Chapter 23: Emerson
We still stand by the edge of the lake, without a flashlight and without our other family member. After meeting my pen-pal, I have to say, she’s a tad bit too righteous for my taste. I honor her self sacrifice to go back for her friends that I so callously left behind, but I can’t say I agree with her actions.
Then again, Grayson and Aspen are two of the most important people in her life, Aspen in particular. But I hardly know them, meaning it’s not my place to risk my life for them. This dimension and all it’s problems have absolutely nothing to do with me.
If it was Cade, Kenzi, Porter, or Zofia at risk, then maybe this would be different. But they’re safe at home and I’m standing five feet away from the portal that will take me to them.
And Lee. I can’t believe he chose Adelyn over me. The betrayal stings, but I’m not one to talk. And Adelyn called him “Wesley.” Somehow, she seems to know him well enough to have a significant pull on his puppet strings, but I don’t have time to think on that. I only have time to salvage this night and get home.
“Mom—” I reach out a hand and tentatively hold onto her arm. She’s looking off in the direction Adelyn went, and it’s making me supremely nervous. “Mom, we have to go.” I start to pull her towards the water, but she rips away from my grip. “Mom—”
“I’m not going.” She says. “Not without Adelyn.”
“We don’t have time for this—”
“Why not?” She finally turns to me, but I can see her eyes are fierce, not questioning. “No one is coming after us, Em. They would’ve found us by now. Besides, I’d like to see them try to keep me from my daughter.”
I want to reach and say, I’m your daughter, but I don’t. It’s not my place to drag her away from Adelyn. Protective motherly instinct is not yet something I understand, but I can feel the intensity of it saturating the air. She’s not leaving this dimension. Not without her other daughter.
I sigh and cross my arms over my chest. “So what do you propose we do?”
Mom turns back to the trail Adelyn took to get away from us. “I guess we have to go after her.”
“Back to the Council house?” I’m dubious. “Back to the place we just escaped from after being imprisoned?”
“Do you see a better option?” Mom asks, her voice sharp as a knife. I know from growing up with her before she was locked in an alternate dimension’s prison that she has a will of steel. No one is as stubborn as my mother.
I don’t know how to talk her out of this. For a brief second, I glance back at the smooth surface of the lake behind me, black with the exception of the moon’s reflection, and I have to say a silent farewell to the victory I almost had. I’m so close to home I can taste it. I can smell the air and hear Zofia scoffing and see Porter smiling. I can feel Kenzi’s hug and sense Cade’s protective nature and—
“Em?” Mom asks. “Are we going?”
Just then, the rain starts falling. A small drop hits me first—right on my nose—before the rest begin to fall. The sky thunders angrily as the storm continues.
And my Mom wants to track through the forest in this weather to go find the daughter that chose a prison break instead of a safe life with her family.
“Sure, Mom.” I sound like the moody teenager that I currently am. “Why not?”
We start our trek through the woods.
It’s still dark as I step over tree roots and underbrush, but my eyes are surprisingly well adjusted to the dark. Mom walks in front of me, pushing aside any stray branches hanging in the way of our heads.
We walk without conversation. I can hear our loud footsteps, but sometime during the trek I escape into my head and listen only to the bitter thoughts making me scowl. I should be back home. I just got my Mom back, and now we’re risking our lives for someone who didn’t want to come with us in the first place.
When we get to an intersection, Mom stops ahead of me. I pull to an abrupt stop, almost running right into her, before I sidestep at the last moment and avoid the crash. “Mom?” I ask. “What are we doing?”
She points ahead of her, where the trail splits and we can either go right or left. Both trails just look like an endless black hole to me in the darkness, but I can’t remember which one we’re supposed to take. Somehow, I didn’t even notice this third trail option on our way up to the lake. Then again, we did think we were running for our lives, so I was distracted.
It’s no excuse, because now I have no idea how to get back to our destination. “What do we do?” I ask.
“You don’t know which one we’re supposed to take?” Mom’s voice is tremulous.
I don’t want to admit my incompetence, but it’s becoming startlingly clear that I’m no good in an emergency or under any amount of pressure. “Well…”
“Just pick one.” Mom says. “Either one. I don’t care at this point.”
I’d like to point out that her statement doesn’t even have a truthful foundation. She does care which trail we take; whichever one I choose needs to take us to Adelyn or Mom might break.
One of these path leads back to Resdon: either the left or right. Granted, I’m not sure where the other trail leads. It could potentially lead back to Resdon as well. It could even be a shortcut, leading us right to the dreaded Council house. My eyes drift back and forth between the two dark breaks in the forest. One or the other. Right or left. The rain comes down around us and by this point, I’m soaked to the brim. I need to make a decision.
“Emerson—” Mom says impatiently.
“Left.” I walk on to the trail on the left before I can change my mind. Behind me, I hear Mom trudge along with heavy footsteps. Now that I’m in the front, tree branches are whipping out at me. I can’t see them until they’re right in front of me, so I’ll be leaving this forest with more than a few scratches across my face. The skin stings where it’s been cut, but I keep up the steady pace.
“STOP!” Mom comes from behind and jumps in front of me right before I take a step off even ground into a gaping hole. It has to be five feet in diameter, an endless sea of black where there should be dirt and tree roots.
“What the heck?” My voice shakes. My heart beats frantically in my chest, desperate to escape. I put a hand over my beating heart and onto the cold, wet fabric of my t-shirt. It’s rough on my hands but a tether to the world I nearly just left. “Why is there a huge hole in the ground?”
“I don’t think we took the right path.” Mom says. I bite back a sarcastic comment of my own—something along the lines of “you think?”
“So we’ll turn around?” I suggest, though I’m hoping she’ll allow us to have a short break while I catch my breath. Near death experiences tend to make my heart more or less unreliable.
Ahead of me, Mom nods. I’m huddled close to her back, but she offers no warmth from the cold water pelting our bodies. The trees were our only source of protection from the downpour, but it seems leaves are little good against the tears of the sky.
Mom turns around and we’re face to face. When Mom left, I was barely tall enough to reach her shoulder. Now we’re eye level and close enough for me to see the moment when her squinted eyes go wide and her jaw drops in surprise.
Then I’m shoved from behind and we both go toppling over into the endless hole in the earth.