On Earth and Otherside
The contracting iris mechanism of the small round window above the headboard opened at 8am sharp as the pendulum clock chimed the hour. A sun ray caressed the double bed beneath, and forest scents wafted in from the open window.
Earl awoke with the warmth of Abigale’s body against him and lightly kissed her flaxen hair. She stirred and turned to him, her lips brushing his stubble.
She frowned without even opening her eyes and he chuckled.
“You’ll have to let me go, if you want me to shave,” he said tenderly, squeezing her. Their arms and feet were so entangled, they felt like one person.
She sighed and rolled over, hugging the pillow instead. He caressed her shoulder then sat, yawning and stretching his limbs. Time to get up and make breakfast for the most beautiful woman on this side of the portal.
He went to the small bathroom that had good plumbing and running water even though the house was atop a twenty-foot tree made of welded girders and plates, with craggy branches reaching up over the roof.
Earl checked his face in the mirror as he shaved. More gray streaks were showing in his copper hair, and he was barely thirty-five.
He noticed his tanned skin looked weathered, especially after the sunny summer he had spent in his tree house with his wife. A striking contrast to Abigale’s pallor, but she always used wide-brimmed hats outside, while he liked to feel the wind or the sun on his short hair, especially away from towns where hats were socially compulsory in the streets.
Earl finished shaving and vacated the small bathroom still in his underwear, crossing paths with a sleepy Abigale in a white nightgown who locked herself in for her morning ablutions.
Abigale had a very tall, lanky build – she was almost as tall as him, which was unusual for a woman – fair skin and light blue eyes. Her flaxen hair reached her waist when it wasn’t tied up.
She was younger than Earl at twenty-nine, and as madly in love as he was. Earl had been happy to take her away from the hustle and bustle of the capital and hide in the small but cozy Copper House he’d had built fifteen years ago.
As Abigale sang in the bathroom, Earl smiled and shook his head as he quickly dressed, then headed for the kitchenette to warm the water for tea. The grandfather clock set between two windows ticked away the start of another day, a tall, freestanding wooden clock that didn’t need manual winding, since it was connected to Otherside’s core mechanism.
The house consisted of a rectangular room made of wood and steel enhanced with clockwork components such as windows that opened via contracting iris mechanisms, clearly made for a maximum of two occupants.
The whole house was the same size as just Earl’s chambers at the palace, but it had a lot more privacy. He’d been single when he’d had it built, and thought it could be his sanctuary away from everyone, where he could write his journals, articles, and lately even some serial fiction.
Now it was perfect for him and Abigale, enjoying each other’s company in a sort of second honeymoon after seven years at the capital where they’d both been raised.
The bathroom was the only room with a door, cutting out a corner of the rectangular room. It had a round window, a twin of the one above the double bed. The sleeping section – that included a small wardrobe in the corner and two matching nightstands – could be hidden behind a curtain during the day.
The rest of the open space formed a square. The door opened across from the bed and bathroom, flanked by two more round windows that closed with the iris mechanism like the two on the other side. The area included the open kitchenette with a cast-iron stove and the dining space, as well as two comfortable airmchairs facing each other. The table was small, and they couldn’t have guests inside the house.
Two square windows opened on each side of the open space. The grandfather clock stood on the side of the bed and the carved wooden wardrobe, while across from it the space was occupied by a small desk with Earl’s typewriter and, above it, five framed pictures, a later addition to the house.
At the top were two portrait photographs of newlyweds Abigale and Earl as well as her sister Letitia and Earl’s best friend, Jeff. The latter couple had been using Earl’s house for the past five years until three months ago. It had been Letitia who had hung the pictures on the white empty wall during her stay.
Under the wedding pictures, she had hung three landscape sepia images of the brides and grooms with their siblings. Abigale and Letitia with their twin sisters Cornelia and Maxine, four pretty young women very different from each other in both looks and personalities, but all smiling for the camera.
Then there was Jeff and his siblings, his dark skin making a sharp contrast with the pair of identical twins – two male, two female – who surrounded him. And below it were Earl and his twins, Eliza and Simeon, all smiles in their twenties.
That was the last picture taken of Simeon’s face, and Earl cherished it. Now half of the handsome face was badly burned, and one of the blue eyes was gone. Simeon hid his face behind a golden mask and avoided all public appearances and photo sessions.
The giant metal tree was also the dock for a copper-colored airship that loomed large over the small house, and the big envelope of helium had fins at the rear to stabilize it. Earl’s crew was currently on the other side of the portal, living cat lives among humans.
Earl was half-blood, the son of a female cat – who was currently the queen of the country – and a human from beyond the portal. He had two twin siblings, and had never met his father, although the portal he was guarding opened onto his property.
His human father was long dead, as far as he knew, since time flowed differently on the other side of the portal. Humans over there called their world Earth, so Earl and his peers called their world Otherside.
Otherside of the portals. A world that didn’t change, or rather, where time flowed differently to the world beyond the portals only half-bloods like Earl could open. A world of steam engines and steam cannons, lighter-than-air airships and steam aircraft, floating towns and self-propelled houses on wheels.
Earl and Abigale had breakfast and went down the ladder to the meadow to check on Abigale’s small orchard. She had put an apron over her favorite gown, as blue as her eyes, with white lace on the corset and short sleeves.
The house was surrounded by meadows, a forest and, atop a hillock, a gothic stone arch with orange flowers climbing on it, seemingly opening onto nothing special. That was the portal to the other world, where Earl and his siblings had been born thirty-five years ago.
Earl rolled up his shirt sleeves to help Abigale water the plants and dig up some potatoes, then he felt the portal open. Dropping the spade, he told Abigale, “Wait here.”
His long legs quickly took him to the portal. An irregular stone stairway led to it from the other side of the hillock, invisible from the tree house.
Earl stopped at the bottom of the stairway and waited. Three cats stepped through and immediately morphed into humans.
One was his best friend, Jeff, a tall black man with a muscular frame and long dreadlocks under an aviator hat, holding the hand of Letitia Hortense Banks, Abigale’s twin sister, who had amber-colored eyes, a short build and very attractive features framed by untamable red curls. She was competent and very graceful, but currently looked distraught. The third was Jeff’s father, Phineas Virgil Archer.
Jeff had taken his obsidian complexion from his human mother, Aurelia Prudence Blumby – a slave who couldn’t take cat form and who had been born on the other side of the portal. Phineas Virgil Archer had straight graying hair, golden skin, closed features and a tall build, a true child of Otherside.
None of them was smiling, and Jeff’s mother didn’t step through the portal.