Welcome to your Monday Sidetrack! Start by reading the story all the way through. Then, if you need a bit more of a sidetrack from your day, go back and explore the hyperlinks I've found for this bit. That way, you'll get the most out of the whole post. Enjoy!
(This story begins with Monday Sidetrack: 6. Start there to get caught up and see the photos or go to https://www.lavendersidetrack.com/story-catchup to read all the previous posts as one long post. Then subscribe to find out what happens next!)
Everything but the river was quiet and my phone said it was 10:28 p.m. My fellow kayakers must have gone to bed already. Either that or I just couldn't hear whatever they were doing.
My backpack was right where I expected - in the far corner of the tent near the foot of my sleeping bag. I grabbed my flashlight from its hanging point at the top of the tent, then my sunglasses and shoved them into the top pocket of my bag. Next was my pillow (a.k.a. the storage bag for my sleeping bag that was stuffed with clothes). That fit well enough into the main compartment after I squished it down a bit.
I checked my pocket for the lid from Ruby. It was still there and my mind began to race through all the possible scenarios the next portal might lead to. If Ruby was right, I'd be back in the lighthouse with her and Viola in a few minutes. If she was wrong...
I stopped there.
It took about five minutes to pack everything. Next was the tent. I had chosen to use my own instead of the one the tour company offered. At the time I made the reservation, I had reasoned that it would be better to use a tent I already knew, even if I had only used it once to test it out in my living room and once to sleep one night in Pine Grove Furnace State Park two years prior. I had spent hours researching which tent to buy and New Zealand felt like the perfect place to really use it.
Two and a half seconds before I would have stuck my head out to make sure the coast was clear, there was a knock on the polyester wall next to my head.
I sat back on my heels.
What should I do? What should I do?
"Lana," Katja whispered.
I opened the zipper.
"Hey, Katja. What's up?"
"Since you didn't come to dinner, I just wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. I just wasn't very hungry. I was still full from lunch."
"O.k., yeah. I'm sure you were. Also, I wanted to," she looked in both directions and then bent over to whisper eye-to-eye with me. "I also wanted to tell you to be careful."
"Of course. I'm trying to remember all of the safety precautions you covered this morning."
"That's not what I mean. I'm sure you know that. You're not the only one who has found portals here. Keep that in mind too. In fact, there are a couple of people in particular you should be wary of, two sisters. Their last name is Calder and they're working on a way to turn their discovery into a tourist attraction."
I opened my door all the way.
"Come in, quick."
Katja slid into my tent and I closed the zipper behind her.
"I see you're already on your way out," she nodded toward my backpack.
"Yeah, they're expecting me."
"Um, I'm not sure how to describe them."
"Whoever they are, be careful. I've never been through a portal myself, but I've known people who have and they haven't always had good experiences."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Take this with you," she handed me a serious pocket knife.
That's how I would have described it, because it was only a knife and not a multi-tool and because I didn't know much about knives.
"You're really starting to worry me."
"Don't be worried, be smart."
She gave me one last look and then she left.
I sat there perplexed for a few seconds before I got back to work. I stuck my head out of my tent again and saw no one. Then I set my backpack on the ground outside the door and followed.
First, I pulled out all the stakes and put them back in their bag. While I was unclipping one of the suspension rods, I heard a crunch in the trees that made me jump.
I froze and listened.
There was no more noise and I couldn't see any sort of movement.
It was probably an animal. Keep moving.
I did my best to brush off the bottom of my tent before I put it back in its bag, but I also wanted to get out of there before anyone else noticed me.
Halfway down the path, I tripped on a rock and almost fell. I caught myself on a tree trunk and kept going.
The communal tent was empty then and I felt a little jolt of optimism at the thought the Viola and Ruby might only be one leap through a zipper away.
I felt the lid in my pocket again.
I reached down and pulled the zipper up like I had the first time and that second doorway appeared like it had the first time. I stepped through and hoped with all my might that I'd find myself at Viola's kitchen table and not in complete darkness.
"Lana!" Viola ran over to me and hugged me.
My grandma who had been gone for five years in my regular life was hugging me. I cried and I didn't know if it was because I missed her so much or because Ruby's guidance had worked. I felt my face scrunch up like it always did and hot tears started to run down my cheeks.
"Lana, are you alright?" Ruby ran to the edge of the table.
"Mmm hmm," I held my eyes closed and tried to take a deep breath.
Viola leaned away and held my shoulders.
"Are you sure? What happened out there? Sit down. Here, let me take your bag."
Viola pulled my right shoulder strap and I turned around to free my left shoulder too.
"I'm just so relieved this all worked." I wiped my cheeks with my napkin from the pie.
Viola filled a glass with water and brought it over to me.
"What was it like? Did it hurt at all?" Ruby walked over and sat on my plate.
"No, I didn't feel anything. As far as I could tell, everything went how it was supposed to. There was just one thing I didn't expect. My kayak trip guide caught me packing up my things."
"Oh no," Viola said. "What did she say?"
"She told me about two people to watch out for, two sisters. Their last name is Calder and they're trying to turn the portals into a tourist experience. That was all she knew."
"Interesting," was all Ruby said before she went back to the elephant and pulled out her backpack again.
"Have you heard of them?" I took a sip of water.
"You could say that I've heard of their relatives, two generations ago. The good news is that they'll never succeed."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"It's impossible," Ruby pulled out a thick book and began to flip through dog-eared pages and torn paper bookmarks. "Just let me find the page. I know I marked it at some point."
"Lana, you must be exhausted after all of this. If you'd like, you could sleep in my guest room tonight. You too, Ruby. It's that door with the lavender sachet hanging on the knob. The bathroom is just past the couch and my room is next to that."
"I am tired, now that you mention it. Thank you. Maybe I'll just get ready for bed."
"I'll keep looking for the page."
"Thanks, Ruby." I stood up and grabbed my backpack. "I'm so glad I found you two. When I went through that door, I didn't know where I was or what might happen next. How lucky."
"Agreed." Viola stood up and hugged me again.
I sat on the bed just to think for a second, but I didn't last long. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in my clothes and Viola's home was dark.