I was balancing atop a compass needle, wondering how in the world I got so small, when a gale came and began to gust it from side to side. My arms pinwheeled and I fell backwards, landing hard on my bum on the needle’s metallic surface. I wrapped my fingers around the edges and held on tight, trying not to feel sick as it jerked first one way then the other.
Eventually, we stilled, and I opened my eyes to find myself staring at the large, capital N, just as before. But when I looked up, I saw the stars had been rearranged, as though in some great mixing bowl, and the crescent moon now hung upside down.
“Don’t be sad,” I told its glowing frown. “We’re all still here, same as before.” But as I dangled my legs over the side of the needle and looked back in the supposed direction of North, I realized I had no idea where “here” could be.
Thinking with Portals
We sat on my front porch in late December, eating candy canes and smoking cigarettes. Snow lay around us in giant, otherworldly dunes, but neither of us felt the cold. You were in shorts and I was in flip flops.
“Do you ever think about,” you asked in between drags, “where you’ll be next Christmas? Or.” You paused to taste your candy cane. “Maybe ten Christmases from now?”
I looked down at my feet, at my toenails painted navy blue. “Sometimes,” I admitted, wiggling them a bit. Then I took a hit of my own cigarette.
I ran my candy cane between my lips. It was so pointy I could pierce my tongue with it. “And what?”
“And where will you be? Ten Christmases from now?”
I shook my head and flicked the ash building at the end of my cigarette. It landed on the snow and burned a hole around it. “Mars, maybe,” I said. “Or Venus. I haven’t decided yet.”
You grinned at me, teeth flashing Cheshire wide in the porchlight. “How will you get there? Plane? Rocketship?”
I shook my head again, stubbed out my cigarette. Then I snapped my fingers. To my right, a shimmering oval the size of a bathroom mirror popped into existence. “By portal.”
Your eyes went wide. I watched your cigarette tumble from your fingers and land front end first in the snow. “How did you do that?” you asked.
I shrugged. “You coming?”
Your eyes bugged wider. You looked from it to me and back again. “Now?” you demanded.
“Or later. Ten Christmases from now.”
You stared at the shimmering portal a minute longer, then bent down and picked up your cigarette. It was still lit somehow, despite the snow. You took a long draw from it, then tilted your head back and promised me and the moon, “I’ll think about it.”
I was seated at a coffee table at the cafe down the street, my hands folded in front of me, patiently waiting for my order to arrive. After a few minutes, a waitress with one eye wearing the shop’s pink uniform shuffled towards me.
“Large caramel macchiato with an extra shot of espresso,” she droned, setting the ceramic cup in front of me.
I unfolded my hands and peered down at its contents. Looking back up at her, I said, “It’s purple.”
She was already shuffling away. Raising her hands in an exaggerated shrug, she said, “I just work here.”
I stared after her a moment longer, then looked back at the violet liquid. It spun in circles as though freshly stirred. I hesitated for a few more seconds, then closed my eyes and drained it all.
When I placed the cup back down on the table, the room began to spin, just as fast as the liquid had. I squeezed my eyes shut then reopened them. When I did, the colors were inverted like the negative of a photograph. My hands glowed a ghostly white, and the table I sat at had turned a fluorescent blue. I jumped up from my seat and staggered over to the cash register.
“Something else I can get ya, love?” the waitress asked. Her lips were teal and her one eye had gone from green to a phosphorescent magenta.
“I think there’s been a mistake,” I said, still looking around me in disbelief. “I don’t think that was coffee.”
She blinked. “You’re awake now, aren’t ya?”
And I really couldn’t argue with that.