TBOTSG-Chapter 1

July 13, 2023

Right in between two scratches and a few not-very-successful attempts to rewrite a phrase, the phone rang.

It was mid-December, around daybreak. I had been sitting for a few hours right there at my desk, laptop at my side, pencil in hand, building one of my little worlds. It was the pale copy of one of the universes I’ve been meandering in my usual wondering state. I was starting to feel how the fatigue was setting in and how I was slipping into an evergrowing drowsiness. However, I kept telling myself just a little longer because I was trying to get through one of the descriptions I felt was important.

I jumped and, with me, my heart jumped as well. You don’t exactly expect such a jarring noise at such a lonely hour in the morning. Besides, whoever calls at this time doesn’t necessarily bring good news. I looked at the phone and I saw it was her, my favorite fox whom I love more than anything.

I answered in a worried voice, ‘Yes,’ and I waited a few seconds until her clear yet trembling voice said drily, ‘He’s gone.’

A long silence followed, stretching its tentacles into the hidden corners of my mind, unable to wrap itself around what was happening. Finally, in its reverberation, ‘he’s gone’ managed to strike a chord of logic within me and I could find in there the one who might have left. The last time we spoke, at the end of August or the beginning of September, she had been with a guy whom she praised above all others until I started laughing at her, weary of it all.

I rarely felt that way when I talked to her—losing my patience, I mean—and it always happened when she talked to me about boys and, later on, men.

From the other end of the receiver, I felt she was overwhelmed.

I told her ‘I’ll be right there,’ and I didn’t wait for her answer. I pulled on a random pair of jeans and a soft cashmere sweater against my bare skin. A glance in the mirror assured me it was enough. I slung my bag over one shoulder, searched for my keys, and threw my white wool coat over my arm, planning to put it on in the elevator to save time.

As soon as I finished locking up the door I realized I had forgotten my phone. I rolled my eyes at my scattered mind and reluctantly accepted that I couldn’t do things well unless I did them properly. I unlocked and took my phone from the table where I had left it, slipping it into the back pocket of my trousers. I put on my coat and did a final check: phone, money, keys, ID.

Before knocking on my sister’s door, I stopped by a convenience store to buy some snacks and a bottle of questionable wine—I had planned to get something better, but that’s the best you can find at a 24/7 store. I mentally prepared as best as possible before arriving at her door. Let’s just call her Fox, for my sake.

She opened only after three or four rounds of knocking and waiting. Standing in front of me, her silhouette was shrouded in lilac-colored rays of light, while the door frame completed this Renaissance-looking painting. With each passing second, my eyes adjusted to the strong contrast. At first, my gaze was drawn to her bare thighs, which possessed curves worthy of Michelangelo’s sculptures. I had to quickly snap out of it since Fox was trying to meet my eyes, two crystal beads shining in hers. She took my hand right before stepping into the living room and said the most illogical thing imaginable, its echo resonating in my mind long after her lips finished uttering it: ‘I finally managed to open the door to the realm where we can find him.’

Even before I could stutter a ‘what,’ she pulled me into the living room, releasing my hand. She stood there, looking at me with a completely different expression, as if another person now occupied the middle of the room. Patiently awaiting my reaction, she wore an almost mischievous smile.

Maybe this change in attitude would have surprised me. It could have even made me ask myself what caused it if I hadn’t been left gaping quite literally by a show of lights that reminded me vividly of the northern lights that I had seen live not long before.

All the colors of the rainbow were shining, enveloping us. The rays shone mostly in violet and indigo nuances and were flickering joyfully just like when you look at a diamond in the full summer sun, only not as blinding. Quite the contrary, sweet little rays with velvety texture were forming a sort of three-dimensional fabric that seemed to gently nudge us towards a convergency point: in front of us stood widely open the two gigantic doors that led towards the balcony. Beyond them, it wasn’t the regular view of the city, for which I envied Fox, however. Instead, there was what I could call the source of the lights: a kind of tunnel formed from the unending light-spun fibers; a tunnel that seemed, itself, endless.

But the unfathomable path lying at our feet only made me wonder if perhaps something might have happened somewhere, in a dimly lit corner of my consciousness, and if maybe a creature didn’t start gnawing at the frayed edges of my reality.

‘A beauty! You wouldn’t have expected to see something like this here.’

Here…’, I asked without too much consideration. However, something was telling me that here gained new inflections.

And new inflections were gained by the place we were in, the room itself transformed by the light into shadow and velvet. The universe at the other end was overflowing here, in our little world, and it was as if, standing there like a beacon, it was inviting us to exploration. We felt its wish almost like a prayer.

Both it and her, waited patiently for me to get out of my state of unbelief and let myself dream. Because it was my own world that was lying there at my feet. I felt its pulse, the one as unmistakable as my own thoughts. And when I did decide to have faith, Fox took my hand and we got closer to the universe unfolding ahead and that made us little by little the velvet emissaries of this world.

From my left, she kissed my cheek like some sort of promise, right before she let my hand go and stepped decidedly towards the tunnel’s opening. She took a few steps before I noticed that the path was curved and that soon I’d lose sight of her. I took a few steps myself, almost without thinking, but I drew to a halt; logic was clearly telling me: one more step and there would be nothing to step on. Somewhere close by had to be the edge of the balcony, and I, against the conviction given by all my senses that I would step into a new world, was overwhelmed by a powerful and deeply rooted fear of survival. My reason was screaming through all my pores, telling me to go back and snap out of it. I didn’t want, however, to lose sight of Fox, so I started to feel my way forward and advance inch by inch, not giving in to either side. My heart felt as if it had changed residency—pulsing loudly in my ears, where the scream I would utter as I would fall into the pavement below echoed as well. As I was moving forward, and Fox was getting farther away, breathing became harder. A hard-to-control panic took hold of me and almost pinned me into place. I dreaded that at any moment I could see Fox disappearing, my mind endlessly projecting images of her and me sprawled on the pavement. Yet this type of imagery doesn’t quite make the same impact on the mind as the concrete world, the actual obliteration from existence being far above the reality for those still in it.

Advancing bit by bit in a time that seemed to have almost expanded, I noticed I had already passed the curve of the tunnel, and now I was in a straight line again. Somewhere at the far end, instead of the parked cars and the electrical wires, you could now see a milky substance almost lilac in color standing guard. It was pierced through by the slightly unraveled lode-like fibers of the tunnel in which we were. Somehow my mind had relaxed a little, letting itself be swept away by the new reality standing before it. Breathing was becoming less painful, and the ringing in my ear stopped together with my fears. She stood in front of me, ready to disappear into the almost liquid mass. I glanced behind, expecting to at least see the window, but in its place, there was nothing but a dense white-looking fog that didn’t promise anything good. I took a deep breath, straightened my back, and took a step forward, toward the new obstacle that was waiting for me, this time with determination. Although it seemed quite close, after about 50 yards, I thought I must have walked a lot more than that. After I crossed the distance that seemed to be between me and it I realized I hadn’t actually gotten closer to my goal. Fox, however, had already disappeared beyond that milky wall. Wanting to get to her as fast as possible made me desire to reach it too. Once the desire became almost palpable, I realized the wall had gotten closer.

Finally, a few steps away, the milky wall stood right in front of me. Now that I was near, it seemed like it was solid, some sort of elastic pudding extending into the tunnel as well, engulfing those light-spun velvety fibers as if they would have sprung out of it, and as if it would have tried to stop them. I steeled myself and reached for the wall. But somehow my hand stopped right before touching it, and, just as you can feel the heat when you get closer to a radiator, I could now feel the energy that permeated through the dream-made pudding. I felt not only the pulse of the new world, but I also thought I could feel the hot breeze of the lava ocean I had created not that long ago. I could never have lived in this alien world. No human could because it wasn’t made for our feeble bodies. But I knew now that I was no longer myself, I had become something else. I looked at my hands and, instead of my white skin, so rarely kissed by the sun, I could see the violet pores of the new world. I, myself, was now made from the fibers of the new universe, and the only way to move forward was to embrace this new nature.

I regained my courage and I finally touched it. Instead of a smooth texture as my sight was telling me it should have had, my fingers told me that this odd barrier was made of something else entirely—something resembling more to pure energy, to what you feel when an almost physical thought forms into your mind. And this energy was seemingly linked to my home universe because, from the other side, you could hear bits of my favorite music.

The reality was that I didn’t actually get to touch it because I was suddenly dragged by an invisible force, not inside the barrier itself but someplace else. A place where I felt lonely. Lonely as we feel when we try to see in those hidden corners of our minds. Only here the place wasn’t as familiar. It was as if the thoughts weren’t exactly mine and I felt not like an intruder, but more like a guest. And this wasn’t just any place, but one designed to welcome me, embrace me, and show me around. I thought I heard music once more, but I must have been mistaken because later on I could walk around freely and I couldn’t find where it came from.

When I finally managed to take hold of it, I opened my eyes wide. My first instinct was to look for Fox. Not for long, though, since she was right in front of me, a few feet away, seated on the edge of the coast, her body facing me, with her gaze towards the sea: wherever you looked onto the hot expanse all you could see was steam, in some places denser, reflecting playfully the lava’s red light.

We had arrived on The Second Home.