A World Away

Adventure. That’s what my uncle Marty loved. He wrote hundreds of short stories about them until he disappeared. It’s been a full year since the missing persons case opened. But here at his wake, it’s time to let him go. I stare at my uncle’s portable typewriter. Amazed at how he wrote so many words with it. Recently, I checked and his sales were up. Funny how it sometimes takes an author’s death for them to make a living.

I remember the day my father took uncle Marty to his laboratory, there was a fire, and after that nobody saw him again. I turn to hear whispered mentions of a possible Cain and Abel situation, but nobody accuses my father outright.

“Eric,” my dad says. “Come and grab something to eat. We can get to that later.”

I ignore him. Family voices blur in the background as I ponder my uncle’s life, especially him being a writer. I write stories too, but each seems to fall flat compared to his. My boring life is at fault. 

Uncle Marty had real adventures. After surviving the war, he became a jack of all trades, then settled on journalism to make a living. At 72, he retired and started publishing a lifetime of collected stories. Dad, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. One job his whole life. A renowned physicist. And of course mom is a surgeon. Me? I’ve done nothing except limp through college classes I don’t even like.

I focus on the white keys of the vintage blue typewriter before me, having remained undisturbed all this time, until now to be boxed up and forgotten. Turning the knob, I watch the paper scroll up and down. I press the red spacer key and startle when the carriage vibrates across. I lift the front of the machine to look at the underside and spy an envelope with my name. Nobody is watching. I take the letter and dart outside under bright sunlight. Massive sequoia trees stretch into a distant purple mountain range. I miss him.

Safe into the woods, I open the letter.

It says he’s found a new adventure, this time on another world. I chuckle and remember the last picture of him. Long strands of brown hair falling straight from his favorite fedora. A face full of a Gandalf-like beard. A world away is visible in the photograph behind him. That’s what he loved. Places humankind can only dream about. Write fiction about. He writes that he’s sorry for leaving the family, but he wants me to find him. Within the letter is a map of nearby wilderness, and X marks the spot.

The next morning I’m gone before dawn in dad’s car. He won’t be needing it today, and mom’s shift won’t finish for another couple of hours. There’ll be hell to catch since I’m skipping classes, but I have to go. He needs me to bring him back.

I locate the spot. It’s a dry wash between two massive boulders. I dig until the afternoon. The air cools as the sun dips below the edge of the treeline. Eventually, I hit something solid. I move the steel plate away and pull up something wrapped in plastic. I tear the wrapping away to find a small muslin sack secured with thick black twine.

I carefully untie the twine and open the package. It’s a puzzle composed of several smooth black chunks of rock and it begs to be assembled. I let each piece magnetically slot into place. Soon I have an almost basket-ball sized sphere. Instinctively, I drop it to the ground and back away to a boulder for cover.

The opaque ball expands in size, growing larger with each ear-splitting wave of static-electrical discharge. It stops growing at around ten feet in diameter, then converts into a translucent bubble.

There, inside, I see my uncle. He’s smiling. Behind him there’s a shore and a lake. And beyond that, a gleaming city. Above the clouds hover a planet five times the size of the Moon. Not our solar system, for sure. 

“Eric!” he says.

“Is it really you?”

“Yeah kiddo, it’s me.” He winks and points to something behind me.

I turn to see mom and dad a few paces back.

“So this is where you hid the other one,” my dad says. “Glad to see you’re still alive.”

“Yeah, well… I had to go first,” my uncle replies. “Besides, you have a family to take care of.”

“Right,” my dad says, “but I know the real reason you went.”

Uncle Marty nodded. “You got that right bro, it’s all I’ve ever written about. And guess what? We are not alone.”

“Can you come back through?” I ask.

“He doesn’t know, does he?” Uncle Marty says to dad.

“Even if I can gather enough Dark Matter again,” dad says, “it’s still a one-way ticket.”

Uncle Marty smiles. “I’m no physicist, but the friends I’ve made here are pretty smart. I’ll get home someday.”

Thin cracks of blinding light appear in the bubble.

“It’s destabilizing,” dad says. “The dark fuel is almost exhausted.”

I raise my hand and touch the vibrating gateway. “I’ll write about you,” I say.

“Yes, you could… or you can join me.”

I look back at dad. He knows what I want to do. He rushes forward with mom close behind. Instead of trying to stop me, they embrace my body tighter than ever before.

“We love you,” mom says.

I let go of them and step through the shimmering veil, landing hard on the ground next to my uncle.

“I’ll take good care of him,” Marty shouts.

“I’ll be okay,” I shout back to my parents while their images fade away.

The bridge is gone now. I stand on a pebbled beach with my uncle. Arm in arm, we walk along the shore. I can’t stop the grin spreading across my face as we head toward a new adventure, together.

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