I never knew there were this many shades of green.
From the light shade of grass that’s pressed against my feet to the dark emerald of the trees towering over my head, vibrant colors dance through every moment, every movement, every breath of life. A quiet creek bubbles at my toes, spitting at me as it jumps over the tiny mountains of pebbles. Great branches sweep down to caress the vines crawling up their trunks. Blue sky pierces through the cracks in the canopy of leaves, sending soft light down to illuminate the ground.
A sound that I think is music dances in the breeze. I attempt to hum the melody, trying to pass the time, but every time I think I recognize the song, the tune changes. With a sigh, I give into the small failure, instead letting my eyes wander. The only difference between here and my old home are the miscellaneous dog toys scattered near where I stand. I never realized how much I missed this place until now, the ache growing in my chest like a sickness. The question that’s been digging into my head for months now whispers in my ear, making me shake my head in vain.
How could we have messed up this badly?
“Should’ve known you’d be down here.” My muscles freeze even though the sudden adrenaline in my veins screams at me to run. They said the odds of Contact were slim, but at this point I know that every calculation has its holes. And knowing all the laws I just broke, I’m almost not surprised that the odds have decided to punish me with a voice I know all too well. A voice that I could never forget. Though I wish I could.
“Earth to Carter? Are you in there?” I can hear her grin before I turn around, see her almond shaped eyes, feel the soft touch of her curly hair. I swallow hard as I face her, wiping the fear from my features, because she’ll know somethings wrong. Even if she’s not my Grace.
Taking in a breath to speak, I find her standing at the top of the hill, sparkling eyes already boring into mine. That alone is enough to shove most of the air out of my lungs, so all I can manage is, “Hey.” Her smile widens, if that’s possible, fully showing off the dimple on her left cheek. Sticking her arm out to one side, she carefully steps down the steep slope, digging her other hand into the dirt to keep her balance. I hold myself back from helping her, instead patiently watching as she makes it down to me. I try to force myself to take in the facts of the situation, but my brain finds it more important to send sweat to my palms. Everything about her is just as I remember, every piece creating a painfully familiar puzzle. It’s only the small details that keep me from sweeping this girl into my arms.
My Grace smelled like honey.
Taking a step back, I look out over the creek and assess the situation. I can’t leave now; no Contact can see. She’s a smart girl, one who practically lives off of science fiction books. She’d figure it out.
Go, the fearful voice urges inside me.
“Carter, you ok?” she asks. I spare a glance up to her, finding concern covering her soft features. Her skin looks almost golden in this lighting, her hair flashing highlights of yellow under the waterfall of brown.
My Grace’s hair was black.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I reply, nodding more times than normal.
She shakes her head, clearly not believing me. “Why didn’t you call me back?”
There are no moral reasons as to why her Carter wouldn’t call her back, so I shrug and say, “My phone died.”
Grace quirks an eyebrow at me. “Phone? Since when do you call your cell a phone?”
I shrug and attempt a laugh, which sounds more like a squeal. I silently scold myself, then scold the Professors for letting me do this in the first place. I told them the probabilities weren’t high enough, but did they listen? No; they ignored my equations as usual.
Grace takes a step forward, reaching her arm out and taking my hand. My brain malfunctions, scattering logical thoughts from the forefront of my mind. I have to take a breath and bring myself back to my senses.
My Grace’s nails never had polish on them.
“You know you can talk to me, right?”
A pain stabs into my chest, forcing my guard down as the hole inside me widens.
“Yes,” I answer truthfully.
For a moment, the scene is silent, my old sanctuary giving us privacy. Only the wind interrupts the peace, scattering music through the air. Music I don’t know. Music that reminds me that no matter how much I want this to be mine, it isn’t.
Before I can pull away, her lips are on mine. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t find any differences. The way she surges against me, the way she tastes, the way she makes me feel. It’s all the same.
As soon as it starts, she pulls away, looking up at me.
“I love you, Carter.”
“Transition beginning in sixty seconds.” The electronic alert in my ear sends reality crashing onto me. The reality that she can’t see what’s about to happen. Snatching my hand away, I begin to step back from her. Confusion and hurt cross over her face, almost rooting me to the spot.
“I’m sorry I failed you,” I half whisper.
Grace just shakes her head. “You’ve never failed me.” Clenching my jaw, I push down the knot forming in my throat.
My Grace wouldn’t have let me pull away.
“I have to go.”
“Then I’m coming too.” I wish she would stop talking.
“Thirty seconds.” I take deep breaths, nodding to myself for encouragement. It’s almost done, it’s almost done.
“Carter, what’s going on.”
“Stop saying my name,” I seethe, momentarily losing my cool.
The greens seem to glow brighter, the creek gurgling angrily at me. Pain, real pain, not the kind that your mind creates from emotions, is building up in my hands. I pray to the Demons that this works.
“You need to back up,” I command, steel seeping into my voice, making me wince. The force of my words sends her a step back. Then another. Another. I see a tear start to slip down her cheek, and for a moment I think she’s going to run. That I’m in the clear.
My Grace would have fought.
She stops in her tracks.
Tilts her head.
“…My name is Gray.”
All I know is pain, pain everywhere. Blinding pain, the kind that forces you to shut your eyes against the light. The kind that makes your heart cry out, the kind that makes your lungs collapse. The kind you never think is going to stop.
And then it does.
“There he is!”
“Did it work?”
“Is he alive?”
“Checking vitals, stand by.”
I gasp for air, slowly opening my eyes to see a familiar dark room. Two metal poles are on either side of me, the white glow slowly fading away. I’m back on my dead Earth.
Her name is Gray.
I clutch my head and stumble to the door, pushing it out of my way with my free hand. Employees in metallic uniforms swarm me, and I hear variations of half attempted lectures as they scan me for imperfections. I can’t meet any of their eyes, so I look at the floor instead. The tiles are so shiny I see my dark reflection staring back.
Her name is Gray.
“Carter, how are you feeling? Did it work?” I look up to find one of the Professors, silver suit standing out from the crowd of workers around us. I nod slowly, testing my vocal cords cautiously.
“Yes. Yes, it worked.”
“Fascinating. You really went to an alternate reality?” For the first time in my life, I hear true astonishment in his deep voice, as though he really did listen to my probability speech. Good to know he willingly sent me through a rip in space knowing it was highly unlikely that I’d return.
“Yes,” I repeat, but my response cuts short when I remember my failure.
As though sensing my hesitation, the man pushes, “Were there any Contacts?”
“Yes,” I whisper.
“Do they know?” His voice is no longer one of childlike wonder. I hear the dagger hidden in his question, but I have no choice but to respond truthfully.
Her name is Gray. She is not my Grace.
How could I mess up this badly?
This story first appeared in ReedsyPrompts in May 2020.
Edited by Marie Ginga.
Gwen Anderson is a Junior in High School with aspirations of turning her addiction to writing of the weird, the funny, and the outright strange into something she can actually live off of someday. She spent the past summer at Columbia’s Crafting the Novel Immersion and has earned three Honorable Mentions from Scholastic. She runs her own book review and original writing blog which can be found on Instagram @4TheStarryEyed or on her website at 4THESTARRYEYED.