Freebie Mondays: The Rules of the Rave

Freebie Mondays: The Rules of the Rave

When I first started writing shorts for this blog, the main purpose was to challenge myself, but also to write something fun as a break from the pressure of my major projects. For a long time, I enjoyed the random nature and chaos of the stories I posted here and looked forward each week to the next one. I even used this space to test some techniques I later employed in my novels.

But every honeymoon period ends. After awhile, I started to dread the hours I set aside for writing prompts. I never had any idea what to write and I wasn’t always happy with the results. The fun wore off and the exercise became an obligation. I seriously considered dropping shorts all together.

Then I wrote a little story called The Time Between Times. It was a random picture prompt based on a passing thought that drifted through my mind when I looked at a particular stock photo. I had little in the way of an idea when I started. But the words flowed so easily from my fingers, and I fell so deeply into the concept that I knew by the end I wanted to do more with it. It can single-handedly be credited with reviving my love of these little shorts. And ever since I wrote that random picture prompt, I’ve enjoyed the majority of these little writing exercises.

It’s funny sometimes how the universe gives us gifts.

It’s been awhile. But now that my 22 Stories in 2022 project has come to an end, I’m eager to dig into a few other ideas that have been lurking in the back of my brain. Starting with the long-awaited sequel to The Time Between Times. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. (Incidentally, I wrote this one on stream. So if you want to watch the story being composed, click here!)
. . .

Meilani had spent so much time remembering the party on the other side of the crack in the wall of her precious warehouse, she worried she had built it up into something far greater than it had been. But she hadn’t been able to resist tracing back over those perfect hours, writing every inch of the space and its occupants into her mind so that it would flash vividly whenever she closed her eyes.

Never seeing that space again would have been an agony beyond description. But fear that a second visit would shatter her memories kept her from entering a second rift far longer than she wanted to admit.

It wasn’t as if revisiting the Rave was easy. The first crack had been an accident; she stumbled upon it in the heat of the moment, simply in the right place at the right time to be swept into the mystery and intrigue. But if she waited for a second lucky stumble, she imagined she’d spend her entire life waiting.

And who had time for that?

The Rave might always be happening, as Darrow so mysteriously proclaimed during her first visit. But time on this side of the rift was finite and always, to her great chagrin, rushing forward.

Best to make the most of every moment available.

It was that which ultimately drove her through the next crack she discovered. Part of her believed she had been holding onto it for a rainy day. It was easier to find than any of her other leads had proven. And she knew once she made use of this particular trick, it would vanish from her repertoire.

Eventually she realized it was just an excuse, however, to hover in place without moving forward. Utilizing the easier methods of accessing the strange between space would eventually force her to locate the more challenging ones. If it was going to take years every time she wanted another chance to experience the wonders of the Rave, she’d best get moving while she was still young and spry.

This time, she prepared for the journey, strapping a backpack full of sketchbooks and charcoal pads to her back before she bent to the task of passing through the rift.

They were always tiny. The first had been a crack in the concrete wall of the crumbling warehouse where she hid from her childhood troubles. The second, though it seemed impossible, was even smaller – the jagged outline of a pair of bushes overlapping in just the right way that their shadow cast a deep hole across reality.

For one heart-stopping moment when she tried to place her hand upon it, Meilani feared she’d gotten it all wrong, that the earth would halt her trajectory and she would have to wait precious months more before revisiting the paradise beyond the crack.

But then her fingers pressed beyond where the ground should have caught them and encountered warm air.

She dove forward, squeezing her head and shoulders through the rift. As soon as they cleared the gap, she tumbled freely and easily through the opening and sat gasping on the polished floor of the brightly lit space.

She braced for the wave of disappointment bound to accompany the lack of fulfillment of expectation, but gasped instead.

Not only did the Rave live up to her every expectation, it surpassed them. Surrounded by the bright lights, distant music and chatter of the Rave’s guests, Meilani realized that her memories were mere sketches, etched across the paper of her mind with such haste, they couldn’t truly capture the heart of her surroundings.

Now that she was back, the party jumped vigorously to life, surrounding her with a sense of warmth and excitement she hadn’t experienced since the first time she tumbled through the gap and the same light struck her eyes.

Grinning like a school girl, she pushed to her feet and navigated the crowd to the long table which held the refreshments.

It seemed to her that everything was in exactly the same place as it had been before – the tables, the drinks, the music stand, the bright flashing lights that accompanied the music. Even the dancers seemed to occupy the same positions, endlessly passing the eons by matching their movements to the beat.

It was with some measure of disappointment that she reached for the stem of a fancy drink without receiving a greeting. It seemed to her that the last time she visited, Darrow was waiting the second she turned around. But she supposed she didn’t really know much about him, certainly not where – or when – he came from.

And in any case, he didn’t owe her his company.

She closed her fingers around the glass, nodded to an attendee on the other side of the table, and stepped quickly out of the way.

She couldn’t stop marveling about the fact that the Rave didn’t seem to have a specific shape. The party, such as it was, was laid out with clearly defining features indicating the edges of the dance floor and the spaces meant to hold food. But the outer edges of the room always seemed to shift. Sometimes they almost formed windows or doors before fading back into a featureless, dull grey.

Her fingers itched to draw something.

But where to start? Her hope when she passed through the shadow crack was to draw everything so that her mind wouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting of remembering this time around. But now she feared she hadn’t brought nearly enough paper or charcoal. And if she needed to leave to find more…

“You look a little lost,” a familiar baritone declared.

Meilani spun to find a familiar face grinning at her. The same odd Victorian-style hat adorned his head, though his jacket was a different shape and color. This one better concealed the large contraption on his wrist, though Meilani suspected he would show it to her if she ever asked.

Something like relief washed over her when she took him in, and the same wide grin split her lips. “Darrow,” she breathed. Then, after a moment, she decided to dispense with all forms of formality and swept forward to throw one arm around his neck. She couldn’t embrace him fully because she still held the stem of the long glass in her hand, but he solved that problem by embracing her fiercely in return.

She might have been imagining it, but she thought he let that embrace linger slightly longer than would be considered normal. She filed this detail away for later but, as she stepped back, it promptly evaporated.

Darrow’s eyes glimmered as he looked her over. There was far more familiarity there than should have been associated with their singular meeting, and it made her wonder.

“It’s only my second visit,” she admitted, hoping the frame of reference might orient her new friend on when the two of them were.

Understanding instantly flashed through the young man’s eyes and he drew a half-step backward, offering her a little more space. “I see,” he said softly. “That does explain a few things.”

“I would ask how many times you’ve been here, but I never thought to ask you about it last time, so I suppose I wouldn’t have a frame of reference.” Meilani sighed as she realized the foolishness of this oversight.

Darrow laughed and, for some reason, the sound warmed her considerably. “You’d have even less a frame of reference than you think,” he teased. “We don’t all always visit in the same order.”

Meilani pursed her lips and arched an eyebrow in a way that demanded explanation.

This caused Darrow to laugh again, once more suggesting far more familiarity with the expression than he should have.

“This is my fifth visit to the Rave,” he said and set a hand against his chest. “But the last time you were here, it could have been my sixth or seventh.”

“So it happens out of order,” Meilani breathed as sudden understanding dawned on her.

“Well, in a different order for everyone,” Darrow replied with a shrug. “Eventually you get used to piecing together the fragments of conversation threads. After all, the gaps fill in over time.” He hesitated for a moment, then shot her a curious glance. “How much did you learn about the Rave the last time you were here?”

Meilani shrugged. “You told me that it’s always happening. How did you put it? It’s always the present, never quite the future and always just about the past.

Darrow laughed – he seemed to be in a cheerful mood this evening. He held up one hand, indicating a small interruption, then spun and disappeared into the crowd. Meilani lifted onto her tiptoes, afraid she would lose him if she didn’t keep track of his movements. He stopped next to the refreshments table, piled a plate with a selection of finger foods, then grabbed a drink before winding back in her direction.

A few minutes later, they settled on the outskirts of the gathering, the plate perched between them on a high-legged table. They clinked their glasses together and sipped, then dug into the hearty fare.

“Were there some rules you didn’t tell me the last time?” Meilani mused.

“I’m not sure,” Darrow admitted. “Since I’m pretty sure your last visit here and mine were quite different. But there aren’t rules to the Rave, as such, aside from behaving in a civilized fashion while you’re inside it.”

“I assume it’s the standard,” Meilani retorted, “don’t murder each other or start fisticuffs.”

“It’s generally frowned upon to sling insults about people or time periods,” Darrow added. “But that’s about the gist of it. Get along or don’t come back is the only rule most of the participants agree upon. But if you’re wondering about how the Rave actually works-“

“Do people know that?” Meilani arched an eyebrow. “It seemed pretty mysterious the last time we spoke about it.”

“We know some,” Darrow replied and scooped a small finger sandwich off the plate before explaining. “Like the fact that time is… let’s call it wibbly wobbly in this space.”

“I got the impression time doesn’t move forward while we’re here,” Meilani volunteered. “It was basically the same time I left when I crawled out of the entry crack the last time.”

Darrow dipped his head in a nod. “That is true. Time will freeze for you while you’re here. But time does move in some fashion on this side of the fissure. So while it’s always the present for you, it’s also always the present for everyone else. Which means that events can happen in a different order for everyone. It seems to reset whenever  you re-enter. From your perspective, it will always progress in a logical fashion. But if you compare your experience to that of others, their appearances might seem to meander.”

“So what you’re saying is that if this is my second visit and your fifth, my next visit could be your tenth.”

“Sure,” Darrow agreed. “But it could also be my first. And then the next time you come back, it could be my twelfth time here.”

“I begin to see what you mean about the wibble wobble.”

“Honestly, this is the reason some people don’t even think you should talk about the Rave outside of it. It’s not a hard and fast rule, especially since there wouldn’t really be a way to enforce it.” Darrow lifted his shoulders in a somewhat helpless shrug. “But some people get really superstitious, as if talking too much about this space will cause it to vanish.”

Meilani glanced across the crowded space. From their current vantage, it seemed to form an oblong L-shape with the dance floor jutting off to one side, the refreshments lining the corner, and small knots of conversation participants scattered throughout the rest of the corridor.

The more she observed about the Rave, the more it seemed to shift size and shape, expanding to accommodate more visitors and shrinking when the crowd thinned. It would have been impossible to tell how many people were here at any one given time, since they moved with ease and freedom between the sections, but the shifting of the space made everything even more deceptive. The Rave might sometimes feel small and intimate and sometimes vast and crowded, but she doubted she would ever actually find herself crammed elbow to elbow with her fellow adventurers.

“I’m too scared to talk about the Rave in the real world,” she admitted. She’d received dozens of compliments about her drawings and paintings of historical figures based on the sketches she made during her first visit. But she was afraid to admit where the lifelike details actually came from. “I’m pretty sure people would think I was crazy and lock me in a padded room.” Then she’d never get back here – and that would be life’s greatest tragedy.

“I feel the same,” Darrow replied without hesitation. “I’m pretty sure most of the Rave’s regular visitors do. I won’t try to claim this place makes perfect sense when you’re in it. By its very nature it is somewhat nonsensical. But it’s so wonderful, it’s easy to forgive its eccentricities.”

“It is something of a paradise,” Meilani mused, once again sweeping the room with her gaze. This time she noted no changes – though there were probably plenty to be observed – she merely allowed herself to bask in the freedom of it. While she was here, she had no responsibilities, nothing to worry about. Everything would be waiting for her when she returned just as she’d left it, so she could truly unwind and indulge until she had her fill.

Though sometimes she was certain she would never tire of this place.

“I can see how people wouldn’t want to risk losing this,” she added when Darrow didn’t speak. Perhaps he sensed she was lost in thought and didn’t want to interrupt.

“I doubt this place is so fragile it could be banished by a word.” Darrow flicked his wrist to indicate he thought such superstition silly. “But given the rampant speculation about its purpose and history, I can also see why people worry.”

“It’s history?” Meilani arched an eyebrow. “I thought you said the Rave has always been here?”

“Yes, and it probably always will be until the end of all things.” Darrow chuckled. “But nothing in the universe exists without reason or purpose, no matter how illogical the universe might often seem. Those who have plumbed the depths of this place have working theories, though I suppose we have no way to prove them.”

“You can’t say something like that and then not explain,” Meilani exclaimed. She lifted her glass to her lips and found it was empty. She glared at it, but that did not refill its contents, so she slid to her feet. “Don’t go anywhere,” she grumbled and glared at her friend. Then she scampered to the refreshments area and grabbed two new glasses.

For some reason, she was greatly relieved to find Darrow hadn’t moved when she got back. All this new information made her fear she’d never be able to resume this conversation if he left in the middle of it. And this was all far too fascinating not to learn the rest.

Breathlessly, she settled back into her chair, sipped from her glass then motioned for her friend to go on.

“What are these theories?” she prompted.

“Well…” Darrow replied, dragging the word out for a few moments so that he could organize his thoughts. “Some people think the Rave doesn’t just touch all times – it also touches all places. Not everyone you see here is necessarily from Earth.” He motioned to the crowd surrounding them.

Meilani blinked with shock, but a quick scan of her surroundings revealed no particularly alien features. Absurd fashion ideas, sure, but no extra appendages or odd faces.

“You think there are aliens in the Rave?” she demanded, incredulous. “Has anyone actually seen them?”

“Very few,” Darrow replied quietly and shrugged again. “But it is true that not all the humans here entered the Rave from Earth. I have heard talk of space ships and space stations, but it would make perfect sense for some of the inhabitants of this space to come from alternative dimensions.”

For some reason, that made much more sense to Meilani than aliens occupying her time-space way station. She blinked a few times, but nodded to show she was following along.

“If it is true that the Rave touches everything – everywhere and every-when – then there would have to be aliens somewhere,” Darrow explained. “I think one of the main reasons we don’t see them is that like calls to like.”

“You mean, you think they each have their own Rave?” Meilani couldn’t help but sound skeptical.

“If the Rave is infinite, then so is its potential,” Darrow replied as if reciting a quote from a book. “Think about it. We come and we go, but we never meet ourselves. That suggests that even though we always return to the same place and time never moves, we must not always occupy the same spaces. The Rave must therefore be adjacent to itself.”

“You’ve clearly thought a lot about this,” Meilani murmured, surprised by the depth of Darrow’s model.

He chuckled, then held up his hands to illustrate his next point. “I think of the Rave like an infinite corridor of branching halls. Almost like mirrors reflecting mirrors – you know how you can make it look like an endless corridor mirror maze?”

Meilani nodded. Her aunt had a three-piece mirror in her bathroom and making such kaleidoscopic designs had been one of her favorite pastimes as a child.

“If the Rave were structured something like that, then each race’s Rave could be positioned along that mirror corridor. They could touch at the corners or even overlap. Hell, we might all occupy the same space but not notice each other because it would be easier for our brains to process the absurdity if it simply edited out everything that didn’t seem like it belonged.”

“Given how odd this place is, and all the weird rules that govern its existence, it seems weird that aliens would be the thing we’d forget,” Meilani protested. This place was virtually impossible, after all. Why should one extra impossibility make such a difference?

“Perhaps,” Darrow agreed, untroubled by her intrusion into his theorizing. “Like I said, we might all be occupying a space that infinitely folds. So we could be sitting next to aliens and never know it.”

“No, you’re right,” Meilani admitted, holding up a hand as she leaned back in her chair. “That’s one step too far for my brain to process. I feel like it’s about to start leaking out through my ears.”

Darrow laughed, but seemed untroubled with the idea of changing the subject. “Sorry about that, I strayed quite far from your question. Anyway… if this place really does touch every dimension, then its existence would be a contradiction to the rules of reality expressed by those who claim to have advanced knowledge of such things. Technically, nothing is supposed to be able to pass between one dimension and another. But if you moved through the cracks of the Rave just right…”

“You could end up somewhere you didn’t come from?” That certainly piqued Meilani’s interest. How amazing it would be to explore another world! At least so long as she knew she could always find the path home.

“No one’s ever done it, as far as I know,” Darrow cautioned. “But yes, it would be theoretically possible.”

“But how can this place exist if it breaks the rules?” Meilani pressed. That was the easiest detail to accept because, as far as Meilani was concerned, everything about this place distorted what she knew about reality.

“That’s just the question, isn’t it?” Darrow shrugged again, then drained the rest of the liquid from his glass, indicating just how long they had been talking about this. “The best working theory I’ve heard is that at some point in history – past or future, it wouldn’t matter – something damaged the wall between worlds. That would have caused fundamental damage to the foundation of the universe, possibly even made it unstable enough to collapse. And not just one universe in one dimension – all universes in all dimensions.

“So the universal immune system kicked in and created these.” He motioned to the space surrounding him. “Little cells that could shore up the cracks. That’s why it’s cracks that let us in and cracks that carry us out. Those were the breaks too big to be sealed.”

“Duct tape?” Meilani blurted. “You think the Rave is the universe’s version of duct tape?” She almost threw her head back and laughed, but something about Darrow’s expression stopped her.

“From what I understand, that’s not far wrong,” he replied. “But… it’s all just theories. Mystery piled on top of mystery.”

“I’ve had my fill of it for one visit,” Meilani replied, flicking her wrist in the same way he had earlier. “Let’s stop worrying about the why and how and simply enjoy it.”

Darrow grinned. “You won’t get any complaints from me.”

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