• Where am I? That was my first thought as I left the alley and emerged into those glaring orange lights. How did I get here? That was the second thought, for the last memory I had was lying down for the night, my insomnia hopefully departing for once. What in God’s name is that? This exclamation was my third thought as I discovered that I was, as the saying goes, no longer in Kansas.
    My name is James Edding, and this is my account of what happened when I awoke within one of the multiple worlds surrounding our own and stared into the face of Death. In truth, the being I took for a representation of our modern age’s Thanatos was just a fellow on his way home. Perhaps it was more than a mere coincidence that he was a version of our world’s mortician, but I’ve never believed in such things.
    Staring into the face of this stranger, I discovered an expression of unrest on his profile. This man was not Death, even if associated with it, and near to that moment I realized that he was not a skeleton in a black shroud, but a very gaunt young man in his professional attire.
    “Who are you, stranger?” I found myself still shocked and unable to answer his question.
    “Stranger, are you mute?” The man asked curiously, tilting his head. What an odd image on one whom I first mistook for Death, and the innocence of it broke my paralysis.
    “No, of course not… Just, well… Confused! I am James Edding and might I ask, where am I?”
    The man nodded in understanding. A smile appeared on those grim lips, brightening his countenance and making me feel much more comforted.
    “You be in Eld Folk, and I take it you come from the ether.”
    “Ether? What’s that Mr...?” I was disquieted, disoriented, and wondering if perhaps I was dead and now in some strange afterlife.
    “Call me Decis, Stranger James. And quite simply I can’t answer with accuracy. My people have always known of the ether, but this is my first encounter with a denizen of it.” Decis gave me an indulgent smile, as though explaining to a child a simple lesson. Perhaps it was.
    “Are you talking about parallel worlds, Decis? And what’s with this ‘Stranger’ stuff?”
    “Stranger is a title for those from the ether. As for parallel worlds, I’m afraid I don’t understand the term.” A smile sprang to his face again, almost embarrassed.
    “Well quit it. It’s a little unsettling, and I’d rather just be James, thank you.” A frown had spread on my face, only just comprehending the fact that I appeared to have fallen asleep in my bed and awoken having passed through a wormhole, or some such astronomical mumbo jumbo.
    “As you wish Str- James, and I beg your pardon if you’ll give it.”
    “Of course, there’s nothing to apologize for. Now, um… Perhaps you might help me?”
    Decis’s face lit up as he said, “Aye, I’d like that very much! Assisting a Stranger brings much luck, so it does. What is it that you need?”
    A way to go home… “A place to stay until I figure out what to do would be nice.” I rubbed my neck, never having asked for free shelter before. “I’ll pay you somehow…”
    “Never, James, it is an honor. Come, my home may not be much, but I get along well enough.”
    And with that, I was lead through a labyrinth of streets and alleys towards my new friend’s home. And I suppose it wasn’t until later that I realized I thought of him in such a way, but I believe that was when it first came to mind.
    On the way I saw many others who lived in Eld Folk, and each were perhaps more frightening than Decis was when I first encountered him. Some had deep and shining violet eyes, others had more appendages than an average person, and one had what appeared to be bat ears and a scorpion tail. They all gave me a lingering look if they saw me, but none moved to confront us. As we ran, I realized the orange lights I first saw were torches.
    After what seemed an hour of being pulled along at full speed (and Decis was fast for such a gaunt man), we finally stopped in front of a cottage made of white timbers.
    “What wood… is this…?” I asked in between breaths. Decis gave me an odd look.
    “Wood, James? That’s not from any tree, look again.” He was right, I realized, because I saw they weren’t made of wood at all, but of very large bones. I couldn’t help but gulp, wondering what beast could be so large as to have its bones fashioned into a home!
    Decis grabbed my hand once more, pulled me inside, and as I glanced around, I saw a normal home, except for the surgical tools spread out on a table.
    “Decis, are you some kind of doctor?” He appeared confused for a moment, so I motioned towards the tools, and he chuckled.
    “You mean a life mender. Nay James, I am what others call a Dead Settler.”
    “Dead Settler, what do you…? Oh.” As you may have guessed, that was the moment I realized Decis’s profession.
    “Aye James, but enough about me. Perhaps you are hungry?”
    I was, so he produced some dried meat for us both. I was afraid to ask what it was. We talked as we ate, and I learned quite a few things, such as those with the violet eyes were known as Blinders and that they were descendants of Strangers. The people with more appendages were what Decis called the Downtrodden and that they came from a poisoned land. He never related to me what made it different from Eld Folk, and I never asked. Perhaps something was pushing the poison away. The last people I had seen were also from a poisoned land, but one where the ether’s influence was strong. He said that they came from another world, and the poison prevented them from returning.
    After the insights he had provided me, I couldn’t help but explain some things that I understood, such as the parallel worlds, and what I thought had happened to me. He nodded with interest at the subjects, but his personal beliefs overruled any that I had. His only response was, “The ether has power currents in all worlds.”
    I suppose it was true enough. I mean, didn’t people here see ghosts and strange creatures? Perhaps they came here through the ether. I asked if he knew how I might return to my home.
    He shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, James, but only the ether determines that. It’s getting late, and I am sure you must be tired. Use the bed if it does ya, and I shall take a blanket on the floor. I am most comfortable closest to the earth.”
    Did I mention that even Decis wasn’t exactly human? I don’t think I have… Well, his race have an innate connection to the deceased, and to the earth and sea from which we all return to. We retired for the night. I thought I couldn’t sleep with all these new thoughts, and my insomnia would have to act up, yet that night was the best sleep I had ever gotten. When I woke, I found myself in my old bed. Was it all a dream? ...I think not. And I think I shall visit it again.