idol season ten | week 7 | 1380 words
Where I'm from
There is no road that leads to my past, but there might be a door. I haven't seen it in a long time.
I have been in this place for years now, near as I can tell. I've lost all sense of how the local time relates to where I came from, but I believe it is slower. Perhaps it just seems that way, after waiting so long to get back home. The magic that got me here has never returned. Part of me knows that maybe it never will.
Curiosity brought me here, in one rash, fateful moment. I was looking at the stars one night, and noticed a strange light at the top of a hill. Of course, I had to find out what it was. Once I got to it, I stood there for the longest time, trying to reconcile what I saw with how reality was supposed to work.
There was a rectangular space there like a doorway, with starlight spilling out of it. The night sky inside of it was bluer than ours, the stars strange and plentiful. There was a grassy meadow below the doorway's edge, level with the hilltop, as if I could just step right into that other space. It would be so easy.
I will tell you how it was, and then you will know. I had friends and family, and things were okay, but it was nothing special. I didn't have kids, I wasn't married and wasn't about to be, and some days my job was boring enough to just about kill me. That doorway, though? I desperately wanted to see what was on the other side of it, even just for a minute, so why not? Honestly, what did I have to lose?
The answer, it turned out, was everything.
Getting there was as simple as it looked, just like stepping through a door. It was strange moving from one version of night to another, but they were truly different—the temperature, the stars, even the smell. It was like summer in that other world. The air was damp and warm-turning-cool, the way it does in the hour before sunrise. I heard a birdcall I didn't recognize, and the field beneath my feet gave out an orange-and-ryegrass smell of something that didn't grow where I came from.
I turned around and around, looking at everything, listening. Even the wind was different. I wondered where I was. A new world? Some other part of my own world?
I walked over to a grove of trees that had strange yellow clusters on them. The clusters were some kind of sweet-smelling fruit, but I didn't eat them. I knew better. The ground under my feet was so soft and springy that I just upped and ran a bit, each step like defying gravity. Lord, I still remember that...
When I turned around, the door to my world was gone. I raced back to where I first came through, checking the grass for the marks my feet had left. I found the trampled area where I'd been, but there was no sign of the door or anything unusual at all. I spun in slow circles, brushing my fingers through the air in hopes of feeling the doorway I could not see.
Where could it have gone?
Oh, how I panicked then! How could I have let myself be so stupid, so distracted? How would I ever return home?
I spent days in that meadow, hoping the doorway would reappear. Hunger finally drove me out onto a road that led to a nearby town.
I hid near the edge of the town for hours, watching and learning. Most of the people were as dark-skinned as me, and not dressed differently enough that I'd be noticed. I finally slipped through an alley and came across an open-air market—thank you, Jesus! I spotted what looked like bread at a couple of stalls, including one where the owner was busy with a customer. I felt bad about stealing from him, but promised myself I wouldn't make a habit of it.
Back through another alley and behind some large bushes, I found a quiet place to hide. I ate the "bread" then, hoping it wouldn't kill me, and tried to figure out a plan. I was in a strange place, I didn't speak the language, and I would need some kind of work to support myself until I could get home. All of this would have to be arranged through vague gestures the townsfolk might not even understand. I certainly hoped these people were forgiving.
When I was done eating, I looked for opportunity. I offered to help an old woman carry a heavy load of washing, and assisted an old man fixing his fence. They thanked me with food. Over the next few days, and then weeks, I made my way around town doing little bits of work as I learned some of the language. I met Vedran, a widowed mother with three cute little kids. We just "clicked," the two of us, and became friends. Before long, she let me stay with her family. I was an honorary sister.
I still went back to the field every night, searching more and more of it but finding nothing. Sometimes, I wondered if there was something wrong with me, if my "past" had all been some dream I'd just imagined. Others, I wondered if what I was living now was the dream. Nothing felt quite right.
The townspeople must have wondered about me, the woman who walked the night like a restless spirit. Maybe they even told stories about me. I could hardly blame them for it. There were other tales worth telling, if only they knew.
I almost got caught, about a year ago. I became interested in one of the local men, a tall handsome guy named Pren. We were probably days away from having sex when Vedran unexpectedly saved me. She asked me to bathe her daughter, and I found out I wasn't as similar to these people as I'd thought. We had the same skin color and basic shape, at least what showed when we were dressed. But the gill-like things on the side of the chest, and the squashed ribcage? I would never be able to explain why I didn't have those.
I broke things off with Pren, and made sure to keep myself covered up as much as possible from there on out.
It was harder after that, once I knew that type of loneliness could never be satisfied.
Back in my own world, I had dated some decent men over the years, even lived with one for a while. He wasn't The One, obviously, but I'd always hoped that someday I'd find the man who was, that we'd have children and grandchildren together, everyone gathered at the house for Sunday dinner. There had always been the possibility. Even living in the same slow-paced city as my mama and all her people, there was history and connection. It wasn't exciting, but it was still "home."
I never knew how important that could be.
The world I came from was greener and brighter than this one, though not as pretty. This world's blue- and purple-tinged light was spellbinding and mysterious, the people were generous and kind, and I'd been luckier than I probably deserved when I came here so foolishly. But I was a stranger here. I always would be.
Sometimes, sitting by the evening firelight with Vedran and watching the children play, I thought my journey had been worth it. When contentment was stronger than loneliness, I could remember this had happened by some unknown magic, and that I'd been brave enough to reach for the gift I'd been given.
But especially in those summer months, when the night breeze called me and I remembered the sound of Mama's voice speaking my name—the touch of a man's love against my skin—I longed to be back home again.
I could not keep from returning to the fields on those nights.
Unable to sleep or to stop hoping, I walked through the grasses with my fingers brushing the air around me, and I searched for the door I could not find.
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