There Are Other Worlds Than These

 
 

by Moria Crowley

Air was caught in her chest. It was a heavy pressure that rested between her heart and her throat and it was choking her with the squeezing and the weight that did not shift but became heavier, heavier.

These were piney woods- deep woods with thick springy floors made of dead needles and leaves and the brittle cracking bones of animals. There was no sound. There was also weight outside of her, a weight to everything- every movement was slow and labored, every sound muffled, suppressed. Compressed like a hand around a throat. Claustrophobic. Simplistic and certain. In the woods, these piney woods, a scent surrounded her- wood and needles and clear sap. Tree's blood--maple. Bitter and thin. Dead plants. Layers and layers of dead plants resting one upon the other. Spongy and moist. Her feet sank into it. It was easy to walk on. Quiet footsteps

Baby, baby, won't you walk my way

The branches creaked. There was no wind. The green needles were too flexible to make much sound but the boughs rubbed against each other like lovers or the bow on a viola, deep and melancholy, and made soft moaning noises. There was a whisper of a song. It came from the nothingness above. It was soft, uncertain. The sky was dark and starless.

There were eyes on her back. She could feel them. Red eyes. They did not move. They hung, static, in the darkness.

---

Bill could hear Norma's high, thin voice from the next cubicle. She was on the phone. When he pressed his hand to the partition it was warm and slightly soft to the touch, like PlayDoh rubbed between his palms.

The receiver clattered down angrily. She leaned back in her chair and caught his eye. Bill smiled woodenly.

"Hello, Norma," he said.

"Hello, Bill." Her eyebrows were missing. She smelt of burned plastic. Bill was level-headed. He worked hard to be. Norma, though...

"Did you hear?" She would try to talk to him.

"No. What?"

"It happened again." She sounded gleeful, a hint of gossip in her tone. "Some girl got trapped in her sleep."

Bill swallowed. "What?"

Norma laughed. "It's finals week! All that stress...didn't you have that problem?"

Bill didn't answer.

"Anyway," she continued, "someone heard the rip, called the cops. They open the door and there's a forest behind it!"

"Did they look for her?" Bill asked. "Search team?"

"Are you kidding? Ones like that are endless...there's no point. She's lost."

"Are the parents going to sue?" Bill rubbed his hands together. They trembled slightly.

"No idea." Norma shrugged. She turned back to her work station. Bill did the same.

"I think I'm going to get fired," he heard, after a moment. "I'm too old, can't be calm like I used to be."

He didn't reply.

---

There was a branch in her way, but she couldn't see it. Her foot was caught and the world stilled for a moment. When it quickened again she looked up from the ground and saw the foot twisted sideways, swollen with infection. It smelled rotten. The skin was taut and shiny. There were thin red veins crawling up her leg. Rotten blood. The tear in her skin had been cauterized somehow and did not bleed. She began to cry. She could see a hint of bone. She could see inside. Through her tears she watched the swelling redden. It was warm to the touch.

For a wild stabbing moment she thought there was something moving under her hand, inside of her. It was enough to shock her out of fear. If she thought about something twisting inside of her there would be--and it would tear her apart...no, no. There was nothing there. Will never be anything there. She told it to be so, and it was. The red eyes winked behind her. If she ignored them they would not pursue because, for now, they were simply eyes. She told herself this. She decided it.

She needed a way out. There must have been one, because she thought there must be one. She didn't need to look to know that the veins were wrapping around her knee. She was running out of time. She would be dying forever in here, and the eyes would be watching. She began to walk again.

----

On the bus home Bill read, trying to ignore the other passengers. There was a baby crying near the back. There was water around Bill's ankles. The mother sang softly to the baby. For a second Bill considered getting off a few stops early.

It wasn't the worst leak he'd heard of. There'd been the lions that ate those railroad workers in Africa years ago, and the Chilean miners who had their air sucked out by one frightened worker. And there were all those grotesque things that crept around asylums, that pulled themselves screaming from rotten dreams. Water was fine. It was an annoyance at worst. Bill moved his feet and listened to the water slap against the seats. It was the ocean. He could taste the air in his mouth, bitter. He thought of the girl, trapped where she'd fallen.

Sometimes Bill wondered if this was his hell- that he somehow made this possible, that fears should not become real, that all this was madness of his making. No one would have their fear made real, except he thought some should, and he was causing this, he was evil he thought hell should be physical he made fury and resentment and hurt and-

The bus jerked to a stop, then lurched forward. Traffic was touch and go. Bill was thankful. He read the whole way home in distraction. He did not think.

---

It had been years. She knew this with the same certainty that she would not eat or sleep. In here anything could take seconds or minutes or ages. The weight on her throat was back and she couldn't swallow. Saliva built up in her mouth and she slobbered over her chin. Her ankle had turned black, red veins pulsing up her thigh. She was cold, and colder. The ground was sand between the trees, and she could hear the grains scraping on the exposed bone as she trudged - shift shift shift - but she couldn't cry.

The red eyes surrounded her. They never approached. They just were. Watching. She couldn't breathe and couldn't swallow. It was moving up and she didn't want to see it, she wouldn't throw up, she wouldn't. It was knocking at the back of her teeth

Baby, baby, won't you walk my way

But she didn't know this song. She followed the sound. It grew clearer, and louder. When she forgot about the eyes they vanished, and her ankle straightened itself.

Oh won't you remember the things I say

Baby, baby, won't you look my way

Come on closer. It's a brand new day.

It repeated, looping over and over. The noise was so loud it blocked everything out, and then there was nothingness around her, and then in front of her was a door.

---

Bill came home to the quiet. The lights were off. Champ was sleeping in his bed in the living room. Bill shut the door behind him. The house was still.

He considered turning on the radio, but that might be too loud. Champ followed him into the kitchen. As he opened a can of soup, Bill wondered if dogs had hells, and if so, what was in them.

"What do you think, Champ?" he asked the dog. The soup was grey.

The dog just blinked at him and wagged its tail. After he threw out the can the house made its settling noises. Old bones, the realtor had called it. Adds character. Bill just heard periodic creaking as the temperature changed.

Champ sat under his chair as he ate.

As Bill rinsed his bowl, he could hear

Baby, baby, won't you walk my way

so he left it in the sink. The sound leaked from the corners of the house, trickling over the edges of his hearing. There was a door in the hall. It stood out, a wooden door in a paneled wall. This was not the door that came with the house, but Bill was mostly sure that it was real. According to the floor plan, it should lead to a small bathroom. After a second Bill opened it.

---

She looked at the wooden door. It looked like the front door to her parents' house in Boston. But it couldn't be, because she was not in Boston. She was not anywhere. There was no light, but she could see the door. She could sense the trees around her, but they weren't there, either. Her hell was waiting. She struggled to ignore it. As she walked around the door she could almost see an edge--then it vanished. The door was gone. She was trapped.

 

Then the weight, the pressure on her chest. The air was caught there. Like a heavy metal ball wedged between her heart and her throat and it was choking her with the squeezing pressure and the weight that did not shift but became only heavier, heavier. She took a step back and saw a sliver of the door, back further and further until she was in front of the door again and she could hear

Won't you look my way

Come on closer. It's a brand new day.

She opened the door.

---

Bill looked down the flight of stairs. On slow days at work he thought about touching the edge of it all--the space between the wall of the room and the door. That thin strip of nothing: opening it wider and looking into the space...but no. The room was white--walls and floor and ceiling. He sometimes wondered if it was painted or if it just was, if it just existed like the gramophone that stood in the middle of the room. The record was always spinning, the needle never moved. He hadn't heard this song before the

Baby, baby, won't you walk my way

Oh won't you remember the things I say

Baby, baby, won't you look my way

Come on closer. It's a brand new day.

but sometimes he did. Sometimes it was an aria or pop ballad or, once, a jingle for pet food. Sometimes it was song that must exist in other places - the head, the heart, the faint memory of piano practice on Thursday afternoons.

He didn't walk down the stairs. Bill couldn't save them. He waited, and watched the door on the far wall. The knob turned and she stepped through. She was intact, but smudged with dirt and missing a shoe.

"Hello," Bill said, but she couldn't understand him.

She was blinded by the light. For one asinine second she thought she might have made it to heaven or Valhalla or wherever, but it was just a room. In the center was one of those super old record players, with the horn. It played

Baby, baby, won't you walk my way

quietly. It had no shadow.

There was a flight of stairs on the far side. There was a man at the top. He said something. Gibberish.

"I can't understand you," she said, but this was not her hell. The door was firm against her back.

None of this was hers.

He nodded. She couldn't see his face.

"I can't save you," he explained and wrung his hands. She heard soft noises and a tired sigh.

She understood, and walked towards him.

 

 

Moria Crowley

is a college student who currently lives in Texas. She has been writing professionally since 2007.