“Please, Shaun, promise me you won’t do it,” his mother said.
“Okay, promise,” he lied.
He had lied to his mother so many times in his life. Did she still believe anything he said?
“How’s Annie? The kids?” she asked.
Shaun put his hands in his mother’s. They felt cool. Her pulse flashed beneath her thin skin.
“They’re all fine. Annie enjoys the teaching more than the office work, despite earning less. Zak is real naughty, but gets good grades which makes reprimanding him tough. Mark has turned out to be quite the athlete. Must’ve inherited his father’s genes.”
His mother nodded her head at each lie. Annie and he had been divorced for six months. Shaun was not allowed to see the kids until he had been straight a year.
“I miss him,” Shaun said.
“Who?” his mother asked.
“I don’t understand why. He was a good-for-nothing scumbag.”
“Do you see it?” Joey asked.
“Yeah,” Shaun said.
They floated on the canal in a small boat. Both Shaun and Joey looked at a footbridge that crossed the canal. It was as gray as the sky and it arched in a semicircle. When seen as a whole with its reflection in the water below, the semicircle became a full circle and the shape of the bridge looked like a hieroglyphic eye.
“Look into the circle,” Joey said and handed Shaun a blue tablet.
Shaun swallowed the tablet.
“You looking into the circle?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shaun said.
“Now relax and squint your eyes,” Joey said. “Let the inside of the circle become a blur.”
Shaun tried it.
“It’s not working, man,” he said.
“Just relax,” Joey said.
Shaun tried to relax. He squinted. Nothing.
“You sell me shit again Joey? Like that acid last week?”
“What? No, man. I told you about that. But this is different. Just chill out, dude, or it can’t work.”
Shaun felt he was getting ripped off again. He looked back at the bridge. A man crossed it. Another man in the distance walked along the extremely narrow pathway next to the water. Both were dressed in black. Shaun squinted. The circle formed by the bridge began to blur. It was a shifting mass of gray mist and water, swirling. He lost concentration. The bridge and its surroundings became redefined. The two men were in the same places as before.
“Shhhhhhh. Don’t lose it now,” Joey’s voice came from afar.
Shaun blurred out the bridge scene again. He focussed on the gray in the centre of the circle. In a strange, swooping sensation, gravity shifted. He stood up in the little boat, woozy, and fell into the circle, crashing through its cold wet surface into the depths below. As he continued to sink into the darkness he fell asleep.
Shaun was in pain. His lungs ached as he pushed them to suck air that never came. His head hurt. His eyelids flashed open. Dazzled. Then blurry. Someone straddled his stomach, slammed their hammy fists into his chest. He convulsed. He began to fade again as the fists raised into the air. This time, when they struck, the water stuck in his chest exploded up his throat and out of his mouth. He sucked air and water still on the way up. Coughed. Choked. Got banged around a bit by the person on top of him. Once he caught his breath, he wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Dad!” he exclaimed when he saw who the man on top of him was. Thirty years younger than the last time he had seen him, but definitely still recognizable. The portal had worked.
“Look here, man, you almost drowned. You’re obviously a little messed up right now. Take it easy. Are you saying your father was with you on the canal?”