21 // SECRETS

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Ethan wasn't wrong about it being a rocky ride.

I clung to him as the floor opened up beneath us, a deep, dark chasm that sucked voraciously on my skin and made me close my eyes in fear it might also attempt to take my eyeballs, as the air grabbed at my face with invisible hands.

The first time we resurfaced, it was onto unsteady feet – mine, not his – inside what looked like a basement in an abandoned factory. Above us, great holes ravaged the ceiling where heavy-duty industrial machinery had been ripped from the flooring on the next level and the ground beneath it was peppered with pigeon droppings, like a thick, dust-choked carpet of white and grey.

Grabbing my hand, Ethan led me up a metal staircase that rattled alarmingly beneath our feet and juddered in its fixings against the wall as if any more weight and it might collapse. Up into the next level we went, avoiding the huge holes in the floor and the rats that scattered into the dark corners, their long wormy tails dragging behind them in the dirt. Outside, I squinted in the glare of the winter sun, having just enough time to see the murky waters of the docks nearby and a graffiti-caked wall in front of us, which I was sure Ethan was going to run us directly into until he raised his hand and pulled, brick peeling away to become a black, empty nothingness.

Running headlong into the void, he grabbed my waist as we slipped from my world into his, tugging me against him once more as I screwed my eyes tight shut and buried my head into the crook of his neck.

More ground juddered beneath my feet, this time a cobbled, narrow alley with hardy tufts of weeds bursting from the cracks in the uneven stones. Tenement buildings rose high on either side, lines of drying laundry zig-zagging across the gap. Through one of the open windows, I heard laughter and voices – French, I think – and the smell of freshly-baked bread, strong and pleasant, filled the narrow space, making my stomach grumble with want.

With his finger held against his lips, Ethan motioned for me to follow him and we crept passed a doorway, where flour dusted the floor and honey-coloured loaves cooled on racks. Poking his head around the doorway just enough, Ethan reached in and grabbed a small oat-topped loaf and handed it to me with a grin, before pulling me away again. I held it to my nose as we ran, savouring the smell, before taking a small bite that tasted a little bit like Heaven.

At the end of the alley, I froze.

A small set of steps led downwards into what looked like a bottomless pit of swirling, indigo chaos and I grabbed at the handrail, petrified at the sight of the dark maelstrom Ethan seemed intent on throwing us into. With a not-unkind roll of his eyes, he smiled reassuringly and held out his hand. I looked at like it might be a snake intent on wrapping itself around me, before counting to three and clutching onto it, wrapping myself around him instead, as he stepped out into the vast drop below us.

Although none of the journeys took more than a few seconds, the next one seemed slightly longer and even more tumultuous than the ones before, but it wasn't the rollercoaster ride into Hell that made my legs weaken, but the heat that awaited us at the end when everything had stopped shaking and I'd dared to open my eyes.

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