It took Carrie several minutes to get her head together again, but when she finally pulled gently away from Garrett, he let her go and turned back toward the billowing steam. “Well Carrie, are you ready to find out what’s next?”
She laughed a little stiffly and nodded, “Nothing to lose now, huh?”
Garrett pressed a hand to her back gently and got them moving forward, “Plenty to gain if we can figure out what’s going on.”
Together they stepped into the haze.
Carrie was first aware of how blindingly bright it was and immediately shielded her eyes from the glare. There were clouds in the mountains, protecting them from intense reflections, but instead of snow, there was sand.
When she could finally see properly, she looked around quickly, “Desert.”
Garrett removed his coat and flannel, tossing them to the ground before stepping ahead a few feet and looking all around in amazement. Before long he was rotating his arms around in small, slow circles, “Dang it feels like the sun is burning my skin off.”
Carrie could feel it too. After having been in the chilly air, this hot dry air felt brutal. “You’ll adjust but we’d better get rid of our extra clothes before we overheat. Keep your long sleeved shirt on, though.”
Garrett turned back to her, incredulous, “It’s hot though, why can’t I just go with my undershirt?”
“Well if you like sunburns, go right ahead. That desert sun is no joke. We’d better head across quickly and hope the other side is something cooler.”
“The other side?”
“We’ve already been in two places, this being the third, why not more?”
Garrett sighed, “I suppose you’re right about that. Do you think we should head back for better supplies?”
Carrie shook her head, “Naw, we should check at least a little, see if there’s more. No sense getting desert supplies if it’s just a small area anyway. How far do you think we traveled across the mountain?”
Garrett stripped off his outer pant layer as he considered. “Mile and a half? Maybe two but can’t have been much more than that.”
“And how far was it across town at the most?”
His eyebrows furrowed, “Two miles I suppose.”
“So, let’s walk for two miles, if we don’t see anything we’ll head back for better clothes and things.”
Garrett seemed to be processing that as Carrie neatly piled their clothes together, with the brightest item (Garrett’s red coat) on top. “That ought to be visible enough. At least it’s a rocky desert and not full of sand. That’s a bear to walk through, and we can stack some rocks to mark our trail.”
Garrett made a small acknowledging grunt, “Smart.”
Carrie grinned in response, “You know it.”
Walking through the desert didn’t phase Carrie, but the quiet surrounding them gave her time to mull over their situation.
Two mile circles of different places, all connected together in a chain. But we can’t escape the circles, just move to the next one, and the next… on and on. Will it end? Maybe we shouldn’t even be here. Maybe we should go back. But my mom… I have to figure something out. Maybe there will be a city? More people, more chances for help.
“Carrie,” Garrett interrupted her thoughts, about a half hour into their desert journey, “Looking at the ground around here is like staring into an oven. You sure you want to keep going today?”
“Of course! I feel like there must be something, or someone else, out there. Maybe we’ll even be able to see it…” she trailed off and turned her face up towards the horizon in front of them. Sure enough, what looked like a roiling bank of fog was curling out into the desert not far off. “And there it is.”
Garrett frowned a little as they walked, “Weird isn’t it, how these doorways, or whatever you want to call them, get so clouded over.”
Carrie shrugged, “Just the different air masses colliding, although it’s odd the temperatures between all these regions don’t just equal out.”
As they approached the fog, she noticed something she hadn’t seen before. The clouds coming out of the doorway slowly flowed upward and inward towards them like an arc… although they couldn’t see any walls, the clouds were flowing up and around them, giving a better view of their shape.
Carrie halted as a realization dawned on her.
“Garrett we’re in a sphere.”
“What?” confusion crossed his face, but he followed her gaze upwards.
“The clouds are flowing up the inside wall. We’re in a sphere.”
Garrett stepped a ways off to the side, around the cloud bank, studying the way the clouds were moving upwards. “Sure enough, you’re right. What does that mean?”
Carrie wrapped her arms around her front, and looked into the swirling mists, “I haven’t the faintest idea, Gare, and I’m not sure it will be much cooler through here.”
Garrett returned to her side and they passed through together.
It felt like stepping into a steaming hot sauna. A dense fog enveloped them as they stepped onto sturdier rock surface. Almost immediately they felt a few drops of rain beginning to fall, and the swirling cloud slowly rose upward. As the way in front of them cleared they could tell they were up on a rock shelf. Not far to the right it dropped off into some dense trees, just becoming visible.
“Good thing we didn’t come out over there,” Carrie pointed out to Garrett.
He looked out to the side, “No kidding. Where is this, a jungle?”
“I think so… some kind of rain forest. But I’ve never been to one.”
Garrett let out a laugh before stifling it; he was starting to feel a little crazy from how unbelievable everything was. “Well now we have been.”
Carrie gave him a questioning look, but noticed his gaze shifting quickly ahead, “Hey, what is that?”
She looked out through the lifting haze, and there settled along the cliff side was a building of some kind. The slight rain was picking up now, “I think it’s a house, maybe someone is there?”
“Well let’s check it out.”
They started off along the cliff with the rain picking up more, though the rocky surface was rough enough to provide traction. Carrie grabbed Garrett’s hand and tugged him along faster, “Come on, let’s get out of here before we’re soaked.”
They jogged along through the rain for several minutes before reaching a wooden shack, it’s door shut tight against the weather.
Garrett rapped on the door quickly, “Hello? Anyone here?”
Not hearing a response, and getting wetter every second, Carrie reached for the door handle and pulled.
It promptly swung open.
They stepped in quickly, clothes dripping onto the rough wood floor.
“Hello?” Garrett repeated, but it was dark and quiet inside. He stepped across to a small window and pushed aside a heavy cloth covering to let in some light. It was a single room, just a few steps across, and looked empty aside from a small table and stool.
Disappointment was evident on Carrie’s face as she took a step to the side of the table, “No one here.”
“Looks abandoned,” Garrett added, wiping some rain from his face.
Carrie’s attention focused on the table. She walked over to it and studied the dusty papers that lay scattered across its top, a frown settling on her face. “There’s a few papers here but I can’t read them.”
Garrett came over and glanced at them as well. “Same here.” He examined the room again with a sigh, “Well at least we know people have been here before.”
“Wherever here is.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes as the rain continued to beat on the roof.
“I guess we should head back home, once the rain settles. At least we’ll dry out in the desert.” Carrie forced a smile as she said it, but Garret’s attention had moved back to the window. He stepped back over to it and looked out.
“Hey Carrie, I think I see our next door.”
She moved over beside him to see, “More clouds?”
“No,” he pointed.
There were no clouds this time, no shifting fog or mist, just a circular white space sitting further out on the cliff side. It was brighter than the surrounding area, but didn’t seem to be emitting any light. For all the nonsensical things they’d already encountered this week, this seemed the most bizarre.
Unearthly quiet descended on the shack, which refocused Carrie’s thoughts. “It stopped raining.”
Garrett glanced up at the sky, then nodded and strode to the door, pushing it open.
Carrie followed and they walked around the cabin’s wall for a better view.
There sat the perfectly round, white, circle.
A chill prickled along Carrie’s skin, and it wasn’t from the rain cooled air. “Should we?”
“Go?” Garrett finished her question, “We can’t stop now.”
“We could, but…”
“We need to see what it is. Maybe it’s just more snow?”
Carrie was doubtful.
It was always just air before, flowing through doorways and making clouds. But that is an actual doorway. Maybe we can finally figure out what is going on here…
They approached the new doorway in silence, although the jungle sounds around them had begun to pick up since the rain had quit. Eerie insect sounds, exotic birds chirping, and a few high pitched frog calls filled the air, but Carrie and Garrett’s focus didn’t waver as they approached the fascinating white gateway.