Barbara G.Tarn writes mostly fantasy, a professional writer and hobbyist artist, a world-creator and storyteller. She has a few series: her fantasy world of Silvery Earth (high fantasy) and the Star Minds Universe (space opera) are mostly standalone. She dabbles into historical fantasy with her Vampires Through the Centuries series and plays with post-apocalyptic/steampunk in Future Earth Chronicles. Ghost Bus Riders is elemental magic in a contemporary setting and Otherside a steampunk world beyond portals accessed from Earth and controlled by cats. Immortaland Dragons is high fantasy in a brand new world of dragons and magic. After a few months hiatus in publishing, she's back with new stories and new series. Find her books at Unicorn Productions Books.

Otherside by Barbara G. Tarn

An abandoned cottage, a magical cat tree, a portal to another world.

After her divorce, Jessica moves into a family heirloom, a cottage belonging to her aunt who vanished fifty years ago without trace. Welcomed by a stray cat, or so she presumes, she'll soon discover things are not always what they look like in the old house.

A novella of cats and women hopping between ours and a steampunk world, a portal fantasy for everyone.



  • "I enjoyed the fantasy and romance elements of it… had a great cast of characters."

    – Author Victoria Zigler




Jessica locked her red Honda Civic with the remote, muttering under her breath. It had stopped raining, but the sky was still gray, the air still damp and the ground mostly still wet and muddy. She jumped over a puddle and reached the door of the little cottage hidden in the woods.

It hadn't been easy to find and looked even worse than expected. Her father had told her it had been abandoned in the late 1960s and was considered haunted, therefore nobody wanted to keep up the maintenance or take on such an undesirable property.

Dad could have mentioned his sister Judith – and her cottage – a tad earlier instead of when Jessica was going through a nasty divorce and everything in her life seemed to be going downhill. The offer of a free roof over her head was tempting, but seeing a previously unknown family heirloom was unsettling, especially now that she was staring at the wild garden attempting to engulf the cottage.

The utilities had been turned off, so she'd have to call the relevant companies to get electricity and running water back, maybe even reactivate the land line, and she'd have to check the heating system. The gravelly road that had led her here was also badly in need of maintenance.

A meow startled her as she tried to open the door. A stray cat sat beside the door and stared at her with amber eyes, a mackerel tabby with a striped pattern in hues of gray and red.

"Well, hello there," she said, crouching to pet the cat.

The cat closed its eyes and purred, making her chuckle. Cats were so much better than men!

The cold wind blew her brown hair across her face and she snorted, quickly rising to bind it into a ponytail. She also closed the summer raincoat that was flapping freely around her slender frame. Better go inside before it started raining again. She watched the tabby vanish behind the corner of the house and finally managed to unlock the door.

The smell of decay and years of abandonment engulfed her as she tried to close the door behind her. The entrance was relatively small, with two doors left and right leading to the rest of the house and an intricate, ornamental cherry tree affixed to the wall in front of her.

The cat emerged from the crack between two broken boards from what might be a dark cellar under the house and climbed the leafless cherry tree. Half the trunk was inside the wall, as if it had been built around a live tree at some point.

"What a royal cat tree you have," she told the tabby. She had never had room for a real tree for her cats to climb on. What a lucky stray cat.

Jessica made the floor creak and crackle with every step, so she stopped a few steps in to look around.

There were paintings on both walls near the doors and the wallpaper was starting to peel away. Looking behind her, she saw a pair of yellow Wellington boots under a hanger on one side of the main door and an old inlaid cabinet on the other.

On the top of the cabinet there were framed photos of the owner and her family. Jessica recognized her father in what must be a family gathering from his youth. It included Aunt Judith – Jessica's father's elder sister who had vanished half a century earlier – in a mini skirt and tall boots that looked so 60s.

There was another picture, taken in the cottage when it was newer, of Aunt Judith with a cat in her lap, a mackerel tabby with a striped pattern in hues of gray and red.

Puzzled, Jessica glanced at the cat on the cherry tree. It couldn't be the same cat. That picture of a smiling twenty-something was fifty years old!

She moved one step left and stopped at the creaking boards. She glanced towards the rooms on that side – a living room dominated by the dining table still with its tablecloth and chairs in place, and a 1950s kitchen with pink appliances that made her cringe. She'd have to make do until she had enough money to buy a new one.

Two creaking steps right and she glimpsed a sitting room with a small desk and a chair set near the window opening onto the front lawn. That could be her working space as soon as she got electricity and Wi-Fi for her laptop. Beyond, she could see a bedroom with the bed unmade.

The house seemed still full of personal possessions, as if Aunt Judith had left in a hurry without packing. The cottage looked cozy, if a little dilapidated. Jessica shook her head. She'd have to hire a contractor to repair the house before moving in.

Thunder startled her as the light outside darkened. Damn summer storms. At least she'd see if the roof had any leaks. From the state of the room she was in, probably.

Her eyes were drawn to the cat on the cherry tree. Lightning struck outside, and as thunder roared overhead and rain started pouring again, she gaped and stepped forward, oblivious to the creaking boards.

The cherry tree was gleaming! A seemingly dead tree was surrounded by a golden aura and the cat perched on its branches seemed to smile like Alice's Cheshire Cat.

Thunder made her turn around and she saw the picture of Aunt Judith and her cat again. The same mackerel tabby now smiling at her from the cherry tree.

Panic shot through her, then she caught herself. Come on, this was the 21st century, this couldn't be real!

"Get real!" she said out loud, only to have her voice drowned out by the rumble of thunder. She glared at the ceiling and noticed a damp patch that was starting to drip on the floor. Great, the roof was crumbling like the rest of the cottage!

In spite of the loud drumming of the rain against the old house, she heard another sound, like a distant "Om" and her eyes fell on the tree again. The tabby hadn't moved and the tree seemed to glow even more.

Jessica gaped as an opening formed under the curved branches, a stone arch that opened onto a green meadow under a clear blue sky. The light seemed to be coming from the sun past the arch and it flooded the damp and darkened entrance, slowly reaching her feet.

She stepped back, holding her breath, as the ray of light settled. The "door" was open. A shadow stepped through and the portal, or whatever it was, seemed to fade away. Jessica's eyes adjusted to the restored dimness of the old house and focused on the newcomer.

Aunt Judith, with long brown hair loose on her shoulders and a maxi skirt that contrasted with the mini of the family picture. She had a short-sleeved white shirt and flats, and a puzzled look on her face.

Jessica saw the resemblance to her father – and somehow herself – in the tall brunette with big hazel eyes and the hourglass figure that was so trendy in the 1950s. Judith didn't look more than twenty-five but she should be in her seventies by now.

The cat jumped down from the tree and started to rub against Judith's legs, meowing and purring. The rain was subsiding, the thunderstorm moving away. Judith crouched to pet the cat, staring thoughtfully at Jessica.

"Hello, Earl," she said absentmindedly. "I've missed you." Then she rose and stepped forward to greet Jessica. "And you are...?"

"I-I'm Jessica, Michael's daughter," she answered, again controlling her urge to run away screaming. "Aunt Judith?"

"Yes, I'm Judith Anderson. Did you say you're Michael's daughter?"

"Ah, yes, I'm Jessica Anderson. And you've been missing for fifty years."

"Oh, boy!" Judith seemed only mildly surprised. "I guess this explains the state of the house," she said waving her hand to indicate the entrance.

The dark storm clouds must have passed since light was starting to come in from the dirty window panes.

Judith looked at Jessica again. "I left Earl behind to open the portal as soon as someone walked into the house. Apparently it's been abandoned for years."

"Apparently it's haunted," Jessica said. "Maybe previous lodgers didn't appreciate a magic cat and a portal inside their home."

"Some things never change." Judith shook her head. "I inherited this house in 1965 from an old woman called Prudence who was considered a hedge witch by the small town nearby. Nobody wanted anything to do with her or her property, so I stepped in. I had just come back from college and had found a secretarial job in town. It felt wonderful to be on my own for the first time. I was independent, but the family didn't approve, and Michael was the only one who kept visiting me. Even my then boyfriend dumped me."

"That was why Dad knew of this heirloom, then," Jessica mused. "Nobody else ever mentioned this house to me before."

"I guess not." Judith shrugged. "I dared leave my father's house unmarried – although at first I thought Don would move in with me – I was no longer Daddy's Girl. He wrote me off almost immediately. If I'd been a boy, I'd have been sent to Vietnam! In fact, Michael was shipped off when he turned nineteen, and I never saw him again. Glad to hear he survived, came back and had a daughter!"

"Did you fake your own death?" Jessica asked.

"I started studying Prudence's stuff and found the portal when Earl opened it for me. At first I thought I'd find the old woman in Otherside, an alternate world where times flows differently, but she was definitely gone. I'm not sure how old she actually was, but I assume she had been in and out of the portal for most of her existence. And then my father came and tried to drag me back to the ancestral home and marry me off sometime in 1968, so I escaped through the portal."

"And your brother kept your existence under wraps until now." Jessica sighed.

"I guess our father told him I was dead or something. He didn't come to check, or Earl would have known and warned me of the visit. How is he?"

"Getting old." Jessica pulled out her phone and under Judith's curious eyes went to the photos folder. "Here, this is last Christmas at home," she said, showing her aunt a picture and ignoring the tightening of her chest at the simple glimpse of her ex.

Everything had gone to hell since Christmas. She'd been too blind to see it coming. Too in love, probably. And now he was gone because she couldn't give him children. Served her divorce papers and kicked her out of their house to make room for his breeding cow – Jessica doubted he loved the pretty-but-dumb mother of his future children who was already expecting – and forced her to go back to her parents unless she managed to set up this place and move here. Son of a bitch.

Although the eviction notice had pushed her father to mention a long lost sister and a haunted house that had turned out to be a portal to somewhere else. Wonderland, Fairyland, who knew. Judith looked great, so it couldn't be such a bad place.

"Wow." Judith looked impressed by the digital picture. "Fifty years you said? New millennium? Wow."

"And clearly you went to a place that kept you young. You're probably even younger than me!"

"I told you, time flows differently in Otherside. I was twenty-three when I hid there and it's been five years since."

"I'm thirty-three and was born forty years after you," Jessica muttered, uneasy. "Anyhow, I'm in need of somewhere to stay, can I use your house?"

"Of course!" Judith brightened. "But if you don't want to waste time on this old place, I can take you to Otherside."

"Ah, um... no, thank you. Not right now. I still need to adjust to knowing I have an aunt younger than me."

Judith chuckled. "Where are your things?"

"I haven't brought them yet. I came to see what the house was like before moving in."

"Good idea. Well, I'll be here, or better, Earl will be here, just let him know when you want to join me."

"How? Do I just talk to the cat as if it were human?"

Judith smiled. "Yes, that's exactly how it works. If you want to be formal, his full name is Earl Grey Copper. Do you have pets?"

"I have a fluffy black cat of partial Persian ancestry with a relatively flat nose and fine hair, not a portal-guarding mackerel tabby with gray and red stripes."

Earl rubbed himself against her legs, purring madly and clearly ignoring her sarcasm. Judith burst out laughing.

"Welcome to Otherside and its mysteries, Jessica..."