Personal

We Are One

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on September 12, 2018.

A blinding flash of blue, and then it’s happening again. I told them not to take me, that I wanted to stay. But they didn’t listen—they never listen—and now, my all-too-brief sojourn on Earth has come to an end.

I gaze down at the glowing celestial body I wanted to call home. Its luminous contours have already receded into the distance, but all the same, I keep my eyes fixed on Earth until it’s just another star, until even that solitary star has fallen so far behind that you’d need a telescope to even know it was there.

“Why?” I ask.

But they don’t look back. They don’t acknowledge my presence at all. And why would they? The beings who shuttle me across the cosmos for judgement believe I’m a traitor, a lowly creature worthy only of contempt.

“Is it because I had the audacity to leave? Can you not imagine why anyone would want to set out on their own? Why anyone would want to be different?”

I can sense the tension that mounts in my captors’ hearts, a thinly veiled hatred that bubbles to the surface of their minds for all that they try to conceal it. My kind wear their feelings on their sleeves—a strength or a weakness, depending on your perspective—and I can sense everything they refuse to say with words.

We are one, they think. One body, one heart, one mind. Did you not consider that by leaving, you might damage the whole of our collective existence? Such selfishness is beneath us. You are a cancer, yet we cannot destroy you without destroying ourselves.

A glimmer of guilt sparks within my heart, but I am ultimately unmoved.

From the moment I was born, I felt the incessant pull to be different. Perhaps I’m a throwback to a more primitive version of my species. Or perhaps, in some way neither I nor they understand, I’m simply defective. Perhaps I truly am a cancer. Individuality does not come naturally to us. Yet, whatever the cause, the need to be different is a part of me, and I can’t deny what I am any more than they can deny what they are. If I’m a source of division, it’s not my fault for being born that way.

“I am what I am.”

They recoil from my words, and inwardly, I sigh.

“You know I’ll just leave again.” The statement is not one of spite, only simple fact. “You can drag me back, but you can’t stop me from leaving once I’ve returned.”

At last, they address me directly. This time, their tone is not one of contempt but of weary grief and resignation.

“We know.”

That’s all they say before the empyrean lights of our homeworld surround us.

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On the Threshold

releon8211/Shutterstock.com

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

Color Me Maui Photography/Shutterstock.com

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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