Copyright © Roslyn Gilmour 2015
"Really?" I cursed at my shoes.
My ankle had twisted for the third time. But I shouldn't blame the shoes. My fault for thinking I could traverse a forest path in low heels. My fault for not changing before I'd left my apartment. Though I hadn't given a thought to changing, I'd just left in a big hurry, needing my river.
At the forest edge, I kicked off my shoes, deciding I'd rather brave any prickles hiding in the grassy field that stretched toward the river, than twist my ankle again.
The distraction helped, but not enough. What I needed was to jog the length of the river from end to end; the pounding of my feet upon the soft grass always helped silence the pain. But without my running shoes, jogging barefoot was about as smart as traipsing through the forest in heels.
Having left my apartment on impulse, I was still uncomfortably dressed from my appointment with Dr. Riley. It had gone as well as every other therapy session - he talked and I breathed. But it was there beside the river that I could more easily, deal with the void.
"Three years," I whispered, and softly clasped my left ring finger, missing that gentle weight. But that only made the void ache worse and I quickly pulled my hands apart, clenching them both into fists. The emptiness that filled my chest pressed from the inside out as though it was trying to escape the confines of my body and swallow me up entirely. Most days I could deal with it, but today I just wanted to scream.
Upon reaching the river, I hung my legs over the embankment and leaned back upon my elbows. Then staring out at the setting sun, I focused on the colors, pink and orange, as they streaked across the sky, lighting up the few stretches of clouds.
The colorful display worked. The void withdrew its attempted ownership as it retreated along with colors of the sun, leaving the sky in a suspended state of in-between night and day before the stars could begin to shine through.
It was when those stars first appeared that my sense of calm had returned, enough for me to notice the difference inside. I couldn't say exactly when the change had taken place, I'd been too absorbed by the sky. For I felt for the first time that I wasn't alone, that I was connected to more than just my own sense of self. That I was whole.
I didn't move. I didn't want to breathe or blink. I didn't want to lose this new feeling, and so I lay there, mesmerized by the glimmering lights in the darkening sky.
"Wow! That was beautiful!" a voice whispered.
I whipped my head around in every direction, my chest constricting as I feared the worst. But there was no one near me. There should have been. His voice was right in my ear.
"Perfect," I muttered to no one. "Now you can add hearing voices to your shrinks to do list."
"You can hear me?" he asked.
I jumped to my feet, but didn't completely stand. If there was someone near I needed to be ready.
"Of course I can hear you!" I tried to keep my voice from wavering. "Show yourself."
Staying low to the ground, I watched the field before me for any movement. There was none. It was getting darker by the second, but I was quite sure no one was out there.
"How can you...?" he began.
My fingers grasped the cool blades of grass, steadying me as I twisted around. I glanced down into the trickling river bed and then across to the other side. But it was just another empty field.
"Where are you?" I demanded, but my courage was waning. "This stops right now."
I'm in your head. And he sighed as though he was the one that needed to accept the fact that we were conversing when we shouldn't be.
The tightness in my chest relaxed as I released my withheld breath, and I fell forward onto the grass. That time I had distinctly heard the difference; the voice was in my head. I tried not to react. Tried to keep it all inside, and just breathe. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this, other than to call Dr. Riley first thing in the morning.
Who's Dr. Riley?
"This isn't real," I mumbled. "It can't be."
Why not? he whispered. I'm real.
"Nooo," I sighed. "I'm not crazy, I'm not crazy. I won't lose any more pieces."
Clutching at the grass, I remained face down, breathing in its sweet, earthy scent.
Pieces of what?
I groaned, not sure if I should even respond. Though each time he spoke his voice soothed the rough edges of my nerves, calming me despite the insanity, and I rolled over to stare up the glistening sea above me.
"Pieces of me," I whispered to the stars.
I don't understand.
It was clear the voice was not going anywhere anytime soon, and so I conceded to the fact that I was going to have a conversation with - possibly - myself. And a male version of myself at that.
"You're not supposed to," I told him. "Why? Why now?"
Why now what?
"Why are you in my head now? I was doing ok on my own."
Well, if the pain I felt when I first connected with you was what you would call ok, then I would not like to be here when you're not.
"You're welcome to leave anytime."
And technically I'm not in your head.
"What does that mean, technically...If you're not in my head then where are you?"
Where I am, we have a Central Unit, a... machine that is helping me connect to you, to see through your eyes, and to bring back those images. Only you're not supposed to know I'm here.
"Huh?" was all that would make it out of my mouth.
My fingers gingerly examined my head, feeling for lumps, sure I'd fallen down somewhere on the way to the river and I'd just forgotten maybe. But my head was fine. Though if my brain was that messed up that I'd conjured... I didn't know what... then perhaps I should seriously consider Shady Lane.
"Ok, I'll play along for now..."
What's Shady Lane?
"You don't want to know," I sighed. "At least you speak English." At least he wasn't speaking Selenite.
Actually, I don't. At least I don't think I do. The Central Unit's connection between us would give you the ability to understand me, and vice versa.
My breath erupted from me. The translator part I could understand, it was the connection part I was having trouble with.
"Do you have a name?" I asked, in an effort to keep things simple.
Nice, I thought.
And I stopped. Realization sinking in. "So, you can hear my thoughts too!"
Only when you think them.
"Huh?" I seriously needed to stop saying that.
I can only hear your thoughts when you put them into words, give them substance.
This time I clamped my teeth together, determined not to let that monosyllabic question loose again. I was pretty sure I hadn't done any light reading lately, on any of the topics he'd brought up so far. If I was finally losing it and talking to myself, then I had no clue where my brain was getting this stuff from.
I sighed once more. Where did I go from here? Where indeed! I thought, realizing he hadn't actually answered my earlier question.
"Jordan, if you're not technically in my head then where are you?"
Ahh, he laughed. The sound vibrated through me as though he was shaking me awake, and I caught my breath, trying to hold on to the new life inside.
But it soon subsided.
"Is that too funny a question?"
Technically I'm at home, but I've also traversed spacetime and am a presence in your head.
"Huh?" Dammit! "What, like a ghost? You're a ghost in my head. Are you telling me I'm possessed now?"
What's a ghost?
It was possible someone was messing with me. But I dismissed the idea. I didn't know anyone.
"The spirit of a person whose body is no longer alive."
Of course not. I'm as real as you are. We are in a similar space, just different... dimensions. I told you, we have a Central Unit that is connecting me to you.
Great! While I was walking through the forest, he was walking through the stars. Yep, sure thing.
"And how is it doing that?" I asked, but only because it was the most logical question, not because I was expecting to understand the answer.
On the sub-atomic level, there are particles that can shift through multiple planes as easily as you and I are conversing. It is these particles that our Central Unit has aligned, connecting our biological signatures, our unique frequencies. It connects us with those that have the most similar patterns.
What he said made no sense to me. They were just words forming sentences in a way that I'd never before dreamed I would hear words strung together. I digested what I could and vowed to watch the Science channel more often.
"How often do you... connect with... someone?"
Actually, you're my first attempt, he cleared his throat, pausing before resuming. But no one has come here for quite a long time. The last one that did had very few images the Central Unit would share with us.
"You... your... people have been here before," I was not really questioning, more so acknowledging that I'd heard right.
Yes, we can't see much of our own world so we draw what we can from others.
"To do what with?" I asked, stemming the flood of questions his sentence piqued; I wasn't yet ready to delve too deeply into a world I wasn't even sure existed.
To keep us occupied, inspired.
"So, you don't work?"
We work. We give what we can to the Central Unit and it gives us all our wants, all our needs, keeps us who we are.
"What exactly do you give to it?"
I create images, landscapes mostly. I plan to recreate your sunset and your stars. You have the most extraordinary colors.
"So you're... like a painter. That's a... pleasant way to make a living."
I'd tried painting and drawing as part of my therapy, and while it was fun, stick figures were all that would come out of my hands, and the paints had only made a mess.
What is it you do?
"I like to write. But so far only two books, and that was before..." I caught myself at the last moment before the memories began, and diverted my response. "But lately, magazine articles, mostly about the importance of keeping one's identity and financial security when married," my voice breaking on the last word.
He didn't speak for some time causing me to question if I was alone once more. But I still felt whole, the emptiness hadn't even hinted at returning and I wondered if this whole feeling that now filled me was him, and if he left, would the feeling go with him?
"Jordan?" I quietly checked. Not that I wanted a voice in my head, but apart from the technical details that my brain was having trouble with, so far it wasn't so bad.
Still there, "You went quiet."
Just puzzling over what you said. Books I've heard of before. But magazine articles? Financial security?
I chuckled. They were such simple concepts, yet too complicated for me to put into one or two sentences.
"It would be easier to show you," I trailed off, not wanting to go there.
Then show me.
"Well, I can't... right now. I'd have to go home," I stumbled over and swallowed my words.
It was weird enough as it was, talking to myself or talking to someone in my head, whichever it was I was doing. I couldn't also go home with this new craziness and show the voice about as though I really wasn't alone.
Fine. What is married?
"Married?" I tried the word again. It was easier to say it the second time. But it didn't stop the flood of memories, mostly happy, and the final devastating one that shattered everything else as it slashed through my brain, stealing what calm I'd managed to build. I cut if off before it could take a solid seat in my head and brought forth other images to replace it.
What was that?
"You could see?"
You thought it, so yes.
"It was nothing. Married is two people in a legally binding relationship, recognized by society and the law as husband, generally male, and wife, generally female."
Ah, he said. I had one of those.
"You had a husband?" I asked, trying to keep my mood from sinking back into the abyss of memories. Although for all I knew, his answer could have been yes.
Instead, his laughter spread through me once more, creating a new surface of peacefulness that separated me from the deep well of loss. It filled me with a light happiness and shook out the shadows that were lurking within, ready to reclaim me. I liked the sound of his laughter. I hoped to hear it again.
No, silly. I had a wife. Though we don't label ourselves as such and we aren't bound. We just agree.
"Agree upon what?"
Agree that... we are together. Nothing so complicated.
"What happens when you disagree?" I didn't want to ask that question, but it came out anyway, expecting there to always be a negative side to everything.
But he didn't respond. The complete silence urged me to check for his presence yet again. Instead, I waited. And then came his voice filled with a sorrow I knew all too well.
We're not supposed to do that. It's supposed to be eternal.
"No one lives eternally," I whispered. I also knew that all too well.
Hmmm, he chuckled.
"What happened to you? If you don't mind me asking." I shouldn't have asked. It only made him sound sadder and I wanted his laughter back.
She wanted to leave the city, explore the realm. I wanted to stay here and enjoy all the Central Unit offered.
"What does it offer?" I asked, trying to change the subject and his mood.
Whatever I want from it. Right now I have a big, beautiful Rathean ocean in my backyard, and very soon I will have your night sky over my head.
"Hmm, sounds... wonderful." I wanted to ask what a Rathean ocean was, but decided against exploring any further strangeness.
I've grown used to the peace.
"So what made you come looking for me and my night sky?"
I needed a new perspective.
A new perspective. I was quite sure it was what I needed too.
It was comforting though, to have a real conversation with someone again, if I could even call him a ‘someone’- I still wasn't convinced that I wasn't talking to anyone other than myself. But other than my therapist and several work-related editors, there wasn't anyone I'd said more than two words to in almost a year.
"So, no children then?"
No children, he sighed.
I clamped my mouth shut, regretting that question the moment I spoke it. Not for his sake, but for mine. There were no children in my past either, but the topic of children always led to family and I wasn't ready to explore my past, should he ask in return. There were some memories I would prefer to stay buried, and there were others that needed to be shut down whenever they tried to surface.
"I need to go. Home. Um, alone."
I didn't want to sound rude, but I had to cut this off before he returned the questions.
"It's getting late."
What about us? What if we can't connect like this again. Ever.
"Well for all I know, you're nothing more than a figment of my depression anyway."
I'm you're what? he laughed.
But that felt real. His laughter moving through me once more, as though it was the very tonic my body needed to feel human again.
"If you're real, and if your machine is as all powerful as you say, then I will be here every day at sunset, waiting for you."
If he wasn't real and didn't come back, then I would have successfully diverted myself from the short path to Shady Lane.
His pause, the longest yet, caused me to believe I had imagined him and that all I'd really done was admit my own insanity to myself.
I'll be there, or rather... here, he chuckled.
I inhaled deeply, exhaled just as loudly.
What was I doing?
But all I could do was smile.
I knew the moment he left; I was alone again. The sense of wholeness that had filled me was gone, replaced once more by the empty void. Though at least the void had shrunk to a manageable size, and around those empty edges I could feel a dangling sense of hope, that maybe I wasn't completely lost after all.
And the following morning I didn't call Dr. Riley as I'd promised myself I would. If I was going crazy then I'd rather live in my delusion just a little longer, before I let them take me away and fill me with unknown substances.
I spent the first part of the day typing and retyping the same two paragraphs over and over, but the words had become a jumbled mess and I soon gave up, opting instead for a little light online research.
The first word I typed, the only word I could recall that needed explaining, was spacetime. Only what came up was more confusion. It wasn't so much the content - the graphs and the explanations, I'd anticipated an abundance of confusion there, but more so the fact that spacetime was a real concept here on this planet, in this dimension and had been so it seemed, for many years. I had to ask myself where I'd been all through college, to not come across a single person to have a single conversation with, nor to even so much as hear any of the terms that filled the website pages I visited. The only word I was really familiar with was Einstein, but so were most third graders.
It was mid-afternoon when I decided to walk away. There was a whole new world of fascinating information that I felt a need to immerse myself in. But science was never my best subject, and I knew that if I ever had a hope of understanding even a fraction of what I'd read, I'd need time to think and digest the details, become familiar with the technical terms and mind-bending concepts.
I spent the short remainder of the day flicking channels between strange natural occurrences around the planet, and the emotional discovery of King Richard III. I was a history buff and so the once lost King won out. And it was during the big reveal of his DNA results that I felt my empty void fill with life once more. I swiped at the moisture on my cheeks, and attempted to subtly clear my voice.
"You're early," I tried not to croak.
What's wrong with your voice?
What is that?
"You mean the TV, or the show I was watching?"
But he didn't respond. I doubted he'd ever seen a TV, or even heard of one before, and I had to think how best to word it, to make it not seem so trivial and indulgent.
"Television. It's a receiver of sound and images. A way for us to obtain information and be entertained," I told him. But I turned the thing off to avoid needing to explain the overabundance of trivial entertainment.
This is where you live?
"Um, yes," I murmured, glancing around, hoping it was clean. I sure wasn't expecting visitors.
Most of it makes sense.
"You're early," I said again, wanting to change the subject. I also didn't want to spend the rest of the day explaining the different appliances in my apartment. I couldn't even begin to imagine how he lived with his machine giving him everything he wanted. I was quite sure he would see the way I lived in comparison to his, as positively ancient and somewhat barbaric.
I wanted to see the sky before it turned to sunset.
"Ok then, let's go." And I almost ran out of the door, barely remembering my jacket and keys on the way out.
I took my time checking for oncoming traffic before I crossed the road to the forest. It was hard enough focusing, knowing I had a voice in my head, I couldn't let myself forget to look before I crossed. Not that there was much traffic around anyway, but cars had a way of coming out of nowhere.
And as I glanced about me, I hoped there weren't going to be too many questions about the outside world, the cars, or even the pavement I walked on. But sure enough they came. Fortunately, he accepted my too-simple answers for everything.
Ah, now this looks like the outside of our city, he remarked, as we hiked the short distance through the forest. But he paused mid-sentence for several confusing moments, then resumed before I could question him. From what I can see, from the inside anyway.
"You don't go outside of your city? Not even just to enjoy the serenity?"
No. No one from the inside can go outside. We... there are dangers... contagions.
His question threw me. At first I wasn't sure if he misunderstood my sympathy for his situation, or if perhaps there was no sympathy even in question.
"You don't miss going outside?"
He softly snorted, clearly the latter was true, and he paused again before responding.
I am well used to the inside. I've never actually been outside of the city, and I haven't even thought about it for several hundred years. Until now.
Several. Hundred. Years. The words reverberated through my mind. I stopped walking and I'm sure I stopped breathing, to better understand in the absolute silence that I'd heard right.
Why did we stop? We're not at the river yet.
"How... How old are you?" I asked, and cautiously resumed my slow gait across the field.
Hm, well I stopped counting a long while back, I didn't see the point. But I guess I'd have to be a little over five hundred years.
A little over... what? I thought.
"You're five hundred years old?" I whispered this as I stared about me, hoping I was alone, and almost tripped over thin air. I thought it remarkable that his words could steal the volume from my voice. As if having a conversation in my head with someone from another dimension, wasn't crazy enough.
More or less. Why, how old are you?
"I'm... way too young for you," I joked, although technically correct. "Are you... one of the oldest people in your city?"
His laughter once more, spread through me. I sighed, grateful for every nuance.
Hardly. There are some who are much... much older than me, he said, sounding as though he was teasing someone, or perhaps thinking of someone, or a group in particular, I had no idea which. I wanted to ask though, how old the oldest person was, but he continued before my words made it out.
There were many that didn't want to stay, even before my time. They left while they were still able to.
"You mean because of the dangers outside of your city?"
"Your turn what?"
To ask the questions.
Oh no. I made it to the river and sat upon the edge, dangling my legs over the side once more, but my instinct was to turn and run. I was not prepared for questions. Not yet. But there was nowhere to run to. He was in my head.
You don't have to answer. But I have to ask anyway.
Mason, a friend - he's monitoring me, tells me he hasn't seen two biological signatures so similar as ours, for many years. This is why we can communicate. And I want to get to know the person I'm so connected to.
"Ok," I acceded. Though I needed to make a concerted effort to keep my breathing even. But then again, if I passed out from lack of oxygen I might be able to avoid the questions.
No, only delay them, he laughed, filling me with peace once more.
How about your name?
"Lydia Henchwick." One down, too many more to go.
"No," I whispered. Not anymore, and not a choice either of us made, I thought, but couldn't say out loud. I was grateful when he didn't question it.
He stopped for a moment and I hoped that was it, but no such luck.
How long have you lived... where you are now?
I felt the depth of his question, but I wasn’t sure how to respond to it. It would require an answer that I feared, if discussed, would reopen the void despite his presence, and sink me back into its emptiness.
"This is beginning to feel like an assessment, or an evaluation maybe."
It is, and if you fail I'll never speak to you again.
"Ha-ha, funny guy!"
The problem was he could have been completely serious and I wouldn't have known the difference. I might have years before. But not so much now.
Who was the person on the wall above your television?
And then they came. Flooding me. The memories surfacing one after the other, needing to be heard. I gulped back my fear and began with Loss number one.
Where is he now?
"Sam. He was in the army. Died in combat," I missed him dearly. He was my best friend.
Telling him hadn't been as bad as I'd thought it would be. Perhaps because my brother's death made the most sense. When he left I knew there was a chance he might not return. I was somewhat prepared, even minuscule-y so. And he died a hero, for a cause he believed in. Though his death was only the beginning of the holes in my resolve; it was what followed that sank me.
You don't have to say it.
But now that I’d started, I felt compelled to keep going. Numbers two, three and four.
"When I was five my mother was diagnosed with cancer - a painful, devastating disease," I tried to explain. "But she beat it. Two months after we got the news of Sam's death, my father had a heart attack. My mother said he died of a broken heart."
I wanted to laugh at my mother's attempt at humor, but I'd never been able to. I couldn't even now. It was too close to the truth.
"Not long after, her cancer came back. And two years later she..." left me alone. "I went to live with my aunt to finish school, but apparently cancer runs in my family. I lost her my third year of college."
I couldn't provide any more detail than that. The words refused to form.
Loss number five... Nooo, I exhaled, and shut down that memory and the images before they began.
I laid back in the grass and stared up at the sky. It was still early enough to be blue with perfect white puffs, and I focused on the movement of the clouds as they made their slow, ever-changing way across the sky. My other focus was on my breathing, as Dr. Riley had taught me. Feel it go in and feel it go out. Release the emotion with it.
I couldn't say how much time had passed before I realized neither of us had spoken. At first I questioned, yet again, whether he was still with me or not, maybe he wasn't joking. Maybe I didn't pass his evaluation and he was gone. But after a brief analysis of my void, it was still filled with life. He was still there, I was sure.
Don't say anymore, he whispered.
It was his tone that reassured me that he understood if not the pain, at least the loss. And I was glad for the reprieve; I couldn't have said anymore anyway.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon watching the occasional clouds form and reform, avoiding almost all conversation, except for brief remarks at the beauty of the sky as the solid blue submitted to the gold and red sunset hues, which then transformed into the star-filled night once more.
I could watch that every day for the rest of my life, he finally said. Is the beginning of your day just as fascinating?
"It is. But different. Gentle. The sunset is like the sun stretching to maintain its domination of the sky. But the night, as the dawn approaches, the night peacefully submits. Its darkness surrendering to shades of blue, welcoming the sun's first light."
I'd like to experience that with you. I'd love to re-create it. Feel like staying up all night?
"Tonight?" I wasn't sure if I would be able to. Although, technically, I had nothing better to do, and I hadn't experienced the dawn for a long time.
Or tomorrow, if you prefer.
Nice of him to give me an out.
"I'll try," I chuckled. Staying awake through the dawn was no easy feat.
So the night is all darkness and stars, and all through the day there is blue sky with clouds playing across it?
"Well, yes, unless it's raining, then the clouds take over turning it grey and dark."
Rain? he murmured. Ah, I believe I saw images of that once.
"It doesn't rain inside your city?"
No, he snorted. Nothing gets in or out. There was something ominous about the way he said it, nothing gets in or out... as though he was trapped.
And there were a million questions I wanted to ask him about his home, how he lived, what he looked like even, but I was afraid of the answers he'd give. What if he wasn't as nice as what he seemed? What if I couldn't comprehend his explanations? But mostly I was afraid of feeling more than what I'd currently allowed myself. Dr. Riley had been trying to get me back into the world of the living for quite some time, but everyone I knew died, and I couldn’t risk getting close to anyone else; I’d be killing them, and I’d be killing me all over again.
Jordan however, was different. I had no choice but to communicate with him and reveal myself to him, but at least he was safe. If we were to meet like this every day, if this was all we could have, I'd be fine with that. There was a good chance with him being in another dimension, that his association with me would not kill him too.
I don't know if I can show you what I look like, he said, hesitantly. No doubt choosing to ignore the rest of my inner rant. But I'm very much like you. Well, the males in your plane anyway.
"You look like us?"
Of course, we are the same. I'm not from another planet, just a different spacetime, remember?
"You say that like I should know what it means."
Didn't you spend all day reading about it?
"And yet, you still think I should know what it means."
His laughter moved through me once more, filling more of the hole with life, turning the darkness to happiness, and I smiled. All the drugs in Shady Lane would never do what he could. Delusional or not, he was the remedy I needed and I wanted him to stay.
"Ok," I decided, rising from the grass.
Time for me to go?
"Um, no. Unless you want to."
Why would I want to?
I ignored his question and began walking home.
"I would like to show you something."
Hmm, I can't wait.
"I meant my books, magazine articles, financial stuff."
Of course, I'm sorry.
You sounded disappointed.
He chuckled at my unexpected response.
The Baring of One's Soul
Once I was home, I ran my fingers across the spines of the books upon my bookshelves. And there were many. I pulled the two that I'd written, one at a time. I opened them each and caressed the pages, the way I once did when they were first published, explaining they were my babies.
Read them to me.
I thought about it for only a moment. I highly doubted he would find financial guidance for married women, and the evolution of women in the workplace interesting, and I would end up needing to explain so much more about society than I wanted to. Instead, I decided that if he wanted to know me, then I would show him the things that captivated my soul.
"No. I have something better."
I pulled from the shelf my favorite collection of Robert Frost poems and began with the one that resonated within me. The one that helped me understand that I was still alive – “Lodged”.
And we read into the night. First all of my favorites, and then turning back through the pages to the ones I’d missed. Until shortly before the dawn, while the darkness was still firmly in its place, I wrapped myself in a large blanket and tip-toed back to the field. I leapt over the river and crossed the wide distance of the opposite field, stopping at a small copse of trees. Before sitting, I turned back toward the river, squinting through the darkness, attempting to make out the darker tree line near my apartment, and I decided we were far enough away to have a grand view of the sky.
In the silence of the night, we bid each star farewell as one by one they retreated with the darkness, making way for the sun's first breath as it rolled upward and across the horizon, bringing with it the first hint of gold, awakening a world of color.
I couldn't say what time it was when we said goodnight, but it was in the middle of a yawn over my coffee that I felt him return.
"Good morning," I mumbled into my cup, thankful that I'd already showered and dressed. Though it was barely passed lunch, and I was surprised he was back so soon.
Good afternoon, I believe, he corrected. I'm sorry for being so early, but I couldn't wait any longer.
Even though I found his statement intriguing, I began to wrack my brain for anything I may have promised during the night.
I want to hear more, he softly admitted.
"More poetry? You don't have poetry... where you are?"
We do. But no, no more poetry.
"You didn't like it?"
I loved it. But I've never heard it read the way you read it.
"And how do I read it?"
He paused, making me wonder if I was really that bad at it.
You give it a heart and then shatter it.
I wasn't sure which was worse. Although upon hearing him say this, I had to question how I sounded in general when speaking to others. I used to be happy. Even after my aunt's death I still found happiness with my husband. And now with Jordan I began to feel it again, and I was beginning to understand Dr. Riley's constant insistence with me meeting people, and getting back into life. But it was easy with Jordan. He hadn't yet seen me and probably never would.
What else do you have? he interrupted my thoughts. Another favorite.
I left the comfort of my kitchen chair and plodded back to my book cases, and smiled.
"I know one we can read," I said, pulling a slim book from the shelf.
No, you read to me, he corrected.
"Why? Are you having trouble with the words? You can see them just as clearly as I can, and I'm sure your machine can interpret."
No, he breathed. I'm going to lay here and get lost in your voice.
It wasn't so much his words as how he said it that rushed a welcome warmth to my cheeks.
"So you want me to do all the work while you go back to sleep," I teased.
You don't like to read?
"I love to read."
Then where's the work? he laughed.
"Fine," I smiled, wishing I could see his face while his laughter worked its smooth way through me. "But if I have a way of shattering words, then why would you want to hear it?"
When he spoke next it was quiet, thoughtful, and his voice wavered a little as though he had difficulty saying the words.
Your voice moves through me, and fills me with life and feeling where there hasn't been any for a very long time. The same way mine does for you.
I couldn't argue with that. Instead of nestling into my chair, I pulled from the hall closet a small basket and my blanket, added my book and a bottle of water, and headed for the front door.
Where are we going? I thought we were reading.
"I thought I was reading," I corrected. "And I'm going to the river."
Once there, I decided not to go all the way to the river, and instead, remained near the forest edge. Under the shade of a tree, looking out across the field, I spread the blanket upon the ground and retrieved my book from the basket.
What are we reading?
"I am reading," I corrected again. "One of my favorites, as you suggested. It was written almost two hundred years ago."
Again, what are we reading?
"Impatient!" I remarked, and briefly explained fiction. "Persuasion, by Jane Austen."
Has she written anything more recent?
I actually laughed for the first time in forever; however, the sound coming out of my mouth startled me back into silence.
What's so funny?
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have laughed." I realized that while his age was normal for him, he clearly didn't know that it wasn't for me.
Why did you?
"It was your question. It was unexpected. We don't live extraordinarily long lives like you do."
My life hasn't been extraordinarily long. He stopped, and I waited for him to realize my point, and I wondered why if others like him had been here before, that he didn't know. Surely they had some kind of a record.
How long are your lives?
"Some live eighty, maybe ninety years if they're lucky, a very few a little longer, but not by much."
And where in this short life span are you?
Again, no response, and I wished I could have heard his thoughts the way he heard mine.
Now I understand your remarks yesterday. I must seem positively ancient to you. If only you could see that I wasn't.
I already knew that he wasn't old, despite his age. He didn't sound old, not to me, and it didn't matter anyway. I wouldn't have cared if he was purple with green spots, it wouldn't have changed the difference I felt within me. I was coming back to life. I was smiling and I was happy. He did that, and continued to do that with every moment. I was grateful for every second I had with him.
Read to me, he whispered.
And we remained under the tree for the entire day, me reading and him listening. It was two evening's later through much discussion, debate and re-reading of passages, when we finally came to the pivotal scene with Anne and her letter from Captain Wentworth, and he stopped me two thirds of the way through it.
Please don't read anymore.
"But it's a happy ending," I complained.
Not if it makes you cry.
I laughed despite the tightening in my chest.
"Sometimes the baring of one’s soul to another is so overpowering that you can't help but cry," I insisted. "He is finally declaring his love for her. And it's a very beautiful letter."
But if he truly loved her, he wouldn't have put her through all of that to begin with.
"Sometimes life and love are not that simple."
Ok, he sighed. Let's hear the happy ending.
And I read through the remaining pages, sighing as I always did at the end of a great story.
Agreed, he said. It is a great story. But you should get some sleep.
I didn't want him to leave yet again. It had been a fun few days, and I had become used to the feeling of being with him through most of the day and night. It was a nice change from the emptiness. Though I really needed to get back to work; my savings were only going to last for so long.
"Goodnight then," I whispered.
I'll be back in the morning?
I chuckled at his sentence; what began as a statement, turned into a question. He wanted to, but was unsure of me.
"Actually, I need to work. Meet me for sunset?"
I'll be here.
It became our daily routine, to meet by the river each afternoon - or rather in my head by the river - enjoying the sunset, until one day the clouds had overtaken the sky and he rather strongly requested that I remain outside. I stared up at the slow moving, dark-grey mass hoping it wouldn't release its contents upon me, but no such luck, and I blinked up into the rain so that he could watch its movement. But when the first sound of thunder reached me I ran for it, back to my apartment, and we stared out of my living room window, enthralled by the lightening.
Each evening, I would read to him from books or magazines and explore the internet, showing him the world around me. He would describe for me the progress he'd made each day on his creations, the sunsets, the night sky, the dawn, and the many smaller images he'd painted from the pictures I'd shown him.
He explained the process that linked his thoughts with his hands, matching color for color, shape for shape, over every square inch of space across his generated ceiling. Then once completed, his Central Unit would replicate it for anyone desiring the scene.
It would become available to all, including those that live off-world.
We had expanded to other planets over the many years. Though we are cut off from all that had left. They can't return and we can't leave.
My own fault for asking. But at least I could understand this - expanding to other planets. It was something that I could visualize.
Each day he would arrive a little earlier and leave later every night, both of us reluctant to part ways, but sleeping was necessary. Until one night I asked him to stay.
"If you wanted and if it was possible," I quickly added, just in case he didn't want to, he had the option of an excuse.
Why would you think I wouldn't want to stay?
But I couldn't answer. My response would require one explanation after another, something I wasn't yet prepared to go through.
"So, are you staying?"
Now who's impatient?
"Well, if you are, I need you to leave for about a half hour or so."
"I just do. Please?"
I waited and felt him leave. It had begun to get harder to sense when he came and went.
The void inside me that once tried to swallow me whole, was now barely discernible, as though each time he departed he left a little piece of himself behind to fill in the empty spaces, and pieces of me came out of their darkened corners to join him.
I ran to the bathroom, showered and dressed in PJ's as I did every night, hoping he wouldn't come back before I was done. I then turned out all of the lights, snuggled under the blankets, and waited. Though it wasn't long before I felt him return. At least they were still able to tell time on his world.
Ha-ha, he responded to my last thought. The concept is not lost upon us. I do have a question though.
"Sure," I answered, hoping it wasn't too complicated, or embarrassing.
Well, it's actually not my question, it's Mason’s, if that's ok. When you told me about your brother, you mentioned he died in combat. Are you at war with other worlds?
"No, sometimes with ourselves."
"Greed, power, insanity... who really knows."
Can you show me?
I began to get out of bed to return to the computer, but he stopped me, reminding me he could see it in my thoughts.
I wasn't entirely sure why he would want to see images of us at war, but I brought fourth every memory, or image I could think of. My brother in his uniform, proud and smiling. His array of weapons, watching him shoot, his friends in uniform - though they were harder to remember. I focused then on other images I'd seen on TV, and there were plenty - trenches being dug, bodies being buried, soldiers shot down, tanks, explosions, civilians hurt or worse, the holocaust that wrenched at my chest, and finally, a nuclear explosion.
He didn't say anything for a long time. I was sure that someone from his world, no doubt at peace, would have trouble with what I'd shown him.
Does your planet even still breathe? What kind of world do you live in? he whispered.
"The only one we have."
No wonder our Central Unit suppressed information.
I didn't know what to say to him, there was no excuse for any of it.
I'm sorry I asked you to bring up those images right before going to sleep.
But I couldn't explain to him that it wouldn't make a difference.
"Goodnight," I whispered back.
You know I'll be able to see your dreams, don't you?
Actually, I was counting on it. I'd struggled for weeks to find the courage to say what I needed to, and failed each time. I didn't know how else to tell him about Loss number five.
When I opened my eyes, the dawn I used to greet with dismay, spilled cheerfully through my window, and I remembered leaving the curtains open the previous evening; in my hurry to get into bed I hadn't given a thought to closing them. The morning light no longer hurt my eyes, reminding me that another day had come, instead I welcomed it with a smile, relishing the thought of another day with Jordan.
I wasn't sure if he was still with me, so I lay still, listening, waiting for him.
Good morning, he murmured.
I smiled. He stayed. I tried to remember my dreams, if the recurring nightmare had also stayed, but for the first night in forever, I was sure my night had been dream free.
"Anything interesting happen last night?"
I wouldn't tell you if it had, he teased.
"I was talking about my dreams."
So was I.
Not the result I was hoping for. I needed him to know everything, but I wasn't sure if I could talk about it without screaming. Even in Dr. Riley's office, he was the one that did the talking on that subject.
But I was different now. The hole left by the void was barely discernible. The pain had reached the end of its attempted ownership of me, and was withdrawing back into memories appropriately filed into the perspective of past events, long gone. I just didn't know if they would stay in that neat little file.
"Three years ago, to the very day that we met..."
You don't have to do this.
"Well, I think it's more for my benefit than yours. So, if you don’t mind hearing it," I told him and waited, but he didn’t object. "Three years ago, to the very day you and I met, my... hhhusband and I were driving home from dinner. It was our anniversary." The pain squeezed at my chest as the memories formed into words.
"A drunk driver sped through a red light. Brian swerved to miss him, but the other car clipped the back end of ours. We spun around and then rolled over and smashed through a large, plate-glass, store front."
My chest had constricted so tightly I could barely breathe. I didn't want to breathe. I wasn't sure if my next words would come out as insane laughter, or as the unstoppable scream I'd been dreading.
"He... we ended up on our side. While the glass was still falling, I... I wish I hadn't looked over," don't look over, don't look over, don't look over, I urged myself in the memory, but the memory stayed the same, and I felt the fear rising within me.
"He... his... blood was running out of..." and my screams tore through my chest, both in the memory, as well as in that moment with Jordan.
I couldn't say at what point I had rolled over and buried my face in the pillow, but the lack of oxygen had no doubt given me need enough to roll the other way, and I gulped the air back in. The void inside me had not opened me up and swallowed me, as I'd expected it would. I still felt whole. Though he was still with me. I was sure that whole feeling inside me was him, his presence keeping me together, but he was too quiet.
"Are you here?" I whispered anyway. I had to check.
Yes, he began, then cleared his throat. I saw... felt your memory with you. It's a miracle you survived.
Emotionally, mentally, physically, it was a miracle, or a curse. But there was one more thing he needed to know. Probably easier to show him than tell him. Though I'd often wondered if I looked into a mirror while he was with me, whose eyes would be looking back at me. I climbed out of bed and walked the few steps to the bathroom.
What are you doing?
"I survived. But the memory of what happened is not only in my head."
What do you mean?
"It's on my face."
I turned toward the mirror, took a deep breath and noisily exhaled. At first, I let my long, brown hair fall around me, then slowly I raised my head. I brushed the hair away from my face and found my own hazel-green eyes - actually more green now that they were surrounded by red - staring back at me. Well, there went that theory.
Wow. You're beautiful, he whispered.
Are you not looking at me? I thought, knowing he could hear me, but maybe he couldn't yet see it, and I cringed as I slightly turned my head.
Of course I'm looking at you. I see your scars.
It was deep, white, a patchwork beginning at the top left of my forehead, that crisscrossed to my cheekbone, close to my eye. It ran down over my jaw to about half way down my neck, and then continued on in one jagged slash after another, down my left arm and across my left thigh. It could have been a whole lot worse. I had trained myself to say that every time I looked at it. It helped to soften the blow of seeing it.
There is more precious beauty in your face and in your heart, even with all your scars, than I have seen in all my years.
I didn't know what it was he was looking at, even before the accident I wasn't pretty, not by anyone's standards. I wished that I could see his face in return.
I don't know how to make that happen. Maybe Mason will know.
"I have to be somewhere this morning," I told him, as I left the bathroom.
"I have an appointment with Dr. Riley," I admitted.
Ah, that was smart, waiting until today to show me all that you did.
"That was the plan. He's been there for me, through it all. For a long time, we met weekly, but it didn't make much difference, I wasn't getting any better and I was uncomfortable being out in public so much. I meet with him still, but just once every couple of months."
Are you going to tell him about me?
"What, that I'm hearing voices? He already thinks I'm crazy enough."
He laughed. I closed my eyes and relished the feeling.
How long will you be gone?
"A few hours. Should probably get some food while I'm out."
Then I'll be back later. Lydia?
Go back to the mirror.
I did and looked up one more time. I normally didn't look in the mirror this much. It felt weird.
I love you, he whispered.
But I could only smile and drop my head. I couldn't say it back to him. Not looking at myself anyway. That was too weird.
He chuckled as his presence left me.
After arriving home, I paced the small perimeter of my apartment, waiting for him. And stopped at my bathroom mirror.
"Where are you?" I whispered at the mirror. It was just a standard, bathroom-cabinet size mirror, hung upon the wall over a white porcelain sink. Nothing fancy or magical about it, and I don't know why I chose to stand at the mirror, it wouldn't make one bit of difference. Though perhaps because it was the last place I'd spoken to him; it now held a special meaning.
"Come on," I urged my reflection, hoping he could somehow hear me.
But still, no response.
My eyes traveled down my face to rest upon the patchwork of scars. Even after three years it was still quite apparent, and I knew it wouldn't soften any further. But it remained the initial and unspoken focus point of everyone that looked at me. I hated going out in public. The doctor that stitched me up told me I had beautiful eyes, and that if people would rather look at those marks than my eyes then it was their loss. At the time, I couldn't tell if he was just being kind, or if he was coming on to me. But it turned out his words were merely part of the big distraction to get me back to feeling human again.
I don't know why he bothered. Looking at those scars always took me back to that day. The pain, I knew, would always be with me, no matter how much I tried to put it into perspective, or file away. The sooner the end came the better off I'd be.
I don't want to hear you say that again, his voice pierced my thought, cutting off its general direction.
I swallowed hard and raised my head so that I was staring into my own eyes once more.
"Where have you been?" I whispered, barely able to form the words.
Why? What's wrong?
I sucked in my breath, and then let it out.
"I told him about you."
Ah Lydia! And what did he say?
"I know. I shouldn't have. But he knew there was a difference in me the moment I walked through his door, and I had no idea what to say, or how to answer his questions. It all just came out in great detail."
No response. There wouldn't be. He was waiting for the bad news.
"I think he wants me to stay a few days or... weeks maybe, in a hospital."
You think he wants you to... or you know.
"He told me it would be best if I make the decision."
Again, no response.
"What do I do?"
What do you want to do?
"I don't want to go. They'll most likely give me something for whatever it is they think I'm suffering from, but what if it blocks you from reaching me? I want to stay here with you."
You're not really with me though are you? he sighed.
I pushed away from the mirror, not wanting him to look at my face anymore, and stalked back toward the living room. The disbelief silenced me, but only for a moment. Until reality set in. I knew it. I shouldn't have shown him. I was too broken for anyone, even someone in another dimension. But I stopped myself at that thought and decided it couldn't be about a simple mark upon my face. I'd been in a fragile state for a long time, and was no doubt in need of human contact, even if it was invented. Dr. Riley had to know what he was talking about. After all, he was the professional one.
I didn't want this to shatter me. I didn't want to lose myself again to the void. I tried to contain most of the thoughts that ran through my mind, but some of them made it to my mouth.
"What are you saying? Dr. Riley is right? I really have been talking to myself this whole time? That's just fabulous. I'm crazy after all," I ranted, then mumbled to myself as I headed back toward the bedroom. "I might as well go pack right now."
Lydia. I'm sorry. What I said didn't come out right.
My turn to not respond. If he wasn't real, then I needed to find a way to stop this.
Lydia, he persisted. Go back to the mirror.
I didn't want to turn around. I didn't want to look at myself. If he wasn't really with me then there was no point in me being there, and if he was, then I didn't want him to look at me. I didn't want to return to the mirror, and I couldn't fathom why, but I did.
And I found myself not staring back at me this time, but at him.
"Oh...," I sucked back my breath. "You're real."
Of course I'm real.
I gently touched my face, feeling for those familiar marks, but my face had not changed. It was bewildering to look into a mirror and see someone else.
I can't stay like this. Sending an image to your mind takes a whole lot more than just my voice.
"Ok," I nodded.
Before he disappeared, I imprinted his face into my memory. The softness of his inviting mouth, curled into a small smile. Dark-sandy hair that fell partway into eyes that looked like they had no pupils, instead each were a deep landscape of golden brown. His skin was smooth, flawless, as though he'd never known a day's stress. He was beautiful, especially for a five-hundred-year old man.
As his image began to fade, I reached out to the mirror as though to touch him, but all I saw was me, and my fingertips slid over the cold glass.
"Jordan, what do I do?" But the words barely came out. I was about to be committed for having a friend in my head, whom I could now see in my mirror. Thank goodness the latter part had happened after my appointment. I had no doubt that Dr. Riley would have checked me in to Shady Lane the very moment of revealing that point.
I don't know. All I know about your world is what you've shown me and told me. I have no knowledge of the danger you've put yourself in. How long do you have?
Danger. I wanted to laugh at the word, but I found the restraint not to. The only real danger was to my sanity, though I'd always been close to losing that.
"I have until my next scheduled appointment, a week from now. He said that I should take the time to think about it. He highly recommended that I make the decision to go. But I know what that really means."
I thought you only met once every two months.
"I did. But now I have a special friend and so I need special attention." I tried to make light of it, but a sense of urgency pressed upon my chest.
Let's go for a walk.
"Down to the river?"
I was still wearing the usual low heels and slightly dressier outfit that I'd worn to my appointment – as usual I’d barely given a thought to changing when I'd arrived home - and I felt a great need to get out of that stuff. I was never comfortable dressing up, not even as a kid. And once I was in my bedroom, I kicked off my heels and pulled out a pair of jeans, a blue button down shirt and my soft walking boots.
What are you doing? I thought we were going to the river?
"I'm going to change first."
Hmm, we are?
"Yeh, thankfully there are no mirrors in here."
But all you have to do is look down.
I froze. I could tell by his tone that he was only teasing, but my cheeks flared up anyway. I don't know why though, maybe because I couldn't see him. It was so awkward being all one sided.
You're not embarrassed are you? It's only me, he continued to tease.
But we'd never discussed this before, not even close.
"Ok, close your eyes. This is so unfair."
Trying to mimic a pout, he sighed loudly, but agreed, Fine. I won't look.
"And neither will I," and I closed my eyes, forcing away my stupid embarrassment - I was too old for this - then hurriedly changed.
Well, that was weird.
"Shut up," I laughed.
It was too early for sunset, it couldn't have been much past lunchtime and I chose a shady spot under a tree, away from the river.
Why is my perspective different? he demanded.
"Because the sun is overhead and I don't want to get sunburnt."
Ah, yes, I remember how red your skin can get. So strange.
This time I couldn't help it. I laughed a little too loudly, then looked about, hoping no one was around. Getting sunburnt was hardly the strangest thing happening.
"So where were you all day?"
I've been doing research.
"You've never mentioned actual work before."
It's not. Just something I needed to do.
I've been... he began, and then abruptly stopped. I was about to inquire if he was still with me, but before I could he resumed his sentence. Searching through our records for others like us.
There were... are... quite a few more than I expected, actually quite a lot, but there wasn't very much detail. And the further I went back, the more the information seemed to be missing. Some of them were rather old records though, so I'm not so surprised.
"But what did you find?"
At first he didn't answer. Not a good time for silence, and I began to wish I hadn't asked.
We are more than merely similar. We are biologically harmonized.
I was about to ask what he meant, but he no doubt, sensed my question.
You might call us soulmates.
"Soulmates," I whispered back. "So I'm not just some science experiment."
"Does your lab partner know?"
He's analyzing, even as we speak, our biometrics. When we connect, speak to each other, our signatures move in perfect unison, forming one whole biometric reading.
"Wait, so he can hear everything we say? Everything you are seeing through my eyes is being shared with him right now? Who else can hear me?"
My thoughts raced back through every moment we'd shared, back to when I'd first heard his voice.
Lydia, no. Please. Don't be upset. Only Mason can hear us. I swear nothing personal has been shared with anyone else. The Central Unit won't allow it. It protects you from us as much as it protects us from you.
"How thoughtful of it! You should have explained this to me weeks ago. I might have been..."
You might have been what? Nothing you have said or done has been inappropriate, not even in the slightest. There is nothing that could hurt you in any way. And it seems unlikely that you will ever meet us, me... he trailed off.
I froze at his words. We would never meet. Of course we wouldn't, he was only in my head.
I'm sorry. I didn't want to say anything just yet. There is nothing in the records that explains how it's done. I've been trying to figure out how we might... Others have...
"Others have what?"
Come here. From other planes. I just don't know how.
"Perhaps your machine had something to do with it," I responded. But it was really meant as sarcasm than an actual possibility.
I'm sure it does. But...
"Has anyone tried to come here?"
He didn't respond.
There is no record of anyone from here going elsewhere. It appears to be one way only.
One way. To be with him in his world, or to be in this one without him. I knew absolutely nothing about his world. Except for what he'd divulged so far, which wasn't a whole lot. But of this world, I knew more than I wanted. If I stayed, I'm sure he would stay with me, but I would still be technically alone with the memories, the pain. Unless I could find a way to forget, which I'm sure Dr. Riley felt he had a high-dosage remedy for. But there was no guarantee there either. What if in his hospital, I ended up in a world within my head, numbed on the outside, unable to scream when I needed to, but with the memories going round and around my head in one torturous spin after another. That would be hell.
In his world though, he said there were dangers, contagions outside of his city. I had to ask him about this, how he lived, how other people who were brought there lived. How dangerous were the dangers there?
"It wouldn't matter though," I heard myself say out loud, as I finished my thought.
"I'd rather spend a few weeks or days even with you, really you, than the rest of my life here alone. If you could even call it life. There's no one here that would miss me. I won't be hurting anyone by leaving."
You don't know what you're saying. You don't realize what you'd miss until after you were gone.
"I know exactly what I'd miss if I couldn't be with you. I know it's only been a couple of months, but you've taken away the emptiness. I feel..."
whole again when I’m
"...with you. I don't want to go back to..."
whatever life I thought I was living before
"...because it wasn't living."
I may never figure out how to bring you to me.
"You will. But until then you'll have to stay in my head."
I was fine with that. For now.
The days that followed were lonely and long. While Jordan busied himself with trying to figure out how to bring me to him, I attempted to neaten up my affairs. Although there wasn't a whole lot to do. Really, only the lease on the apartment, though considering how little the rent was I doubted the owner would have trouble letting it. I had no debts and with nothing really to spend my income on, except for the basic monthly bills, the majority of it was saved. My car, somewhat old, ran well and was all mine. Though I don't know why I ever kept it. I hated being in it, and so did everyone on the road around me; I was a slow, nervous driver.
I combed through my apartment, shredding and disposing, donating or selling what I wouldn't need. But I didn't have much to do there either.
I'd decided not to go to my next appointment with Dr. Riley. I couldn't risk declining his offer, only to be told there was no choice in the matter. I wasn't a danger to society, but I had no doubt that when I'd expressed my wish to be with my friend who happened to live in another plane of existence, that it could have been construed as a desire to end my life.
I couldn't help but laugh at that. It made much more sense that I had lost my mind than I was actually communicating with someone from another dimension. But it felt real. His laughter was real, his face before me, his voice. I couldn't deny myself any of those things. And I hadn't felt this alive in very long time.
I didn't really have much of a plan. Just get in my car and drive, very slowly. Show Jordan the sunrise over the ocean on this side of the country, then drive to the other side and show him the sunset. After that, find a small town with wide open spaces, and hope that one day we would be together.
I glanced around my apartment; nothing was left to do, and I was too excited and nervous about the upcoming road trip to work. Writing could wait; I had no deadlines anyway, and there were still a few hours before sunset. It would be too early for Jordan to be back, and I didn't want to sit around the apartment waiting, and so I decided to go to the river. It was the only thing I would really miss anyway.
Along the way, I thought I could feel him with me. It had been getting harder to tell when he came and went, but the whole feeling, the sense of belonging, had filled me once more.
"Jordan?" I questioned, but he didn't respond. I didn't want to believe it was just my own wishful thinking, but if he was with me I was sure he would have said something.
As I walked along the path through the trees, I felt a little out of breath. No doubt the result of the effort I'd recently put into cleaning out my apartment, but once I was on the field I had to stop. I felt a tug within my chest. Not quite a tightening, more of a pulling. I clutched at the place where my heart would be and inhaled slow and deep, but my breath stopped about half way down as though my lungs had suddenly shrunk. My heart pounded one time, and then my hand dropped away from my chest; a weakness was spreading through my limbs. I was too young for a heart attack. This couldn't be happening, not now.
I stared down at the grass, watching it move up toward me as my knees crashed into the firm ground. The tugging feeling spread throughout my body, pulling me inward, collapsing me in upon myself until piece by piece I lost contact with my every sense. Without breath, I whispered his name, and watched the grass rise upward to meet me head on, before the darkness swallowed me whole.
At some point I must have stretched out my arm toward the ground, for I felt the soft, cool grass and the hard earth beneath, smack into my palm, sending a jolt up my arm as I collapsed forward. Gasping for breath, I opened my eyes and sucked back the air. Then rolling onto my back, I stared up at the sky, waiting for the black spots before my eyes to dissipate. And breathed.
My lungs felt back to full capacity and my heart seemed to be beating ok. The weakness and the pain had gone completely.
"That was close," I whispered. "Jordan, where are you?"
I didn't want to move. I wanted to be sure I was ok before I took any chances trying to stand, much less walk.
Though after several uneventful minutes, I pushed myself up to a sitting position. Everything still ran right. And then to my feet.
"Ok," I told myself. "You need to get home. Maybe take some aspirin and lie down."
I followed my feet back through the trees, not watching where I was headed, and noticed the pathway was not quite the same. It was grassier, bushier. I must have headed back through the wrong set of trees, but it didn't matter; it would end up at the same road anyway. Then I noticed the trees weren't completely the same either. I was sure the trees near my apartment had small, short leaves, I'd picked plenty of them while walking by, I should know. But these leaves were fine, elongated. Not what I was used to.
And once through the trees, there was only more grass. I looked up. No road. No buildings... or rather no recognizable buildings. There was however a very large, seemingly unending, mirror-like surface. It reflected the forest behind me, but there was also a city mixed in with the trees. I glanced backward, but there were only trees, and I realized the city was behind the mirror. The images blended so sublimely, fused together as one image upon the mirrored surface.
I moved closer to the mirror and saw my own wavering reflection staring back, but I focused my vision to move beyond my own image. Inside there were many different shaped buildings; all white and all neatly nestled within their own space. It was sterile, yet peaceful, beautiful.
"Jordan, you did it!" I remarked. "I hope."
Though as I stared through the mirror, I realized I was the only person about. No one inside and no one outside.
Then I remembered his words, there were dangers outside the city, contagions. He'd never said anymore about it though, and I had no idea what manner of danger I was in now. I could have been breathing in any number of contagions and not know it.
"Jordan," I called. But he didn't respond, and I realized that maybe announcing I was here was not the best thing to do, considering I had no idea who or what I would be announcing my presence to.
I scanned the length of the mirror, left then right, as far as I could see in each direction, but I could not detect an end to the wall, and decided, I would just have to walk until I found one. There had to be a way in.
Choosing to go south, I started out at first walking, and then jogging beside the wall. But after what I was sure had been a couple of hours, I still had not seen any sign of anyone inside the city, nor any way to enter it. I picked up the pace and ran the length of the mirrored surface, but the daylight was beginning to fade. Finding shelter for the night was going to be a problem.
Out of breath, I stopped to examine the sky. Their sunset was very similar to ours and I anticipated seeing how different their evening stars would look, for it seemed I would be spending the night out of doors. I hoped it didn't get too cold.
The darker the day became, the lighter the city inside shone behind the mirror, creating a rainbow effect in patches upon its surface. It was mesmerizing. But the brightness stayed behind the wall. And even in the gloom, the forest continued to reflect off the surface, as though it was permanently stamped upon it.
Before long, I saw movement inside the city and realized there were people inside. I tried calling out to them, but they seemed to neither hear me, nor see me. Not one of them looked my way, nor even acknowledged my presence in any way at all.
Though I didn't want my new isolation to shake me. There had to be a good reason why Jordan would bring me to the outside of the city and not directly to him, but I didn't want to speculate either. There were too many possibilities, most of which I wouldn't even be able to guess at and some of which I refused to entertain.
I continued walking south beside the wall, but soon began to doubt if there was even a doorway at all, and I wondered if perhaps I could just go straight through. I stretched out my hand to touch the wall, stepping slowly toward it, but the closer I got, the more it seemed as though it wasn't a solid surface. It had depth and appeared to be nothing more than thick air.
As my fingers neared the edge, a tingling began in my fingertips and I paused. I wasn't sure if it was good or bad. I moved my hand forward, slower this time and the wall closest to my fingers began to glow faintly gold. The tingling spread into my palm and began to travel up my arm. I took a step forward, but a strong hand grabbed my arm and shoved me backward. Thankfully, it was grass I fell upon and not the concrete of home.
"Are you crazy?" he growled.
"My therapist thinks so," I mumbled as I looked up at him. Not Jordan. But I knew that the moment I heard his voice. I didn't move from the ground. I didn't know if I should stand and greet him, or be ready to run.
"Watch," he said. He picked up a small stone and threw it at the mirror. A golden glow opened up the moment the stone made contact, though it didn't exit on the other side. For as the glow dissipated, so did the stone.
"Any closer and this thing would have absorbed you."
That's great! So Jordan's dangers were people-absorbing walls and this big angry man who looked like he was straight out of the 1950's with his short, swept back hair that didn't want to stay in place. And who now just stood there, staring back at me. Only he wasn't staring at my scars. He was looking at me, my eyes.
"Um, where am I?" I asked him.
"You mean you don't know?"
"A little while ago I was walking through the trees and the next thing I knew I was having a heart attack and woke up... here." I waved my hand around to indicate the general area.
"Heart attack," he laughed. "Hmm, I guess it did feel that way."
"Then, you know how it happened?"
He didn't respond right away, but I could tell he was eager to say more than what would come out in one sentence.
"Do you remember speaking to someone previously about coming here? Someone you couldn't see?"
"Yes, Jordan. He said he was going to try to bring me to him."
"Welcome to Threa."
"Threa. Name of this place."
He held out his hand to me and smiled. At first I wasn't sure if I shouldn't just run anyway, but he still hadn't looked at my scars, hadn't even mentioned them. I liked him for it. And he looked trustworthy enough, in a young Marlon Brando kind-of way. I raised my hand to him and he gently helped me up.
"Sorry about pushing you," he said, shaking my hand in a gentlemanly manner.
"It's ok," I responded. "Thank you for saving me."
"I'm Grid," he smiled, not yet releasing me. His hand was warm, strong in mine. Human contact. Not Jordan, but felt good just the same.
"Grid," I repeated, not sure if I'd heard right.
"Yes," he laughed. "That's generally the reaction I get. Or rather it was," he ended in a frown. "Gerald actually. I played ball back home and got the nickname Grid. It stuck. Was easier than saying Gerald, cooler too," and he smiled one of those big, broad smiles that reached his eyes, the sort of smile no one could say no to.
I smirked at him, releasing my hand from his. He had to be my age, or at least appeared to be so. Maybe this place kept everyone young, those in the city as well as those outside of it.
"Lydia," I replied. "How long have you been here?"
"I'm not sure, I lost count. It was 1952 when I left."
"Really," I remarked, unsure if I should tell him what year it was when I left. I had no idea how he would react. And who knows what the contagions outside of the city had done to him. But then, I decided, he'd been here for over sixty years and he still looked ok.
"Are you going to tell me, or do I have to torture it out of you?"
Not the best thing to say to someone who hadn't spoken very much to another live human for a very long time, and my instinct to run pounded through my chest with a vengeance. But Jordan had softened me up as far as conversation went, and I pushed away the fear, hoping Grid was only kidding.
"Tell you what?"
He smacked his lips together and smirked. The sign of someone talking to a complete idiot, and I was obviously the idiot.
"What year is it?" he whispered.
"2014," I whispered back.
His eyebrows tried to rise up into his hairline, and his eyelids flickered as though he was having a minor seizure.
"I'm sorry," I said, not sure if I should reach out to him, or give him a moment to adjust, and I decided it best to leave him be.
"Wow, I wasn't expecting that," he laughed. "So miss future girl, did we ever invent flying cars? Teleportation? Time travel?"
"Time travel no, that's looking to be an impossibility. Teleportation, no, well one scientist stated he teleported a red dot, at least I think it was a red dot, I'm not really sure what I was reading, and as for flying cars, yes. Although, they're not the norm and there are only about a handful that have been invented, but it looks to be a real possibility in the near future. Well, maybe not my future..."
"Talk a lot when you're nervous?"
"You asked, and no, actually I don't."
I had no idea why I said as much to him. He was a real person standing before me and for some reason I found it easy to talk to him. I was no doubt, still in shock.
"Why do you say time travel is impossible?"
I couldn't answer his question. The only bases I had were the bits and pieces I'd read online or seen on TV.
"We did," he smiled. "We just went sideways, kind of. And..." he drawled, then stopped and stared down at me, narrowing his eyes in contemplation, clearly trying to decide if he should finish his sentence.
I swallowed hard, not sure if I wanted to hear more. The idea of time traveling sideways as opposed to the forward and backward movement of past and future I'd always known, made no sense. Time couldn't move sideways. It was only a means of measuring ordered events. One does not simply pick up time and jump to the side from one clock face to another!
My heart beat double time, pounding against my ribs as I remembered where I was. Wasn't that what I'd just done? I forced back a deep breath in an effort to slow my breathing before I hyperventilated. But Grid's next words did not help much.
"And even though we are both from Earth, we may not even be from the same Earth."
I held up my hand, urging him to stop and closed my eyes. I couldn't take in anymore. I needed to visualize something before I could understand it, and the images were not even close to forming.
When he didn't speak again, I peeked up at him, but he was only grinning back at me.
"Just waiting for you to stick your fingers in your ears and start humming rather loud and off key."
I had no response. It was exactly what I would have done if he'd continued. But he didn't need to know that.
He looked about him then and I followed his movement, wondering what he was looking for.
"It's getting dark. We should probably head back."
Of course. The light had already toned down to evening shades and the stars were starting to become visible; some patterns looked very much like home. I couldn't point out more than a half a dozen constellations, but I was sure that if I were to lay down upon the grass and stare up at the sky long enough, I could almost pretend I was home.
"Head back where?" I asked, tearing my eyes away from the sky.
"We should probably run," he scanned the area once more, then reached for my hand and pulled me along behind him.