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City-Above, City-Below

This is Aimee Ogden's 11th story for Daily Science Fiction. It's not her most important accomplishment, but it is the one we at DSF are most grateful for!

On a clear day, when the wind stays home to rest and the waters of the lake go un-stirred, it's possible to cross from the City-Above to the City-Below.
Go down to the lake's edge just after morning's first light, when the sun has begun to wake but not yet fully roused from its bed. The passage is easiest then, when there is neither night nor day and nothing is either fully one thing or the other. As the old stories have it, the crossing is made easier if you fill your pockets with stones, but in truth there is no need to weight yourself down so. Fill your pockets instead with gifts, candies, perhaps a message painstakingly penned and marked with the name of the one you seek. You will sink either way.
Of course you should not seek out your other-self in the City-Below; you will not find their face there, as you surely know. Your passage is a trade, not a gift.
If you have chosen to seek out the City-Below, it is almost certainly to seek out one that you have loved, and lost, in the City-Above. If this is so, take the first calm day you can find and do not tarry. These things have a way of averaging themselves out, over time, the City-Below hewing close to the City-Above, the City-Above cleaving to its own reflection in turn. Each city is both reflection and reflected, and such a finely-tuned mirror does not long tolerate imperfections.
Kneel by the shore and find your own reflection. Wait for a moment, watching carefully. If you reach for your reflection first, it will reach back for you; if it reaches first, you must be ready. Lean into its embrace and hold your breath. When you land on the other side, your feet on the sandy sky and your head hanging over the unreachable blue ground, do not look back. Time, as you well know, is precious in the City-Below just in the City-Above and you have none to waste looking to see which way your reflection has gone.
You may wonder at the stronger, deeper color of the sky; at the way the whole world seems to tremble when a breeze drags its fingers across the surface. But breath will come as naturally to you as it does in the City-Above, and though you may doubt it until you tumble through to the other side, you will not feel awkward, not frightened in the least, to walk upside down. You will never doubt that your heel, with each strike, will cling to the inverted cobblestones. Indeed, you may feel, for the first time in ages, that the weight of all the sky is not pressing down on you and driving the air from your body.
Hurry to your lost one's door--your own door, perhaps, or another. Its color will be the same as you remember but you must go north where you remember south, bear left when you would have turned right. When you grab instinctively for the doorknob, you will find it on the wrong side from what you expect. Your key will not fit the lock; be sure to knock loudly.
Savor your time together. You may get another opportunity; you may not. Weather is fickle and so is the threadbare curtain between life and death. Say the words you never said; give the pieces of yourself that you always hid away against a perfect moment that never came. No moment is perfect until polished to a bright shine by human hands. Use yours now.
Eventually, as the sun slips away from the sky, the City-Above will tug at the tethers that bind you to one world and not another. Do not try to bring your lost one with you, even though they cling to your hand, even if they ask what's come over you, beg you to stay, just a moment longer, just one more slice of cake, just one more cup of tea. If they try to make the passing without their own reflection to accept them, they will be lost all over again. This is not your world and this is not your loved one and the time you steal would come due, in turn; the tug at your heart will become a noose about your neck.
When the lake is calm, look for your reflection's face and wait once more for that moment of perfect unison. Tumble through one another, you bubbling upward, your other-self sinking away below.
You should hurry home. Enjoy the evening meal, the warmth of the fire, the embrace of your parents, the smile of your pretty-one, the laughter of your children--whatever gifts this life has granted you.
It's best not to linger too long on who your other-self might have come here seeking.
These things have a way of averaging out over time. You should enjoy however much is left to you.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 28th, 2021
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