This is a true story. A long time ago, when the world was still hot and more star dust than planet, the gods decided that this was an interesting corner of the universe that needed stories to happen in it. And so they created beings to live and play and laugh on the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, the gods hadn’t grasped the concept of basic biology yet and the little creatures suffocated in the toxic atmosphere or melted when they fell into a magma pit. And so, they tried again, starting from scratch and going small. They created a single cell. This time it lived. Rejoicing, the gods opened the cosmic champagne and watched the cell in eager anticipation, waiting to see what stories would arise. For a million years, the cell did nothing but photosynthesize. The gods quickly got bored. Arguing about what to do, one of the gods, who some call Life, went behind the other gods’ backs and touched the cell. The cell split. Then it split again. Four billion years later, that same cell is still splitting and it’s in every single one of us.
“You know, it’s a simple question. Where are we going? That’s it. Simple. Instead I get a story about the Origin of Species or some shit?” Julio asked.
“Stories are important, Julio. They’re what we think with, just like we walk with feet and talk with mouths,” Amanda said with a laugh.
“Room’s almost ready,” said Zach, chill as ever.
“Good. Plus, a good story gets the mind ready, Julio,” said Amanda.
“Ready for what?” he asked.
“The trip,” said Lindsay with a smile.
It was simple. A discreet slide from this plane to the one right next door. Zach lit the last candle and started the drum beat app on his phone. A real drum would have been better but they worked with what they had.
“Where are we going today?” Lindsay asked in that cheery way she always did. Julio tried to look like he didn’t care. It wasn’t easy.
“We’re headed to the other side of the membrane to see the Splintered Voyagers,” said Amanda.
“That’s it? I wanna see Hades or Valhalla or the Hall of Infinite Stars,” said Zach.
“Those are real places?” Julio asked.
“Baby steps. Julio’s still new at this, remember?” Amanda chided them.
“I’m not that new,” Julio said, sheepishly annoyed.
“It’s good to go back to basics every once in a while. It’ll be fun. Come on,” said Amanda.
They sat in a circle, legs crossed, each holding their focus item. Julio’s was a pocket knife his mother had given him when he was three. He’d had an interesting childhood.
“We now begin another voyage. Close your eyes. Focus on my words. Breathe. Feel your energy flow in and out with every breath,” said Amanda. Julio hated this part. He’d never been good at sitting still. Or waiting. Or being patient. “Relax, Julio. In and out. That’s it.”
It was late morning, and a songbird in the tree outside was distracting as hell. After a while, Julio decided to listen to the bird’s chirping. It was calling out. It’s voice melodious. It really was a song, Julio thought to himself. What was the bird saying? Who was it hoping would be listening? Did they sing to communicate or was it just a song stuck in their souls that needed expression? Something that had to come out?
“And we did it. That was easy, see?” said Amanda. Julio opened his eyes. They were still sitting in the room.
“It looks the same,” said Julio.
“That’s because we’re just on the other side of the universal membrane. Everything is going to look similar until we get further away from our world,” Lindsay cheerfully explained. Julio caught himself smiling and then intentionally scowled to keep up his cool and serious image.
“Well, how will I know when I’ve crossed then?” asked Julio.
“Check out your focus item,” said Zach. Julio did so. His pocket knife was glowing an ethereal green energy.
“Sweet,” said Julio.
Amanda led the group out the door. Julio hadn’t noticed the song bird was now screaming profanities.
“This isn’t our world but it is a close reflection,” Amanda began.
“Here we go,” said Zach, rubbing his forehead.
“Here the subtle is more overt and the ephemeral is much closer to the surface,” Amanda said.
“We already know this stuff,” said Julio.
“The Splintered Voyagers thought that too. It didn’t end well for them,” said Amanda.
A bit of an understatement really. Julio had heard about the Voyagers during his training. It was a gruesome cautionary tale and the reason people like Julio called themselves Sojourners now instead of Voyagers.
“Everything is amplified here as you’ll see in a second. Emotions, thoughts, meaning, value, all of it is fed through an amp and then blasted into your senses,” said Amanda.
“Is that why your tits are so huge here?” asked Julio.
“Of course not, silly. My tits are always huge,” said Amanda with a wink.
After several minutes journey, they finally reached the front door of the small house. Amanda opened the door and Julio saw the world. It was bigger and grander and lusher and fuller and brighter and more slippery than anything he’d ever experienced. Before felt like a prison. This was real. This was more real than real.
“Soak it in, man,” said Zach. Julio was speechless.
“Look at that. The boy with all the quips has nothing to say,” said Amanda.
“I just… whoa,” whispered Julio.
“Look. Over there,” said Lindsay.
In the distance, the Splinter waited. It looked like a giant gash in the sky, waiting for more hapless “voyagers” to explore it.
“We’re going there?” asked Julio.
“Yep,” said Amanda.
“Goddamn. Fuck. I am not liking this idea. We’re going to it anyway aren’t we?” Julio said with a sigh.
“Oh not today. First we’re going to learn how to Sojourn. That path in front of us will take us to the Splinter, but it will take us through many times, places, and states of being. It will be challenging,” said Amanda. Julio cracked his knuckles.
“Let’s do this.”