Alyssa walked a full circle around her house. Everywhere she went, she walked across fresh green grass. Really fresh. It smelled like the grass had just been mowed even though almost all of it brushed by her knees. Behind the house, a small lake bordered a forest filled with high trees. Maybe redwoods—Alyssa wasn’t sure, her brother had been the Wilderness Ranger of the family. With the sun not too hot and the breeze just light enough to be pleasant against her skin, she might have enjoyed relaxing with a nice book and deepening her already modest tan at the same time—though the moon and rings might be a bit eerie. Or maybe going for the swim in the lake. Their house hadn’t really had a backyard, let alone a swimming pool. The house itself occupied almost the entire lot. The pool at the local recreation center… well, crystal clear water of this lake looked a whole lot more appealing than the sickly green of the rec center.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t enjoy anything about the situation. She kept waiting for someone to jump out saying that everything had been a big joke. Except things had progressed far too much for a simple prank. Even ignoring the bodies, someone would have had to construct a replica of her home out in the middle of nowhere, hook it up to utilities—the inside still had running water and electricity—and then fix her phone to not work the way it should. No. It was too elaborate.

Which meant everything was real.

With a sigh, she made her way back to the front of the house and collected the things she had gathered. First, she double-checked the compass she had dug out of her brother’s closet. When she had first found it, the needle had been spinning erratically. On a hunch, she had brought it outside. The little red line pointed directly towards her house. The red line remained aimed at her house as she took a quick jog around.

She would have to keep an eye on it to ensure it stayed pointing that way once she put some distance between her and the house.

Having already changed out of her comfortable exercise clothes and into some proper long legged pants, boots, and a long sleeve jacket, she slipped on a backpack filled with some granola bars and water bottles. She had filled it with a few other camping supplies as well: a first aid kit, lighters and matches, her brother’s hatchet and one of his knives, a flashlight, and a few extra magazines.

Not the paper kind.

Fully loaded magazines. Alyssa didn’t know what she was going to find out over the hills. To that end, she had equipped two holsters. One under her arm and one at her hip. She stared at the two guns sitting on the edge of the porch. Even bringing them out here had been… uncomfortable. They felt heavier than they had last night. But still, she had reloaded the one she had used and loaded a second. If afterlives were real and she had ended up in one, maybe she wouldn’t need one. Otherwise, she didn’t fancy being eaten by a bear ten steps away from the house. She picked the two pistols up and slotted them into their holsters after ensuring that their safeties were switched on.

Unable to think of anything else she might need on short notice, Alyssa headed off with the compass in her hand. Her front porch had a perfect view of the nearest hilltop. Perhaps from the top, she might be able to see some sign of civilization. A road or a power line. Maybe even actual people she could get help from. People who could contact her family. The heartbreak her mother and father must be going through… she could imagine it easily. It had only been the night before when she had heard a man losing all composure over his deceased son.

Alyssa forced herself to focus on the natural beauty around her and shook the morbid thoughts from her mind.


A raven’s caw off in the distance sent pins and needles down Alyssa’s spine. Ancient Greeks viewed the crow as a symbol of good luck. They were pretty much the only ones with a positive opinion of the bird. Spotting it on the branches of a full tree just gave Alyssa an ominous feeling. It didn’t help matters that it watched her with an unblinking eye as she walked to the top of the hill.

However, the feeling vanished in an instant as she looked down on the lands below.

Snowcapped mountains stood tall in the far distance. From there, a river cut a swath through the rolling hills of the valley until it disappeared somewhere on the horizon. A thick layer of fluffy white clouds hung in the otherwise blue sky, their shadow over a portion of the valley not detracting from the overall feel in the slightest. Trees lined one side of the river while relatively flat plains lay on the opposite side.

Her heart jumped as she noticed a golden field amongst the mostly green landscape. Wheat. Probably. And with the squared edges of the plot, it had to be man made. There! Not far from the golden fields of wheat, a large stone structure had been built near the river. Tiny almost tent-like things dotted the area around it. Their size was probably just the distance. But civilization definitely existed down there. One of the buildings looked somewhat like a cross between an European cathedral and the Luxor, Las Vegas version, all black and shiny. It was the only building that she could really see any definition to at this distance.

Grabbing the straps of her backpack and hiking it up higher on her shoulders, Alyssa set off towards the city.


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