A Safe Interim
I really didn’t know what to expect. I prayed and begged whoever or whatever was in charge that I in fact had made the right decision. We were going to make it through that door. We were not plummeting to our deaths.
As the rushing wind engulfed my body, as I skyrocketed towards the ground below, I focused on one simple thing. Getting through that damn door. We got closer and closer to what first appeared to be the faint outline of a door suspended in mid-air, but as we fell further, I could see the door more clearly – a relief to me that I could trust my intuitions.
Before I knew it, everything went white, opaque, as if we were surrounded by a misty cloud. And in the next instant, Oliver and I were standing on solid ground, no longer falling, and trembling with joy that we made it through. Though relieved that we did not in fact die, I was surprised after taking in our new surroundings. Green. All green. Quiet, like death. As my eyes adjusted further, I realized we were in the middle of a thick forest of tall and strange looking trees. This was no wood familiar to me. The simple fact that I could hear no rustling of any sort or see any sign of animal life was an ominous beginning to our new adventure in this unfamiliar territory.
I looked down at my necklace knowing that it would now be lying lifeless on my chest. I couldn’t feel the vibrations, the electricity that drew us towards our door. For just a moment, I regretted not staying put, hiding out at home. Who knew where we even were now? I had no ideas, no suggestions as to what to do first. I looked at Oliver helplessly.
“I can take it from here,” he stated simply, as if reading my thoughts.
“Where are we?” I asked, taking in my surroundings, trying not to be overwhelmed by the unknown.
“This is my home. It’s a little more than a day’s journey to get to my family, but trust me, I know what I’m doing,” he answered.
Without hesitating, Oliver began walking purposefully in the direction that lead home. Well, home for him at least, I though with that aching pain one feels when completely surrounded by the unfamiliar. No matter how bad of a home yours may be for you, you may long for it all the same when nothing familiar is within arm’s reach. Just who or what was waiting for me at Oliver’s home, I had no clue. But there was no choice in the matter for me. Whether or not I would be welcomed with open arms was of no consequence to me at the moment. Oliver was all I had at this point, and I couldn’t very well wait in the woods to die. Or to be found and face an unknown worse than death.
We began our journey in silence. The woods seemed so still that, most of the time, I was unsure if we had even gained any distance from where we first started. But I trusted Oliver – even though I had no choice, it was like I didn’t need one. There was something about him that made me feel at peace. It made me feel like the direction we were going in together was the right one. Despite the inevitable bumps in the road, I just knew it was worth it, with Oliver leading the way. It felt strange trusting someone so completely in such a short time. It took me years to get that close to Amanda, and that was mostly due to the fact that she more or less forced her way into my life. She didn’t even know about the parts in my life – my father disappearing, Elora – that Oliver already knew about me before we had even properly met.
After several hours of walking, we reached a small stream. It was here that we decided to rest and eat the little food that we had managed to pack in all of the chaos before getting here. I took in my new surroundings, though they didn’t seem any different to where we had begun our journey to Oliver’s home. Everything was that same green. And everything was still eerily quiet. I couldn’t understand it. No matter how hard I tried to listen for something, anything, I couldn’t hear the faintest whisper of any animal noise.
“Why is it so quiet?” I finally asked, breaking the silence.
“They’re gone,” was all Oliver said in response.
“What do you mean gone? The animals?”
“She took them. She’s taken a lot from so many worlds,” he replied cryptically. I looked at him, no follow up questions, waiting for him to elaborate. He took a deep breath and explained:
“We’ve been at war with Callista for quite some time. She has been trying to take over the seven kingdoms, of which you are a part. In the past few years, she has begun stealing things from each of these seven realms for her sinister purposes. She’s taken all of the animals from my home kingdom to do her evil bidding.”
Well, that explained the odd encounters Amanda and I experienced back home. But who was this Callista? Why was she at war with Oliver? Seven kingdoms? Where were they? How did one reach them? I didn’t dare ask any of these questions, feeling that they would be answered in time as I continued on this journey.
The rest of the day went by in a blur of continued silence and green. We made camp in a place of no consequence. Everything looked the same for me here. The night was hard to get through. Living for most of my life in Tampa, it was hard for me to adjust to sleeping in silence. Nothing moved, nothing stirred. Somehow I managed to drop off because the next thing I knew, Oliver was gently stirring me awake, and the sun was shining with a light heat.
“It won’t be long now until we reach home,” he said to me, sounding relaxed and hopeful.
We continued our journey in much the same way. I didn’t mind the silence. It gave me time to compose and ready myself for the whirlwind ahead. I knew that once we reached his home, there would be even more information, confusion, plans. I knew a little more about what was going on with visions of this mysterious Callista forming in my mind. I just wasn’t sure about what my part was in all of this.
As Oliver said, in a few short hours, I could finally notice some difference in the woods surrounding us. The volume of trees was starting to thin, indicating that we were reaching some kind of clearing. We reached the edge of the woods and my heart began to beat rapidly. I was nervous to start this new part of our journey. I didn’t know what to expect. We took our final steps out of the woods, and the sight before me was breathtaking.
Wide rolling plains of green grass and multicolored flowers before me. It reminded me of the flowered plains my dad and I used to walk through on our journeys to our special tree. There was a large, clear lake in the middle of all of these rolling hills. Along the shores of this lake, I could see houses, buildings full of life. There was a long bridge leading from the shore of the lake to one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. It was large, majestic, with creamy white walls and a beautiful rusted red roof. It was larger than the other homes around the shores of the lake. With about four or five stories, large open balconies on each floor.
“Welcome to my home, Grey,” Oliver said with satisfaction.
I almost couldn’t blink for fear of missing out on the beautiful scene before me as we took our final steps towards Oliver’s kingdom. As we got closer into the town that was built before the beautiful lake, I noticed that the homes seemed almost connected. Though they reminded me in some ways of the suburban homes I was used to back home, in the kingdom of Tampa, these homes were connected to each other in some ways. Some homes seemed more like buildings in traditional English towns – store fronts topped by living quarters or long, two or three storied townhouses sharing the one wall that divided a large building into two, smaller homes. Only these houses were more complex. What looked like store fronts connected to one or two homes on either side of it. In some doorways I could see comfortable courtyards that showcased even more buildings on the far end that looked like housing. There were even sets of these connected homes and stores that connected to other homes and stores through open-aired balconies or pathways on the second or third stories of any given building. There was no sense of separation in this town, no sense of individual, isolated living. I shuddered to think of what havoc this kind of architecture would instigate at my apartment complex. Privacy that can be easily interrupted wouldn’t fly well in my part of the world.
No one seemed to take too much notice of me or Oliver. They went about their days – children running, adults moving to and fro within their homes or out on the street. Though people didn’t seem oddly dressed to me, there was a subtle feeling of other-worldliness in their fashion. What that was exactly, I couldn’t say. They looked different but weren’t different. If they came to my hometown dressed the way they were, in other words, they would blend in just fine. After a while, people started to notice that we weren’t part of the general crowd. And more so than the fact that I clearly wasn’t a part of the town – it was a small enough community of people for them to notice a newcomer – Oliver’s presence seemed to resonate more for them than mine.
They didn’t revere him in the way I imagined. This imagination based solely on lords and subjects I read about in fairy tales. They were clearly in awe of him being there, but they were more elated at seeing him. Like he’d been missing or gone for some time. They didn’t bow or prostrate themselves. They didn’t use flowery words of address to acknowledge his presence. In fact, they didn’t speak at all. They smiled and nodded at him if he looked at any person in particular, but they kept going on about their day.
Eventually, we made our way through the densest parts of the town, and we were nearing that beautiful lake set before his home. What I hadn’t noticed from the woods was a small pier with three motor boats tethered to it. Taking in the lake from a closer viewpoint, I could tell why this was set up at the edge of the town – to walk around the lake would take quite some time. It was better to have an easier means of transport from the town to Oliver’s beautiful home.
We strode up to one of the boats as if we’d done it a thousand times before. Though I’m not skilled in the way of boating, I’d seen enough on television and read enough about it in books to get the basic idea: one person gets in, the other unties the rope that anchors it to the pier. I left the untethering up to Oliver and got straight into the boat, making sure to stay as balanced as possible. There really wasn’t much for me to do besides that. I looked around for life vests at one point and decided to give it up. Falling in water and having to swim to safety would be the least dangerous thing I’d done in the past few days. Oliver got into the boat soon enough, got the engine going, and we were off to the other side of the wide, expansive lake, to his home. Who would be waiting there for him, I had no idea.
The ride was fairly short. At least shorter than it would have been to walk around the lake. I expected a huge reception for him there at the dock and bridge leading to the house’s entrance. Just like the forest we walked through just yesterday, all was silent. I didn’t want to pry, and I figured I would find out soon enough why it was so quiet on this side of the lake, so I got out of the boat and helped Oliver anchor it to the dock in silence. Though I could tell he knew what I was thinking by his looks, he kept silent, and so did I.
Soon enough, we were making our way up the bridge to the front of the house. The door was slightly ajar, and still that eerie silence. When we walked through the front door, we stepped into a large courtyard, much like the ones I saw connecting homes in the town. It was open and bright and aside from the gently blowing of the wind, all was silent. Oliver stopped at the door while I walked forward, making my way around this entrance area. I thought he was waiting for someone to greet us, or perhaps he was just giving us space. The room seemed to be a statue garden of some kinds. Varied and small groupings of stone people were scattered in all corners of the courtyard. It was like walking through an open air art space, and I couldn’t help but wander around, looking at the different statues. Men, women, children, all posed in some way. Some, as if running, others, prostrate.
The more I walked around, and the closer I looked at each figure the more eerie the quiet became for me. Then I noticed a few odd patterns in the sculptures. They all seemed to be working together, setting a scene. And that seen was horrific, terrifying. Now that I was really taking it in, I could see how each group of statues collectively worked to show the viewer a scene of desperation. All figures seemed to be running towards the exit, to where Oliver was still standing, the only living statue to this composition. I could not see clearly that the groups furthest from the front door were lying prostrate in fear, submission or in anguish. They had been defeated. By what? Some looked unwillingly towards an unseen figure, fear clearly etched in their faces. Others seemed to be hiding their gaze from this unknown terror. I walked closer to one of the groups of figures, all looking in the same upward direction. And then I saw something even more terrifying.
The eyes that were looking up. They were moving!
They darted from side to side, so naturally, despite the bodies being complete and utter stone. They were alive…but how? What happened? I jumped back as one pair of eyes met mine straight on, begging me with just a gaze to help. But how?
I looked at Oliver in disbelief, unable to articulate words, questions.
“My family, or rather, what’s left of those who survived,” he said with a slight ironic twist on the last word. I didn’t know where to begin. What had I gotten myself into? Who could do such a terrifying thing? I knew I was so out of my depth now, fighting against something I had not yet seen, already knowing how pointless my role was in the face of someone that could do this. Who was I against Callista, the beast that could literally freeze the living into stone, forever, rendering them useless?
I don’t know when it happened, but I crumpled into the floor, utterly defeated.