You could say I was a little surprised when a portal opened up in my room. It was very late at night, and the house had settled gently into a comforting silence, interrupted occasionally by the chirping of a cricket. At the time, I was reading, tucked under my covers, too engrossed in an adventure fantasy novel to bother sleeping. I had only a few chapters left before getting to the big finale, and there was no way I was going to stop. Nothing could interrupt me from finding out what happened.
At least, that’s what I thought until the portal opened. My mind had been so focused in the story that I didn’t notice a strange green light illuminating my room. For a moment, my peripheral vision tricked me into believing that one of my sisters had opened my door, letting light from the hallway spill in. But when I looked up, the door was shut, and no little sister was peeking her head into my room to see if I was still awake. Instead, a single oval of green light was hovering right in front of the door. Immediately, I jumped out of bed and wandered over to study it. I must’ve fallen asleep with the book in my hand, and now I was having an incredibly realistic dream.
Until it finally registered. This…was a portal. A portal had just opened up in my room! Before I could react, the portal began to flicker. With an unusual sound, a suction of wind began to push me forward, closer to its beckoning light. I had nothing to grab onto, nothing to stop myself from being dragged right into it—
And spat out on the other side. As I stumbled to keep my balance, I realized I was back inside my room. Only, everything had been flipped, as though I had been pushed into a mirror. My heart began to pound in fear as the portal shrank down to the size of a dot and vanished instantly.
Okay, okay, I thought to myself. Don’t panic. You are only stuck in a parallel universe.
I looked around. If this was exactly like my room, then was I in a parallel universe with the exact same family? Would they be normal? There would only be one way to find out, so I quietly pulled open the door and slipped into the family room.
The unsettling room was an exact copy and paste of the room, but it was flipped. The dining table, with the chip on the edge from when my sister dropped her plate. The rug with a missing corner thanks to a mischievous and ever-hungry puppy. All of it was the same, but opposite. The family picture sat on a mantel above the fireplace. I stared at the face of someone who had stolen my appearance: the parallel universe version of myself. Her bangs were brushed onto the left side instead of the right side, her uneven smile had been flipped, and her crooked glasses lopsided in a different direction.
As though in a dream, I stumbled out of the house, observing the exact same houses of my own neighborhood, but, just like my room, everything had been flipped. Even the time of day was flipped- it was a bright and sunny day in this world.
Isn’t it strange? I thought to myself, glancing at the shut curtains and closed doors. Why is there no one outside tending to their garden or children playing in the street? I haven’t seen a single car go by either. Or heard a dog bark or a bird chirp.
Slamming the door shut behind me, I ran back to my room and searched the spot for where the portal was.
“Take me back!” I yelled at it. “I want to go home! Please! Why did I even get sucked here in the first place?”
My shouting was suddenly interrupted by a thud from the roof. I grew so excited that something in this universe was alive that I immediately went to go find it. What could it be? A person? A bird? That was a large thud to be a bird. All right, a really chubby bird.
I ran out in excitement, and then I saw what the maker of the noise was.
At first, I thought it was just a dog. A dog with…six legs? And spikes sticking out of its back? And a spiral of eyes in the middle of its bony, flat head, all looking in different directions. It seemed to be searching for something.
In paralyzed shock, I let out a surprised gasp.
All ten (no wait, eleven, there were eleven) of its eyes turned and focused on me. They changed to a bright red color, and I was too confused to do anything. My mind had accepted any reasonable logic to explain the strange thing in front of me: yeah, I was probably just dreaming.
Something pushed me out of the way as a laser incinerated the spot I used to stand. I was shoved into the grass, getting an uncomfortable mouthful of it.
“Did you not notice the alien invasion?” a familiar voice demanded. I looked up in surprise, feeling overwhelmed with relief.
“Taylor!” My best friend! She looked (almost) exactly the same: the same bobbed haircut, freckled nose, and unusual obsession for baggy sweatshirts. The brand logo on the sweatshirt was backwards of course. “I’m so happy to see you—wait, alien invasion?”
“Uh, yeah, duh? I thought it was a little obvious.” Her hands were encased with a glowing green light, which she shot off into the opposite direction. The dog-looking thing ran off to chase it. “You’re the Hannah from the parallel universe, right?”
“No, I’m the Hannah from the normal universe. You must be the Taylor from the parallel universe. You look pretty much exactly the same…” My eyes fixated on the green light from her hands. “Except you’re glowing.”
She beamed. “Thanks, I’ve been using a new skincare product.”
“No, I meant…your hands.”
“What’s the matter with them? You can’t do this in your parallel universe?”
“Normal,” I began and then stopped. There was no point in arguing with who came from the real universe. It was obviously me. “No, we can’t.”
“That’s kind of boring. Are you being attacked by aliens in your universe?”
“Well, then, I guess it’s a good thing I agreed to get you,” she exclaimed with her usual toothy grin. “We should go inside in case they come back.”
I followed her into the house, where she immediately began explaining. “About a month ago, these unusual pods were found all over the world. We didn’t know what they were until they started hatching…releasing dozens of those things. They’ve mostly been killing humans and animals, but for some reason, they’ve been abducting certain people. That’s why she brought you here.”
“Hang on, who brought me here?”
Taylor pointed at me. “You did. The real you was abducted by those aliens. And your family. And mine. The last thing you were able to do before you were taken was summon a portal. The timing must’ve been off though, because it took an entire week for the signal to get through.”
“Me? The parallel version of myself created a portal?” Well, it looked like the other Hannah was way more epic and accomplished than myself. “And what do you expect me to do? Rescue myself against dangerous aliens?”
“Yes, I’m glad you’re following, because I really didn’t want to have to explain it again,” she said. “We’ll just sneak aboard the mothership—”
“…Find where the hostages are being kept—”
“And rescue everyone without dying!” She nodded in confirmation. “Yep, that sounds like a solid plan.”
“I think you’re missing a few points. Like how and why and what?”
She waved my concerns away. “We’ll work out the details later. For now, we need to make sure those aliens won’t find us. They track by sensing color, so try to be as colorless as possible. Then we should start heading towards the mothership immediately!” She turned to leave, but I grabbed her by the wrist. “What? What’s wrong? You’re not ready to fight aliens?”
“No, I’m not ready! I can’t fight aliens! I don’t have time to fight aliens! I have school in the morning, I have siblings to take care of, I have a book I really want to finish reading. I don’t want to die! I’d rather go home, okay? Can you just open up a portal? There have to be more Hannahs out there, willing to help instead. But I’m not the right person.”
“Sorry, but I don’t know how to open portals,” Taylor insisted, shaking free from my grip. “You see, that’s your skill, not mine. I mean this Hannah’s skill. If you want to go home, then you’ll have to help rescue her. And I think time works here differently, so even if you’re here for a few weeks, only a few hours will pass in your universe. You think you’re the wrong person? You called yourself here. Hannah could’ve sent a portal anywhere, but she sent it to your world. That means you have to be stronger than you look.” She poked my arm. “At least, I think.”
I thought about it for a really long time. There was something about her speech that got a rise out of me. I was always jealous of the Chosen Ones and special characters in novels, envied their amazing qualities and blind luck. Perhaps this was a chance to live that kind of life. To mirror the world of books into this world of parallel universes.
“What do you say?” she asked hopefully, almost desperately.
“I’ll help.” It would have been a bold declaration had my voice sounded braver.
She grinned. “Thank goodness! I was starting to think you really were useless! First thing’s first: let’s go see if you can acquire any skills here. Then we’ll make our way to the mothership.”
“All right then. How do you do that?” And I followed her out of the house.
It looked like finishing my book would have to wait.