This story is by Kerr Pelto and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Henry tripped on an upended board, fell through a portal, and landed facedown on the dock. Rising, he noticed his surroundings had changed. All the cottages except the one he’d rented had vanished. A dinghy, its sails full of an easterly wind, materialized on the water with a woman at the helm.
Despite his confusion, Henry managed to wave. “Ahoy!”
The woman’s face brightened. “Ahoy! How are you?”
“Not sure how to answer that.”
As the sailboat reached the dock, the woman threw him a rope. Henry caught it and cinched it tight around the dock cleat. He blinked at the unmistakable aura surrounding the woman. The attraction was oddly familiar. It magnetized him, pulling him in.
The woman smiled. “Hop on board and help me fasten the sails.”
Henry stepped lightly into the small boat and secured the sails.
“I see you’re an old hand at this. I’m Bekka.”
“I’m Henry. Where am I? What happened to all the other cottages?”
Bekka didn’t miss a beat as she hopped onto the dock. “You’re here. I’ve been expecting someone to come through today.”
“I don’t understand.”
“This sort of thing happens.”
Bekka walked toward the cottage then turned around. “Don’t just stand there, silly. I’ll pour you some tea.”
They stepped through the screened-in porch into a small kitchen.
“Drink this. I added special ingredients from my garden.”
Suddenly parched, he gulped it down. His brain de-fogged, and he instantly felt like himself.
“Why did you say, ‘come through’?”
“You tripped the lock, opening the portal, and you ‘came through’ to here.”
“I did trip, then fell through something gelatinous. It was a portal?”
“Ahh. That tricky board. It’s the key to unlock the portal. I’m glad you are on this side.” She looked fondly into his eyes, remembering the last time he came through. “What brought you here?”
“I’m taking a break from work.” He wasn’t sure he should divulge he’d just proposed three days earlier to Sienna, then decided to skip town, rent the cottage, and reconsider. When Sienna asked why he’d be gone for a week, he lied, said it was for business. Lying told him something must be wrong. “Why are you here?”
Bekka evaded his question. “Come on. Since you’ve revived, let’s take Lizzy for a spin. The wind is perfect today.”
The screen door swung open on its own accord. Bekka skipped through it with Henry close on her heels. He felt like a teenager on a first date. Reaching Lizzy, he saw both sails unfurl without aid. How was that possible?
Bekka hopped in the front of the boat. “Why don’t you take us to the other side of the river?”
Henry sat at the back of the boat and manned the tiller. What’s happening to me? I feel like I know this place, this woman, this boat.
Bekka closed her eyes and laid her head back to catch the sun. The closer they got to the other shore, the more real the scenario became to Henry. He thought less and less of his life back home. Being with Bekka felt normal, fated.
Bekka eyed him surreptitiously. She knew he was slowly returning to her, just like he did a decade earlier. “Pull into that cove over there.” She jumped into the shallow water and tied Lizzy to a stump. Filled with summer’s delight, she stretched out on the sand.
Without hesitating, Henry eased himself next to her, brushed a strand of auburn hair away from her face, and leaned in for a kiss. Bekka eagerly responded.
Henry wondered, Has this kiss lasted just these few moments, or has it lingered in the air for years?
“I’ve been waiting, ten years to the day, for that kiss.”
Something clicked in Henry’s mind, and it flooded at lightning speed with memories. His whole body tingled.
“I’ve been here with you before. I’m remembering. I now realize it’s you who’ve haunted my dreams. You kept calling to me. Why was I taken away from you?”
“You needed to go back so your family wouldn’t worry, but you promised to return. Once you left, the memories of us stayed here. The first time you tripped the lock, opening the portal, we were fifteen. We had one magical day together. Our connection was instantaneous.”
“I remember my family renting the cottage. When they asked me where I’d been all day, all I could say was, I’d sailed to the other side and fell asleep on the shore. I never told them about you because I had no memory of you or this side of the portal.”
“And now you’ve come back to me.”
For the rest of the week, they spent their mornings on Lizzy as the easterly winds continued to blow. Their afternoons and nights were filled with passion, unmistakable, deep passion until they collapsed in ecstasy. Henry never felt so alive, so free to be himself.
He recalled it was different with Sienna. She was so demanding. He wasn’t sure if she loved him or his annual income. When he proposed, he thought he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Now he realized it’s what he wanted with Bekka. Their relationship felt natural, easy, reciprocal. Somehow, he didn’t feel like he was cheating.
One overcast day, the easterly wind shifted to the west. Henry found Bekka huddled on the sofa, crying.
“What’s the matter, love?”
“The wind has changed. It’s time.”
“What do you mean?”
“When the wind changes direction, it means the portal will be tripped open. You must decide whether to stay here or return to your side.”
Henry was about to take her in his arms when they heard a loud thunk. Startled, they jumped off the sofa, shocked at the sight of a blonde sprawled headlong on the dock.
“What the . . .? What just happened? Where the heck am I?”
“Uh oh. Sienna.” Henry raked a hand through his hair and looked away from Bekka.
“You know her?”
“She’s my fiancée.”
“I proposed a few days before I rented the cottage. I was conflicted and had to reconsider my decision. Then I tripped on the deck, and . . . ”
“And you kept that a secret from me.” Bekka was filled with sadness. “You better go out to her.”
Henry reluctantly walked out onto the dock.
Sienna stood up and smoothed her dress. “Henry! What’s going on? Why the heck are you here? You call this a business trip? I wheedled information from your stupid coworker Ronald after not hearing from you for six days. He told me you’d booked a cottage for a week here in nowheresland. Do you realize how frustrating it’s been for me? Geez, Henry, you can be such a pain!”
“Sienna, I . . .”
“Who is that?! Are you cheating on me, Henry? We just got engaged!”
“Sienna, I don’t know where to start.”
Bekka walked toward them and offered Sienna some iced tea. “Here, drink this. I know you’re thirsty.”
Sienna’s desert-dry mouth outweighed her inclination to throw the tea into the stranger’s face. Instead, she drained the contents, surprised at how much better she felt.
“Start at the beginning, Henry!”
“Let me,” said Bekka. “I’ve lived here most of my life, alone, up until Henry’s first visit.”
“What the devil are you blabbering on about? Henry, this woman’s crazy!”
“I know it sounds bizarre, but if you let me continue, it might make sense. Every so often, the portal opens for a short period. When you came looking for Henry, you tripped on the board, which unlocked the portal, and you came through.”
“Portal? Came through?! What the devil?!”
“The first time Henry came through, we were teenagers. When he described his experience, we both figured out he’d tripped and unlocked a portal to here. I must have done the same thing, although I don’t remember. My world is parallel to yours and tracks with your time. After Henry’s first visit, he returned to his side. When he did, his memory of us, of here, vanished.”
“Then the sooner he returns to my side, the better! His memory of you will die, and I’ll forget he’s been cheating on me! I’m ordering you to come with me right now, Henry!”
Henry silently observed the two women in his life. It became crystal clear who he’d been cheating on, and it wasn’t Sienna.
“I’m sorry, Sienna. I can’t come with you.”
Sienna lost her mind and stomped her foot on one end of a loose board. The other end flipped up, whacked her on her derriere, and catapulted her through the portal.
The wind changed.
Henry sighed in relief. He took Bekka in his arms and kissed her passionately. “I’m here now, my love. Here, with you. For as long as the magic continues.”
Lizzy’s sails unfurled, inviting them to a celebratory glide across the river.