Journey to Next World


A fracture in the egg’s shell allowed the white to push out as it boiled. A look and I think, “This is my brain today.” My head is a pressure cooker trying to seal off it’s own leak. Really, that’s my brain every day.

I chew my fingernails down to the quick, blue polish and all. My fingers are stubby and ugly. I hold the egg in one palm, trying to match the fracture with my life line, but hot water spills from the shell before I can. It burns. The egg crashes to the ground. “That would be my brain on drugs,” I think. And then, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.”

There is a wall around the garden outside. Half a wall. Brick and crumbling. kick off my shoes and call to my brother. “Gonna go play,” I say.

Maybe he grunts a response, maybe he doesn’t. He’s fifteen and busy with his own life. With Margaret, a girl who isn’t even real but he loves her anyway and spends all his time building her world on his computer.

I’m not going to play. I pack one of the sandwiches Mom keeps stacked in the fridge. I fill my water bottle. I slide my wallet into my pocket. I’m going to the hole in the garden. I’ve been digging it for ages. It’s finally time to use it. I toe the egg on the floor with my bare feet. I wonder how long it will stay there before it is noticed. How long will it be before they realize I’m gone?

Outside the soil is wet and cakes my soles. The grass was mowed before the rain came in. Small blades stick to my feet like damp confetti. Mud squishes through my toe gaps.

This hole I’ve been digging. It’s a tunnel to Next World. I was shown the gateway in my dream. Beelzebub says I’m chosen. That I can unlock the gate between worlds.

It’s not like it sounds. Beelzebub is my dog, not the devil. And he’s coming with me. He’s helped me dig this hole every day for the last month. On those rare occasions when one of my family members came outside, he sounded the alarm though it wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t. No one ever came this side of the garden wall. Mostly, we kept our noses to the earth tandem-scooping soil by the hand- or paw-ful and tossing it in whichever direction was away. Together, we can really make the dirt fly.

“Come on, Bub!” I call. The russet hound flies around the corner in that dog way that is both regal and ridiculous. Together we uncover the wooden door that was buried in the yard. It glows golden as we scrape off the grit. There is a handprint in its center that matches mine exactly. This is the proof I am chosen; my hand is a key. I place my palm to it and wait for the humming and the click of gears. It parts in the center, swinging inward. The gate is open.

Bub and I scramble through together. The door slaps shut behind us, but we are not left in the dark. As it closes, phosphorescent lights flick on overhead. They look like stars in the yawning night sky. I touch one with a fingertip, feel its glass globe.

Beezlebub barks and takes off. I follow at a quick clip. Even though I’ve never gone past the entryway, I know this place. I’ve walked it in my dreams. I skip up and down steps and know which pits to jump without thought. Bub too.

I don’t know where we’re going, but we know how to get there. The slick halls lead us deeper into Next World. Maybe ten minutes or maybe six hours later we stop and share the sandwich. I sip my water and Bub drinks from a puddle and seems to grow, and then we are off again.

The lights are brightening up ahead. Bub and I pick up speed. Almost there. It’s like the walls are singing to us and the stars are twinkling and suddenly, I am sure of what we will find at the end of this journey. I am certain beyond any doubt. I am both excited and afraid, because I dreamed of this. Yes, I did. I dreamed and forgot. And now that I remember I am very scared indeed.

I almost stop. Bub barks once. A warning. We run on.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

2 Discussion to this post

  1. Very first time I’ve ever read your fiction. I must admit. I enjoyed that 🙂

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      Hooray! I don’t share it often even though I earned all my scholarships, fellowships and awards for fiction. It shouldn’t surprise me that I keep it to myself. Nonfiction is what makes my heart sing these days.

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