Tiny yellow spheres pepper the moonlit sky. The illuminating orbs look more like planets than stars. I am grateful for the increase in light even if it is so minuscule. The foreign shadowy terrain sends chills snaking down my spine and a wave of panic pulsating through my body. What do I do now? Am I stuck in some mystical world or alternate universe or a dream? How did I end up here? A few minutes ago I was doing laundry at my house. An odd sound emanated from the washer and said, “Beware Timefin.” The next moment I’m here. Questions jerk through my mind, stealing all sense of hope and leaving me in a state of utter despair.
I trudge through a large swamp stretching for miles in every direction, no sign of life anywhere. If I can just find a town or village, maybe I can—
“W-who’s th-there?” I freeze, my mud smeared body shaking with every passing second. The odd noise echoes through the landscape as bold as a screaming hawk and as high pitched as a squealing pig. My heart thunders in my chest and I refuse to move from my position. The words “Beware Timefin” echo through my head. Could this creature be Timefin? Maybe if I stay put, whatever made that horrible sound will leave me alone. I attempt to steady my sped-up breathing, worried the slightest noise could give away my location.
I shrink back. The squeal is closer this time. What could be making that sound? My ocean blue eyes scour the darkness—nothing. I can’t imagine what terrible creature could be lurking inside the marsh. My imagination runs wild. What if the creature is a scaly beast with sharp claws preparing to rip into my flesh or a furry creature with giant eyes ready to stare me to death? Snap out of it Vanessa! This is all a dream. It has to be. I take another deep breath, shutting my eyes and preparing for the dream to end. It doesn’t.
Jolts of fear rocket through my body as I lose my balance and splash into the murky water. The sound is much closer this time—too close. Ripples swirl from one centralized point in the water, tiny bubbles swimming to the surface. My heart tries to leap out of my body as the bubbles approach me. This is it. This is the end. I hold my breath and flinch as a dark figure leaps out and tackles me. I scream.
A blubbery slug-like mass sits atop my body with big opalescent eyes locked on me. Its pudgy body resembles that of a tusk-less walrus with a sword-like protrusion jutting out from its forehead. Its giant owl-like eyes glare down at me, angling its sharp horn in my direction.
“HELP! HELP! SOMEBODY, HELP!” My yell echoes through the terrain, vanishing into the darkness beyond. No one is coming. The odd creature just stares at me, tilting its head with curiosity. Something about its pinkish-purple eyes sparkling in the moonlight releases the tension constricting my body.
What are you? A gentle voice whispers. Another scream escapes my lungs. The creature’s curved mouth doesn’t move and the words transmit directly into my mind. I scramble back, shoving the lump of blubber off of me. This has to be a dream. There is no other explanation. I pinch myself—nothing happens. If I’m not dreaming, then what’s going on here?
Why would you be dreaming? The creature lifts its head above the water and places two blubbery flippers on my right foot.
“How did you...wait...YOU JUST READ MY MIND!”
You can’t read mine?
“Why would I be able to—hmmm...never mind. What am I even doing? I’m basically talking to a swamp monster.”
Why are you being so offensive? Also...what is a swamp monster? I ignore him. If this creature can talk, I may as well get some answers.
“What is this place?” I sigh, attempting to wring out my blonde mud caked curls.
Who doesn’t know we’re in the bogs?
“I KNOW we are in a bog...but where are we?”
So you don’t know this planet is divided into three sections—desert, bog, and blizzard?
“I’m...on a different planet.” The realization hits hard, fear etching itself into my brain and bringing a whirlwind of questions stirring through my head. How did I get here? How do I get home? How long will I be stuck here? Will I ever get home? Who is Timefin? Worry floods in, sweeping a nauseating dizziness whirling through my head. The world around me spins and blurs into a dark haze.
* * *
A blubbery slap brushes against my face, reality whirring back into focus. “Hey! Why did you do that?”
Did you want to remain passed out? I shake my head, scrambling to my feet. Warm sand squishes beneath my mud caked tennis shoes.
“How did we get here?”
Do you know nothing about Swordfins?
“What’s a Swordfin?” I watch as he attempts an eye roll and rotates his head completely around like an owl. My mouth drops open in shock.
Do I not look like a Swordfin? I shoot him a confused look. How am I supposed to know what a Swordfin is? Also...why does he answer all of my questions with questions?
Wow, you really aren’t from around here are you? Do you need my help getting back home?
“Really? You’ll help me? THANK YOU SO MUCH!”
You’re from Earth, right? I nod, still in disbelief. How can this creature get me home? Does he have a spaceship?
Why would I have a spaceship? I forget he can hear my thoughts.
“I don’t know. How else will you get me home?”
Am I not one of the great keepers of worlds? I send him a puzzling look.
“Keeper of worlds?”
All Swordfins are, aren’t they?
“What’s a keeper of worlds?”
A jarring echo ripples through my mind. The echo intensifies until a memory blurs into focus. It isn’t one of my memories. The memory plays out like I am experiencing it in the present. A gathering of Swordfins fill my vision. The stoutest of them all uses odd barking noises to communicate commands to the others. One Swordfin steps out from the crowd and waves its horn in circular motions. A roar rips through the sky. Blue flickers of energy light up and spark azure flames twirling through the air. They spin and twist into a rotating vortex that looks like a flaming blue portal. The memory ends and reality floods back.
“How did you...what was that?”
I have many talents, do I not?
Do you want to get back as soon as possible? Before I can answer, he waves his horn in the air and a flaming portal lights up the sky. This one is violet instead of blue.
Is this planet not the gateway between all worlds? Won’t this gateway take you to your home?
“Right...magic portal, teleportation...I’m NOT going crazy here.” Despite all the weirdness, at least I have a way back home. “So...if this is the gateway between all worlds, how did I end up here in the first place?”
Sometimes pockets of energy build up from massive amounts of friction to teleport here, you know?
Before you go...what is your name?
“Vanessa. What’s yours?”
A wave of panic crashes over me as I go light headed. The words “Beware Timefin.” replay in my mind.
“You know what, I’m rethinking jumping through a portal. This is a terrible idea. I’ll find another way.” Before I can step out of the portal’s path, Timefin pushes me through. The purple flames engulf my body, hurtling me into a spinning vortex of flashing color. My insides lurch and flip with every rotation. Just as I’m about to lose my lunch, the colors end and I find myself standing in my laundry room. Finally, I’m home—but something is terribly wrong.
The washer and dryer are brand new and the once crooked stairs leading to the living room are fixed. The entire room has been transformed. Pure dread surges through my body. Something is horribly wrong. Could I have teleported to the wrong house? How would the Swordfin know where I live? The familiar curves to the walls and picture of my family hanging from the wall tell a different story. This is indeed my house.
The stairs creak as a familiar figure descends into view—my mom. Her frame is frailer than I remember and her dark hair is streaked with gray. The wrinkles of age stretch across her face. Her eyes lock with mine. She freezes for a moment, her jaw dropping. Tears stream down her face.
“V-Vanessa?” She sweeps me into a bone crushing hug.
“Mom, what’s going on?”
“You...you haven’t aged a day.”
“WHAT IS GOING ON?”
“You’ve been missing for twenty years.”