I must have been dreaming. All I could see above me was the blinding white light of the sun, its warm rays soaking into my bright-pink skin, which was starting to peel slightly at the shoulders. The air was filled with the rhythmic sounds of horse hooves clopping on the cobblestone road just behind the small beach where I reclined on a hammock. I reached for a silver goblet of water, and let the crystal-clear, ice-cold liquid run down my throat. I lifted my head up and stared at the ocean in front of me, the sunlight glinting off of the rippling blue water.
Suddenly, a dark shadow loomed over my chest, and I looked upwards to see a beautiful, slender girl standing over me. Her long, red-orange hair glowed in the sunlight, and a pair of emerald-green eyes were focusing on my face. She was panting as if she had just finished a marathon, and her expression suddenly changed to that of immense relief.
"Michael," she joyfully exclaimed while kneeling down to my left so that her face was level with mine. "You actually made it!"
"W-what do you mean?" I asked her, blushing slightly. "You thought I was gone forever? Jenna, you know I'd never be gone for good!"
"We time-traveled here just twenty minutes ago," she said, brushing her hair back, which softly rippled in the warm breeze. "Somehow we must have split up once the process was over, because you were nowhere to be found. I was so worried about you."
My heart almost skipped a beat upon hearing those words. I had a pretty big crush on Jenna Swan, and my feelings for her were not very subtle at all. Thankfully, she seemed to really like me as well. Maybe she didn't share the same intense feelings as I did for her, but she liked me enough that she didn't really notice how much stronger my affection for her was. I often dreamt about going out with her, maybe attending a concert together or watching a sunset on the beach. During school, we had science and history class together, and I often got distracted from my schoolwork because I was staring longingly at her from across the room. Sometimes, she glanced my way and smiled at me, and she even said hello to me in the hallway more than a few times, but I was often too shy to return her greetings. I had always longed to be with her, just the two of us together, and now it seemed like it was reality!
The situation just seemed too perfect to be true. Just to make sure I wasn't dreaming, I held out my left hand in front of Jenna, and her long fingers intertwined with mine as our hands closed around each other. A wave of electricity coursed through my entire body. I was actually holding hands with the very same girl that I had a crush on for almost a year and a half now! Quickly, I pinched my arm with my other hand, and a sharp stab of pain coursed through it, running up to my brain at the speed of light. I knew from then on that this was indeed reality and that I would not find myself alone in my bed.
"I can't believe that it was our science teacher who successfully initiated time travel for the first time ever," I said with disbelief. "And we were his guinea pigs."
"That's definitely going to make it into the record books," Jenna said before laughing. She then proceeded to pull out her black iPhone from her pocket. The sun gleamed off the glass display like a mirror. She slid her finger across the screen and entered her password to unlock it.
"Oh my gosh, I have to tell all of my friends about this on Facebook," she said excitedly. "Wait a minute, I don't have any bars here, so I guess I can't. Shucks."
"Remember, Jenna, we're in the past," I reminded her. "Cell phones were only invented in the 1980's, and we are probably in 1400 BCE right now."
"Yes, Mr. Encyclopedia Britannica," Jenna joked. "So stupid of me. Maybe I'll just take a few pictures so that I can post them when we return. No one will ever believe that we were actually in the past! Well, no one except our science class, that is."
Jenna proceeded to snap some pictures of the surrounding beach, as well as the horse-drawn carriages and people strolling down the cobblestone road. The people all had well-tanned skin, long black hair, and elaborate clothes with tiny jewels embedded into the fabric. However, despite the fact that we were in the ancient times, the people all spoke English. Strange.
Jenna touched the screen to activate the front-facing camera. "Let's take some selfies," she said and leaned right up against me. She wrapped her right arm around my right shoulder, and I could feel her long hair softly tickling my other shoulder. Holding her iPhone in her left hand, she then proceeded to take several pictures of the two of us. My short brown hair didn't look too bad. It could have used maybe one stroke of a comb, but it was reasonably tidy. This is so amazing, I thought. I couldn't wait for all of this to go on Facebook and Instagram.
After taking about fifteen pictures, she let go of me and stood upright.
"Are you coming?" Jenna asked me. "We should go and explore this place."
"I'd love to do that," I responded with enthusiasm. "Let's go."
I almost didn't want to go because I was so comfortable in the hammock, but my appetite for curiosity kicked in and took over. After I swung my legs over the edge of the hammock, we began to walk towards the cobblestone road, and Jenna was still holding her iPhone in her hand.
A few people noticed us. Their jaws dropped simultaneously.
"Whoa," a man said. "We've never seen people like them before!"
"Ramses," a woman warned him, "I think we should be cautious. These are new people, and who knows what they could do to our civilization and way of life?"
"No, no, no," Jenna countered, "don't worry, guys! We will not hurt you! You see, we are from the 21st century, and we traveled back in time to get here."
The two people burst out laughing. "That's impossible! Time can never change," Ramses denied. "Although I must say, we have never seen this race or breed of people before. You lack color. Color is so much better."
"Let's not get into this," I interjected. "We completely disagree with racism." Jenna nodded her head as well in agreement.
"Well, just saying you guys look interesting," Ramses said defensively. "We are not defaming you or anything. We don't believe in it either. I was only making a comment because your kind are rarely seen amongst our people. Since you are new here, do you want me to show you around? We may not have acted like it at first, but new people are always welcome to visit. You guys seem like curious people."
"We are," Jenna smiled before pulling out her iPhone to take a picture.
"What the heck is that thing?" Ramses inquired, pointing to Jenna's iPhone.
We had no idea how to respond to his question. "It's, uh, it's something that you use to talk to other people from long distances," I tried to answer in the simplest way possible.
"Interesting," Ramses said. "So, shall we begin our tour?"
"Definitely," we agreed at the same time.
The four of us began to follow the road, with Ramses and the woman in front, and me and Jenna following behind them. More people began looking in our direction, and one person dropped his food in surprise. I noticed that there weren't just people and horses. No, there were also cats and dogs, camels, rabbits, elephants, and even a small group of ducks! The street was alive and bustling as if it were an ancient version of New York City.
We passed several regal-looking buildings, all made of gleaming white marble. The buildings had numerous glass windows spread out evenly over their exteriors, and each building stood at the far end of a beautiful garden, occupied by exquisitely-sculpted topiaries in the shape of horses and swords.
"Our civilization is called Deyri, named after the goddess of beauty," Ramses said. "It is thousands of years ahead of its time. Our population is around 70,000, which is an enormous number. Deyri is the largest city in the world, and of course we are very proud of it, and proud to welcome visitors to the city."
"That means that Greece and Rome weren't as technologically advanced as we thought," I whispered into Jenna's ear as the road began to slope upwards, twisting and turning through a dense clump of trees. "Most of the technological advancements here would probably not have been seen until about 1500 or 1600 CE."
"You kinda have to wonder why humankind would have taken such a big step backwards over the centuries before Greece and Rome," Jenna whispered back. "And as far as we know, this place isn't documented in any history textbook nor in written or oral history itself. It's like everything must have-disappeared over time and became completely forgotten about. I'm not sure why-"
"We are here," Ramses announced, interrupting Jenna's sentence. "The heart of Deyri."
We had reached the top of the hill, and what I saw literally took my breath away. We were standing on a balcony that was perched on the edge of a large cliff. More than a hundred feet below, a maze of streets and buildings sprawled out in front of us like a map. Some of the buildings were about five or six stories tall, and all of them had the same marble exteriors and glass windows as the buildings we saw before. They were so white that I had to squint due to the sunlight reflecting off of them.
"This is so beautiful," Jenna marveled, completely awestruck. I leaned closer to the iron railing, letting my elbows rest on it. The streets were populated with almost every type of animal imaginable (land animals, that is), and the people milled about, entering and exiting buildings, trading money and food, and playing musical instruments.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Ramses asked.
"Definitely," I nodded.
"It's beyond amazing," Jenna smiled and turned to me. Her eyes glinted in the sunlight.
"See that castle over there?" Ramses asked, pointing to a grand white palace in the very center of the city. "The king and queen of Deyri live there, and they have special powers that can alert them of new guests entering the city, so they know that you're here. An initiation ceremony will be held for the two of you shortly."
"What's it like?" I inquired, slightly nervous.
"Don't worry," Ramses reassured me. "It's a ceremony that you two should be honored to take part in. You will be formally welcomed as guests, and after there will be a royal dinner with the king and queen. This is how all new guests and residents are initiated. Even newborn babies will be formally initiated, so nearly every single resident of Deyri has been inside the royal castle at least once, sometimes even twice or three times. It's an event that everyone is proud to be a part of." He smiled at us, revealing a set of teeth that were as white as the buildings themselves.
"Excuse me, Ramses," I asked him, "could we just have one moment alone? I want to talk with Jenna for a bit."
"By all means," Ramses smiled and showed us a small grotto nearby. Jenna followed me into the grotto. It was a relatively dark place, lit by a single torch that casted a flickering orange glow onto the ceiling. There was a plush bench tucked away out of sight, and the two of us sat on the small bench beside each other. I turned towards Jenna, looked her in the eyes, and breathed deeply.
"Jenna," I began. "I know that we have an exciting evening ahead of us, but won't everyone at home be worried? My parents, my other friends, my teachers, they'll think we're lost, or maybe even dead, and we will be literally nowhere in sight." At least I was with the girl of my dreams, so it probably wasn't all that bad.
"Yes, I understand that," Jenna responded, but then her face suddenly turned to that of intense fear and shock. "Oh, no!"
"What's wrong?" I asked her, worried. However, before she began to speak, I arrived at the same conclusion as her. I let her express her concern anyway.
"Our science teacher made a horrible mistake," she said, her voice filled with angst. "He didn't give us the devices that would send us back to the present when we wanted to. We're stuck here forever!" She buried her face in her hands and began to cry.
"Jenna," I said, trying to comfort her, "we'll make it through this. Please don't cry." I laid a hand on her shoulder. "Sure, we will be stuck here for the rest of our lives, but everybody disappears from this planet at some point anyway. No one can live forever, and whether we're living in the past or the present, we will die sometime. All of us: parents, friends, relatives, monkeys, lions, tigers, fish, sharks, spiders, snakes, plants, everything! I'm sorry if this isn't the best explanation I can think of, but it's true."
"You're right," Jenna sniffled, her eyes still glistening with tears. "I'm certain...that we'll make it through this." She then turned to me and I wrapped my arms around her, and she did the same, pulling us closer together. A wave of heat and electricity washed over my entire body as she buried her face in my shoulder, and her warm tears cascaded down my arm. I used my other hand to softly wipe the tears off of her face before I rested my head on her shoulder. We embraced for what felt like an eternity, but it was really only fifteen seconds. Neither of us really wanted to let go, but I knew that Ramses was still waiting for us. We slowly pulled away from each other and sat upright, letting our arms stroke each others' backs before letting go completely and looking each other straight in the eyes. Jenna was no longer crying, but her face was slightly tear-stained.
"Let's go," I said to Jenna, and she took my hand as we headed back into daylight, where Ramses was waiting patiently. The unidentified woman was standing beside him.
"Is everything okay with you guys?" Ramses worried. "I heard you crying a bit."
"It's okay," Jenna reassured him, her voice still wavering ever so slightly. "We were just having a discussion and I guess I got a little emotional."
"Aw, don't worry," Ramses said in a comforting tone. "Remember, everyone in Deyri treats each other like family. You're safe here. So, shall we head down to the castle now?"
"We're up for that," Jenna and I answered at the same time. The four of us began to walk down the other side of the road, which led towards downtown Deyri. The excitement began to grow as the time for our initiation drew nearer and nearer.