A Place Between Places

He didn’t know where he was. It appeared to be a shop of some sort, its shelves overcrowded with a wide assortment of items. Bottles and boxes, clothing and weapons were all shoved, seemingly at random, wherever they might fit. It reminded him of a used bookstore he used to go to, where there were so many books piled everywhere, each step risked knocking something over. But he didn’t recognize this place.

“Can I help you?”

It took him several moments before he realized there was an elderly man seated behind a desk, itself cluttered with numerous objects.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, can I help you? Find whatever you’re looking for.”

“Where am I?”

The man squinted and stared at him through his wire-rimmed spectacles. “You don’t know? Most people come here on purpose. Looking for something.”

“Honestly, I don’t really know where I am. Or how I got here.”

“Why don’t you look around. Maybe you’ll find something to help.”

He wanted to ask more questions, but the man had returned his focus to his desk. So he began to wander through the shelves, looking for anything that might serve as a clue to why he was here. 

Down one aisle there were all manner of weapons: swords, spears, maces, axes. The next aisle over was a display of armor and shields fit for a museum. He longed to pick up each item and inspect it, but it felt inappropriate to do so. On one shelf, a golden apple sat alone. That itself was an oddity in this place, but it was also the most beautiful piece of fruit he had ever seen. His mouth watered just looking at it. Still, it wasn’t for him.

Amongst a group of clocks sat a silver pocket-watch that mesmerized him. His curiosity finally got the better of him, and he reached out to pick it up. His hand stopped when he heard the old man cleared his throat.

“Please don’t touch any of the time pieces. It can be a pain to get them all synced up again.”

Chastened, he drew his hand back and continued his exploration. Everything seemed heavy with purpose and power. The clothing. The weapons. The miscellaneous items. A crystal bottle caught his eye. It was filled with a red fluid that shone through the individual facets, making it appear to be swirling on its own.

“What’s this?”

“That’s a love potion.” The immediacy of his response suggested he hadn’t even looked up.

“Love potion? Like, you have someone drink it, and they fall in love with you?”

“No. You drink it, and you feel love. Helpful for those who have forgotten how.”

A potion that lets you feel love? Strange.

“Look, what is this place?”

The old man took a moment. “It is a place between places. It is a repository for holy grails and magic swords. It is the end of the quest, and the beginning of the battle. It is the destination of every seeker.”

“What? That makes no sense. Why am I here?”

“You must be seeking something.”

What could he be looking for? He had no memory of being on a quest, of looking for something. Now that he was thinking about it, he realized he had no memories at all. Who we was, what he had been doing before coming here. It was all a blank. His thoughts, however, kept drifting back to the bottle.

“How much for the love potion?”

“That’s not how this works. This is a repository, not a shop. If it’s what you’re looking for, take it. If it’s not what you’re looking for, you won’t leave here with it. Simple as that.”

He carefully lifted the crystal bottle off of the shelf. It was lighter than he expected. Now, however, he was faced with a new problem.

“How do I leave?”

“Same way you got here, just in reverse.”

“Huh?”

“You wake up.”

*     *     *

His eyes fluttered open. He was home, in his own bed. The memory of the dream was fading, yet his hand was wrapped around something. It was a crystal bottle that held a swirling red liquid.

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