The Portal

Cassie sat on the river bank in the shade of a large willow tree and waited, her eyes focused on the dark water. The evening was warm and stuffy. Forget-me-nots flourished in the moist grass, filling the air with their heady fragrance. Cassie plucked a tiny bloom and twirled it between thumb and forefinger and remembered words spoken to her many years ago,” Legend has it that the wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers”. Her mouth formed a sad smile and she quickly swiped a stray tear. She had to stay strong, the time was fast approaching. She slipped the stem into a small button hole on the breast pocket of her jacket. Cassie leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes. An icy shiver of anticipation crawled up her spine. She could feel, almost taste the subtle changes that crackled in the space around her. She inhaled a deep, calming breath before she rose to step closer to the edge of the embankment.

Cassie had been here for several hours and earlier had done a thorough recce of the area before deciding where the next portal would appear. She had passed the time eating apples and thinking. Old memories had played out in her mind with startling clarity. Scratching at the back of her eyes demanding to be seen, re-lived.

She had always known she was different from most people. She was extremely sensitive to the feelings of others; even as a child she possessed a surprising empathy towards people. She somehow sensed what her friends were thinking, could feel deeply every emotion displayed by her parents and siblings. It was both a blessing and a curse and made it difficult for her to maintain long-term relationships of any kind. Although those who knew her described her as caring and kind, they would also add she sometimes came across as forceful and aloof. A paradox; and this served to re-enforce the unique traits of her complex personality. Although she possessed a compassionate nature, making friends was extremely difficult for her. Cassie had accepted she would probably live her life alone.

Meeting Anton had changed all that. He had gently pursued her with a quiet patience; the beauty of his soul shone like a beacon and penetrated her reluctant heart. She first set eyes on him when Cassie had accidentally poked him in the eye with the spoke of her umbrella as she dashed under the bus shelter. In her haste to apologise and see what damage she had done, she had trodden on his toe. She had stepped back embarrassed by her clumsiness whilst Anton hopped about on one leg clasping his eye.

She had apologised profusely, “I am so sorry. Really, let me help you. I didn’t see you, what with the rain and all.” She moved closer again pursing her mouth and squinting to get a better look at his now bloodshot eye. Anton had held his hands up in mock defence quipping, “Jesus lady, stay where you are, I surrender! No more, I get it. You’re the eye poking, toe stomping gold medallist, congratulations!”  Cassie was about to retort some snarky reply but bit it back when she looked at the expression he was wearing. There was a kindness in his face, amusement twitched at the corner of his mouth and in his eyes, for a second or two, the unmistakable glint of desire. It was as though a current of electricity, raw, primordial, passed between them. They stood regarding each other feeling the irresistible pull emanating between them. Like two worlds colliding in time and space. Suspended like this till the bus went whooshing by, spraying them both from a huge muddy puddle at the side of the road. Soaked to the skin they gasped and burst into hysterical laughter.

From that moment; their souls had fused by some unfathomable chemical reaction, bound by the law of physics. A neoteric – element was created born of longing, understanding and respect. They were inseparable. He was honourable, diligent, kind and smart, but most of all he loved her unconditionally. And she loved him; More than anything in the world, more than anything in the universe. They had often joked when they lay together in the afterglow of their love-making that should anything happen to either of them, the one left behind would search the stars till they found each other again. Every night before they settled down to sleep, Anton would kiss the tip of her nose, her cheeks and her eyes; lastly, he would kiss her lips and whisper, “your love covers me as close as my skin, invisible but real.” He never faltered from this except for one night in particular. Anton had tenderly kissed her forehead with his beautiful lips and spoke softly, “I’ll wait for you by the river, for it’s from there we will flow into an ocean of love,” He had said this so earnestly, a pang of inexplicable fear had traced along her spine and Cassie felt as though icy fingers had squeezed her heart and she was chilled by a sense of foreboding. Tears shimmered on her lashes as he held her in his arms. She drifted into a fitful sleep and dreamed she was falling into a black, watery hole.

The policeman had been ashen faced when he had stood before her bringing the news of Anton’s death. He was obviously uncomfortable at her stony faced reaction. He appeared genuinely sorrowful when he spoke, “I’m so very sorry, he died instantly at the scene and wouldn’t have felt any pain. That’s a blessing at least. If there’s anything we can do, anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.” Cassie looked up as he handed her a card with a support number on it. She wanted to scream,” Yes, there is something you can do for me, you can get out. You can shut your lying  mouth. How do you know he hadn’t felt pain you condescending pig. Well? I need you to tell me it’s not true but you can’t, so leave me alone and get.” Of course she had not said any of that, not out loud anyway. Instead she reached for the card with trembling fingers and muttering words of thanks, ushered him through the door. Leaning with her back to the wall Cassie held her hands to her scalp, grasped her hair and slid down to the floor. She had already known he was dead before being told, she was even aware of the time it had happened because her watch had stopped at 11:11.  She knew Anton had felt the same agony she did the instant he was ripped from her world. Oh, he had felt pain alright, the indescribable torture of two souls wrenched apart. Cassie gagged and heaved and sobbed. That was eleven years ago.

She was thirty when her discovery had occurred a month after Anton’s death. Cassie was now forty one. Her days went by in a haze. A thick fog of grief enveloped her and she only attended to unavoidable chores, the rest of the time she did very little other than roam the house. What had once been a warm and loving haven was now a cold and lonely shell. She walked for miles, especially when it rained because she felt closer to him in the wet weather. After returning from one of these walks in a heavy downpour, Cassie plonked herself on the sofa in front of the TV. Her clothes and hair still drenched, she had flicked aimlessly through the television channels before tossing the remote aside disinterestedly. A science program flickered across the screen as she sat slumped against the cushions, she watched with unseeing eyes and listened idly to some boffin waffling about his theory. He explained there were in fact many more dimensions than the average layman believed. It was all related to string theory and quantum mechanics and lots of other mind boggling stuff which was fascinating but incomprehensible; yet one sentence triggered a reaction in her brain. Cassie sat up sharply, alert for the first time in a month. She fumbled for the remote and increased the volume. The scientist had said, “the eleventh dimension fits as close to you as your skin”. Eleven words which would change her life forever. It was the eleventh of November and the time on the digital clock display glowed eerily, 11:11. Cassie’s life was about to turn into one of adventure, discovery and searching; for him, her beloved Anton.

His ashes were scattered in a meadow adjacent to the river on a glorious sunny day. She had buried the urn at the base of a majestic willow tree. It seemed fitting somehow. Cassie sat under its canopy day after day in a reverie; she had become increasingly obsessed with watching the river which hardly seemed to be moving though dangerous currents lurked in its depths. The portal appeared quite unexpectedly at the end of one of her vigils as she was about to head home for the evening. It floated on the surface of the water like a dark rotating mirror and it emitted a low quiet humming sound which was enticing and hypnotic.

The first time the membrane of the eleventh dimension was penetrated was the worst. It was also the best. Nothing could have prepared her for the physical and mental battering she experienced when entering the portal; and the subsequent torment of the journey to another universe. It was so horrific in fact Cassie doubted she held the courage to do it again. Once she had recovered from the shock reality set in, and the implication of what it could mean fired her determination and doused any fear. Without fail the portal always materialised on the water and once she entered and arrived on the other side, it deposited her in an identical meadow in identical circumstances, Only the spot on the river where the portal came to life would vary and she relied on her intuition the pinpoint the approximate location. Cassie had lost count of how many times she had jumped into the void and she was about to do it again.

Silence ruled the gathering darkness. Cassie dragged her attention back to the present and clutching an overhanging branch for support, leaned out over the brim. Water was the key. Anton had known it and now so did Cassie. Ten metres or so away a circle had formed on the surface of the slow-moving river. It glimmered darkly like a tinted looking glass. It drew nearer, all the while shimmering and growing both in brightness and revolution. A whirlpool pulsing and swirling like a whirlitzers lights, it twirled independently from the mass of water and the phenomenon edged ever closer to the bank with the familiarity of an old friend.

Cassie smiled at the weird yet lovely anomaly and concentrated her thoughts on the eleventh dimension, her second skin, invisible but real none the less.  She felt her body become simultaneously heavy and light as she swallowed down waves of nausea. She leapt out into the centre of the portal which was now glowing with an iridescent light. Cassie broke through the membrane feet first and a blinding flash exploded around her, interspersed with colours of every hue. Sparks of red, green, yellow and blue, dazzling and intense cascaded out from the epicentre. A   high pitched wind screamed and assaulted her ears. Massive pressure pummelled and deflated her lungs like a diver suffering the bends. Images of other worlds and thousands of rivers which Cassie had already visited in the multiverse, bounced off the walls of a psychedelic tunnel which stretched and pulled and twisted her body as she spiralled down, faster than the speed of light.

Just when she thought she might not make it this time, Cassie landed with a thud in a grassy meadow. She gulped air greedily and lay splayed out under a hot shining sun suspended in a cloudless sky. She pushed herself up onto her elbows and scanned her surroundings. A river glistened like a satin ribbon at the base of a gentle slope. Willow trees, resembling yellow clad guardsmen standing at ease lined the bank. An abundance of wild flowers swayed in the gentle breeze. In the distance, propped against the largest tree half hidden by its lush bowing branches, a man lounged lazily, legs stretched out, chewing on a stalk of grass. Cassie stood unsteadily and shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun. She checked her wristwatch and the display showed her it was 11:11am. She drew in the fresh, fragrant air and exhaled long and slow. Her mouth formed a tender smile of relief.  Fixing her eyes on the man she moved slowly toward the willow, toward her Anton and toward the river flowing on its journey to an ocean of love.