Theo’s vision was hazy, blurred by in intense pain of the portal’s radiation degrading his body at the cellular level. Blood, smeared across his arm, bore witness to the violence.

As the sun’s rays cascaded down, bathing him in its warm embrace, he felt a strange mixture of relief and disorientation.

Shirtless and bloodied, Theo wiped at his face with the back of his hand, his eyes squinting against the glare of the star portal as it burned out.

Laughter of the deranged man echoed in his ears, a haunting cadence of radical nonsense, mostly… Amidst the nonsensical ramblings about the apocalypse, Theo’s heart raced, his mind struggled to regain its equilibrium but he did not wait for clarity.

Theo’s steps carried him away from the ranting lunatic and towards the front of the store into open air of the parking lot. His gaze fell upon an older woman, her trunk laden with groceries. The mundane scene seemed surreal in contrast to the turmoil he had just emerged from. The woman’s movements were deliberate, slow, frail, absorbed in her own world.

Seizing the moment, Theo approached with a mixture of desperation and determination.

With gentle but resolute hands, he plucked the keys from the woman’s grip, his fingers brushing against hers in the exchange. She faltered, nearly losing her balance, and Theo’s instincts kicked in. He reached out, steadying her with a touch that was both gentle and protective. A silent connection passed between them in that fleeting moment, before he turned and sprinted towards the driver’s seat.

The engine roared to life as Theo slid behind the wheel, a jolt of adrenaline propelling him forward. The old lady’s surprised gaze followed him, a mixture of confusion and bewilderment. And then, with a screech of tires and a trail of dust, he was gone.

He drove aimlessly, the open road stretching out before him like an invitation to escape. The wind rushed past, tousling his hair and carrying with it the residue of his recent encounters. Thoughts collided within him, the crazed laughter, the chaotic fight, the stolen car – all fragments of a reality he was struggling to comprehend.

Nearly 45 minutes passed in a blur, the sun descending towards the horizon like a fading promise. It was in this twilight hour, with the world painted in hues of gold and orange, that Theo found himself detouring through a small neighborhood. His grip on the steering wheel was tight, his mind adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

And then, as if scripted by fate, he almost ran into her with his car. Rose, crossing the street on her bicycle, appeared before him like a mirage. He slammed the brakes, the car screeching to a halt just inches from her. His heart raced, from the near miss.

Rose’s bike lay at the scene of the crash, her eyes wide with surprise. She met Theo’s gaze, a mixture of recognition and curiosity in her expression. And in that heartbeat of a moment, amidst the dust and the sunset, two worlds collided.

Theo’s heart pounded, his breath catching as he open the door and eased out. “Hey,” he called out, his voice tinged with a mixture of regret. The world seemed to hold its breath, suspended in the space between heartbeats.

Rose’s lips curved into a smile, her eyes holding a spark of something familiar yet unknown. “Hey yourself,” she replied, the words a bridge between two worlds.

Rose closed her eyes but could not even conjure the young man’s name in her mind.

In that stolen moment, as the sun ripped across the sky and shadows stretched long, Theo and Rose shared a connection that defied explanation. Their stories, intertwined by fate, had led them to this crossroad. And as they stood on the threshold of an uncertain future, they felt the pull of something greater than themselves, a whisper of possibility that lingered in the air like the promise of a new beginning.