Just Another Vortex by Joel Tagert | Art by Nick Flook

The Island of Ruins by Nick Flook aka Flooko

Just Another Vortex
By Joel Tagert
Art by Nick Flook aka Flooko
Published Issue 123, March 2024

Hi there, excuse me! Are you from around here? 

Just so. I am Josson of Thain, protector of the Westerling Woods. 

You mean all this burned area here?

Just so.

Great! I mean, not great that your home burned down — sorry to hear that — but great because the thing is, I don’t think this is where I’m supposed to be. 

Yes. Your clothing is very strange. 

A matter of taste, I guess. Where I’m from, robes made of — I’m going to say moss? — aren’t exactly in. 

My robe is made of cassomint vines. It’s what all my people wear. Or wore.

Oh, I don’t mean it as a judgment. It looks great. Very, um, period appropriate. Also it really goes with your skin, which looks like bark. So, vines, bark, two great tastes that taste great together.

Just so. But you are wearing strange armor and a glass bowl on your head. 

Right, exactly. It’s a spacesuit. I would take it off, but your atmosphere might kill me. Which brings me back to the point, which is, I think I was caught in a sort of supernatural storm? You know, like a big vortex out of the sky, a lot of lightning and thunder and whatnot? I got stuck in it and now I’m here, which, again, I’m sure is a very nice planet or plane or whatever, but I’d rather just go home. So any ideas? 

Perhaps. Come, I will show you.

Wow, seems like we’ve gone from burned to melted, huh? Except for that one tower. 

Just so. There dwells the sorceress. 

Aha! That sounds promising. Did she have something to do with this? 

Just so. Until last night this was Harrowhold, a great keep. And then—

A big vortex out of the sky? A lot of lightning?

Just so. It touched the earth here, a hurricane of utter destruction. All perished. 

Wow, that’s terrible. So did you lose anyone, like, personally?

All my people. I am now the last of my kind. 

Oof. Jeez. So this sorceress — hey, look! There she is now! Nice! Hello! Hey! What, not even a wave? Seems rude. 

She is a demon from another world. Only by diverting the river was I able to subdue her dark power.  

Got it. Though it does make it a bit difficult to have a conversation. 

What kind of conversation? 

Well, I figure, if she called the vortex in the first place, maybe she knows something about it. Maybe she can bring it back and uh, you know, send me home. Hey! Hey, let me down!

You would have her call the storm again? Are you too a demon?

No, I just — jeez, you’re strong — wanted to have a conversation — could you let go, please? You’re crushing—


Oof. Jeez. Sorry to shock you like that. Little electrical self-defense measure in the suit here. Don’t worry, you’ll recover in a bit. Now, I’m going to go have a talk with the sorceress.

How — the lake —

Well, I figured I’d walk. I am wearing a spacesuit, after all. Completely waterproof, with its own air supply. Kind of like a heavy scuba suit. Sorry again about your home and your people and shocking you nearly unconscious. Best of luck. 

Knock knock! Hi!

How did you get in here? 

The front door, actually. Though I did have to cut through the hinges with a plasma cutter. Sorry about that, though I figure since it’s underwater already, it’s probably not seeing a lot of use. 

Who are you? 

Uh, my name’s Cory, but … have we met? You look really familiar. 

I doubt it. 

Wait, wait … Gliese 10! Right? There was this party in a crystal palace kind of place? Great DJs, but really crowded? You were with my friend Erika. 

Oh. Right. Good memory. 

Never forget a face. What was your name again?


Naaaala, right. How you been?

I’ve been a little bit trapped on this very backwards planet, actually. 

I know the feeling. Speaking of, you wouldn’t happen to have summoned some kind of vortex here, did you? Because I got caught up in one, and when all the lights went out I ended up in the valley over there. 

Well, a girl has to get home one way or another. Sometimes your friend teleports you, other times you have to gather seven magic crystals and summon an interplanar vortex. 

Totally. Though it didn’t work, did it? Or, it sort of worked in reverse, in that I’m here, and you’re not there.

Clearly. But I have some thoughts about that.

Great! Please share.

I was having problems triangulating, because other than myself there’s not a lot of material from our home dimension to work with. But now that you’re here, I think I can fix the problem. 

Awesome. Where do we start?

Why don’t you lie down on that platform over there? 

That stone platform?


The one with the carved skulls and dried blood?


It doesn’t seem exactly sanitary. 

Perhaps, but you are wearing a spacesuit. 

I just have to ask, does this procedure involve sacrificing me in some way? 

Maybe a little. 

A little bit sacrificed?

Yes. Don’t worry, you’ll barely feel it.

Could you let me go, please? Jeez, how are you all so strong? You’re going to make me—


Yeah. Defense mechanism, you get it. So, um, good luck getting off this planet and all. Maybe I’ll see you at a party sometime. 

You have returned. 

Yeah, turns out Naala is, um, pretty intense, you know? 

I did try to tell you.

Yep, yep. So … is there anywhere to eat around here? Seems like I’ll be staying a while. 

Joel Tagert is a fiction writer and artist, the author of A Bonfire in the Belly of the Beast and INFERENCE, and a longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword.

Nick Flook aka Flooko is “the O.G astronaut painter” and takes his fans on adventures through original acrylic paintings and animations. This Toronto-based artist specializes in surrealism, space-themed work and impressionistic city and landscapes. See more of his work on his site and follow him on Instagram for more work.

Check out Joel’s February Birdy install, The Familiar, and Nick’s, Dream Guardian, in case you missed it or head to our Explore section to see more from these talented creatives.