“I just wanted some new pens,” Andrew whined, fixing his slipper back onto his foot. “I just had to go outside and get some and not order them online like a damn sane person!”
The middle of the woods. How could he end up lost in a forest? He wasn’t even sure where the nearest group of trees to his house was, and yet he had woken up lying in the dirt, surrounded by the things.
He stood up and shook his arms at his side, trying to clear the fog that had clouded his mind. The last thing he remembered was seeing some piece of junk in front of the office supply store and thinking how weird it was for garbage to be glowing. He must have picked it up and got mugged while distracted. At least, that seemed like the most logical thing to have happened. Not much else would explain why he had gone unconscious and ended up so far from home, his phone and wallet nowhere in sight. It had been dark when he left, too, but the sun overhead told him that plenty of time had passed, so surely he got knocked out.
While he knew that walking around aimlessly in the woods wasn’t the best idea, Andrew didn’t have any other plan. So, he started forward, simply going in the direction he had been facing when he got up.
Surprisingly, his head didn’t hurt, though he couldn’t help but rub the back of it while he walked. Something had to have hit him. Or maybe they had used some sort of chemical? If they did, it would have had to be on the thing he picked up. Which was…
Andrew couldn’t remember what he had seen. All he knew was that it had been glowing and… Calling to him? That didn’t sound right. Garbage couldn’t talk, that would be ridiculous. And yet, the more he tried to think about it, the more he had been sure that he heard someone say his name. The person who took his things must have somehow known who he was, possibly an angry target of one of his articles. That was one of the few logical things that could have happened.
“Hey, can you watch where you’re walking? You’re stepping on my garden!”
Andrew jumped, stumbling back and tripping before falling right onto his ass. “Wha-? Who said that?” A garden? In the woods? He had never heard of such a thing, and when he looked at the ground, he didn’t see anything that looked like one.
“Look what you did! My rock garden is a mess!”
“Rock garden?” Andrew’s gaze snapped around from tree to tree, trying to find the source of the angry person. “Look, even though I don’t get how I could mess up a pile of rocks, I’m sorry I managed to. I’d love to see your face and figure out where I am.” He stood up and wiped his pants free of dirt, still searching for the person he had upset.
The person scoffed. “You tall things never look anywhere but eye level! I’m down here, you oaf!”
“Down where?” Andrew threw his hands up and looked down at his feet. “I only see dirt and pebbles!”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! I’m right here!”
A tiny rock flew into Andrew’s shoe, and when he looked in the direction it came from, he saw what looked to be a tiny green plant sitting on the root of a tree. It had an oval leaf for a head and long, vine legs that were crossed, like how he would sometimes sit in his office chair at home. When it moved, he jumped back with a sound of disgust and readied himself to swat it away if he had to.
“Look, I can tell you how to get to town, but you have to take your weird shoes out of my garden. And, since you’re big enough, if you could bring me that big orange stone a few feet away, that’d be much appreciated!” The little plant hopped off the root, pointing its leaf hand to the left. “If you could set it just in front of me, I can handle the rest. Hauling it over will be just too much of a chore for my small self, y’know?”
Andrew stared at the plant for a few seconds. Then rubbed his eyes and stared again, that time for a few moments longer. Black, beady eyes were looking right back at him, even blinking every so often.
He definitely needed to get to a clinic or something to get a head scan.
“Okay, Andrew, you’re not feeling well, and you need to get out of the forest,” he said as he put his hands over his face. “Maybe subconsciously you know the way out and you’re just… Hallucinating something as a conduit for that information. Yeah, okay, that makes enough sense.” Andrew moved his hands and looked down at the plant again. “I’ll just play along until I find my way out of here. So, I guess I have to grab you that rock. Sure, that’s easy.”
The plant nodded slowly, as if Andrew was the weird one in the situation.
He didn’t even have to walk to grab the rock, simply bending down and picking it up so that he could examine it. “There’s nothing special about this, why do you want it?” He held it up to his face, squinting to see if he had somehow missed anything interesting. “I’ve seen way cooler rocks in a parking lot. Why do you want this one?”
“Something doesn’t have to have much value for someone to like it, you know,” the plant shrugged. “And I’m not sure what a parking lot is, but if you ever find a rock that you like from one, and you happen to be passing by, I would love to see it. Rocks are so much older and wiser than us, so I like to see as many of them as I can.”
“Right, sure, I’ll bring you more rocks if I ever come back to… Where are we again?” Andrew set the stone down where the plant had asked, then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
The plant leaned against its new rock, looking at him as if he had asked a silly question. “We’re in The Forest of Aldoun, of course!” It crossed its weird arms and narrowed its eyes. “Are you from… Over there?”
Andrew sighed, bringing his hand up to his face and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Why did I expect some weird dream to make sense?” he sighed. “Alright, listen, just assume I don’t know anything about this place, alright? I’m not from here—I think, anyway—and I doubt I’m from ‘over there’ either. So why don’t you just give me a short rundown of what you think I need to know, then tell me how I can get to a place where someone can let me use their cell phone.”
“A short rundown? Oh, I wouldn’t know where to begin!” The plant lifted a hand up, holding it out towards Andrew. “First, I should tell you my name. I’m Le’Fison. Friends call me Fi for short. And you would be?”
Not wanting to drag the conversation out for longer than he had to, Andrew reached down and used his pointer finger to attempt a handshake with the thing. For a hallucination, it definitely felt as though he was actually touching a real leaf. “Andrew. I… Don’t really have a nickname, so just Andrew is fine. Now, can you tell me how to get out of these woods?”
“Someone’s in a rush! I would ask if you’re eager for the party the prince is throwing, but I’m guessing you don’t know anything about that, do you?” The plant climbed on top of the new rock, sitting with its legs crossed again. “Well, our beloved prince Elias is celebrating his late father’s birthday. It’s a big party, and he likes to mingle with the common folk to remind them that the royal family is still there for them, like his father was. But I think you’d learn a lot more from heading into town, so I’ll just point you in that direction before I talk your ear off about it all.”
“Yes, finally, thank you,” he said as he took his hand back.
The plant lazily waved to the right. “Just head on that way and you’ll run right into The City of Aldoun. Keep an eye out for more rock gardens, though! Not all of us will be as nice about you stumbling through them.”
“City of Aldoun, sure.” Andrew shook his head. His dreams had never been so vivid and detailed before. Could hallucinations make up this much? Was his mind just trying to fill in the blanks with nonsense?
Regardless of what was happening and why it all seemed so real, he knew he wouldn’t get any answers unless he started walking, so he began his journey home.
“Goodbye, Andrew! Perhaps we’ll meet again. And, if we don’t, I wish you luck! Maybe you’ll get lucky enough to meet the prince!”
“Yeah, I’m sure I will.” He rolled his eyes, waving his hand over his shoulder and grumbling to himself about swearing not to watch weird late-night videos so that he wouldn’t be able to think up something so odd again.
With Le’Fison behind him, Andrew continued his walk through the woods. As much as he wanted to get home and get back to work, he also didn’t rush his confused mind. Mostly because he didn’t want it to come up with some other rock garden nonsense to distract him.
After meandering past more trees than he ever thought there could be in one place, Andrew eventually saw lights. The sun had started to dip below the horizon, so he had made it to civilization just in the nick of time.
Andrew picked up the pace, moving branches out of his way and jumping over any uneven ground or rocks. The closer the lights got, the more he could hear the sounds of a large crowd. Music he had never heard before played under the sound of voices, guiding him to where he could finally see buildings.
Buildings that looked absolutely nothing like ones he had ever seen in his town before. Great. He had ended up way further from home than he initially thought.
He took in a deep breath and walked forward on the stone path that lead into the town. Every building had a straw roof and looked to be made of stones, like some ancient town from the renaissance. Though, they were much taller than any of the ones he had seen in movies, some having four floors. Some of them were also so close together that he had to shuffle his way between them, though they spread out the further into the town he got.
“Do you think he’ll come our way?”
“Oh, I hope so! Elias is so handsome, I wouldn’t mind seeing him in person again!”
Andrew paused at the sound of two female voices, looking over with a smile. Surely they would have phones and could use.
“Excuse me, you ladies wouldn’t happen to-” Andrew’s words died on his lips as soon as he looked at their faces.
Each had blue, glowing tattoos on their foreheads. At first, he thought they might be a glow stick crown or something akin to that, but one of the girls rubbed it when she saw him and the thing didn’t budge. It was a single strip above their brows, and the longer he stared, the brighter they got.
“Can we help you?” One of them raised a brow at him and stepped closer. “You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
“I, uh, I’m not. I just-” Andrew took a step back, bumping into one of the buildings. A warmth came from it that pulsed, almost as if it was alive. “I need to use someone’s phone? If you don’t mind?” His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat, moving away from the building slowly despite wanting to fling himself off of it.
“A phone? I don’t know what that is. Meyal, do you know something called a phone?” The first girl looked at the second girl, the one that had rubbed her forehead.
“No,” she said slowly. “And I don’t think we should be talking to him. Let’s go, Lea.” She grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her away, walking too quickly for Andrew to follow.
“Shit,” he huffed. Andrew looked back at the building, noticing tiny veins of the same blue glowing stuff that the girls had on them. Carefully, he reached forward and let his fingertips touch one of the stones, able to feel it move ever so slightly each time the veins pulsed.
Andrew yanked his hand back, observing it carefully. It hadn’t hurt at all, and it didn’t look like it did anything to him. Other than make him realize that everything he was seeing was real. No dream could be so detailed, and no hallucination could be as clear.
“Huh,” Andrew drawled, his stomach twisting into a knot. “If this isn’t a dream, then…” He looked up at the sky, the darkness of the oncoming night revealing that every building had the same blue phenomenon coursing through them. This place wasn’t his home. It had to be extraordinarily far from it.
His gaze drifted from the sky to the ground, seeing even more of the glowing blue stuff. Specs of it started to float up from the bricks below and cling to his slipper.
Andrew started to run. Where he was going, he didn’t know, but he didn’t want to just stand there any longer. He had to find someone to help him, and he wasn’t going to stop moving his legs until he either found them or his way home.