Next chapter in the Outworld saga.
Author’s Note: Previous Chapter. Musical Accompaniment.
I stared up at my imminent death, the all-consuming fog of happiness still keeping me paralyzed. All I could see was the dark red of the creature’s maw, surrounded by haphazardly placed fangs. A tiny voice in the back of my head shouted to run, to strike out, to do something, anything, but its cries were ineffectual. The long, twig-like arms, fingers spread and interlocked to form a loose cage, surrounded me and kept me from fleeing, even if I had the willpower to resist.
Suddenly, the creature jerked, once, twice, three times, as loud cracks rang out from behind me. As the body of the monster reeled, some small measure of sanity returned to me. Those sounds – were they gunshots? I railed at my muscles, sluggishly pulling myself to my feet.
Two more reports rang out, the sound seeming to come from the edge of the clearing. This time, I caught sight of the rounds tearing through the bestial creature, leaving splatters of dark ichor across the grass.
I didn’t know how long my protector would stay, or how many shots he had. Turning to face the cage of branched fingers, I swung my foot around and was pleased to see the bars shatter like toothpicks. I kicked several more times, widening the hole and eliciting another roar of pain from the broken monster. The hole was now wide enough for me to duck through, and I wasted no time in escaping the trap. I half-ran, half-stumbled to the edge of the clearing as the last vestiges of the happy fog retreated from my mind.
As I reached the edge of the clearing, I scanned the shadows for my savior. Looking around, I saw one shadow that seemed deeper, more substantial, than the others around it. I stepped forward towards it, but pulled up short when the muzzle of a decidedly-nasty looking automatic weapon emerged to point back at me.
“Don’t move if you value your brains,” came a raspy voice from the shadow. I was more than willing to remain where I stood as a burly, muscular man moved cautiously out of the shadow. He said nothing more, staring at me, rifle still raised to his shoulder. There was little for me to do but stare back, examining the man who would become the closest thing Outworld has to a friend.
I estimated that my mysterious protector was in his late thirties, although his face was obscured by stubble, a black eyepatch, and a filthy-looking handkerchief wrapped around his forehead to hold back a shock of unkempt black hair. He wore a vest of black combat armor, panels wrapped over his hefty shoulders to further add to his bulky appearance. He looked thoroughly imposing, especially with the scowl currently plastered across his features.
“So,” he said at length, biting off the end of the vowel. “Who are you?”
Once again, I strained to remember anything about myself, but once again came up empty. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. The most common phrase in Outworld, it turns out.
“When did you get here?”
“Hold on,” I interjected, momentarily forgetting the situation. “I don’t even know where ‘here’ is!” In response, the man simply adjusted his grip conspicuously on the assault rifle in his arms. My burst of outrage deflated rapidly. “About two days ago,” I added. “I think. The whole day/night cycle seems to be kind of wonky here.”
The man lowered his weapon at this response, and I took the opportunity to grab a quick breath. “A newbie,” he said. I couldn’t tell if the emotion in his voice was disgust, resignation, frustration, or some combination of the three. “Well, allow me to be the first to welcome you,” he said, briefly adopting a false air of jollity.
“Welcome to where?”
The man spread his arms wide, gesturing with the assault rifle at the trees around us. “Outworld,” he said simply. “A whole new world, going on forever, filled with all sorts of wonderful sights and unique creatures, like the one you just met. “ He dropped the act, and spoke the most honest words I have ever heard another human being utter.
“You’re going to hate it here.”
Will he? Perhaps the next chapter will be revealing . . .
Previous Chapter. And of course, here’s your musical accompaniment for this chapter.
So here I was, trapped in some oversized forest with no idea where or who I was. And what had I brilliantly decided to do? Start walking away from my only landmark. Brilliant, I know.
I walked for a long time. I couldn’t see the sun, and although there were periods of darkness, they didn’t seem to be the same length. Sometimes the darkness would last for hours, other times it felt like mere minutes. Later on,
I learned that different places in Outworld have different days. Just another bit of unfamiliarity in this place.
As best I can tell, I walked for about two days before anything changed. There were pools of water here and there at the roots of the massive trees, and my thirst quickly overcame my concerns about disease. The gnawing hunger was slowly growing, but I was able to ignore it.
I was struggling to make my way over the humped roots of an especially large tree when I spotted a small clearing just ahead. Finally, a change in the scenery! Throwing one leg over the root, I hurried forward. There was even sunlight entering the clearing through a hole in the trees above! To my gloom-adjusted eyes, it seemed like a blinding heaven.
Arriving at the edge of the clearing, I paused for a moment before stepping forward into the tall, gently waving grass. In the middle of the clearing, a figure was sitting atop a large rock. The light was still overwhelming my eyes, but I squinted to see what details I could.
The figure appeared to be a young girl, clothed in a simple white dress. Her blonde hair hung in waves, and she was smiling happily. I guessed that she couldn’t be older than six or seven years. She was gazing off into the distance, looking towards the far side of the clearing.
I felt a wave of paternal instinct surge through me. Who had abandoned this girl, this angel, out here in this empty forest? Who would leave her behind? As I stepped forward to comfort her, a small part of my mind wondered if I had perhaps been a father, before awaking that first day. Perhaps that was from where my protective instinct arose. Sorry, still no answers there.
But that day, I ran forward without concern into that clearing. My arms were open. What for? Haven’t the foggiest idea. Maybe I was going to sweep her up in a hug, maybe I was going to protect her from all the horrors that I would eventually discover lurking out in Outworld. But all I knew was that I was happy – no, that the child would make me happy. That I would only be happy as long as I was with her, that I would do anything to protect her, to keep her happy, even if it meant my own demise.
As I approached, she turned to smile at me. Her smile was even brighter than the beams of sunlight. There was no trace of fear in her expression, only serenity. For that moment, as we were about to touch, I felt fulfilled. For that moment, the last moment in a very long time, there was no trace of worry or confusion in my mind.
And then she reared up to strike.
Suddenly, through the haze of brilliant sunlight, she was growing taller, stretching, elongating, unfolding. The folds of the white dress opened up, and the inside was blood red and lined with bladed fangs. Her arms grew impossibly long and thin, wrapping around behind me like a cage. Mind clouded with the fog of happiness, I couldn’t fathom what was happening. Her mouth stretched, the bottom jaw falling away to reveal a hole, dark and red, reaching out for me . . .
Don’t stop now, go on to the next chapter!
Author’s note: I think a lot of stories could use some musical accompaniment, to listen to as you read. Here’s the song for this story.
There is one activity, I can guarantee you, that every person on earth does immediately after waking up. That activity is checking their memory – trying to determine how they got there, what they were doing before they fell asleep, and what they need to do now. Waking up and finding that memory missing, having no knowledge of where you are, how you got there, is one of the scariest feelings I know.
At least, I thought it was scary once upon a time. I’ve seen much worse since then. Welcome to Outworld.
I can still remember that first morning, waking up there. Here. I couldn’t tell you how long ago it was, though. Could’ve been a few weeks, more likely a lifetime. Time and space are funny in Outworld.
I opened my eyes, and for a moment felt the brief sense of confusion that every person feels before they remember where they are. But that time, for me, that confusion never faded. At that moment, I couldn’t tell you where I was, couldn’t tell you the date, couldn’t even tell you my name. I still can’t, for that matter. There’s still not much I can tell you about myself.
As I sat up and gazed around, still searching my head for something that wasn’t there any longer, if it had been there at all, I realized that I was sitting on an old sailing ship. Well, half of one, anyway. The prow of an old three-masted frigate was nestled into the earth at the foot of a massive tree; a god’s knife had cleanly sheared away the back half of the ship. As I sat up, my movement sent a small barrel tumbling over the edge to land with a thump on the forest floor below.
Nothing made sense. I climbed awkwardly to my feet. I was dressed in a set of sturdy work boots, a pair of Levis, and wearing a North Face jacket. That’s what the labels said, at least. The canopy of leaves, seemingly miles above my head, tinted the world in shades of green. For as far as I could see, massive trees reached up into the gloom. Looking at the nearest of these trunks, I guessed that twenty men could not wrap their arms around its girth.
Well, there were coils of rope still on the decks, and I threw one over the side, lowering myself down to the spongy moss below. Once my feet were upon the ground, I sat for a while in the penumbra of shadow cast by the ship, trying in vain to remember. Nothing. Not even a name. As I sat, the shadows shifted around me, but I couldn’t tell what time it was. The sun was obscured by the trees above, and only diffuse shafts of weak light filtered through to the forest floor.
Eventually, there was nothing left to it. I stood up, stretching my limbs. What direction? I turned in a circle, but the woods all looked the same. Eventually, I decided to head out in the opposite direction of the ship. I figured maybe I’d find the other half, the stern, wherever it might have been left behind after being sliced in twain. Just maybe there’d be some answers there.
Looking back now, I shouldn’t have bothered trying to make sense of what had happened. I’ve learned that there’s darn little sense to be found in this place. Just when you think you’ve seen the weirdest thing, something worse is waiting around the corner. But that’s life in Outworld.
Want to read the next chapter? Here’s the link.