He landed hard, on flat stone. The impact jarred his hand, and the stone bounced out, leaving his fingers tingling, but otherwise normal. At the same moment he was enveloped in a sudden whirlwind of sound and rushing air, as though he had suddenly opened a window in a speeding train. The impact of the sound was like a physical blow, almost as strong as the force of his fall.
Kyle had involuntarily closed his eyes in anticipation of landing in the water, but he opened them now, squinting against the rushing wind. A lance of shock and fear shot through him. He rose carefully to his knees, and looked around.
He knelt on one end of a thin stone slab no more than three feet wide, and almost a hundred feet long. It was suspended in the air, in the center of a vertical tunnel of swirling storm clouds at least a football field across that stretched up and down for what seemed like forever. The tunnel was lit only by diffused flashes of lightning from up and down the column of clouds, constant enough to provide an almost constant illumination, although it was harsh and wildly flickering. An almost deafening combination of the constant roar of thunder and the rushing of the wind assaulted his ears.
I’m stuck inside a tornado, was his first thought, a huge, stationary tornado. He glanced down, over the edge of the stone plank. The tunnel of clouds went on as far as he could see, straight and uninterrupted, lit by flickering lightning until he could no longer determine the distance. Once, as a boy, he had been to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and had looked down at the Colorado River, five miles away and shrunken from a massive river to a tiny blue ribbon. This could be as far, and easily farther.
A sudden terror filled him, and he clung to the stone plank, pressed against it with one hand clutching each side. This made no logical sense. It was clearly impossible. And yet here he was, clinging for his life to a floating stone bridge in the middle of a hurricane. Floating…or falling.
Kyle looked around in sudden panic, but it seemed that the clouds were only swirling around, not up. Still, he fought the sudden desire to retch, and tasted the bile in his throat. He had never been particularly terrified of heights, but this was something altogether different.
And then his mind began the process of shutting out the fear. It happened like it had every time he had to face down a bully, or make a speech. It faded, pushed down and away from his conscious mind. It was hardly gone, but it was no longer important. It became a logical fact, an acknowledgment that I am afraid, but nothing more. It left behind a quivering calm, adrenaline charged but no longer paralyzed.
It was then, as his mind cleared, that he noticed something. At the far end of the stone span was a mirror, as tall as a man and oval, floating in the air. Kyle had no idea what it was, but it was something, and lying here was accomplishing nothing. He closed his eyes for a moment, gathered his will, and began to crawl.
The trip across the stone span was slow, on his hands and knees, gripping the edges of the platform with white knuckles, buffeted by the wind. As kept his eyes down, partially closed against the wind and focused on the stone in front of him, but every few feet he would glance at the strange mirror. As he got closer, he began to notice that it looked less like a mirror, and more like…well, he was not sure. He shook his head, and decided to concentrate on getting there without being blown off, and figure out what was going on with the mirror when he got to it.
He finally got to within a few feet of the end of the stone span and stopped, kneeling and still holding onto the edges of the stone. Now that he was close to it, what he had thought was a mirror looked nothing like it. It was a perfect oval, about six feet high and a little over four feet wide in the center. It was floating, somehow, perfectly stationary a few inches above the bridge, and a few inches past the end. It was completely flat, and had a sheen to it, like glass, which he could now see had been somewhat reflective at a distance, like a window on a building when the sun was in the wrong place. But it was no mirror. It was a window. A window to somewhere else entirely.
Through the glass he did not see the swirling clouds he should have, but a clear meadow, bright and sunlit. There were flowers in the grass, and a scattering of large rocks, and trees in the distance. Kyle blinked. This was impossible. Yeah, as impossible as a floating stone bridge in an endless tornado, he told himself.
He tried to crane his neck, and lean out over the side of the bridge a little, trying to get a look around the back of the “window,” but from what he could see there was no depth to it at all. Behind it there were just more swirling storm clouds. He shivered. Seeing something that so clearly defied the laws of physics with his own eyes was making him a little queasy.
Kyle sat back on his knees and thought aloud. “Am I dead? In some kind of coma? This is too real to be a dream. Or this is real, in which case I am…” He sighed, but couldn’t hear it over the wind. “In which case I’m on a floating bridge in never ending tornado and there is a floating window to somewhere else in front of me.
“Okay, so, what to do with a floating window to somewhere else. All right, let’s go over our options. If I’m dead or in a coma, then it doesn’t really matter what I do. On the other hand, if this is real… well what else is there to?” He thought for a second. “Well, let’s see. Maybe this thing will take me home.”
He slowly reached out his hand, and touched the window with one finger. The very tip of his finger slipped through it like it was water, and a ring of ripples spread across the surface. It looked like a perfectly still pond that had been disturbed by a pebble. His fingertip felt cold, and a little prickly, but otherwise fine, and although it looked a little distorted, like looking at it through water, it seemed whole. He pulled his finger out, and more ripples spread. His finger seemed fine, although still a little cold. He grimaced.
“Well, what else is there to do,” he said, and quickly, before he could change his mind, shoved his hand through.
His hand met resistance that slowed his quick movement, like he was pushing it through soft Jell-o, and then suddenly his hand would not stop moving. The movement was still slow, but his hand was being pulled in, softly but inexorably, and was pulling him along with it. Not expecting anything like this, he overbalanced, and before he could regain his balance and begin to pull back, his arm had been pulled in up to the elbow.
“Shit. Shit!” His feet scrabbled on the smooth stone, and one went over the end of the bridge, and the window had pulled him in up to his shoulder and then it was right at his face and he gulped a breath of air-
And then his face went in, and everything slowed down. It was freezing cold, and it felt like a thousand sparks were dancing across his skin, and then it was suddenly bathwater warm, and he felt safe, and weightless, and all his fear was gone. Nothing that had happened mattered. Everything was right with the world, and he was content.
And just as suddenly stark, raving panic hit him, and he was screaming. Everything was too far away, and too close, and he was falling, and he felt like he had when he was a child and had a fever. There was noise, so much noise, and there was a pounding in his head, and he felt like it would explode and-
A blast of cold air hit him, and the panic and the feverish fear and noise were gone. Blackness closed around him, and he slipped into unconsciousness.