We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. Couldn’t see it yet, but I’d been here once before. The sun had gone down about an hour ago and visibility wasn’t great due to the heavy snowfall, but I could make out the warm glow peaking through the trees atop the hill. We made our way to it—the amber light from the cabin reaching out as we inched our way upwards. Ryan’s jeep was doing well for the most part, but the road was steep—and slick.
“Dammit—still no service?” He asked, his tires spinning out again.
I tucked a jet black lock of hair behind my ear and checked my phone. “Nope, I got nothing.”
“You’d think Izzy would’ve made sure the way was clear before telling us to come up here.”
“There’s no way she could have known, man. This storm came out of nowhere.”
“Come on, Mike. I know you like her, but she doesn’t always think things through.”
I felt my face heat up. “Dude, what do you expect her to do? Control the weather?”
He shook his head, his long brown hair shifting across his red hoodie. “No, but maybe her family has some way of making sure this mile-long driveway is accessible. This is a shit show.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, well if we get stuck, I’m sure her brother will be able to pull us out.”
His eyebrows went up and he stifled a chuckle. “You know as well as I do, that brother of hers is stoned out of his mind right now. He ain’t pulling out squat.”
I laughed. “Uh, you might have a point there.”
I looked out the passenger window, squinting through the heavy snowflakes, catching glimpses of the iced over lake at the bottom of this deathly steep hill. The lake was emitting a soft glimmer, twilight ushering in a midnight blue aura through the overwhelming fog of white.
“Rachel is going to be there too, right?”
I smiled, glancing back at him. “So you do still have a thing for the ex, huh?”
I laughed again, before his jeep started spinning out on a slick curve. It suddenly lurched to the side and I yelped.
“Shit!” Ryan yelled, as the back tires went off the road and we skidded sideways. “Hang on!”
“Oh, you think?” I hollared back, gripping my seatbelt for dear life.
He shifted the jeep into a lower gear and feathered the gas, trying to gain traction. The jeep tipped and I was forced up against the glass, as I swore a person went running through the snow just outside the window. Dressed in all white fur, but it was absolutely a person. What the hell…
Just as I was certain we were going to tip over completely, his tires caught hold and we crept our way back onto the road. As we finally crested up over the edge, a deep sigh escaped my mouth.
“Oh my god, that was insane!” Ryan groaned, his eyes wide.
“There’s somebody out there, man.”
“Yeah, someone went running by as we were sliding off the road. No joke.”
He exhaled a shaky breath. “I seriously doubt anybody is just trekking through the woods right now.”
“I’m just telling you what I saw—look out!” I screamed, spotting a massive tree trunk crashing down toward the jeep.
Ryan jerked the wheel, narrowly avoiding the falling tree. But, we ramped fully off the road this time. We plummeted straight down the steep hillside. I gritted my teeth as we plowed through brush and small trees. Each deep recess we hit jarred my vision as the jeep tore through the snow covered timber.
“Stop! Stop the car!”
“I’m trying! It’s too steep!”
I forced my eyes shut, just before we came to a violent stop. I felt the seatbelt cutting off circulation to my chest as it held me aloft. I peaked one eye open. We were both breathing heavy as the jeep teetered on the edge of a drop off, our tires caught on a downed log or something.
“Just don’t move,” Ryan whispered.
It was a ravine. I stared down into an iced over waterway. It was sky blue—luminescent. I could see winding currents flourishing beneath the ice, creating little eddies in the bright blue water. And it grew stronger. The water began surging, and right before my eyes, took shape into some kind of whirlpool.
“What is that?” I shuttered, as the ice below started to crack.
It began shifting, splitting apart into what looked like a gaping mouth. Jagged ice teeth opened up into a whirling maw, with vibrant, sapphire liquid at the center of it.
“Holy fuck, Ryan! What is that?” I cried out.
“I don’t know, man!”
We were both trembling, near tears as the Jeep tipped forward again. “No—hell no…”
It was so quiet. All I could hear was our panicked breath as the jeep rolled off the edge. We screamed, flipping end over end, crashing into the icy jaws below—upside down. The wailing continued as my window shattered and the shining blue water completely engulfed us. I could have sworn the liquid was warm against my skin as I tore at my seatbelt. I tried to free myself, but the buckle was stuck. I looked to Ryan, who was floating there, lifeless, a deep cut on his forehead seeping crimson into the sapphire water threatening to consume us.
Panic and debilitating dread seized me. I’m going to die here! I pulled and pulled, wrenching the buckle, pressing the button with all my might. My lungs burned as I started getting lightheaded—my vision blurring. That’s when she showed herself…
A porcelain skinned young woman with stark white hair appeared before me in a bright flash. Her sea green eyes glowed into mine as she cut my belt with a glint of silver. I fiercely pulled free the death harness around my waist, barely noticing her cut Ryan’s as well before I choked on my own air. And then, I fully lost consciousness…
I woke up to the sound of a low whistle. Tea? The soothing aroma of mint and—honey floated around me. I cracked my eyes open, peering around at what seemed to be a small cabin. A cool green, flickering glow lit up the homey place. I traced the light source to a smoldering jade fire along the edge of the modest log walled room, not but ten feet from me.
“You need more sour-root, daughter,” a deep voice said calmly.
“Of course!” the young woman chirped, as I caught a glimpse of her out the corner of my eye. “That’s what it’s missing.”
I turned my head slightly, bringing her fully into view. She eagerly traipsed around a small kitchen, gathering ingredients and adding them to a boiling cooking pot atop a dark countertop. She was completely stunning. Long, white braided hair adorned her elegant features. Her sea green eyes glimmered in the firelight as her flowing ivory gown danced about her lean figure. The whistling grew louder. She skipped over and removed a well crafted bronze teapot from its stand above the fire, before catching my gaze. Her eyes widened.
“Da, this one’s awake.”
I shot up and raced over to the fireplace, grabbing what appeared to be a fire poker sticking out of the ashy grey logs. She hopped away as I turned back and raised the poker toward them, getting a clear view of the young woman and her towering father figure.
“Be calm now; we mean you no harm,” the burly white haired man said. He had pale skin as well and must’ve been nearly seven feet tall—just massive. He advanced a step farther, placing himself partially in front of his daughter as she held the teapot with both hands.
“Stay back!” I repeated, as I clocked Ryan’s unconscious body, sprawled out on a mat a few feet beyond where I had been laying.
“You know I pulled you from the wreck, right?” the young woman uttered. “Do you remember?”
I held the poker in front of me, trying to stop my hands from shaking. “Yeah, and I also remember you running through the woods seconds before a tree came crashing down over us. Was that some crazy accident?”
She took a moment, cocking her head before she answered. “Yes—yes it was.” Her brows drew in, concern spreading across her lovely face. Her sparkling eyes exuded a sincerity I couldn’t deny. “Heavy snowfall can cause dead trees to do that.”
She actually seemed harmless, but the other one… I swallowed audibly as I tried to gauge the imposing man’s intent. He had an unimpressed smirk plastered on his masculine features.
“Where—where am I?”
“Our home,” she replied, a warm smile gracing her pearly white skin.
“Please, lower the rod, young man,” the giant grumbled.
I tried to calm my nerves as I cleared my throat. “Is—is my friend okay?”
“He will be,” she said gleefully, waving a hand at the cooking pot. “We’re just about ready to apply some remedies.”
I slowly lowered the fire poker, but held onto it.
“Tea?” she said, her cheery demeanor throwing me off kilter.
What the hell is going on? “I—sure…”
She went and pored the tea into a muted brown mug, before coming closer and holding it out to me. I slowly took it from her. She smiled kindly at me once again. Her thin features were like granite—flawless. And she had no visible eyebrows to speak of.
“I understand this might be strange, but I assure you, we’re quite peaceful. We truly mean you no harm.” She held a hand out, toward a door I hadn’t noticed before. “Join me, would you?”
I swallowed again, moistening my throat. “Okay—thank you.”
“You’re so welcome!” she said, clearly excited about this terribly strange situation. Clearing her throat, she opened the wooden door and stepped outside. “Sorry, we don’t get a lot of visitors.”
I followed her timidly, warm air greeting me as I stepped out. A starry night sky flooded my vision as a full moon shone over a snow covered clearing. My jaw dropped. The moon—it was blue…and—huge. The moon was ten times bigger than I’d ever seen it, casting a soothing cobalt essence over the fantastical landscape. The incredibly bright moonlight made the fluffy snow before me look like baby blue frosting. And a series of oval shaped, pastry looking cabins were riddled along a smooth hillside. I stood there, my mouth agape.
“So, I take it you don’t have many sights like this where you come from?”
I looked at her, closing my mouth. I shook my head. “Am I—dead?”
She laughed at that. She laughed and snorted and slapped her leg as she hopped around. “No! No, you’re alive—promise.”
I offered an awkward chuckle. “Where are we?”
She was all smiles. “Alright, so that whirlwash you crashed through in the creek—it was a doorway. The same one I came through.”
I was doing my best to wrap my mind around this. “A doorway—to what?”
She held a hand out once again, ushering me toward the surreal countryside. I walked with her. “A doorway to our realm—Xrennia. At peak winter months, cracks between our realms can—open up.”
I just blinked at her, unsure what to say, her beautiful porcelain skin gleaming in the moonlight.
“My people are called the moonborn. We have tribes spread all over, and you happened to find one of the doorways connecting to our arctic region.”
“Why’s it so warm?” I managed.
“It’s always warm here. I’ve crossed over to your realm a handful of times now and I always forget how frigid it is there.”
“What—what should I call you?”
“Oh, Saint Rama! I’m so sorry! I forgot to introduce myself.” She straightened up and bowed her head. “I’m Visra—Visra Salunder.” She once again flashed her perfect smile.
I stopped, turning towards her. “I’m Michael—Harris.” I bowed awkwardly. “I should thank you…for saving us. And, I’d like to apologize. I accused you of trying to hit us with a tree.”
“There is absolutely no need to apologize. I can understand the confusion. You’re the first person I’ve ever met from your realm. Da always tells me to keep my distance. I’m sure it has to be frightening, waking up in a strange place you didn’t know existed.”
“That’s putting it lightly. How on earth can this be possible?” I held my arms up to the sky? “This can’t be real! I have to be dreaming…”
“Nope, very real.” She looked up as well, taking in a fresh breath. “It may be alien to you, but this is the sky I’ve known my whole life. To me, your skies are just as strange, so dark and vast. I’ve even heard rumors that you have glowing green clouds that soar across the night sky at your northern pole.”
“Uh, yeah, that’s called an aurora borealis.”
“Oh, what a fun name!”
I chuckled in spite of the circumstances. She was full of so much wonder. I’d never met someone so spirited. It settled my nerves as I realized I was still holding the tea. I took a sip—and sighed, letting out a little moan. Mint and honey.
“Visra!” a deep voice belted out behind us, giving me a start. “Visra, the other one is awake!”
A couple whimsical days passed by as we waited for the doorway to open back up. Ryan had been as terrified as I had when he woke. Probably more so, as the first thing he’d set eyes on was some giant albino man and not the pleasant young woman I had.
“Oh, dear lord this is delicious. You know, I could get used to this,” Ryan said, sucking down another great wooden spoonful of venison stew, his wound barely visible upon his forehead.
“I hear ya,” I replied, as the two of us sat around a campfire. The meal truly was superb. And the daytime here exhibited a bit more normalcy—the sun as bright as the clear blue skies.
The moonborn villagers were huddled around their own respective fires, enjoying their food also. These people were all albino, and a little standoffish—understandably so. We were basically aliens crashing their party. I sat there sipping at my stew, watching Visra dance with a few children around the village.
“So, have we forgotten all about Izzy then?” I shot him a glance. “I mean, I can’t blame you. Just look at her. But—you know she’s not entirely human, right?”
I took a moment to answer, watching Visra roll about in the snow with a young moonborn girl. “I know, but our people do have common ancestry, so it wouldn’t be like inter-species.”
He scratched his head. “Sure dude, but what are your options? You could stay I guess. But the portal only opens when it’s below zero on our side. If you miss the next cold night, there’s a chance it won’t open again for another year. You prepared to stay here for a year?”
I sighed, looking at my stew, then to my friend. “I don’t know, man…there’s just something about this girl.”
Ryan offered me a sad smile. “I know, bud. I just need you to understand, I can’t stay here. This is some real ‘Narnia’ shit—and it’s amazing, but you know my mom’s sick. She needs me. I have to jump back through when the doorway opens again. I—I can’t stick with you on this, if you’re thinking about staying.”
I returned his smile and clapped him on the shoulder. “Totally get it, man. And I could never ask you to do that.”
“Hope you know what you’re doing, Mike.”
“Me too, buddy…”
Visra came trotting up shortly after that. “Hey! You two want to trek up to the snowfalls with me?”
Ryan smiled with a mouthful of venison, waving a hand. “I’m good, your dad offered to show me how to ride a reindeer.” He tipped his head toward the hulking Rinalo. Visra’s father was just outside the frost covered barn, currently saddling up a reindeer, in fact.
“Oh, good for you,” she said, grinning widely.
Ryan matched her grin, clapping my shoulder back. “But Mikey here, would love to join you.”
I chuckled as Visra’s eyes lit up and she held out a hand to me. I took it, feeling my face flush as we headed down through the reddish tree line to the south. Half hour later, we came up to the falls. It was literally a waterfall—but of snow. Fresh, fluffy plumes rolled over the edge of a bubbling white river, like marshmallows falling into a bowl full of—well, marshmallows.
“Michael,” Visra whispered, drawing my attention away from the odd and alluring sight. “I need to show you something.” She held out her hand again.
I fully faced her. Our hands touched and a soft light sparked out between our fingers. “Woah, what was that?”
Her brow raised up, a shy smile parting her lips. “It’s a sign among my people—The Heartlight—a sign of the one we’re destined to spend our life with. I first felt it the night I pulled you out of the car.”
I stared at her…heartbeat thundering in my ears. “I—felt it, too…”
Her smile deepened as a lime green tear rolled down her cheek. I brushed it away with my thumb and she held my hand to her face. Then I pulled her in—into to my chest.
“This light—it’s so incredibly rare, Michael.” She looked up at me. “When you leave, would you—let me come with you?”
I kissed her. Her lips were so soft. She wrapped her arms around me, her warmth enveloping me entirely. “I thought I might stay, actually.”
She let out a sniffle, smiling again nervously. “There’s something else. I—I did…knock down the tree…”
I kissed her again. “I know…”