The air feels different here. It’s light. Springy. Like I could take a big breath of it, hold it in my lungs, and float up to the clouds. But the weight of the dim green clouds seems to forbid such frivolity. The trees do not move. The water lies still. There is no wind.
I thought there would be sounds. I thought there would be voices clamoring and murmuring, pleading and praying, a sea of voices crashing against the shore of this place. But there is only the silence, only the clouds pressing down.
I take a step forward. The ground is soft under my feet.
They are out there, in the water. The voices. The other worlds. I can’t hear them, but they are there, and I am going to find them.
Marigold’s magic shop is one that moves.
She’d said that she called the space outside her door Otherworld. I look out across the water, and I remember her words.
“The previous fortune teller showed it to me. Right before he left, running at a very fast pace and screaming. There’s a switch under the table here. I pushed it when you came in. I’ve been studying and trying to find out how it works, but….”
She had paused and looked at me for a few seconds. She’d seemed to be trying to figure something out. Then she’d gone on.
“Anyway, it’s always light there. It’s night time now at home, but out there…I’ve never seen it dark.”
Marigold did not come with me. She’s still inside. Reading those old books and scrolls. I think she thought I should do this alone.
I wish Seth was here. He would love this. The shadow would disappear and he would light up. He lives for new experiences, new problems to solve.
I’m killing him, aren’t I? I can’t even be a new problem. I’m just the same problem, over and over.
Is that what I’ll find here? A string of multiple realities like two mirrors facing each other, with an infinite number of Sarahs reaching into an infinite number of ovens for an infinite number of waffles, and an infinite number of Seths chained to those Sarahs, all of them dark and feral?
Marigold had said that it was beautiful.
“I’ve only done it the once. It was so….people use the words awful and awesome without really thinking about what they’re saying, but it was awful and awesome in the true sense. Beautiful and terrible, like seeing the face of God.”
She told me that I would not be able to interact in the other realities, that they would push against me being there. Until they pushed me out, back into Otherworld. And she said that to get there, I would have to go in the water.
What if I can’t find Seth? What if I do find him but he’s still the same Seth, always the same broken Seth in every reality, and there is nothing I can do to help him?
What if I find myself? Am I the same in every iteration of existence? An infinite number of scared quiet sad useless Sarahs? Or will there be Sarahs out there who have saved their Seths, or kept their Seths happy, or even maybe found someone other than Seth? I can’t imagine that.
I never learned how to swim. I was always too afraid. I would have nightmares about the water closing in over my head, filling my lungs. In my dreams I would always sink to the bottom and stay there, my hair floating in the water.
I take a deep breath of the light springy air. I think of Seth.
I step into the water.
Everything goes dark and I can’t breathe I can’t breathe help I need help I need….
And then, peace. Quiet.
When I open my eyes again, I am dry and standing on land.
Where am I? Where’s Seth? Whose mailbox is this?
I look around, but I don’t see a house. I only see trees. And fog. The fog is cold. Malevolent. It pushes against my skin.
I remember what Marigold said. That the other realities would push against me.
I see a road ahead of the mailbox. I push back.
Walking into the fog feels like walking into a giant evil blob of gelatin that is trying to eat me. This world does not want me here.
Too bad for it. I need to find Seth.
How do I find him, anyway? I don’t know how long I’ll have here, and I have no idea where I am. This is not Moonlight Falls. I don’t recognize this road. I’ve never seen that structure up ahead.
From what I can see through the fog, it looks like a burnt out ruin.
I hear whispers in the fog.
“Water wender way.”
“In a box by the bay there is a thing, and all the children sing.”
The whispers sound like Seth’s voice.
“I want to work in the garden.”
I don’t look at it as I walk by. It’s still smoking. I can smell it, the acrid odor burning my nostrils.
The whispers are not real. Seth would not crouch in a burned out building and whisper nonsense.
“No. But I’m going to do it anyway.”
There is no one there. I know there’s no one there. I’m scared and I don’t know what I’m doing or where I am and I’m just having aural hallucinations.
I keep walking.
I come to an intersection. I can barely make it out through the fog, but I see a park ahead.
Seth has always liked parks. I think. I dragged him out into one when we met. I don’t think he wanted to go at first, but then he saw the plants. He told me all about them, about their properties and how to care for them. He was so excited and happy and adorable and full of light.
I don’t think anyone in this place knows how to care for plants. There are so many dead trees.
I walk by a few birds. They’re the first living beings I’ve seen. They don’t fly away as I approach. They don’t even turn their heads to look at me.
Marigold said I wouldn’t be able to interact in the other worlds.
Maybe I’m not really here. Maybe I’m really still back in the water, floating in the dark, my hair moving with the currents. If I am having a sort of out-of-body experience, that would explain why my clothes are dry.
I think about the weight of my wet skirt dragging me down under the water, the white fabric muddied and stained.
Marigold is going to have to pay the dry cleaning bill.
I get to the park, which is run down and covered with weeds, and he’s there.
I know he’s not my Seth, but still I feel a little jump in my heart. I want to run to him and throw my arms around him and kiss him and promise to do better, to make him happy, to not make stupid mistakes anymore, to always buy the right beetles.
And why not? If I am not really here, he won’t know. He won’t feel it.
He turns towards me, and when I see the look in his eyes I stop.
He’s not my Seth. I try to tell myself that, over and over until I understand it. He’s not my Seth. I have nothing to do with that pain, with that darkness. I did not cause it. It’s not my job to soothe it.
He’s not my Seth. He’s not my Seth. He’s not my Seth.
“Sarah?” he says.
I sit down on the bench next to him. He turns towards me.
My legs are shaking. Can he see me? Is it possible that maybe all Seths are my Seth, that my bond with him is strong that it exists in all realities, that it defies the laws of interdimensional travel?
“Yes?” I say, my voice high, squeaking.
“The fire came. I couldn’t stop it. I tried to save her. I tried. She screamed. The police told you that she died peacefully, of smoke inhalation. But she screamed.”
“Who screamed? What are you talking about?”
He doesn’t answer. He just goes on talking.
“You said that she liked to play here. Sometimes I see the glint of the sun on a scrap piece of metal, and I know that’s what it is. I know. But it still looks like blonde hair shining white in the sun, and I think maybe it’s you, come back to look for her. Or her, playing. But it never is.”
I would never let a child of mine play in this playground. Look at how rusted everything is, and the weeds everywhere. There could be nails lying around just waiting to impale a small foot, or there could be snakes slithering in the grass. Lord knows what’s hiding in that sandbox. Probably needles.
Oh my god.
He’s talking about a child. Our child. Our daughter. With my hair.
Oh my god.
He didn’t answer me because he didn’t hear me, he doesn’t see me, and he is not my Seth.
He gets up and walks away.
I can see the pain in his shoulders, and I want to hug him. I want to rub his back. I want to tell him that it will be okay, that I am here now.
But I know.
I am not here, and it will not be okay.
I stand up and follow him a bit, to see where he is going.
Apparently in this town they thought it would be a good idea to put the cemetery next to the playground.
I replay what he said in my mind, and then I realize.
In this reality, we had a daughter. In this reality, she died in a fire. He tried to save her. He tried. But he couldn’t.
The burned out structure. The whispers.
Where am I? He said that the police had told me that she hadn’t suffered. I didn’t die in the fire.
Where am I?
Where am I?!
The fog pushes in, the gelatin filling my mouth and making it hard to breathe. I am not wanted here, and now it’s time for me to leave.
Everything goes dark.