Betty first saw Hell through a car window as they sped down the Interstate. Outside, the trees turned to ashen husks as the cornfields became desolate dustbowls. The sky hollowed out to an empty darkness that swallowed all the twinkling stars whole. She began crying and her mother pushed her Mr. Teddy at her while her father turned up the music. The more she cried, the louder her father turned up the music.
In time, Betty learned not to cry, but it would only be much later.
After that first sighting, she started progressively seeing Hell everywhere. At first, it was hiding in dim corners, dancing in the shadows down the bottom of the garden and lurking in underground parking lots. At the beginning, it was only in those sorts of places but, eventually, it was everywhere. Eventually, Hell was on their farm and in their house. It was in their kitchen, climbing up the stairs to her bedroom and waiting for her in bed.
It was like Betty was seeing across two worlds, superimposed on each other. She explained this to Mr. Teddy. The one world was our world and the other one was the worst possible version of our world. Both worlds were there, both were real and both existed at the same time: our world and Hell.
Well, she called it Hell. Mr. Teddy said that it was a parallel dimension. He called it the Bad Place.
Mr. Teddy was a better listener than Mommy, who would smile at Betty, carry on sipping her drink and reading her magazines and tell Betty to go play in her room. Daddy was always at work or reading his newspaper with a whisky in hand.
At least Mr. Teddy listened. Mr. Teddy reassured her that the Bad Place could not get her. No matter how bad the Bad Place looked, no matter how hellish its nightmare, Mr. Teddy cuddled Betty back and told her everything was going to be fine. They would be safe together. Always, because Betty was special.
“Ma’am, could you please go over that again? Please. Just nice and slow, I just want to make sure that I understand you correctly.”
The speaker was a slightly overweight, balding small-town cop. He was narrowing his eyes and scrunching up his face. Perhaps he thought it would help him understand whatever was being explained to him by the sobbing, hysterical woman from the arms of her pale-faced, trembling husband.
“For years, B-betty always told us the stories, but–you know children?–we, you know, did not listen,” she sputtered amidst streams of tears, “We should’ve listened, honey, should’ve known, but how could we? For years now! Jus-just thought it was a game, or she was seeking attention, you know, each time she told us that she sa-saw–it. Them–there!”
And with that, Betty’s mother broken down into an incomprehensible heap of tears and regret. He husband coughed–pale as a ghost–and, his lips quivering, tried to finish his wife’s tale.
“And, uhm, officer,” he began lamely, looking away and trying to pick the words best suited to civilized conversation, “And she–uh, Betty, was right. They were there the whole time and, like she said, they crossed and took her. She walked across to them. Her and Mr. Teddy. Taken.”
The cop had not written a single word on his notepad. He sat frozen, staring at the hysterical mess that was the couple.
Eventually, he sighed, leaned back and scratched his chin thoughtfully.
“And,” he began slowly, “And who is Mr. Teddy?”
At these words, the wife buried deeper into her husband’s arms, manic sobbing wrecking her whole frame. Her husband barely held himself better. His colour moved from pale-white to near-translucent as his eyes opened and hands dug into the quaint, floral couch they were sitting on.
“H-he! That beast, in our house the whole time!” the cop nodded dutifully as this stream of terrified consciousness began to pour out the husband, “Mr. Teddy w-was one of them. Mr. Teddy was the one. You don’t want to know who he was. What he was, but I will tell you…”
The cop leaned closer as the husband motioned to him. The husband looked quickly around as if the walls in their lounge had ears and hoarsely whispered two short words to the cop.
“Hello, Betty,” Ted said, carefully, “I’m Teddy. Mr. Teddy. In fact, it has been my robot you have been playing with all this time. It is so good to finally meet you.”
Betty stood there blinking, clutching Mr. Teddy in her arms.
“She seems fine after crossing!” a stranger exclaimed, checking strange dials and screens surrounding them in some sort of laboratory, “Incredible! No human could withstand stepping between dimensions yet this little girl did it without a scratch and on her own!”
The man who had identified himself as Teddy stepped forward and crouched down to look at Betty in her eyes. He had a warm smile on his face and reached out and squeezed her arm.
“Thank you, Betty, for walking to our world. I always knew that you were the one that could do that, it just took a while for me–Mr. Teddy–to show you how to do it. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to do it. I’m not special like you, Betty. I am very glad that you are here and I will keep you safe.”
Still clutching Mr. Teddy, Betty blinked and asked in a small, frightened voice, “Where am I? Why did Mr. Teddy want me to come here?”
“Betty,” Teddy started, still smiling reassuringly, “You are in a parallel dimension. While your world is fine, our world is about to end and we need a way to escape. We have built Bridges into other worlds but organic matter cannot survive the energy transition. So, we began sending robots to explore these other worlds. In this process, we encountered more and more legends of Walkers, rare living beings that could Transition at will. You, Betty, are first and only Walker we have ever found. You are special. You are the only one in all the Multiverse that can save us.”
“And how can I do that, Mr. Teddy?” asked Betty, more curious than scared anymore as she adjusted to what seemed a friendly situation. Walkers were always easy with change. That was how they were built to transition between worlds across an infinite multiverse.
“You remember how I showed you how to walk across the bridge to get here?” Teddy asked Betty and she nodded, “Well, I need you to do that again and take us with you. Do you think you can do that?”
Betty smiled. She now knew how to do that. It was easy. She could save all these nice people. She was sure mommy wouldn’t mind if they stayed at their house. Before they had left, Mr. Teddy had spoken to her parents about where she was going and what they were doing.
She was sure they would understand.