By Joe “The Wigit” Wilson
The path below my feet turned to mud. The sky was alight with lightning and the ground shook with every boom of thunder. I started to shake with cold as the wind began to howl, and slowed my pace even further. I clutched my arms around my midsection and tried to trap any warmth that I could and hold it to my body. My head bowed down to block the wind from my eyes as I trudged further down the path to a place I did not know, nor did I care to know, as long as I got there without freezing to death. I have had this dream many times before. Every time, it was the same place, the same scene. I awoke from my dream to the sound of screams.
The engines of the plane were set ablaze and gave off a horrifying glow in the night sky, which was covered in darkness and bursting with storm clouds. The first thing that came to mind was that lightning must have struck the main engine and we were going down. The stewardess, with the look of dread on her small delicate face, began to give instructions on how to use the life jackets and seats for a water landing. I immediately pulled on my life jacket and held onto the bottom of my seat, ready to release it upon impact. I ducked my head down between my knees and was unable to hear the stewardess any longer. My own panic blocked any sound from my ears except that of my blood rushing as my heart practically beat itself out of my chest. Lightning struck the plane again, this time hitting the cockpit just in front of me. The cockpit exploded at the seams leaving a gaping hole. The pressure from the opening sucked me right out into the night sky and I began to fall.
I held onto the seat for dear life wondering when I would land. With all the strength left in my frightened body, I tried to stop myself from blacking out, but was not successful. I landed with a mighty splash into freezing water that sent a shock rippling through every inch of me. I awoke instantly and struggled to figure out which way was up. I was running out of breath fast. Everything was dark and cold. I needed air and I needed it now. I quickly realized I was still holding onto the floating seat and quit struggling enough to let the seat lift me to the surface. I took in a gasping breath of air as I broke the freezing surface of the water. Holding onto the makeshift raft for a moment before I tried to figure out where I was and how to get back on land.
One thing struck me as odd the moment I spat water from my mouth: the water was not salty but fresh. I looked around and saw nothing, but water and snow. “Wait a sec, snow?” I wondered. It was storming and raining when the plane went down. Besides we were flying along the equator when I fell asleep. How then was it snowing? I held out my hand and sure enough, large white flakes of snow fell onto my palm. That would explain the freezing water at least. “Why am I not being affected by hypothermia?” I wondered. I should have been near death. I had no answers, and just let myself drift.
I must have drifted for what felt like hours, still alive and freezing. The water began to ripple slightly a few feet from where I floated. The snow came down in a blanket and made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me. Again the water rippled. I watched the spot nervously, not knowing what to expect. The situation was already strange enough. I really didn’t need any more surprises. What freaked me out and made me think I was dreaming was that the next time, the ripples were accompanied by a huge snake-like body, with spikes along its back, that moved in a half loop back into the water. I sat completely still, not even breathing. I had learned that the best defense against sea predators was to remain completely still. I took a few breaths then held it again, waiting to see if the ripples would come back. When they didn’t, I began to swim in the opposite direction.
Finally the snow let up a bit and I could see a little further out. Lo and behold in the distance was a faint yellow light. I swam towards the light with what little energy I had left, and hoped it was a boat that was an-chored. My hopes began to soar as I was actually gaining on the light. I got closer and closer. When I felt I was getting right on top of it, I smacked my head against something cold and hard, knocking me back under the water. I swam up to the surface and put my hands above my head to prevent myself from hitting my head again. As I broke the surface my hands pushed up against a wooden exterior. I heard the sound of surf and put two and two together. “A dock, I’m under a boat dock!” I thought with relief. I swam further until I felt my feet touch bottom and walked the rest of the way onto the rocky beach. I collapsed down on the pebbled beach and lay there for a few minutes, gaining strength into my weary body. As I tried to get back up, I passed out.
I woke up in my bed to the sound of my duck alarm clock. I sat up. “Wow, what a dream that was!” I was relieved yet disappointed that it was not real. Then it dawned on me, I don’t have a duck alarm clock! The clock continued to quack “Wake up, wake up, wake up,” over and over again.
I opened my eyes and felt the stones under my back. I looked up at the pale gray clouds that drifted overhead with snow still falling lightly. “Ah, I see ye wake up finally, stranger.” I tilted my head back a little to see who said that. When I saw the face staring at me I passed out again.
My nose caught the scent of fresh fish as I awoke from the nightmare. I hoped it was a nightmare anyway. I lay there for a minute trying to get a feel for what was going on before I opened my eyes. I wasn’t sure I could take another surprise and live through it. All I could hear was the rustling of the wind against a window that must have been right above me and the sound of waves lapping against a shore. The air was fresh with a hint of fish in it. I opened my right eye just a notch to see if anyone was there. When I couldn’t see anyone I sat up and opened both eyes.
I found myself sitting on a small bed made of a material I did not recognize, in a small shack of some sort without a door in the doorway. Fish were strung in a row and hung above a small fireplace in the center of the shack. Not much else was there. The place felt a little empty and small. I lifted my lightweight five-foot nine-inch frame off the bed to leave, when a small figure, with the same face I had seen before I passed out, entered the room.
He was a short, stocky sort that stood no higher than my waist. His face was covered in a full red beard that was rather dirty. His two beady eyes fixed on me. His head was bald and his arms were covered in the same red hair. He stepped a little closer and I noticed he carried a fishing pole and half a dozen fresh fish on a line.
“Ye were out for a day er two by my reckoning. Don’t know fer sure, been out on da lake fer a day and a ’alf,” said the little man as he strolled over to the fireplace and laid the fish on a nearby shelf. “’Ow rude of me, da name is Eubert.”
“What, where, when, how, and why?” was all I could think to say.
“Well dat be a strange question, let me see ’ere.”
He sat down on a wooden bench in front of the shelf and stroked his beard in thought. “On da ‘what’ question, not sure what ya mean with dat one. Unless ya mean what am I? If dat da question, I’m a Narlin, but ya should ‘ave known dat already.”
“A Narlin? Not familiar with that race. Oh yeah, how rude of me, my name is John. I’m a human.” Never in my life had I thought I would have to say that, but at that moment it seemed to fit.
He stared at me with a funny look for a second before he continued, “Yeah, I knew ye be a euman. Ya ‘aven’t ‘eard of a Narlin huh? Not from around ‘ere are ya?”
“Well depends on where here is. I went down in a plane crash with many others.”
“I dent see any others but you. What manner of creature is dis ‘plane’? Yer on da northern shore of Lake Narkish, just south of da village Narkish in Continia. Where might ya be from?”
I sat there a second racking my brain, trying to re-member my geography. I was a video game designer and geography had never been my strong subject. I had never heard of a country called Continia. “I’m from America, and if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction to where I can find a phone, I would be very thankful.”
Eubert sat there and looked strangely at me, trying to figure out what the heck I was talking about. “Never ‘erd of America or a phone before. But Narkish is ‘alf a day’s walk north of ’ere. Do you ‘ave a weapon of some kind, John? I don’t see a sword, or dagger, or even a bow on yas.”
“Well, I was on an airplane before I wound up in this hut and they don’t allow any weapons of any kind aboard. Besides, what reason do I have for carrying a weapon?”
Eubert’s left eyebrow rose as he considered me a little unbelieving at first. “Well, if ya says so den I guess et’s so. Umm…’ere you can have dis, et’s not much I’m afraid, but et be better dan nothen. These lands are wild,” he said as he unsheathed a small sword from a scabbard on his left hip and handed it to me. I held it in my hand and looked at it. “Et be no more dan a long dagger to ya but et will ‘elp.”
I thanked him for all his help as I walked out of the small shack. I took a look around, before heading off to Narkish. The snow still had not stopped but at least it was a very light fall. The sky was covered in low, dense, gray clouds. The shack was in a small clearing on the north shore of the lake. There was a small wooden dock with a little fishing boat tied to it just a few feet in front of me. I turned to the north and headed towards a clear path behind the shack that led off into a thick white forest. The ironic thing that occurred to me was that I wasn’t cold at all and yet I could see my breath in the chilled air.
I walked for hours, gripping the dagger and constantly looked around in case a bear or wolf happened to be hungry. Not once did the sky let up, and it began to snow very hard. After a few minutes, I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. Everything seemed to blend into whiteness.
I figured I must be near the village by now, yet the snow storm only seemed to be getting stronger as my tattered suit jacket began to flap wildly in the howling winds and blinding snow. I needed to find shelter and fast. All my life my foster parents had taken me camping, showing me how to survive in the wild, for a day or two anyways. At this moment, I was very glad for all those camping trips. I looked around, unable to see much of anything except for the peak of a mountain not too far off in the west. “Where there is a mountain, there is usually some kind of shelter,” I thought to myself. Whether it was a cave or a large overhanging rock; either would do at the moment. For the first time since being in the lake, I was starting to feel a little cold out there and I knew it was only going to get worse. As I began walking toward the mountain, I heard something shuffle not too far ahead of me. Unfortunately, the snow came down so hard I couldn’t see what it was, nor did I even care. I was cold and I couldn’t see or walk very well in all that snow. Besides, whatever it was, it sounded small.
I ignored the sound and began to walk as fast as I could through the snow. I focused on one thing, finding shelter. After about half an hour, the snow still showed no sign of letting up. I finally came to the base of a small but very high mountain. Sure enough, a small cave opening was no more than a few feet to my right. I headed toward the cave then stopped dead in my tracks. I saw what looked like the flicker of firelight in the mouth of the cave and small plumes of smoke drifted out. Again I heard the shuffling sound, but this time I heard more than one. Still, it did not bother me. I needed that shelter. I figured whatever lit that fire must be some kind of intelligent being. I proceeded to enter the cave when I felt the tip of a blade poke into my throat. In reflex my hands shot straight up into the air.
“Put your hands down human and get your backside in here quick!” a gruff voice said forcefully. He put his sword down, grabbed me by the shirt, and pulled me hard into the back wall of the shallow cave. “You led them here, you stupid man, what on this earth were you thinking?”
I wasn’t sure what to think at the moment. “What did I lead? I didn’t see anything? I might have heard some small scuffling sounds here and there but it couldn’t be that bad. Could it?”
The man I was talking to stood a good foot taller than me. He was fully clad in blue-plate mail armor. He wore no helm, but instead had a full head of dark black hair that reached down to his shoulders in many braids. He looked to weigh twice what I did and carried a large broadsword that was rusted and stained with blood. His face was scarred around both eyes and on his left cheek. He had a rough black beard and looked like he had not shaved for days.
“Stay back. We will talk when this threat is put to rest.” He looked at me up and down and asked, “Know how to use that long dagger of yours?”
“Uh, yeah, a little. I studied Kenpo Karate for years.”
“What is Kenpo Karate? Never heard of it. Whatever it is, I hope it is good.”
Suddenly a horrid little creature appeared at the mouth of the cave. It had six long, hairy legs that extended from a white spiky body. The creature’s head looked too small for its body. It had four eyes that were small and gray, two on its forehead looked straight at us. Another set of eyes was situated on the side of its head. The creature’s mouth was as wide as its head and covered in what looked like multiple rows of tiny sharp teeth.
“What in the world is that big creepy bug?” I said in a disgusted tone.
“That would be a Rant. They hunt in large packs, usually around ten to forty of the little demons at once. Strike the head and you will do just fine.”
I wasn’t sure if I should believe him about the whole “just fine” thing or not. Regardless, I had no choice at that moment because the rest of the pack had just arrived, around twenty-five of the ugly little monsters. They filled the entrance, hissing and snapping their little tooth-filled jaws as they crawled on the walls and roof of the cave.
“Yippee, this will be a blast,” I said in a dry and sarcastic tone.
The knight looked at me and gave a smile. “We may actually get along just fine, you and me.”
I decided not to tell him I was being sarcastic. At that moment, the Rants came charging at us. The warrior gave a cry and began hacking away at the little demons. One of them got past him on the roof and fell straight on top of me, snapping at my hair. I yelled and tried to remove it before it got smart and bit a softer area of my body that would actually hurt. I jumped straight up and smashed it between my head and the cave roof. “Not too bright,” I thought after my head stopped spinning. A gooey mass of the creature oozed down my head as I felt a sharp pain in my left leg. I looked down to see another had sunk its rowed teeth in my pant leg. Without a thought, I swung the dagger down and cut the head clean off. The body lay there twitching, but the head remained locked into my leg. I looked up and saw another on my warrior friend’s back, biting at the armor. I picked up a rock and hurled it at the creature, nailing it in its backside and knocking it off. I quickly ran up to it and cleaved its head off. I looked around for more to kill when I noticed that none remained.
“My name is Rogart. What might yours be?” the warrior said looking down at me with a large grin.
I looked at him as he extended his arm towards me. “The name is John,” I said as I went to shake his hand. Instead he grabbed my forearm and shook it.
“Strange name. What nation of human are you? I have never seen a human so short before.”
I was pretty sure I fit in the average height category. “I’m American. From the land of United States.”
“Never heard of it and trust me I’ve been all over this great land. Judging by your clothing, you’re neither peasant, knight, nor warrior. You’re not a magic user are you?”
“Not that I know of. Why?” I was beginning to believe I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. Heck, I didn’t even think I was on the planet Earth anymore.
“The Margistrat are the race of magic users, the ones who do things without lifting a finger. They have never done a day’s work in their pitiful lives. Of course, you are way too tall to be one of them.” On those words he spat and glared at me.
“Too tall, huh? Never heard that in my life.”
“Where did you get clothing like that? It looks rather useless and funny. Doesn’t look like any armor or cloak I have ever seen before.”
“This is my work suit. I got it at Mervyn’s. I’m not rich or anything.” He just gave me a confused look and looked down at the head still attached to my leg.
“Oh great you got one stuck on you. We’ll have to burn it off. Come here” He sat down next to the fire and pulled a flaming stick from it as I walked closer. As I sat down near him, he set the stick near the head. Instantly the head lit up like a firework and began to crackle as it fell off my leg. Rogart kicked the still burning head into the fire and sat back. “Why are you out here, so far north? What is your mission?”
“No mission. I fell in a lake back there a ways. Trust me, I have no desire to go back home. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Well, you can come with me if you like. I’m headed back to my home city of Werigan. It is a few days walk southeast from here.” He then pulled a cloth from his travel bag and began to wrap my bleeding leg. “You will need to be careful on our journey. This will heal fast, the cloth is enchanted to speed up healing and stop the flow of blood. I will present you to the King after I train you a bit and maybe he will have employment for you. If you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you want to return home?”
“I would like that very much. Thank you, Rogart. No, I don’t mind that you asked. It’s just that, well even though I had a great job designing video games, I have always felt like there was something more to life. My foster parents called me an ’over-active dreamer‘, and that I would never live in the lands I dreamt up. They told me to get back to reality. From the look of things, they may have been wrong.”
Rogart just looked at me about the same way Eubert did when I mentioned my life. “Don’t mention it. Now get some sleep. We leave at sunrise.”
Continia is available now at OlorisBookShop.com.