The Core of Otherside
Sam sat in his father’s iron rocking chair with a newspaper after lunch. The chair had a curved frame to create the rocking motion, with gold-lacquered tubular brass with cast and silvered foliate infill. The upholstery was slung between the top of the back and the seat, rather like a deck chair, and was made in hand-dyed and buttoned leather, very comfortable.
The smaller back parlor, that served as the recreation and dining room, hadn’t changed much since his parents passed away. The terraced, two-story home was quiet, except for noises coming from the nearby kitchen – where Sam’s sister-in-law, Judith, seemed to be losing her patience again – and the tick tock of the grandfather clock in the room.
The table was clean. Jeff sat by the window to the backyard on the couch, while Sam had taken the iron rocking chair across from it. The sun kissed both Jeff’s right cheek and Sam’s left through the glass panes.
There couldn’t be two more different brothers. Forty-year-old Jeff had their mother’s obsidian skin, while Sam, who was five years younger, was as pale as his father.
The clock struck 2pm and Judith came in, holding her big belly, and slumped onto the couch next to Jeff. Her pale skin made a stark contrast with Jeff’s dark complexion, but then, Jeff was darker than anyone in the United Kingdom of Kenorland, since he had taken after their mother, an African slave from Earth.
Skin color wasn’t important in Otherside. Being half-blood and able to open portals to Earth was. Although neither Jeff, Sam nor his twin brother Charlie bothered with guarding portals, unlike Jeff’s best friend, Earl.
Isabel and Louise had become Portal Guardians, and they were now dead. Not a safe job with a crazy man who covered his face with a golden mask going on a rampage and sealing portals. Thank Bastet, he’d been stopped six months ago, but Sam’s sisters were gone. Although maybe he wasn’t responsible for their deaths.
“These robots are useful, but damn, how hard it is to train them!” Judith said, leaning her head on Jeff’s shoulder.
She had always been the queen of the kitchen, but since she was now heavily pregnant, she had grumpily agreed to let the house automaton help her in her small kingdom. Training the cleaning machine with a humanoid body was proving too much of a hassle, though, and Sam was ready to bet soon Jeff would do it instead.
“How many plates did it break today?” Jeff asked, amused, stroking her brown hair.
“Only one, thank God!” She sighed and closed her eyes, caressing her belly bump. “Sometimes I really miss my dishwasher!”
Sam smiled and went back to his newspaper. It was still clear Judith hadn’t been born Otherside five and a half years after moving here. She still had her one unnamed god, and called the house automaton a “robot” as well as missing some of Earth’s technology – but she was nice, and she had healed Jeff’s broken heart, so Sam was grateful.
Sometimes he wished he too could find someone to fill the void Mirabell’s death had left. He did his best to keep himself busy by delivering mail to rural settlements in his biplane, but couldn’t go back to the little house below the floating town he had shared with her, and where she was buried.
Four years since he lost his little family. Six since Mirabell died in childbirth. Her sister, Adalynn, had helped him with the quadruplets, but none of them had made it through infancy. Adalynn herself had tried to take her sister’s place, but they were so different…
Sam knew she had left the little house with the five tombs in the backyard and come back to her townhouse, because he kept bumping into her whenever he spent a few days with Jeff and Judith. At least lately she seemed to have found someone else, and had stopped bothering him.
He should be like his twin, Charlie, who never fell in love and kept women at arm’s length. Or at least made it clear from the start he didn’t want a permanent relationship. But even though they were identical twins, they were very different inside.
Well, when they were children, they were really identical. But growing up they had developed different personalities. And then Charlie had had a love story gone wrong and he’d sworn he’d never fall in love ever again. There was nothing their mother – who was still alive back then – could do to make him change his mind.
Now fifteen years later, their mother from Earth was gone, as was their father and their sisters. And Jeff’s first wife. Charlie was currently on Earth, in their mother’s cottage.
Sam didn’t despair of never finding someone to love again, though. He was only thirty-five and there were plenty of women Otherside, and plenty of she-cats on Earth. He’d had kittens, but it wasn’t the same as having a wife in human form.
It might be because he had grown up in a strong marriage, with an Otherside father and an Earth mother. His half-blood made him more human in his feelings than most, so he wanted the same kind of relationship his mother had had with his father. A romantic relationship more than a contract blessed by Bastet and recorded for inheritance reasons.
He could see Jeff had found the same with Judith, and he started wondering if he should start looking on Earth. Even Jeff’s best friend, Earl, had found a new love after widowhood with an Earth woman – Jessica, Judith’s niece.
Sam glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Ten past two. He still had about twenty minutes before going to the post office and check if they had anything for his afternoon light. If there was nothing to deliver, he’d go down the anchor anyway and check on his biplane.
“When do you plan on picking up Charlie and bringing him here?” Jeff asked. “He’s been avoiding us since the wedding! It’s been six months!”
“You know it’s not personal,” he replied. “He avoided me throughout my own marriage!”
“What’s wrong with him?” Judith asked, frowning.
“He met the wrong woman when he was young,” Jeff explained. “He might not be disfigured like Simeon, but he’s kind of feeling-less.”
“Still? Isn’t he thirty-five?”
“The wounds of the heart are the hardest to heal,” Sam said with a sigh, folding the newspaper and putting it on the low table between the rocking chair and the couch.
“And we’re not all lucky enough to meet an Anderson woman,” Jeff added before kissing Judith.
Sam smiled ruefully. Both Judith and Jessica were Anderson women, but there weren’t any other available at the moment, not even on Earth. Jessica’s brother was gay, and unless there were cousins Judith never spoke of, that line was probably going to end soon.
He glanced at the clock and saw it was still ten past two. Then he noticed the sudden silence. Puzzled, he took out his pocket watch and saw it was almost twenty past two.
“Guys,” he said, looking up with a frown. “The clock has stopped.”
Judith and Jeff stared at the grandfather clock for a moment.
“Damn.” Jeff let go of Judith and went to check. Sam followed, but the pendulum had stopped and the clock was silent.
“I’m going to check with the neighbors,” Sam offered, grabbing his canvas coat.
Outside it was a gray autumn day and low clouds meant that it might rain soon. Sam knocked at a couple of doors in the terraced building, and always got the same answer. The pendulum clock had stopped. Even the clock tower at the top of City Hall was stuck at ten past two.
He went back to Jeff’s and grabbed his goggles and his aviator cap. He went to the post office where he found the same situation. Everybody was puzzled, but not worried. He decided to go down to his biplane, hoping things would solve themselves in a few hours. His pocket watch had already reached 3pm, but the town’s clocks were still stuck on ten past two.