"... up, Paul! Get the fuck up!" Hands gripped Paul's shoulders and roughly jiggled his body.
"Mmph? Whazzamadder?" Paul mumbled, struggling to open his eyes"Ow!" Bright light smacked him in the face, and everything sizzled out of focus. Heart thumping wildly, he sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes to clean away the crusty things, then blinked, getting used to the light. A figure before him sharpenedand Paul gaped at it in bleary disbelief.
John Lennon knelt over him, staring down through granny glasses. "About fuckin' time," he muttered, wiping the back of his hand across his brow. Very young he looked in a Beatle haircut, white T-shirt, and blue jeans.
"Jesus Christ, what are you doing here?" Paul blurted. Then he caught himself and said apologetically, "Sorry, mate, that came out wrong. Just wasnt expecting"
"Where the fuck are we, Paul?" John interrupted, voice high-pitched and rapid. His pale, narrow face was framed by sunlit chestnut hair that played around his forehead in the breeze.
"Huh?" Still a little fogged by sleep, Paul struggled to make sense of everything. "Are y-"
"Gah!" Paul shot bolt upright and twisted wildly around. "How'd I get outside?"
He and John sat in the grass at the edge of a birch forest, overlooking a meadow dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. About fifty yards ahead of them, the grass thinned into a ribbon of white beach fronting an ocean or large lake. To Paul's right, the trees gradually marched almost up to the beach; to his left, they angled back as if retreating from the encroaching meadow. He tried to peer into the forest to see how far back it went; farther than he could make out, anyway. The air smelled of salt, with hints of flowers and rotting vegetation, and seagulls wheeled and cried in the distance. The morning moon, a crescent sinking into the water like a giant hook poised to catch Leviathan, dominated that part of the rich blue sky.
It was quite a pleasant place, really; ideal for a family picnic or a romp with a big dog.
But Paul had no business being there.
Nor should he have been dressed, but he was, in clothes identical to John's: T-shirt, jeans, and white socks and sneakers. His wedding band was gone (and so was John's, he saw now). Also, his hair felt wrong, too short. Running his hands through it, Paul guessed that someone had given him a Beatle cut.
With a final incredulous glance around, he confronted John, who was even paler than before. "What the hell is going on?"
"Oh, nothin' much," John said lightly, "just we seem to've been kidnapped and put in this bloody field in the middle of nowhere." Suddenly he grabbed Paul's shoulders again. "Tell me where we are! Please tell me you know where we are! Are we in England?" Without waiting for an answer he pushed away from Paul, put his head in his hands, and rocked back and forth, moaning softly, "Oh God, this ain't real, don't let this be real."
"Oh, Jesus." For a moment Paul was so scared that his brain seemed to vanish; but then it came back with a vengeance. His baby face set into uncharacteristically hard lines. "You son of a bitch! How dare you kidnap me like this?"
John looked up. "Eh?"
"This was one of Yoko's little instructions, right? Don't you have better sense than to do every daft thing she says?" Paul grabbed John's hand. "You take me home right bloody now or I'll hit you with the biggest lawsuit you ever saw!"
John jerked his hand back and scrambled to his feet. "I don't believe this. I do not fuckin' believe this. You think I did this?"
Paul got up slowly, fiercely. "I knew you were mad, but this just tops it all. What are you trying to pull with this stunt? Some kind of happening? Or is this like that Rape movie you did once? If you're filming this - " He peered into the forest, looking for a hidden camera crew, and something caught his eye. He walked to a bush about ten feet away, knelt, moved some leaves aside, and dragged out a pair of acoustic guitars (one left-handed, one right-handed) hidden within. The glare he turned on John was positively murderous. "Is this your way of telling me you want to get back together? Couldn't you have just asked? Or was that too boring for you?"
John was visibly startled by the guitars. The color that anger had put in his cheeks drained away. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Paul, think for a minute. Think. How could I have put us here? How could I? What d'ye think I did, drug you in your bed? Please." He was near tears. "We've gotta go after the real assholes, not each other! We're both pawns in this fuckin' game!"
"Bravo." Paul slapped one of the guitars lightly against his thigh by way of applause. "You always were a good actor. Here." He tossed first one, then the other guitar in John's direction; they went thunk-twang as they hit the ground. "If you'd asked like a normal fella I might've said yes."
Thereupon Paul turned his back on John and walked slowly along the edge of the forest, still looking for the camera crew, who were no doubt sniggering over their wonderful trick. Well, let's see how loud they laugh after I've got home. God, Linda must be worried sick. (Unless she'd cooperated with John in this mad venture... but that didn't bear thinking about.)
After about five minutes of finding nothing, Paul thought, Well, either they're so far back in that I can't see them from here, or I've guessed wrong and they're set up in the meadow or on the beach somewhere. John knows, and he glanced angrily back at his ex-partner, who hadn't moved a muscle except to watch Paul. But Paul wasn't ready to ask John anything yet; he felt like he'd win a point if he found the camera crew on his own. They must be on the beach, he decided, and he tramped through the grass down to the sand, hoping to catch a glimpse of something: a stray microphone, a belatedly ducking head, the gleam of sunlight off chrome. He also wanted to get a sense of the lay of the land. If he could figure out where they were, or at least find a building, he might be able to walk out of this insanity entirely, call a cab or the police or something.
But he didn't see a building or a camera crew on the flat white sands as he stood atop the small eroded rise that separated meadow from beach. In fact, the stretch of beach was pristine: the sand was strewn with shells, driftwood, and seaweed, but no trash or footprints, no tire tracks, nothing. Not even so much as an airplane contrail marred the solitude of that beach. I must be on something John owns, and black thoughts drifted through Paul's head, for John would certainly have disabled any phones nearby.
He turned to fix the distant Johnwho wasn't so distant any more, having started towards Paulwith another vicious glare, but his gaze went upward instead, traveling to the top of a domelike structure that was visible just over the trees to his right. Aha! he thought triumphantlywhich turned into a disgruntled Damn when he realized he was just looking at the top of the full moon....
The full moon?
Over the forest?
Paul whirled around to face the ocean.
If he'd been drinking water, he would have spit it out. He froze so violently he almost fell over. "Uh... uh... uh..." he whimpered.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, what's the matter now?" John said behind him. "Did somethin' finally butter that thick loaf of yours?"
Paul pointed a shaking hand at the moon over the water.
"What, the moon? I always knew you were a lunatic, but"
Unable to turn around, Paul pointed another shaking hand behind and to his left, at the trees.
So the baffled John turned to look
"Jesus fucking Christ!" he screamed, and he leaped backwards, knocking himself and Paul down the rise. He landed on his rear in the sand; Paul sprawled face forward.
Jolted out of his trance, Paul scrambled to his knees and clutched at John, the last familiar thing in the universe. "Whereinhell are we?"
"I don't know! Oh God, I don't know!" John cried, hugging Paul tight.
Then all words were swept away in a tornado of screaming....
. but the thunder faded, the wind died down, and the two found themselves gasping for breath in the sunshine. Still attached, they sat in the sand and stared at the moon over the forest.
"Right," John whispered, "I think that proves I didn't do this."
Paul blinked. "Yeah."
Wetness on John's hand made him notice he was shredding Paul, and he disengaged his nails from Paul's arm. "Are you okay, man?"
"Yeah." Paul seemed oblivious to the damage. John's shirt was tight between Paul's fingers, but Paul let go, his hand drifting up to touch his chin, when John gently pulled away.
I hope he's okay, John thought. I hope I'm okay. He was, in fact, feeling unusually calm and collected, his earlier panic having vanished entirely. I suppose Im okay. Noticing that Paul's blood had reddened his fingernails, he got up and walked to the edge of the water, knelt, and swished his hand around. As he straightened up, dripping, he realized I have to take a pee. I wonder if there are toilets here. Wherever here is. He glanced vaguely about for a restaurant or a Port-O-San. Then he found himself rubbing his wet hand on his shirt. "Who dressed us?" he said aloud, and pulled off the shirt to get a better look at it. Nothing indicated its origin, not even a label. "Hope it don't need to be dry cleaned," he murmured, wiping his glasses on it before putting it back on. His shoes and socks were equally generic, and he didn't feel like checking his jeans. With nothing left to do, he returned to Paul, sat cross-legged next to him, and began to dibble a hole in the sand.
Eyes still locked on the forest moon, Paul let loose with a huge sigh, as if he'd been holding his breath for ten minutes. "Ahhhhhhh. It's real. It's bloody real. We're on another planet."
Withdrawing his hand from the hole and wiping it on his pants, John said, "Yeah, looks like."
"Or I've gone completely mad."
"Either you have or I have." John chuckled weakly. "I hope it's you and I'm just a figment of your imagination."
Paul sat, deciding. Finally he said, "I'm pretty sure it's real," and turned away from the moon, locked eyes with John. "It's either real or it's not, right?"
"Right, I think that covers all the options."
"Well, I read a book where the hero got bunged into a real world, but he just thought he was going mad."
"So he almost got killed. I reckon we'd better assume it's real, cause if it is and we think it isn't and we run into something that wants to eat us and we think Oh, nothing can hurt us, it's just a mad fantasy" Here Paul had to take a breath.
John giggled. "So I shouldn't tell Darth Vader to fuck off if he pushes us around. If he's around here."
"Wouldn't that be lovely," Paul muttered. "God, what could be around here?"
"Us!" John jumped to his feet and pounded on his chest, breathed deeply of the fresh air. "What a nice day. What say we suss out the sand? I'd fancy a bit of breakfast meself."
"How can you be hungry at a time like this?" Paul put his chin in his hands; then his eyes widened, and he patted his face. "Why didn't I noticeI've been shaved!"
John explored his own smooth face. "Well, we got the whole potato, didn't we? New clothes, haircuts, shaves.... suppose we gotta look pretty to be eaten. Messy people probably make aliens fart. So how about brekky, then?"
"I'm in no great hurry to find out what's out there," murmured Paul. Nevertheless, he got to his feet and walked back to retrieve the guitarsno sense abandoning the only things they had in the world. If nothing else, they could serve as clubs. John saluted him as he returned, accepted the right-handed guitar, and marched off up the beach, with the trees and the round moon off to their left and the water and the crescent moon to the right. Paul plodded along behind, looking at the ground.
After some minutes of water and sand, during which the round moon vanished below the trees and the crescent moon began to fade into the daylight, the gauze clogging Paul's brain began to unwrap. His thoughts became keener, his head lifted, he walked faster, and he started to notice things: great leafy bushes growing in the sand, about waist high and rather like giant heads of lettuce; the click, click of a falling oyster (or oyster-like thing) as a patient brown bird (or bird-like thing) dropped it again and again on a half-buried rock to break it open; the suspicious gaze of a jackrabbit (or rabbit-like thing) standing on the rise, whiskers quivering, watching the strangers pass; and John humming "Magical Mystery Tour."
Paul drew abreast of John to study his face. John batted his eyelashes at him and continued to hum. He's gone mad, Paul thought, dropping back. Can't blame him. I do wish Linda were here instead of him. Still, I'd rather be here with a daft John than by myself.
You know, I wouldn't really mind seeing an alien or a troll or something. Paul cringed a little, half expecting one to materialize at his request. When nothing happened, he continued in a bolder tone of thought, Not close up, of course, at a distance, but wouldn't that be something? I'd be the only Earth person to know they really existwell, John too. Don't reckon it's worth dying for, but if there was some safe way
John stopped at a lettuce-bush. "Half a tick, I gotta take a pee."
"Is it safe?" Paul said, daring to poke the alien leaves with the toe of his shoe. "Maybe these are the people."
"Well, they should like what I'm gonna give 'em, then."
When the plant didn't rise up and consume John, Paul emptied his own bladder as well, commenting "It seems so weird to have to pee here. I mean, nobody ever does on Star Trek or in Lord of the Rings or any of those things. It just seems a bit crass."
John snorted. "Maybe they don't water the crass in fiction, but they do in real life."
They zipped up and resumed their trek. Paul watched for alien traces: saucers in the sky, hands with swords reaching from the water, giants emerging from a cloud-castle. Thus, he was the first to see two humanoid shapes approaching from the meadow. A shock of fear went through him, but it melted away when one of the figures hoisted a guitar.
"We are not alone," John intoned solemnly, raising his guitar in reply.
Ringo Starr ran like a freed hostage to meet John and Paul. "Hey! Hey!" he yelled, waving a tambourine in his left hand, clingclingcling. He didn't look scared so much as desperate. Meanwhile, George Harrison continued to trudge in their general direction, dragging his guitar through the grass. His angular face was pale, eyes glazed under his heavy brows. Both he and Ringo had been dressed in the white shirts and jeans, and both had the Beatle haircuts; they looked very young, especially George, with his ears sticking out below the hairline.
Paul and John stopped short. That really was Beatle Ringo bearing down on them, face clear and unlined, the gray streak in his hair stark against the brown. And George was no longer the weathered hippie millionaire in the Gothic mansion, but the beardless boy with cheek in a garage band.
John's normally half-lidded eyes were very big. "Jesus, they're bloody kids."
"They must've been taken from our past," breathed Paul, a little dizzy, "or they've drunk from the Fountain of"
Alarms went off in their heads at the same moment.
They slowly turned to face each other.