I turned in a full circle. "I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore," I muttered to myself. Everything was so…colorful. Had I wandered into someone's special garden or something? This definitely hadn't been here the last time I had been home. Even if I had somehow managed to wander into the park, which would explain being surrounded on all sides by plants with no end in sight, those giant purple leaves on the trees and the weird patches of blue grass? Definitely not indigenous.
Something jumped from one tree to another.
Just a squirrel, I had almost convinced myself when a tiny, almost human, face peeked out at me. I leaped back from the tree, absolutely positive that I had not just seen that. Still, it was better to avoid the trees anyway, right? Who knew what kind of animals or bugs were crawling in them.
I must be high, I determined when a whole flipping family of those creatures showed up, chattering in obnoxiously high-pitched voices as they pointed at me. So high. Tambarle must have slipped something in my food. I knew she was being too nice. I was probably just walking down the streets like a crazy person. The cops were probably going to arrest me for public intoxication or something. That'd look great on the tabloids. I could see the titles already: ‘Jessa Kiss Arrested’, ‘Jessa Kiss Gets High To Get Over Cosmo’, ‘Jessa Kiss Breaks Cosmos’ Heart and THEN Laws!’
Cosimo would know what to do. I nervously rubbed at my ring finger, standing in place and looking around. Even though he hated me right now, I knew that all I had to do was call him and he would fix this. He would help me because that was what he did. I was the one who was heartless, according to most of the world. Knowing hearing my voice would cause him pain, but needing help and seeing no other option, I pulled out my phone, ready to call him.
My phone had no signal.
"Okay. This is probably one of those lucid dreams, right?" I nodded to myself. "I'm in a pretty place, obviously magical. I should just go to the natives. I'll talk to the natives and find out what I'm supposed to do." I nodded to myself. Dreaming seemed like a perfectly good explanation, better than me being high, in fact. I didn't feel high. This all felt very, very real. Nevermind the fact that I had just been walking, taking a shortcut back to Nana's house to avoid the paparazzi.
"I'll just go talk to one of those little people," I determined, sure that this was a dream. It had to be one of those dreams with full consciousness. I set toward my goal.
The small, strange creatures just watched me as I approached. Their heads were enormous in comparison to their itty-bitty bodies. That was the least freaky thing about them. Much less weird than their rainbow hued, translucent skin or their spiny, spindly backs. The weirdest was their eyes. Their bulbous, gleaming eyes, cloudy like a dead persons. I was staring at their eyes. Those filmy, non-seeing eyes.
I turned back to the treeline. No need to talk to the tiny flower people. There were bound to be other natives, right? Right.
So instead of dealing with them, I went into the trees.
I had to walk pretty far, probably almost a mile past the treeline before I saw anyone else. Of course, the first person I saw happened to be a centaur, so there was that. I had finally left the truly strangely colored plants and was surrounded by large, green, trees. There was moss and ivy covering the bark on most of them and the leaves were larger than my head. It was quiet except for the sounds of nature, until I heard music.
I spotted the musician before he spotted me because he was playing this weird pipe creation, eyes closed and head tilted. His front legs were tucked underneath him and he leaned against a large, willowy tree, just playing his music. It was a pretty song, floating between A major and C minor with high, lilting notes. The tree seemed to sway in time with the music and I was mesmerized by it.
It all ended when I stepped on a branch. He immediately sat upright, focused on me, and ran off without a word, a fearful look on his face. I tried to follow him, but that was pointless because not only was he impossibly faster than me, but the trees seemed to move to hide him from me. After my third time running straight into a tree, I gave up on talking to him. He probably didn't even speak English anyway. The horse people never did in my dreams.
After him, I stumbled for maybe thirty more minutes, trying to find someone to talk to. I kept seeing hair and feet and a glimpse of people (and I use the term lightly) running away before I could say anything, but the next time I saw someone fully was near a stream. It was the first time I had seen any water source, which I thought was weird because I'd always thought that forests were supposed to be full of lakes and streams and rivers and things. Not to mention I was thirsty, which I had never felt in a dream before. Dream or not, though, I was parched and it looked gloriously clean.
I fell to my knees in the bank of the stream, drinking from it and hoping that I wasn't poisoning myself. I was so busy gulping down water, that I almost didn't notice when...creatures started to approach me. A few came up from the water, with long fingers and large, watery eyes, their skeletal bodies covered in a scaly skin that glistened against the bright sun. Most, however, were behind me, staying carefully in my peripheral. I recognized a few fauns, but couldn't determine what the girls dancing around them were. They were all whispering to each other and staring at me, pointing at me.
The only parts I could make out were princess, queen, Still wind, Nim wind, Fae wind, and Even way, and only those because they were repeated so many times. Is this one of those dreams where I turn out to be the long-awaited savior queen? I haven't had one of those in a while, I thought, pretending not to notice the ones behind me. Instead, I focused on the aquatic figures in front of me. They didn't flinch or hide away from my gaze. They stayed right where they were, watching me with unblinking eyes, their thin-lipped mouths and protruding jaws beneath the water.
"Where am I?" I asked them. The chattering behind me ended immediately and I saw out of the corner of my eyes that all of the other creatures were watching me silently.
"My stream," one of the creatures said, its voice surprisingly clear given that it was speaking underwater.
"Okay, but where is your stream? I'm not from around here and I don't really know where I am right now."
An explosion of chatter came from the creatures behind me and I glanced back at them when I very clearly heard one all but scream "Someone should tell the king!" Under my gaze, they scattered back into the trees, hiding from my sight once more. None of them had looked particularly frightened when hiding, which I counted as a plus. At least I wasn't scaring the natives anymore. They'd be more likely to help me.
When I turned back to the water, the creature who I had been talking to was now merely inches from me. I jerked back, falling out of my crouch and onto my butt. It made a sound that was similar to laughter, but far more unnerving. The way it looked at me, in particular my stomach, made me uncomfortable now that all the other creatures were gone and it was just me and these things.
"How far away are you from?" it asked me, moving all the way to the edge of the water. "Whose are you?"
I frowned, staring at it. "Whose?" I asked back and it tilted its head.
"Human?" it asked, as if the idea of me being human was confusing for it.
"Yes? I'm human," I responded, sliding back a bit more. I couldn't see how long its arms were, but I was going to guess that they were long enough to grab me and pull me under. While I didn't want to insult it by appearing that I didn't trust it, I didn't trust it. It was like the old stories of mermaids, even if it definitely wasn't one. It looked ready to pull me under, drown me, and eat me. I really didn't want to be eaten today, thanks.
Two others moved to its side and now there were three of the things, staring at me with only their eyes and the tops of their heads out of the water. I scooted back a little more, trying to determine if I wanted to try and make a run for it or not.
"How did you get to the Neverforest?" the second one lisped. The first one to talk to me pushed against that one and it floated back, away from the bank. The third one stayed silent, just watching me.
"I walked," I said, trying to determine if the distance between me and the things was good enough to keep me safe. I hated drowning dreams. They were the absolute worst.
"And no one walked with you?" the first one asked, moving a little higher from the water so that its arms could rest on the bank.
No, I wasn't far enough back. Its arms were as long as my legs, maybe even longer. I scooted back even more. "I was walking with my friends," I lied, deciding that these were definitely not friendly creatures. "In fact, I should probably get back to them."
I stood up and the silent one rose in the water with me. I glanced behind me to see no creatures back there to help me, and when I looked back to the creatures, the one who had been talking to me was crawling forward, almost grabbing me while the silent one held its hand out to me.
“You should join us,” the previously silent one said. “It’s better to swim with us than to drown.”
I’m not sure that it was the selling pitch she expected it to be, because that made me turn tail and run. The crawling one gripped my ankle and I fell forward. Its’ grip was strong as it slid back into the water, pulling me with it.
“No!” I yelled, kicking with all of my might. I was lucky to have landed a kick on the face of the one tugging me. It let go and I scrambled to my feet. I had never before been more thankful to Tambarle and Taylor for their insistence that I learn to quickly get to my feet after dropping low or falling down.
The one who was high up, with only a long, serpentine tail still in the water darted forward to me. It still didn’t touch me, only breathed on me, somehow humming a disjointed melody at the same time as she ordered me, “Join us in the water. You will only drown if you fight.”
I didn’t say anything, only backed up as quickly as possible. It tilted its head and opened its jaw wider, showing off every single horribly sharp tooth. The humming came even louder and the other creature, that had been trying to reach for me, froze in its spot, as if paralyzed.
I was in the treeline when I felt comfortable enough with the distance to turn and run. My last glance of the creatures was of a bemused expression on the floating one’s face, while the talker just looked pissed and was making a horrifying noise at the other two. Either way, they weren’t getting any further out of the water to follow me, but I didn’t stop running until I couldn’t see the water anymore. Once I was that far away, I slowed to a light jog, incredibly out of breath but I didn’t dare pause just yet.
So far, in this dreamland, I had run into tiny flower people with dead eyes, a skittery centaur, a handful of gossiping animal-creatures, and three barracuda-looking mermaids. I was starting to get the feeling that nothing in this place was going to be friendly. I wished I could wake up, but so far, I’d made no progress on that front. Either way, I knew I had to keep moving. Bad things only happened when you stayed in one place for too long in weird dreams.