Ryleigh found herself in a part of the woods she had never seen before.
She had been skipping along the creek chasing a bullfrog who was winning the race when she’d tripped on her untied shoelace. Brushing the dirt and leaves from her already scabbed knees, she noticed a hole about her size in brambles that formed a perimeter around the creek.
The frog long gone, and having gotten bored with the game anyways, she ducked through the portal and followed it into the woods.
As she moved deeper into the passage, it got progressively darker as the thorns weaved between each other, nearly blocking out the sun. She never got scared, or at least admitted it to herself, because she could see the light at the end of the tunnel ahead of her. Even though it was a constant beacon, it felt like it never grew closer until she found herself stumbling out into the cool afternoon sunlight filtering through a thousand leaves above her.
On young legs, she sprang to her feet to take in the surroundings. The familiar smell of the forest greeted her, but the other expected parts were missing. There was no sound from woodland creatures and no familiar markers.
To her left was a creek that moved silently, contributing to the place’s overall silence.
Being a lover of the water and a regular creek chaser, Ryleigh walked the soft dirt at the creek edge, looking for critters to capture.
Unlike her familiar creeks and streams, nothing swam through the crystal clear creek. Just as she was getting bored and preparing to turn back, there was a reflection in the distance. It was an upside-down bridge reflecting a right side up bridge giving the illusion of a complete circle half real and half reflected. She’d heard of devil bridges before but had never seen one with her own eyes.
Quickening her step, she half ran half skipped towards the structure only to come to an abrupt halt.
An ethereal wailing filled the woods. Ryleigh identified the source as coming from under the bridge. The sounds were so pitiful her curiosity overcame her fear as she crept closer.
In a nook under the bridge, imperceptible until she drew close, was a figure in black robes, head buried in hands, wailing.
“Are you ok?” She said softly.
The crying stopped.
“I was just walking along the creek here when I heard you sobbing.”
The person made an indecipherable sound, Ryleigh decided it might have been sniffling.
“Maybe I should just go,” she said, slowly backing up.
“No, no,” came the voice behind the hands. “If you’re here, it means the worst has already come to pass.”
“The worst? Surely it can’t be that bad,” the girl offered, unsure if she should move closer or further away.
“Most certainly the worst,” the person said, still cradling their face. “I’ve slept for millennia, and I have dreamed of words beyond measure rising and falling. I’ve seen universes created and destroyed and reborn. All of that, and yet I slept in the endless dreaming.”
“That sounds mighty interesting.”
“It was. I slumbered in that place between peace and madness, and now I’m awake.”
“I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night because I’m thirsty or I have to pee, but then I lay back down and go back to sleep. Have you tried going back to sleep?”
“The wall between sleeping and waking has fallen. I’ve dreamt of you, little Ryleigh. I knew you were coming, and it’s why you’re here—to show me that the doors are open and that it’s time to awaken.”
“I didn’t see no door; I just followed a path through the briars. Though it is kind of odd in the place.”
The sky above her had darkened, and in the place of the familiar sky was uncountable suns in billions of swirling galaxies and more stars than she’d ever seen.
“You are in the dreaming now,” the figure spoke.
“Well, should we get you back out of here?” Ryleigh asked, her voice shaking as the strangeness of the entire experience began to settle in.
She stretched out her tiny hand to the person. Though she couldn’t see it, she could feel an eye peering at her through the fingers.
“I suppose so, little one.”
As the hands dropped from the face, Ryleigh realized calling this thing a person was a misnomer. It was a horror beyond description, and if she had not had the young, malleable brain of a child that had the space to entertain fantastical things, she would have been driven mad by its appearance.
“Lead me on, child,” the thing said in a voice emanating from somewhere beyond conscious understanding. “You have awoken me, and I must call out to the other old ones. It is the time of ending.”
Reaching behind her so that she wouldn’t have to keep looking, she felt the amorphous appendage slide into her hand as she lead it back towards the briar portal and their shared destiny.
Copyright © 2021 TJS Sherman All rights reserved.