By Brandon Muhlestein from the June 2022 issue of The Compass
A hushed silence hung between the two men as they inscribed symbols in perfect shape and placement on a cold stone wall. The gravity of what they were about to accomplish was tempered only by their enthusiasm and eagerness. They worked in perfect tandem, synchronized in action and desire; each symbol edging them closer to their goal. Their notes, scattered across the floor, were covered in scrawling first attempts at the alchemical symbols—serving as references for the ones they were now marking on the wall. Occasionally, they would lean down to grab one or two of their notes just to make sure they were doing it correctly.
“I think mine’s done,” Archer said in reverent awe, stepping back from the wall to look over his work. “If you could check it when you’re done.” Noah didn’t look up as he concentrated on finalizing the symbol he was working on.
“I’m done too,” Noah finally replied, wiping beads of sweat and backing away from the symbol he’d just finished. He looked over at Archer’s symbol and nodded. Everything seemed correct. They both gazed for a moment in wonder at their accomplishment.
Satisfied with their work, they cleaned up the papers and chalks lying about on the floor. The chalk they’d used to draw the alchemical symbols on the wall had been specifically created for this procedure—each one infused with a periodic element necessary to make the formula work. It had taken them months to acquire the raw elements and infuse them into the sticks of chalk, but their work had paid off!
They gazed upon the symbols again. A sense of intensity flowed through their veins like fire… they were standing on the precipice of success!
“We are ready. I can’t believe we are about to do this,” Archer said, turning to Noah. He didn’t respond, he just stared in wonder at the wall. Collectively, they had drawn 16 different alchemical symbols. Through their research, they had come to believe this pattern would create a portal granting them physical access to the Fragmented Shore, more commonly known to the world as the dimension of time.
For years, Noah had slaved away in every dark and dreary library across the globe, poring through any ancient texts that had any reference to the notions of time and space. He suspected there must be more to time than what humanity accepted. People were so willing to accept that God could be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, but refused to believe that time was anything other than a construct that moved the universe forward. He discovered textbooks of ancient civilizations which had cryptic messages about something Noah had pieced together as the Fragmented Shore. It took years to track down each of the 16 symbols and discover which element activated each symbol. Now, after piecing the ancient puzzle together, they believed they could finally open the portal.
The science fiction film Interstellar had seemed to Noah to be the closest in accuracy about time in its rendition of Matthew McConaughey diving into a black hole and travelling through time. In the film, time was a dimension all its own that could be traversed and controlled to some degree, and Noah felt there was more truth to that than even the movie’s creators knew. And similar to the way Matthew’s character had used that ability to send his past self a message, Noah hoped to be able to use the Fragmented Shore to alter a part of his life that he had never been able to leave behind.
Noah put his hand on Archer’s shoulder. “We are about to be the first ones in modern times to experience time as a plane you can walk on.” Archer had been Noah’s partner in this journey for the last couple of years and had come to have the same appreciation for this cause as Noah did, which led to a confident friendship. Looking back, Noah would admit their relationship had been shaky at first—most of which was due to Noah’s unbridled intensity, as Archer called it, which sometimes scared him. However, after years of working together, Archer came to accept that this was Noah’s passion, it was what drove him. Not only did he accept it, it solidified his belief that one day Noah would find it—that portal, that dimension of time—the Fragmented Shore.
Noah asked Archer once why he had joined him, but Archer never offered a solid reason—just a vague indication that he too was looking to right a wrong.
“Remember Archer,” Noah continued, “This hasn’t been done by any civilization still alive today, and I can’t promise it will be as simple as walking through our front door. Time is a force of nature we don’t even begin to comprehend.”
Archer cut him off, turning to clasp his hands on Noah’s shoulders. “I understand the dangers, Noah. I accepted them when I joined this project. I’m just excited to see what happens.” His voice was sincere as he pledged himself yet again to the cause. Noah understood and nodded.
Together, they gathered the final pieces of the ritual and stepped firmly in front of the waiting gateway. Archer read out the instructions they had managed to piece together from their studies. Everything they found pertaining to the ritual was written in the ancient Adamic language, one which the world had very little information and even fewer translations. Archer took Hebrew as part of his college experience, and they both agreed if anyone were to get the translations right, it would be him. As he had studied the ritual, Archer had come to realize there was a vocal part to it; key phrases spoken aloud at various points. He spoke slowly yet forcefully—willing the fabric between the two realms to part at his command. As he spoke, he traced the symbols on the wall with a gloved finger, which had been dipped in a bowl of liquid mercury. Afterward, Noah took the bowl of remaining mercury and placed it gently at the foot of the alchemical circle on the wall.
Within moments, a powerful wind rushed toward them from the wall. Archer raised his voice to compete with the howling wind. The mercury in the bowl began to rise and slowly fill the space of the runic circle as Archer traced the remaining symbols. With each of the 16 runes serving as a boundary, the mercury slowly filled the space from the bottom to top, almost as if it were being poured into a jar.
When the mercury reached the top of the circle—a now smooth surface on the wall—the runes flashed with bright light as Archer traced the final symbol. The winds immediately stopped, and both men stood in anxious anticipation of what would happen next. Each of the runes began to glow with a swirling rainbow of color, rapidly transitioning through the color spectrum on repeat.
“Look,” Archer whispered, pointing to the surface of the mercury. It rippled before becoming transparent, then a vision of a beach appeared on the surface. Noah and Archer drew suspenseful breaths. Neither of them knowing exactly what lay beyond the gateway.
“Remember, be cautious and stay together.” Noah reached his hand out, Archer grabbed it—their way of making sure they didn’t get separated. They gave each other a nod before stepping through the gateway.
From one heartbeat to the next, they passed through the gateway with a rush of inexplicable sensation. The next thing they knew, they were standing on a beach of pure-white sand. The ocean that spread out before them was not made up of water, but a seemingly endless sea of broken glass. They both looked around but found no remarkable landmarks anywhere around them: simply the portal behind them and the ocean spanning the view before them.
“It’s beautiful.” Archer whispered.
Noah nodded in agreement; he’d seen many ocean side views before, but this was unlike any other. There was what could only be described as a sun sitting reminiscent of a sunset on the sea of glass. The sky was filled with an aurora borealis of colors that flowed like jet streams. The shards of glass that made up the ocean perfectly reflected everything above them, creating a canvas of color—constantly shifting and changing.
They stepped closer toward the shards and looked carefully at each one, but found nothing distinctive about them.
“If this is the dimension of time, what is it that we are supposed to do next? Do these shards have any meaning?” Archer wondered aloud. He knelt and reached out to pick one up. He studied it in his hands for a moment, trying to understand, before finally throwing back into the expanse.
The impact caused a ripple effect, as if Archer had thrown a boulder into a lake. Suddenly the ocean of shards began to shift and roll, like waves on a beach. Each swell pushed the ocean of shards up past their legs… a little further each time, like a tide coming in. It felt harmless at first, but as the swells began to grow, each recession brought a force that seemed to be pulling them under.
“Archer, we’ve got to get higher up on the shore,” Noah said, with some alarm in his voice. They pushed their way back toward the shore, but it was growing further away from them every time the ocean pulled them in. They found it increasingly difficult to wade back up, though oddly enough the shards didn’t stab or hurt them as they pushed through them.
Suddenly, the sky turned to an angry reddish orange color as they felt a deep reverberating sound resonating around them. They spun in shock to look back across the ocean. Noah’s heart nearly stopped when he saw the ball of light was now a large, mechanical red eye staring directly at them. Nothing in any of the texts he’d studied had ever indicated anything like this would be here.
Shooting an uneasy glance at each other, they began more intensely, pushing their way back, not just toward the shore now, but toward the portal. They made little progress until the shards stopped pushing as far up the beach line as before, and soon they found their footing getting stronger. They thought they could make it until the intense crash of a massive wave threw them off their feet, ripping their hands apart. Noah was thrown up the beach toward the portal, close enough to reach through and grab onto the wall beyond, anchoring himself.
He looked back, searching for his friend, and watched in horror as Archer floundered hopelessly against the irresistible force of the tide. Like a tsunami pulling its victims into the cold depths of the ocean, Archer was swallowed up and lost beneath the surface of the shards.
“Archer!” He screamed, in utter disbelief and horror. The cresting ridge of the next wave struck terror into his heart, and he knew he only had a moment to escape. The large red eye burned mercilessly above him. With every ounce of his strength, he managed to pull himself through the portal and back into the room. In desperation, he ran his hand through one of the runes, smearing the clean lines of the symbol, closing the portal—just before a loud crashing sound sent him cowering to the floor.
When he next looked up, the mercury had fallen back into the bowl, and the room was dark and quiet. He broke down as he looked back at the ring of symbols still scrawled on the wall; all but one of them sitting in perfect position. Screams ripped themselves from his body as tears streamed down his face. The final image of the Fragmented Shore that burned itself into his memory was the look of terror on Archer’s face as their hands were ripped apart just before he was swept away into the sea of glass. In all his preparation… all his planning… never had he imagined things could go this horrifically wrong. Now he was left falling apart with the sole thought of How could I have let this happen?