Chapter 1

Commentary: What I currently have for Chapter 1 may yet become a later chapter if I choose to delve into the main character’s life before these strange happenings. I’m almost certain I’ll be going in and adding more detail to some of the creatures and maybe throwing in an extra scene or two in this part later. I’m pretty happy with what I have so far, though.

Chapter 1

The Face of Uncertainty

     It’s weird how some of the things your parents say to you when you’re a kid stay in your head forever. It isn’t always something necessarily important or incredibly meaningful, maybe a comment about the neighbors or a story about when you were a baby. My dad said a lot of things that have played back in my head countless times over the course of my life. Not daily but they pop up every now and then and always feel like they have some vague significance I can’t quite understand yet. Being older now I know that most of these quotes are just bits of the bullshit my dad liked to spout off. But I still can’t shake the feeling that they mean something even he didn’t quite understand. Like he accidentally revealed the secrets of the universe to me while he was telling me lies and offering made up advice about life.
     The things my dad said meant nothing to him, but they’ve affected me throughout my relatively short existence. One quote in particular has manipulated me since I was old enough to know not to take my daddy seriously when he smoked the funny cigarettes he rolled himself. Even though I had learned at a very young age that my dad said things that didn’t make sense to anyone while he was high, I couldn’t help but listen to and ponder on the rants or stories he liked to relate to anyone who would listen.
     One day after school I found him in the living room lighting up, two roaches from his previous joints that afternoon sitting in the ash tray. He told me to sit down and tell him about my day. I can’t recall exactly what it was I complained to him about, but some ordeal of my day had been especially difficult and left me frustrated with how hard life can be. I was in grade school so it couldn’t have been anything serious, but to me, at that age, it was. My dad blew out a long, thin trail of gray smoke and nodded slowly, as if he completely understood my situation. I still had some trust in him at that point and waited eagerly for his answer. I think I expected him to reveal to me the answer to life itself, to tell me some cheat code to the universe.
     Instead, he said this exactly: “Son, you’re trying too hard. Life is only as hard as you make it. Don’t think so much about what you’re doing. If you act without trying to do something, it gets done a lot better.”
     When I grew older I figured this was just more bullshit my dad had told me. But that never stopped me from following his advice. There are many reasons I became so detached from reality but this was a major push in that direction.
     My constant separation was part of the reason I wasn’t all that surprised or alarmed when, one night while I was lying awake in bed I suddenly began sinking. It started like the dropping feeling you get in falling dreams but didn’t stop there. I sunk until the mattress was all around me, my entire world becoming white fluff. The fluff spread apart like cotton candy being torn and dispersed into clouds as I continued to descend. The wisps of vapor parted and I could see a dark, starry sky. Like rivers through space the Milky Way flowed in tendrils all above and around me. I became disoriented and confused, the clouds were completely gone now and I wasn’t sure if I was falling still or being pulled upward into space.
     Then the tendrils of the Milky Way began to slither between the stars like liquid snakes. They coiled around me, coming closer and closer until they were all I could see. This close, I could see into the misty rivers, where the lives of countless people flashed before me. They spun around me as if I was lying on a merry-go-round in an IMAX theater. It was too much information for me to process so I only caught glimpses. A mother with her newborn baby, a jealous ex-husband smashing a picture which once warmed his heart, a nervous child attending his first day at a new school, even animals and plants going through their normal life cycles.
     These disjointed scenes began to blur and ripple until I couldn’t see anything but colors upon a dark background. The colors slowed and lazily floated around. It was like my eyes were microscopes and I was watching some kind of primordial soup from the dawn of the Earth. Then, the silence which had prevailed throughout these bubbling visions in my head was broken. Like how I imagined severe schizophrenia to sound, several voices began speaking. Two or three at first, muttering words I couldn’t quite make out.
     Then the voices multiplied, most speaking in languages other than English. The multicolored pond scum vision before me started responding to the various pitches of the voices, forming into shapes and patterns which quickly dissolved and were replaced by new bursts of breathing colors. It was like one of those computer programs that generate graphics for your music. The echoing voices guided this colorful burst of dancing algae until so much movement, so much vibrancy appeared before my eyes that I had to look away.
     Only I couldn’t, I had no eyelids to close, no hand to block my overwhelming view, no eyes at all. I was formless. The voices continued multiplying and multiplying, drowning each other out completely. I envisioned millions of ants crawling over each other as the drone became nothing but static.
     The colors never overlapped one another enough to turn black and colorless. They seemed to follow no rules of consistency as they flowed in and out amongst one another, always creating a new color as they passed. I thought my mind might rip itself apart as I tried to comprehend colors I had never seen before, could never see with human eyes.
     Before I lost my grip completely I saw more of the tendrils of the Milky Way within the wonderland of color. As they snaked their way in and out of the other colors, never changing, I suddenly began to hear words. The voices were all starting to speak the same words. It was like listening to a choir with too many canons as their voices slowly synchronized. The more the tendrils began to white-out the other colors the closer the voices came to unity. I had no idea what the words were, it sounded like another language. Maybe some African tongue I’d never heard of.
     I tried to follow the wispy tendrils to their source but there were too many. They seemed to come from no where and everywhere at once.
     Some part of me almost understood all of this, could almost make sense of what this could mean or represent. But as I tried to figure it out the images began spinning more and more rapidly around me. They spun more and more quickly until all I could make out were the wispy, twisting fingers. My vision filled with white again and I expected to rise up through my mattress and return to my bed with an empty LSD dropper next to me.
     Instead I found myself laying in dirt, a root digging into my back. The voices were completely gone and I had a body again. My head still spun and I felt weak and stiff. With a grunt I rolled off of the root.
     “Ouch…” I muttered, pausing a minute on my side. I tried to remember if my roommate had gotten me to smoke that bag of weird black leaves he got from his shifty alley rat friend. He thought it was salvia but wasn’t sure. I may have been a young, stupid male but I hoped that I hadn’t been stupid enough to smoke whatever that stuff really was.
     Groaning, I stood up and looked around. Before me was a vast forest surrounded by mountains which rose so high into the dark clouds of the night sky that I could see not a single peak. These geological monstrosities seemed to rise almost straight up into the air- like giant slabs of shale set into the ground. They stood like a great wall, surrounding the valley in perfect uniformity. It looked like Yosemite on a foggy day to me. I had no idea how I could have walked so far from Richmond, Virginia to get to mountains this big.
     Convinced now that I was dreaming I stopped hesitating, no longer needing the bravery I didn’t have. I walked unburdened by the sticks and stones that surely would have cut and mangled the soft soles of my feet were I awake. The spinning cinema and kaleidoscope from Hell experience forgotten, I entered the woods.
     As I walked I tried to enjoy the dream rather than dwell on the events of my waking life. It seemed odd to me that I would even be aware of such things in a simple dream. I had never before dreamt of anything but whimsical fancy or terrifying fantasy. I expected to come across some great floating palace or a beautiful girl with diamonds as eyes; the night time illusions I had always been more comfortable with than the dull reality that was the machination of my daily life.
     But those things never came. No beasts with impossible physiology or people long displaced from my life. The farther I walked through the pines and fields the more I wanted the dream to simply end. The only oddities of this dream seemed to be the lack of stars and distant, uniform mountains which I caught occasional glimpses of through the trees. Though I imagined various scenarios and images, none of these came to me as they would in any other dream or waking fantasy. In fact, there was little to see at all. No birds or squirrels, no deer grazing in the fields, no insects biting at my skin. Everything was perfectly still but for a steady, cool breeze.
     I walked for miles, if such a measurement can be used in a dream. The scenery changed little. I focused more on the blank sky above and the strange constructs I was calling mountains. I didn’t know if mountains was even the proper word for them. They seemed to have no trees or rivers upon them. Their sides were like daggers. I was beginning to wonder if they were flat, but could not tell from as far down as I was. The longer I stared the more I began to wonder where these walls of stone ended and the starless sky began. It was difficult to tell for the mountains were dark in color and the sky itself was very dark… I realized then that there was no moon either. And no clouds.
     Beginning to feel nauseous, I stopped walking a moment and looked down. I wasn’t feeling tired, which was good because sometimes when I dreamed about being chased by a monster I would grow tired in my dream and get slower and slower until the beast caught up to me. But I sat down on a rock regardless, taking the time to look around at the forest.
     There is little I can say except that there were thin trees and rocks. Pine needles littered the ground and there was little brush to speak of in this area. I still had not come across a river or stream – not that I was thirsty. I looked around in every direction. All around were more trees spaced apart enough to walk comfortably under, though there was no path. In the distance to my left I could see thicker foliage. Ahead I saw only trees and to my right the terrain became rockier. I decided scaling rocks was more interesting than cutting through brush and went off in that direction.
     The farther I walked in that direction the fewer trees I saw and the rockier the terrain became. Even when I came entirely out of the trees the mountains were still so far away. An expanse of cliffs and rocks stretched between myself and the nearest mountain. Though the forest behind me had no signs of life this field of rocks felt even more deserted. I decided to go towards it, but was dreading the walk. I wondered if I would ever wake up, but felt compelled to explore my dream.
     As I climbed over boulders and weaved around small cliffs I thought about where I had been sitting moments before and realized that I no longer remembered getting up and walking over to the boulders. It was as if my dream was skipping over certain parts. I considered that dreams do such things often enough. Still, the fact that I was so aware of these things happening seemed odd to me.
     My pondering was interrupted by what I saw as I arrived at the top of a boulder much larger than any I would dare climb in my waking life. In the side of what looked like a massive pile of stones was a tiny opening, just big enough for someone to squeeze into. Thinking things might actually get interesting now I leaped from the boulder, falling about two stories down and landing on my feet, painlessly. Satisfied with my dream-prowess I strode towards the cave.
     The entrance was small and triangular. I had to bend down to look inside but I couldn’t see anything. I got on my hands and knees and began crawling forward. I only got a few feet in before my hand touched cold, solid stone in front of me. I swatted my hand out to the left and felt nothing but the cool air. I began in that direction and crawled deeper into the cave for a ways before I was forced to change directions again. I zig-zagged like that for a time before I saw a faint light ahead of me. With each sharp-angled turn the light grew somewhat brighter. I counted eight turns and was on the ninth when I came into a small chamber with room to stand up, which I did.
     The circular chamber was barely the size of a small bedroom but rose up farther than I could see. But for a small, glowing stone sitting upon a rock the room was empty. Even though I had decided I was dreaming, I felt hesitant to touch the stone, which was about the size of my fist and in a diamond shape. Though its yellow glow was welcomed in this dark world I found myself taking a step back from it, bumping into the cave wall behind me. A feeling of dread crept its way up my spine as I stared at the trinket. The feeling grew the longer I stared and I decided to turn back. Just as I was doing so I heard the sound of stone grinding together.
     I snapped around, crouched down and ready to feel my way out of the structure as quickly as possible if there was danger. A large, flat rock was shifting to the side, behind it another opening had somehow formed in the stone. I jumped, control of my body momentarily lost to the shock of seeing a face illuminated by the glowing stone. Two bluish green eyes met my own as the face pulled back in shock of its own.
     “Who are you?! Where am I?” I demanded, my voice echoing in the tall chamber.
     As the pale face moved forward I realized with horror it was just that – a face and nothing more. I let out a cry and shuffled back into the tunnel. The face (which was that of a woman’s) looked as panicked as I felt and began shaking back and forth as if telling me no. It appeared to be a floating mask with auburn hair flowing around it as if it were under water.
     Though I was still afraid I collected myself enough to decide that no harm could come from a simple mask and I was obviously still dreaming. I asked it again, “Who are you? Is that crystal yours?”
     The face shook back and forth again.
     “Can you speak?”
     Another negative response.
     “Can you take me to someone who can?” I asked hesitantly, not sure if I wanted to follow a flying mask.
     The face nodded and passed me by, shooting through the tunnels. I turned and began to follow but stopped and glanced back at the illuminated centerpiece of the chamber. A shiver ran through my body as my eyes fell upon the glowing shard. I turned again to work my way out of the cave. I can’t say how long it took me to get out because I felt as if I were suddenly outside, blinked ahead in time, just like before in the woods. The face floated before me a moment before moving off toward a canyon. It swayed back and forth as it moved forward like it was skipping through the air. Occasionally it would glance back and me to make sure I was still following. It never smiled.
     I followed between two cliffs which rose higher and higher and grew closer and closer together until we were walking (well, I was walking) in a dark trench. Torches lit the way. I didn’t know how to feel about seeing man-made crafts in this place. I desperately wondered who put them there and if this face had a body to go with it.
     My question was answered as we came from the trench into the forest again. A small glade rested at the exit. Massive oak trees surrounded a slight hill covered in bright green grass. More torches on sticks surrounded the area. I followed the face to the top of the hill. There, sitting upon a stone slab was the faceless body of a young woman. Her disembodied face turned around and worked its way onto the body, slowly pushing back into it like clay until she appeared normal. She raised her hand and snapped her fingers – extinguishing the torches behind me but leaving those around the hill lit.
     “Well, let’s hope nothing followed us,” she said.
     I didn’t hesitate, “Who are you?”
     As she stood up I wondered if her face would stay on. Thankfully it did, and it continued to speak, “My name is Sera. This glade is where I come to relax.”
     I glanced behind me at the dark cavern, “Doesn’t seem too relaxing to me…” Though, I had to admit the grass and canopy had a certain peacefulness to them.
     “Maybe not to you,” her voice was fairly deep for a woman’s but she didn’t sound insulted by my remark. “But anything is better than the wilderness I found you in.”
     “Didn’t seem very wild to me,” I said with a frown, crossing my arms. Why I was crossing my arms in a dream I have no idea. “Nothing there but trees and rocks.”
     Sera raised a thin eyebrow and snorted, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
     I was about to protest when she turned around and walked across the glade to a sundial I hadn’t noticed before. The pedestal the dial sat upon seemed to be growing from a dark rock which didn’t match the rest of the stone in the glade. The whole thing leaned slightly to the side and was very uneven and dilapidated. I also noticed the canopies of the trees were blocking any potential sunlight, though it was still night.
     As Sera approached the sundial I took in her features. She was wearing a green summer dress with white floral designs across the bottom. The brown leather straps of her tall sandals weaved their way up her muscular calves. Her width grew at the hips and shrunk at the waist. I found myself staring. After all, this was my dream I could stare if I wanted to, right?
     She didn’t seem to notice as she waited for me at the sundial. I followed, trotting across the fresh, moist grass towards her. “Does the sun come through those trees?”
     Rather than responding, she tapped her finger on the top of the dial. A shadow suddenly appeared, moving across the relatively flat surface of the dial towards one of the six symbols I couldn’t read. It halted. I look up and saw no source of light but for the gentle glow of the flickering torches.
     “How’s that work?” I asked.
     “It tells me when the lights come on,” she said dismissively as she walked towards the stone she had first been sitting on. I followed patiently, arms still folded as she sat down and sighed before looking up at me slowly. Her eyes were somewhere between dark blue and green as she glared at me, “You realize what kind of danger you were in, right? Back in that burrow?”
     “Burrow? You mean the tunnel?”
     “That place isn’t as quiet as you thought it was,” she said, voice steady and calm as if she were speaking to a small child. “You were probably being followed the whole time.”
     A sinking feeling worked its way into my chest. “Followed by what?”
     “It’s too much to explain right now. Come with me,” she stood up again. I wanted to protest but decided it would be safer to stay with her. Apparently I wasn’t very aware of my surroundings. I’ve been told that more than once, actually.
     “I’m Lane, by the way,” I said, forgetting this was a dream and introductions didn’t really matter.
     She nodded, “Nice to meet you, Lane. We’ll have a chance to talk more later. Follow me.” With that, she turned and walked into the woods between two torches. There was a path concealed by bushes which we followed for a ways before she snapped her fingers again. I assumed she was extinguishing the rest of the torches.
     We walked for a time in silence. This part of the forest actually had creatures, and was much thicker. The trees were wide and much older looking than those from before. I watched a pair of squirrels leaping across the branches and a large yellow bird dig its head into the hole of a tree. These animals were so unaffected by our presence. From what I could remember of the forests my father took me too little critters like these usually run at the sight of people.
     Sera broke the silence, “So, Lane. How did you get here?”
     “You mean this valley?” I asked, looking up to see the looming mountain structures were closer now. I still couldn’t see their peaks.
     She didn’t respond – she might have nodded, I wouldn’t have seen since I was looking at a bunny hop along near us. I went on anyway, “All I remember is having some weird vision about peoples’ lives and feeling really light headed.”
     The woman marched on, always looking around as if searching for an ambush. I worried that I might be giving us away to whatever it was she was afraid of by talking but she was the one who first spoke so I went on. “Before that… I remember going to bed at night.”
     “Going to bed?” she asked suddenly. Her tone was confident and her words were slow, as if she already knew the answer when she asked, “Are you sure that’s the last thing you remember?”
     I thought for a minute. I recalled saying goodnight to my roommate – a fat, sloppy guy who likes heavy metal and video games – eating a poptart, jacking off and then falling asleep. It was an altogether ordinary night in the series of ordinary nights which made up my life. I thought on it awhile before deciding that I was sure that was the last thing I remembered. I told Sera this.
     She made a ‘hm’ sound, very short but not quite final.
     “What’s that mean?” I asked, trying not to sound annoyed at her avoidance of any of my questions while I was so willing to share my side of the story.
     “I’ll tell you when we’re safe,” she said, turning along the path as her pace quickened. I followed in pace, still looking around at the vibrant forest. I felt much more comfortable here than the area I had first arrived in but if I was being followed before and didn’t know it then, obviously, my perception of safety was a bit off.
     As we walked I realized that I was not feeling as if I were skipping ahead in my dream like I was before. Maybe it had something to do with this place. Maybe this forest was a metaphor for the more conscious area of my sleeping mind. I had no idea how dreams worked so I couldn’t say. I thought about asking Sera but she seemed to be hurrying up as I thought this, so I stayed quiet and hoped I would remember to ask her later.
     Finally we stopped. In the middle of the path was a circular platform of stone. It was at large as the bases of some of the massive trees around this part of the forest. It was unexceptional itself, no markings or distinguishing traits about it. But when I took a few steps closer I saw what looked like hundreds of thick, lengthy earthworms squirming around the edges of it. They almost looked like they were being crushed by the stone. I turned to Sera with a questioning glance.
     “We’re here,” she said, turning from the strange stone to a massive oak tree beside the path. Ignoring my confusion. Woven into the tree was a television screen. I really hadn’t expected to see anything like that in the forest and stared in further confusion as she approached the screen and tapped its rounded glass surface with a long fingernail. Tink tink.
     “Seth,” she demanded.
     The TV buzzed and the image of a boy with short black hair and a wide face flickered onto the screen. He looked concerned, “Sera? Who’s that with you?”
     “Another one of us,” she said, not bothering to glance back at me. One of them? I wondered what she meant by that.
     “Really now?” he sounded distracted, looking at something off-screen to his left.
     “Yes,” she said curtly. “We’re about to board the rider.”
     “I’ll meet you at the base of the tree, then” then the TV went black, the image retreating to the center of the screen and holding in a steady white dot before slowly fading away. I wondered what tree he was talking about, there were quite a few.
     “Alright, follow me. This is going to be weird for you,” she warned, hopping up onto the stone platform. I followed, keeping my eyes on the worms. Sera tapped her fingers on her leg impatiently as we stood for a moment in silence. I was about to open my mouth and ask her what we were doing when the stone suddenly shifted. Below us the worm creatures were wiggling more rapidly now. The stone rose up about a foot as they squirmed and squirmed, seeming to pile up under the stone. There was a short pause before we suddenly took off from the path into the woods, the worms actually carrying the stone with Sera and I on it.
     We moved slowly at first but picked up speed as the worms carried us over boulders, fallen logs and lifted us over thick brush. Behind us was a wake of dirt left by the impressive little fuckers. The path of torn up dirt behind us was crawling with more of them. I wondered why they were staying behind and how there were so many of them.
     “They’re covering up our path,” Sera answered, as if reading my mind. Maybe it was my vacant stare that gave me away. “They replant the grass and put all the roots back so we won’t be followed.”
     “What are they?” I asked, still staring.
     “Seth helped me make them. He’s talented when he’s willing to get off his ass long enough to work on a project that‘s actually useful,” she sounded disdainful.
     “How did you manage something like this?” I asked as the worms led us up a hill, their pace slowing somewhat before we reached the top and flew down to the bottom. It was like a roller coaster moving at the speed of a mountain bike.
     “You’ll find that words aren’t usually enough to explain some of the things that go on around here, Lane,” she seemed to find this funny. I could see the smirk playing at the edges of her small lips.
     I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything more from a mere dream. I decided to push her for more information anyway; this obviously wasn’t any normal dream and I wanted to see what my subconscious had cooked up for me. “Try me.”
     She sighed heavily, “It’s going to take more time than we have right now. I’ll tell you more when we get there.”
     There was a loud splash as the worms took us into a pond. Just before the wave rose up to drench us the worms crawled up one another to create a wall between us and the water.  The wave knocked against the organic wall and tumbled back down into the pond. Some of them were knocked onto the platform and instantly dug into the stone, the holes they left behind sealing over like magic. Sera and I remained dry.
     As we seemed to glide across the pond toward the other side I pressed Sera, “Where exactly are we going?”
     “A safe place,” her voice was low and her eyes downcast. I got the impression she wasn’t exactly thrilled about our destination. It made me a bit nervous.
     We came from the pond, unfortunate worm creatures dredging us up a sandbar at a strained pace before reaching the dirt and picking up speed once again. I was still marveling at the wake we left behind when the platform suddenly halted, tossing me forward. As they had done to block the wave the worms rose up before the platform and caught me in a crawling net. Hundreds of individual creatures writhed across my body, squirming against my lips and tickling my ears. I jumped back with a very unmanly cry, slapping at my pants to get some of the stray worms off of me.
     I didn’t bother to look at Sera. I’m sure her sarcastic expression wasn’t going to make me feel any better about what just happened. As the worm wall lowered back under the platform I saw why we stopped so suddenly. We were at the top of a hill. Below was a river, the first I had seen in this place. The trees here were massive and spaced fairly far apart, their roots rising from the dirt all around the space between. The ground was so covered by gnarled stems large and small that I almost couldn’t see it. Several impossibly massive roots rose up to create a tunnel leading from the bottom of the hill to the river and over it deeper into the forest.
     Even more fascinating than the tunnel of roots however, was the fungus. A creeping, pale yellow mold had worked its way over many of the roots, especially around the base of a particular tree and across certain parts of the root-woven tunnel. White toadstools with yellow spots rose up all across the slimy surface of the vein-like tendrils of fungus wrapped around the tree.
     “Something’s wrong here…” Sera muttered.
     I turned to her with concern. “Is it dangerous?” I asked, referring to the fungus.
     She shook her head slowly, “It could be. Stay on the stone.”
     The worms lowered the platform to the ground as if obeying a silent command issued by this strangely average-looking girl. I didn’t hesitate to follow when she stepped off onto the grassy hill. I thought she would scold me for not listening to her but she just kept walking. She didn’t seem nervous to me at all, striding forward with that same calculating look she had on her face since I saw it float from the darkness back in the cave.
     I figured we were walking towards the tunnel but Sera instead approached the nearest blotch of slime mold and knelt down beside it as if to examine it. I stood behind her, crossing my arms and waiting to see what she would do. I was expecting just about anything. But it wasn’t Sera who moved.
     The mold started shifting, like it was uncomfortable being attached to the roots. It almost looked as if it would rip itself from the trees, which creaked and leaned to the mold’s pulling. Like a person surfacing from beneath muddy waters a man’s face pushed up through the mold just in front of Sera. The head only rose up so far before stopping, as if the fungus was too thick to push through. It had no ears and was almost completely obscured but for depressions in the pale coat where its mouth and eyes were. Small, white mushrooms grew out from its forehead and cheeks.
     “Come to… finish the job?” it asked Sera in a wheezing voice. Its chin was only visible on the surface of the mold when it closed its mouth entirely. Each time it spoke the lower half of its jaw sunk down below. I looked under the root the face was coming from and noted that there was no room for an entire human body in the mold.
     “What happened here?” Sera demanded.
     The mold-creature let out a groan of pain before responding to her heavy tone, “I was attacked.”
     “By who?” Sera asked sharply.
     The being in the fungus seemed to respect or fear her, because it kept answering her questions even though it was obviously in great pain. Looking more closely at the mold I saw that it was torn off of roots in many places and burned away in others. I wondered if it had emotions. It sure sounded distraught when it explained what happened, “I was merely growing here, minding my own business-”
     “Growing on our lands, Cap-face,” interjected the angry woman with a glare. I decided to never piss her off.
     “A mistake, I assure you,” the head leaned forward as if to bow. When it did its lips and the bottom of its nose submerged into the mold.
    “Right.”
     The ‘Cap-face’ (as she called it) went on, “It was one of your kind. Those with orbs in their hair.”
     Before I could even begin to speculate at what ‘orbs in their hair’ meant Sera leaned forward to the moldy face and yelled a barrage of questions at it, “Was there only one? Did it have a message? Why were they here!?”
     A sudden burst of sounds echoed out in the forest. On a branch of the tree mostly covered in mold were four crows. They stood right next to one another, wings touching, and stared down directly at Sera and I. They didn’t squawk individually like normal birds but together, in unison. The crows were stuck in the mold growing on their branch by the feet. It was growing up their bodies. One of the birds was almost completely consumed by it. A squirrel on another branch chattered and hundreds of flies and bees caught in the mold buzzed their wings as one. The crows, with their intense stares were difficult for me to look away from. Sera, however ignored this graveyard quartet but I couldn’t help but meet their black, staring eyes as the slime mold face answered Sera.
     “Only one. It said to tell you to keep away from its crystal or it would rouse its fellows and destroy your home,” the Cap-face began sinking back into the root. As it did, the mushrooms on its face remained on the surface while the face itself seemed to disappear into the mold. Sera didn’t say anything to try and stop it.
     The crows stopped their cawing and went silent, still watching us intently as Sera stood up and started back toward the platform at a brisk pace. I skipped ahead a few steps to catch up, “Hey, Sera. What was that thing saying? You’ve got some enemies?”
     “No thanks to you,” she muttered, stepping onto the platform. It started lifting from the ground before I even stepped up and I had to leap a little. The worms carried us into the root tunnel which was lit by torches like the ones in the ravine. The light was dim but I could make out the angry scowl on Sera’s face.
     I knew what this was about. That crystal I had found in the cave. I guess someone didn’t want anyone going near it. I hoped their enemy’s threat was empty and I wasn’t to blame. I was curious about this enemy and why it would want to harm Sera but I didn’t dare ask. She had the right to be pissed if she was in danger because I wandered somewhere I shouldn’t have.
     As we rushed through the tunnel I felt my head clearing up even more. The memory jumps and haziness seemed to have completely gone away. I didn’t feel like I was dreaming at all anymore. That subtle uncertainty of the legitimacy of what you’re seeing which comes with dreaming was fading. But I knew what was happening was all impossible… maybe it says something about my sense of reality that I wasn’t too concerned about that fact. I’ve always had my head in the clouds, my thoughts constantly interrupted by wistful visions and beautiful imaginings.
     The tunnel seemed to go on for miles. If this were normal life I would have been tired from standing long before the ride was halfway finished. Even though things were seeming less like a dream I was apparently still blessed with slightly extraordinary physical strength. I didn’t think I would be able to punch rocks in half or fly or anything but I felt something. Some kind of power I didn’t have before was with me in this place. It was like a tiny flame in my chest, a passionate energy waiting for me to release it.
     I decided to ask Sera everything when we got to where ever we were going. I wasn’t going to be left in the dark forever. Maybe this Seth guy from the tree-levision would tell me what was going on.
     Trying to piece everything together, I recalled what Sera asked me when we were walking in the forest, about how I got here. Obviously I was either dreaming or having some kind of memory lapse because I simply couldn’t think of anything happening between being in the warehouse at the beginning of all this and going to sleep last night. I recapped my previous day in my head…

Prologue

Commentary: Oh, the prologue. The cock-teasing prologue. I’m happy with what I have for it, and I feel it sets up the novel nicely, showing that it will be kind of cosmic and deeply thoughtful, but I worry that it doesn’t really draw the reader in. It might even bore you! I often think that I’m just over-analyzing it (what writer doesn’t do that) and I should just leave it. I would like to throw a little more detail and some clarity in at some point too. What do you think, dear reader?

Prologue

     In a distant part of the all encompassing vastness of outer space a light appeared amongst the other trillions of lights speckling, blotting and endlessly spinning throughout the cosmos of this universe. This light was different than the others, however. It did not come from a boiling star or the reflection of a massive sphere of condensed carbon. No, this light was its own. It appeared in an instant in a place in space further from Earth than any light seen by humankind. Yet even so far from all we know this light was by no means at the edge of our universe. Rather, it was somewhere in the middle of all the mass taken up by the rocks, planets, stars and galaxies. The center of the entire universe, mathematically speaking.
     From this incalculable center the light shot off. It moved on its own accord, switching directions at will with no friction to hinder it. To any onlooker (if any being has the power to see something moving so quickly) it would appear like a stylized lightning bolt streaking its way through the black emptiness of space towards any object, however small. It struck tiny space rocks with millions of years of inches behind them as they slowly floated along, drawn further into the darkness by some unknown force. As the light hit them it would circulate throughout their entire mass, touching each molecule at speeds that cannot be measured.
It was searching.
     After scanning through a cluster of hundreds of space rocks it zipped through space again, moving towards a large, spherical world. Crossing the distance of a solar system in an instant the light struck the cold, lifeless rock. It moved straight through the crust of the planetoid without damaging it or even altering its makeup. The miles of stone remained unbroken as the light passed through them and into the core. From the molten sphere the light spiraled outwards until it again reached the crust and burst forth to the next object.
     In a universe of slowly changing geology and eternal sources of light and energy this bolt searched at speeds unseen to this place since its dawn. It was virtually the same moment the light arrived that its search began to bear fruit.
     Life.
     Countless beings smaller than blood cells with simple directives and creatures large enough to topple canyons with complex understandings, dreams and emotions. Life. Everywhere. Billions of souls inhabited this universe the light had found. It scanned them all, collecting everything there was to know about the various animals, plants and even people who lived across the stars in this universe. Some were strange and complex even up against the vast knowledge the light carried with it. Others were simple yet beautiful in their ways. Some beings were incredibly diverse between individuals while others might as well have been clones of their counterparts.
     And the universe itself! The light marveled at the rotating worlds, the cycles of energy from stars to plants to insects to creatures to the world and into plants again. It had seen many places and witnessed the creation of worlds far more complex even than this one. But the light was impressed. Emotion boiled within it as it marveled at the beauty of our universe as one would a fantastic painting.
     The light had scoured existence for years as uncountable as the souls. It had blinked into one universe after another, exploring all there was to know, searching for the answers it sought. The light had encountered beings and places which followed rules and operated in ways entirely unknowable to those of us with flesh and blood. It had seen places where there is no physical, places where logic went by different rules, places where everyone was a god and places where everyone was a slave to a single master. As the light viewed our universe it compared it to memories of other existences and ways of being. And it was impressed.
     That’s saying something.
     Yet the longer it scanned the more it began to worry. Something was amiss. This place was not entirely as it was created to be. Some corruption had sunk deep into the very fabric of all that was here. The same corruption the light had been seeking in the beginning was here too! It was patient but excited to see if there was something to learn here. Despite this excitement it controlled its desires, taking the time to scan every nebula, tree and atom in case there was something hidden here.
     The being flowing through the makeup of the universe did not sense the corruption through any of its great facilities. Each time it scanned something the light gleaned all there was to know about that thing, including the entire history of the very matter of the object from the dawn of time until the destruction of our universe. Time here was malleable for this being. This universe of ours was one in more than can be counted. Its rules did not apply to the light, who was from somewhere deeper in reality than our own existence. But even with the control it could exert the light did not sense this corruption.
     Yet it knew there was something wrong here. This place was designed by a creative hand of great potency – a single being stronger even than the light. Someone with the skill to create this universe had once dwelt here. A project so massive took time and energy, even for a god. More importantly, it took maintenance. Such universes as ours are so vast and complex that their own weight tends to fall in upon themselves after time. The light had seen several universes abandoned by their creators. The same thing always happened.
     The universe the light had found was ripping itself apart. Slowly, but surely. At some point in the distant future it would expand unto its breaking point and everything would rip apart. Even the smallest atoms would essentially pop and be destroyed forever.
     Where was the creator? The light searched galaxies and the space in between over the course of several hundred Earth years until it had no where left to look. Not a single atom unturned. The creator of this place was missing.
     As the light had suspected. The evil it sought had something to do with this. As it watched the creatures of one planet build their first cities and utilize their first tools the being in the light knew it had to save the souls here – for they too would rip apart if they were to stay here. And without the creator to withdraw them they could not leave this doomed universe. Oblivion lay before them if something was not done.
     But the light did not have the control of this universe like its creator. No one but the creator itself could alter it at will. Still, this being had seen more in its time than almost any other in all of everything that is everywhere. Ever. Resolve filled the being as it started to work to save these souls from their eventual fate.
Its search would have to hold for now.