Today’s a Nick Drake kinda day–a day when you take long walks, languidly pick up that hobby you promised yourself you were going to finish, catch up with loved ones over a nice, warm drink…and read pleasant little stories inspired by gorgeous, surreal imagery.
I’m a little overdue since posting my last writer’s prompt. I hope you read and enjoy, and have a wonderful Sunday!
Image credit: Pinterest.
“This is it.” Dr. Ralph Kenon doubled the knot on the rope around his waist, ignoring the flash of the sapphire-lit sky above them. “If there is any time to test the portal, it’s now.”
June stood, watching him with a wariness that she had always held. She knew the cost of this trip–for months, they had traversed the cragged landscape, seeking the stone doorways that might–oh, Sera, might–bring them back home. The portal that had brought them there–golden and glittering with the promise of abundance, riches–had been nothing more than a ploy of cruel universal physics. Gold does not mean promise, or peace. How she wished she had been one of those companions who’d had enough wherewithal to provide Ralph counsel!
But no. She was but his secretary: his faithful, devoted secretary who had been sure–absolutely sure–that what they had stumbled upon in the basement ruins of a demolished bank vault, would save them from the financial ruin that his previous perils and excavations had put them through. Now, look at them. Look at them!
The others who had followed them were all gone. The Tigmas–first George, then Pauline, and last their twelve-year-old son, Kris. The policeman Mr. Myron Johnson had sacrificed himself to the beast who had found their resting spot that first night. The newlyweds, Berturde and Guy, had succumbed to the Hunger Roots a couple of weeks after, just before they’d reached the City of Promise. By then, it was only three of them left: Dr. Kenon, herself…and Sera.
June doubled her fists. Dr. Kenon was inching towards the edge of the cliff; any second, the invisible field would snag him into its atmosphere, and he would no longer have a choice of remain or return.
Wildly, he threw his head back to stare at her. His eyes distorted by those silly aviator goggles he’d always kept with him. A momento of his mother, he’d said, on her final flight around the world. Everyone thought Amelia had been the only one, but Laura Kenon–oh, she had been glorious. There just hadn’t been the press or the public attention to watch another woman make a grave mistake.
Under the front of living as a physician, Dr. Ralph Kenon had studied the energies of the universe, the hidden dimensions that were but a hair’s width away. In the depth of the ocean, in the threshold of Egyption huts–June had been his longest-tenured secretary, and she had seen him in his more focused and his most psychotic episodes.
There was no proof as to where this portal would take them. In the depths of Promise, its residents spoke of a multi-lensed “doorway” that flickered on the outskirts of the country. “Oh, sure,” said one barkeep, tossing a spheroid glass to his counterpart across the room without spilling a drop of the iridescent liquid inside, “it’s always been there. But no one ever goes there. It’s just one of those things, like breath. A lyric in a song.”
“But we sing songs where we come from,” Dr. Kenon responded. The second barkeep bowed reproachfully but said nothing. He was built for expression only, a silent, judgemental sentient being with a purple trunk and soft, rounded shoulders meant to lie your mournful head between. It was the first barkeep took orders and gathered regular stories so that passing strangers could understand the flow of the time in that sad, sweet city.
A city where what you wanted was guaranteed to be at your beck and call, if you only learned about it before it had already moved on.
Sera had remained generally present those first couple of nights in town. Still, June could already tell that she was losing her when the young woman chose to look at everything else in the city but her. At first, June blamed it on the illusion of the crystalline skyscrapers, the gloss of the marble-like sidewalks. Even the native citizens walked as if elongated by grace, striding with an elegance that made you want to lift your neck to meet them. Even the streetwalkers, who spun around corner lights and giggled as they cuddled the thick metal poles, felt heightened in status. June kept her hand tightly around Sera’s, but the shine was too much for either of them. They parted that first night, just for an hour. Then, in the morning, for two–June to find their houses of literature, Sera to explore the artful fountains that seem to shoot strawberry lemonade instead of water.
Every second was a spin of luck, every moment a chance to laugh for the first time since arriving in this barren world. She and Sera raced around like children, finding more and more and comparing notes later and later in the day. Finally, it was only when they curled into a single bed at night, just before slumber took them over, did they have but seconds to learn who’d had more to share. In the end, June would spend many hours waiting, head drooping as she squinted at the illuminated web in the window that represented their clock. On the moments she did rise early enough to see Sera slipping out the hotel room door, she tried to stop her, to ask if maybe they could meet for lunch. “Too dependent,” was what she heard, just before the door snapped shut once.
Only Dr. Kenon stayed rigid during that week, collecting the necessary supplies and verifying the stories of the three stone rings and the night that would arise and give them a chance for home. When he had pinpointed the day they would activate, he hastily gathered the ladies as they were about to steal away towards their separate agents and told them the good news. June immediately looked to meet Sera’s eye, as they always had when they were both parties to Ralph’s excitable nature.
But Sera was smiling at a mother and her son as the latter chased a cubold drifting down a waterspout’s sparkling stream, beside a marblesque sidewalk, along a picketed lane.
The night before they were to part, Sera suddenly demanded they spend the evening exploring together—”Just you and me,” she told June.
She dragged June through alleys and under fences, and demonstrated that you watched the best music there, not heard it. The accidental dropping of crystal marbles by an elderly gentleman upon glass steps lingered in June’s mind as they climbed to the peak of a pyramidal park. The sound reminded her of her brother, and she began to cry, doubling over at the wretchedness of the memories. Sera’d turned away and waited until June had wiped her eyes and risen to her feet, shaken out her skirt and tightened her low bun. Then, they’d fed on juicy buns and jumped over light stones with other festival-goers in one of the city’s cobbled squares. June thought this showed hope, that maybe she’d been imagining the distance between them all this time.
The morning that Dr. Kenon woke June up, Sera was already gone. The second bed in their room (which Sera had taken to lying in so as not to rouse June in the middle of the night) was made, and what few articles of personal belongings she’d bought and collected had disappeared as well. Only a note lay on her pillow, and in that note too few words: “I’m sorry. Good luck.”
Dr. Kenon pushed June from the room as if it had always just been them. “We have three days to get to the portal before it shuts down,” he said gruffly, and waved down the cab that would take them to the outermost limits of town.
Now, the waves of return lifted Dr. Kenon’s feet from the crumbling cliffside floor. His rope snapped behind him but remained tied to the iron stake he had drilled into the ground yards away. Behind it June squatted, holding her coat still against the wind. Even from the distance, she could see the fright in Dr. Kenon’s bug eyes. Soon, he was no longer over the cliff’s edge, and drifted aloft by some instinctual force that lured him towards the rippling lenses. The portals were doing their job.
“Go,” June called, and hugged herself. They had played Rochambeau to determine who would go first. Dr. Kenon had attempted chivalry, but what best displayed the proper gentlemanly nature here? Go first, and potentially plummet through an unstable set of energy fields into internal implosion and your death. Stay behind, and risk abandonment, solitude.
Dr. Kenon became a silhouette, then a dot. The pools of rope strung out into a single line. It was one of his biggest weaknesses, depth perception. It always had been. When he had been measuring out the amount of rope they’d need to reach the portals, he’d asked her to check his math. He always had. It was the afternoon before they’d left, just before Sera had burst into the courtyard and enticed her with pastries and an evening of togetherness.
June had looked at the math, taken but a glance, before pushing the pad back to him and turning away to smile.
Dr. Kenon was still a good couple of meters when the rope started to strain, but June was quick. One pull on the loose end, and he never even felt the jerkback as he plunged into the first sheet of energy. It converted him to light and thrust him into the second portal, which transferred into an as-yet-undiscovered equation that passed him through a world of dimensions, choices, and opportunities. Only the strength of his will would determine whether it would lead him home.
On the cliff’s edge, June rose to her feet as the lightning dissipated, and the sky began to clear. An uncertain calm resonated in the breeze, leaving her arms free to dangle as she stared through the rings to the mountain range far beyond them. She spoke but one word, as the perimeter of the first portal began to disintegrate, and the second crumbled like the shell of dried meringue.