How long? How long since you first found yourself within this stygian abyss? Maybe God knows, but you do not. Time has no meaning here, or so it seems. Perhaps, you think, time really has no meaning anywhere. Perhaps time is but an illusion, the product of an inadequate mind trying to cope with the infinity of existence. A small smile, utterly devoid of humor, dances upon your lips. Whether it has been a hundred minutes or a hundred years, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.
You pull the phone from your pocket once again, and your eyes flit across the enigmatic message, the single line of text, searching for some scrap of meaning. How long ago the text was sent is likewise a mystery. You snap the phone shut, slip it back into our pocket. You are overcome by a sudden haze of mental unsteadiness, passing over you like a breath of cold wind. You have long since come to the conclusion that this is really happening. No matter how much you try, you cannot simply tell yourself that this is only a strange dream, an elaborate fabrication pieced together by the intricacies of the subconscious.
Nevertheless, the realization, the revelation that everything you have ever known, ever believed, can be challenged so irrevocably and so quickly, is dizzying. Whatever this is that you have become a part of, it extends far beyond the range of human comprehension. Mr. Purdy’s first period math assessment suddenly seems to not be quite as important as you once believed.
You sink back into that state of numb, albeit puzzled, acceptance. Whatever this is, you are powerless to resist it. Your eyes close, though there is no noticeable difference between what you see when they are open and when they are shut. Whether it happens slowly or quickly you do not know, but your troubled and shocked mind sinks into the merciful arms of sleep.
You awake to a sound. You have heard it before, in another world, another life, but you cannot remember where or what it is. It is a clear, flowing sound, like… like… suddenly, the pieces fall together, and your eyes fly open.
It is the sound of running water.
You sit up, blinking as your eyes adjust to the bright, impossible light of day. You realize with a sudden jolt that you are no longer lying upon the textureless, temperature void no-surface of the black abyss, but are lying upon a springy bed of dewy grass. You sit up in wonder and amazement, the moisture seeping into the seat of your jeans as you look around in wonder. You are in a lush forest clearing, surrounded by a ring of amazingly verdant trees, branches swaying gently in a tender breeze. Oaks, pines, willows, all forming a dense barrier around the paradisiacal glade. Birds, mostly cardinals and jays, flit from branch to branch, like acrobats leaping from precipice to precipice, soaring through the air with awe-inspiring grace.
You stand up, your legs shaky, your head still fogged with sleep and the incredible bombshell of recent events. You still find it hard to believe how easily you came to accept your circumstances, but one thing is certain: whatever happens from here, you will stand strong. Everything about your life seems small and insignificant faced with these improbable events. The mortgage on the house, that recent fight with your best friend… none of it matters. The faces, the names… all of that is fading or faded now. Another world, another place. You are here, and here you will stand. Let fate dictate whether you will ever return home.
You continue to observe the clearing, taking it all in with rapt wonderment. There is a small spring-fed pond in one corner of the clearing, with large gray monolithic rocks rising out of the water and stretching out into a steep mountain face, shimmering in the sunlight. In the distance, silhouetted against the clear azure sky, you can see others, huge shapes towering above the land like sleeping giants. Out of the corner of your eye, you spy a flash of reddish-orange in the brush, and you spin around to see a fox peeking out at you from beneath and alder, a look of curiosity on its vulpine features. Its blue eyes sparkle with bright, crystal-cut intelligence. You reach out a hand towards the beautiful creature, taking a step towards it, but it spins around and slinks back into the dark of the woods, its white-tipped tail flicking as it disappeared into the leafy shadows.
You feel an ache of sadness as the marvelous animal disappears, and you stare at the place where it had made its exit for a while after it has left. Finally, you turn back towards the pond, and as you do, you are hit with a sudden, insatiable thirst, and you sprint, towards the bank, kneeling before the diamond surface of the water and scooping up greedy handfuls of the clear, clean liquid, feeling it run down your throat in a revitalizing flow. Nothing has ever tasted so good, you decide, continuing to slurp up the delicious drink, savoring the taste, which rivals even the finest of wines. How long you drink you do not know, but eventually you taper off, feeling full and satisfied.
A feeling of being watched drapes over you, and you turn around to see that the fox has returned. You stand up and take another step towards it, sure that it will run away again. To your surprise and contentment, it defies your expectations, staying in place and watching as you cross the grass.
“Hey,” you say, palm outstretched. The sound of your own voice is shocking. You have had no one to speak to since the beginning of this strange course of events, and therefore no one to talk to. “Hey, boy. Hey.”
It takes a step backwards as you approach, and you feel a moment of fear. “Hey, come on, it’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m not gonna hurt you, boy.” You kneel down before it, a smile upon your lips. A real smile. Hesitantly, the animal takes a step forward and nuzzles your palm, its wet nose pressing against your skin and making you feel safe. This place, wherever it may be, is the true definition of heaven, you decide. A natural utopia, untouched by the poison hand of civilization.
“Good boy,” you say, feeling the animal’s sleek, soft fur as you stroke its black, velvety ears. It continues to look up at you with those startlingly intelligent eyes, and you feel an inexplicable sense of love for this immaculate creature.
Suddenly, with fear in its eyes, the fox turns tail and runs, leaving you standing there alone in the clearing. “Hey!” you call after it, bewildered. “Hey, don’t go! Come back!” You are left with a deep, impenetrable feeling of being alone, and you stand up straight, a black fear settling over your heart. The temperature in the clearing seems to have dropped twenty degrees, as if the whole place had been plunged into an icebox. A heavy silence falls over everything, and you realize with a jolt of apprehension that the birds have stopped their incessant chirping.
“Hello?” you ask, a tone of hesitation tingeing your voice. Once again, there is that feeling of being watched, though you know by some animal instinct that these watchers are not quite so benevolent as your friend the Fantastic Mr. Fox. “Is there anyone out there?”
There is no answer, and you realize that the wind has stopped as well. All is still. All is quiet. The glen now has a sinister air about it, and you find yourself almost wishing you had taken the bus, the smelly old Twinkie on wheels, and that you were sitting in one of Mr. Purdy’s cramped classroom desks, scrawling down nonsense about proofs and the Pythagorean Theorem.
There is a snatch of movement across the clearing, to either side of the pond, followed by four pairs of glowing red dots, floating through the dark of the forest towards you. The owners of the hellish eyes follow quickly, first the bloodstained muzzle, then the scraggly matt of dirty fur covering the lupine head, lips curled up to reveal gaping mouths full of yellow razors, ropey strings of saliva dripping onto the grass, which now seems old and dead. The silence is shattered by a low growl, pouring in from all sides, filling the clearing. The sky darkens with black clouds, and the pond turns the sickly red of fresh blood. The trees no longer seem lush and full of beauty, but now are only twisted, leaf-less husks. They are horror-movie trees, with gnarled branches ready to reach out and wrap around you, pulling you into God only knows what hellish nightmare.
You take a step backwards as the wolves pad towards you- for that is what they are, of course- wolves, though they are like no wolves you have ever seen. These are not the wolves you have seen at the zoo, or on that calendar your Gramma still has hanging in the entrance hall despite the fact that the thing is from 1998. These are more like a lunatic’s idea of wolves, more monster than animal. They look to you like refugees from the blackest depths of Stephen King’s imagination, or maybe hell itself.
You press backwards against the trees, for even the dead and tortured tree-corpses are better than these monstrosities. The twigs dig into your back, seeming to wrap around you like long fingers, and you fight to throw them off. The wolves are closer now- about halfway across the dead expanse that had once been a beautiful dell, full of vivacious life. This is it. This is the end.
You begin to close your eyes, ready for the first of the wolves to jump at your throat, but you see a quick flash of orange to your left, shooting out of the black woods like a furry torpedo. Your eyes fly open, and you throw out an outstretched hand, the word “No!” flying from your lips. You watch in horror as the fox meets the first of the wolves, which is almost three times its own size. Its blue eyes are now filled with a fiery bloodlust, and you realize that the animal is going to die on your behalf. It charges, leaps through the air, and the wolf catches it in its jaws. You watch the teeth dig into the soft furry flesh, and you give a strangled cry of rage. Blood flows from the glorious animal as it squirms in its opponent’s jaws, and the wolf throws it aside, its guts spilling out of a long, aged gash in its white underbelly. Unbidden tears fill your eyes, and you watch one of the other wolves leap upon the fallen fox, ripping a long strip of flesh from its back as it twitched, the blue light in its eyes fading to nothing. Blood flowed from its wounds in crimson rivers, staining the dry grass with warm red death. It falls limp, lying there like a broken and discarded toy.
In a sudden fit of rage and sadness, caught in the flow of a thousand clashing and confused emotions, you run at the leader, leaping upon it. It yelps, obviously staggered by your tenacity. You take advantage of its momentary surprise, unfamiliar bloodlust building up within you. There is no source of your anger. It simply comes, welling up from nowhere at all.
You bury your fingers into the soft flesh of the wolf’s throat, and you drive your fingers deep into the sin, feeling warm blood seep out from between your fingers as your nails bite through, through the scraggly hair. You feel your fingers push through the hot flesh and wrap around the animal’s esophagus, and with a mighty yank, you pull the thing from its throat, feeling the flesh rip as it came free of its natural place. The wolf falls to the ground, bleeding profusely, kicking and gagging.
You stand there, panting, holding the limp and bloody tube in one hand, gritting your teeth as a wave of intense dizziness washes over you. The world begins to tremble in your vision, things fading away, as if the world is dissolving into darkness. One of the other wolves lunges towards you, fire in its red eyes, and you feel an intense burning pain in your left arm before the demon fades into oblivion.
You look around, panting, and realize that you are once again in that endless, Cimmerian abyss that you began in. You feel your hurt arm, and your fingers come away wet. You realize with sudden horror what is clutched in your other hand, and you throw it away into the darkness.
The strength flows out of you in a sudden rush, pouring out of you like blood from the fox. Exhaustion overcomes you, and your legs collapse like wet noodles, leaving you lying on the blank nothingness. Before you sink into the arms of sleep, you here your cellphone beep once more, but you are far too tired to respond. Blood flowing from your wound, tiredness smothering your mind, you fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.