For those followers new to my blog, this is the newest installment of POROUS, a paranormal / psychological story of a girl named Noomi, who is battling shadows that have haunted her all her life. Are they visual manifestations of a psychological disease, or are they real creatures, determined to suck the life from the world she loves? Either way, Noomi’s life and sanity are at stake, and the only person who seems to have any answers is a strange boy named Silas – who, according to Noomi’s therapist, doesn’t exist. The first section of the story is available here; last week’s chapter, the first installment of the new section, is here.
Light stabs at the edges of my vision. I open my eyes and shapes and colors swirl around me, like an image out of focus. My arm is asleep – a thousand pins stab through my muscles, and I flex my arm to bring my nerves back to life. I focus on the hunched, sleeping form on the chair in front of me. My mother.
“Kasaan,” I say quietly, reaching out for her hand. I tug at her fingers and she jerks awake, her deep brown eyes coming back to life. Elation surges through me when I see they’re back to their normal color. I smile. “Ohayo.” Good morning.
She returns my smile, her fingers tightening around my hand.
“Noomi,” she says. The smile runs off her face like water. “I thought I’d lost you.”
I blink, and images flood through me. It’s strange to see them, overlaid against the peaceful image of my mother’s face, like two photos that have been laid on top of each other. A girl with dark hair, strapped to a bed, being rushed through the sterile corridors of a hospital. That’s me, I realize. Ada, my sister, crying, her face pushing against my shoulder. Not mine. My mother’s. I am seeing my mother’s memories. The charred reek of the burn ward, the awe on the doctor’s faces as they peeled back my clothes and saw nothing. No burns. No scars. Unblemished skin. I see everything through the blurry lens of watery eyes, hot tears carving dark alleys into my cheeks. My mother’s cheeks.
Why am I seeing her memories? Why am I seeing through her eyes?
“They’ve dug a hole in her, too, Noomi.” I turn my head to see Silas, as though he’d never left. Maybe he hadn’t. His deep green eyes speak of forests and far-away rivers. “And now you, as a Pathfinder, can channel through her.”
“Does she know?”
“She has no perception of anything beyond the world she inhabits.”
“Is that why she can’t see you? Can’t hear me speaking to you?” Just like last night, she is still—not frozen, I can see the rise and fall of her breaths—as Silas and I speak.
“Yes. I am not of this world. Not anymore. Unless I choose to be seen, she will never hear or see me. I am no more real to her than the shadows.”
I turn back to my mother, and meet her eyes, who blinks, and seems to return to herself.
“I’m right here, kasaan. I never wanted to leave you.”
Her eyes go slick, and she dashes her hand against her sleeve.
“Why did you do that, my love? What was it for? I don’t understand.”
I search for the words to explain, wishing I could show her my memories as easily as I’ve walked through hers. I wish I could tell her about the worlds I’ve visited, and the blackness that will crush us all if I’m not careful. I wish I could tell her about Silas, and the impostor, the shadow-version they sent to me to burn me, to open the door to them, to let them into her eyes as surely as they’ve come into mine. But I can’t. She won’t understand. So I tell her the other truth, the Earth-truth, the one that makes sense in her world.
She scrubs her face with the palm of her hand, choking out a sob.
“Oh, Noomi,” she says, her voice coming out in a little gasp. “I can’t lose you, too. Not after your father.”
“I’m not going anywhere, kasaan. The flames can’t hurt me. You see?” I gesture with a sweep down to my body. “I’m fine.”
I shake my head.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. I was wrong. I should never have done it.”
The wisps of a smile float onto her face.
A small, familiar face pokes around the door frame. Her wide, green eyes light up and she dashes into the room and hops onto my bed.
“Noomi!” she cries, throwing her arms around me. She feels so small against me. “Are you better now?”
Behind her, Claire hovers at the door frame, looking uncharacteristically nervous. My heart rate spikes. How can I face Claire after everything I’ve done? I glance at Silas, sitting calmly to my side, watching everything unfold with his usual stoicism. He meets my eye and offers a slight smile, so bare it might have been a wisp of cloud. My sister follows my eyes, glancing in Silas’ direction. But her eyes turn back to mine immediately. Did she see him? I wonder.
“I think so,” I say, smiling.
“How do you know?” she asks, frowning. I laugh.
“Because you’re here, fruitcake.” I kiss her on the cheek. “How can anything be bad when you’re here?” I glance at Claire, standing in the doorway, running her hands through her hair anxiously.
“Hey,” she says. My breath catches in my throat.
“Claire,” I mutter. “I’m sorry—”
“You don’t have to apologize,” she says, but she dodges my eyes. “It’s okay.”
“Yes,” she says. “Everyone’s fine. Kalifa’s worried sick about you. She wanted to come today, but….”
But what? I want to ask. But I don’t pursue that thought. I don’t want to know what it was kept her away from me today. I don’t want to know what kind of horrors I’ve visited upon my friends. I don’t want to think about repairing those broken relationships, not yet. I can’t fathom the immensity of that challenge.
“Thanks for coming,” I say hoarsely.
“Of course,” she says, her red hair flashing around her as she comes to sit on my bedside. Her expression softens. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Are you going to come see my ballet recital this weekend?” Ada asks, her mouth in a little pout. Her words come out slowly, and somewhat distorted, like sounds heard underwater.
“Of course, my love. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” My own voice sounds normal. I glance around, curious. Why is everything slowing down?
“We have to see what the doctors say,” my mother says, in English. But the sounds crawl out of her mouth, inching like worms.
“Noomi.” Silas’ voice echoes, hollow, through my rib cage. “Look into their eyes.”
Darkness, blooming like madness, consumes empty irises. Movement in the room seems to settle like dust to a quiet stillness. Claire’s hands, resting gently on my knee. Ada, watching me with blank eyes, leaning towards me. My mother, a vague, wondering smile resting on her lips, now petrified. I feel frozen, myself, but the pounding of my heart tells me otherwise.
“The shadows are draining the energy from us,” Silas says calmly. “From them.”
The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of a closed system never decreases.
“You remember what they said, Noomi. ‘We will suck your world into ours and return it to oblivion.’ That’s what they’re doing. They’re taking the energy from this world and draining it into their own. They’re drawn to you right now because you’re vulnerable. The drugs your doctors have given you will make you more susceptible to their power. Just like the alcohol.”
“What do I do? How do we stop them?”
“We close the portal.”
I shudder. I reach out instinctively to grab my sister’s hand. It’s as chill as old stone. I wrap my hands around hers, squeezing hard, but her eyes are black as tar, and I blink back tears of my own.
“I don’t know any more than you do. But we can start by taking you away from here.”
“Where?” I ask, dreading his answer. The last place I want to go again is their world.
“No,” he says, looking at the expression on my face, and he laughs. It’s a strange thing. I’ve never heard him laugh before, and this is the last moment I would have expected to hear him laugh. It’s a rumble, almost, like the thunder across a plain that hearkens the end of a long dry spell. It’s infectious, and despite the sombre, stone-still bodies next to me and the darkness stifling them, I can’t help but smile back at him.
“What?” I ask.
“We’re not going to a different world. Not this time.” There’s a trace of mischief on his face. “We’re just going to get out of here. This room. The hospital.” He puts his hand against the crook in my elbow and, before I can protest, pulls the needle from my arm with a quick, deft tug. I find, to my astonishment, that it doesn’t even hurt. He takes my hand and pulls me up, away from Claire and my sister and kasaan. I don’t resist.
“Where you go, the shadows will follow. They’ve opened you to their world, but you’re still the portal. They’re confined by your physical location. Let’s go. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
He smiles at me, and I acquiesce gently, falling into stride with him. I cast a longing glance back at Ada, Claire, and my mother, my little family, frozen in time and space. I want to comfort them, to breathe life back into them, to share with them the warmth in my limbs. But the cotton-soft smile on Silas’ face draws me away, and I let the hope in my chest spark into a little candle, beating back the shadows.