“For what it’s worth, I believe you,” the officer said, “but our hands are tied. We can’t do anything. Look, I can be upfront with you because nobody will believe any of this. We’ve already investigated these things and saw the same sort of stuff as you. One of our men committed suicide after seeing what he saw. But the district attorney thinks it’s bullshit, and even if she didn’t, there’s no way in hell we could convince a jury that this stuff is real.”

The officer was right, of course. I could go to the media, but any respectable journalist would laugh in my face. It was just too incredible, like the visions of a raving madman.

I myself had never believed in the portals. Only the gullible, the superstitious, the overly religious types could believe in that stuff. I preferred to stay grounded in reality. If it wasn’t reported in the New York Times, and if there wasn’t a scientific consensus behind it, it couldn’t be real. Until one February morning my friend took me to meet a shaman somewhere out in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

I know what you’re thinking. It was some cheap parlor trick. That’s what I thought, too, when the shaman first opened one of the portals, disappeared through it, and came back a few moments later. If I was at a loss to explain how he did that, much less could I explain how I was able to enter the portal myself afterward. I found myself in a jungle. I have no idea where it was, whether in South America, or China, or some other world. I think it must have been India, though, based on the appearance of the man over there and the accent of his broken English.

The man must have been some sort of shaman, too. He had the appearance of one of those Hindu ascetics who spend their days in meditation and eat little, if anything. We didn’t talk much, as I wasn’t there for more than a minute or so. He said he was a friend of the shaman, and that he was there to make sure I didn’t become disoriented and wander off, but that I made it back.

I walked into the portal a skeptic, but I came out a believer, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I was beginning to believe. The shaman showed me and my friend how to open the portals. It was a simple ritual, which I won’t describe here because I’ve come to realize the danger of these portals and their attractiveness to the wrong sort of people. He warned us to be careful, to never step into a portal we weren’t familiar with without someone who was familiar with it.

“There are many portals that nobody knows where they go to,” he explained, “because nobody who entered them has ever come back out.” Caution was warranted where experimentation could prove deadly.

The portals attract a strange sort of people, just the sort who would believe in portals. Neopagans, witches, hippies, and others who don’t quite fit in normal society. Many of them can’t open the portals and have never seen them in actual use. Only the true believers can actually open them.

I later found out that many don’t even need the ritual. It’s just a crutch for those of us who are inexperienced and awkward in these matters. It helps us to focus our spiritual energies, but it can be done with just some concentration as long as the person opening the portal doesn’t doubt his ability to do so.

The portals themselves can be found just about anywhere. People say that their locations were sacred sites to the ancient peoples. There must have been much more communication across cultures in the ancient world than we have imagined, maybe even communication across worlds. Some people have said that Buddhist missionaries from China visited the Americas long before Columbus. If that’s so, they may not have come by boat.

Once you’ve been through a few portals, you begin to recognize where others are. There’s a sort of energy emanating from the earth at those points. You can feel it. I always remembered the shaman’s warning, though, and never went through a portal that nobody I knew was familiar with. I never dared even to open them up.

I have visited every continent, and places that I think were on other planets, in other galaxies, since going through that first portal. I have met many other people, many other portal-hoppers, during that time. There are probably around ten thousand people or so who use the portals, so you end up seeing some of the same people over and over again, and get to know at least a few quite well. We never talked about the dark side of the portal culture, though. Nobody ever told me in direct terms about the malicious people among us.

It’s obvious in retrospect. The portals are just too appealing. If you’re into some shady business, say drugs or even human trafficking, such a quick, invisible travel method is a real boon to your enterprise. Not only that, but the portals to nowhere, that nobody ever returns from, are convenient for making your enemies disappear or disposing of the occasional body.

I’m not naive. I always knew that there was evil in the world. Sure, the human traffickers in particular make me naseous, but it’s the capacity for evil in seemingly ordinary people that really makes my stomach churn. I get sick even thinking about what I saw. I haven’t used a portal again since that day, and I nearly have a panic attack whenever I feel the energy of one nearby.

It was a morning in late winter in Arizona again, this time near Sedona. A couple had brought their young daughter, probably about seven or eight years old, to visit a portal I had not known about. I happened to arrive just after they did. I walked up to an area from where I felt a strange energy, an energy I recognized as indicative of a portal. They were already opening it up when I caught up with them.

It seemed that they were unfamiliar with the portal, too, since they hesitated to enter it. Eventually they convinced their daughter to stick her hand inside. She did. As soon as they heard her scream, they pulled her away, as a bloody stump where her forearm used to be emerged from the portal. A loud argument between the parents ensued, which I heard over the shrieking of the terrified little girl. I only remember two phrases from the chaotic moments, but those two phrases are seared into my memory forever.

“How are we going to explain this?” yelled the father.

“We aren’t,” responded the mother, and shoved her own daughter into the portal.

I was stunned. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say so. I stood in shock, unable to move or comprehend what I had just witnessed. Before I came to my senses, the former parents departed calmly, as if I wasn’t present, and as if their daughter had never existed.

That scene has haunted me since. Days later I worked up the courage to report it to the police, but they said that they could do nothing for me. They’re right. Who is going to believe a crazy story about a couple feeding their daughter to a killer portal in the desert? But it’s true. I saw it with my own eyes, and I can’t unsee it.

If only I knew how to do so, I would destroy every one of those damned portals.

Looking Backward

Steve’s feet sunk only slightly into the wet sand, just enough to feel it between his toes. Only the sound of the breaking waves interrupted the eerie silence. Not even a seagull graced the shoreline to provide a sign of life on the empty beach. As Steve pondered on the unusual emptiness, the shock of icy water hitting his feet jolted him out of his thoughts. He suppressed his reaction and continued walking, allowing the periodic flows to come and go over his steps, as if the ocean were breathing over them. It tempered the feeling of solitude, but only for a moment.

A set of footprints. Someone else had been on the beach. In the wet sand. Recently, since the tide had gone out. They extended southward, away from the houses and other signs of civilization. Nothing beside the single set of footprints. The lone and smooth sands stretched out as far as eye could see in both directions.

“There are no return steps,” Steve muttered to himself, “whoever was out here must still be on the beach.”

He took a step forward, almost involuntarily. A strange feeling compelled him to follow the footprints. Like the sound of the waves breaking and the crash of water against his ankles, the footprints failed to hinder the feeling of solitude. Step by step he followed them as the sun sank toward the horizon and the water shifted imperceptibly inward as the tide began to roll in.

Steve walked, lost not in thought, but in a strange thoughtlessness. Perceiving, not pondering. He was acutely aware of the water and the sand, the shifting tone of the sky as dusk approached, the houses no longer visible in the distance behind him. The angry sun beat down heavily on the sole trespasser in the void over which it ruled, as if bitter over its own impending disappearance at the rapidly approaching end of the day. Steve perceived but didn’t react. In his awareness without thought, he continued after the footprints, step by step.

He walked. He felt the sand between his toes. He felt the water washed away. He felt the non-presence of the mysterious person whom he compulsively followed, but who didn’t seem to exist.

The footprints shifted slightly inward, away from the water and away from the incoming tide. The mysterious being couldn’t be far ahead, but Steve still could not see him.

The sun hit the horizon. The footprints made an abrupt turn. Steve turned toward the water. Against the wide sun melting into the sea stood a man among the waves. As the icy water hit Steve’s feet once again, the chill ran up his spine and into his chest. He tried to call out to the man, but the mysterious figure dove into a wave and disappeared, just as the last of the sun disappeared below the horizon in a green flash.

Steve stood motionless, frozen solid. He waited. The figure did not rise back out of the water. He waited. The sky turned a deep blue and Steve could make out the first stars. He turned to head back. The squawk of a seagull interrupted the silence as the bird flew past Steve. He glanced back for a moment and saw the silhouette of a black dog in the distance.