Chapter 2

Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.

Luci scrambled away from the touch, scraping her elbows on the snowy gravel. All she saw was fog.


The fog exposed nothing.

She choked out, “Mom?”

No response.

Instinct told her to run. Instead, imagination showed her
body plunging over a cliff. Panic both solidified and liquified
her feet.

Luci lowered her voice. “Mom, is that you?”

The answer was heavy breathing from what sounded like a
mouth stuffed with cotton. Not her mother. Her head swivelled. She saw nothing but suffocating fog. Luci franticly crawled

She tried to regulate her hyperventilating, but her lungs filled
with teeming vapour. She held her breath, as painful as it was, to
hear if the hidden guest was still there. There was only silence.

Luci had never been so happy to hear nothing.
She let her shaky breath out and slowed her nerves. She
adjusted the camera strap that felt like it was choking her.

Luci regretted her decision to binge-watch horror movies,
but at least she knew monsters lived in the dark. The thick walls
of fog would be the opposite, right? Then a scary thought, The
heavy breather brought the mist to cover its arrival.
Luci rolled to her back, wincing. The material on her Wonder
Woman long-sleeved shirt ripped open, exposing elbows torn
down to bleeding pink flesh.

Hands around her camera, she forced her breathing into a
rhythm and clicked the shutter. The f lash illuminated a slight
range, then faded. Maybe the breathing she’d heard was part of a
daymare? If it weren’t, the light would chase away the bogeyman,
she concluded. She clicked photos in a full circle to illuminate
the area. So far, nothing. Pointing the camera towards her toes,
she snapped another blank photo. The shutter echoed. No toothy
mouth screamed at her, no ghostly claws reached to her, and no
murderer lunged for her throat. For a split second, she saw the
road and nothing else. But then the nasal breathing started again.

There was someone here with her.

Luci moved to her right, away from the strained breathing
sounds, and clicked the Rebel’s f lash. The light exposed her
broken phone in the road, but nothing else. The mysterious
company’s breathing grew louder as if walking closer. She heard
no snow-crunching footsteps.

Goosebumps rose on her arms. Luci snapped the shutter
button repeatedly to light the surroundings. She saw nothing.
Luci sighed, shook her head.

“Maybe I am going crazy,” she muttered.

There appeared to be a spot where the fog thinned. Luci stood
and walked across the highway towards the lighter-looking mist.
The thin mist, it turned out, was a shallow, dry cave that
would offer protection on at least three sides of her. The chill from
the fog was less here, but she couldn’t hide from the breathing that
was apparently in her head. It followed.

Luci sat with her arms hugged around her knees, rubbing her
hands along her pants to create body heat. Her spine dug into the
cave wall, and her knee pressed into the rock on the back wall.

She listened to the breathing. Crackles to inhale and huffs
to exhale, each breath as painful to pull in as to push out. Luci
imagined the intruder owned a hidden agony.
She looked at her camera. Would a picture ever pick up on
the internal struggles?

She pointed the camera to the ceiling. Click.

A person hovered in the air.

Luci screamed.

She slammed hard against the cave wall, knocking the wind
out of her chest. Her eyes spun.

“Don’t go hurting yourself,” a woman’s voice said between
heavy breaths.

No way, Luci thought.

She determined she’d lost her mind since there couldn’t be
a woman floating above her head. She clicked the f lash again.
The woman was indeed there, f lying just beneath stalactites that
threatened to impale them both. Luci glanced out of the cave.

She wanted to run, but that was impossible, as she couldn’t see
anything. This just had to be a daymare. She clicked another
photo to double-check.

Heavy breaths. “Can you stop doing that?”

Luci turned on the camera’s viewing screen, which paused
for dramatic effect. Then, the square blurred to life, revealing her
company. It was a woman. Flying. She wore a broken porcelain
doll mask and had splintered porcelain hands. Luci zoomed in on
the flying woman’s face, revealing deep ridges hiding puckered
flesh and painful-looking scars. However, when she scrolled to
the edge to find the seam, Luci realized it wasn’t a mask. Instead,
the woman’s face was fragmented and cracked like a mask.

Piercing yellow eyes were captured in the fuzzy screen. Red
lips like overcooked pottery set in a frown.
The woman’s heavy breathing moved the fog around Luci’s
face when the girl looked up. Unable to say words, Luci squeaked
some type of sound.

Between breaths, the woman asked, “What do you see?”

Luci jumped up. She shuddered when she brushed against the
floating body.

She gulped, “Concord-grape hair swimming as if you’re in
the water.”

“Hmm, I prefer to call the colour ‘blood red of open veins’.”

Luci decided the f lying woman was tragically beautiful and
very dark-minded. The girl muttered. “What is this?”

“I’m a who, not a what. The polite question is, then, who are
you?” the woman said from behind the veil of fog.

Luci swallowed nerves that threatened to spill out. “I’m not
going to ask who you are.”

“Why not get curious?”

“My doctor says its best to not talk to my daymares.”

“There’s no doctor here,” the woman said, “and I don’t know
what a daymare is, but you’ve been summoned to The Otherly.”

Luci snapped another picture. Through the flash, she saw
the woman shield her eyes with an arm that sagged as if made of
bean bags.

“Can you stop with the bright flashes?”

She examined the viewing screen. “I’m trying to decide if
you’re real or not.”

“I’m real alright. Come on. We need to go.”

“What? No. I’m not going anywhere. I need to find my
mother,” Luci said.

“Funny story, your mother is the one who summoned you,”
the woman said.

Luci stepped forward. A swoosh of air told her the woman
moved back to avoid a collision. “She did? Where is she?”

“In The Otherly, let’s go,” the woman said.

She felt more comfortable with the camera set back to rest
against her chest, near her heart. “What’s The Otherly?”

“Come with me and find out.”

Luci laughed a sceptical one syllable. “I know better than to
go anywhere with strangers.”

The woman sighed, “That’s why you should ask who I am.”

Luci squinted hard into the fog, which showed nothing of the
scarily stunning face. She didn’t want to entertain this woman’s
request, but she also claimed to know her mother’s whereabouts.

And she couldn’t risk passing up a lead.

“Is she hurt?” she asked.

“No,” the woman replied.

Good. The girl relaxed. “Where is she?” she asked.

There was no response.

“You told me you knew where my mother is. Where is she?”
Luci repeated.

“I’ve answered that question twice now. Your mother is in
The Otherly. Besides, I thought we were starting with my name.”

“Is this some type of game to you?” Luci asked.

Dead silence.

The girl caved. “Fine, what’s your name?”

“My name is Grentsth, and I’m the gatekeeper of The Otherly.”

“OK, Grentsth, can you please tell me what The Otherly is
before I even consider following you?” Luci asked.

“A parallel world.”

Luci furrowed her brow. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“An alternate universe,” she said.

“Not sure that sounds any better.”

“I suppose not, but it’s my job to deliver you. The sooner we
go, the quicker the task is completed. That’s the faster I can go
back to floating peacefully in the dead forest.”

“This is sounding worse by the second,” Luci said. She tried
to look around for an alternative route to following a f lying
woman with a cracked clay mask for a face, but the fog remained
a mystical barrier to the world Luci knew so well. “How do I
know you’re not going to hurt me?” she asked.

Dumb question.

A snort. “How do I prove my sincerity to you?” Grentsth

That’s a legit question, thought Luci, and I have no idea.

Freezing droplets from the fog clung to her clothing, causing
violent shivers.

“Get rid of this fog,” Luci commanded.

An irritated sigh from the woman preceded a single clap.

Then, as if a fan turned on, the fog blew swiftly out of the cave.

The mist charged down the highway, collecting every inch before
funnelling back into the clouds and disappearing. The sun tipped
to the west, indicating evening would fall soon.

Luci blinked. She turned back to the flying woman and took
in her appearance in the light.

She wore a chong kben pantsuit decorated with printed waxy
lotus flowers. The cloth hung limply off the woman’s body as if
a mere skeleton held the broken porcelain head. In the light, she
looked ancient. Her shattered palm turned upward to shield the
sunlight from her eyes.

Luci took a long fresh breath, savouring the clean air. “That
was something, thank you. Now I have to go call for help,” she
said, glancing to where the car sat deserted.

She stood to exit the shallow cave.

“Lucille, I’m not playing anymore,” Grentsth said.

“Pardon?” she asked. “How do you know my name?”

“Everyone in The Otherly knows your name.”

“I don’t know what your—”

Grentsth twisted thin porcelain fingers tightly around Luci’s

“What are you doing?” Luci shrieked.

Grentsth’s superhero grip slid up Luci’s arm. She shrank
back from the pain the flying woman inflicted, hitting with her
opposite hand.

“Let go,” Luci demanded.

Grentsth’s frozen lips didn’t move with her words. “There’s
no time for this. I need to complete my task so I can get back to
relaxing,” Grentsth said.

The flying woman burst into the air, dragging Luci with
unnatural strength. They darted straight to the opposite wall of
the cave. The girl screamed in anticipation of smashing into stone,
but suddenly they were through.

They soared above a miniature forest made of dollhouse sized
trees. Luci’s feet dangled as Grentsth flew her through the
air away from the cave. The trees became taller as they travelled,
like a forest built on separated decades of replants.

“Stop!” Luci hollered.

The flying woman spun her head as if it were unattached to
her body, and murmured. Then she attempted a smile, causing
new splinters to spread from the corners of her mouth. “There’s
no going back.”

The trees shifted into an ominous collection of heavy leaf less
branches that hung like dead men from nooses.

The venomous honey voice of Grentsth filled the air. She was
singing, but Luci didn’t understand the words. The song f lowed
like water, each syllable longer than the last, like waves crashing
atop each other. The forest swayed as if basking in Grentsth’s
foreign music. Luci couldn’t deny the melody was nice, as it
faded the eeriness in the forest. She hoped she was indeed moving
towards her mother.

Grentsth slowed, and Luci relaxed. Her muscles tense from
being pulled through the air. The woman loosened her grip and
lowered until Luci’s feet nearly touched the ground, then swooped
into a clearing and through a tunnel. It was pitch black for a
second, then they emerged on a long f lat stone.

That’s where Grentsth let go of Luci’s arm. She fell with a
plop to the freakishly f lat rock. Luci looked around. There was
no one else there. Silence.

“Where’s my mother?” she asked.

Grentsth pointed to the end of the flat rock. “That way.”

Beyond the drop-off was a landscape devoid of high-rises
and aeroplanes. Instead, it looked like a wildlife reserve with
cartoonishly bright colours splattered on mountain ranges and
rolling hills. Luci took a step, and Grentsth shot overhead to swim
in the air.

Luci walked between scattered bristlecone pine trees. Thick
green vines coloured the leaf less trees, sprouting from the rockbursting

At the edge of the stone, lime-scented water spewed magically
from the cliff lip. It crashed forty feet below into a steamy pool
that trickled down into a river. Like millions of diamonds, the
spray sparkled into one perfect cloud where Grentsth floated.

Wow, Luci thought, then said, “But why the dramatics of
bringing me here? If my mother is down there, I mean.”

Grentsth rolled to her back and shrugged. The cloud shifted beneath her movement as if she were on a pool floaty. “This is as
far as I can go.”

“Where is she then?” Luci asked.

Grentsth rolled her eyes, which sounded like scratching
marbles together. “In The Otherly. I don’t know how many times
I have to tell you this,” she said.

The porcelain woman dropped through the cloud, breaking
it into a halo. Then, beneath the cloud, she closed her eyes,
pretending to sleep.

“I get that, but where exactly?” Luci asked.

Grentsth waved towards the landscape beyond the cliff.
“Somewhere that way.”

Luci’s stomach dropped. The land stretched far. Too far.
“How will I know which way to go?” she asked. Then, on
second thought, she added, “You promised you would take me
to my mother.”

“I have. Welcome to The Otherly.”

“But I don’t see my mom. And saying ‘that way’ looks like a
huge amount of land to cover. Can’t you take me right to her?”
Luci asked.

“No, as the gatekeeper, I am chained between Earth and the
entrance to The Otherly.”

Luci didn’t see a door. “Where’s the entrance?”

“You don’t pay much attention at all, do you? I just brought
you through the gate. It’s abstract. It would help if you had a key
to open it,” Grentsth said.

Luci crossed her arms. “Let me guess, and you’re the key.”

Grentsth popped an eye open, smirked, and kicked off the
cloud to shoot overhead towards the cave. Luci ran after her,
yelling, “Hey! How did my mother get in this place if you’re the
key? Did you bring her here? I need more answers.” The woman
didn’t stop. “And I was just starting to like you!”

That made Grentsth stop. Her head spun on a beanbag neck. “No, I didn’t bring her here. I don’t know how she got here.”
She winked with a chalkboard scratching sound. “And I like you
too,” she beamed.

Luci sighed, resigned to the fact that she’d have to do this
alone. “Please, can you tell me how I find my mom from here?”

“What will you give me for the information?”

Luci dug in her pocket and produced the pack of gum. She
opened the package to find three pieces. She stuffed one back
in her pocket and gave Grentsth two sticks of flat Juicy Fruit

Grentsth ran the foil under her nose, inhaling the sugary scent.
Her strained breathing sounded easier for a moment. “Smells
yum. Find the man with the yellow fields. He’ll help.” She used
her ceramic fingers to pry her mouth open and stuffed both pieces
of gum, foil included, into her mouth. The force of her chewing
caused f lakes of porcelain to rain down from her cheeks. She flew
to the cave. Just before disappearing, she turned back. “I almost
forgot. You can’t return to Earth until you complete three trials
to open a door.”


Grentsth disappeared into the cave.

A sound next to Luci made her jump. She turned and was face
to face with a doe the colour of fresh caramel on ice cream. The
deer dipped her head. “Is she always that helpful?” Luci asked,
not expecting an answer.

The only way into the lands was down the waterfall.

The sound of thunder overhead, yet a glance up told her
the sky was a smooth blue sky. Perfectly coloured, like a movie
backdrop. She couldn’t even see the sun to tell which direction
she faced. Strange, Luci thought. She’d seen the sun before the fog,
and it had seemed to be setting. Now it appeared to be midday
with how bright the sky was.

She walked back to the edge of the waterfall and looked down. The doe followed close beside her. At the bottom, next
to the white-capped pool, was a mint-green grassy knoll, where
something lay curled in a ball. Luci saw it was a fawn between the
wafts of crashing water mist. His leg was haphazardly twisted, and
he lay still in a pool of cartoon-red blood. His chest was hardly
rising and falling.

The doe nosed Luci’s elbow. She moved away from the doe
because her skinned f lesh stung viciously. The doe’s caramel eyes
were pleading with silent tears.

“That’s your baby, isn’t it?” Luci asked without expecting an

The doe stared with sad glossy eyes at the growing red puddle
beneath the fawn. A fall from this height, the baby deer was lucky
to be alive.

With no plan, Luci examined the drop for what felt like
forever. The rocks along the cliff face were jagged, unlike the
unnaturally smooth lip she stood on. The cliff was the height of
an Olympic diving board, and the mental image of diving into a
pool made her gag.

The width of the waterfall was narrow, leaving half the cliff
bare. She could climb down, but how would she get the fawn
back up? There was no way she could climb with an injured deer
on her back.

She needed to get down to find her mom. She’d hopefully be
able to help the fawn too.

The doe disappeared for a moment and returned with a
mouthful of vines ripped off a tree.


Luci thanked the wilds for the rock-scaling knowledge her
father had always insisted on sharing.

Her father spoke in her mind, Overestimate, never underestimate,
the length of rope you need.

A massive tree sat on the edge of the drop. Vines hung from branches over the edge. Luci thought she saw one vine slither
and reach. Impossible. She squinted at the greenery, which held
sporadic banana plant-sized leaves.

Luci unwove vines from trees. Others she had to rip off.
Some fell off in bundles as if wanting to be collected and part of
the solution.

She coiled several piles of the building material, guesstimated
how much she needed, then collected double the amount. Finally,
Luci tied vines into rope under the crystalline blue sky with a
furrow on her forehead. The sky never darkened or changed
from blue.

After what felt like forever, but could have been as short as a
couple of hours, she completed seventy feet, more or less, of the
braided vine. Hopefully, not too much less. She stood over the
piles and contemplated what to do next. Her father’s advice came
to her through the fog of uncertainty.
Don’t step on your rope. The bends will cause weak points.

Luci looped one end over the forty-five-degree bend in the
tree before dropping the length down the cliff, and then she tied
the ends together. A firm tug. It should be strong enough.
It stopped several feet from the ground. Luci hoped it was
fewer feet than bone-breaking distance.

Preview the route, Luci’s father said in her mind.

Luci knelt and took mental snapshots of the path down. She
noted where the small ledges were, anywhere she could rest if

She made a harness by tying the larger-than-her-forearm
leaves and vines together. She stepped into it. Snug. If she
happened to lose her footing, it might save her life. It was no
belay, but it would do.

Luci looped a smaller rope around the harness and attached it
to the rope hanging over the cliff. The saddle would slide down along one vine, and she would control the descent speed while
holding the other rope.
That was the plan. Now to just step off the cliff and put it to
the test.

She sat down. The doe nudged her with that damp nose again.

“I know. Time is low for your baby,” Luci said.

She turned and lowered her body over the edge. She stretched
to the first foothold and stood against the cliff, forty feet in the air.
She faked courage as if her father watched. She’d never
attempted this alone. She didn’t even want to think about the
fact she didn’t have proper climbing equipment. But she had
confidence in her rock-scaling abilities.

A pebble fell, and her foot slipped.

The unexpected action made her palms sweat.

“Don’t be cocky,” she said to herself.

She glanced at her pink flats, growled at her stupidity, and
kicked them off. They plopped into the roaring pool below and

She lowered to the next ledge. Her bare toes gripped the
titan-sized rocks.

Keep your rope hanging free.

Luci glanced up at the tree. There were no obstacles to prevent
the rope from gliding smoothly. Another stone came loose, and
this time a cascade of rocks tumbled. She clung to the sheer rock.
Spray from the pool below splashed up from the rocks, but she
was too high for it even to reach her toes.

Heights didn’t bother her, so looking down wasn’t an issue,
but she kept her eyes trained on the next step she wanted.
Look to where you want to go. If you don’t want to fall to the bottom,
don’t look there.

Concentrating on her father’s advice kept Luci moving down
the cliff. She pressed her face into the unsympathetic rocks for
breaks. Watch for rotten rock. Like fool’s gold, it’s there to deceive you.
Luci slid her foot along a thin ledge, moving the loops down
the vine to reposition them. Then took another reaching step

Stay away from cracks in the rock. They are not footholds. They are
body droppers.

The vertical drop peppered with fake footholds seemed
to mock her. She shuddered at the realization that the cracks
mimicked Grentsth’s face. She glanced up to the top of the cliff
but saw only the mama doe’s face watching.

Each climb is like a Rubik’s cube, a riddle to solve on your way.

Luci’s father reached out an invisible hand to show the way.

Distribute your weight to your feet. Don’t rely on your hands.

Even in her mind, he spoke kind and confident.

Don’t hug the cliff face. It doesn’t love you. It wants you to fail.

Another manoeuvre and she was near halfway to the bottom.

The rocks collected droplets from the splashing pool below now.

Her confidence flatlined, and her descent slowed.

Don’t trust your equipment. It’s your body and brain that need to

Luci’s hands stung, and her muscles cried from exhaustion.
She wished Grentsth would have flown her to the bottom of the

Luci felt the warmth of her breath reflecting off the cliff. Her
hands shook when she tried to reposition a weakening grip.
She stopped for a rest.

A memory of an old photograph of her father came to mind,
with his bright blue eyes shining up at the invisible cameraman on
a bridge. Her father hung in his mid-air harness. The drop worthy
of a bungee cord without an ounce of fear. He’d been at least
seventy feet in the air. Neon-green grass bordered the picture. It
was a perfect reflection of the pride he took in his work as a rock
blaster, even in the face of danger.

The image brought strength to Luci.

She descended the cliff, thankful for her father’s long hours
teaching her the butterfly knot, slip knot, and double fisherman’s
knot. Those simple loops in the vines right now were holding her
life away from death.

The fall might not kill you, but a sudden stop will.

The cliff ominously smiled as Luci’s breathing increased. She
was tired. And thirsty.

The middle is no man’s land, don’t linger, push forward.

Grentsth’s voice carried over the top of the cliff, “Look at
you go.”

Luci growled, “It would have been faster if you’d flown me
to the bottom.”

“That goes against the rules of the trial,” Grentsth called.

Luci rolled her eyes and descended another step. “Of course.”

“What was that?”

“I can’t wait to find my mother,” Luci yelled.

“Yes, your mother, Keres, will be happy when you find her,”
Grentsth called back.

Keres? Luci jerked her head up, but the sudden movement
made her hand slip. Then the rope snapped. Her foot skidded,
and she fell.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: