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MOMENT 04: HAMMED
I quietly groaned. The octopus fortune teller was mistaken. Hero genes didn't exist within me. I didn't even belong to Strange World, so why did I have to save one of its citizens?
The tribal pigs continued their wild dance, hopping from foot to foot, jiggling their bellies. One stuck its butt in the air, shaking it fast. The music stopped, and the pig butt shaking ceased. Another of the weird humanoids ran across the way and popped something into a jukebox half-hidden behind a tree. After punching a couple buttons, the music blasted again, and the butt-up pig continued working it.
"Great, a twerking pig," I whispered. "Now I've seen everything."
The poor dog boy sat in the dirt, arms tied behind his back. He wore quivering fear in his big brown eyes. Something I couldn't resist as an animal lover—Puppy dog eyes. I couldn't just leave him. If I did, I'd never forgive myself, even for my several remaining days.
As the pigs formed a circle and started the same twerking posture, I lifted my arm and waved like mad, but dog-boy didn't look. He hung his head and sniffled a snot storm. How to get his attention? The scenario was grave. The pigs might stop at any moment and make him into a hot dog, roasted over the fire.
I snatched a golf-ball-shaped rock that rested by my foot. There was but one chance. I reared back my arm to throw, but the pigs spun and stuck their butts toward the fire. I dropped behind the log, holding my breath. Had they seen me? There came a loud oink, and the music silenced. They stopped their comical romping.
"Crap." I closed my eyes tight. The oink brigade was giving chase, and they'd arrive soon, but after a barrage of seconds they didn't. Slow and careful, I turned on my knees and peeked. A group of six new pigs appeared on the scene carrying a platform holding a throne. In that throne sat the largest hog I'd ever seen. The massive oinker's skin was blotchy pink, and he wore a multi-gemmed crown. In his right hand, his scepter too held gems aplenty.
"My pig men!" he sang with a dramatic voice. "We gather here tonight, to put to trial this interloper."
The massive hog king hopped from his seat, bending the platform, and forcing the pig men to their knees. With a heavy thud, he landed on the ground. A dirt cloud rose from the ground, and the beagle sneezed, blowing it right into the hog's face.
The king wheezed until one pig rushed to his aid with a long leafy fan and waved it away.
"Another transgression!" The hog king cleared his throat. "And against me. How indecent can one get?"
"I have done nothing wrong!" the dog boy said, shaking his floppy-eared head.
"And another!" The king's eyes widened. "You dare speak to moi? To not address me as your king?"
"Hashtag: not my king!" The dog snapped.
A pig asked, "What's a hashtag?"
"I think it's eaten with eggs," said another.
"Silence fools!" the king said. "This puppy speaks nonsense."
The dog growled. "Jerk-face, you kidnapped my king and stole his crown."
"Well, he should have made it harder to break into the castle!" one extra fat pig replied, with an oinky giggle.
"Now, now, Beausworth." The false king lifted a pudgy finger. "We didn't break and enter. We merely walked in and asked to borrow the crown. King Hopper was more than happy to comply."
"Liar!" Dog boy tried to lunge but fell flat on his face. He rolled onto his back and sat straight again. "King Hopper would never give a dirty pig like you the royal crown!"
"A dirty pig?" the king squealed. "How dare you, you dirty mutt!"
"Should we surpass the trial, King Oinkomon?" asked Beausworth.
"No need to be that hasty." Kingy stuck his royal scepter under the dog's chin, lifting it. A throaty growl escaped his throat.
"Then shall we begin?"
"Yes, lets!" Oinkomon cheered. He turned and climbed back onto the platform, causing all six pigs knees to bend as they struggled to hold the massive livestock's weight.
"You may set me down for now," said the king. The six lucky pigs lowered the platform, then all stepped away, breathing huge sighs of relief. The king waved a hand. "Set up the accused!"
A new swine rushed into view from the platform's rear. In its hands, it held a gigantic black mushroom as it rushed behind the dog.
Oinkomon said, "Sit on the Truffle of Truth!"
The dog narrowed his eyes but climbed atop the shroom, sitting and crossing his legs beneath him.
"Tonight, on the first night of the brie moon, we have gathered to give the trial of an accused, one: Pupper-Dog Boy."
The dog growled.
King heavy hog continued, "Pupper-Dog Boy, the court accuses you of seven counts of treason."
The dog snarled.
"Shut your trap!" a small pig jabbed Pupper in the side with the butt end of a spear, drawing a whimper.
"Count one: You stepped on the grass after clearly reading a Stay Off the Grass sign. How do you plea?"
"Not guilty!" Pupper said. "That grass is free roam to all!"
"Nonsense." The hog snorted. "Count two: You urinated on the fire hydrant closest to my castle."
"Not guilty!" the defendant cried. "Your bacon goons chased me from the grass, and I had to pee!"
"We're called pig men, mutt!" Beausworth jabbed him with the spear butt again.
Pupper bared his teeth at the fat pig causing him to jump away.
The king continued, "Count three: You chased the royal Oinksmobile."
"Not guilty!" Pupper sighed. "Okay, guilty on that one. I love car chasing."
"Inexcusable! Now Count four: They found you also chasing the royal pet nekos."
"Not—err...Guilty." Pupper confessed. "I also love to chase cats, and the cat girls are just so adorable."
"You can not do that!" Oinkomon creased his brow, but a warm smile came over his face. "But they are rather cute. That's why I keep them close at all times." The smile faded. "Count Five: You snuck into my castle!"
"Not guilty because it's not your castle!"
"Yes, it is! Count Six: You drank from my toilet!"
Pupper lowered his eyes. "Guilty," he muttered.
"That water is tears of the fairies; I remind you!"
"I know, I know."
"Count Seven," Oinkmon pointed an accusing finger at the defendant. "You have sworn to kill our lady, and Lordess of Strange World's sixth land, Ma-Burger."
"She overstayed her welcome here!" Pupper said. "She needs to moove aside."
"A pun. That's an eighth count." King hog trembled, fists clenched. "Lordess Ma-Burger is in her prime."
The bound dog rolled his eyes. "Prime rib!"
The king snarled, spittle flying everywhere.
"She's evil as evil can be!"
"Ha ha ha!" came the oinker's response. "You think she is evil? Far from it. She wishes the best for all of Strange World!"
"That's why she seeks the box?" Pupper crossed his arms. "You and your Meaty Syndicate will be the end of Strange World!"
"The Meaty Syndicate is improving our situation!" Beausworth said. "No longer must we suffer at the farmer's hands. No longer will we be under oppression. We will be free to do as we wish!"
Oinkomon coughed. "It is time for the jury to make its judgment."
"We have our judgment!" the pigs said.
"And what is the verdict?" Oinkomon leaned forward, excitement sparkling in his eyes.
"We the jury say Pupper-Dog Boy is guilty on all counts!"
"Then you know the sentence."
They all hopped, circling the truffle. "Death by barbecue!"
Pupper-Dog's big eyes went wide, and he howled. It was so depressing, I couldn't take it any longer. I had to do something, or they'd cook and kill the dog boy on the spit.
Leaping over my hiding log, I drew the entire group's attention. "I object!"
Each pig's eyes widened, their mouths hanging wide. One by one they looked to their king. The huge pig-man stared at me and pointed. "By auntie's bacon! It's some kind of silver cockroach!"
I narrowed my eyes. "I'm not a cockroach."
"Then what in the world are you?" He gave a deep-bellied laugh.
"I'm a boy. A human boy!"
"Human?" He glanced at me sidelong. "There have been no humans in Strange World since Clementine the Red!"
"I...have no idea who that is." I shrugged.
All the pig men's jaws stretched and hit the ground. Even Pupper-Dog's mouth hung.
"Y-You don't know about Clementine the Red?" Oinkomon asked.
I shook my head. "I'm…new to the area?"
"New to the area, he says!" The king chuckled. "If you've never heard of Clementine, then I'm guessing your land is Roach Valley."
"How many times—grr—Not a roach!" I stomped my foot.
"What a shame boys. We have an intruder from another land. He is trespassing by his own account. What say ye?"
The pigs all cheered. "Guilty!"
"N-No way!" I patted the air before me. "I'm no one's meal."
"Too bad." Oinkomon grinned wide and threw out his hand. "Get him, boys!"
"In the name of King Oinkomon!" they said, and edged toward me, spears held before them.
"Get the bag!" Pupper said. "There are weapons there!"
"W-What bag?" I stepped back, eyes darting. A burlap sack hung from a nearby tree on a low branch, but the swine blocked it.
Pupper-Dog bounced atop the truffle. "Hurry!"
Pigs came within a few feet, forcing me to retreat. They kept coming, and I tripped over a log, falling hard on my tailbone. A sharp pain rippled up my spine, and my mouth fell open in silent agony. A pig jumped up on the log and squealed, long and loud. The other pigs rushed around the fallen tree and came at me. I scrambled to my feet and sprinted back into the forest. How to lose them? I made it to the intersection clearing and doubled over, wheezing. If I lost them, and found my way back, I could save Pupper-Dog. If I didn't hurry, we were both doomed.
The etched X rested at my feet. I needed to go a different way. Courage summoned, I sprinted for the path straight across the clearing. The squealing pigs were catching up fast. As I popped into the clearing again, I took the left path. They hooted and hollered from what seemed like several yards away. Who knew pigs were so quick.
I darted to the right, breaking away from them. The clearing came three more times. Their voices faded—I'd lost them. Again, I doubled over, hands on knees. The X once again lay under my soles. I charged along the path, pulse thumping, afraid I might run into the pigs. To my advantage, the magical paths prevented that. Firelight became visible from the path. I'd found Pupper.
As I returned to the log, I found Oinkomon grabbing Pupper-Dog by his bindings and shoving him to the fire pit. He snatched the stick from above the fire and shoved Pupper to the ground. The disgruntled pig bent over and tied the dog's wrists and ankles to the stick.
While Oinkomon was busy, I entered the clearing and crept toward the hanging burlap sack. Pupper-Dog's eyes lit up as he saw me and the king followed his gaze.
"You're back!" Oinkomon said. "You sure are tooty fruity for a cockroach!"
I threw my hands to my sides. "I'm not an insect! And what does tooty fruity even mean?"
"No matter!" He walked toward me, cracking his knuckles. "I'll still crush you like one."
The weapon sack hung a dozen feet away. I made a break for the bag, the moment the king charged. I leaped and grabbed hold as the king grabbed my ankle. The sack, Oinkmon and I, all struck the ground, eating dirt. He flipped me over as I scrambled, grasping for a weapon. Oinkomon bounced to his feet and kicked the bag away. With a deep, rage-filled oink, he stomped my chest, blasting the air from my lungs.
He leaned in close, giving me a whiff of his awful, rotting garbage pig breath. "Do you think you can outwit me? I'm the king for a reason. I rule this land, and only one is superior. Ma-Burger, our Lordess."
"You stink." I wheezed as he used more weight, crushing me.
"Oh, ho ho, you'll pay for that remark," he mumbled. "You don't dare insult a king."
I grabbed at his ankle and tried to push him off, but he weighed far too much. There was only one thing to do—I grabbed a handful of dirt and smashed it into his face.
He screeched and fell away grabbing his eyes. "I'm blind! Oh what a world!"
I rushed to the sack, tore open the drawstring and reached in my hand. The first thing I grasped was as hard as steel—like an iron pipe. Not what I was expecting, but it'd work. As I withdrew the weapon, a smile crossed my lips, and I turned to face the king. That smile faded as I saw I was holding a long loaf of bread—a French baguette.
"You've gotta be kidding me," I said.
From the length alone, it couldn't have fit inside the sack.
"Hit him!" Pupper whined while the king wiped his eyes clean and glared at me with rage.
"With this?" I cried. "I'm holding freaking bread!"
Oinkomon grunted and kicked his leg like a charging bull. Then with a burst of speed, rushed me.
"Swing!" Pupper said.
Fear riddled my being. I didn't know what else to do, so I did as Pupper instructed. I swung the baguette. With a loud crack, the loaf smacked Oinkomon across his face, and his head snapped to the side. The hog collapsed and skidded along the ground, crashing right into a tree. My eyes were wide, and I looked at the still-intact piece of bread.
"Holy sourdough," I said, looking over the loaf.
"You did it!" Pupper sang. "Now untie me, please!"
I stabbed the baguette into the dirt and worked at the knot binding Pupper.
"Hurry!" he said.
"I'm trying." I fumbled with the knot. "It's really tight!"
I dug my fingers under the loop, pulling one part of the knot, but Pupper shouted, "Look out!"
Something cracked against my face, and everything spun. A pig man stood with the French baguette in his hands. I hit the dirt wanting to curse my luck, and stupidity but everything faded to black.
MOMENT 03: FOREST OF BLUES
The monstrous creature held me in its steel talons, screeching across the evening sky. Instinct ordered me to struggle and break free, but the ground was so far below now, the giant chinchillas appeared normal sized. Falling meant death. If I died in Strange World, what of my real life? Whatever little time remained, I didn't want to put it to the test. I stayed frozen as we soared towards the blue-crested forest. This avian planned on taking me back to its babies for food. Only then might I escape. The bird's constant screech only stopped when it breathed, then it continued like a wailing siren.
We passed the edge of the woods and kept going, deeper, and farther from the entrance, making my plan of getting to the city more improbable. Before long a warped, sky-kissing tree came into sight. It stood at least forty feet above the rest. Nestled on one extended branch sat a wide, circular bundle of sticks along with six purple-speckled eggs.
The monstrosity opened its talons, and I plummeted. With a loud crack, I crashed, causing the nest to shudder and the eggs to rock. Stunned, my heart pounded against my ribcage. The bird wasn't returning. For how long was the question. If needed, I'd die kicking and screaming, and give the thing indigestion.
“Good riddance,” I said. “Abandon your babies! Mothers are useless.”
I glanced at the eggs, shaking my head—I had to escape before they hatched, so I crawled to the lip of the nest. Vertigo smacked me, and I reeled. We were far off the ground, even higher than the soda can <pwa data-pwa-id="pwa-E77135275874C633AD6086D76F578E8C" data-pwa-category="grammar" data-pwa-hint="Possible confused word" data-pwa-suggestions="butted" data-pwa-dictionary-word="buttes" class="pwa-mark pwa-mark-done">buttes</pwa> back in the violet field. How to reach the ground?
A soft ticking caught my attention, but I didn’t see the source. There wasn't time—I needed to descend or end up as dinner for whatever creatures these birds were.
I approached the trunk which wasn't so thick. If I didn't get a solid hold, one slip, and I'd become a pancake on the forest floor. With precision on my mind, I put my arms around the tree. As I hugged the bark, the ticking grew louder, and a strange melody played; it sounded like a jack-in-the-box—that old 'Pop Goes the Weasel' song.
I checked out the eggs again. They swayed at first, but then rocked faster as a crack appeared in one. The ticking pulsated with the music, and the tune sped faster than my racing heart. Once the song finished, something had to happen. Something always did. The final notes played, and I swallowed hard, wincing.
The nest exploded into flames, and a blast ripped me from the trunk. All the air escaped my lungs as I flew hundreds of feet back, passing countless trees in my flight, until I hit a branch hard. My whole body flipped as the world turned topsy-turvy. I reached out, only to have my hand whacked by another branch. With a great crash; I smashed into the ground. Everything turned fuzzy, and dizzying nausea swept over me. I tried to vomit, but nothing came out, making me even dizzier. Was I on my back or face? And since when did eggs explode?
I wanted to wake up from this crazy dream, but even with the pain, I didn't awaken in the hospital. I felt stuck in the body of a humanoid, magnetic insect.
My head lolled on my shoulders as I sought to stand. “I hate Strange World.”
The stunned condition lasted for a while. By the time I dared to move, night fell, and stars were in the sky. There was a yellow full moon. In the real world, they said weirdos came out during such a lunar phase. With my luck, a werewolf might show up just for kicks—wearing kicks. Given the oddball population, it'd be a werehuman, selling wolf-skin coats.
A while later, I sat straight and checked myself for injuries, but I only found silver, undamaged skin. How I longed to be back in my body. Being mistaken for a cockroach wasn't fun.
Around my feet were dozens of broken branches that fell during my fall. I used a tree as balance and found my feet. Dizziness remained, and I fell, but caught myself. Bugs chirped nearby, and I hoped they were of the tiny variety.
“Now what do I do?” I covered my face and sighed. In my flight, I'd lost all sense of direction. Now I'd never find the town I'd spotted in the distance. I turned a slow circle. “This blows.”
My antennae straightened, and I sensed a vibration which broke through the cricket brigade, and became music. I turned each direction and spotted a light source flickering across the forest. Maybe another city if I was lucky—then at least, I might find a safe place to rest, and fingers crossed, awaken from my nightmare.
Hope jammed in my heart, I jogged toward the music—which wasn't Pop Goes the Weasel again. My feet pounded the dirt as I ran, and my pulse thumped in my ears. Less than a minute into my run, I came to a screeching halt, doubled over and wheezed. I'd run out of breath just like In real life—I blamed video games. It seemed my lack of fitness transferred to Strange World. At such a pace I'd keel over before ever finding the musical source.
For hours, I walked, and the music continued into the night. My feet ached, and my calves were sore. I took a step over a fallen tree, and tripped, landing hard. A poof of dirt lifted around me, and I yielded to the chilled, unforgiving ground.
“I can’t take it anymore.” Tears came to my eyes. “This is too much; this is too long to be a dream!”
I rolled onto my back and gazed at the stars again. The stars in my world were stationary. These stars seemed to move and turn different colors, which begged the question, were they stars at all? They flickered from red to blue, to orange, green, and yellow, never staying one for long. At least the sky was breathtaking.
A few years prior, we'd moved to a small midwestern town. I never fit in with the kids at school, which rendered me a loner. Small towns were so dull. If only my mother didn't argue with my grandfather. We should have stayed on the west coast where I had friends who accepted me.
“Stupid mom.” I sighed. There was no forgiving her. She was a major pain in the butt.
As I watched the sky, a star shot past with a long, sparkling tail.
“Wow,” I whispered. “Now that was beautiful.”
I'd always heard when seeing a shooting star, make a wish. With luck, the wish might come true.
“I wish to go back to my world,” I said, but I furrowed my brows. What good was that? I didn’t want to return; I needed a cure for my illness. That way I could live out my worthless life. As that notion left, Kat's face popped into my mind, with her huge green eyes. Yes, I found life worth it, for her. The last thing I wanted was to leave my beloved little sister with negligent parents for the rest of her life.
“I wish I was cured of my disease,” I whispered, and then the tears flowed.
A thickness fell over my lungs. Either I was overwhelmed, or suffocating. It all was insane—Everything from my sudden illness, to being stuck in this place, Strange World.
I got to my feet and found myself in the middle of a moonlit clearing. The trees grew thicker together now. Four paths led in different directions. I struggled to focus on my hearing but had no clue from where the music came.
“This way?” I moved toward one, but no, the music seemed to come louder from another path. That wasn't possible. Music couldn't be coming from all the paths. I had to choose one. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and spun. I stopped on my heel and spun one more time. “There!” I pointed. And thus I walked the path.
In the next clearing all the trees were identical. Four paths jutted into various directions. The music played from each way. I glanced to my left and shrugged. “This way then.”
So I walked that path. A few more minutes passed, and I emerged into a clearing. One with four other paths—Again. Was I going in circles? I couldn’t remember the paths curving so that made no sense.
“Something is strange.” I frowned and dragged my foot, making an X in the dirt. With that, I took the right path. Within a few minutes, I reemerged in a clearing. Sure enough, I found an X etched. “They all lead back here. How can that be?”
There were two paths I hadn’t tried yet. One of them had to lead somewhere else—I hoped. I sprinted to the upper right path and appeared back at the X. Next, I selected the upper left. Again the X.
A vein in my head pulsed. “This is crazy!” I ran right. The X. I tried the left again. The X. The upper right. X. Upper left. X. X. X. X. They all led to the X. I couldn't escape. I growled as loud as I could and stomped my foot. “This is frustrating!”
I looked at each path. No matter where I ran, I made it to the same clearing, and now the music didn't come from the multiple directions, it came from only one; behind me.
“You’ve gotta be joking!” I said.
My head spun—I'd just come from there. “I have to learn to accept this dream is freaking weird. Nothing will make sense.”
My self-reassurance didn't help. I thrived on reason—the scientific method—and this seemed as far from reason as it could get. With a heavy sigh, I trod the path. The farther I traveled, the louder the music became. Several minutes later the light from a dancing fire appeared from a clearing.
“Thank gosh.” I walked toward the party but stopped short. The octopus woman’s words—She told me to rescue someone in this forest. What if these were the captors? And what if they proved hostile?
A silhouette popped in front of the fire and danced. It bore short ears and was fat, wearing one of those leafy hula skirts. I ducked behind a tree and watched as more of the same heavy-set figures pranced. In each of their hands, they held pointy sticks. One danced around the other side of the flames, facing me. His skin was pink, and he had a huge hog nose, but other than that his features were human, but he stood no taller than three feet.
“Pig men.” I rolled my eyes. “Why not? What else would they be?”
That’s when I saw a figure on a tree stump, hands tied behind his back. This one didn't belong to the tribal pig men. No, he had white fur with black spots, including one over his right eye. He bore long floppy ears, and if I didn’t know better, looked like a beagle. A dog-boy. Fear filled his eyes as shadows jumped over him.
“Oh, crud,” I whispered. I'd found the one who needed saving.
MOMENT 02: DISAPPEARING ACT
The crowd chanted: “Magna-Racha! Magna-Racha!”
I glanced at Leeroy Bob-Frank and he motioned with his hands. If I didn't do something, he planned to shoot me. As the crowd continued their cheers, I scanned the audience. Every person was a freak show on their own. Many had humanoid shaped bodies and large animal heads. Most were more animal than human, and many resembled nothing I’d ever seen, with tentacles and other strange appendages poking out at every angle.
One last patron cried, “Magna-Racha!” and the crowd fell silent as death, except for a shrill chirping coming from one corner. A pony-headed man, or at least I thought it was a man, stood in response. His mouth opened, and he shouted. “S-Sh-Shut your trap! We’re t-trying to listen to M-Magna-Racha!”
The cricketing silenced, and the pony-man sat once more and yelled. “The floor is yours Mr. Racha!”
“Um,” I whispered, but cleared my throat and spoke louder. “My name is—”
“We know your name!” someone shouted.
Leeroy furrowed his brows and contorted his face in a rage, sending my nerves through the roof.
“Well...” My mind was blank. Never had I spoken before a group without running away and hiding. Now I might keel over, feeling my face in Leeroy's crosshairs. I didn’t want to perform. “I'm a human boy, and I'm in a nightmare.”
“You're a what, stuck in a what?” a heckler called.
A slight tugging came from high above my head. Upon lifting my eyes, I spied a steel spike holding the support pillar together. It was across the tent, but I sensed a force pulsating from it. If my body was magnetic, it only made sense I could attract metal—Which meant I needed to pull that spike.
“I can do it,” I murmured.
"What?" someone cried. "You're speaking too low!"
“For my first trick,” I threw my hand into the air and focused on the spike. Nothing happened. Several seconds later still nothing. The crowd whispered, and the anticipation grew thick.
“Come on,” I said.
The spike twitched and then wiggled. "Please!" I strained my mind and with a sharp clank, the spike flew loose. The pole buckled, and half the tent crashed onto Leeroy and his patrons.
The audience shouted and cried in a mixture of anger and surprise. My cue had come—Exit stage left. I turned and ran. I dove under the fallen tent, and crawled on my hands and knees, hoping to emerge into daylight.
“<pwa data-pwa-id="pwa-6854A3E32ACABDF3AE07E51BD264AF74" data-pwa-category="grammar" data-pwa-hint="Missing comma after introductory phrase" data-pwa-suggestions="Oh," data-pwa-dictionary-word="Oh" class="pwa-mark pwa-mark-done">Oh</pwa> no ya don’t, buuuuddy!” Something seized my ankle.
I rolled onto my back and struggled to get free as Leeroy's face popped out from under a tent wrinkle. “You ruined muh show, so now you owe me a lifetime commitment!”
“Fine! I commit to staying far away from you!” I kicked with my free foot and connected with Leeroy’s forehead, making him screech and let go. I threw myself back and crawled as fast as possible. As soon as my head popped outside the tent, I scrambled and crashed into a muscular man with a tiny head; his shoulder muscles had swallowed his neck.
“Who. Are. You?” He leaned forward to look at me.
I lurched away and held my hands before me. “S-Stay away!”
“Are. You. Scared?” He emphasized each word. “Don’t. Be. Scared. Of. Munke.”
“That’s your name?”
“Sure. Is! What. Is. Yours?”
“Someone grab that magnetic cock-a-ma-roach!” Leeroy shouted from under the tent. “Grab Magna-Racha!”
Munke cocked his pimple-like head. “You. Are. Magna. Racha?”
“Yes—I mean no! I mean—Bye!” I scrambled, but he snatched me from the ground and held me aloft by my antennae. Munke pulled me close.
“You. Part. Of. The. Circus?” he asked. “What. Is. Your. Act?”
“The disappearing kind!” I swung my arms, trying to punch him, but it only caused me to spin in his grasp.
"Oh." He looked at the moving tent flap. Leeroy was coming at any moment.
“Let me go!” I said. “So, I can, ya know, disappear!”
“Of. Course.” He dropped me on my behind and I bounced to my feet.
I spun on my heel and made a break for it as Leeroy popped out and shouted, “Munke, you numbskull! I said to stop Magna-Racha!”
“But. He. Is. Disappearing. Act.” Munke said. The huge guy had a brain akin to a peanut.
My feet pounded the dirt beneath me as I sprinted through the carnival crowds. I ran past games, food, and other sideshow acts. Leeroy and Munke were on my heels; I heard their footfalls not far away.
A nearby tent looked dark inside—the perfect place to hide. I rushed into the tent and ducked behind a barrel. Munke thundered by, but Leeroy doubled over catching his breath. My heart froze as I waited. Might he keep going or come searching? I held my breath.
“Welcome,” came a woman's voice.
I spun right into a long tentacle which wrapped around my waist and lifted me off the ground. I wanted to struggle and kick, but a brunette sat across a table from me. She was breathtaking except for having eight octopus appendages jutting from the middle of her back. A glowing crystal ball sat before her, reflecting a dim light on her face, accenting her dark lipstick, eyeshadow, and blush.
She slammed me onto a small barrel. “Have a seat.” With one tentacle she adjusted a pair of bifocals that floated before her eyes.
I grabbed the tentacle holding me in place. “Please, I don’t belong here.”
“I can see that, boy,” she said in a water-logged voice.
“Boy? You can tell I’m a boy?”
“Yes, but there is more, no? You are not from Strange World.”
“Right!” I leaned forward. “Can you help me get back?”
She cocked a pointy eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to return? You're dying.”
Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. In the real world, I only had seven days to live. I sighed and shrugged. “I don’t want to spend all my remaining days in a strange dream.”
“Dream? You're under the impression that this is a dream?”
“What else could it be? Everything here is crazy! They even think I’m a cockroach!”
“It's the antennae,” she said. “I'll also clarify Strange World is anything but a dream.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
She shrugged, and her tentacles all followed the motion. “If you want a fortune; you must pay.”
“But I don't have clips!”
“I do not require currency,” she purred. “Only a promise.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don't like where this is going, lady. To what do I have to agree?”
“You will travel from here, yes? You will enter the forest to the west. There you will find one in trouble. Save him from his fate. He will one day be very important.”
I stared with furrowed brows. Why should I save someone when no one could save me? I'd just have to lie. I didn't plan on staying in Strange World.
“Sure.” I shrugged. “I’ll do as you ask.”
The demi-human octo-fortune teller looked at me with scrutinizing eyes, but then nodded. "In your world you lay, away from your body this day. Why have you come, I do not know, I'm sure in time it will show? Danger hovers near, but if you stay here, you won't disappear. Death may become us all, but without a hero Strange World will fall."
"You did not just send me on a world-saving quest." I crossed my arms. "One, that's cliché, and two, I'm not a hero."
"I didn't say you're a hero, or you must save Strange World. But I must ask, do you wish to die?"
“I think I'm dead either way.”
“Find the one I asked you to save, if you wish.” She smiled, revealing her pearly whites. “That will set you on the path to freedom.”
A black cloud burst from her mouth and blinded me. I coughed, choking on the thick smoke. A few moments later it cleared, and I sat on the barrel, all alone. No trace of the fortune teller remained—Not even the table or crystal ball.
Had I imagined the encounter? I must have. Strange World was nothing more than a stupid, medicine induced nightmare. The question was, how to awaken?
“Magna-Racha?” Leeroy called. “Where did ya go, buuuuddy?”
My nerves spiked. He sounded friendly, but he wasn't tricking me. I rushed to the back of the tent, and under I crawled, emerging into a field of violet-colored grass that stretched as far as the eye could see. The carnival proved dangerous, so off into the unknown it was.
I rubbed my eyes. “Why is this happening?”
“Me. No. See,” Munke said from within the tent.
With all the energy I had left, I ran into the field and didn’t look back until I passed a hill, hundreds of yards away. I fell to my knees, trying to catch my breath. “For a dream, this is exhausting.”
The entire carnival was visible from my vantage point. It spread for at least a mile in both directions. Leeroy might search forever and never find me. I thanked my lucky stars I'd escaped.
With that settled, I descended the hill heading away from the mad carnival. The landscape before me looked unlike anything I'd ever imagined. Violet fields appeared <pwa data-pwa-id="pwa-586B3830539C2E9C3702700E7A89D5B9" data-pwa-category="grammar" data-pwa-hint="Possible missing determiner" data-pwa-suggestions="a never~the never" data-pwa-dictionary-word="never" class="pwa-mark pwa-mark-done">never</pwa>-ending, and every so often, great cylindrical towers protruded into the sky like buttes. The tallest was bigger than a fifteen story building. Even stranger were the SUV-sized animals roaming. I pegged them for big rodents—chinchillas. They hopped here and there, grazing.
“This keeps getting stranger and <pwa data-pwa-id="pwa-3F667E58CFEAB3FF89C25EC5A28909A5" data-pwa-category="grammar" data-pwa-hint="Possible missing determiner" data-pwa-suggestions="a stranger~the stranger" data-pwa-dictionary-word="stranger" class="pwa-mark pwa-mark-done">stranger</pwa>,” I breathed, continuing my trek.
I kept my distance from the giant chinchillas and headed for the nearest tower. Maybe, if I climbed one I'd spot something in the distance. A hole to hide in, or even a non-hostile town—anywhere I could hunker down until I woke.
Twenty minutes later, I made it to the base of a tower, and my mind blew further. I approached the sheer, smooth side. It was aluminum. I almost bent over backward trying to gauge it. The climb before me was long. I placed my palm on the tower and felt a magnetic pull. After a heavy sigh, I climbed, placing one hand over the other. Up, and up I went. Halfway, my arms grew tired.
Despite knowing better, I dropped my eyes. A cry escaped my lips and, I hugged the aluminum wall, and my heart pounded in my chest. I'd climbed sixty feet or more, and if I fell, I'd die. Even though I knew I was dreaming, I didn't take that chance. I had to get to the top. The octo-woman's words echoed in my mind. She wanted me to find someone in the forest and rescue them. Ridiculous. Still, I'd never been so aware in a dream. It was lucid, and surreal.
Will gathered, I moved my hand above me and continued climbing. A while later, I crawled over the top of the tower. I sat and exhaled, dreading the climb back to the bottom. To make matters worse, the sky was darkening. Another absurdity rested in the center of the plateau—a giant soda can tab.
“You have gotta be kidding me.” I stared into the distance. In one direction sat Leeroy’s carnival. Opposite were mountains, and to my right, was what appeared to be a city with beams of light extending into the evening sky.
“There!” I pointed, giddiness filling me. I glanced back and spotted a forest with cobalt blue trees.
The fortune lady made me promise to go to those woods. She shouldn't have believed I could do it. I had no reason, and I’d be waking up soon. As much as I craved to go toward the city, a tug of guilt had me staring at the forest. I tried to take my eyes away, but something glued them.
“Not going that way!” I grumbled, crossing my arms in defiance. “No way, no how!”
A great shadow loomed over me, and there came a horrendous screeching. The shadow swooped in and latched onto my shoulders with clawed feet. I cried and flailed as we flew over the edge of the soda can butte. We headed west; straight toward the blue forest.
Greetings and salutations!
I'm Jake A. Strife.
Currently, I'm the author of 20 books.
Also, I'm a huge anime and video game fan!
My Original Novels:
Crimson Wars - 1 - Blood Sisters
Dark Dayz - 1 - VR Dawn
Dark Dayz - 2 - Shaded Noon
GodForge - 1 - Forge of the Mind
Omega Virus - 1 - Beta Hour
Omega Virus - 2 - Gamma Hour
Omega Virus - 3 - Delta Hour
Omega Virus - 4 - Sigma Hour
Omega Virus - 5 - Psi Hour
Omega Virus - 6 - Omega Hour
Severed Chains - 1 - Fateless (3 ver.)
Severed Chains - 2 - Tribulation (2 ver.)
Severed Chains - 3 - Abyss
Severed Chains - 4 - Dark Side of a Moon
Strange World - 1 - Grimoire
Strange World - 2 - Mega-Real
My Fan Fics Include:
Earthbound - A Hero Chosen
Final Fantasy - Warriors of Light
My 2018 release schedule:
1. God Forge 2
2. Omega Virus 7
3. Dark Dayz 3
4. Strange World 3
5. Severed Chains 2 (rewrite)
Get your copy of Omega Virus: Beta Hour on Amazon! Just click the link!
Get your copy of Dark Dayz: VR Dawn on Amazon! Just click the link!