The families of the disappeared kept looking, although finding them seemed more like an empty consolation as time passed, and grief started to settle inside their souls, and as the days changed for them, the places the travelers woke up in kept on changing as well.
Shadows and sunlight cleaved, splicing the colorless void into two separate parts. One one side, images flew around the womans’ eyes in dizzying circles. She knew she was observing a snippet from the past. In a history not belonging to her, she witnessed ten year old memories of a young Black man, spinning like a propeller. Then, the rotating stopped.
Instead of shapes blurring at the edges, the woman saw the frightened face of a pilot as he plummeted toward the ground. His aircraft looked old, a relic nestled in history. She understood then. The memory ricocheted noisily in her thoughts as she floated between existence and non-permanence. It was a World War II fighter plane. And the man — Aldridge, someone’s scream had eked the brave fighters’ name through his comms — was about to die.
Emilia: No! Please don’t crash! You are so brave!
She yelled fearlessly, a faint facsimile of a sentence ringing out nearly one hundred years too late. Like a blemished film strip, the images flickered. On the opposite side of the divide, another movie projected a narrative in muted noir tones. Avery Aldridge took center stage in this film again, but lines etched signs of age onto his face. His appearance was strong, ordinary even, as he walked out of a diner long after waning twilight hours. In this second glimpse of Aldridge’s life, she recognized the open landscape framed against Alabama’s star clustered skies.
A personal thought hung in her mind. The woman clasped the abrupt intrusion in her hands, a burning ember of recollection. Her mother — where was she born? Was she dead? Why did she leave her father? Grief pressed on her heart, multiplying further when she saw a man prowling behind Mr. Aldridge. Danger followed the Black man wandering alone through soundless streets in 1950s Alabama.
Across the cleave, Aldridge’s body hurtled from the air. Smoke and fire singed the sky behind him as planes dipped and weaved manically. She wondered how he could close his eyes while nosediving down past the clouds. When had he even jumped from danger, releasing his parachute? Simultaneously, a fiery bullet had ripped through Aldridge’s only means of safety as his eyes glowed white, while the ill-intentioned man confronted future Aldridge in an alleyway. The woman exhausted her lungs and screamed into the splitting void. Then, forces beyond her control sucked her into a red Volkswagen car parked on the opposite side of the alley.
Emilia: I’m here in a new world. Whatever is moving me through these alternate universes wanted me to see Aldridge in his future. That means he must have survived the crash! I need to write. Thank goodness for security in this journal. Books have never let me down.
Emilia’s Journal: The white man dressed in a black fedora and matching trenchcoat is gleaning information from the innocent man. I hear the white man ask Aldridge’s full name. Avery Aldridge answers every horrendous question this racist harasser thrusts upon him. Now he’s asking Avery about his time in the army. The army! I see the connection now between the dual memories I saw in the desolate void. What is so important about Avery’s escape from the plane? Avery’s a veteran now it seems, and this racist is not happy about it. I choose to stay inside, away from a world of people who can hurt me. Yet, if I did, I know I…would be left alone. No one would engage in an altercation with me because of my skin color. Avery…he doesn’t have that privilege.
The white man extracted a gun from his coat. Pointed firmly at Avery, the man demanded spoken recognition of Avery’s cowardice. But Avery was never a coward. As the woman knew, this incident was hardly the first time Avery had to peer upon the towering face of death. She watched Avery tremble, ragged panic shuttering his confidence. Seconds passed, and the white man escalated the degradation. As opposed to backing down, Avery refused to admit any fear. Ink scribbles formed crude words as the woman wrote furiously about Avery’s sudden domination of confidence.
Emilia’s Journal: Avery does not turn the other cheek; instead, he turns the racists’ words back upon him. The racist wants Avery to say he is scared, but Avery challenges and says that the white man should be scared! If only I possessed even a fraction of Avery’s self-assuredness, I could change the course of my life. I am shivering right now. An anxiety attack edges toward the precipice of my mind. I am so entrenched in sorrow that the terror Avery must be enduring is crushing me. It’s not fair for Avery! He is a soldier and a person undeserving of this treatment. Emotional wounding scars for life that will not be undamaged even if he makes it out of here alive. He remains unflinching as this racist piece of garbage spews hatred toward Avery.
Without warning, the man pulled the gun’s trigger. Anguish poured out of the woman in anticipation, but the bullet never struck Avery. Avery deflected the predecessor to his death somehow. Her sorrow metamorphosed into fury when a slur slipped from the white predators’ lips. However, Avery commandeered the situation. White beams like sun rays inexplicably encircled around Avery’s body. The woman pounded her fists against the locked car door, exhilarated by the turn of events.
Emilia’s Journal: He has powers! Bricks and trash can lids and objects float in the air around Avery as the racist misses every single shot. And I felt my will to intervene nearly overpower my fear of people. This is an…odd sensation, but maybe I am changing? Death does not await this hero today, nor in his past. An invisible hand guides Avery’s destiny apparently. Could it belong to the same apparition affecting me?
In a twist of fate, the racist man screamed of monsters and ran into the street. How peculiar that the man so impelled to take the life of another crumples into a petrified child when his own mortality is endangered. Fate, destiny, whatever assigned term best describes Avery’s newfound awakening, altered him irrevocably. When a car struck the fleeing killer, the woman couldn’t ignore the thought of the irony.
Irony bends fate both forward and backward, though. She was well versed in the irony of her own life as a shut-in after her father’s passing from cancer wrought by the sun. She wrote of the instant Avery ran over to check on his bloodied enemy. Could she feel compassion for her enemies like that virtuous soul? The sun had tricked her father. It would not trick her too. Perhaps she’d jump worlds forever, suspended in an eternal life without consequences.
Hazy reflections of sunlight and damage scorched her head. She looked up and saw a gleam, distant and indistinguishable. She pondered if the sun was returning for her. An act of revenge felt too obtuse, and then the illusion of light warped.
Emilia: How ironic. I crave…darkness again.
Sleep stole her away.
Proctor Valley Road
They found themselves walking down an infinite spiral. There was nothing else around, nowhere else to go. They just had to keep walking down. But as the sun bathed them in light, they opened their eyes. The smell of grass, cooked meat, dusted pavement, and a little bit of far-away weed invaded their nostrils. It breathed the same as back home, except maybe less pollution. They woke up in a front yard of an abandoned house, where the wood croaked even with such a light breeze, the windows were all broken because of teenagers with something to prove, and its grass was starting to take on a brown shade. It felt forgotten.
Aimée woke up. This time, they didn’t complain or asked for things to go back to normal, nothing at all. They just stared at this new place, a bit tired, and got up. For a moment, as they impulsed their body up from the ground, they thought there was something behind the corner of the house, a distorted light, but they thought it was a sign they were still sleepy. The rest of the neighborhood was normal and boring, except for the house next to where they woke up. Aimée heard screamings coming from inside and walked discreetly to the window.
Aimée’s journal: There’s a birthday inside, but two girls are fighting. Huh, they appear to be cousins who have recently fought. Wait, their clothing seems old. I think I’m in the 70s. What if I accidentally step on something, and I end up being my grandparent? Time travel is weird, man. Maybe it’s not even my past.
The day continued, but Aimée stayed with one of the girls, August. Maybe to make things more simple or because she believed that it wasn’t all just a coincidence. She learned what happened to her; three kids disappeared, one of them is dead, the other two are still missing, and they’re blaming her and her friends, saying they helped them cross the border to avoid getting drafted. But the town didn’t know that the one to blame is a spirit haunting the place where the boys got lost, and August and her friends are trying to stop it.
Aimée’s journal: August feels guilty because of everything that’s happened, so she’s about to face the ghost by herself. Shit, she has a bicycle. I’m gonna have to run.
While on the run, the night came. When August (And secretly Aimée) reached the place of destination, they discovered the other girls from their group went by themselves too. They agreed they should be together to hunt the ghost and apologized for fighting. One of them had a hint that convinced them it was hiding underwater, in the only place with a body of water in Proctor Valley Road.
Aimée: Let’s hope I swim better than I think I do. Will the journal get wet if I take it with me? It isn’t a problem in video games, so I guess I’m gonna stick with that.
The group of friends got in the water, and Aimée followed them after a while. Even harder than they thought it was going to be, they had to open a submarine and get into it. But once they did, they found themselves in a courtroom. It would’ve been empty if not for the skeleton of a supposed judge. They kept going further into that place that felt outside of time and space, lost and undetectable to even higher powers. Then, when they left the room, Aimée got there.
Aimée’s journal: This place is creepy. Why am I even here? The fucking journal said write everything, not write everything about the worst possible people. If I’m not already dead, I’m gonna get myself killed!
As the just reunited friends kept walking, they suddenly encountered the witch. She tried to convince them to join her, although it was a fruitless attempt to deceive them, and they knew it. But she was still powerful, causing them to age decades in just minutes, and they didn’t have a plan to defeat her. They were filled with hopelessness, ready to face the fact that they had lost, and there was nothing to do. But in a turn of events, they held each other’s hands, and for a mysterious reason, they were able to revert the magic. Back to their young bodies, they got up, full of trust in themselves and one another, and sure they could do anything together. With their newfound power, they pushed the ghost into the cavern’s stalactites, killing her twice and for all.
Aimée’s journal: Holy shit! That was so cool! And they also found the two missing kids! I wish I had friends like that to be in this crazy whatever-the-fuck-i-am. Minus the evil witch that killed a bunch of people, maybe.
As they reached the town and authorities, everyone met with their families, and the missing kids testified that the girls were not only not responsible for their disappearance but also that they saved their lives. Now, the world didn’t seem so unattainable for them. It was hard, but they could handle it.
Aimée’s journal: Well, it was a crazy ride. Possibly the craziest shit I’ve gotten myself into, but I guess it could be worse. Maybe this was all meant to happen. Maybe it was for the better that all of this happened to me. I wasn’t any good back then anyway. I’m so tired though; running and swimming are definitely not for me.