She was aware of being shaken gently and of concerned voices speaking (to me?) to her, but what she was most aware of was the most incredible head rush she’d ever had in her life. Reality swam enticingly in and out, just beyond her reach. Slowly, she became aware of a nagging nauseous feeling as well, just enough to be irritating, which she strove immediately to control.
“Are you okay? Helloooo, hello in there. Are you all right?” prompted a voice. Belonging presumably, she thought, to the hands that had been shaking her….
Groaning, she attempted to rouse herself and discovered alarmingly that she was lying on her back (in someone’s arms!) She bolted upright, sucking in her breath, eyes wide.
“Hey, hey, take it easy, you’re okay.”
Fiona was instantly sorry she’d sat up. The pounding in her head had increased by, she felt, at least a thousand-fold. She jammed her eyes shut again, though she remained wary. She didn’t know what she’d seen, but it was definitely not raining and there was no sign of the road she’d been walking on. Even assuming that her venture (Cedric) into the rain was all a daydream and she was still in the kitchen helping Kay and Virginia prepare dinner for Mother… this wasn’t the kitchen, nor even her house. Come to think of it, who was that guy talking to her?
Everything came rushing back to her in an uncomfortable onslaught of memory. She’d been preparing dinner with her sisters while Mother finished her painting. “We’ll make cherries jubilee for dessert to celebrate,” whispered Kay excitedly, brandishing a bottle of brandy in a brown paper bag for the recipe. A conspiratorial grin lit up Kay’s face, to be met by a troubled look and a betrayal of tears in Fiona’s own brown eyes, which had ensued in her tumultuous trek into the rain.
It was rather ridiculous to get upset over a dessert just because it had always been the dessert they’d made for Cedric’s birthday in the past. After all, he’d been dead nearly a year now, she thought painfully. Yeah. Tell that to my heart. But Fiona remembered specifically her bare feet splashing through the puddles on the rough asphalt of Sheridan Street, her soaked moccasins in her hands, and just as she’d been winding up her crying jag, eyes sore and aching, she’d stepped into a forest. A forest, in the middle of the road. A dry forest, with dry leaves crackling beneath her wet bare feet, jabbing them gently, sticking to them as she walked a few more shocked steps.
In one completely bewildered second, Fiona had forgotten all about her reason for crying, why she had even been outside at all, and threw her gaze incredulously over her shoulder, expecting to see the road, rain pouring down from the stormy sky…. And all there’d been were trees. No rain, no houses, nothing, just trees. Like when you drove under a bridge, or through a tunnel during a storm, and it gets quiet and dry for a second, and then back out into the storm again. Except that she hadn’t walked back out into the storm.
Fiona had nimbly slipped her feet into her soaked moccasins; as she walked a few more steps, they squished softly. Moving as if in a dream, she’d heard voices, and as she made her way toward them, she became aware of a slight sense of vertigo, which grew gradually worse as she approached.
Soon, she’d stumbled upon the voices, which belonged to (three?) a few kids reclining in the grass. She had swayed a little, uttered a hesitant, “Excuse me,” but that had been all she could manage; she had lost her balance and fell. How humiliating, she thought bitterly.
Fiona found herself, as her disorientation wore off, looking into dark brown eyes beneath (is that a tie?) a necktie, tied around the forehead of a face that registered concern, astonishment, and amusement all at once.
“You gonna make it?”
She looked around, slowly, so as not to exacerbate the thumping in her head.
A girl with short black hair and bright blue eyes gazed thoughtfully back at her, a serious expression on her face. Another boy with red hair hovered near, concern on his face.
And all around them were trees. Everywhere.
She lifted a hand to shade her eyes from the brightness of the sun, frowning. Clearing her throat, Fiona asked weakly,
“How – how did I get here? Where am I?”
The boy who had helped her up grinned at the others.
“She’s asking us,” he gibed affably.
Fiona blinked at him.
“Okay, let’s do introductions again,” he said. “My name’s Rick, that’s – Andrew?”
Fiona watched the red-haired guy nod affirmatively.
“And,” finished Rick with a flourish, “that’s Elise.” He turned back to Fiona, his eyebrows lifted inquiringly.
“Fiona Wolfe,” she managed in return, as the pounding in her temples seemed to match the beat of her heart thump for thump.
“Fiona,” began the girl with short hair carefully as she squatted down next to her, “you don’t know where you are?”
Fiona looked into the girl’s intense blue eyes and shook her head slowly in return.
“Should I?” She paused. She hadn’t fainted exactly – she’d fainted at Cedric’s death and once more at his funeral, so she knew up close and personal what that was like. So something happening while she was unconscious was not a convenient explanation for the how and why of her whereabouts. No, she explicitly recalled walking from an ankle-deep puddle in torrential rain onto dry, forest-infested land and the scenery had changed right along with it. Rather like someone had changed her personal channel. True, she’d fallen, but she hadn’t been hurt; she’d fallen because of a loss of balance due to the intensity of that horrible head rush. All she knew was she’d been there one moment on Sheridan Street and
“… here the next,” Fiona marveled to discover herself speaking aloud. She studied the sympathy on their faces, picking up on the knowing looks that passed around the small circle.
Taking a deep breath, Fiona asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?
Apparently, she thought, this was more complicated than she had first supposed. Everyone, Fiona had learned, had “found themselves here” for no special reason, – and not everyone had just blundered blithely into it like she had – and that was more than she could accept. And Rick, Andrew, and Elise seemed to be more concerned with how they got here and their location but, while she would certainly appreciate the answers to those two questions herself, she was more interested in what they planned to do now that they were here. They all seemed to be content with this little stream. Why didn’t they get up and find their way out of this forest? Find some people so they could get home?
“Because,” Rick replied to her query, “this is the best place for us… it’s next to the water.”
What that had to do with all the tea in China, Fiona thought impatiently as a blank expression crossed her face, she was sure she didn’t know.
“He means that if we have to spend the night out here, we’re going to need water,” explained Elise.
Fiona stared. Spend the night? Out here?
After listening with growing dismay to the little assembly’s observations and conclusions, Fiona had discovered that Rick and Elise had already pitted their prowess against the forest for a few hours (she was given to believe that Andrew, had, as she had, recently arrived, though with considerably more grace). Having journeyed around the surrounding region and found no trace of civilization, their little group was, according to Rick and Elise, in the middle of nowhere. How encouraging.
“And if I have to be in the middle of nowhere, I’d personally rather be next to some water instead of dry and thirsty,” Rick had asserted vehemently.
Not only that, but it seemed to them that the sun had moved since they had first arrived, meaning that it was later in the afternoon. If this was indeed, an afternoon, since they had all disappeared from Rockville about an hour before dusk. As was already obvious, it certainly was not dark, nor dusk, nor anything approaching it. Which meant that they weren’t in Rockville, the other three had concluded rather glumly.
Weren’t in Rockville?
“If you notice, the leaves are shaped differently than at home,” offered Andrew, trying earnestly to provide some kind of proof.
“And the sun’s way too bright,” added Elise, gesturing upward.
“The air smells different,” was Rick’s contribution, as Andrew and Elise nodded stolidly in agreement.
And so it had basically come down to three questions: were they in Rockville, and if so, where? Or if they weren’t in Rockville, then just where were they? And wherever they were, how did they get there?
Andrew argued that he didn’t think they were in Rockville. Rick agreed with him.
“You know, this is all well and good, but for all I know, I’m asleep and dreaming and none of you are real,” declared the girl in the heavy sweatshirt as she stoically rolled her sleeves up.
Fiona raised her eyebrows skeptically. I don’t think this is your dream, she thought, because I definitely wouldn’t be in it.
“You don’t honestly believe that, do you?” What’s-his-name with the commando-style tie replied. Shaking his head, he continued, “I mean, no offense, but if you’re dreaming about me, then something is seriously wrong. Like some really wild drugs or something.”
“It could happen,” retorted Elise defensively.
Commando held up a hand to pacify her. After a while, he dug Andrew in the ribs. “Actually, I could really get to like this, girls dreaming about me, you know? Being in their dreams? Think about it.”
When a smirk from Andrew encouraged him, Rick turned back to Elise.
“Is this like, a really hot and steamy dream? Because I’ve got all kinds of ideas we could put into play….” he grinned winningly.
Elise rolled her eyes at Fiona and heaved a sigh of exasperation as she shook her head in disgust. Fiona couldn’t suppress a small smile.
“Hm. I’m gonna take that as a no. Ah, well….” Rick sighed with great exaggeration. He laughed as he dodged a rock thrown his way from Elise.
“Actually, I think we’re – somewhere else – altogether,” conjectured Andrew, growing serious again. “We’ve ruled out the Afterlife, and I think it’s safe to say this isn’t anyone’s dream, and we can’t be in Rockville anywhere, because it would be rainy still, or at least overcast, like it was when Fiona and I – left.” He shrugged and glanced up at the trees. “It’s not even dark out.”
Having obtained the attention of everyone, Fiona included, Andrew continued with his theory. “Look at how we got here, after all.”
“I suggest you don’t even bother trying to figure it out,” came a deep voice. “I’ve been walking for almost four hours and I haven’t gotten any answers yet.”
Was there someone else Fiona hadn’t met yet? She glanced up to see a tall, broad-shouldered boy down the stream striding toward them through the long grass.