Because @charminglyantiquated is the coolest person ever, there is now a super-awesome fandom for her comic, Elsewhere University, and because she is even cooler and lets us write stuff for it, I thought I’d take her up on her offer.
You press the iron necklace into your skin, and you bite your lip until you taste blood, and you walk into the doorway that you’ve never seen before and pray for a miracle.
You don’t really think that it will work, but you do it anyway.
They took her about a week ago, while she was walking home from sleeping over-with you. You stupid, idiotic moron. You should have said, “it’s too early.” You should have said, “skip your 8 AM, it doesn’t matter, you’ll pass anyway.” You should have said, “you have a salt packet, right?” But you didn’t. When she didn’t text you all day, when you called her 2, then 5, then 20 times, when you ran home praying that she was lying in bed watching Netflix or working on her english project, when you burst in through the door and the room was dark and cold and empty, then you knew. And you cried and cried all night, begging whatever was listening that they wouldn’t hurt her, toy with her, change her. Praying that they’d give her back. People come back, they do it all the time. Maybe it wasn’t…permanent. You try not to think of how many English majors have vanished this year alone.
And as the days passed, and there was no sign of her, or even something that looked like her, you slowly come to accept what you must do.
You went to Shell (has three turtles, that’s how he chose the name) and you buy an iron necklace, for you do not have one of your own.
“Dude-” Shell starts as you drop the Twizzlers on the table (he picked up the habit of trade over there. he was there for a while. not all of the reptiles in his cage may be turtles.) “-don’t do this.”
“Just give me the necklace.” You don’t want time to doubt this, to second guess, to think of your dad and your aunt patty and your cousin blake who you really wanted to see grow up-
“Look, I’m as sorry about Ash as you are, but…this…what you’re planning?…it won’t work, Willow. It just won’t.”
They had both chosen tree names, to be called by. They’d met as a mixer, and she’d used it as a dumb conversation starter. She had been so beautiful that night, her skin absorbing the light and glowing with a brown radiance that reminded her of the sun.
“Just give me. The necklace.” she spat, hands clenched and tears dripping off her eyelashes.
He sighed, but reached under the counter and dropped it on the pockmarked wooden surface (screwed in with iron screws. he took no chances, not anymore.) he stared at her, eyes hard but burning with regret.
“I know them, Willow. I wasn’t there for…” he drifted off, his eyes fuzzing a bit. time is different there. he was gone for about a month when one of the RA’s finally did something-he was a TA, and he was the resident “merchant” on campus, and he was needed. he said it was longer over there. that was all he ever said, except for the midnight sleep-screaming, and occasional chanting. he shook his head and resumed.
“…but I know them, ok? you won’t get her back, not if they want her, and definitely not if you demand her. and if you do manage to get her? there’s a price. there’s always a price. and it’s always too high to pay. always.”
she grasps the iron necklace, shaped like a circle, like eternity, in her clammy palm, and says, “she is beyond price.”
You went to one of the “thin places” (think liminal/the copse of trees next to the sorority that has some girls with skin that is far too pale and eyes that are much too bright ) and you stand there, and say, “i am coming to reclaim what is mine.”
silence, but one that is filled with words.
“she is mine, and i am hers, and i intend to have her back.”
a thin wind rises, and it like the hissing laugh of cruel ancient things.
you straighten your shoulders, and you resist the urge to grasp the iron circle, and you say “let us begin.” (bring it seemed too high school, and there is a way of going about these things that even she must follow)
and then the door was clear and defined in the trees, and you taste your blood and your fear and you enter.
she is so beautiful here, but in a way that screams wrong. her thick black hair, her glowing brown eyes, her deep brown skin, it is ethereal here in the wrong way, not the ethereal it is supposed to be, has always been to her. and her eyes are vacant and empty, not full of wit and love and grace. she is wrong, and you intend to fix her. if you can.
the thing on the throne, the roots twisted like muscle, stares at you from the other side of eternity, and finds you wanting.
“she is ours.” the thing said, its voice like wind through the leaves, or a knife up a spine. “you have no right to claim her.”
“i love her. i have every right.” the thing laughs, and that is the worst kind of sound you have ever heard. it is a laugh that has nothing in it to make it a laugh.
“love means nothing. you say you are each other’s? this means nothing.” it leans forward, on its root throne, and for a moment you step back. “no one you love is special. death will come for you all. that is all that matters, for you. it is all that will every matter.” it leans back, and smiles with too many teeth. “we give her trinkets, and long life, and the pleasure of being chosen. what can you offer, but death?”
you want to have some speech prepared, some grand statement of freedom and love and the power of humanity, but the words are like dead leaves in your mouth. they will mean nothing to it. they barely mean anything to you.
“i want her back. you do not need a reason to take. i do not need a reason to take back.”
at this, the thing actually nods. “very well. what do you offer? what will i gain, for losing a treasure?”
she knows she is a dead woman, perhaps not literally, but in all the ways that matter. so long as Ash is safe, alive and well and writing stupid papers until 2 in the morning, she will be content.
“take what you want.”
it grins so wide she thinks its face will split.
a life for a life.
you hate yourself. but the thought of ash, asleep in bed at home and safe and with eyes that are hers and are filled with life, you can get through it.
he comes, as you knew her would. the phone call, panicked, “i’ve got her! i’ve got her! but i think she’s drugged or something you just know so much about this, can you help please please please?” he runs down the path, approaching the copse of trees you stand next to, in the dark, so dark he can’t see you’re alone.
“hey! I’m here!” Shell gasps, skittering to a halt with a pack bouncing off his leg. “i’ve got some stuff i think might help, where is she?”
you look him in the eye (you owe him that at least) and you say, “I’m sorry.” you say “it was the only way.”
he doesn’t scream, as you half-expected him to. he’s too smart for that. he turns and run, sprints, gallops away, flinging ramen packets as he goes. its not enough.
the trees grow close, and he suddenly falls into them, like a cartoon character. his eyes catch yours before he vanishes into the blackness between the boughs. there is not even room for hatred in all the brokenness.
he is gone, and then wind is cold and filled with the laughter of cruel things.
a life for a life.
the price is always too high, because they take something and the taking rips the life from you.
disclaimer: i am very white so pleasepleaseplease tell me if my writing of a black character was racist or demeaning in any way! i just wanna help and make more positive representation, but PLEASE tell me if I’m being racist or stepping over a line! thanks!