I looked up in time to see a dumpster the size of a truck barreling down on me. Time stopped. Is this how it all ends? I lurched-
Darkness crashed, time moved on.
I floated in a dark, silent abyss, cocooned in a state of peace, a satisfying slumber. It may have been days, or it may have been years.
… thump ...
I awoke. Something urgent pulled at the back of my mind.
… thump … thump ...
A distant sound echoed through the darkness. I huddled in on myself, resisted. The noise grew louder. I felt exposed, out in the open.
… thump … THUMP ... **THUMP** ...
It came from below. The sounds boomed, picked up pace, grew sharp and vivid. The world snapped into view with a piercing pain that jolted me to the core. Light struck my open eyes, and an unbearable stench of sewage assaulted my nose.
Thumping down a sewer tunnel my bare feet sloshed in ankle deep sludge. A sharp pain throbbed across my back and leg. The heavy steps boomed and jostled my head from side to side. I rounded the corner and a bright glare blanketed my vision in white. My hands gripped cold metal, then pulled and heaved till they hurt, yet the metal didn’t budge.
A feminine voice whimpered. My eyes adjusted to a view of a forest through a metal grate. Below me, at the bottom of the hill, a water-eroded path snaked to the tree line, a hundred yards away.
Sewers? Forest? Where the hell am I?
“No, no.” Sniffling cries intruded. I searched for the source and found it to my left -- a monstrous head, mere inches away.
Bloody hell, a troll?
I recoiled, but the damned head clung firm. My legs struggled to move as I backpedaled. She yelped and I fell into the sludge. Breathing hard, my heart pounded.
I peeked to my left -- still there. Oh god. Should I play dead? It works with bears, unless they’re grizzly? She hadn't attacked me yet. Whether from the adrenaline running in my veins, the wide open eyes, or ears standing at attention, my mind was crystal clear. All the cobwebs swept aside, and the gears oiled - I never felt so focused in my life.
“Hey?” I directed my voice to her face. Can a troll understand what I said? “Hey.” I said louder.
Her head jolted, she turned and her eyes grew wide. With a shriek, she reeled back and swatted my face, shoving my head away. “Stop. Stop.” I yelled. Not only could I feel my face being pushed back, but my own hand was doing it, as if possessed. What the hell?
A butternut squash of a face with bloodshot eyes under a scrunched-up canopy of bushy eyebrows stared back at me. Drooping corners of her mouth exposed a sobbing mess of jagged yellow teeth. She sniffled and somehow my arm went up to her bulbous nose with gaping nostrils. A wet mixture of snot, sweat, and tears smeared down my arm as she wiped her face.
I gaped at her. “W-who are you? What the hell is going on?” I looked down at what ‘my’ body looked like. Not the body of my former self, a twenty-nine-year-old man from Maine. No. Instead, a light beige blob of a belly, a slumping chest and scraped up hairy knees on fire with pain. I was a monster. And next to me, another -- her, somehow affixed on my--our--shoulder? Like some kind of mutated conjoined twins? This can’t be real.
Something scraped along the stone floor. She gasped, “No,” and our body sprang up without my control. She peered into darkness. “Rats.”
“Rats?” I turned as well. And, as if called, they answered out of the gloom. Not a squeaking noise of a harmless mouse, but guttural growls of vicious beasts. My stomach hardened to a rock. I spun our body to face them, but our legs froze mid-step and left us in an unbalanced pose. We crashed to the ground.
“Stop. Stop moving,” she yelled. I listened, and again, the body moved on its own. A peculiar sensation -- as if we shared control. Two heads, one body? A total nightmare.
Three savage beasts emerged, as if from an experiment by a mad scientist to make wild hyenas more ferocious. I’ve seen rats, and these were not it. My hands shook as a cold chill ran down my back. I stepped our body back.
A bright orange-red glow formed in the tunnel. It condensed into a glass-like sphere of raging fire, right over my left open palm. It radiated a warmth almost too hot to bear. She hurled the sphere into the group of 'rats.' A booming explosion sent a shock-wave that flung us crashing against the wall.
I groaned for air, gasping. “The hell was that?” We laid sprawled on our collective ass, back against the wall. I grunted in pain as every rib ached, and my head swam in circles. The stench of vaporized sewage mixed with burned hair and flesh hung in the air. A magic spell? A Fireball? Like a video game, but vastly deadlier and very real. I looked for the 'rats' but nothing remained.
“I need to get out.” She scanned around frantically, then stood us up. We rushed to the rusty metal bars that blocked the way outside and examined them in detail. They didn't budge, no matter how much we pulled and pushed as hard we could. We rammed our shoulder into them, but only garnered a bruise.
She chewed her lip, then backed up ten yards and shot a [Fireball] at the gate, followed by two more. The bars glowed bright red.
Sewer ‘rats’ growled, and more of the beady red eyes glowed through the darkness beyond. She spared a moment in their direction, then hurled another [Fireball] at the gate.
Her fourth [Fireball] turned the metal bars to a warm yellow. The rats charged forward, splashing through the sewage. We lurched for the gate, picked up speed and with a resounding clash the metal gate sprung out of the frame. We flew out and tumbled down a bumpy slope, rolled then veered off the eroded rocky channel into a soft, cold snowbank. Our shoulder displayed a blistering mess of a pattern that could be used to play tic-tac-toe.
Faces contorted in pain, we stood up and trudged barefoot through snow toward the forest line. Our hands trembled, but not from the cold. I glanced back at a set of tall gray towers peeking over high walls as we entered the ominous woods.