One minute my existence was bright light, powerful wind, and strange incantations, then I was standing on a grassy hill in the middle of nowhere.
While the idyllic scenery was beautiful, it wasn’t familiar. There was also a noticeable lack of habitation. I knew it; I should’ve stayed in bed. Nothing good could happen when Friday the thirteenth fell on a full moon and one of my characters had it in his head that he could be a muse and enhance my productivity by zapping me places.
At any rate, strange as the situation was, I was certain of one thing:
I was going to kill that bird.
“Blast it, Clyde! Where are you?” Panic and anger were a bad combination that did nothing to help me think. “First chance I get I’m using that bird to stuff a pillow. I won’t even bother plucking him, I’ll just stuff him in a case. Then I’ll use the pillow to beat the crap out of a station wagon.” I wasn’t making sense, but you try being eloquent when you’re sucked through a random vortex in your couch.
His powers were mostly locked in his current form, but they had the bad habit of manifesting randomly. Just my luck we’d gotten into an argument on a day where his powers actually seemed to do more than weak parlor tricks. Stupid Friday the thirteenth.
I tried to take stock of my surroundings. “Field, field, field, meadow, field, bull…” Hrm. That could be very bad, but I was desperate. “Uh, hey, you wouldn’t happen to like, talk, would you? Or know the way to a gas station?” I approached carefully, hands extended, my voice far calmer than I felt. It was a massive animal, shaggy and brown.
For a split second, it turned and sniffed at the ground. And then it looked up, glared, and charged.
I was so killing that bird.
After a lot of running and a quick short cut through a patch of forest, I’d finally ditched the deranged farm animal. Unfortunately, after that I’d been walking in circles through farmland for a good two hours, fallen into a creek, been chased by the most irrational ram I’d ever met, jumped a fence, been chased again by a sheepdog, and torn the knee out of my jeans trying to get away from a really irritable goose. For the thousandth time I checked my phone, only to confirm that I had no signal at all here in crazy animal land.
I was going to kill that bird dead, then write him back to life so I could kill him again. The landscape seemed to be filtering into a more urban setting, and I could just make out a city line near the horizon. Well, at least I’d been dumped close to somewhere populated. Still, I could be anywhere.
“Well, maybe my reception will be better when I get to town.” I forced my aching feet back into motion, wincing at the cobblestones that paved the road that appeared as I came over the hill. That just didn’t seem useful. I distracted myself with the billboards at the side of the road advertising things like the latest Magic Mirror flat screen TV and the new addition in The Tithe movie franchise.
My pace slowed and the ache in my head had nothing to do with my fatigue or the situation. A slow, encompassing sense of dread crept over me like a thick, predatory blanket. “No…it can’t be.”
If the blaring of a horn didn’t send me out of my skin, the luxury car that almost ran me down did. I assumed it was a car, anyway. It looked like a fairy tale carriage that had been stretched out and given an engine in place of horses, like if Mercedes had started hiring out their work to faerie godmothers.
“Get outta the way!”
The shock at seeing the goblin behind the wheel rendered me momentarily dumb. It was an honest to Froud goblin. True, he was in something that looked like a fantasy-style power suit, but it was a goblin. He pulled his smoked sun spectacles down his nose with a long nail, revealing orange eyes that were alert and slightly mean. Dark, uneven tufts of hair were slicked back here and there on his otherwise balding head. His upturned nose twitched in irritation over a down-turned mouth of broken teeth.
“Sorry, I think I’m lost. Is that…Kingdom City?”
The goblin’s sniffed at my shoddy appearance, unimpressed. “I don’t pick up hobos.”
“Look, I just—”
“These roads are fer vehicles! Go use the paths if ye wanna take a walk. Or are ye a really bad highwayman? I have a permit to carry, y’know!” the goblin snapped, producing a small crossbow from the glove compartment.
Somehow, my self-defense classes had failed to prepare me for a goblin wielding an automatic crossbow. “I just want to know if I’m headed into town to meet someone.”
The creature lowered the weapon. “Well, guess givin’ ye directions can’t hurt. Ye remind me of someone, though I can’t say who.”
My sarcasm went right over his knobby head. “The highway’ll take you straight into town.” He paused and wrinkled his nose. “Though take my advice: next time clean up before ye go on a blind date!” He blasted that stupid horn at me and drove off, leaving me coughing from clouds of exhaust.
I’d just begun to work up a really good rant when the whine of brakes behind me drew my attention. If the goblin had been driving a luxury car made by faerie godmothers, this thing was…there weren’t words. It had similar characteristics to a carriage, but was much taller, longer, and its steel color showed off its metallic construction. From the dull thud of music and the flicker of colored lights flitting through the windows, I was wondered what kind of odd workers automobile companies in The Land employed. Mechanical, bus-like doors creaked open and a lanky pixie leaned in the door. From the tight leather mini and the fluttering peasant blouse held together with safety pins revealed its middle I gathered it was a female, though like most pixies in Kingdom City she towered over me and was long of body and of limb. Her light orange fur contrasted with the black leather and red fabric, and the distinct smell of alcohol and something herbal wafted out from around her.
“Hi there! We saw what happened. We’re headin’ into town – Miner’s s’posed to be playin’ tonight! Wanna come with? There’s space on the bus and we’ve got plenty of mead and dragon grass!” Her whiskers twitched giddily at the end of her muzzle and her eyes were bright and glassy. I didn’t exactly trust her or the laughter coming from inside the party coach, and the thought of sitting through miles of black magic metal music, but what choice did I really have? Besides, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Miner wouldn’t be playing that night, if I was remembering the right timeline. No way I wanted to deliver that blow.
I glanced down the road at how far I still had yet to go. “Yeah, sure, I’d love a ride,” I sighed, mentally apologizing to my mother for literally throwing every discussion about stranger danger under the party bus. Party motor caravan? Whatever. “No on the rest, though,” I hastily added as I climbed aboard.
“No worries! Wow, you must be an artist. Your clothes are so unique!” she praised, though her black-painted lips turned down in thought. “They’re not really suitable for Miner. We can fix that, though,” the pixie giggled and yanked me inside. The interior was less bleak looking, though just as trippy and magical as I’d suspected. Humans, pixies, a few dwarves, and what looked to be a small troll were sprawled about doing Fate knew what. It was hard to see through the smoke and I didn’t want to put that part of my curiosity to use. That’s just what I wanted out of life on a Friday the thirteenth: to get sucked into a fantasy world I’d created and see anatomically correct, inebriated versions of the populace.
“If I ever get back to the real world I’m going to write cross genre again. I’ll stick to normal things, like bunnies and dinosaurs saving the world from meteors.” Thankfully the words were lost under the music. I was a music geek, but black magic metal was loud and an odd, unfamiliar cacophony that sounded like a cross between Zeppelin, Norwegian metal, Crue, Irish jigs, British folk, and maybe some court music thrown in.
“I’m Snickles,” the pixie yelled in my ear. “You like Miner? We’ve been driving for days to go see them! By Fate, Igneous Blackshackles is so stinkin’ hot, you won’t believe it!” Snickle’s hand was like a furry vice on my wrist, her face ecstatic at having made a new friend to play dress up with. Lucky me.
“Crank it up and let’s get movin’ and we’ll get you ready!” she shrieked. Between her drunken war cry and the throbbing of the music, I doubted my ears or my sanity would return any time soon.
It was early evening by the time I got to my goal. If the timeline was what I suspected, I had very little time left to catch Clyde. It had taken longer than I’d expected to convince my new-found friends that life was not going to end because a concert was cancelled. I’d left them downtown and walked the rest of the way out to Trip Trap’s diner, one of Clyde’s haunts. I don’t know what I resented more: not getting to explore Kingdom City for myself or having to walk looking like what would happen if Tolkien mind melded with Hot Topic.
The diner boasted somewhat Germanic construction with stone walls, wooden accents, and a thatched roof on the outside, and mostly wooden interiors on the inside. Compared to everything else I’d seen so far, the diner was small, homey, and relatively normal. I’d visited it in my imagination so many times, entering it was almost like coming home. I slid into an empty booth, taking a minute to fully take my aching body and ringing ears.
Something smelled divine, adding to my pile of problems. I didn’t have any cash on me, and even if I had I doubted any place in the realm would know what to do with American dollars. The ripples of conversation around me had just started to make sense, something about ‘Some weird lass dressed up like she was going to one of them strange cons or an autumn festival.’ It should have been funny, it should have been a prime opportunity to people watch—how often did an author get to run incognito through their own world? Unfortunately, time and circumstance didn’t allow for any fun.
Looking around didn’t help. Although there was a bit of a dinner crowd, no one looked familiar or helpful. It was like one of those weird dreams I always got during a particularly rough work week or before an intense project. A waitress had left a pad and mechanical quill on the table, and doodling soon took the place of panicking.
I glanced up as a shadow rolled across the table and into the eyes of an unamused waitress who looked to be about nine feet tall and built like a tank. I had never considered an ogre waiting tables, but the dark grey-skinned creature filled out the Trip Trap’s uniform and was even wearing a frilly apron. Her face was angular and looked like a skinned cat that was ready to ride into battle, and she sported three dark braids down her back. Her ears twitched at my staring before she plunked a plate and goblet groaning with food and drink in front of me.
“Gift from the gent,” she rumbled, jabbed a hand toward the back, and stomped off to the next table. There was no one there.
“You remind me of my tonsils. We’d be decent together, even though I don’t really need you. Still, I wanna take you out.”
I stared at the dwarf in front of me, open-mouthed in shock, though he probably assumed it was for a different reason than the horrific line.
“I saw you over here by yourself and thought you’d like some company. And I don’t like to let a lass go hungry in any form.” He didn’t wait to introduce himself before he slid opposite me. Though his eyes were hidden behind sun spectacles, his suggestive smirk gave away the fact that he’d been looking.
He was close enough that I could have reached about five pressure points at least, but the surrealness was taking its toll. “I…”
“Igneous Blackshackles,” he drawled and extended a beefy hand. Although he wasn’t performing that night he was still done up in stage leather and chains. Great. One of those.
“Yeah, lead singer from Miner, I know.”
“I’m sure you do,” he added and his blonde hair and braided beard trailed over the table top as he lowered his face to glance at my cleavage.
“Look, I can’t—” He probably thought I was being kind, but it was logistics. Could I get stuck in a world I created if I ate the food?
“It’s obvious you don’t have any room for a money pouch,” he snorted. That was true. The vinyl pantaloons were tight enough to cut off circulation, even if they were shredded along the knees. The corset Snickles had forced me into wasn’t better, even if I had insisted on a frilly, deep green poet’s blouse under it. Not that it had helped, as low-cut as it was. I hadn’t realized how strong pixies were until one had me in a headlock and was painting me to look like an elf at a Bella Morte concert. “It’s also obvious yer a fan, and as it happens I have a soft spot for my fans.”
“More like you’re looking for someone to scratch your soft spot before you leave,” I muttered, continuing my doodles.
“I do like a feisty wench, though that is one place that is anything but soft,” he drawled. “’Sides, you’re…different.”
I glanced up from under my lashes. “Oh, if you only knew.” I hadn’t meant it to sound like a come-on, but he was suddenly on my side of the booth. “Whoa, look, Igneous—”
He gave a throaty laugh and scooted closer. The scent of dragon weed rolled off him, but then again I was probably covered with it, too. “Li’l wench, you get to call me Ig,” he growled and toyed with the sleeve of my blouse. “You don’t hafta play hard to get. We both know what’s gonna happen and I’m being very sweet.”
How in blazes did I navigate THIS? “I’m meeting someone.”
I tried to look busy, hunched myself over my pad, and hoped he didn’t misinterpret the blush up the back of my neck. By the hand wandering up my nape, my excellent circulation had doomed me again. I bit my lip and scrawled, hoping it would give me an idea.
I wish he’d just get the hint and get out of the booth…
His yelp made me jump. When I turned it was to see Igneous Blackshackles on his back in the middle of the floor, looking up at me with an expression of shock. “I know I’ve had a bit, but how…how did you do that?!”
“I…” I glanced at the words on the pad and grabbed up the quill. I wish I had the money to pay for my meal.
A rush of air hissed past my ear and I leaned away just in time to avoid being clonked on the head by a money pouch full of gold coins. “Guess I don’t need your meal, after all,” I whispered. It should have felt empowering, but by then I’d caught the eye of every person in the diner and the mutters were not as amusing as before.
I felt sick underneath the stares. This was very bad. No worries, I could fix it. I grabbed up the pen and quill and scrawled for my life: I wish I was ba—
The massive hand on my shoulder stilled my hand. I looked up and up and up into the unamused face of an ogre that was most definitely not a waitress. “Sheriff Grimclaw,” I gulped.
He raised a brow bone. “Strange that you know me and I don’t know you. Is something going on over here? I was waiting for friends and heard the ruckus.” He glanced down at Ig who had gotten back on his feet.
“I was just tryin’ to be nice and she kicked me outta the booth! And she zapped coin outta nowhere, bloke! If I could do that I wouldn’t need a band!” he babbled, eyes still wide.
“I didn’t mean to! I’m just waiting for a friend Well, he’s a bird. I showed up here after some runes and a vortex I think it had something to do with the moon…” I trailed off, realizing I was talking like an idiot. Kingdom City was a fantasy world, but on the whole they did not believe and magic…and those that did believe did not treat its wielders kindly. Grimclaw stared, and it was hard to read his expression, so I decided to take a cheap shot and act like I hadn’t just said something remarkably stupid. “I mean I’m waiting for my friend Clyde.” I added a cheesy grin, hoping under the makeup and tight clothes my inner adorableness could get me out of trouble.
His other brow bone raised.
“Clyde? You know Clyde?” Ig gasped. “That bird is so boulder! By Fate, why didn’t you say so!?”
“You know the talking bird?” the sheriff asked. It was suddenly very hard to talk under his calm, calculating stare, so I just nodded.
And that was how I ended up in a dungeon under the KCPD station. It was cleaner than I’d expected and thankfully they didn’t see reason to shackle me, even if they did suspect me of being an ancient evil entity that had gotten stuck in their realm. It wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever been called, so there was that.
I’d already been interrogated three times, so when footsteps pounded down the hall and my cell door clonked open, I had to admit I was surprised. The large silhouette didn’t draw my attention so much as the tiny one that sat on his shoulder. “You are so dead! Deader than dead! I’m going to dead you until you’re undead and then I’ll dead you some more! Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?!”
Clyde had the decency to look as embarrassed as he could. He was a small bird as it was, but on the troll’s shoulder he looked downright dainty. His blue and green plumage was dimmed in the dull lighting, but it was most definitely the bane of my existence. “Forgive me, milady bard. ‘Twas my intention to get you to Kingdom City proper to wait out the thirteenth of Friday magic that you spoke of, but obviously the path was rendered defective. Probably by your realm.” Arrogant even when he’d screwed up, that was Clyde. His voice was grit and honey with a touch of the archaic.
“They think I’m an Olde One! Why do they think I’m some sort of fount of evil!?” I was trying not to shriek, I really was.
“Possibly the alignment of our realms has enhanced your bard powers. I heard you made quite the display earlier. ‘Tis also possible that they assumed the worse given the display and the fact that you chose to visit Kingdom City dressed like a malevolent professional lass.”
“Did you just call me a hooker?!”
“You can’t call her that! She’s obviously gotten herself in a bit of trouble, is all,” Paddlelump hissed and it was then that it suddenly occurred to me that I was standing in the same room with my lead character. He looked as young and kind as I’d pictured him, and his voice had a lilting, gentle quality that went with his large brown eyes, round face, auburn hair, and start of tusks.
It also occurred to me that I had no idea how to go about this introduction. As far as I knew, he had no idea who I was and that his whole world was a product of my twisted imagination. The poor sod had already had the realm yanked out from under him so much, I didn’t want to possibly send him to an asylum. “Uh, hi, I’m Selah, uh…” I glanced at Clyde who was all too happy to jump in.
“One of my protégé’s. She was looking for me to continue our lessons.” That sounded decent until I registered the horrified look on Paddlelump’s face.
“She’s a lost dreamer!? Clyde, I thought you couldn’t take souls in this form!”
The bird and I exchange a panicked glance. “I cannot. Though I also cannot help those who might know their mythology and do silly things. Especially if they are in the name of love.”
My expression must have screamed what!? He shrugged, apparently as rattled by the situation as I was.
Okay, I could do this. I’d studied acting for a while. “Uh, right. I just had to find Clyde,” I agreed, gentling my voice and stance. “I want to make him proud with my words, I wanted him to notice me.” The stupid animal preened and it was all I could do not to bludgeon my head against the stone wall.
“There are other ways to live your life, lass,” Paddlelump insisted, kneeling in front of me. “I know things seem hard, but you’re far more capable than you know. You don’t need to sell any part of yourself to do great things.”
I wanted to hug him in that moment. It was the most endearing, truthful thing I’d heard all day. Instead I gently reached out and squeezed his hands. “Thank you. I’ll take those words to heart.”
“We posted your bail. I have some influence with Grimclaw and we assured him that you were manageable,” he went on. “Why don’t you come with us? Whatever happened to you, I’m sure we can get it sorted out.” If only that were true, if only it was my soul on the line and not my entire being displaced into a fantasy world.
“Clyde, can’t you just zap me back to where I need to go?”
This time the bird blushed, actually blushed, and scuffed a claw along Padd’s shoulder. “Well, milady, remember that my powers are restrained in this realm more than in yours…”
“You mean I’m stuck here?!”
“I had not intended it to be so, but…”
“You have to fix this!” I pleaded.
“You did say you wanted a vacation,” the bird pressed.
“How am I going to write, Clyde? How am I going to finish all the stuff I need to do…the stuff you want me to do?!”
Paddlelump’s head turned, following our conversation like a tennis match. It was obvious he didn’t know the schematics of what we were arguing about and he was still edgy about my mere existence. I’m sure it was confusing. Here he thought I was some lost soul with random powers granted through a botched transaction with a magic animal. “You really want to continue dealing with him?” he asked.
“Unfortunately I have to for the time being. I signed a contract,” I sighed. “It sounds worse than it is.”
Padd ran his tongue over a tusk stub and dug in his pocket. “They say stuff happened when you scribbled it out. The pad and quill were taken as evidence, but I always carry a notepad on me,” he murmured, producing a leather-bound book that was small in his hand but took two of mine to hold. The mechanical quill was only a little better. “Try it. The worst that can happen is that you have to come with us and we think of something else.”
I was so close to tears it was embarrassing. “Thank you. You are truly a decent fellow. I…just remember that in the future, okay? You’re capable of a whole lot more than you know, as well.” I managed a weak smile and shot Clyde the darkest glare I could. I hoped this would work. I needed it to work. I was in so much trouble with Seventh Star Press if this didn’t work…
I wish I was back at home right now
For a heart-stopping moment, everything was just the same. Then the mortar between the stones of the cell began to glow, the figures of Padd and Clyde blurred into unrecognizable splotches, and that strange, screaming wind had swept me up and torn me apart.
My couch had never looked more beautiful. Neither had the television or the living room in general. I laughed and fell back onto the couch, fully enjoying every ounce of those cushions. A glance downward proved I’d have to change and hide the clothes, but still, I suppose there really was no harm done. Except…
A strange sadness lingered. I’d been so busy finding Clyde and trying to get out of the world of Kingdom City, I hadn’t gotten to really enjoy it. How much time did I tend to waste trying to get all the details right, trying to get everything just so? I’d had the chance of a lifetime and I’d blown it.
I frowned, pondering my options. Food had to come first and maybe a bath, but then…I wasn’t open to playing with any more magic, bard or otherwise, but I had my ways of getting back to Kingdom City on my own terms.
It was time to get out the notes and the laptop and start book two. Chuckling, I went to rescue what leftovers I could from the fridge. “All right, you win, Clyde. I’ll get back to work.” Not that it really was work most of the time. Most of the time, it was complete and utter magic.
Outside the window the full moon glowed and I could have sworn I heard a brief, deep chuckle that was both grit and honey.