The Margin Alien

Standard

Don’t spend too much time looking around, I told myself.  Just find Andy, fix the harness, and come on back.

My brother had said the place was amazing and the people were great and that he couldn’t wait to take us there, once he was sure it would be safe.  

But I couldn’t let that dazzle me.  Especially since a small part of me wondered if he’d somehow gotten enthralled into staying longer than he’d intended.  Maybe he’d lost track of time.  I glanced over at the kids, who stood thirty feet away in the doorway.  Andy didn’t allow himself to lose track of time anymore, unless someone else was taking care of the kids.  And the state of his bedroom, his garage…

Remember why you’re going there.

I took a deep breath.  None of us knew if this would work.  The harness was clearly broken, but I was taking it anyway—it, and a bag of tools and parts—in the hopes that Andy could fix it.  Without the harness and the tether that it was attached to on our side, we might not be able to find our way back.  But if the dimension he’d been visiting for the past several months was as fabulous as he’d described, I was hoping that any missing parts or tools could be supplied by the good people of Dimension Amhadar (from Andy’s acronym for “All my hopes and dreams are realized.”)

The DRift generator still seemed to be working properly.

Thank goodness Andy wasn’t the kind of inventor who worked in complete secrecy, and only gathered his family around when it was time to show and tell.

We knew just enough for it to be reckless, but feasible, for us to generate a dimensional rift, and for me to step through it to find my brother.

I exhaled, and stepped through the rift.

***

I had expected to find myself stepping onto a dirt lot.  According to my brother, Amhadar was very different from our home dimension in many ways.  The first time he’d stepped through, he’d almost gotten run over by traffic.  But he’d managed to find a set of coordinates that led to an empty dirt lot that was close enough to food and shelter (in case he ever got stranded for a bit.) 

I expected to maybe have to explain myself to someone.  Explain how I’d just stepped out of thin air.  After what the kids had told me, I feared I might encounter something my brother said he’d never encountered, hostility.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d be floating free in a pink-and-purple sky.  What I didn’t expect was air so thick that I was both breathing it and swallowing it at the same time. 

I coughed and I flailed.  I gasped and flailed.  I tumbled and panicked.

And then I landed.  Softly.  On a hazy black surface. 

I swallowed and it felt as if I’d just gulped down some…fruity iced tea. 

I forced myself to take a slow, measured breath through my nose.  The air seemed to thin and cool.  I inhaled smoothly and got to my feet.

I looked down at the harness.  The harness that was supposed to keep me tethered to my home dimension.  It didn’t look like much.  Andy copied the exact design of a parachute harness.  It didn’t have any lights or buttons or switches.  Just one ripcord that if it was tugged would trigger the DRift generator to open a rift to its last coordinates, and trigger the tether to pull the traveler back home. 

Andy must have anticipated that he might end up stepping out of a rift and above the ground.  If that happened, he would activate the tether, and it would pull him back home, back onto safe solid ground.

This, of course, was when the harness was in functioning order.

I heard a muffled sound, like twinkling, music maybe, and conversation from the other side of a wall.  I couldn’t place the direction it was coming from.

I looked up.

Bars of light were crossing the sky.  They shifted every now and then.

I spotted a few floating rocks—like the one I seemed to be standing on.

They floated through the sky like clouds on a gentle breeze.  One of them floated close enough for me to see that it wasn’t made of rock, but of water, or some kind of clear liquid.  And it was huge, the size of a lake.  Some animal that looked like a dinosaur with fins was swimming around inside it chasing schools of glittering magenta fish.

In the distance, a long serpentine shape undulated through the sky.  It vanished into wisps of smoke as I watched.

I brought my free hand to my shoulder and touched the harness again.  The harness was broken.  But the generator, the generator should have worked.  I felt a sheen a sweat forming at the margins of my face.  I felt my heart thumping away in my chest.

I finally understood why people in stories sometimes said obvious things out loud.  I’d always thought it was for dramatic effect.  But it was a tool, a psychological grounding thing.  It had to be.  Because I needed to say it out loud.  I needed the words to be heavy enough to anchor me. 

“I don’t think I’m Amhadar.”

***

Andy had called Amhadar an advanced version of Earth, and of humanity.  One of the first things he’d done was to look himself up in their directories, and his family, then his friends.  That was the first difference he noted.  He and his family and friends didn’t seem to exist.  He did some more digging on subsequent visits and theorized that it may be in part because some of the major events of our world—wars, mass oppressions, natural and manmade disasters—none of them occurred in Amhadar, resulting in people remaining alive who had died in our world.  That in turn seemed to have resulted in some people never being born in that dimension who were born in ours—including us and everyone we knew.  That was unnerving and overwhelming.  But to Andy, it was also exciting.  It meant that none of us had to worry about bumping into our dopplegangers and triggering some kind of…antimatter collision or something.  Andy described it in detail.  But I didn’t understand most of it.

He never said anything about floating lakes or dragons. 

The generator must have spit me out into another dimension.  Why and how, I didn’t know.

The good news was that I was still alive.  It seemed as if I’d adjusted to the atmosphere.  The bad news was that Andy was not likely to be somewhere in this new dimension—not if the generator had been broken or tampered with when I used it.  I had checked, but maybe I missed something.

The other bad news was that without his help, I wouldn’t be able to fix the harness.  But the other good news was that I could return back through open rift.  It had only been a few minutes, and I’d asked the kids to keep the rift open for an hour.  Andy had never kept a rift open, in case something bad came out of it.  But this was an emergency.  I told the kids to keep watch and close the rift if they saw anything other than me or their dad come through.

The tricky news was that the rift was up in the air.  I tried jumping up.  I hadn’t landed hard, so I thought that might mean gravity wasn’t as strong, and that I could leap up pretty far.  But I couldn’t jump any higher than I normally could.

I marked where the rift was, just to make sure I didn’t lose sight of it.  It looked like a twinkling star about twenty feet above my head. 

I glanced around to assess my current environment.  I saw trees on some of the floating rocks.  Maybe I could jump onto one of the rocks video-game-style and then scramble up a tree and leap into the rift.

I turned to check on the rift again.  And I was startled to see a group of people hanging around near a patch of trees on my floating rock.  The same floating rock that had been barren and uninhabited—other than me—just a few seconds ago.  The people seemed to be having a picnic and chatting.  I approached and called out to them.  If they were as friendly to me as they were to each other, I’d risk asking for help.

They all stopped talking and turned to me.  For a split second, there was silence.  All I heard was that musical twinkling.  Then, all the people started laughing.  I hesitated.  They kept laughing.  I couldn’t tell if they were laughing at me though.  They weren’t pointing at me or anything.  As they laughed, they seemed to shrink.  Their forms shifted, changed, turned from humans into some animals that looked like foxes, but with scales in various shades of green. 

The scaly fox people rolled up into balls and rolled away over the edge of the rock, still laughing.

I gulped and felt a slight wave of dizziness.  I looked up.  The twinkling light of the rift was still there, but it seemed farther away.  My rock was probably moving, just like the others.  By instinct, I closed my eyes and touched the harness again.  I felt a slight vibration under my hand.

“You should return to where you came from, insider,” a voice said, “before the worm-queen sends her collectors after you too.”

I gulped again and opened my eyes slowly, thinking one of the laughing people was still there.  But there were no people.  And there were no scaly green foxes.

There wasn’t even a patch of trees anymore.  There was only one tree, and it seemed to be fading away.

A large bird was perched on the bare branches of the tree that had only seconds ago been lush with leaves and fruit.

The bird looked like an eagle or hawk, but its feathers were colorful, like a parrot’s.  The bird’s claws were hooked around a branch as thick as my arm. 

I gulped and glanced around to see where the bird’s owner was.

“I’ve never see an insider before,” the voice said.  “Are you all so plain?”

I realized it was the bird herself who’d spoken.  She stretched her wings a little and gazed down at me.

“No,” I said, “some are quite beautiful.”

“Beautiful?  What means that?”

“Pleasant to look upon.”  I wanted to also say “like you,” but I didn’t know how she would receive that.

The rainbow eagle cocked her head.  “Oh, well you are pleasant to look upon. But you’re just so…plain, plane, planar.”

“Okay…”

“I thought you would be multidimensional.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“Oh, I’m not disappointed.  It’s actually a comfort.”

“Are you a harpy?”  I snapped shut my mouth, having realized I’d just spoken the question aloud. 

“Excuse me?”

She sounded like a woman.  I don’t know why it was first thing that came to mind.  “I…sorry, what people are you, may I ask?  I don’t presume to know just by looking.”

“But you did presume.  What is that word you called me?”

“If I may,” I said, “you are quite beautiful.  Your feathers, your colors.”

The eagle cocked her head in the other direction.  “You come from within the margins.  Where there are well-defined boundaries, rules—some of which cannot be broken or bent. Reality.”

I glanced around without moving my head.  “Isn’t this also real?”

“It is for now.”

“I’m sorry for intruding in this…in your dimension.  I am trying to get back, but—“

“Why did you come?”

I hesitated for a breath, before deciding to tell the truth.  “I was searching for someone.  I thought he might be here.”

“Another insider?  Did you find him?”

“Well, I didn’t actually search, but I don’t think he’s here.”

“Why not?  Are the margins not worthy of a visit?”

“The margins?  Is that what this place is called?”

“I am wary of defining too precisely.  It is not my way.  But, yes.  This is the margins.”

“Well, it’s lovely and interesting, but it’s not my home.  So maybe you can help me, if you don’t mind.”  I pointed above her head.  “I’m trying to find a way to get to that twinkling light so I can return to the…the outside.”

The rainbow eagle suddenly cried out.  I felt my heart leap.

“Outside the margins?” the eagle said, and she sounded as if she were on the verge of laughing.  “You are quite the jester.  How wonderful.  And unexpected, for an insider.”

Insider.  I understood now.  My home—from the eagle’s perspective—was on the inside of “the margins.”

I took advantage of her amusement with me.  Maybe I could find out some way to get to Amhadar and to Andy.  “Do you know what is outside of the margins?”

The eagle folded her wings.  “Nothingness and despair.”

My eyes widened.  “Yikes.”

“I’ve never been there myself, but I glimpsed it once.  I wouldn’t recommend it.”

So that was a dead end.  I gave a light chuckle.  “Yes, I’m from the inside alright.”

“You are right to leave here, and quickly, before the worm-queen captures you too.”

“Is it illegal for me to be here?”

“Of course not.  She just doesn’t like it.”

A sinking feeling was growing in my gut.  The eagle had mentioned my being captured twice. 

I gulped.  I was doing that a lot.  “Are you…are you here to take me to the queen?”

The eagle cocked her head.  “I have no official affiliations.” She peered at me.  “I am here in the service of curiosity.”

I peered back at her for a few seconds.  Then reached into my pocket.  “In that case…”

The rainbow eagle straightened her head and leaned forward.

I had plenty of pictures of Andy on my phone, but I didn’t want to drain my battery showing people his photo.  Luckily, Andy had a number of different printers.  So I had printed a physical photograph.

I pulled it out and showed it to the eagle.

She expanded her wings to their full length and shifted side to side on the branch. “A faithful likeness?  What a gift!”

“Have you seen this man?  This insider?”

“Yes, I have.”

My heart soared.  “Please, tell me where you’ve seen him.”

The eagle bent her head toward the photograph.  “He’s right there.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m sorry.  I meant, have you seen him the way you’re seeing me?  Not his, uh, likeness, but his…his actual…”

“Physical form?”

“Yes.”

“Then I have not seen him.  But I did feel the presence of an insider, one who is not you, one who was before you.  I’ve always wanted to see one, so I flew in the direction of the wake—you insiders leave such a powerful wake.  But the other did not stand still as you have done.  I saw the queen’s guards carrying someone to the castle.  I wasn’t in the mood to deal with them, so I decided to leave off.  It was to my delight when I felt the presence of another insider, so soon thereafter.”

“Can you feel the presence of this other person now?  Would you be able to lead me to them?”

“I’m not certain that is wise.”

“I understand there would be danger.  But if you could just point me in the right direction, it would be a great help.  You wouldn’t have to come with.” 

“There is no direction that leads to the queen’s castle.  The only way to get there is to allow yourself to be captured.”

I blinked.  “That doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

“You could always leave afterwards.”

“After I’ve been captured?”

“Of course.”

“How?”

“Just walk out of the cell.”

“They’re not locked?”

“But of course they’re locked.  But you can unlock them.”

“How?  The guards aren’t just going to give me the keys.” I tugged at the harness, trying to keep calm.

“Of course not.”

I threw up my hands.  “I’m sorry.  I’m not understanding you.” 

We were both silent for a moment.  And I thought I heard a droning buzz in the air.  Then the rainbow eagle spoke.

“Anything can happen in the margins.”

I sighed.  “And how does that help me, exactly?”

“Well, once you know a thing, you know.  Once you see, you’ll always see, even if you pretend that you can’t see.”

I pressed my lips together as I inhaled.  “It sounds like you’re speaking in riddles, but…but here in the margins, your words can be taken literally.  Is that right?”

“It is right. It is left.  It is top.  It is bottom.”

“Let myself be captured, find my brother if he’s there, and then just walk out of the cell.  If that were possible, why wouldn’t my—the other insider have done it himself?”

“Because he doesn’t know what you know.”

“Anything can happen in the margins?”

The eagle bowed her head.

I shook my head.  “It just seems too easy.”

“Things are rarely easy in the margins.”

I offered her a wry grin.  “Things are rarely easy on the inside.”

She cocked her head.  “Really?  Well, then I beg your pardon.”

How do I know I can trust you? I thought.

The eagle recoiled her head.  “How do I know I can trust you?  You are the one who came barging into my space after all.”

I felt my eyes go wide.  “Did you just read my mind?”

“No, that would be quite a feat, wouldn’t it?  I read your thought.”

She spread her wings as the tree she was standing on faded away.  She flapped and wheeled off.  “Farewell, insider.”

I waved to her as the sound of buzzing grew louder.

***

The queen’s guards, as it turned out, did not look as majestic as that swimming dinosaur, or as beautiful as the rainbow eagle. 

They looked like giant wasps with the heads of human babies.  Human babies with wrinkled skin and stern expressions.

One of them spoke, and said, in a refined accent.  “By order of the Worm-queen of Marginalia, you are trespassing in this realm.  You will be taken to the castle and helpd in captivity so long as it serves her highness’s pleasure.”

Before I could say a word, two of them grabbed me and hoisted me into the air.  I tried to track the path we were traveling, but my eyes couldn’t focus on anything.  All I saw was the old generic wormhole tunnel faster-than-light-speed effect that they used in sci-fi shows and movies. 

We stopped suddenly after a few moments, and I gasped when they dropped me to the ground.

The sky was no longer pink and purple, but a familiar soft blue.  There were wispy clouds—actual clouds, not rock—in the air.  I was standing on grass in a courtyard.  Other guards marched by, and nudged me to start walking.  I felt the eyes of a crowd on me, but when I tried to glance to either side of me, all I saw was the guards. 

I thought they would take me before this worm-queen of theirs, and that she’d interrogate me.  I rehearsed some answers as we marched into the castle.

But the guards walked me down a single flight of stairs, to a stone chamber with several cells.  Light beamed in from a tiny window in each cell.  It smelled—surprisingly—like honey.  Honey and fresh grass.

Even more surprisingly, they put me in a cell, threw my pack in the cell, and then walked off.  I could see the extent of the chamber and the stairs.  They’d left no guard to watch over me.

After the last guard left, a figure approached the bars of the cell across from me.

I shook my head at this third surprise.  “Andy?”

***

We both thought we were imagining things.  But we couldn’t figure out a way to test whether the other person was the real sibling.  So we agreed to act as if we were both real.  I had really come to rescue Andy.  And Andy was really in the other cell, in the dimension I had accidentally stepped into.

Or I thought it was an accident.

Somehow, in the hour head start that Andy had on me, he’d learned quite a bit about the dimension.

Or…I thought it was an hour head start.

Andy had been in his cell for seven days by his count.  In those days, he hadn’t felt hunger, thirst, or the need to use the facilities, which was good, because until the guards brought me down, he hadn’t seen a single one of them.  He hadn’t seen anyone or anything at all.

I tossed him the tools he asked for from the pack I’d brought.  He worked on the lock to his cell as he explained everything he’d learned about the dimension that the worm-queen called “Marginalia.”

His passing through the dimension on his many trials left massive wakes that disturbed the margins.  The queen sent her guards to arrest him, but they couldn’t touch him when he had his harness on—a functional harness, that is.  This led the queen to send her spies as far as they could go, into the margins of Andy’s notes.  That was how she learned about his device, the DRift generator.   

The spies learned enough to understand that they could never take him in their dimension—in the margins—when he had his harness on, and that he would never enter the rift without it.  And they couldn’t reach him in his own dimension.  As such, the queen had to enlist the aid of interdimensional beings, those who naturally existed within different dimensions and could pass through some or all of them.  Most such beings didn’t bother with unidimensional beings and their matters. 

There was one kind of impish creature who might do the deed.  They didn’t follow orders or edicts.  They didn’t make deals and arrangements (and if ever they did, they could not be counted on to adhere to them.)  But they did value certain things, things that—when offered—could motivate them to act in certain ways.  Whatever those things were, the worm-queen offered them.

“Monkeys,” Andy said.  “They reminded me of monkeys.  They kept phasing in and out of my eyesight.”

I told him that the kids were woken by some commotion that night, and they’d heard Andy talking to someone and walking downstairs.  They followed and tried to spy, watching him go into the garage. They heard a commotion and their dad yelling, and some high-pitched screaming, and then…nothing.

They called me while they kept their eyes on the garage, waiting for him to come out.

But according to the automated auditing log that my diligent brother had set up, the DRift generator hadn’t been activated for days.

Andy nodded.  “They didn’t bring me here using the generator.  They just pulled me in.  It felt pretty much the same as walking through a rift.”

I frowned, not understanding.  “But I did use the generator.  It should have taken me to the last coordinates you programmed.  To Amhadar.  So how did I end up here?”  I glanced down at the harness.  “Does this thing have a homing beacon on it?”  I raised my brows at my brother.  “Did you chip yourself?”

Andy stopped working on the cell door.  His shoulders drooped, and he dropped his gaze, and lowered his head.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Their leader, the phase monkeys’ leader, he told me that I’d never actually broken through to another dimension.”  Andy shook his head.  “He told me that I wouldn’t want to.  It would be like a fish bursting out of the water and landing on shore.  I’d survive long enough to see as far as my eye could see, and in minutes, I’d be dead.”

He looked up at me.  “What I thought was Amhadar was just…here.  In the margins.  It isn’t another dimension, not exactly.  Not by the definition I had set.”

“Maybe we should be wary of definitions.”

“What?”

I shook my head.  “Something someone said to me.”

“Well that someone was right.”  Andy got his cell door open and started working on mine.  “Every time I stepped into the margins, I had a clear idea of what I hoped to find.  And that’s exactly what I did find.  A version of our dimension where everything is the way I envision it could be, a version worthy of my kids.”

“Andy, that’s awesome.”

“It was delusional.”

“More like aspirational.”

Andy smiled and huffed out a laugh.  “It is still an intriguing discovery.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Andy nodded. “We’re in the margins, where imagination can go wild, but it’s hazy.  It’s typically where we doodle.”

I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall. “You can doodle inside the margins.”

“You’re thinking too literally.  The margins isn’t the physical space of a paper.  It’s…”

“A concept.  Like ‘thinking outside the box.’  Anything can happen in the margins.”

“Right.”

“So this worm-queen, is she like, a bookworm?” 

Andy gazed at me, his eyes wide.  “How did you figure that out so quickly?”

“I’ve observed that the margins can be literal sometimes.”

“So, what’s the next step of your rescue plan?”

“Sneak out of here and find the rift I came through.  I asked the kids to keep it open for an hour.  It’s been longer, but if time passes slower here—“

“We can’t count of that.  Sometimes it passes faster.  But back up, you told the kids to leave the rift open?”

I hitched up my shoulders. “I told them to close it if anything other than you or me came through.”

“By which time it would be too late.”

“Can stuff from the margins survive inside in the margins?”

Andy shrugged.  “It won’t work anyway.  If your ride here was the same as mine, you didn’t see which way they took you.  And if stuff if always shifting around, it won’t be easy to find that rift in time.”

“Then you’ll have to fix the harness. It’s been vibrating off and on.  Does that mean it’s kind of working?”

Andy glanced at the harness.  “I’ll try to fix it, but even if we make it back home, we have an ongoing problem.”

“The queen,” I said, pushing off from the wall and glancing up at the stairs.  “She’ll send the monkeys to come get your again.  Or some other creature that can reach us in our dimension.  Even if you promise to destroy your device, all your research, and vow to never enter the margins again, she might not believe you.”

Andy was nodding.  “Yeah, I already tried that actually.  And she didn’t believe me.”

“That’s probably because she could tell you were lying.  You’re a terrible liar.”

Andy frowned.

“Come on, you would really stop?  All of your research?”

“Of course, if I knew it was dangerous.”

“But you’re not convinced it’s dangerous.  Even though you got kidnapped by monkeys and dragged into another dimension.”

“They didn’t drag me.  They handled with care.  And we’re not in another dimension.”

“Maybe we can make a deal with the queen to bring some definition to her dimension.  Based on what I’m seeing here, that’s probably what she wants.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure even the monkeys can’t touch me if I’m wearing the harness.  They had a hard time breaking it.  Seemed to sting or something.”

“Okay, but you can’t wear it every minute for the rest of your life.”

“But I could wear it for as long as it takes me to figure out a more portable version.”  He lifted his arm and twisted his hand to display his wrist.

“You really think you can get it to be that small?”

“I would have extremely strong motivation.”

I paused, not wanting to say my next fears out loud.  But I had to.  “Andy…what if the monkeys try to take someone else?  The kids…?”

Andy shook his head.  “You would have found me in hysterics if that were the case.  It doesn’t work that way.  They could only find me and touch me because I’d been in the margins.  To touch anyone else, they’d have to manifest physically in our dimension.  But once they did that, they would become fully defined.  Most would be unable to reverse that process.”

I raised a brow.  “And did they tell you that?  How do you know they weren’t lying?”

Andy smiled.  “They did tell me that, but not on purpose.  And not with their words.”

“Go on.”

“I was asleep when they came for me.  I didn’t observe how they came into our dimension, but I did observe how they returned to the margins.  And how the ones that were holding me had to make… adjustments.  And their leader kept warning them not to manifest fully.  They found me, but they needed my help to find the generator.  I just went ahead and told them, because I was scared they’d find the kids.  They could see the harness too, but they couldn’t see the generator until I touched it.  I tried to trick them and tell them the generator was just a power source, easily replaceable, and that the harness was the key to my entering the margins.  The leader didn’t buy it.  I was surprised they didn’t destroy the generator.  They tried to take it, but it was too heavy for them—not to lift, but to carry into the margins.  I have a feeling we’ll have to watch out for future attempts at theft.”

I grasped the bars.  “Wait…I’ve been in the margins.  So—“

“You’ll have to wear a harness too.  I’ll build another when we get back.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Sorry.”

Andy got my cell open.

***

We had no idea what the layout of the castle was or where there were the fewest guards.  And if we were seen, we were sure the baby-faced wasps could fly much faster than we could run.  We decided to do a leap-frog tactic, so that if one person got caught again, the other could run and hide, and hopefully go free the other when (if) the guards went away again.

But we noticed immediately how quiet it was in the halls.  We didn’t see any guards.  We didn’t see any people or animals.  We didn’t hear any birds chirping outside. 

So we finally risked just walking together through the halls of what seem to be an abandoned castle.  We walked past tapestries with blobs of color that seem to be trying to depict a realistic image. 

We peeked outside to an empty courtyard below.

“When I walked in that courtyard was full of people,” I whispered. 

Andy replied in a low voice. “I wonder what’s changed.”

“It’s losing definition, I think.”

***

In trying to find our way out, we ended up in a vast chamber.  Here, the tapestries had fallen from the walls, and the walls themselves seemed to be peeling away to show open sky above, a sky that was shifting color from blue to pink. 

We saw the way leading to the outside.  To reach it, we had to cross the throne room, but we hoped it would be as empty as the rest of the castle.

It was not.

But we didn’t find who we expected to find sitting on the throne.

Andy tried to grab me as I approached. 

The rainbow eagle stood on the throne. 

I went closer and saw recognition in her eyes.  “It’s you,” I said.

I had told Andy about the eagle as we crept through the castle. 

“What happened to the worm-queen?” Andy asked.

“She grew tired of ruling and retired from queening.”

I raised my brows.  “Just like that?”

“Recent activities in the margins convinced her that there is more to life than conquest and capture.”  The eagle hopped down from the throne.  “She seeks to define herself.”

I nodded.  “That sounds…great.”

“Are you the ruler now?” Andy asked.  “Could you command the, the ones who brought me here to leave us alone as long as we don’t return to the margins?”

“The margins are accustomed to being disturbed,” the eagle said.  “And I do not command any creatures here, outside of myself.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice.  “And even me won’t listen to me sometimes.”

I couldn’t help grinning.  “I don’t suppose there’s a map around here that would lead me back the way I came.”

“Did you draw one as you proceeded on your way?”

“No.”

“Then I suppose you’re right.”

I crossed my arms.  “Could I draw one now?”

The eagle tilted her head.  “It is always inappropriate to draw in the margins.”

“I’m inappropriate…sometimes.”

“Then I suppose you could.”

Andy leaned his head toward me.  “Are you two doing a riddle game?  I can’t tell.”

I leaned toward him.  “I think I might be getting the hang of this place.”

***

I’d pulled out some paper and a pen from the pack I’d brought.  The eagle suddenly swooped toward us, starling both Andy and me.  She landed before us as we knelt to the ground.  I started drawing.

“You remember the way you came?” Andy asked.

“Nope, and even if I did, the way kept changing.”

“Then what are you doing?”

I looked up through the door of the throne room. 

“Blind contour,” I whispered, and let my hand drift and move in the directions that my gaze moved as it saw beyond my physical vision and followed a changing course from the castle to the edge, the edge where I had entered the margins from a rift that was still open.

“Maybe I go with you?” the eagle asked.

I stopped drawing and glanced at her.  “You want to come into our dimension?  I don’t know…”

“Oh no, I much prefer being ill-defined.”

The eagle just wanted to come with us up until the rift.  Andy and I agreed, not that we would have been able to stop her anyway.

***

We followed the map I’d drawn, the lines shifting and changing before our eyes.  I could tell it was making my brother anxious to be following an ever-changing map drawn by someone who hadn’t even been looking at the paper.  I heard him doing his breathing exercises.  It seemed to take hours, but we didn’t get tired, not physically anyway.  I was worried that the kids would have closed the rift.  I’d told them to re-open it, once a day for an hour.  But that was when I’d thought time would pass at the same rate in the dimension I was traveling to.

Finally, we made it.

The map led us in such a way that the rift was now at ground level.

The rainbow eagle landed on the bare branch of a tree that appeared.

“Thank you for all your help,” I said to her.

“I don’t recall being of help.”

I grinned and felt something shift in my chest.  My heart, probably.

“Well, you were,” I said.  I bowed my head.  “Take care of yourself, my friend.”

The eagle recoiled in surprise.  A glow seemed to surround her.  “You have named me without defining me,” she said.  “I too give thanks.”

She extended her many-colored wings, and as the tree she’d been perched on faded, she flapped to gain some height.  Her indigo eyes glinted and she soared away.

I turned to Andy.  “I’m not hungry, but…I have earned a pizza.”

He nodded.  “Let’s get out of here before the worm-queen comes flying out of nowhere and carries one of us off and we start this all over again.”

“You’d come get me if that happened, right?”

“Most probably.”

They stepped through the rift together, leaving the margins behind.

(Or in front.)


Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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