It was another rough night. Monica woke me up again, said this time my crying out was getting pretty loud, verging on screaming.
“Okay, I’ll try and control it. Keep it down in some way.”
“No, Jake. That’s not what I meant. You’re obviously still going through some heavy shit. So you probably need to do some introspection. You know. Get in touch with your inner self, or whatever. See what’s going on inside and find out what needs to be resolved. See what’s eating you up inside. Okay?”
“Yeah . . . thanks Monica. That definitely helps.”
It’s good to know she’s earnest and cares. I mean, I kind of thought this already, and I know she’s on my side and everything, but it’s good to hear her coming out and saying it and making me feel less like some crybaby who can’t deal with it all. And I know I’ve kind of addressed this already, but this also the second straight day of not enough sleep and clearly having some deep-seated issues. I’m not ready to fully talk with Monica about it. Yet. I know we weren’t supposed to be keeping secrets, but this isn’t a secret, so much as a . . . personal existential crisis, sort of.
Hey, can you tell I haven’t had much sleep?
I know it all ties in with the infinity door, as I’m calling it. Seeing those clones of me and the series of catastrophes happening in the world. The fact that we don’t seem to have a working Internet right now and I can’t see what’s happening on Planet Earth is definitely not helping. I think I might’ve worked it out, too. The Internet is sort of working, but only one way. I can’t look anything up; can’t receive any emails; can’t check anything that requires access to the Internet. However, the recordings have been uploading just fine, like there’s nothing wrong at all. I think I can’t send things out, and can’t get anything back either. I was able to send Dave an email today which went out and appeared in my “Sent” folder. Of course, I don’t know if I’ll ever know if he received it because it would require him communicating with me.
I guess maybe he could call me?
The two problems with this are: 1) I think it works the same for the phones as for the Internet, I can’t call out and can’t receive calls, plus I don’t have his number and am not ready to just randomly try a phone number or call someone I know; and 2) He doesn’t have my number.
Anyway, here’s what I said:
I hope you’re receiving this. I don’t know because our Internet isn’t working properly. I think that might have something to do with what’s happened; it also possibly explains why you found a different Ostium to mine. We’ve become untethered. I assume you’re still keeping up with the recordings, and from my end they’re uploading like usual, so you should be getting them. In which case, you know what I mean about untethered. But I don’t get how the internet is sort of working. Doesn’t really make sense, but whatever does in Ostium? Am I right?
For now we’re going to keep going with the usual plan: going through more doors and seeing what we can find. Monica hopes we might find Steve, hopefully alive, on the other side of one of these doors. I don’t know. After finding that other guy . . . Dead due to very mysterious and unresolved circumstances . . . Let’s just say I don’ t have high hopes. But other than keeping on keeping on, I don’t know what I personally expect to find with these doors and Ostium. I know I’m connected, but I don’t know why or how. So we’ll just go about it and see what happens.
I’ve not been sleeping well. Having some really bad nightmares. Apparently. I don’t know. When I wake up, or more accurately, get woken up by Monica, I’m sweaty, my heart’s pounding, my throat is raw and sore from yelling and apparently screaming. But I don’t remember anything about what I was dreaming about. It was probably bad, but I can’t recall a single detail. Which is pretty disturbing. I’d at least like to have something to go on, so I can try to help myself through this. You know?
Part of me is also wondering and . . . Really concerned. I mean really concerned. I haven’t told Monica about it, and I probably should. I don’t know. There just seems to be something inside me saying don’t do it. It’s weird. But anyway, what I was trying to say was I’m concerned with all the terrible stuff happening around the world, that it might be related to Ostium. To going through those doors. That us doing that and bringing back artifacts and putting them in the map table is somehow causing those catastrophic events. I know, it sounds crazy writing it down and reading it, but what if? If all these lives being lost and . . . Destroyed . . . was because of me . . . Man, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I’d just walk through that gate and drop off the edge. Not caring what would happen to me. Because it would be all my fault.
And what if our continuing to go through the doors is causing more devastation? What if Mount Etna is now erupting? Or the Bubonic Plague is making a big comeback with a new and incurable strain? It’s got me very worried, and I have no way of knowing. I think I really need to talk to Monica about this. Get her P.O.V. on it and see what she thinks.
Now, as for you, I’m honestly not sure what you’re going to do, or what you can do, for that matter. I guess you could start going through all the doors in order, just like we did, bringing back artifacts, but that seems like it’s just going to start you on your own trajectory and you’re goal is to somehow find us – I hope that’s your goal, that’s what I’d like you to try to do – that doesn’t seem the right way to go about it. As for an alternate idea? I’ll be honest: I’ve got nothing.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news followed by more bad news, but I wanted to keep you informed and up to date however I can from my end. And hey, I’m hoping you’re going to come up with a great idea and start doing it and before I know you’ll be walking through that front gate, or opening one of the doors here and surprising us, or maybe revealing yourself when we go through one of those doors.
So . . . Fingers crossed man.
~ ~ ~
There’s no point in referencing with the map table anymore to see what our next door is. You’d be better off covering your eyes and stabbing your finger in any old direction and seeing which number you end up with. And yes, if you’ve ever been (or might still be) a fan of a certain game I once had an affection for called GeoGuessr, a definite possible strategy is to zoom out and just blindly stick the digital push-pin wherever.
But I can’t. Because I have no internet. Sad face.
Anyway, we’re soon ready and out the door and I do my newagey calling on of the spirits of Ostium to tell me where to go next . . . But I don’t hear anything. How strange? I do, however, feel the psychic tugging and follow its magnetic pull, Monica coming up behind me. We’re eventually taken to door 90, still in the vicinity of Ostium’s CBD (that’s Central Business District for you non-geography people), you know, downtown as everyone else calls it.
“You wanna go first this time?” I offer
“After you going to open it for me?”
“Sure,” I said.
“You know, I’ll let you take this one. But I’ll be right behind you.”
We step through and what immediately hits me is the cold. Damn cold. Like freeze your ass off cold. We’ve been pretty lucky so far, in hindsight, having faced favorable conditions and a decent climate each time we walked through a door. I can only assume Ostium isn’t going to dump us in an environment that isn’t hospitable for human beings. Like sticking us on the surface of the planet Venus which would kills us in a few minutes doesn’t seem in the best interests of Ostium (if it has interests), nor is it ours. Temperature and climate however . . . Humans are a very versatile and resilient species that can eke out a living in almost any environment on Earth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be fun or comfortable.
Wherever we’ve been taken, it has to be a really far north latitude, or really far south . . . Or Hoth, but I’m not seeing any Tauntauns. But while we’re clearly in some sort of blizzard – the snow swirling around but visibility is still decent – it could be a lot worse. A lot more severe. There’s a light covering of snow on the ground that crunches underfoot.
We’re both in pants. Monica at least has a sweater on. And wise old me is standing there in a t-shirt.
“Follow me!” I say.
And I charge off into the snow looking for some sort of cover, ideally a nice house or hut with a roaring fire and lots of blankets and maybe some hot chocolate with marshmallows, but that’s some really wishful thinking. Hey, if I’m truly connected to Ostium, shouldn’t I be able to make stuff like that happen?
In hindsight, recording this for the most part after it all happens, why I don’t just say: “Hang on Ostium, b.r.b.,” and head back to the clock tower for some warmer clothes, I’ll never know. Maybe I’m worried if I leave and try to come back it won’t work, but I think that’s also just me reading too much into it.
So now I’m plowing through falling snow which – as a Californian who doesn’t spend winter holidays in Tahoe or the Sierras – is a refreshingly new and un-fun environment to be in, and did I mention cold?
The blizzard seems to be getting thicker, which is obviously not good, but I think I see something up ahead. A dark shadow in the swirling white. It’s the only physical thing I’ve seen so far that isn’t white. I take it as a good sign and head straight for it.
It turns out to be a hut. A little hut, only it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It looks like a square box on wooden stilts. I immediately have an image of Baba Yaga’s house from Slavic folklore that walked around on giant chicken legs. But right now it’s the only thing around that might provide shelter.
When I reach it I see a ladder on the other side, run around, begin climbing and dive through the opening. Monica doesn’t waste any time joining me. Inside it’s . . . Cozy, I guess. I wouldn’t call it roomy exactly, and would hope the nightly rate at this motel is at least reasonable. There are animal skins everywhere. Piled up. Hanging from the wooden frame. And animals furs. As opposed to the other kind of furs. It makes the inside of the hut feel very insulated, warm and dry, which is exactly what we need right now. It’s kind of like being in a closet full of clothing for the Arctic, and then it clicks in our heads at the same time.
We grab furs and blankets and wrap them around ourselves and just huddle there for a good five minutes. Monica isn’t as bad off as me, and I have at least three layers on. At first it does nothing, and then I start to . . . thaw and warm up. In my head I’m focusing on the blackness, it’s a distant almost non-existent thing, which is great. I give Monica the update and am wondering if maybe my ability to control the blackness is getting better, stronger.
Eventually I feel ready to brave the outside world again. Well, not really, but we can’t just stay here the whole time. I find some fur boots that actually fit me pretty well. I have a couple of fur cloaks or coats or whatever they are and a fur blanket over everything.
“You ready?” I ask.
“Actually . . . I’m going to sit this one out?”
“Yeah. I’m . . . really fucking cold. If there’s something so goddamn important you can let me know and drag me out. Sound good?”
“And please never fucking say that again.”
With a smile on my face I duck under the skin that has been pulled down over the opening and jump down into the snow. It makes a satisfying crunch. I’m really going to have to have to kick this into high gear. The snow is falling fast now. Visibility is becoming pretty minimal.
I’m trying to hone in on my “artifact sense” and see where it leads me, but the blizzard is definitely affecting my mental vibes. I’m not cold like before, but even with the furs, I’d still rather be in a lot of other places. So I continue walking kind of aimlessly, hoping for another one of those hut shadows to form in the white, but my eyes keep watering with the cold and the snowflakes, and for like a millisecond after I blink I can see and then everything gets blurry again.
I stop. Pull the fur blanket over my mouth and take a deep breath, so the cold won’t freeze the moisture in my lungs. I close my eyes, trying to shut out the white and welcome the black. It helps. A little.
I start walking, still with my eyes closed. Kind of crazy, I know. But what’s going to happen? Will I get knocked down by a snowflake? Now a strong gust probably would have an effect, but I’m ready for that. I try changing directions, veering to the left, then to the right, then back to the left again, waiting for . . . Anything. Any sort of sign.
And then I get it. Though it’s not that playful, mental tug, or a mental red laser drawing me to it.
It’s a fucking ghost howl.
Yeah. Just like on the Mary Celeste. And no, it hasn’t been long enough for me to get over it yet.
The sound actually forces me to take a step back, but I stop myself.
No. Not this time.
This time I’m in control.
I walk towards it and then stop, waiting for that sound. Then I move again. My eyes are still closed and I’m just working off of my other senses. Then I have another sense. A sense of mass, of physicality.
I open my eyes. There’s one of the huts in front of me.
The sound makes me shudder this time, but I keep going.
~ ~ ~
I’m inside, using my cell phone for light again.
It looks like the other hut and without Monica’s flashlight it’s not as well-lit, so I don’t see it at first. I wave the flashlight around, thinking I’m going to see the next artifact, maybe a little walrus carving or a Nanook.
Instead there’s a body.
Great, another dead guy. Just not what I needed.
I move closer and study him. He’s in military camo, so no doubt one of Monica’s buddies, and she’d totally slap me upside the head if she heard me say that. But it’s pretty fucking cold what she did. Sending them through the door with no clue what to expect. And it looks like they’re ending up getting knocked off, one by one. I feel like she needs to talk some more about that, what with the whole revenge thing.
Like the body found inside the casino building, this one bears no obvious physical injuries. I check his pulse at his neck. Nothing. He looks to be Latino. On his left breast is the embroidered name: RAMIREZ.
I sit back in the corner and think.
Something’s sticking in my ass. Ow. What the hell?
I lean to the left and pull out the small object, shining my flashlight on it.
No fucking way. It is a little polar bear carving. A regular old Nanook of the north.
That’s when I brave the cold and go to get Monica.
~ ~ ~
It’s during the round trip to get Monica and bring her back that I realize where we are.
Lake Anjikuni is a lake in the far northern reaches of Canada, in the territory known as Nunavut. On a cold night – even colder than it is right now, no doubt – during November of the year 1930, Joe Labelle, a Canadian fur trapper stumbled into the tiny Inuit village, exhausted and looking for shelter. Supposedly he found the village completely empty, not a single human in sight. What was strange was that the huts were all set up like there were people in them just moments ago. Pots of steaming stew and plates of cooling food laid out all around for consumption. Lots of bedding and clothing just abandoned. And if you’re living in these conditions, then you won’t go anywhere without food and warmth to bring with you.
It’s another mystery without a solution. They did searches around the area, trying to find any sign of anyone. The Canadian Mounted Police got involved, but nothing more was ever found out about it.
It’s just a mystery. One that’s supposed a little more shrouded in urban legend and folklore than say . . . Roanoke, but still.
Where did the people go?
Where everyone else went from the likes of Roanoke and the Mary Celeste and possibly a Martian base.
~ ~ ~
Monica has a lackluster reaction to this story, and after talking it over with her for a bit, as we try to keep warm and close in the hut, I kind of get it. It’s a pretty sure bet now that when we go through a door in Ostium, we’re going to find an empty place on the other side, with all the people enigmatically gone. And I’m going to know something about it.
Check and check.
She’s more interested and perhaps concerned about the dead guy. When I first told her about him, her eyes widened and weren’t going to stop unless I told her something else. I quickly said, “I’m pretty sure it’s not Steve.” This helped. I told her about the name on the uniform. This helped a lot, but she still needs to make sure.
I decide to sit this one out. I’ve seen the body already, checked it out, don’t really need to see it again. I’ll wait outside.
And now I can feel the blackness coming. Oh great. Not too fast, but it’s definitely making its way here at a decent clip.
I wait what feels like five or ten minutes, but is probably only a couple; feels like an eternity.
“Monica, we need get going, the blackness is closing in.”
“Be right there”
And just when I’m about to go in there and see what the hell’s taken her so long, she appears and drops down to ground.
“Bout time,” I say and lead the way to . . . Where exactly?
It’s all white like before. And a colder, deeper chill flows into my chest like liquid nitrogen.
We’ve made a big screwup. We’ve fucked up royally.
The snowfall was lighter when we first arrived, and now it’s heavier, but we still should’ve done better. Should’ve known better.
I have no fucking clue where the door back to Ostium is.
Well . . . Shit.
~ ~ ~
It’s still snowing. Cold and getting colder, just as we are.
I turn to Monica and the look on her face is . . . fear. Not something I think I’ve seen before. The blackness is coming closer, getting louder, and we don’t know the way back to the Ostium door. We could be looking for hours and still never find it. Okay, I get why she’s scared now, just not used to seeing that expression.
Therefore, it’s time to get that look off her face and deal with the situation. I quickly recall a similar situation in Avalon, where a different door took us back to Ostium. That’s good. That means there’s a chance. Hope. So it’s just a case of finding that alternate door and getting back to where we live. No biggie.
I grab Monica’s hand, which feels just as cold as mine, twining my fingers through hers. Maybe we’ll share some warmth and help each other out. I can’t even see the hut we were just in anymore. I don’t have time to focus and mentally divine where one of the huts is.
Just gotta go with my gut here.
Direction doesn’t really matter. I’m doing ten paces, then changing direction, another ten paces, then changing again, but keeping a mental compass so I don’t just go in a complete circle and end up where I started. Hopefully. Then I see a dark shadow and charge towards it.
It’s a hut! We’re saved . . . Maybe. Hopefully.
We get close to it and that’s when I form a picture of the doorway in my mind, only instead of it leading to the inside of the hut with furs and possibly steaming food waiting to be eaten, I’m imagining a black hole and on the other side of that is a street in Ostium, wait, not just any street, the street right in front of the clock tower.
We jog around the side of the hut until we see the doorway into the hut, about four feet off the ground, with an angled ladder leading to it. It’s all black. Different from the other two doorways to huts we’ve seen so far.
“What do you think?”
Monica looks at the doorway, noticing a difference. She looks at me, eyebrows raised, then back to the door again in amazement, then back at me one last time in wonder. Then she grabs me and kisses me.
I’m not gonna lie. I was sorta ready for it this time, in that I was hoping she might do it, in that adolescent teenage boy on a first date with girl way.
Then she draws away and everything is cold and freezing again. She makes sure she has a strong grip on my hand and pulls me up the ladder with her and through the door.
~ ~ ~
The first thing I notice is warmth . . . or more accurately, the lack of extreme cold. I open my eyes and see there’s no snow. I can’t help but let out a really contented sigh.
Monica bursts into laughter.
We’re sitting on the ground and I can see the clock tower from where we are. We just came through a random door in Ostium and ended up exactly where I’d planned to be.
Okay, I think it’s officially time to start calling this a super power, because I’m totally nailing it!
When I place the little carved polar bear on top of the number 90 on the map table, the blinding color this time is an iridescent green, and I feel like I’m being blasted with a beam of kryptonite.
And then it’s all over and for the first time this day I feel the weight come off my shoulders and I’m able to relax.
We soon have giant mugs of strong tea. I tell Monica I want to start working on putting the recording together. She says she wants to take a nice hot shower. I watch her go into the bedroom and softly close the door behind her.
I didn’t want to say anything about the kiss, in case it jeopardized it in some way. Made it less valid and important, like it was just a little thing, and not the beginning of something that I truly hope will become more.
I suppose only time will tell. I’m going to stand back and let her call the shots, and the play . . . and probably the whole game.
~ ~ ~
[MONICA:] It’s late. Or early. Depending on your perspective. I can hear Jake snoring away in there. And that’s with the bedroom door AND the bathroom door closed. The guy’s got a real set of lungs on him. But at least I know he can’t hear me.
He’s still having the nightmares. I know it’s about what he saw in the place where he used to work. The clones. What was on those screens. But I also think it’s his subconscious processing what he saw. What he knows happened to the world. It’s had a big effect on him. Hit him deep. As was expected. But he can’t check anymore. Can’t see what’s really going on with the outside. He doesn’t know. And that’s a good thing. An intentional thing. The less he knows what’s really happening the better. He needs to stay focused. To keep on track. If that means a kiss every once in a while. I can deal. If it means more? We’ll have to see.
Seeing the Ramirez guy was . . . tough. Not that it was him. I didn’t really give a shit. I don’t give a shit. But he was dead. Like the other one. And that’s . . . Not good news. Is it? Not looking real positive for Steve. But a girl’s gotta have hope. Steve’s different. Steve’s stronger. Steve’s better. Steve’s . . . Steve. Huh, I should fucking know. That guy can get through anything.
So now. THEY may be turning up dead. But I know Steve’s still out there. Somewhere. And he’s okay.
And I’m going to find him.
No matter what it takes.