I stop, skin prickling, the hand holding my umbrella falls. Rain sparkles with an ozone crackle. Looking down along Oxford Street a void opens. A shift that is felt through buildings suddenly replaced with replicas, as though nothing has changed at all. There is a point where the light shifts in the air, refracted through a barrier between realities to move perception a fraction of a degree. People stop walking. Others, un-noticing, continue on their way; heads down, faces obscured by jacket hoods and umbrellas.
The presence of that other city hurts my eyes, tilting and flickering as a ripple pulls everything back to how it was. Buildings left in the collapsing gap suddenly implode scattering particles of clagging, grey dust. Everyone runs. I can't. There is a guttural, arboreal tear cutting deep into the primitive, instinctual layers of my brain. A creature has come through. It calls out again in fear and anger.
People run past me. Someone knocks into me, slipping on the wet paving stones. A hand grabs me, pulling me to the side, down a street lined with dark, student bars and shuttered fast-food restaurants. The dust catches up with us ripping away all light. The hand, its owner unseen and invisible in the cloud, pulls at me again. I follow.
Running through the cloud as it clears I start to make out the figure of a young woman, her hair dyed with points of blue, her clothing typical of student fashion; torn and ugly made somehow pretty by youth. She is yelling at me but I cannot hear her, only the cry of the creature. I notice that the light runs off her like sunshine reflecting off a stain-glass window. I stop, my breathing heavy, stinging. She is from the other side. She looks at me with concern, reaching out again. I wave her hand away. -Run, I say. -Don't worry about me.
She shakes her hand, grabbing me and pulling me along. I follow along red-brick back streets over-written with viaducts. We run until the dust is past, tempered by rain and distance.
-I thought you were dead. She says. Her voice slightly breathless with running but the hope is clear. She looks straight at me again. A recognition in her eyes fades. She realises. -You're not him.
She runs off again, disappearing around a corner. I am too exhausted to chase her. To find out who she thought I would be. The cries of the creature are gone, stifled by the sirens and helicopters. Maybe the attack is already over. It could have gone on to the next world, if this one was not to its taste. No-one really understands the mechanism for these appearances, or disappearances. The shattered separation of universes punctuated by things we can not really perceive.
I fall back to sit down on the ground, little caring about the damp soaking into my trousers, trying to catch my breath.