I’m sorry, Noah, it reads on the back of the faded postcard he holds. It’s not safe here. Go home. I’ll catch you later.
There’s no signature, not that Noah needs one. Not when he can find that familiar lopsided scrawl etched onto the left side of his soul.
Not when he already knows he’s late.
I’m sorry, Noah.
It isn’t the first time he’s been left behind to deal with the aftermath of those words. They replay over and over in his mind, like a song that’s stuck in his head, one that he accidentally learned all the lyrics to.
It’s not safe here.
He wants to unlearn these words.
In a moment of flickering frustration, Noah rips up the postcard into quarters, and lets them go into the clutches of the wind.
He watches as the pieces of ‘Greetings from Kil-where!’ flutter away until they become only dark spots against the red sky.
He wishes the Drift could let go of Colin that easily.
(“There’s no sun in Kil-where,” Colin had once told him. They had been lying on the back deck at their house in Anchorage, watching as the day slowly faded into night. It’d been the summer before high school, before Colin’s already-sharp edges pierced the sky.
“No moon there, either. Completely uninhabited.”
“Must be pretty lonely there,” Noah had muttered sleepily, barely keeping his eyes open.
“It is. It really is, Noah.”)
The purple sands of Kil-where shift beneath Noah. He crumples to the desert ground and does another count of the number of times he’s let himself get caught in this moment between two trapezes.
Catch you later.
Six times. That’s how many times Colin’s promised to catch Noah, and how many times he’s pulled his hand away from him at the very last moment.
Six different worlds. Six different skies. Six different failures.
He’s never seen a sky this red before; at least that’s new to him.
Noah lies down in the surprisingly cool sand and lets his own tears of anger fall. He stares up at the empty red sky of Kil-where, and waits for this world to end, too.
“I’m sorry, Noah.” It’s not the first time Colin’s speaking these words, and it won’t be the last.
It’s the night before Colin leaves for those six different skies. They’re both eighteen years-old, and Colin’s leaned up against the kitchen sink, looking like the kind of boy people write tragedies about. His shaved head matches the light of the moon peeking through the windows, and his nose is broken in three places now instead of two.
It’s the first time Noah’s seen him all day, and the rumor of the fight at school finally comes full circle.
“Just...don’t go. Please.”
These words mark Noah as another character in a tragedy, too. Just a different kind.
Colin smiles sadly, but he doesn’t take Noah’s hand.
“I’ll catch you later, Noah.”
The Drift reaches for him and doesn’t let go.
Noah reaches for him, too, and misses.
Question: What is the Drift?
a) a dance move that originated from the 1980's. You know, the one with the leg and the hip thrust. Yeah, that one.
b) a secret plane of existence in the universe that selects people without rhyme or reason, thus giving them the ability to travel between worlds and different dimensions.
c) a horrible, horrible thing that needs to learn how to let go.
d) all of the above.
The first time Noah meets Colin, he tries to evict him from their house.
“He shouldn’t be wearing my clothes,” he’s trying to explain to his mothers, Rosalie and Manon. Colin sits out of earshot at the kitchen table, scarfing down lasagna like he hasn't eaten in three months, which, knowing the Drift, is probably true. “I don’t care if he’s from the Drift. He should get his own clothes.”
It’s basic ten year-old logic. He should have known better; Rosalie’s from the Drift, too, and Manon has a soft spot for wandering souls.
Colin doesn’t know anymore better than Noah. His mothers think he’s ten years-old, too, like Noah, but unlike Noah, he smiles too much and he looks as if he’s made out of the sharp pieces of glass you find in an alleyway that you could cut yourself with if you aren’t careful. He’s too easily impressed by the microwave; he doesn’t even know who Spider-Man is, which, to Noah, is more than enough of a reason to not trust him.
He doesn’t know about the Drift, either, even though it's the closest thing he's ever had to a home. Then again, not a lot of people do.
(He later learns the reason behind Colin’s sharpness; the Drift hadn’t been kind to him, and in turn, he’d somehow misplaced the coordinates that would have shown him how to be a normal boy, a boy who hadn’t been chosen by the Drift. He lost that part of himself among the stars and the moons, and the Drift never gave it back to him).
“The Drift.” The words fall from Colin’s lips like yellow ribbons as he sits at their kitchen table, wearing a dazed expression and Noah’s clothes that don’t fit him right; Noah’s wearing his pajamas and a seething glare sent towards the direction of Colin. Neither boy knows what to make of the other, so they each keep their distance.
“I’ve spent a long time in the Drift, too, Colin,” Rosalie is saying as she tries to explain. She squeezes Manon’s hand, and Noah just knows she’s thinking of yellow ribbons, too. “When you touched down here, in Anchorage, I-I just knew.”
“A drop in the ocean,” Manon says softly. Rosalie nods her head in agreement.
“Right. A drop in the ocean. I needed to get to you before you disappeared again. It’s not safe out there, kid.”
World after world. Time after time. The Drift had latched onto Colin and wouldn’t let go, until Anchorage. Until Noah’s mother, Rosalie Black, grabbed him by the ankle like a floating astronaut without his tether because she too knows what it’s like to get caught in the Drift, to keep moving forward and never look back (until Anchorage; the two of them will always have Anchorage).
Rosalie Black fought against the universe and won, and all she got was a scrawny kid who doesn’t even remember where he comes from because he’s been flying for too long.
She should’ve gotten something cooler, Noah thinks to himself. Like a phone. Or a car.
Later that night, when Noah’s parents are sleeping, he tricks Colin into going outside and locks him out of the house. He hadn’t been thinking of how cruel he was being; the only thought on his ten year-old mind at the time was that he didn’t want to share his mother with the Drift anymore than he had to.
He presses his back up against the front door after he locks it, and waits for Colin to start crying or yelling, something a normal ten year-old would do. Something Noah would do.
Instead, he hears humming. Colin’s humming softly, and it’s so weird that it causes Noah to open the front door and stare at him in bewilderment as he stands there humming on the front steps without a trace of the anger Noah wanted him to have.
“The capital of Alaska is Juneau,” he tells Noah brightly. “Manon told me that.”
Noah’s not sure what to do with that because he’s ten years-old and because the Drift never chose him like it had with Rosalie and Colin and because the capital of Alaska is Juneau and-
And because the capital of Alaska is Juneau.
“I already knew that,” he scoffs as he lets Colin back in; he has the sinking feeling that Colin would’ve stayed out there all night otherwise. “I’ve lived in Alaska my entire life.”
Colin considers him thoughtfully, and this time when he smiles, there’s no glass hidden behind it.
“I’ve never lived anywhere before in my life,” he admits, and it makes Noah feel sad. He doesn’t understand why.
He also feels guilty for trying to kick Colin out of the house, so he pours him a cup of juice that he’s normally not allowed to have after dinner and he even lets Colin have his bed while he takes the floor.
He tries not to laugh too harshly when Colin falls while walking up the stairs, and he pretends to not hear him when he wakes up crying with shuddering breaths like a heartbeat. He helps Colin with his homework later, and he teaches him all about Anchorage and Alaska, and everything else he could possibly want to know.
They’re both ten years-old (maybe?), and neither of them knows what to make of the other, but they learn. They eventually learn.
There are two kinds of people who know about the Drift:
1) Those who have been chosen by the Drift and use their newfound gift to travel far and wide.
2) Those who are left behind.
If the Drift doesn’t choose you in the way that it’s chosen people like Rosalie and Colin, it will do it’s very best to kick you out. Forcefully.
Noah can’t travel through the Drift on his own, so he has to rely on thoughts of Colin to guide him and the Drift’s insistent need to toss him out like garbage with each dimension he comes across (It’d been Rosalie who’d brought him to the first world. She’d looked as if she were going to cry the entire time, and the sandwiches she’d packed for him had tasted like melancholy).
World after world, time after time, Noah’s been given the boot six times by the Drift in his pursuit of Colin, and six different times he comes to the conclusion that there are no words in the human language that could ever describe the sensation of jumping between worlds.
This time, the best words he can use are: AHHHHHH and WHAT THE EVER-LOVING SHIT.
Needless to say, the next time he sees Colin, he’s going to punch him. Or hug him. He hasn’t decided yet.
Once he’s finished retching and has finally managed to steady himself, Noah takes in his surroundings.
At first, this seventh stop seems almost...normal.
He’s in a forest, surrounded by trees and large, sun-bleached boulders that look as if they had fallen right out of the sky. The grass beneath him feels soft and warm, and from nearby, he can hear birds chirping, singing the songs of youth and summer days.
It reminds him of home, until he looks up through the spaces between the tree branches above him and takes in the sight of a giant ball of flame that’s roughly the size of Pluto suspended in the sky.
He races towards the direction of the impending fireball, until he reaches the edge of the forest. He jumps out into an open field of tall grass, surprising a group of white birds that all burst into flight with nervous calls to each other.
The longer he stares at it, it becomes more clear to him that this giant mass of flame and gas isn’t actually moving any closer towards the surface of this planet. It’s stuck. Frozen in time.
(“The planet is called Fye,” Colin had told him one day as they were walking home from school. It had just rained, and the muddy road they were walking down wasn’t helping very much. Noah didn’t mind though; not when he’s with Colin.
“I would spend days there, just watching that ball of fire, never reaching the surface,” Colin continued, and he’d sighed wistfully. He’d been sporting a fresh purple bruise on his jaw, and it confused the hell out of Noah more than anything else in all of the worlds, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask about it.
Instead, he’d ducked his head with a scowl and flicked Colin in the shoulder.
“You’re not supposed to stare at the sun, idiot.”
“It’s not a sun, though! Or a star! It’s a giant, round mass of fire, with a core made up of iron and carbon and-”
“You are literally describing the sun, Colin.”)
After he comes to terms with the fact that he’s not in immediate danger of being burnt to a crisp, Noah makes his way across the field of tall grass. He can easily picture a younger version of Colin spending his days here, lying in the grass without a care in the world as Death’s fiery shadow hangs over him.
Not for the first time, Noah wishes he’d known Colin back then, back before he came tumbling down into Anchorage and into his life like a knife stab in the middle of the night, and then leaving just as quickly.
(It’s unfair. All of it’s just really unfair).
After almost an hour of walking, or at least what he thinks is an hour - time flows differently when you’re Drifting - he finds another note from Colin, pinned up against a fallen log, this time written on the back of a receipt from Walmart.
Go home, Noah, it reads. I’ll catch you later.
P.S. Don’t look at the sun!
“Idiot,” Noah mutters, but he stuffs the receipt in his pocket anyways and continues walking, waiting for the Drift to take him away.
“Did you know Noah, that the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen are the Northern Lights?”
“Like, here? In Anchorage?”
“Here. At home.”
“You’ve traveled to other dimensions, to other worlds, and that’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”
They’re both seventeen years-old when the Drift starts to sing Colin’s name again.
Colin’s never home; the space above the garage they converted into his bedroom is always empty, always cold. He gets into fights at school on the days he bothers to show up. His smile is as sharp as ever, and he comes home one day with his head shaved; Manon bursts into tears.
To Noah, he looks as if he wants to smash every window in existence.
Everyone still loves him, though. Who wouldn’t? Look at him, look at this boy who appears as if he’ll sprout a pair of wings at any minute! they say. Look at this boy, even Alaska, this country’s largest state, is too small for him!
Everyone loves him.
Noah loves him.
He loves him enough to know that he’s never home because he’s been caught in the song of the Drift again, that he’s off traveling because if he doesn’t, something might crack within him.
A crack. There’s a crack in the glass.
He’s supposed to have Anchorage. Manon. Rosalie. Noah. They’re supposed to keep him grounded, away from the Drift.
It’s not enough. He's floating away from them all. He can’t keep waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him.
Icarus in reverse. Colin doesn’t fall from the sun; the sun looks to him.
A crack. It’s a splintering crack in the sidewalk, in the shadows of the alley.
“I’m sorry, Noah,” he says for the first time one morning. He’s just returned from God-knows-where, and he’s drenched to the bone in water from a distant ocean Noah will never see, shivering like an earthquake.
Noah slides over his cup of coffee to him - Colin needs the warmth more than he does - and says:
“Just don’t forget to come home.”
He forgives him. He always forgives him because the Drift reaches for him and doesn’t let go.
There’s a part of himself missing, and he needs to find it.
(It’s unfair. All of it’s just really unfair).
The next time the Drift grabs hold of Noah, it spits him back out at a familiar place with brutal force.
Anchorage. He’s back in Anchorage.
For a moment, he’s scared that he lost sight of Colin within his thoughts. That he’s lost him forever, and that’s why he’s back here, standing on a familiar dock that’s only a couple of miles away from his house.
He’s scared, and he’s scared, until he sees him there, at the edge of the dock.
The night sky above them bursts into color.
(“Did you know Noah, that the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen are the Northern Lights?”)
Noah can’t decide if he wants to punch or hug Colin, so he goes for a tackle instead, careful to not knock them over into the ice below. The air becomes thick with laughter and sharp edges and Colin and Noah.
“I’m sorry, Noah,” Colin says with a watery voice and a cracked smile as he looks up at Noah from where he lies against the wooden planks of the dock. “I’m really sorry.”
“Idiot,” Noah says, and he shuts the rest of Colin’s apologies out with a kiss that can be seen all the way from Jupiter.
(Those words. He never wants to hear those words again).
“Why’d you come back?” Noah finally dares to ask.
They’re leaning against each other on the dock, the chill of the September air bringing them together. Colin’s on Noah’s left, and his edges are still sharp and Noah’s still a little bit angry like he always is, but it’s okay; they can still see these edges together.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about Anchorage,” Colin says; his voice is soft. “About Rosalie and Manon. You. Aurora Borealis. I wanted to get away from here so badly. I waited but... but I think it was just the Drift making me feel that way. It’s lonely out there, you know?”
Colin hums to himself, and this time, there are no doors for Noah to lock. He presses himself closer to Noah, crooked alleyways and splintered bottles and all, and says:
“I think I'm home, Noah. I’m really home.”