“No,” I say. “I don’t want to.”
“Because you’re afraid,” he responds. “It’s okay. I am too. I don’t like it there any more than you do.”
“They don’t hurt you like they do me.”
“But why do they hurt you, Noomi?”
I pause and think about that for a moment.
“In a dream they told me they were coming. They were using me to come here, to our world.”
“So if we go there, maybe they won’t be able to hurt you. They can’t use you to come here if you’re in their world.”
I frown. I hadn’t thought of that. It doesn’t make me any less afraid, but it does make me curious. What would it be like in their world?
“What does it look like?” I ask. “In the shadow world.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“You don’t know? You’ve had more experience with them than I have.”
“But I’ve never been there. They always come through me. They come here.”
He nods, looking at me thoughtfully. His eyes have returned to their normal brownish-green, the color of a forest floor or the needles of a pine tree. He looks older than me. He has high cheekbones and a rounded jaw, and everything about him speaks of quiet strength. I wonder where he came from, why he came here, why he joined my wilderness therapy group. There’s so much about him I don’t know.
“It’s a dark place. It reeks of emptiness and loneliness. There’s nothing there to see but blackness. When I was there in the dream, I didn’t feel anything so much as just being swallowed by it, being devoured and terrified and afraid of it.”
Most boys I know would never talk so openly about their fear. It makes him seem braver than them. More open, and more bold. It makes me more curious about who he is, and I wish I had more time with him, more time to ask questions.
“Then what will we learn from going there?”
“I don’t know. You can talk to them, maybe. You can really talk to them, because you’ll be there on your own terms. Not theirs. We can find out what they want from you.”
I nod, finally convinced.
“Okay. Take me there.”
He shakes his head.
“No. I told you I would teach you how to fight them. Learning how to find the holes in between the worlds is a part of that. You have to learn what you can do. You’re going to take me there.”
I nod again, though I am terrified, not only of the shadows but that I will fail in front of Silas, in front of this boy who is so confident, so brave. That I won’t be able to do it. That I won’t be as strong as he is.
As if reading my mind, he says, “The first thing you have to do is be unafraid. If you’re afraid, you won’t be able to find a portal. I know you’re scared of them, Noomi. I am too. But you have to take control. Remember that you’re the one with the power. You’re the one with the ability to move between worlds. They need you, not the other way around.”
“Okay.” I try to focus as his green eyes bore into mine. “How do I do it?”
He sweeps his hand through the air.
“I touched a million worlds just then. A million million. And the holes between those worlds are there too. The holes are in us, around us, grazing us ever so gently at every moment of every day. But only we can feel them. Only we can interact with them.”
Suddenly, he reaches out and takes a thin strand of my long black hair in his hands. If it were anyone else I would recoil at the sudden gesture of intimacy, but with him….
“Use this,” he says, dropping it back to my shoulder. “Your hair is as black as your eyes were. Use that color. Start with that.”
“What do you mean?”
“In order to find a portal, you have to know which one you’re looking for. We want to enter the shadow world. You know better than anyone else what they feel like, what that blackness feels like. But you have to seek it out.” The idea of seeking out that which I’ve fled my whole life appalls me, but somehow, with Silas at my side, it doesn’t sound as terrible. He stretches his arms out like a blind man feeling his way around the world. “You have to have in your mind a vision of the world you want to enter, and you sort of feel around our world for a hole that will lead you to it. Close your eyes.”
Without thinking, I obey.
“You don’t have to do this every time,” I hear him say, “but it helps when you’re learning. First think about the shadow world. Think about how black your hair is and cast your mind, like a fisherman casting a net, out for that world.”
Though it pains me, I try to visualize the blackness, to imagine it descending upon me, to stretch my hands out and seek it out. I try to erase the blooming colors from behind my eyes and replace them with the darkness I know so well.
“Good,” he says. “I can feel it. I can feel you looking. Now imagine looking for something in the darkness. You feel around for it, blindly. You don’t know where it is but you have your hands out, using your sense of touch rather than sight to find something. Your mind is your hands, seeking. You are the fisherman casting the net. Cast yourself out and you will find it. Concentrate. Send every piece of yourself out with that net. Use your mind to feel around for a hole. You’ll know it when you feel it.”
I try to do as he says, but I find the whole thing absurdly abstract, almost silly, like the guided meditation Clara does with us in our wilderness therapy group. But then I feel it. A bump. A strange rise and fall in the fabric of the world, silken smooth, like feeling the hem on a dress. I gasp involuntarily.
“You found one?” he asks.
“No. But I can feel it now. The barriers between the worlds.”
It’s not so much a sense of touch as it is like the sensation of knowing something intuitively in a dream, but you have no idea how you know it. I know that there is a bump there, some uneven quality in the barrier that separates our world from the next, though I can’t quite feel it or explain how I know it’s there. I concentrate. I stretch my mind out, casting myself out through the intangible fabric, grasping, feeling around in the darkness.
“Remember, keep thinking about the blackness. If you lose focus, you lose your concentration, we could end up somewhere else, anywhere.”
I grin and suppress a laugh as I get a flashing image of us falling into a beach surrounded by people sipping pina coladas. But I shove that silly idea from my mind and return to the color of my hair. As dark as charcoal. I cast out every fiber of my mind, trying to weave myself into the fabric, trying to find a portal. Then I feel my mind plunge into a hole as if I had missed a step on the stairs and tumbled.
“Silas!” I gasp, and he grabs my hand, and I pull him down into a gaping, empty world of nothingness.
So! What do you think? I know this chapter was a little less intense than the last one – I’m trying to keep up a rhythm, building, slowly, but I don’t want anything to get too intense too quickly. I’m afraid I’ll burn out the story, or burn out my readers. So please let me know what you thought of this chapter!
Also, I’m putting a new question to a vote for my readers. Previously, I’ve mentioned that Noomi is unable to die at her own hand. She’s tried numerous times to kill herself and has found herself unable to do so. But I haven’t had much luck figuring out WHY that’s the case! I’ve come up with two possibilities, and I’d like you to vote on which you think makes the most sense and makes for the best story. Here they are.
Noomi cannot kill herself because:
A) She is a Pathfinder, and Pathfinders cannot die in the way that humans can – they contain too much energy to be destructible in the physical way mortals are. All Pathfinders are this same way.
B) The shadows that haunt her are actually from the world of death, and they need her in her own world so she can provide a portal for them to enter there. So when she tries to kill herself, they refuse her entry to the world of the dead and block her path into their world.
So, cast your votes in the comments and I’ll go from there! I can’t wait to see where this goes. Thanks so much for being a part of my reader-driven blog serial! Cheers, all!