After the events of the morning, everyone seemed to need some private time, especially Blue. She went to our room and crawled back into bed, claiming to still be tired from the night before. Esme and Avery retreated outside, while Val and Ash went to town to go bowling with the couple they met the night before.
I sat by myself in the living room, remote in hand and flipping mindlessly through channels. With no one in close vicinity, I didn’t have to work to block out random thoughts and impressions. I stretched out on the couch and let myself relax completely, a rarity for me. No walls in my mind, no struggle for control, no confusion as I tried to sort out all the voices.
I came across the movie Casablanca as I scrolled through channels, and stopped. Something about the movie spoke to me, reminded me of me and Blue. I wondered if it was the depth of Rick and Ilsa’s love for each other that mirrored mine and Blue’s.
Maybe it’s the hopelessness of it, the voice inside me mocked. She has to give him up to do the right thing, and he has to push her to do it. Just as you’ll have to push Blue. There’s nothing you can do to change it. At least she’ll have Avery to comfort her after you’re gone.
Once again, the foreign anger inside me growled to life.
In defiance I pushed the channel up button on the remote, flipping through channels until I found one playing music videos and a close up of a woman’s face filled the screen.
Zelda, I thought as I studied her features. Despite Blue’s denial, I could still see a resemblance between the two of them. Zelda wore heavy makeup so it was hard to tell, and she seemed taller, leaner, and had longer features, but the similarities were there.
Her brow wrinkled as she sang, and the sadness in her eyes seemed to seep through the screen.
Stuck inside a life of maybe
Finding bliss in erratic shifts
I watch you avoiding me
Sin-free and quietly
Keep your hands clean
Keep your mind free
Never touch me
Forget to love me
We can be pure
so we can be godly
We can be meek
so we can be lonely
Open your eyes
Free from the guise
No longer hypnotized
Searching for a beautiful life
Somebody else’s life
Can I start over this life?
Something about her singing made me uneasy as I stared at her. The song was a kind of ballad, but still possessed an edge, an undeniable hardness. The mournful expression of earlier now seemed like a persona, fake sorrow. I turned the television off and laid back, closing my eyes, trying to quell the uneasiness.
I pushed the song from my mind, thinking about the events of the previous night, as well as this morning. I wondered if Rayne’s solution was truly the only way to fix things, but it was the image of Blue’s tear-stained face that haunted me as I fell asleep.
Home, I realized. I was home. I looked around the small room as I pulled the nightshirt in my hands over my head. The water closet, the old bed with the rusted frame, the bare wooden floor slats. I looked down at my hands and realized they were those of a child.
Suddenly, a gunshot rang out from the other room, and I dropped to the floor behind the bed as angry voices barked orders through the wall.
The door burst open and I scurried under the bed as a man dressed in camouflage and carrying a rifle marched in, dragging my sister Zoya by her hair. She screamed and I clamped a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming as well.
My father rushed into the room, yelling at the man until another soldier came up from behind and struck him on the back of the head with the butt of his own rifle.
Zoya screamed as our father crumpled to the ground, blood gushing from the wound at the back of his head. From under the bed, I watched it pool beneath him before one of the soldier’s dragged him from the room, the blood streaking across the floor in a gruesome smear. The first soldier shut the door behind him.
I watched as Zoya twisted herself around the soldier’s leg, biting him hard on the calf. The man backhanded her with a force that knocked her to the floor.
She lay still for a moment, facing the bed, until her eyes landed on me. Her voice filled my mind. Do not move, brother. Do not make a sound.
The soldier heaved her off the floor and threw her on the bed. The bedsprings flexed above me, and I flattened myself against the wooden slats of the floor to avoid being crushed.
The sound of Zoya crying filled my ears, and I squeezed my eyes shut as if I doing so could block out the noise. A wave of nausea hit me and suddenly, I found myself staring up at the soldier as he ripped the clothes off my body. In the same moment, I realized I was also staring down at Zoya as I shredded her clothes with strong, unfamiliar hands.
I felt the screams tearing out of my throat as mad panic overwhelmed my senses, barely able to separate the image of the soldier above me and Zoya below.
A second later, the maniacal glee of the soldier ripped through me, and I couldn’t hold back my screams any longer.
I screamed until my throat was hoarse, until the screams turned to great heaving sobs. Only then did I hear the voice calling my name.
“Kasimir,” the voice soothed. “Shh. Open your eyes, little one.”
Peeking through my eyelids, I saw Zoya’s face peering at me under the bed. She reached out a hand.
“Come, little one, you are safe.”
“But you’re dead,” I breathed as I put my hand in hers and she helped me from under the bed. I looked around in wonder.
The walls had fallen away, and the bedroom sat in the middle of a clearing, a lush forest surrounding it on all sides as the sun shone down on us.
I looked at our joined hands and realized the hand that held hers belonged to an adult. The childish persona I had adopted in the dream had disappeared.
“That’s right,” I said aloud. “This is a dream.”
“Are you certain?” Zoya asked with a smile. “Just because you are not awake does not mean you are dreaming. I have been trying to communicate with you for a long time, but it was not until you understood what was happening that I was able to break through.”
“If this isn’t a dream, then what is it?”
“You are between,” she said.
“Between spaces. Between worlds.” She pointed toward the woods. “Look, there. Do you see it?”
I stared in the direction she pointed, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the woods, I began to see a black void deep in the trees. At first I thought it was just the darkness of the woods itself, but after a moment I could see the outline of the void. The edges writhed and seethed as if alive, and the entire void blurred and shimmered like a puddle of oil.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It is the other side.” She lifted her hand again, this time pointing in the opposite direction. “And there. That is the world you know.”
I looked, this time shocked to see a ghost image of me sleeping on the couch projected against the trees.
Zoya continued, pointed at the ground beneath us. “This space is the crack between worlds. This is what you created when you died and went back. This is you.”
I nodded. “I understand. I just don’t know how to fix it.”
Zoya gave me a sad smile. “Yes, you do. Look again,” she said as she pointed back to the void.
I looked again, and suddenly I could see long, tentacle-like strands from the void snaking across the clearing, their thin fingers wrapped around me.
I cried out and tried to shake them off, but they moved and slid over my skin like oily, black mercury.
“Just as you are attached to the world you know, you are now attached to the other side,” Zoya told me. “As long as you are attached to both worlds, they will continue to merge.”
“What will happen if the worlds merge?” I asked.
Her smiled disappeared. “Ultimate chaos. Both worlds will be lost.” Her voice took on a tone of urgency. “You must seal the rift before it is too late. If you do not, everything you love will be destroyed.”
I thought of Blue and realized that if I had to die, I couldn’t think of a better reason.
I looked at Zoya. “How do I fix it?”
“You must go back. The pieces of that world you see attached to you will follow you back in, and the rift will seal itself.”
“Is there any way I can seal it and stay with Blue?” I asked.
Zoya frowned. “As long as you are attached to the other side, you cannot stay with her.”
“She won’t let go easily,” I told her.
“No,” my sister agreed. “She loves you as deeply as any person has ever loved another. I am glad you found such a love, little one, even if only for a short while.”
I stared at her, as if realizing for the first time who I was talking to, and I reached for her hand again. “I wish you could meet her. I miss you, sister.”
She pulled me into an embrace. “I have been with you since the rift was opened,” she whispered against my ear. “Fighting to protect you. I will stay with you as long as I can.”
I pulled away and looked at her worried face. “What do you mean?”
She glanced toward the void. “There are others who are not so benevolent. I fight them as much as I can, but I cannot fight them all. Your mind is too open. The barriers are down, and the others are trying to use you to gain access to the other side. If they overwhelm you, you will be lost forever and the side you know, her world,” she said pointedly, and I knew she meant Blue, “will be lost along with you.”
I nodded, tears filling my eyes as I looked at my sister. “Is it terrible, Zoya? The other side?”
“No,” she smiled. “Those of the light, stay within the light, and those of the dark, stay within the dark. I existed in place of pure joy. The two sides have begun to merge only since the rift was created. If you repair it, all will be as it was.”
Zoya glanced at the void again, before looking back at me with fearful eyes. “It is time for you to wake up, little one, but before I go, one last warning. The past may be gone, but it is not dead. Very soon you will come face to face with your nightmares.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The void emitted a strange mix of moaning and hissing, and Zoya’s frantic eyes darted to the abyss. “No time,” she whispered. “Wake up!”
I gasped for air as I woke, rolling off the couch in my panic. I hit the floor with a heavy thud.
As my breathing calmed, I replayed the dream in my mind. Not a dream, I reminded myself. It may have started out just like my nightmares, but it definitely hadn’t ended like one.
I warmed as I thought of Zoya. Ever since I lost my family, I’d tried to put it in the past and forget what happened. I’d told myself to look to the future and focus on becoming the person I wanted to be.
Now I realized the past stayed with us no matter how much we tried to ignore it. By trying to ignore it, I had dishonored the memory of my family. I had dishonored Zoya.
“I will do better,” I said aloud. “I promise you, Zoya, I will make things right.”