Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 1
You have to help me. I’m trapped in this book.
Yes, this book. The one you’re reading right now. No joke.
No, no, no, don’t panic! Don’t close the book, either! It’s all right. The freaky part’s already happened to me; I don’t think this book can suck you or anyone else into it. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I already tried wishing and willing myself out of here with no success. That’s okay, though, because I think I already figured out another solution to my problem. It’s just going to require that both of us work together.
So here’s the plan. All you have to do is keep reading this book until the final page, and while you do that, I’m going to navigate my way through the story. Yeah, that means the hard part is on me. Your part’s easy, thank goodness, but it’s just as important. I think if someone’s turning the pages of this book while I go through the story like one of the characters, I may find a way out of this predicament.
Are we both clear on what we need to do? Yes? Good.
All right, then. Here I go.
I’m going to be upfront with you about something: I don’t know how I was transported into this book. I just opened the front cover, everything went spinning, and bam! Next thing I knew, I was lying in a grassy field not far from a dirt road.
As for what I can see right now, to my right and opposite the road is a house made of wood sitting by a small stream. A water wheel spins along one side of the house. Closest to me is a wooden fence, which I’m assuming is part of the same property as the house. To my left is the dirt road and many tree-topped hills that stretch wa-a-a-y into the horizon. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve fallen into one of those medieval European fantasy settings. Guess I’ll see how romanticized it is pretty soon.
I see no one else around, so I think I’ll check out what’s further down the street. Let me keep the house to my right, though, just so I have some kind of reference point to work with. Based on the position of the sun in the blue sky, I’d say it’s about four o’clock in the afternoon. I don’t have anything with me aside from the clothes on my back—a green golf shirt and a pair of blue jeans—so I’ll see if I can find shelter that won’t potentially tread on someone else’s property.
As of yet, I haven’t seen anything that would indicate I’m anything more than a side character in this story. This probably sounds strange to you since, from your perspective, I’m already the protagonist. Thing is, if I’ve been sucked into the world of a random book, then the actual protagonist and his or her friends should be running around somewhere. I’m kind of an intruder here.
Oh, my goodness, I hope the story doesn’t take that literally.
Someone’s blowing a horn nearby. Don’t look at me like that; I hear a horn somewhere real close, and I know it can’t be doing that by itself. After a few seconds, I hear the sounds of a plodding horse and rickety wagon coming from behind me. I turn and wait until the figures come into view, and sure enough, a man and a woman at the front of an open wagon are driving a chocolate-colored horse forward.
At first I thought they were peasant farmers, but something about their garb looked a bit more fancy than your typical generic villager. With them approaching closer, I can see that they’re both lightly armored. Was it leather armor, or just a material that looked like leather? I also see that the woman’s holding a little horn. That must’ve been what I heard earlier. Our eyes meet and the two nod to me.
“Ho, there!” cries the woman. “Are you heading home right now?”
I have to say something, so I go with the first thing that comes to mind. “Sadly, that’s not the case. I’m afraid I’m lost.”
“Careful there, Melinda,” says the bearded man. “This stranger wears foreign clothes. For all we know, we’re dealing with a spy right now.”
My hands are in the air before I know they’ve moved. “I assure you, I am no spy.” That heart of mine feels like it wants to break out of my chest suddenly.
“She’s telling the truth, Donovan. I can see it in her eyes.” Afterwards, though, Melinda suddenly looks sheepish and slightly apologetic. “If anything, they’re saying she has no idea what’s going on.”
In the midst of a barely contained laugh, I reply, “That is far more true than I care to admit. I’m a stranger of sorts—a stranger to these lands. I don’t even know where we are.”
The bearded man, Donovan, tilts his head in deep thought. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s deep thought. How else would you sum up a scrunched brow and a semi-bowed upper lip? Afterwards, he makes a sigh big enough to roll his shoulders and then points to the back of the wagon with his thumb. “We’ll see what the commander thinks of this. Hop in.”
Can’t very well back out now, can I? Without another moment’s thought, I climb into the empty wagon and plop myself down on one of the seats. From here, I can see Melinda’s braid swing with every swish of her head, but her silver helmet hides the rest of her light-brown hair. Donovan’s a similar case, but his hair is blond instead of brown and far too short for a braid. Now that I can observe them this close, I see that they’re dressed very similarly—so much so that I’d guess they’re wearing uniforms. If that’s the case, then they’re probably part of the same unit. I wonder who their commander is?
The horse drags us along the dirt road while Melinda explains to me where we are. Apparently, we’re in a kingdom called Taura, whose queen is fair and just. The trouble they’ve been having lately has to do with a sudden outbreak of Shadow Snappers, strange monsters that can appear at any time and disappear just as quickly, but they’re more numerous at night. Tensions with Taura’s western neighbor, Scorpus, haven’t helped matters much, but no declarations of war have gone out from either side. That makes me wonder if these Shadow Snapper things are part of the reason why those tensions exist—like maybe neither side is sure what spawned the monsters this time, so they’re suspecting each other.
“As for what we’re doing out here,” says Melinda, “we’re on the lookout for any volunteers to help us in the night patrols. Unfortunately, we seem to have found no one. Instead, we’ve had to tell numerous people to stay inside come sunset. No one should go outside alone these days.”
“Don’t you think you’re telling our stranger a little too much?” Donovan casts me a look as he speaks.
A spike of irritation hits me, but I try to keep my tone even. “To be perfectly frank, I think it’s better I learn as much about the situation as I can. I don’t know my way around, and monsters don’t exist where I come from. I can’t help you in a fight, but I can figure out how to stay out of your way if something were to happen.”
“Is that so? You may have to prove that sooner than you think.”
Before I can ask him what’s going on, I feel the wagon jerk to a stop. The horse has reared up, whinnying about something or other, but a quick glance around doesn’t tell me what’s bothering it. Donovan tells Melinda to stay with me and the wagon, and then he steps off and draws his sword. I follow him with my eyes. He’s off to Melinda’s right and keeps going one slow step at a time. By instinct, I slide from my seat and crouch down, but I keep my head up high enough to see over the edge of the wagon.
When I finally see it, I freeze completely still. A dark snake slithers along the grass. Actually, it’s more like the shadow of a large snake, and it goes from a flat feature to a whip of smoke both smooth and jagged that snaps forward straight for Donovan. He intercepts it with one swipe of his sword. If that had been a real snake, he would’ve decapitated it right then.
In any case, Shadow Snappers. Now I get it.
But now that I can recognize what these things look like, I can see that several more are coming our way. Donovan swings at two more before he turns back to the wagon.
He shouts only a few things. “Melinda! Get her out of here! Remember to take her to the commander!” Then he goes back to fending off the Shadow Snappers.
Melinda doesn’t hesitate and snaps on the reins. I stumble a bit from the abrupt jerk of the wagon, but I right myself quickly. The number of emotions running through me is pretty substantial, and I know panic and worry are among them.
“How is he supposed to catch up now?” I ask Melinda.
“We’re not that far from town,” she answers. “He’ll make it! Besides, he told us to go.”
I cast a glance forward and see the shapes of buildings in the distance. Then I look behind me to see about six more Shadow Snappers closing in on Donovan. I don’t see him for very long, though, because we start going down a slight hill; soon enough, he’s out of sight.
I’m just about to turn around when, at the last second, I see another one of those shadows rushing towards me. It springs up and lands right on the back of the wagon. My instincts cause me to slide until I’m up against wood, but there’s so little room here. There’s nowhere for me to go with the Shadow Snapper right in front of me. I can hear Melinda cursing nearby, but then I have a whole lot of Shadow Snapper in my face.
In my blind panic, I kick and punch at the thing until it backs off. I’m not even thinking about it when I rush it in the hopes of pushing it off the edge, but it pushes against me. Crap, this thing is strong! It’s so strong, it sends me right back to where we started.
With Melinda struggling to keep the horse under control, I look around for anything that might substitute as a weapon. A stick, a board, a bucket, a blasted rock—anything will do. I just know I need a weapon and I need one right the eff now—
And then I see it: a plank of wood, like a spare part for the wagon, right under the seat that had been in front of me before. I pick up the plank just in time to smack the charging Shadow Snapper in the face. It shrieks from the blow and then the next one I throw at, and then the one after that. I keep swinging until I catch it in its midsection and slap it in the face one more time. That’s the blow that finally sends it off the wagon. It disappears as soon as it hits the grassy ground. After that, I’m left completely stunned.
Melinda’s voice barely cuts through my stupor. “Goodness! And you said you couldn’t fight!”
I sit back down on the seat at last. “I, uh… I think that was just adrenaline. I-I panicked.”
“Well, sit tight. We’re almost to town. I’m sorry you had to fight the Shadow Snapper by yourself.”
“D-don’t worry about it.” Geeze, I still sound breathless.
We pass through the gates of town not long after that. It’s enough time for me to recollect myself and then stare down at the piece of wood—which is when I realize that something doesn’t add up. In the time it takes for Melinda to go from the entrance of town to a tower in the center, I reassess everything that happened and all that I saw once I had gone on the wagon. Once we stop, the whole sequence of events comes together more coherently to me now that the adrenaline’s died down. That’s when it hits me.
The wagon was empty when I got on. Completely empty—no people, no tools, no spare parts, nothing. That plank of wood had come out of nowhere like a deus ex machina or a badly edited movie. One of those things.
But the point stands: my improvised weapon just appeared. It’s sitting right next to me, even.
Now I’m really confused. How in the world did that happen?