Sorry for the delay on this. I’ve been taking the Novel Structure workshop. It’s a lot more work than the other workshops I’ve taken, and it’s a huge learning curve for me. Might have another lesson with a lot of work this week, and then the next two weeks, I’ll have two workshops at the same time (Teams, then in February, Secondary Plots). But a lot of good stuff that I really do need and am ready for.
Bit by bit, Nikki felt better the futher away from the portal they got. The air seemed to clear, as if it had been fouled. She still felt like she needed to wash herself.
They arrived at Randy’s house, and all around, it was disturbing to see the portal’s effects. People here weren’t frozen, but they were moving very slowly.
Maybe the portal was something to do with time?
Her brain felt like it was going to explode. They were the only ones seemingly unaffected. How were they going to fix it?
“I have to check on Molly,” Randy said. His voice was too fast, thinning out. “She was scared before.”
Nikki followed him into the house, breathing in the smells of dog fur. A jangle approached. Molly came through a doorway. Not her usual energetic self. She trembled, and her eyes were fearful.
Randy scooped her up, stroking her back. She flicked out a pink tongue, licking his chin.
Why wasn’t Molly affected by the portal either?
Nikki scratched the little dog behind the ears, finding some of the tension easing. Dogs were good people.
“You’ve been keeping some things from me,” she said quietly. “You need to tell me. Everything.”
Randy glanced up at her, and his eyes were wooden. “I know.”
He gestured to the sagging sofa. Nikki had to clear off a stack of newspapers. Randy gave her Molly, and she resettled the dog in her lap. He went into the kitchen and poured two plastic tumblers of water.
“I’d do something stronger…” Randy handed her one of the tumblers. “And I think I wouldn’t be able to stop until I passed out.”
Nikki felt the same. She rested her glass behind Molly’s trembling body and stared at the water.
“All the houses were portals,” she said. Not a question. She wanted to hear the confirmation.
Randy parked himself on the coffee table, close enough she could smell the fear rising off him.
“Yes,” he said. “Each house has a portal in one of the upstairs rooms. When the houses were built, the masons–my family–did a special mortar mixture that helped focus the portal’s energy. Each of the houses were built like a giant conductor for the portals.”
Nikki took a moment to digest this, wondering if her aunts had known. Had her aunts used the portals?
“Where do they go?” she asked.
Randy shrugged. “Depends. The piano in the living room is a control device. You play one tune, and the portal opens up to a particular location.”
Nikki remembered all those times she’d banged the keys, and got an ugly jerk in her stomach. Had she done something to the portal when she played the piano?
Her hands were trembling.
Randy, as if reading her thoughts, reached across to squeeze her knee. “It has to be a specific tune. There’s supposed to be a book somewhere with the tunes and the locations.”
“But where does it go?”
Molly, sensing Nikki’s agitation, stood up, claws digging into her legs. The little puffball tail wagged half-heartedly.
Now Randy was squirming. He glanced away, focusing at a painting on the wall.
“It’s a place where art is reality,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“Your family and mine…we came from a different place, a different existence.”
Nikki’s stomach jerked, sourness rising in her mouth. What did that mean?
“I’m sorry.” Randy tickled Mollie’s triangle ears, his eyes flicking up to meet hers. “I should have told you sooner.”
She wanted to be mad. She should be mad. Yet she found herself comforted by the way he looked at her, like he was a dog ready to jump in help, even if he didn’t know what he was helping with.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed you anyway.” Nikki managed a rueful smile. “Part of me still doesn’t believe it. I don’t know what to make of that portal.”
Randy shifted his hand from Molly’s ear to her hand, his warmness against her skin. It did little to ease the icy chill in her heart.