Ever since I was eight, I’ve been able to create portals to another dimension.
No, actually. Get your head out of your ass.
For one, the portals only appeared when I was freaking the hell out–like really, really freaking out. The symptoms: sweaty palms, palpitating heart, short breaths–a proper stress-induced disaster. And I say ‘portals to another dimension’, but I don’t actually know if that’s true. Because although I’ve created these portals sporadically throughout my life–starting at the age of eight (I’ll explain that one in a moment)–I never dared leap into one to find out where it led.
You might be thinking, come on, Jess, not even once? Are you joking?
That’s right. Even when I was eight years old, I had the practicality of a weathered sailor who has seen too many god-damned storms.
Which I guess is the reason I became an experimental physicist. (Cue the mad scientist music! But actually, don’t. Because I spent most of my time on a computer tippity-typing my pretty little heart out.)
As far as I know, I’m the only person on the planet with this portal-producing ability. And I wasn’t about to volunteer myself to some white coats for experimentation (I’d seen enough early nineties films to know what alien dissections looked like) so I figured… why not study it myself?
To clarify, I’m not an alien, so you can strike that one off the list. Or, I guess I’m not a space alien.
See, I was born and raised in Canada, on the west side of things. I won’t tell you where because, let’s be honest, you’d have no idea. But I moved to Cardiff for uni–partly because I’d always wanted to live in the UK (who doesn’t love tea?) and partly because I desperately needed to get away from anyone who knew me.
You see, every time another portal zipped into existence, it was a little bigger than the last. And it took a little longer to go away.
Okay, okay, enough exposition. Let’s get to the preliminary report:
Hypothesis: If I get stressed, then I create portals. Staying away from stressors will keep me from producing more portals.
The problem is, it’s a very particular kind of stress causing these portals–one people tend to associate with the netherregions (I’m not gross. You’re gross).
The first time it happened, my crush, Andrea Steward (“Oh my god, you’re a lesbian. It all makes sense now!” Shut up, people, I’m trying to tell a story.) giggled at one of my jokes at an all-girls sleepover party. I felt this sudden rush and, next thing I knew, Andrea’s dog went missing. Just–bloop! Gone. She popped back up after an hour, wagging her fluffy white tail and begging for treats. So really, she was fine. But me? I was just getting started.
Additional results from the all-girls party: I discovered I was a girl attracted to other girls, and when those attractions came a bit too close to actions, I’d freak out and–sploosh!–another portal. (All right, I’ve still got to work on my sound effects. In truth, the portals don’t make any noise. They just look like big black swirling voids. Not too inviting.)
Experimental phase: Drop a bunch of random shit into the portals.
As a proud scientist, I dropped various bits and bobs into the portals over the years. As a kid, it started with toys, pop-tarts, and once, our TV remote–my Dad was not pleased about that hunt. Not while golf was on!
What I noted in those trial testing phases were three things:
- Inanimate objects did not reappear after entering the portal.
- Dropping random things into the portal made said portal disappear shortly after.
- Portal creations could not be purposefully induced (not even while watching Natalie Portman on TV… with the express intent of producing scientific results, of course).
Evidence of portal existence: None whatsoever.
No one but me saw the portals. At first, I took this as a sign I was losing my grip on reality. But several years of therapy later (and never mentioning specifics), I determined that there were no obvious signs I was experiencing hallucinations. Yet not a single person ever saw these portals when they appeared. I was their only witness!
Once I was an educated adult with a doctorate, I had the foresight to carry the necessary equipment with me, so that when I inevitably conjured another portal, I could take measurements. I tried cameras, recording devices, voltage metres… Hell, I tried tossing my phone in once (and immediately regretted it). But as soon as something went through the portal, it was lost forever.
After the incident with Andrea’s dog–and due to my vegan, free-love, animal-adoring lifestyle–I knew I couldn’t put any living things into the portal. Not even a lab rat, people.
So, there it was. My unfunded, unsanctioned experiments had produced very few results.
That brings me to the present… and the hottest f’ing girl I’d ever set eyes on.
Leah Kim was as stress-inducing as they came. She was just the right mix of cute and sexy. She was a few inches taller than me, and she always tucked her hair behind her right ear. I think it was a nervous thing, but she looked damned cute doing it. She wore t-shirts with weird slogans on them, like ‘Batter up!’ with a picture of a cartoon woman from the 50s hitting a man over the head with a rolling pin. And her laugh–oh, god. I wish I could laugh like that. Hers was like a trickling mountain stream, while mine was… well… Have you ever heard a bull mating with a cow? That sound it makes? Yep, that’s my laugh. You’re welcome to it.
Anyways, Leah was f’ing hot, as I said.
She and I met a few months ago. She’d just moved to Cardiff from South Korea. She worked in animation–seriously! She’s so cool!–and we met at this cheesy group meetup for expats. We all gathered at a pub in the city centre, and after some awkward introductions and icebreakers, everybody broke off into groups. They talked about work, holiday spots, and the best Welsh cakes in town, and Leah and I gravitated toward each other as two lesbians in a sea of heteros tend to do.
Leah was funny, but in that adorable way where she didn’t know she was being funny. She told me all about her job–how she was stuck developing little animations for corporate commercials, but what she really wanted was to design short films.
Like a Pixar film? I’d suggested, and her eyes lit up at the idea.
She was also interested in me, which, honestly? I dunno. Astounding. Truly a miracle to be marked in the history books. She’d ask me all sorts of questions about my job, how my experiments were going, what it was like growing up in Canada–and it seemed she genuinely wanted to know the answers!
So, I had at least an inkling she was interested interested. All I had to do now was pluck up the courage and ask her out. And I had to be cool about it. No, not ‘hip’. I mean cool as a f’ing cucumber. No heightened emotions = No extradimensional portals.
Whew, let’s do this, baby.
All right, so. First I meditated for two hours, followed by a thirty-minute yoga class to ensure extra zen-ness… zen-opoly… zen-ity…? Then I texted her: Hey, Leah!! Hope you’re doing well! I was wondering if you’d like to hang out sometime? 🙂 You know, just the two of us?
(Erase, erase, erase.)
Jesus Christ. I had a habit of using way too many exclamation points and “lols”. Dial it back a notch, Jess.
I tried again: Hey Leah. Drinks tonight? Say, 7?
I pressed send before I could overcomplicate things.
I almost squealed with excitement when the response came less than a minute later: Love to. This is a date, right? I’m only coming if it’s a date.
I’m not one to throw the ‘L’ word around, people, but… holy Lesbian was this girl the one.
Oh god, oh god, oh god, I thought as walked the path next to Cardiff Castle.
Its stone walls towered over me and for a moment, I wondered if I could convince them to collapse and bury me before I made a fool of myself.
I saw Leah first. There she was, perfect in all her… perfectness. Yes, nailed it. Should’ve been a writer.
I had to press the pedestrian button and wait to cross with a dozen other people. I tried not to dance on my tiptoes. I spotted Leah standing in the middle of High Street, dressed in a black one-piece with a hot pink blazer thrown over. Casual but classy.
I looked down at my own outfit and groaned. Way to wear jeans on a first date, idiot.
I crossed the second the green light flashed and tried to slow my pace before my date noticed my psychotic gait. Cool as a cucumber, I reminded myself, trying for a smile.
I imagined my smile was a cross between Heath Ledger’s Joker and Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I had a second to temper the crazed look before Leah turned and noticed me standing twenty feet away.
Her face lit up at once, her smile brighter than a midday sun. “Hi, Jess! Good to see you!” She beamed.
Ah, fuck. It was happening. I knew it a split second before the ground opened and a portal swallowed my date.
I did what any sane person would do in the face of an emergency: I broke into a hysteria of curse words and vaulted for the swirling black void.
Remember when I said no one else could see the portals? So, yeah. All those people on High Street, enjoying their dinners outside? They saw… Well, to be honest, I don’t know what they saw. Did they see a woman vanish for no reason? My psychobabble was certainly hard to miss.
I ignored their stares and ran for the portal. The portals always disappeared once something went through. So I ran faster than I’d ever run.
Considering my state of mind, I’m surprised I didn’t dive headfirst into concrete.
I’m glad I didn’t. Instead, I grabbed the thing closest to me–an unoccupied patio chair–and launched myself, and the chair, into the hole a second before the portal zipped shut.
Don’t ask why I stole a patio chair in my moment of panic. In the monkey part of my brain, I guess I thought something was better than nothing? Sure, a rope would’ve been useful, but how many ropes do you see kicking around the city centre?
So, yeah. I threw myself into the portal after Leah Kim. There’s a first time for everything!
It took me a moment to orientate myself once I got to my feet. The patio chair had fallen directly on top of me, leaving a smarting bruise on my shin. Okay… I looked around. Not what I was expecting.
“W-what’s going on?”
“Oh, thank Christ! Leah! You’re okay!”
“Um, Jess? Where the hell are we?”
I swivelled, assessing the new dimension. No aliens. No mutants. No talking lions (come on, you never know). No zombies, robots, cybermen, or dragons.
There was no one. No one except us.
Us, in the exact same place we’d just left.
Leah and I stared up High Street toward the castle. The parapet flags waved in the breeze. I spun and looked down High Street. The shops, restaurants, and clubs were all there, with the tables and scattered rubbish. But there were no people.
No seagulls, for that matter. And with that much trash heaping the streets, there were always a few cat-sized seagulls squawking their fine melodies.
“Uh, okay. All right,” I said, pushing back my hair to make way for some serious incoming brainwaves. “This is fucking weird, right?”
“What’s going on?” Leah asked again. She was staring at me like I’d just kidnapped her. Which, to be fair, I sort of had.
I raised my hands, worried she might run. I didn’t know how far this extra dimension went, but it was probably best if she didn’t sprint away. I wasn’t much of a sprinter, so I doubted I could catch her. “Let me explain…”
She waited, mouth half-open.
“Uh…” In truth, I had no clue how to explain what was happening. “This is… unprecedented,” I began, trying for an awkward laugh that came out as a panicked squeak. “So, yeah… I kind of make these portals. They just appear whenever I’m freaked out,” (whenever I have the hots for somebody), “and I don’t actually know where they go.”
“You…” Leah trailed off, tucking her hair behind her ear and pacing. “You make… portals. Say it again?” She faced me.
“I make portals,” I confirmed, “when I’m stressed. Ever since I was a kid. It just sort of–happens. I don’t know how to stop it.”
“So, you’re… like an X-man or something?”
“I wish I was that cool,” I breathed.
She sort of laughed, but I could tell she was freaking out as much as I was. Then she nodded to herself like she’d made a decision. “What do we do?”
I desperately wanted to give her a conclusive answer. If only I had one. “Yeah, so… that part’s a bit of a mess.” I splayed my fingers for the worst magic trick imaginable. “I don’t know how it works.”
The statement hung in the too-quiet air for a few seconds. Leah assessed me. “Is that why you became a physicist?”
“Uh, yeah, actually. I thought I could figure it out… Through the magic of science.” Jazz hands. Right, Jess. You’re not the funny one. She’s the funny one.
“You said it happens when you’re upset?”
“When I’m…” How did one explain on a first date that they’d conjured an extradimensional prison because they were aroused? I flushed. “It happens when I’m attracted to someone. Like, really attracted.” I said and cringed.
Leah blushed. “Oh.”
God, she was pretty.
Leah rubbed her arm. “Then it stands to reason that if we recreate those feelings… the portal will reopen…?”
My thoughts briefly flickered to Natalie Portman. “I dunno,” I said. “I can’t control it. I’ve tried a few controlled… experiments…” I lost track of my words because Leah’s body language had shifted.
She took a step towards me. Then another step. I froze, my skin prickling.
God, she makes me nervous.
She moved in until our faces were inches from each other. “Something like this…?” She murmured, her breath playing over my face.
My throat bobbed as my eyes drew to her lips. “Uh…” Smooth, Jess. I’d always been a wordsmith. “Yep. Something like that.”
She moved closer until her lips were centimetres from mine.
My breath hitched, but–nothing happened. No shift in space-time. No klablooey, portal!
Leah moved back. I shrugged. “Worth a shot,” I said, still finding my voice with a nervous laugh.
I saw tears flood Leah’s eyes and she spun away from me.
“Oh, Leah! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll figure this out,” I promised, glancing around. Okay, so my mysterious power created a portal to an exact replica of our world, sans life. Well, without sentient life. I could see the trees from Bute Park peeking past the castle walls.
What was the purpose of such a skill? The sick part of my brain thought, Hey, there’s a good place to test out nuclear weapons, like the atomic bomb in the New Mexican desert. It’s a whole world of no-risk experiments waiting to happen. But, none of that helped me now. And Leah was crying.
Oh, god. I’d made the girl I liked cry in the first ten minutes of our date!
She sobbed harder.
“I have an idea!” I said.
Leah pulled her face from her hands.
“I’m going to throw myself off the top of the castle wall,” I smiled like it was the most brilliant plan anyone had ever come up with. Like god-damn string theory.
Leah stared, probably thinking of all the ways I could benefit from professional help.
“You know,” I said, feeling I needed to explain, “because throwing myself off a building will probably ignite some fear response in my frontal lobe or whatever, and fear is close enough to arousal.”
“I don’t think that’s–”
“Come on!” I rushed across the street before she could stop me. No need to wait for pedestrian lights now–take that, tories! Or whatever.
I couldn’t be sure Leah would follow until I slowed at the gates and heard her panting up beside me. “I’m so confused,” she said.
“So, you’re saying this isn’t how your dates normally go?” I asked conversationally.
She giggled–actually giggled!–at something I’d said. “Not usually,” she admitted, wiping her eyes again.
I steeled myself. “Okay, let’s do this–!”
Leah grabbed my arm. “Hey. Throwing yourself off a castle wall won’t help. The hypothalamus is responsible for arousal. The amygdala is the fear centre of the brain.”
“Oh, I–wait, how do you know that?”
Oh, god. She was gorgeous, charming, and smart. I should’ve ticked off at least one of those boxes, but she’d taken the whole card and cried BINGO before I’d even bought the stamp! “Maybe I should’ve tried biology,” I grumbled.
Leah tilted her head at me. “Wait… What was with that chair you brought? The one that landed on you.”
I had to think for a second. “Oh! Yeah. Another of my brilliant off-the-cuff ideas: the art of stealing a patio chair while tumbling through a portal into a lifeless dimension.”
But Leah’s eyes widened. “Maybe that’s the key!”
Her eyes were blazing, now. “Come on!” She grabbed my hand–Jesus, her hands were soft–and hauled me back across the road toward my fallen comrade: the chair. “In, like, every film ever where they cross to another dimension, they’ve got a connection on the other side. What if that’s our ticket out of here?”
I had a hard time arguing with her logic. I mean, when were films wrong? I didn’t point out that, technically, anything we’d brought with us would probably do. Like my shirt, or my wallet, or my lucky rabbit’s foot keychain. (I’m not gross. You’re gross.)
Leah hastened to pick up the chair, placing it upright. “Come here,” she ushered me over, “sit,” she placed gentle hands on my shoulders and pressed me down.
I glanced at the chair, then back at her. “So… Now what?”
“Now,” Leah said, “close your eyes.”
“I don’t really like–”
“Do it,” she ordered, and I did. What can I say? I like when a strong woman tells me what to do.
I slipped into the red-tinged oblivion that was my inner eyelids and waited. For what, exactly, I couldn’t be sure. I was about to say as much when I felt something touch my lips.
Holy jalapeño on a donkey… It was her lips!
Red alert, people: Leah f’ing Kim’s perfect god-damn lips were kissing me!
My eyes flew open in surprise and delight. Yep, confirmed: she was kissing me.
An explosion of feelings burst out at once and I gasped because–splat!–a portal opened and we were falling backwards through it. I pulled Leah in as we spun through the air like two lost leaves caught up in a dance.
Then, like nothing had happened at all, there we were: me, sitting on a stolen patio chair and she, leaning over me, arms wrapped around my shoulders and lips pressed to mine, surrounded by a crowded street of people.
“Holy shit!” I sprang up. “I can’t believe that worked! You’re a genius!”
Leah looked astounded.
“Hey!” A man shouted, tromping towards us with a glare. “That’s our chair,” he said, grabbing it and dragging it back to his pub. I winced at the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound but didn’t bother with apologies.
Leah and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. When the laughter subsided, I wiped my eyes and said with some mustered seriousness, “I guess I should apologise to you, huh?”
“It was a weird first date,” Leah agreed, then surprised me with a smile.
“Let’s stick to pizza and a movie next time?” I suggested.
“I’d like that,” she laughed and took my hand.
Leah Kim was holding my hand. Which meant I was holding her hand. Which meant she still liked me and we were holding hands!
I gulped and looked down at our intertwined fingers. Leah looked down, then back at me. “Don’t you dare, Jess.”