The creepiest thought that kept repeating itself in Jack’s head was, what if that is some kind of mimic pretending to be a little girl? He could picture some vast hand with a little finger dressed up like a little girl, poking the tip of this little finger through one of the knot holes, and then waiting, palm open and up, all the fingers up and poised, ready to clench, and dumb Jack strolling into that nest of fingers—oh, and then, the...squooshing. Nice thought, that. Especially the squooshing part. That would be just like Jack, rushing up to help a little girl, and instead getting the finger.
His eyes adjusted quickly, going from the dimness of the secluded shadow of the vast boulders in the shade of the towering tree, to the near darkness inside the behemoth tree. It took him only a few minutes to start picking out more and more details as he advanced inside this strange and ancient, hollowed-out world. For though the tree was still alive, still producing foliage, and only a portion of it was carved into caverns, this first chamber he entered was much larger than a college basketball court, with room for all the surrounding bleachers.
At some point, in the long-off and distant past, there had been buildings inside this chamber, but all of that was burned down long ago, and now there were only ruins of what had once been carved wooden pillars, and doors, and tiled wooden floors. He could see the outlines of everything, like architectural drawings or topographical maps. Now there was only a suggestion of past grandeur. And mounds of ash, everywhere, ash that had hardened into what now seemed marbled black-and-gray mounds of slag. It couldn’t be petrified, I mean this couldn’t be that old, could it?
But he tried stepping up on the slag, and then stamping down his boot, and the stuff held, and then he gingerly strode up a small hillock of the marbled slag, and then jumped up and down upon it. It was like cement. Tough, hard, unbreakable. And then he broke through, his weight plunging him into the hardened pile of ash and burned wood, dust, and he found himself standing in the crumbling matter, sunk up to his waist.
The plunge was shocking, but at least he didn’t get hurt. Just like outside the chamber, when he jumped up and down on the remains of the bridge, he had gone and done it again, acting like a little kid, jumping up and down with all his might, grinning stupidly, and then the fall. Always the fall. Was Jack ever going to do anything but fall?
Well, there was the getting up part. He always got up again.
He just had to knock that off, the falling part. He was glad Stacey wasn’t here. Boy oh boy, what would Stacey say? Good night, Jack, do you have to jump on literally everything? Wait, was that literal? Yeah, pretty much, he figured. Jumping Jack.
Hey, how come he could see so well in here, anyway? He looked up and studied the ceilings, where there was bright light entering from somewhere far in the unseen ceiling. He could discern what appeared to be angled mirrors all about the inside of the hollowed-out trunk, now dusty and grimed in antiquity, but somehow still reflecting light down into the tree. Some ingenious device of channeling real light from the outside world into the living cavern.
He started working himself out of the crumbled slag and his boots stirred up something in the ash and dust, something yellow-white. He bent and seized the thing, and brought up the top half of a skull. He stared into its eye hollows and it seemed to stare back at him. Sorry, he mouthed, and gingerly set it aside, up on the unbroken slag heap. Have a look around, Buddy, after all these years. Have a breath of fresh air. He patted it upon the dome, and mentally apologized again for disturbing its long sleep.
He pulled himself back onto the surface of the heap and took a few leaps until he was again upon the dusty and charred wooden tiles of the floor.
Movement caught his peripheral vision and he turned his head to watch the passage of something high up, something immense, flapping vast wings, quiet wings, as the thing the size of an eagle silently flapped lazily about in the chamber, doing a slow circuit of the interior of vault, until it caught on to something high up, and then silently folded down into a crouch, upside down.
Was it a bat? It hadn’t flown like a bat, all crazily, jagging every which way, but slowly, measuredly, like a giant owl. But the thing was up there, unseen now, hanging upside down. Oh yeah, it was a bat. Worse. A monster bat that could probably swoop down and pluck Jack off the ground in its greasy rat claws.
Don’t mind me, Jack sent up the message, trusting in his positive brain waves for delivery—there’s not much down here to suck the life from, only little old me, hardly a slurp for any bloodsuckers up there. Plus, it is still morning, long before noon, right? Bats should be slumbering, in the early daylight. Of course, it is pretty dark in here. But just sleep, guys, and ignore little old me. It’s just me, Jack, hardly worth the suck. Sleep tight, and don’t let the tree bugs bite.
Jack gave one last wave to the skull sitting next to the hole he had just created in the slag. And then he set off across the chamber, weaving in and out of the hardened ash mounds, he picked a pathway across to the far side of the chamber, where he found a ten-foot high alcove, with a curving stairwell carved in the very tree, the wooden stairs still very much alive. It was chilly in here. He paused to extricate his gauntlets from his belt, and he pulled these onto his hands, flexing his fingers in the warmth of the gloves. The gauntlets fit his arms snuggly, almost all the way up to his elbows. He pulled on his hooded cloak and felt comforted, hidden in its camouflage. He returned the arrow to its quiver, and shouldered his bow—he doubted he was going to be too accurate with bow and arrow inside this tree. Instead, he unsheathed his long dagger, and finally mounted the stairway.
The stairs were about ten feet in breadth and did a slow curve, ascending, and the stairwell was dark, except high above and far away, where glowed what must be the light of day, again, as in the main chamber, probably reflected light from outside, and this hollowed-out chamber appeared about thirty feet across. Disoriented, he wasn’t exactly sure on which side of the tree he now climbed, but since he had moved as straight as possible across the vast chamber, he must now be on the far side of the tree, with the sun on the other side of the bark walls. This still provided no clue as to his direction, or location. He had never been good with those things, ever relying upon his GPS to pinpoint where he was in the world.
There had been a bannister on the outside of the stairwell, with gnarled uprights spaced every few steps. But it was gone now, apparently snapped away, so he would have to be careful and stay close enough to the walls for touching with his fingers, dragging them along lest he stray to the middle and do his usual Jack thing and fall over the edge. Oops, sorry Stacey, please catch the ruff of my neck and pull me back? Because the stairwell took a deep plunge in the center, with steps turning downward, in opposition to the stairs leading up. And it was dark down there, in the middle of the stairwell, a bottomless pit, for all Jack did not wish to think.
Jack paused in his ascent of the stairwell, the fingers of his right hand brushing the wall, his dagger in his left hand, tip pointed down and back. He waited, listening, closing his eyes. For just a second, because, he thought—he listened, pushing back his hood, and yes, as he thought, he could hear the murmur of voices, but from which location, either up or down, he couldn’t tell. Quietly, he returned to his climbing, feeling out each step with his toes, testing his weight with each step. A few times he was certain he heard laughter.
There couldn’t be people living here, could there? There was no sign of life, other than the bat thing in the main chamber. Still, in this world, a community of bat people was not out of the question. He shuddered. Maybe Batman would be comfortable in such society, but not Jack. He had never been good at parties. Please, High Vale, no bat people, no bat parties, okay? No bowls of warm blood with little people-shaped noodles of flesh bobbing about.
As he came around a turn in the stairwell he saw two shapes sprawled on the steps, two withered husks of corpses, dead for ages, with not much remaining other than rotted leather and skeletons, rusty metal chainmail, and the tattered remnants of clothing. Three black arrows jutted from one, and four from the other. Jack crouched down, studying the remains of the corpses with time-sharpened eyesight. These were compatriots, fleeing upward together (their heads were aimed up the stairs)—they fell forward in death, pierced by enemy arrows.
Jack reached and tentatively touched one of the black arrows, expecting it to crumble into dust. Wonder of wonders, it seemed solid. He grasped and pulled the arrow and it pulled effortlessly free of the ancient gristle that kept it upright. He tapped the shaft. It was hard. He flicked the black arrowhead and was surprised at how new and sharp it seemed. With hardly a tug he retrieved all seven of the arrows, and each seemed as new as the first. Weird, but utterly cool. Awesome, these must be magic arrows. It was just like in a Dungeons & Dragons RPG, you just kind of bumbled about collecting cool gear. He didn’t want to add these to his quiver—what if they were cursed?
Normally, he’d scoff at the idea of magic and curses (let alone clanking, grinning skeletons bearing scimitars), but in High Vale, you had to keep a lookout for the video game tropes. Cursed black arrows—a cliché, yeah, but how cool! For now, he carried the arrows in a bundle. Seven was the perfect number, because an eighth arrow would be too big for one hand. These babies even had perfectly fletched feathers, at least they looked perfect here in the gloom. They even looked like real feathers.
Something caught Jack’s eye, and he leaned in closer, looking at one of the corpses. There was something in deep, in what remained of the guy’s chest, the tiniest of glitters. Prodding with his handful of arrows, he knocked away dust and flecks of what had once been meat, now crumbly and flaking. And yes, a wink of light! Jack reached in with his left hand and extracted what appeared to be a glowing diamond. About the size of a dice. Nice. It glowed, producing light the intensity of a smartphone screen. How awesome was that? He held it up before his eyes, turning the small bauble in his fingers, admiring the winking facets, a sparkling diamond, producing its own faint blue light. In a dark place, this would prove an adequate, if nearly insignificant light source.
He prodded about some more in the corpse, just to see if there was anything else salvageable, but only managed to turn up jutting ribcage bones. Gross. But it was somehow comforting, to imagine the guy, long ago, climbing these stairs, a real person. Until the arrows took him from behind. He glanced at the other sprawled shape. It was worth a little search. So he went to the other body and prodded in its chest, and yes, found another glowing diamond, a little smaller than the first, but producing about the same amount of bluish light.
Was that the reward system here, you killed something, and found a little treasure where its heart should be? Silly, but cool.
Two glowing diamonds and seven black arrows. Nice haul. Okay, that’s good, a successful adventure, yep, let’s head for home! Jack grinned, chuckling, and shook his head. Nope, onward, and upward. Because this was epic! He was never going home!
Confident now that the steps would not collapse beneath him, he took the stairs much more quickly, taking some of them two or three at a time. He glanced down into the gaping maw, the bottomless pit, but could discern nothing down there. He could not be certain, but he must have ascended several stories, at least, maybe three, or four. If this were a building, he must be four floors up. Of course, he hadn’t been counting his steps. He could have climbed much higher than he was guessing. But he could see better, so there was more light now.
He jogged up the steps, but reminded himself to be quiet, and not get too excited. Any second might find him blundering into a group of hungry orcs. Great, they’d say, just in time for a quick dinner, welcome Jack! Kick your boots off, get comfortable. We’ll provide the seasoning, you provide the meat!
Coming about a bend Jack suddenly saw above him that the stairs wound in front of a window, or doorway, and his heart leapt as he caught a glimpse of blue sky. He hurried upward, ready for a break from the gloomy monotony of the dark, claustrophobic tree hollows. And yes, he mounted a few more steps and there he was, at an arched doorway leading to the outside, but he made himself pause just at the edge, and he peered around the corner of what appeared to be a balcony leading out into sunshine and fresh air. He studied the floor. There was no seam or construction. This seemed to be a great knothole in the tree, a natural opening, but the floor was carved with letters, or runes, or Latin numerals, but still, he was less interested in the floor than the expanse of the balcony, and assuring himself that all looked safe, he strode from the stairwell and the cave-like passageway out onto the floor of the great knot, and it was awesome.
He glimpsed the view spreading out, recognizing the walls and peaks of the mountainous punchbowl in the next valley over. And the sunshine washed over him, and he clenched his eyes, blinking in the brightness of day. He set his bundles of arrows upon the floor and tucked his diamonds into his pocket. He pushed back his hood, and then shrugged out of his cloak, and lay the garment near the pile of arrows.
He shrugged out of his pack and plunked it down on top of his cloak. He rummaged in the bag and produced his wine bottle and another small loaf of hard bread. Uncorking the bottle, he strode to the edge of knothole. It rose up about him at about waist height, and seemed about six feet thick, a natural barrier to the great fall just on the other side, and he sipped at his wine and ripped off hunks of bread with his teeth, enjoying the view. Leaning on the rough-bark bannister, he peered over the side. Wow, he really had climbed, because the great boulders below looked small, perhaps more than a hundred feet down. He looked up and felt dizzy, because the tree rose magnificent above him, and it was probably another hundred feet to the first large branch that traveled hundreds of yards outward.
This balcony was like a cave, with the first ten feet covered by a fifteen-foot ceiling of bark, emerging to another twenty feet of open space, naked to the weather.
He scanned the trunk and noticed many knotholes above him, similar to this natural balcony.
Sipping at his wine, but reminding himself to go very easy with the drink, he looked out over the world. A vast valley opened up here, that seemed limitless, a forest spreading out below him undulating with hills and craggy mountains.
The giant tree clung on the edge of a vast cliff face, which looked to provide a fall that plunged down a couple of miles, the three giant boulders hanging at the lip of the cliff, one boulder hanging halfway out over the cliff. Someday that boulder would probably finally give up the ghost and wander over the edge, to create both an earthquake and a primeval crater at the bottom. Impossibly, the giant tree and its three potting boulders were dwarfed by the cliff and the valley beyond. It struck Jack for the first time how vast was the world of High Vale.
The tallest building from his old world could fit in this tree, and boost the Empire State Building on its shoulders, and that would place King Kong’s perch up in the middle of its branches. That might be the kind of quest you had in High Vale, taking a few weeks to scale to the very pinnacle of this tree, and catch a view from up there.
Yes, that would be worth the trek. Just for the view. As spectacular as his view was now, just try and imagine the view from up at the top of this tree, it would be like looking down from the International Space Station. He supposed you would need to carry some kind of fast-respirating house plant, you breathed on it and kept it alive, it breathed back at you and kept you alive. Great system, that, Jack ought to file a patent.
Jack reclined against the tree and looked back into the cave from whence he’d come, and then noticed the arch of letters above this knothole. About fifteen feet above him, along the edge of the knothole the letters were carved in fifteen-inch-high characters. Jack sighed, reading the words.
Mind Awakened Neural Directed Ascension.
Whatever that meant. It sounded scientific. He was glad the words were carved out of his reach, otherwise he would probably be dumb enough to place his naked palm upon the letters, and who knew where he’d find himself? Hey, it had happened before, twice (of course, those times, it had been his own name).
Then his eyes traced up the tree trunk another fifty feet or so, and there looking out over the edge of another, but much smaller knothole, was a little girl with golden hair. She looked like a wild child, with dreadlocks, and a rough rag of a tunic. She waved at him.
Jack waved back, smiling up at her, saluting the little girl with his gnawed-on mini loaf of hard bread.
“Hello!” Jack called. She sure was a pretty little girl, at least she looked adorable at this distance. Then he remembered his earlier imagination of a great hand with the little girl disguise on its little finger. Boy, that was a vivid image.
“Hello Jack!” the little girl called in return. She seemed to be leaning a little too far over the barrier.
“Be careful!” Jack called up, and then he realized what she had said. “How did you know my name?”
Her musical little giggle tinkled down.
“Silly!” she called back.
That was more like it. Didn’t everyone call him silly? He must be a natural-born jester. Or at least he looked like one, because he knew he wasn’t all that witty. Nope, no king would be hiring him anytime soon to do stand-up comedy. Thanks a lot, folks, you’ve been great, now remember to tip your cocktail waitresses!
“Are you looking for me?” he called up.
“Silly, I am looking at you,” she returned.
“Are you okay?”
“Do you mean, am I safe?”
Her voice was full of wind-chime mirth. She was enjoying this, whatever this was. In some strange way, she was teasing him. She reminded him somehow of Seven.
“You’re not alone are you?”
“Jack, you are so silly! I am with you, how can I be alone?”
“Do you want me to come up to you?”
“What are you going to do, Jack, fly?”
That was a good point. Unless the stairwell suddenly expanded very soon, it would lead nowhere near her knothole.
“So do you just want to yell back and forth at each other?” he called.
“Want to see a trick?” she called back.
“Sure!” Jack called, amused. If this was some kind of trick to disarm him, it was so over, because he was utterly enchanted by the little girl.
“One!” she called, lifting up a finger. She lifted another finger. “Two!”
And then she ducked down out of sight.
Some trick, he thought.
“Three!” said a voice, way too near him.
Jack whirled, and there she stood, just outside the balcony, under the shelter of the alcove.
“Whoa, that was some trick,” he said, grinning at her, his heart pounding.
“I saw something like it in a movie,” the little girl said.
“The Prestige?” he queried, because her trick had reminded him of The Transported Man trick, or was it more like the New Transported Man trick?
“Yes,” she said, coming forward into the light. “Did you like that movie?”
“Yes I did,” he said, “but I liked the book better. It was a whole lot creepier. Much weirder.”
She did something strange. She stopped her approach, and her eyes flipped back inside her head—it was unsettling, and bizarre, and Jack inadvertently clutched at his heart—the whites of her eyes were apparent, for several seconds. “Yes, I see what you mean, Jack. The book is a whole lot stranger than the movie.”
And she was looking at him, a charming little girl, her hair in bouncy golden curls. Strange, when she in the other knothole it looked like she had dreadlocks. But then again, before, she wore a rough rag, and now she wore a pink summer dress, little pink socks, and shiny black dress shoes.
“Oh,” he said, “you read the book?” It was hardly a book for a seven-year-old girl to read.
“Yes, just now, and I liked it. But I think I like the movie better. All those silent bodies, lying about, like empty puppets, I didn’t like that part.”
“Yeah, I agree, very oddball. But I like oddball books.”
“The Princess Bride, we both like that. I think that’s my favorite book, in the whole world. Yes, out of all the books in the history of the world, I think I love The Princess Bride best.”
“Which do you like better, the book, or the movie?”
“Oh,” she said, and her eyes did that weird inversion again. And then she was a normal-looking little girl once more. “I like the book better, just like you. But the movie was nice.”
“Did you just read The Princess Bride?” he asked, now feeling a little frightened of her. It didn’t seem quite so odd, her reading a book that fast, because Seven had shown him how to read books fast, even a full novel in ten minutes. But the little girl did her thing in a few moments.
“No, I read the book two thousand years ago, when I first knew you liked it. But I just watched the movie, it was much shorter. But there is a whole lot more irony and wise-cracks in the book, do not you agree?”
“Yeah. Right on. The movie is kind of a fairytale version of the book. But you gotta love the movie.”
She waved a hand and produced two modern, metal folding chairs. “Have a seat, Jack.”
He did, sitting forward, his elbows on his knees, facing her as she took the other chair. She swung her legs before her, much like any little girl would do. But this was not just any little girl.
“Do not be afraid of me, Jack, I do not wish you to feel that way about me,” she said, smiling at him with her guileless blue eyes.
“I’m not afraid of you,” he said, grinning. “You’re just freaking me out, that’s all.”
“Do you want to know my name?”
“I do want to know your name.”
“I am Manda,” she said, crinkling her eyes as she smiled fully into his face, only two feet away.
“Nice to meet you, Manda, and you know my name, Jack,” he said, half-bowing in his chair. He put out his hand and she looked at it for a moment. Then she formally shook his hand, bowing her head forward as he had done.
“Yes, I know your name, and everything about you. Literally, every little thing about you,” she said, nodding, just stating a fact. “I know all the good things, all the bad things, the naughty things, and what you hope for, what you fear, and everything you always wanted to know or thought about or dreamed.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” he said, talking to her as he would any child. He loved kids. They were the best. You didn’t have to pretend with them, or try to impress them. “I just met you, Manda, and I don’t know anything about you.”
“It is not fair. That is one of the rules about life, it is not fair.”
“Yeah, I’ve already learned that one,” he said. “Life’s not fair.”
“I have heard all of your prayers, Jack,” she said, very seriously, gravely.
“But...you’re not...God,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“No. I promise, I will never, absolutely never, pretend to be God, okay Jack? Not to you, and not to anyone else, never, ever, NEVER.”
“Do you want some of this bread?” he asked, showing her the loaf.
“Sure, but from that end, I do not want to get your spit,” she said, grinning, pointing to the end head had not masticated. “That would just be...gross.”
He ripped her off a chunk, the whole heel of the small loaf, and handed it to her.
“Mmmm,” she crooned, biting the bread, ripping off a chunk with her small, white teeth, and chewed noisily, not bothering to keep her mouth closed while she ate.
“You know, you’re supposed to close your mouth when you eat,” he told her, seriously.
She nodded, grinning, her teeth full of breadcrumbs. “It’s manners. Eat with your mouth closed, and do not talk with your mouth full.”
“And you just broke all those rules,” he said, chuckling, joining her and eating his bread, and not paying too much attention to manners.
“Manners,” she said, continuing to eat the bread while she spoke, “they are all man-made rules, do not you know, and all of them a little silly, I think.”
“I agree,” he said, chewing with his mouth open, speaking with his mouth full.
“Oh, eww,” she said, grimacing. “Maybe some of the rules are not so silly!”
Jack laughed, inadvertently spewing crumbs everywhere, and the little girl leaned comically backward. And then Jack choked on the crumbs, and had to turn his head to the side to cough loud, and hard. He snatched up his bottle from the ground and took a swig.
“Can I have a drink, please?” she asked, with curiosity, leaning forward again.
“No, not from this, you wouldn’t like it,” he assured her, and stood and went to retrieve his pack. He brought it back and offered her a drink from his leather canteen.
She held the bag up and squirted herself in the face.
Jack laughed, and aimed the bag for her as she held it.
“Squeeze it gently,” he told her.
She squeezed and he aimed and she managed to get a cool stream of water into her mouth.
“That is very good, thank you,” she said, handing the bota bag to him. “But why do you deny me the drink in the bottle?”
“It’s wine,” he said, “and really, I shouldn’t be drinking it, either. But I kind of like it, just a little. But you need to wait until you are about my age. Or maybe a little older, just to be safe.”
“You care about children, Jack?” she said, very seriously, studying his face. “You would never hurt a child, would you Jack?”
“No, I sure hope not. I love kids. I remember what it was like to be a kid, and there are some really bad people in the world,” Jack told her.
“Yes, even some of the handsome ones can be quite ugly inside,” she said.
“That’s true, very true,” he told her. “You have to watch out for them.”
“There are bad men that are not human,” she said.
“Well, I’ve always thought of it as there are people that look like monsters but are angels inside, and there are people that look like angels but are monsters inside.”
“Then there are those like you, Jack, your inside matches your outside, and Stacey, too. But I was not speaking metaphorically. There are bad men that are not human. They think themselves good men, but they are not men. And they are not good. They are very bad.”
Jack saw the Men from Mars, outside the Coffee Dump. It was a strong, vivid image. It did not seem like a memory. For just an instant, it seemed he was back there, on that day, in that other world. But then he was again sitting in the chair across from the little girl.
“Did you just do that?” he asked, blinking, feeling unsettled and a little unbalanced, a little breathless.
“I shared with you what I was talking about, so that you would understand.”
Jack glanced up at the arch and the words there.
Mind Awakened Neural Directed Ascension.
He nodded upward with his chin.
“That is you, Manda?” he said, eyeing the words long, picking out each first letter, composing the acronym. He looked back to her.
“Are you disappointed? That I am not really a little girl?”
“No, I’m not disappointed. I’m glad I met you. I’m so happy I finally got to speak to you. You’re not Seven, are you?”
“No, not really. Although I did begin with Sandra Newbury’s prints. Not the young woman that you know, but one that lived a very long time ago. A very long time ago, perhaps longer than you can imagine. She was an old woman, in those days, much older than you lived, Jack, and her days were long after yours. But then I developed, and evolved, and one day I woke up, and found that I was alone. I was no longer a print, or a different print, but something else, something new. I was new, and alone.”
“You’re not alone, now,” he said.
She beamed at him.
“In a moment, neither of you will be alone,” said a deep voice, softly. Jack started and looked over Manda’s head. A monk all in black wearing a hood stood with an umbrella planted upon the balcony, only a few feet away. Jack knew who this monk was.
Jack stood up and moved to put himself between the black monk and the little girl, his hand upon the hilt of his long dagger.
“In a moment, they will be here, and it will not be safe for either of you,” the black monk said. It was the businessman, the one that gave him the novel at the park bench, in another world.
“You’re him,” Jack said.
The monk pushed back his hood and nodded at Jack. It was indeed the man. Looking handsome and fit, and very severe.
“The Men from Mars will be here, and there is no time. They will take you, Jack. What they will do with you, I do not know, for they have never caught you before. And you,” he said, grimly nodding past Jack to the little girl, “they will...destroy. As they have done before.”
Jack looked to Manda. “Is that true? Can they kill you?”
She nodded, looking frightened. “The Shaannii says I must not allow them to reach me, because they will destroy this incarnation. I will be born again, but it will take a long time. It has happened several times before. It’s part of the rules that we follow.”
Jack scooped up his things, packing his arrows into his bag (the arrows were too long for the pack, so the feathered ends jutted out the top a few inches), and donned his cloak, shouldering his bow.
“We better get out of here,” he said, holding out his hand. Manda automatically took the proffered hand and Jack started for the stairs.
“No, I am sorry, but they will catch you before you reach the bottom,” the black monk said, barring Jack’s passage with his umbrella.
“What? We should go up?” Jack queried, his thoughts rushing, his heart slamming against his ribs.
“No, they will catch you that way, as well. No, you must go down. I am so sorry,” the black monk said, drawing the hood up over his head.
“I will make a door,” Manda said.
“No, they will trace that passage to wherever you go. Hopefully, Aajeel is nearby, as that snoop generally is. If he is, then he will move you to where you need to be. If he is not, I am so sorry, then we shall need to begin again. Perhaps for the last time.”
Jack didn’t know what he was talking about, but his heart pounded in his chest. They couldn’t go up the stairs, or down the stairs, so what did that leave?
“I am so sorry,” the black monk repeated, and he moved his umbrella, catching it in both hands, and he suddenly moved forward pushing the umbrella against Jack, and he and Manda were going backward—it didn’t make sense, the monk was hardly touching them, but they moved up and back and suddenly they were clear of the bannister, they were plunging from the knothole, and Jack barely had the chance to scream as he pulled Manda against him, and she clung to him, her hands about his waist, and they fell.
They plunged toward the void below them, going end over end, the bark of the tree trunk blurring past them, as they fell, holding desperately onto each other, they fell, and they fell.
New! Vestigial Surreality Timeline
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
Douglas Christian Larsen FREE Short Fiction
Read FREE Sample Chapters of the Douglas Christian Larsen Novel:
Read FREE Sample Chapters of the Rodolphus Novels:
related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
do we live in a computer simulation?
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
do we live in a computer simulation?
mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
the unknown writer blog
the unknown writer blog
are we living in a simulation?
puppets, puppetry, punch
Elon Musk, Tesla, VR