The sun rose.
It was not the same sun as Mel and Carla had seen the previous day. Sure, it was just as bright and warm and far away from the planet, but the planet itself was not one either of the Okabes had ever seen. A few hours beforehand, after a lengthy debate which had been wiped from their memories, the young woman and her uncle had landed in a warm, soft hill of fabric and fallen asleep almost instantly, exhausted from the events of the previous day.
Carla woke up first. Eyes still squeezed shut, she reached up and around to where her hat usually was, right on top of the dresser. The hat was not there. The dresser was not there either. What was there was a sock.
She opened her eyes and realized that of course she was not asleep in her familiar bed, or even on the pullout couch at her uncle’s house. Carla was outside, for one thing. For another, the thing she was holding wasn’t even her own sock. None of the socks around were hers, and there were quite a few socks to choose from. It was socks to the left, socks to the right, socks all the way down.
Carla sat up, which was actually pretty hard given that her hands sunk into the socks when she tried to support herself. She got to her feet with some difficulty and strained her eyes and ears for any sign of her uncle or her hat.
Walking was weird, like shuffling through a fabric-y ball pit. Everywhere she looked, Carla saw red socks, blue socks, socks with fishes on them, socks with nothing on them at all, just socks in a multicolored array. Finally, she got to the edge of the socks and realized it wasn’t just a field of socks, but a mountain of them.
She was about to call out to her uncle when she spotted a moving figure way down at the bottom of the sock mountain. Hesitating briefly, Carla shifted her weight forward and called down, “HEY!”
Between the shifting of her feet, the noise, the unstable nature of socks and probably also a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere, Carla started to slide down the slope. She moved slowly at first, trying to control her descent without falling over, but more and more socks fell around and under her, knocking her onto her back. She slid faster and faster until arriving at the bottom of the slope, where an elf had been sorting through the socks.
This was, without a doubt, the shortest elf Carla had ever seen, standing at just about two and a half feet They looked feminine, but Carla wasn’t sure and decided it wasn’t worth worrying about the androgynous world of elven gender. Every piece of clothing on the elf seemed to be made of socks sewn together.
The elf poked at the human girl until Carla opened her eyes. “Ahhh.. hallo? Warum warst du auf der Sockeberg?” they asked.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.” Carla got to her feet and brushed herself off. She wanted to shake the elf’s hand, but the difference in heights between the two made it difficult.
“Ich verstehe Sie nicht.” The elf looked confused.
“Look, have you seen, um…” Carla looked even more confused. She waved her hands around, trying to pantomime her words. “My uncle should be here, or maybe a hat? Un chapeau? El hatto?”
The stranger looked a bit uncomfortable at the frantically waving girl. “Entschuldigung, aber ich sollte nach Hause gehen. Tschüss!” The elf scurried away, leaving Carla the most confused-est.
She looked back up the mountain of socks. It was so steep and unstable that she doubted she could ever get back up there. And where was Mel? Where was Carla’s hat? Most importantly, where was she?
As if to answer the least of her worries, Carla saw a speck on top of the socks. It jumped down at her with an alarming indifference to its own safety, landing squarely in Carla’s chest. The speck was, of course, Carla’s hat, twitching around and looking more active than ever.
Carla was so busy trying to calm down the cartoonish hamburger that she scarcely noticed a bag sliding down behind her and, shortly after, her uncle.
She turned to see him shuffling around in his bag. Mel pulled out a can of his favorite orange soda and took a long swig before asking if his niece had any idea where they were.
“Right.” Carla popped her hat back on. “There was an elf here, but she or possibly he didn’t speak English or anything, then I think they called me a douche, then they left. So to answer your question, I have no idea.”
Carla’s hat started gesticulating wildly, prompting a response from Mel. “You can’t exactly tell when it’s on your head, but your hat is pointing us over there. I mean, it led me to you, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t-”
He trailed off at the sight of a small sign near where the elf had run off, although Carla could’ve sworn it wasn’t there before.
UP AHEAD: BIELEFELD, PAPYRUS
PLEASE ENJOY YOUR STAY IN THE LOST DIMENSION
it read, which was even more confusing, but Mel shrugged at Carla and they started following the path.
About an hour later, having walked through twisted paths under curling trees Carla had never seen or heard of, she and Mel ended up right back where they had been.
“Well, darn.” Carla sighed along with her hat. “I think we’re lost.”
“You saw the sign. It is the Lost Dimension.”
“Just because it’s lost doesn’t mean we have to be. You’d think we’d at least find that elf. I mean, she can’t have gotten that far ahead of me.”
“Maybe the sign was a fake? How do we know this Bielefeld place even exists?” Mel stepped over to the sign to examine it once again.
“Why would they make that up?”
There was no answer, of course, so the two Okabes stopped to think. Carla sat down on the ground and traced a pattern in the sand with a stick. Mel paced in circles. Carla’s hat drifted off to sleep, letting out a loud snore.
“That’s it!” Carla bobbed her head up so fast that it disturbed her hat’s catnap. “Last night, all before we got in here, and today too, my hat’s been acting weird. Like it’s alive instead of just kind of animated.”
Mel stopped pacing. “How does that have anything to do with this place?”
“Well, like, I feel like maybe being in this world or dimension or wherever is having an effect on it. And when I was looking for you last night in the prison, I kept getting lost and stumbling into weird rooms that I’m pretty sure didn’t actually exist. It all felt like a weird wonderlandy dream thing.” Carla reached up to pat her hat on its plushy head and felt a warmth coming from inside of it. “So maybe, I dunno, something about this place kinda leaked out and changed our world a little bit.”
“Socks.” Mel was gazing over at the mountain where they had landed that morning. “You lose your socks in the dryer, you get lost on the paths, lost cities and lost rooms. When we fell through the portal, we had no idea where we were going, right? That’s why this dimension is lost.”
An involuntary shudder went up Carla’s spine. “Um, you don’t think- not that I’m being morbid or anything- but are we ever going to be able to get back to Earth? Because I’m not sure we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“We’re not from Kansas.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Last night that hammer-guy said something about some hidden Redshirt technology making that portal. Maybe he knows something about it.”
Carla fell back on the ground and whined, “We don’t know where he is, either. We are literally as lost as we could get, and so is he for all we know, and we don’t actually know anything.”
“Um,” Mel sounded as shocked as somebody who had just woken up on a huge pile of socks. “Something knows something. Look at the sign.”
Sure enough, the text on it had changed to
GO SOUTH TO FIND WHAT YOU HAVE LOST
“So, like, do we follow it?”
“South is as good a direction as any.” Mel looked into the sky and pointed. “Assuming this place’s sun rises and falls like ours does, that means we’re going this-a-way.”
The emergency kit was heavier than Mel remembered it being. He didn’t want to make his niece carry it, but walking a few miles in an unfamiliar forest with a heavy bag strapped to you is quite draining. About two hours later, he and Carla happened upon a spring and decided to stop for a break.
Both Okabes were famished, although they wouldn’t admit it to the other, so it was a good time to take stock of their inventory.
In his duffel bag, Mel had water-testing strips (which showed positive for the local source), two dozen cans of orange soda, a sleeping bag, a tarp, four long metal rods (which, combined with the tarp, could make a crude shelter), a few cans of food, matches, a hunting knife, a compass (which proved useless in this world), a set of cutlery, three canteens, some small binoculars, a first aid kit, some zip ties, ten feet of rope, a change of clothes, a towel, a Swiss army knife, a pocket reference to edible plants, a notebook, a couple of pens, a flashlight, a small cast iron pan and some toiletries.
In her pockets, Carla had twelve dollars and a napkin with a drawing of a cat on it.
Mel built a little fire and heated up some beans and corn while Carla sat there feeling useless. They ate in absolute silence.