Hakeem has always been someone who takes a book on an airplane with grand plans to read it in entirety and inevitably only gets through a couple pages. Hakeem knew this about himself as he dove into “Journey to the Center of the Earth” but thought this time would be different. It’s a book he hadn’t read in decades.
He flipped to page two, already proud of his accomplishment as the plane tilted him backwards and he and a hundred strangers ascended to incredible heights. Hakeem got halfway down the page and made the mistake he always makes. He glanced out the window, seeing the planet below getting smaller and smaller. The rest of that flight from Caracas, Venezuela to Boston, Massachusetts would inevitably be spent reflecting.
Reflecting about his childhood. Reflecting about the events in his life that brought him to this point. Reflecting about that failed attempt in Venezuela, the third failure in his last five ventures. The two “successful” attempts were reviewed as ‘not concrete enough’ or ‘looking like a magic trick.’ Although, of the three failures, this failure was the worst. At least with the other two his calculations were correct. He’d just lost the one-of-a-kind object in the fold. This last failed attempt, his calculations were off. There was no fold in Venezuela.
Hakeem remembered the first day he found out about ‘the folds’ in the Earth. He didn’t know what he was witnessing. Uncle Quinn did a good job raising Hakeem after Hakeem had moved in with him, but he was not a strict ‘parent’ at all. Hakeem went to live with Uncle Quinn for what was supposed to be a couple months while his mother went off on a business trip somewhere. She never returned. No one ever saw her, never found her body, nothing of her. As if she had just vanished from the planet.
Eventually she was pronounced dead. Hakeem asked Uncle Quinn where his mother had gone, and Uncle Quinn said he did not even know. Either Uncle Quinn truly didn’t know where his own sister went before leaving her only child with him, or he was hiding information. Hakeem suspected the latter. But Uncle Quinn never did anything that wasn’t in Hakeem’s best interest. So, he left it at that… as hard as it was.
Uncle Quinn let Hakeem stay up late whenever he wanted. Gave him ice cream every night. And his birthdays were filled with many gifts. Uncle Quinn wasn’t a rich man. He had to work two jobs, but he still spoiled Hakeem every opportunity he got.
Uncle Quinn always said they had to celebrate Hakeem’s birthday exactly on April 23rd, exactly at 8:46 P.M. Hakeem found it strange because he knew for a fact that the time of his birth was 8:46 A.M. But Hakeem wasn’t a morning person. So, that was fine with him.
It was that 12th birthday of Hakeem’s where he “celebrated” alone. He stood out on Uncle Quinn’s property. Feet planted in the grassy yard, neck craned back, chin up, viewing the stars. Thinking about his mother. He stood next to the huge rock buried in the dirt that Uncle Quinn always said had gold buried beneath it. A funny tale that Hakeem didn’t believe, but that gave this rock a special aura to it.
Hakeem checked his watch. 8:45 P.M. One minute until he was “officially” 12. He glanced out across the vast yard. 300 feet or so in the distance was Ms. Roth’s house. A large brick house, ancient and sturdy. A light was on in a second-floor window. Hakeem wondered if Ms. Roth was in her room changing. He was an almost 12-year-old boy, after all. He knew there was almost two decades between them, but he’d always felt the smiles she cast at him were more than friendly.
Hakeem checked his watch. A few seconds to go. He counted down.
3, 2, 1…
A noiseless whoosh echoed in Hakeem’s ears. A rapid advancement of land, air, trees, everything… everything in front of Hakeem came flying towards him all while the planet stood still. And in a fraction of a second, the brick house then laid 20 feet in front of him. Hakeem was frozen. To his right, that large rock, still there. Behind him, Uncle Quinn’s property and house. None of that had moved. Yet in front of him, inexplicably, what was once 300 feet away, now was a stone’s throw away.
A figure moved in the lighted window. It was Ms. Roth. And Hakeem was correct, she was changing. The first glance Hakeem ever got of a woman in a bra and underwear that wasn’t in a magazine that a friend stole from their mother. And then Ms. Roth looked out the window… directly at Hakeem. Guilt swept through him and held him to the grass. He didn’t mean to do anything wrong. But now, Ms. Roth was going to think he was the biggest pervert in the world!
Ms. Roth looked right at him, but her eyes never saw him. She looked past him, towards Uncle Quinn’s house. A smile spread over her lips. She scanned the rest of the outdoors before moving away from the window.
Hakeem was in utter disbelief. How could she have not seen him? He was right in front of her. Hakeem was afraid to move for he had no idea what was happening. Was this the end of the world? Was this the end of Hakeem’s sanity? Was this that thing his friend Josh said that his aunt had, tripolar disease?
Hakeem stood still, a full 36 minutes. Then, the noiseless whoosh returned. The land, the trees, the air, it all retreated in an instant, returning to its original place.
Hakeem didn’t say anything to Uncle Quinn about this. He didn’t say anything to his friend Josh about this. Nothing to anyone. And especially not to Ms. Roth who was completely unaware he was on her property late one night looking through her window seeing her Page 18, Spring Catalog, Lace Bra.
Hakeem would go out to the same spot every night for a week at the exact same time. Nothing ever happened. He continued trying this every so often. Twice a week. Once a week. Once a month. Nothing. Hakeem concluded he had gone crazy for a moment. His brain broke in preparation for the puberty that was to be striking through his body. He had a slight lapse of tripolar. That’s what it was.
But he kept going out to that spot each month. Just to see if something would happen. Waiting 30 minutes, 40 minutes, sometimes an hour. January 23rd, February 23rd, March 23rd. Nothing.
His birthday rolled around again. A fun celebration with Uncle Quinn. Hakeem made sure they would be done early.
“I want to look up at the stars.” Hakeem said to Uncle Quinn. “Maybe make a wish.”
“A wish for Mom?” Uncle Quinn asked. “You know, sometimes wishes take a while to come true. They can’t always be granted in an instant. Sometimes they take an hour… or longer.”
Hakeem got out to his usual spot with several minutes to spare before 8:46 P.M. He had no idea what Uncle Quinn was talking about with this ‘one hour for a wish come true’ nonsense. Probably a strange tale from his same book of tales that said this giant rock had gold underneath it.
Hakeem waited breathlessly for the seconds to count down to 8:46 P.M. And when it finally hit… absolutely nothing. A distant croak from a frog seconds after, mocking Hakeem. He thought since a year had passed, since it was his birthday, this time would be be like the first time.
He decided he needed to wait, give it a chance. He sat down and relaxed. He brought a book with him, just for this scenario. He would read a few chapters and enjoy the night spring air.
A couple chapters and that’s it. Give it the one-hour Uncle Quinn mentioned. After 30 minutes of nothing, Hakeem had lost hope. This phenomenon he witnessed, or imagined, was never going to happen again. But he already committed in his mind that he’d wait the full hour. So, he waited. And he read. Eventually forgetting why he walked out to this giant rock in the first place.
Hakeem checked his watch. 9:45 P.M. and 40 something seconds to be semi-precise.
Eh, close enough. I’m calling it!
Hakeem pulled himself to his feet, brushed the dirt off his butt. He made it the whole hour. He did his due diligence. He never made any wish. That was just a ruse for Uncle Quinn. But should he make a wish while he’s here?
Hakeem looked to Ms. Roth’s house in the distance. He pondered what type of wish he should even make when suddenly, that familiar noiseless whoosh he thought he’d imagined. Too familiar to be a figment of his imagination. Once again, over 250 feet of Earth came silently screaming back towards his direction and landed at his feet. It all happened in such fantastic, break-neck speeds yet with a complete peacefulness to it.
Ms. Roth’s house was 20 feet from Hakeem again. The light was not on in her window, but he did see her walk by the window twice. Then a third time; she appeared in the window, opened it up and leaned out. She looked right in Hakeem’s direction.
She is absolutely going to see me this time.
But she didn’t. She inhaled the sweet night air into her lungs, chest heaving in her nightie.
Whoa, I’ve never seen that in any magazine.
Hakeem’s 13th birthday just topped his 12th birthday. Ms. Roth had such a sensuousness about her. She was lovely and powerful all at once. Hakeem couldn’t take his eyes off her. She finally returned into her room and shut the window. 36 minutes passed in total, and then there’s that noiseless whoosh.
Everything returned to the way it was. Hakeem returned home and Uncle Quinn was on the couch reading. He checked his watch.
“Waited the full one hour and 36 minutes, I see.” He smirked.
What does he know?
“Yeah, that fold out there, that one always lasts 36 minutes.”
“Fold?” Hakeem was beyond perplexed. “What fold? Do you know… do you know about the thing… your yard?”
“Calm down.” Uncle Quinn chuckled. “I’ll tell you all about it. But this isn’t something you go telling other people about. Not everyone can see this. You can, because you were born in the fold. As was your mother. And me. You ever realize how strange it is, all our birthdays, how similar they are? The time of all of them ending in 46?”
Hakeem thought about this. That was strange. His mother’s birthday was April 22nd and she often talked about being born at 7:46 A.M. Her birthday being one day and one hour before Hakeem’s. And Uncle Quinn’s birthday, also April 22nd… 10:46 A.M. As Hakeem got lost in these numbers, Uncle Quinn cleared it up.
“Your mother’s birthday, a day and an hour before yours. Or a 25-hour difference. When she had you, she was 25. My birthday, 22 hours before yours. I was 22 when you were born. I had just bought this property and she went into labor while visiting, a whole month early. You were born right out by that rock. Right in the fold.”
Uncle Quinn went on to explain there are other folds in the world. He didn’t know how many. But he did know that this one on his property, it happened like clockwork. Always a year and an hour after the last one. And it always lasted for 36 minutes. And every time, the land moved in an instant. A chunk of 250 feet vanishing, as if folded over. The way Uncle Quinn explained it, imagine if you had a map of the world and you folded a piece. Moving one section of the world closer to another.
Hakeem went on to experience the fold every year with Uncle Quinn. No one would ever see them out there. As if they vanished with the fold. Uncle Quinn warned other folds can be more dangerous. He found a few others. One in Norway close to the North Sea. That one, he estimated, probably folded over three football fields. There was the one in Scotland, near Aberdeen, a couple hundred feet. Then, there was the one in Death Valley in California. That one was a couple thousand feet. It resulted in a large crevice being presented in which things could fall into. That’s how Uncle Quinn lost his favorite camera.
“Have you ever taken pictures?” Was Hakeem’s first thought.
“The folds don’t photograph.” Uncle Quinn was way ahead of him.
But Uncle Quinn gave Hakeem something better than photographs. Adventures. He took him to the fold in Scotland one year. That’s one Uncle Quinn and Hakeem’s mother had witnessed together. They had convinced their parents to take them on a family vacation to Scotland when they figured out there was likely a fold there. That was September 16th. Uncle Quinn called the school and said Hakeem was sick all week.
Another year, they made a trip to California. The fold in Death Valley was happening July 9th that year, so no excuse was needed for school. But the two almost sweated to death. Over 100 degrees the entire time. And Hakeem saw the crevice. Not necessarily large, but an unfortunate smaller person could perhaps get stuck in there. What would happen if someone did get stuck in there?
This was a special bond Uncle Quinn and Hakeem shared. Uncle Quinn showed him how he’d determine where folds should be. It wasn’t exact. There was a lot of map-reading involved, a lot of searching public archives, scouring the internet. Strange reports of people having gone missing, sometimes returning 20 minutes later, 40 minutes later, sometimes never returning. Strange reports of people’s cars going missing and showing up thousands of feet away, inexplicably, on the side of a mountain.
Hakeem picked this detective work up quickly. It even launched him into his career choice. Geography. What would he do with that? Hakeem often would answer to anyone asking that question, “I don’t know. Geography professor?”
And that’s exactly what he headed towards. College afforded him opportunities to travel. He found a few more folds. He witnessed one in Ontario, Canada that Uncle Quinn mentioned Hakeem’s mother had found. And he located one in Guatemala that spanned thousands of feet, moving him from the edge of a forest onto the side of a mountain. Hakeem was so taken aback by the experience, and the sudden altitude change, he vomited his entire lunch. It was the only time in his life he ever threw up while laughing. But the laughter and joy were fleeting. It left him feeling empty. Each time, going to find a new fold was such a source of joy. Each time, once experiencing one, Hakeem returned to the empty and lonely feeling that clouded him since his mother went missing.
There was the fold in Estonia, a few hundred feet. And the one in Thailand, that one was several miles. Such a discovery. Hakeem was always so sure these folds were going to be the answer to his question… Why can I never truly be happy? Each time they offered him a hit of euphoria that resulted in a comedown that was worse than before. Had him feening to find another fold.
After school, Hakeem got his job teaching Geography. He was an expert on Geography. On matters people knew about. And, of course, on matters no one knew about. He quickly became a Professor of Geography at a University. School breaks and summer vacations often resulted in finding cheap tickets to places where folds may be. Sometimes Uncle Quinn would come with him. He brought him to Thailand to show him the largest fold either of them had ever witnessed. This was a June 4th fold that year. The first time Hakeem witnessed it, it lasted 51 minutes. It was the same this time. The folds all had their different dates when they would occur, but they all continually happened a year and an hour after the last occurrence. Not all lasted for the same amount of time. But like the fold back on Uncle Quinn’s New Hampshire property, they all had a consistent period that they would last for.
Years would go on and Hakeem kept studying the folds. One in India. One in Yemen. One in Australia. Of the 10 folds he had witnessed none had a fold duration of less than 30 minutes. None of these folds ever filled that void Hakeem tried to ignore. A void the size of a missing mother, yet a fold that was miles long still couldn’t fill it.
Of course, the void of never having met his father was an existent one as well. But he was killed in a car accident months before Hakeem’s birth. It is sad, but he never knew his father. There’s nothing to remember except second-hand stories. But he remembered his mother. Although, the last time he saw her, he was seven. She was 32. He still vividly remembered her face, her slightly upturned nose, her ebony black hair. But most of all, he remembered that hoarse voice, that hoarse and high-pitched laugh of hers. As if she lost her voice.
He wished every day that he could have his mother back. He wished every day that he could lead a normal life. Since the former was impossible, he steered himself towards the latter. For a while, that meant trying to find more folds.
Uncle Quinn began to have problems with his knees. With poor insurance, he couldn’t get great medical care. He stopped going on trips with Hakeem. Hakeem helped where he could, but his job as a professor didn’t pay nearly as much as he would’ve hoped. Living in Boston was expensive. Living in general was expensive. Student loans were a never-ending terror.
Hakeem continued with life as normally as he could, carrying this hefty secret in his back pocket. Coming home to a sad and empty one-bedroom apartment. The walls and windows shook if a bus passed by. The window in the right corner of the living room often popped open from a strong gust of wind. Teaching gave Hakeem exterior joy, but it never penetrated his soul. Each night he'd come home to the sad and empty apartment that mirrored his sad and empty life. Hakeem had a few friends. He had a few relationships. They always suffered. There was Kelly who essentially broke up with him because he didn’t have enough money. Then, there was Leanne, she had less money than Hakeem. But she wanted more from him. He was unable to give her more because there was no more inside of him to give. He hardly had enough for himself.
Hakeem didn’t have a good idea of what a healthy relationship should look like. But that was more of an excuse he fell back on… and he knew it. Really, he didn’t have it in him to provide love to another. He was still searching for love in himself. He stopped dating altogether. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world for his bank account. He could use the extra money to buy more cheap airline tickets. With a vanishing middle class, you’re either rich or you ain’t.
That’s where the ideas came from. A need for money. But also, a desire to find out if his theory was correct… that pursuing these folds… he would find something to fill him with joy. So, Hakeem made a plan. He was pitching to corporation after corporation. Getting turned down repeatedly. Finally, he caught Brian Bramford on the hook.
Hakeem was going to illustrate to others how the folds work. It would be too difficult to explain to those who cannot see. But if he could do something that they could see, they could understand the basic concept. That there was something about this world that no one had yet discovered. That there were aspects of our universe we can’t fully comprehend. Discoveries such as this would be groundbreaking. They could lead to grants to continue the studies. Lots of money. Comfortable living. Better healthcare for Uncle Quinn. A new place that doesn’t vibrate when public transit passes by.
The theory, having a one-of-a-kind object in one location. Take it into the fold. Wait for the fold duration to conclude. Voila! The one-of-a-kind object, one which cannot be replicated, will have moved on its own to another location.
This, of course led to Hakeem losing two priceless one-of-a-kind paintings of Brian Bramford’s, the relocating of one painting several hundred feet away that was called “a magic trick.” The relocating of a special, one-of-a-kind Maserati. Thousands of feet!
But it’s just another identical car!
So, everyone claimed.
Hakeem could no longer see the land of Venezuela from the plane window. Only water. How he wished this water would last forever. Once he reached Boston, Bramford would confirm that Hakeem’s next chance… is his last.
It was an ordinary day. Classes were all done, but Antônia, Hakeem’s favorite student, was still there getting the notes she missed. She was sick the week before and asked to be briefed on what she missed after class, if possible. Hakeem readily agreed. All that was waiting for him was the sad apartment, his own sadness. It’s hard to ignore your sadness when it has a visual representation… and you live in it.
Antônia checked a text on her phone and laughed in disbelief. Hakeem looked on inquisitively.
“I have this friend back in Brazil.” She explained. “He’s like… a magician. Vanishes in front of our eyes. Does it probably once a year. Always comes back, but never tells us what he’s doing.”
Hakeem almost dropped his mug of coffee. His hand was visibly shaking. He set his mug down to conceal his nerves.
“Weirdly, this is a thing that happens a lot where I’m from. People vanish… always in this one area.” Antônia continued on with her story, unaware of its impact. “And these people speak Portuguese and English like most of us. But most of them also speak French. And some African dialects. It’s this cult-like thing almost. Anyway, Marco did it again today. My friends were freaked.”
“Antônia, where in Brazil are you from?” Hakeem tried to ask as steadily as possible. “Where does this happen?”
“Morro da Cruz. Ever heard of it?”
It took the whole year to setup. To research. To plan it perfectly. If this was correct, this was the biggest fold ever. Hakeem couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen this before. Morro da Cruz in Brazil, located at the bottom of that large hump that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. If South America were moved to fit into that dip on the Western side of Africa, as many believe was where it was when everything was Pangea, that Morro da Cruz in Brazil, would almost perfectly line up with a Morro da Cruz in Angola, Africa. Just outside of the capital city of Luanda. Angola… where many people speak Portuguese. Just as they do in Brazil. Is this all a coincidence because both countries were settled by the Portuguese centuries ago? Likely story. This is another fold, a portal if you will.
Hakeem had cameras and crews waiting in Morro da Cruz, Brazil. He had cameras and crews waiting in Paris, France, where he traced this fold to extend to. And then he had cameras and crews accompany himself… in Morro da Cruz, Angola.
Brian Bramford had given him another one-of-a-kind painting. Art experts and the like confirmed, there would be no way to replicate this. Hakeem finally had this moment, ready and waiting, he was going to show the world. He couldn’t mess it up. He didn’t know where the painting would end up. But it would end up somewhere… thousands of miles away.
Hakeem was feeling the pressure worse than ever before. Giant crews assembled. Watching his every movement. Just the same as always, he would vanish in front of everyone’s eyes. But this time he needed to prove he was a discoverer, not a magician. That he was Columbus, not Copperfield.
He checked his watch. Almost time. His breathing was heavy. He slowed himself down. Deep breaths. Closed his eyes. Thought of his mother. Thought of Uncle Quinn. Thought of an apartment with walls sturdier than notebook paper. He opened his eyes… just in time…
The noiseless whoosh, heavier than ever before. A fantastic display as half of the world flooded his vision and tore across the landscape, collapsing in front of him.
The scene he witnessed, magnificent and horrifying. A deep chasm laid before him, dark and jagged rocks littered down hundreds of feet. On the opposite side of this chasm, teetering on the rocks was the Eiffel Tower. It hung precariously over the chasm. 100 feet to the right, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, positioned so crooked on the rocks that it stood up straight. The sound of rocks creaking and groaning beneath it. To the other side of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the clock tower in England. It was surrounded by a few crooked streetlights and a road that extended down into the chasm and broke off.
Hakeem turned around. The crews were still behind him, but muffled, obstructed visually as if behind thick glass. Directly behind them, the Hollywood sign perched atop a mountain. To the left, Christ the Redeemer. This was outstanding. Some of the world’s most famous structures collected in an otherwise bleak and horrid location. With the skies gray above and a thick fog rolling through, it was like a graveyard of man’s greatest accomplishments.
The one-of-a-kind painting in hand, Hakeem moved forward. He stepped off the edge of the main road where everyone gathered and towards the chasm. He moved towards jagged rocks, steadying his feet on them. A pathway to his left looked to be his best bet.
He slightly crouched so that he may traverse this dangerous terrain. He just needed to move slightly into this chasm and find a good resting spot for the painting. Hakeem moved carefully while scanning the chasm. He feared if he set the painting down somewhere that was too close to his entry point, that the painting would still be in Angola after the fold was done with. He should move far enough into the chasm so that this painting had a high percentage of winding up elsewhere, preferably Paris where some of the camera crews were.
Hakeem continued down this path of sharp rocks, littered with cracks. They groaned beneath his feet as he stepped on them. He took another step, feeling a rock quiver beneath his weight. He paused for a moment. The rock stopped quivering. He looked ahead, towards the Eiffel Tower. He redirected himself towards the monument, if he wanted the painting to wind up in France, then he needed to place it closer to the Eiffel Tower than any of the other monuments.
Step after step, rock after rock, Hakeem had traversed down a good 50 feet, probably moved 50 feet across this chasm as well. Ahead of him the terrain looked too complicated, too faulty. Perhaps he had moved far enough into the chasm, he just wanted to be so certain. Up ahead, a flash caught his eye. He saw that it was something reflecting off one of the stones directly beneath the Eiffel Tower. Then, he noticed more stones beneath that one had the same flash. Perhaps a specific mineral shared by each of these rocks. Hakeem’s eye continued to follow the flashes, a line of rocks with a flash gleaming off of them trailed all the way down from the Eiffel Tower and into the chasm. It eventually stopped on this large, pointed boulder 20 feet in front of him, slightly to his right. These rocks all share a similar property, they must all exist in the same spot in the world! The trail these flashing lights created, all the way to that structure in Paris, it was like it was leading Hakeem towards it. Hakeem hypothesized, those rocks with that flash… that mineral… that’s the key. They must all exist in Paris near the Eiffel Tower.
The rock Hakeem stood on groaned loudly in response to his thoughts. Okay, Hakeem just needed to make his way to the large boulder with the flash gleaming off of it, set the painting there and then climb back out of the chasm. Hakeem was certain this would deliver the painting to Paris… and then how does everyone explain that away? They don’t.
Hakeem lowered his head, scanning the rocks beneath him. They didn’t look reliable, but they only needed to support his weight for a few moments. He would be delicate with his footing and quick with his stepping. He moved ahead onto one rock with half his weight, all was good. Another quick step to another rock, all was good. He continued to disperse his weight among different rocks, so none were getting his full 185 pounds. Another step, about halfway to the boulder. A harsh wind whipped through, and the rocks creaked from its force. The wind dipped into the chasm and then lifted right back out… it was silent again. He stepped out onto the next rock, and it cracked. It gave way. Hakeem fell on his side. He slid several feet down the chasm before the rocks beneath him cracked and opened up.
Hakeem dropped, weightless. He flung his arms to the sky and tensed his fingers. His fingertips dug into solid rock, and he clawed into it. He gripped the hard rocks as he hung, legs dangling, broken pebbles falling past him and plummeting… no sounds heard as they fell. The painting was just next to his right hand, wedged between dirt and rock.
Hakeem glanced down, an endless pit below him. The walls slanted inward, jagged rocks along the way. The sky above him grayed more.
Voices softly echoed around him. Seeming to come from behind the rocks.
“Que penses-tu qu'il va se passer?” From his left.
“Onde ele foi?” From behind him.
Hakeem needed to get out. He felt adrenaline rush through him. He felt strength in his arms. He was about to hoist himself up…
“Hakeem?” A hoarse and familiar voice.
Hakeem searched below for the voice. This voice didn’t sound like it was coming from behind the rocks. It sounded to be clear as day, in the pit with him. His eyes darted around. There it was, to his right, wedged between some rocks, almost hanging into the pit. A woman. It was dark in the pit, but he could make out the nose, the hair, the eyes.
“Oh my God. Hakeem, you’re grown.” The hoarse and familiar voice continued. A hoarse chuckle.
It was Hakeem’s mother! Stuck here. Trapped all these years.
The pit quivered and quaked. “This fold isn’t consistent, honey. We may not have long.” She said sorrowfully.
“I’m going to get you out.” Hakeem was determined.
“I don’t think there’s time, honey.” She said with sadness.
The pit quaked again. Hakeem extended his arm towards her as far as he could. She was just out of his reach. He pulled his arm back to his body, relaxed it for a moment. Then, he extended his arm again, stretching it out, tensing his arm, stiffening his elbow, extending it every bit that he could. His shoulder burned from the effort. Hakeem’s mother reached towards his hand, closing the gap. But it was still not enough. She was out of his reach. Hakeem looked down below. There was no stable ground below him. He couldn’t drop down to get a better position.
The pit quaked. Rocks broke off from above and fell down, Hakeem turned his head and a rock bounced off the side of his head, just missing his eye. He felt the warmth of blood trickle down his cheek. He looked back to his mother, so close to his reach, but at just enough of a distance that resulted in an impossible effort.
“Hakeem, honey, you have to get yourself out of here.” His mother urged him. “We don’t know how long this fold will last. Please! I don’t want you to be stuck in here too!”
An impossible effort. In an impossible scenario. The two almost go hand-in-hand. The pit quaked again, harder this time. Hakeem panicked. His mother looked at him with eyes that echoed sadness but reflected urgency. He couldn’t leave her after finding her. He looked up to the sky for an answer. And there it was. The painting. Right there, within his reach. It was what he thought he needed to prove his theory… now it is just what he needed to get his mother back. He may lose it. He may lose his last chance. But he already lost his mother years ago. And now he could get her back. He snatched the painting and swung it down towards his mother.
The pit quaked. Their surroundings shook violently. His mother reached for the painting and clung on. Hakeem’s adrenaline kicked back in. He pulled her up with all his might. He strained and strained, lifting her up. His arm burned like it was on fire. He lifted her closer to the rocks he clung on to.
“Grab the rocks!”
His mother let go of the painting and grabbed the rocks that Hakeem held onto. As she let go of the painting, it slipped from Hakeem’s grip and fell down the pit. Slowly. Silently. The pit quaked once more.
The two pulled themselves up. They latched onto rocks above, lifting themselves out of the pit. They got their feet on sturdier rocks as the pit shook harder and for longer. Rocks were tumbling all around them, falling backwards into the pit. The shaking wouldn’t stop. It felt like the fold was about to close up and snap them up inside of it. Hakeem pointed up the path he had taken down into the chasm. He and his mother stepped quickly and efficiently. Running fast, but careful to step on the larger rocks that would support them. They climbed up the steep wall of rocks as their surroundings rumbled. Stones tumbling down all around them.
The rumbling was accompanied by a horrific groaning of rocks grinding on rocks. The sound of stone cracking emanating all around them. They pulled themselves up rock after rock, lifting themselves with their hands. They could see the dirt just before the road about 15 feet in front of them. Hakeem’s mother lost her footing and slipped. He caught her, lifted her up with all his might and pushed her up to the lip of the chasm. She grasped the earth and pulled herself out of the chasm. Hakeem leapt, grabbing the lip of the chasm, rocks giving way beneath him. The shaking was so violent, he could feel the dirt even cracking around his fingertips. He pulled himself up with a jolt and lifted himself entirely out of the chasm. They rushed towards the road, planting their feet firmly on solid ground. In that same moment, the fold vanished. The whoosh emanated behind them, a sound they both heard, but only the two of them heard. Gasps of shock as Hakeem reappeared in front of everyone, now with a woman. He looked to the cameras pointed right at his face, a splash of depression hitting him as he realized the painting was lost.
Then, the depression lifted and melted away. He turned to his mother. And in the light, he truly saw the details of her face. Her nose, eyes, hair, all unchanged. She still looked 32. Unchanged after decades, preserved in the fold. She never aged. Murmuring through the crowd. Hakeem smiled at his mother, now three years his junior.
“Mom. Do you mind if I introduce you to some people?”