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.

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A Theory

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Light beamed down from a bright vermilion sky, reflecting off the surface of the water like stained glass. Samantha paced across a small stone outcrop, a solitary island surrounded by endless sea. No sound but the serene lapping of water at the edges.

There had to be a way out, she thought. There had to be a way to return home. But in her heart, Samantha knew there was no going back.

No one in the history of magic had ever devised a working method of instantaneous travel, but a year ago, Samantha had come up with a theory. She’d seen something no one else had, something so obvious, she couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been tried before.

A temporary fusing of two places, a bleeding of one setting into another. Samantha had made her calculations, and when it was time to put those calculations to the test, she setup her equipment under the watchful gaze of her advisors, powering them up with only a small trickle of energy from her magically-charged fingertips.

The gathering grew tense when at first nothing happened. Then the space inside the machine darkened, and everyone held their breath. A moment later, there was light again, only now it was light from someplace else.

She’d done it! Samantha was overcome with joy. Her advisors clapped her on the back and congratulated her for a job well done.

She had no idea where the artificial portal led. Her instruments weren’t that precise, and the location was random, some alien vista from a far-off world. Samantha was an explorer at heart, and her desire to step through—to be the first human to set foot so far from home—got the best of her.

Without thinking, she walked forward. They could leave the machine on, she reasoned. She could set foot on the soil of another world, take a quick look around, then come back and be a hero.

It was spectacular—that crimson sky, that endless ocean. The air smelled like nothing she’d encountered before, not the salty tang of an Earthly shore but something different. She wished she had more time to explore. But she had to go back before the machine powered down. No matter. There would be other places. She only hoped they would all be as beautiful as this one.

A faint hum caught her attention. She turned, ready to go back, and that was when she realized with horror that the portal had started to fade.

“No!” She lunged, watching the faces of her horrified advisors darken, but it was too late. She fell to the dusty ground where a portal had once stood.

Stupid! She should have realized what would happen. She’d been powering the machine, so of course, as soon as she traveled, the flow of energy would be cut off. How could she have been so short sighted?

Now, there was no way back, and all Samantha could do was watch the alien sun set—watch the sky fade, first to a dull copper, then to a dusky purple.

When at last the stars came up in the sky—a vast array of constellations that were not her own—she looked up in despair and wondered which one was home.

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