FALLOCH
Escala: Book One


Tiffany Thomas

For my family. Without whose undying support and encouragement, this book would not be possible.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
FALLOCH. Copyright © 2016 by Tiffany Thomas.
All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.

First Edition: June 2016


WARNING
If you do not enjoy stories that include magic, supernatural creatures, and the debatable existence of true love— then this story is not for you.


“Everywhere man blames nature and fate, yet his fate is mostly but the echo of his character and passions, his mistakes and weaknesses.”
—Democritus

FALLOCH

Prologue
“HE HAS HAD a child...” The shape-shifter paused. Clearing his throat before speaking again, he finished, “With a human.” Sheina's face still taut, she gestured for him to continue with the wave of her hand. “He has cloaked her to look just as her mother does. She is a tyke now. Still too young to realize what she is.”
“Still too young to realize she was ever alive at all.” Nothing about her expression or voice gave way to her true feelings. But her eyes couldn't lie. “Well then.” She glared at her servant. “You know what I want you to do with the girl. Bring back proof of her death. As for Praulian, he is to be banished from this Quarter the moment he returns.”
The man-servant bowed. “As you wish, my liege.”
Once he was gone, I stepped out of the shadows and into the light. Waiting for just the right moment, I caught the knife between my hands. I Saw the knife come at me before it ever left her touch. Sheina arched an eyebrow. “No one has ever dodged my dagger. Who are you, trespasser? Even outsiders know breaching my cities walls is a death sentence, let alone my castle. Mercy will not be found here. Especially not on this day of all days, I've just received terrible news.”
“I know.” Fiddling with the dagger, I caressed the jagged edges as I spoke. “I'm the one that sent word of your husband's affair.” Knowing what she was planning next, I interrupted her, “Don't call the guards. I'm not here to hurt you. The opposite actually.”
“Pain is all you've caused thus far. What are you? A finder of truths? An operative for another land? Yes, a more intriguing question has just revealed itself. It's not what you are that I should be concerned with— it's what you want. I will not aid you in anything. You've only called an adulterer out by his actions, and he will be punished justly. The only reward you earn is the breath that still enters your lungs.”
“You are mistaken, Sheina.” She narrowed her eyes at me for using her first name so casually. I corrected myself, “Your Majesty. It is neither about what I am nor what I want. I can See which has not yet come to pass. Just as I Saw Praulian's betrayal to you, I Saw your successes. I only wish to help you achieve those actions.”
“No one can do that.” I could tell she didn't trust me. Not yet. “Then tell me, Prophet, what do I get out of this?”
“A friend that offers you an advantage that no one else in this realm can. For I have forever been alone in this world with my power.”
“You're claiming that you can see the future? That you have acquired the twelfth element?”
“I am Apollo.” Watching her face light up, I took to my knee. Taking her hand in mine before flipping it over, I placed the dagger in her opened palm. “I can stop this pain from ever happening again. I'll keep the humans and their temptations locked away from us forever. I could close the portal linking our world to theirs. Never again to step on our lands...” I shook my head and whispered, “Or our hearts.”
Sheina squeezed the handle of her dagger before looking at me with hungry eyes. She was playing the evil queen part of my plan as perfectly as I'd imagined she would. Dance, my little puppet, dance. “Do it.” She licked her lips with the thirst for blood. “Once that little shit is dead, I want you to close it. No matter what it takes. If it calls for a sacrifice, have your pick of my people. It is for a greater cause.” She grabbed my hand, almost pleadingly. “You have my full permission.”
I bowed my head as I hid my smile. “So will it be done.” Leaving Sheina to return to my family, I couldn't stop the grin that overtook my face. Scratching the scar on my chest, I let out a heavy breath. The ache could finally stop. I could finally be whole again. In due time, I would have the missing piece to my soul. I just had to wait for her. I had already waited what felt to be an eternity. What was a few more years?


1

I WAS NO longer myself. I was the melody. I was each tune that was every tap my fingers made. Twisting hand over hand, my fingers danced over the others. The sound of the lapping keys slipped into music.
Becoming aware that my eyes had fallen shut again, I smiled. I knew this composition so well that I had lost the need in seeing the piano with my eyes. I let my ears and hands take over. This was a 'bad' habit, according to my instructor. But seeing as she wasn’t here right now, interrogating my passion, I decided to be free.
The chorus was approaching. It was my favorite part. My heart thumped in anticipation for when I could get to that moment. It was like the climax of a movie. It was that spectacular moment when everything came together.
I loved it.
I loved every lingering second of it. If I was not such a perfectionist, I would just replay the refrain over and over. But like any worthy tale, the peak was not the entirety of it. The beauty was in the sum of all the melodies parts.
After touching the final keys, I held them down for a stretched serene second before opening my eyes.
“You’re getting better and better every day, Bonnie! How about taking a break and watching a movie with Brice and me? I rented something for both of you.” Lost in my own little world, I hadn't heard my mom open the door.
“I’m finished practicing, anyway,” I answered her with a faraway tenor. My eyes didn't move from the keys. “I’ll be in there in a minute.”
Coming out of my daze, I leafed through the paper in front of me. I puckered my lips, debating on whether I had enough time to practice one more verse. I popped my knuckles and winced once I did. Locking up on me again. Admitting defeat to the keyboard, I stood up. I gathered the music sheets before hiding them underneath the piano chair.
Walking out of my bedroom, a happy squeal greeted me. “Bon! Look what mom got me!”
I knelt down to meet him at his eye-level. “What is it, Brice?” I asked, an octave higher than normal. He almost knocked me out with his forceful shove of the movie. Prepared for this, I fell back, giving my eyes enough room to catch the title. “Wow! She rented Cars… again.” Looking away from Brice and at my mother, she shrugged.
The film was pushed back into my vision. “No!” My four-year-old half-brother Brice explained, “Her buyed it! Bon! It’s my own Cars!”
Tossing my eyes at Mom now, I teased with fabricated joy, “Yay, now we get to watch Cars over and over and over…”
Mom snickered from the kitchen. “It’s his favorite movie! Come on, you had one when you were little. Remember Peter Pan? Besides, I was shopping online and it popped up. I figured it would be a good early birthday present.”
I mentally calculated the number of months we were from Brice’s birthday. We were closer to his last than his ‘upcoming’ one. “Just like the dinosaur tent is his ‘early birthday present’?” I glanced at the small camp in the center of the living room, inhabited by fire trucks and stuffed animals.
Mom wagged her forefinger at me while making her best attempt at a serious expression. “Hey now, I’ve bought you things too that wasn’t just for a special occasion. Don’t you like your straightener?”
Reminded of my dark curls, I put my hands up with fast defeat. “I take it back!”
“Speaking of birthdays, someone's due for one soon.” Mom stepped into the living room with Brice and I and we took our usual seats on the couch. “Are you excited about turning the 'big eighteen'? My little adult. What do you want for your birthday? Anything you want, name it, and it's yours.”
“Anything?”
“Name it, baby-girl.
“A tramp stamp.” Her face was beyond priceless. It was a present in itself. After snorting at her, I shook my head. “I'm kidding! Stop looking at me like that.”
“I was about to say! Besides, I don't think Julliard lets in girls with tattoos.” Rolling my eyes at her, she argued, “What? It could have been true.”
Everyone was quiet once the movie started. Brice had taken to sitting in my lap midway through it, using my chest as his personal pillow.
There was an empty spot on the couch next to my mother. My birth ‘father’ was a deadbeat and left before I was born. My step dad, Weston, was nice enough. But I was near 12 when he entered our lives and too old to be yearning for that type of bond. Financing my mother’s artistic dream led him to work a ton of hours. I almost felt sorry for him. But he didn’t act like he minded and seemed to genuinely love her paintings, seeing as he hung them up on every wall.
Once I heard a quiet snore, I smiled at the sweet baby in my lap before gently handing Brice over to my mom. She took him to his room before heading to her own. Tuckered out myself, I took myself to bed.
***
Oneida High was a small town school where everyone knew everyone, and there was no such thing as a secret. Blistering in the summer time, glacial in the winter, the town was nestled in the mountainside of the southern state of Tennessee. I wore the goggles of graduation and, through them, saw things I once hated as things I would now weirdly miss. It was a bitter-sweet walk down the halls towards my first period.
Opening the classroom door, a boy with an afro as red as fire waved like a mad man at me. Bobby jumped up from his seat and sprinted my way before squeezing me into a skeletal hug. “Bon Bon! I can't believe it. Can you freaking believe it? Our last day of school! For, like, ever!” I grinned and accepted the hug from him.
I corrected him, “Our last day of high school.”
Coming out of the hug, Bobby slit his hazel eyes at me. “This is why you don't have a boyfriend. You seriously just murdered my buzz.” We sat in our usual seats across from one another. I noticed Jetta and Francis weren't here yet.
I rolled my eyes at him. “You wanna be my boyfriend?”
“You know it, boo. Let's make a pact. If we both don't have men in twenty years, then we shack up? Deal?” Bobby was as gay as the day was long. He didn't try to mask it either. He told everyone except his family because no one, besides them, would have had a problem with it.
I laughed and tossed my head. “Deal.”
As willing as I was to joke about it with Bobby, a boyfriend was not exactly something I sought after. My mother's experience with my birth 'father' was my set example. Only once, during my entire high school career, did I agree to a date. It ended as I presumed it would: badly. Maybe I'd date in college, but for right now, I was content with hanging with the best of friends a girl could ask for.
“I'm so ready for this summer! It's gonna be awesome.” I heard a forced cough and peeked over Bobby’s poufy red hair to see Jetta coming into the classroom. A pang of grief ignited in my chest when I remembered. "Do you have to go so soon? Can't it wait till fall?" I knew it was a ridiculous question but asked it anyway.
Tightening her lips, Jetta shook her light brown pixie hair. The color of it was nearly the same shade of her skin. Towering over me by half a foot, she walked over and sat in the seat in front of Bobby. "I wish," Jetta exhaled, "but if I don't go now I'd probably lose my scholarship." A disgusting lump began budding in my throat. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the friend that had been by my side the bulk of my life.
Jetta, unlike me, was the furthest thing from being 'reserved' when it came to boys. She was familiar with being asked out. And, loving the idea of love, she usually ventured the lead and had a new boyfriend every week. This resulted in countless nights of us mulling over how horrible boys were. Every guy she dated was 'the one' for a day or two. I felt like through her, even though I had never felt the personal sting of a broken heart, that I understood it. And I wanted no part in it.
Coming into the classroom next was our newest addition to the group-- Francis Bent. Although he'd only been here a year, he had gotten pretty popular with the locals. Especially the ladies. Francis had a handsome, square face that softened once you came in contact with his russet brown eyes. His spiky, dirty blonde hair was styled in place and he wore a sky-blue t-shirt with blue jeans. He looked best in blue. Sitting behind me, he asked, “What's up guys?”
Jetta answered, “Just talking about college stuff.”
"Y'all will have fun and all, but nowhere is going to beat Tennessee."
Turning my back to the whiteboard, I looked at Francis. "Are you sure you're not going to college?"
Francis practically laughed at the question. "It's not for everyone, Bon. We can't all be Beethovens or Lebrons, like you and Jets."
Jetta argued, “You couldn't think of one female professional basketball player? Or one girl that can play the piano like Bon can?”
I grinned. “Can you?” I was dying to hear this.
“That one girl you listen to...” Jetta grimaced at her desk. “Ah hell, what's her name...Uh, it starts with a T?” It didn't start with a T.
I was about to answer her question when Bobby interrupted. "What the heck? Are you saying, because I'm not going straight to a university, that I'm not smart?" Bobby had been planning to go to Oneida’s nearest community college.
"No, man, that's not what I meant. I'm just saying, Julliard and Lee University. I'm not even going to college, so I can't say anything even if I wanted to." Francis had never told any of us what he wanted to do with his future. Actually, at times, it seemed as though he would about near go out of his way to avoid answering said question.
"Hey, I haven't got the acceptance letter yet. It isn't a for-sure thing I'm going to Julliard." Francis rolled his eyes at me as if I was joking.
Bobby glared at Francis. Smiling, Francis toyed, “Come on, Robert, don't be mad at me. It's our last day before we leave out for the real world. You can't be upset today."
Bobby kept his forced scowl and shoved his open palm out to Francis. "Robert?” He scoffed. “Ugh. You sound just like my father— so formal. Ugh. I hate it. I ain’t talking to you— especially not now, Francois!" He spun in his chair to face the front and crossed his arms.
I joked, "Looks like you're in the doghouse tonight, Frankie." Bobby continued his pout, but Francis offered me a pearly grin.
Our white-haired teacher clicked into the room right as the late bell rang. Her heels dismissed our banter. It was my last day of high school ever, and everyone was cramming. Anyone who wasn't exempt from exams, like Jetta and I was, would have to be back up here in two days for the final. In the middle of class, my thigh vibrated. Making sure our teacher wasn’t paying attention, I pulled out my phone to see a text.
May 18th 8:24a.m.
Francis
Are there any plans
for tonight? Do y'all
wanna do anything?
After reading it, I rotated in my seat to see him smirking at me. I rolled my eyes before spinning back to the front. I whispered, “You're going to get us in trouble.” I silenced then slid my phone back into my pocket. A minute later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to it and noticed him holding a piece of folded paper. Francis put one finger to his lips and gestured with a dart of his eyes to our teacher.
Mrs. Fowler was giving a lecture on her slideshow. She was explaining the argument of fate versus free-will among Ancient Greeks.
Francis urged the note forward.
Scribbled on the page was:
Don't ignore me, dork.
What should we do tonight?
We gotta do something.
I wrote back:
I'm not a dork. You're a dork!
What about bowling?
I folded the letter in place, tossed it over my shoulder, then pretended to pay attention to the lecture. I forced myself to start taking notes even though I knew I wouldn't need them. Then I felt another thump. This one was on the back of my neck and it actually hurt a little. I spun to scowl at him. Francis grinned over a silent laugh and motioned for me to take the note again. I stuck my tongue out at him, jerked it out of his hand, and twisted back in my seat. I unfolded and flattened the letter onto a page of my Literature book and pretended I was studying.
It's okay to be in denial. I've heard that's the first step in acceptance. And bowling sounds cool, but I don't see Bobby wanting to go. What about meeting at the usual place and hangin? :P
I grinned at the emoticon before looking up to see Mrs. Fowler glaring at me. She didn't say anything. But I knew she knew I wasn't grinning about Oedipus killing his dad before sleeping with his mother. I hoped not anyway. That would be twisted even for Mrs. Fowler. I waited for her to turn her piercing eyes from me before crumbling the note up and stashing it in my purse. I whispered, “We're going to get caught. Let's talk about it at break.” Then I remembered something. “And, by the way, it takes a dork to know a dork.”
Francis's warm, chocolaty eyes sparkled. “If that's the case, then, either way, you're still a dork.” I rolled my eyes at him and turned back around. I hoped Mrs. Fowler wasn't paying attention to me because I was still grinning at my textbook.
Our break came and went. After a conversation over nachos and candy bars, we decided what our duties were. Bobby would bring the booze, Jetta got the food, Francis—the key, and I handled the entertainment.
At four everyone lied about where they were going. We all left to meet up at the same place we had been hanging out at for the past year. It was Francis’s family’s other house. They used to rent it out but hadn’t needed to in a while. He said it was convenient to have open for when their relatives visited. I didn't know if that was the case for them, but it was definitely convenient for us. It was our gangs get-away, and, unlike most teenagers, we had a whole freaking house to ourselves.
From the outside, the two-story abode was gorgeous. Because it was so lightly decorated, the inside reminded me of a vacation rental. The walls were stacked with red brick. Tall, half rounded windows allowed enough light to enter. Circling the house was a humble garden with mostly grass, a few daisy patches, and a massive backyard. That yard was the essence of summertime.
I drove down the long driveway then parked behind two other vehicles— a black Chevy truck and a silver Altima. Bobby was lacking a means of transportation, so I assumed he rode in with one of them. I got out of my vehicle and hopped up the front steps. I knocked before directly opening the door. Stepping into the large pecan painted living room, I saw Jetta and Bobby. She was reclining on the beige leather couch with her feet propped up on his lap. Francis was somewhere else.
“Hey, losers, what's up?” I asked as I set the cards I brought on the TV stand. Blackjack was always a winner when it came down to what to do.
Bobby eased off the couch, moving Jetta’s legs out of his way in the process, then galloped towards me. “Check it out! I got Fireball. My brother bought it for me when I told him I was hooking up with another girl. Anything to keep me ‘straight’ right?” Half smiling, half frowning at his answer, I pitied his relationship with his family. I was grateful my mother was someone I could tell near everything to.
“Let’s take some shots!” announced Jetta from the couch. “You better get drunk with me tonight, girl. I am so tired of always being drunk with just Bobby.”
“Hey!” Bobby gawked at her. “I'm like a two-in-one here. You have your diva and your bro. Who the hell wouldn't want to drink with me? Bitch, you're tripping.”
Jetta shot him a look. “Bitch, you're the bitch. Don't get sassy with me, Bobby Montgomery, I swear I will drop you.”
“Oh, girl! You might be walking over here, but I gurantee that you'll be limping back.”
Grinning, Jetta sang, “Oh Bobby, I love it when you talk dirty to me.” Bobby winked at Jetta before we all started laughing.
Going back to the previous conversation, I said, “I promise, tonight, I will drink with both of your crazy asses.” I avoided saying the word ‘drunk.’ The idea of it was enough to make me gag. Jetta sprinted to the kitchen and hurried back with three shot glasses in hand. I visually sized them up. “Yeah. I’m just gonna grab a cup. Is there anything to mix it with?”
Bobby shouted, “Hell no! No mixing that shit.”
Jetta nodded. “Bon, you can’t mix it. Not tonight. Come on, it's our last night of high school. You gotta chase it. Besides, every time you make a mixed drink you feel sick after, like, two sips, and never get a real buzz going.” I wrinkled my nose at the idea of straight whiskey. “No, none of that. Be a man, Bonnie. You can do this.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “But I’m not a man—“
She shushed me, then repeated, “Be a man, Bonnie.”
I watched the shot glass as it was being filled. “How come you two never hassle Francis to drink? Why do you always pick on me?”
Bobby snorted. “No one wants drunk-Francis. He pisses on vehicles and takes off his clothes. I mean, I love a man willing to perform a strip tease, but I don’t wanna see any of that coming from him.”
I thought back on the first night we had ever come to the usual place. It was not long after Francis and Jetta broke up— maybe a month?— but he got beyond drunk and hit on me. Talking to my friend's ex was too outrageous to even muse over, so I just avoided the situation entirely. And then it was never brought up again.
Coming back from my flashback, my palms were a little clammy. Maybe a drink wouldn't be the worst thing ever. We were celebrating, right? This was a long time coming. “You guys suck. What’s the chaser?”
Bobby threw me a can of cherry coke. I investigated it before looking back up at the bottle. “Trust me,” Bobby declared, “It’s delicious.”
I went against my gut feeling and took the shot. There was a chatter of cheers behind it, coming from Jetta, Bobby, and the recently appearing Francis. It burned going down, and I made a face before shaking off the sensation. It hurt! It wasn't a slight, uncomfortable tickle. It was like cinnamon-flavored needles had just been poured down my throat. I gulped down two large swigs of the coke in an attempt to settle the sting. My eyes fogged with the tears I held back.
Jetta turned hers up, before spinning to me. “Woo! Now another!”
This continued for three more shots.
My belly was bloated, and I was on the verge of vomiting. “No more,” I gurgled. “I can’t do anymore.” Everything was fuzzy. I had never drink so much and had never taken it straight. My tolerance was a serious joke. My tummy twisted and I just knew, at any moment, I would hurl. I swallowed back my lunch and sloppily scanned the whirling room. I saw Francis playing his guitar, Jetta booty dancing with Bobby, and...Who is that?
The world was a blur, but compared to this woman everything else was crystal clear. She watched me with a smirk on her face. Her hair was a pixelated carroty wave down her shoulders. I blinked and she was gone.
“Hey, man,” Jetta’s voice rang in my ears. “How are you feeling?” I looked over and saw her.
“How much did she drink?” Francis had stopped strumming his guitar and was asking Bobby.
“Fours shots.” My messy words slipped out. “Who was that womans?” The room throbbed around me.
“Who are you talking about? I’m Jetta, crazy.” Jetta chuckled before speaking directly to me. “Bon, you’re really pale. Are you ok-k-k-kay?” I blinked at her as my brow sunk.
Tilting my head, I saw the red hair again. My eyes widened as I pointed to the girl. “You!” I exclaimed. The woman was seemingly entertained watching me. “Who are you?”
The woman was not in the corner of the room anymore. She crept towards me holding something… a knife. It was a chilling, stretched blade that appeared jagged around the edges. I instinctively stepped away from her.
The woman snarled, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
“Waiting for what?” I whispered as my breathing sped up. I backed up and didn’t stop until I was against the wall.
“Bonnie, what are you talking about?” Francis scrunched up his face at me. “What the hell is going on?” He stood up. “Did your brother spike that whiskey?”
Bobby threw his arms up. “We just opened it when I got here, I swear!”
The woman’s inhuman hazy, rainbow eyes was the only thing holding my attention. She was in front of me now, and I watched, paralyzed, as her menacing hand raised above her head. The up-stretched blade flickered silver in the light. The dagger came forward, and everything fuzzy faded to black.

2

OPENING MY EYES, I saw a pale faced Francis kneeling over me. “Where am I?” My chest stung, but searching it now, I saw nothing peculiar that could have caused the pain.
I heard a breath of relief come from someone. “You just fell out on the floor! Right after you forgot who I was.” Jetta’s words were clear, but my vision was still clouded.
A glimpse of tiger red had flickered through my memory before it was gone. “I did? Huh? Forgot you? What do you mean?” Feeling shaky, I pulled myself up from the ground and took the hazy hands extended to help me. Light-headed, I sluggishly made my way to the couch to lie down.
“You asked me who I was, like, you seriously didn't know. I’ve never seen alcohol do that to anyone before— ever. Not even when they black out. It was seriously the weirdest thing ever.” My face reddened at Jetta's speech.
Bobby asked, “Are you okay, Bon? I’m sorry we made you drink.”
I smiled at him and shook my head. “I'm fine, I’m just a wuss.” My cheeks flushed and I frowned. “I think I’m going to take a nap before we do anything. Is that cool with y'all?”
Francis nodded. Bobby and Jetta followed suit.
I rolled over, turning my back to them. Ignoring their conversations and music, I eventually fell asleep.
***
I woke up to darkness. Sitting up to see my phone, the numbers 9:35 peered back at me. “Shit!” Standing up, a blanket fell off me. Jetta must have covered me while I was asleep. “Hey guys, are y'all in here?” No one answered me.
After searching the vacant house, I tried my chances outside. I swung open the door, hoping they might be on the porch. From here the only visible light came from a few scattered stars and the clouded crescent moon.
Skipping down the steps, I edged around the house, heading for the backyard. Trembling in the distance, I saw a bright blaze and followed it warily until I heard Bobby’s laugh. Once I heard his unmistakable snort, I was instantly comfortable. Walking up to the circle, everyone's eyes shifted to me.
“Hey!” Jetta hollered, “Look who’s finally awake! Got a headache?” I hadn’t until she said that. The sensation of pins stabbing my skull made me scowl.
“You’re dehydrated— here.” I checked to see what Francis was referring to and noticed he was extending a water bottle. Taking it, I sat down on the log next to him. I gulped the entire bottle in seconds. Francis grinned at me and I noticed the flames dance off his dark eyes. “Better?”
I breathed, “Much. Thank you.”
Francis scooted down the dismantled tree closer to me, his leg knocking into mine. It made me nervous, but I didn't move away. “Want a marshmallow?” I looked at the tasty treat in his hand.
Flinching at the thought, I shook my head. “Any other time I'd take you up on that, but I can’t handle sweets when I’m nauseous.” I squinted at the white puff before asking, “Jets, you brought marshmallows for food?”
“Hot-dogs too!” answered Jetta. I didn't have to be a detective to figure out whose idea it was to start the campfire.
I asked, “Are you drunk yet?” Jetta's grin was my answer. I rolled my eyes. “How the heck are you going to get home?”
Jetta's smile changed. “Yeah, I was going to ask you about that when you woke up. Can you give me a ride?”
“Yeah, I can,” I said. “What are you doing, Bobby?”
Entranced by the embers, Bobby gawked at the pit. “Huh?” I repeated myself and he shook his head then puckered up his face. “Nah, I'ma be good. I ain’t even drunk right mow, I can drive.”
I frowned at his words before realizing something. “Wait, you don’t even have a car?”
Bobby persisted, “If I'm getting too drunk, I can just sleep right here, or in Jetta’s car.”
“No, you won’t!” Jetta wagged her marshmallow-impaled stick at him. “You’ll throw up in it!”
Francis interjected, “Bobby, you can’t just sleep outside. Let me or Bon take you home. We're both sober.”
One night, after one of our parties here, Francis's mom found empty beer cans in the trash disposal. Ever since his month-long punishment, Francis had gotten more cautious about not leaving messes. Although he wasn’t pleased with it, he bit the bullet and usually only drunk a little, if at all, when we were here.
After an hour of coaxing Bobby, we decided that Francis would drive him home so I didn't have to chauffeur two intoxicated people.
Once in the car, Jetta twisted her short hair up on top of her head in a sloppy fashion. “Did you have fun?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “It sucks that I was asleep for everything.”
“It’s a good thing you were 'cause I found some stuff out for you.”
I gave Jetta a quick side glimpse and noticed her ridiculously large smile. “What do you mean?” I turned my focus back on the road. “What did you find out for me?”
Jetta shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”
“Well then, that really isn’t for me then, is it? Come on, tell me.” I turned down the radio to hear her better.
“It’s about you. It’s…” Jetta wavered, “It’s about a boy.”
I pressed, “Okay… And?”
“A boy likes you.”
“Yeah, who?” I snorted at the question.
“I can’t tell you that part!”
“Can you tell me who told you?”
Jetta crossed her arms as she propped her feet up on the dashboard. “Nope.”
I remembered her saying it was good I had fallen asleep. “It had to be Bobby or Francis that told you.”
“How do you know that?”
“If you don’t tell me,” I threatened, “I’ll just ask them, myself.”
“No. No! Don’t do that, Bonnie.” Jetta pleaded, “Come on, now.”
“Then tell me!”
Jetta’s lips tightened up. “I can’t… he's going to tell you himself.”
“Damn it, Jetta.” I laughed, “Just tell me!”
“I can't!”
I pulled up to a stop sign and turned my head to glare at her. “You suck. Why would you even say anything at all?”
“Well, a guy likes you. He has for a while.” I stared at the stop sign and didn’t know what to say. I started driving again. “Well?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know who it is, so I don’t know what to think.”
“Get excited!”
I snorted, “Okay, I'll try.”
“Shut up, Bon. Be excited for real.”
Shaking my head at the idea, I admitted, “It's kind of hard to get excited when I don’t know who it is.” I pushed, “Which means you should probably just tell me.”
Jetta scoffed. “Fine then. I guess I understand. And I’m not telling you who it is. Just be ready for Saturday is all I'm going to say. Can I turn on your AC? It’s hot in here.” I switched it on, and she leaned back, her face covered by her arms the rest of the ride.
I tried to focus on driving but found it difficult. My headache had returned with a vengeance, no thanks to Jetta's announcement. After I dropped her off, my mind started juggling around ideas of who it could be that liked me. Those curiosities followed me the whole way home.
***
I was painfully anxious over the next five days. I couldn't stop thinking about the senior canoe run/party happening tonight. The same night that someone was supposedly going to profess their so-called feelings for me. On top of all that, I had been feeling kind of weird since fainting. Something was different, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what. Was I sick? Maybe... but I didn't feel bad. At all. Strangely enough, I actually felt better than ever.
Putting those new feelings away, I decided to put all my energy and focus on the strongest emotion of them all: pride. It was finally graduation day! A day I had been waiting for the majority of my life.
Five people ahead of me in line, Jetta turned to ask me, “Are you nervous?”
A boy between us crooked his neck to watch me. I smiled sheepishly at him, before answering Jetta. “A little.” The ball of my foot warped, but I quickly straightened it before the worst could happen. “I hate these heels. I’m going to fall on my face.”
Mrs. Fowler evil-eyed the both of us. She asserted, “Girls, please! NO talking.” She crossed her arms and turned her chin up, seemingly proud of her superior status. We obeyed and I was mentally grateful I would soon not have to deal with her anymore.
It wasn’t until the anthem started that the reality of it all hit me. I watched my classmates wait to walk down the line, each separating down different aisles to their assigned seat in the front. The girl directly ahead of me's turn came quicker than anticipated. I waited at the stopping point for her to halt at hers before taking my first step to being a graduate.
***
Everyone turned their tassels, and in the next second my hat was in the air. The taste of freedom was sweet on my tongue. I looked around to see joyful students— NAY —graduates.
After the ceremony, I endured a meeting with every single family member I had ever known and others I didn’t. The conversations were mostly based on my plans for the future. I eventually fled the forced small-talk and hurried to join my group of friends sitting in the bleachers.
Jetta threw her arms up in excitement. “We did it!” I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face and cheered alongside her.
Francis asked, “Is everyone know the plans tonight? Did they tell you what’s happening, Bonnie?”
“Yeah, like two weeks ago. We’re going canoeing at Cove Lake, right?”
Jetta shook her head. “No, the waters too low right now. It wouldn’t be any fun. Everybody's sneaking out to the sand pit behind the O&W and drinking.”
“On graduation night? We can’t do that!” The idea of getting caught by the feds, and allowing that to have any detrimental value on my chances of getting into Julliard, was absurd.
“Oh lighten up, Bon.” Bobby insisted, “It’s only a few people going anyway. It won’t get busted. Most everyone is getting smashed at Angie’s party.”
I chewed on my lip. “I don’t know y'all… It just seems like a bad idea.”
Bobby rolled his eyes. “You think everything is a bad idea. Girl, you should be relieved. Now you don’t have to stress all night about people seeing you in a bikini.”
“And that right there is why you never share secrets with Bobby,” I said with a forced laugh. Seeing Francis's curious face, I shrugged as I explained, “It's just a stupid thing. I have a weird birthmark, that's all.”
“She might have a point about it being a bad idea, though. Cops are definitely going to be out trying to bust people tonight.” I was beyond thankful that Jetta had changed the subject. She was looking up and away as she spoke. I decided she was debating risking her own scholarship.
“What if we go before everyone gets there?” Francis had stripped of his cap and gown. He looked nice in his button up shirt and slacks.
I perked up. “Yeah, I’m completely down with that. I just don’t want to be there when it’s crazy. I think we should leave when it starts getting dark and then just head on to the actual party. Sound like a plan?”
Jetta said, “Sounds good to me, but I can’t right now. I have to go home and change.”
“You didn't bring another set of clothes?” I asked, confused as to why she wouldn't be prepared.
Looking out the window to the parking lot, I skimmed for my Pontiac. I knew my tennis shoes, my tank top, my shorts, and my no longer needed one-piece bathing suit were lurking in the front seat.
Jetta shook her head. “We're having dinner at the house after this. I figured it'd be easier this way.”
I frowned and turned to Bobby. “What about you?”
“I, uh, I need to go home first too,” stuttered Bobby. “How about we meet you two there in, like, an hour and a half?” I stared at Bobby oddly, he never stammered.
I looked at my phone to see it was a little after 5. “Okay. So, we’re going then?” I directed my question to Francis.
Francis gathered up his stuff. “Yeah, I have everything I need right now.”
“Do y'all think anybody will be there?” I asked the group.
“I’m sure a few people will be. It doesn’t actually start till it’s dark. But I don’t want to be out there too late either. We won’t be long. You two go ahead.”
I asked Francis, “Do you want to just ride together?”
“We can take my truck.” Francis led the way out of the auditorium.
I looted my car for my bag of clothes before taking it to the bathroom to change. After slipping out of my formal wear and into something comfortable, I left the dress as well as my cap and gown in my car before jumping into his vehicle. The ride to the abandoned railroad bridge took thirty minutes, half of which was taken on dusty back-roads.
Francis parked his truck off to the side of the road. He turned and pulled the key before immediately getting out. Unbuckling myself, I went to open my door when Francis beat me to it. “Are you feeling any better?”
I smiled at his gesture before hopping out. “Thank you. And what do you mean?”
Francis crinkled his forehead. “Monday? Passing out?”
“Oh!” I blinked rapidly, remembering, “That… Yeah, I’ve been feeling a little weird about the whole situation. But I’m completely back to normal,” I lied. “I just wasn’t built for drinking, I guess.” I moved out of his way as Francis closed my door. “So, what made you want to open my door for me?”
“I was scared you might pass out again. Seeing as it's your thing now. And it's a long drive back to the hospital.” Francis shrugged. “I figured you wouldn't want to pay for my gas.”
He wasn't looking at me, so I stepped in front of him. “It's my thing? I don't think passing out once qualifies it being my thing.”
Francis moved around me and kept walking as he spoke. “Nope. That's officially your thing. People would call you sleeping beauty, but your snoring makes you sound more like one of her dwarves.”
I rolled my eyes. “You're thinking of Snow White.”
“Tomato, tomata.”
“And when did you hear me snoring?”
“The other night at my place, after you passed out on my couch. I'm pretty sure the whole neighborhood heard you snoring. It was like an earthquake, I swear.” Grinning at me, he chuckled.
Francis's laugh slowly became inaudible as the sound of singing took my ears. Music coming from somewhere deeper down the trail drowned out Francis's words. He followed behind me; I hadn’t realized how far ahead of him I had walked. “Bon? Did you hear me?” I ignored him and trudged faster down the path.
What is that beautiful sound?
Listening to the ballad, I realized it was something I had never heard before. It was like every lovely instrument in the world had melted into a solitary, flawless one. My ears were busy trying to take in every second of the art. Who was behind the strings providing such an alluring tone? I quickly decided that no one less than a god could play it. There was no falter or break in the rhythm.
Where is it coming from?
I lightly tugged on Francis’s sleeve and lead him down the trail with me. “What are you doing?” Francis chuckled but didn't pull away.
We hiked deeper down the path before I stopped. I whispered, “Can you hear that?” I immediately held my breath, afraid of masking the sound.
“The water?” asked Francis through shining teeth. “Yeah. The bridge isn’t far.” I almost shushed him, right before I completely forgot him.
I have to find the musician.
I dropped his arm and began venturing by myself. Francis was behind me, but I couldn’t have told you that. I couldn’t have told anyone anything. My feet carried me in the direction of the wordless song. My eyes were peeled, prepared to see something otherworldly. We were on the channel now.
“Wait!” Francis ran to me and stopped at my side.
Halfway across the bridge, a patch of wood built into the link shook loose and dove into the swallowing river. “Whoa! Did you see that? The railing should have caught that…” Francis's voice, befuddled, trailed off. But I kept on. Two more stepping stones plummeted. “Bonnie, I, uh, I think we should turn around.”
Another fell through. Two more. Then four.
They kept tumbling until a circle of missing bricks trapped us in the center of the bridge. I felt that stupid grin play across my face.
Francis squeezed my hand. He yelled over the wind, “How is this happening?”
I felt a vibration and a swish of air pull at me. Then I heard a CLAP. Looking up, I saw the awning of the bridge being slowly ripped off its hinges. Francis jerked me down with him and ducked his head under his free arm. My eyes remained glued on the performance. Another whoosh of the wind chilled my skin as the roofing was torn off the walkway and sucked into the sky. It disappeared behind a clustering of gray clouds.
Searching the atmosphere, I watched it open up for a brilliant show of diverse colors. Another CLAP! Hundreds of short-lived lightning strikes slapped the colored clouds. My hair whipped around my face and my ears picked up on the whistle of a train.
The wind drew on us as well as the blocks of wood and railing. The bridge was demolished in a matter of seconds, and I watched the debris of it twirl around us. The whirlwind blocked our view of the outside.
Francis heaved me into his arms. My new view was of his chest. I turned my attention back up to see the sporadic thunderbolts brighten the heavens. The world blinked white and I felt a pulsation with the color shift. Francis guarded my head as the cyclone took us up.

3

THERE WAS A blinding darkness. Sounds were coming from above and some of it sounded like talking. It wasn’t English, whatever it was. Coughing, I slowly sat up. I could feel rough material chafing against my skin. I looked down to see what I was wearing but was rendered sightless to it. Someone had changed me in my sleep. My eyes widened as I started panting frantically. The real terror set in when I realized my wrists were knotted together.
I shifted myself around and awkwardly stood up. My feet drag a few inches before I hit my head. “Owe!” Using my clasped hands, I felt for what I had marched into. It didn’t take me but a second to gather what it was. Panic starting to overcome me, I opened my mouth to scream, then I heard someone else cough.
I knew that cough.
“Francis?” I whispered inaudibly. “Francis? Is that you?” I asked louder.
Another cough followed. “Yeah, it’s me.”
I touched the bars again. “Where are you?”
I heard scrabbling and a few curse words from my left ear. “What the hell is going on? I’m tied up.”
Trembling, I hunted the black for his face. “Me too. I think I’m in a cage. What happened? How did we get here?” Footsteps as light as a feather were coming our way, and I caught it. I blurted, “What was that?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Francis.
“I heard footsteps.” My words were almost inaudible. There was also breathing. It was getting louder and sounded thick, but it wasn’t coming from where I would expect it. It was coming from the floor.
Francis yelled out, “Who's out there? What do you want with us? Show us your face, you coward.”
“Delighted to.” A jolt ran down my spine at the unfamiliar voice. A match struck and the fresh light gave the creature a face. A gasp escaped me before the light flickered out. Catching my breath, I screamed as loud as I could.
Francis hollered, “What! What is it?”
I was at the back of my cell and couldn’t answer him. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t get the specifics, but I was sure of one thing— whatever it was, its eyes were yellow.
“’Ey now. Yer offendern me. I ain’t dat bad to look at! I didn’ mean to scar' yer miss. I'ma just derin' my job. ‘Eard the likes of yer tongue and came to make sure yer were okay.” The next cry didn’t escape me. If I weren't facing something this petrifying, I would have laughed at Francis’s yelp. “I didn’ relize der was two of yer misses.” The creature snorted.
“Why are we here?” I asked, “What are you?”
The footsteps were leaving now. “Hold ern. It's gloomies seein's yer, and yer not seein's me, ya see?” His dialect was thick in something I had never come across before. And living in Tennessee I had heard some heavy accents.
“What?” I asked.
“Hold ern!” I listened to his departing footsteps.
Once the halls were silent again, Francis said, “Bonnie, I’m freaking out right now. Help us! Someone, please, help us!” Francis's calls for aid inspired me to join. I ran to the bars and yelled alongside him.
With both of us shouting, it was near impossible to hear the grumbling reenter the premises. “Yer say hold ern and dey don’ hold ern.” Our pleas didn’t stop until the darkness lifted.
Half of me was appalled while the other was amazed. The man who chatted with a gravel mouth was now visible. It wasn’t his eyes that apprehended me anymore, but his size. He was no taller than a foot, and his eyes were no longer a hair-raising mustard. But that didn’t solve any of his problems. He was hideous. His nose was bigger than his hands, and his feet were twice the size of his head. Massive moles mutilated his cheeks. What skin was not covered in unkempt, dirty rags was plastered with hives. His expression unveiled a gritty smile with few teeth.
Seeing Francis, I noticed the exact beige that the creature wore was now donning him. Looking down I saw the same shade on me as well. I did not want to know if it was the creature’s filthy hands that changed us. Or why he did.
I was unable to form words but Francis could. “What the hell are you?”
The small man turned from me to gawk at Francis. “Der mannerly question is who are I, but I am what dey call Coblynau.”
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, much less what I was hearing. “What is a Coblynau?”
The Coblynau cackled and outspread his arms as if to present himself. “Dat what I be! Dat’s a hard answer yer seek. Dat’s like me askern yer, what be Halfling?” I crumpled up my face in even more confusion. He grunted in laughter. “Yer two be funny. I like da tongues yer have.”
Francis interrogated, “Why did you kidnap us? What do you want?”
The creature looked between the both of us with a jumbled expression. “Kidnaper? We saved yer two. Yer in hiding.” I caught Francis’s eyes before returning my attention to the small ugly man. “We keep yer here, til yer is safe. Our last hope is fer Ralella.” I couldn’t understand half of his speech.
Francis asked, “Ralella? We don’t know what you’re saying. You've got the wrong people, man. Just let us go and we won't tell the cops anything.”
The Coblynau watched me with expectant eyes. “We've been waiting a long time fer yer, Misses Ralella.” When I didn't respond to the man, he turned and hobbled towards the darkened entrance. “I will tell yer more in the morn, get yer some snooze!” The room stayed lit long after he was gone.
“Could you understand any of that?” I asked.
Francis made a ridiculously muddled face and shook his head. “He kidnapped us to save us? Doesn’t really seem like it.” He held up his bolted wrists as proof.
“He said he'd been waiting for Ralella and he was staring right at me when he said it. Do you think he thinks we're someone else?”
Francis shrugged. “A deformed midget just abducted us. I don’t know anything, anymore.” He reclined back against the cage and slowly slipped down into a sitting position.
I turned and did the same, then tried to put together the puzzle of how we got here without any of the pieces. ”How did this happen? Do you remember anything?”
Francis twisted his neck. “I don't know. The last thing I remember seeing was the O&W get torn apart by the weirdest twister I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t remember any of that. I just remember walking down the trail and talking. I don’t know, it’s just—” I stopped once a painful bolt ran down the base of my skull. “Owe!” I grabbed the top of my head, attempting to settle the sting.
“Are you okay?” asked Francis.
I held my head and kept speaking through the ache. “I don’t even remember getting that far down the trail. We made it to the bridge?” It was agony trying to recollect a memory that was gone.
“Yup. You were going on about hearing something. I thought you just wanted to be adventurous, and it was fun... at first. Halfway down the bridge, you got this really weird look in your eyes, like, you weren’t you anymore. Then the bridge was ripped apart right in front of us. I think we were in the eye of the tornado. So either this is Oz or we got drugged with some serious shit.”
We had bigger priorities to worry about. “How are we going to get out of here?” It felt impossible. Looking around even harder, I noticed something shiny in the corner. “Wait. There's something in the wall. Maybe I can use it to break this rope.” Digging for it with my fingernails, I eventually carved the rock out of the dirt made wall. “Ha! I got it!”
“Awesome! Throw it to me.” Francis scooted to the edge of the cage.
Staring at the rock, I shook my head. “I can go first. I'm a terrible shot; with my luck, I'd toss it to you and we'd end up losing it.”
“Come on, you can't be that bad. Throw it to me.” I shook my head. “Seriously, Bon. This isn't a time to be stubborn.”
“I want to go first.”
Francis gawked at me. “Why? You know it's going to hurt, right? Throw it to me.”
“Why do you think I want to go first?” I looked at him with a serious expression. He didn't argue, but instead just stared at me in silence. I was the one to look away. Clearing my throat, I reasoned, “You're stronger than me. We're going to need you at your peak if we're going to get out of here.” I couldn't finish the sentence with 'alive'. I couldn't allow the thought of being killed in this dungeon to be breathed into the world. I couldn't let it become a reality.
The idea of using the sharp rock was good enough, but actually doing it was a whole other thing entirely. Whoever tied these ropes knew what they were doing. My wrist on top of the other one, the rope made an X around my hands. I attempted to do it like they did it in the movies. I learned fairly quickly that my fingers were not near long enough to get the job done. Trying my own way out, I placed the rock on the ground and rubbed the rope against it. Every few seconds the rock would move and I'd have to stop to reposition it.
After thirty minutes, Francis spoke up. “Bon, you've been doing that forever. Take a break. It's hurting me just watching you. Has it even made a dent in the rope?”
Stopping to check it, I saw a stitch had broken. One stitch out of what looked like ten. “A little.” My wrists were getting raw from how much I'd done it. I tried to keep silent through the pain. It wasn't until I'd brought blood that I actually had to stop.
“No more. This isn't working. Throw it to me.” Exhausted and unwilling to argue, I chunked it his way. He examined it and quickly decided, “This won't work.”
Laying down for a moment to forget about my bloody wrists, I closed my eyes. Then I heard a tormented moan. I jumped and turned to him. “Francis, what’s wrong?” He didn’t respond. “Francis?” The sound was coming from his cell, but Francis was facing away from me.
“Shush, Bonnie I have an idea. I just need a second to concentrate.”
I stayed quiet through all his whimpering, and my jaw dropped once I saw his hands separate. “How did you do that?”
Francis slowly turned to look at me, a plagued smile on his face and freed wrists in the air. “I saw it on TV. I just broke my thumbs.”
My chin still on the floor, I exclaimed, “What the hell, Francis!” Catching myself speaking too loud, I whispered speedily, “What are you doing? Why would you do that?” My eyes widened to the point it hurt.
Francis pushed himself up and off the floor slowly, using only his legs and back. “I don’t know. I knew I had to do something. The rock wasn't working.” His face was red, and I saw water in the corners of his bloodshot eyes. Crazy bastard!
I pulled myself up using the wooden bars as leverage. “Okay, there has got to be a way to get through these.” I paused for a second and looked through the cage. Seeing nothing else but dirt, I hoped he would have better luck. I bit my lip and closed my eyes, praying he could break out.
My wish was in mid plea when I heard Francis again. “Hey, I found something.”
I turned to see what that something was. “I don’t think a stick is going to help us much here.”
His eyes ignited. “No, but it can knock out a tiny fella who probably has the keys.”
“Francis, you’re a genius!” I beamed at him.
Francis grabbed the cable with his forefingers, avoiding the use of his thumbs. “I’m going to rewrap my wrists. This time, it will be loose enough to break free right before I hit him on the head and then we are out of here!”
I checked out my own thumbs. “Should I break mine too?” I asked with hesitation, hoping the answer wouldn’t be yes.
Francis glanced at my hands for a split second. “No. If I can get the keys, then I’ll be able to untie you. Plus it hurts like hell. I don’t want you going through that.”
“Francis, I know this is terrible, but I’m so glad you’re here with me. I’m sorry, that’s so selfish to say, but I am.”
He cracked a smile. “Ditto, Bon.”
We grew quiet after that. I deliberated what was happening back home, I wondered what my mother was thinking. Surely she was worried sick. And Jetta and Bobby must be freaking out.
I missed my piano. It was my safe zone when I was feeling stressed or lost. Ignoring the reality of any tight situation, I would practice until my fingers fell numb. My thoughts were interrupted when blood dripped on my hand.
“What the hell?” I questioned the stain.
Francis asked through a sluggish voice, “What?”
“I’ve got a nose bleed. I haven’t had one since I was a kid.”
Francis continued through a yawn, “That happens to me all the time. Lean your head back and hold your nose. It’ll run down your throat and eventually stop.”
I did as he instructed and got a mental visual of the process. “Ew.”
He laughed. “I know, but it shouldn’t take too long. I’m tired. Want to take turns keeping watch?”
Pinching my nose, I answered through a nasally voice, “Yea. I'll go first.” Remembering that the man said 'we saved you', I asked, “How many of them do you think there are?”
“I don’t know. Hopefully not that many. I still believe we can take them no matter how many there are. Did you see how small he was?”
I smiled at the idea of us going into battle with the tiny creatures. “Yeah. We got this.”
He rolled over and said one last thing before going to sleep. “Yeah, we do.”
I swallowed the blood that built up in the back of my throat, and it tasted terrible, making me queasy. It was a good twenty minutes of waiting before the draining finally stopped.
The next few hours felt like they lasted forever and I didn't have to remind myself to stay awake. There was no way to tell how much time had passed and nothing to keep me occupied other than my thoughts. It was quiet. Quieter than was comfortable.
I was grateful when Francis started snoring. I made a mental note to bring it up if we ever-- no, don't think like that-- when we got out of here. The sound of his snoring was like music to me in this silence. Slowly, it lulled me to sleep.
***
“Yer did a rotten job der, boy.”
My eyes flung open. I sat up quickly and checked out the commotion. Francis was asleep. His hands had broken free from the rope mid-slumber.
The Coblynau shook his head at Francis. “I was comin' to free yers and tell yers all to know. Der was no reason for this lot, no der wasn’.”
“You were going to free us?” I asked.
The Coblynau turned to me and threw his hands up. “Yes I was, was I! Yer have to be freed, yer does!”
Francis leaned up groggily, remembered his thumbs, then cried in pain. He grimaced at his hands before turning his focus to the Coblynau. The Coblynau’s expression was that of impatience. Francis jumped around and grabbed the rod. Before I had a chance to stop him, Francis reached through the bars and struck the top of the little man’s head. The Coblynau blinked his eyes rapidly before falling.
I yelled, “Francis! He was about to free us.”
Francis ignored me and searched the creature’s tiny pockets. “There’s no key!” Francis’s eyes darted around his cell for more answers.
“I guess now all there is to do is wait for him to wake up.” I viewed the tiny body. “You know, he’s so ugly that he’s kind of cute.” I turned my eyes back up to Francis.
Francis raised one eyebrow at me, before narrowing his eyes down to the Coblynau. “No, Bonnie, he’s just ugly.” I relived the moment when Francis struck him and laughed. “What?” Francis didn’t look pleased with my amusement.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized with a grin. “It’s just funny thinking about you just bopping him on the head. It’s not something you see every day.”
Francis looked at the little man and smiled. “Yeah, it was kind of funny, wasn’t it?” He started snickering with me and I imitated his strike and the comical way the creature fell.
“Ohm... What da? What did yer do dat fer!” The Coblynau sat up and rubbed the top of his head while giving Francis an evil glare. The comicality of it reminded me of Bobby’s glare. Francis had been getting a lot of dirty looks lately.
Francis shrugged. “Sorry man, but you can’t blame a convict for trying to break free.”
The Coblynau ignored Francis and spoke to me, “Misses Ralella, we have lots to tell. Yer must come to higher ground.”
Unsure of the title, I walked towards the edge of my enclosure. Francis did the same and offered me an odd look at my given name.
The Coblynau walked to the side of my cage. He was about a foot away from my arms reach when he started pulling a large rope. The motion caused the bars to slowly rise up, releasing me. It was incredible watching him pull at such lengths. He must have noticed my admiration. “By der by, we be very strong, da Coblynaus we are.”
Once we were let out of our cages, The Coblynau ripped the rope off my wrists. I frowned at him. “Where were you last night?”
Tilting his head at me, the man answered, “In my cottage, of 'course.”
Free now and in the open, I became more aware of my surroundings. It gave the impression of an underground mine. It smelled of dirt and the only sound besides a faraway dripping noise was the echo of our footsteps. Now that he was discharging us, and I didn’t feel my life was in danger, I decided to ask the ‘mannerly’ question. “Who are you?”
“I be Onode.” The Coblynau answered with that gravelly accent. “I know who she be, but who be ye?” He gestured to Francis.
“Francis Bent.”
“Yer her fan, yer are?”
Francis and I shared a strange gaze, before I asked, “Fan? And what do you mean you know who I am? My name is Bonnie Bertrum, not Ralella.”
He snickered at my question. “Yer know! Yer boy? Yer mate?”
“No, we’re just friends.” “No!”
We answered uncomfortably at the same time.
Francis and I looked at each other for a second longer than usual. I repeated my question, “Why do you think you know me?”
Onode rolled his gold eyes at us and walked away. “Let’s get out of ‘ere firstly. Follow Onode!” We obeyed and tracked him down a stretched hollow tunnel.
Eyeing everything as we paced, I noticed the weirdest bugs I had ever seen in my life. There was one that looked like a caterpillar. But with every millimeter it inched along, a different color it became. Pointing it out to Francis, we both watched it in fixed-gazes. I mentally named it chamopillar. After a long stroll down the shaft, we came to a stop in front of a wooden ladder constructed into the earth.
I tried to get a peak of what was at the top, but it seemed to be miles away. My fear of heights crashed into me. “Uh, h-how high is this?”
Francis agreed, “Yeah, I’m kind of damaged here. Can’t do much climbing.”
Onode spat, “Yer shouldn' have hurt yerself. Dumb lad.”
“I was just trying to do the right thing,” argued Francis.
I didn’t hear their continued banter. My eyes were glued on the opening. I was close to being claustrophobic. “Francis is right, Onode. There is no way he is going to be able to climb up that. There has to be another way.”
Onode stopped and thought for an inkling of a second. “No'm, he has to climb. Ders no otha way.”
I felt trapped and contemplated other possible tactics. Racking my brain, I looked down and noticed my injured wrists. That rope was seriously strong shit. Then it came to me. “I know what we can do!” They both looked at me in waiting. “I don’t know if you're going to like it, though.” I started, “Okay, you can't climb up, but you could be pulled up. We could get a rope and pull you up from the top. Onode could lift you up alongside me. He's strong enough to... right?” Onode nodded.
“Are you serious, Bonnie?” Francis shot me an incredulous expression.
“It was the only thing I could think of. Do either of you have a better plan?” They looked at each other for a moment and neither said a word. “I didn’t think so.”
Francis looked back at the ladder and shifted around uncomfortably. “Bonnie, that’s a long way down. What if he drops me?”
I thought about it and quickly snapped my fingers. “Got it! We will tie it off at the top, so if he does lose his grip, you won’t fall all the way to the bottom.”
“Yeah, well...” Francis gawked at the top and let out a loud sigh. “We’re going to need a lot of rope.”
Onode fetched the cable and once he returned with it, I helped Francis tie it around his chest and thighs. Being careful not to get it too tight, I asked, “Is this okay?” Feeling his eyes on me, I looked up to him. He nodded without saying a word. I triple-knotted it to be sure that it was secure. I whispered, “You should be good now.” I cleared my throat as I grabbed the other end of the rope. “I'll carry this end up and tie it off.”
“I trust you.” The look in Francis's eyes was unreadable. “Just try not to pass out on the way up, okay?” He grinned and I smiled back.
Rolling my eyes, I said, “You just focus on not hurting yourself again. Leave the rest to us.”
“Whatever you say, Sleeping Beauty.”
I liked the nickname more than I should have. Holding the other end of the rope in my hand, I started the climb. I was almost envious of Francis’s wound once I was a few steps up. Knees shaky, I forced myself onward. I was very aware of where my hands and feet were and of how many steps I had mounted. The more I clambered, the further away the top seemed to get.
Onode wasn’t far behind me. He had told me that if I were to fall, he would catch me. The idea of him being able to catch me, as well as keep me aloft, was ridiculous. His entire existence was ridiculous. I held on for dear life with every stride I took. The urge to look back to see how far I had come kept reentering my mind. Knowing it was a dreadful idea, I ignored it and kept on. After a mile long escalation, I realized I was finally almost to the top. I pushed myself and my body to keep going. The urgency of it got the better of me. My left foot slipped. Looking back to see how high I was, a gasp got caught in my throat. I spun my face back to the dirt and wheezed hysterically. My heart rattled like a hummingbird's.
“Yer almos’ der! Keep goin'!”
I took a second to recompose myself before shakily pushing my foot onto the following step. Then to the next. And eventually to the last. It called for some upper body strength to pull myself out of the pit and onto the ground. Once I was on land again, I spread my arms and legs around it and thanked God that I was still alive. My breathing slowly went from excessive to back to normal.
Onode’s face peering over mine drew me out of my stupor. “Yer did it, Misses Ralella! Yer fan needin' some aid now, he does.”
I weakly sat up out of my lying position. It wasn’t until that moment that I gathered where I was. It was… beautiful. That didn’t feel like a good enough term to describe the magnificence of this place. It needed an entirely new word that didn’t exist until I set my eyes on my surroundings. It was like something out of a dream.
There was a tiny bungalow in the distance, and every tree was as tall as the mine was deep. Their leaves were a precious emerald. Moving my attention away from the trees, I noticed the flowers. Lavender tulips stood well over 10 feet in the air, and I ogled them in marvel. Butterflies whipped around them with twinkles of turquoise swaying as their wings.
Everything was so sharp. It was like my entire life had been watched in low quality and I was seeing high definition for the first time. It was as if I could feel the colors vibrancy.
For this moment, I forgot everything else. Rope still in hand, I stood up and walked in a circle, mentally taking pictures for a later day.
“Where are we?” I asked Onode in a dazed voice.
Onode answered, “Dis place,” he waved around the forest, “be Bridgemill.” He held up his hand to show there was more to what he was saying. “But dis kingdom...” He smoothed the grass before scooping up a handful of the dirt to present to me. “Be Falloch.”

Currently looking for beta readers. The book is finished and I'm hoping this will be the second to last version of this book. I've edited it myself a thousand times and had it professionally edited. If you liked this and want to keep reading, please let me know :)

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