Dirth burst through into a candy wonderland of taffy blues and cotton whites. It was the sky, and he hardly recognized it. Where was he? He struggled to keep in his mind Bob’s last words to him – “Please find my Barb.” He fought tooth and nail to hold onto the name – Barb – and keep it from fading. His body was pulsing with energy, but his mind was manic to the point of fatigue.
He blinked a few times to clear his vision. Above him, cars flew through the sky. Was ‘cars’ the word? They were like cars, but they had parts jutting out of them like wings. Birds. The word 'airplanes' came suddenly to him, but he couldn’t tell if that was the right word either. Airplanes. Planes. As he rolled the words over in his head, a loud shout came from in front of him.
A young boy – the leader of a horde of schoolchildren - was headed in his direction. “Hey, watch it!” the boy shouted. Dirth dodged out of his way. The children all wore blue-gray suits with black boots. Uniforms. The word announced itself to Dirth, as he noted the uncanny feeling that something was very wrong with this scene. That he must be dreaming or hallucinating. That this was not real.
“Excuse me!” another girl said as she brushed by. Her hair was a hazelnut brown.
Something bizarre about the children. As Dirth stared at the group of schoolkids passing him by, a girl in the back of the group turned to look at him – he saw incredulity and wonder in her eyes. Like she found him equally strange. Like she was looking at an alien. Alien. Was that the word?
The girl reached distractedly back for a classmate. By the time she’d gotten their attention, Dirth was gone.
Dirth stood bent at the waist, his fingers to his temples, crouched behind a bush. A mind-wrenching image had split through him – a blonde girl holding the hand of a small boy, the glistening face of a black woman – and then he had doubled over with sickness. He spit twice and licked his lips. A unified golden sludge stared up at him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten or where all this food could have come from. He was just glad that he’d managed to get to the bushes before retching – here he was safe from prying eyes and never-ending foot traffic. As far as he knew, no one had seen him. Now all he had to do was figure out what in the world was going on.
He wiped the spittle from his mouth and the sudden brow of sweat that had appeared on his forehead. The sky was cool and void of any sun, but he still felt an intense heat beating down on him. He swayed in place, feeling like he might keel over any second. His temples pounded and his stomach heaved again. He gave into the nausea once more.
He couldn’t rest here – he had to find somewhere hidden, somewhere his body could catch up to his racing brain. He scanned the area. It was a perfect campus, too perfect in fact – it was open and flat with few trees or buildings to break up the manicured lawns and ambling pathways. There was nowhere to hide. He’d have to get inside.
Dirth moved decisively against the flow of traffic, towards the building everyone seemed to be coming from. As he pushed through the crowd, he felt people’s gazes turn towards him. Was he sporting a third ear? Why was everyone looking at him? He lowered his head and pushed forward. At last he found himself at the foot of the building; he looked up at the grand set of stairs cascading in front of him. He gazed in awe at the building's façade – he had never seen anything quite like it. The words “Peace” and “Unity” were etched above the building’s majestic columns. His stomach lurched again. He staggered up the stairs, desperate for a place to hide until the retching and hallucinations might subside.
As soon as he stepped through the building doors, he realized what a big mistake he'd made.
Two lines of people formed at what appeared to be a security gate. They all wore the same blue-gray uniforms as the children he'd passed by moments ago. Next to the gate, a large man sat staring at him.
“Sir?” the man asked. Everyone near Dirth turned to look, and none of them looked away. Shock was painted on each of their faces.
Dirth turned sheepishly around, instinctively hiding his face, as he heard the man rise from his chair.
“Sir, stop right there!” the voice came.
Please find my Barb, Dirth repeated to himself. Please find my Barb. Barb. Bob. Uniform. Airplane.
“Stop or I’ll have to fire!”
Dirth spun, a whirligig of blue, gray, and black flying past him as he struggled to leave back out the way he came.
He heard a pulse, felt a dizzying vacuum orb warble against his head, and collapsed to the cold marble ground.