People go missing all the time. Everyone assumes it’s kidnappers, or murderers, or any number of awful things. And some of it’s bound to be, sure, ‘cause there are kidnappers and murderers running amok. But so much of it’s because people trip and fall through fairy-gates, or spin around too many times on a certain sidewalk crack, and slip sideways into another world. Some of them closed their eyes and pressed on the backs of their eyelids too long, and faded into another dimension. None of them come back.
Alfonse, my twin, he’s been missing for two years. We’re thirteen now, unless time moves differently in his new world or dimension or fairy circle, in which case he might be eleven still, or two-hundred and forty-seven, or eighteen, or who knows what all. But I’m thirteen, and too old to be harboring fantasies of fairy-gates, my parents tell me. We have to move on, they say, and accept that Alfonse might never come back—that we’ll never stop looking and hoping, but we must move on.
I know he’s not coming back. They never do. Not the ones who fall out of the world. And I miss him, ‘course I do. But every time I peek around a corner and see Mum curled into a ball on the floor, her teeth clenched around a pillow to mute her screams as tears ran down her cheeks, I shake my head.
“Mummy,” I whisper time and again, wrapping my arms around her. “Shhh. He’s fine. I know we all miss him, but he’s fine. I know he is. My twin-sense knows he is.”
We’ve never had twin-sense, but there are some things I do just know, and it was the only thing I could say to calm them down at first. I tried to explain about the fairy-gates and other worlds, but that only got them worried about me, so then I just told them it was twin-sense and left it at that. But as the months wore on, as we passed the one year mark, the comfort seemed to wear thin.
Alicia, they said, you need to let go. They’re the ones who aren’t letting go. They keep hoping he’ll come back. I know he won’t. I’m sure of it. They’re in a living limbo, where every week that goes by leaves their hope dwindle to half, then half again, then half again, always dying but never wholly dead.
I don’t bother hoping he’ll come back. I hope he found a good world. I hope he’s still alive, wherever he is. Maybe he was a hero of prophecy. Maybe he fell in love with a tree-spirt, raised a grove of children, and named one of them after his twin back in his home world. Maybe apprenticed to a time-wizard, stealing seconds from his own life to weave spells. Or maybe he’s just a peasant struggling to get by, or a circus freak in a land that’s never seen a human. Not everyone who falls into another world does great things, after all.
He could even be dead. Other worlds have murders, too, and accidents and illness. He could be any number of things. I prefer to think he fell into a world with all of his favorite things—sword-fights, sci-fi, libraries, water parks, cheesy pasta, stop-motion animation, and girls with freckles and glasses—and I’d like to suppose he became a hero and a king in that world. Of course I’d like that. Sometimes I make up stories about it. But I know they’re just that: stories.
I don’t sugar-coat it. I’m honest with myself; it’s just as likely bad as good, and other planes of reality are chock full of their own brand of things dangerous or dull.
All I can do is wish him luck, when no one’s listening, and pretend for my councilor and parents that I share their ever-halving hope, that I believe it was kidnappers or murderers, that I’ve let go except not really, just as they have. Talk as though I’ve let go my “defense mechanism,” my “delusion” of doorways in the ether, when I’m surer than anyone that he’s never coming back.
Though I still hope I might see him again.
Just in case, I press my fingers against my closed eyelids, and watch the colors for a glimpse of open gates. Just in case, I spin ‘till I’m dizzy on sidewalk cracks, and feel for where the world’s walls are thinnest. It’s always worth a try. Because of course I want to see him again, and besides, he might need my help.
It might seem like wishful thinking, supposing I’d slip into precisely the same dimension as Alfonse, but I’m almost sure I would. Maybe we’ve never had twin-sense, but we do share our DNA, and that would pull me in the right direction. I know it would.
There are some things I just know.
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