The darkness clears. I’m back in Otherworld, in the water. I can feel sand under my toes.
I’m okay. I’m okay.
I focus on my breathing. I know how to do this. Take deep slow breaths, and ride the panic down.
I can’t go back to Marigold. Not yet. I didn’t learn anything. Not anything that could help. I learned that out there somewhere, Seth and I had a daughter. Who I couldn’t keep safe, who died, screaming, in a fire. And then I don’t know what happened to me, but Seth…
That wasn’t my Seth. I try to tell myself that, as the panic rises again. That wasn’t my Seth.
I have to try again. I have to find another world. There has to be one out there where Seth is happy, where he’s okay, where the shadow has not touched him. There has to be a Sarah out there who figured things out, who kept everyone safe, who did things right.
I take a deep long breath, and I hold it. I know how this goes, now. I know the darkness is coming, and I know it’ll be okay, that it won’t last long, and then I will be somewhere else.
I dive back under the water.
When I can see again, I am standing by a mailbox.
Mailboxes seem to be a thing.
This isn’t a normal mailbox, though. The trash can next to it looks familiar enough, but we don’t have sleek mailboxes like that in Moonlight Falls.
We also don’t have trees like that in Moonlight Falls.
Last time I thought about Seth, about how he liked parks, and I found him in a park.
Maybe we are connected across realities. Maybe if I just think about him for a bit, something will guide me to him. And if that doesn’t work, I can always just follow those pipes.
Why on earth would there be pipes above ground like that?
The center line in the road glows with an eerie blue light. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I wonder what sort of vehicles travel on these roads? Maybe the pipes carry their fuel?
Where would Seth be in a world like this? I picture him in his blue cardigan, his glasses slowly slipping down his nose as he reads an ancient alchemy scroll. It’s adorable, how he pushes the glasses back up with his index finger without realizing he’s doing it. I love how he gets so absorbed in his work, reading and making notes and occasionally reaching out for the plates of waffles that I bring to him.
I think maybe he would be wherever the pipes lead.
The road is empty. Whatever vehicles travel along the glowing blue line, they’re not doing it today.
Will Seth be mad at me when I get home? I left the beetles roaming free around the kitchen, and I didn’t tell him where I was going.
Oh well. If he is, somehow I think he will forgive me if I tell him that I went on trips to other dimensions. I smile, thinking of how his eyes will light up, how he will want to know all about it, how it works, what I saw, what it felt like.
I wish he was here. My Seth. Not that wounded Seth from the last place. Not whatever Seth I will find here in this land of pipes and multicolored trees and street lights made of green glass in metal bowls. My Seth. Who will not be wounded, who will not be broken, who will not fall into the dark.
Because I am going to save him.
He won’t be mad really, will he? I can explain and I can make it better, and he won’t be mad.
There are giant mushrooms in the distance.
This concerns me.
The pipes go on and on and on. Perhaps they carry some sort of nutrients for the giant mushrooms. Or maybe they are a last attempt to keep the decaying matter that the mushrooms are feeding on alive.
I’m going to have to go up that very steep hill, aren’t I?
The mushrooms nod their heads at me. Yes, yes. We are all fungi here.
I do not like this place. It’s empty. So was the other reality, the one with the dead trees and the ruined park. There’s no one in these worlds, no one but Seth. Like the entire world is a creation of his mind, and it’s just him wandering around alone and lost in his own nightmare.
Am I even really here? Maybe I’m tripping on mushrooms, and really I’m still in Marigold’s wagon in Moonlight Falls. These giant mushrooms are just my subconscious trying to tell me what’s going on. And the pipes! I knew she was pumping something through the vents!
This hill feels very real though.
The fog pushes down on me. I push back.
The pipes smell like death. I look up at the sky, expecting to see crows circling. But there’s nothing. No birds. No insects. No people. Just pipes and giant mushrooms and this neverending hill and the smell of death.
I try to breathe through my mouth.
The pipes and the dry cracked dirt and the glowing blue line and the fog and the death smell, these things go on forever and ever amen.
I put one foot in front of the other. One step and then another and another, while the fog presses close against my skin.
Maybe this is my nightmare, not Seth’s.
Seth is the only person besides me in these worlds because he’s the only person in my world.
I am bare trees and ruined playgrounds, rusted pipes and giant mushrooms. I am stillness and silence. I am the odor of death.
Seth is a voice in a burned out structure. Seth is a faded man on a park bench. Seth is a constantly disappearing blue cardigan in a cave of ice.
Perhaps the next world will be the cave of ice. If so, I hope the small cave trolls are there, with their candles. I think I would feel more real and less like a dream if I could hear troll voices saying “You no take candle!” It would be better than this endless silence.
I am at the top of the hill. Finally. The pipes end in an odd little square thing. I was expecting something big and impressive and worth walking for hours up an extremely steep hill for.
I’ve been here longer than I was in the other world. Maybe the fog allows me to stay until I find Seth, until I observe his nightmare or live mine.
There’s a structure up beyond the pipes. Up one more hill.
But I think my princess is in another castle.
The structure is empty. No blue cardigan here. I didn’t think there would be. But across the street, on the other side of that blue glowing line, is another hill.
One without the blue line.
I pass under the streetlight. Its metal bowl swings in the breeze that’s sprung up, and I wonder if the green glass ever falls through the holes and on to the ground. Do emergency green glass crews show up to clean it up and protect the citizens from green glass radiation? Or do the glass shards just lie there on the ground under the streetlight, glinting in the sun and shining under the moon, and no one ever comes and no one ever cares and no one ever cleans up?
I bet they don’t even make waffles here.
I make it to the top of what I really hope is the last hill, and the mushrooms are everywhere.
They crowd around the abandoned houses. They grow in groups around the trees, killing them and feeding on the rot.
The death smell here is intense. Breathing through my mouth doesn’t help, especially not when I think about little particles of deathtouched air swirling around my tongue.
My body wants to fall to its knees. It wants to vomit. Then it wants to run far far away.
But Seth is up ahead. I know it. I feel it in my bones.
I swallow the bile. I think of waffles, of a blue cardigan, of fingers stained with dirt. I think of lips, hard and bruising and then soft. I think of my Seth, and I put one foot in front of the other. Over and over.
Parks are a thing, it seems. Parks and mailboxes. Hmm.
I think the columns with the blue lights are attached to the pipes somehow. Maybe they went underground at the square thing, and I’ve been walking above them. That would explain the strong smell.
I should be nervous or excited or worried, but after walking up all those hills I really just want to sit on that bench. Find a clip of some sort to put on my nose. Put my feet up.
But he is here, and I can’t.
It starts raining. The drops can’t quite penetrate the fog. It’s like I’m wearing full body rain gear but the gear hates me and is trying to squeeze me to death. Oh well, at least it’s keeping me dry.
He’s chanting and waving a wand around and there are green sparkles in the air. I wonder if he called the rain.
The wand is different. My Seth prefers his elixirs. He says that wand magic is unstable, unpredictable, and that he’d rather work with his hands.
I shiver, and it’s not the rain. I want my Seth.
I listen, trying to hear what this Magic Mushroom Seth is chanting, but I can’t make out the words. But I do hear footsteps.
Someone else is here, and it sounds like they’re in a hurry.
Magic Mushroom Seth hears the footsteps too. He puts away his wand.
The footsteps belong to a woman. A woman I don’t recognize. She screams his name. “Seth! Seth!”
Her voice sounds…weird. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like…I don’t know. Like I’ve heard it before. I’m not sure if I like the sound of his name coming from her. Why doesn’t she call him Dr. Morrigan? Why does she get to call him Seth? It feels intimate. It feels wrong. He’s my Seth, not hers.
No, he’s not my Seth. Not my Seth. He’s Magic Mushroom Seth, who stands in the rain and waves a wand around and makes green sparkles and is not my Seth.
Magic Mushroom Seth just stands there, waiting. I watch him for any signals that I recognize.
He’s not interested in her. He’s not happy to see her. I can’t see them, but I don’t believe his green eyes are burning with anything except possibly annoyance.
Good. That dark green fire I see sometimes when he’s looking into my eyes still belongs to me.
The woman is not happy with him.
“You can’t do this. I won’t let you do this. Let them go, Seth. Let them go.”
I flinch. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, talking to him like that. He won’t like that.
I wonder if she’s ever bought beetles for him. She would probably buy the right kind. And if she did, but he said she didn’t and he yelled at her, would she yell back?
“I said let them go!”
Yes. Yes, she would.
I knew he wouldn’t like that.
“Everything dies, Lilith.”
This Seth’s voice is different. It’s deeper, more gravelly. It’s almost like he’s speaking from deep within the ice cave.
Lilith. Her name is Lilith.
She looks him straight in the eye, and she says, “Not me.”
He raises his wand, and he replies, “Especially you.”
Not my Seth not my Seth not my Seth oh god oh god what is he doing? What is he doing?!
She looks scared and there’s the green sparkles again but I don’t think he’s just making it rain.
She says, “Don’t do this.” She says, “Please.”
He says, “You see, Lilith, we all die.”
Is that fire at the end of his wand?!
NOT MY SETH!!! Not my Seth, not my Seth, not my Seth!
The fire explodes from his wand and it hits her full in the chest and I can’t watch but I have to, I have to watch, and I can smell her burning, oh god, no, Seth, Seth, what are you doing?
He says, in a terrible awful voice that I don’t know, that is not my Seth’s voice, “And I collect the bodies.”
She stands there in the fire, and she’s not scared now. She’s burning but she stands there and she looks at him. She doesn’t scream. She doesn’t panic. She doesn’t even move. She just looks at him, and she burns.
Oh god no, not now, don’t go dark now. NO!!!
I kick and I punch and I scream his name, Seth, Seth, and the fog pours down my throat and into my lungs and it burns, I’m burning with her, and I can’t make it stop. It won’t stop.
And then, it stops.