Laburien Thora

by Charlotte Lenox

My heart was thumping from the shapeless nightmare, and now because of the thing I saw standing, again, in the corner of my dusky bedroom. Cold sweat beaded my skin and soaked the bed sheets tangled around my legs. I only saw the thing from the corner of my eye, too terrified to look at it while praying for it to disappear. This time, it didn’t.

The shadowy “it” stepped forward and became a flesh-and-blood “he” near the brush of sheer curtains bellied with moonlight and autumn breath. I pressed myself up against my headboard, the sound of my heart filling my ears. His features were dream-fuzzy, but full of malice. His clothing was shifty, the colors impossible to describe. Trapped by the sheets, I couldn’t escape or look away, now. I gasped as he reached out his hand.

“Are you frightened?” he asked. That’s what they all said, wasn’t it? But, as many times as I had seen his shadow, I had never heard him speak before. “Please don’t be,” he continued, softening his tone.

“Who are you, and how did you get in here?”

“Just a traveller, though an unwilling one, and this is simply where I showed up. Please, hear me out for a minute. I need your help.” I was his captive audience–where could I have gone? He explained: “Worlds overlap sometimes and displace people on either side of the divide. This has happened to me a lot, and every time has made me sick. May I stay here until I’m called back home?”

I felt certain he was lying, but he continued at length and sounded sincere. While he spoke, a strange sort of warmth amid the terrified cold buried itself in my belly. I was used to sour stomachs–“IBS,” one doctor had told me. Looking at this man, he really didn’t seem well, and what I had taken for malice was actually nausea.

The threat fading away, I was suddenly overtaken by my loneliness. I had struggled through a life of emptiness, yelling at parents I barely remembered, and now I was living alone in the company of blue mornings and cold afternoons, surrounded by nothing. I found myself yearning for the presence of another, even if what he was saying was outlandish. Once he had finished, he asked again if he could stay.

I said, “Yes.”

***

Everything he had told me was true; he was called home a couple of short weeks later.

I was standing beside him, washing dishes in the kitchen sink and staring out the window at the whitening hour. As soon as I felt suffused with cold rain despite the coziness of the room, he took my hand and squeezed.

We found ourselves in a dark tunnel full of doors and branching corridors. Condensation slicked the tiles, dripping echoed from dirty puddles. One of the doors near us was cracked open–a burning rind of yellow light.

This was the crossroads, then. The intersection, the double-decker bridge (with the “Do Not Jump” sign) from my nightmares. Passing near us was a line of dark, hooded figures, denizens of some other door being called to prayer by their abbot. They mumbled to themselves, some kind of chant from a world I shouldn’t know. I felt tears burgeoning under my eyes. He saw them, worry fogging over his face.

“They’re speaking laburien thora,” he said. “I’ve been there before. You don’t know it, do you?” Hearing that name, my tears spilled over. I couldn’t believe it. How was this possible? I wanted him to comfort me, but he couldn’t–even now, his name was drifting out from the open door. “Please, don’t cry,” he said. “It’ll be all right.” I didn’t believe him, and he didn’t sound all that hopeful either. “I didn’t realize… if I’m ever there again….”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t go, don’t leave me here.”

“I can’t stay. I’m so sorry,” he said. I reached out to him, wanting to say a million hopeless things, but he couldn’t wait any longer and was already turning away from me and placing the hand he pulled out of mine on the door’s varnished wood. It opened easily, flooding the tunnel with golden light and plunging everything else into deep shadow. He whispered more apologies, then shrank into a muddy-haired boy wearing a red- and white-striped shirt full of stains. Someone from the room beyond impatiently called his name again. He said, “I’m coming,” his voice both young and old as he crossed the threshold.

“No, don’t go!” I screamed, but he was already gone, the door closing behind him. I was thrown back into the chilly bedroom I thought was mine but never was. Unlike him, no one had ever called for me in the language of home.

The End