She was driving home from the Doctor’s appointment; steering with her right hand while her left rested on her stomach. She was thinking of the future and her husband as she approached the intersection. The light was green her way and had been for a bit as the stopped traffic had cleared out. She was half way through the intersection when the street racer, who was trying to out run the police, hit her broadside.
He awoke from the dream, covered in sweat and shaking. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he tried to wake up fully and get his mind working. He stumbled down the short hallway to his kitchen and made coffee. He would need it. He had a lot of things to do and not much time to get them done. While waiting for the coffee to finish, he pulled up a mapping program on his desktop and laid out the route he would need; ten hours’ drive at 65 ... he could do it in seven and a half, maybe less. He shut down the computer and stepped into the shower.
She was standing in a dark forest. One of those “this sure is NOT Disney” type places. She did not remember how she got there, or why she would want to be there. Nothing around her was obviously threatening, but she knew this was not a good place for her to be. Clutching the small bundle in her arms tighter to her chest, she began walking.
The old man had been driving for hours, the glare from the oncoming headlights stressing his eyes. He had blown past two police speed traps already; one he stopped and took the ticket, the other he had to use a “golden ticket” of his own to get the trooper to stand down. The trooper wanted to physically take him into the local court. That was not to be allowed. A phone call to a number that was known to only a few folks corrected the situation. In the end it was not too bad. The young trooper was either really stressed by whose voice had come out of his Motorola radio shortly after he had pulled the crazy old guy over or really wanted to impress the voice. In either event, after the old man pulled out, the trooper pulled in front of him, all lights and sirens, and escorted him to the state line at speeds over 100mph. It saved the old man 48 minutes.
She was disoriented, everything looked the same ... scary! There was a slight path on the forest floor, more like a game trail, that she had been following. Her memory was still mixed up and she felt that she was missing something important. She knew she could not stop moving but did not know why. She was not tiring but she did not seem to be getting out of the forest either. A sense of danger was building and her fears were rising.
The old man stepped from the shower. Dried himself, then used the towel to wipe the steam from the mirror over the sink. He assembled his razor and soap and carefully shaved his face and what remained of his hair. Examining himself afterwards, he grunted ... who is this old man looking at me from this mirror, he thought. It’s just like that fucking punk to get old and useless.
He stepped out into the bedroom, dressed and got the things he would need together. When all was as he wanted it, he lay down for a bit, until it was time.
It seemed that she had been walking forever and getting nowhere. After what seemed like hours or maybe days or minutes, a dim glow off to one side of the path attracted her attention. It was so dim, she was not sure if it existed or it was just a trick of her eyes. But the feeling of dread, of being watched and followed was continuing to build so she decided that whatever the light was, it was better than the dark.
As she came around the bole of a large tree, she saw the source of the light. It was emitting from a medium sized cat. She stared at the orange and white tuxedo who stared right back at her. With a “merrrow” it got to its paws and walked towards her. The paralysis that had been holding her broke. With a trembling voice she whispered, “Pumpkin?” The cat walked to her, gave her leg a head bump and another “merrrow.” Looking up at her as if to say, “Yes. Who did you expect?” it sat down and began grooming its paw.
She knelt to the ground, gentle laying her bundle to her side, and pulled the cat into her arms. “Punky ... how can you be here? You went away. But you are here. What. How...” Her voice tapered off to silence. She buried her face into the soft warm fur of the cat and cried. Cried for having lost her friend. Cried for having found him. Cried from fear of where she was. The cat purred.
After a bit, the cat put his paw to her cheek and gently pushed until he could see her face. He stared at her as only a cat can. The entire world sucking in until all that exists are those golden eyes with their vertical slits.
After a few moments, he moved his face closer to hers and gave her nose a gentle nip with his fangs. He squirmed until she set him down. With a thrash of his tail, he turned and began walking off into the forest. The glow went with him. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her and gave another, “merrrow,” as if to say, what are you waiting for. Then with an ear flick, he began to walk off into the gloom. Picking up her bundle, she followed the glow.
The path the cat had been following began to climb in elevation. The dense forest had begun to thin and larger and larger meadow like areas were present. As she and the cat rounded a stone outcropping she was greeted with the sight of a broad meadow with a large stone pile near the center. Seeing that the path continued through the meadow, she stepped past the cat and began crossing, not noticing the cat had begun to “bottle up” and was making a low rumbling in his throat.
As she approached the stone pile, it began to shake and move. The stones seemed to roll over and it was then she realized she was facing a stone troll, just like in the fairy tales. The creature rose to its feet and shook itself all over. Scratching and stretching, the troll made rude noises and eventual hacked up a ball of phlegm which it spit onto the ground. Having finally woken itself up, the troll looked down on the terrified girl. “Ah, lunch,” it said.
With a scream like a chainsaw going through sheet metal, the noble cat leapt to the defense of his friend. Twenty claws and an attitude went flying towards the dark shape. The troll, not breaking eye contact with the distressed girl, gave a contemptuous flip of its wrist and swatted the cat out of the air. The cat flew until it hit a tree with a muffled thump and slid down the trunk to the ground.
Pressing her hand to her lips to stifle the cry at what had just transpired the girl felt the hot burning tears running down her cheeks.
“You are so tiny, so delicious looking. Who will come to your defense now little girly girl?” the creature said. “Who will save you? Hmmmmm?”
She folded herself more tightly around her bundle, protecting it. Shielding it. She knew she was going to die, but with her life she would not let harm come to it.
The troll began moving closer, chortling to itself in anticipation of the fine meal of human and FEAR laid before it.
The sky lit up with the light of 100 suns. A point so bright it was almost violet. She could see the light through her closed eyes as she wrapped tighter around her bundle.
A dark speck formed in the center of the light point as it began to dim. It appeared as if something was coming out of the light at a very high rate of speed.
As the light dimmed to something she could tolerate, the girl looked up. The troll had stopped its advance and was staring up at the rapidly approaching object.
The object was resolving into something with wings; a plane, maybe ... certainly too large to be a bird. A noise was coming to her now. It was faint but there, almost like the noise the hawks on her parents’ farm used to make as they circled high over the fields. The sound was getting louder as the form got closer “Screeeeeeeee! Screeeeeee!” She looked closer at the object; it did have wings and it did have what looked like legs and it glowed like her friend did. She squinted and recognized the shape as a dragon! Not just a dragon but a wyvern.
Contrails were forming from it wingtips and a burnt orange smudgy trail was marking its path through the sky. With its wings pulled back, the wyvern dropped and was now coming in at tree top level at stupendous speed. The wake from its passage was churning the trees, breaking them like twigs. It was aiming directly at the looming troll.
The troll’s head went flying as the dragon made its pass through the clearing. Pulling up into a gut-wrenching loop, the dragon came around and down and hammered the troll’s headless body into the ground. Scraping the ground with its talons, the dragon kicked the troll’s body to pieces, flinging them helter-skelter around the glen. Finally, with contempt etched on its face, the dragon raised one of its legs and pissed on the sludge under his feet.
“That would be me,” he said in a voice surprisingly light and mild for a multi-ton dragon.
The dragon settled his wings and walked over to where the girl was standing. “You should not be here, little one. This is not a safe place to be.”
“I don’t want to be here,” replied the girl, “I do not even know where HERE is.”
“Here is a place that is between,” said the dragon.
“Between what?” asked the girl.
“Between ‘things,’” replied the dragon, “Between life and death, life and dreams, dreams and death, between things.
“Think of it this way,” he said as he began walking away from the mess in the meadow, “When you are alive, you are someplace and when you are dead you are a different place but the boundary between the two places is not as sharply a defined line as some would have you believe. It is more a zone, an area of possibilities. Sometimes it is called the Never-Never. It has inhabitants of its own along with people and creatures from both the places of life and death, who get lost and end up wandering into its domain. It is the place from which fairy tales and mythical creatures come into the real world.”
The girl felt a solid thump on her leg and looked down to find her friend staring up at her as if his earlier engagement with the troll had never occurred. With a sob, she knelt to stroke his soft fur.
The dragon, noticing the movement, stopped walking and lowered his head to peer at the cat.
The cat started to bottle up again before the dragon said, “Look at me, Sir Cat, before you attack. Look at ME and you know I mean no harm to your friend.”
The cat stopped and his eyes opened wider. He tested the air with his nose and his ears flicked a few times before he moved closer to the dragon and began to strop himself against the dragon’s legs.
“Good kitty,” said the dragon before he started striding off again.
After walking for a bit, the girl said to the dragon, “You said this place is between life and death and that although it has its own creatures, things from both places can wander into and through this place.”
“Yes, that is very true,” replied the dragon.
“OK, then,” she said, “you seemed to enter this place when that bright light occurred. So, where did YOU come from?”
“Now that,” said the dragon, “is a very good question.” As he continued to walk along the path.