A short while later, we had mastered the logistics of the plan and were ready to put it in action. My palms were slick with sweat, and I wiped them against my skirt nervously. I tried to concentrate as Mr. Ledwell went over the plan again. We were sitting in a triangle in Mr. Teller’s office, Mel sitting behind his desk so as not to be a distraction.
“If anyone knocks or comes in, shake me until I wake up,” Mr. Ledwell told her. He was coming along as a failsafe, just in case something went wrong.
“I thought you were never supposed to disturb a Cutter in a trance.” I said.
“You’re not,” he replied grimly. “But the consequences are less than if Mr. Sallon comes in and discovers what we’re doing. Besides, I won’t actually be doing anything.”
Mr. Teller grabbed his knife and closed, his eyes, slipping into a trance. I followed suit, and immediately spotted him amongst the souls.
I concentrated on my brother, and took off amongst the souls, leading Mr. Teller and Mr. Ledwell. It only took a while before we reached a soul-string that I could tell was my brother’s with a single glance. I couldn’t communicate with my companions, but I could sense the apprehension that was reflected in myself.
With another glance to make sure they could clearly see me, I dove away from Mr. Ledwell and Mr. Teller, and swam down.
For some reason I expected there to be some resistance, but the closer I got to the Otherworld the easier it was to float down through space. I supposed it makes sense though, after all, that’s why no one goes down here.
I stopped for a second, panicking. If I kept on going, there was a chance that I’d never make it back out. There was such a high chance that we’d forgotten a detail, or messed up our calculations, or there was something else we didn’t know about.
Darren, I thought. My kind, funny, amazing brother. I was doing this for him. I took a deep breath and continued to dive, the pull increasing as I declined. Soon I didn’t even need to move, in fact, I wasn’t sure I could have made it back up if I’d tried.
No going back now, I thought. So much for second thoughts! A few minutes of that eerie feeling of being pulled down towards the Otherworld and I wondered whether there was actually anything there. It seemed I was going to keep falling forever, and I almost grabbed hold of the soul-string next to me, before I saw a faint light below me.
As I got closer, I saw that it was the shape of a soul at the bottom of the line. My heart beat quicker at the thought of actually seeing my brother. Of course, I told myself sternly, He might be different. Just because he was the same old Darren in your dream does not mean the Otherworld hasn’t changed him. The dream might have been just that, a dream.
Still, when I touched the strange foggy ground of the Otherworld I couldn’t resist running over to Darren and hugging him with all my might. I shrieked as my hands passed right through him and I stumbled forward. The fog on the ground reached up in creepy tendrils, wrapping around my exposed hand like it was trying to turn me into it.
I quickly pulled away, turning back to Darren. I could see him, but he looked blurry, like I was looking out of a rain-streaked window.
“Sorry,” he said, with what looked like a sheepish grin. His mouth didn’t move when he spoke, but rather I heard it in my mind. I shivered uncomfortably, the realization that I was the first living soul to ever touch ground in the Otherworld coming back to me.
At least his voice sounded clear, like it always did, and he seemed to be the same as always. Some of my doubts about my dream and entire plan faded away, and I let myself relax a little.
Don’t get too comfortable, I told myself. You don’t know what might happen. You need to untangle the soul-string and get out of here. I glanced back down at the fog that seemed to be reaching up to me hungrily, and thought that I could feel my life draining away, as if the Otherworld was trying to steal my life from my soul. I stepped back, trying to shake off the eerie fog that was clinging to my feet.
“What are you doing?” Darren asked, a confused frown on his face.
“What do you mean?” I replied. “Can’t you see this fog?”
He shook his head. “All I see is the Commons field. Nothing but grass and souls.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “There are other souls here?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes?”
It figured. Of course the dead would see something more than just this fog. I shook my head to clear it of my worries. “I’m so glad to see you Darren!” I cried, reaching out to grab hold of his hand. I could feel him, but when I pressed down my hand sank, his body turning transparent where I touched him.
“I’ve missed you to!” He replied. “I didn’t mean to leave you.” A single tear fell from his eye, hissing when it hit the foggy ground. “I’m so, so, sorry!”
I held his hand as tightly as I could, whishing I could hug him properly. “Are you happy here?” I asked after a few seconds.
He nodded. “I wish you and Mother and Marca were here, but I have a sense of peace here. I’m never tired, or hungry, or thirsty, and life is just so simple! No distinguishing rich and poor, boys and girls, Orderer or commoner.”
I smiled weakly. “That sounds nice,” I said. He nodded in agreement.
“You’d better hurry up and untangle the soul-string.” He continued. “It can’t be good for you down here.” My fears about the fog came rushing back, and I wholeheartedly agreed. “Please tell Mother and Marca that I loved them,” He said. “Tell them that I miss them, but that I’m happy, and I don’t mind being dead.” I nodded. “Alright!” He said. “I release you to carry the burden of life on your own.”
Something changed when he said the words. A subtle current ran through the air, and I noticed the soul-string lightly wrapped around Darren’s wrist in a slim bracelet. With a final, sad smile, Darren extended his arm towards me. I returned the smile and slowly started untangling the soul-string.
The knot itself was simple, it looped over itself in a pattern I’d never seen before, but the loops were loose. Within a minute I had released the string, and held onto it. The plan was for me to tug three times on the string when I was ready for Mr. Teller to pull me up. Before I did so, I turned to Darren, knowing fully that this would be the last time we would talk, Once the soul-string was cut he would loose all connection to the living.
“I love you Darry,” I said to him.
“I love you too,” he replied, still smiling. With that I tugged firmly on the soul-string three times and held on with both hands as I felt tension on the string. At first I wasn’t even moving, trapped firmly between the pressure of the Otherworld and Mr. Teller pulling on the soul-string way above.
I saw panic in Darren’s eyes, and looked down, seeing the fog reach for me again, creeping up my legs. This time I knew the draining feeling in my soul wasn’t just my imagination, and I started pulling myself up the soul-string hand over hand. It was exhausting, between my own body weight pulling me down and the Otherworld trying to keep me there. However, the wrongness of the fog spurred me on, giving me a rush of adrenaline. Fear cursed through my veins, and I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. I wasn’t a stranger to the legends of the Otherworld.
After a few minutes, I had raised myself up a few feet, and the Otherworld lessoned its grip. Hopeful, I kept pulling myself up until my arms were exhausted and it was all I could do to hold on as I felt the soul-string being raised. Before long the pressure was completely gone, and I let go of the soul-string, swimming up to where I could see Mr. Teller and Mr. Ledwell waiting. Once they were sure I was completely out of the Otherworld’s grasp they woke up from the trance, and I followed. I awoke in a chair in Mr. Teller’s office, feeling completely drained. I barely registered Mel asking how it went before my head rolled onto my shoulder and I fell asleep.
I opened the door to my house, bag in hand. The sky was dark, dusk creeping up. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been asleep until I’d looked outside. I heard footsteps in the kitchen, and I immediately dropped my bag and rushed in.
“Mother!” I exclaimed, rushing into her open embrace. She held me close, stroking my hair.
“You’re back,” She murmured.
I nodded. “Darren sends his love,” I said, and she pulled back, confusion written plainly on her face.
“You’d better start at the beginning!” She said, pulling me over to the table and sitting down.
I told my story, from first seeing Darren’s name on that slip, to travelling to Brutehaven and meeting Mel, to talking with Mr. Teller. She gasped when I told her that I went down to the Otherworld.
“But-but nobody had ever gone there!” She exclaimed fearfully.
“They have now,” I replied with a smile. I left out some of the details about the fog, and how I felt like it was draining my soul, not wanting to scare her.
“And you talked with Darren?” She kept on saying. “He’s happy?”
I nodded. “He says he misses us, but he’s happy and calm and says it’s beautiful there.”
“Did you think it was beautiful?” Mother asked, concerned.
I shook my head reluctantly. “All I saw was a weird fog covering the ground. But apparently there’s a field full of other dead souls called the Common field.”
“And was he normal?” Mother asked urgently.
I hesitated, debating whether or not to tell Mother about him not being solid and speaking in my head. “He acted the same. A bit more mature, maybe,” I said, smiling. “Physically he looked the same, but some things about him weren’t normal.”
She seemed satisfied with that answer. “What about you?” She asked gently. “How did you cope?”
I shrugged. “It was a bit difficult seeing him again and knowing that he was gone from my life forever, but I was happy to see him.” I hesitated once more, again not sure how much I wanted to reveal. “I felt like it was kind of draining me, being there.” I said. “In the Otherworld, I mean.”
She nodded understandingly. “Is this going to become the new way of Cutting?” She asked.
The question caught me by surprise. That was the main reason we were doing all this, of course, but just the thought of seeing Darren had completely consumed my mind. I shuddered at the thought of having to go back down to the Otherworld every time I needed to cut someone.
“Maybe we’ll figure out some other way,” I replied. “I don’t really fancy the idea of having to do this again.”
I hadn’t explained the creepy feeling I got from the fog, but seemed to understand anyways. I yawned loudly, and Mother jumped up.
“I didn’t realize it was so late!” She exclaimed. “You must be tired, you’ve had a busy day!”
I grinned. That was an understatement. As I pulled myself into my room and got ready for bed, I thought I could feel Darren in the back of my mind. It worked. I let myself dwell on the fact that I could still remember Darren, the fact that I had done something that nobody else had ever done, as I brushed out my hair and changed into my nightgown. As I fell asleep, that was the thought going around in my head.