Ori Sarah, 9th- Berkeley, CA
I woke up as the cold and damp air washed over my body like the sharp caresses of an electric eel. Had I really left the window open again, in this freezing weather? I shot open my eyes. I was not in my bed, instead my body lay against an equally cold and wet ground. I stood up defensively, clenching my fists, and wondered, where in the world was I? It was a place like nothing I’d ever seen before. I shivered in fear. As I looked around, I saw only darkness. I was encircled by a vast dark forest. The sky was grey and clouded, like fog leeching onto a window during a cold day.
I was breathing heavily, terrified of the dark wood. My eyes darted around quickly, searching my setting, and I caught myself murmuring things absentmindedly.
“It’s only a dream. It’s only a dream, you'll wake up soon, and everything will be fine. It’s only a dream, you'll-you’ll wake up soon, and everything will be fine.”
I didn’t even know where I was, only that this place wouldn’t let me understand. I peered between the trees anxiously until my eyes locked on a door.
There was no house attached to the door; it was merely in the middle of the eerie trees, held completely upright by some unseen hinges. The strange door wouldn’t have been my first choice of exits, but I saw no other form of escape. There was nothing. All I could do was walk towards that door. I felt my mind telling me to go towards it.
My cold and shaky hand reached for the knob, fumbling nervously and numb with the freezing cold. The metal touch stung and, as I yanked my hand away from it, a blood curdling scream echoed in my ears. It was coming from behind me. Unearthly. I’d never heard anything like it before. I stopped myself from opening the door. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I spun around, my back to the mysterious door, wondering what was the source of this abnormal screech?
A long black claw crept out from the woods, about ten feet away from me, it’s jagged nails hitting the wet dirt. I could barely see any of the creature, the trees not allowing any light to enter the dark forest. The unrecognizable creature's body began to walk towards the center of the circle of trees, swaying side to side with every step.
My palms were beginning to sweat with fear, and my hand reached out for the cold door knob again. This time I was successful in opening it, no cold would stop me. I fell inside its threshold, shutting the door behind me. Meeting this rabid creature was like having a death wish that I would not honor now.
Instead of feeling the same wet dirt of the forest underneath my feet, I felt nothing but myself falling rapidly into darkness. As I looked up, the mysterious door was nowhere to be seen.
I closed my eyes immediately, landing on a sticky surface that was supposedly the ground. The sudden change of environment sending sharp pangs of pain to my head. It had been freezing in the vast forest; here it was humid and sticky. Once I got my eyes to open, the stickiness in the air providing some difficulty, I looked around at this new location.
Warm, slimy vines trickled down from what appeared to be the ceiling--but, no, there was no ceiling. From where, then? Just coming out of the sky? They dripped a rotten loathsome liquid, like stalactites from a cursed cave. Drip, drip, drip onto monolithic mushrooms that seemed to lurch at me, those same vines tickled delicately around their truck-sized stems. As the green liquid dripped off of the vines, it hit my head with a soft thud, making me shriek and wince in disgust and fear.
I began to run, dodging unrecognizable vegetation, praying that it nor anything else would prove to be of the ravenous predatory kind.
“Wake up!” I yelled at myself, still convinced this supernatural experience was a dream.
As I ran, I turned back and I recognized something. It was the same black claw from the circle of trees. Only this time, the body around it was beginning to form. It was shadowy, ghostly, and abnormally large like a crepuscular bear. I was distracted by the sudden appearance of the creature--one that I thought I’d abandoned, but I somehow kept running, turning my head back in its direction and away from it.
The next thing I knew my body was hitting freezing cold water, filled with algae and other plants that looked and smelled with acrid toxins, bubbles filled with oozing liquid that rose to dangerous crescendos before bursting outwards.
I fell deeper into the water, flailing, and trying to scream, but each cry was stifled by the viscous liquid as my lungs filled with the green slime and the ice cold water.
The world began to turn. Promptly, down, right and left were indistinguishable. Then, my eyes began to feel heavy. I was losing oxygen and slowly fading.
I kept my eyes open in a desperate attempt to identify something--anything in all the haze. A small pink hand was reaching into the water from above me, and I thought I must’ve imagined it. I grabbed the hand, and was immediately yanked out of the water and onto the ground. Sticky with slime, I coughed up the algae.
“I thought you human folk were more knowledgeable!” the creature with the pink hand spoke.
“Who are you?” I asked, standing up on the bank.
“You know, a thank you would be nice.” The creature spoke, its short legs and abnormally long arms giving it a rather interesting appearance.
“Thank you-” I began, but I didn’t even know who I was thanking, and if I really was thankful, when the pink creature cut me off.
“Veqal.” it said.
“Thank you, Veqal.” I played along.
I knew this was just a dream, but maybe if I were to pretend it wasn’t, I’d wake up sooner. Even the thought of all this being a figment of my imagination made the situation no less comforting. I was still petrified of the clawed shadow figure that loomed somewhere in the distance.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This? This is the Land of Hallucination,” Veqal said matter-of-factly, as though it were common knowledge.
He began to walk away.
“Veqal?” I questioned.
“Yes?” he wondered.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Why, to the Realm of Clouds, of course!” he stated, again, as though I should’ve already known this.
I caught up with him, and we began to walk in silence.
“What is your name, human?” he asked.
“Ariah,” I responded.
“Ariah...meaning Lion of god, no?” Veqal questioned.
I was surprised at the rapidity of his response.
“Yes. How did you know?”
He didn’t respond and only smiled, continuing to walk.
“We haven’t had a human here in ages,” he said.
“When was the last time?” I asked.
He paused for a moment, and stopped walking.
“I don’t remember.” he finished.
The slimy world with mushroom skyscrapers seemed to drag on forever. My body felt heavy with exhaustion, and I wished to sleep.
“Are you feeling tired, Ariah?” Veqal asked.
“Yes, quite tired.” I responded.
“That means we are here.” he stopped walking immediately.
Veqal reached out his hands, and peeled back the scenery in front of us, as if it were a movie set backdrop, and revealed clouds. Cherry blossom colored clouds that smelled like vanilla. The clouds were shaped like roses, and they were everywhere, all different shapes and sizes, but each looking as comfortable as the next.
“Welcome to the Land of Slumber.” Veqal announced.
My body melted against the soft and fluffy clouds, my thoughts disappeared, and my eyelids grew heavy.
My dreams were like nothing I’d ever experienced before. There was nothing here from the world I’d grown up in. The limitless forest and the otherworldly realm filled with green slime slipped in and out of my dreams.
“No, get away from me… no!” I mumbled, as I tossed and turned on the comfortable clouds.
Suddenly I was back, surrounded by the circle of trees, and the clawed ghostly bear was creeping closer and closer towards me. I gripped the weeds growing from the ground, and found myself breathing rapidly. I felt like my heart was ready to launch out of my chest.
The ghostly bear was right over top of me, it’s putrid breath on my face and it’s horrendous teeth, with jagged ends, made an appearance, when I yelled out in fear, awakening from the nightmare.
The once honey smelling, angelic clouds were devoured by a dark entity, the Land of Slumber becoming completely unrecognizable.
“Veqal! Veqal, where are you?!” I yelled out in fear, when I didn’t see him.
“Ariah!” I heard his voice call.
“Veqal! Where are you?!” I repeated.
“Over here!” he called from my right.
I began to sprint across the fluffy clouds, just as they turned a charcoal black and evil. The shadow was slowly devouring Veqal, and I ran over to grasp his small hands that had once saved my life.
“No! Veqal, hold on!” I screamed, salty tears streaming down my dirty face.
Veqal’s extraterrestrial features looked up at me, his bright yellow eyes like a warm hug goodbye.
“Good-bye, Ariah. You were a good friend.” he spoke, and let go of my hands, letting the shadows devour him.
I fell to my knees, and sobbed heavily.
“NO! Veqal, NO!” I cried out in pain.
I slammed my fists in the dark clouds in anger, making a deep groove. In my rage, I hadn’t noticed yet, being so consumed by sadness, and I kept crying out.
“NO!!!” I bellowed before me, widening the groove into a deep hole, into which I quickly fell through.
The sticky air coated my body, and I was caught on the vines as I fell down rapidly through the sky. There were many opportunities for me to even grab onto one, but I didn’t.
I closed my eyes and wished to wake up, for this all to end. There was nothing that mattered anymore, nothing that made sense. No feeling of home, or belonging, only the recognition of a strange world with its strange creatures.
BOOM. I hit the ground with a harsh thud. I shot my eyes open, and stood up defensively. I was encircled by tall dark trees that seemed to go on forever, looming over me. Where in the world was I?
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