Flung to another world, she opened her eyes. A dream or a memory projected around her in a circle. She looked from frame to frame, her head on a swivel. Avery, she recognized from her previous time in this dimension, knelt on the ground in a twilight forest. A woman named Emma wore a blue dress, caressing Avery’s face as his eyes adjusted from her ethereal glow. Emma begged Avery not to leave her, but fate twisted their promises. The woman watched the universe burst into flames around them all while Avery dreamt of crash landing from a plane.
Then, the two woke simultaneously. She swan-dove into Avery’s existence again, a feeling akin to parachuting from an aircraft carrier. From behind the corner inside Avery’s house, she heard him. Avery talked with his loving family. His reading-obsessed daughter begged to read an edition of “Astounding Adventures”, and his pregnant, independent wife reminded the two about more pertinent priorities. The woman took out her journal and began writing.
Emilia’s Journal: I am revisiting universes! I’m here in Alabama again, this time watching Avery interact with his family instead of witnessing him experience racially motivated altercations. It’s nice to see he has a family unit. Love and care amid darkness can help propel anyone back into the light. Having someone to return to at the end of the day is an inspiring motivator…one I wish I had back home.
She blinked, and the images in front of her winked out like a star. She found herself now hidden behind a tree beside a dirt-carved road.
Emilia’s Journal: I can’t explain what just happened, but…I seem to have moved slightly forward in time? I was listening to the Aldridge family discuss school and responsibility, and now I see children eagerly chasing their sky-blue painted van. Oh, it’s a bookmobile! They offer free books to the kids here. It brings me so much joy to know they are igniting a love of reading in these children at such a young age. Books have been my companions for as long as I can remember. Hardships in life can be circumvented just for a few hours, lost within the earthy pages of a novel. Could they have any poetry books in there? Any Emily Dickinson? I miss my books, but it feels like I’m living in one as well!
Running at implausible speeds, she kept up with the blue van. Avery’s wife dropped him off in town. Everywhere, signs of racial injustice and segregation physically and literally cast a shadowy pall on the well-lit town. Avery’s service as a WWII veteran equated to very little in an era where even separate waiting rooms reduce Avery from a human to a skin color fraught with oppression.
Emilia’s Journal: I’ve been sitting here for hours — or is it days? Time moves strangely here like it’s racing by to show me what is significant. Avery works in a restaurant. His incredible commitment to labor and perfection are overlooked. The customers — all white — find fault with every damn thing he does. They call him a liar, using derogatory tones and words. His manager reminds Avery how lucky he is to merely be employed at the disgusting establishment. My heart ached the last time I was here. Again, I feel repulsed at these men, knowing I can do nothing but wait in the shadows in fear of interrupting the natural cycle of events in this strange time-traveling existence I’m experiencing.
Late that night, three white boys physically assault Avery after closing hours. A stranger, a white man in a bowler hat and round spectacles, berates the boys and aids Avery. The woman perfected the art of soundlessly existing a long time ago. She trailed the two men, curious why the white man bandaged Avery’s wounds and offered sympathy toward Avery’s pain as a Black man.
Emilia’s Journal: I don’t trust this guy…he appeared out of nowhere. Usually, men like this have a god complex or some sort of white savior ulterior motive. Now he’s telling Avery about his services at his clinic outside of town. He wants Avery to return if the pain ensues, almost aggressively demanding rather than suggesting the statement. I don’t trust anyone, but especially not white men with medical leeway.
She felt time bypassing. Careened forward a week into this universe’s future, she peered into a room in her line of sight.
Emilia: Woah, did I just skip more days again? There’s Avery with…that man! The doctor! Wait, what is this?
Next to her, she found a book laying on the ground. It was not a book from the Aldridge bookmobile but a novel she had never seen before. The title, glowing dark red against a black background, said “Medical Apartheid.”
Emilia: What is this? Is this a clue? I can’t see enough to read!
She fumbled with her journal pen, hoping the words written under the desolate shadows transferred legibly onto the page.
Emilia’s Journal: Time is too chaotic here. Unpredictability terrifies me. These time jumps are throwing wrenches in my ability to cope with this situation. On top of everything, I found this eerie book about apartheid, and…the title looks like dark blood. I know it has some meaning or a code locked inside, but it’s far too dark in here to see any words. I’m now at the doctor’s clinic. Avery is laying on a table, backside up. He had talked about intense back pains before to his wife, I think…my memories are murky here. God no, he’s letting that doctor administer a shot right into his back! The doctor said this shot was like a magic bullet. I don’t think this is the type of magic that will help alleviate Avery’s pain, though! Damn this world for making me watch people suffer!
Sorrow weighing on her chest, she closed her eyes — or something closed her eyes for her — and blacked out. She clutched both the journal and medical research book she discovered close to her chest before slipping back into the great unknown.
Martin scratched his head. He thought he recognized this place. The brick walls, the newspaper stand lying nearby…yes, this was the same location he had fallen asleep once before. He got up, his back smarting from lying against the wall.
Martin’s journal: I’m back. The place with the kids in those astronaut suits. I’m a bit scared to check, to see what happened to them. But I suppose I should.
Martin glanced around the corner. There was an impact crater where the explosion of energy had happened the last time he had been here. Otherwise, there was nobody around. He tentatively called out, “Hello?”
Martin’s journal: They’re gone. Place is empty. Looks like it’s been a while.
“Oh hey,” came a voice from above him. Looking up, Martin spotted a figure in yellow with long blond hair staring down. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
Martin blinked. “Are you… the one who wrote in my journal?”
The figure chuckled. “Oh, no. To be frank, I don’t know who you are or how you got here. I’m just here waiting for the kids to come back.”
“Oh, you know them?” Martin asked, raising his pen to write.
“Not really, but I’m going to get to know one of them pretty well soon,” the figure said, taking a step through the air. “I’m Ursa Major, you see, and he’s Ursa Minor. Or, well, he will be.”
Martin’s journal: Found somebody here, saying they’re Ursa Major. Maybe they’re connected to the giant I saw last time? Still unsure what’s going on.
“You writing about me?” the figure asked, peering down onto Martin’s journal. “Not going to report to the Secretary of Luck, are you?”
Martin laughed. “Honestly, I have no clue who that is.”
“Alright, I believe you. Anyways, I must be going. Kids are set to emerge from their new lives in a minute. See you.” The figure floated away, leaving Martin starting after him. Martin laid back down, sighing. Looking up into the sky, he found the constellation Ursa Major in the skies. It looked beautiful, twinkling up in the skies, the Big Dipper and its surrounding stars.
Martin’s journal: How can a person be a constellation? I don’t quite get it. You know, this world’s actually kind of nice. Nobody trying to actively kill me or anybody else, just the buildings. That guy was actually pretty nice, too. Anyways, I can kind of see how Ursa Major fits that being and this world. The stars are pretty nice here. They feel like… more than the stars that I’m used to. Though I can’t even remember those ones, I admit. At least the constellations here are the same.
Staring up at the stars, Martin reached into his pocket. Feeling around, he found a tiny version of the constellation. Pulling it out, he stared at it for a bit, before stuffing it back into his pocket. Across the street, he saw a flash of yellow light as four figures emerged from the air.
Martin’s journal: Looks like the kids are back now, and they’re safe. Guess Ursa Major slipped me that constellation, huh? It’ll be nice to have, in any case.
Tucking the journal away, he fell asleep once again.
Something is Killing the Children
A new universe shaped itself around her, slowly coming into sharpened focus. She saw two identical boys with red-tinged hair terrorizing a young man in bed with a knife until he cried. Before she could assess the scene, a person intervened. Cecilia’s hazardous crimson-colored eyes bore into the assailants. She assuaged the situation using only carefully strict commands, words flying like knives into the boys’ ears through the white bandana draped over her mouth.
The world spun on its axis, flipping her into another scene. Instantaneously, she recalled the lightless barn room. She was a penumbra in the room hosting a monstrous leviathan, a shadow surrounding a cataclysmic evil in the rooms’ core. Fingers flexing, the woman wrote, although the pages were captured by the darkness.
Emilia’s Journal: Erica’s world is teeming with monsters, both human and supernatural. I’m inside with her this time. I might as well be a participant in the evil the adults have thrust this little girl into. She talks to her purple stuffed octopus, Octo, as if he is real. I know Octo is more than a toy — he is a harbinger of the greatest terrors Erica has ever endured. She talks about a day in the past. Her entire family was slaughtered by the creature now inhabiting Octo, the toy. Death and destruction follow all these people I visit bouncing from realities. Death follows me in ways I never wanted to think about after…maybe seeing how others handle the aftermath of loss and grief is on purpose? Can I learn how to handle my own turbulent grasp on life after my dad’s passing?
Erica screamed at Octo. The monster killed her mother, her father, and her sister. Blood spilling out of their bodies and leeching happiness from her soul. Angered, Erica reminds the monster of his own slaying. She retrieved a knife. Instead of fleeing, she used her outpouring sorrow and misery to thrust her into the belly of the beast.
Emilia’s Journal: Wow, Erica isn’t a timid little girl at all. She is strong, stronger than I’ve ever been. Not once does she back down from this looming creature in front of her. She shouts, the memory expunged from her mind onto the surface of this untamed reality. Her arms make a stabbing motion as she relays the simple facts: She killed the monster, and the monster did not kill her.
Faltering, Erica stepped back for a moment. Memories can be redistributed, temporary pieces of information reformed into an amalgam of objectivity by their narrator. The woman retreated further away from the confused young girl. Then, a nascent silhouette flickered into view. She gripped her eyes, forcing them to adjust to the weighted blackness. If anything was real, it was the person sitting only footsteps away from her. Another human. Another traveler. She never talked to people. Somehow, the compulsion to speak outweighed her social anxiety. Another person meant she was not alone any longer.
Emilia: You…you’re real.
Aimée rubbed their eyes as their body automatically sat in a position appropriate for running away as easily as possible if needed. Their eyes explored the room with weariness, but all of their muscles tightened when they realized they had obliviously skipped the person just in front of them. After crawling in urgency a few meters back, it came to their attention that Emilia wasn’t trying to do anything. She was excited, even. Should Aimée run, or was this truly the first person they ever met with who they could properly interact with? However, time for questioning was short, as every ounce of focus was directed at their hands. Specifically, the journal they were holding. Now, it was no longer a matter of some docile person finding out about them. She was the person they were looking for.
Aimée: Holy…It’s you! I can’t believe it worked. It’s so…Here, look!
Aimée took their journal out of their pocket and flowed all the pages before Emilia’s eyes.
Aimée: Who are you? Do you have any idea what is happening to us? Are you taking any part in it?
Timidly, Emilia pushed her own journal forward.
Emilia: I don’t know what’s happening, but…I’ve been writing it all down. Something said to write it all, so here it is. Every event and every person I’ve been watching is all documented inside. Have you been…here before?
She gestured to them in the dark. Beside them, Erica verbally tussled about altered memories with a glowing, enormous yellow sequid creature dwarfing all the humans in the room. To the left of Aimée, Emilia sees the faint outline of an object.
Aimée: Nothing I can recognize here, so I guess not. But I’ve been to other places, and the only thing they had in common was how fucked up they were. I managed to stay out of harm’s way though so that’s been nice…So, what’s her deal?
Aimée said as she nodded in direction to the sleeping girl. If it weren’t for the fact that she was talking, Aimée would’ve thought Erica was only a corpse. The whole imagery found in that room unsettled them, even though there was nothing overtly creepy about it, which concerned them more. Emilia explained everything needed about Erica as well as she could with help from her diary, which Aimée translated into their own.
Aimée: Listen! I think she’s saying something important.
Both of them mirrored each other as they started writing. Erica was fighting with Octo directly now. He was manipulating the events, corrupting her memory like it meant nothing. However, Erica demonstrated her strength, realizing the cruel game she was put into, and went through the real murder of her whole family all over again. Her mother wasn’t alive, and she never escaped. She was rescued by another person, someone from the order just like her, who also captured the monster inside Octo.
Erica’s still body suddenly moved. Her fingers grasped the table she was on and started reacting to something in some kind of limbo between her subconscious and reality. Emilia noticed it right away and alarmed her new acquaintance of the danger.
The travelers ran outside the barn and hid in the shadows, soon to be conquered by the sunset. Erica’s silhouette walked out slowly with Octo in her hands, almost as a sign of power. They waited for her to be far enough to reunite and keep talking, which was hard to know given Erica’s background and skills to not let things like that go unnoticed. When the circumstances finally allowed them to feel secure and free to conversate, Aimée noticed something beside them. An old butcher’s knife with the blade covered in blood, resting in the grass.
Aimée: Hey, take a look at this! I guess it makes sense to find something like it here, but it feels…off, in a weird way. I can’t explain it. Do you understand?
Emilia explains how she just found the book, which produced her the same feeling, and prompted Aimée to keep it as she did with her object.
Aimée: When will we finally be free of all this? I thought it might have been a horrible joke from the universe, and we’re just fucked, but…there’s something, maybe even someone actively making us look for all this shit. If there’s a purpose to all this, why choose us? Me?
Emilia: I don’t know, but I…I’ve never liked change. And there’s so much sadness in these places, and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t know why it would pick us. I’m not a person who can handle…other people…very well. Someone is controlling our lives! How do we escape an invisible enemy?
Aimée: I guess if anything, it means we have to keep looking. It may not be a joke, but it sure does feel like it…I could find you before. I have to be able to find you if needed. You too! We could even find others if there’s any.
Emilia: I agree. Something has changed, and now these strange objects are appearing! If we can work together again, I think we can figure out more than we would on our own.
Aimée: Well, it was surprisingly nice knowing I’m not alone in this. Thank you. I hope this is not the last time we see each other.
Emilia: I haven’t talked to anyone in so long…I never thought I’d miss human interaction. We’ll be reunited again, I’m sure. It’s the only way…
Both lay down in the cold grass; the sun was about to reach them as the mountains were letting it reveal itself. Sleep came quickly as always for them, but this time was different. There was someone there who, even if a stranger, meant they were not totally alone in these worlds.
Writers: Katie Liggera, Simon Zuccherato, Gabrielle Cazeaux.