Returning home for the second time was even more uncanny than the first. I had been away for only such a short time, but it felt like a small eternity had passed. Everything around me seemed wrong and out of place.
Numbly I closed the door in my back and sunk down against it, wrapped my arms around the knees to bury my face. It wouldn't take long. Just a few minutes or hours and there would be a knock on the door and the Master standing outside with his stupid grin.
I wondered what had been wrong with him before. Something had made him just snap all of a sudden. My head was still throbbing a little, making me scowl. Maybe it would be better to stay away from that man. In the end it didn't matter if he was just unnecessarily cruel or truly mad. The outcome was pain.
With a sigh I lifted myself from the ground and strolled over to my PC. Distraction. I'd need lots of it.
Hours turned into days, turned into weeks. Getting back to normal was even harder the second time. I tried to occupy my mind with Netflix, drawing random things and spending more time in chats than necessary.
It didn't help.
I tripled my efforts to find work, to no avail. I pushed myself to go outside as often as possible, meeting with people, even though there was no energy left in me to deal with them. Decades of wearing social masks had taught me to hide, to appear friendly and joyful at all times. But was that really me?
One evening I lazily browsed through the internet, searching for alien encounters. This had become quite the obsession. I found so many pictures and reports of the blue box, it was almost hilarious. It seemed as if the two visited earth more often. Maybe I could find them again, somehow. And there was so much to find! Theories, blogs, creepy pastas... it was so easy to get lost in this virtual world.
So much so that I, eventually, stopped going outside much, stopped meeting with people, stopped hanging around in all those chats. And I didn't even notice at first, my mind to occupied by my searching.
It could have been a month or two, after the obsession had started, that I finally opened my chat program and booted up my phone again to look what had happened since I had gone. There was one message from Alice, asking if I could lend her some money, one from a fellow writer who wanted me to read his stuff. I looked through all the channels I usually was in, searching for any mentions of my username.
Ten minutes later I put everything down. Gone for over a month, and not a single person had asked where I was or if I was alright.
I sighed and picked up my drawing tablet, clicking on some random horror movie. Usually I'm easily scared by those, but nowadays they didn't bother me much. It didn't dispel the numbness in my mind, didn't evoke the slightest rising of my heartbeat.
Eventually I caught myself just glaring at the monitor, not doing a single stroke and having no clue what had happened in the movie so far.
Still no messages.
More time passed with research and long sessions of wandering around aimlessly. The forest in my area became my go-to place during the summer months, then during autumn. I loved the peace and quiet here, the shy animals, the birds singing, wind rustling through leaves, rays of sun shining through thick crowns. I watched the leaves turn colourful and fall, blanketing the ground to my feet.
How long had it been that I had spoken to another person? Curious as I was I had not messaged anyone, just to see if anyone would ever ask about my whereabouts. They all had my phone number, my mail address, my chat name. But neither family, nor my real life contacts from town, nor my so called friends from online ever dropped by.
Somehow I started to truly wonder if I even existed. Surely, no one could be that unimportant to everybody, could they?
Over a year had passed.
It was a hot day in August and I hid from the seething heat. My apartment was a little cooler than the outside, making me rarely leave the house for the past weeks. Here and there I had gotten back to playing Pokémon with the guys in town. No one even asked where I had been, and it was clear that I didn't belong. Never had.
Still I laughed at their jokes, kept up my social mask, was kind and lent a hand whenever needed. There seldom was a thanks, and never did anyone help me in return. No surprise. That's just how humans operate. That much I had learned.
But it was still better than being completely alone, right?
Or was it?
I glared at the ticket in my hand. A train ride to Scotland's highest north. There wasn't much I would take with me. What for?
As I took out my favourite hoodie from the wardrobe, something clattered to the ground, came to a slithering halt in front of my feet.
The small hand gun.
Numbly I picked it up and tossed it back inside. So often I had contemplated using it, but what use was revenge? It wouldn't make undone the damage she had done to my life. It wouldn't turn me into a proper human being, one that was accepted among their own kind. It would do nothing. Sure, my Dad and little sister would have a much better life. But if they were too weak to defend themselves, why was I supposed to do the dirty work?
The ride was calm, the weather hot. People were visibly unnerved by it, acting even harsher towards each other than usually. Not seldom was I roughly pushed out of the way or bumped into. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but something about me seems to make people just overlook me all the time.
I'd be a great spy!
The train station was full, busy, but no one took notice of me, no one apologized for running me over. One old lady even scolded me after she had run her rollator into my ankles. I simply ignored her and trudged towards the exit.
It was still early afternoon, my backpack light, the way long. Walking was always nice, calming, in a way. The only thing I was still able to enjoy. What else was left? Without a goal, without a task, without anyone to care about, and no one who cared about me...
All I could do was to go on, to walk, to move. On and on and on. Like one of those undead from one of my video games, cursed to always reappear, no matter how often they were defeated, unable to die, unable to stop. All they could do was to move on. Or to go insane.
And I wanted neither of those options.
It had been a dream, I realized, birds singing in the trees around me. There had never been such a thing as aliens. The sky wore a pale blue, not a single cloud tainting the colour. A reverie. One of many. My mind was so good at creating those, at vanishing deep within stories it had woven together on its own. From the earliest days of my childhood I had done this. Deeming the fantasy a much better place than the cold reality around.
So many months had passed. The gun? The money? I had no idea where they came from, but there surely was an explanation. There had to be one. I probably had gotten drunk, had even robbed someone. Which would explain the gun, honestly. And why shouldn't I? Life had never been kind to me, neither had humans. I owed them nothing.
The path was narrow, evening drew close. Good thing there was the internet. It had been astonishingly easy to find a good spot. Somewhere in the wilds, where people seldom went. Somewhere near the sea, close to the forest still.
The animals around these parts were shy and careful, ran away as soon as they spotted me. It still was nice to get a quick glance at a few. Rare sights. There wasn't a path any longer, but it wasn't far now.
Eventually the trees gave way and a scent of salt roughened the air. The soft noise of waves travelled to my ears. And finally I was there. A small patch of grey sand, moss covered rocks, the bluest blue of the ocean right in front of me.
For the first time in months I actually smiled. What a beautiful sight.
As the sun set over the water, I got out a few things I would need to start a fire and have diner. Just some canned food. I knew, after the long walk I wouldn't have energy left to actually fish. Not that I had any clue how to do that properly.
The black velvet curtain of night drew close, wrapped itself over the world. One by one the stars appeared, guiding lights in the never ending bleakness of existence. I lay on my back, not minding the sand, and glared up at the tiny dots above me. Waves caressed the shore, flames danced in the doldrums. My hand brushed a tiny object in the chest pocket of the thin jacket I had put on.
I tapped against it, wondering what it might be. The button was missing. Carefully I opened the flap and fished out the object, my eyes widening at the unexpected sight.
It was a tiny glass bottle, filled with countless floating lights, like fireflies. The creatures the Doctor had caught for me, as a souvenir, a memory, a confirmation that everything had been truly real.
I shot up to my feet and glared at the bottle in my fingers. Then I wound up and threw it wide away into the waves, crashing to my knees with a sob.
It had been real.
And I had truly been left behind.