The Boy Who Could Walk Through Wormholes

Simon can teleport. One night he just sort of shows up - out of nowhere - behind the blackberry bushes in Olives garden.

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1. Welcome to Cinderstone

He drags her through the portal, and she feels an electric charge run over her body, flashes of yellow, then hard rock under her feet.

They are standing on a rocky outcrop close to the place where the run of two large rivers meet each other, wild waves crashing into each other under sprays of thick foam, the waters of one colored a deep black, the other a dirty yellow. In front of them, lying squeezed in between the courses of the two rivers, lies the largest city that Olive has ever seen in her life. The jagged skyline reach as far into the horizon as the thick, low-hanging mist allows her to see. A hundred tails of smoke from a hundred chimneys snake their way up through the smog. Here and there the silhouette of domed roofs and tall sculptures placed on top of high, peaked towers is visible.

She gasps for air, and collapses in a coughing fit. The air is thick and acidic, and fills up her lungs in the wrong way. Her mouth tastes of metal, like after having licked a silver spoon.

The boy drags a part of her sweater up so that it covers her mouth, and when her coughing has finally subsided, he helps her up to her legs again.

“Welcome to Cinderstone,” he says, his expression unreadable.

“Is this where you live?” she croaks, her voice rough.

He doesn’t answer her, but turns his back to her and begins to walk down the rocks, following the course of the black river. She follows him quietly, always making sure to keep herself just a few steps behind him, but still too far away for him to feel like they need to make conversation. He walks briskly and easily, jumping over rocks and dodging obstacles adeptly with accustomed ease. She on the other hand can’t help but stumble clumsily through the boondocks, unused to the uneven terrain and the fetid air.

At length they reach a place where the river stretches out into an even wider stream, three small islands obstructing its run. Here he makes a sudden halt, and blows three short whistles in direction of the water. For a long couple of minutes nothing happens. Then movement is seen on the shore of the nearest island, and a boat glides out into the stream to meet them.

When it after a few minutes time reaches them, she sees that it is a flat-bottomed barge, swaying just height enough above the water for the deck not to be hit by the waves.

The boy hands the ferryman a handful of small coins, and they step onboard.

“Is this your home” she asks once again, this time not expecting him having anywhere to run.

He doesn’t answer her immediately. “Yes,” he answer her at length.

The sky is covered under a dirty cover of brown clouds. Streaks of deeps golden sunshine shines though cracks in the thick cloud cover. Flocks of foreign looking birds swarm over their heads, squawking in alien tongues, and from time to time diving headfirst into the black depths of the river’s water.

“We are not on earth anymore, are we?” she asks quietly.

“Yes, but not in the way that you would understand it,” he says. “We are in Cinderstone, the city In Between.”

She wonders what this means, but is not sure whether it will make sense or not for her to try to break her head over it. They are close to land when he talks again.

“When you make the jump, you don’t just teleport from one place on earth to another. It also allows you to make the jump to here: the City Under the Map, the City Without Borders, the Meeting Point of the Lines, the Middle Ground, the Kingdom of the Fallen, the Last Refuge of the Sons and Daughters of Azraphiel.

This is where I and my people are from. So yes, I guess you could say that this is my home.” A weak smile plays around his lips.

“It’s nice,” she says, as a long necked bird drag a grayish thing out of the river, and swallows it whole.

The ferry hits land with slight bump that makes them wobble.

“Please,” he says. “No need for pleasantries.”

She jumps down from the barge, and offer her a hand to get down.

“Thank you,” she says, surprised over his sudden act of consideration.

“Don’t think about it,” he says, and sets out towards a low building squeezed in by the riverside.

The inside of the hut smells of smoked fish and tar. A elderly woman with a dirty, brown shawl draped over he shoulders looks up from her chair when they enter. She is in the process of mending what Olive can only guess is a net for catching fish.

“Can I buy some clothes from you?” the boy asks.

The woman looks almost as confused as Olive does.

“Clothes?” she says with a voice like squeaking wheels. “The only clothes we make here are made from river flounders and leather fish. But those is only used by fishermen. I wouldn’t dream of selling such things to people from the city.”

At least she is honest Olive thinks, if a bad business woman.

“Here.” The boy hands her a small handful of money. “This should be enough to retribute for our inconvenience.”

She doesn’t say anything, but looks from the money and back to him and back to the money again, like she can’t believe that such objects could be in her position.

“Yes, so absolutely. Thank you. Thank you young lord,” she says at last, and gets up from her chair to find a sack of clothing items from a back corner of the shack. She opens the sack, and hands out a very small collection of hand sewed pants and anoraks and fish skin booths, all made in a rubbery, dark material with hard lumps covering its uneven surface, that she guess must be from the leather fish that the woman mentioned. They smell even more pungently of smoked fish and tar than the rest of the shack. She looks at the boy, who gestures for her to take it on.

“I don’t want you to stand out in your nice clothes,” he says, and points at her t-shirt with Mickey Mouse logo, her pink pajamas pants, and her wooly pullover. She understands though that there is no grounds for complaining, and compliantly she pulls on the clothes. It feels weirdly stiff and rough against her skin.

He picks up a broken net from the collection of fishing tools by the door, and hands it to her.

“If anyone asks or makes you feel uncomfortable, say that you are working on the Oyster Banks,” he says. ”And that the Chairman of the Rivers will make the ground grow hot under whoever’s feet that dare to confront you.” There is a seriousness in his voice that disturbs her. 

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