Aren stared at the back of Kaden’s head wondering what was going on inside. His shiny black hair reflected the fluorescent lighting, but no mirrors made an appearance today.
Tracy looked over her shoulder, caught her gaze, and frowned. Aren turned away from her contemplation of Kaden and smiled at Tracy, absorbing some of the surface thoughts of her friend. She’s mad, but she won’t stay that way. She just thinks I’m still angry with Kaden, which is far from the case, very far from it. Aren blushed at the thought and coughed into her hands in an attempt to hide the rush of blood to her face.
“You okay, Aren?” Tracy crinkled her forehead. “You’re bright red. Are you getting sick again? You have a fever? My uncle died from an infection after a hospital visit.”
“I’m fine, Tracy. Thanks. And thanks for visiting me. It did make me feel better.”
“Didn’t seem like it.” Tracy sounded like she was trying to seem upset, but she beamed at her friend. “I’m glad you’re back though.”
Aren nodded. Tracy likes to feel that she makes people happy, which she usually does. “I’m glad to be back too. I didn’t like—”
“Excuse me ladies, is there something you want to share with the class?” The teacher had called them out and everyone turned to look at the two girls.
Tracy’s smile vanished. “Aren coughed and I was making sure she wasn’t dying! Okay, Mr. Sorensen? Right out of the hospital and all. You know my uncle died from an infection after a hospital visit? Are you trying to kill her?”
Mr. Sorenson’s nostrils quivered with anger, memories bubbling to the surface. He doesn’t like students talking back to him. His children treat him with contempt and he feels powerless at home. He thinks keeping control in the classroom will help him find control at home.
“I’m fine, Tracy. Sorry, Mr. Sorensen.”
Mr. Sorenson raised a shaking finger and opened his mouth to say something but at that moment met Aren’s storm filled eyes. The fight went out of him and he spluttered, “Oh…yeah…that is…uh…fine. Glad to have you back, Aren. Hope you’re feeling well.” He attempted a smile, shuddered, and looked away.
Aren sighed. Another typical reaction.
The rest of the class turned back to their studying, snickering at the teacher’s response, except Kaden. He looked back at Aren, met her eyes, smiled, and gave a small wave.
Aren didn’t see any mirrors this time, but she felt a tiny electrical shock pass back and forth between them, prickling the back of her mind. Aren frowned and looked down at her book, then smiled to herself as he turned away, shaking his head in obvious frustration. I may enjoy this more than I thought I could.
Aren’s eyes scalded like fire on the back of Kaden’s head. He could feel her staring. He’d glanced back and caught her several times. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he contemplated what it might mean. She must have seen something and is just waiting for me to confirm it.
He didn’t dare glance back again, feeling like he’d drawn too much attention with the half dozen looks already. Instead, Kaden sat rigid in his chair, staring ahead, but his mind was behind him, tracing every curve of Aren’s face. She’s so different.
Kaden wrenched his mind away from the girl and glanced at Mr. Sorensen who looked as bored as his students. Nothing new. Someone off to the right yawned, setting off a cascade of stretching and strange noises as the yawn spread like a plague around the room. Kaden couldn’t take the boredom. His mind itched to open his Egg.
Time to just go for it. It would be the perfect experiment, a way to prove once and for all if she saw something. The idea wavered in his head for a moment before the decision firmed. His Egg came open, filling the room and his mind with shimmering light. He heard an audible intake of breath behind him and to the left. So she can see it! Might as well give her a bit more.
He pulled a couple images around, feeling them out as he did so. The sensation always surprised him, like being in a dark cave one instant and then in full sunlight the next. Every image overwhelmed him for a brief moment before his brain made sense of all the sensory input.
A circular image hovered before him. He tasted crisp air, heard the sound of the wind rushing through silvery leaves, heard bits and pieces of English mixed with odd, musical sounds, and felt the warmth on his skin from the rising sun as two moons danced along the horizon.
He paused. English? Never heard that before. He closed his eyes and mapped in his head more or less where this image hung on the interior of the shell. They tended to shift on him even when his Egg wasn’t open, but he was fairly sure he could find it again.
Maybe I’ll show this one to Aren, find out how much she can see. If she doesn’t run screaming when I turn around. Kaden frowned. He hadn’t thought of that. He’d been so worried about whether or not she could see the Egg, he hadn’t thought that the experience might scare her away forever. I guess it’s all up to Aren now.
He glanced back to gauge her reaction and froze as he saw her widened eyes, her mouth open in disbelief. He tried to smile nonchalantly and shrug to give her confidence, but his terror had partially petrified him. His confident shrug and smile came out as a twitch with a weird face.
She didn’t seem to notice. Her eyes danced along the egg, shifting from image to image. Her eyes stopped and focused just past Kaden, over his shoulder to the glimmering image he’d pulled to the forefront. She leaned forward.
Kaden felt a shift. He glanced toward the interior of his egg and saw the image he’d been studying glide toward him. Wait. What?
It was Kaden’s eyes that now widened in shock. Everyone turned to look at him as he shot back in his seat with his eyes crossed, focusing two inches in front of his face. Someone laughed. Kaden felt his extremities tingle as the image touched him and then the world tilted sideways, slipping as Kaden fell through the hole in reality. Trip number six. Unexpected.
Aren ran her eyes over Kaden’s hair. She’d begun to memorize every feature along the back of his head. It was the first time she’d been allowed to dwell on someone’s features so long without any of the internal landscape bleeding into her mind.
She found it both disturbing and alluring, like standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valleys below. It felt beautiful, exhilarating, and frightening at the same time. So tempting to just jump. She couldn’t help but let her mind follow the curve of the horizon off into nothingness.
He’s hiding something. No, everything. She sighed to herself. About time someone did! A girl could go crazy with all this stuff in her head. She smiled at his rigid pose. Do you know I’m watching you? Do you?
The air wavered as though a sudden heat wave had erupted in the middle of the closed and air conditioned classroom, Kaden at the epicenter. Aren realized that she hadn’t closed her eyes for several minutes. They felt tight and dry. She blinked, and when her eyes opened the shimmering had gone, but what replaced it sent a rush of air through her teeth as she gasped with shock.
Light blossomed around Kaden, a golden sphere that pulsated and shimmered with warmth and life. Her eyes followed the contours as it grew brighter, gaining strength with each second. The air outside the sphere shifted and swayed.
The sphere sprouted thousands of silver, translucent tentacles that weaved out into the ceiling and walls around them. It reminded her of a sea anemone, though the sight before her put the beautiful animal to shame.
One wispy arm of light passed lazily by her face and wiggled its way out the closed window. She could see it continued on, unbroken, until the trees outside blocked it from view. Some of these waving tentacles were barely visible, tiny wispy threads. Others slashed through the air with massive, tree-trunk sized limbs.
No one else in the classroom reacted or noticed as the silver tentacles intertwined around one another or pierced walls, desks, ceiling, floor, and even bodies as they spiraling away at every angle. They don’t seem dangerous.
The silver limbs danced around Kaden as though caught in a mild current or invisible breeze. Aren could hear them singing as they swayed past or through her, fragments of a high, sorrowful melody that blended into the hum of the fluorescent lights and the flow of the air conditioner, the counterparts melding with the bustle of life around the room, deepening the beauty of each breath, of every nervous pencil tap, of every cough.
She imagined the silvery arms passing through everything they touched and carrying their songs forever outward into the emptiness of space, a never-ending beauty that only she and Kaden shared. A drop of liquid hit her clasped fingers and she looked down to see that unfelt tears had flowed down her face and puddled on her desk. She blinked them away, noting the images stayed with her even with her eyes closed.
That’s cool. Aren closed her eyes and hummed to herself, watching the silvery strings around her pulse and sing along with this new sound. Is this what Kaden sees? What is it?
She opened her eyes and wrenched her attention away from the singing tendrils, forcing herself to look back at Kaden. He sat at his desk in the middle of his golden sphere, encircled by the waving tentacles of light. He looks comfortable too, very much like he belongs there in the center of all reality.
Aren glimpsed images along the inside shell of light that sprouted out of the base of each of the larger columns that waved around him. Her eyes widened again. She’d been so preoccupied with the limbs themselves, she’d missed this detail. Light danced across Kaden’s face as the images swirled around him without even a touch, his eyes seeming to send them flying. This movement also powered the swaying motions of the tentacles as their bases bounced around the shell like pieces on a game board.
One image arrested her. Kaden held it in front of him longer than the others. She could see a rolling ocean below purple stone, a forest so vast that it could have been a whole continent, and a sky the color of her mother’s eyes with a great red slash through the middle.
The song from the silver tentacles grew in crescendo. She reached out to the image with her mind and felt it call to her in return. She didn’t notice Kaden’s look of puzzlement as the image shifted.
All sound ceased. Aren looked around, feeling almost physical pain as the silvery song ended. The waving light columns contracted like the eyestalks of a snail, folding in on themselves until only one remained attached to the golden shell.
Aren glanced at Tracy who looked frozen in place. “Tracy?” she asked, but Tracy didn’t answer, nor did she move. Aren reached out to touch her friend’s shoulder, but the world stopped making sense before her hand lifted more than a few inches. It hung there as she caught sight of Kaden once more, sitting at his desk, the image she’d seen floating directly in front of his face. She could still hear the image’s silent call to her, but that melted away as she watched Kaden’s face twist and stretch into the image like taffy.
She screamed, but no one moved, and then gravity no longer functioned properly. Aren felt the idea of down shift to her right and forward where the image continued to swallow up Kaden. She tumbled out of her desk and drifted for a few seconds before spiraling in toward the disfigured face of Kaden. She caught hold of his desk, clinging to the metal frame and plastic back, forced to look on with horror as Kaden’s ears bent and swirled away from her. She held on and glanced to where the image hovered, but the image had transformed into a dark hole that reached out to her, beckoning.
The hole shifted and swam as though sniffing her out. She slipped and spun as she clawed at the desk. The darkness touched her dangling feet and she watched them twist and fragment as they were pulled into oblivion. The entire lower half of her body followed her feet, stretching and spinning into thin threads of flesh and bone. She expected pain, but only felt a tingling sensation start in her toes and flow upward.
She gripped the desk tighter, but the remnants of Kaden and his desk bent and twisted beneath her hands. The desk became a mess of string that spiraled away from her. With her grip gone, the blackness took her.
Aren had expected death to feel different somehow. She felt no fear, but she also had no profound feeling of peace. She floated in a long dark tunnel, no sign of the light she’d been promised.
I don’t think I’m dead.
Movement. She sensed it, though she couldn’t feel or see any motion, and she felt certain she sped down a dark tunnel. The interior of the tunnel was devoid of light, but outside the tunnel stood an emptiness that put all darkness to shame. The clear walls of the tunnel held at bay a darkness that hurt Aren to dwell upon, more dangerous than the mere absence of light, and just a thin membrane to keep her safe from that hungry void.
Aren looked away, back to the interior of her tunnel, but her eyes felt strange. That’s because I don’t really have eyes any more. How do I know that? Part of her seemed intent on making sense of everything, her mind filling in the gaps. You only perceive your mental focus as sight.
She shifted her focus forward. Something unseen moved in front of her, pulling her along through the darkness. She could sense a presence there. It’s nice to not be alone.
She thought of the underwater tunnels at the aquarium. A shell of glass keeping the crushing water and the sharks at bay. She’d walked with awe and fear under the curved glass, marveling at the weight of water over her head. She’d run her hand along the cool, crystal barrier as the sharks and fish passed by on the other side.
Aren reached a hand out to feel the slippery glass walls of this tunnel but found her hand didn’t move. Your hand doesn’t exist here, silly Aren. She could feel her hand somewhere, but at a great distance, like the memory of a hand. She shifted her focus behind her, where she felt her body must be, but perceived only the length of the tunnel disappearing away behind her. She closed her eyes to think, but found that since she had no eyelids the darkness did not deepen, but remained the same unimaginable black it had always been.
Why am I not afraid? Aren knew that she’d normally be freaking out by now, but for some reason she felt rather calm. I have no body to worry about so there’s no reason to worry. Someone or something is taking me somewhere. I’ll just have to wait. She smiled to herself without the mouth to do so.
Kaden felt the same falling sensation he’d experienced the first time and with each subsequent trip, followed by the rush of the absolute darkness that had spawned nightmares later, but not everything felt the same. Something’s wrong.
He felt heavier, denser than his first trip. He thought about his hands, palms down on his desk in the world he left behind and could feel them still there, far away, but he also felt a presence behind him. He felt no concern over the wrongness of this trip. That’s normal. But he knew his worries and fear would rematerialize very soon. Emotions without a body are weak.
The sudden shock of light, air, and life around him hurt and disoriented him for a moment. It felt like diving into an ice-cold pool. He spluttered and gasped as his body remembered what it did with air. He slowed his breathing and forced each breath to fill his lungs as he grew accustomed once more to physical reality.
Even as his breathing steadied, worry rose in his chest. Something’s wrong. This trip was strange. He now wished he’d taken more than just five, but had felt they were too dangerous without more practice with his Egg. It’s hard to know if this trip was strange or if my first five were the unusual ones.
He found himself seated, though he’d arrived standing every other time. He looked down at his hands, palms down on his desk. Desk? Did I get kicked back then? He looked up to see he sat in a clearing, surrounded by tall trees. This definitely isn’t my school. He ran a hand over his face and rubbed at his eyes while he listened for a moment to the forest sounds and the rustle of his clothes.
“Clothes? That’s an improvement at least.” His voice sounded loud in the quiet clearing, but excitement had gotten the better of him. He’d arrived every other time naked as a newborn.
Wait a second. I didn’t even mean to come here. “What happened? Aren!” Aren had done something. She saw the Egg and then the image floated toward her and…
Cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Part of him was very glad not to be naked, but he’d not taken anything through with him before, not a stitch of clothing, let alone an entire desk. There could be repercussions.
Like how am I going to get it all back home if I don’t know what I did to bring it with me? Someone’s going to notice a missing desk. What if I get back in reverse, naked and deskless in the middle of class? Oh, so not good.
He stood and tried to step away from the confusing presence of the desk, but tripped over something next to him on the ground. It grunted as he landed with a thud next to it.
He stared at the girl, his mouth open in shock. Oh no. This is bad. “Aren?”
She rolled over, looked up at the sky, and screamed.