idol season 11 | week 21 | 1261 words
The Way Back
Out of all of the things that were part of this, your job was the simplest. All you had to do was hang onto the rope.
We knew it was dangerous, wandering in the Other. But who could blame us? It was like finding out you could fly, and then deciding to remain grounded forever. I don't think there's a person alive who would make that choice.
It's true, I was the only actual traveler. I don't know why I had the gift and you didn't, but I tried to share everything I heard and saw and felt.
I guess it wasn't enough.
You were supposed to be my tether. You would bring me back if I got lost, or if I wandered too far. We read everything we could find on the subject, and all of the sources warned that this was an art that should never be practiced alone.
So there we were, in my room, the same as always. We'd done this eight or so times already, we both knew the process. I would lie on the bed in the dark, looking at the lit candle across the room. I'd focus on the blue center of the flame until I crossed over into the Other. You would sit in a chair next to me with your hand on my arm, listening as I described the journey and making sure I hadn't gotten too far away. That connection was crucial—it kept me tied to you. Whenever you called me back, it was as if you were reeling me in by an invisible rope looped around my waist.
But this last time was different. At some point—I don't know whether it was minutes or hours later, time moves strangely in this realm—I noticed that I hadn't heard you speak in a long time. I couldn't feel you anymore either, and I realized that I was roaming through this place with no idea how to get back to my body from so far away.
Where did you go? Did you grow bored with our game? Was there some kind of emergency?
God, Laney, are you ever coming back?
I don't know how long I've been here. Hours? Days? More? I try not to move—try to keep from becoming more lost. But I'm not sure that's how the Other works. It may be moving around me, or changing in time instead of space, or even both. That's something other travelers argue about, but I've never stayed long enough to find out. We were always so careful to make sure my visits were brief.
Now, I'm drifting here alone, and anything could happen.
It is so cold here, so terribly cold, and I think it's getting darker. I came in through a forest, but this is a meadow, and the bright blue moon that gleamed up above has vanished. The sky-castles from earlier trips are absent, and the only sounds are the mournful songs of night birds whose cries sound like the echoes of lost dreams.
"Laney?" I call. "Are you there?"
The wind howls down the mountainside and through the tall grasses. It's lonely and unsettling here, and I feel the stirrings of panic rising up inside me.
Suddenly, something large and black soars across the sky ahead of me. It arcs around and flies back toward me, moving lower and lower—and it's too close, oh god, it's getting closer! What the hell is it?
I freeze like a frightened rabbit, willing myself unseeable, imagining myself a small stone in this open field. Then the ground beneath my feet shifts and cracks, and I look down and see a gap opening just inches away, and I just can't stop myself—
I go back the direction I came from—I think? But where is the forest? I see tall, dark shapes to the right that might be trees, that might offer the cover I need. I turn toward them, dodging around the boulders looming up on all sides, stumbling as the terrain warps and changes into—
A graveyard. Wait, how? There's never been a graveyard in the Other before, what's happening?
God, this is creepy! How am I going to get out of here? Where's Laney?
"Laney!" I call again. Did she leave because she was angry with me? Did she think I was lording it over her because I can travel and she can't?
"Laney, did I do something wrong?"
I hear the sound of wings, and it feels like it's right here, like its breath is on the back of my neck. Wait, are those trees over there? Yes! I run faster, ducking into a grove of tall shapes and heading deeper and deeper in until I no longer hear the wings behind me.
I stop for a minute, gasping and clinging to a tree trunk while I wait for the world to stop spinning. God, I can't breathe, my lungs are raw. I think I might be sick, or I might fall over, but after a few minutes, it eases up.
Ow, my hands. What's wrong with this tree?
A glimmer of moonlight shines down through nearby branches, and glints off of one of the other trees. I walk over to it, puzzled by the way it glitters so strangely. When I touch it with a fingertip, I realize it's made of metal. Are all the trees like that? Was the forest I came in through earlier made of metal, and I just didn't notice?
The trees start winking out of existence all around me, and suddenly I'm standing under the open sky. Not again!
I turn and turn, looking for more trees. There! I race toward them.
Off to my right, something shakes and shudders in the sky, and I hear the crack of thunder. Lightning splinters the clouds, and they break into shards and fall like daggers of glass. Oh god, that can't be good!
There's a rush of wind as something swoops in behind me, but then I'm in the trees and it's gone. I'm still running when I see someone crashing in from my left.
"Nina! There are you are!"
"Oh my god, Laney! What are you doing here? How did you—"
"It's incredible! I was listening to you talk about the forest and the silver trees, and then suddenly I was in the forest. I found my way into the Other!"
"But… but you can't be here!" I look back behind me to where that thing was chasing me just a moment ago. "If we're both here, there's no one to pull us back out!"
"Oh." Laney looks crushed. "I was just so excited that it finally happened. I've tried for so long, and it never worked before."
I'm still breathing too fast. "I'm happy for you, really, but we have to get out of here. Do you remember where you came in?"
There's a snarl from behind me, the wet fury of something new and big and hungry.
"What's that?" Laney asks.
"Something terrible! Come on, we have to get back to our bodies right now!"
"But we don't know where they are!"
"Oh, god, Laney, why didn't you stay behind? Now all we can do is run!"
I grab her arm and pull her along after me, trying not to trip in the dark over whatever lies under our feet. "Hurry up, Laney! It's coming!"
It's so hard to see, and what if we can't find anywhere safe?
"Come on, Laney, faster. Faster!
This week's voting is contestant-only, so no poll. But all entries can be found here.