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By LoweFantasy or T.S. Lowe

Romance / Adventure

Through the Dusty Cartridge

The freak day that changed my life had started just like every other Friday. I had skidded to a halt at the bus stop, barely avoiding a crash domino affect with the line and my toast in my mouth. Some fat kid at the end raised an eyebrow at me and scowled at my toast, to which I scowled back. Fortunately, tubby decided to say nothing as the bus turned around the corner.

I got on, spotted her dishwasher blond hair immediately, and plopped myself in the seat next to her.

"Hey, Amanda. How'd you sleep last night?" I asked, pulling off my backpack. Amanda pulled her eyes from the plains of houses and sagebrush to show me the shadows under her eyes. She sighed, or yawned.

"Horrible. Cozy was bringing down the house with her snoring. I still don't know what's stopping her from moving out, she's nineteen, the bum."

"Since when does Cozy snore?" The bus puffed as the doors closed and it crawled forward.

"Since last night." Amanda moaned, rubbing her eyes.

I gave her a sympathetic look. "Man, you're going to have a hard time today. Enjoy the deskpillow."

"Thanks. History is going to be my favorite class."

For some reason, thinking about quiet made me think of the loud banging's of my brother's shootout army game in his room. The war had been playing out loudly on the other side of my wall all week. Boys and their toys, I thought blithely. When I had been younger I had acted like that, all video gamed out, geeking over Pokémon and swords and fantasy. Perhaps I was growing up faster than I thought. Being seventeen can feel so old at times. Soon we'd be graduated and grown up, with no time for silly games, even if we wanted to. I glanced to the side at Amanda.

"Well, hey, how about spending the night at my house tonight? It is Friday; we could pull out the old 64 and play some Zelda. It's been a long time since I've wrecked some serious monster pawnage upon Hyrule."

"Sounds awesome."

I let her doze off the rest of the way. Meanwhile, I daydreamed about the stories I was going to write during the more particular boring parts of class: His hair was white, his wings whiter. The winged warrior raced along the shore side with those huge wings outspread, fleeing the dark shape that pursued him on oily, bat-like wings. Through English, Math, and on he turned midair to meet his opponent, teeth bared. A bright curved sword glistened in the nearing morning light, shining with its own inner light. The monster of darkness drew nearer. Its long jaws snapped beneath gleaming black eyes. My fingers itched to record such a battle in ink.

I didn't get a chance, however, for it wasn't long after school when Amanda was ringing at my door, holding a familiar grocery bag. We chatted about a bit before migrating to my room to set up a nest of blankets, arguing lightly over whether to play card games or video games first. The Nintendo won. Setting up the old, dusty green gaming consul, Amanda watched me as she brushed her thick blond hair over her shoulder. While I was busy snapping in the controllers, she flicked at the clip holding back my own dark hair.

"Could I braid your hair tonight?"

"Eh?" I asked.

"Cozy taught me this weird way of braiding and I've wanted to try it out. It's a little hard with mine, seeing it's on my head."

"Uh, sure, if you want to."

After turning on the TV, I sat back and curled up amongst the seat of pillows I had made, my hands hugging the controller. You'd think that this would be a bit off for two teenage girls. Sleepovers were traditionally full of giggles, make-up, talk of boys, squealing, yet here we were, quietly talking over an old Nintendo 64 about to play Zelda. Amanda and I had always been, since grade school, oddballs. Though, to us, there was no such thing as odd. I glanced over at Amanda, smiling.

"Now," I started dramatically, my hand inching to the power switch, "we shall turn on the wonderful, spectastical world-"

She was snorting before I even finished in laughter.

"-with drooling hero's who don't speak a word, and dragons, and blond maidens (always blond, you see), and giant villains with dwarf names!"

"Get on with it!"

"The legend of Zelda! And the Ocarina of Time!"

I switched it on. The red light glowed to life. The screen flickered and the Nintendo symbol appeared. We waited for the scene of the moon with Epona galloping across the screen, but it didn't come. Instead, it blazed white, and a strange hum issued from the 64 as though it were working overtime. Our eyes dropped down to the trembling Nintendo.

"Oh, no!" I cried, aghast, "After all these years, now it decides to give up on me?"

"Nonsense." said Amanda. "All it needs is a good hit."

And before I could stop her she gave the poor Nintendo a harsh rap. In a jerk the screen grew brighter instead of getting better, and the annoying hum rose till it filled the room. My surroundings grew blurry as though I had rubbed my eyes too hard. I squinted.

"Why the freak did you do that for?"

"I was just trying to help!" she said loudly over the noise. "Jeeze!"

"Yah, beating the 64, great idea."

The bright glare was turning to the point of blinding. Amanda's retort was drowned out in the loudening noise. Soon, all I could see where the edges of the TV. Panicked bewilderment took hold of me, and I felt my hands lose grip on my glasses.

Why did my head hurt so much? With the pain came a peculiar smell and a sudden chill. Why was it so cold in my room? My stomach suddenly plummeted as I fell. I tried to scream, but my voice had disappeared. My sight had disappeared. For all I knew, I was but a pair of falling eyeballs in the abyss of white.

And then that white turned dark, and I knew nothing.

Slowly, I came too. First came the smell: mossy and clean with a strong scent of bark. Dizzyingly, I wondered what I was doing outside.

Somehow I found my eyes again and opened them just to be momentarily blinded by the blast of color and light. I blinked away the sting. Green. Soft green grass obscured my view, but in the line of clearance that hovered above it I saw the base of a large, gray stone; its surface flat and smooth. In a daze I slid my stiff arms beneath me and pushed myself to my knees. Tall, mighty trees with trunks big enough for both Amanda and I to hide behind circled the clearing. I had never seen such trees. Lost in astonishment, it took me some time to realize that I wasn't alone.

Young and lean, the young man sat on the stone besides me. He watched me with a piercing grey blue gaze. His clothes were strange to me: forest green tunic with a matching long hat, leggings, and thick leather gauntlets. Golden bangs burst forth from beneath his cap, and though his mouth was pulled into a grim line, his handsome face bore the serious expression well. On meeting my eyes he straitened, pulling on the off-white sleeves of his undershirt.

"Who are you?"

His voice was low and calm. A tingling of familiarity grew in the back of my mind. He looked familiar. Still in shock, I could not reply. My eyes found their way to his long, pointed ears, and stayed there.

"I said 'who are you?' Do you understand what I'm speaking?"

I nodded numbly. His smooth eyebrows furrowed.

"Can you speak?"

I nodded again.

"Are you injured?" still, the same seriousness. This was out of business, not concern.

Blankly, I tore my eyes away to examine myself. I still wore my shorts and blue t-shirt, but there was no sign of injury. I looked again to the serene greenery about me.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"Don't you know?"

"No…not at all." My voice shook.

"Kokiri Forest. Refresh your memory?"

"Eh? Kokiri…"

"Yes. Kokiri Forest, in Hyrule."

I fell to my hands. My knees ached. My head hurt worse though. Kokiri Forest? Hyrule? What? The elbow I leaned on threatened to give way. I only thought about it for a moment before shrugging it off. What the heck, a cosplay nerd fan? Out of all the random places to find one… Through my delirium, I couldn't help the mirth from entering my voice.

"This is a weird place to find a Zelda fan." I said.

He cocked his head to the side.

I rubbed my aching head. "Now where am I really? Or am I just hallucinating. I wonder if old N64's have a knack of doing that."

The handsome young man said nothing but kept his sharp eyes on me. They shone brightly, giving the impression of a strong mind behind them. I met his expression through my fingers.

"Then again…you seem really lifelike." It was hard to think. Sighing, I looked back at the lush green forest about me. The details of each leaf were amazing. I could even see how they shivered in the barest of breezes, throwing sunlit diamonds across the grassy forest floor. Birds and creatures whistled or chirped in the distance to each other, and all around me, permeating every breath, was that remarkable smell of everything breathing and alive. Could this really be just in my head?

The man suddenly stood and abruptly turned to walk off. My heart leapt in panic.

"Wait! Don't leave me here!"

He stopped, looking over his shoulder. I felt my cheeks flush lightly.

"I…I really don't know where I am."

"I already told you," he said tonelessly, "you are in the Kokiri Forest. You got in here, you can get out."

"How? And where would I go?"

"You tell me."

He turned to leave again.

"No! Please!" I scrambled to my feet, "I don't know how I got into this weird forest. I live in a desert—you know, lots of sagebrush, dust, really hot—and then I just…" Suddenly it all just overwhelmed me, striking me dumb. My mouth opened and shut helplessly in attempt to make the only person around in this strange place stay. I couldn't think. I couldn't move. My knees buckled and I feel back to the forest floor. The sharp eyes watched me, unfathomable. A piece of me laughed at my groveling to some freak Zelda fan in the middle of a forest. I mean, he was even all dressed up in cosplay as some persona of Link. You can't get weirder than that. Another piece of me yet commented to that piece that I dressed up like Link myself at fourteen and had no room to talk.

"So, you're from the desert?"

I said nothing, my head spinning. My gaze on the bright green grass blurred.

"A little fair skinned for that, don't you think?"

"It's hot outside." I garbled stupidly.

He chuckled in his throat. "It's hot."

"I should be the one laughing at you. You're the one dressed up like Link. Though it's the most realistic I've ever seen. Good job."

His demeanor changed at that, lightening. I became more interesting to him and he took a step back, leaving momentarily forgotten.

"I am Link."

"I know, ha ha. Real great job…oh gosh, I'm confused."

"Have we met?"

"Nope. Not at all." Though I wouldn't mind, I thought. He's cute. A little unfriendly, but cute.

"Oh…So, what do you know about this Link character, then?"

"Why do you care?" I grumbled. "This isn't really the time for a Zelda fan face off. Besides, I haven't played in years."

"Because I want to see if you know more than me." He smirked. "Just to get your mind of your predicament. Maybe we have something in common."

"Ugh…can you just help me out of here?"

"Sure. But first you have to tell me where you're going. 'Out' of the forest is into many places."

"Oh, what the heck, I don't know…"

"Then tell me about this guy for a bit. It might help you relax and clear your mind to talk about something else."

"Mer…" I breathed heavily. "Fine. You're weird, but fine. But why are you asking me what I know? Why don't you just answer my questions? You're the one who put so much time into that costume."

He shrugged. "Makes sense enough. Whatever helps you."

I sat quietly for a moment, thinking. It was remarkable easy to leave behind the unknown of how I got there to something as simple and stupid as a game. At least the guy didn't look like he was jumping up to leave anymore. Even as I thought my question over I wondered once more if this was just a dream. If that was the case, perhaps this wouldn't be so bad. I couldn't remember falling asleep, however.

"Well," I started, watching a large speck float down a column of light, "I feel kind of stupid saying this, but I had always wondered how it was for Link after he beat Ganon and went back seven years to grow up normally—or even how it was for a ten year old to suddenly be 17 and have to save the world. I mean, those weird goddess ladies don't really think about the mental stability of their chosen hero of time, do they? Which reminds me—you know, my friend and I were playing that before I got here." I paused, startled by his reaction. "Are you okay?"

The young man had paled considerable. His eyes had gone wide and the expression of immense alarm that took over his features scared me, for I couldn't be sure if he wouldn't lash out at me. The forest seemed to grow oddly silent in the wake of such shock. I placed a hand back to stabilize myself.

"Are…are you okay? Really? Dude, you look kinda freaky…"

Snapping his mouth shut he shook his head furiously. He took a deep breath before looking back up at me, doing his best to regain composure. Watching such emotion was awkward. I wanted to laugh.

"How do you…" in a flash his face hardened. "Who are you?"

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