Not long after I had him scraped clean from this world I followed behind him, mad with loss. I cannot say how I knew that he was indeed a “he,” just that I knew. And that I would have called him Nicholas.
Though I no longer housed Nicholas, and in fact evicted him with no notice, I needed to see the place to which I’d sent him. I needed to know what contingency looked like and if it would offer the same safety I had denied him in my own arms.
I arrived before a cave. Or what may have been a cave. Blood wet the ground in pretty polka dots beneath my feet, winding a red trail into a wide opening and then disappearing into a darkness so complete I thought perhaps I was not looking at an entrance at all. Perhaps there was no where to go, just a wall black and impenetrable as death. Fear slid like tentacles around my torso and squeezed. The same fear that would have gripped Nicholas, whose emotional range should still be limited to nothing more than contentment. I walked, feeling exposed like the soft underbelly of wounded prey before a set of dripping, yellow fangs. When I stuck a shaky hand forward into blackness it did not strike a wall. And so I entered the cave.
The air was so damp and heavy that breathing was a conscious effort. I walked slowly with both arms outstretched, straining and failing to see. This darkness was not just an absence of light; it was a solid thing, alive and almost corporeal in its absoluteness. I was certain it was trying to suffocate me.
As I moved deeper, the walls sank in towards me. Each of my palms could now be pressed flat on either side of the rigid walls. I fought against the terror tugging at my insides and willed my grief to be bigger than my cowardice; to lead me towards Nicholas like the ghost of a cord that tethered us together. I owed him so much more, but this I could do.
My will did not completely abate my fear. The walls forced my hands to my sides and rubbed against my shoulders. I made to turn around but the darkness behind me was now, indeed, solid and unwilling to let me pass. The walls continued their assault, forcing my body to splay between them. I tried to cry out but I had no breath to do so. My throat was filled with the damp weight of darkness and I could no longer struggle. I felt my nails being pushed into the soft folds of the alien walls and I gripped as pressure sandwiched my head. First a pop, then a crack.
Without warning I found myself, with lungs full to bursting, screaming in what was maybe a meadow. Bright beyond comparison though I could see no sun visible in a blue sky that was not quite a sky. My hands flew to my perfectly intact head, checking for the injury that should have been there and coming away with only a few stray hairs. I took a moment to inspect the rest of my person and found that nothing was out of sorts besides the beast raging in my chest, ramming against my ribcage. I turned around and saw no exit to the cave in which I’d just been walking, only endless miles of the same too green stuff under my feet that was not exactly grass. Ahead of me, I noticed for the first time a small creature. It lay on its back in the not-grass, looking upward. It was white and rotund and inhuman. Looking at it made my skin roil like storm riddled seas.
“You're one of the more determined ones.” Its voice was light and ethereal. A voice entirely worthy of this disturbingly happy looking place.
“Nicholas?” In comparison, I sounded wildly frightened and hoarse. Bereft and disgusted.
“No, not I,” said the creature lazily, “I am not the one you want, but he is here. You know that though, you sent him.”
There was no malice in the way it spoke this last sentence. Nonetheless, all over my weakened body, I felt veins rupturing. I wrapped my arms tightly around myself to keep from bleeding all over this strange place. From drowning us both in the warm life I felt so unworthy of.
I sat down and rocked myself, nestled in the unnatural softness of the not-grass while the grotesque thing beside me continued to stare, with eyes as black and expansive as the tunnel I’d just escaped, into the ceaseless blue of the not-sky.
“Where can I find Nicholas?” I asked, after some time.
“Why do you want to find him?” Its voice was one sing songy note of polite curiosity and I wanted to tear its throat out. I hugged myself tighter.
“Because he is mine.” I said through clenched teeth.
“You are the only thing that is yours. Nothing in this place belongs to you. What right do you have to that which you discard?”
I cannot bring myself to glare at it like I would like to for fear I might lose my nerve or the contents of my stomach. Involuntarily, I whimpered.
It continued as if I had not spoken.
“I have this conversation all the time, every day and every night. It’s always the same, you know. You are not so unique as you think. You all come to plead and I am here to be pled to. The last one came looking for Peony and she screamed and screamed until she broke herself apart. The one before wanted Sara Beth and tried to beat me to death when I did not readily hand her over. She would have succeeded, if I were a being that could die. And before that, one came calling for Aiden. She clawed her eyes out at the sight of me but still wouldn’t leave, just bled and repeated his name over and ov-”
“Did you help them?” I interrupted. At this question the creature inhaled deeply then turned to face me. I threw up, defacing a patch of not-grass.
“I could not,” it replied, unfazed.
“Can you help me?” I breathed, wiping bile from my mouth with the back of one unsteady hand. The other still clutched my side, keeping me intact.
“If you can answer my riddle.”