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On the Threshold

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This post was originally published through Patreon on June 13, 2018.

Jeremy stood beneath a torrent of rain, surrounded by the dark. He carried no umbrella, nor did he care that the rain had already soaked into his jacket, his pants, and his hair. Thick, fat drops pounded the street like thundering world-sized drums, but he just continued to stand there, open to the elements, staring at the glowing doorway before him and pondering what might lie beyond.

Despite the glow, the porch light was somehow gray, dim, while the world around it was too vibrant, too bright. This was why he’d come, why he stood before the doorway now without a care for the poor weather. Because for years, he’d known he didn’t belong; for years, he’d believed the world to be an illusion.

How had he come to this conclusion? It had been little things at first, things he didn’t notice all at once: buildings that were too tall, people who were too loud, stars that were too bright. Strange details that snagged his attention, encouraging him to examine the world more closely.

And when he did, it all fell apart. Nothing had changed, yet everything was wrong. Parks populated by thick, bulbous trees with tangled, snarling roots, and trunks that sprouted fuzzy leaves like hair. Broad palisades at the center of the city supported by towering marble columns. Vivid crystalline lakes and ponds that sparkled artificially beneath a too-bright sun. It was as if an amateur artist had loaded the world into Photoshop and cranked up the contrast. Everything was too large, too bright, every line and dimension exaggerated like a comic or a cartoon.

He used to hear depressed people say that the world felt too gray, too fake. But until the day his eyes were opened, he’d never thought the world could feel too real.

He had no concrete memory of how the world should be. He only knew that this was not his true home, that somehow, he had to find his way back to where he belonged.

And now, this doorway. It felt ordinary in all the ways the rest of his surroundings did not. Not too large, not too small; not too flashy, not too bright. Ordinary. It called to him, begged him to plumb its hidden secrets. Now that he was ready to open the door—now that he was ready to walk through it and beyond—he wondered what might exist on the other side.

A way back to where I belong. A way home.

Only he’d already been standing here for more than an hour, and still he had yet to open the door. Why? He was certain the answer to his questions lay beyond its narrow borders. Perhaps he was afraid. Afraid something was wrong in his head, that all his strange observations were nothing more than the final desperate cries of a failing mind. After all, it did sound crazy when he thought about it, this world that felt so different from how it was supposed to be even though he couldn’t remember how it was different or why. And what if he wasn’t crazy? What if he opened the door and stepped into someplace new? Would he know how to live in such a place, or would he be even more lost than he felt right now?

Jeremy shook his head. He had to go. He had to know the truth. He stepped forward, feet squelching in his rubber shoes, and placed his hand on the cool brass knob. This was it. He was going to open the door, was going to find out if he was crazy. All he had to do was turn the knob.

There was a brief pause, a moment suspended on the precipice of a life-altering decision. Then Jeremy turned away, too afraid to go further.

Tomorrow. I can do this tomorrow.

But he knew as soon as he turned back that this was a lie.

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Sara

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This post was originally published through Patreon on June 19, 2018.

The first thing Sara senses is the far-off churning of the ocean. Lapping, foaming, splashing. Then comes the light that seeps beneath closed eyelids. It’s red and bright and hurts her eyes.

This is the moment she knows she needs to wake up. But fatigue still has too great a hold on her, and all she wants to do is let the world spin around her. The sun could burn out for all she cared, as long as she was left alone.

A memory bubbles up from her subconscious: her mother, hovering over her while Sara presses a pillow to her face to block out the light.

“Time to get up, Sara.”

She groans, desperate for one more minute of sleep, but her mother is adamant. The woman pulls the pillow away from Sara’s face, and the world comes into sharp and terrible focus.

“Time to get up.”

Sara’s eyelids flutter.

Don’t want to get up.

“You have to.”

No, not yet.

“But she’s coming. You have to get up.”

No…

This time her true eyes open. Once more, the world comes into focus.

Whereas her room greeted her on that day of distant memory, today it’s the open coast. She can feel the sand, piping hot against her back. Her head lolls to the side, and she catches sight of the water line perhaps fifty, perhaps a hundred yards away, the current pulling in, then out.

In, then out.

There’s something Sara has to remember, something important. But sleep is still heavy on her mind, and it slips away before she can seize it.

In the distance, the ocean crashes and foams.

Where am I?

She should be doing something. What that something is is a mystery, but she knows she can’t just lay on the beach and do nothing.

If only she could close her eyes for a few more minutes and rest. She’s still so tired, and even with the hot sand burning her skin, she would give anything to sleep some more.

So tired.

“Wake up, Sara.”

The voice no longer comes from her memory, nor does it belong to her mother. Sara rolls on her stomach, wild eyed with panic. She can’t yet stand, can’t yet make her muscles work the way she thinks they should. Instead, she stares up at the woman standing before her, covered from head to toe in sparkling white seashells that glitter beneath the late afternoon sun.

“Who…” But she can’t finish the sentence. Her voice is thick and slurred. She feels drugged, and despite her terror, her eyes droop once more.

“No,” the woman says. “No, this just won’t do.”

The woman kneels, her seashells clicking like beads, and reaches under Sara’s chin.

Go,  Sara thinks. Just leave me alone and let me sleep.

Run, another internal voice whispers. Now, before she takes you into her arms and carries you away.

The woman tsks.

“I chase you half way across the universe only for the hunt to end like this?”

“Run, Sara.” Her mother’s voice once more echoes through the marble halls of the distant past.

She remembers running now—remembers fleeing one strange world after another, an endless procession of familiar yet jarring alien landscapes that made Sara think the cosmos were just one great funhouse mirror, contorting what she knew into variety of grotesque reflections.

Her mother’s voice is right. She should run. But she’s tired, so tired, and she cannot push her body any further.

Sara closes her eyes.

“No,” says the woman, who looks as if she’s been fighting with herself. “I will not take you like this.”

She reaches into a pocket and retrieves a slim glass vial, a quarter full with bright gold fluid, translucent, pulsing with its own interior light. Like the woman had somehow bottled a star, Sara would think if her eyes weren’t already closed. The woman uncorks the vial, which pops like a newly opened bottle of champagne. She places the tip of the glass to Sara’s lips, then pours.

Sara shudders. An electric current surges through her body like lightening, setting wearied synapses on fire. Her entire self blazes as if engulfed by flames, licking, lapping, and churning like the ocean.

Sara’s eyes shoot open. She staggers to her feet and stares into the woman’s eyes, which gleam and sparkle with the light of far-off stars.

“That’s more like it. Taking prey that’s already dead is no fun. I prefer my meat fresh.”

Sara’s briny mouth opens, then closes.

The woman leans in, almost conspiratorially, and whispers, “This might be a good time to run.”

Sara agrees. She beholds the bemused features of her hopeful captor a moment longer, then lopes off toward the shimmering ocean.

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Red

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This post was originally published through Patreon on Janurary 17, 2018.

Red. The color floods Amanda’s vision, a blinding solar flare in the dark, and she lifts a hand to shield her eyes as a familiar creature advances. She was seven the last time she saw him. The same blinding glow had preceded him, and at the time, she’d cried.

“Go away,” she shouted, pulling the covers over her head like a shawl. “You’re not real.” She spent the next twenty years believing she was right.

But she is not afraid when he approaches her again, nor when he inclines his head and offers her a shriveled hand by way of greeting, nor when he examines the birthmark on her wrist, a dark patch of mottled, mossy black.

“You are destined for great things,” he told her long ago. “Dangerous things, perhaps, but great.”

What he meant he never explained, nor did she have the courage to ask. Now, she thinks she’ll find out.

“You came back to me.” Her eyes have begun to adjust to the light, and she lets her hand fall limp at her side. “I didn’t think you were real, but you came back to me.”

A slow, sad smile spreads across parched lips. “I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. I wanted you to enjoy your human life for a while longer. But our world needs you now, and I can’t keep my kind waiting anymore.”

She nods. On some level, hasn’t she expected this? On the surface, perhaps, it was easy to dismiss his existence as fantasy. But in her heart? The truth is, she’s always known she was meant for something more.

She clasps his hand in her own, her ruby tears glistening in the crimson light, and says that she is ready.

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