“Hey, wake up.”
Beth resisted consciousness with a grunt, but the urgent shaking continued. Her annoyance shifted to concern when she recognized her sister’s voice.
“What the hell, Paige. Who let you in here?”
“I don’t think ‘here’ is where you think it is.”
While searching for her comforter to pull over her exposed lower back, Beth realized there was cool earth where her bed should have been.
“Oh, yeah. I’m on the ground.” She pushed herself into a seated position. “Why am I outside?”
“I’m not sure … We’re in the woods.” Paige circled the small clearing. “There’s a path that starts a little ways off, but that’s about it for landmarks.”
Beth got up and brushed the dirt from her clothes, noticing they weren’t the ones she went to sleep in, but instead what she’d had on during the day.
Paige continued, “Do you know how we got here? What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Just going to bed last night.”
“Yeah, same.” Paige searched her mind for gaps, shards of memories. Had she dreamt anything strange? Was this a dream?
“It doesn’t sound like there are other people around. Are we alone?”
“As far as I can tell.”
Paige took a moment to note the changes in her sister’s appearance. It had been over a year since the women had been face to face, and Paige wondered if a stranger would have been able to tell they were twins at all. She knew this was a crazy thought—they were still mirror images of each other—but Beth felt so distant Paige was sure it must be making them visibly estranged.
“Do you recognize anything?” With peaking anxiety, Beth began employing problem-solving tactics. “Like, could we be near your house? I go for hikes pretty regularly on different trails around my place, and this doesn’t smell the same.”
“I don’t hike as much as you, but I know I haven’t been in this exact place before. It’s too perfectly still. I’d remember that.” Paige squinted into the unfamiliar scenery in all directions. “I know what you mean about the smell, though.”
Pushing away the deep discomfort she felt in her gut, Beth put her hands on her hips and prepared to take charge.
“Should we try the path? Provided it goes toward the sunnier bit.”
“Yeah, the path heads toward the light. The opposite is denser forest. It’s ominous, actually.” The thought of walking into the darkness triggered a mortal fear in Paige. “Do you think we’re dead or something?”
“No,” Beth said firmly, but she took a moment to think. “Maybe. But why would we be dead together? We weren’t even in the same province.”
“Good point.” There wasn’t anything Paige could think of to explain it. Then, chuckling, she added, “Born together, die together, though. Right?”
Beth ignored this. “Let’s get going.”
Paige suggested holding hands, but as the path was wide and clear, Beth declined.
“Let me know if there’s a hole to fall into.”
The trees on both sides of the path seemed strangely uniform—so much so, Paige checked several with an outstretched hand, thinking they were holograms. The distant, glowing place they were making for was becoming more defined as the minutes passed, but seemed no closer. Paige wondered if she should track the time.
Beth had a similar impulse. “Hey, do you know what time it is?”
“I was about to check my phone–but I don’t have it. I’m assuming you don’t have yours either?”
“No. I can’t even call Ben. He’ll have no idea where I am.”
“You guys are still together, huh?”
Beth stopped walking. The absence of wind and animal sounds accentuated her anxiety. “How is anyone ever going to find us?”
The silence of the forest fell heavily on them now. Uncomfortable in the prolonged pause, Paige changed the subject.
“Maybe we’ve been isekaied,” she said, grabbing Beth’s upper arm with the energy of an excited child.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s an anime thing. You die, and you’re transported to a different reality.”
“I’m not! I just–”
“I would know if I was dead.” The matter-of-factness with which Beth delivered this assertion made Paige laugh outright.
“That’s fundamentally inaccurate. Sensory inputs can be manipulated–”
“Then why wouldn’t I be able to see?”
Beth’s anger quickly gave way to guilt. She’d let herself believe her childish bad habits, such as weaponizing her blindness, were behind her. Beth turned away to hide the heat in her face.
“I’m sorry. I’ll drop it, ok?” This was a familiar wound, but Paige still hadn’t found a better band-aid.
Beth let the silence hang.
After several long minutes still walking the path, the warm, golden light finally grew closer. As they approached, the sound of falling water interrupted the stillness of the wood.
“This is some Narnia-ass shit.”
Paige ran ahead, arriving first on a sandy beach which framed an unusual scene.
Opposite the forest, across a shallow, circular pool rose a high, horseshoe cliff with five identical waterfalls, each about ten feet wide.
Stopping at the edge of the sand, Beth waited for Paige to elaborate.
“Do you remember the pools in … what was it? The Magician’s Nephew? They bring Jadis back through there. There are five waterfalls here; it reminds me of that.”
“Do you think the waterfalls are portals?” Beth asked, sounding more earnest than she intended. All things considered, she thought, maybe it isn’t a stupid question.
“Let’s find out!” Paige removed her shoes and socks and plodded into the water.
Beth inched forward, not knowing where the sand and water met.
“What? Don’t want to get your feet wet?” Paige shouted. She was near the middle of the pool now, and soaked to her waist. “Nothing scary so far.”
It sounded like Paige was heading to the farthest waterfall to the left, but Beth’s anxiety made her question her perception.
“Hey! Just wait a minute!” she yelled, but there was no response. She was beginning to panic—Beth rarely enjoyed Paige’s recklessness.
Paige was unable to hear anything but the falling water once she was face to face with it.
“I’m gonna touch it!” she shouted to her sister, who, though she wasn’t far away, somehow seemed in a different world. The beach appeared smaller than it should have, as though Paige were looking at it through a telescope backwards.
The falling water was cooler than the sun-warmed pool, but just as soft. Paige felt a moment of disappointment that she hadn’t been transported to a different dimension, but then she realized she couldn’t see her hand beyond the falls. Before she had a chance to call out to Beth, Paige was lifted off the ground into darkness.
“Paige? Paige?” Beth paced the beach, afraid to go nearer the water, but filled with anger and dread. Had Beth really passed through some insane waterfall portal? Why did she go off without a plan? Why wouldn’t she answer?
Beth sat down and removed her socks and shoes. She felt around for Paige’s things and grabbed these, as well as her own, to bring to wherever it was Paige had gone.
Punctuating each step with an expletive, Beth stomped her way toward her sister’s last known location. When she was nearly waist deep, a massive splash directly in front of her caused her to drop all four shoes and nearly fall backward into the pool. Saving her from this were two hands on her wrists. Paige’s hands.
“Oh my God–” she said, gasping for air.
“You’ll never believe this.”