STRANGE WORLD: GRIMOIRE (by Jake A. Strife)
MOMENT 01: TERMINAL
Mom burst into heavy sobs, and Dad turned, peering out the hospital window.
“I’d say seven days, Daniel.” Dr. Clar grimaced. “You’ll be lucky to have seven days.”
Did I humiliate my parents so much? Dad couldn’t even bear to glance in my direction. Not that it mattered since he wasn’t around often. My little sister, Kat, cooed at first, but although not yet two years of age, sensed misery in everyone. It devastated Mom, but shouldn’t that have been my right?
Dr. Clar Ring, wrinkled and soon to retire, stared at the floor as if he fought tears. No one reveled in telling twelve-year-old boys they were dying.
Dad didn’t turn as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Can you do anything? What are our options? We need to prepare.”
Ring ran a hand through his silvery hair. “Again, if Daniel’s been showing symptoms of CJD, we can only make sure he stays comfortable. I’ve seen this twice before in my fifty years of practice. It is…always fatal. There’s no cure.”
Mom shook her dirty-blonde hair from her face, and lifted her puffy, red eyes.
“Mad Cow Disease…? Daniel’s had symptoms forever. Memory loss, depression, and hallucinations—He was talking to a stuffed rabbit yesterday!”
Dad said, “Lee! In humans, it’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. And kids talk to their toys!”
That didn’t sound familiar. I talked to a stuffed animal? Why can’t I remember?
“He thought it was answering him back. It was a full conversation!”
“Lee. This isn’t the place to shout.”
Mom sobbed and threw her snotty rag in his direction. “How can I not?”
Dr. Ring patted my knee, and whispered, “I’ll be right outside if you need me.”
He showed sympathy, but I didn’t want it. I needed a cure to my disease. I didn’t want to die, but it was strange that I couldn’t bring myself to cry—not a single tear.
None of it made sense. Was I already losing my mind?
Mom stared daggers at Dad. “It’s all your fault.”
“Don’t be irrational.” He trembled, straining to keep calm.
Mom stood and glanced at me for a few seconds before storming out the door, letting it slam. Little Kat toddled across the floor and tugged on my pants. My sister, so innocent and unaware. I couldn’t blame her for our horrible lives, but my parents—them I blamed. Dad came around when it was convenient, and Mom almost never lifted a finger. I cooked, I cleaned, I changed Kat’s diapers.
Why me? I didn’t deserve to die. I’d never smoked, drank, or done drugs. Life wasn’t fair.
It‘s a lesson I should have learned early, but I continued in denial. When I watched those Make-A-Wish commercials, I never thought it’d be me. Sure, I wasn’t as active as other kids. Every day, I lived in books of fantasy and adventure. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the best. If not reading, I wrote stories on any paper I could find. I was a good kid. But I guess the good ones die young.
In the past year everything changed. It all started with the terrible feeling of hopelessness. Before I knew it, I couldn’t sleep. Insomnia, I guess. And it only spiraled from there.
I kneeled and held out my arms, letting Kat lunge into my embrace. “Brah!”
She couldn’t pronounce brother.
I buried my nose in her dark hair and eyed Dad. Did he care? Or was he already mourning the money for the funeral? If I got a funeral. No, funerals were pricey. Cremation was my fate.
Dad opened his mouth—I hoped to comfort me, but he didn’t. Instead, he muttered the foulest thing I’d ever heard and stormed out, leaving Kat. One day children’s protective services might take her away, then they’d be sorry. When she reached her foster home, she’d never remember she had a loving big brother.
I held Kat, never wanting to let her go. But after a while a nurse came, and seeing my sister, furrowed her brow. She snatched Kat from my arms and tossed a gown on my bed.
“I’m from hospice care, get changed.”
Kat screeched and reached for me, but I wouldn’t reach back. My heart shattered as they took her from the room.
Battling tears, I changed and climbed into the uncomfortable bed. The nurse returned and stuck an IV in my left arm. She took a few painful tries to find a vein. Afterward, she left without a word.
Defeated, I glanced out the window and fixated on the brightest star. At that moment, it split into six orbs of light, spun around in a tight circle, and merged into one.
Another hallucination? Wonderful.
In eight days, I would be no more, in seven, I would die, and in the six leading to my fate, I would see things that didn‘t exist. I blinked, and a cockroach sat on the windowsill. The filthy creature crawled over Kat’s toy she’d left, a red curved magnet, the kind you saw in old cartoons.
Cold spread across my body, and my fingers and toes were numb. Was it my time, already? Seven days or seven minutes, what did it matter? Unable to stay conscious any longer, I slipped into the frigid darkness.
MOMENT 01: MAGNA-RACHA
Loud cheering brought me back. I opened my eyes and everything was dark. I moved my fingers, only to find thick dirt in every direction. My heart thundered. They’d buried me alive. Dirt muffled my voice as I tried crying for help. It weighed too much to claw my way to the surface.
I needed to stay calm. If I freaked, I’d run out of air.
Mom flashed into my mind. She lay on the couch, unconscious, groaning in her sleep. That’s how she spent her time, a side effect of the pain meds. In her youth, she fell out of a moving car and rolled down a hill. It messed up her neck. Every day since, she claimed to suffer from constant, unbearable pain. Medicine knocked her out for a day at minimum. That’s what she got for mixing strong meds. Kat and I deserved better, but she’s all we had—An addict mother.
I cut off that line of thought—memories were useless. I needed out before the claustrophobia drove me mad.
“Aheeheehee. What we have here?” a voice asked.
“Is someone there?” I cried. “Can you get me free?”
“Sure thing, buddy.”
Whatever blocked my eyes moved, revealing a bright green sky, peppered with pink clouds. Something grabbed me under my chin and lifted.
“Why you ain’t nuddin but a head,” the squeaky voice said.
“What the—?” I cried when I saw nothing but the ground.
Where the heck was my body?
The world spun until I stared into the eyes of a short guy with a great honking nose and wide buckteeth. He shook me, and my brain clanked in my skull like a magic eight ball.
“This can’t be happening!” I said. “No, no, no, this is crazy!”
“What’s happening is happening, buddy.” He chuckled. “Where’s ya body?”
He held me with muddy hands, and dirt-crusted fingernails. I wanted to push him away, but I had no arms. I could feel them, but not see them. How could that be possible?
He spun me, flipped me upside down, and juggled me. Dizziness took over, and I vomited. Instead of food, springs came out. They hit the ground and with cartoonish boing sounds, they bounced away.
“Gross buddy,” the man said. “Glad you didn’t get that on my new digs.”
He wore dirty overalls and was barefoot. His getup did not look new. As the world stopped spinning, the smell of burned rubber filled my nose. Piles of random objects lay strewn around the area. From a mountain of bobbleheads to a pile of trombones and everything but the kitchen sink.
“Is this a junkyard?” I asked. “Please help me find my body!”
He shook me again. “I be asking ya that first, but I reckon your being around the strange depot somewhere. Let’s have a look-see.”
It didn’t look like a depot. It was a junkyard.
He carried me away, and I tried wiggling free. “Put me down!”
“Why would I do that? You may be something valuable to muh show.”
“No way, I’m not part of any show. Are you insane?”
“Only during the daytime.” He shrugged. “Or maybe night? I can’t be sure. My other half don’t tell me when he comes round or not.”
Yeah, I was worried. He had too many screws loose.
“Where’s Dr. Ring?” I asked. “He’ll know what to do, I hope.”
“What’s a doctor? And I don’t know no rings.”
“I was in Belmont Community Hospital. Can you take me back there?”
“Nope, nope, nope. No bells around here for miles—And none named Mont for even further.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Nah, I never joke. Far too serious for that, aheeheehee.”
I whimpered. An insane man had kidnapped me from the hospital.
“Oh, lookee here, son. Looks like I found ya a torso.”
The man spun me to show a silver block of steel on the ground.
Tears almost escaped my eyes. “How is that a torso? How am I even alive?”
“Don’t ask me comp—compo—you know. No questionnaires.”
He plopped me onto the torso and with a clunk, I stuck to the metal block. I turned my head left and right.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“The strange depot. This is where all useless trash goes. I told ya this already, buddy. And it looks like you’re that one thing.”
“What one thing? Useless?”
“Nah. Where ya stick to other metal things, ya know?” He put a stubby finger to his chin.
While he thought, something moved under his dark brown mullet. I did not want to know what.
“Magnetic?” I asked. “You mean, magnetic.”
“Sure, buddy.” He grinned with his only teeth—the enormous front ones. “But I have to get back to da show soon, seeing I’m the ringleader and all.”
I didn’t care to imagine what show he was running. He was enough acts on his own.
He oomph’d as he tried to lift me. “You’re heavier now, ain’t ye?”
A low humming came from nearby, and there was a tugging on one of my arms. A crash came from one side as a bar of jointed steel slammed into my right side. My eyes widened as I found an arm that wasn’t my own.
“Aheeheehee.” The man giggled. “You’re putting yourself back together like one of those magna thingies.”
I held my hand before me and looked at the segmented, foreign fingers. I curled them, making a fist. More humming filled my ears, and another object shot across the yard and attached itself to my other side. The new arm looked the same. Then with another loud humming from three different directions, silver missiles fired toward us.
The crazy jumped, crying, “Oh, my Bessy in a basket.”
The projectiles flew under him, attaching in three parts to form my lower body and legs. The urge to faint came over me. I looked like a silver marionette.
I took a deep breath. “It’s the Mad Cow Disease. That’s what happening.”
“Uh, no. Aheeheehee, there’s only one mad cow around here. And she ain’t here. I’m the only here, and I ain’t mad. I’m happy cuz I never been thinking I’d find something so valuable as a Magna-Racha.”
“Wait. Doesn’t Racha mean roach or something?”
“Sure, buddy. You’re a magnet dude, and I discovered ya in a junkyard, so you’re a cock-a-ma-roach.”
“You said this was a depot.” I sighed. “And what do you mean a cockroach?”
“No, I been saying this here’s a junkyard,” he said, tossing me a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from a nearby garbage pile. “Darn tootin’ you’re a bug. You have antennae.”
He pulled a long springy wire from my head, holding it before my eyes. It looked like an antenna. He let go, and it snapped back with a boing.
“Well, go ahead, buddy. Stand up, will ya? Don’t think I can carry something so big!”
I didn’t need to go anywhere with him, and I preferred to stand on my own. Each toe wiggled on command, so I braced myself and got to my feet. When standing straight, I stood taller than the man by more than a foot.
He grinned. “Aw, shucks. You’re a big baby, ain’t chee, Magna-Racha?”
“No.” I balled my hands into fists. “I’m twelve-years-old. And my name isn’t Magna-Racha, it’s—”
I couldn’t remember my name. Deep inside, I could hear Mom’s voice. I remembered sitting in my room playing video games, and her voice carried from the living room. She screamed for me to bring her a can of soda. She said my name each time, but I couldn’t hear it. The harder I thought, the more my memory fizzled. I blinked a few times.
“What was I trying to remember?” I asked.
“Scoot, Magna-Racha,” the guy said. “We gotta be hurrying. The second act is gonna start. You’ll be the star!”
“Act? No, I and not joining your show. This is serious! I was in the hospital, sick and dying, and now I’m in some zany junkyard with a three-foot tall halfling!”
“Hey, man,” he said. “No need to be unpoliticalistic core—correctitude! I’m a half-guy.”
“Half-guy? Unpolita-what? You’re nuts. Point me back to the hospital. I’ll go on my own.”
“No can do,” he said. “Muh name’s Leeroy Ben-Frank, and I need ya for my show!”
“No, Leeroy Ben-Frank, I refuse.”
He reached into his pocket and drew out a gun far too large to have fit in such a tiny space. The barrel extended two feet long.
My eyes grew, and I lifted my hands before me. “No need for violence, Ben!”
“It’s Leeroy Ben-Frank the twenty-third, to be honest,” he said. “I never liked me twenty-two pappies, so I go by that!”
“O-Okay!” I said as he shoved the end of the gun to my chest. “Don’t shoot.”
“I don’t be wanting that.” He grinned. “But my show’s been-a-failing, and you’re what the proctologist ordered! Been looking for a Magna-Racha.”
“For the last time, I’m not—”
He pulled the hammer back on his gun.
I swallowed hard. “Sure, I’m Magna-Racha, nice to meet you.”
“Yes, it being so. Now march, my pretty.”
With a whimper, I turned and walked. A few hundred yards away we came to a series of towering circus tents. Beyond it, were rows of small ones, and a Ferris wheel that leaned at an angle. The closer we got, the louder an old pipe organ played haunting, twisted carnival music.
We kept walking, and all the while he kept the huge gun jammed between my shoulders. The first lifeform I saw almost made me turn and run away screaming. He was nine feet tall, with four heads—A giraffe, a zebra, a lion, and a hippo.
Just as crazy people walked everywhere. Many taller than Leeroy, but a few shorter too. Others looked like they were wearing masks with animal features, but there were no seams or edges. They were actual faces.
“This is insane,” I said.
Circus patrons looked away from their game booths to examine us while others ignored us all together. No one made a move or said a word to help me. They didn’t care that Leeroy held me hostage with a huge gun.
We passed more tilted rides, and crazy games. One booth had that game where you throw plastic balls into little fishbowls. The only thing—inside those fishbowls were miniature humanoid shapes, and the upper half of the attendant was a giant goldfish with bulbous eyes, gills, and all.
“Mommy,” a boy cried. “I want a picture with the silver bug man!”
Leeroy giggled. “Stop. There’s always time for fans.”
I pursed my lips and turned. Toward us came two people. The short little boy looked normal enough except for his elephant trunk, and behind him walked a muscular woman with biceps bigger than my head. She towered over the child by four or five feet.
“Okay,” Leeroy said. “One picamature is three clips.”
“Three?” the boy asked, making me do a double take. The voice came from the mother.
“Okay, dear. Here you go,” the little one said in a feminine voice and handed Leeroy three paper clips.
Either I’d died and gone to the strangest afterlife, or I’d got stuck in a terrible never-ending hallucination. The lumbering child hobbled over and put his arm around me, squeezing me in tight to his side.
“Go with it, Magna-Racha.” Leeroy still aimed his gun at me.
“O-Okay, okay.” I put my arm around the boy-woman-thing and tried to force a smile.
The small one who I now guessed to be the mother, reached into her purse and pulled out a large black box, then a tripod of legs—again, it couldn’t have fit. She placed the box on the tripod and aimed the camera at us.
“Say fuzzy zucchini!”
“Fuzzy zucchini,” I said through gritted teeth.
A blinding red flash went off, and a sudden pressure filled my head. When the blistering dots vanished, everything stayed tinted red for several seconds. Leeroy shook the mother’s hand, and the big child skipped around them, making the ground shake with each mighty step.
“Anything for fans,” Leeroy said. “I thank ye much for ya patronage-itude. Aheeheehee.”
“Bye-bye Mr. Racha,” the huge boy said. “We’ll see you at the show. I can’t wait for your act.”
I raised my hand and curled my fingers in a hesitant wave. Together they frolicked away, then Leeroy lifted his gun again and poked it into my ribs.
“Ya did good, Magna-Racha. So, let’s keep on keeping on keep. Aheeheehee.”
I collected paperclips and had thousands at home. I would have been rich if I had them with me.
After another painful jab, I spun on my heel and walked. We continued for another few minutes, and as we passed food booths, I smelled strange, yet compelling aromas. My stomach growled.
“Can we stop for a bite?” I asked.
“No!” Leeroy said. “You’re fed after da show, like all the other acts.”
“You’re not a ringleader—you’re a jerk.”
“A what? You mind ya manners, Magna-Racha.”
“Please stop calling me that.”
Leeroy pointed me towards the largest tent, and when we approached, a frogman pulled open the curtain. I walked inside where bright lights shined onto bleachers filled with hundreds of fans of all literal shapes and sizes.
“Go to the center ring and perform.” Leeroy kicked my behind, and I stumbled forward.
I looked back, and he lifted the gun again. With a quick nod, I rushed out, and a spotlight shined upon me. The crowd cheered and clapped, and Leeroy’s voice boomed through the tent.
“Laddies and gentlewomen. Performing for ya this evening, in his grand debut, is my good friend, Magna-Racha. My magnetica-5,000-roach-a-ma-boy. Everyone get ready for the performance of a lifetime, or it will be his last. Welcome to the best circus ever. The big top of Strange World!”
MOMENT 02: DISAPPEARING ACT
The crowd chanted, “Magna-Racha! Magna-Racha!”
Leeroy Ben-Frank motioned with his hand. He planned to shoot me if I didn’t perform.
The crowd continued their cheers. Every person was a freak show of their own. Many had humanoid shaped bodies and large animal heads. Most were more animal than human, and many resembled nothing I’d ever seen, with tentacles and other strange appendages poking out at every angle.
One last patron cried, “Magna-Racha!” and the crowd fell dead silent, except for a shrill chirping coming from one corner. A pony-headed man, or at least I thought it was a man, stood in response. He shouted, “S-Sh-Shut your trap! We’re t-trying to listen to M-Magna-Racha.”
The cricketing silenced, and the pony-man sat once more, yelling, “The floor is yours Mr. Racha.”
“Um—” I cleared my throat and spoke louder. “My name is—”
“We know your name.”
Leeroy furrowed his brow and bared his buckteeth, sending my nerves through the roof.
“Well—” My mind was blank. Never had I spoken before a large group without running away and hiding. I was about to keel over, feeling my face in Leeroy’s crosshairs.
“I’m human, and I’m in a nightmare.”
“You’re what, stuck in a what?” a heckler called.
There came a slight tugging from high above my head. A steel spike across the tent held together the support pillar. An unseen force pulsated from it. If my body was magnetic, it only made sense I attracted metal—If I could pull that spike…
“I can do it.”
“What?” someone cried. “You’re speaking too low.”
“For my first trick—” I threw my hand into the air and focused on the spike. Nothing happened. Several seconds later still nothing. The crowd whispered, thickening the tension.
The spike twitched and wiggled. “Please?” I strained my mind. With a sharp clank, the spike flew loose, the pole buckled, and half the tent crashed onto Leeroy and his patrons.
The audience shouted and cried in a mixture of anger and surprise. My cue had come—Exit stage left. I turned and ran, diving under the fallen tent, and crawling on my hands and knees, hoping to emerge into daylight.
“Oh no ya don’t, buddy.” Leeroy seized my ankle.
I rolled onto my back and struggled to get free as the half-guy’s face popped out from under a tent wrinkle. “Ya ruined muh show, so now ya owe me a lifetime of commitatude.”
“I commit to staying far away from you!” With my free foot, I kicked Leeroy’s fat nose, making him screech and let go. I threw myself back and crawled as fast as possible. As soon as I scrambled from the tent, I crashed into a pink-skinned, speedo-wearing muscleman. His shoulders almost swallowed his golf ball-sized head.
“Who. Are. You?” He leaned forward, peering at my face.
His banana breath washed over me as I lurched away and held out my hands. “S-Stay away.”
“You. Scared?” He emphasized each word. “Don’t. Fear. Minké.”
“That’s your name?”
“Sure. Is. What. Yours?”
“Someone grab that magnetica cock-a-ma-roach,” Leeroy shouted from under the tent. “Grab Magna-Racha!”
Minké cocked his pimple head. “You. Magna. Racha?”
“Yes—I mean no. I mean—Bye!” I scrambled, but he snatched me from the ground and held me aloft by my antennae. Minké pulled me close.
“You. Part. Of. Circus?” he asked. “What. Your. Act?”
“Disappearing?” I swung punches at him, but it only caused me to spin in his grasp.
“Oh.” He looked at the moving tent flap. Leeroy was coming at any moment.
“Let me go. So, I can, ya know—disappear.”
“Of. Course.” He dropped me on my behind and I bounced to my feet.
On my heel, I spun and made a break for it as Leeroy emerged, shouting, “Minké, you dumbooka! I said to stop Magna-Racha!”
“But. He. Disappearing. Act.”
The huge guy had a peanut brain.
My feet pounded the dirt as I sprinted through the carnival crowds. I ran past games, food, and sideshow acts. Leeroy and Minké were on my heels.
There was a dark tent ahead, the perfect place to hide. I rushed inside and ducked behind a barrel. Minké thundered by, but Leeroy fell to his knees catching his breath. My heart froze as I waited.
Behind me, a woman spoke, “Welcome.”
I spun right into a tentacle which wrapped around my waist and lifted me off the ground. My struggling and kicking did no good. A pale teenage girl sat across a table. She was beautiful with her shoulder-length charcoal hair and almost-glowing green eyes. From the back of her obsidian dress, eight octopus appendages jutted out, four on each side. A glowing crystal ball sat before her, reflecting a dim light on her face, accenting her ebony lipstick, smokey eye shadow, and violet blush. She seemed familiar although I’d never seen her in my life.
The fortuneteller set me on a barrel. “Have a seat.”
I grabbed the tentacle holding me in place. “Please, I don’t belong here.”
“You are a nervous boy,” she said, her smooth-as-silk voice calming me.
“You can tell I’m a boy?”
“A human boy, but there’s more. You are not from Strange World.”
“Right! Can you help me get back?”
She cocked a thin eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to return? You are dying and have less than seven full days, of this I can confirm.”
A ton of bricks fell on my heart, and I sighed, shrugging.
“I don’t want to spend my remaining days in a strange dream.”
“You think this to be a dream?”
“What else could it be? Everything here is crazy. Everyone thinks I’m a cockroach.”
She leaned forward and with her fingertips poked the wires on my head. “It’s the antennae. I’ll also clarify Strange World is anything but a dream.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
She shrugged, and her tentacles all followed the motion. “If you want a fortune—you must pay.”
“But I don’t have clips.”
“I do not request currency,” she purred. “Only a promise.”
“I don’t like this, lady.”
“Do not call me lady, it makes me feel old. I am the Trader.“
I smirked. “Okay, so what do you want?”
“You will travel from here, yes? You will enter the forest to the west. There you will find one in trouble. Save him from his fate. He will one day be very important.”
I stared with furrowed brows.
Why should I have to save anyone? I needed saving. I’d just lie and get away.
“Sure.” I shrugged. “I’ll do as you ask.”
The octo-fortune teller looked at me with scrutinizing eyes, but nodded.
“In your world you lay, away from your body this day. Why have you come, I do not know, I’m sure in time it will show? Danger hovers near, but if you stay here, you won’t disappear. Death may become us all, but without a hero Strange World will fall.”
“You did not just send me on a world-saving quest?” I narrowed my eyes. “One, that’s cliché, and two, I’m twelve. A little young to be a hero, aren’t I?”
“I didn’t say you’re a hero, or you must save Strange World. But I must ask, do you wish to die?”
“I think I’m dead either way.”
“Find the one I mentioned.” She smiled, revealing pearly whites. “That will set you on the path to freedom.”
A black cloud burst from her mouth and blinded me. I coughed, choking on the thick smoke. A few moments later it cleared, and I sat on the barrel, all alone. No trace of the fortuneteller remained, not table or crystal ball.
I must have imagined her. Strange World was nothing more than a stupid, insanity-induced nightmare. I had to come to my senses.
“Magna-Racha?” Leeroy called. “Where did ya go, buddy?”
My nerves spiked. He couldn’t trick me with a friendly tone. I rushed to the back and under I crawled, emerging into a field of violet grass that stretched as far as the eye could see. The wild didn’t look promising, but it was better than being a slave.
I rubbed my eyes. “Why is this happening?”
“Me. No. See. Magna,” Minké said from within the tent.
Using a burst of energy, I ran into the field and didn’t look back until I passed a hill, hundreds of yards away. I fell to my knees, trying to catch my breath.
“For a dream, I’m exhausted.”
The entire circus was visible from my vantage point. It spread for at least a mile in both directions. Leeroy could search forever and never find me. I thanked my lucky stars I’d escaped.
Relieved, I descended the hill heading away from the mad show. The landscape was unimaginable, with the never-ending fields, and every so often, the great cylindrical towers protruding into the sky of which the tallest was bigger than a fifteen-story building. The glaring sun reflected off them, blinding me. Even stranger were the roaming car-sized animals. I pegged them for big rodents. They were so round they looked like Chinchillas. Kind of cute, but with my luck, they ate silver insect boys.
Everything kept getting stranger and stranger.
I kept my distance from the giant chinchillas and headed for the nearest tower. They shined like metal. Maybe if I climbed one I could spot something in the distance—A hole to hide in, or even a town. I’d snap out of the hallucination, I hoped.
Twenty minutes later, I made it to the base of a tower, and my mind blew further. I approached the sheer, smooth side and I almost bent over backward trying to see the top. The climb before me was long if my plan worked. I placed my palm on the tower and felt a magnetic pull. It was metal. After a heavy sigh, I climbed, placing one hand over the other. Up, and up I went. Halfway, my arms tired.
They say to never look down—which I did. A cry escaped my lips and, I hugged the wall, and my heart pounded in my chest. I’d climbed sixty feet or more, and if I fell, I’d die. Even though nothing around me was real, better not to take the chance. But the octo-woman’s words echoed in my mind. She wanted me to find someone in the forest and rescue them. Ridiculous. Still, I’d never been so aware in a dream.
Will gathered, I moved my hand above me and continued climbing. A while later, I crawled over the top of the tower. I sat and exhaled, dreading the climb back to the ground. To make matters worse, the sky darkened. Another absurdity was in the center of the plateau—a giant soda can tab. The towers were cans of soda—But not made of aluminum, because they were magnetic. Nothing made sense.
I stared into the distance. In one direction stood Leeroy’s carnival. Opposite were mountains, and to my right, was what appeared to be a city with beams of light shining onto an island floating above it.
I glanced back and spotted a forest with cobalt blue trees.
The fortune lady made me promise to go to those woods. She shouldn’t have believed I would do it. I had no reason. As much as I craved the city, a tug of guilt had me staring at the forest. I couldn’t take my eyes away.
“Not going that way!” I crossed my arms. “No way, no how!”
A great shadow loomed over me, and there came a horrendous screeching. A flying monster swooped in and latched onto my shoulders with clawed feet. I cried and flailed as we flew over the edge of the soda can tower, heading west—straight toward the blue forest.