Please note that I have not editted this, nor have I done any sort of spellcheck or grammar check or anything like that. If you notice any gross errors, please let me know so I can correct them? Thank you!
Kendra had no place to go, no place to be, and if she were honest, no place that she had been either. Oh she physically inhabited a certain more or less static volume of space and interacted with other things and people that also occupied their volumes of space, but she had never really been there either. She didn’t think she was crazy. She could tell the difference between what was going on inside her head and what happened in the rest of the world. Mundane as it always was, she never understood why others were so preoccupied with what happened outside their spaces and the places that only they could see.
She had been disabused of that notion and logic only after she realized that not everyone saw things, experienced things, took part in things inside their heads as she did. It took her 17 long years to understand that when others told her that they had no clue what in the world she was talking about that they were telling the truth. They truly had no idea. They couldn’t see like she could.
So she withdrew further into her internal world, seeing the fantastic happening all around her while those she passed by refused to acknowledge that anything fantastic could happen to them, around them. The only people who seemed to have some idea, saw some small portion of what she did were the very young or others on the fringes of society: street bums, whores, alcoholics or addicts. They saw portions of it, though often they were in such desperate situations and life states themselves that they were tormented. They could only see the pain, the suffering, the red that she shied away from in favor of more pleasant things. She felt sorry for them, but had no idea what to do to help them so she avoided them. The demons and torture around them scared her.
Which was why she had no idea how she had gotten sucked into where she was now. All around her was black slashed with red and the feeling of eyes all around her. She was walking as fast as it was possible to without actually running, bumping into people that she could barely see as shades within the world she had fallen into. Normally it was the other way around, but today it was different. Today the real was less tangible than the imagined and she was scared. So very scared.
The black and red world was full of trees, trees that seemed to be growing in front of her, reaching out for her, trying to tangle her up in their limbs and roots and piles of rotting leaves she had to shove her way through. She had no idea why the real people around her couldn’t see or understand her struggle, why they seemed to ignore what was happening right before their eyes.
Something finally managed to take hold of her backpack and pulled her off her feet. She landed hard on her butt, her teeth snapping together and setting off a ringing in her head while cutting off a scream. With barely a pause she rolled over and away from whatever had grabbed her, the trees she thought, and scrambled to her feet before setting off at a run. Her backpack thumped against her back several times before she thought to tighten the straps. She was already breathing hard and had barely gone more than a few blocks. The price she paid for avoiding actually running and instead reading while pretending to use the bike or treadmill.
She was stumbling more now. Tree roots seemed to move in front of her and she was getting scratched and her clothing torn from the damn trees towering above. If she didn’t know any better she would have thought it was something like Mirkwood Forest. As soon as the thought passed her mind she felt the presence she had felt earlier grow infinitely stronger. She wasn’t uncertain about the watchers. She knew they were there as certain as she knew that it was her thoughts that brought them into being rather than the shades they had been.
They moved now, following her, running ahead of her, jumping through the trees as though they belonged. Which if she thought about it, they did. She was the intruder here. She had stepped into their realm, their reality.
She no longer had any idea what was going on in the Real World. the street and buildings and few people around were barely outlines against the darkness. She had no idea how it was that she had not been hit by a car or bus or something. It would be the highest irony if a bus were to get her, at least in her opinion. No one actually got hit and died from that, at least not that she was aware of.
The problem was that she was tiring. Quickly. Her legs hurt. Her arms hurt from protecting her face and chest from getting the worst of the scratches. Her lungs felt on fire. Her right side was ready to split open. Her heart was pounding hard enough that she could feel it in her fingers, her head, hear it in her ears. What happens if I actually fall? If I stop… What happens to me then? she couldn’t help but wonder. She was certain she would find out soon.
Just then she saw someone else, a real person’s outline becoming stronger, less outline, more three dimensional. More real in this world she was struggling to escape from. A man who seemed just as startled as she was to be there with her, wherever they were. She was coming up on him fast, faster than she had thought she was actually moving.
“What…?” She could see the question on his lips and face more than she actually heard it.
“Run!” She called to him, grabbed his hand as she passed him. He didn’t really question, just stumbled as he turned to follow her before catching up and running besides her.
“Do you know this place?” He asked between deep breaths. She shook her head, not knowing if she could answer and still run, even if she knew the answer. He appeared to be much more accustomed to running than she was and asked another question. “Have you been here before?” Again, she could only shake her head. “Well, I have. It won’t end until we face them.” She chose that moment to fall, tripping over her own feet. She fell hard, the wind knocked out of her enough so that she couldn’t actually pull in any air. The panic that had been pushing her to run washed over her, freezing her further.
“No, no, no, no, no,” was all she could think. A century later, when her lungs finally started working again, it was all she could say. She was trapped, and so was this man and they were going to be killed, or driven mad or lost in whatever place had swallowed her and now him.
She didn’t see the transformation he went through, but she sensed something was happening. In her panic, all she could manage to feel was that the world was falling further away, something new was making it go away. However, he went from just another 20-something young man, a little on the skinny side, and definitely not the “hero” type to someone wearing leather and metal armor. He had a bow and a quiver of arrows. And a sword. And he moved like he knew how to use them.
She felt his arms pull her up from the floor of the forest or street, whichever it really was anymore and she was forced to see what had happened to him. All she could do was gape in dumbfounded astonishment and wonder. “How, what… I don’t understand.” He just shook his head and shrugged, “You don’t really need to. Just imagine. Use that wonderful head of yours that brought you here in the first place. Take control of yourself.”
She didn’t really understand him. Not with the part of her brain that struggled against fully accepting what was all around her. But that didn’t matter. Because there was another part of her brain that knew exactly what to do and the desperation she felt to the very core of her heart urged that part of her brain to take over. Her clothing shifted, became heavier, more sturdy, changed to a combination of leather and cloth, something like the man’s own clothing only lighter, no metal, just the leather. Her back pack became a quiver to match his and she knew a bow was waiting for her to grab it up. In her hands she found a staff as thick as the first knuckle of her thumb and at least a foot taller than she. But the thing that she noticed the most was that her fatigue and panic seemed to drain away from her through her feet and she could almost see it slithering along the ground, leaving her in her new-found power.
“Now that’s more like it! I’m Mark, by the way.” He gave her a wink as he turned around to look at where they had stopped so suddenly. “Kendra,” she said, her voice quivering far more than she liked. “Nice to um, meet you, Mark.” She had no idea why she said that, but it just slipped out. Her parents would be proud. She was in the strangest situation she could have imagined herself in, but at least she hadn’t forgotten her manners. “Likewise. Now do you know how to use those things?” he asked.
She looked at the staff in her hand, reached behind her and felt the feathers at the ends of her arrows. “No, not really. But… that’s not right. I think that if I just stopped thinking about not knowing, I feel that I do know how to use them.” She wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but it was right. If she stopped thinking about what it was that she was doing, she seemed to be able to settle more comfortably into her new “role” whatever that was.
“You’re catching on quick,” he said as he nodded and smiled at her. “Now, I think there’s something big that was chasing you, and before you can go home, we’re going to have to make it go away. You up for that?”
Kendra didn’t really think so, but what else could she do? Give up and just let this world take her away? So she swallowed, breathed deep and nodded. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
“Perfect. I do believe that we will be wanting to start with the bows yes? You can keep that magnificent quarter-staff close by at your feet, yes?” She nodded and dropped it, catching it with her foot and leading it down to land softly at her feet. Her hand reached back again and pulled the bow and an arrow out of the quiver. She saw that he had several sticking out of the ground in front of him and followed his lead again. How does he know what to do? she wondered. She didn’t have much time to wonder. The creature that had been chasing her down could be heard drawing close to them, the trees snapping apart and making so much noise it was a wonder she hadn’t heard it before.
“Steady… relax and just try to get out of your way,” he mumbled to himself as much as her she thought. Regardless, she nodded and pulled the bow up into a ready position, an arrow was knocked, but she hadn’t drawn it back yet. No reason to tire herself keeping tension when it wasn’t time yet.
The dreadful crashing came closer and closer, getting so loud that it was a wonder all the trees in front of them didn’t jump out of the way of whatever creature was causing so much damage. The thought that the trees could jump out of the way didn’t seem so odd after her long flight through them. She knew they were something more, something else besides mere trees.
Finally creature could be seen through the trees, charging directly toward them. She couldn’t stop the gasp that was a twin to Mark’s when they both realized what they were going to have to fight. “Of all the things you have to think of a Minotaur?” he said, managing to sound impressed, disbelieving, and resigned all at once. “It’s not my fault that damn thing is after me,” she responded sounding much more petulant and defensive than she would have liked.
At that time though, the creature was within bow shot for Mark and he loosed an arrow. It hit in the shoulder of the massive creature, but didn’t appear to actually cause any damage, but did seem to smart since the creature bellowed at them and if anything, moved faster. A second arrow from Mark and one from Kendra joined the first. Neither bothered aiming for the eyes or something silly like that. Even if they were mysteriously capable of using weapons that they had never touched before, or at least Kendra had never touched hers before, they were not foolish enough to believe that meant they could hit something that they couldn’t even see clearly. Not yet at least.
Seven times they fired at the creatures, four arrows for Mark, three for Kendra before they had to throw away their bows and take up their melee weapons. Kendra didn’t know how hers could be of any use in this battle, but she was going to try. At the very least she could distract the Minotaur while Mark did something real with the sword.
With a battle cry, or at least that’s what she hoped it was, she moved forward to meet the Minotaur. At least that’s what she wanted to make it think before she quickly ducked to the side and cloths-lined it with her staff. It didn’t fall, but it did stumble a step before turning on her. She was able to see quite clearly the red eyes and fierce face which seemed to suck all the courage right out of her. At that moment though Mark came in and managed to make a very nice cut along the Minotaur’s back. nothing deep, but definitely painful. It bellowed in pain and rage and threw out a hand with what appeared to be a hammer and caught Mark in the shoulder. The force of the blow knocked him ten feet away where he fell in a heap.
Kendra stared at Mark in horror for a second too long. The Minotaur rounded on her and swung the same hammer at her head. Agility that she had never before possessed saved her and even gave her the opportunity to hit the hammer-wielding wrist hard, hard enough to make the fingers spasm and refuse to obey the commands of its owner. The hammer flew a foot or two before thudding to the ground. The Minotaur screamed again.
Kendra seemed to dance with the creature, moving in and out of easy range for it, all the while hitting it hard with her staff, including shoving several arrows deeper into its body. She knew they had to be hurting it. There was no way that they weren’t, that two of them hadn’t now punctured its lungs and it would eventually drown in its own blood. That was neither here nor there apparently as it didn’t seem to be tiring and continued to come back at her with the same strength and ferocity as before.
She was so consumed with evading and hitting the Minotaur that she never saw Mark pick himself up, grab up his sword and manage to shake off his injuries enough to fight again. At least she didn’t see him and he stepped forward and jammed the blade into the creatures neck. It grasped at the sword, incomprehension obvious in its face. It started to fall and Mark released the sword, stepping away from the Minotaur. He grabbed Kendra and pulled her away too. They watched together as the Minotaur died from its multiple injuries. After a full two minutes of watching the creature’s chest and seeing no evidence of breathing, Kendra finally gave in to the overwhelming emotions she felt.
Her legs slowly gave out on her and she found herself on the ground and crying. Mark held her against him, telling her she was alright and safe now over and over. She knew he was right, but that didn’t stop the shock from taking over her mind. She was aware of what was going on, but was incapable of stopping it as much as she had been incapable of doing anything but run before she had tripped and fallen that last time. She was pretty sure Mark was as aware of it as she was. As her tears dissolved into quiet hiccups and sniffles, she finally managed to ask what had been going through her head for the better part of the last 20 minutes. “Who are you?”
“If I said your friendly, neighborhood Spider Man, would you leave it at that?” he asked, a half-smile and raised eyebrow showing that he was mostly joking. “Really though, I’m just someone like you. Or at least that’s what I would have to assume since I’ve never met anyone else who could be here too.”
“I don’t understand. How is it that you are here? Where is here?” Her only answer was a shrug. They sat still for another two minutes before he finally managed to stand himself up and pull her up to her own feet.
“All that I know is that if we start walking that way,” he gestured in the direction that had before only been more forest, but which now sported a pathway and an obvious light source beyond the dark blacks and reds that made up the rest of the forest, “we’ll eventually end up out of Here and back in the Real world.” He started walking, though he did make sure to pick up both bows from the ground before following the path. Once she caught up with her quarter-staff he passed her bow to her and they both put them away.
“I could really use a cup of coffee, what do you think?” He said, breaking the long minutes of silence that had fallen over them and the forest. “That would be lovely,” she said. The light was getting brighter and she felt her new clothing dissolving away, returning her to what she had been wearing when she left college not more than an hour before. Mark was now in his jeans and t-shirt and she could see outlines of buildings and the street and cars and people again. Those were becoming more substantial while the forest became less. By the time they reached the local coffee shop there was no evidence of the forest or their battle or her desperate flight.
“After you, m’lady,” Mark said as he held open the door for her. She smiled at him and passed into the coffee shop with him close behind her.