“The next leg of our vacation takes us on the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria where we leave the U.S. for Canada.”
“Honey,” Glenn’s wife complained. “You sound just like a tour bus driver.”
In the backseat, eight-year-old Brittany groaned while her six-year-old brother Jackson rolled his eyes. They had been on the road for almost a week and would rather have been back home in Fullerton spending their days with their friends at the community pool.
“Just trying to brighten the mood while we wait to get onto the ferry, Sara.”
It seemed to be taking forever for the line of cars to move, but as Glenn and Sara looked out, they realized they had much bigger problems.
“Glenn, I thought it was the rain on the windshield at first, but…is everything…twisting?”
Everything around them, the cars and ferry in front of them, the pedestrians, roadway, the hills in the distance were all changing, becoming indistinct, as if they didn’t really exist.
Then everything abruptly shifted and shimmered, and then everything was different. Glenn had to grab the steering wheel tight because the car was now moving forward at 35 miles per hour rather than sitting still. They were part of a line of cars traveling on the Port Angeles/Victoria Bridge, crossing not only the Strait of Juan de Fuca but into another universe as well.
Sara and the children all started screaming, and it took all of his will for Glenn to grit his teeth and keep control of the car.
“Hang on, hang on, hang on everyone. We’re going to be okay, we’re okay. I just need to figure this out.” Glenn was talking more to himself than his family trying to keep his nerve.
“What the hell just happened? Where’s the ferry, Glenn? How did we get on this bridge?”
“I don’t know, I’m thinking, trying to think about how this happened.” He was on the verge of panicking, but a small voice in the back of his ahead kept talking to him, keeping him in control.
“Brittany, Jackson, are you both okay?” Sara turned around as much as her seat beat would let her to look at the kids.
“This is really freaky Mom, but we’re okay. I think we’re okay, right Jackson?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Just felt like I was going to puke for a second.”
Sara turned back toward her husband. “Glenn, we’d better have our passports ready since we’ll be crossing over into Canada.”
“This is amazing.” Glenn felt almost giddy now that he’d calmed down a bit. “It’s got to be twenty-five miles across the strait and yet there’s a bridge here.”
“Dad, it’s impossible. The longest suspension bridge in the world is the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan, and it’s only two-and-a-half miles long.”
“Brittany, how did you…”
“Extra credit report for school, Daddy.” Her tone told him that she already thought she was smarter than he was, an experience Glenn had hoped not to have until she hit puberty.
“We’re just lost, that’s all kids. Daddy must have taken a wrong turn and gotten on a bridge somehow.”
Glenn flashed Sara a look of hurt and scorn. They all knew this wasn’t a wrong turn, not one he could have consciously made. Brittany was right. There wasn’t a bridge in the world this long, and yet they were on it.
Jackson had lost interest in the “mystery” of how they got lost and returned to playing games on his mobile. Eventually, Brittany followed suit. Their car had wifi, but she couldn’t pick up the internet anymore, so she started reading a book she’d downloaded before they left home.
After an hour, they came to the end of the bridge, but there were no signs saying they were entering Canada, no place to show a customs official their passports, they just reached the end of the bridge and drove into Victoria near Beacon Hill Park.
Only it was called the John Hill Park. The Royal BC Museum was now The Victoria Art Museum, and what had been the British Columbia Legislature was Victoria City Hall.
Glenn stopped the car in the parking lot of what should have been The Bay Centre but was now a mall chain called The Clinton Experience.
“Glenn, I don’t understand any of this. Where are we?”
“I don’t know. I did all the research on the places we’d visit and this isn’t the Victoria I read about.”
“C’mon Dad, I’ve gotta pee.”
“Okay, Jackson. Hang on. We’ll find a restroom.”
Glenn and Jackson found the public Men’s room which was a standalone building and not inside the mall. “At least urinals are the same,” he muttered as he and his son each stood in front of one.
The two guys waited at the car for several minutes until Sara and Brittany got back from the Women’s room. “Waiting lines for the toilet are still the same.”
“Can we find a place to eat? I’m starving.”
“That’s usually your brother’s line, Brittany,” her Mom chuckled.
“Yeah, Brit,” Jackson teased. “Are you super hungry? Will you stop worrying about getting fat?”
“Shut up you little pig.”
Sara stepped in between the two. “That’s enough. There looks to be plenty of places to eat. We’ll choose one and have lunch.”
“There’s the Cactus Club Cafe, Glenn mused, “but that’s supposed to be on the other side of Douglas.”
The quartet was seated after a ten minute wait. When they opened the menu, it looked more suited to cuisine typical of the American Southwest. Plenty of burgers, bacon, fries, and onion rings. The most surprising part though, was the pricing.
“The Cactus Burger Special is seventeen Americans whatever that is.”
“Get this, Sara. The Franks and Fries platter is twenty-five Americans and five Lincolns.”
“What kind of money is that, Daddy?”
“I have no idea, Brittany. I just hope they accept Visa.”
“I’m afraid you won’t have time to find out. You’ll have to come with us.”
They hadn’t noticed the distinguished older gentleman in a grey, pin-striped suit and bowler hat approach with four uniformed officers.
Everyone around them had stopped eating and were staring.
“May I see some identification please?”
“How about I see your’s first?”
“Certainly, Sir.” The man, who Glenn assumed was some sort of police detective, produced a badge that identified him as Sheriff Remington Kotch of the Victoria Constable’s Office.
Glenn pulled out his wallet and showed the Sheriff his California Driver’s License.
“Remove it from the wallet, please.”
Glenn complied and handed it to Kotch.
“California,” he murmured. “Another one.”
“Here you go, Sir.” Kotch handed Glenn back his license. “I’m afraid you’ll all have to come with us immediately.”
“But we haven’t had lunch yet,” complained Jackson.
“We’ll provide you with something at the station, child. However, we must leave here immediately.”
Sara opened her mouth to object, but then saw the female officer nearest her place her hand on the butt of her holstered pistol.
“I think we’d better go, Glenn.”
Glenn stood up also sensing the threat these officers represented to his family.
“Let’s go everyone.”
Sara gave her daughter a withering glare which told the eight-year-old that this was no time to argue.
With two officers in the lead and two more plus the Sheriff behind, the Milton family left the Cactus Club Cafe as the other patrons silently watched.
Brittany and Jackson were sitting side by side in a pair of chairs against one wall of an interrogation room, each eating a Taco Delight Sandwich, which was just about the tastiest meal they’d ever had, while Sheriff Kotch explained himself to Glenn and Sara.
“You see Mr. and Mrs. Milton, this has happened before. Every few months or so, we receive visitors from your…um…world. Something about that particular area of Juan de Fuca seems to be…well, a bit strange.”
“You mean we’re in some sort of parallel universe? That’s impossible.” Sara had been an avid science fiction reader as a teenager, but while she loved the possibilities presented, she never thought anything like this could be real.
“We think there’s a natural rift of some sort that’s formed in the last five years which allows travel between our worlds.”
“Can we get back, Sheriff?”
“I’m rather counting on it, Mr. Milton. We can’t have you stay here, now can we? You’d introduce strange ideas and devices we cannot cope with, such as those portable telephones you carry.”
“That’s why Brittany couldn’t connect to the internet.”
“True Mrs. Milton, and it’s only because others such as yourself explained the concept that I even know what ‘internet’ means. However, there are products here in our world that might also dangerously change the course of yours. You can’t take any of that back with you. My office has been specially tasked with finding travelers such as yourselves and isolating you from our society.”
“But how can we get back?”
“Why the same way you came. We’ve discovered a way to detect the field intensity across the Strait, and when it is at the correct level, we’ll close the bridge to public traffic and send you back across. By the time you reach the other side, you’ll be back in your world.”
“Hey, can we get another sandwich, Dad? These are great!”
“In a minute, Jackson.”
“Young lady, would you like another as well?”
Brittany smiled at Kotch. “I sure would. I mean, if it’s okay with you, Daddy.”
Glenn’s daughter had acquired new manners now that her hunger had been partially assuaged.
“Sure, I mean if Sheriff Kotch doesn’t mind paying for it. Our money’s no good here.”
“Not at all, Sir.”
Kotch pressed a button on a small intercom unit on the table they were sitting at. “Can we have two more Taco Delights in here for the children, Sergeant?”
“Right away, Sir,” replied a clipped voice at the other end.
“How long will this go on, Sheriff? If you know about this, how long will people from our world accidentally fall into yours?”
“I’ve been assured our top scientists are working on it, but it’s something of a mystery how it even happens, let alone how to stop it. The best we can do for now is use our field detector to identify people from your world, it’s not hard really, and return them…you to your point of origin as soon as we can.”
There was a knock on the door and then Sergeant Tracey Mill brought in two more “Delights” and delivered them to the children.
“As soon as we’re done here, we’ll have you put up in some private rooms until sunset. We’ll have to confiscate all of your strange devices until you get ready to leave. We believe the field intensity over the Strait will be at the right level sometime after 2230.”
Glenn looked up at the analog wall clock which showed time in 24 intervals and not 12, and he noticed that there were no digital displays anywhere he could see.
“In the meantime, you’re our guests. I’m sorry we can’t give you a brief tour, but the less you see of your surroundings, and the less you are seen by others, the better.”
“Well, thank you for the hospitality you’ve shown us, Sheriff. I just want to get my family back home.”
“As do I, Mr. Milton. As do I.”
At what was shown as 10:32 p.m. on Glenn Milton’s digital watch, which along with all of their other devices, had been returned to them, he and his family started crossing the Port Angeles/Victoria Bridge driving south. It was a dark and foggy night. According to the Sheriff, these were prime conditions to open the corridor between the two worlds. Sheriff Kotch and half a dozen officers watched the Milton’s Toyota Sienna fade into the mists and into infinity.
“Just like the others. They don’t suspect.”
“No Sergeant Mill, how could they? And they’ll keep quiet about it as well. Who would believe them?”
“How many more of them will we need before we’re through?”
“As many as we can glean their technological innovations from, of course.”
“I don’t like using people this way, even if they are from another universe. I mean, as far as we know, the rift is a natural phenomena, but we’re exploiting it by bringing people like the Miltons here and copying their technology.
“No harm comes to them, Sergeant. We simply borrow and analyze their laptops, smartphones, and other devices for a few hours. We’re close to developing a rudimentary internet according to what the Chief tells me. I can’t wait to be able to send my first, what’s it called? Oh, yes…my first email. My dear mother in Mexico State will be hearing from me a lot more often when that happens.
I wrote the shorter version of this story for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers photo writing challenge. As people read it, I started to get requests to write an expanded version so we could see what happens after the Milton family crossed over into another universe. This is it. Let me know what you think.