This story is by Tahlia Campbell and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Lana Everett knew two things about love; it was enough to make you believe in magic, and that it would never happen to her. She had a good education and a good head on her shoulders, Lana had a job and a dog and a life and she didn’t need a romance to fulfil it. With proof from minor dalliances spanning years apart, Lana had been content to ignore romance entirely. Magic, she had stopped looking for long before.
The woman had caught her eye long before she noticed Lana. Lana had noted how she liked her tousled black curls and the confident set of her shoulders. Aesthetically, Lana could appreciate beauty in a lot of people, pursuing it had been another matter entirely. When the woman saw Lana, a tremor went through her, her arm jerking as if shocked, and she was filing her way through the crowd to approach her before Lana could even blink.
“Edda.” The woman smiled, extending a hand, her eyes gold and bright.
“Lana.” She replied, distracted somewhat by the roughness of Edda’s palm, she had expected it to be smooth.
“You and I, we’re soul-mates.” Edda raised a dark eyebrow, a challenge to argue her outlandish claim. Lana just stared back, a knot of unease winding in her stomach. She didn’t often attract the attention of swindlers and cons, but she didn’t doubt the approachability of her simple nature as an attractive target. The street was usually busy enough for her to fold herself away from lunatics, but Lana felt stuck in front of Edda, paralysed in a way that suggested that although she could move if she wanted to; she didn’t want to.
“I certainly lucked out this time, look at you!” Edda gestured with her eyes up and down the length of Lana’s body. Usually, Lana would have been repulsed by such an appraisal. She took her lack of disgust as a side-effect of shock, and filed it away to analyse later.
“Well, sometimes you’re different.” Edda shrugged with one shoulder, her honey brown eyes alight with mischief and joy.
“Sometimes you’re a man, sometimes we’re kids, sometimes we’re old. Different every time, keeps me on my toes.”
“So, we are soul-mates and you’re a time traveller.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I can’t travel through time. I travel between worlds.”
“You can’t travel through time but you can break reality?” Lana didn’t know why she was bothering to argue such a pointless topic. Any other day she would have kept her head down and hand to herself, she wouldn’t have bothered to even stop.
Edda looked at Lana as if she couldn’t fathom such a stupid question and Lana couldn’t help but be bothered by it. “Reality doesn’t break, it’s bendy.”
“Right.” Lana looked at Edda again, taking in the calm she found in her windblown appearance. Edda, despite looking like a young woman and sounding like a crazy fanatic, seemed in every way steady, grounded, and serious. “Well, Edda. Interesting theories.”
Edda grinned, her cheeks dimpling and her teeth bared. “Interesting enough to keep you around.”
Lana didn’t know if Edda really travelled worlds and didn’t care, she didn’t care if Edda was crazy or ill or just wildly imaginative. Lana just wanted more of her; all of her. Lana had become drunk on their relationship, she breathed it like air; a necessity for life she hadn’t known she was lacking. Yet as Lana listened to Edda recall their times together she could only picture it as times to come, adventures they were yet to have and lives they were yet to live. The days had blurred into weeks, into months, and Lana could only pray that it would continue. Lana loved to hear Edda talk about her travels and how she had always found her in the end, in whatever form she took, how she knew the moment she saw her. It made Lana realise they were from two worlds after all; Edda was from a world where love was always possible, and Lana was from somewhere it was not.
“I have to die. It’s how I travel.” Edda told her one day, her hand absently trailing the ridges in Lana’s spine as they lay together.
“Don’t say things like that.” Lana didn’t know where the truth reached when it came to Edda’s travelling. The musings about vast new universes meant nothing to her if Edda was going to taint them with tragedy.
“It’s not bad. You always forget.”
“Do you remember the first world?” Lana asked, keener to hear about how they had loved rather than how they had lost. Lana didn’t expect Edda to tense the way she did, nor the heavy silence that followed.
“Yes.” Edda’s hand stilled against Lana’s back.
“What was it like when we were there?” Lana wanted to know. Of all the lives Edda had shared with Lana, she couldn’t recall a time she had talked about the first one.
As if anticipating, or pre-emptively silencing any more talk on the topic, Edda turned on her side. Edda always looked at her as if the sun rose and set in her eyes and the force of the stare was nearly painful. “I wouldn’t need to travel if you were still there.”
It was Lana’s turn to be silent, never knowing whether to trust or dismiss Edda’s serious tone. “Do we never get to be happy?”
Edda smiled, soft and warm and kind, and Lana forgot what she didn’t believe. Love, Lana knew, made you believe in magic. Edda leaned forwards to press her lips against Lana’s forehead, mumbling against her skin, “I’m happy now.”
Lana wondered how many different lifetimes and worlds the the two of them had found and loved each other. She wondered how many times she had sat like this, helpless as the other boot dropped. Lana wondered why Edda put them both through such a terrible tragedy for the love only a few short months could bring. Perhaps, Lana thought, there was somewhere the two of them grew old together. Perhaps there was an Edda who didn’t die young and a Lana who didn’t have to watch her die at all.
Lana wanted to believe that some of their lives together had been happy, she had to. Lana tried to remember a time they had not been ripped apart, but knew before she searched too hard that she would find no memory of any past or future life, no parallel or alternate world. While Edda knew of every travel, every new life, Lana never did. Edda had warned her she’d forget her when she died, Lana had thought it had been a foul joke, but maybe when Edda went all the secrets she shared went with her.
“A different death every time.” Edda smiled through blood soaked teeth. “Keeps me on my toes.” Lana wanted to scold her but her teeth chattered too hard in her mouth and her body wracked with shivers. “You’ll forget.” Edda promised, her hand curling tighter, feebly, where Lana’s fingers clutched it.
“I don’t want to forget.” Lana didn’t know if that was the truth. How cruel, Lana thought, that Edda had taught her this. Lana wondered if there would be a chasm in her forever after this, Lana couldn’t imagine looking past the emptiness in her where her soul had once been.
Edda’s breathing was too shallow and too weak, and Lana’s small hands did little to quell the blood that flooded out of the open wound at Edda’s stomach. Edda’s skin had been a rich ochre brown, but it was colourless now as she coughed more blood onto her lips. Lana blinked away fat tears to look for as long as she could, imagining away the blood and fear and seeing her as she was. Lana saw the smooth curve of Edda’s hips and the freckles that danced across her bare shoulders. Lana saw her full lips and bright eyes. Lana thought, I could never forget this.
“Don’t look.” Edda’s voice was barely a wet whisper. Lana closed her eyes and tightened her grip on Edda in her lap, pulling her into her chest. She thought of Edda as she’d been, full of life and love. Ten, Lana counted down, Edda’s fingers in her hair. Nine, red lips pulled tight across white teeth, beaming. Eight, a soft voice humming in the kitchen in the morning. Seven, the weight of two worlds on her shoulders kissed away. Six, kisses, kisses, kisses. Five—
Lana Everett knew two things about love; it was enough to make you believe in magic, and that it would never happen to her. Lana had accepted that she would never find love and hadn’t minded, she wouldn’t find such a thing and it wouldn’t matter. Lana had thought so for many years. She didn’t know why, but the thought didn’t sit right with her any longer.