cosmos

Trapped Between Worlds

Nixx Photography/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 20, 2018.

It was too much too fast. Another world strobed in and out of view, and Kevin clapped his hands over his ears and closed his eyes.

“Stop.”

For a moment, the flow of otherworldly sensations surged. Then slowly, reluctantly, they petered out, until after a span of minutes or hours—Kevin couldn’t say—light from the world outside greeted his pupils once again.

He let in a lungful of air. Let it out.

In.

Out.

The world, along with the park bench on which Kevin sat, came back into focus.

The sun, warm against his skin, provided some comfort. It made the Earth feel a little more tangible, a little more real. That was a rare feeling now, and he treasured it, held it close like a newborn child.

For the thousandth time, Kevin questioned his sanity. He’d once had a schizophrenic uncle who went off his medication, and he could remember the man sitting in a secluded corner of his grandmother’s house, laughing and whispering at people who weren’t there.

But wasn’t the definition of insanity the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy? If Kevin was crazy, why did he feel the need to ask himself if he was sane?

A child shouted in the distance as if punctuating the thought, and he turned to see a little girl in the playground tear through the air on a swing.

Kevin remembered when he himself had been a child. Ages ago, it seemed now, a whole other life. The fantasies had taken him hostage then, too. But it hadn’t occurred to him until he was much older that something might be wrong.

Like a ghost, he’d slip back and forth between two worlds, an effortless transition that always seemed so innocent, so normal, so natural. Mom and Dad would send him outside to play, and he would hydroplane across the stars, sliding through an alternate reality that seemed custom built for him.

He was just using his imagination, he assumed, like every other boy and girl his age. Then he turned into a teenager, and things took a turn for the worst.

He would hang out at school, chatting with friends, or trying to talk to the pretty girl who sat across from him in Math, and all of a sudden the visions would return, as lucid and as real as his life at school. Then, when he finally came back to himself, he’d be wandering the halls like a zombie, or sitting on a toilet in one of the bathroom stalls, or even walking home, with no recollection of the intervening hours.

He never talked to anyone about his sudden lapses. For him, they were something to be ashamed of. He was afraid, and so, one by one, he withdrew from his family and his friends, while inside, he quietly went mad.

Incursions of that other world into his own increased, until it was happening all the time, until he could no longer tell up from down or left from right.

Now he was twenty-seven and still lived at home, with no prospects for college or work.

I’m lost, he thought. Lost in the space between two worlds. It was a terrible kind of half-life that he hated bitterly.

Light. It tugged at Kevin’s eyes once more. This light wasn’t from the sun but from someplace elsewhere, a luminescence that was different in both quality and intensity. Blue sky and clouds one moment gave way to star-studded black the next.

“No,” Kevin whispered. It was happening again. “Stop.”

But it didn’t stop. In the end, it never stopped.

The world flickered, and Kevin, whimpering, closed his eyes and waited to be taken again.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

A Balance Restored

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Summer holds her hands tight against her ears, but it’s impossible to block out the roaring, world-ending static. It rages through the Earth like an ocean. Dwarfs conscious thought. Threatens to sweep her soul away in its endless tides. Only by the most infinitesimal thread does she manage to hang on, and that’s only a holding pattern, a temporary stalemate that precedes annihilation.

She should have listened to her mother.

“All things have their place,” she’d said before passing on. “All things must maintain a proper balance. Upset that balance with your own designs, and the whole world might come undone.”

The exhortation had been her last.

Summer tried not to interfere in the human world. She took her mother’s advice to heart, and she strove to allow nature its due course. But so many people suffered, so many people died, and what was she supposed to do, abandon them to a dark, uncaring universe?

At first it was just little helps, small gestures to soothe the aches and pains of a village or a town. An inch of rain here, a calming of the winds there. So many lives saved. So many disasters averted. Soon she styled herself a savior, a superhero as Earth’s comic books and movies would have understood her. A goddess, righteous, noble, someone to be worshiped and revered.

Then the storms came.

Violent, ocean-sized gales, tearing through whole continents at chaotic speeds. A backlash to her meddling, a correcting force as the universe attempted to reassert balance.

If Summer had let the storms rage, perhaps some remnant of humanity would have survived. But she saw the hurricanes and tornadoes buffet the world, and she pushed back like a frightened child. She knew in the rational corners of her mind that doing so would summon a larger correcting force, yet she was too stubborn and invested to admit that she should stop.

Then came the static.

An all-consuming sound—a lightless void that tore the sky—a mounting pocket of vacuum that swallowed the world whole.

Now only Summer is left. She holds for the moment—she survives—but for how long? If only she could wait time enough for the breach to heal, for the universe to grow still once more.

But she knows the truth.

She’s the cause of the damage, and her destruction is a necessary part of that correcting force. For now she’ll hold, but no matter how long she survives, her fate has already been decided.

Everything has its place, and balance will be restored.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The World Fire

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Dappled light danced across Vivian’s face, a hypnotic electric blue. She’d traveled long and far to get here, to the ends of the Earth and back. So much pain. So much loss. Time had passed her by as she wandered the darker passages of the world, until everyone and everything she’d ever known was dead.

“The World Fire accepts your sacrifice,” said the priestess, sitting cross-legged opposite the brightest flames Vivian had ever seen, an azure blaze that sizzled and popped with raw, untamable energy. “Come and accept your gift.”

Vivian shambled forward, a painful lump bulging in her throat as she swallowed. She hadn’t eaten in three days and she was weak. When at last, after God knew how many centuries of wandering, she’d finally arrived at the underground temple’s gates, she’d expected the mysteries she sought to be laid before her feet. Instead, the priestesses had denied her entry, requiring her first to fast.

“Please,” she’d said, weary and starving. But they’d been adamant, and Vivian had been put up in a tiny monastic cell outside the temple proper with no source of light save for the dim flicker of an oil lamp, the flame blue, like all the fire down there.

“Do you know why we made you fast?” the priestess asked, face shrouded by a dark cloth.

Vivian shook her head. She was muzzy and and couldn’t think straight. She’d tried to meet the priestess’s eyes, but the fire kept drawing her attention, wild energies she’d lusted for her entire life.

“The World Fire demands sacrifice,” the woman said in a low voice. “Even after all you gave up in search of it, you were required to give up more, because only with your stomach and your heart empty can you partake of its secrets.”

Vivian licked her lips. There were many theories pertaining to what the fire was and what it could do, ranging from the plausible to the fantastical and everything in-between. She hadn’t known what to expect when she set out, then a young woman disillusioned with life, but she’d believed with almost religious zeal that the fire could satisfy her deepest curiosities, that in its furtive flickers she would glimpse nothing less than the mysteries of the cosmos.

“Come forward,” the priestess said again, and Vivian placed one stumbling foot after the next, the object of her endless quest burning before her like an indigo star.

There were those who said fire was an expression of the divine. There was Moses and the burning bush, the great “I AM;” there was Agni, the Hindu fire God, riding on the back of his goat with flaming hair flying in the wind; there was Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, wielding his mighty blacksmith’s hammer as he toiled in a supernatural inferno. Now, standing in the midst of this underground temple, Vivian believed all those stories were true.

The flames sang to her as they danced, casting harsh, abstract shadows along the walls, primal rhythmic chants promising salvation. Come, the fire crooned. Find the answers you seek.

A blinding flash erupted as Vivian stepped into the flames. They tore into her skin, which sizzled and crackled; they clawed at her eyes, which boiled and popped. Smoke choked her airways so she could no longer breathe. But none of that mattered, because here, on the precipice of death, the secrets of the universe were revealed to her at last.

“I see,” Vivian rasped through blackened lips.

The fire required sacrifice, the priestess had said, and how right she’d been. The fire had opened her eyes, giving her the knowledge she desired, but in return it had demanded her life. That was how the World Fire worked, how it claimed the fuel it needed to burn, the fuel it needed to power every revolution of the Earth around the sun.

Vivian’s body crumpled in immolation, and she offered her spirit to the fire and said no more.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.