Kaede pulls up a map on his phone and tells the cab to take us towards a Native American reservation. He drops us off just outside the reserve, saying we’ll have to walk the rest of the way in. We thank him and head on our way.
The forest here is teeming with life and there are bird songs everywhere, despite it being the coldest month on the year here. It’s chilly, but definitely not freezing. We walk for maybe forty minutes until we come across a clearing with strange looking mounds that look like muddy hills except for the entrances that each of them has, made from sticks. They are wide and round, and they fill the clearing with their bulky size.
We hesitate at the entrance to the clearing, not really sure what the protocol is for entering a Native reserve. A few minutes pass when Kaede points towards the huts. A few people have suddenly shown up, watching us from a distance. Caroline grips Kaede’s arm like she’s nervous or something. I narrow my eyes, wondering why they’re all just staring.
A tall dark skinned man with long brown hair tied back at his neck, in jeans and a leather jacket finally comes walking towards us. He looks strong, and his size is somewhat intimidating. I look to Caroline and Kaede, we’re all just watching as he walks up to us.
He smiles at us, friendly and his eyes look on us with recognition, though I’m certain we’ve never met before. “Welcome,” he says, deep voice breaking the awkward silence we’d fallen into.
“Uhh, hi. Umm, my friends and I are looking for someone,” I start to say, Caroline finally butts in, cutting me off.
“Our friend, she went missing and we think she might be around here somewhere. Have you seen anyone with really red hair? Somewhat short? Kinda rude?” she asks.
Kaede elbows her and she gives him a glare. I look to the tall man, waiting for a reply.
He laughs. “Yes, in fact, I have. I’m relieved you’ve come,” he says.
Caroline’s eyes widen in shock, a smile creeping onto her face. “Where? Is she ok?” she asks.
His friendly smile fades to a sad expression. “I’m afraid not. She is quite stubborn. She refuses to accept healing,” he says.
I feel a strange twisting in my stomach, but my brain doesn’t seem to understand what that means. Caroline’s mouth flattens into a line and she crosses her arms. “Typical Kat. Well, can we see her? Maybe this guy can talk her into it. He usually knows what to say,” she says knowingly.
“What? Since when?” I say, digging my hands deeper into my coat pocket.
He looks me up and down and I feel very self-conscious. “You must be Andrei then.”
I raise my eyebrow. “How do you know my name?” I ask him warily.
“She calls for you, in her sleep. I never actually got her name, but I’ve heard yours,” he says.
Suddenly, everyone’s looking at me. I don’t know why until I scratch my cheek and feel the tears on them. I guess I haven’t read the journals enough. I don’t think I’m ready for whatever is about to happen.
“Andrei…” Caroline whispers.
“It’s fine,” I say, wiping my cheek discreetly. She gives me a concerned look and I look away, staring at nothing.
“Can we see her?” she asks the man.
I feel his gaze on me so I Iook up. He’s got a sympathetic smile on his face like he understands what the heck’s going on inside my head and suddenly I’m irked. How would he know? How could he begin to understand? I don’t need anyone’s sympathy. Caroline’s is enough for a hundred people.
“Come, follow me,” he says, turning towards the huts.
Caroline moves first, dragging Kaede with her. I follow behind them, hesitance in each step. I’m curious and scared all at once. I don’t know if I’ll know her… What if I don’t recognize her? That scares me the most.
We follow the man into the hut. The space is dark and warm and I immediately begin sweating. Caroline is already shrugging out of her jacket, as is Kaede. I do the same. The inside of the hut is smokey and smells strongly of herbs and grass and fire.
The man steps to the left, Caroline and Kaede move forwards into the open space. The inside is large and I see a woman kneeling by a fire, stirring a pot of thick stew of something. It smells good. My eyes rove over the space and finally fall upon a cot on the other side of the fire.
A girl with flaming red hair lays there, pale in contrast to the brightness of her hair. She appears to sleep, covered under a thick woven blanket. Her breath is so shallow it hardly looks like she’s breathing at all.
My feet feel rooted to the ground. The rest of the hut seems to dissolve around me and all I can see is her. Kaitlyn. My mind floods with all the memories I had been reading throughout the week, and more. It almost feels like it will burst with the sudden realization.
My stomach flips, my heart skips. I can’t conceal the tears that pour freely from my eyes.
I leap across the room, Caroline barely able to move aside in time as I fall to Kat’s side, grabbing her cold hand in mine. The pain of remembering is unbearable. I rub her hand in mine, calling her name.
“Kaitlyn, Kat, please. Can you hear me?” I whisper, not hearing if anyone is talking.
I did this… I did this to her… It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t left, she wouldn’t have left. Ryan wouldn’t have had to die and she wouldn’t be lying here, unconscious and hurt.
I look at her hand in mine and suddenly notice the bruises peeking out from under her sleeve. I draw it back slowly and a fresh wave a guilt washes over me.
“Oh, Kat, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault,” I moan, resting my head on her arm, hiding my face in the blanket. “…all my fault, it’s all my fault… my fault.” I can’t seem to stop the words.
I jump when I feel a strong grip on my shoulder. I roll my head, looking to see who’s there, forgetting that I’m not alone. “She will be alright, in time,” he says.
Time… in time. The words echo in my head like a gong.
The tick thrums loudly in my ears, like a grandfather clock. I turn away from him and look back to her washed-out face. “If she hasn’t woken up, why haven’t you healed her anyway? You don’t have to listen to any objections from her. She’s doesn’t know how to take care of herself,” I mumble a little bitterly.
He crosses his arms. “If I had, she would have taken off. Then where would we be?” He’s not wrong. She probably would have taken off. She’s not a people person.
There’s only one thing I can do.
“Time…” I mutter.
“What should we do?” I hear Caroline’s voice from behind.
“Selene said she’s in the spirit realm…” I whisper.
“Andrei I can’t hear you, what are you mumbling?” she says.
“She’s in the spirit realm, and only Selene can get there,” I tell her.
“So… she’s not here, what do we do?” she asks.
But no one knows… I’ve been there before. I know it’s a huge risk. She warned me not to go there like that again until I had found all the artifacts. But this can’t wait.
“I can’t wait…” I say.
“Wait for what?” this time it’s Kaede who asks.
“I have to go in,” I say strongly.
“What? How?” Caroline freaks.
I place Kaitlyn’s hand on her chest and stand. Looking down at her now, I know I have to do this… even if I don’t make it back. Even if it hurts, or worse… kills me. I have to.
“Caroline… Kaede. What I’m about to do, I’ve never done while I was conscious. I’ve had dreams, I’ve entered the spirit realm before. It’s a place outside of time. You have to know this before I do this because…” I struggle to tell them. “Because I might not make it back or all of existence will fall apart. At least that’s what she said…”
“Who said this?” Caroline asks, stepping closer. “Andrei, what are you talking about?”
“When I was in the infirmary, I went there physically. The master of time is there and she threw me out, telling me I can’t go there like that. But… there’s no other way. I have to bring Kat back. I know this. Do you trust me?” I ask her, looking at her sternly.
She stares back, then slowly nods. I turn to Kaede next.
“Do you trust me?”
He nods. I then turn to the tall man. “What’s your name?” I ask him.
“Nakotah, but you can call me Nik. Please, do what you can for the girl. We will take care of your friends in the meantime,” he says.
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” I take a step back, taking a deep breath. I’m not sure how to do this while conscious. I’ll have to trust my gut, I guess.
I focus on the sound of the ticking. The beat of my pulse in my veins. I listen carefully to my breathing, going deeper, like meditation. I recall my time in the native camp when Kat and I first met. He taught me how to meditate. I can do this.
I spread my arms and release the ticking, outwards. I feel a wave of energy escape my hands and suddenly my heart feels like it’s being squeezed in an iron grip. I bring my hand to my chest, grabbing it as I fall to my knee. Oh god, this hurts.
The energy continues to pulse from me as I attempt to not just stop the time around us but pull myself from its effects. I feel the sweat beading on my face and the pain in my chest intensifies.
Can I do this?
I have to.
Your body can’t handle this.
I’ll make it.
If you fail, everyone here will die. Even her.
Shut up! I’m doing this.
The world around me fades to white and I look around, expecting to see… what exactly? I lose my train of thought as the sand appears. I let out a heavy breath. I didn’t realize I’d been holding it. My chest still hurts, but I stand, despite my body’s protests.
“I… I did it!” I say with disbelief.
“I told you not to do this,” her voice is cold like ice. I turn around and see her there, white robes, gold trim, long brown hair blowing in the breeze. If looks could kill, I’d be dead eternally.
“I had to. She’s stuck here and I need to get her back,” I stare at her with determination. Nothing she can say will sway me.
She stares back, searching my eyes for something. I glare back.
Finally, she blinks, visibly sighing. “It’s good to see you would risk all of space and time for this one girl. If you fail, you’ll get to spend all of eternity with me. So don’t mess up,” she warns with a smile.
I laugh. “I won’t. Don’t worry. So… How do I find her here?” I ask her.
She looks past me, across the desert. I turn to see what she sees but all there is is sand. Endless white sand.
“That way,” she points.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Andrei,” she says as I step in that direction.
“Be careful out there. What happens to you here affects you in the real world. This is your physical body.”
“I got it. I’ll remember that.” She nods and waves.
I take my first steps towards the horizon, towards Kat. Wait for me Kat. I’m on my way. Please, wait for me.
By Kayla West