It had just been here, and now we can’t find it.
“Uh.” I say, feeling the space in front of me with confusion. “Where’s the Door?”
Finn stands at my right, but I can barely make him out. His relaxed stance from a minute ago switches instantly, back straightening and jaw setting and head cocking slightly to the side in question.
“This is where it was, yeah?” He asks me, as if I have any idea where we are. Stepping forward to the wall of rock in front of us and instead of disappearing back to Campestris, Finn places his hands lightly on the muddy brown stone. When he does, I feel something like raindrops plopping on my head and shoulders. Feeling the top of my left shoulder, I pick off a speck of dirt, and Finn and I slowly lift our gaze to the source of the dirt.
The tunnel ceiling shakes slightly directly above us, sending cascades of dirt particles down to the floor. Finn lifts his hands to place his palms on the surface of the ceiling, looking off behind me to the receding tunnel.
“What…” Before I can finish my thought, I get a mouthful of dirt, pouring down from the ceiling, and then I’m on the ground. Finn had thrown me on the floor before I had the chance to fall, holding tightly to my wrist as he lays next to me. The earth shakes violently, jerking us from one side of the tunnel to the other and throwing mounds of dirt and rock onto our backs. The quake feels like it goes on forever, and I have the morbid thought that I’ll be choking on dirt forever.
And then, silence. The shaking stops, and the only thing I can feel is Finn’s grip on my wrist. I’m facedown on the floor…I think. I can hear the dust settling and a deep groan as the ground breathes a sigh of relief that the quake’s over. Peace falls again on this dimension, and my curiosity now burns even deeper.
I stop, my pen an inch off the notebook after transcribing the few paragraphs.
“What?” I ask, a little impatient that Elizabeth is stopping our session so soon.
“I…need to go back.” She looks off into the distance, to the right of me, as if she is physically rewinding the story she began. “Earlier that day. Probably a half hour before.”
“Yes.” She shifts her hard gaze to me, eyes narrowing. “It’s important. I forgot something.”
I shrug. “Okay. Earlier that day then…”
Finn smiles in front of me, next to the Door to Campestris, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
“My…turn?” I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Well,” Finn says, his breath clouding in the cold, January air, “last week, I chose the Door in Malacia, and granted, it didn’t turn out great, but you can choose today.”
He gestures to the Door leading out of our world and into Campestris, a you-lead-the-way gesture.
I walk up to him, sticks cracking underneath my boots. Crossing my arms, I ask, “How long were you standing here waiting for me?”
His responses are a push through the Door and a soft chuckle.
On Campestris, I immediately strip my jacket, hanging it over my arm. I’m pretty sure Finn is impervious to weather because he doesn’t seem to feel a thing when the hot Campestris sun beats down, his worn coat still on his shoulders without fail. He keeps pushing me, hands on my shoulders, forward, past our building and straight across the plateau. I spot a shape behind us at the door to our building.
“Wait, Finn, isn’t that…”
“Nope!” It definitely is Neva, but Finn continues to push me in the opposite direction. He’s avoiding her, but before I can ask why and get some vague answer, a familiar face jogs up to my left.
“Elizabeth!” It’s Rhett, walking in step with Finn and I. I don’t see Beata, his mysterious mentor, anywhere. In fact, I hadn’t seen her for a few days. But Rhett keeps going, so I forget about Beata for the time being. “What…is happening here?”
Not the question he was going to ask but a valid one nonetheless.
“Finn has gone crazy and is kidnapping me!” I squeal in a high, damsel-in-distress voice.
Rhett’s dark eyes narrow, and he tightens a little.
“That,” Finn rolls his eyes, “was a joke, Rhett. We just need to get an early start today. Wegferends as a whole are too far low on exploration quotas.”
“We have quotas?” I ask, semi-serious.
No one answers the question. Rhett says, “Well, I was going to ask if you had that book you talked about.”
Over the past week or so, Rhett and I have found we have a mutual love for coffee shops, especially the one in my hometown. Every other day I get a text asking to get coffee. Kid hasn’t had a lot of friends, what with being all up in wegferend world, and I like his company. Even when he doesn’t get my jokes, which is most of the time.
“Oh, yeah!” I dig my heels into the ground, fighting against Finn’s efforts because Rhett is almost jogging. “Yeah, if you just go into our building, it’s…”
The next second, I’m weightless and frozen, and then a cool breeze kisses my face as Finn finally stops pushing me forward.
“Finn!” My voice echoes in the cold and empty coliseum of Malacia. It looks exactly the same as it did two weeks ago during the great Christmas fiasco when Finn and I traveled to Litatio and almost got killed by the Heims Festival participants. Apparently, when Finn went back to give presents to all the deadly boys and girls who about sacrificed us to try to save themselves, he stayed out of sight and delivered a few hundred wegferend food packets to the people. Unfortunately, these few hundred food packets were not just from our fridge but nearly every other wegferend fridge in Campestris. Now that I think about it, that might be why we’re avoiding Neva.
“Well?” Finn gestures dramatically around the silent coliseum. “What’s your pick?”
“Don’t we, like, have something specific to do?” I give him a look. “Like, maybe whatever is in that envelope that Neva’s holding outside our door?”
He rolls his eyes. “When did you turn all boring?”
I gasp, mouth wide open in disbelief. “Excuse you! Boring? Do you even know who you’re talking to?”
He grins. “Prove it then.”
“I hate you.” I say, but I pass him and survey the land in front of me. The gentle snow drifts never hit the ground, giving the whole place an ethereal look. I start down the stairs in front of me, looking side to side at the rows and rows of grey stone seats and pulling my jacket back on over my shoulders.
Halting at a random row, I move toward the Doors to choose one at random, but before I can, Finn puts his hands on my shoulders and directs me down another row.
“Not that one.” He says tersely, and I look up at him, on the step now above me in line with the row I had wanted to go down. His eyes seem to darken, and he looks away from me. I glance at the slivers of the Doors, where reality seems to shiver, and I see the marks underneath each one, deep and ragged. Why not that row? I know better than to ask, but now I’m so curious.
Nonetheless, I plop down a few more steps and turn down a row with no markings on the Doors. Finn follows behind as I count softly under my breath, and then I halt in front of the chosen Door.
Finn scrunches his brow. “Why the seventh one specifically?”
Well, now I can’t help it. “Why not that row?”
He averts my glance again and avoids the question by stepping into the Door I chose. Before I follow, I look back up the coliseum, counting seven rows back up to that forbidden row. I make a mental note that it’s the fourteenth row down from where we come in, and then I step softly into this new dimension.
A ten minute walk down the twisting and turning tunnel and a suggestion from Finn to regroup at the Door later, the dust is settling from whatever earthquake or collapse just happened. I’m face down with a mouthful of dirt, Finn’s hand clenching my wrist tightly. I push my upper body up with my forearms, causing dirt and a few stones to tumble off of my back. I start to cough, trying to clear my lungs of the grime. I feel Finn let go of my wrist and hear him coughing and heaving himself to a sitting position. I do the same, about five feet away from him in the knee-high layer of dirt that now covers the ground.
“Um,” I get out through coughs, “what the hell?”
“Huh,” is his only response. He’s too busy looking around the tunnel, pressing his palms on the wall closest to him. Soon, I’m going to stop asking him questions.
I can barely see, through the softly falling dust, that the open end of the tunnel luckily seems to have not caved in. However, the wall where the Door had maybe been before looks a few feet closer that it was before. A jagged end to a rock sticks out of the wall that wasn’t there before. At least, I don’t think it was.
“Sh!” Finn says out of nowhere, making me jump nearly a foot.
“What the…I didn’t say any…” I get shushed again. Great.
I give him a look, but he’s not paying attention, just looking up. Something about his eyes makes me stop, and my breath catches. The air is heavy with that feeling that you get when someone’s watching. Slowly, I follow Finn’s gaze upward, the only movement in the still air. And then, my eyes go wide.
The first thing I notice when I look up from that dusty tunnel floor is sunlight. White light streams down from an opening probably miles above us, now dancing and blinking in our little section of the tunnel. A hole has opened up from the surface to our tunnel, jagged and uneven. It’s probably only wide enough to barely fit for a person to crawl up. But nothing is crawling up. Something is, however, crawling down.
To Be Continued next week in Tunnels: Part Two!
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