“What do you think you’re doing?!” a nasal voice screeched. Down the road barreled the blustering human with the moon face, blue robes in a flutter like millions of butterflies. His hands alternated between smoothing his robes and smoothing his thin mustache at the same time.
Though the words were still incomprehensible to Juniper, she got the message all the same. The tiny fae jumped off of the giant's finger to zip up and away from the small crowd and into the night sky. The air had cooled significantly with the setting of the last sun and Juniper clutched her arms around herself as she ascended.
“Party pooper.” She grumbled to herself, then turned back toward her shrimpy willow sapling. She landed on the familiar branch and settled in, reviewing the day in her head. The town was almost cute, full of bustle and hubbub, though its residents still made her uneasy. As though to prove her right, a pair of lanterns flickered on in town and began making their way across the field.
“Typical.” She muttered and sat up with a pout. “I wasn’t ready for bed anyway.”
She took off, choosing to lock away the fact that she already called a bare branch a bed for something to contemplate at a later date. The green pixie rolled lazily in the air as she banked out over the river for the second time that day. She was confident the blue-robbed man wouldn’t hurt her tree as he was far too reverent of it in the past. It was the risk of trying to converse with him that she wished to avoid. In her mind, she could imagine him shouting louder and louder as she continued to not understand his words, his face growing purple with the effort.
She shuddered, then swerved to avoid a column of water rising up from the center of the stream.
The column was only a short jet that collapsed back into the current as suddenly as it had appeared, but it was soon followed by two more. Juniper twirled left, then ducked right to avoid the bursts. She rose up away from the surface, convinced they had been aimed right for her. Sure enough, another liquid lance chased her, quickly followed by an excited, curious smiling face. The baby axolotl creature she’d seen that morning flew up like a rocket behind the stream, mouth opening to give a greeting by way of a bite.
“Shit!” Juniper shouted, jumping up further as the little critter rocketed at her. She felt something grab at her foot, but when she looked back, it was gone. Juniper kept her eyes fixed on the river as she reached her flight limit, waiting for the little terror to resurface. Instead, all she could see was a strange ooze gooping down onto her face. She wiped at it with a hand and manipulated it between her fingers in disgusted fascination... then glanced skyward for the source.
There was a brief moment where the world seemed to slow for Juniper. She locked eyes with the floating amphibian. It stretched its broad arms and legs wide in anticipation. Her eyebrows furrowed, then raised and the monster gave a goofier smile than ever before. Her mouth opened in surprise and she barely managed to say “Oops.” before it was upon her.
The two tumbled towards the earth in a tangle of grapples. Juniper tried to push the axolotl off with all her might but the sticky creature held her by the arms while it brought her head towards its mouth. Despite its size and soft body, its rubbery skin shrugged off her kicks and its oversized paws held on like a vice. They twirled into the night, their dance accented by her tiny, imputent scream. Mere feet above the ground, the monster latched on to the back of her head and she braced for impact.
Instead, they slowed to a tense stop. For a moment, she thought they had hit the water… until, just as suddenly, they were in motion again but in the opposite direction. The two cartwheeled back into the sky, skipping like a rock against some invisible cushion over the ground. Juniper opened her eyes - then quickly shut them again as the world’s crazy spinning only made her stomach spin with it. She felt her roots pass below her, the flight powers, what little control she had over them at the moment included, switching off.
Slowly, the two came to a stop and the air cushion released, unceremoniously dumping her on some sharp rocks. She tried to sit up but found the strange creature still chewing on her head. It had let go with its great big paws, leaving her with a hat longer than herself that was gumming at her scalp with enthusiastic determination.
Carefully, Juniper rotated herself to straddle the creature and with both hands on its chest, pulled her head free with a loud popping noise. She briefly felt disappointed, a fleeting sensation of frustration that she quickly realized wasn’t her own emotion. The axolotl reached a paw for her head once more and she could physically feel hope emanating forth from her would-be predator.
“Oh, no you don’t!” She growled, rolling away from the lazy grab and clambering to her feet. She felt disappointed once more, then the emotional broadcast seemed to tamper down. Juniper didn’t let her guard down just yet, and sure enough, a moment later, the amphibian made another lunge to fit her foot in its mouth. She jumped back and the creature landed flat on the dirt, giving up halfway through the attack.
“You’re all go or no go, huh?” Juniper chuckled, brushing some crumbling white dust from her legs “I’ll be honest, I thought that was game over for a second!”
In response, her skydiving partner scooted forward without lifting a limb to bite a nearby rock. It was a strangely familiar rock, the end sticking out of its mouth coming to a perfect 90 degree corner. The otherworlder stepped closer to wrestle the rock free and inspect it closer. It was pale and solid, the broken end crumbling and chalky. Sure enough, it was concrete.
A chill rippled down the dryad’s spine and her gaze rose to finally take in just where exactly the two of them had landed.
The ground was more or less a mess of concrete crumbles and smooth, damp moss. The walls were a mix of tall concrete slabs, perforated by square apertures, and ancient, twisted vines that reached for a narrow crevice high above in the ceiling. On either side of them, the hall continued onward into the dark and sloped slightly down, seemingly forever.
“Where… the hell…?” Juniper muttered, taking in the sheer scale of it. At first it felt like a spacious hallway built out of concrete doors and dirt. Then she realized the apertures were windows and the slabs were the walls of offices and skyscrapers, each half buried in the land. A mixture of confusion and insignificance settled like a weight in the pit of her stomach. Each vine was the size of a train.
“Ok.” Juniper said calmly, nodding as though this were to be expected. “Alright. Well. Very funny. Now get us out of here.”
She prodded the creature at her feet, which prompt shot up into the air… and bobbed uselessly a few inches over her head.
“What, is that it?” She demanded. In response, she felt a casual, nonchalant emotion that she could only describe as an empathetic shrug.
“Great, thank you!” Juniper retorted. She took a seat on the gravely floor, still overwhelmed at how and why these relics were here. She mused, “How the hell am I going to get back up?”
Her eyes traced the outline of the nearest skyscraper as it faded away into the dark far above. “ Do you think it’s tall enough? If we can get close enough to my roots... I’m sure I can get us the rest of the way there...”
“Alright, quest set! Get to the top - easy!” Juniper leapt to her feet and started to walk towards a nearby tower, then turned to wait impatiently for the psychic axolotl. “Well? Come on! Your parents know where I live, otherwise you best believe you’d be staying here.”
She thought back to the four adults that had napped under her tree that morning. She idly wondered what their family structure was like, all while their baby wobbled back into the air and reluctantly drifted over to follow her.
“Finally.” She huffed, then began the long walk to the cavern wall. As they walked, Juniper tried to summon the plant magic that she'd used on the bug creature. However, no matter how hard she focused, she couldn't seem to get anything to grow here. Eventually, she gave up, but made a mental note to keep trying as they ascended. On Earth, this walk would take five minutes, if that, but her legs were tiny and already complaining at the rough cobbled rock underfoot. The little monster exuded boredom to the point of being oppressive, adding to a walk that already felt like ages.
“What do I call you?” Juniper asked to fill the silence. They reached the wall and she placed a hand against it, starting along its side towards a doorway further down. Her palm rasped lightly against the porous rock and the sound was eaten by the cavernous space before it had a chance to echo. She reached the other hand out to pet the axolotl, though she found her hand being chewed on before long. “Chomps. Nom...bert. Chewy? Chompzilla?”
She got no response, just a thorough amount of slime seeping between her fingers. With a push and a pop, she withdrew her hand and shook it, splattering ooze across the wall in the process.
“Keep that up and I’m calling you Gummy Boy.” She said reproachfully. They finally arrived at the battered remains of a revolving door, the ancient turnstile half-buried in rubble from the collapsing floor above.
“Promising.” She grumbled and took a seat on the floor to start stretching. Her new companion watched her with a mix of curiosity and amusement, which earned it a stuck-out tongue in response. Feeling as though she needed to justify herself, she added, “If you want to get a cramp climbing this thing, be my guest, Gummy Boy.”
The Dryad was surprised to find that she was significantly more limber than she was on Earth. Her old body crinkled when she knelt and whined when stood for too long. Only a quarter century old, but she could already feel time’s effect on her body. Yet now, she could fly through her old stretch routine with ease. She dropped into a splits with ease and a small giggle bubbled up in her chest. She popped up to her feet and took the lead once more, suddenly looking forward to this little adventure a lot more.
What had once been the lobby was now filled with a slope of rubble from several collapsed stories above. The floor was well hidden by the junk, but the walls still bore beautiful, if dusty, theatrical posters. They were undoubtedly Earthly in origin, the posters proudly proclaiming their 1920’s chicagoan heritage. Something about the grinning faces glaring down at her, about their very presence here, sent chills through the other-worlder. She had been promised opportunity and safety from that golden deer… but what promises had led this room to end up here?
The two carefully picked their way up a tilted column to the next floor, a strained silence falling where no words nor emotional broadcasts were uttered. They wound their way up slanted sills and clambered through crumbling cracks in peeling plaster. They leapt from beam to buckling balcony and slid over surfaces slick with moss. Juniper lost count of the number of floors they traveled in such a manner, but by the time they had reached a window once more, she had no way of knowing. The ground had been swallowed by the chasm and all that now lay below was darkness.
There, the two took a break. Juniper collapsed on the dusty carpet and Gummy was not far behind, reminding the Dryad of a plane landing without wheels. Gummy gave a soft sigh, then was instantly asleep where it lay. Juniper rolled over to study her new pet, to watch its soft breathing, to take in how out of place it as in this terran tower. Instead, she felt fatigue wash in like the tide and carry her consciousness out with it. In a moment, the world faded to a dull green blur.
“LET ME OUT!”
I slam my feet against the locked door, craning my neck down the square narrow tube I had been shoved in. With each kick I can catch glimpses of sunlight. With each kick, that sunlight faded. The lock rattles loosely on weak wooden latches, but with how close the walls are in here, I don’t to break it. All I can do is batter it with my heels like a toddler.
“LET ME OUT! IT’S NOT FUNNY ANYMORE!” I scream, fluttering my elbows in the corners they had ended up wedged in. I had laughed when another freshman had received the same treatment the week before, but she had been let out after a few minutes. It had been hours now.
Tears begin to well in my eyes and I shake my head to clear them, as my hands are uselessly bound to my shoulders. I try to slow my breathing, to relax, but all I can focus on is how the walls feel like they are tightening ever closer. I start to feel like I’m spinning, like I’m trapped in the hellish offspring of a hydraulic press and a washing machine. My breathing starts to come ragged gasps as I pull in stale instrument-locker air. My kicks barely rattled the lock.
Then, I hear a loud rattle and feel cool air rush into the cramped space. A calloused hand wraps around my ankle and in one tug, I’m freed. I tumble towards the floor -
Juniper sat bolt upright, gasping and flailing her arms to push away the tightening panic in her chest. After a few moments, she regained her breathing. Gummy opened an eye, flicking it with slight irritation in her direction.
“Sorry, sorry.” She said, rubbing the back of her head. “Just a… a...”
She grasped at the memory, but it slipped away. The longer she tried to think about it, the further it seemed to get. “Just a bad dream I guess.”
The lazy creature closed its eye once more, satisfied with her apologetic tone, even if it didn’t understand her words. She tried to do the same, however her mind was too busy racing to get any more sleep. Back to her feet once more, Juniper quietly wandered away from Gummy, stretching out joints that no longer felt as limber as when they'd started their trip.
First thing she did was visit the glassless window, this time looking up, rather than down. From here she could see a few more floors left of the building opposite, which had been slightly shorter than the one she’d chosen. Stacked above it was yet another smaller building of speckled brickwork, then some dirt, then finally the surface. Now that she understood the scale, it was a wonder how she had missed such a large, gaping chasm so close to her tree. She turned away, already tired just looking at the climb.
Juniper tiptoed past the sleeping axolotl and slipped under one of the many doors in the dusty hall. She was greeting with nothing but rubble, so she tried the next, then several more, all in various states of burnt out disrepair and ruin. Despite being thoroughly trashed, she could still see signs of burning that she hadn’t seen in the halls. She was about to give up and head back when she finally came to a room that was mostly intact.
The first thing she noticed was the fire. It was golden, warm, and crackling merrily at the center of the room. The next thing Juniper noticed was the room itself. It was simple, yet surprisingly whole. Though rubble peaked through the wallpaper, the wardrobe, vanity, radio, and two stiff beds in wrought iron bed frames all stood proudly undamaged, if dusty. Lastly, she noticed the corpses in the fire. They looked young and surprised, a couple melting into each other's arms in the most visceral way. To Juniper, they looked like they could have been alive minutes ago. There were parts of them that had no burns yet.
“Jesus fu-” Juniper turned away to lean against the door. She braced herself against her knee as she tried to get the image of bubbling, burning baked pasta out of her mind. She tried to explore further but caught a whiff of grilling meat and had to leave the room immediately.
Juniper tumbled back into the hallway, fighting her gag reflex the entire walk back to her companion. There, she found it yawning and shiftily getting back up into the air. Without saying a word, she found a chalky piece of rubble and used it to mark an X on the windowsill, then lead the way down the hall to the stairs, marking the door similarly on her way.
The dryad wined quietly under her breath as she clambered the dusty carpeted steps, each like small cliffs to scale. However, the whining faded away to awed silence as she reached the top of the stairs. Rather than a top landing, it simply fell away. There was a jagged round hole that dropped into a near endless fall. Juniper lept back, nearly tipping off of the ledge on the other side, and sending a bit of gravel careening into the pit. Many long seconds passed and she heard nothing.
The hallway on either side of the hole seemed fragile, barely held aloft by rotting beams. As Juniper watched, a piece of drywall crumbled far to her right. It tipped and wheeled through the air, then bounced off of the wall, bringing with it some rubble. Each piece collided with another and soon an avalanche of industrial material was sliding off into the nothing.
“Were we… above this the whole time?” Juniper asked shakily. She got back a wave of pensive energy from Gummy.
“I feel the same.” she responded, wincing as an entire room shook loose from the ceiling and plummeted into the pit - leaking something bright and gold all the way. To her surprise, the brightly lit room came to a stop far, far below.. then silently sank into something viscous that burbled and burst with gouts of gold-tinted smoke.
“Nope, that was worse.” Juniper shuddered, turning away. “I would have preferred eternal nothing, thank you. Come on, Gummy Boy, there has to be another way up.”
Gummy, however, stayed put. He stared out over the pit, his long, flat tail wafting slowly in a non-existent breeze.
“Hello, darkne…” Juniper started to sing, but was interrupted by Gummy confidently leaping to tartarus.
“SHIT!” Juniper rushed forward, dropping to her belly to see her traveling companion fall, legs spread in each direction and tail fluttering in the foul air. He vanished completely from sight… then came rocketing back into view, held aloft on a thin jet of smoke that fired him past the next floor and into the dark - though this time above.
The other-worlder couldn’t help but stare for several seconds, mouth agape in wonder and confusion. A flash of joy washed over her, Gummy’s telepathic broadcast letting her know that he had arrived safe… somewhere. Juniper got to her feet, then leaned as far as she dared over the edge.
“This is crazy!” She giggled hysterically, then tensed, preparing to jump. A push of urgency broadcasted into her mind and she leaned further still… then tumbled backwards, away from the edge. A moment later, a surge of wind whistled past. “I can’t do it! I can’t jump, that’s insane!”
Juniper jumped back to her feet, pacing like a caged animal. Another urgent emotion pressed into her and a moment later, the wind picked up once more. It was rhythmic, almost breath-like. “I can’t do it! I can’t just… if your friends jumped off of a bridge…”
Juniper lurched at the pit to catch the tailing wind, then scrambled back as it died off - just as suddenly as it began. She tensed, gritting her teeth as she muttered to herself, “Come on! It’s not real anyway, none of this matters! Just do it! Come! On!”
Flashes of a forest, a tall tree, a feeling of challenge and determination filled her mind. Memories of climbing, of looking down, of the ground so far below, no clear, safe path back down - each memory glueing her feet further to the floor. Doubt and fear set every nerve on edge as she peered down into the dark. Everything from her past life told her not to jump.
The strange, lazy little entity that she had only met this morning, this dream-like, absurd axolotl - this testament to all things alien to what she once knew - urged her to jump.
- Seattle, Washington, USA
Busy with life and a broken brain, so chapter releases are a tad slow. I'm aiming for releasing a chapter every other Friday between my two active fictions (Ironically, my only isekai fiction is on hiatus until I figure out where the hell I'm going with it). Critique welcome, as I'm aware my style is a bit stilted and overly-wordy and my ideas half-baked.
Additionally, I am looking for any editing work. I focus primarily on flow and subtext analysis and only ask for exposure at this point in my career.
Please join my subreddit for release announcements and the occasional meme or billion.
- La Fusilada: 20 chapter film-script-cum-novella following an alternative history where El Fusilada was a woman and kicked ass. Revenge western ala Kill Bill meets Hateful Eight.
- I Will Be Everyone: Fully pants-ed episodic superhero story following a hive mind of infinite-clones who are too polite for world domination.
- T.R.E.E.S.E.K.A.I.: Reborn as a dryad in a weird new world (will continue... eventually)