I walked on. Light filtering through the treetops told me it was only mid-morning, but I was unaccountably weary. Exhausted, in fact. Each step dragged. My bones ached.
Up ahead, I saw a strange shadow that was far too regular to be another tree. In fact, it pushed apart the trees around it, as if… yes. A door. As if a door had sprouted up faster than the trees, and twice as strong.
It was red. It had a long bronze handle, the kind that pushed down like a lever, not usually the kind you’d see on a front door at all. It was ornate and lovely, worn shiny in the middle of the scrollwork, as if it had been used many times. But this door hadn’t been here a few moments ago, unless I’d been in a daze and somehow missed it.
I looked around the edges. Trees. There was absolutely nothing behind the door, and yet it stood, ridiculously out of place, and yet somehow unapologetically a part of this forest.
Oh well. I shrugged, and tried the handle.
It moved easily, and the door swung open. I was in a living room that looked like an ordinary, somewhat rundown apartment living room. I peeked back at the doorway. Beyond the open front door, I saw the forest, just as it had been a few moments ago.
Well, I was on a quest; I supposed I should expect the unexpected, although I’m not sure that’s really possible to do.
I heard a polite cough – no – the WORD “cough” coming from a room off a small alcove. The carpet was old, and in need of a vacuum. Really, could there be anything *less* magical than this apartment?
A cat framed by a square of sunlight gave me a rather unfriendly look and sighed. She had a gleaming exclamation point hovering over her head.
“Will you accept the side quest?” she said, in a bored tone, letting her eyes drift closed, angling her squashed face more toward the sunlight.
“Uh… side quest?”
She huffed an impatient sigh, and one eye slitted open to peer at me, daylight-blue in her striped, sooty face.
“You know the drill. You’re on a Quest! Hurrah, cheer. There have to be side quests along the way, to take you off your path, or give you a little more wealth, or teach you better skills so you can handle what’s coming at the end. In fact, I’ll tell you a secret,”
she looked around with an exaggerated slink, the exclamation point bobbing ridiculously to keep up with her.
“you CAN’T HANDLE what’s coming at the end unless you do the side quests. In fact, you’ll probably go insane, lose a few pieces of yourself, or die before you even reach the end, if you don’t take the side quests.”
“Well, if you put it like that… sure. Sure, I’ll hear what the side quest is, and then see if it sounds like something I can do.”
“No. Nope. You hear it, and you do it. You really don’t have any other option.”
in the other room, I heard the front door bang shut. I managed not to jump too noticeably, but even so, her whiskers lifted in a smirk.
“Oh.” I cleared my throat. “All right then, lay it on me, I suppose.”
She sat up straighter and puffed her chest out.
Soft light rose in a corner of the room, like someone was turning up one of those cheesy dimmer switches from the 1980’s.
“Sorry. We haven’t had any modernizing done in here since 1986,” she muttered,
but my attention was caught, so I didn’t respond. On the far wall was a dim, ancient-looking, scratched mirror. In it, I saw the cat reflected, with that exclamation point above her head, and behind her…
“What am I carrying? What on earth?”
I was holding a huge mirror of my own. It was warped like a fun-house mirror, and a spider web network of cracks made it appear as though it would shatter at any second. There was blood on my arms, and blood on the mirror. I looked down at my own arms- empty, but still exhausted as though I truly was carrying that heavy, warped mirror that had splintered into my forearms, and cut me with tiny, stinging cuts.
The mirror reflected me, as well, but what I could see of it in the large mirror had twisted me out of all recognition. It stretched the cat into a nightmare shape, and the exclamation point over her head resembled an enormous dagger, or a torch flickering with fire.
“First part of the quest: you must set the mirror down.”
“How do I set it down, if I can’t see that I’m carrying it?”
“That’s the second part. First you set it down, JUST SET IT DOWN, and then you’ll be able to see. I should warn you,” she continued quickly, as I opened my mouth to reply,
“It’s going to hurt.”
So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and I
(to be continued….)