More Than This
Rowan and Alex followed Abi down the damaged street from the college. The ruptured earth stretched for blocks on end. Most of the trees had been ripped from the roots. They either blocked traffic or had fell into nearby houses. Sirens raced through the city. People shouted and fought in their fear and rage. The city was in a pandemonium.
Alex leaned closer to Rowan and spoke in a whisper, “Who is this crazy chick and why are we following her?”
Rowan's mind was in disarray. His heart still pounded hard against his chest. He had nearly died today. Even worse, he had used his power in public.
“I don't know,” he finally answered. “Either way, she seems to have an idea about whether is going on.”
Abi stopped in front of Rowan's dream house. The house remained untouched from the disaster. It stood tall and proud in all its magnificence. It was the only house undamaged on the street. What was once a marvel of beauty now stood an ominous perplexity.
Abi opened the gate to the front yard. “Come.”
The moment Rowan stepped inside, he felt different in a way he couldn't describe. But there was one thing he knew instantly: the house was alive.
Rowan looked around the yard. The area was more of a garden than a yard. The grass was vibrantly green. The short bushes trailing along the perimeter of the yard hid an array of colorful flowerbeds. Flowers of every kind grew together in a perfect harmony. Even flowers Rowan absolutely knew were inhospitable in California were in full bloom. A bench sat inside a gazebo covered with climbing roses on the left.
Abi walked up the path to the house. Alex pulled Rowan back, “Are you sure this is a good idea? We don't know anything about this chick and she's leading us into unknown territory.”
“Every fiber of my being is telling me I have to.” Rowan gulped back his nerves. “I haven't heard that call since the quake.”
Alex shook his head. “I don't like this.”
“You can go home if you want. I won't blame you.” Rowan took another look around. “There's something disturbing about this place.”
A chuckle escaped Alex. “Glad you feel it too. I thought you'd be sucked into the enchantment of your dream house.”
Rowan took a deep breath. He entered.
Polished wood floors led to a dark corridor. Framed pictures of individuals hung on the walls. Mahogany stands with flowing plants framed the doorways on either side. The stairs led up to a foreboding darkness. The white moldings were perfectly painted to accentuate the pastel yellow walls.
Abi led Rowan and Alex into the left lounge room. Like the rest of the house, plants were strewn around the room. Dark grey couches matched the lavender walls and gathered around a long cherry-wood table. A large rug with an unfamiliar symbol rested underneath. Abi motioned for the boys to sit.
Rowan sat on one of the three grey couches. He watched Abi carefully. She headed to the door. “Where are you going?”
“We have a lot to discuss. A spot of tea will help soothe the process.
Before Rowan or Alex could protest, Abi had disappeared around the corner. Alex faced Rowan. “What are you doing, Rowan? What's going on with you?”
“I've told you already. I've been hearing some kind of call for the past couple of days. I think whatever this call is had something to do with that quake.”
“That's ridiculous. This is the real world, Rowan. Planet Earth. This isn't some fantasy story.”
Rowan looked Alex dead in the eyes. “Alex, I know this is real. Something is calling me and I want to go toward it. I yearn for it.”
“And how is this girl we know nothing about supposed to help you with your crisis?”
“I just feel like she can help. For some reason, I feel like I can trust her.”
Alex crossed his arms and leaned back into the couch. “I hope you know what you're doing.”
Rowan grinned. “Not in the slightest. But I'm glad you're here with me.”
After a few minutes of rising anxiety, Abi returned with a platter holding three cups, half and half, and a teapot. “I have lemongrass, lavender, earl gray, chamomile, and Lipton.” She placed the plate down on the cherry-wood table. “Help yourselves. There is much to go over.”
“You can say that again,” Alex muttered.
Rowan grabbed one of the cups. He held it in his hands for a long minute, staring at the intricate design of blue and thorns. “You said you're a witch.”
“I am. A full-fledged natural witch.”
Alex's mouth dropped. He glared at Rolan again.
“What does that mean for you?”
Abi leaned back. “I am what one might call an 'active witch'. I have access to supernatural abilities that most people only dream about having and I was born with it.”
Rowan's heart skipped a beat. “I have the power of the wind. Does that mean I was born a witch too?”
Abi shook her head. “I don't think so.”
Rowan's gaze fell. He balled his fists. “Then what am I?”
“Don't know, but I think you will find what you're looking for when you answer the call.”
“What is this call?”
Abi poured the hot water into Rowan's empty cup. “The call is a magical means of someone trying to reach you. Someone from another world.”
Alex scoffed. “Right. Do you seriously need to listen to this insane crap any longer?”
“Alex, stop it.” Rowan stared at the steam rising from his cup. “Who is trying to reach me? And what's another world? You're not answering anything. You're just raising more questions.”
“You're right. Let me try this again.” Abi set the teapot down and picked up her steaming cup. “This is hard to explain. I never had to.”
Abi glanced at Rowan. He stared at her with such pain in his eyes. He yearned for answers.
“Let's start with what I do. Long ago, magic was a staple of the human world. Fae, demons, monsters, dwarves, and more lived in harmony with humans. But in their fear and need for power, humans grew violent and started war with the magical realm. After eons of lost souls on both sides, the great wizard Merlin and King Arthur separated both worlds.
“As a witch it is my responsibility to protect both the human world and the magical realm. It is imperative that the human world doesn't know about the magical world. I help keep it that way. And I ensure the magical realm doesn't terrorize the human world.
“But, I think the call you're hearing is not from either. I can faintly hear the call myself but it doesn't seem to come from here.”
“Hence this other world,” Alex said.
Abi nodded. “Have you heard of the multi-verse theory?”
“We read comics. Are you saying there are actually different branches of realities based off of different choices?” Rowan's eyes gleamed.
“Yes. It's a real thing. I think this call is coming from one of these worlds or even an alternate dimension altogether.”
Rowan nudged Alex's shoulder. “The multi-verse is real! That's awesome!”
“And you're saying magic is real too,” Alex shook his head. “What a bunch of hooey fuck.”
Abi chuckled. “That reaction relieves me. It means I'm doing my job well.”
Rowan looked at Alex. “Why do you not believe in magic all of a sudden? You know what I can do.”
Alex got quiet. He looked away.
Abi pulled out a vial with a red liquid inside. “This is a potion meant to remove the veil over a person's eyes so they can see the magical realm.”
Rowan leaned in closer. “I want it.”
“Stay quiet and listen. Once this is taken, there is no going back. Magical creatures will know you are aware of their world and they may get involved with your life. They might even attack. Once the door is open, you can't close it.”
“I've had these powers all of my life. Anything that could lead to an answer on why I have these abilities... anything that could help me find somewhere I belong...”
Alex glanced at Rowan for only a second. He crossed his arms and leaned back.
Abi smiled. “Okay. Here. Add it to your tea.” She handed the vial to him. Rowan uncorked the vial. He hesitated before pouring the liquid. Rowan downed the hot tea. Abi glanced at Alex. “Do you want to see as well?”
“Wouldn't that go against everything you've been working for?”
“I believe you are meant to be a part of this as well. But the choice is yours.”
Alex watched Abi pull out a second vial. He stared at the vial as she placed it on the table for him. He returned his attention to Rowan.
Rowan felt a wave of dizziness hit him. He put his head into his palm. He felt drunk. His stomach felt empty and his chest heavy. The world spun and when he closed his eyes, it only got worse. Rowan's breathing became labored. He held on to the edge of the couch for support.
Abi reached out and touched his shoulder. “Right now, all of the magical barriers preventing you from seeing the magical realm are trying to fight. It makes you feel sick. And it will try to knock you unconscious so the potion doesn't work. All you need do is hold on.”
Alex watched with growing concern. “Is he going to be okay?”
Rowan grabbed Alex's wrist. “I'll be fine. Just... stay with me.” Although his grip tightened around Alex's wrist, Rowan started to slump forward.
“Goddamn it, Rowan.” Alex snatched the vial up and drank it pure out of the bottle. He tossed the empty vial onto the table.
The effects hit Alex immediately. It smacked him like a sumo wrestler swatting a fly. Alex fell back. He tensed as the dizziness and turn of stomach came in full force.
“Once the sickness passes, open your eyes.”
For a crawling ten minutes, the boys writhed on the couch. Rowan fell off as another wave of nausea hit him. Abi watched with no emotions to betray her thoughts.
They felt the pull of their skin and turn of their stomachs ease at long last. They lay in their respected spots while they waited for any sense of normalcy. Their labored breathing softened and the rise of their chests calmed.
Rowan opened his eyes. Instantly, he noticed the change in color hues. Every color was more vibrant, alive. With one look at any of the furniture, he could tell which ones were old and which were new. He knew he felt a soul from the antiques. Red and blue auroras drifted by like breathing animals.
“Whoa...” Rowan got up from the floor and nudged Alex's arm. He couldn't take his eyes off the colors... the visible magic. “You've got to see this, man.”
Alex shooed Rowan away. He turned onto his side. “Whatever you're looking at wasn't worth the pain I just went through.”
Abi chuckled. “I don't think you can be a judge of that until you open your eyes.”
“Fine!” Alex slowly opened one. His eyes popped and he jumped to his feet. He ran his hands through the mists of color in the air. “Holy shit! What is this?!”
Rowan felt a breeze pass his nose. He looked by to see a group of bright lights scurry around the room. He went to reach for one but it nipped his finger.”Ow! What was...?”
The bright orbs hovered around him. Rowan stepped back until he realized there were tiny little women inside the orbs.
A bright blue orb hovered closer to him. The tiny woman inside examined Rowan thoroughly. “I don't get it, Abigail. Why this guy?”
A bright violet colored settled on Abi's shoulder. Her dark skin glowed with the vibrant purple around her. “It's obvious, Tess. -This guy ain't human. There's magic about him.”
Tess huffed. She approached the purple woman and puffed her chest out. “Why he look like a human then?”
“He is a human, ladies,” Abi interjected before the two started fighting. “He has access to magic like us.”
The women flew around his head. Rowan glanced at Abi. “What are these?”
“Sprites. Women of the elements.”
“Nevermind them, who the hell is that?!” Alex pointed to a man standing in the corner. He was tall and handsome with long black hair. His skin paled in comparison to his dark, snug clothing.
Abi sighed. “The ghost of the house, Julius. He's haunted every generation of my family for the past 300 years. He protects the strong witches of the family in exchange.”
Julius crept out of the corner's shadows. “No harm shall come to my witches.”
Rowan felt a chill race down his spine as he stared into Julius's black eyes. They were void of a soul, which Rowan found curious as he was staring at a ghost, a spirit. Ghosts were just manifestations of souls... right?
Julius moved over to Abi. He hovered near her in a protective manner. He caught sight of every thing that got even a smidgen close to her. His stuck close to her, barely inches away. There was adoration when he looked at her, and from her when she looked at him. There was a vibe that just screamed creepy.
“Is it always full of magic like in this room?”
“The world is full of it.”
Rowan scratched the back of his neck. “It's kind of sad to think about how the magical world has to stay hidden. Even when they are not in front of us, no one can see them.”
“They're on a different plane of existence. And most magical creatures want nothing to do with humans.”
Alex held up his hand. “Hold up. What do you mean planes of existence? What the heck are those?”
Abi took a sip of her tea. “Hmmm. How do I describe this?” She closed her eyes and tapped her nose in thought. “Think of it like this. The earth has different levels of energy. These levels are based on the density of that energy. You have heard of people seeing ghosts, right?”
“Of course.” He looked at Julius. Another chill ran down his spine.
“Well, ghosts are part of a different plane. They exist with a different frequency of energy which is why many people can't see them. Only people sensitive to that frequency can see the ghosts. And those people are often called psychics...” She pointed at her nose, “or witches.”
Rowan glanced around the room. He watched Julius return to the shadows as the sprites circled the room. He focused on the vibrant colors he could now see. “And that drink somehow made us sensitive enough to see the magical plane?”
Abi smiled. “Correct!”
“So this call I've been hearing,” The excitement in Rowan's voice had long died, “It's not from any of these planes of existence. It's really from another world?”
“What if I decide not to answer it?”
“The call you've been hearing is affecting this world,” Abi calmly took another sip of her tea. “If it continues to go unanswered, there's no telling what kind of damage will continue to be unleashed on our world.”
Rowan wrung his hands while he thought. Something out of this world beckoned him. “I don’t want anyone else to get hurt… How do I answer this call?”
“You go to it.”
“What?!” Alex pulled Rowan aside. “You can't possibly be thinking of doing this?”
“Can you give us a minute?”
“Take a day. This call has to be answered and I need time to prepare the gate for you to enter.” Abi rose from the couch. She dusted her shirt and clasped her hands together. “I don't want you to think that you don't have a choice, because you do. If you don't want to answer this call, then that's fine.”
Rowan frowned. “But then many innocent people will die.” His gaze fell to the floor. “Like the ones who fell into the ruptured earth today.”
“It’s likely.” Abi sighed. “There’s no telling what would happen. If you don’t answer, the call could very well move on to someone who will. Or it will just stop and we can chalk it up as a natural disaster.”
“Then let it do that,” Alex said. “We will just continue our very normal lives,” He glanced at the sprites nearby, “without the magic.” Tess stuck out her tongue at him.
“You’ve already opened the door. There’s no going back now. I warned you of that.”
Alex puffed his chest and stuck up his nose. “Then I will ignore it to the best of my ability.”
Abi shrugged. “Good luck with that.”
Rowan put his hand on Alex’s shoulder. He felt Alex tense at his touch. Rowan refused to let it bother him though. He kept his attention on Abi to keep his mind off the coming storm. “How long do I have to decide?”
“I will have the gate ready by tomorrow night. Be here then.”
Rowan nodded. “Thank you, Abi, for this and for saving my life earlier.” He led Alex toward the door. “I will be here tomorrow.”
Alex shook Rowan’s hand off and huffed on his way out. Rowan sighed. He waved farewell to Abi and the magical beings in the room.
Outside the house, Rowan was hit by awe… and fear. With his new sight for the magical, Rowan saw his once bleak world in a different light. He suddenly understood there was more to the trees movements than just the gentle brush of wind. The trees themselves were swayed with life. Each individual flourished with life and soul. They danced with or without the wind, they watched life around them, they gave a part of themselves on a daily basis, and they sang.
Colors passed by like brief breezes and disappeared soon after. Creatures Rowan had never seen before raced along the busy streets. Some avoided people and cars while others simply walked through. Other creatures hung around the lively trees. Even broken-down buildings had more life to them, although Rowan couldn’t tell if that was just the vibrant colors or something more.
This hidden world showed the true beauty of the earth. But… Rowan could see the sinister aura creeping over.
Streams of black coursed across the sky above followed by dark and dense clouds. The gentle wind wrestled with an ominous draft. He didn’t know how, but Rowan could feel he was being watched by dark creatures. He knew this ominous aura was from wherever the call he was hearing was from. But it was something else. This ominous aura was WHY he was hearing the call.
Alex had clearly made the connection as well. “What are you thinking, Rowan?”
“That I have to answer whatever it is that's calling me.”
“I think it's a mistake.” Alex opened the gate back onto the decimated roads. He sighed. “All of this. It's too dangerous.”
“Since when did you become the cautious one?”
“When you became the reckless.” Alex made his way toward his car.
Rowan ran after him. “I'm not being reckless, Alex. I just know that I have to do this.”
“Why? Why is it you that has to do this?”
“...” Rowan hung his head. He watched Alex fumble with his keys as he tried to open his car. With balled fists, Rowan followed.
The drive was long and tense. Neither said a word as they inched back to Rowan's apartment. They had to take a detour since their usual route was blocked by the ruptured earth. For nearly a mile, the ruptured earth extended. The streets were backed up with masses of impatient and scared drivers.
A block away from Rowan's apartment, Alex finally spoke. “This is evil. I don't know what's going on. I don't understand this magical realm we can suddenly see or this stupid call you've been saying you've been hearing, but I know that it isn't good. I understand that if you do this, it will change you, forever.”
“You're right. It will.”
Alex parked the car in front of the building. They stepped out and started gathering their things. “Then why do you want to do this?”
A long moment of silence passed. “Because I don't belong here.”
Alex shook his head. “That's ridiculous. Of course you do.”
“No, Alex. I don't.” Rowan made his way to the door. He held it open for Alex. “You know as well as I do that I don’t. I never did.”
“So what does that mean? You're just going to leave for good? Do the people who have been there for you mean nothing?”
“What are you talking about? Of course they do! Of course you do! Why would you even think that?!”
“You’re talking about going to another world, Rowan! Who knows what could happen there! Do you even know how you would get back?”
“I’ll figure it out! I can’t do nothing, Alex!” Rowan threw open the door to his apartment. The place was still a disaster from the morning. “You saw what happened! The more I ignore this, the more damage that could happen! More lives could be lost! And answers!” Rowan laughed to himself. “Alex, this could be the only way I will find the answers I’ve been looking for my entire life! I have to do this!”
“And what if you do? What then?” Alex pointed to the damaged doorway to his room. “What if this world messes up your powers like this morning?”
“They won’t. They only reason my power is unstable is because of this call I’ve been ignoring.”
“And if it’s not? Or if something else causes you to lose control? What if something happens again?”
Rowan tensed. Wind started to circulate around him. “Don’t bring that up.”
“You’re giving me no choice, Rowan. You’re not thinking about the consequences!”
“Look who’s talking! You’re never thinking about the consequences! I have! Lives are in danger.”
Alex threw his hands up in frustration. “Forget it, Rowan. Just leave me out of this!” Alex turned on his heel. He stormed down the hall. He paused and looked back. “At this rate what happened to your father will happen to someone else.”
Rowan turned red with fury. “What the hell do you know?!” The wind around him intensified and grew more ferocious. The nearby walls cracked under the sudden pressure.
Alex shook his head. “There’s my point.” He threw the door open and left the building, slamming the door behind him.
Rowan tried to calm himself. His fists quaked and his heart raced. Rowan closed his eyes. “You don't understand anything...”