A gust of wind blew down the street, knocking a battered circle of cardboard out from behind Brent’s glasses. He dove for it and managed to grab it before it blew into the gutter.
“What is that, like a monocle?” a voice said. Brent turned around to a young woman standing behind him. She was holding a stack of books, evidently on her way to class.
“It’s nothing,” Brent said, closing his fingers gently over the cardboard circle.
“I’ve seen you around before, with that thing propped up behind your glasses. You always seem to be walking around in your own little world. You look happy.”
Brent nodded awkwardly, just hoping she would leave. Instead, she stuck out her hand. “I’m Desiree, by the way.”
“Brent Thomas,” he said, shaking her hand. “You probably think I’m weird. Is it really obvious? The cardboard?” He indicated the circle in his hand.
“Not unless someone looks at you closely,” she said with a smile. “Are you busy? Can I buy you some coffee?”
“Um, sure,” Brent said. “That’d be great.”
They started walking down the leaf-scattered path towards the university coffee shop. “So,” Desiree said, “why do you wear that circle under your glasses? Is it just to be weird?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Brent said.
“Try me.” He just smiled and shook his head.
Desiree dropped the subject and they chatted over their coffee about their majors and school life. Brent liked her and he asked her out the next weekend. They started seeing each other regularly. A month after the windy day when they had met, the two of them were curled up on the couch in Brent’s townhouse, watching TV.
“Do you trust me?” Desiree asked suddenly.
“Of course,” Brent said. “What’s up?”
“Tell me, why do you wear that cardboard circle under your glasses? You don’t do it when you’re with me, but when I’ve run into you, I’ve seen it. You always take it out as soon as you can. What is it?”
“I’ll tell you, but you still won’t believe me,” Brent said. “It lets me see into other worlds.” He saw her expression and preempted her next question. “Look, I can’t explain it—it’s like magic or something. When I was in middle school, this van came to my school and a man and woman said they had a cardboard tube that let you see into other worlds. A few other people tried it and swore they saw strange and amazing things through the tube. Later, I found out that the woman had paid them to say that. The thing is, when I looked inside, I really saw into another world. The woman let me keep the tube. I used to spend hours looking through it—you could not imagine the things I’ve seen. Anyway, I tried cutting a thin slice off the end of the tube and that still worked. That’s what it is.”
Desiree was frowning slightly, as if thinking. “You’re kind of scaring me,” she said at last. Then, “Can I see?”
“Yeah, I guess, as long as you promise not to tell anyone else. Be careful with it.” Brent pulled out a small metal case and gingerly handed the cardboard circle to Desiree. She put it up to her eye and then hit him on the arm.
“You are so full of it.”
“Why? What do you see?” he asked.
“I see you and the rest of the room, of course.” She flipped it around. “Still just you.”
“Give it to me.” Brent put it up to his eye. Desiree and the living room disappeared. In front of him was a dark sky with stark mountains looming up as far as he could see. Fountains of glittering white shot up thousands of feet in the air. In the sky above him wheeled a disc of fiery color unlike anything he had seen before.
He took the circle down from his eye and gave a small laugh. “Well, I guess it’s broken.” She laughed too, gently mocking his weirdness, and turned back towards the TV.
That night, Brent was awakened by his cell phone ringing. When he answered a female voice said, without preamble, “Open your door. Your bell’s broken.”
“Who is this?”
“Just open the door.”
Brent went downstairs and opened the front door. A tall woman with long black hair and a red cloak stood in front of him. She stepped inside before he could react.
“Well, Brent, you’re looking well. How are you?”
Brent stared at her. “Who are you?”
The woman made a noise of irritation. “Didn’t I tell you to remember my name?”
He thought back, trying to remember that name. “Klista? You gave me the cardboard tube, back in middle school. That was five years ago. How did you find me?”
“How could I have lost you? You’re important to my plans, Brent. I see you have been using the tube quite a bit. That’s good. You need the experience.”
“What do you want from me?” Brent said. “You didn’t say back then that there was any catch.” He was about to offer her the tube back, but he stopped himself.
“I see you showed it to someone else recently,” Klista said. “A girl. It didn’t work for her, did it?” She waited for him to nod. “It doesn’t work for anyone, except you. That’s why I need you, Brent. You’re special. Almost no one can see between worlds like you can. It took me a very, very long time to find you back then. You were too young, though, so I thought I’d give you a few years to get used to the extra sight.”
“It shifts from time to time,” Brent said. “The view inside, I mean. It doesn’t always show the same place.”
“The one I gave you was just a passive Gazer,” Klista said. “Dimensions shift in relation to one another over time. The tube just shows what’s closes to you at that moment. But with training, you can see what you want to see, across multiple dimensions. That’s why I want you to come work for me. I need you, Brent, to be my scout. To look across the worlds and see what no one else can see.”
Thoughts rose and fell in Brent’s sleep drugged mind, but all he could say was, “I don’t understand.”
Klista reached over and tapped him on the cheek with her gloved hand. “Wake up, Brent. I’m offering you a job. You will never get an opportunity like this again. You can come back before long, but for right now, come with me and I’ll show you.”
“If is far?” Brent asked. He was wondering what Desiree would think if he suddenly disappeared. Then there were missed classes, angry professors, worried friends…
“Brent,” Klista said, reproach in her voice. “What is distance? Look through the tube. Another world right there in front of you. At least come and see what I have to show you. Then, you if want, come back and keep studying creative writing, making up stories about all the places you weren’t up to visiting yourself.”
“Okay, fine,” Brent said. A thrill of fear and excitement went through him at the idea of actually going to the worlds that he had seen. “Let me go get dressed, at least.”
“I’ll wait here,” she said. “Also, if you have clothes for cold weather, I’d bring those too.”
“Sure.” Brent ran upstairs, his heart pounding.