moment he left. The rows of identical town houses, the dry and patchy grass in the front yards, the fences that were more for show than keeping people out. That’s right… People don’t need large, protected walls here. There are no monsters in this place.

The pink wizard was right, Ethan was home. He stood up in a daze. His first step was a stumble and he steadied himself on a parked car. He remembered this feeling. The first trip through that cursed portal had left him dizzy and nauseated as well. At least this time he doesn’t have to hide from the swarm of sneckt that litter the plains of ash. This time, the pink wizard had gotten his aim right. Practice makes perfect, I guess. Ethan leaned on the car until the dizziness became bearable. He passed the time by examining a surprisingly expressive snowman sticker on the back of the car. This snowman looks familiar… Something about a whole kingdom being afraid of one little girl with cold magic.

He felt light. Ethan did a few experimental jumps. Yup, definitely light. Earth is a smaller planet after all. It only makes sense that the gravity is less intense. That is, if gravity works the same here as it does in the other dimension. Any place where magic exists probably has its own set of rules. It doesn’t matter much anyway. I’m never going back and I’ll never have to think of that place again. That is, if the pink wizard is right and the Bone King can’t find me here. The Bone King didn’t much appreciate Ethan killing all his descendants and ending his dynasty. At least the immortality ritual stops him from being able to have more children. Ethan searched his surroundings for signs he hoped weren’t there. Hopefully that prison holds, too. It’ll have to last until the pink wizard’s technique for dimensional travel falls away into legend. Otherwise the Bone King will come for me. Ethan shook his head and pointed himself towards his goal. If he comes for me, then so be it. The only important thing is getting home.

Ethan walked. He knew the route. It was burned into his memory. The walk home had played out in his mind a thousand times. He had imagined everything from the sun on his face to the taste of the air. It was only a few blocks, but it felt like eternity. Ethan considered running. He was a fast sprinter, necessity had trained him well. But there were some things Ethan worried about. This might be the same day he was abducted, but for Ethan it had been 15 years. He was a grown man now. He was strong, weathered, a seasoned warrior. Ethan could cast magic spells and fight monsters. He even fell in love. Ethan took a moment to think about Esmeralda. He tried to recall her smiling, but all he could envision was the look of agony on her face as she burned. At least he had made the Bone King pay. It still didn’t feel like enough.

Eternity suddenly ended and Ethan was standing outside his childhood home. Tears welled up in his tired eyes and slid down his dusty cheeks. The house looked exactly the same. The ridiculous shade of green his dad had painted the siding the summer before. The garden that his mother only barely managed to keep from being a disaster. Even the training wheels on the hand-me-down bike his sister kept leaving in the yard. Ethan could see the Frisbee that his father had refused to get down from the roof when Ethan’s friend had accidentally thrown it up there. He said his back was hurting, but even then Ethan thought it was because he didn’t want to dig out the ladder from the overstuffed garage.

Ethan took slow steps up the path to the front door. He reached his hand out to knock but stopped. He could hear crying inside. My sister? No, she should be at school, right? Ethan thought for a moment. He used to walk with his sister to school. If he had come back exactly when he left then she should have still been there. Fool! How could you forget something so important! Ethan looked up at the sun and tried to remember how to tell time here. No use, the sun was in the wrong place. Ethan peeked through the window. There she was, his little sister Emily sitting on the floor crying. Ethan checked the driveway and his parent’s car wasn’t there. They must have gone to work before she got back. Ethan used to carry the emergency cell phone so Emily wouldn’t have access to one unless she went next door. Apparently she didn’t think of that.

Ethan knocked on the door. It was a secret knock he and his sister had devised during a game to convey messages. A code only they knew. A knock, a pause, two quick knocks, a smaller pause, and another knock. That’s our version of the all clear. No imaginary monsters.

Emily threw open the door grinning from ear to ear. The grin quickly faded as she looked up at Ethan. He stood well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and thick with muscle. The scale armor he wore was light but prevalent. A giant ax was slung across his back and his belt was cluttered with pouches and smaller weapons. Emily screamed and tried to slam the door in his face. Ethan forced open the door and smothered Emily’s scream with his hand. Hopefully if the neighbors didn’t hear her crying then they didn’t hear her scream either. That’s not actually a comforting thought.

Emily squirmed in Ethan’s grip like only an eight year old can. “Didn’t you hear the knock, foot sucker?” Ethan whispered. “It’s me, your big brother!” Emily’s squirming stopped. She was extremely flexible even for an eight year old and would sometimes suck on her toes during times of boredom or stress. “Foot sucker” was Ethan’s nickname for her. It was insulting but also endearing in a way only older siblings can manage. Emily didn’t move but Ethan could tell from her eyes that she still didn’t quite believe him. Ethan reached into one of the pouches on his belt and retrieved a crumpled and worn piece of paper. “This is all that remains of that Thunder Man comic you bought me for my birthday. I must have read it a thousand times when I was scared and alone. Sorry… but staples aren’t the best binding for handling that kind of abuse.” Ethan removed his hand from Emily’s mouth and passed her what was once the front cover to Thunder Man #12. She stared in disbelief at her own handwriting, faded but legible. It read “To Ethan. Hapy Birfday!” Emily never cared about collectors value.

Emily stared up at Ethan. She grabbed his face with both hands and examined him. Ethan nearly flinched at her sudden movement, but remained still as she searched his face for remnants of her brother. This is it. If she doesn’t believe me then no one else will. Every second felt like torture. Then, like an old prisoner’s first breath of freedom, she cried. The sobs overwhelmed her and she threw her arms around Ethan’s head. Ethan’s emotions swept him away and tears streamed down his face. He squeezed her as strongly as he could without crushing her. She found me, maybe I can come home.

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