Even though the world has been proven to be round, did you really think the edges all went away?
“Come on Marina, I have something to show you!” my little sister said, pulling at my sleeve. “It might disappear if you don’t hurry up!”
“Can’t you see I’m busy?” I snapped. I was in the middle of my pre-calculus homework.
“You hate doing math anyway. This’ll give you a break!” she said, beaming up at me.
She had a point. I put my pencil down, making it look like the only thing I wanted to do at that moment was precalc. I’m such a liar. “Where is this mystical thing?” I asked, waving my hands around to enforce the sarcasm.
“It’s down the street, by that old empty building!”
“The one with the sign on the door? Bibi, that’s a mile away!”
“Put on your shoes. Let’s go!”
“I don’t want…” but my protests were lost on her as she traipsed out the door. I slipped on my tennies and chased after her, almost tripping down the stairs on my way out. Bibi was standing by the mailbox, smiling smugly.
“You got down here right quick, without all your moaning and groaning too,” she said, mimicking our mother. She even had her eyebrows raised just like mom always did.
“Come on. What did you want to show me?” I said as we started our trek to the empty building.
“You’ll see when you get there,” she said, skipping ahead of me.
The day was brisk, but in a pleasant way. After the long summer, it was nice to have a bit of a chill in the air to remind my skin what it was like to not be drenched in sweat as soon as I stepped outside. The leaves had started falling a week earlier, and I watched a bright yellow leaf spiral to the ground. The world was alive with the colors of death. As I thought about the building we were going to, I started worrying about my sister. The abandoned building was located in a scary neighborhood, right next to a chop shop. There had been many reports of children going missing around there. If Bibi had found something, that means she had been playing there, and I assumed she wasn’t being supervised.
I was about to scold Bibi for playing in unsafe places when she shouted, “There it is!” and sprinted off toward the building.
It was a giant gray monolith of a structure, with black holes for windows. It looked as if it had grown from the center of the earth itself. The side seemed to be the national gallery of spray paint; perhaps everyone wanted to believe that leaving their mark on such a permanent structure would cement their place in history. The front of the building, however, displayed no signs of graffiti, or any other paint for that matter. Maybe when seen from the front, the building was too imposing to tag. It certainly frightened the wits out of me.
Scotch-tapped to the door was a piece of weather-worn paper that read “quality incense.” I had never been sure if they really sold incense, or if it was the entrance to some shady drug ring’s hideout. But a beautiful aroma that filtered all down the street always seemed to come from here. Some days it smelled of strange, far-off lands. Other days it scented the air of something royal. Today it smelled like freshly-washed sheets drying in an ocean breeze.
“So? What is it you want to show me?” I said.
Bibi giggled. “Close your eyes and take my hand. Then you’ll see!”
I sighed, and complied. I felt her leading me forward, then I heard a door open. “We’re not going inside are we?” I asked, uneasy.
“Indeedy-doo, we are. Watch out for the step,” she responded. I took one step onto the short stair, another onto what I could only assume was the threshold, and a final step onto… sand? I opened my eyes.
The sight I was met with was completely unexpected. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting: perhaps an old lady with a bunch of incense sticks chanting under her breath, or perhaps a gang of men waving guns over how much the drugs were worth. What I was not expecting was a beautiful ocean, palm trees, and waves lapping against the white sand.
I had never been to a beach before then. I only knew what the ocean was like from books, and candles, and television. None of those described how perfect and right the ocean felt. The way the waves roared sounded like someone had amplified the sound of my blood rushing as I got used to this unexpected—though not unpleasant—surprise.
“Hm. That’s funny. Yesterday it was a field full of flowers,” Bibi said, squinting at the ocean.
I glanced to my right, then realized. It’s the scents! Yesterday, the street smelled like springtime flowers, today it smells like fresh laundry and the ocean, and look! There’s the laundry! To the right, there was a small hut with a clothesline loaded with sheets flapping in the breeze. I took a deep breath. It smelled just like it had on the street. Is this real? I thought incredulously.
A little crab was scuttling away from us. It looked real. I took a deep lungful of ocean. It smelled real. Everything was exactly like we had just stepped onto a perfect beach somewhere. I looked behind me and realized the door was still open. I could still see the buildings across the street.
“This is… odd,” I said, hesitantly.
“Isn’t it great?” Bibi, who had been watching me to see my reaction, now sprung forward into this newfound world. She ran up to the sea, laughed when it got her shoes wet, then ran back.
“Aren’t you going to play, Marina?” She pouted at me, her lower lip sticking out.
“Well I… Well I suppose I’ll have to. I’m named after the ocean after all. It would be a shame if I never got to feel it. We don’t have our swimming suits, but we can wade in.” I kicked off my shoes and rolled up my pants. I was about to join Bibi in the water when I realized I didn’t shut the door. Now that I was well in front of it, I realized that it didn’t seem to be attached to anything. It was just… there. A portal to another world.
Mother always told me to shut doors to the outside so you didn’t get flies in the house. I don’t know why I was worried about flies getting onto the beach, but I shut the door. When it was completely shut, it started fading. Then it completely disappeared. I got a cold feeling in my stomach: dread. I reached out my hand to where the handle should have been, but nothing was there. I tried walking through the door, but it was just another step on the warm white sand. Now that I was facing this way, I could see a city on the horizon with buildings that pierced the sky. I stared at that city, bathing in the horror of what I had done; realizing the extent of the trouble Bibi and I were in.
How were we going to get home? I had no idea where we were. We might not have even been on the same world or dimension. I had read about things like this. Now I was living a novel.
I turned back toward Bibi. She was laughing at the spray that came up from the ocean. Her soaked ponytail sent a stream of water trickling down her back. It was warm here, not like autumn at all. I didn’t want to break the bad news to her yet. I watched her for a while. Every now and then she’d look back at me, like she wanted me to join, but I just waved my hand. She didn’t seem to notice the door was gone.
Soon the sun was dipping below the horizon. Bibi crawled up to me, covered in sand from making her sand castle.
“I’m tired. Let’s go home.”
“Bad news, buster. The door’s gone. Looks like we’ll have to spend the night here.” I tousled her hair.
“W-what? It’s gone?” She looked up just to check. Then she started to cry. “Will it ever come back?”
“I don’t know, but we might find another way back. If there’s a way anywhere, I bet it’s in the city!” I pointed behind me to the gray presence on the horizon. “There’s bound to be people there we can ask.”
“But that’s so far away,” she whined. “Where will we sleep tonight?”
I looked around at the endless beach scattered with palm trees, then remembered the house with the laundry. “We’ll ask the people in there if we can stay,” I proclaimed.
When we knocked on the door, no one answered at first. We knocked again, and we could hear some rustling coming from inside, but the door stayed shut. We knocked a third time and a voice from the inside blared, “I DON’T WANT ANY! GO AWAY!”
Bibi started crying again. I spoke up, “but sir! We aren’t selling anything!”
“I don’t care about your politics, then!” the voice retorted. “Leave me alone.”
“Please sir,” my voice cracked with desperation, “we don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight.”
The door opened a crack and a face peered out. Its eyes focused on Bibi’s tears, and its expression seemed to soften. “Well why didn’t you say so? Come in. I don’t often get visitors.” The door opened wider to reveal a small room. There was a mattress on the floor, a rocking chair, and a table, a cupboard and a fireplace. The man scratched the back of his shaved head, saying, “I don’t know where you two will sleep… But I suppose it’s better to have a roof over your head than nothing.”
“Yes, you’re right sir. Thank you,” I said.
The man chuckled. “It’s great to hear all these ‘sirs’ but my name’s Phillip and I’d rather be called that, I think.”
I grinned, “Okay, Phillip. I’m Marina, and this is Maybe. We call her Bibi though.” I tickled Bibi’s side and she giggled, her tears forgotten.
“Sit down and I’ll make you a little dinner.” He went outside for a moment and came back carrying two fish. They were slivery, and sparkled in the firelight. Phillip got a frying pan out of the cupboard and, after cleaning and gutting the fish, started cooking them over the fire.
I couldn’t tell whether he was old or young. He had wrinkles around his eyes, but he moved like a young man. His voice certainly didn’t sound old. But I had more pressing questions on my mind. “Excuse me, Phillip, can you tell us where we are?”
He looked at me, eyebrows raised in surprise. I could smell the rich aroma of fish cooking in the pan. “Don’t you know where you are missy?”
“Not exactly. We stepped through a door, and suddenly we were on this beach. I closed the door behind me and it disappeared.” I lowered my eyes. “It’s all my fault we can’t get back.”
“Well that’s certainly strange. But you can’t live too far away! Where are you from? Gablestown? Yaruvia way? The Six Bricks?”
“I’ve never heard of any of those places. I’m actually from the Midwest.”
“In America!” Bibi piped up.
“America?” he echoed.
That cold feeling was back in my stomach again. “Haven’t you heard of America?”
“No…” His face seemed to reflect my dread, as if he realized what kind of trouble we were in. “Are you one of the Rounders?”
“Rounders. They’re people from the outside of the world, where the world is round and flat.”
“Well the Midwest is pretty flat, but I wouldn’t say the whole world is…”
“But is the world round?”
“Of course it is! All planets are round!”
“On the outside they appear round. On the inside… it’s a whole other story.”
“What are you talking about?” I was beginning to suspect this guy was completely nutto.
The fish started smoking. “Oh shoot.” He set the pan down on a pot holder on the table, then turned around, rifling in his cabinet for something. He finally pulled out a scrap of paper and a charcoal stick. Then he started drawing.
What he drew looked like a circle with a whole bunch of random lines in the middle. Some formed triangles, some intersected with other lines or the outside of the circle, and some didn’t touch at all. There was a small line that barely touched the outside of the circle, but otherwise had no point of contact with any other line.
“This is the particular level that you are on currently,” Phillip said, pointing to the small line. “Until now, I didn’t think it touched anything. But since you’re here, It must have made contact with the outside.”
“What in the world are you talking about? What is that supposed to mean?” I stared at the picture, puzzled.
“Let me take it slow then. The circle here is where you’re from. All these other lines are other places, within the Earth. We’re on this little one over here.” He pointed again to the smallest line. “This land used to be a part of another of these lines, but it broke off somehow. I didn’t know we were connected to the outside of earth until now. Where you’re from, you can walk forever and not fall off any edges, but here…” He laughed a bitter laugh. “You have to be careful when you’re sailing or even just walking that you don’t fall off.”
I was still suspicious, but also intrigued. “What happens if you fall off the edge?”
“No one has survived to tell the tale,” he said it overly-dramatic like it was a joke, but then said seriously, “I think you’d either land on one of the other lines at a force that would disintegrate your very bones, or you’d just explode from lack of air.”
“Speaking of,” I said slowly, “How in the world is there sunlight down here?”
“In the world is quite right,” he said, grinning. “That’s not sun up there that’s the center of the Earth. A gigantic ball of light.”
“I’ve always been told that the center of the earth is filled with magma and molten ores and very hot things. It’s downright pleasant down here.”
“There are mysteries that even we don’t understand.”
“Well that’s a shame. Maybe you should put more money into it.”
Phillip laughed. “I like that spunk. Here. Eat up.” He handed the fishes and two plates to me, and I passed one of each to Bibi. They were delicious. They had gotten a little burned on one side, but the other side was perfectly crispy. I had mine down in a wink. Bibi, on the other hand never really liked fish. She wrinkled her nose at it like it was still alive.
I nudged her gently. “Try it. You’ll like it. I promise.”
“But it smells all fishy,” she complained.
“Then plug your nose if you have to.”
She did that, but eventually she forgot that she was pretending to hate it, and just gobbled it up. Phillip watched us with eyes that seemed to be looking far away.