One Way to Escape
A twig snapped. Instinctively, Kairyna turned to look but reminded herself of the author’s amazing talents and returned her gaze to the book. She started. The book and podium had vanished. In their place stood a decaying hollowed out log.
“Oh,” she exhaled slowly. “No, no, no. This . . . isn’t real.”
She looked up at her surroundings to find that she was standing in a small clearing bordered by large leafless trees. A dense fog hovered ominously just beyond these while the clearing itself was clear. The sky was thick with dark clouds, and the forest floor was covered in a layer of dried leaves. Hardly any light, if there was any, filtered down through the claw-like branches of the trees making the forest appear dark and cold.
Kaiyrna shivered and hugged herself. She could see her breath coming out in wispy clouds and feel the tightening of her skin. The thin clothing and converse sneakers she wore were unsuited to such temperatures.
“Madam Sporra?” she called her jaw shaking. “Madam Sporra, can you hear me?” She searched the clearing with her eyes, slowly turning in a small circle to see in all directions. “This can’t be happening. It’s completely illogical and impossible.” The rational thought was meant to calm her, but it could not banish the edge of fear. “Where am I?”
The forest was eerily quiet. There were no birds, no squirrels, no rustling of rodents among the leaves. There was no movement to be detected other than her own.
“It’s like being in the book,” she said. “Others have entered this book.” They were the words Madam Sporra had used. “Entered the book.” She shook her head, unable to accept the thought as truth. “No! That can’t possibly be what happened!”
A sudden cold breeze whipped through the clearing and swept Kairyna’s hair up around her face. Her loose top flapped flimsily in the strong wind that swirled through the clearing as a cyclone. She reached up to cover her ears, protecting them from the cold and the loud roaring of the wind. The pressure of the air around her slowly grew until she was forced to her knees. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped.
She sat there with her eyes squeezed shut and her heart pounding frantically within her chest. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked up. The clearing had not changed back to the secret room in Madam Sporra’s library. Though her legs trembled, she pushed herself once again to her feet, and in a cautious manner, circled the edge of the clearing for any signs of this being her imagination.
“Please, oh please let it so happen that my imaginative skills just became ridiculously realistic,” she pleaded to no one.
Touching one of the trees told her everything. It was cold to the touch, and the bark felt rough against her palm. She sighed, her breath a shudder. “Calm down, Kairyna. You wanted an escape from reality, didn’t you? Well? I think you just got your wish.” That thought actually made her smile. “I got my wish,” she repeated.
A small, incredulous laugh escaped her lips. “I’m in a book.”
Just then a rustling sounded from somewhere in the trees off to her right.
“Madam Sporra?” she whispered wondering if the woman had come with her. “Is that you?”
Another rustling sounded, echoed by another and another; each from different locations. Kairyna whipped her head around at each new rustling sound, her fear returning to pinch her stomach. She wasn’t alone. “Who’s there?” she called out her voice shaking.
Immediately, she regretted the question. “If I’m in a book, then stupid questions will mean something is going to jump out and try to kill me. Then again, it could be the others Madam Sporra mentioned.” That was doubtful. Not when the place reeked of something foul and dangerous.
Another twig snapped and the forest fell silent.
Kairyna held her breath, searching the trees desperately by sight only. With breath abated, she waited, not daring to move.
Quiet voices drifted through the air, whispering words in a language Kairyna couldn’t understand, but the sound of them made her heart falter. She recognized them as the same voices she’d heard when she first discovered the library, but how was that possible? Though they carried no meaning that she could understand, they were dark words, filled with evil and malicious intent.
Igaelbrae sitalick ne orthaest iim. Igaelbrae miirothckik ne doon iim. Igaelbrae ne kcaen ttaempris iim myaen. Myaen uk raesh. Myaen ev kcaen vrondiirkcas. Uk Maveela vrondiirkcas isae.
As the voices grew in intensity, the mantra repeating again and again, their presence seemed to dominate the small clearing. It was as though they were sucking all oxygen from the air and replacing it with deadly poison.
Kairyna tried to gasp small breaths into her lungs but the fear she felt had her nearly immobilized. She could feel tears running down her cheeks from sheer fright, and she had no power to stop them. This fear, it was incomprehensible.
Just then, a shadow moved through the mists. Its size and appearance could not be distinguished as the fog concealed any features it possessed. Two more shadows appeared alongside the first, hovering near the edge of the clearing.
Although she could not see what the creatures looked like, Kairyna was sure she never wanted to. The dark apparitions were already too close for comfort and she didn’t want to stick around long enough for them to come any closer. Yet as much as she urged her legs to move, she could not shake the fear that had her feet bound in their places.
Maybe this clearing is safe? She thought desperately. The fog, it must be a barrier.
The voices were so loud by now that the voice in her mind seemed almost non-existent. Any thought that flitted to the forefront of her mind vanished before she could get a decent hold on it. Her thoughts were slowly being replaced by the voices that now filled the clearing so densely, she was certain she could feel them brushing against her skin. She wanted to run but her legs remained stubbornly petrified.
The shadows were pacing along the edge of the treeline. All that was preventing them from entering the clearing was the fog that now rose as a barricading wall.
For a moment, Kairyna almost felt relief.
That relief was short-lived as slowly, one slick black leg, thin and almost beetle-like, sprouted out from the misty wall into the clearing. This was followed by more legs, whipping tendrils, and fat, armoured bodies. Kairyna watched the appearance of the apparitions in horror, unable to determine where one began or the other ended. There were so many protrusions, appendages, tendrils, scales, and other features grotesque in nature. The creatures now standing before her were as tall as a small house and thousands of times scarier than anything she’d pictured before. The closest thing she could liken it to, was a chimera. The three monstrosities had spider-like eyes that glowed hungrily. All of these eyes were locked on her.
Whatever spell held her in place was broken. With her legs freed from their petrification, she bolted. She could hear the creatures giving chase behind her as she scrambled to get away. The irrational part of her brain was trying to trick her into believing they couldn’t see her in the mist. One of the tendrils snaked out and wrapped around her ankle, rendering that delusion futile.
With her ankle in the creature’s grasp, she fell, cutting her cheek on a sharp stone concealed beneath the leaves. There was no time to notice. Everything happened so quickly as she was hoisted off the ground, the creature lifting her high above itself. She wished she hadn’t looked down the moment she did for a fissured mouth filled with long fang-like teeth opened beneath her. A sickly dark tongue streaked out toward her. As it surged toward her face, she screamed though she knew it would do her no good.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she waited for the tongue to wrap around her and pull her into the gaping jaws below, but it never came. Instead, the creature let out an ear-piercing screech.
Her eyes flew open, shocked by the sound, just in time to see that the creature’s tongue had been sliced off. It was only a split second, for in the next, the creature flung her to the side in a fit of rage.
Hurtling through the air like a ragdoll, it was all she could do to brace herself for a bone-crushing impact, but it too never came. Surprised, she realized someone had caught her. They landed softly on the ground and she was placed gently down at the base of the tree she had nearly been broken against. She looked up to see who had saved her and met a pair of black eyes. The rest of the face was obscured by a black scarf and long black hair.
An assassin? she wondered, immediately analyzing what sort of character he might be.
“Stay here,” the man said in a gentle but firm voice. “And you may want to close your eyes. This will not be pleasant.”
She could only nod dumbly as he turned away from her and walked toward the creatures. As he said, she closed her eyes and tried to block out the squelching tortured screams that followed. To distract herself, she thought through character possibilities this world might hold. An assassin, maybe. He could be a ninja. Would there be ninjas in this world? Or maybe he’s some sort of monster hunter. Yeah, that would make sense. Since there are clearly monsters, he could be a hunter. Why else would he be here? Unless he’s some sort of hero. They’re good at showing up when there’s a damsel in distress. I think I qualify right now.
After a few moments, the horrifying, nauseating sounds subsided. Slowly, she opened one eye and then the other.
The man walked back to where she crouched, his clothes covered in a dark purple goop she assumed to be blood. Behind him she could see the dismembered corpses of the three creatures slowly turning to sand. He offered her his hand and cautiously she took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet.
“We have to leave here. More of them will come. Follow me.”
“W-where are we go―”
He looked back at her and she instantly fell silent. “Save your questions. For now, we must hurry.”
The pace at which he led her through the ever-darkening forest was swift, and she found she could hardly keep up. As the adrenaline and fear receded, she felt her energy drain along with them. It was getting harder to keep her eyes open and she was beginning to stumble more frequently. She tripped on a protruding root and, too tired to prevent herself from falling, tumbled to the ground and simply lay there.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into the earth.
The man stopped and walked back to where she lay.
She looked at his feet and tried to push herself up but her shaking arms faltered. “Sorry,” she said again. “I can’t.”
Without a word, he scooped her off the ground. “It is not a good idea to take a nap here. We don’t have much further. Rest assured that you are safe.”
She nodded and then fell into unconsciousness against his strong shoulder.
“. . . what her name is. Should we wake her up?”
“No. Be quiet and let her sleep.”
“She’s really pretty. I wonder how old she is. Do you think maybe she could be my age?”
“Amanda, I told you to be quiet!”
Kairyna listened to the voices in their hushed tones as she slowly came back to consciousness. Cracking one eye open, she looked around but couldn’t tell anything of where she was. It was a small room she guessed, and dark.
“She’s waking up!”
With a great deal of effort, she pushed herself to a seated position and tried to take in her situation. She was on a small cot surrounded by unfamiliar people.
The first girl she took note of looked to be about her age, and she was sitting on a chair close to the bed. Her eyes were a striking green, though the dim lighting made them sparkle as though they carried flecks of gold. These were fanned by thick eyelashes that Kairyna hoped were fake for how much they reminded her of a cartoon character. Her flaming red hair was tied back in a long braid that fell over her shoulder and down past her waist. There was beauty in her milky skin, but Kairyna decided that this girl seemed more like a doll than a human being. She wondered if her skin might crack like porcelain if she were to push her over.
Even her clothes drew attention, mainly because they were so unexpected when compared to her face. She looked like someone who ought to wear pretty lace dresses or chic runway fashion. Instead, she wore a faded t-shirt that looked like it probably once belonged to her dad. At least she had tied it to fit her narrow waist. Her pants weren’t much help either. These were a dusty rose colour with brown patches on both knees. If her feet were visible, Kairyna could imagine they were fitted inside shoes of equal travesty.
A second girl a bit older stood behind the first girl’s shoulder. Her hair was dark, though it was hard to tell if it was black or just a deep brown in the lighting. This was wavy and had been cut to hover just above her shoulders. She had a darker skin tone that reminded Kairyna of caramel. The girl’s eyes were a glittering hazel and looked on her with warmth, though there was a darkness hidden in their depths. She was pretty, like a princess or perhaps a dancer.
Her clothes were nothing unusual, thankfully. She wore a light pink blouse tucked into high-waisted jeans. The fabric of her shirt looked as though it had seen better days. Other than that, she was a well put-together individual.
At the foot of the bed, a set of twins were staring at her. They looked to be fairly young, but what immediately caught her attention was their eyes. They each had one dark brown eye, and one eye so blue it might have been clear. These were mirrored. Other than that glaringly obvious detail, they were identical in their appearance with their dusty-blonde hair and matching sweaters. They were hideous creations that looked like they belonged in another time. Obviously handmade, the sweaters were ugly knitted things that had likely been gifted to them by a grandmother or doting aunt. The only other difference between them she could depict was their expressions. One looked sweet and gentle while the other bore the air of a troublemaker.
She couldn’t tell if there were more people further back due to the light not reaching that far. There was a sconce on the wall with a low flame, the only source of light in the space. “Where am I?” she asked quietly.
“Are you alright?” the sitting girl asked eagerly.
Kairyna looked at her blankly and then nodded slowly. “I think so. I mean, as far as anyone can be, I suppose after. . ..” As the thought trailed away, she glanced over the faces that stared at her. “Um.” She didn’t quite know what to say. “You didn’t answer my question. Where am I?”
They all looked awkwardly between each other before a voice from the darkness spoke. “You’re in the book,” it stated flatly.
She scowled. “I know that!” she spat. “I meant where is this place? Is it a house, an inn, some underground cavern?”
“You know you’re in a book?” the older girl asked. “It took me forever to come to that conclusion and even then, I didn’t want to believe it.”
She eyed the girl, a suspicion curling at the back of her mind. “After what happened, how could I have come to any other conclusion? There’s no way I could be dreaming. Even if I have dreams that seem realistic, they’re never this realistic. Having been sucked into the book was the only viable explanation.”
They all stared at her curiously.
“You’re very interesting,” one of the twins said.
“Not really. She said there were others who entered before me. You’re them, aren’t you?” That would explain the clothes in the dressers.
The two girls exchanged amazed looks.
“How could you tell?” the redhead asked.
She sighed in frustration. “Your clothes. They don’t look like they belong in this world. I’ll change the question,” she said irritably. “What is this place? And who are you?”
A boy who looked to be a few years older than herself stepped forward. Something about his face struck her as familiar, but she couldn’t quite place her finger on it. What caught her off-guard was his hair. It hung long, though not too long for her to think it feminine. However, what struck her was the fact that it was blue! Even in the dark she could tell that much. Despite his abnormal hair colour, he was surprisingly attractive. His eyes were dark, but she couldn’t distinguish what colour they were.
She couldn’t tell much about him by his clothes. He wore a plain white shirt under a dark, hooded sweatshirt. He was a typical teenage boy, in her analysis.
“Welcome to Asylum,” he said dismally. “This is our cage in this wretched book. We’re underground, if you must know, in some sort of hollowed out tree. It’s the one place those creatures can’t get us. This is our safe place. My name is Jayce.”
The name struck yet another chord in her memory. Jayce? Why does that name sound awfully familiar?
“I’m Amanda,” the girl on the chair said in a bubbly tone that cut like a knife through Kairyna’s thoughts.
“My name is Tanya,” the older girl said.
“I’m Dan,” said the first twin. His right eye was dark, while his left eye was blue.
“And I’m Leo,” said the second. His eyes mirrored his brothers with his left eye being dark and his right eye blue.
She nodded absently as they said their names and forced herself to take mental notes on each person. Jayce was the leader of sorts. She ignored the thinking in her mind that he was handsome as something in the way he held himself made her decide that he was a bit of a jerk. Amanda seemed like the overly positive, outgoing type, while Tanya appeared to be quieter and more intellectual. The twins simply had a close attachment to one another that she couldn’t decide if it was cute or creepy.
“What’s your name?” Amanda asked.
“Kairyna?” the twins said together. “How old are you?”
It was interesting hearing their voices in unison, and she immediately discarded the creepy idea, deciding she liked them. On the other hand, Amanda was waiting much too eagerly for her answer. “I’m fifteen.”
“Really? Me too!” Amanda burst out in excitement. “Tanya’s seventeen, Dan and Leo are twelve, and Jayce is eighteen.”
“And what about the guy who saved me? What’s his name?”
“Ravyn,” Jayce said.
She tried to see past him into the dark of the room. “Where is he?”
“Ravyn never stays around too long,” Tanya said. “He’s rather mysterious. We don’t really know anything about him or how long he’s been here. All we know is that he’s the one who brought us all here.”
Kairyna nodded. “You all got attacked when you first arrived?”
There were nods all around.
“Are there any others?”
“We’re everyone,” Dan said. “There were others.” He looked at Jayce and didn’t continue the thought.
“Great. I take it that none of you know why we were sent here?”
“No,” Tanya said. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she turned her gaze to the floor.
“So, how do we get out of here?”
The others stared at her and then all burst out laughing. It was not a joyous sound.
“What?” she asked annoyed and confused.
“Get out?” Jayce said in a critical tone of voice. “You think we can get out? Thoughts of escape are all death wishes. There is no going back once you start. Or didn’t the old woman tell you that?”
“There must be some way,” Kairyna said defiantly. She already didn’t like Jayce very much.
All voices ceased their laughter and all heads turned toward the darkness that masked the back of the room. From the shadows, Ravyn stepped forward.
“There’s actually a way out?” Amanda asked in a hushed voice.
Ravyn nodded. “One, and only one, but it’s dangerous.”
They all looked at one another.
“She mentioned something about going forward,” Kairyna said already having a guess at the answer.
Ravyn met her gaze and nodded.
“We have to make it to the end of the story.”