The first I knew my life would take a turn for the worst was when I awoke to find my cousin Maggie standing over my bed.
I yelped -- first because she'd disappeared right after her fifteenth birthday three years ago, and second because in the hot summer night I only wore my underwear. I grabbed the sheet while sleep fled.
"I've seen you in your underwear, Mark," she whispered and laughed softly.
"We were five." I clutched the sheet up to my chest.
"True." Her eyes flickered left as though she saw something else.
I sat up. She'd changed; far more than the blue hair and metal wings folding down on her back. Steadier. She held a staff with a glowing orb, lighting the room with magic. I had no doubt she had reached safety.
Maggie had spent most of her life looking over her shoulder, worried her holier-than-thou parents would find her. They didn't approve of schooling outside of the bible or the friends she made there and they definitely didn't approve of her Aunt Peggy's half-breed bastard son. Even so, she'd been my best friend.
Her parents were hypocrites. Her parents were caught robbing from church funds a couple weeks after Maggie disappeared. They'd been show and no belief.
"What's it like?" I asked, waving towards the magic light.
"Elsewhere is . . . strange," she said, her eyes staring at the wall behind me. "I don't have much time. Take this. You're going to need it."
She dropped an old, metal compass into the palm of my hand. The arrow didn't point north.
"What --" I asked as she backed away. The wall behind her was no longer solid.
"Always keep the compass with you. Edmond says there will be trouble, but we don't know when. Just find me when you're ready. Be careful."
She turned and walked through the wall to somewhere I couldn't clearly see. The wall returned to the colorless expanse lit only by moonlight. I thought it had been a dream except I had the compass in my hand. I trusted Maggie. I kept it with me all the time.
And two months later, I was running for my life, hoping the compass would show me the path to Elsewhere.
I still had the gun in my hand when I crossed the old footbridge over the Driftwood Creek, the water high after a late summer storm. I thought about jumping, but feared I wouldn't die. Death was better than being caught. So I threw the damned gun instead and then ran again. I could hear shouts growing far too close.
Tommy Creston was dead. No doubt about it. I'd put two bullets in his chest and then looked from him to the bloody body of Mary Hale. Both of them dead. Since Tom was the county sheriff's son, there wasn't going to be any hope for me. I felt sorry for Mary, though. I thought I should have done something different.
I ran straight for the hills, pulling out the compass and heading whatever direction it pointed. The shock hadn't hit me yet. I raced over the footbridge and into the trees, down deer paths and through brambles that tore at my arms.
Sheriff Creston and his men drew closer. They'd spread out and I could hear the odd echoes of their voices along with the sounds of dogs baying as they caught my scent.
How far did I need to go? The gateway to Elsewhere was in the hills above town, but it moved, being magic. We'd heard about the gate all our lives; the link to a place of magic and danger. Once you crossed over, you could never really come back again. Oh, you could step back through for a little while the way Maggie had -- but she was different now. She couldn't live among humans. You changed when you went to Elsewhere and remained for more than a few hours.
If I could get across and hide, no one would take more than maybe four hours to try to find me. Only the really desperate wanted to go Elsewhere and never come home. I'd miss mom, but she'd married and took in her new husbands' four kids. Even after four years, I still felt like a stranger living with them, me with my Japanese eyes and dark hair. I was going to move on after graduation anyway. I just hadn't thought about never coming back.
If Maggie hadn't come to me . . . I still would have tried to reach Elsewhere but without the compass --
I looked down. The arrow pointed straight right. I charged through another line of bushes, my shirt catching so I had to yank it free, leaving cloth and blood behind.
When I looked up, I saw the gateway. I took a step forward, my heart pounding. The sign glittered in the shadows, the letters bright and beautiful, even though the sign hung half off the pole; a lost place on the human side.
Welcome to Elsewhere
This side of the gateway stood in afternoon light, forest shadows and the sounds of birds and dogs growing closer. The other side looked murky and gray. I hadn't asked what to expect. I paused, breathless and wondering what --
Sheriff Creston charged through the bushes so fast he ran into me. I sprawled across the dirt and rocks and by the time I rolled over, he had his gun pulled and aimed. I hadn't realized how much he looked like his son until then.
"I don't have the gun," I said, holding out my hands.
"Yeah. A shame I didn't know that at the time," he said. "But they won't question me."
The gun steadied and his finger twitched --
The shout came from behind me and it was a heartbeat before I realized everything had stopped: the bird flying from the tree, the breeze blowing through the leaves . . . The bullet hanging no more than a foot from my face . . . .
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