With a thunderous roar Godzilla lumbered down Sunset Boulevard, ten stories tall and mean as hell. I saw people flee in terror, running as fast as they could. But they couldn’t outrun the ancient monster and were crushed by his massive, longer-than-a-bus size foot carrying his twenty-five-thousand-ton body.
Then I realized I didn’t even know how I had gotten to Hollywood, which the street and store signs told me was where I was. I live in San Jose, three hundred and fifty miles to the north. I had no recollection how I got to the Los Angeles area, or why. For a few moments I was so shaken I couldn’t move. The scary thing was that it felt real. But monsters and Star Trek-style teleportation or whatever it was that seemed to have brought me there? That seemed unreal.
I watched the creature lumber away toward the foothills of the Angeles National Forest on the eastern side of the Los Angeles basin. Is this a nightmare, I wondered. As I looked East, the sky was a mix of dark blue and light purple as twilight set in, brilliant yellow sunlight capping the highest hilltops. As Godzilla crashed onward, shrinking in the distance, it was thrashing and kicking, maybe pissed off that it had to deal with these puny humans and all their metal toys that it brushed aside or stepped on, leaving a trail of carnage; broken buildings, smashed cars and crushed bodies.
Who or what had created that creature? It looked like the Godzilla in the movies but that couldn’t be. The best guess my frantic mind could come up with — a mad scientist took Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park idea to heart, found some dinosaur DNA and that monster was the result. I shook my head in disbelief and turned away. I didn’t know where I was, or what was happening to me, but I knew I wanted to head West, away from Godzilla.
As I turned to run west, something came whizzing by my left ear. I ducked but I knew immediately from the sound, and what I felt or maybe imagined was a tiny rush of air, that it was past me before I even began to move. I looked in the direction I thought it had gone and there it was. A fairy, maybe five inches long, floating in front of me, held aloft by the beating of tiny gossamer wings. What the hell! I just stared, studying it thinking it must be a strange looking hummingbird and my eyes were playing a trick on me, or something. After a few seconds I knew it wasn’t a hummingbird. It was a miniature woman. With wings. I thought she resembled Tinker Bell, the fictional fairy in Peter Pan stories. It, she, whatever it was hovered about a foot in front of my eyes, staring back. I reached out to try and touch her and she flew away so fast I lost sight of her after a few seconds.
I thought it must be a dream, or a nightmare, or I must have gone crazy. But I somehow knew that I wasn’t losing my marbles. I can’t explain how, but you just know when it’s a dream and when it’s real. I had to get somewhere to sort things out. Sure, I took a few drugs back in the day; who didn’t? But that was decades ago. Still, I could be having a long-, long-delayed flashback. I was sure I couldn’t have seen what I had seen. I couldn’t have. It had to be hallucinations, drug induced or maybe from a medical condition I didn’t know I had. Or, worst case scenario, maybe I really had just suddenly gone crazy. But in my heart I already knew it was real.
My name is Roger. I’m a reporter for a Silicon Valley newspaper. I’m ordinary; I make a living by talking to people and getting them to talk to me. Sure I have my quirks and my preferences. I’m afraid of heights and I only eat thin crust-pizza. Maybe it’ll help me lose those love handles. I’m happily married to a lovely woman named Carolyn and have two kids, seven-year-old Jonathan and five-year-old Becky, back in San Jose for Christ’s sake! At least I hoped they were there. It would be very odd for a guy like me to suddenly go crazy. I’m Mr. Normal, treated like any normal person is treated, acting like one too until now. I had to get somewhere to think. I cautiously turned to continue walking West on Sunset Boulevard, wondering and afraid of what I might see.
There was nothing there but regular people, no monsters or fairies. As I walked along, I noticed though that they all wore what seemed like costumes of some sort. Okay, I said to myself, this is LaLa Land. Lots of actors and assorted wannabe actors and just plain weirdos live here. This isn’t so strange. Then I got another jolt to my system. Looking at their faces and body types they seemed to match the “costumes.” There was a teenage girl dressed like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, carrying a small, fluffy dog. I looked at her face and I could have sworn it was a young Judy Garland. An actor walked by in a suit, carrying a briefcase. I didn’t know who it was but he looked like a character actor I’d seen in movies. The thing was, he was in character, just walking down the street, no camera crew in sight. They all were fictional characters and I was in a movie or a dream or nightmare, something beyond my understanding.
I tried reasoning with myself. How could there be ordinary people, or even Hollywood people, just going about their business like that when I had just seen what I saw; Godzilla rampaging down Sunset Boulevard! Surely some of them, most of them, had seen Godzilla IF it was there. It was all crazy-making. I needed time to think, to let the panic waves subside. I looked for a side street to duck down to get away from the craziness on Sunset. I turned right on North Orange Drive, not knowing where it led, just knowing that it would take me away from where I had been.
As I turned the corner, I bumped into a tall man coming the opposite direction.
“What’shur rush,” he said with a heavy Welsh accent. “A man could get hurt running around street corners.”
“Sorry, I’ve just been through something that baffles me and I’m a bit confused,” I said. I looked up and said
“I know you. You’re … You’re …”
“Bond, James Bond.”
Oh Shit! Not again. He looked real. I knew it was Hollywood and there are James Bond look-alikes there. But I’ve seen enough James Bond movies that I was pretty sure it wasn’t an actor. It WAS Sean Connery, and not an impersonator. At that point I just gave up trying to logically figure it out. There was no way this was happening and apparently I was incapable of understanding who, where, what I was. I would just have to ride it out, until whatever was going to happen next happened.
He leaned in and said in a low voice. “I wouldn’t look now but there are two gentlemen on the corner behind you who look quite angry. And they are looking at you.”
I turned, just like he told me not to, and like he’d said two large, angry men were walking toward me at a fast pace.
“I shaid NOT to look. Now you’ve done it. Come with me if you want to live,” Bond said. He jogged off down the street expecting me to follow. We’d run a block or so when I heard a loud bang, like a firecracker or a gun. I turned and the two fat guys were running and panting heavily about a half block behind us. One had a gun in his hand. I presumed he was the one who fired the shot. I ran faster and when I caught up with Bond he grabbed my arm and flung me around to the side of the street. I saw an alley there and raced for it. When I got there I quickly peeked around the corner and Bond was kneeling on one knee in the street, a gun in his hand, facing the two big, angry guys running toward him. I heard two shots ring out. Then he slowly stood and walked toward me, arms at his sides, smoking gun in hand. I was frozen with fear. When he got to me he stopped and looked me in the eyes.
“I think you should go to your hotel, take a bath and think about tomorrow,” he said quietly in that subdued British way he has. Then he brushed by me and walked away down the alley.
What hotel? Where? What was going to happen tomorrow? I thought about yelling after him but I had a feeling he wouldn’t have any answers for me. And he still had that gun in his hand so I didn’t want to bother him.
I peeked around the corner of the building at the end of the alley and saw the two guys lying in the road, their blood running down the side of the street into the gutter. I turned back into the alley with my back to the wall and slid down it until I was sitting on the ground, my head in my hands, against a building in an alley in Hollywood. I’ve never known such loneliness, confusion and hopelessness. I wanted to go home to my wife and kids, to my job in Silicon Valley, to real people. These people were real in the sense that I could see them and hear them and get shot at by them. But they were fictional characters, not like real people. It was Hollywood hell.
* * * *
I ran through possible explanations in my mind. It could be insanity. I’m seeing people and creatures that can’t exist, and they’re doing crazy thing like shooting at me and killing bad guys. Maybe I’m dreaming or lying in a hospital bed in a coma. They say to pinch yourself if you think you’re dreaming. I pinched myself and it hurt. Can dream pain feel real? Who knows. I pinched a little harder and it hurt more. I didn’t know what that proved but I knew I wasn’t dreaming. It was all too real to be a dream. Then a dark thought came; maybe I’m dead. That seemed as stupid as me thinking I was dreaming. If I died, why would I be transported to Hollywood to see Godzilla and James Bond? It didn’t add up. I knew that I was alive and there was some explanation why this was happening. And I was pretty sure that until I found it, it would keep happening. I stood up and looked toward where James Bond had walked. He was long gone. I turned to Orange Drive and peeked around the corner, and saw the two dead thugs lying in the street.
A sense of calm had come over me while I was sitting in the alley, thinking. I didn’t die in the James Bond situation. I might die yet but dying would end this whatever it was so I might as well try to find out what was happening. And I must admit it was kind of exciting too, finding myself in a real-life movie so to speak.
Actually it was more like all the movies mashed together. I took a couple of deep breaths and ventured onto the street.
After gathering my courage, I stepped back onto Orange and continued walking, past the dead guys, toward a big street. I saw a crowd up ahead and hesitated. Just like when I first got here, they all looked like real people but based on imaginary characters. It seemed to be a peaceful scene though, no angry gunsels in the mix. I saw the Hollywood Boulevard street sign first, and then the huge crowd of people milling around across the street in front of a building that I had seen in photos, called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. But the sign on it said “TCL Chinese Theatre.” I was getting acclimated to insanity, so I figured I might as well check it out. I walked over and started milling with them. They all seemed to be in costume, of course. That didn’t surprise me. I saw Batman and Robin. Rocky Balboa walked by, and Han Solo, Marty McFly and Sam Spade. That wasn’t surprising. I’m in Hollywood, I thought; of course I’m going to see people in costume, as I tried desperately to reestablish some sanity. Then I remembered that I had seen Godzilla and Tinker Bell too.
I heard a loud whoosh and thump behind me, and the ground shook a bit like something had fallen there. I was getting used to this stuff and turned without hesitation.
“Oh, I was just saying Superman because I recognize you. You look kind of like Christopher Reeve, the best superman of all time. But not exactly like him,” I blurted out.
“Who?” He obviously wasn’t the Christopher Reeve Superman. But as I looked harder, I realized he looked exactly like him, not kind of like him.
“Would you like me to take you on a flyover of Los Angeles?” he said out of the blue.
“Sure,” I said. Would you turn down an invitation to do a flyover with Superman?
I almost immediately regretted it. We quickly got up to five hundred feet or so and that’s when my stomach reminded me that I don’t like heights. I knew I was going to lose my lunch.
“Please, take me back down,” I told Superman weakly. He deposited me in what looked like the downtown of an upscale small town somewhere. Not downtown L.A. There were no really tall buildings. I thanked him and he flew off. Then I saw a sign saying “Sony Pictures Studios.” How appropriate, I thought. I’m in one of the hotbeds of the movie industry. I started walking and wound up in a little parklike area across from a Trader Joe’s. A sign said Media Park and I thought, how appropriate. I turned and started walking up what looked like a main street. There were art galleries and restaurants and coffee shops galore, most with indoor and outdoor seating. It wasn’t all that strange by this time that all the people I saw were based on fictional characters. I was lost, figuratively and literally.
I stopped a passerby for directions. He looked ordinary so I figured he must be based on a character actor.
“Can you tell me where I am?”
“You’re in downtown Culver City. Are you from out of town?”
“You could say that. I’m having kind of a transcendental experience.”
“Uh-oh. Are you seeing fictional characters come to life?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
“It happened to me too,” he said. “My name’s Bob.” He shook my hand and said with a sense of urgency,
I didn’t hesitate a second. Finally a small glimpse of reality or sanity, I had no idea what. Bob didn’t look like he was from a movie or TV show and he seemed to genuinely want to help me. I followed him up Culver Boulevard. As we passed an outdoor restaurant I saw a beautiful blonde in a long white dress pacing back and forth, as if she was waiting for someone who was late. She turned and maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to see Marilyn Monroe but I gasped. Everyone’s dream girl, pacing in front of me. I motioned to my new friend to wait and I approached her.
“Miss Monroe?” She quickly turned toward me, and her blonde curls whirled in the wind as she did.
“Yes,” she said in that throaty, sultry voice. She seemed expectant, like I might be bringing news of some lover or friend she was supposed to meet. I had no idea what to say so I just blurted out, “I’m a big fan. That’s all. I just wanted to tell you I think you’re an amazing person.” She thanked me and returned to pacing, and I turned back to my newfound friend.
“Marilyn Monroe! Imagine that,” I said.
He just looked at me with a slight, knowing smile and we walked on.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I’m taking you to the portal.”
He stopped and turned to me. “The one that will take you back to your own dimension and your own time. You stumbled through a portal between our two worlds. This one seems crazy to you, just as Earth as we know it seemed crazy to these people when they first stumbled into it, going through the other way.
“Earth as WE know it? You’re like me then. How did you get here?”
“Same as you, I stumbled into one of the portals that occasionally open like a cloud door appearing out of nowhere. They aren’t common, and people from Earth who come here and then go back rarely tell others about it because they would be carted off to a loony bin. They are parallel worlds, or dimensions if you like, whose inhabitants share some personality and physical characteristics but made of entirely different substances.”
“I’ll say. Godzilla?! That’s crazy.”
“Oh, that. That isn’t Godzilla. That’s the creation of a scientist here who got carried away with his dreams, created it, and it escaped. We have some other stuff like that around too.” Tinker Bell came to mind.
“The people you see here are an illusion of sorts. Apparently, the portals have only opened for a relatively short period of time, a hundred years or so, close as I can figure. The beings here are shape-shifters. When they learned about the other Earth, our Earth, your Earth, they went to our media to try and identify the leaders. They became enamored of our movies and actors, and the characters they play, James Bond, Marilyn Monroe. You saw. And they have all, or nearly all, adopted different shapes of people on our Earth who they found appealing. In fact, they’ve pretty much rebuilt their world to be a copy of what they see of our world in movies. You may have seen one of them that hasn’t taken an Earth character form, but thought he or she was just another odd new being you were seeing. Their original shape is quite different from ours. And because they are shape-shifters they can change shape when Godzilla escapes again to one that’s unharmed when he stomps on them. That’s why they don’t panic when they see him.”
“What about you? You’re not one of them. How do you get by?”
“They tolerate me. They can tell that I’m not one of them. Now that they’ve adopted human characteristics, though, they’re like me. Or I’m like them. So most of them treat me like just another ordinary Joe here.”
I hesitated to ask but had to. “How long have you been here?”
Bob tilted his head to the side and thought for a few seconds. “Oh, going on fifteen years now.”
My heart fell. Fifteen years! I’d never see my wife and kids. I’d be stuck in a parallel movie world forever. He must have seen the look on my face because he laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’ve been here that long because I like it here. I’m a huge movie fan and to find a parallel world like this is a dream come true for me. But I know you want to get home, so let’s get you there. Run with me.”
“What?” My question was too late. He was running up the sidewalk. I started running too. Finally, I caught up with him and we ran side by side.
“I want to help you get home but I don’t know if there’s time,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“After I’d been here a couple of months I found a portal back to your world, our world. Like I say, I like it here and I was debating with myself whether I wanted to go back or stay. I went to my home here to think it over. I came back that afternoon and it was gone. After that I decided I wanted to stay. The portal opens only for a short while, a half day or a day at most. And it only opens once every three or four years. I came across this one this morning. No telling how long it’s been open.”
“Four years!” I said breathlessly. We had already run a half mile or so. The thought of four years in this parallel world or whatever it was, was too much. I began to run faster.
“Come on!” I yelled to him above the rush of the wind and the sound of cars and trucks going by on the road. “If it’s going to close soon we’ve got to get there. I can’t stay here any longer. How much further?”
“Just keep running as fast as you can.”
“I’m not used to running this fast this long.”
“Just shut up and run. Conserve your breath. We might make it.”
We ran for what seemed to me like hours, but was probably twenty minutes. I was serious when I told him I wasn’t used to running fast. All of a sudden I felt a pain in the back of my right leg, like one muscle had temporarily jumped over the other one, out of alignment. I had pulled a muscle. I slowed to a walk, then a limp.
“Wait! Wait! I think I pulled a muscle in my leg. I can’t go on.”
Bob had taken the task of getting me home to heart. He rushed up to me on the right side, put his arm under mine and my arm over his shoulder, and shifted the weight on the right side of my body to his shoulder.
“Let me help you. You can do this,” he shouted. “It’s not that much farther.”
The pain was getting stronger. I couldn’t go on, I told my new friend. He wouldn’t let me stop. He urged me on, saying “We’re nearly there, don’t give up!” Then I saw it. It was an opening in the air about fifty feet in front of us, just big enough for a person to fit through. I urged myself on in my mind. I said I can make it. I will make it! As we got closer to the portal, Bob seemed to slow down. Obviously, he wasn’t used to all this running either. Then I saw the edges of the portal change. The air seemed to shift just a bit, filling in the space around it. The portal was shrinking. We weren’t going to make it.
“Bob, it’s just a little further, buddy. Help me get there, please!” I begged. He turned his head toward me, and he looked weary beyond belief. The portal was shrinking and soon I wouldn’t fit through it. I didn’t care about the pain in my leg, about my exhaustion. I turned away from Bob, stumbled forward and fell through the portal.
* * * *
I was in San Jose.
I lay there, panting, as exhausted as my friend from another dimension Bob had looked. I was on the grass at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose. I rolled over on my back, turning my face to the sun. It was warm and comforting. Slowly I got to my feet.
Doubt lingered in my mind. It looked like the San Jose I knew. But my life for the past few hours had been like one big hallucination. This could be another. I brushed the leaves off the back of my pants and looked around for people. That was going to be the big difference, the thing I had to look for, the people. And Godzillas of course. In Los Angeles in that other dimension it had looked like a regular city, like Los Angeles should look. But the people and creatures there were unreal, real in that place but unreal in that such people and beings couldn’t exist.
In the distance I saw a young couple walking and I stood and walked toward them. As I got closer I could see they were holding hands. I got closer still, intently studying them, looking for a character from a movie or TV show or a cartoon. Soon I was just ten feet away. I turned to walk past them, close enough to get a good look. The guy had just said something and she laughed. He glanced up and saw me. She saw him glance my way and she looked at me too. I didn’t recognize either of them. Hallelujah!
“Hello,” she said in a friendly tone, smiling. I looked over at him and he was smiling too. He nodded at me and they were gone. I pondered the encounter for a minute and then I was sure. I didn’t know either of them from any movie or TV show or podcast or YouTube video. I didn’t know them! What a wonderful feeling. They were just people, like the people I was used to seeing every day of my life until this morning. I saw a bus coming up the street and ran for the San Jose VTA bus stop. I remembered my car being nearby but I wanted to see people, lots of people. I boarded the bus and looked at the driver as I put change in the meter. I didn’t know her. I turned and looked down the aisle, peering deeply into faces as I walked slowly toward the back and took a seat. A couple of people noticed my overly curious looks and frowned as I walked past. I didn’t care. They all looked like regular people, not a movie star or back story character among them.
I settled into the seat and felt relief like I’d never felt, and I started to smile, grateful to just be alive and in this dimension. And surrounded by people I didn’t know, and most if not all of them I had never met and would quite possibly never meet again. My smile lasted all the way home. I didn’t know what I would tell Carolyn about my absence or even, if she asked, where my car was. The last I recalled was seeing it in the Paradime Corp. parking lot. I had gone for a walk, saw something in the air in front of me, just before I walked through it, and then I was in Los Angeles.
I hesitated in the walkway in front of my house. Would my family be there or some fictional people? How much could I tell Carolyn? She knows me well. If I didn’t tell her, would she suspect something and push to know more? I slowly walked up to the door, put the key in the lock and swung it open. I usually yelled “Daddy’s home!” but not this time. I had to be sure first. I came to the living room and peered around the corner.
“Daddy! Daddy’s home!” Becky saw me first and put down the doll she was playing with and ran toward me as I entered the room. Jonathan put his book down, stood up, smiling, and walked toward me. I stooped down and put my arms around Becky and hugged her. I had missed them so. Jonathan was seven and he figured he was too mature for daddy hugs. But he came up and put his arm around my shoulder anyway and stood there grinning, obviously happy that I was home. Not nearly as happy as I was though. I looked up just as Carolyn came into the room. She stood there at the edge of the kitchen for a bit. It was her turn to cook dinner; we alternated days. She had already changed from her pants suit to her sweats. She grinned as she watched us. I stood up and walked toward her, sighing heavily as I did.
“Long day at the office?” she said tenderly.
“Incredibly long,” I said as I fell into her arms.
James DeTar is a writer living in California.