Friday, November 21, 2008


Farrow was gone longer than I expected. We were left to stare at the upside-down mountain as the light of the sun faded from the horizon. I wondered what time it was and finally remembered that I was reaching for my watch when I’d found Sadie’s note. I pulled it out and caught the time. 9:00. I assumed that was p.m., but I really had no idea. Crap, I thought. What must my parents be thinking? Then a worse thought entered my head. Michael’s parents had already lost one child…what were they going to do when they found out Michael was gone? It made me feel slightly sick to my stomach thinking about it.
“Michael,” I turned to talk to him, say something about it, but he was looking so intently at the mountains, he didn’t even turn at the sound of his name. I didn’t want to break his reverie. It occurred to me though, that maybe Michael’s parents didn’t have to worry—at least for now. If I could only get a note to Sadie. I pulled out the notebook I had intended to doodle on during school that day and began scribbling a note.

Listen, can you do me a favor? I ran into Michael on the way to school today and we—

What? What could I say to Sadie that would make sense? What would she believe?

We sorta made up. That’s why I missed you at break and lunch. We decided to skip school and hang out for a bit. I think we’re gonna go to a movie tonight, the double feature. It starts at 10, so we’ll be out pretty late. Hey, and Michael forgot his cell so can you just let his parents know what’s going on ? And tell Mom and Dad too. You owe me this, Sadie, so please just do it.
p.s. get my shoes back from Kerry.

That would hopefully buy us some time before Michael’s parents really started freaking out. I really hated the thought of them worrying. They’d been through enough. Two movies, starting at ten… maybe that’d even get us until morning if they went to sleep before we were supposed to get back. I folded the note up and then just stared at it for a bit. Now what? I had no idea how Sadie’s note had gotten to me, so I had no way of knowing how to get one back to her. Or where it would show up—if it ever did. Well, I thought, Sadie’s note ended up in my pocket. So… it’s worth a try. I slipped the note carefully into my pocket then patted it lamely. Just then, Michael turned around. His face was thoughtful, like he was trying to puzzle something out.
“What is it?” I asked, realizing that with the number of odd things that had occurred recently, that may have been a pretty ridiculous question.
“It’s just odd, that’s all. The sun I mean,” he said, when he saw the No duh look I was giving him at that moment. “I don’t really know, but I’m pretty sure that it just set in the east.”
“What gives you that idea?”
“Well, it’s the mountain – the mountain that we climbed is to the west of us, you know in …our world. So it makes sense that the sun would set behind it. But… it’s on the wrong side of me. I don’t know if that makes sense at all,” he laughed then. “Well, none of it really makes sense. But I mean, I’ve lived in the same valley my whole life and oriented myself by that mountain. It’s on the wrong side. It’s on the east. I think… I think we’re in some kind of mirror image of our world. The flipside of it. Somehow, when we climbed that mountain, it … flipped upside down. We flipped completely to the underside of the world.”
“Hey, that’s just what I was thinking!” I exclaimed, feeling a small sense of relief that at lease if I was crazy, then Michael was too. At least we were on the same page. Michael smiled a bit.
“Crazy, huh? What is this place?”
I was about to respond that I had no freaking clue, when I saw Farrow coming toward us with another demon. It was now too dim to see either one of them very well, though a faint glow radiated off of the white sand and filled the air around us with a pale, grayish light. In the light I could see that the other demon was taller, probably over six feet tall. He towered over Farrow, but somehow the two of them seemed to fit together. Like before Farrow had been half his self, and now he had it comfortably beside him. Like the oldest of friends.
As they came closer to where we were standing, I could see that the larger demon had a sort of mottled green and brown fur covering his body. Like, Farrow, he also walked on two legs, but instead of cloven feet he had more human-like ones, though they were covered in fur. His hands, too, were furry and his palms were padded. The hair on his head grew long and framed his large, intelligent face. His eyes were large and outlined by heavy forehead and cheek bones. The fur on his face was thinner than elsewhere on his body, and lighter in color. Though he did not wear any clothes, a belt rested on his hips and a broad sword hung from it. A shield, bow, and quiver were positioned on his broad back. I noticed also that Farrow now carried a sword, though it was a lighter, smaller one than his friend’s. Two small knives protruded from casings on a leather breastplate he wore. I wondered if I ought to be worried by this sudden and unprecedented display of weaponry. But before I could think much of it, they had reached us. The larger demon bowed, and somehow I felt like I was receiving some sort of undue honor. I blushed and bowed back, not knowing quite what to do.
“This is Tyrrian,” Farrow said, though he seemed quite oblivious to my embarrassment. I did catch a strange look from Michael, but I glared at him until he shrugged and looked back at Farrow and Tyrrian. Farrow continued, “Tyrrian, these are Michael and Cassie.”
Tyrrian nodded, but didn’t say anything. We all looked at Farrow then, waiting for direction. He looked around smiling, then seemed to suddenly realize that he was in charge.
“Oh yes, well!” He exclaimed. “We’d better get going. Just this way now, follow me.” He darted off, moving past us in a direction that took us away from the mountain. West, if Michael’s sense of direction was right. We followed him closely; though there was still light, it was dim and I was afraid we might lose sight of his quickly darting figure. Suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, a looming darkness spread before us, like the edge of a great black hole. Farrow approached it fearlessly, reaching out for what looked like, oddly, a railing leading downward into the blackness. He turned back to us.
“Well, here we are, friends,” he said cheerfully. “The edge of Madness. I believe there should be some lanterns in your packs?”
Michael and I began searching in the packs that the Unsightly demons had given us before we left their cave. In mine, I saw what looked like several packets of food, possibly a weapon or two, though I didn’t have time to look, and then finally my hand came upon something that looked promising. It turned out to be a flashlight, quite similar to the one my family had for camping trips and emergency power outages. It wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind when Farrow had said lantern, but it would certainly work. Michael had found a flashlight in his bag too, and he handed his to Farrow.
“Ah, wonderful. Just down this stair, I should think, and we’ll really be in it then.”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked. His voice sounded about as surprised as I felt, and almost as alarmed. “You …think? You mean you haven’t been?”
“Well of course not! No one’s been to Madness, not any of the lesser demons anyway. We’re of the Fringes, Rim-folk, you see?” He smiled and made as if to turn around, as if he intended to descend the staircase, but Michael held out a hand.
“But how can you be our guide, if you’ve never been there? How can you help me find my sister?” he demanded.
“The Unsightly Demons are not fools,” it was Tyrrian who spoke. His voice was gentle and slow, but I still felt the reproach. “If they have chosen us for your guides, then it is because we can take you successfully through Madness.”
Michael looked as if he wanted to argue, but I stopped him lightly with a hand on his elbow. “Michael, do we really have a choice?”
He sighed. Farrow smiled and said, “The girl has a point. But really, you shouldn’t worry so much. Tyrrian here is not only our greatest scholar, engineer, and inventor, as I think I may have mentioned before, he is also one of our best warriors,” he winked “I’m the other one.”
“Whatever is waiting down there, we are your best chance at getting through it,” Tyrrian assured. Michael just nodded and Farrow turned back toward the stair. This time, there was no argument as we followed him, Michael directly behind the smaller demon, then I followed Michael, and Tyrrian falling into step behind me. I felt safer having his large frame behind me. I paused a bit as I reached the railing and slipped my hand into my pocket. The note I had written to Sadie was no longer there. Magic pockets, I thought. Neat.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Six, continued

After a few moments of stunned silence, we tentatively began to ask questions. Whereas the unsightly demons had been evasive and enigmatic in answering the few questions I had ventured in the cave, Farrow seemed eager to supply us with information and ask a few questions of his own. Farrow, it turned out, was a lesser demon, which he informed us was the lowest class of the four classes of demons. The lesser demons were below the unsightly demons, who were below the sightly demons, who were below the angels.
“Angels are demons?” Michael asked, confused. “What exactly is a demon?”
“Angels are spirits, and spirits are demons, so angels are demons,” Farrow answered. “And demons are … us.” He seemed to think a moment, as if searching for a more profound answer, then shook his head and shrugged. “We’re just us. The inhabitants and guardians and makers of the world. Hmm, that sounds grand. I’ll have to remember that one.”
“Yes, but,” I didn’t want to sound ungrateful or demanding, but that didn’t mean a thing. “Who are you, exactly?”
“That’s not a very easy question to answer,” Farrow said, a bit reproachfully. “But I’ll do my best to answer you anyway. I guess it is a really interesting question, when you actually get into it. It’s strange that we are all even called demons, because we’re not really the same at all. Lesser demons,” he put a little ironic emphasis on the word lesser as if to say we all knew that was a misnomer, “well, we’re the only ones who are actually born into this world. We are of this world, while the higher demons and the angels are called to it. Is that what you are? Are you higher demons? You don’t look like the unsightlies or the sightlies. I suppose you could be angels – I’ve never seen one. Are you angels?” The last was said a bit accusingly, as if we’d been putting him on the entire time.
“Oh no, we’re definitely not angels. We’re…” Michael paused, then laughed. “We’re just us. We’re people.” Farrow looked confused. “Humans?” Michael tried again. Farrow shook his head again, still confused. “Well we’re not any kind of spirit. We, um… I think we came on that mountain…somehow.” It didn’t really explain who we were or how we got there, but Farrow was excited nonetheless.
“Ah, yes, of course!” He exclaimed. “We were so glad when you brought it… we thought it would help us trap her, but—well, you saw. She just went over it, silly thing. But still, it’s nice that you brought it with you – it’s very pretty. Spruces up the place quite a bit I think.” He smiled at us appreciatively.
“What do you mean, trap her?” I asked. “Trap who?”
“The sun, of course. We try every day, but it’s a very difficult process.”
“But – why are you trying to capture the sun? That’s not even possible – the sun is billions of light-years away, there’s no way you could possibly reach it with ropes.”
Farrow looked at me as if I were crazy. “Of course we can reach her with ropes. What’s billion? What’s light-year? No, no, no. You are very confused. We reach the sun every day, we always catch her with our hooks. That’s never the problem. The problem is that she is so strong. She pulls and pulls and we can’t hold her down. This was the best time ever, I think, though. The pegs were a good idea, even if they didn’t hold. I think we’ll improve on the process next time. I’m sure Tyrrian is already planning some sort of enhancement, he’s very clever like that.” He smiled again, looking very positive.
I looked at Michael, feeling distressed. We were getting answers now, but they weren’t making any sense. Michael just shrugged.
Farrow seemed oblivious to our confusion. Apparently, trapping the sun with ropes and pegs was the sort of normal, everyday activity demons were involved in. Lesser demons, anyway. Who knew what the other demons were involved in. For some reason it made me think about all those movies where aliens show up to take over the world. I suddenly wished there were more movies from the aliens’ perspective. If there had been, I might have been a little more prepared for exactly what we were supposed to do in this situation. Farrow had no idea we were confused, because he wasn’t confused, and why should he be? This was his world where everything made sense. Only nothing made sense and none of these communications seemed to be bringing us closer to an understanding. Now that I thought about it, it was a miracle we could communicate at all.
“Wait a second,” I said, voicing my thoughts aloud. “How are we communicating? How do you speak English?”
“English? What’s that?” Farrow tilted his head until he was almost looking at me completely sideways.
“It’s… what we’re speaking,” I answered, now confused more than ever. “It’s the language we’re using now to communicate. The Unsightly demons didn’t speak it, at least – not naturally. They spoke something different when they weren’t speaking to us. How do you speak English?”
“I don’t speak English,” Farrow insisted. “I speak our self-speak. All of the lesser demons speak this from birth. We taught it to the Unsightlies,” he said this proudly, then shrugged and said “well, they didn’t really need it, because they can mind-talk, but we taught them anyway. And I guess they needed it, to talk to you, so we did a good thing. Ha.” Now he looked positively delighted. It didn’t seem to bother him at all that it made no sense that we were all speaking the same language. Didn’t it bother him at all that we showed up speaking his “self-speak”? At some point, I’m going to have to just take this all for granted I thought, and sighed.
“Now listen,” Farrow said gently. “These questions are very fun and I want to do more of them, but the Unsightlies are pushing me. They think we should go now. I’m just going to go find Tyrrian so we can begin our descent.”
“Descent?” I blinked.
“Yes, into Madness,” Farrow answered.
Right, I thought, as if we aren’t already there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The unsightly demons bustled about us, cramming things into our arms, then just as quickly replacing them with something else – nothing ever stayed in my hands long enough for me to even figure out what it was. I gave up on getting any answers to my questions; it seemed the more I asked, the more determined the demons were to talk about anything else. They argued about what we would need, what we should eat, whether we should leave now or wait until later, perhaps we needed to rest longer.
“But where are we going?” The demons just continued in their cacophonous choir. Michael was no help. He simply accepted the supplies the demons were giving him and placed them carefully in his bag. He didn’t even look curious, just eager to go. It was maddening. How could he take this all in stride? Angelic visitations in your dreams or not, this was—literally—an unearthly experience, yet he was acting as if it was just another day in the life. Or no, he was acting as if this was something he had prepared for his whole life and it was finally happening. I didn’t understand anything that was going on. I was still trying to piece together what had happened on the mountain, how we had gotten to this place, what was this place? And now, there was the mystery of Sadie’s note. How had it gotten in my pocket? Was it possible to get a message back to her? If it was, what would I even say?
Dear Sadie, I climbed a mountain with Michael today. When we got to the top we were somehow transported into a fantasy world. Oh yeah, and there are demons. Please tell Mom and Dad I’m ok. –Cass.
But was I ok? I mean, I wasn’t in any pain, I wasn’t hungry, and I wasn’t alone. Check, check, check. All ok, by general standards. I was just lost. Very, very lost.
Finally the demons seemed to settle down a bit. They had packed our bags with various items, and they were now only speaking in a slight hum and slowly pushing us towards the mouth of the cave. I suddenly felt a surge of panic. What was out there? What kind of world was I about to enter? I dug my feet into the ground and pushed back against their gentle pressing. “Hey! Hey, hey, hey, hey, HEY!” I finally shouted, and the demons stopped, all their blinking eyes trained on me. “Hey,” I said, a little feebly. “What’s going on?” I felt like I was about to cry.
“Do not worry, Cass Cassie,” the main demon said gently. “You will have guides.”
And with that, the pressing started again, and we were impelled out of the cave and into the most blinding sunlight I had ever seen. I shielded my eyes immediately with my arm, but the sun was so bright I cried out in pain. I turned back to the cave, but I could see through the bright reflections and my own tears that the demons had disappeared quickly behind the thick doors that clearly implied “No admittance.” I could only squint in pain and wait for my eyes to adjust. The light was so bright, it took several moments before I was able to register that there was also a great deal of shouting going on. Slowly, blinking away tears, I was able to see and take in a bit more of my surroundings. It seemed as though we were on a giant beach, with white sand stretching out in all directions, though it was hard to tell because with all the reflection from the blistering light, I could barely even see the cave we had just exited. I turned and saw Michael, tears running down his cheeks as well, pointing off to our left.
“Look,” he said.
I followed where he pointed, and saw many creatures, their varied shapes constantly moving and twisting in a frenzied dance. They were all holding what looked like ropes, and they were pulling against them with a sort of frantic energy. The ropes all reached up taut into the sky, and the creatures were pulling them and tying them to giant pegs in the ground. They shouted at each other, urging each other to hurry, as more and more ropes were flung into the sky. I tried to follow the path of the rope to see what they were trying to reign in, but the light coming from the sky was too intense to make anything out. “We’ve got her now! We’ve got her now!” The cry started with one voice and then was taken up by all. “We’ve got her now, don’t let go!” The ropes seemed to tighten, any slack that had been there was now gone. At the same time, the ropes’ angle shrank, and they got closer and closer to the ground. “Hold her up, boys, don’t let her down!” The shouts of encouragement continued, but the ropes kept tightening and dipping nearer to the brilliant white sand. Then, one of the pegs burst out of the ground with a great snap, the rope it was attached to coiled up into the air. There was a great shout of dismay from the creatures and they seemed to redouble their efforts, pulling on the ropes and securing them against whatever great force was pulling against them. But they were fighting a losing battle; one by one the pegs were ripped out of the ground, each one snapping with a tremendous sound. It was like watching popcorn pop, slowly at first, one here, one there, then all at once the pegs popped out of the ground and sprang into the air. The light became incrementally less and less brilliant, until finally I was able to look up and see what the ropes had been trying so desperately to hold onto: it was a giant, glowing white orb, and it was now dipping behind a range of jagged mountains. The light was no longer painfully reflecting off of the white sand; it was more like the light of a brilliant sunset, glowing pinkish orange and illuminating the scene before us. The creatures, I could see now, were of all shapes and sizes, with no continuity. Some looked like animals, others like humans, and most like some bizarre cross between the two. There was no logic to their coloring either – they were as varied as shells upon a beach. Most had collapsed dejectedly into the sand, some leaned on each other for support. It seemed they were seeking comfort, as the glow faded.
“That’s the most bizarre sunset I’ve ever seen,” Michael finally spoke, and I realized what he said was true. It was the sun that they were trying to reign in, and it had gotten away from their grasp and was now setting behind the mountains. The mountains themselves looked oddly familiar to me.
“Michael,” I gasped. “That’s our mountain!” And it was, only there was something wrong with it. It took me a moment to register what it was—it was upside down. The few sparse trees that before had lined the top of the mountain now grazed the ground and their rust-colored needles stood out starkly against the white sand. Finally, a picture of what had happened hours before on the mountain top came clearly into my mind. We had completely flipped. The great cracking sound I heard must have been the base of the mountain ripping out of the ground as Michael, the mountain, and me had hurtled through space and landed on the underside of the world. Yes, I thought, that makes perfect sense.
And I was just about to explain it all to Michael, when one of the creatures pulled away from the crowd and dashed over to us. It was one of the shorter beasts, about as tall as my waist, though it walked on two legs like a human. Its fur was sleek and red covering all but its face, two human-like hands, and cloven feet. Two delicate horns curled outward from its forehead and its tail swished behind, leaving intricate tracks in the sand. I edged closer to Michael.
The creature seemed to sense that I was afraid, and stopped a few feet from where we stood. It cocked its head and seemed to squint at us, as if straining to hear something. Its eyebrows raised in sudden understanding, and suddenly it bowed with intricate flourish, dipping its head gracefully toward one outstretched cloven hoof. It straightened, and spoke.
“Good sir, dear lady,” he said in a decidedly male and surprisingly normal voice. “I am Farrow, your guide.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008


How come you didn’t meet me at break? And where were you at lunch? I haven’t seen you all day! Geez, are you avoiding me just cuz of your stupid shoes? Jase told me they were ugly anyway, so I traded with Kerry. You could have had them back at break, if you’d just met me. Stop being a dork. Don’t you want to get your yearbook signed? Meet me here after 5th period and I’ll give it to you. At least you’ll have one period to get it signed then. Look, I’m sorry I made you mad…
See you

All I could do was stare at the note. Sadie wrote this note today, I thought. How had it gotten in my pocket? She wrote this after she stole my shoes, after I didn’t show up for homeroom, break, lunch. Sadie was out there, where I should be, and I was gone, really gone from the world I knew. I think to this point the rational part of my mind was still clinging to the belief that this was some kind of bizarre dream, or maybe that my childhood fantasies had come true and I had been whisked off to Narnia, but would soon be returned to the normal world and no one would be the wiser. Except for me of course, I thought. And Michael. We’d have our secret adventure to remember always, and maybe next year we’d get a letter from Hogwarts and be invited to be the first American exchange students and—I shook my head to stop this panicked train of thought from continuing any further.
Now, holding Sadie’s note in hand, the rational and even the semi-rational parts of my brain were having to give up and admit that something beyond explanation was happening here. I was so shocked I couldn’t even feel mad at Sadie for calling my shoes stupid and then giving them to stupid Kerry. Though she did apologize, which was rare, for Sadie. She must really be worried about me, I mused. I almost laughed aloud at the thought. I should be worried about me, I thought, a little giddy and probably going a little crazy now. Sadie wants me to meet her after 5th period, and I am stuck in an alternate universe and obviously losing my mind.
“Cass?” Michael had suddenly appeared at my side. I crammed the note back into my pocket. “Cass are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m all right.” I looked up at him. He looked a little worried, but he seemed like he was about to grin – just cheese at me like this was the happiest day of his life. What the crap? I thought, then I remembered what Michael had said about the angel “She spoke to me, showed me this place. She said we’d find Eden.” We’d find Eden.
“Michael, what the crap’s going on!?” I whispered fiercely. I was still not quite over being panicky. “You knew about this, you knew all this was going to happen! What the crap, Michael?!” What had started as a whisper ended as nearly a shout.
“No, Cass, no, hang on!” Michael said, his eyes pleading with me to calm down. The unsightly demons were beginning to murmur concernedly and looked as if they might start drifting over towards us. I waved slightly and gave them a wan smile. They turned away somewhat reluctantly.
“Michael, explain this!” I whispered again.
“Ok, Cass, I will, I will, just calm down a little,” Michael said, still looking eerily like a kid on Christmas morning, as if it was all he could do to contain his excitement. “Ok, but you gotta hear me out. Just let me explain, and then we’ll talk ok?” I guess he could tell I was on the verge of interrupting him with another exclamation of “What the crap, Michael?” I nodded, it was fair.
“Ok,” He paused for a moment. “It’s hard to know where to start. Ok, you wanted to know—you wanted to know what happened that day when Eden disappeared, and this is all to do with that day, so I guess I’ll start there.
“You know how I was supposed to get Eden from daycare right? Well, I did and we were just walking home, but you know how Eden is—she wanted to play a game. She wanted to play hide and seek, and she kept telling me to close my eyes. I told her we’d play when we got home, but not now cuz we were walking and all that. But she just kept saying she wanted to play hide and seek, really insisting. Finally I … well, I yelled at her. I just said Eden, No! But I think it scared her. She let go of my hand and ran, just ran right around the corner. I shouted at her to stop, and started to run after her, but I tripped. Damn Cassie, you have no idea how many times I have cursed myself for that. I just tripped and I lost my sister. So stupid. By the time I got up and got around the corner, she was gone. I thought she was hiding from me, playing the game she had wanted to play. I wasn’t even smart enough to look around for a car, to see who had taken her. Just hang on Cassie, let me explain.” I had just opened my mouth to interrupt, tell him it wasn’t his fault, but I closed it when I heard the urgency in his voice.
“But then a couple weeks ago I started having these dreams. I saw the mountain in them, and Eden was always at the top. And she kept shouting down to me ‘Come get me, Michael, come get me.’ I thought I was going to go insane, hearing her say that every night, and waking up every morning knowing I couldn’t do anything. But then… last night… I … the dream, it changed. Instead of Eden, I saw an angel… the one I told you about. And she … Cass, she told me I had to bring you and we had to go to the top of the mountain, and we’d find Eden. She kept telling me over and over, ‘Get Cassie.’ And I almost… I almost didn’t. Because I was afraid of you, and I was afraid of what you’d say. But then you followed me. Cass,” He grabbed my arms then and stared intensely into my eyes. “Cass, you are the greatest friend. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come, maybe none of this would have happened. But we’re here now, and now we can find Eden.” He grinned at me.
I was pretty stunned, after that. Michael had just told me probably the most insane thing I had ever heard in my life. But here I was in a cave surrounded by demons—how could I doubt the existence, or the messages, of angels? But there was one thing that made even less sense than everything else.
“But… but why me? Why did you need me to come? What does any of this have to do with me?”
Michael looked crestfallen, like all that manic energy had just been crushed right out of him. “I—I’m sorry Cassie. I know, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with you. She’s my sister. I should be the one to find her. I just... I don’t know. The angel told me you had to come. I’m sorry I dragged you into this.”
“Michael, that’s not what I meant. Geez, sometimes you really are an idiot. I didn’t say I didn’t want to help you find Eden- wasn’t I there when we did all the searches? I want to find her as bad as you do. I love Eden too. I just… wondered, why she…it...the angel told you I had to come. I’m just trying to make some sense of this, ok? Geez.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Neither of us looked at the other then, we just sort of sat in silence for a little while, until the unsightlies drifted their way ethereally toward us. They held out two packs toward us.
“You must begin your journey, now.”


Note... this constitutes my least favorite part of what I have written so far. It gets some exposition out of the way, but I am not happy with it. Any feedback, suggestions, concerns, criticism, or (if you have it) praise would be welcome here, as in all my other posts. Thanks.

When Eden was born, I think a lot of people were worried about Michael. He had been an only child for eleven years, he was bound to be resentful, or at least a little uncomfortable. But I knew Michael well enough to know that he was not just happy about his little sister’s birth, he was ecstatic. He was never meant to be an only child. His parents had wanted a house full of kids – kids running around, making noise, bouncing off the walls. Michael had tried valiantly for years to fill that big place in their hearts, and when Eden came along to help soak up some of that love, Michael was relieved and grateful. I think it was actually Michael who chose her name – Eden, like a paradise you can only hope for. And she lived up to it. She had the sweetest smile of any kid I’ve ever seen, and she never held it back – everyone got a little piece of heaven when Eden was around.
Michael treated her like a little princess, never even teased her, like maybe most older brothers would. He went out of his way to find things to make her happy, took her along everywhere. She was never left out of anything she wanted to do. He loved that little girl, would do anything for her. The police really didn’t get it though. Since Eden had been with Michael the day she disappeared, he was their first suspect. Michael never told me what they asked him, but he was in the interrogation room for hours. I know they were just doing their jobs, they were just trying to find Eden – we all were. But I think it broke him, the things they accused him of, the things they suggested with their questions. He came out in tears, and we never talked about it, not once.
Michael was picking Eden up from daycare, when it happened. She didn’t normally go, but Mrs. A had a dentist’s appointment, so Eden went to daycare and Michael picked her up after school. Somewhere in those three blocks between daycare and home, Eden disappeared. At first I didn’t ask Michael about it; after what he’d been through with the police, I didn’t want to make him repeat it again. After that though, I tried to ask – but any time I got close to the question, Michael would change the subject, he’d ask me about homework or mumble something about getting something from his locker, forgetting his lunch. Eventually, he stopped even changing the subject. He’d just bite his lip and shake his head quickly, look away. It was probably the main reason we stopped talking. Every other subject seemed hollow. And Michael just wouldn’t talk about what happened that day. He just wouldn’t.
Sitting there in the dimness of the cave with the fluttering demons all around me, looks of deep concern on their faces, waiting to hear about Eden, all I could think of was the promise I’d asked Michael to make. Could I even ask him, when he finally woke? Would I be brave enough, or maybe cruel enough, to hold him to it and make him break his silence? I bit my lip and looked away, and was sure I looked quite a bit like Michael in that moment.
The demons blinked expectantly. “Her?” they asked, all echoing the questioning tones.
“Michael’s sister.” I finally answered. “An… angel… told him we could find her—” I started to explain but at the mention of the word angel the demons erupted into frenzied whispers.
I tried to make sense of the words, but I soon realized they were no longer speaking English. The demons were chattering away in foreign sounds, and I couldn’t tell if they were angry, excited, or terrified. Their shapeless faces reflected no emotion. I waited, slightly frightened, mostly very confused. Finally, there was silence. The main demon spoke again.
“The angels cannot be trusted. But they do not lie. If they told you to find the girl Eden here, then here Eden will be found.” She stopped speaking, as if that explained everything.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said finally, when I realized she wasn’t going to say any more. “What do you mean they don’t lie, but they can’t be trusted? I don’t understand! Where’s Eden? Is she here?” This was crazy… absolutely crazy. I had no idea where I was, I was surrounded by some sort of mythical being, and they were claiming we could find Eden here. I didn’t even know where here was.
“Angels cannot be trusted,” the demon repeated again simply, and there was no urgency or anger in her voice. She touched my face kindly, then turned and all the other demons followed her. They walked toward Michael, knelt over him and began cooing just as they had whispered and sang to me. “Michael, Michael.” Finally, Michael stirred and I watched as the demons gave him food and urged him to sit up, lifted his pain away with their soft, shimmery fingers.
Without the demons attending to me, for the first time since I had awoken, I had the chance to actually think about where I was, and what was going on. In the dim light of the cave, I couldn’t guess at what time it was, couldn’t guess how long Michael and I had been unconscious – minutes, hours, days? Maybe this was like Narnia – I’d spent half my childhood expecting the back of my closet to turn into a snow-covered, fawn-infested woodland, so why not? Maybe we had slipped into a fantasy world, and time was standing still in our world, waiting for us to complete some sort of quest and return safely to or houses. I shook my head. I’m going crazy. Angels, demons, and mountains that suddenly flipped upside down and dumped you in some sort of alternate universe were issues I was not quite ready to grapple with at the moment, so instead I dug into my pocket looking for the watch face I always kept with me. The band had broken, but my brother had given it to me before he left for college; it was kind of a sentimental thing I guess. I felt around for it, but my hand caught on something else first – a piece of paper. I pulled it out, wondering what ticket stub or homework assignment I had shoved into my pocket, but it turned out to be a note. I grimaced disgustedly – just Sadie’s stupid note from this morning. I unfolded it anyway, maybe just looking for anything familiar, and that’s when I discovered we definitely weren’t in Narnia.


I woke up to a soft voice murmuring my name. I’m not dead! I realized. It was a dream! “Cass? Cassie? Cass? Cassie?” Sadie? But that voice wasn’t hers. Mom? Something was wrong. And then I realized: it wasn’t one soft voice but a myriad of murmuring voices. “Cass? Cassie?” My name sounded strange, as if a foreign tongue spoke it.
Then—feather-light fingers fluttered across my cheeks, my forehead and lips. I struggled to open my eyes and heard a delighted chorus of voices “She wakes, she wakes!”
Immediately the voices and their owners scattered, their shapes, blurred in my groggy vision, scurrying frantically in many directions. By the time I’d had time to blink, half a dozen hands were thrust into my face, each bearing what I thought must be food. “Eat, eat! Try!” The voices insisted, but my eyes couldn’t concentrate on anything. My head wobbled as I tried to focus on the bits of food. Everything was moving constantly, soft hands pushed the food toward me then hesitantly drew it away. “Yes, no, yes? Try? Like it?”
“Wait,” I protested, my voice barely a whisper of a cough. “Hang on.” I brought my hand up to rub my eyes and the wavering offerings withdrew. Again the voices scattered all over the room “Not now! Tired! Can’t see? Tired, not hungry. Not hungry!” All the voices were arguing with one another, even though they all seemed to be in agreement. I sat up a little, and suddenly I felt an ache throughout my entire body. It felt like I had been hit with a giant wrecking ball, like I had run full-speed into a wall, or…the ground. I groaned. It was real. It was all real.
At my pained sound, the voices started up again, “Oh! Oh, Cass, Cassie. Oh, oh, oh.” They fluttered back and hovered around me, reaching out and pulling back as if afraid to touch me. I could see them now, but what I saw was unreal. My eyes grew wide and I gasped. They pulled back in a circle around me and hid their faces with long, skeletal fingers. “So ugly, so ugly. Unsightly.” They apologized. “Turn away.”
I couldn’t understand why they hid. They were so beautiful: slender, willowy women, or at least something like women. They were taller than any woman I had ever seen, their bodies stretched far up above me; the arms covering their faces were long and graceful. Their hair hung down in silvery sheets that at once seemed like a glimmering rainbow and a slippery shadow. But it was their skin that had shocked me the most, the way it shimmered. At first I thought it was pale green, but the next moment it seemed a light lavender, then a silvery blue. The colors in their hair and skin shifted so delicately I hardly noticed the change. They wore simple shifts, the color of dry straw, but I couldn’t imagine a garment that would not look muted and weak compared to them.
“No,” I whispered, surprised at my own bravery. “Please don’t hide.”
“Ah, she is kind,” one spoke, the first time one had spoken without the others, though a whispered chorus agreed: “So kind, so kind.” They peered down at me, smiling shyly, and a few still covered their faces with a few slender fingers. They pressed in a little closer, but none spoke. They just looked at me expectantly.
“Um, who are you?” I asked finally.
The same solitary voice spoke; the others seemed to expect this and no one interrupted. “We are the unsightly demons,” she said. “And you are Cass Cassie.”
“It’s just Cass,” I said, though it didn’t feel right to correct her. And though many questions filled my mind all at once, the first one I blurted out was, “How do you know my name?”
“The other one spoke it, many times in his sleep in this way: Cass Cassie, Cass Cassie,” she answered.
“The other one? Michael! Is he here?” I tried to push myself up to see him, but gasped again in pain and many hands reached down to restrain me from rising further, delicate but firm.
“He sleeps still,” her voice soothed, and she pointed to a shape not far from where I sat. The other… demons, they had called themselves…parted to one or the other side to let me see clearly. It seemed we were in a cave, or maybe you’d call it a cavern. The walls were smooth, but they were definitely some sort of stone, cold and dark, shimmering grey. Michael’s still form was lying on a thick fur, and I realized I was too. There was little furniture, just a small table, and the same thick furs were spread across the floor in several places. My head spun, and the throbbing ache all over my body seemed to intensify the longer I held myself up.
“Rest, Cass Cassie,” the demons murmured, and again their hands fluttered around my face, calming me and brushing my eyes closed as I slowly lowered myself back onto the soft furs. The demons began to murmur and hum, and they began to stroke my hair. Their feathery fingers grazed my face and arms so softly, but they seemed to lift the pain away, leaving me feeling lighter and somehow cleaner. I think they expected me to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. I lay there quietly, trying not to move and invite the pain back, and the demons drifted slowly away.
What is going on? I knew I should be panicking, this was not normal, but something about the continued hum of the unsightly demons kept my heart from racing in terror. I wonder why they call themselves unsightly, I mused. I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life. And what do they mean by demons? I lay there for a while, thinking those calm reflective thoughts until my nose itched and I reflexively reached up to scratch it. The ache was gone!
I sat up slowly and quietly, trying not to attract any attention, but soon a demon turned and saw me and they were all upon me instantly. They knelt beside me and helped me sit up, then once again thrust food toward me. This time I tried it, and though nothing was familiar it tasted good, just down to earth good …maybe hearty is the best word for it.
“Thank you,” I said between bites, and they tittered happily. After a short while they stopped offering food and just sit back and stared at me. Finally, the demon—the one who had spoken before—asked me, “Why have you come Cass Cassie?”
Instinctively I looked toward Michael’s still form. “I’m not sure, really,” I answered slowly, “but I think we’re looking for Eden.”
The demons broke into soft questioning murmurs, “Eden? Eden?” The head demon frowned slightly and tilted her head in confusion.
“Eden? We know not of it.”
“Not it,” I sighed, “Her.”


But not nothing like you think of nothing—at least not like the nothing I was picturing when I bet Michael that there would be nothing on the other side of the mountain. What I meant was nothing special, a valley, maybe some more mountains, a town even. This, though, this was nothing.
I don’t know how else to describe it—the mountain just stopped. It was like some giant hand had come and sliced the mountain cleanly in half from the peak to the base and then lifted its giant portion to its giant mouth and swallowed it down its giant throat. The surface where we stood was exactly what it should have been, dust and just a little bit of vegetation. But just beyond the ridge the mountain was a straight angle, perpendicular to the ground, as smooth and flat as glass, reflecting the whiteness of the nothing beyond. I guess I’d always thought of nothing as being black, like a deep hole, but the white was worse than any dark night.
It was so quiet. I just stood there staring into the dizzying blankness for so long it felt like maybe color and sound had only ever been an imagination—that I’d never spoken, no one had ever spoken to me. The quiet and the white were the force of forgetting, washing over me like a tide. And then—Michael spoke.
“I don’t understand.” His voice sounded choked, muffled by that emptiness. I had to concentrate to hear him, to turn my head and look at him, take in the swirling colors of his shirt and his jeans, his hair and his cheeks.
“What?” I said, dully. My voice came from far away, disconnected from myself. I swallowed and cleared my throat. “What do you mean?”
“I mean this isn’t… it’s …” he gasped, struggling against tears, but I could see them already shimmering in his eyes. “It’s not what she said.”
“What who said? Michael what are you talking about?” I whispered; each word faded away faster than the last.
“The—” he choked, coughed to clear his throat. “The—angel.” He looked so upset, so betrayed. I tried to lift my hand to touch his arm, but the weight of it hanging there was greater than I had thought. My fingers barely twitched, my muscles hardly even tightening in the effort. Michael went on, “I dreamed her.” Somehow his voice was stronger than mine, angry and getting louder just as mine had softened. “She made me dream her, night after night. She spoke to me, showed me this place. But she lied, she said . . .” And then he did cry, a wrenching sob that rippled the stagnant white air in front of us and set it whirling slowly.
It seemed then that a little strength trickled back into me, and this time when I reached out my hand to Michael, no invisible force held me back, and my had rested lightly on his shoulder. “What did she say?” I asked, and my voice was still quiet, but stronger.
“She said I’d find Eden.” He turned to me then, and his eyes were filled with such a desperate hope that I didn’t want to say what I had to say. I slipped my hand from his shoulder to squeeze his fingers.
“Michael,” now I was crying, too. “Eden’s gone.”
“No!” he shouted, and instead of being swallowed by the white emptiness, the sound echoed. It seemed it was hurtling through the air and getting louder by the moment, but then I realized I wasn’t hearing Michael’s shout any more. I was hearing wind—great gusts that whistled and howled and grew ever closer. The white air that before had seemed so solid and still became a mad swirling mist.
Almost before I knew what was happening, the wind was swirling all around us. It was such a shock after the utter stillness; I wasn’t prepared for its push. I staggered forward, wheeling, off-balance and terrified. My hand still gripped Michael’s and I could feel his fingers tighten around mine. Instinctively, I yanked his hand, trying to close the space between us and pull myself upright. But the force of my momentum overcame Michael’s solid stance and we both hurtled forward. My hand slipped from Michael’s, and the thick mist filled the space between us. I was alone in the swirling white.
My feet couldn’t find purchase on the shifting dirt of the mountain. I couldn’t even see the ground beneath me to get my bearings, and each stumbling, tripping step brought me closer to the edge. I cried out to Michael, but the wind distorted my voice, carrying it far away and thrusting it back at me mockingly from all directions. I thought I heard Michael calling to me, but his voice came from all sides. The scrambling and stumbling could have taken me two feet or twenty, I didn’t know. I reached my hands out blindly, searching for anything to hold on to. Suddenly I felt—or I thought I felt—Michael’s fingertips, just barely beyond my grasp. I stepped forward, but with a surge of panic that filled my stomach with ice and fire, I realized I had stepped over the edge and I was falling. There was a huge crack, like thunder or the sound of a giant tree being uprooted.
And I was falling—I was falling, I knew it, but my foot still felt the solid mountain beneath me. There was nothing in the blur of white mist to tell me I was falling, but there was a wind on my face and that unmistakable feeling of plummeting. I was rushing into the emptiness, and the mountain was rushing with me.
Even as I plummeted, my head finally started to protest. This isn’t real, a voice insisted steadily, in control. But… I argued uncertainly. It feels real. You’re dreaming, the voice continued calmly. Ah, I thought. That makes sense. Just another dream to wake up and forget. And—this horrible white emptiness? It will all be gone? I questioned, aching for it to be true. Sure, of course. Look there’s some color already. You’re waking up.
I could see it then, just a speck at first and so far away I couldn’t tell if it was green or grey or blue. But it rushed closer and closer, and I started to see colors, overwhelming in their fullness and vibrance. I’m waking up, I’m waking up! I thought desperately, but the colors were all wrong: not the blurred pastels of my bedroom walls, but the jade of spring grass, the periwinkle of sky, the grey-green of rocks. And then yellow, red, orange, purple, like a bouquet in disarray scattered across a canvas.
I’m not going to wake up, I thought. I’m going to die. The wall of colors rushed up in front of me. I slammed into it, and everything went black.


Don't be pissed ok? I know you said I couldn't wear your shoes, but I needed them! Don't forget you owe me lunch today! See you at break. -Sadie

I trudged out of the house that morning feeling defeated. When I had first seen Sadie's note peeking guiltily at me from underneath my backpack, I had clenched my jaw and grunted in rage. But that hot anger had been replaced by a lukewarm despondence. It settled on my limbs and weighed them down so that as I walked down the stairs my feet barely left the ground. My shoes scuffed in a disheartened, hopeless sort of way. Except they weren't even my shoes; they were Sadie's. I had dug through the piles and piles of shoes in her room to choose which ones I would steal in revenge. With each pair I seethed, "Why not these, Sadie? What was wrong with this pair? or this one? Why did you have to wear my shoes? My brand-freaking-new, never-worn, beautiful, expensive, saved-for-ten-months-to-buy-them shoes." I finally found a pair to wear, the sandals with the squishy soles she'd been in love with for all of one week. The inadequacy of my revenge only drove home the overwhelming, unfair-but-irrefutable truth: Sadie gets what she wants. And that morning she wanted my shoes. So I scuffed along the sidewalk and glared at Sadie's shoes, knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do.
There was a pinecone in my path—it looked so out of place there with the summer grass creeping through the cracks in the cement. I almost felt sorry for it. It was dried up and fragmented, pieces of it lost along its long path of survival from winter to now. It might have been noble, if I had been in the mood: the last survivor, the lone holdout. But instead it looked helpless and ineffectual as it pointlessly fought against forces beyond its control. In that moment, I hated it and hated myself for being like it. So I kicked it. I kicked it as hard as I could and followed it with my eyes as it skittered over the cement. It gave me a sort of grim glee to see the parts and pieces flying off its battered shell. My eyes followed it, bouncing from cement square to cement square until finally the pinecone stuttered to a stop. And that's when I saw him.
I never meant to follow him. My attention was focused on that dried-up pinecone; I was speeding my step just a little so I could catch up to it and kick it again. I was, as usual, trying to ignore him so I didn’t have to face the fact that he was ignoring me. But then Michael turned. He turned right, and the shock of it made me forget Sadie, forget the shoes, forget the pinecone—made me call out to him. "Michael!"
But he was already gone, around the corner. I had walked to school behind Michael every day for the whole year. He left his house, three houses down from mine, just a little before I left my own, and we walked fifty feet apart from each other all along the straight, straight path to school—there were, or there should have been, no deviations and no turns.
"Michael!" I called out to him again, somehow thinking that maybe he'd turn back and say "Whoa ... what was I thinking? School's that way!" But, of course, he didn't. I shuffled my feet a little faster, not wanting to look like I was running. But I was hurrying. I guess my plan was to catch up to him, maybe just look to see where he had gone then continue on my way to school. But when I reached the corner where Michael had turned, he was there—just standing there, as if he had been waiting all along. "Hey," I gasped, a little out of breath, "Where are you going?"
He didn't answer me; he just started walking again, seamlessly, as if he had never stopped. His head turned back toward me though."You coming?"
"Coming? Where?" I said dumbly, as if it mattered where he was going. No, I wasn't coming! I was going to school, just like he should be doing. Just like we did every day and just like we would do every day until we graduated. That's the way things are for kids like me and Michael. We don't skip school: we're not even tardy, ever. What was with him?
By that time, I had caught up to him and I was walking beside him despite my internal protests. He looked at me and grinned. I'm pretty sure I squinted at him then, trying to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. Michael didn't grin. At least, he hadn't for a long time, not in the long year that had been our first one in high school. He smiled, sure, who doesn't? He smiled a little, tight-lipped smile to tell the teachers he was just fine, to let the counselors know not to worry. He was all right. I'd seen that particular smile so many false times that when Michael had started using it on me, I'd stopped walking to school with him and stopped eating lunch with him. Or maybe he'd stopped walking to school with me. I don't really know anymore. But this time, it was Michael's real smile, from before, from a long time ago when we were friends. I just squinted at him. He laughed at me then, and hearing Michael laugh was as much convincing as I needed, even if I didn't realize it at the time. I was going with him, wherever he was going.
After that odd little exchange, we walked in silence for a while. I stole glances at Michael out of the corner of my eye every couple of seconds. His black-brown hair was sleek and longer that I'd thought. It hung flat all the way to the bottoms of his ears and flopped in his face as he bounced lightly up the sidewalk. His face was very pale, even in the summer, and he was what Sadie had always called a pink-cheek boy. You know, the ones that always look like they're blushing or like they've just run into the room at full speed. I realized then that I'd sort of stopped looking at Michael in the past year. I hadn't noticed the little changes—like, now he was taller than me and his nose seemed just a tiny bit pointier than I'd remembered. His hands and feet looked bigger. I didn't recognize the band on his t-shirt. I thought then how we'd really become strangers, and it made me timid. Instead of demanding to know what he was up to, as I once might have, I coughed a hesitant little cough and began cautiously.
"Um... hey... um, Michael?" then I blushed and rolled my eyes at myself. I was acting like an idiot. I cleared my throat again. "Michael, what are you doing? I mean, where do you think you're going? It's a school day."
"Cass," he drawled, and hearing my name in his voice thrilled me and angered me all at once. "It's the last day of school, Cass. No one cares if you go or not. Or are you worried you won't get your yearbook signed?"
"Sadie took our yearbook," I answered without thinking, then got mad at myself for taking the bait. "I'm not worried about the yearbook. I'm freaking worried about you. You're not a rebel, at least you didn't used to be, so what are you trying to pull here?"
"Trying to pull? What are you trying to pull? You sound like your Mom, or something.” He laughed at me again, a bark of a laugh that fell flat on the still air. He looked at me a little uneasily then and I guess he could see I was mad, 'cause he sighed and shrugged. “I'm not rebelling Cass, I just..." he paused and we walked on, the thudding of our sneakers on the pavement filling the space of his unfinished sentence.
"Cass," he repeated my name again. The way he kept saying it with every sentence—I remembered that later when I was trying to decide if everything that happened really happened. It stood out to me. Let me know it wasn’t all a dream.
"Cass, look around for a second. We've lived in this valley our whole lives. There's the lake over there and beyond that the mountains, and here on our side more mountains, like a big wall on all sides. Haven't you ever wondered what's on the other side?"
"Wondered? What's to wonder about? There's just another town like ours—you know, lights, houses, streets, stores—a town. And if there's not, then there's just a big empty valley, and some more mountains on the other side."
He raised his eyebrows at me in that way that says, Oh really?
"What? You don't think so? They've got this whole world mapped out, Michael. They can see it all from a satellite and you can check it out on google if you really wanted to. There's no mystery anymore, no discoveries. It's just another town."
"Sure, Cass, whatever you say. But that's what I'm doing today. I'm going to find out. I'm going to find out what's on the other side of that mountain." He said it lightly, as if it was just something to fill the time, but there was a look of determination in his eye that just didn't fit with his words. I was about to point that out to him, but he spoke again.
"Come on, Cassie, don't you want to have an adventure?" He smiled at me, and I smiled back and laughed, only a little feebly.
"Fine, have it your way weirdo. We'll go, climb the mountain on a school day, look over the other side, see the boring little town that's there, and go home and get grounded. You're gonna owe me for this one," I threatened, but I was still laughing, though uneasily.
"You're a good sport, Cassie."
We stopped talking and just walked then. The foot of the mountain wasn't even all that far away—it only took us about an hour to walk there. I was glad it was the last day of school, because the only thing I had in my bag was my lunch and one notebook, which I had brought to doodle on during the farce that was the last day of school. Michael was right, if we were going to skip any day, that day was perfect. Plus, this way I wouldn't have to buy Sadie lunch.
We got to the base of the mountain and found a little hiking trail that took us gradually up the slope in a zigzag pattern. It was early summer, but the heat was strong and I was panting and sweating soon, little rivulets of sweat dripped from under my shorts down into my sandals. Michael stopped us and made me drink some water. It seemed like that was all he had in his bag. He'd really been planning this. I wondered for a second if he'd planned for two. I was about to ask, but he started walking again, and I followed.
It was really weird to be hiking with him, after so long of us not talking. It seemed I was always just about to open my mouth, just about to say something, anything, but the words all caught in my throat. There were a lot of things I wanted to ask, but they all revolved around a subject I'd learned was taboo with Michael. Even asking him how he'd been seemed to risk opening a floodgate of unspoken emotions. If he'd said fine, I would have just known he was lying, so I didn't even bother to ask. So instead I asked him about the band on his t-shirt. He looked confused for a second.
"Oh this?" he said, holding out his t-shirt. It said Paradise Lost and had some kind of faded, swirling pattern around the words. "It's, uh, it's not a band, it's the title of a book."
"Oh, I mean, oh yeah I knew that. By Milton, right? I guess I just thought it was a band, too. I mean, they don't normally put book titles on a t-shirt, right?"
"Yeah, no, I mean, you're right, they don't. I, uh, I actually made this one." He saw the puzzled look on my face and explained quickly. "I've been helping my cousin out, you know, the one that has the t-shirt screening business. Anyway, I was just messing around with some designs and he said I should print them. So, I made a few. I just liked the look of these words together," he explained, seeing my raised eyebrow at his t-shirt. "I made one for you, too," he said and stopped, pulling something out of his bag.
"Wait a second!" I demanded. "You brought that…for me? How'd you know I would come with you? I mean, did you try to—are you tricking me into coming with you or something?" My jaw was dropped in angry awe.
"No, Cassie, I didn't—no, really I didn't know! I just... I just sort of hoped you would come. I was going to ask you, but then I didn't really think you'd come with me since we, well, you know... don't talk," he sounded really miserable. "Anymore, I mean we don't talk anymore. So then, anyway, I decided not to ask you, but then you shouted out to me, so I waited for you." He bit his lip and looked down at the t-shirt he held in his hand.
"All right," I said, grudgingly, only slightly mollified. "Let me see it then, basket case." I'd always called him basket case, so he looked up at me and kind of smiled again. He handed me the t-shirt. It was black, like his, and the same swirling pattern danced across the front, but the words were different. Paradise Regained.
"You don't have to wear it," he said quickly.
"No, I will," I answered just as quickly, though really it was getting a little too weird for me. I pulled it on over my shirt—a green one I had worn in case anyone wanted pictures that day. I'd always thought green looked good with my hair. I slipped it off underneath the new t-shirt and stuffed it in my bag. "Let's keep going, then," I said. Since my chosen conversational topic of his t-shirt had ended awkwardly, I just kept quiet for a while.
It really wasn't a very tall mountain. It took us only about two hours to hike the dusty trail to the halfway-point where we could look down and see the whole valley below us. It was about ten o'clock then, and I realized that Sadie was probably looking for me by our locker, since it was now morning break. When I didn't show up, she'd probably just think I was mad at her for taking my shoes, and I was, so I guess that was all right
Sadie and I were ten months apart—people sometimes asked if we were twins, even though she's taller than me and prettier, too. We'd gone to different schools for the last three years, since Sadie had gotten in to some special science program and I hadn't. I'd thought this year would be the same, since Sadie was still in middle school and I was starting at the local high school. But her teachers thought Sadie was just too brilliant for middle school and they booted her out a year early, so we shared a locker and a homeroom our whole freshman year.
Things were always a little weird with Sadie. We could be best friends one minute and mortal enemies the next, literally. We did everything together at school, even if half the time we were scowling at each other. Like that day, if I had gone to school, I probably would have met her for break, even though she had stolen my shoes that morning. She probably would have conned me into forgiving her by the end of lunch, and by the end of the day, the shoes would be hers. That's just how it was with Sadie.
"Come on," I said. "We're getting close to the top now. Hey, we should have a bet," I said suddenly.
"What kind of bet?"
"Well, I'll bet you that you're freaking crazy and there's nothing on the other side of this mountain," I taunted.
"Ha! Okay, then," Michael answered. "What are we betting then? What's the prize?"
We both thought about it for a minute. We'd bet lots of things before, and we'd always come up with interesting rewards for the winner, or heinous punishments for the loser. Michael, as usual, decided what he wanted first
"If I win, you have to tell everyone that this was your idea, and I get to say you hypnotized me into going with you. What do you want?"
I laughed, but there was something wrong about the whole thing. It was like we were both pretending that the last year hadn't happened. That our last bet had been yesterday, and not months and months ago. My laughter almost turned to tears as I thought how I had walked behind him every day for the whole year, just to avoid the silence between us.
Suddenly I knew what I wanted from him more than anything. A second before I had been joking, but I was completely serious when I said, "You have to tell me. If I'm right, if I win the bet, then you will tell me what happened that day."
He looked at me then, dumbstruck. I thought he might actually just walk away from me then. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But he held up one trembling hand to shake mine. "Deal."
There was no more conversation after that. We walked and I looked out over the treeless mountain to the desert landscape beneath us, wondering what was going on at school, what my mom would say when I got home. It was a little after noon when we reached the end of the path. It turned out to a little lookout, about ten feet from the top. Michael was a little bit ahead of me, and I saw him step off the path to scramble the remaining way up the mountain.
"Wait!" I called, but I don't think he heard me. He was pulling himself up eagerly, grabbing pieces of brush to propel himself forward. I followed just a little bit behind him. When he got to the top, he stood there for a second, and then turned back to me with the strangest look I had ever seen. Confusion, betrayal, and desperation marred his simple face as he shouted something back to me.
"What?" I shouted, then pulled myself faster up the mountain until I was just an arm's length behind him. "What?" I panted.
"I said I think you won the bet," he whispered and he pointed in front of him. I couldn't see anything but sky, so I crept closer to the edge and looked down.
He was right. I was right. There was nothing there.