Reflected Across the Dark

The portals began appearing four months ago. We were curious, like everyone, but they were rare and strange and didn’t matter.

The portals began appearing four months ago. We were curious, like everyone, but they were rare and strange and didn’t matter. I thought it might be a hoax, but you believed in them. You believe in everything.

We have always been together. Born together, slept in the same crib. Even developed our own language, to Mom and Dad’s distress. Some words survived into adulthood. Ee-ee for happiness. Mrrr for dismay.

About a thousand portals have appeared, the news agencies say. Photos show up regularly on Twitter. Where there was nothing, a flat shape suddenly exists, tall and narrow, like a black mirror, impossibly two-dimensional, a doorway into nothing. Wherever they appear, someone specific senses it and is called. That individual enters and vanishes, and the portal closes.

I don’t think it’s a hoax anymore, but I don’t understand their purpose. Aliens? Some science experiment gone wrong? A spiritual plane? Maybe they were always around and we just started noticing. Everyone has a theory, but there are more guesses than there have been portals, and no answers.

We were inseparable as children, spending every day we could playing together on the porch beneath the dappled shade of the elm tree, with Marbles the beagle snoring in the corner.

One of the earliest portals appeared in Sweden. While walking down a hall of the former Royal Mint building, the first deputy speaker of the Riksdag took a sudden right turn. He stepped into the black rectangle that hadn’t been there a moment before and vanished. Four security cameras captured the event.

Sweden went on full alert, closing the borders and banning air travel. They cut off the internet and readied their armed forces. No one could come up with a reason why anyone would attack Sweden, or why the first deputy speaker was a strategic target, but the 24-hour news channels were happy to speculate endlessly. And by their actions, the Swedes must have known something the rest of us didn’t.

Eventually Swedish hackers broke through the national firewall to find and broadcast videos of other portals appearing in other places. The alert was dropped with very little comment. The first deputy speaker’s wife funded an institute to research the portals.

His father formed a group to help those left behind grieve.

People always commented on our differences: tall and short, serious and impulsive, business savvy and art. But we weren’t different at all, just two halves of the same being. Sometimes we had to part, physically. We took different classes, attended different colleges, got different jobs. But without even thinking about it, we never separated for long. Even the occasional romance didn’t get between us. We had ties that could not be broken.

I began work at the ad agency in Manhattan, and you started tending bar at a dive in Gowanus. We got an apartment together in Park Slope. Slick, clicked-together wood veneer floors, two tiny bedrooms, and a bay window facing the trees of Prospect Park as their leaves changed with the seasons. Green, then flame-colored, then dead and gone. It didn’t matter that I paid most of the rent. You showed me what was worth living for every day. Like how you drew hearts and stars and smiley faces on each drink napkin before serving. At first the ironic hipsters smirked. Then they realized you meant it and turned shy. Your tips began to rival my commissions.

Once, a portal appeared in a lab at Iowa State. The researchers there used every instrument they could to analyze it until an adjunct entered and it vanished. They issued a lot of scientific jargon in their report—multiverses and dimensional planes—but had to admit they weren’t any closer to understanding their purpose. Only that temperature readings and gas samples taken from the far side seemed to indicate a livable environment.

I remember last week. How you bicycled to 7th Avenue Donuts before dawn and bought a full dozen straight out of the fryer. Then you ate every donut, because anything enjoyable is worth enjoying to the maximum. I remember when you threw out my trap and instead started feeding and taming the rat that lives behind the fridge. When you pasted googly eyes onto all the Kleenex boxes in the bodega to cheer up sick people.

I remember yesterday, late, as the sky dimmed, and the clouds shaded to ribbons of crimson and gold. Something not-quite-a-sound filled the apartment, like the fading of a chime.

No one ever mentioned that almost-sound.

Then a sliver of black appeared.

You turned, eyes alight, smiling like the present you’d been waiting for had finally arrived. You set down your phone and walked straight in. You never looked at me. You never explained, or even said goodbye. It closed and you were gone.

How could they take you and not me? How could you go with them—whoever they are—and leave me alone?

I’m going to feed the rat now. Once I can stop crying, I’ll head over to 7th Avenue and get a box of donuts. Then I’ll sit here, eat every one, and wait.

They can’t only want half of us.

By Laurel Amberdine

Laurel Amberdine lives in San Francisco. She works for Locus Magazine, helps out with Lightspeed Magazine, and is willing to entertain offers from other magazines that start with "L." Her YA fantasy novel Luminator is forthcoming from Reuts Publishing in 2017. Find her on Twitter at @amberdine.