The Rift Between Us - Uncharted

The Rift Between Us

By Lyndsey Croal

I stare down at the silver stamp on my hand that cost me my life savings – my one-time admission to the Rift, the place where souls who die in space go to rest. Around me, the passenger shuttle is packed full of a mix of tourists and visitors like me that have come to the Rift in search of closure or something more elusive. The tourists are obvious from their extravagant spacesuits, extra-legroom seats, and the fact most of them seem happy. The rest of us are more sombre, nervous.

I look out of the window and think of Adri, though the darkness of space outside feels oppressive. None of the magic Adri used to write home about.

The last time we saw each other, she was waving at me with a tired smile after I’d dropped her off outside the launch centre. I didn’t wave back. I barely even looked at her to say goodbye, and I drove off as soon as she entered the centre. We’d argued just before, after I’d asked her not to go. Asked her why it wasn’t enough to stay here, to be happy on Earth, with me. But she was insistent. This was what she wanted – her life, her work, her dream. Even if it meant leaving me behind. Wasn’t I a part of her dream?

I had told myself I wouldn’t watch the launch. But when the time came, I turned on the livestream and held my breath like I always did as her shuttle hurtled into the sky, before being swallowed by clouds.

As we get closer to arrival, the intercom buzzes, and the tour-operator’s voice comes through the system, tinny but cheery, pulling me from my reverie. ‘Please now take a moment to familiarise yourself with the Rift visiting guide.’ Instrumental music plays, and then a series of instructions flicker across our screens:

1. Always keep within your designated visitor zone – lost travellers will not be retrieved.

2. Avoid eye contact unless approached. Don’t try to touch them.

3. Look after your conduit objects. We accept no responsibility for lost property, physical or otherwise.

4. Cameras are strictly prohibited.

5. Breaches will result in immediate removal and possible lifetime ban.

6. Finally, enjoy your visit!

A coldness creeps up my spine at the last one—enjoying isn’t exactly the experience I’m expecting. My stomach is in knots, though the motion sickness can’t help there. Space travel never appealed to me—it had always been Adri’s thing.

To distract myself, I look around at the other passengers. A child presses her face up against one of the windows, bored, playing with the shutter. A rich-looking older woman sleeps beside me, arms hanging limply in the zero-g. I lean over to check if she’s still breathing but then the child screeches and her eyes open just enough to throw a sharp look at the child’s parents, who don’t seem to notice.

If Adri could see me now, she’d not believe it – me, voluntarily going to space surrounded by my least favourite kind of people: children and the rich. She’d laugh and say something snarky like, ‘Soon, you’ll be lunching at the Lunar Ritz.’

I can imagine her saying the words, but in my head it’s with my voice, the memory of hers dampened over time. I realise my hand is twisting the necklace she gave me as an anniversary gift, a silver hummingbird. Adri decided the bird represented our relationship – her always jetting off on adventures, me always stationary. They say opposites attract, and what’s more opposite than a hummingbird? Delicate, but fast, flighty, but unwavering, discreet, but bright. It’s not always easy for opposites to find that perfect balance. Adri and I never did.


On our final descent to the Rift, and as gravity kicks back in, the older woman is first to stand as if she’s done this many times before. Maybe she has. She definitely looks wealthy enough to make return visits. I wonder who she’s coming to see – a former partner, family member, child, friend.

I take longer to find my bearings from the lurch back to gravity, head pulsing with dizziness. When I do gather myself and walk over to the window for a closer look, another world lies outside. My breath catches as I take the scene in. I’m not sure what I’d expected. Cameras don’t work in the Rift, so all I’ve read are vague descriptions of the strange world. None match this reality.

The land surrounding the shuttle outside could be Earth if it were doused in sepia, except for the writhing mass of wisp-like figures occupying it. Some of the tourists tap on the windows as if hoping to tempt the figures to do something entertaining. But none of them seem bothered by our presence, even as the ship moves through them to dock, parting them like mist on water. The shuttle finally stops, and a few minutes later, we’re ushered out. The older woman leads the way with a tip-tap of her walking stick, her other palm holding out a gold ring, presumably her conduit object. She doesn’t wait for more instructions from the tour operators before disappearing into the grey. The child sprints off into the sea of spirits, shouting excitedly as if it’s a fairground, her parents trailing behind. I take the opposite path.

I’m surprised by the solidness of the ground, and the fact that the air tastes like air, with just a slight metallic tang to it. Grass whispers around me, swaying back and forth, though there’s no breeze. My mind can’t help equating it to home, even if it feels upside down.

When the tourists are out of sight, I take out my chosen conduit object: a notebook, never opened. By me, at least. Each time Adri was away on contract, she’d write a paragraph a day in a notebook. It always seemed odd to me that she liked these old-fashioned practices when everything else about her was so future-looking. Maybe she only did it for me, a shared ritual. When she returned home, she’d read me her stories from afar, and for a time, we’d live the stationary life again, her reminiscing, me just happy to have her back. Last time, the notebook returned home, but she never did.

As I walk, several figures watch me, faces shimmering from featureless expressions to something almost human. I don’t know for sure that I’ll find her here – Adri’s body was never recovered. But if she did die, the Rift is where she’ll be. With no Earth to bind their spirits, the dead drift here, aimless.

I’m walking in a field, tall plants twisting around my legs, when the figure approaches. Purposefully, parting the plants as it moves, like Moses and the Red Sea. It certainly feels almost biblical, if I believed in that sort of thing. The figure stops in front of me and reaches out a ghost-hand, touching the notebook.

Right away, I know. It’s her.

A featureless face morphs and twists, and then she’s my Adri, looking at me with that dimpled, uneven smile of hers and the dark flick of hair that always escaped her messy bun. ‘Hey there.’

Her voice, clear, playful, as if it’s been a day, not years since we spoke. ‘I…is this…’ I reach out to touch her, to lift her chin to look for the birth mark underneath, to check it’s really her, but I remember the visitor guide and retract my hand.

She smiles and tilts her chin up as if she’s read my mind. And there it is – the small mark shaped like a crescent moon, the one she used to say showed she was destined for the skies.

‘Adri,’ I whisper. ‘Are you…?’ My words stick in my throat.

‘Yeah. I’m good,’ she says. ‘How long’s it been?’

How doesn’t she know that? ‘About three years.’ And two months, three weeks, five days.

‘Three years.’ Her expression is hard to read. ‘Huh. Time’s different here.’

I wonder if it’s felt longer, or shorter, or if things just blend into one when you’re in the Rift. Dead. Thinking of the word brings a dryness to my mouth, because how can it make sense that she’s dead, when she’s right here, speaking to me? I wonder if she’s missed me. ‘What’s it like here?’

She shrugs, forever nonchalant, even in a crisis, even when she’s a ghost. ‘Peaceful. I’m not always here, though. Earlier, I was somewhere else, with forests and strange plants and animals you could never imagine. It’s so beautiful, visiting all these worlds.’

Like you always wanted.

‘But something called me here, so I came back. Was it you?’ Her voice is curious, not accusatory.

‘I had to see you again.’ I suck in a breath. ‘I’d almost forgotten your voice.’

She grins. ‘Lucky you.’

I laugh, if only to push past the tears, then I hold out the notebook. ‘I couldn’t read it without you. I tried, but it felt like then I was admitting you were really gone.’

‘But I’m not gone, I’m still here,’ she says.

I shake my head. ‘No. You’re not. Not with me.’

She looks at me for a long moment then smiles. ‘Well, we’re together now. What would you like to do?’

I swallow back the tightness in my throat. ‘I though…maybe we could read the notebook together, like before?’

She puts a shimmering hand over mine. I can’t feel it, not really, but I imagine its warmth. ‘Of course. Whatever you need.’

She sits down, and I lay the notebook in front of her.

‘Okay, my hummingbird. Here goes.’ She clears her throat, looks up at me with a teasing expression, and reads. ‘I saw a shooting star today. I know that’s not possible in space, but I was so sure. I didn’t make a wish because you always say wishes are just thoughts we manifest, so I’m manifesting that you’re here with me, like properly with me. And I’m imagining you’re doing the same, so that somehow, we’ll end up here together. One day.’

I smile. ‘I guess it came true.’

‘I guess so,’ she says. ‘Sure you want to keep going?’

‘Yes. Please.’

‘Good, because this next one’s great. Proper slice of spacefaring life.’ She continues reading dramatically. ‘Shower day, so I no longer smell like stale deodorant and sweat. More importantly, neither do the rest of the crew.’ She looks up at me. ‘Why did I ever go to space, again?’

I want to be mad at her for it, for leaving me, time and time again, for promising to come back and then breaking that promise. But as I look at her ghost-form, at peace and happy, exploring some strange magic of the universe, I can’t be angry. ‘Because, you had to spread your wings,’ I say.

Adri looks at me like I’m a puzzle she’s trying to figure out. ‘Why did you really come all this way?’

I mull over all the possible answers in my mind: that I wanted to see her again, to hear her voice, to try to understand why she only ever found purpose in the stars, when I never could. When I never will. But none of the thoughts are entirely true – none of them explain why, after she was gone, it was like a weight had been lifted, a relief that I no longer had to wait for her to come back, or worry about her being in danger every day, while I sat alone at home, drifting, aimless. I loved her – I still do – but nothing could fix that rift between us. At least now, I know she’s not suffering some horrible fate. She’s happy, and maybe I can be again, too. Sometimes, love is knowing when it’s time to let go. So, the words that eventually come are the ones I need to say. ‘I came here to say goodbye.’

About the Author

Lyndsey Croal is a Scottish author of strange and speculative fiction, with work published in several magazines and anthologies, including Flash Fiction Online, ElectricLit, and Mslexia's Best Women's Short Fiction 2021. She’s a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awardee, British Fantasy Award Finalist, former Hawthornden Fellow, and a Ladies of Horror Fiction Writers Grant Recipient. Her debut novelette “Have You Decided on Your Question” was published in April 2023 with Shortwave Publishing. Find her on Twitter as @writerlynds or via

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