This is the second part in the two-part section finale to POROUS. If you haven’t read the previous chapter, please click here to do so.
The world spins around me like a golden pinwheel, sepia-toned now through the haze of alcohol. The sounds seem to have disappeared, faded into background noise, dim crackling static that only just registers in my ears. Silas’ eyes, glistening over my shoulder, shine gunmetal grey with the faintest tint of green, like a whisper of spring in the dark of winter. Is it the alcohol clouding my eyes or are have they always gleamed like metal? I watch him, wary, as I lean into Francisco, trying to catch the world as it whirls overhead.
“You don’t exist,” I whisper.
“Not to those around you.”
“You’re not real.”
“I’m as real as everything else you see.” He holds out his hand, palm up. I stretch out my fingertips and press them against his. I run my fingertips across his palms, feeling the grooves, the raised lines, the crevasses. But his hands are as cold against mine as the snow on top of the mountain. I shiver. Was he this cold when I took his hand as we found paths to other worlds together? I blink, trying to clear the fog out from my eyes, but it returns, persistent, all bronze, faded colors and soundless motion around me. “Just because the others can’t see me or hear me doesn’t mean I’m not real.”
Francisco wraps his arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer to him. The heat from his body seems to shimmer a sunset-orange in contrast to Silas’ icicle cold. But he doesn’t seem to notice that I’m talking to thin air. He doesn’t ask me who I’m talking to, or why my fingers are stretched out in front of me, grasping at something only I can see.
“What are you doing here?” I ask Silas.
“I need your help,” he says.
“The shadows. They’re gaining strength. I could feel them in the other worlds when I was traveling. I need you to help me close the portal.”
“The shadows aren’t real, Silas.” My voice is so quiet I can barely hear myself. Claire’s red hair flashes in front of me, Kalifa’s golden hijab fades into a dusky brass. The world around me seems to be carrying on as normal, ignoring me, ignoring the conversation I’m having with a boy who exists only in my mind. “You’re not real. Dr. Chase said so.”
“Do the shadows hurt you, Noomi?” Silas’ voice is low and hard. I nod reluctantly. “If they hurt you, if they make you feel pain, or sadness, or emptiness, then they’re real. They’re as real to you as they are to me.”
“Why do you need me?”
“Because you’re the Path.”
“Why here? Why now?”
“There’s energy here. People celebrating. Happiness. Joy. We can use their energy.” His eyes seem to dim into a charcoal grey as he speaks. I turn away from him, but he comes around to face me, refusing to let me ignore him.
“Why are you afraid, Noomi?”
The ground seems to give way beneath my feet. My vision splits and I see two worlds, two paths. One with Claire and Kalifa, a mist of alcohol and Basi playing pool, and Francisco’s hand reaching down to my side to find my own. The other with Silas, all cold hands and cold eyes, reaching out to me, challenging me to courage when I don’t want to be courageous anymore.
“I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of you.”
“We can help each other, Noomi.” His voice sounds deeper. Darkness starts to creep into me. The emptiness takes hold. I clutch Francisco’s hand more tightly to reassure myself of where I am. Who I am. “I want to help you.” Silas’ voice is almost pleading. “Let me help you.”
I can feel the black spaces pull at me, as the shimmering golden-hued world around me starts to fade into greyscale.
“Okay,” I say, capitulating. It’s born of desperation, this giving-in. Anything to stop them from hurting me anymore. “What do I have to do?”
“I’ll show you.”
He reaches out and takes my hand. His fingers clutch at mine like a creeping dread, sending gooseflesh scattering across my skin. I turn to Francisco.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?”
Silas tugs me gently away from him, pulling me away from Francisco, up the stairs, past the ringing laughter and bared teeth of my friends drinking, sucking down more jello shots, as it all flashes like a strobe light before my eyes. I brush my hair out of my eyes, sticking to my forehead, matted with cold sweat of still, cramped air. I stumble on a stair, but Silas catches me.
“Are you okay?”
He leads me to the kitchen. He hands me a clear glass bottle. It says Svedka on the front.
“What—why do we—?”
Silas meets my eyes in the dark of the kitchen. His lips are tight as his hands clench my own. They’re as cold as ice.
“To close the portal, we have to surpass an energy barrier. We need activation energy to shut the Path, and for that, we need fire. We need the energy from your friends. We need entropy.”
“That—that doesn’t make sense, that will just draw them to me….” But I’m falling over my words. I can’t put my thoughts in order. I can’t explain.
He shakes his head.
“It may draw them to you at first, but you’ll be able to break through the energy barrier and close the portal. You are the portal, Noomi. You have to destroy a part of yourself in order to shut them out.”
I close my eyes.
“You mean I have to….”
What did Dr. Chase say? Don’t ever listen to anyone who tells you to hurt yourself. Whether it’s the shadows, or Silas, or your own self-doubt, don’t ever, ever try to hurt yourself.
“Silas, this isn’t right, this is…I can’t do this….”
“This is the only way, Noomi,” he says. But his voice is harsh. I can’t tell if the blackness around us is from the dim lights and the alcohol, or the shadows crawling into my eyes, into my mind. The emptiness and lack of thought inside me feels like them. I don’t know who to trust.
“Who showed you how to find Paths? Who taught you how to go between worlds? Who taught you how to fight the shadows, Noomi? You trusted me then. Why not now?”
I close my eyes, blotting out Silas’ face. The colors crashing against the backs of my eyelids are an explosion of greens, blues, purples, and reds. Like Aurora. They flash in fireworks and burst into petrol raindrops as I count my breaths, listening to Silas. But they fade, too. Greens slide into silver. Red into violet and then dark grey. Blue dissipates into blackness so deep it threatens to swallow me. They’re here, now.
I remember the flames shimmering off my body in the forest that day, the hopelessness, the realization that I had to fight back instead of simply trying to escape. Silas is offering me an escape. If only I can be brave enough to do it.
“Yes. I’ll do it. Where?”
“Down there. With everyone else. We have to use their energy.”
“Help me,” I croak.
“I’ll be there, Noomi.” His eyes are slate-grey. Were they ever green?
Cradling the bottle of vodka, I walk downstairs, one hand out to the walls to steady myself. The double vision I saw earlier is coalescing into a single vision, blurred, as though solid objects had suddenly become fluid and able to move at will. Claire and Basi are wrapped around each other in a corner, lips touching, their hands together in a fragile embrace. Kalifa stands talking to Francisco and the others. Francisco shoots me a sideways smile as I come downstairs, but I ignore him.
Silas’ voice floats behind me like a ghost.
“Soon, Noomi. Do it quickly. Before they can stop you. You can’t hurt yourself.”
I wouldn’t be so sure.
I unscrew the cap and take a swig from the bottle for a taste of fiery courage. It sinks into my body like lead. It weighs me down, but reminds me of what I must do.
I close my eyes. Standing in the center of the room, I pour the bottle over my head and shiver violently as the cold liquid hits my hair and my skin. Kalifa meets my eyes, her mouth wide, her hand stretched out to me.
“Noomi, what the hell are you—”
“Oh my God, what is she doing?”
I wait until the bottle’s been emptied. I pull the matches I bought at the gas station earlier out of my pocket. I press the match to the strike strip and exhale. Push. Pull. Bring the orange-yellow flame to my skin. Inhale. Exhale. Glance at Silas—the smile on his face is all sharp edges and fumes, gruesome. His eyes are pitch-black. I hesitate a split-second. He nods at me, encouraging. I press the lit match to my body.
My vision darkens even as the flames, resplendent with the burnished yellows and oranges of autumn leaves, spring up around me.
The world erupts.
And then goes black.
Okay! That’s it for SECTION ONE which I am tentatively calling FLAME. What did you think about this finale? It was a hard line to walk with Noomi, because she’s obviously making a mistake (and you’ll see just what kind of mistake when we come back with SECTION TWO), and I didn’t want to make her look like an idiot – she’s trusting Silas’ words because she’s desperate to be rid of the shadows, she’s desperate for a solution, and she’s willing to grasp at anything that could work. But does she come off like an idiot? Does she come off too trusting? I wanted it to feel as though she was going against her gut instincts the whole time – but she convinces herself to obey Silas because she’s just so tired of dealing with this imaginary shit going on inside her head. Did I pull it off, and if not, how do you think it could have been better?
I toyed with two different titles for this chapter: ‘Double Vision’, the one I went with, and ‘Flammable’. ‘Flammable’ seems a little more dramatic, which is nice, and eye-catching, but ‘Double-Vision’ is more symbolic, especially with what’s going to happen in future chapters. Which would you pick?
Aside from that specific question, I welcome all general commentary, salsa recipes, questions, feedback, cover ideas, future direction concepts, and more. Please get in touch and tell me what you thought!
A brief note: I’ll probably take a break from POROUS next week in my rush to finish up SOREN and perfect the hell out of that novella, since things that get published on Amazon actually provide money, while things that get published on my blog do not. But fear not, POROUS will resume no later than two weeks from today.
Finally, much love goes out to all my readers, but notably Joanna Blaikie, Jess West, Lynne Hugo, and Bryce Johnson, who have diligently read and provided thoughtful, in-depth feedback on nearly every chapter. Thank you guys so much. Please continue to be awesome.