We fall for what seems like an eternity. We hurtle through this portal, gravity pulling us in a direction I didn’t know existed, through the very surface between worlds. We fall together, hand in hand, as the vortex drags us through nothing.
Finally it stops. The pit in my stomach from falling, from air and matter tearing around me, disappears. The first sensation I have in this world is of blindness. I stretch my left hand, my free hand, out in front of me. The darkness is complete. As dark as it is when the shadows drench my eyes. Next, I realize I feel weightless, somehow. Not suspended, as I did in Silas’ color world. There, I could feel my own weight in the silvery fluid. Here, I feel as though I am made of nothing. That I am nothing. The lack of any sensory input is shocking. My muscles clench involuntarily, and I close my hand more tightly.
Silas squeezes back. I smile. His hand is an anchor. A root. A sense of something in a sea of absence.
I have the sensation that tiny pieces of skin are being pulled, somehow, off my body. Not pulled so much as simply evaporating off of me, dissipating into the black. Sloughing off like dead cells, only here, there is no cycle of life that will turn them into something else. They simply disappear, dissolve, leave my body never to come back. Pieces of myself that I am losing with every passing moment.
Then I feel their voices in my head.
I want to protest.
This isn’t my home. I don’t belong here.
You do. Everything does.
An unfamiliar voice resounds in my head. Silas.
Why are you using Noomi to come to our world? Why not me? Why not any of the other Pathfinders?
I smile, but even that feels like nothingness. A smile is not an expression here. There is no attached emotion. No motion, no muscles that strain on my face, no upturned lips. Just the wisp of an idea inside a girl from another world.
It carries more energy than the rest. It tries to destroy itself and concentrates its energy in the world we will inhabit. Destroy.
You come to our world and ask so many questions. You are not entitled to answers.
Soon I’ll be able to fight you. You won’t be able to come through me.
You are so young, so ignorant. We have been in existence since before the universe was created. The worlds were created from nothingness and the laws dictate that they shall return to nothingness. You cannot stop us.
“For dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return,” Silas whispers. His voice, aloud, shocks me. A sound! In this world of emptiness, the tiny sound of his voice is like the clear ringing of bells on a sky-blue day. Here I can almost see the sound waves, rippling through the expanse of emptiness, visible for the mere fact that they exist. I want to reach out to touch them, as I did the colors in Aurora. But they dissipate quickly, disappearing into the rift, and when they’re gone, it’s hard to believe they were ever there.
You bring matter and energy into our world, Silas Voladores, the voice in my head says. You bring emotion, light, and sound. You seek to combat emptiness with presence. But emptiness swallows all. You may bring all the matter, energy, and emotion into our world and it will dissolve back into nothingness. The largest number in creation divided by zero is still zero. We will swallow Noomi. She will be our Path. And we will suck your world into ours and return it to oblivion. Where it belongs. Where you belong.
How did you come to the color world? You shouldn’t be allowed to be there.
You were the one who brought a Pathfinder there. Perhaps you should have been more careful. We can tunnel through Noomi wherever she is. Now we have seeds in that world. One day we will swallow it, too.
“Noomi,” Silas says, his words reverberating in the empty blackness. “Are they in you? Are they in your eyes, your head?”
A light goes on inside me.
“No!” I exclaim. The words burst from my mouth and then simmer away. “They’re not. They can’t touch me here.”
You are a part of us here. We have no need to possess you.
“‘No need?’” Silas whispers. “Or ‘can’t?’”
The echoes in my head are silent. The silence is almost as powerful as the words.
“Let’s go home,” Silas says.
“Why?” I ask. Now that I’ve discovered a place where I am immune to the attacks, I almost want to stay here forever. This is the escape I’ve been seeking, all these years. The respite from the blackness that swallows me. The world around me may be black, but at least the space in my head is pure, untouched, untainted by the nothingness.
Silas squeezes my hand again. The gesture reminds me what feeling really feels like. I realize that it doesn’t matter whether the blackness is in my head or all around me. Whether it is inside or outside. It’s blackness either way. Here I’ll never see the top of a mountain, or the green pine trees, or Silas’ color world full of strange feelings I could never have imagined. Here, it’s just empty. Devoid of pleasure or pain, of happiness or sadness, of pretty or ugly or interesting things. I see Ada’s green, curious eyes in my head and suddenly, without trying, I am falling again, somehow falling up, through another hole in the pores between the worlds, as though being pulled sharply by a hook in my spine back where I came from.
I catch my balance again in the hallways at school. I look down at the ground. The halls feel eerie, late after school, when everyone else has gone. The motion, the chatter, so omnipresent during the day, makes the school feel bitterly empty after hours. Almost like the shadow world. I reach out to touch a metal locker, feel the cold against my fingers. It’s reassuring. It’s better than nothing.
Suddenly aware that I’m still holding Silas’ hand, I drop it abruptly. I feel awkward in his presence, so cool and calm. So steady. I feel as though our travels are done for the day, and now that I have to return to normalcy, I feel strange holding this boy’s hand. He’s a stranger to me in this world. Not in others, perhaps. But here, I know nothing about him. I want to ask where he came from, who he is, how he came to be here. He’s new here, after all, and I want to know why. But something holds me back from asking.
“Thanks,” I say, instead of asking the myriad questions I want to ask.
“We’re not done yet,” he says. I glance up at him, surprised. “I mean, we can be done for today. You’re probably exhausted. I am too. Pathfinding will wear you out, you’ll find. But I have to teach you.”
“How to stop them?”
“Yes.” He hesitates. “I’m worried, Noomi. What they said. I’m still learning, too. I don’t know what it meant when they said the worlds would return to nothingness, and that makes me afraid.” He glances around at our surroundings, the bland metal lockers, the white halls, the checkered tile. “I love traveling, but I love this world, too. I don’t want what they said to happen.” He focuses on me, that moss-green in his irises that grows on me every time I look into his eyes. “And they want to use you.”
“I’m not going to let that happen,” I whisper. “I can fight back.”
“I know. I’m going to help you.”
“I’m busy the rest of the week. But this weekend. We have a wilderness meeting. We’re going to the rivers, yeah? We can do it then.”
“When they try to come through you,” he says, “just remember what it felt like to dive through that purple bubble. Hold onto every sensation that you can, every color, every sound or song you love, everything that reminds you of this world. Of any world but theirs. If you block the portal for them, they can’t come. Don’t let them tunnel through you.”
I wish it were that easy, I want to say.
“I will,” I say instead.
He puts a hand on my shoulder and bores a hole into my eyes with his own.
“Don’t go back there. Unless you absolutely have to. If you can’t stop them from coming to you, go to them. That way, they can’t come here. But come back quickly. If you stay there too long…well, I don’t know. You might dissolve into nothingness, just like our voices did.”
He drops his hand from my shoulder and stares at the ceiling for a moment.
“There’s someone I have to talk to.”
“I can’t tell you. You’ll meet her soon.”
I nod. I don’t want to leave him. But I tear myself away from him, breaking the invisible connection between us, feeling as though I am tearing fibers that have somehow woven us together. I turn away.
“See you soon, Silas,” I whisper. But I know he didn’t hear me.
So, that’s that for this week! What do you think?
This week I owe a special debt of gratitude to one Bryce Johnson, one of the few people I know in the real world who cares for me enough to keep up with my blog on a regular basis. He’s a scientific fellow, and came to me earlier in the week with some incredible ideas for how to take POROUS in a physics/scientific direction. From him, I got the idea that Noomi’s self-destruction concentrates her energy in one world; that the shadows are pure emptiness, a kind of zero-energy state, an idea that will be explained more later; that they want to seep into Noomi’s world and drain it entirely back into nothingness. Through his ideas I decided to take POROUS in a slightly different direction: I am now attempting to root the ‘magical’ and ‘paranormal’ parts of the story in theoretical physics. I’ve come up with a genre name for it: Scientific Paranormal. Let’s see if it catches on! I feel like one Joanna Blaikie will appreciate the idea of rooting the paranormal in reality, as she is a professed realist herself 🙂
The votes from last week came out somewhat neutrally – Two votes for option 2, one vote for option 1, and several ‘combine the two’ ideas, which is ultimately what I’m going to go for! But I’d like to thank everyone who registered their votes, because without your input, I would not have been able to put this so well into words.
Thanks to everyone for continuing to read this story. I am having so much fun with it! Truly, it’s one of the things I look forward to most every weekend: sitting down to write the weekly installment of POROUS. So thank you for helping add a bit of delight to my life!