First I see Silas. But now it’s not just his eyes that are many-colored. His whole body is iridescent. The gleaming, swirling colors have spread from his irises to his skin, drenching him in a wet, metallic sheen of the spectrum. He looks somehow liquid, as if I could dip my fingers into him and pull them out dripping. I reach my hands out as he smiles. My body is the same color as his, glistening, as if painted with rainbows.
The world around us is similarly brilliant. I stare in wonder as flashes of cyan leap above us, peppered with tangy lemon-colored droplets flying through the air, seemingly at random, following their own whimsy. Orange splashes burst like fireworks in the sky, and slivers of emerald green dart around me like slivered fish. There are creeping tendrils of deep navy wandering up between us, and colors I’ve never even seen before, colors I could never have imagined, much less given a name. Deeper than purple and more vibrant than red. Even the air around us seems to shimmer like slick silver.
It is a world made entirely of color.
I have the peculiar sensation that I’m floating, and I look down and see that there is nothing solid beneath me. No laws of physics binding my feet to the ground. Nothing to keep me from floating around in this sea of liquid as easily as a bird would soar through my sky.
What is this? I try to say to Silas, but no words come out of my mouth. Instead, bright bursts of apple green and majestic purple seep out from my fingertips and then pop like bubbles a moment later. His lips part in a liquid smile. He holds one hand out to me and a myriad of colors emerges. Somehow, they mean something. It’s a language. I can understand them.
It’s my world. My favorite. I come here as often as I can.
But where are we?
His shoulders lift fluidly. Cool blues and greens emanate from his palms. We’re Pathfinders, Noomi. Worlds are porous—they have holes. We can find those holes and seep through them. We can cross into those worlds. He stares around him for a moment as if in awe. I like to think that here, we’re inside the aurora borealis. I like to imagine that that’s how our world is connected to this one. Through the colors in the sky. So that’s what I call it here. Aurora.
I follow his eyes as he casts around, watching the world change around us. Enormous purple bubbles are now floating slowly around us like objects in space. I try to understand everything he’s said. But before I can ask any more questions, he kicks his legs out as if swimming, and propels himself upwards. In a few seconds, he’s diving into one of the bubbles, which coats him in velvety purple for a moment before he pops out the other side, as iridescent as before. I push myself upwards to follow him, and realize that moving around in this world is like swimming—through a thick, viscous liquid. I kick out, feeling more powerful than I ever have in my life, and relish the silvery rush against my skin. I follow Silas’ example, diving through a bubble and grinning wildly as it drenches me in purple. It’s a sensation unlike any I’ve ever experienced—like being coated in butter, maybe, and then instantly dry on the other side. I push through into a tangled mass of red and orange ribbons, which wrap around my skin and caress me as gently as the flames on the day I lit myself on fire. I smile.
I am, for once in my life, thankful that I have lived to see this.
Silas drifts down to meet me and a few of the ribbons wrap themselves around his wrists and fingers, as if in greeting.
These are some of my favorites, he says, his palms bursting with happy yellows and greens.
What are they?
I don’t know. None of them speak like we do. I don’t even know if they’re alive, or what that word would mean in this world. But they’re friendly, and they feel sweet against my skin.
I watch him as his fingers curl around several of the ribbons, playing with them as one might play with a cat’s tail. It occurs to me that he’s much more open here, in this world, than he ever was in our own.
What’s a Pathfinder, Silas?
It’s you. It’s me. We are Pathfinders.
But what does it mean?
I told you. It means that we can cross between worlds. It means that we can find the holes in the worlds and create paths between them.
An image flashes through my head of my sister Ada, the sheer delight I would see on her face if I could take her here. I can imagine her twisting and frolicking like a fish in this ocean world, dancing with the fire-ribbons and chasing after lemon droplets.
How did you find out that you could do that?
First I visited them in my dreams. Then I tried to find them during the day. I would sit out in our backyard and imagine the world I’d visited the previous night. And when I concentrated really hard, I was able to find them.
How many have you visited? I am dazzled by the possibilities. How many worlds are there to explore? What do they look like? Are they all so different from our own, or are many of them the same?
I don’t know. Hundreds, I guess. But once I found this one, I stopped visiting the others.
I don’t tell him how sad that sounds to me—to be satisfied with just one, and to forget about exploring the rest. How could you ever be satisfied?
What about the shadow world?
Pale gold, rust-red and beetle-black pop from his fingertips this time. Sadness, anger, and regret.
Just once. In a dream. Never awake.
At the sight of the black droplets squeezing from his hands, darkness starts to creep at my vision. I have no heart to stop beating in my mercurial body here in this world, but the fear and clutching dread in my chest are the same.
Silas, I say, as the droplets begin to grow. The other colors from his palm have dissipated, but the black lingers against the silvery world. We should go.
He stares at the inky droplets, expanding like a balloon, but he seems frozen in place.
Silas, I say again, as the darkness pops across my vision and panic sweeps through me, rippling across me. I stretch my fingers out, groping for his hand. Take me home. Now.
He says something in the color-language but I can’t understand it. I can’t see it. The world is clouding, hazy, like smog. Black velvet smothering my vision. The vibrant world around me disappearing. Strong, cool fingers clasp mine, gripping tightly. The world has gone dark. I feel the same tumbling sensation I did earlier, falling in a direction I didn’t know I could fall, my vision gone, the swirling in the pit of my stomach and Silas’ grip on my hand the only sensations that keep me tethered to reality.
“Noomi!” I hear his voice. My eyes open. We’re standing exactly where we were in the hallway at school. I heave in a deep breath and drop my head to my palms.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. The words seem to fall out of my mouth as my body re-adjusts to the pull of gravity.
He shakes his head, staring at me.
“They’re not supposed to be able to go there,” he whispers. “The shadows. They can’t go to that world. Why were they there?”
“It’s my fault,” I say, the guilt and anger rushing back to me, bowing me. I want to disappear into a hole in the ground. Why did I go with him? Why did I agree to go? I should have known they’d find me anywhere.
But Silas shakes his head.
“No, you don’t understand. There are certain worlds that don’t cross. The shadow world and Aurora. They don’t have holes between them. The only way they could cross is….”
“Through me. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone with you.”
I can feel his eyes on me, though I refuse to meet them, ashamed.
“Something’s wrong, Noomi.”
“What do we do?” I whisper. I want to find the tallest building I can and leap off of it.
Even Silas’ voice is tinged with fear when he responds.
“We have to go to there. Together.”
So, there you have it! Sorry if this one is a little rough around the edges! I wrote it very quickly after getting back home from San Francisco this weekend and spent about a half hour editing it. I’m sure there are things I missed, so feel free to point them out!
I’m curious mostly as to what you guys think of the descriptions of the color world. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I also wanted the world to be starkly original and vastly different from anything else out there. I was going for a blend of Wonderland and Fantasia, so to speak, but it was such a hard thing to achieve, descriptively. I want to make sure that the visuals were clear and fantastical without being overbearing, so please let me know what you thought!
Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the last bit of the chapter, when Noomi and Silas return to their world. I wasn’t sure I was taking it in the right direction, and I’m curious as to what you all think about that last section. Did it work? If yes, great! If not, why did you think it didn’t, and how can I make it better?
As always, thank you for reading and contributing! We’re getting close to ten thousand words, which is exciting! Thank you all for being a part of this fantastic project.