It started as a headache. His eyes burned like a flash of light, stunned him. He struggled to remember where he was and what he was doing at that moment. He could only see bright white light with dark blue around the edges. He forced his eyes closed, lifting his cheeks and his glasses. He stopped walking, took a deep breath, and fell forward into the radiant abyss.
“What the fuck?” he murmured, spitting bits of dust and fine gravel. He sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, trying to situate himself. By the placement of the sun, he guessed it was sometime around noon. He remembered only fragments. He knew his name, Andrés. He knew the city he was in, Boston. That last detail confused him, disoriented him, and caused a massive migraine.
“It’s empty.” He studied his surroundings carefully. He knew what a city looked like, how it sounded, and how it felt. This wasn’t a city. It didn’t feel like Boston. He didn’t get up; he just looked around until he found a sign. “Tremont Street. That’s it.”
He remained on the floor, puzzled at the foreignness of the place. He didn’t get a lot of time to think because a man hurdled out of a building a block away. He didn’t remember seeing a door open. The man just came out of the side of the building. The only human being he’d seen since he woke up was butt ass naked. The man focused on Andrés and, after a few seconds, began to sprint towards him like he’d just started a race.
Andrés stumbled while trying to get up, and even fell a few times, scraping his right upper thigh. Andrés was never going to outrun this person, they were too fast, and so he just focused his vision on him. In less than a minute, he was face to face with a hairy, pudgy, tanned, naked man. Andrés inevitably looked down at the very hairy crotch area. His body glistened, and his skin just didn’t seem right.
“Hello,” Andrés said, extending his arm to greet him. The naked man stepped back and lifted his arms in surprise. He pointed at his mouth and made a rotating gesture, trying to communicate. ”You want me to repeat, hello?” The man nodded in agreement and smiled. He pointed up and then gestured Andrés to follow him. “Ok. What is going on?”
The man continued to be delighted at every sound coming out of Andrés; every word, every sigh, every cough. The naked man knocked on the solid wall of the same building he came out of and then walked through it. “What? Wait,” protested Andrés, but the man grabbed him by the arm and dragged him inside the building.
It wasn’t what he thought it would be, not that he had any expectations. His migraine was getting worse, and the man appeared to be maneuvering some sort of invisible, interactive menu. The naked man’s eyes were completely different up close. What looked like the whites from afar were reflective, more like a liquid mirror. His pupils dilated at hummingbird speed and, at times, even seemed to split into several smaller circles.
The naked man appeared to find something and made a hawking noise. “Where’s the bathroom?” he said in a monotone, slightly British accent.
“What? I don’t… wait, what?”
“What is what? You are what many times, unusual,”
“Ok, look, I’m going to walk back through the wall, I guess, and I’m going to go,” said Andrés trying to feel his way through the solid wall.
“Ok, I know that. Please don’t go. I’m better at Standard English with every sentence,” said the naked man. “Welcome to the Great Library of Boston.”
“This is a library?” Andrés tried to focus, to recognize what was around him, but he couldn’t describe it. It was empty, but it didn’t feel empty. However, he couldn’t find a single book or anything that would remind him of a library.
“Yes,” said the naked man, still interacting with something invisible.
“Are you sure?”
“Why are you naked?”
“Naked?” the man remained uncomfortably still, and his gaze focused on the wall behind Andrés.
Andrés immediately gestured towards his own groin and made the universal gesture for confused with his hand. The man didn’t react. Andrés tugged at his shirt and raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “You know, why don’t you have any clothes?”
“Why can’t I see your penis?” replied the man, and in a twitch, he began to move towards Andrés. “Why are you covered in trash?” He reached for the shirt and tugged it so hard he almost ripped it right off. Andrés jumped back and kept slowly distancing himself. “Sorry, did I offend your art? I’m not from your time, forgive me. I want to learn from you.”
Andrés had enough. He couldn’t think of anything else to tell this man aside from “what the fuck?” So he ran. He followed the wall, and figured at some point he’d reach a door. The naked man didn’t run after him, he just stood there, waiting for Andrés to figure out the room was a circle.
Andrés heard a grinding noise, and a plump black woman emerged from the wall opposite to him. She was also completely naked, with long matted grey hair. Her eyes were like the naked man’s eyes, with reflective whites, but with a noticeable honey color iris.
”Bonjour bienvenue. Nous ne vous voulons aucun mal,” she said, walking briskly past the naked man. She communicated something to him with her hands and then directed all her attention to Andrés.
“Standard English, he is English,” said the naked man, adding an unusual emphasis on the word “standard.”
”Excellent! We haven’t had an English traveler in a long time,” she said, clapping with excitement.
”Can you tell me what the hell is going on?” Andrés approached the woman with caution. She did the same, but she looked more like a researcher approaching a wild animal.
“It’s better if I find someone from your time to talk to you about what happened,” she said, interacting with the invisible interface.
The wall made the same grinding noise, and the woman pushed Andrés through it. Immediately, he heard the sound of an acoustic guitar playing a melancholic tune. The room was more like a long hallway with big windows. There was a kitchen, a bathroom, several beds, and books stacked up in every available inch of the wall.
“Bonjour, qui êtes-vous?” said a middle age man with a deep voice.
“English, he’s English,” said the woman, walking in quick small steps towards the man.
“OH! British! I remember London, but still just only miss Paris,” the man said in a very thick French accent. He gently placed the guitar on top of a stack of oversized picture books and extended his hand to greet Andrés. “My name is Charles.”
“ Andrés,” he said, trying to conceal the fact that Charles was crushing his hand. “What is going on?”
“When are you from?”
“I don’t know what do you mean?”
“OH, right, give it a few hours, and the memories will come à vous,” Charles said, rearranging his tie.
“At least you’re not naked,” Andrés said, looking at the couple eagerly watching their interaction. They studied every inch of them, from head to toe.
“I’m sorry, yes, my colleague didn’t want to offend you. He’s new, I’m sorry he assumed your vestments were trash,” she said, interacting with the invisible interface again.
“They don’t get it. I also don’t get them,” Charles walked away from the group towards a small cart full of liquor and wine. He poured whiskey in two ornate cups and handed one to Andrés. “You’re going to need a stiff drink.”
“Will you tell him? We don’t know how long we have with him,” the woman said, extending her arms towards Charles and again interacting strangely with something he couldn’t see.
“Listen, Andrés. You have temporarily time-traveled to the 30th century. Temporary, is, how do you say, relatif, for me it’s been years, but others leave in seconds,” Charles wrapped his arm around Andrés’s shoulders and guided him to one of the windows. “See here, this is not a window. It took me a long time to figure that out, this is some sort of device that projects images like a movie but in real-time.”
“Like Facetime or something?”
“I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care. Listen, pay attention, and keep your mouth shut. You know of your writer George Orwell,”
“I’m not British, I’m –“ Charles shushed him and gripped his shoulder tightly.
“I said, do not talk. You know how we always thought the future was desolé, triste, you know? Dark, bad. Well, in the future, when they look back at us, and I assume you must be from somewhere between the 19th and 25th century, like me, we are the Orwells, we are the dark past, the mistake, the bad time,” he said taking a big sip of his whiskey every time he finished a sentence.
The couple approached them eagerly, the woman pressed her big droopy bosom against Andrés, and the other man hugged Charles, who made an audible grunt of disgust.
“Tell us, Andrés, what was it like? How could so many live in places like these? In libraries?”
“She says library, but she means city. Each of these windows connects to a city, which I guess to them are libraries. They froze time and keep an archive of humanity in these places. Us, or future us, don’t live in cities anymore. They discovered some sort of invisible, to me and you, material that protects them, nurtures them, lets them live anywhere without fear of death. They can’t be hurt, and their presence can’t hurt anything,” he said, changing his tone dramatically, lowering his voice.
“That’s impossible, I’m dreaming, that’s it, I’m hallucinating,” Andrés said, pulling away from them.
“Ask him, Charles. He’s not going to stay very long,” the woman said wildly, flailing her arms at Andrés.
“I don’t understand why this question is so important, but do you feel alone in your time?” Charles said, hesitating before saying the word alone. “They’re going to grab you and read your thoughts now.”
They did exactly what he said they would, the glistening aura around them began to crawl up Andrés’ arm. He tried to pull away; in his head, he did, but his muscles never moved. His headache was back, now stronger than ever. He closed his eyes, and he saw the light again. Bright, white light with dark blue edges. He felt sick and couldn’t hold it any longer. He hurled violently, and when he opened his eyes, he was no longer with them. He recognized the smell, the sounds, the people, this was Boston.
He felt dizzy, but he recognized the alley. The Corner Mall, the Starbucks, and the red brick road. He was in Winter Street, the pedestrian way between Tremont and Washington Street.
“Bro, look at that guy, he’s so shitfaced he chucked in the alley over there. It’s all over his shirt. Go Pat’s man!” yelled a man in his late 20s with a Brady shirt. The fan didn’t stay for long, he got swept away by the sea of people going up Winter Street. Andrés walked into the crowd to see what was going on, there was a parade going down Tremont Street. He quickly parted through the sea of people, nobody really wanting to be close to the guy full of chunks of vomit on his clothes. He felt different, smaller, irrelevant.
“I do, I do feel alone,” he said to himself before walking away, nursing a scrape in his upper thigh, towards the Starbucks to get the largest, most caffeinated, latte the little money he had could buy.