Something felt wrong again. My eyes scanned the side of the road, taking in the dead foliage that was very much alive on the route into Eroda. The clouds above began to get darker and thunder boomed louder every few minutes. I looked to Jovie to see if I should worry and noticed that his face was calm, but his fingers were white from gripping the steering wheel.
“Is this normal?” Harvey spoke from the back seat, poking his head up to get a better look.
“Uh…” Jovie began. “Yes and no. Usually it gets stormy, but it looks a little worse than last time.”
“Should we pull over again?” Harvey asked.
“No,” Jovie answered a little too quickly. “We’re just a few miles away. It’s a straight shot from here. We can make it.”
“Okay,” Harvey sighed before turning to me. “I can’t believe I’m almost out of here.”
“No brain fog today?” I asked him, touching his chin lightly.
“Not yet. I’ve felt it try to come on a few times, but I fought it. It’s not as bad. Do you think it’ll go away when we leave?” he directed the last question to Jovie.
“Uh, I don’t know for sure,” Jovie cleared his throat.
“Do you think you could help me figure it out when we get back? If it doesn’t go away or something?” he asked.
“Sure,” Jovie smiled.
“I just… I don’t want to feel like I’m living in a different world when I’m back. I want to actually be back. With you,” he turned to me and gave me a cheeky grin. “I don’t want to be forgetful… Wouldn’t want Maeve to have to deal with me like that.”
“I’d deal with you anyway,” I retorted.
“I know,” he kissed me on the cheek and sat back in his seat.
I pressed my hand to the windshield and felt the temperature changing again. The glass was so cold that my fingers recoiled. In the next few moments, snow flurries began falling from the sky again, sticking to the dead flowers and leaves on the side of the road. I felt wind rock the car as Jovie gripped the steering wheel so hard, I thought it might pop off.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t pull-“ I began.
“No,” Jovie responded harshly. “Sorry… no we shouldn’t pull over again. Being here any longer would be dangerous. I didn’t know the weather would be this bad, but we’ll be okay. We’re almost there.”
“Is that why it’s storming so badly?” I asked, watching the ocean waves fight each other on one side and branches get blown from trees on the other.
“Yeah. We just have to tough it out. We’ll be okay,” Jovie repeated.
It seemed like he was trying to tell himself that more than me. We drove on for a bit longer until the snow began to stick to the road, causing Jovie to drive slower.
“Goddamnit,” he said through gritted teeth. “Just let us fucking go.”
We drove for what seemed like hours on the icy road, feeling the tires slip underneath us every so often. My heart jumped into my throat every time I felt the wind knock against the car and my mind went into overdrive. What if we couldn’t get out of here? What if it just got worse and we couldn’t turn back? I saw a panic in Jovie’s eyes that didn’t make me feel any better and Harvey sat at the edge of his seat, watching the road like if he didn’t, it would disappear. I began to feel a rumble underneath us. It began as a whisper. So quiet and calm at first that I barely noticed it, but soon it was hard to ignore.
“Jovie, what is that?” I asked, my voice shaking as I spoke.
“I- I don’t know,” he replied helplessly.
And then everything I’d been afraid of happened all at once. I felt the tires lose grip on the asphalt below as Jovie fought with the steering wheel for control of the vehicle again. I grasped for something to hold onto and found myself praying as snow came down harder outside the windows. That was the last thing I saw before my vision went black, feeling the car finally stop spinning underneath me.
“Maeve! Maeve! Get up,” a voice cried. “We have to go now. Please!”
His voice sounded like it was coming from a tunnel. A ringing echoed in my ears, trying to silence the voice I strained to hear.
“She’s not waking up. Jovie, she’s not waking up,” I heard Harvey’s breathing grow panicked as Jovie said something under his breath that I could just barely make out.
“When it comes down to it, you have to take her and go.”
I didn’t have time to process if those words were real or if I was dreaming. I felt a presence beside me and finally forced my eyes open. I blinked a few times, my vision looking like a fish-eye lens, and finally felt my senses coming to me. It wasn’t a good thing. I immediately felt an overwhelming painful pressure in my head like someone was stuck inside and trying to get out. I brought my hand up to my temple only to see my fingers colored in crimson when I looked back down at them.
“Maeve?” Jovie gently spoke. Even his quiet voice made my head pound more and nausea rose in my stomach. “Can you get up? Can you move?”
I looked around to see broken glass shattered from the dashboard on my lap, bent metal and fallen branches. We had crashed right into a tree.
“This is your only chance. You need to get out and get to a hospital immediately. I’m not letting anything happen to you in here. Remember, I promised? Come on,” Jovie begged.
My dizzy vision finally focused on him. He stood beside me with an outstretched hand covered in cuts and gashes from the broken glass. He had a busted lip and his cheekbone was a little swollen, but besides that he looked okay. I let him pull me out of the car and felt my body want to collapse underneath me from soreness. He caught me as my legs fell out from under me and Harvey ran over, helping me stand. He looked okay too- a few scratches and bruises, but I’d definitely gotten the worst of it.
“I’m okay,” I lied through the headache screaming in my brain and forced my legs to hold me up.
“Let’s go. We have to go now,” Harvey said and I let him lead me onto the road and towards the far away sign dancing across my vision that read:
NO LAND QUITE LIKE IT
The freezing wind was blowing so hard, it felt like it was slicing my skin and I realized as we went on that Jovie was limping beside me, wincing in pain with each step, fighting the wind and ice. The thunder roared and I heard a crack as a tree fell in the forest. And then another one. And another. The more we moved, the worse it got. And then slowly, Jovie just stopped. I felt him fall back until he wasn’t next to me anymore.
“What are you doing?” I screamed over howling winds.
“Maeve… you guys need to go without me,” he responded. My heart dropped into my stomach.
“You have to. We aren’t all getting out of here. At first, I thought that maybe… It’s just- It’s not going to work.”
Harvey turned to Jovie and they shared a knowing glance.
“Tell him he has to come with us,” I looked to Harvey.
Silence. He looked down at his feet and then back at Jovie who just nodded to him.
“Tell him. Make him. Please, Harvey,” I begged. “Jovie, you can’t do this. It’s ridiculous. It’s right there. I can see the entrance.”
“Maeve, none of this was your fault. I brought us here and I told you that I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I couldn’t live with myself. Just let it go. Harvey, take care of her. Hold her because she’s going to put up a fight.” Jovie’s voice was eerily calm as the winds stopped blowing for just a moment. I watched as he stepped back.
“NO!” guttural screams caught in my throat, choking me from the inside out.
I lunged for him, but Harvey held me back. I fought against him harder than I’d ever fought anything, but his muscles kept me close to his chest. I couldn’t lose someone else again. I couldn’t lose Jovie. He was the person that made me feel like I could be loved again after all of the shit I had been through. He showed me what it felt like to be unconditional. There were no rules. He was just there like he had always been there. The space between us grew larger as he let the wind blow him backward. I was reaching out, trying to touch some part of him. All I wanted was for my fingers to touch his skin again. I was grasping the air for nothing. Harvey’s arms were wrapped around me tightly as he pulled me back. Hot tears soaked my cheeks as I fought back. I was fighting Harvey. I was fighting myself. I should be scared for my life right now. The ground was shaking, the trees around us were splintering. The sky above us was changing colors and the storm was picking up even more. But I wasn’t scared for my life, I was only scared of never seeing Jovie’s face again. He risked everything for me and I didn’t even know it, but when I looked at him I could tell he was done. His body had given up fighting, given up on coming back with me. He’d accepted it the moment we stepped into Eroda. But I refused to. I finally broke away from Harvey, leaving his fingers to grasp the empty air where I once stood, and ran as fast as I could toward Jovie, but he was moving away from me. He was already too far.
I knew in that moment that the guilt in my chest right now was going to stay there for a long time. I was the reason he was doing this. It was my fault. It was selfish of him to say he couldn’t live with himself if anything happened to me because maybe I felt the same about him. I wanted to be in his place. I wanted to be the one to tell him to go on because dammit I was the one that pushed him to tell me about this place. I pushed him to take me here. I was going to lose Jovie Baker and there was not a single person to blame but myself. I plead to him one last time, knowing he wasn’t going to budge.
“Jo, please,” I screamed through the crackling of thunder.
I felt a sharp pain in my head again and my legs buckled underneath me. This was as close as I’d be to him ever again. Jovie’s blue eyes sparkled, keeping me in his realm for just a few more seconds. The world stopped turning. Time stopped counting. I swear my heart stopped beating in my chest and the blood froze in my veins. The look in his eyes broke me. They told me he knew neither of us do anything, but he didn’t have to tell me that he’d make all the same choices over again. He was scared and all I wanted was to go back to that morning in the hotel room before all this began and hold him for just a little longer- to be with him unapologetically for just a few more seconds. He had accepted that he wasn’t coming back and his eyes begged for me to accept it too. We exhaled together.
“To Saturn,” he mouthed to me.
Just like that, the ground cracked and created a physical split between us, soil falling into the gaping earth growing closer to me. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to disappear into it.
“Maeve, please! We have to go!” Harvey’s voice registered again in my ears as he pulled me away from the edge. I looked up at him and saw the pain in his eyes. I couldn’t let him lose me either. “Please,” he whimpered.
I let him pull me toward the real world, not sure how my feet were moving underneath me. My body felt so heavy. The wind whipped at us as we dodged limbs that flew in the air. The trees in the forest were splintering. I looked at Harvey’s fingers curled around my own, the only reason I didn’t disappear here.