“Once upon a time,” you’d say to the stranger. Or “when I was little”. Depends. But you always dip your head a bit, an acknowledgment of how far outside of societal boundaries it is to say such a thing, to have done and been such a thing. You dip your head, and you fidget with a straw wrapper or trace your finger around the steaming mug of tea or wrap your arms around yourself, and then you say “I went elsewhere.”
The person you contacted through Craigslist or Facebook or the newspaper or sidled up to at the bar always gives you a look - half-puzzled, half-intrigued. Most of the time they only e-mailed you or called you or bought you a drink because you’re a pretty girl and they think you might be a little bit crazy, so you might be a little bit easy. Those are easy to chase away with what’s next, because then they think you’re a lot crazy.
And then you’re left with the people like you.
You take a deep breath, and you say “I used to think it was just a dream.” You didn’t really. “This magical place I would go to sometimes. Faeries and quests and real magic. I went a few times a week, sometimes more. I had a whole life there. And when I was twelve, I just one day stopped.” You watch their eyes when you say “Ever since, I’ve been trying to get back.”
Some write you off right there. Some ask if you’ve had any success.
So you tell them about all of your research. About Dorothy and Wendy and Alice, Susan and Lucy, all the girls who found themselves elsewhere. How it happened. How they got back home. And you try everything. When you were little, you would go down to the bottom of the swimming pool and hold your breath, going dizzy, vision hazing, trying to send yourself back. You would jump from unreasonable heights.
When you were thirteen, you broke a mirror and cut yourself with its shards, trying to get through the looking glass. Trying to bleed out just enough to cross over. You felt the falling, fell between, but never quite made it there. You grew up smoking opium from a college boy’s hookah, getting yourself lost in the woods. You overdosed on your antidepressants; you underdosed on your other meds. You tried sleep deprivation and sleeping pills. You tried everything.
And it worked. Just not the way you wanted it to.
“I found other people’s elsewheres,” you say, fingernails digging into your palm. “I found tiny islands with giant trees. I found parades of stuffed animals. I found dragons and mermaids. I found worlds where I could fly, and worlds where I was genetically engineered for zero-g. There was one where I had to pull a flaming sword from the meat of my thigh. I found other people’s magic.”
And you knew it was other people’s magic because you started to go out looking for people. Late night clubbing looking for the lost girls and boys with their haunted eyes. Long nights of telling each other your stories, spinning out all of these threads of lost worlds and lost magics. Every single one of you torn out of place and time and put back imperfectly. Because while you were gone, there was a skip, a heartbeat, and no matter how carefully you were returned, you were a bit out of phase. Not really ever here. And here was not really real.
“I don’t belong here,” you say softly.
You spend your life between this and other people’s elsewheres.
Maybe one out of every two dozen you find is like you. Most are just trying to get laid. Some of the rest have sort of been there - they’ve had recurring dreams. Serial dreams, or just dreams set in the same world. Walled cities. Eternal wars.
But then there are those few like you. You feel like you should start a religious order or something. “Sisters of Dorothy and Lucy”. The few, the proud, the forever fucked-up. Girls who had been warrior queens, now relegated to college dorms. Boys who had tamed dragons now stuck in dead-end retail jobs.
The one thing they all had in common was how much this life sucked compared to their other lives.
You used to keep track of them. A notebook under your pillow, endless scrawled notes about them and their elsewheres. But little by little, they left - drug overdoses. Suicides.
You wonder if they really died, or if they went elsewhere, just leaving their crumpled broken extraneous bodies here.
You wonder if it was worth it, and if you should have followed long ago.
The one thing you never tell the stranger across from you is that you know exactly how you got there. You know exactly why you stopped being able to get there. If they’re like you, they already know. If they’re not, they don’t need to.
"When the Fire's Gone
" Lace Shawl
Shawl by Shira! The pattern is Arabella by Kristen Hanley Cardozo; the yarn is hand-dyed merino wool (fingering/sock weight) by Mind's Eye Yarns in Cambridge, MA. This shawl is very light and almost cobwebby. Based on my character Ash from Cicatrix
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