I said before everything is different now, and I wasn’t kidding. I slowly open my eyes and everything is blurry at first. I blink a few times, trying to get the sleep out of my eyes, the fuzziness out of my head. It eventually works and I’m staring at a ceiling. It takes me a second to recognize: it’s the ceiling in the clock tower. Yeah, not that weird, except I’m staring at it, which means I’m lying down in the room in a comfortable bed. I can feel some sort of covering over me which I’m assuming is a sleeping bag. But if I’m in the bedroom staring at the bedroom ceiling, it means I’m inside Monica’s sleeping bag. And if I’m in Monica’s sleeping bag, does that mean . . .
~ ~ ~
I slowly look to my right and there’s Monica, lying next to me, sharing the sleeping bag. She’s on her side, facing me, her left arm under her head, still asleep. Her arm is probably going to be seriously numb when she wakes up, but I don’t care, because she looks absolutely beautiful. Just perfect lying there.
I can tell from her arm and bare shoulder that she’s . . . naked. I take a quick look into the sleeping bag by my chest and can see my pale thighs. Okay. I’m naked too. Cool. I wonder if this means . . .
I start to cast my eyes lower on Monica to see if I can see . . . ahem . . . anything, and that’s when I see her eyes have opened.
“Hi Jake, did you sleep well?”
Her voice is like a warm blanket that fits perfectly around your body, and speaking of body . . .
And that’s when I start to feel something hitting me in the head. It hurts right away. Ow. Really ow . . .
~ ~ ~
I open my eyes and see a super close-up view of dirt. Because my face is on said dirt. Because I’m on the ground. It feels hard but so supportive. Feels like I could stay lying down forever. But then there’s the thing thunking me in the head. And then I hear Monica’s voice . . .
“Jake. Jake, are you okay? You need to get up. I need to know you’re okay.”
I try to speak, but my throat is desert dry, a vacuum. I clear my throat and try to work up a little saliva to bring my vocal chords back to life. I sound croaky, but eventually can speak.
“I’m . . . okay . . . fine. Well, not really fine, but alive, I guess. What the hell happened?”
I gingerly pick myself up. I sway a little, unsure on my feet. Monica is there in a second, supporting me. It helps, in a lot of ways.
I look up and around and feel lost, which hasn’t happened to me for a while in Ostium.
“Where the hell are we?” I ask.
“Oh honey, you must’ve hit your head pretty bad. We’re in Ostium, dear,” Monica says in a sarcastic tone.
I feel an angry frown start forming and look at Monica. Her expression explains it all.
“Fucking hilarious . . . ‘dear,’” is my response.
“Well, the story is I regained consciousness about ten minutes ago. Got my bearings. And then started working on bringing you back into the land of the living. What exactly were you dreaming about?”
“Er . . . so that’s the story and you’re sticking to it?” I say, trying to hide my growing blush.
“Yep, I’m sticking to it.”
“Okay,” I say, looking around and still trying to get my bearings. Then I spot the water tower, which works as a great mental sea anchor, steering me straight. I look southwest and can see the reaching clock steeple in the distance. I add it to my mental map. Then I remember I’ve got another kind of mental map, and bring up the infrared display.
Yep, just as I thought. And a chill slithers down my spine, making me visibly shiver.
“What’s wrong?” Monica asks.
“The . . . the crack is gone.”
Monica’s eyes widen, and then widen some more, seeming to defy the contours of her face.
“Holy . . . fucking . . . shit,” is her three-word response.
She just stares at the ground, and I along with her. Minutes pass.
“What does this mean?” she asks.
I take my time, thinking, then thinking some more.
“I don’t know. I guess it means . . . Ostium has changed again. For the good or bad? Who knows? That giant crack opening up like a hell-mouth wasn’t exactly good news, but it led us to the door with that infinity symbol.”
Monica is looking at me, her eyes no longer wide, but more . . . is that amused?
“Was that a Buffy reference?”
I’m silent for the moment, not expecting that.
“You damn well bet it was,” I say, a smile lighting up my face.
It’s infectious and soon we’re both smiling at each other.
“Come on, let’s go take yet another gander at that map table and see if it has any new info for us,” I suggest.
Monica nods and we start walking towards the clock tower side by side, enjoying a comfortable silence between us.
~ ~ ~
Back at HQ it’s just as I feared, or predicted . . . I’m not sure if a giant crack opening up in the town where you currently live suddenly disappears, as the ground is reknit anew, is something to be necessarily scared of . . . A place where weird shit happens would be the motto on the Welcome to Ostium sign if there was one. But I’m definitely not indifferent about it; it’s just more proof that Ostium can do whatever the hell it wants.
The map table is a new piece of wood, cleanly carved and varnished once more, no sign of the jagged crack anywhere. There’s also no sign of the hidden door with the infinity symbol, which I’m . . . totally fine with. A lot of heavy shit happened on the other side of that door; shit I’d just as soon rather forget . . . but know I won’t. There’s also a couple of good memories from that place: Monica being a veritable pillar of physical support is definitely one of them. Inadvertently I look at her; she’s looking back at me. Are we sharing the same thought? The same memory? I sure hope so. There’s a hint of a smile on her face.
She breaks the connection, looking back down at the map table. A frown forms on her forehead. Something isn’t right.
“Something’s wrong with the edge,” she says.
I look down, wondering what she’s talking about and see it right away. How did I not catch that? Did it just happen?
The border of the map table has changed. Instead of four straight even sides, they’re jagged; uneven; and not uniform, as if the wood was ripped apart, torn off. Something random.
“That’s not all. Take a look at the numbers.”
I feel a heavy dread take root in my chest before I even start looking.
The numbers are . . . changed.
My eyes automatically go to the number one, that’s always my starting point. The clock tower is still numero uno, no change there. But that’s where things get weird. I’m searching all over the map table and I can’t find a two or three or four. I see a 12. A 13. 56. 89. 145. 268. 301!
“What the fuck?” I say.
“What the fuck indeed. What are we gonna do?”
“What does it mean?”
We’ve just asked each other impossible questions. They might as well be rhetorical. We both realize that right away.
“I want to go to the gate.”
“Why . . . ,” I say, and then I realize.
Monica nods her head in the direction of the gate, my cue.
What are we going to find when we reach it?
When we reach the border to Ostium?
~ ~ ~
I prepare myself on the way. I don’t know what I’m going to find, maybe no change at all, but I’m open for the possibility of something. Something different. Possibly something very different.
When we get there it’s . . . beyond words . . . but I need to tell you. In case we never make it out of here, especially since where I’m standing I can see my car is long gone and I no longer have any idea how we’re ever going to get home.
Everything beyond the gate is . . . gone. We’re about twenty feet away and for the moment we’re not going a single step further.
From what I can see, there’s the gate and maybe a generous foot of earth or terrain or . . . reality extending beyond it. And then it just ends. It’s dark, but not the blackness. Oh god, I hope it’s not the blackness . . . no. It’s lighter than that . . . isn’t it?
We’re looking between the bars of the gate and there’s not exactly a ton of width and space between each rung. It looks black with hints of other colors, streaks, and flashes. But I’ve got to know.
I take two steps forward and I feel a hand clamp around my bicep so hard it hurts. I turn to her. She’s just shaking her head side to side.
“I’ve got to know,” I say.
“I’ve got to know if it’s the blackness. I’ve got to know . . . for myself.”
She opens her mouth as if to respond, to demand I stop fucking moving this instant, that I stay exactly where I am, but nothing comes out. I see the resignation in her eyes as she slowly lets me go.
“You stay,” I tell her.
“Don’t worry. I’m not fucking moving.”
I walk slowly, ever so slowly. Once Monica’s out of the corner of my eyesight I feel alone, like that first time in Roanoke, that first time on the Mary Celeste, and the first time on Mars. Like there’s only me, Ostium, and the big bad universe, and at the moment the universe is looking pretty fucking black and doom and gloomy. I’m taking deep breaths, trying to keep my heart-rate under some sort of control. All this Ostium-related stress can’t be good for the old ticker. When I close within the five-foot range, my auditory nerves pick up the barest hint of sound. And yes, it starts with a “cra” and ends in “ackle.” My eyes and mind continue to hope, while my hearing and heart have already assumed the worst, but not accepted it by any means.
I reach the bars, looking between two and can see oh so much clearer now. It is all black, a consuming night that will never end and keeps on coming. A night terror you can never escape. The crackling is easier to hear now, but the sound is still dampened. Whatever the magic-slash-science ways and laws of Ostium are, this iron gate is apparently much greater than just a form of ingress-slash-egress. This isn’t your regular ostium, with a lower case “o,” if you catch my meaning.
It is the blackness. Undoubtedly. But it’s also a little bit different. This blackness isn’t moving, at least not towards Ostium. It encompasses everything I can see beyond the borders of Ostium, and while I pick up hints and inclinations of the swirling movement in that darkness, it never encroaches further than that very edge of the boundary with Ostium. I do still see streaks, pinpricks, and minute flashes of color all over, but I’m not certain if this is something physically happening, or just a result of my staring at the blackness constantly and my retinas sending fake signals to my optic nerves like burning afterimages.
This particular blackness is not as seemingly malevolent as the blackness we’ve seen on the other side of the doors in Ostium, but it is by no means tame or innocuous. I get the sense that if I were able to get the gate open and step beyond the bounds of Ostium, that blackness would send out tentacles, ensnaring me, and suck me into its maw in an instant.
I look down at the center of the gate and see a shiny, solid hexagonal padlock on the outside. It’s locked tight, so if for some insane reason I had wanted to try to open the gate, it wouldn’t be likely to happen.
I feel I’ve gotten all I can from this viewpoint and am happy to put distance between me and the blackness.
I walk back to Monica quickly. Her eyes haven’t left me the entire time, and I can see a minor shaking in her form.
Unsurprisingly, she’s just as fucking terrified of all this as I am.
I reach her and I’m not sure if it’s something I pick up on in her eyes or body language, or just something I need right now, but I reach out and then we’re in each other’s arms, holding on tight. For dear life.
“Is it . . .”
I answer instantly: “Yes, but we’re safe as long as we stay in Ostium.”
We break apart and our arms drop to our sides.
“So any ideas on what we do now?”
Monica runs her hand through her curly hair, getting herself together, then responds.
“I need to know . . . You probably do to. We need to know if this blackness is everywhere. If it’s around all of Ostium. Once we have that answer, we’ll know some definite things.”
“I don’t want to say yet. Not until we know for sure.”
“So how do we know for sure?”
A smile forms on Monica’s face, a small, warm light in all these bleakness.
“We go on a field trip. An adventure. You’d probably call it a mission.”
“Oh really. What did you have in mind?”
“Let’s just call it . . . Operation Water Tower.”
~ ~ ~
We’re at the water tower and it feels awesome, in multiple senses of the word. Awesome as in great in size and overpowering and looming, but also awesome as in fucking kick-ass. I guess the only kind of sad thing about it is that there’s just really Monica and me to appreciate it. But we certainly do.
I hadn’t been this close to it before and from the looks on Monica’s face, she hasn’t either. I’m sure it was in our minds to come on over and check it out, but it is quite a trek from the clock tower, plus we’ve had a few . . . hundred things going on since we set foot in Ostium that have been distracting us. It’s got the presence of some mechanical giant from the future, with its four sturdy legs supporting it. You know, War of the Worlds style. In the middle is a smaller, thinner leg with a ladder going up leading all the way to the small hatch-like door in the underside of the water tower. The number 69 is clearly visible on the door.
I wonder again if and when we get to opening this particular door, whether on the other side will be the familiar blackness, or a torrent of water pouring in my face. That makes me think about the other big “issue” Monica spotted with the map table and how all the numbers are messed up now.
But . . . one Ostium-sized problem at a time.
Monica gets whatever signal she’s apparently been waiting for and starts climbing up the ladder. I look up to the top and wonder what exactly the plan’s going to be once we get up there, but Monica’s already pulling pretty far ahead and I don’t want to get left behind.
I’m soon climbing up the ladder like I’ve been doing this all my life, but giving Monica enough space to not feel cramped.
It doesn’t take us long to run out of ladder and while I wait for Monica to figure out what to do next, I take a look around; a gander at Ostium from this higher view. Man, this place is really big. And seeing all those doors out there on the open grassland is . . . pretty fucking weird, like some crazy graveyard for doors, or like a wacko cemetery where instead of tombstones, you get buried in your coffin in a hole and a door put on top of your grave, like you could be welcomed back to the world of the living at any moment.
Man, that’s . . . downright weird, even for me. Sounds like a Monty Python sketch.
Okay, time to focus, Jake.
I look and watch Monica, because she’s started doing something.
Holding onto a rung with one hand, Monica’s reaches out with her other around the door, running her hand over the surface of the underside of the water tower, like she’s looking for something. What? I don’t know. It’s white and smooth, unblemished, there’s nothing to be found from what I can see.
Then her hand sort of disappears for a moment.
No, it . . . it sinks into the surface of the water tower.
What the hell?
Monica’s not that shocked. Almost like she’s done this before.
I question her about this.
“Didn’t I tell you about my early times in Ostium? When I was looking around? When I got into the clock tower?”
“Er . . . no.”
“Sorry, hun. I thought I had. Weird. I did a damn recording about it.”
“Guess I should check all your recordings,” I say sheepishly.
“Well, duh. Of course! Because they’re awesome and will help you learn stuff. In that case, you’re gonna be pretty fucking impressed with what I do next. Just watch and learn!”
Monica folds her legs over the top rung of the ladder to get a better angle, and then lets go of the ladder with her other hand. She reaches out to a spot a couple feet away from the hand that’s semi-submerged into the water tower. She finds what she’s looking for and this hand now submerges; it becomes hazy . . . sorta like Marty McFly’s hand in Back to the Future.
I really hope it’s not for the same reasons. Or we’re really fucked.
Then I realize what they are. Hand holds. Invisible hand holds, in the side of the water tower.
Monica pulls herself up until she’s supporting her body with the two handholds, while her feet stand on the top rung of the ladder. Then the right hand detaches and searches for another secret handhold. There it is. Then the left hand does the same for its side and finds the next handhold.
Now the real impressive move happens: Monica steps off the ladder, putting one foot at a time into the handholds that also work as footholds. Like her hands, her feet disappear a little. She’s now basically hanging upside down, her back to the ground of Ostium far, far below. She’s straining a little but seems fine.
Monica starts moving up the side of the water tower. The longer she’s at it, the faster she gets and soon she’s crawling up the side and disappearing from view.
That’s my cue to follow in her footsteps . . . and hand-steps, or handholds, or whatever.
Great. This should be real fun.
I ignore my growing fear and just focus on getting this done. Gotta show Monica I’m made of the same stuff she is, even though I’m not.
My hands find the handholds and it feels like a kind of magic. Yeah, cue the Queen song. I actually start playing it in my head and singing along. It even helps a little.
It definitely gets a lot more scary when I’m just hanging there by my hands and feet, feeling gravity trying to conduct it’s equation of force equal to my mass times the acceleration due to itself, and pull me to the ground real fast. I make myself not look down, just focusing on finding the next handhold, and I get through it.
I climb up the side of the water tower feeling like motherfucking Spiderman! But I don’t give myself time to enjoy it, because I’ll just screw it up and end up killing myself.
At the top of the water tower, in addition to a beaming Monica, is a little platform and railing with just enough room for the both of us to stand up there and not be quite touching.
“What do you think?” Monica asks once I’ve caught my breath and made myself stop shaking.
I look around and take in the great expanse that is Ostium. I can see wall to wall in all four cardinal directions. All the buildings, the reaching superiority of the clock tower, and the wide open space of greenery with its many doors at all angles and directions.
And then I look beyond the walls of Ostium.
“Holy shit,” I say in utter terror.
The blackness is there. The blackness is . . . fucking everywhere. What I saw through the gate wasn’t a small contained portion of the blackness – not that I ever really thought it was – but from this height and vista I can see it . . . all encompassing, omnipresent. I turn a slow circle, making sure I keep a solid grip on the railing. Losing my balance up here would be a sure recipe for disaster. My statement remains true and holds to its belief. The black really is everywhere except Ostium.
I turn to Monica.
“Is this what you didn’t want to tell me?” I ask, almost scared.
Just a nod from her.
“You wanted . . . you needed to make sure first. To be absolutely certain.”
I look at the blackness again and feel myself start to tremble. I wonder how I’m going to take to get back down, onto the solid ground of Ostium, shaking like this. I don’t know if I can do it.
“So . . . what does this mean for Ostium? For us?”
Monica takes her time. Whatever she’s about to tell me is going to be big, but I don’t really know what else she can tell me that I can’t process and comprehend with my own two eyes.
But then she speaks and I find myself collapsing to the floor of the platform.
“Ostium has become untethered. It’s no longer connected to the real world.”
I understand the words, but it’s going to take my brain, and my heart, and my soul a long moment to process and comprehend them. Then I do.
“So that’s it then? The earthquake happened. Then it unhappened. Somehow. In the process Ostium was severed from our world, and now it’s adrift in the blackness. In time and space. In nowhere.”
“That’s about the gist of it,” is her response.
“Which means it’s the end of Ostium. And therefore the end of us.”
Monica looks at me in surprise, then laughs.
“Oh contraire, mon frère. Ostium is not over by any means, and neither are we. This is just the beginning.”
I look up at her and feel now that my cheeks are wet. I’ve been crying. Again. Crying a lot today, apparently. But in her eyes I see something new. A spark. I believe it’s hope.
She holds out a beckoning hand. I grasp it and she pulls me up. I make sure to hold the railing with my other hand; don’t want us both going over the side.
“Ostium may be untethered. The town – along with us – may be disconnected from the world, but I know something. Actually, a lot of somethings. Hundreds of somethings that aren’t.”
“What would that . . . oh, the doors!”
“Yes. Those doors of Ostium, connecting this town to other worlds, other places in time. And more importantly to our world. And maybe on the other side of one of those doors is Steve.”
I don’t expect this and find myself shocked to hear it. Probably a bit of jealousy slipping in.
“You still think he’s alive behind one of those doors? I thought, after . . . Richard . . . And the datapad and all that, you kind of accepted that it was all over.”
“Nope. With what’s happened to us. Fuck. With what’s just happened today. And the way things are. Now. The state of things. Yet we’re still alive and kicking. I dunno. He could be dead. They could be all dead and gone. But there’s only one way to find out.”
“We keep going through the doors of Ostium.”
~ ~ ~
With Monica’s help, getting back down onto solid ground turns out to not be too hard. I stay close and watch her every step and hand movement and copy it to a T. That last step onto the grass of Ostium feels like stepping onto a little piece of heaven. Then we make the longish walk back to the clock tower, not really talking about anything, just thinking over everything that’s happened so far just since we got back through that strange door with the infinity symbol which is now buried under more than a hundred feet of Ostium earth.
When we’re about a minute from reaching our destination, and I’m sure Monica’s got her mind fixated on a giant mug of strong tea, I have a bad thought. A terrible, awful, horrible thought. I turn to Monica.
“What about the internet?”
“What about the internet?”
“If Ostium’s become . . . untethered, does that mean the internet’s gone?”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
The look on her face is nothing like the masque of the red death I’m wearing on mine.
I start running.
I know . . . I know. It’s not like we might be cut off from water, or food, or air. But the internet is a big deal. You know that. And right now it’s one of our lifelines to the world. Technically it’s the only line of communication we’ve got. And if that’s gone, then it might be the end of everything . . .
Yeah, for you quick thinkers, if you’re listening to this you know the internet must still been alive and well when I make it to the clock tower. I also have a new email, from Dave. My online friend I’ve been chatting with from London. He’s been doing his bit to spread the word about Ostium and come up with ideas about what could possibly be going on here. I’m not too worried with what he’s doing, it’s not like I gave him the exact location of the town of no population to broadcast online. And the conversation he’s been having with his listeners has been pretty interesting.
The last time I was in contact with him, he was dealing with the literal fallout of the radiation cloud sweeping over Europe. I invited him – if he could somehow swing it – to come to the US, to California, and to Ostium, if he could find it. I gave him specific directions and made it clear only he was to know and use them and not to tell anyone else about then. I know, it was taking a bit of a risk there, but I felt it was worth it.
He ends the email saying he made it. He found Ostium. But there was one of those strange hexagonal padlocks on the gate. Fortunately, it pops open and he goes inside . . . and doesn’t find us. Which isn’t really that surprising, given the whole untethering thing and our current predicament. Nevertheless, he still found Ostium. Or an Ostium in this case. Just not this Ostium.
“I can’t believe he found Ostium,” I say aloud.
“Can’t believe who found Ostium?”
I make it a long word, something almost alive, as I’m stalling for what to say. I haven’t told Monica a thing about Dave and his Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown. Partly because it never really occurred to me to talk to her about him, I mean, I never thought in my wildest dreams he’d be coming to Ostium, you know, until like a day or two ago. And partly because I kind of know I should’ve told her a whole long time ago and didn’t and now I feel bad about it.
And now I don’t have a choice.
I can feel her eyes on me. She not going to let me just stall indefinitely. We’ve been on this merry-go-round before and Monica isn’t exactly the sort of person who takes any shit . . . from anyone, even me.
“Who the hell are you talking about, Jake?”
I turn to face her and it feels like I did something bad – because I did – and I’m about to be punished and scolded by a parent or teacher – because I deserve to. I breathe deep and start talking.
“I’m talking about Dave. He’s a British guy who runs a podcast called Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown.”
“And how does he know about Ostium?”
“Because he found my recordings. About Ostium. And he made his own podcast about it.”
“And . . .”
“Well, he’s been talking with his listeners about what’s been going on here. With me. And you. And all the doors and everything. He came up with his theories, and got some ideas from listeners as well.”
“And how many listeners are we talking about?”
“I . . . I don’t know. He never told me. Lots I think.”
“He never told you?”
“Erm . . . yeah. He emailed me. And I emailed him back. And we’ve been kind of having this back of forth conversation going on.”
There’s a cold silence now and I feel like if either of us moves, there’s going to be the sound of ice cracking and breaking. I don’t know what the hell to say next, so I just wait. Probably not the best move on my part, but I’m not known for strategic tact with people and especially not with the opposite sex.
“I don’t know Jake . . . I just feel there’s something you’re not fucking telling me.”
I take another breath. It feels like I’m not breathing right. Am I breathing right? And let’s not get started on my heart rate which is suddenly through the roof. And I’m seriously being avoiding right now.
“He was scared. Dave was . . . Terrified, of the radiation cloud. He needed a way out. An escape. And I told him he could come to Ostium . . .”
“I told him he could come here. Just him. No one else.”
“You told him how to get here?”
“Of course I did. I gave him exact directions. Because he knows stuff. Important stuff about Ostium.”
“So fucking what?”
“He’s like us.”
“How the fuck can you possibly know that. You barely know the fucking guy. A couple emails and you’re long-lost fucking Ostium soul-mates. Is that it?”
“Yes. Yes. That fucking is it. He’s another person. Out there. Who knows and understands Ostium. This was before I even knew you existed.”
“So what does that make me. Chopped fucking liver?”
That stops me. She’s right. That was too far.
“No. Of course not. You’re much more than that. But he needed a way out, and I gave him one. And now he’s found Ostium.”
“So where the fuck is he then?”
“He said he’s at another Ostium. Because this one is fucking untethered.”
“What the fuck does that mean!”
“I don’t fucking know. Why are you yelling at me?”
“Because you lied to me. You said we weren’t going to keep secrets and you did. Why are you yelling at me?”
“Because you didn’t tell about those men you sent through the door to die.”
Silence. Longer this time, but perhaps not as cold. It’s different.
“I’m sorry. Monica. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Dave.”
“Apology accepted Jake. And I’m sorry. Again. For not telling you sooner about what I did. To those men.”
“Thank you. Apology also accepted.”
“He said he’s in a different Ostium?”
“Yeah. Those were his words. He said when he found Ostium, there was a hexagonal padlock on the gate but it popped open when he pulled on it. Then he went inside, looked around. He found the clock tower and was all ready to meet us inside with open arms . . .”
“. . . And we weren’t there.”
“Right. And that’s all I’ve heard from him so far.”
“Have you checked to see if the Internet’s working properly?”
“Oh, no. Shit. I totally forgot.”
I grab my iPad again and open up the browser, plugging in Google and wait . . . Nothing loads. Oh shit. I try Twitter, Facebook, even Yahoo. Nothing. And it’s not like there’s a 404 message or anything, it’s just a blank page. I check my wifi connection and see it’s connected and working fine. I even pull out my phone and check the Wifinding app which also shows a strong signal strength. So it looks like the wifi is working and we’re connected to the Internet at our end, but it doesn’t lead to any worldwide web.
Monica has been looking over my shoulder and seen all this.
“So we’re pretty much fucked as far the Internet goes,” she says.
“This really isn’t good. What about all those catastrophic events we saw on those screens. Did they all really happen?”
“We checked didn’t we?”
“Yes, but that was in there. How do I know my phone works fine on the other side of a door in Ostium?”
“Exactly. I know the power plant meltdown was real because I read about it here. Or not really here, because here isn’t really here anymore. It’s somewhere else. But back at my old place. Which isn’t really my place anymore. Back on fucking planet Earth. But the other stories. The Ebola outbreak. The earthquakes and tsunamis. The oil spill. Did they all really happen?”
Monica rubs her face and takes a deep breath at the same time.
“I don’t know Jake. I just don’t know. What do you want me to tell you?”
“That everything is fine.”
“Everything is fine. Here. In Ostium. Right now. There’s you and there’s me. We’re alive and well. We have a roof over our heads. We have a place to sleep. We have food to eat and water to drink. We’re fine right now.”
I must’ve not put much meaning into it or had some crazy look in my eyes because Monica keeps watching me, like she’s trying to see into my soul.
“Okay. Come here. I know what you need.”
She’s holding out her arms, welcoming me. I’m not sure what she’s doing, but I step closer to her and then she wraps her arms around me, laying her head on my chest. My arms automatically go around her shoulders.
We hug each other tight, and stay that way for a good thirty seconds. It feels really great.
Then we finally separate.
“Okay, time for strong fucking cup of tea. You want one?”
I give her one of my beaming smiles. “What do you think?”
She nods and heads into the kitchen.
I go back to the iPad, closing the browser window. I pull up my email inbox again and have an idea. I look at when Dave sent that email. According the app, the email was sent thirty-five minutes ago.
That was after we came back through the door with the infinity symbol on it.
That was after the big crack across the town closed up and disappeared.
That was after Ostium became untethered from the third rock from the sun and began spinning indeterminately across space and time.
Which means something really important: while there isn’t any worldwide web access, there is apparently some form of email. At least with Dave. He can email me, and perhaps I can email him.
I also have this very strong feeling not to tell Monica this. I don’t know why. I don’t know where it comes from. But something deep inside my chest tells me and I’m going to listen to it.
Great Jake, another wonderful start to not keeping any secrets from possibly the only other person in the universe.