I had to run to keep up with Jadem in the dark forest, dodging outlines of trees jutting out of the earth’s first layer. I would’ve said it was night, but I couldn’t be sure, because in this layer there was no differentiation of night and day. There was dark; and there was darker. When we left our layer, it was October, but time stretched between layers, bent and twisted; flipped upside down.
Jadem was 4 years my elder at 22, and he was nearly a foot taller than I, though he looked quite smaller compared to the towering trees. How did we get here? Where is here? What time is it?
My name is Brineget Hoffling. I am a senior in high school, and not a very good one. Life doesn’t treat everyone fairly, and it threw me off the boat at a young age. Plagued by dark thoughts and illnesses, at 13 I was hospitalized for too many pills and not enough food. Now at 18, I hold my own. I pay rent for a room in Jadem’s attic, along with my beloved albino rabbit, Cland, short for Clandestine. I work at the library on the next block over in a tiny ancient town in northern Maine. Our parents died in a plane crash when I was 11 on their way home from a trip to Italy. Jadem and I were supposed to go, but Jadem had too much school work, and I had come down with a fever that saved my life. Jadem is a junior in college studying biology. His girlfriend of 5 years lives with him in his small townhouse along with their daughter Raylin.
Raylin was 4, and already smarter than me. A tiny little thing of 3 feet tall, with white blonde hair and eyes so blue you could almost see through them. Her eyelashes were so dark and long you would think she was wearing mascara. She was stunning; and her parents knew that. Raylin modeled for a toy doll company in the monthly magazine. She enjoyed it, and she had every doll. Raylin’s favorite doll, as far as she was concerned, was Magdelina. This particular doll was a proper copy of Raylin herself, matching outfits and all.
In exchange for the attic of his house, I drove Raylin to preschool in the morning before I had to get to school. We passed this woman, probably in her mid-30’s, walking her German shepherd nearly every day. They’d always stop and wait for us to pass, leading me to assume she was training the dog for some kind of other purpose. Raylin loved this dog, and exclaimed so loudly every morning.
“Puppy!” she’d scream in her car seat, bouncing wildly up and down; her pigtails flying.
At this, I opened the window for her to wave out to the dog, and the woman always waved back. Some days the woman gave Raylin small treats, like a cookie or a lollipop. Then we’d drive on and continue with our day.
Every day at school was the same. If you imagine you’re invisible hard enough, you became invisible. You melted in with the walls and the drone of unhappy teenagers. You slept in class and left no remnants of your presence. You squeaked by, because it didn’t really matter anyway. You already had a well-paying job you intended to keep and move up in rank as time progressed. School was to please Jadem and nothing else.
After a long day at school, I picked up Raylin and dropped her off at home, where her mother was waiting for her. Most days, I then went to my job at the local library. An ancient place with an even more ancient owner. It was often quiet, which I liked, and not much had to be done. My favorite place in the building was the bottom floor, which hadn’t been opened to the public for centuries. It had no electricity, but it had an abundance of books about things that aren’t thought of these days.
Things like occults and evils, other worlds and spirits once believed to be real and factitious, now were kept in the forbidden and fiction section of a nearly empty library in the middle of nowhere. Yet, in these volumes, I found escape. My favorite book, a heavy black bound hardcover with weathered pages that were once edged in gold, was all about the layers of the earth, the 6 layers, the 5 evils, and the “visible world.” The man who wrote it, Johnston, believed in some ways you could transfer to the other layers of earth, layers believed by others only to be reached after death, separate realms. Evils. It was a great story, but in no way did I believe it was ever true. I believed this man was just almost as crazy as me, or almost as high.
After work I went home and slept, after reading Raylin and her dolls a quick story and shoveling some food down my throat. Then it was up again the next day, same thing, over and over. Nothing changed; until it did.
Four years later, I am driving Raylin to school before going to the library where I took over the old caretakers place when she passed from a stroke two years ago. After dropping her off, in the snow, I pass the woman with the dog. Older now, and with a companion, she walked two dogs. I waved and she looked past me, with a worried look on her face. What was she looking at?
At the library, the first thing I did as owner was to renovate and open the bottom floor to the public so they could read the old stories and books down there. It was the most popular floor these days. I kept that old book about the realms hidden away though, as it was important to me personally. I look up from the desk computer to see the woman with the dogs. No dogs present, she still seemed to be worried about something on her mind.
“Can I help you?” I asked her, hoping to get an explanation.
“The layers,” she said, “you know about them.”
Was she referring to my book? How would she know, I had never lent this book out to anyone. She must have her own copy. When I didn’t answer, she spoke more urgently.
“Brineget, burn it. Don’t read it, don’t go searching. Close the bottom floor back up and don’t go down there.”
Speechless, I managed a small nod. The next thing I knew, the woman was gone, and I wasn’t even sure if she had ever been there.
Back in my room in the attic, Cland was nibbling on some ginger in the corner as I was on my laptop researching the book the woman was talking about. There were a few sites that mentioned it, people who had tried to wander into other realms. All ended in the same warning the woman had given me; don’t go searching.
As it was well past two in the morning, I shut down my computer and put Cland in his cage. After showering and turning my alarm on for the morning, I lied down in bed and passed out.
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