She pulled her brown, wavy hair up in a ponytail as she casually strolled between massive pine trees. Contentment spread across her face every time the breeze whipped through the branches, causing them to sing. But Nadia had to face facts. She wasn’t anywhere near her home in Gilbert, Arizona. And she was absolutely lost. Meh, she thought and kept walking nowhere in particular.
She enjoyed her solitude as night fell. Quietly humming to herself until she heard the telltale sound of a twig breaking under heavy footsteps. She fell silent trying to pierce the darkness with her hazel green eyes, wondering who or what was sharing the forest with her. It was so dark she could see little more than a few feet in each direction. She heard a low, haunting growl quickly followed by a response. Whatever animal was approaching Nadia, was not alone. So not a who, she thought overly casual.
She searched her surroundings, but the lush pines were transformed into horribly deformed saguaro cacti. The unnaturally long and sharp needles appeared to be reaching for Nadia’s bare-arms with a desire to harm her.
“Great,” Nadia whispered rolling her eyes. “Back in the hot, dry desert. Home, sweet home.” The pleasant, cool breeze mercilessly stopped the second she realized she was back in the Arizona desert and was simultaneously replaced by the oppressive heat of an oven. She wiped sweat out of her eyes continuing to search for a safe escape. But the cacti were so thick she was unable to get more than a few steps. Her clothing got snagged and torn, while her arms and legs were poked and sliced bleeding freely.
She was grumbling to herself about moving north the first chance she got, when her heart skipped a beat. Nadia heard the same low growl once more, but it was directly behind her. She tried to hold perfectly still, hiding a shudder when she felt sticky, putrid breath on the back of her neck. She swallowed passed the lump in her throat. Glancing back, she gasped into the face of the largest coyote she had ever seen. Standing on all fours, the beast could look directly into Nadia’s face with little more than a head tilt. She could see that the freakishly oversized coyote was thin, with a hungry look in its yellow eyes. Nadia was frozen with fear as the bear-sized coyote approached her open mouthed. She stumbled back with shock, as it gently licked her on the face.
“What the?” She felt pressure on her chest as the coyote licked her again. “Stop that,” she swatted at the coyote, opening her eyes.
Sitting on her chest was her mom’s miniature, long-haired dachshund. “Roxanne,” Nadia pushed the dog off her chest. Unlike the coyote, Roxanne was very well fed and she showed it. Sitting up in her own bed Nadia sighed, “You ruined my dream.” Roxanne licked her on the face once more, before jumping down and trotting from the room, tail wagging happily.
I must get my own place, Nadia thought again for the hundredth time since she had turned 18 over eight months ago. She squinted at the clock then her window.
Nadia growled about fat, little, hairy irritations as she rolled over trying to go back to sleep, but it was too late. Her mind was running through her usual to do lists. Work, school, homework, repeat.
At 2:00 AM she gave up on trying to fall back to sleep. Flipping on her computer, she mindlessly searched social network sites until she was bored. She yawned dramatically as she began searching for new book releases. She loved to read and felt the need to find a good fantasy adventure book to lose herself in. She would much rather have a real adventure. But the reality was she probably would never find a ring of power that needed to be destroyed or go to a school for magic where anything was possible. She sighed, judging each book by its cover and daydreaming about an epic quest far away from boring, hot, predictable Arizona. She smiled at the idea of sailing across the seven seas in search of lost treasures that would end her debt and bring about world peace. Finding nothing, she exited out of the book search, but it was seamlessly replaced by a pop-up.
Could you use an adventure?
Yes or No
Nadia usually just closed all pop-ups finding them annoying, but this one was ironic.
She played along by clicking yes.
Do you WANT an adventure?
Yes or No
“Really?” she wondered aloud. “What a strange question.” But she did as the pop-up told her. She thought about the idea of an adventure and what that would mean to her: unusual places, interesting people, constant danger, epic stories, change of scenery, random injuries, maybe even death. She shrugged. What could really happen? She clicked yes.
Remember, you chose yes freely.
The pop up was on the screen just long enough for Nadia to read it and then it disappeared. Boring. She threw herself into bed. She was hoping the pop-up would at least take her to an interesting travel site or something entertaining. She yawned widely as she stared out her window at the waxing moon hoping for another dream. Each time she dreamt it was like she was having a mini adventure without any of the terrible consequences. Her second adventure that night did not let her down.
She was strolling down a white, sandy beach just far enough away from the water as to not get her feet wet. The sand felt like light powder. With each step, she tried to cover her feet with sand enjoying the feel of it between her toes. It was a beautiful night full of seagull calls with a light breeze carrying their sound away. Nadia was looking for seashells or other small beach treasures. She was content to walk alone, without out a care listening to the crashing of the waves.
Nadia avoided glancing out at the water for more than a few seconds. The sun had just set and the water was as black as a starless midnight.
She had never liked the ocean. Just looking at it, imagining what creatures were lurking out of sight under the murky water, made her look at her feet. She had to remind herself that she was still on the safe beach. She always thought that she would make a delicious snack for a hungry shark. When she did get up the courage to enter the water, she would only go in knee deep and ran back to the shore if something brushed her leg, even if it was seaweed. Movement out passed the white capped waves caught her attention. She took a tentative step toward the water’s edge and squinting through the gloom she could just make out a little boy in the water and he was struggling to stay afloat. She called out to him, but he was too far from the shore. She threw down the treasures she had collected and ran straight toward the boy without giving a second thought to her fear of the ocean or how dark the murky depths were.
She struggled to push passed the crashing, sand-filled waves as she ran as far as she could in the icy water. When the strong waves were hitting her at hip level she had to dive in. Nadia could not remember the last time she really had to swim hard. She swam far from the calm shore and her comfort zone. She pushed her body and will power to its limits as she swam against the waves toward the boy. She was wearing rolled up blue jeans and a t-shirt which made her heavy in the water. Her clothing forced her to have to push that much harder to get past the crashing, sand filled, salty waves. Nadia was about ten feet from the boy when she could see him clearly. He was laughing and not a young boy at all. He looked to be at least 50, or so, and he was not at all struggling.
Nadia was gently bobbing in the water, kicking to stay afloat as she breathlessly asked, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”
The man started to laugh so hard his eyes rolled in his head. He called to her in a harsh, menacing voice, “You swam all the way out here to save me? You ran into the ocean forgetting your fears to rescue little ol’ me? Well, let’s play a game Nadia. Let’s play ‘what brushed my foot?’”
“What?” Nadia began as something brushed her leg. She scrambled to pull both of her legs to her chest and still keep her head above the water. The man threw his head back and laughed, making Nadia’s skin crawl. She tried to see whatever creature was swimming dangerously close to her. But she could not even see her own hand inches under the surface of the water. She desperately glanced around looking for the fastest way out of the situation. She felt panic rising in her throat, as she realized how far she was from the beach and the safety of the dry, creature-less sand. She looked back at the man as something brushed her foot again. Her fear was quickly overwhelming her, as each wave pushed her further from the sanctuary of the shore and closer to the unknown man and whatever water monster she was sharing the ocean with.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered almost inaudibly. Her heart was pounding so fast, she was afraid she was going to have a heart attack. She had to take a few deep calming breaths as she gripped her legs sinking in the water each time she breathed out. “Who are you and how do you know me?”
She gasped, swallowing salty water when she considered the man’s eyes for the first time. Not only were they full of triumphant hatred, but they were also a deep, burnt orange. She started to swim back toward the shore as she coughed up the water. She had completely forgotten the sea creature that had been circling her legs.
“Oh Nadia,” the man said with a wicked grin. “Do you think I am going to let you go that easily?” Just then, as if by some unseen cue, the sea creature finally yanked Nadia under the water. It was so sudden she didn’t have a chance to breathe, gasping instead and taking in another mouth full of putrid, sea water. She struggled to free herself, fighting with all her strength against an unknown enemy. She kicked hard, connecting with something slimy and was able to breach the surface. Her eyes stinging, she took a huge, much needed breath. Her heart was beating so loudly, she didn’t even hear the man laughing harder than he had before.
“What the hell?” she coughed when she had finally caught her breath.
“Language, Nadia,” the orange-eyed man said in a lecturing voice. “Maybe another game will help your attitude. How about ‘you didn’t know’?”
Nadia’s body decided to swim hard for shore, before her mind knew what she was doing. Please, she thought. No more games. The shore was getting closer, which gave Nadia the much-needed energy to continue to swim.
“It’s simple, really,” the man said, gaining on Nadia without putting forth any effort. “For example, you didn’t know how tired your arms are.” Nadia slowed down. “Or how debilitating the cold water is.” Nadia’s teeth started to chatter fiercely as she sluggishly doggy paddled. “You didn’t know how heavy your wet clothes are.” She stopped swimming for shore, struggling to stay above the water. “The most important item you didn’t know, is how welcoming death truly is.”
He’s right, Nadia thought as she allowed her head to slip under the surface of the water and her body to get pulled by the oceans currents. Death would be a welcome relief from this nightmare. And didn’t someone once call it ‘the last great adventure’?
Inches under the water, Nadia’s eyes stung as she looked up at the bright moon illuminating the night’s sky.
She kicked hard and breached the surface once more, taking a deep breath into her starved lungs. “No,” she said to the man. “No more games. Tell me why you are doing
The man was livid. “Why?” he snarled. “I’ll tell you why. You chose this. You wanted this. You chose yes!” he screamed as he forced her head under the water once more.