“You are confident. And you are sex..xy?” Kyle Walters squirmed in discomfort at the second-hand embarrassment for mirror Kyle, who didn’t seem to appreciate the words that he was being forced to say. It was way more awkward saying those words aloud than he imagined when he contemplated trying it in his head: he had read an article online that asserted you gain sexy, cool confidence by claiming it. Either the article lied or Kyle didn’t follow the directions properly, because, if anything, he might have felt even less confident and sexy than he did before his affirmation. He sighed in defeat.
“You are a big dorky loser that is going to die a virgin.” He couldn’t agree more with mirror Kyle’s assessment.
As often as Kyle saw his mirror-self, in fact a daily occurrence, he didn’t always recognize that person as himself. In his head he looked a bit more like Chris Pine, granted a poor man’s Chris Pine, a Chris Pine who lacked a certain amount of muscle definition, but still some version of the captain of the Enterprise. You could definitely see the resemblance in their similar sexy jaw lines (the article also suggested that he pick one or two strong features that he deemed attractive; a sense of humor could not be one of them. His sense of humor was sexier than his jawline). Kyle struck a ‘casual’ pose, flexing his arms slightly, and shook his head in disappointment. Why couldn’t his mother have birthed an athlete? Or someone with innate coolness who could strut around all attractively wearing an ironic t-shirt, despite having a body like Gumby. Despite all his efforts Kyle always appeared a little too lanky, a little too pasty, a little too pathetically clumsy, a little too shy with an inability to moderate when it came to hair product. He was just a little bit not enough.
In Kyle’s fantastical adventures, however, he was the furthest thing from himself: his dark brown eyes had a debonair glean, or whatever it was that made that guy from the vampire movies lust-worthy (he’d give anything to exude lustiness). His brown hair became golden-kissed and blew in the breeze, only to fall back into some carefree, roguish wave. Suddenly his less than ’roid adolescent body was toned and tan and moved without any awkwardness. He looked like the kind of guy that might make a girl giggle when he smiled at her; at least, he became the kind of guy that a girl would notice.
“You could try a little harder,” he told his reflection.
Mirror Kyle nodded in agreement. “You’re not helping me out much, pal. Also, that’s quite a thing sprouting in the middle of your forehead.”
Before Kyle could take offense at the dismissive tone of his critical reflection, he noticed that yes, there was something growing on his face! Seriously?! What was that? He drew his face closer to the mirror, examining the thing at every angle. This could not be happening. He fell dramatically onto his bed. This was great! As though high school hadn’t been bad enough, now he was going to complete his senior year with a huge zit trumpeting his loserdom loud and clear. Probably stick around for graduation with his luck. Why? Why him? Why did terrible things have to happen to him? From the moment of his birth, he caused terrible things to occur. If it wasn’t waking up to natural disasters erupting on his face, it was accidentally running over his bike with his mom’s car; it was farting in front of his class right before he had to deliver a ten-minute speech on the negative influence of technology on his generation (he was nervous, it happens); it was spilling coffee on a vintage X-men comic that his mom had saved for and given to him on 16th birthday; it was losing his father. Okay, so maybe the others paled in comparison to the last. And maybe he didn’t so much lose his dad as his dad left him and his mom, but Kyle couldn’t say for certain whether or not he caused it.
Two months before Kyle was born, his dad had disappeared. His mom never really went in-depth on the particulars and Kyle respected her choice, but it made him wonder what she was trying to protect him from. Did he make his dad leave? Or was his dad such a jerk that he just left his mom pregnant without any reason? Neither option was great, but at least the second didn’t make Kyle feel as shitty. Then again after eighteen years of not having a dad, it didn’t really bother Kyle that much. Almost not at all. So what he had dreams that his father came back with a huge apology and amazing excuse as to his absence, something like a Jason Bourne situation. Doesn’t everyone have that dream? Didn’t every kid feel like his parent owed him something that he would never get? Didn’t every kid want to look their father straight in the eye one day and tell him that he didn’t want him anymore; that he deserved better; that his mom deserved better and they were fine without him. Kyle felt alone, but knew that he wasn’t the only kid who had to think these thoughts. He wasn’t alone, but that didn’t make him feel better.
But Kyle and his mom were fine. Penelope Walters managed to give Kyle the best childhood possible: she would have found a way to get him the moon, should he have asked. Not that he would have. He’d never ask from her more than she could give. All he needed was her. Whenever he would delve headlong into a funk, his mom would walk in with her beatific smile and he’d already feel halfway to better. Penny Walters had that way with everyone. When she entered a room, people couldn’t help but turn and look. She had features similar to Kyle, chestnut hair, fair skin and dark eyes, but they gleamed with a confidence and charm that Kyle lacked; she had a strength that would seek adventure, a strength that kept her smiling while she raised her son on her own, a strength that never betrayed to him how close they lived on the edge of survival. It was her kindness, however, that people would always recall and it was her kindness that Kyle had inherited from her – he would have taken the confidence, if he had the choice (confidence worked better in high school than kindness). She never had to make mirror affirmations (at least, he didn’t think she had to), but she would always affirm for her son that he was the best thing that had happened to her. He mirrored that sentiment.
As though she could sense his bad mood from the other side of the house, Penny Walters magically appeared in Kyle’s doorway. She took in the sad state of her son strewn across his bed and smiled.
“Kyle, Dani’s going to be here soon so you might want to cut the moping short,” she suggested lightly, accustomed to her son’s occasional drifts into gloominess.
“I’m not moping. I’m contemplating the misery of my life,” Kyle answered tongue-in-cheek.
“Oh, that’s all?” she teased. She entered and settled herself on his bed. “So to what conclusions has your contemplation led you?”
“I’m doomed. I’m totally and completely doomed. And I think god hates me, if there is a god. I’m not so sure or I’m really sure based on his or her hatred of me.” Kyle sat up on his bed and fervently pointed to the monstrosity growing his face. “See this? This is the hatred of god on my flesh or proof that life is unjust with no cosmic retribution for goodness. Cause I’m a good person, gosh darn it! I’ve earned rewards! I have earned no pimples! I am an eighteen-year-old man, a good man, not some adolescent with skin issues!”
His mother laughed. “Do you think that maybe you’re being a wee bit melodramatic?”
“No, I’m being properly dramatic.” Kyle answered. He swatted at his mother’s hands as they attempted to smooth his hair. Didn’t she get that he was an angsty teenager? God, he hated when she tried to make him feel better when he just wanted to be disgruntled and emo and write vague, unhappy posts on Facebook that nobody would even read. “I’m going to be known as that kid with a zit larger than his face. Or else I’ll continue to be known as ‘hey, who’s that?’ Please let me stay home! Please. I’m really not learning anything anymore. It’s the end of senior year.”
“Well, that’s what every mother wants to hear. But, Kyle, I promise when you go to college, you’re going to discover that all this stuff that bothers you now won’t matter so much anymore. No one will notice…” his mother paused and scrunched her face. “That is pretty big, isn’t it?”
“You’re hilarious,” Kyle muttered, flopping back onto his bed.
Penny patted Kyle on the knee and stood up to look out his window. In the distance she thought that she caught sight of a very familiar man standing at the edge of the woods and she thought, maybe, he was looking at her too. She smiled at the memory and ran her hand along the curtain. That’s when she smelled it, that particular odor of Kyle. She brought the curtain to her nose. When he left, this would be all that she had left, the odd musk of a teenage boy.
“Mom, is there a reason you’re smelling my curtain?”
“I’m just thinking how clean the house will be when my little man –”
“Don’t call me little man,” Kyle interjected, sitting up again.
“Indulge your mom. My baby’s going to college soon and leaving me alone. You’ll be off getting your cool on while I’ll be sitting here in your room, wondering what amazing things you’re up to.”
“My cool on? Uh, I don’t think that’s a thing.”
Penny turned and beamed at Kyle. “Since when did my son become so knowledgeable about what’s cool or not?”
“So now my mother’s making fun of me. Aren’t moms supposed to make everything better?”
Kyle grinned, “Yeah, I guess.”
“Thought so. Now get your cool butt over here and give your mom a kiss goodbye. Dani’s just turned onto the street.”
Kyle got up and went to his mom. She clasped his face in her hands and shook her head bemused: he was nearly a head taller than she. “When did you get so old?”
“When did you?” Kyle retorted with a laugh. Penny lightly smacked him on his cheek, then leaned in to kiss him on the forehead. The moment she pulled away, Dani began to pound her horn. Kyle quickly said his goodbyes, snatched his bag off the floor and dashed out the door to embark on another day of school, leaving his mother to gaze once more out the window in case he should return.
School passed much like it always did. No one even noticed the extra appendage that continued to grow on his forehead. Kyle didn’t know what irked him more: that an alien life form claimed his forehead its territory or that no one could even bother to look at his face and point and laugh. Couldn’t he just for once stand out in a crowd? Then to top it all off Allison Vickary called him Kevin when she asked to borrow a pen. Kyle had wasted four years sitting behind her in French class (he only stayed in French to sit behind her), staring at her hair (and, yes, sometimes he did catch a whiff of it and it smelled like strawberries) and fantasizing about the moment when he’d finally ball up and ask her out. Of course in his fantasy she said yes and confessed her own secret crush. Then they would get married, buy a dog and live happily ever after. But no. All she wanted from him was Kevin’s pen; she didn’t even return it after class. That was Kyle’s only pen. Then again algebra would never be important so who needed to take notes?
By the end of another tediously unremarkable day of school, Kyle felt the pressing need to be alone. He declined Dani’s offer for a ride home and instead walked through the bright, verdant woods that led to his house. He loved those woods. They offered the perfect amount quiet and space for him to think before his mom got home from work. Just up ahead Kyle spotted his tree. That beautiful oak tree had sheltered him from some of the worst disasters of his youth and today would be no different. Yes, today had been unremarkable but its un-remarkableness pointed out to Kyle what he had always feared: Kyle Walters was a nobody. Flashes of his own mediocrity began to plague him. He had been at his school for four years, and how many people could pick him out of a crowd? How many people knew that he wasn’t Kevin? As Dani had pointed out at lunch, he did look a lot like Kevin Harrington (“don’t be so insulted! He’s in orchestra with me and is an amazing cellist. He even got a music scholarship,” she insisted.). With only a few weeks remaining of school, Kyle couldn’t shake the feeling that he had watched high school from the outside with his nose pressed up against the glass while everybody else had this awesome time inside. And he never understood why he couldn’t get inside. He had certainly tried. Every first day of school he would walk through the front door confident that this year would be his; this year he’d wear the right clothes, say the right things; everyone would laugh at the lunch table about how they couldn’t believe that they hadn’t invited him over sooner. And yet every year ended and nothing ever changed: he had made no mark, no impression at all. Maybe he was just some loser; maybe his dad knew and that’s why he had left. Maybe Kyle should just pretend to be the amazing cellist Kevin. At least Kevin was good at something.
Kyle leaned against the familiar bark of his tree, and let his mind wander. It was at this moment, when he felt sleep coming, that another Kyle appeared before his eyes. This Kyle invented things; saved Allison from danger; he was important. This Kyle had none of real Kyle’s perceived limitations. This Kyle was sexy and cool. To the images of his own potential greatness Kyle Walters fell asleep.
Noirah Tillard, on her side of the universe, had a vaguely different but strangely similar day to Kyle. She began at her desk, studying alone, blinking in annoyance at the sunshine bombarding her room. Two songbirds, perched on her windowsill, were singing shrilly. Her eyes slithered over to glare at the two disturbers of her peace.
“If you continue to sing, birds, I will come out there and break your little bird necks.”
The birds stopped, peered at the girl through the window and then flew off affronted. Quiet once more filled the room, but that’s when the pounding began to fill Noirah’s ears. She tried to focus on the words in front of her, the daily work that she set for herself, but they blurred with every beat of the drum in her head.
Noirah slammed the book shut and rested her head in her hands. The ever-present darkness began to throb. She had once cherished that hard part of herself, before when it had been something of a joke amongst her friends: dark, little Noirah with her black, black hair. Her name, in fact, had been an accident, a typo by some hospital administrator who didn’t know how to spell Norah. Her father opted not to correct the error, terming it a fortuitous mistake because his child had been born with a full head of black hair. As she grew up, it became appropriately poetic: Noirah was always quick to gloom, quick to anger, quick with a harsh word. Surrounded by her small group of friends, the void had never consumed her, but now, alone in her rage at everything that had been ripped from her, the darkness felt like an infection, a curse that slowly tainted every pore. She was just so tired. At eighteen, she was tired. Her hands gripped her head: she just wanted to stop feeling for one second. All she needed was a distraction from the constant anger, something to quiet the shouting. Her stomach grumbled. As far as distractions went, eating ranked fairly low, but with her work going nowhere, she’d take what she could get.
Thankfully it had been silent downstairs for some time. Her parents had left to do whatever they did to fill the empty hours. Noirah trudged downstairs, made herself breakfast and began to eat at the empty table. Then the door opened. She hunched her shoulders and groaned. The timidity of the footsteps alerted her that it was her father. Her mother she could handle; her father, she didn’t even know anymore.
“Noirah?” he piped up.
She took a steadying breath and turned around to face him. Her anger flickered out when she saw his pathetic form. The man was short, but both his legs and his arms seemed far too long for his wiry torso, as though he might have once been taller, but as time wore on his spine gradually compressed bit-by-bit. His once dark hair had lost its luster and was slowly being overtaken by a dull grayness that veiled him with a musty web. Even his eyes, obscured behind thick spectacles and sunken into his sallow face, had dimmed to a sick pea-green color from what had, once upon a time, sparkled as youthfully as Noirah’s still could. He was like an old, etiolated picture, left too long to the whims of the world’s hostile elements, whose colors had faded and left a hollow ghost of what had once been as brilliant and bright as his daughter. But his smile, the hopeful smile that he gave Noirah, made him look no older than a child. It beamed and begged to be loved. Even when he did not receive that, his smile nevertheless tenaciously clung to the hope that one day he might.
“Yes?” she prompted, impatient when he continued to stand in silence.
“Well,” he began falsely optimistic, “just looking over the garden and noticed a few weeds cropping up. Thought later I might do a little work out there, spruce it up. Maybe you’d like to join?”
Noirah noncommittally shrugged her shoulders. “Doubt it.”
“Oh, okay then. If you change your mind, however, I’ll be out there later. Feel free to join. It’ll be like old times,” he suggested.
She turned her back to him. “Doubt that too.”
He lost his fight early in this round and shuffled into his office. Afraid that he might pester her again, Noirah snuck off to town to rummage through the papers and eavesdrop on the gossip of those old flibbertigibbets who liked nothing better than for their secrets to be overheard.
Even that proved abysmally unsatisfying. No one even looked at her askance anymore when she wandered along the streets. She was becoming one of them, a townsperson. This was going to be her life. She might as well just find some simple farm boy and get married. That’s what townspeople did. She’d probably end up barefoot owning a cow and talking to her chickens with a horde of young’uns running about. From great heights she had fallen into a pile of manure. Once upon a time she had lived amid the hub of action in the capital Kallipolis; the news and politics of her land had swirled around her. She and her family were once important; she was going to be someone. Now she had to settle for week-old papers that maintained the same glossy veneer that had been reestablished after her family’s disgrace two years prior. Today Senator Silver, who had initiated her family’s departure, graced the cover with his same, slimy smile. It made her stomach clench to see that man so smug and happy. In the two years since she and her family had been thrust from the life they loved, she had watched that man become a hero, standing atop the mound of her aborted life and broken dreams. Life could truly be disgusting in its unfairness.
With these angry thoughts storming in her mind on her walk home, Noirah happened to spot a dozing boy propped up against a tree. She stopped and stared with curiosity. He didn’t move so she thought he might be dead: rumor had it that this area of the kingdom was perfectly suited for the disposal of unwanted bodies. No one looked for anyone here. Sadly the only thing that had littered the floor up to today was dead foliage. Maybe things were looking up. She picked up a long stick and poked him. A mumbled grunt was enough to dispel Noirah’s fantasy of solving a great murder mystery. But then she noticed his clothes (jeans and a sweatshirt) and his shoes (sneakers), those were the type of things that she had seen in pictures, things that her Uncle Sal had told her about. Those weren’t things from her world. She had found someone new. No, she had found someone from the Outside. Finally here was the distraction that she had so longed for. Now all she had to do was wait for him to wake up.
Patience wasn’t a skill much honed by Noirah. She tapped her knee and exhaled loudly. Her tongue clucked. Now she began to whistle, and still he slept. Just how long did he plan on napping? Noirah unconsciously picked up a stone in her tiny hand. She tossed it up and let it fall back into her open palm. Then she looked at the sleeping boy, who now wore a dopey grin on his face. Before she knew it -- she hadn’t actually planned on stoning anyone today -- the rock flew from her hand and plunked him on the arm; he didn’t wake up. Since she had already thrown one stone, what was the harm in a second or even third? Then, as she took aim once more, his head shot up with his eyes wide and frantic, lost somewhere between reality and sleep.
“It was a dream!” he exclaimed. He rubbed his face with his hands and muttered more subdued, “It was only a stupid dream and now I’ve woken up. She didn’t even kiss me. God, I can’t even get a kiss in a dream.”
Kyle blinked his eyes to wakefulness. His arm was throbbing. He looked down at it and was surprised to find the beginning of a bruise. Huh, when did that happen? That’s when his gaze drifted to Noirah. His heart leapt into his throat at the unnerving sight of the pale girl sitting and silently staring. He ran a shaky hand through his hair.
“Uh, hello,” he began and then pointed at her, “You should not do that. You should definitely not sit and watch people sleep. That’s creepy and kind of weird.” She raised a patronizing eyebrow in response. This did nothing to ease Kyle’s nerves, as something felt very off about everything. “So who exactly are you?”
The thin lips twitched and her green eyes twinkled with mirthful delight. “Question is who are you, stranger?”
“Excuse me? I’m not the stranger, stranger. This is my backyard, or it was…” Kyle trailed off, cocking his head to one side. His eyes jumped from the girl to the woods framing her. All around her loomed dark, densely-packed, wizened trees that seemed to mock his disorientation. Their spindly limbs wound above and threatened to swoop down and envelope him in their colorless web. His heart beat faster because it was all wrong. He turned around and looked at the tree which supported him. He felt betrayed. That smooth, gray bark was not of his tree. This was a different tree; this was a different forest. Where was he and when, no how did he get here?
“You haven’t answered the question: who.are.you?” Noirah repeated harshly.
He drew his disbelieving eyes back down to the girl. “I...I’m Kyle. I’m Kyle Walters,” he stuttered. He focused on her, allowing the alien surroundings to blur in his periphery. The dull ache in his arm intensified. Then something clicked: in his dream, he and Allison had been enjoying a really nice date, when suddenly her face went blank. Then without provocation she had begun to hurl chicken wings at him, hitting him right on the very arm that now hurt!
“You! That wasn’t a dream at all. You were really hurling chicken wings at me, weren’t you?”
She laughed in a way that made him know that he was the joke. “No, I wasn’t hurling -- what was it? chicken wings? -- at you.”
He held up his arm, emphatically pointing at it. “Then what’s this?”
“An arm,” she drawled.
“I know what an arm is!” his voice pitched. “But the bruise, look,” he commanded. He waited until she reluctantly brought her eyes to his arm with a heavy sigh. “It’s bruised because someone was throwing chicken wings at me in my dream, and it must have been real because it hurt then and it still hurts now and I have a bruise and you’re the only one here besides myself, so it had to be you!” He took a much needed breath. “So, yeah. Don’t deny it cause it’s pretty obvious just what happened.”
“Oh,” she nodded, “I was throwing something at you, but it had nothing to do with chickens. It was rocks. See there.” She pointed at the three stones lying on the ground near to him. “It was those three rocks there. No denial here. Rather proud of myself. Pretty sharp aim, eh?” She winked at him.
For perhaps the first time in his life, Kyle felt rage. He had felt prickles of anger toward his father, but nothing like the sudden surge of ire at the sight of this girl smirking at him. She had not only maliciously harmed him, but was laughing about it! His blood boiled. This only made Noirah’s smirk grow: she prided herself on the effect that she could have on others.
“Why? Why would you do that? Why in the world would you throw rocks at someone who was sleeping? It’s wrong. That’s a bad thing to do to someone else. I mean, what’s wrong with you? What kind of weirdo are you?”
“I wanted to wake you up, and I discovered a means for my desired ends,” she stated smoothly.
“You couldn’t have, I don’t know, tapped me on the shoulder; shouted woo hoo; waited?”
“I was waiting. You were taking too long!” she exclaimed defensively. She picked up a stray stone and tossed it in the air, teasing him with the idea that she just might throw another. “Besides I barely threw them.”
“I have a bruise!” Kyle insisted, thrusting his arm forward.
She shrugged, glaring down at him condescendingly from her slightly upturned nose. “You’re making quite a scene over nothing, princess. I could give you a real bruise if you like.”
“You know what? No thanks.” Kyle stood up and flung his canvas messenger bag over his shoulder. “And while this has been great and you seem really, well, you seem really something, I best be going home. So, yeah, I’m just going to go and you should stay there. Please don’t follow me.” He slowly backed away while his arms gestured for her to stay where she was.
He paused. He didn’t know which way to start. The forest around him came into sharper focus, drawing tightly around him. It grew larger; he grew smaller. He looked back down at the girl, who watched him with an unreadable look: a blend between confusion, annoyance, mirth and sympathy. Her sympathy twisted his stomach. He felt the desire to laugh; he could feel it trying to claw its way through his throat and out of his mouth, but he stopped it. It’d be a demented laugh and hearing it would only make him feel sicker, if that was possible. He pressed his hand on what should have been his oak tree and could feel the reality of the situation squeeze his brain.
“I’m not home,” he muttered to himself. He turned to Noirah in his confusion. “But how is that possible? I must have wandered off because I can’t not be home cause I was going home, I saw my tree, I was there and I know where I live, but this isn’t it. But who just wanders off like that? Right?” He looked at her with imploring eyes. “Can you explain to me just what is going on because you have the same face that Dani gets when she knows what’s happening and I don’t, and you’re there all calm and stuff so, yeah, how about you explain it there, person who is sitting in a very un-riled like manner! Cause that creepy stare is really being unhelpful to my state right now. So how about you start being helpful, you person, person there!”
Half of Noirah’s mouth curled into a smile. She shifted her weight so that she was sitting atop her calves and leaning over she began to draw two dots into the dirt on the ground. “I was waiting for you to ask. Of course I can explain things to you, Kyle Walters.”
His head snapped down. “How’d you know my name?”
“Because I’m a witch and I can read your thoughts.” When she saw that the comment nearly completely unraveled him, she rolled her eyes and amended, “Because you told me not too long ago.”
He nodded. Yes, that happened. That was one certain, factual event in this madness. He rubbed his hands over his face. When he removed them, he was saddened to see that he was still there. “Just explain to me, please. Please tell me that I’m actually home, but I’ve bumped my head so things look funny,” he moaned. His heavy head sank down to what felt like a very hollow chest.
“Oh, don’t be so morose,” Noirah berated, attempting to brush the dirt off her hands. At the wry look he gave her, she shook her head. “You don’t get it yet, but this is truly amazing. You see, you’re from the Outside.” She pointed to the dot on her left.
“I don’t live outside. I just happen to have fallen asleep outside is all,” he sighed, sinking deeper and deeper into despair. This conversation was going nowhere.
If Noirah could have actually read his thoughts, she would’ve agree. “I’m not daft, you know. I don’t mean outside, lowercase o, but Outside, capitol o. Great difference between the two. You’re from what my people call the Outside --”
“Are you Amish? Have I been kidnapped by the Amish” he asked jumping into alertness.
Norah slapped the ground. “The gods! Be quiet. We won’t get anywhere if you keep interjecting stupid comments. That’s unhelpful; I, on the other hand, immensely helpful to people who know how to keep quiet.” Kyle blinked, but remained quiet and a bit rigid with fear. Noirah slowed her speech and explained in a clear, concise manner, “Now the Outside is a colloquial way of saying the Prima Terra.” At his look of ignorance, she explained, “It’s Latin for first Earth. Even if you don’t know Latin, which you should since it began in your world, that phrase is pretty simple. A four year old with a basic understanding of language and a functioning vocabulary could crack that code. But at least now I know your level of intelligence and comprehension. Shall I continue?”
Kyle would have defended his own at least average smarts, but Noirah had already risen to her feet and purposefully strode to where he stood. In response to her aggressive approach, he pressed himself up against the tree. Though Noirah was tiny, she could dwarf the largest man.
“You see, you’re not there anymore.” She took a step closer so that their bodies almost touched and pointed to the ground. “You’re here. So what is here? We’re, in simplest terms, a parallel world. Not your planet, not your universe.” Her eyes grew wide, as she stepped back and spun, displaying the world with a sweep of her arms. Her speech grew more animated, “And the biggest difference? No people until us. No people, can you imagine? A world discovered to allow man the opportunity to rediscover his purity, when it seemed unreachable. A different world, existing against all odds, comprised of your brother populace, hidden away behind closed doors with only a peeking light in the cracks to belie its existence. Amazing, truly amazing and here we are, you and I. You, you are spectacular. Not you personally. You personally seem rather bland. But your existence here? Marvelous!” She turned to him, surprised by his lack of enthusiasm. He stood there with a blank face. If he wasn’t going to get giddy, he could at least muster up some terror or surprise or something! He had done the impossible and made his way to a whole new universe without even knowing that he did it and he didn’t care. She reiterated her major point more slowly, “You just woke up in a different universe. I imagine this is the most monumental thing that’s ever occurred to you, with the exception of your birth. Anything to say?”
“Sure,” he finally answered with an air of suspicion, “A parallel world? I’m not stupid. Whatever, I don’t know some Latin phrase, but I have common sense and you can’t teach that in a book. You can’t just say something like that and expect me to believe it. Who put you up to this? Was it Dani cause I made her late for homeroom again? Funny joke, Dan.”
“Not a joke. You’re really on a different planet than you were earlier. I can completely understand how someone simple minded like yourself might find the fantastic hard to believe, but I promise you that I wouldn’t try to fool you. Why would I? I don’t know you. I can’t gain any substantial pleasure from pulling one over on you. Kyle, trust me, quite literally the world as you know it has changed.”
Kyle took a moment to measure her up. She seemed earnest. He had to admit that he wasn’t home. But parallel world? That was a leap, a giant, huge leap from anything that he had known up until now, except what he’d seen in movies. It wasn’t any further of a leap than to say he somehow managed to sleepwalk into another town’s creepy forest without a single person stopping him or without waking up at some point on the way. Or maybe not. The government could be doing an experiment on him right now or maybe he was in a coma and lucid dreaming or maybe he misremembered home. Nothing seemed logical. However the prospect of a new start excited him, a brand new world where he could recreate himself and be the guy a girl like Allison would like. He had spent hours in his room imagining an adventure like this, a chance to create something great and show everyone back at home that he was worthwhile. Even if it wasn’t real, it could be fun if he just played along a little bit. And if it was real, then all the better.
“Okay, so let’s say I do believe you. Say that I accept all this, that I travelled to a different universe.” He almost giggled as he said the words. It sounded so insane coming from his own lips, “So, yeah, say that I do. Explain to me how exactly I got here. I don’t have a spaceship or anything. I mean who wakes up in a different world?”
“Exactly the question, isn’t it?” she put to him. A rustling sound in a nearby bush cut her short. Kyle thought nothing of a sound in the woods, but Noirah knew better than to trust that only wild animals lived here. Oh, the stories she had overheard since her arrival in this small township. Perhaps a day, an hour ago she would have thought it nothing but the over-imagination not only of the townspeople, who sought some action in their off-the-beaten track hamlet, but even her own. She was desperate for anything to remove herself from the dregs of life here, anything with meaning, anything to stop the slow parade of days until she finally died. But now the possibility of fantasy appeared before her in the guise of boy who woke up. After having lived for two years as a starving woman clawing desperately for a loaf of bread just beyond an invisible wall, now she licked her lips ready to feast. He was going to get her home.
She smiled to herself, pleased with this chance encounter. “Come on, we should go. Someone could be listening. We can discuss things safely indoors.”
Kyle snorted. The forest looked fairly desolate to him and why on Earth, or parallel Earth, would anybody care what they were talking about? They were two kids.
“Yeah, right. Better go cause it’s soo unsafe,” Kyle teased.
Noirah lifted her hand, telling him to quiet, as her eyes scanned the trees. For a moment only silence existed. She grimaced and shook her head. “No, you wouldn’t understand. You’ve barely been here. Why would you understand?” She quickly turned around and fixed him with a hard, penetrating look. “But understand this: you were brought here. Nobody arrives here without intention and it obviously wasn’t your own. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was meant to find you or perhaps my father or maybe neither of us. Who knows? Who knows what this means? But we’d do well to leave, if only because it’s getting dark and one does not want to be in the woods at night. It’s just not safe anymore. Come along, my lost, little lamb, best get you away before the person or persons who took you decide to come back.”
Kyle blinked, then he processed the thought. He blinked again and then began to feel rather unnerved and a bit panicky. “Wait. You think someone did this to me? Someone did this to me? And my mom! She must be flipping out. I am kidnapped! I am kidnapped in apparently another universe. Why couldn’t it have been the Amish? That’s a bit closer to home.” He bit his lip and cringed. “They probably didn’t even leave her a note, did they? My mom doesn’t know what happened, what’s happening. Where I am, she doesn’t know. I don’t think I know. Do you think maybe someone told her I’m okay?”
“Probably not,” Noirah replied softly. An uncharacteristic kindness filled her eyes. It felt so familiar to Kyle. His heart stopped racing.
“Who would do that? Who would want me? I’m nobody! People don’t do things to nobodies.”
“Exactly!” Noirah exclaimed, “No one would take such risk for a nobody. Your existence here makes you somebody. I guess we both just have to figure out who that is and why you’re here, Kyle Walters.”
Kyle smiled. She didn’t call him Kevin. She didn’t call him Kevin and she noticed him. She didn’t call him Kevin, she noticed him and she talked to him. His smile grew; Noirah began to squirm. “You look like an idiot when you make that face.” He persisted to Noirah’s frustration. “What in the Devil has cracked your brain?”
“You want to help me. You have no reason to, you don’t know me but you want to help.
I mean, I called you a weirdo and you want to help me.”
Noirah shrugged nonchalantly. “One, I did throw rocks at you. Two, weirdo doesn’t come close to touching the best of the names I’ve been called. And three, there’s a lot in it for me. Don’t misjudge me as some altruist or at all interested in you as a person or looking for some deep, personal relationship, okay?” Noirah felt almost happy to see his smile remaining. What was that feeling resisting the onslaught of cynicism? It made her uncomfortable because it had been so long since she felt this. It was a bubbling feeling that made her anger at the world drift behind her. She dropped her eyes for a moment and grabbed a piece of hair to twirl around her finger, an old habit from when she was a kid. “I neither need nor want a friend.”
“Okay,” he replied simply, not buying her words in the least. He saw that she didn’t either. Unexpectedly an indescribable hint of camaraderie had snuck up. He didn’t understand it, but it was there, that affinity that drew two people together without any real understanding as to why it flowed between them. He hadn’t met many friends in this manner, but it’d make a good story: she found me in the forest and saved me.
“Are you coming? Yes or no?” she snapped, as he stared unmoving, still grinning like a fool.
Sucking in a breath and giving a fleeting glance up at the ominous sky through the web of decrepit branches, Kyle conceded, “I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“You always have a choice,” she replied, “Most of the time, however, only one is good. Most people wouldn’t consider me as that. What do you say?”
“Yeah, I think you’re my good one. Someone chose me to come here and I choose you to get me out.”
She eyed him appraisingly. He felt like he had passed some test. Then the tiny waif, this specter of the forest, approached him and held out her hand. “Kyle, Kyle Walters, I’m Noirah Tillard. Welcome to Panchaea.” They shook hands. “Now let’s see about getting you home.”
With his stomach still aflame with nerves and anticipation, Kyle took one last sweeping look around. Then together Kyle Walters and Noirah Tillard took their first steps on their very long journey.