The sign just said, "Aphter," not "Welcome to Aphter" or "The Aphter Chamber of Commerce Welcomes You!", just "Aphter."
I turned to the kid, but I couldn't make out her face in the midnight dark. "Okay, now you'll need to listen to me carefully and do exactly as you're told, do you understand?"
"Why? What's going on?" She sounded tired. We both were. We'd been walking for at least six hours and my legs were throbbing.
"We're where? We're standing in a field!"
I sighed. "You'll have to trust me," I said. I put my hand on her shoulder, but it felt awkwardly like something someone else would do, so I took it off. "We're here, you just can't see it yet."
"Why not?" She looked around.
"I already told you why not. You need to pay better attention to things." I sighed again, trying to compose myself. "Listen, I'm exhausted, and I'm sure you must be too, so let's just agree to be agreeable, okay?"
"Okay. You're going to have to take my hand, and you're going to have to close your eyes. Do you understand? This is really, really important. We only get one shot at this. I don't want to leave you behind."
"One shot at what?"
"We're going into town, into Aphter. I can go in because I can see it. You can only come in if you hold my hand and close your eyes."
"Why do I have to close my eyes?" she asked. She was still looking around, as if she could make herself see what I saw by peering intently into the dark or concentrating enough.
"Well, you don't have to, technically, but your brain won't like what it sees if you don't. It will make you sick. Really sick, trust me. We don't have time for you to be sick, so just close your eyes."
She thought about it for a minute. "Do I have to keep my eyes closed the whole time?" she asked.
"No. No. Just during the change. Once we're in town, I'll tell you and you can open them. It will only be for a few seconds, and I won't let go of your hand."
"Oh," she said, sounding relieved. "Okay." Then she added, "Are you serious about this? Is this real?"
"Just wait and see," I said, taking her hand. "Are your eyes closed?"
"Good. Keep them closed until I say." I turned to look at the road into town. I wasn't in town yet, so I couldn't tell if anyone was about. The town looked empty, and probably would be pretty dead at this hour (no pun intended), but you could never tell. Taking a deep breath, I stepped onto the dirt road of Aphter and pulled the kid, Amy is her name, with me. I was looking at the ground, so I saw the polished black shoes in time to stop just before running into the police officer less than six inches in front of me.
"That's quite far enough, breather," said his vaguely British accent.
"Can I open my eyes?" asked Amy.