I wake with a sudden jolt, the feeling of soft, moist grass and cold, relieving air surrounding me. When I open my eyes the darkness of the night shocks me, along with the magical, swirling fog that drifts along, obscuring the soft light of the full moon above. As I look around all that I see for miles in every direction are trees. The cascading branches of the willows, to the tall, seemingly endless trunks of the pines.
Beneath me the ancient grasses and vibrant wildflowers greet me, their beauty indescribable. I stare at them in awe and wonder as I have never seen a place like this before, a place so full of harmony and splendour. Like its been made straight out of a fairy-tale. I watch carefully and quietly as an owl swoops down on its prey from a branch in one of the nearby oaks, the faint light of the moon casting an eerie glow on its features.
As I stand up, careful not to disturb anything, I begin to search for a way back home, back to the pleasant warmth of the sun and the delicious aromas of home-made meals. When I walk past the giant oak trees and drooping willows I notice a strange, almost glowing light coming from the far edge of the forest.
I start to run toward the light, as if it beckons me with its warmth and safety, just as I hear a faint rumble in the distance; the threat of attack on the horizon. Black, heavy storm clouds cover the sky, blocking out the glitter of stars overhead and any other light.
I run faster, faster toward the light but it's almost as if I am getting farther and farther away. As I determinedly push my way through the broken branches and thick foliage, something big and wet lands smack bang in the middle of my forehead; then another, and another. Sure enough it starts to rain down like all of the rivers and oceans were being dumped on top of me.
I hurry under the nearest willow tree for shelter when suddenly the strange light flickers a few metres away, drawing my attention to it. A bright flash of lightning followed by a loud crack makes me turn to face the direction I had come from. The storm was getting worse and building up faster than I had ever seen before. By now the clouds were a horrific black with lightning the colour of fresh bruises lining the underside of the clouds.
The thunder that shook the ground sounded like ten freight trains rushing past me at the same time and the wind felt as though it could rip trees from where they stood in just a split second. There was something…different about this place, but I couldn't seem to put my finger on it. Because I had never seen anything so potentially lethal in my entire life and I had lived through some major cyclones in the past few years. But whatever it was I didn't like it…at all.
My attention was drawn back to the flickering light at the edge of the forest. As the light of, what I assumed was a street lamp, kept wavering in the chaotic mess of the storm, I thought I glimpsed a face in the darkness just beyond it.
A face, with glowing green eyes and a mess of midnight black hair. Then just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone again- making me wonder whether I had imagined it after all. A raven swooped by overhead, landing in the tangled branches above me, its beady violet eyes daring me with an unknown challenge.
I started walking- well more like running slowly- away from the strange bird and its menacing gaze, and towards the thick bramble bushes that bordered the edge of the forest. Just beyond them was that strange light, still flickering madly in the ever-increasing wind. Now that I was closer I noticed that the light wasn't a street lamp but a…well a ball; a ball of light just floating there. And it wasn't a normal whitish coloured light- it was purple, and blue and well, I don't actually know what colour it was it was changing that fast.
Where was I and how did I get here? I started backing away from the strange glowing orb and almost tripped on a small bunny as it hopped by. Well if bunnies were yellow with glowing red eyes and razor-sharp teeth, then yeah that's what I almost tripped on. I hurriedly turned in the other direction, desperately looking for a place out of this nightmare. Surely that's what it was, surely my parents hadn't decided to abandon me and dump me in this unknown place full of strange creatures and floating orbs and mysterious faces.
'Oh how do I get out of here?' I said out loud, even though I knew that nobody was around to hear me.
'Maybe I could be of a help to you my dear girl?'
I whirled to face the mysterious voice and found the large, orange eyes of a deer staring back at me. Okay I was seriously starting to lose it if I just imagined that that deer just spoke to me.
'My word, you look like you've seen a ghost, deargirl. Here, come with me and I'll take you back to Hemsworth, he'll know what to do with you,' stated the deer, as though it had been talking its whole life and didn't think that was the strangest thing.
'Ug…' was all I replied with before I fled in the opposite direction, bashing through foliage and darting past strange little purple-coloured things that looked like frogs- until they devoured something ten times their size.
This place was starting to freak me out; the animals seemed possessed, as if they knew more than they should; there were faces peering at me from every bush and shrub- or so I thought- and the storm behind me was raging on with devastating force, a force so strong that a cyclone would look weak compared to it.
'Oh god, I'm going mad! The animals are talking, and what is with their eyes? Great now I'm talking to myself. What is wrong with me?' I said out loud.
'There's nothing wrong with you milady, you're just a bit shaken. Now, why don't you come back with me to the parlour and we can fix you up real nice, my treat.' said a polite, young voice.
The voice stopped me dead in my tracks and I braced myself as I turned, expecting to meet the eyes of yet another bizarre, talking creature, only to find myself staring at the beautiful features of a young girl- long blonde curls, blue eyes and all.
'Er, well I really must get home but thankyou anyway. Um, you wouldn't happen to know where Gardenia Street is would…' I trailed off, as the once lovely features of the young girl morphed and warped into those of a hideous beast; one I thought only existed in fairy tales.
With a low growl and a voice that sounded like breaking glass and tumbling waves all at once, the beast shouted 'You must come with me! You have seen too much! Humans are not allowed in this place, Hemsworth will be furious.' The last part being said more to itself than to me.
'What do you mean I have seen too much? Where am I and who is Hemsworth?' I managed to get out.
'SILENCE!' boomed the demon-beast. 'You must not speak of the almighty Hemsworth! Now come with me, right this once!' it demanded.
The abruptness of its outburst made me jump, falling to the ground as I tripped over a small, mossy log behind me.
'N-no I'm not going anywhere with you!' I squeaked
As soon as the last word was out of my mouth I regretted it, because now- when I thought it couldn't get any worse- the demon-beast was beginning to change again. Its hind legs were stretching up, elongating, whilst its hands grew razor-sharp talons the size of my head. Its eyes were a sickly yellow, and black, oily fur covered its entire body. It looked like a mix between Bigfoot and the boogie man- but ten times more gruesome and menacing.
'W-what do you want with me?' I stuttered, my voice barely a whisper. I felt like I was on the verge of passing out. This thing couldn't be real…could it? But what if it was? A million questions were streaming through my mind, making me dizzy and confused. Was I going to die here, in this strange place? Would my mum even notice I was gone, or was I already forgotten back home?
Just then the demon-beast erupted into a fit of rage, an ugly scowl transforming its already hideous face. All thoughts and fears fled my mind, making me frozen to the spot where I was crouched helplessly on the ground.
'You have seen too much! Humans are not allowed in this land! You must die!' The demon-beast roared, raising its arms, its mouth frothing madly as it anticipated me for its next prey. I felt the warmth of fresh tears streaming down my face, but was helpless to do anything about it. I tried to scuttle backwards, without success, to try and hide behind one of the giant twisting oaks behind me.
But it was too late; the demon-beast was already above me, swinging its huge, hulking arm directly for my face. A scream erupted from my lungs, a high-pitched, ear-splitting scream. I squeezed my eyes shut, all hope erased from my mind, because I was surely going to die and I hadn't even said goodbye to anyone back home. My thoughts were interrupted as a massive force connected with the side of my body, crashing me into the ground a few metres away.
Pain flooded my senses, and black spots danced in front of my eyes. A sharp aching had started in my left shoulder and I found I could no longer move that arm at will. I looked around for my attacker but couldn't see the demon-beast anywhere, until I heard the gut-wrenching growls of it just around the corner. But it didn't sound like it was coming for me, it sounded as though it was being attacked…by something else.
What could possibly scare that thing? I wondered. I slowly got to my feet, regretting it the moment I stood up, and began creeping towards the source of the cries. When I rounded a small gathering of trees what I saw made my jaw drop and my brain go numb. There was a boy, probably around my age, fighting with the beast. He was actually fighting it, with a sword in hand and all. And the beast was actually scared of him, like the boy could actually kill it. With one last attempt at an attack the beast fled into the opposite direction, towards the darkness of the surrounding forest.
I stood there, for who knows how long, just staring at the strange boy; the boy who had, no doubt, just scared off a huge, hideous demon-beast thingy, right before my eyes; the boy who had just saved my life.
'Hey!' I yelled at the boy.
His eyes immediately snapped to me and all of a sudden I became self-conscious, knowing how bad I must look. Get a hold of yourself! He doesn't care how you look, he just fought off a huge demon thing! For all you know he could be an even bigger monster than that one! But, I thought to myself, if he was an even bigger monster than why did he fight it off with just a sword?
As I pondered this thought for a few seconds I didn't even notice that the boy was now standing right in front of me, carefully studying me with his piercing emerald green eyes. Now as I looked at him I noticed him for the first time. He had calm, delicate features and a mess of black hair. He looked as though he might be sixteen or seventeen and was only slightly taller than I was.
'What is this place?' I whispered unconsciously.
'It's called the strange lands, the bad parts of Cretia, ruled by Hemsworth the Hideous, as we like to call him,' he replied, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
'Wha…how did I get here, and who is Hemsworth?' I asked him, my fear that he was going to burst into a horrendous monster at any second slowly fading away.
'Hemsworth? He is- what he likes to call himself- the ruler of the Strangelands' he replied matter-of-factly.
This couldn't be true; places like this just didn't exist. Places where demon-animals talked, had strange-coloured eyes and roamed the lands, where sixteen year old boys fought them with swords…it was all just too much to take in- and it was giving me a splitting headache.
'Whoah, hey are you alright girlie?' the boy asked, steadying me as I swayed with exhaustion.
'Yeah, I'm just…tired. That and I have no idea how to get home, or exactly how any of this is possible.'
'You'll get home soon enough girlie. And don't you worry me; this world is as real as the hair on your head.' He nodded.
'What do you mean 'I'll get home soon enough'?' I asked, confused.
'Well, when you decide to go home that is where you'll be' he replied furtively.
All these riddles were not helping my head at all. Also the fact that he was serious, well…enough said.
'Trust me, I've decided, and so far…' I paused, gesturing at the wild landscape and raging winds around us, 'nothing has happened. I am still stuck in this…place, this Strangelands as you call it. I just want to go home.'
'Then all you have to do is wake up' he replied, his expression serious as he gazed at me.
'What? But I am awake, I'm-' I was cut off as all of a sudden the ground beneath me lurched and spun, tipping me over and around in circles. I shut my eyes, the sudden vertigo making me nauseous. In no time at all I landed with a great thunk! And as I opened my eyes, instead of being faced with the eerie darkness of the Strangelands, I had to squint against the sudden harshness of the morning sun streaming in from my bedroom window, the birds alight and singing with glee in the oak tree outside.
I almost cried with relief! It was a dream; a strange, terrible dream. But now I was home and no rabid yellow bunnies or orange-eyed talking deer could hurt me. It wasn't until I tried to get up I realised that maybe my dream wasn't such a dream after all. Because when I tried to move my left arm, nothing happened. And as I pulled back the sleeve of my nightgown to look at my shoulder, the biggest, most purple bruise I had ever seen covered the entire surface of it, from my collarbone to my armpit. Oh crap.