Chapter III: Elsewhere

“I see you, you know.”
It was the second day of his travel towards the light, and he hadn’t seen another soul along the path until the clattering cart that approached from the opposite direction. Over-Sized Hat had encountered the soothsayer many times along the range in the past, selling advice as well as produce, oils, and lotions that claimed to cure everything from itchy toes to drippy noses. THE GREAT AND WISE ANDREA- SEER OF THE LOCH, it read along the side of her wagon, followed by several other quotes and epitaphs in her attempt to seem both mysterious and knowledgeable. AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY- DON’T BE A THORN IN HIS SIDE, BUY ONE TODAY! and CLACKING YOUR FEET TOGETHER WON’T HEAL BRYNDLING BUNIONS- FINICKY FINNEAS’ FOOT POWDER WILL CURE ALL YOUR AILS! graced its façade.
“What was that?” he asked her, coming to a stop as she sat above him on her coach.
“I mean I see you, but you aren’t here,” she stated, looking at him with a coy grin.
“How’s about that?” he replied.
“The only reason I know you’re sorta still here is because I can smell you,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d have thought you passed over already.”
“Is that so?” he said. “Passed over into what, a healthy shower?”
“Nawww, that next place. The place you’re supposed to be. Ain’t that funny?”
“Absolutely hilarious,” he’d said.
“I’m not lyin’ to you honey- the great ‘Dre knows all!” she said, smiling a grin bearing far less teeth than expected.
I think ‘Dre is a con, he thought, but just as he’d expected her to try hawking her wares, she pointed her steed back along the path and tromped forward once more.
“Yep!” she stated, sniffing the air around her in big huffs as she departed. “Definitely gone!”
Hat wasn’t the quickest to pick up on nuance, but he disliked the feeling of someone knowing things he didn’t that might be important and then neglecting to share. He’d thought to ask her about the glow in the distance, still quite visible to him even in the dusty din of the afternoon sun, but thought he might be the one peddling madness if she didn’t.
“Get along little doggie,” he said to his mount as he watched her disappear into the distance. “Get along.”
As the days continued to pass, the message the soothsayer gave him came to mind, about where he was supposed to be. He felt like he was destined to reach that purple light and possibly always had been, but he wasn’t sure why. He’d spent his life making trips similar to what he was on, but rarely for any meaningful purpose. This felt different, as if he were the one being guided this time by his own invisible wanderer, chartered by him without knowing it.
The noise it emitted had begun to fall into a sort of strange rhythm. It was like someone humming a popular tune as they wandered, one of those half-minded songs recognizable not by memory as much as familiarity. The unsettling part was that it was as if he were humming it versus simply listening, but the notion made no sense.
Though he seemed ever-so close, the journey was taking much longer than anticipated. Despite his constant plodding forward, it was as if he were continuousluy misjudging its distance. It called to him incessantly, and as he camped, the thing seemed to find another outlet for its presence even in slumber. He began to see other places in his dreams, of topographies he’d never witnessed or only read about. There was a land that was burnt, the soil charred and abandoned by its residents. Something had happened there, unexpected and vile. Valleys of snow were only a short journey away, and strange creatures he couldn’t quite describe roamed them. It all seemed equally foreign yet familiar, as if he’d been there already at the same time, living a life. There were other elements, as if all were a vision made substantial and real, and he ruminated over the details after waking and continuing on the road once more.
Finally, on the fifth day, he came to a gathering of rocks. Each were very tall, situated in a circular pattern, and the source of what had drawn him was glowing behind them. A pulsating violet brilliance shone out everywhere, and as he stepped between the stones, he wasn’t initially sure what he was looking at. Before him was a small, jagged hole, though it didn’t seem to be in the ground itself but in the air just above it, floating in the center of the circle. It blazed with a crackling, purplish hue, especially along its edges, but didn’t seem to be emitting heat. About an arm’s-length long, it was like a small crevice, a crack in an invisible edifice, and Hat wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Like a moth to a flame, he felt suddenly compelled to step forward. Reaching out to it, his fingers grazed just the edge of the brilliance, and he was swallowed by light.