It all started with the stone.
Andy was walking home from school, his uniform dirty after the fight with the boy who had teased him about his father running the old corner shop. His hair was all out of place with the pulling and his shirt half out of the trouser where it had been tucked in. His tie had curiously remained intact in all the proceedings. He was angry at his face having been rubbed in the dirt by the boy. He took out his anger by kicking at anything available.
It was then that he noticed the smooth oval jet black stone lying on the side of the road. It was almost magnetic, drawing his scuffed shoes forward until he was within kicking range. And then there was a satisfying thwack as his shoe connected with the stone. The stone then sailed through the air, spinning on end like a rock in outer space. Only this time, it suddenly disappeared like into a black hole. The stone was there one moment, spinning and hanging in mid air, moving like a smoothly sailing Frisbee. And in the twinkle of an eye, it was gone. Disappeared, vanished into thin air.
There was a small ripple in the air where the stone had been before it disappeared like when he had thrown a stone into the lake. He stood with his mouth open, waiting for something to happen. A few moments passed like that and then a surprised “Ow” came from the very same spot where the stone disappeared. Then a surprised and shocked girlish voice said “Who was that?” And then to his even bigger surprise, the stone reappeared and this time, it was moving in the opposite direction – towards him. He was too surprised to move and the stone struck his shin. Now his “Ow” and his one legged dance while he hopped about rubbing his shin added to the activity. The stone now lay still; quiet and unmoving.
He yelled into space “Who is that throwing stones at me?” And then he almost jumped out of his skin when a voice very close by said “And who threw the stone first?” It was the same girlish voice and he realized that he had walked closer to the spot where the stone had disappeared. He stopped rubbing his shin and walked closer to “the spot” as he had begun to refer to it in his head. It was nothing – just a point in the air about a foot off the ground. As he stood and stared into what seemed to be nothing, there was a slight shimmer in the air, a gentle wave much like the one before. Curious, he extended a finger nervously. As his finger reached the exact spot, it seemed to disappear, almost as if there was some surface into which it had moved. But he still could not see anything. No, that was wrong; he could see everything on the other side of the spot except his finger. It was strangely cut off in mid air.
Suddenly, the voice came again, “Stop with the pointing or I will cut your finger off”. He hastily withdrew his finger, looking at it just in case. He remained silent, thinking about what he could do next to find out what this “spot” was when the voice returned “Oi?” He responded with what he hoped was a polite “Ya?” especially after having thrown a stone at the girl in question. “I cannot see you” the voice said. “Where exactly are you hiding?” it asked. In answer, he put his hand forward into the spot and waved it in a greeting. A sharp slap on his arm and a stinging pain made him draw it back suddenly and he asked “What was that for?” The voice responded “I told you not to point.” And then there appeared a leg through the spot. It was thin and long like legs usually were. But what was unusual was that the leg was clothed in some kind of a metallic skin. He thought it was skin because it stuck to every dent and curve in the leg. More of the leg followed and then a hip followed by the top half of the body, still clothed in the metallic skin and then a pointed nose, sharp and upturned followed by a strong chin and a shocking mop of red hair and the greenest eyes he had ever seen.
The eyes gave him a thorough look and flashed disapprovingly at his condition. This made him angry and he asked “Who might you be?” She replied, “You first.” A warning bell went off somewhere in his head though he could not understand why. He told her his name, Andrew, Andy for short and that he came from Kirkmichael. “Where is that?” was the response. He was puzzled and said “You are standing there.” The green eyes looked confused and for a moment, her proud manner slipped as she looked around in mild alarm. He realized that she had no clue of where she was. She took a few hesitant steps in one direction and then another and then stood still fighting in her mind with the fact that she was lost.
She headed back to where she had come from. The air about the spot shimmered now like in a heat haze. She stepped into it and disappeared from view. He could hear steps on the other side of whatever it was. And then her voice called out in alarm “This is not my home.” He did not know what that meant and waited for more of an explanation. It came shortly. “Can you help me? I am not sure where I am any more. This is not where I came from” she said. He decided to help more out of curiosity than anything else. He decided to leave his bag behind and hid it behind a bush on the side of the road.
As he walked back, his shoe struck the black stone that had started it all. He picked it up, put it into his trouser pocket and walked towards the spot. He slowly put his hand inside to make sure there were no surprises this time. And he had to follow his hand in a hurry as it was gripped and pulled quite rudely from the other side. He bumped into the girl and landed on her. They both went down in a heap on what appeared to be sand. He got the sand in his mouth and nose while trying to get back to an upright position. He finally managed to stand up, dusting himself and spitting out the sand furiously.
She was doing the same thing and after they finally got over with dusting, he looked around and found that they were on the shore of what appeared to be an ocean. Except this ocean had yellowish green water where it met the black sand that they were standing on. The orange red sun cast a peculiar glow on the water and the combined effect of this was like a normal sketch that had got colored by a five year old – unreal at best. But there he was in this world of unreal colors and so was she at his side, equally puzzled. He decided that the best action would be to go back to where he was and made for the gateway. She followed him. They both went through the gateway and then the whole thing became crazy.
They found themselves staring at what appeared to be a huge pair of eyes, yellow gold in color and a sloping brown nose below it almost like a snout leading to a pair of large holes that resembled nostrils below which was a wide gaping slash of a mouth decorated with jagged teeth that were extremely large. Andy and the girl jumped back in alarm and the eyes turned to them, narrowing as they focused. The head seemed to take a long time to turn around and follow the eyes. The nostrils widened as the creature smelt them and then the mouth started opening as it decided that they were good enough to eat.
The head came forward slowly towards them and the mouth started looking like a football stadium in size. Andy did what came naturally and ran the other way. The girl followed close behind. The creature’s mouth clashed closed over empty space and it roared in frustration. The roar was like a volcano wakening from a long sleep – angry and very, very loud. The head swung around again exactly as Andy looked back and he almost froze in shock. He saw that the creature was almost as tall as a sky scraper and if he did not know better, resembled pictures of dragons he had seen in some books. The creature decided to chase its snack and followed them. He realized that they could never outrun it and looked around for another way of escape as they kept running.
He saw a small cave like opening next to a rock screened by a bush and ran towards it. He looked back to ensure that the girl was following and found that she had been slow to react to the change in direction and was struggling. He ran back and grabbed her hand, almost dragging her into the rocky opening. It was a small depression in the middle of some rocks but it was too small for the creature to reach them. The creature reached the cave and tried to nudge the rocks aside with its snout but they were part of a larger rock face buried under the sand and so did not budge. It grew frustrated at its attempts and finally drew in a deep breath. Something warned Andy to react and he pulled her deep into the cave running inside. The creature let go a snort and a burst of flames. The flames blackened the opening to the cave and reached inside till some distance but they had gone deep inside by then.
The creature seemed to have been satisfied with its effort at roasting them and now turned away. They cautiously went forward and saw a long scaly arrow tipped tail swishing behind it as it smashed its way through brush and trees. The impression that he had just seen a dragon grew stronger by the minute. But how could that be? Dragons belonged in books and were mythical creatures that did not exist. Yet somehow, here he was, having faced a living, fire breathing dragon. They cautiously made their way out of the cave to look around and saw that they were on a meadow of some sorts, stretching as far as the eye could see on one side and bordered by a steep mountain rising on the other. He realized that in all the excitement, they had simply run away from the gateway through which they had come and now had no clue where it was or how to go back to where they had come from.
The same thought must have hit the girl as she asked him “What do we do now?” He had no ready answer and suggested that they walk the way they had come and that maybe they would find the gateway. They began walking quickly at first and then struggled their way through dense brush that pulled at them and slowed down their progress. They soon realized that there were no landmarks or signs to indicate where they had come from and that for all they knew, they were heading in the completely opposite direction. They decided to rest under a tree, large and leafy with some yellow green berries. He remembered his father telling him that colored berries were usually poisonous and decided to resist the temptation though his stomach growled at him.
He leaned against the tree and sat down trying to think of what to do. He woke up with a start and realized that he must have nodded off. He looked around and found that the girl was curled up in exhaustion, fast asleep. He realized that he did not even know her name yet or where she came from. Then the same warmth that woke him up made itself felt again. It seemed to come from his pocket. He put his hand in and felt the smooth black stone now warm to the touch. It seemed to grow warmer as he held it. He took it out of his pocket and as he was looking, saw a flash of light inside the stone. He almost dropped it in alarm, catching it by sheer reflexes. The flash happened yet again and he could swear that he saw the shadow of an arrow shaped tail inside the stone. As quickly as it had happened, the flash died down and the stone was once again cool to his touch. He caught himself thinking that he had imagined the whole thing from start to end and shook his head at his own stupidity as he returned the stone to his pocket.