She ran down the stairs. Her momentum carried her forward when she slipped, down the last steps to the next floor. She grunted, got up, ran. No time to rub that sore knee.
The water was flowing down the steps in steady rivulets now. She hoped they’d keep the overflow valve closed just a little longer. The ocean on the top floor was tapped on a regular basis and this was the conduit for its excess water.
Right now, all she wanted was to reach that door to Carter’s world, to safety. A roar sounded way up there, crashing down the stairs. Five, six steps… She reached for the handle.
‘There are many ways to time-travel if you know where to look,’ Carter had said to her when she had just discovered the Stair-Way. Although strictly speaking this was not time travelling but rather dimension shifting, of course.
Every floor gave onto a different world. Every door opened up to new possibilities, amazing discoveries. New friends. New enemies, too.
She hung against the door, gasping, trying to catch her breath. Her knee starting to ache in earnest now.
‘That was too close, Astrid. Way too close…´
She opened her eyes, her familiar crooked smile telling Carter how glad she was to see him. ‘I know, Carts. I was stupid and you have a right to say I told you so.’
‘I’m sorely tempted but, as always, loathe to give you what you want. You know there are too few dimension walkers as it is and we cannot afford to lose even one, no matter how stubborn and reckless. So did you bring it?’
She dug around her pocket. Her fingers closed on the precious bit and brought it out slowly.
‘Yes, I brought it. It doesn’t look like much though,’ she said wryly. How that little bit of sodden… whatever it was was going to save Carter’s world, she couldn’t say. She was just a dimension walker, sent out into the worlds to fetch, carry and communicate. What did she know, anyway?
Carter sighed. Sometimes he felt the joke was on him. Astrid – the name meant Divine Strength and as a dimension walker, she was extraordinarily talented. She truly embodied divine strength. But she was also impossibly stubborn, ornery and horribly reckless. Every time he sent her out into the Stair-Way, he was afraid he would still be waiting fruitlessly for her return a century later. And yet, she had come back every time. No matter how dangerous the places she went, she always came back. Truly Bergdyss* would have been a name more fitting, since it seemed the Gods protected her. Surely they must. (* having divine protection)
Astrid shook out her heavy mane, silvery droplets from the Sea Above spattering heavily onto the forest floor. Small white star flowers bloomed, unfolding delicate petals. She laughed freely, her green/blue locks still sparkling. ‘C’mon Carter, let’s go eat. I’m starving.’
He sighed again. ‘Truly the joke is on me. If you don’t get killed out there one day, then surely I will oblige your enemies out of sheer frustration.’
But his earthy, mottled arm came down heavily on her shoulders and he gently walked with her to the path leading home. Or at least, what had come to count as home since the dimension walker in her had been awakened. So much had changed since then.
Behind them, the door shimmered and was hidden by the veil. The heavy roar of the waters from above dimmed until it could only be heard by the most trained of ears.
Carter carefully stored the precious bit of sodden earth in one of his many pouches. He would come, one day soon. Until then, it was safely hidden at last.
Her lovely grey eyes followed them until they disappeared between the trees. She whistled softly, melodiously, giving rise to a sweet scented breeze that caressed the leaves and made the star flowers dance. They were among her favourites. Heavy, ungainly Carter with his tree-like body and mottled limbs, child of the earth. Bright, eerie Astrid with her dark green locks and bright eyes, her supple runner’s legs and long-fingered hands that parted the veils between the worlds so casually.
Her thoughts lingered on them affectionately a little longer before she turned, a mere ripple in this world, and drifted home.
The part of this story printed in dark orange was written last weekend for the weekly Friday Fictioneers challenge. You can find it here.
There have been times before when I felt a story asked for more – that it was sitting there all ready and waiting to come out of the closet and present itself to the world. And was rather disappointed to have the door opened a crack, only to be slammed closed before more than a few lines had escaped.
This story was particularly insistent. So, encouraged by comments on the Friday Fictioneer segment, I decided to write on a little and see what happened. What do you think. Should I go on to explore this world?