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 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 quick 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’s lighting, 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 without-beginning-or-end light-spun fibers; a tunnel that seemed, itself, endless.
But the unfathomable path laying 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 laying 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 before us 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 step 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 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 own 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, 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 concentrate 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. No need to look 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 but 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.
I thought I could hear music again but I tried not to pay attention to it. It was natural for my senses to play tricks on me when everything seemed both familiar and strange, extremely beautiful but truly frightening. I shielded my eyes with my hand and looked around after the two suns. I thought one of them should have been right behind me, somewhere in the direction whence we came, only it wasn’t there anymore. Nothing was. An empty expanse furnished by an occasional rock here and there. In the sky, the big sun that looked like ours stood now alone in its proper place, as if it was a little after noon. A moon bigger than ours stood at the horizon just above the line the sea formed with the coast, its lower part shining in turquoise shades. I knew, however, it wasn’t exactly a moon. It was a sister of the planet we were on. This thought brought me back to reality and back to Fox.
I couldn’t see her very well in the blinding light of this younger sun. It was hard to actually see her just as she really was. She was sitting carefree, as if she was next to a cool ocean, back home, not beside a molten-lava sea, able to obliterate us with its hot vapors at the smallest gust of wind. There was no wind, though—at least, not then—and her profile fitted perfectly in this weird-looking place. I would have taken a picture but as I was reaching absentmindedly for my pocket, I felt a small earth-rumbling beneath my feet. Just like an earthquake only softer. It was enough for me, however, to make me itchy with impatience, wanting to get out of there, yet not knowing where I wanted to go instead.
I approached Fox slowly. Not only because I needed an explanation for everything that had happened but also because I truly missed her. Somehow, in this faraway world, I felt there was a chance for us to get close again.
But Fox got up, straightened her back, and looked directly at me as if piercing directly into my mind. Trying to hold her gaze, I saw that it wasn’t the Fox I knew who stood before me, petite-framed, with an almost always warm expression yet occasionally mischievous, the one with whom I had done so many things. Things we were allowed to do and, more importantly, things we weren’t allowed to do. Fox, whom I had yearned for with all my being for so long. No, she was now a completely different being, tall, athletic, with red-tinted skin speckled with iridescent dots that shone in the yellow light of the star with an unnatural glow.
‘I think that’s the way we should go if we want to meet him.’
Her voice wasn’t familiar either, its inflections slightly higher than Fox’s. Still, the way she articulated every word, the specific way in which she punctuated the phrase, and the way she pointed with her hand like it was an extension of her shoulder, her head turned in the same direction, made me think that on the inside it was still her.
‘Who did we come for?’ she looked at me with a look that said you know exactly who I’m talking about.
Her eyes we unfamiliar. I came closer and I realized her strangeness wasn’t apparent. It wasn’t a trick played by the light or by my mind… they were completely different than human eyes: a little bit bigger than normal human eyes, with bushy long eyelashes, especially the top ones, and the pupils were somewhat like those of a cat: a narrow slit surrounded by a huge emerald-green iris with purple inserts. It was a true wonder made to be contemplated. And that was what I did until, ticked off by my curiosity and by the amazement with which I moved my eyes from one of her features to another, she went ahead in the direction she had previously shown me. I went after her because I knew that’s what she wanted and, in the end, what I wanted too.
Where the molten lava met the land, it sometimes seemed as if the earth was bleeding and, from what I could tell, it had done that for the past few million years. As we were approaching the edge of the coast we could feel the heat intensifying… and not quite. And this doubting state, the questions that popped into my head one after the other almost at every step, started to torment me and to dim the joy and wonder you could feel when you step for the first time into the completely alien place you have always dreamed of. After a while, walking along the coast, practically going towards The Third Home—the moon with bluish hues, now only half visible—not feeling as if we were getting anywhere, always keeping the same distance between me and Fox, her company meaning only that I could contemplate the back of her new form, I felt in the end overwhelmed by the questions that I had in my mind, so, with emphasis on every word, I asked simply:
‘Where are we headed?’
‘To find the Three-Eared Rabbit.’
‘You know that’s not his name,’ I said without thinking.
‘Then what is?’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said ticked off because I fell for it.
‘Then that’s how we’re calling him until you’ll decide on another name.’
‘Fine. Where do we find him, then?’
‘The rabbit? Probably in a burrow.’
She started to laugh out loud at her own joke, thinking it was funnier than it actually was, probably because she desperately tried to keep her calm and cool. A realization was setting in, that all this was maybe just as new for Fox as it was for me if not, perhaps, even more so. When her laugh died down she answered simply that we’ll see but you probably already know where he is. I wanted to reply, to contradict her, but right then I felt as if from somewhere deep inside me something was gently whispering to me, and I thought that I knew indeed where we were going. And then the thought slipped away.
We were walking for quite a while when something that from a distance seemed like a narrow path came into view. However, unlike other paths, what lay before me now seemed to have a completely different aura. Partially covered by the hot clouds forming above the lava, this path sent a faint glow towards us, every now and then, as if it were some kind of creature with scales shifting from side to side, reflecting the sunlight that had slightly changed its position. As we got closer, however, I realized that what awaited us was no ordinary path. And it certainly wasn’t narrow. It was rather something I would call a wonder of the world, one that I couldn’t explain and was entirely unfamiliar to me. Undulating like a serpent in the scorching heat of the vapors rising from the sea, stood before us a colossal bridge made of colorless glass, but sparkling with every ray of light that caressed its surface, tinted by its light. And its expanse led far away, somewhere beyond the horizon, cleaving the sea in two on its uninterrupted journey.
Fox looked at the bridge kind of like when you see something that you’ve only heard about for the first time. We both looked at it without making a sound because we were not only amazed by such a construction that surpassed everything we had seen before, but also by the boundless yet inhospitable beauty of what seemed more than just an architectural piece: we had before us a perfect work of art that spoke so much in so few lines. It was as if nature itself had contributed to something that people believed they were experts in, and behold, they truly seemed to be. I would have wondered who built this marvel—and how magnificent this world must have been if it crafted such a jewel—if I hadn’t felt overwhelmed by the completely otherworldly spectacle in front of me. The immense glass bridge writhed gently in this hell of fire, and its breath filled the sea to the horizon, menacing, tainted here and there by smoke and sulfur and small flakes of ash coughed out by a stray balloon of air, escaped from the nearly solid sea. In front of us, wherever you looked you could only see this: lava and fire and death, and a path of glass. It was as if the purpose of the bridge was not to take you to the other side but to remind you of how fragile life is and how it could be swallowed at any moment by its other face.
We reached the entrance to the bridge and saw Fox looking for something, somewhere to the right. Right at the edge of the bridge, at its intersection with the rocky shore, and extending into the sea of lava, stood a sort of outpost, an apparently official building that had some large panels periodically displaying information written in a language I didn’t recognize. As we approached, we noticed that from the shade of one of the panels, the timid foot of a lounge chair emerged, with its resident leisurely dangling their paws to one side. Every now and then, one of the paws twitched, as if tickled by a fly. However, I didn’t see any flies, just as I hadn’t seen any other living creatures besides myself and Fox around there yet.
When we got right next to the panel, Fox slapped the lounge chair’s furry resident over one of its paws and spoke a few words that I didn’t understand—they seemed equally foreign and distant to me. It was as if I heard music coming from somewhere again, and suddenly I found myself overcome by a state of confusion. But above all, a drowsiness that was hard to overcome took hold of me.
‘It’s from the smoke, the toxic fumes. And it’s quite likely due to the heat as well. It’s hotter than usual, and the new circuits sometimes malfunction,” the creature said.
I looked at what stood before me for a long time, its face swollen from sleep and bearing an amused expression. It was an inbred of a raccoon and a beaver, with a dwarfish yet cute frame, yet pseudo-human, which reminded me of some cartoons I had seen long, long ago before I even knew Fox.
‘I’m usually quite lively, but when it’s this hot and there are more fumes, I can’t cope. I have no choice but to doze off, pinned down for hours in this lounge chair, from one traveler to another,’ the creature said.
‘Who pins you down?’ I asked, attempting to strike up a conversation to keep myself from dwelling on how unreal everything that was happening to me felt.
‘No, dear, no one pins me down. You didn’t it quite right.’ But his eyes only showed how he regretted being so outspoken.
He turned around quite suddenly, as if remembering he had something on the stove or as if someone had called him, and he entered through a door that was slightly hidden by the information panel, which I now noticed for the first time. He poked his head out and signaled to Fox, who didn’t wait to be called twice. When they came out, after about 5 minutes during which I thought I heard some whispers, both of them looked slightly changed. More relaxed. Together, we circled towards the right side of the glass building and arrived in front of two immense doors that were now wide open, revealing a massive creature inside, about the size of an African elephant, but looking more like a grizzly bear on steroids. However, the way it moved immediately made me realize that it was neither one nor the other, but rather some kind of robotic wild animal. I wanted to scream or jump aside, but all I did was stand still, feeling a deep panic penetrate the darkest corners of my mind and shake them vigorously until nothing remained intact. Until even greater exhaustion overwhelmed me, rendering me inert, like a vegetable. It was a somehow familiar sensation from the time when Fox’s father died and our lives changed again by 180 degrees, as they had done before, only this time more for the worse than for the better. In the artificial calm that I didn’t even know how I had acquired, so to speak, I felt my consciousness somewhat half-active, as if the other half was in a state of hibernation, still waiting, like a wounded animal, for a chance to escape.
Fox glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she went to the robotic animal that seemed to be our means of transportation from now on. My confused mind couldn’t fully comprehend the conversations happening around me, and it had somehow started to give up trying. However, I had begun to imagine various scenes in which I was dressed like a Bedouin traveler, riding on the mechanized bear through the sea of lava, dreamlike vapors distorting the image and making me smile a tired and slightly ironic smile at what passed before my eyes.
She called out to me, and I snapped out of the increasingly immersive daydreaming state I had fallen into as if my body had a mind of its own. I looked at this incredible bear and couldn’t quite figure out what its fur could be made of. It looked slightly artificial, perhaps because it was too well-groomed, too shiny, too perfect for a real bear. Of course, I didn’t have much experience with real bears. I hadn’t been to a zoo since high school. Our parents had taken us there on a weekend with beautiful spring weather, just to spend some time together as a family. Both Fox and I were going through that crazy phase where all you want is to grow up and get away from your parents because it seems like that’s the only way you can be who you think you should be. Obviously, like any teenager, we still turned to mom and dad when we had a problem.
I caught myself running my fingers through the bear’s fur and thinking intensely about the past. I felt as if I was myself again, although the music was still playing in the background, its volume fluctuating as if the source of the sound kept moving. I managed to gather myself a bit and asked without giving it too much thought:
‘And how do we climb on it?’
Fox looked at me wide-eyed as if she wanted to laugh but held back. She mumbled something that I couldn’t comprehend, a kind of open sesame, except the type of magic that responded was man-made: a high-tech creature that, upon hearing the command, lowered itself slightly, leaving beneath it just enough space to fit the stairs that formed as its belly opened. It was like a door with stairs on its inward side, revealing an entirely empty world as if it hadn’t been furnished and ready to use yet. I was slightly surprised that there was no seat, no control lever, no windshield to see through. Encouraged by Fox, I climbed the three steps on the right side, while she went to the left, even though she could have climbed on the right like me just as easily. I slightly raised my eyebrows, but it didn’t matter: whatever I would see from here on, I decided that it wouldn’t amaze me anymore. It was as if I had just acquired a kind of immunity to oddities. A sort of nothing surprises me anymore regarding everything around me, let alone the little quirks of Fox’s behavior. And despite my go-with-the-flow mentality, I couldn’t help but ask her why a bear? Her response was to raise her eyebrows as well and curve the corners of her mouth downward, one of her characteristic expressions of I don’t know and I don’t care, which made me feel less bothered by the strange form she had.
To be honest I started to think that those cat eyes were a perfect fit for her usual behaviour. And to be even more honest, I couldn’t quite remember exactly what Fox was like as a person anymore because we didn’t spend as much time together as we used to. Her skin, on the other hand, looked far too peculiar. So peculiar that it was almost a surprise to me every time I looked at her. And only now did I notice the dress she was wearing, which began to capture my attention because it seemed to resemble the garments of the statues I had seen at museums or on television. It was made of a single piece that folded and gathered gently into a brooch made of mother-of-pearl and of liquid metal continuously undulating under the dim light of the yellow star. Her waist was accentuated by a belt of the same peculiar metal, which occasionally seemed to come alive, cascading down her thigh in an abstract yet vibrant explosion. And then, after putting on its show, it slowly retreated back into the waist, patiently waiting for another opportunity to shine.
Everything seemed new, otherworldly, and magical to me. But the natural way Fox behaved, the completely uninhibited manner in which she moved, spoke, blinked… all of that reassured me and made me feel more at home in this bizarre world that I had created I don’t even know how many years ago, and of which I had almost completely forgotten.
Except for him. I knew I couldn’t forget him.
Now both of us were on board the four-legged vehicle. Something I wouldn’t have believed possible. It felt completely foreign and incomprehensible to me. Fox looked at me, smiled as if she was about to blow my mind, and said a few words. They must have been vocal commands for the vehicle because almost immediately after she finished speaking, the doors closed, and the space around us began to undulate and constrict. For a moment, I felt slightly claustrophobic, but once I realized what was happening, I relaxed completely: the previously black and empty space transformed so that each of us had a sort of shell-like seat with a consistency and texture resembling foam, then reclined back slightly. It was something I had never felt before, but it seemed perfect, and I thought that all car seats should be like that. Once I realized how comfortable I felt, the material it was made of stopped moving, as if it read my mind, and decided that any change from now on could only be for the worse. As we settled into our seats, I noticed a fine mist descending over our chests, hips, and legs, which then solidified into a transparent and extremely silky veil. I thought it could be some sort of seatbelt, but I didn’t feel restrained in any way. On the contrary, I had an even greater sensation of comfort, if that was even possible. After the few seconds I spent inside the belly of the robot bear, I realized I would never feel comfortable in a regular car again if I ever believed it was possible to end up in one.
I heard Fox giving another command. Suddenly, the universe appeared all around us, so black and complete that for a second, I had a sensation of weightlessness. My senses were clearly playing tricks on me. It was, in fact, a sort of welcoming screen. Of course, I didn’t understand anything that was being said or displayed on the screen—well, if I can call it that—because there was nothing there. It felt like all the letters and numbers were floating in a three-dimensional space, infinite and different from our own. Just another sensation. And one other was the scanning that the vehicle performed on me, attempting, according to what Fox told me, to establish a subconscious-level connection. I looked at her, wanting to ask where she got all this information from and ultimately how she ended up here, but I changed my mind when I saw her concentrated and serious expression. It was a look I knew well, one telling me that her intolerance for stupid questions, or any questions for that matter, in this case, was at its peak.
As I had decided that nothing would surprise me from now on, I also decided to enjoy the journey and what I encountered along the way. After all, just minutes—hours—days—or who knows how long had passed since we entered that portal, when I believed I could die at any moment, falling from the 15th floor, reality slamming my body into the asphalt with the speed reached in those two or three seconds of free fall. Instead of a possible death, I stumbled upon complete madness, and I confess that I liked it. It was a million times better than anything I had experienced before in my life and many times better than anything I could have encountered in my journey on Earth. Wherever I was now—paradise or purgatory, dream or crazy reality—it didn’t bother me. On the contrary, the feeling of happiness, which I had almost forgotten, began to make its presence felt without me even realizing it.
Fox was so preoccupied with initializing our vehicle that she seemed to have completely forgotten about me. I found it amusing to watch her and ask her an occasional odd question related to what she was doing: What did this button do? What did that command mean? Did you enter the coordinates now? Questions to which Fox responded with more of a feral grunt rather than an actual answer, but it was enough for me. Two minutes later, we were already in motion, and all around us, the projection of the outside reality was displayed, omitting the toxins and suffocating heat. I could see everything around me so clearly that I thought the projection was actually better than reality. No matter how much I tried to imagine how we looked from the outside, I couldn’t because, although I felt we were moving in a perfect line, without any swaying or tilting, somehow I thought that anyone who designed a vehicle with the appearance of a wild animal would have it move in the same way. So my senses and my reason were in contradiction, blurring my vision of the bear walking on the glass road.
‘I’d like to see how we look from the outside,’ I said to Fox when my curiosity became unbearable.
I immediately heard some noises, like small engines, somewhere in the back-left, and a few seconds later, a window opened above the 360-degree projection. It was a small window, slightly down and to the right, as if it didn’t want to spoil the view—which, by the way, was absolutely majestic: delicate reddish clouds, turning violet on the right, floated freely, covering the sea with a blood-red hue, sometimes even deeper, like a veil that sought to enhance its beauty through mystery; a sea completely divided by that gigantic bridge, which now began to shimmer indigo. In the small window, there was a close-up of a large, brown-black animal, with its fur fluttering in the wind, running steadily, but with speed. Behind it, desolation. I turned slightly in my seat to check if it was indeed the case. Barrenness behind us, barrenness ahead.
Reeza. Even her name has a special ring to it.
Filip’s thoughts slowly formed inside my mind as if they were my own. The thoughts of others were unclear to me and came as if from the most remote corners of my mind. However, the intensity with which he thought about me added a completely new layer on top of my own and it drowned them completely. I could only hear what he was thinking.
He looked at me in the rearview mirror and I could see with my own eyes the expression of his thoughts. I would have known he was thinking of me even without being able to read his mind, but the fact that I could see my own reflection with my mind’s eye, as well as being able to feel his complete deep admiration, akin to veneration, made me nostalgic. I like to be venerated. The most beautiful thing in the world. Perhaps I would have abandoned them a long time ago had I not had that pleasure, a thought that surprised me by its sincerity as well as by its ability to drive all the intruding ones away. This and the fact that, by looking at my hands, I started to realize just how human I was. Have I really become human again? Was it possible?
My thoughts were starting to slip through my fingers, so I propped up my head with my hand, feeling myself sliding back into a state of daydreaming, despite my efforts to stay alert. I knew this world was supposed to be safe, but the jumble in my mind, the sudden way I found myself here…
A vivid memory from the hospital reappeared in my mind, complete and immersive as if I were there again. My forehead lightly touched the window during tighter curves, allowing me to relax and slip into a deeper sleep. The same kind of odd, repetitive, and familiar sound, beep-beep-beep, brought me back entirely to the moment when I first opened my eyes in this world. Or maybe re-opened, to be more accurate.
I felt as though I had lost touch with the world; as if I were waking up from the dead. And I was trying my best to do so, but I couldn’t focus or remember anything. I had only one kind of feeling. One that was difficult to find a name for, because I hadn’t felt it in a long time. Centuries? Millennia, perhaps? It was back when I found the toga and the pendant in front of the greenhouse, all intertwined in a pile of bones. That image made me open my eyes wide. I had seen the hospital hallway back then. Objects that seemed both foreign and familiar were everywhere. People too. Some were busy with tasks. Others were sitting in chairs or lying on beds along the corridor. A woman dressed in a white coat noticed that I had opened my eyes and approached me. She asked me some questions, and my lack of reaction made her uncomfortable. She asked someone if I had any family, then I think I dozed off again, just like now, against my will. I don’t know how long I stayed in that hallway. Or how many times someone came to ask me something. Every time, I felt like I was slipping back into non-existence without being able to make a sound. I had forgotten what it was like to sleep, to have the sensation of not knowing yourself. Things I hadn’t experienced since transcending. Things that had ceased to have meaning for me, but were now regaining their existence. I smiled at the irony of the situation and regained my hope.
When, at last, another woman came to ask if I was feeling better, I was in an even greater state of confusion than before. I had just then realized that I had a body, and the heart of this body was beating violently and erratically like a wild animal that had just been caught in a trap. I had so many questions that I couldn’t formulate one before another took its place. I felt not only that my body and mind were now solid, made of flesh and bones, but I had the sensation that everything was on the brink of liquefying within me and was becoming just like the sea of lava.
I managed to stand up, knocking over things and grabbing onto people, and I headed toward a mirror. Those around me were trying to pull me back to where I came from, constantly asking me things and refusing to let go. However, for me, there was nothing else but the slightly blurry image in front of me. I don’t even know how long I stared at my reflection. I wasn’t in my old body. I couldn’t have been, because it had died so long ago that I had forgotten what it looked like. This realization calmed me. What I was seeing now was the manifestation of one of my avatars. Certainly, one much more real, more physical, more… tangible.
I grinned, a realization dawning within my dream, once again comprehending the significance of the image in the mirror. Through my mind’s eyes, I perceived my reflection growing increasingly vivid, this time caught in the rearview mirror: Filip searched for me with a worried countenance as if having misplaced something dear. And so I smiled, a genuine smile that transcended the boundaries of mere wakefulness. No need for sight. I concluded that this lad, with his reminiscences of youth and his fervent admiration directed my way, embodied precisely the ailment required during this phase of convalescence.
‘M,’ I murmured without realizing, and several moments later M was already calling Filip. The realization that I had summoned him without even being aware of it brought about a sense of relaxation. It was reassuring to know what I was capable of and how strong our connection was.
Something caught my eye. To the right, in the back seat of a car waiting at the traffic light just like we were, there was a girl gazing dreamily out the window. She had a contented smile, and that made me want to focus entirely on her. I closed my eyes and saw her playing with a puppy in a yard with tall grass, overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. I saw her happy and radiant, just as she looked on the outside. I wondered… I raised my right hand and, with a gesture, summoned the clouds and darkened the sky. Then I clapped my hands together hard, and lightning followed by a loud thunder split that imaginary sky in two, frightening the girl and jolting her out of her own reverie. When I opened my eyes, the cars were already in motion, and she was looking at me through the windows that separated us, puzzled but frightened as if she knew that I had invaded her mind.
Filip felt pretty much the same way, wondering why I had clapped my hands, but he didn’t know how to ask and was overthinking unnecessarily. I smiled at him in the mirror and felt a wave of warmth. Another time, it would have left me indifferent, but now I laughed out loud, which made him blush even harder and feel even more confused.
I’ve changed. Could it be because of this human form? I needed to decide what to do next… and for that, I need M. M who materialized next to me at the hospital when I shouted his name back then, in my confused fury. This told me that my power existed beyond the limits of this repulsive body. I had this thought and immediately saw how Filip’s facial expression had transformed into one of disgust. I need to control myself, and that won’t be easy.
This lack of control reminded me of the moment at the hospital when the woman in the white coat tried to give me a sedative because I seemed uncooperative. When she touched me, I felt a strong repulsion, which manifested as a surge of energy that threw her away like a rag doll. She was lucky to have a few onlookers behind her who softened her fall. Chaos ensued. People screaming, bewildered, not knowing who to blame. Women complaining. Children yelling as if someone were cutting off their hands. Security arrived. Other doctors came. Paramedics. People upon people, all against me, determined to immobilize me. The surge of energy had left me drained. And these confused, angry people were roughing me up, poking me with needles, holding my hands and feet, striking me, and in the chaos, sometimes striking each other. Weakened, I remembered M. I tried to break free from their grip, but I began to be inundated by their anger, the images they saw, the fear they felt, their confusion. Their thoughts and sensations pierced me so violently that a deafening pain made me see white before my eyes. The last thing I remember is M. As he materialized in their midst, he grabbed a man by the shoulder and tossed him aside. When I felt his energy, I lost consciousness.