Curious Minds
rating: +3+x

Summer is a time of fun of excitement for children across the world. It's a time of discovering new things, going to new places, and spending time with cherished friends. For Thomas Stilton though, summer was just like any other season.

Thomas creeped into the living room, walking on the very tips of his toes so as to not make any noise at all. In one hand was his most beloved possession, an original Polaroid camera. The plan for today was to head into town and take as many pictures as he could. He wanted to make a collage of them all to show his friends when school started back up. After a few minutes of creeping along, he finally reached the door. He carefully grabbed the doorknob, slowly turning it so as to make no noise at all. However, the one person he did not want to disturb had already noticed him.

"And where are you going?"

It was his father, seated in a lazy-boy chair pointed right at the TV. His back was to Thomas, yet he had still noticed him. He chalked it up to instincts gained in his father's time in the military. "Outside. I just wanted to take a few photos."

His father took another sip of the beer that rested on the nightstand next to him. A few other cans lay scattered underneath, some already collecting dust. Mother had stopped caring about housework long ago. His father merely grunted and said, "Whatever. Don't get lost, I don't want to be out there looking for you."

That statement came as no big surprise to Thomas. His mother had made it quite clear to him since the time he could understand anything that he wasn't a child they had meant to have. They would provide for him when necessary, but if they didn't need to do something they wouldn't do it. This of course included signing him up for field trips or other school activities. "Yea, I won't. Be back in a bit."

Thomas flung the door open, faintly aware as he shut the door that his mother had popped into the living room to admonish him for him being loud. It was days like these that he wished he had been born to anyone else. Camera still in hand, he raced down the street and towards the center of town.


A Few Hours Later

One of Thomas's jacket pocket bulged outwards, filled with countless photos he'd taken during his time in town. He got some really good ones of the old theater in the abandoned part of town. Nobody really owned the place anymore so it wasn't like he was trespassing or anything. The theater wasn't the only building here that no longer served it's purpose. He didn't really understand how it happened, but apparently the "economy collapsed" a few years back and lots of people had to foreclose their businesses. For whatever reason, nobody had bought these buildings and they just lay here, forgotten. For some reason, Thomas felt sort of bad for them. He brought his camera up to take a picture of a raven seated on mailbox when something caught his eye in the background. Where there had once been a nondescript dirt lot now stood what could only be described as a pristine 50's diner.

Ever since a young age Thomas had been curious about anything and everything. He would often be caught by either teachers or the townsfolk wandering into places obviously not meant for children, his only excuse being, "I wanted to see what was inside." This time was no exception. He started walking towards the diner, camera held tightly in both hands. Just before reaching the entrance he stopped and took a photo, stashing it into one of his pockets.

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With ill-hidden anticipation, Thomas's hand slowly made its way to the long handle of the door. What could be inside? What forgotten relics were waiting to be photographed. Sure it seemed empty from what he saw in the windows, but perhaps in the back room there was something interesting to see! As he opened the door however, he experienced a most peculiar smell.

The scent of mouthwatering and newly-made hamburgers.

"Howdy kid! What can I get ya?" a voice called out to him. Not quite believing his eyes, it took a few moments for Thomas to gain his senses. There wasn't anything like this when he looked through the windows. Was this some sort of reality TV show? Maybe he was being pranked. Once again, the voice called out to him.

"Hey kid, ya gonna stand there all day or what? Come and get yourself a burger! Just made a whole new batch."

Thomas looked around, realizing that the front counter of the diner was before him. Behind it was an elderly man, with graying hair and a kind smile. He somewhat reminded him of the old folks Thomas enjoyed talking to at the retirement home on Dustin Boulevard. "I don't have any money though," he said meekly.

The old man simply gave him a dismissive wave, passing over a plate with a delicious looking burger and mountain of fries. "Don't worry about, it's on the house. Just enjoy yourself, kid."

Thomas immediately took the man up on his offer, chowing down on the burger and stuffing a few fries into his face. As if on que when he began to get thirsty, the man passed him a can of coca-cola. "Name's Freddy by the way. You got a name, kid?"

Thomas took a long sip from his drink and responded with, "Yea, my name's Thomas Stilton," before chowing down on more fires. It was just so good!

The sight of Thomas eating so voraciously probably tickled Freddy's funny bone, as he chuckled a bit before taking out a rag to wipe down the fallen crumbs on the counter. "You know, you're not as shocked about this place as most people are. Usually they take one look at the patrons and high-tail it out of here."

Patrons? What was he talking about? Thomas turned his head, eyes widening as he saw what these other "guests" looked like. While there was humans among them, the others could only be described as aliens or perhaps even monsters. He turned back to Freddy, probably still looking quite a bit shocked. "Is this some sort of movie set or something? Why do they all look like that?!"

"Because they're from all sorts of places, none of them where you're from. You ever heard about dimensions and realities, Tom?"

He gave a quick nod at this. He'd spent an embarrassingly large amount of time at the library reading about theories on alternate dimensions and separate realities. Wait, he didn't mean…

"By that look on your face right about now, you're probably catching what I'm putting down. Every single one of them ain't exactly from your reality or dimension, kid. Don't worry, it's safe here though. Only thing they're here for is good food." Freddy took his drink from him, filling it up again from the tap.

"Oh, thanks. So, I really don't gotta pay you or nothing?" He still couldn't quite believe that he was in some sort of extra-dimensional diner with alien patrons. However, the being that just entered and looked eerily similar to a werewolf only further drove the fact home.

"Nah, just enjoy yourself. I gotta go speak with some other customers, but call me over if you need anything. Maybe talk with a few of the regulars, meet some people." Freddy wandered off down the counter to greet some man who looked eerily similar to that one president, John F. Kennedy. Thomas took a sip of his drink and suddenly felt a small tap on his shoulder along with a timid voice.

"Uhm, excuse me? Is the seat next to you taken?"

He turned around and almost fell out of his seat in surprise after seeing just who the speaker was. It was a man, but he had the features of some sort of a reptile. Blue scales ran across his entire body and he even had the slit pupils of a snake. The man was garbed in plain robes, with some strange and glowing broach tacked onto the area above his left breast.

"Uhm, is everything alright?"

Thomas realized he had been staring, as he had been so transfixed by this new being. He spun around in his chair, embarrassed by the way he had just stood there slack-jawed. "N-no problem, man. Go ahead." He watched as the being took a seat on the stool next to him, a small smile spreading across his face as he seemed to realize the chair could swivel.

"This place is great, is it not? So many new things! Like chairs that swivel!" he reptilian man said in a tone of wonder. He picked up a nearby salt-shaker right after, looking it over with strange curiosity.

"They don't have swiveling chairs where you come from?" Thomas couldn't help but slightly chuckle at this. The possibility of such trivial differences between realities or dimensions had never even occurred to him.

"Certainly not! Since I've discovered Freddy's, I've been trying to make one at home, though! I'm really close." The man seemed really excited at the prospect of making his own swiveling chair, and Thomas couldn't help but get caught up in his enthusiasm. He remembered a bit from some book he read at school about joints and pivots.

"It all has to do with the right gears and stuff, I think. You have to put in a gas cylinder and piston or something, I think. Then you add a spin and it rests on the piston." He didn't quite know if what he was telling the man was of any real truth, as it'd been quite awhile since he read the book.

The reptilian man's face lit up with excitement at Thomas's statement. "Oh? Gas cylinder and piston! I will remember this! What is your name, smaller one?"

"Thomas Stilton. What about you?" He took a sip from his drink, then chomped down on a few fries as he awaited an answer.

"I am Zerith Dahen, a pleasure to make meeting with you." He did some strange gesture soon after, knocking on his forehead with his knuckles. Thinking it was probably some sort of greeting and not wanting to be impolite, Thomas repeated the action.

"Oh, so you know of the Sahin's customary greeting?" Oh, he'd really done it now. The man thought he was from his own dimension or reality or whatever.

He stammered out, "Huh? Oh, no. Sorry. Just thought it'd be impolite not to do it back. Didn't mean anything by it."

Zerith let out a hearty laugh at this, shaking his head. "No apologies needed, new friend! I was only…" His words drifted off as he bent down to grab something off the floor. Sitting back up, he held one of the Polaroids Thomas had taken in one hand, looking it over. With how many Thomas had taken, he was in no rush to get it back from Zerith.

"That's a picture I took a little while ago. Y'know, back on my homeworld."

The alien's eyes lit up with excitement as he stared into the photograph, as if intent on memorizing every little detail.

"Amazing! Very amazing! To think such a place existed!"

Thomas felt a bit embarrassed in some weird way to hear his world be called "amazing." He slid over a few other photographs to Zerith. "I got some more, if you wanna see them."

With how fast the alien grabbed at them, it seemed like he really wanted to look at them.

"You home is so beautiful and so green!" Zerith said, looking over each photo meticulously.

"What about your home, what's it like?" Thomas was glad he could make Zerith happy with the Polaroids but he was just as curious about the other man's world too. It took the other a few minutes to respond, as if having to really think about the question.

"Our world is very…blue. We do not have many of these tall green vegetables I see in your pictures." Thomas chuckled a bit at this, immediately realizing he had meant the tress in the photos.

"What about photos? Do you have any?"

The alien shook his head, handing the Polaroids back to Thomas. "Unfortunately, no. I wish I would have brought some with me."

That gave Thomas a great idea. Taking out his camera, he slid it over to Zerith. "Then go take some! We can meet up tomorrow and you can bring them with you!"

The alien's face lit up as he took the Polaroid camera, looking it over with that same curiosity he had displayed with the photos. "How does it work?"

"Just line it up with whatever you want to take a picture of, and press this button here. Oh, and the on and off button is on the back here." Thomas leaned over and showed him each individual button of the old camera.

When he had finished showing all the features of the camera, Zerith jumped to his feet, camera in hand. "I swear upon Zerith's ancestors that this one will take good care of your photo device! I'll go start getting pictures now!"

Thomas watched as the alien raced off and out the door, camera in hand. Nearby, Freddy said with a chuckle;

"Well, ain't he an excited one?"


Several Hours Later

He had stayed longer than he had intended to and it was now nearly ten at night as he crept through the living room once again, trying his hardest not to make a peep. In the same chair he always sat in, his dad was currently passed out and snoring up quite a storm. While he thought that would be able to mask his noise, he soon heard from the kitchen;

"You're home late."

It was his mother, seated at the kitchen table with a cigarette in hand and some wine in a mug in the other. She always look seemed to look disheveled to Thomas. "Oh, yea, sorry. I was only-"

"Don't care. Just don't cause any trouble." She took a sip from her mug, flipping through the magazine that lay before her. For a moment, he actually thought that she was worried about him. Part of him hoped that she would have admonished him for being so late, told him how worried she was and yelled at him for it. But it was the same as all the times before. There was only cold indifference.


The Next Day

Thomas sat on the diner stool, idly spinning side to side as he waited for Zerith to arrive. A few moments passed before he heard the diner door swing open, watching as Zerith walked in with a literal bag full of polaroids.

"I took as many photos as I could before it stopped working! This photo taking device is amazing!" He dropped the bag on the counter before Thomas. a couple spilling out onto the counter.

"These are amazing, Zerith. Really!" Thomas said a s he started to look over a few. Zerith hadn't been wrong, his world really was blue. There was so many strange structures and even weirder looking animals. They even had three suns. Three!

"Thank you! I tried to get as many different things as I could." Zerith flagged down Freddy, getting a burger as Thomas went through all the photos.

"I wish I could go to your home. This place is freaking awesome." Finally, he reached a photo that made him stop for a few moments. In it was Zerith and two older beings, along with what appeared to be a younger one.

"Oh, that one's me and my family! That is my mother, Lerilla and my father Gahar. The one on the far right is my little sister, Feri." He pointed each of them out for Thomas as he spoke.

"You guys look really…happy." What was this feeling he was getting in is heart? It was like an ache or a tugging feeling.

"Well yea, they're Zerith's family! Family is supposed to make each-other happy!" He said it with such conviction that Thomas's heart only ached more. "Is your family…not..happy?"

He shook his head, setting the photo aside and taking another to look at. "We…don't get along. It's just me, my mom, and my dad. They don't really care about me. I could disappear today and they'd just keep going along with their lives."

There was a few moments of silence before Zerith said, "Then why don't you?"

"What, disappear? What do you mean?"

"I mean, why don't you leave? You could come to my homeworld. There's plenty of other species that live on Telvir. You could stay with us! Feri could always use another friend." Zerith seemed really excited with the prospect of Thomas coming back with him.

"Oh, I don't know. I mean, we just met, dude. I don't want to be a burden or anything."

Zerith took a bite of his burger, chewing for a few moments before simply stating. "If I thought of you as a burden, I would not be asking, my friend."

Why shouldn't he leave with Zerith? What was really keeping him there? Plus, it wasn't like he couldn't come back. The diner was still there, serving as an in between for their worlds. After a few moments of thought, he made up his mind. "I'll go. Just give me some time to prepare."


Two Days Later

Thomas arrived to the diner with his suitcase, filled with the meager possessions he cared about. He had already said goodbye to the few friends he had at school that might notice his disappearance. He couldn't exactly tell them he was leaving their dimension, so he just told them he was going overseas on a trip with relatives. As for his parents, he just left a note. Despite how indifferent and cold they were and how little they cared about him, he didn't want to leave without any sort of goodbye.

This was no time to be getting cold feet, but a small part of him felt a bit sad about leaving Earth behind. There was so much that he'd wouldn't be able to see for quite a long time. Trees, swiveling chairs, the newest comic books and movies….

The film for his Polaroid.

However, this all disappeared as his eyes fell on the alien at the counter, with his strange outfit and even stranger appearance. He wanted to know what it was like where he had came from. How does the food taste? What does the night sound like? What are the people like? These were not questions that could be solved through pictures.

"Hello Thomas friend!" Zerith called out, giving him a wave from the counter. "All ready to go?"

He gave him a nod, hand tightly clenched onto the handle of the suitcase. "Yea, I'm all ready. Let's do this."

"Good! Let's get going then! Mother is making ragir soup for dinner! Very delicious!" Zerith stepped past him, opening the diner door and motioning for Thomas to go first.

The next step he took led to a whole new world.

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