Jack blinked. He laid on his back, looking straight up. The fall had addled his brain and jarred his entire body. He moved his right arm. He held up his left hand and looked at it. Then he flexed his legs. His body seemed to be functioning. He rotated his head to the right, then to the left. There didn't seem to be any pain.

He looked up again and things slowly fell into place. He'd been checking for messages on his cell phone when he opened the closet door to get dressed for work. He set the phone down, took a step and pitched forward. After tumbling for a second or two, hitting several things that snapped, he ended up on his back cushioned by something soft and prickly.

Sitting up, he looked around as he tried to grasp what he saw. It was a fluorescent woodland. All around were bizarre trees with twisted trunks, covered in bright red leaves. An expanse of yellow grass was spotted with rectangular blue bushes. He realized his fall had been broken by one of them. He carefully placed the palm of his hand on the bush beneath him. It felt like a sponge.

He furrowed his brow as he turned to look around a little more. He raised his gaze. The sky, or whatever was above him, was an odd shade of green. But there, almost directly over him, a coloured spot hung in midair. He stared at it for several seconds, trying to see through it, until he realised it was the inside of his closet. His eyes widened.

He rolled off the bush onto the ground and looked up at his closet hanging above his head. When he had stepped into it, he had fallen through a hole into this weird place. Obviously this wasn't the third story under his fourth-floor apartment.

He tried to estimate the height of the hole. It seemed to be about fifteen feet up. Just fifteen feet away was his escape out of this place and back to his world, but how would he ever get up there? Jack took a step back, still looking at the hole. He put his foot down and something behind him squealed. Startled, he spun around. There on the ground was a tiny creature, no bigger than a mouse. He leaned over to look at it closely. Its bright orange body seemed to be a shell mounted on three legs.

The crab-like creature scurried back and forth a number of times, stopped, and tilted its body upward so its two eyes looked directly at him. After a moment of silence, a mouth at the front of the shell opened and the creature hissed.

The crab rushed forward over his slipper and climbed the leg of his pyjamas. Each of its legs was able to grip the material as the crab scaled his leg like a fly on a wall.

Startled, Jack stepped back as he looked down in horror at the odd creature attached to him. Out of blind fear, he reached down and swatted it. It tumbled to the ground and rolled over a couple of times before its three legs got a grip and righted its body.

The crab turned to him and hissed again. It came toward him. He raised his foot, paused to aim, and stomped down on the creature with his full weight. The hard shell cracked under the strain, and he heard a distinct squish. He could see the three legs splayed out from under his slipper. The ground around his foot was covered with bluish goo. He couldn't tell whether it was the creature's blood or its flesh.

He wiped the sole of his slipper on some fresh grass. Blue smeared on the bright yellow blades. He glanced at the bottom of his slipper. Most of the blue was gone.

He went back to the sponge bush and gazed toward the opening to his closet. How could he get up there? Fifteen feet wasn't that high, but it was certainly out of reach.

He looked around and noticed several tall trees off to one side. They looked taller than the height of the opening. Unfortunately, the gap between them and the closet looked to be about a dozen feet, so it wasn't as if he could jump from one of the trees. It didn't seem likely that he could build a ladder, and he doubted he could find anything resembling a pole tall enough to shinny up, even if he could work out how to securely anchor it in the ground.

Jack noticed what appeared to be a vine. He strode over to the base of one of the twisted trees and reached down to grasp a rope-like stalk. He yanked upwards and freed a section of the vine. With both hands, he twisted it, trying to determine its strength and flexibility. It could substitute for rope. He looked back at the trees closest to his closet. Could he use the vine to swing into the opening?

"Ouch!" He jumped back, startled. Something had jabbed his ankle. A crab stood on his slipper. It raised one of its legs and poked him in the ankle again.

"Ow!" He shook his foot, and the crab tumbled off. It righted itself, then came back. He was alarmed by its aggressive behavior. He lifted his foot and stomped down, but the crab had seen or sensed the movement and scurried to one side. It ran forward again and climbed back on his slipper, raised a leg, and stabbed him in the ankle.

"Damn!" That hurt. He tried to shake off the crab once more, but it had dug its legs into his slipper and wouldn't come off. He shook his foot again. The crab hung on. He brushed the crab off with his other foot, and it tumbled onto its back. He immediately stepped on the crab and leaned with his full weight on it. For a moment the shell held, then there was an audible crack and blue goo spurted out.

As he watched the goo ooze out, he heard a rustle behind him. He turned to discover a number of crabs had gathered around the body of the first one he had flattened. Several of them were using a single leg to touch the broken shell.

The group turned to face him. He looked at the crabs and they seemed to stare back at him. Then, in unison, they all rushed toward him. He took a step back, surprised by this unified action.

As the first few crabs got close to his feet, he raised his foot and brought it down, kicking out with his slipper. He caught several crabs at once, sending them flying in the air. The rest of them stopped and stared at him. He stepped forward and executed another kick, sending another three flying. The remaining crabs scattered.

He stood defiantly, looking around for others. None seemed to be close. He had relaxed a little when there was a sharp pain in his left ankle again. He whirled around to find a lone crab behind him.

"Dammit!" He picked up his foot, but it backed away. He leaned forward and transferred his weight to his front foot. He caught the crab in the middle of the shell and crushed it.

He spun around. The other crabs were coming back at him. He went toward them and gave them a boot, sending several arcing through the air. He repeated kicks several times in a row. The remaining crabs backed away.

Turning, he found more coming up from behind. He kicked at them, then spun around and surveyed the area. Crabs were everywhere. He now stood in a little crab-free zone that looked to be shrinking as their growing number moved in closer.

Jack ran up to the first group and stomped his feet. Crush! Crush! Crush! He stepped on crab after crab, leaving a trail of blue splotches behind him. Once again, the remaining crabs scattered out of the way. He stood looking at the damage he had wrought. There were splashes of blue goo and crushed shells all around him. For the moment, things seemed to be calm, but he was getting the idea this wasn't going to be the end of it. Everywhere he looked, he could see crabs. They were keeping their distance, but it was obvious they would attempt another assault. He would remain safe only if he was vigilant. Was the idea to wear him down? Did the crabs go after creatures larger than themselves this way, eventually winning when their victims tired out? He needed to get out of there.

He turned back to examine the vine, only to notice that all the crabs had turned to one side, as if they were looking at something. He peered in the direction they were looking and saw movement among the trees. An odd noise came from that direction. He tried to identify the sound; it was like slurping, like the sound made when sucking through a straw.

A lumbering animal the size of a bear waddled into view. It had its head down and slowly moved it back and forth, examining the ground. Something like an elephant's trunk sprouted out of the middle of the creature's face and periodically, it reached out. Whenever it came in contact with the ground, there was a slurping sound.

When the animal got a little closer, Jack realized that it seemed to be sucking up the crabs. It would sway its head and when it saw a crab, it would put its trunk over it and the crab would disappear. The crabs were still, all staring at this odd animal. Were they all mesmerized by this living vacuum cleaner? Maybe this distraction would keep them from bothering him.

He turned back to the vine and carefully unwound its length from around the base of the tree. He wondered how much of it he could gather to have a continuous length of rope. He bent down, grabbed part of the vine, and tugged at it, pulling it up from the ground. It was attached in places, so he occasionally had to pull hard to break it free. He coiled one end of the vine to make it easier to carry.

The living vacuum shuffled around the trees, sucking up as many crabs as it could find. It seemed totally uninterested in him. So far it had not even acknowledged that he was there. Maybe it was short-sighted or was only interested in crabs, he thought hopefully.

He tugged on the vine, but it refused to come away from the tree. He soon determined that part of the vine was wound around a root. As he bent over to free it, he heard something go splat above his head. He looked up to see something gooey splashed on the trunk of the tree. A vapour floated from it, accompanied by a hissing sound.

Jack stood to look closer. The trunk seemed to be dissolving. He was intrigued, but then looked back. The animal was pointing its trunk at him. He jumped out of the way as something squirted out of it and flew against the tree. He looked at it with wide eyes, realizing that the fluid was acid and the acid was dissolving the tree trunk.

He quickly stepped behind the tree trunk and peeked out. The animal still had its trunk pointed toward him. He looked around and spied something that looked like a rock on the ground. He picked it up, took aim, and flung it at the creature. The lumbering animal was still looking at him when the object hit it square in the forehead. The animal blinked, then shot more acid toward the tree. The hissing grew louder.

He found several similar objects and picked them up. One by one, he threw them at the animal, hitting it a few times in the head and body. The animal sprayed more acid on the tree. The hissing was quite noticeable now, and he could see a cloud of vapour slowly floating away from the tree trunk.

There was a crack, then another. The trunk trembled and there were more, louder cracks. Putting both his hands on the trunk, he pushed. He could feel the tree swaying. He backed up and lunged at the trunk several times, throwing all his weight against it.

There was a loud crack, followed by a drawn-out sound of something breaking apart. The tree toppled, slowly at first, then picking up speed. Jack backed up to get out of the way and watched as the tree fell over with a crash. He could hear squealing coming from the other side. The tree had fallen on top of the animal.

He picked up his coil of vine and tugged at the remaining length, freeing it from the surrounding roots. He could see the animal struggling under the branches of the fallen tree. For the moment, he wouldn't have to worry about that. But would the presence of the animal be enough to keep the crabs distracted?

He walked back toward the other trees, looking up at his closet and assessing the best tree to swing from. He studied each of the high trees, picturing the vine tied to a branch like a pendulum. If he hung off it and kicked his legs, he figured he could increase the arc to the point where he could reach his closet. That was his theory, in any case.

Laying out one end of the vine, he uncoiled the rest of it as he walked toward the bush underneath the opening to his closet. He wanted to estimate the length necessary to match the distance between the tree and the opening. He dropped the other end of the vine at the bush and paced back the length. It was about eighteen feet long.

He looked up at his closet, then at the trees. Swinging seemed like a risky way of getting back to his closet. It would have been preferable to tie both ends of the vine to trees on either side of the closet and slide across it, but the only trees higher than the closet opening were on one side. He would have to swing. The problem was getting a clear swing. He needed a high branch that stuck out far enough to allow for an unobstructed movement.

Choosing a tree, he re-coiled the vine and walked over to the trunk. He peered up into the branches and saw a long, sturdy one at the right height. He hung the coil over his shoulder to free his hands, then reached up to a low-hanging branch and climbed up.

Fortunately the tree had a lot of branches, and climbing was fairly easy. In places, however, the branches were sparse, and it took a bit of planning to figure out the best route up. Periodically, he stopped and looked over at his closet. He wanted to make sure he climbed to the right height. Once level with the closet, he looked up. There was the large branch projecting out farther than the rest. This was the one to which he would tie the vine.

He climbed onto the branch and laid himself flat. He half-crawled, half-slid out on the branch and looked down. Whoa, bad move. It wasn't that high, but it would be high enough if he fell. He went back to concentrating on the matter at hand.

He checked the clearance and knew this was the spot. He carefully balanced himself as he took the vine off his shoulder, tied off one end, and let the rest drop. It hung down clear of the lower branches. Taking a last look at how well he had tied off the vine, he slid back to the trunk and climbed down to the ground.

He grabbed the end of the vine, which was a few feet off the ground, and looked up again at his closet. This just might work, he thought. He tied a knot in the vine about six feet off the ground to make it easier to hold onto as he swung back and forth. He also wanted to be off the ground so he wouldn't scrape it with his feet.

Jack took a few steps back, then ran forward and jumped up to grab the knot. He swung toward his closet and came back. He twisted, kicking his legs to increase the swing. The vine remained fixed even as he turned, so he was able to keep swinging toward the closet.

With each successive swing, the end of his arc came closer to the closet. He felt certain he would get back. All he had to do was get a leg and an arm through the opening and grab onto something like the door jamb, and he could himself back up. If he missed, he pictured himself doing what he had done to get there in the first place: falling fifteen feet onto a sponge bush. At least he would have a soft landing.

He swung back and forth faster now, each time bringing him higher. He was getting close. He heard a noise and turned his head. For a moment, the vacuum creature was visible wandering through the trees. No matter; He kicked his feet. His goal was in sight. Another couple of swings and he'd be there.

He arced up. He could see inside his closet. It was still out of reach. One more swing would do it. He swung back down, but as he reached the lowest point in his arc, his feet struck something. The force of the impact jarred his body, so much so that he lost his grip and fell to the ground. He lay there a moment, the wind knocked out of him.

Sitting up, he looked behind him. The animal was on its side, not moving. It must have waddled by the tree, directly in his path, and his feet had slammed into it. Jack wasn't sure whether he'd killed it or hurt it, but whatever the case, he had to get back to swinging. He had been so close, and he didn't want to miss his chance to escape this crazy place.

He got up and straightened the vine, then ran and jumped up to grab it again. He kicked his feet to build up the pendulum motion. He could do this. He had to do this. He had to get back home.

After a number of swings, he glanced down and noticed the animal was no longer lying on the ground. He tried to look around, curious as to where it had gone, but he couldn't see it, so he concentrated on swinging.

With renewed vigour, he kicked his legs with each swing and was once again almost to the proper height. He readied himself for the final swing and the effort it would take to hook his leg and arm inside the opening. This was it. He arced back, but then felt the vine jerk. He looked up and saw the entire tree sway. He panicked, confused. The branch had been stable up until now.

As he swung, he tried to look at the tree trunk. He spotted the animal standing close by. There was a cloud of vapour around the trunk and he could now hear hissing. His eyes widened. The creature had sprayed its acid onto the trunk of the tree. It was going to knock the tree over.

With one arm, Jack reached for the opening, but he wasn't quite close enough. He swung back down and felt the vine shake. The tree was going to fall over. He swung back up and kicked his feet with all his might. Now or never. He had to make it.

He felt himself surge forward. He knew this was going to be it. He swung up to the top of the arc and got one foot and an arm in the closet. He grabbed hold of the door jamb and held on tight. Just then, he heard a loud cracking sound. He looked back and saw the tree slowly topple over. He let go of the vine and watched it being pulled away from him by the force of the falling tree.

He turned to the closet and strained to pull himself up. He twisted and got his other arm closer to the opening so he could use both arms. He moved in spurts. He grunted. He pulled. He got his torso over the lip of the opening and the balance of his body changed. The majority of his weight was now back in the closet. He had made it.

Jack pulled himself into his apartment and lay on the floor as he caught his breath. That had been a close call. He rolled over. Sure enough, there in the floor of his closet, inside the door, was an opening. He had opened the door, and instead of stepping into the closet, had stepped through this hole. He looked at it, perplexed by the incongruity of the situation.

He cautiously moved close to the opening and looked down. There was the bush. There was the toppled tree. He could see the vacuum creature wandering around.

He lay flat on the floor. He put both his hands on the edge of the opening and passed his head through it. He turned his head to look around and stopped. In one direction there were no trees, and he could look off in the distance. He could see other openings. Several were close by.

He started counting them when something fell through an opening. He shook his head as he realized it had been a body. Somebody like him had fallen through a hole. Shocked, he continued to stare in an attempt to see any movement.

He turned his head to look in the other direction. He stopped. He had the answer as to whether others who had fallen had escaped. A couple of hundred feet away was another opening, and underneath it was a body of what looked like a man. There was a big hole in his chest. He was certain the man was dead.

Beside the body was one of the vacuum creatures. He watched the animal suck up one of the man's arms with its trunk. The trunk reached all the way to the shoulder then the animal turned and waddled over to a leg. The arm was gone.

Jack pulled his head back through the hole and moved as far away from his closet as he could get. What was this all about? It didn't make sense. It was crazy.

He looked at the time. He had been gone only an hour. He felt tired, so he lay down on the bed. Give me a moment, he thought.


Jack woke with a start. What time was it? Damn, had he overslept? He glanced at the clock. Oh God, he was late for work. He jumped up to go the bathroom, where he quickly brushed his teeth and shaved. Back in his bedroom, he tore off his pyjamas and grabbed socks and underwear from a dresser drawer.

His spied his cell phone on the dresser. He picked it up and checked for messages. There were none. He set it back down and pulled open the closet door. He took a step into the closet and panicked. He shifted his balance and moved his leg to the back of the closet, then stood there doing the splits, with one foot in the bedroom and one foot under his hanging clothes. He looked down at the floor. It looked perfectly normal. He grabbed the door jamb and pulled himself back into the bedroom, then got down on his hands and knees and touched the floor of the closet. It was solid. Nothing looked unusual.

He stood up and, balancing himself, put one foot on the floor of the closet. It appeared to be okay. He put more weight on it. It held. The floor was really there. Had it all been a dream?

He shook his head and chuckled, then grabbed clothing. He hopped up and down in front of the closet as he pulled on one pant leg then the other. He had shirt buttons to contend with, then a belt, and he was good to go. There wasn't any time for a coffee, so he would have to grab something on the way. He picked up his cell phone, keys, and briefcase and headed for the door.

Before he opened the apartment door, he went through the various news feeds on his phone. The same old, same old was trending. Cat found in tree, film at eleven. He scrolled down and discovered somebody had written about a mysterious hole. What the heck was that? He continued scrolling and found two more entries mentioning strange holes. Were they the other holes he had seen?

He opened his apartment door while studying his cell phone. This was incredible. Other people had experienced the same thing, going through a hole into another world. He had to find these people to see if he could figure out what had happened to him.

Jack took a step, then pitched forward and fell out of sight. There was a moment of silence in the hall before his muffled voice sounded from somewhere below. "Ah crap, not again?"

END

CONTENTS


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