The way to the alternate world isn’t through a wardrobe, rabbit hole or a non-existent train platform. You won’t get carried to it by a tornado or by falling through the “gap” you must mind when using the London Tube.
Walking counterclockwise around ancient standing stones might get you there, but if your timing is off by a millisecond, you’ll just make yourself dizzy. Once you know, you’ll laugh at people who fail and pity those who succeed. You understand how desolate success is.
The only reliable way to the otherworld is to hike Mack Mountain. Your journey will begin on a steep, rocky fire road. When you get to the bowl-like pond, turn left on the blood-blazed path.
If you are determined to find this portal (which is a terrible idea), climb until you come to the cliff-top intersection of the blood trail and the sunshine trail. In addition to spectacular views of lakes and mountains, you’ll find a cairn with a fork precariously spanning a gap between antelope sized rocks. One is gray with a few bits of mica and quartz while the other is painted with the sunshine and blood. The gap itself looks the maw of a two faced monster, waiting to suck your soul out. The fork has a keyhole on its handle, which can unlock the way to the otherworld.
If any one of these details is missing, you have the wrong portal. Trying to unlock it may result in making a fool of yourself (something you are very good at doing), or accidentally teleporting yourself inside of a volcano (something you’ve never done).
Once you find the portal, don’t expect sunshine and rainbows. Talking animals or a troupe of singing munchkins definitely won’t greet you or send you on a quest.
You might not even realize you’ve left the your own word behind. You’ll experience a falling sensation. The cairn will grow until the keyhole is large enough for you to fit through.
You won’t fall down a dark tunnel like Alice. The world inside is no wonderland, but it will be moving much faster than your monotonous existence. It will turn sideways, flip upside down and spin. The rocks will look like gray goop before blending with all the colors of New England autumn, just like the spin art you made at the country fairs of your childhood, only with earth tones instead of fluorescent chemicals. It will remind you of that day the pretty girl with the bouncy curls said your art looked like her puppy ate crayons and puked them up on her bed. You thought her art looked like magic.
By the time you land, you’ll be queasy, but you’ll be accustomed to the alternate pace. Once you’re steady enough to look around, you’ll realize the two worlds don’t seem different: trees are still faceless, the water doesn’t smell cleaner, and a dark cloud is still smothering your thoughts, so you’ll wander through the woods, searching for a talking animal.
You always got along with rabbits better than humans. When you find one, you’ll ask him where you are. He won’t answer or invite you to a tea party. You’ll be disappointed, but you’ll also be relieved. If there are no talking animals and tea parties, then there won’t be evil queens waiting to lop off your head.
Just to make sure, you’ll wander until you find a person to ask. That person won’t respond or even look at you. You’ll keep trying to communicate until the person walks right through you.
Typical, you’ll mutter, thinking of your last attempt at a relationship.
Books welcomed you more than humans, but they were flawed too. They never told you that nothing would see, hear, smell, touch, taste or feel you in the alternate world. You’ll understand this is a safe way to explore: you won’t get eaten, but you’ll be lonely. At first, you’ll think this is okay. You were always isolated, like a ghost stuck in the same loop of work, eat, sleep, shit and work, with no friends or lovers.
Eventually, you’ll remember why you left: you were sick of being a forlorn ghost. It didn’t matter if the talking animals made you king, sent you on a quest or told you to kill a witch. You would’ve been happy with a rabbit and half-mad hat-maker for companions. Anything that made you feel like a part of something would’ve been better than what you left behind.
Unfortunately, you’ll be just as lonely here as you were in life. You’ll try to go home, but that is the other lie the books told. You can never go back.
You’ll return to the portal anyways, put the key back in and walk around it when the sun sets and rises. Nothing will happen. You’ll float down to the place where you first arrived in this cursed realm and see the search and rescue crew, loading your broken body into a big black bag.
You’ll scream at them, cry, and stomp your feet, swear you didn’t mean it, and beg them to tell your mother they never found your body because you slipped into another dimension. They won’t hear you. As a ghost, you won’t be bound by time, so you’ll try to warm your past self, forgetting no one, not even you, can see you.
Sara Codair lives in a world of words, writing fiction in every free moment, teaching writing at a community college and binge-reading fantasy novels. When not lost in words, Sara can often be found hiking, swimming, or gardening. Find Sara’s words in Helios Quarterly, Secrets of the Goat People, The Centropic Oracle, at https://saracodair.com/ and @shatteredsmooth.
Image by Nick Bramhall