The buzzing of the clippers was the only sound in the dark house. The clock in the bathroom read 11:11pm. A wish on bated breath crossed the lips of the teen as the last of his long hair fell to the ground, raven black even in the faint glow of the outlet nightlight. He flicked off the clippers as he looked up to the mirror, brown eyes meeting brown. His hands ran around his head, shorn down as much as he could without being completely bald. It was smooth and soft under his fingertips. Face still feminine, but at least not framed by the dark hair that he hated so much. He ran his hand over the his cheeks. His ruddy brown skin wasn't peppered with hair like he'd wanted. He looked to the rest of his body. His clothing, meant to hide his curves, was stolen from his older brother - baggy cargo pants and a plain tank top stretched tight over a binder gifted to him by a friend. His parents didn't know he had the binder, or the clothes, or the sturdy work boots taken from his dad's closet. No one in the house did.
How could he tell them? His dad, a preacher, his mom, the preacher's wife. His brother, home from college for the summer, an engineering student with a bright future. Would they even understand? No, of course not. He'd been dragged to the church all his life. "Homos" were a sin. Transgender people, never talked about, but he was sure his father lumped all the "queers" in together. He sighed, leaning on the counter. Different always scared them. The news sent them fleeing back to the pulpit. And him? There was no place for him. Sixteen years old, a golden child on the outside, with perfect grades, AP classes, and a pick of colleges already lining up to accept him... her. They wanted her. Not him. They wanted Cecilia Gonzales, the honors girl, not Cecil Gonzales, the trans boy who would trade his grades to escape his life.
Cecil looked to the backpack on the floor next to him. He had plans, of course. Tonight, he would leave. No note. No goodbyes. Just the road and the night sky. He had very few possession. A knife, also stolen, to protect him from wildlife and highway creeps. A few journals. As many pens as he could cram into the side pocket. Two water bottles with built in filters. Cash he'd saved up. Snacks. The town wasn't that far away, he figured maybe a day on foot, and he'd be fine. He knew the road, he'd driven it.
The clock hit midnight. It was time. Surely everyone would be asleep. Cecil bent to pick up the backpack just as the light in the hallway flicked on. His head jerked up and he froze. It was his father in the doorway, his face red from anger.
No no no, please Dios no...
"Cecilia! What have you done!" his dad boomed. It wasn't a question. It was a threat. Cecil grabbed his backpack as a shield, backing against the wall.
Cecil found himself yanked up by the back of his shirt and thrown bodily out of the room. The wind was knocked out of him as he hit the wall. Dazed for a second, he watched his father advance, face purple, mouth curled in a snarl. Cecil stumbled to his feet and tried to get to the stairs, but his father caught him first. It was the head bash into the wall that started it, then a punch to the ribs. The blows came, and all Cecil could do was crumple to the ground and protect his face with his bag.
"Papá, no! NO!" he screamed, trying desperately to get away. At one point, his flailing legs hit his father in the knees, and he stumbled back. This was his chance. Cecil picked up his backpack and half bolted, half stumbled down the stairs. It was a miracle that he made it without falling. As he heard his father cursing and bumping after him, he flung open the front door and sped into the night. All thoughts of the road, following it, getting to the town bus station, abandoned. Now it was about survival. The night was dark, no moon to be seen, and clouds blanketed the stars. Cecil tripped over rocks, scrubs, anything in his way. A few times he hit the dirt, but pushed himself up again and kept going, panting at the pain from his body, blood in his face from his head injury. The pain was making him woozy, but he had to keep going.
Eventually Cecil slowed to a walk out of exhaustion. Looking around, he did not see his family's house. Nor did he see a road. All that he could see was an endless expanse of desert. He was alone in the New Mexican wilderness. Ahead of him and a bit to the left, he saw a black shape rising out of the ground - a hill of some sort. Maybe if he climbed it, he could get his bearings. But it was a ways away, and his side throbbed. He stopped to sit on a rock. Looking around, seeing no one, he stripped down to his binder. Cecil knew keeping bound was going to make his ribs heal in a weird way, something that could not be corrected in some cases. He gripped the edge of the binder and paused for a second. It felt like one more betrayal from his dad. With a sigh, he gingerly wiggled out of the restraining fabric, wincing as raising his left arm pulled on his injured and heavily bruised side. Cecil pulled his tank top back on, as well as an oversized hoodie from his backpack. It was creeping close to 1:30, judging by his phone, and the cold was definitely setting in now that he'd stopped running.
Teeth chattering, Cecil stood and began his trek to the hill. He didn't dare turn on a light, as on the flat land it could be seen by someone looking for him, but he moved more slowly, eyes adjusting to the dark. His phone beeped 2am.
As he arrived at the hill, in the pre-dawn, he was surprised to find it blackened. It wasn't just a hill - it was a volcano at some point. Cecil looked around at the landscape and saw nothing similar, as if it had been placed there artificially. The ground here, too, saw black rocks, white rocks, and sand. He smelled... green? Grass and water, almost? He couldn't find where it was coming from. There wasn't a river, or trees. Cecil slung his pack over his shoulder and began to investigate. It wasn't a bad place, but it was definitely further from civilization than he wanted to be. He still couldn't see a road, or houses, or people. He hadn't crossed a fence or other artificial border, so he didn't know if the land was owned by anyone. No footprints, everything seemed new.
It was in this walking that Cecil almost stumbled into the crevasse. Rocks slid out from beneath his feet as he windmilled his arms, eventually falling backwards on his rear, thankfully saving him from tumbling down. After spending a moment catching his breath, Cecil scooted over to the edge to see what he inadvertently found. Here was the source of the grass and water. About 20 feet down was a stream, a pool, grass, flowers... and caves. Pots. It was inhabited! Or at least, it was at one point. Layers of fine dirt covered what he could see, and there were no footprints here either. Across the crevasse from him was a ladder that led down. Cecil weighed his options for a moment before a boom! thudded on the horizon. Cecil wrenched his head up. In the distance, he could see dark clouds forming. Out here on the plains, there was nothing but the hill taller than him. However dangerous that rickety ladder was, he didn't have much of a choice.
He ran to the other side of the crack in the earth and grabbed the ladder. Cecil took a breath and began to climb down as fast as he dared. For something so old, it held fast. He began to smell the static in the air. As he hit the bottom of the ladder, he took a moment to survey his surroundings. There were a lot of old things, probably had been here a while. Something stood out, though - in the grass, near the water, a book. A book? Here? It, too, was covered in dust. The rain began to patter down. He had to make a decision, before the storm hit. Cecil jogged over, grabbed the book, and sprinted for one of the caves(?) just as the torrent from the sky unleashed. Cecil panted as he sunk to the floor. He could have been dead out there.
Looking around, Cecil found the cave had more in it than he'd realized. Paper, blank and scattered. Paintings on the wall that looked like they were made by a child. And a bed, adult sized. Even though it was dusty, Cecil collapsed into it. It wasn't the most comfortable, but he was exhausted. He hadn't even bothered to take off his backpack. He'd been awake since before school yesterday. He checked his phone. 6:34am. Friday, August 14th. He set his phone on the floor. He didn't want it to run out of charge. Not like he had signal anyway. Cecil let his arm dangle off the bed. His hand brushed something. It was the book he'd rescued.
The book. Cecil picked it up and dusted off the cover. On the front, in print, merely read "MYST" in capital letters. Other than the dust, it looked brand new. How often did this area get rain anyway? It should have been ruined ages ago. Opening to the first page, Cecil was stunned to see a moving picture. In a book, that would be difficult. He opened the next page, expecting to find electronics in a cut out inside. But no. Inside was a strange script. What was it? It wasn't in the typical English alphabet, and it didn't look like Arabic or Hebrew, but it was similarly beautiful and flowing. More importantly: No electronics. No wires. Cecil flipped back to the front image. It showed an island. Small, but it had a few buildings. Trees. A tower, an observatory. It was weird, but he felt drawn to the island. He was compelled to touch the image.
As his fingers brushed over the picture, Cecil felt a pulling sensation, as if he was dropping down a roller coaster, and he felt similarly ill. He felt and saw the world dissolve around him, and the last thing he heard as he blacked out was his phone's alarm going off, reminding him to wake up for school.