What I Dreamed About
What I Dreamed About by Karissa Cole
As I stood in an overgrown, heavily wooded forest, feeling myself sink a bit into the soft, mossy ground, I kept my eyes fixed intently on the image flickering before me. I had lost my new companions some time ago and although eager to find them again, I knew I could use all the help offered me, especially in a land as unfamiliar to me as this one. The stout little white-haired man, or the holographic recording he had left of himself, was fervently warning of the dangers ahead. The playback swam a bit, the faint bluish glow around the man’s image intensifying. But his words were still understandable, although unbelievable.
He told of a region, just beyond the wood I was in, from which few strangers ever emerged alive. In this region fantasy had no bounds, and upon reality in encroached without mercy.
Since I had arrived in this world, three, maybe four hours before, most of what I knew – thought I knew – had been crumpled to dust. I’d seen dragons carry on peaceful conversations with crickets, ghosts had hidden behind the trees as I walked by, and humans and animals seemed to blend together. Doors lay behind everything, and I wouldn’t even dare speculate as to where they led. After all, it was an inconspicuous door that led me here in the first place.
The recording came to an end and stopped, frozen on the man’s troubled faced. After just a few seconds, it began again from the beginning. I listened again to the man’s pleading, his begging all who should come upon this message to turn back and stay away from the land before them. His words began to fade into white noise as I let myself fall into wondering where that man had come from, and where he went.
From above me a loud screech sounded, whipping me from my forlorn thoughts. A black winged creature darted overhead, and disappeared into the distance as quickly as he had appeared. I’d been traversing a never-ending forest since I arrived, but it hadn’t started out as eerie as it was slowly becoming. And this was nothing compared to what was to come.
Although barely visible through the thick canopy of leaves, I could see the sky was significantly darker than it was an hour ago. And my friends were still lost, somewhere in the land in front of me.
And so on I trudged, determined to find them.
If ever scenery could be described as living and breathing, now was the time. The foliage was dark and murky, I could feel it growing as I walked past. The air was stagnant, not a breeze brushed by, but there was noise, and it was getting louder. There was whispering. It was talking, wondering about me, why was I here, and when would I leave. I could hear the whispers getting louder, stronger. I quickened my pace, walking faster and faster, as the sounds got louder. The ground beneath me began to stretch and skew, while the living trees that lined the narrowing path began moving closer and closer to me, their whispers climbing into incomprehensible shouts. I stumbled, panicking, feeling a harsh wave of claustrophobia consume me, finding each breathe more difficult than the last. I tried in vain to outrun the fear, and whatever it was I heard, saw and felt. Bits of darkness began creeping into my vision, and I thought for sure I’d never get to where I needed to go.
In a flash the world returned to normal. Although still dark, murky, and hopelessly foreboding, the whispering quieted, the ground steadied under me, and I was no longer being enclosed by the overgrowth. A figure dropped down from above, landing just ahead of me. I caught my breath, stopping short to avoid hitting the only bit of bipedal life I’d seen since I lost my traveling escorts.
The figure straightened up to its full, somewhat intimidating, seven-foot-tall height. I nearly shrieked as his dark features sparked recognition in me. Though I had only met Jax a few hours ago, his tall, tan self, adorned in various animal skins and ornaments, was highly unforgettable. He’d been traveling with me, trying to help me find my way home. Pure relief and near ecstasy filled me as I breathlessly tried to question him, asking him how he got here, what was going on, and where were our other missing friends, while simultaneously thanking him, and warning him. But almost as quickly as my joy appeared, it was expelled.
This was not my Jax.
His eyes, his eyes weren’t right. Normally blue, they were now deep, dark red, and they did not reflect the friendly spirit I knew was within him. His smile looked pasted on, and it changed from freakishly happy, to fiendishly scheming. His smile grew, revealing two sharp rows of fangs, while his whole body seemed to contort, and twist as the intolerable whispering of before returned. He began to lunge at me, reaching out unnaturally clawed hands toward my throat. I barely darted out of his path, spinning and falling to the ground behind him. I looked up at this monstrous figure and saw him turn almost inside out. His face was reappearing at the back of his head, and he’d sprouted two new arms, even more devilish than before. His already dark skin rapidly changed from rich brown to a black that put the night sky to shame. His red eyes began to glow, and consume his face, twisting into large slits, staring down at me. And in his mouth fire began to spill out over his glistening fangs. I snapped my eyes shut, a scream, a wail of terror, dancing on the edge of my lips. Never had I been as horrified as I was now. But I forced my eyes open again, not willing to consent to such fear. If I was to die in this miserable place at the multiple hands of a grotesque creature, I was going to do it with my eyes open. But as I looked up to meet the eyes of my assailant, I found he had disappeared. Stunned and still on my back on the ground I scrambled to my feet, not willing to risk meeting up with him again.
I spun myself around and started running down the path I was on. I had to get out of here, and I had to do it NOW.
No sooner had I gotten back on my feet though, something else caught my attention. My name was being called from somewhere off to my left, somewhere in the unidentifiable leaves, bushes and flora that looked so very unwelcoming. I squinted to find the source, and what I saw filled me with more terror than the last horrible encounter I’d had. Being dragged into the ground by thick, gnarled vines was the real Jax, my Jax. Or at least, what I hoped to high heaven was the real Jax. If there was one thing I was learning, it was that nothing I saw or heard here was necessarily real. But this had to be real, it felt it. I needed this to be real. I sprinted across the unfriendly distance between the two of us, nearly falling down several times. By the time I reached him, all that was left above the hard, dark ground was his right arm, flailing about, desperately trying to grab hold of something. As soon as I reached out and touched him, the vines disappeared, and his whole body appeared resting back on the ground. His breathing was sharp and ragged. Sweat and tears covered his dark face. His lively eyes were now half-closed, the skin around and under them looking red and dark, while all the rest of his face looked completely devoid of all color. He was no longer calling my name, and in fact he didn’t appear to be completely cognizant. And one look to his left arm told me why. With unparalleled horror I gazed at his arm, or where his arm should have been. It had been brutally severed at the elbow, but by what was unknown to me.
I screamed now, letting out all of the fear, horror, pain and anger I didn’t realize had been welling inside me since this bizarre journey began. Tears began steadily flowing down my face as I cradled Jax in my arms. For someone who had once been so tall, and strong, and so full of life and curiosity, he now seemed so helpless and lifeless. And that’s exactly how I felt. I had no idea where we were, and I had nothing with which to help him. Before long we’d both die here.
As I sat there sobbing with Jax in my arms, coldly flashing back to the little holographic warning, a glimmer of hope wandered through my mind. Maybe there was a way out of this. I shut my eyes tightly, exorcising the fear inside. I held onto my fallen friend even tighter as I silently prayed, trying to stop my tears.
Suddenly I heard him inhale, life returning to his whole body. I tore my weary eyes open and looked down through my leftover tears at Jax, who was now awake and alive and looking back at me. He sat up quickly and looked around in a panic, relaxing only just slightly when his eyes fell upon his left arm, back where it belonged. No trace of his injury remained; it looked as if nothing had ever happened. I flung my arms around his neck and hugged him tighter than I’d ever hugged anyone before. I felt him hold me just as tightly, and I let myself fall into this much needed hug for just a moment.
Then, still keeping my arms around him, I pulled slightly away to look at him and ask about the others. Where were they, and were they okay. But looking into his strong, brave face, awaiting his reply, I saw something that made me realize this journey we’d found ourselves on was nowhere near over. It had only just begun.