There are 3 paths.
One appears to go to a jungle,
one appears to go to a cave,
one appears to go to a beach,
you could try and climb the tree,
there is a nearby shop you could go in,
or you could do something else.
So what's its going to be?
Illustrated by Catprog
Written by catprog on 01 April 2003
Kristine “Kris” Thompson hovered about the small area with three potential paths that lay before her, feeling a wave of uncertainty bubble up in her stomach. Not only did the clearing seem new to her - she’d certainly never seen a tree that massive in the New York suburb she lived in, let alone a massive tree next to an odd, nondescript shop - yet the air around seemed… thicker, maybe, tinted with the sensation she was being watched.
“Is someone there?” Kris called out.
She waited. There was no answer.
It wasn’t dead silent where she stood, thankfully (being in a weird place with silence would’ve been too unnerving, she felt). No, she could hear and feel the wind against her skin, and she could heard birds and woodland creatures doing their business all around, enough that it didn’t feel TOO unsafe.
Of course, despite the fact she didn’t feel threatened or like she might get lost, she was still coming to terms with the fact the weird trail she’d found while out walking led to this clearing, where three completely different areas presented themselves to her. All three had obvious signs indicating them, too, with neat, yet somewhat aged handwriting.
‘But who wrote them?’ she pondered. She’d always been a curious gal.
Maybe it was whomever owned the quaint little shop hovering not far from where she stood. Kris took a few steps toward it and eyed the shop - the windows were covered by thick curtains and the door gave no sign of being open right now. She frowned. Maybe it was someone else entirely.
“Well…” Kris glanced back the way she’d come. The winding trail that led her to this area was still there, waiting in case she decided to turn around. That was something, she supposed, and yet, she couldn’t bring herself to turn around. Not right now, anyways. She wanted… she wanted to keep going.
She sighed and mulled over the options - the forest, the beach, or the cave.
“Let’s see,” she said to herself. “Dark, creepy cave? No thanks. Beach? I mean, I’m not dressed for the beach, so…” She shrugged this off. “That leaves…”
Oh, she knew she could try to climb the tree, but Kris wasn’t one for extreme heights. And while the shop was an option, there was something OFF about the building - how it was so plain and unassuming, how there was no indication it was even open. She didn’t trust it.
Even though she felt like she was in a strange dream as she lingered in the clearing, Kris knew otherwise. She also knew she had plenty of time to kill for the day since she’d finished her college courses. So, taking that into consideration, the idea of exploring a forest enticed her the most. After all, she’d gone for a walk to enjoy some quiet time in nature - she was tired of being bored and feeling lonely in her dorm room.
“I just hope this doesn’t lead to me getting mugged,” she muttered under her breath, and adding, “or worse.”
Written by Hollowpages on 02 February 2020
With that, she turned and started down the trail that led to the forest.
The trail itself started off much like the one she’d taken that led her to the clearing, with a handful of trees about. Yet, as she continued on, the trees began growing in size and in number. Within five minutes of strolling down the - admittedly clean - path, Kris found herself walking in what felt like an actual forest. The air was cool, the breeze continued, and the sounds of chirping or singing birds and other woodland animals didn’t stop.
“Jeez,” she muttered. “Is this the national park? That would make sense.”
Even so, as she continued on, she couldn’t help but think that the scope of the forested area was grander than she expected from a national park. There weren’t any other people about, and the path felt so linear, she expected to see joggers, cyclists, and the like. Yet she saw none - it was just here, walking down an empty, clean path.
‘Maybe I should go back,’ she mused. She wasn’t the bravest of people, and though she knew she had left for her walk a little after twelve, nothing good would come about her wandering through the forest and getting lost…
Funnily enough, not long after Kris considered this, she saw yet another split in the path ahead of her. This time, however, it was a simple fork in the road - two paths, one that went left, and one that went right. And there in the middle of the split - big and hard to ignore - was a wooden sign, with words carved into it.
‘But do I need to read it?’ she wondered. ‘I mean, this isn’t a jungle or some Indiana Jones movie, so… Hmm.’
Curious, yes, she was this. Indecisive… she was also that, too, unfortunately. The two did not work well together, which was probably why she was worried she would get lost - Kris knew herself well enough to know she would likely stop at some split in the road or some other place to make a choice, and she’d stand there, thinking for a good hour before making the decision.
‘Damn it, brain, stop it,’ she thought.
As she neared, she began to ponder: did she want to read and see if it told her anything of value, or, did she just want to pick one way without bothering?
Though Kris knew she could’ve easily continued and seen what lay one way - or both were she so inclined - her own curiosity and her sense of caution got the better of her. She sighed and opted to read the sign when she got to it.
After another minute of casually strolling, she arrived.
The sign appeared more ornate up close than she’d given it credit for, though the words were very large and sort of blocky. She couldn’t tell if someone wrote them by hand first, then took a knife to dig into the sign, or if someone was very skilled at carving a fairly large amount of words. She blinked several times. There were two small paragraphs on the side, one on the left, and one on the right with little arrows indicating their respective directions.
‘Someone must think the people that see this are a stupid,’ she mused.
With a shrug, Kris read the first part on the left aloud. “Go left, and you will find your heart’s innermost yearning - a child blessed by the wild, waiting for one with heart tender and mild. Though their body might be feral, they’ll bind to keep you safe through any peril. So come and you alone they shall claim, so come and their essence will you tame. Choose this path to find your heart’s ferocious love, and discover what freedom’s passion is truly made of.”
When she finished, she paused to absorb this information. If she could even CALL it actual information, since it didn’t really give her very much at all about what happened to be to the left path. Kris frowned to herself and crossed her arms. Her mind raced, as it often did, and she mulled this paragraph over.
“What the hell is this, a nature poem?” she mumbled under her breath.
No one was around, and whenever she was alone and certain no one was in ear shot, she would often talk to herself - it helped her think. And this… whatever it was, certainly needed some thought.
“None of that made any sense,” Kris said, nodding as she spoke. “I mean, seriously? ‘Child blessed by the wild,’ ‘body might be feral…’ Sheesh, it’s like they’re trying to tell me I’ll run into half-naked people living in the trees.”
Now granted, Kris did consider the possibility there might be an indigenous tribe in the area, or perhaps homeless folks taking shelter in the woods. Even so, she expected the sign to spell these details out - and it did no such thing.
‘Okay, so what’s the other side say?’
She shook her head and glanced at the other paragraph. “Go right, and you will find your mind’s innermost learning - a trial born within the isle, hoping to make your dreary life worthwhile. Though it might appear quite hard, should you keep your sense on guard, this challenge will leave your eyes starred. So come and you can test your wit, so come and with it raise your spirit. Choose this path to find your brain’s desire, and with it alight the dullness on fire.”
When she finished reading this, Kris could only gawk a little at the bizarre display. To her, it seemed like someone was trying to be poetic and clever at the same time in writing these, but they didn’t exactly do the best of jobs.
“Weird,” she muttered. “If these are supposed to be directions telling me what I’ll end up with one way or the other, they really friggin’ stink. I mean, Christ. I’m no nature guide, but even I know how to describe potential dangers.”
Kris didn’t see herself as someone who was dense - she wasn’t the smartest in her classes, she knew, but she wasn’t a slouch, either. She’d taken enough critical thinking classes in her day to know that there was SOME sort of meaning and significance woven into all this. But damn, did she not really know how to understand what they were going on about.
“I mean, love? Trials?” Her lips pursed. “Awfully big stuff to be throwing at some random person walking through the forest like this.”
She paused and peered behind her, back toward the direction with the initial clearing and the shop. She wondered if the shopkeeper or some worker there was responsible for all this. Yet, Kris knew that was neither here or there.
“Besides,” she said to herself, reasoning her choice out as though she were speaking to someone else, “if I go back and see who might be there, that’s more time wasted. I don’t really feel like going back… not yet, anyways.”
She turned her attention back to the sign. Kris paused and checked her cell phone - it was at 96% with the battery saver option, and she’d made damn sure to text her parents and a few good friends about her going for a walk. The connection was still fine, which helped ease her.
Ultimately, she knew that even with the sign’s strange attempt at rhyming poetry - or directions she supposed, crappy as they were - she was faced with another decision to make, since the only thing Kris knew was that this was starting to be quite the time killer, as dreamlike as the whole ordeal was.
She put her phone away and mulled her options over.
Did she go left to see what all the ‘love’ talk was about or did she go right to find out what the ‘mental trial’ business was trying to say?
Written by Hollowpages on 03 February 2020
After taking a good few minutes to weigh the two choices over, and taking an extra moment to send a text to her Mom and her closest friend May - and she made certain to be clear about going for a walk, finding a new path, and that she was going deeper in, and yes, she’d be careful. Once the text messages sent for sure, she wound up deciding she would take the left path.
“Okay,” she said to herself, bracing her mind for what lay ahead for her. She took one step, then another, and then began to follow the new path.
‘I hope this one is the right choice,’ she thought. After all, the whole spiel it went on about love and romance and passion…
Kris didn’t know what she felt about it, in truth. She’d never been fortunate enough to have a relationship that lasted longer than a couple weeks, or a few months at the very most. Sure, she’d dated a few guys, dated two gals, and though they’d been a mixed bag in general, Kris hadn’t walked away feeling abused or misused or anything negative. They’d all been decent in some way - but things never clicked enough for both Kris and those ex-flames of hers.
‘I mean, they were all brief,’ she added internally. ‘I don’t think I’ve had an actual date for about two years now. Three years? Something like that.’
She supposed if she HAD to consider it, deep down, she did want someone that would last - a meaningful love, a meaningful relationship. But what sort of person she wanted most? Kris wasn’t entirely sure, if she were being honest.
Her lips pursed. Kris began to think.
For whatever reason, as she began to walk down the forested trail she’d chosen, getting deeper into it, her mind started to fill with questions about love and what she wanted most in love. The questions and thoughts seemed to come from nowhere - it was like something just sort of nudged these things into her head, and they began to fill her brain with each step she took.
‘Well, I guess…’ She mulled it over.
For one thing, Kris had to be honest: she was openly bisexual, and had been since her teenage years, yet she felt more strongly about women than men. She’d always been more attracted to women - especially tall women. Throw in a fit physique with a tall woman, and give her boyish hair… and oof, she thought, was she probably going to be admiring that woman.
Her cheeks warmed. She cracked a tiny smile.
She’d always preferred more feminine-looking men - long hair, soft features, closer to her petite height - and more masculine-looking women. She couldn’t help it, it was just what she was more into. But that was appearance. Beneath appearance, with personality, Kris wanted someone who could match her in the areas she felt she wanted to be matched in.
‘Someone passionate about something in life, regardless if it’s a job or a hobby or even just relaxing,’ she thought, ticking down a mental box without even having to be prompted to. ‘Someone that likes to be curious the way I do, but maybe wiser. Strong? I guess. Kind. Playful. Jesus, I’m horrible at this.’
Kris sighed again. Despite being twenty-four, and in college, she was still having a hard time figuring her own self out. For the last few years, she felt like she’d been stuck in this dull, gray circle of stagnant living - it didn’t help that she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and her small circle of loved ones didn’t exactly make matters any easier for her.
She brushed a hand through her hair, breathing in deep - the smells of the forest were strong, filled with the scents of grass, dirt, and something that just screamed ‘woodsy’ to her. Potent, yet, still very pleasant smells.
Her mother was a more traditional-minded woman. The sort who wanted her to get a job, then meet a man, get married, have children, and be a caretaker at home for said children. She was supportive of Kris going to college, and a good mother, of course, but she didn’t really seem to have the same level of faith in Kris doing anything ‘big’ in her life. And her father? He was more liberal in those things, sure, yet even he was much the same with traditional thoughts.
Maybe it was their lack of pushing her and their lack of openness to her pursuing anything that really put a dampen on her trying. She wished she could say she was an artist or a baker or a writer or SOMETHING, but she didn’t know what she excelled at. She only knew she was curious, and that she was hoping to find the answers by going to college.
‘Focus, Kris,’ she told herself. ‘Let’s see where this path of so-called love leads…’
No sooner did the thought leave her mind did she hear a noise - a very loud noise, like some kind of… growl or roar? It was rumbling, guttural, and definitely not human, and Kris’ first thought was that she’d stumbled onto a wild animal that would try to maul her. Yet when it happened again, she heard it clearer and… it sounded like a pained noise all the same, like some sort of animal that was in a lot of pain.
She froze in place. Her heart started to pick up in speed. The noise came from her right, deeper into the trees. She stared at the direction, feeling frightened and unsure all the same.
‘What the hell?’ she thought.
The noise came again, ripping through the air and practically echoing in her ears. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. Did she want to investigate? Or did she want to keep going, preferably at a faster speed?
Written by Hollowpages on 04 February 2020
Kris stood there, stuck in place when she heard the painful snarling noise once again. Her mind told her that running the hell away would be the smart thing to do, and yet, her heart felt that maybe seeing what it was would be better. That, along with her own curious nature overtaking her, spurred her into making her choice. She groaned inwardly at her own flaws, then moved toward the source of the noise - at a cautious and measured pace, of course.
After a few careful moments of entering and then walking through the thick forest - her heart thudding heavily in her ears, and her stomach in knots over what was likely a reckless and stupid decision - Kris soon came upon the source of the noise.
At first, she stopped and stared.
Her eyes felt like they were seeing things, so she rubbed them, making sure she wasn’t. Yet it became clear that, no, she wasn’t seeing things. There was a person a few yards ahead of her - a person on the ground, looking trapped and in immense pain. But what had her astounded wasn’t the fact it was obviously a person - it was the fact the person didn’t LOOK like a normal person.
Kris took a few gradual steps more, taking in the physique of the… person?
It appeared to be a woman based on the shape, Kris could see that. Yet the woman also seemed to have… fur. Fur that had several spots on it, in fact, and that was alongside pointy ears. And when the person… woman… whatever, took notice of Kris, it looked up and stared at her. Kris gasped to herself.
Their eyes were human, yet slanted in shape, with slit-like pupils with a pale orange color that looked more like a feline’s than a person’s. Their nose was a slender, but otherwise normal nose, and those pointed ears. However, they also had a few spots across their face, including one around their right eye. And their face that was angled and sharp in its features, with high cheekbones, a pointed chin. It was like a mixing of human and catlike features.
Kris gawked. For a moment, she considered that the person was a cosplayer - weird as it sounded, her logical side could reason this over since the person did in fact look like they were cosplaying a Thundercat or maybe the DC Comics villain, Cheetah. But it became very clear to her when the woman growled at her, an actual low, booming growl at that - along with baring her very sharp, glistening teeth - that no, this wasn’t a cosplayer. The person legitimately did look like… like some sort of hybrid.
“What are you staring at?” the cat woman said. Her voice was low and a little raspy, yet it carried a strangely… husky quality that Kris found… nice.
Kris snapped out of her daze. A voice meant it was a person, either way.
She then saw what the issue was: the cat-looking woman’s right leg was caught in some sort of snare, and so was her right arm - the snare was long and twisting, like some sort of bear trap that turned into a rope. It was stuck in a nearby tree’s roots, which made for a tangle of things everywhere.
“Uh, do you, um, want a hand?” Kris asked, gesturing to the mess of metal ropes. “I’m not an expert at untying or anything, but I could probably help…?”
The weird cat-looking woman stared at her. “And do you really want to help me? You, looking so frightened and confused? No offense, but, I doubt you could.” Her eyes seemed to gleam - boring into Kris with such intensity, it was like they might pierce her actual body. “You don’t look like you belong here. I’d be going if I were you, lest you get yourself… hurt. I’ll manage this somehow.”
She punctuated this with another low, deep growl that sounded like it belonged from a tiger or some other big cat. Then, she went back to thrashing and trying to free herself, yet it wasn’t going to work sine half her body was trapped, and she had no way of angling her free arm over to even begin to untangle herself.
Kris swallowed the lump that formed in her throat.
The words weren’t so much threatening her - she could feel it - but there was a clear caution underlying them. So now she was stuck with the choice: did she want to help the odd cat woman, or, did she take her advice and leave?
Written by Hollowpages on 05 February 2020
‘Now what do I do?’ Kris wondered. She couldn’t take her eyes away.
Watching the display of the woman struggling to free herself - and hearing the pained undertone to the strange woman’s grumbling - struck at a part of Kris. Deep within her, she felt a wave of… sensation she’d never felt before, and she was overcome with the urge to help this woman, even if she looked different and sounded menacing.
Besides, what did it say about her as a human being if she abandoned someone in need? She wasn’t the smartest or the strongest, sure, but Kris felt like she could do something.
“You really just going to watch?” the woman asked. “I told you. Leave me be.”
Kris clicked her teeth together. “And let you suffer?”
“I appreciate the concern,” the woman said. “But it isn’t your business to worry about me. Be sensible, and just go. I’ll live.”
Kris shook her head. Her heart was thudding heavier now.
Without a word, she moved to the ensnared side, and started looking over the metal ropes digging into the woman’s fur-covered body. She could see a little blood here and there from cuts, but, she ignored those, and instead found a loose enough rope for her to grab onto. She did so and started to tug at it, locating a way to help get it off the woman.
The odd woman stopped and eyed her, watching with those feral, catlike eyes.
“Suit yourself,” she muttered.
Kris focused only on trying to untangle the rope - it was cold and thick and heavy, definitely like it was made from metal - but she was able to work around it, even with the taller frame of the Thundercat lady. It took a good bit of time, yet eventually, she was able to untangle a good portion of the rope, just enough that she was able to remove part of it from the woman’s bound arm.
This seemed to surprise the woman. She moved her arm, and with Kris’ help, she was able to pull her arm free from the rope. When she’d done this, she was able to turn her body, enough that she could sit upright.
“Finally,” she muttered, flexing and wriggling her right arm and hand about. She turned to stare at Kris. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome…” Kris replied.
The strange woman gently nudged Kris aside before untangling her leg from the same ropes. She did this much quicker than Kris could’ve, and, after a few minutes, she was free. She pushed herself away from the ropes and managed to stand. Kris did the same, and was taken aback by how tall the woman was.
“I’ve been trapped in those stinking things for goddamned HOURS now,” the woman said. She cracked her neck and her shoulders before she stopped. “Oh. Right. I forgot about blood loss.”
Kris frowned. “What do you…?”
But the woman teetered and then just plain collapsed onto the ground before Kris could finish speaking. Kris yelped, then crouched down beside the woman, who was definitely unconscious. She stared at her for a moment before her brain kicked into high gear.
Now what, she wondered, glancing about.
She knew she could stay and wait for the woman to wake up. She could try to find help if she ran fast enough to the shop she’d passed. She could even try to tend to the woman’s wounds herself, if she were daring enough.
She had to make a decision either way, and ideally a fast one.
Written by Hollowpages on 06 February 2020
Kris struggled to decide what it was she wanted to do, but, deep down, she wasn’t the sort of person to just abandon someone in need, even if said person was probably not the sanest given all the weird surgeries they must’ve had to end up looking like a real life Thundercat. Yet even with that taken into consideration, Kris wasn’t a nurse. She needed help. So, she opted to combine two options into one.
‘I just hope this works,’ she thought.
With a sigh, she scrambled to try and move the woman - the woman was taller and just plain bigger than she was with muscle mass, but, Kris was able to pull her over to a nearby tree. She propped the woman up, then checked the wounds: the woman was bleeding from several cuts in the right leg and right arm, likely from her attempts at trying to free herself.
Kris’ lips twitched.
She was fortunate enough to have brought a jacket with her, and, though she didn’t like the thought from a personal and hygienic level, she swallowed that down and removed it, then tied her jacket around the cat woman’s right leg, since that was the area bleeding the most. She knew enough to know that would help. Somewhat.
“Please don’t die on me, lady,” Kris muttered, more to herself than anything.
Once she was finished, tying her jacket over the woman’s leg, Kris stood up and, after casting a lingering gaze about the area, started moving.
She started with a brisk jog back to the pathway she’d been walking on in the first place - and was glad to see it hadn’t magically vanished on her, even though she knew that wasn’t possible. Yet she shoved these thoughts away and instead began moving at a quicker pace, not a full run, yet definitely close to it, booking it down the way she’d come from, down the clear, oddly empty trail in some internal hope that shop would be open still, and be able to help.
She was fortunate for two things while she moved - the first being that she’d worn comfortable running enough shoes for running, and the second being that, despite her usual lax nature, she wasn’t TOO out of shape where she’d end up losing her breath too fast.
‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ she thought as she ran, bypassing the fork in the road with the sign that didn’t tell her anything about her choices.
It took a few minutes for her to finally leave the forested area, and, another few minutes on top of that to get to the large clearing she’d come upon. Kris came to a stop then to catch her breath - her cheeks were flush, and she was breathing harder, but, overall, she was in fine enough shape from the running.
The shop was still where she’d left it, still looking quaint and nondescript and so severely out of place where it was. Yet Kris had no choice. She swallowed her own reservations and walked up to it, pausing only briefly to grasp the doorknob to see if it would even turn. It did, and, Kris pulled the door open and entered the shop.
Upon entering, Kris’ eyes widened. The interior wasn’t what she’d pictured.
The inside of the store, for one thing, seemed a hell of a lot bigger than it did on the outside. The first room stretched out longer than she felt possible given how small and normal-sized it appeared. Its walls were a strange mix of colors - they started off bluish on one end, then began to shift to purple, then green, and as the walls wrapped around, the colors continued to change to yellow, orange, and red, before turning blue again. It was… certainly eclectic, she thought. Otherwise, it was quite cozy. It had windows with opened curtains to let the sunlight in, there was a ceiling fan spinning above her, and there were a handful of potted plants and even a few cozy chairs on each side.
‘It feels more like someone’s house than a shop,’ she mused.
But the other thing that was strange to Kris was that, across from her, there were three doors. One was in the blue section on the left. One was in the green section on the right. And the other was at the center, in the purple section; all three were snugly placed in their respective color areas.
Fortunately, Kris realized that the doors were labeled.
The left hand door had “Traveling Supplies” on it. The right hand door was labeled “Health Supplies.” And the final door was called “Survival Supplies.”
Her lips twitched. What sort of weird store was this where it had three doors in the main room, rather than, you know, an actual store? She was beginning to wonder if this was a poor decision to make, and yet, she couldn’t risk going back empty-handed when there was someone obviously injured not far from her.
“Damn it,” she muttered.
Thus, she was left with three choices. Kris could take the traveling door and see if there were any first-aid kits or other essentials available there. Or, she could go right for the obvious and pick the health door - health had to mean essentials for scrapes and bruises, right? And yet, she couldn’t help but wonder what might be beyond the survival door. Kris scowled, thinking.
‘Don’t all three kind of go hand-in-hand?’ she wondered. Even so, she had to pick fast.
Written by Hollowpages on 07 February 2020
Weighing the decisions in her brain took a good moment, but, ultimately Kris thought that she could always check behind one door, then if nothing was there, try one of the others. She did wonder where the store owner was, yet she hoped they would be around to help when she chose a door.
Kris chose the door labeled “Survival Supplies,” since to her, that, logically, included the things that might be helpful right now. Plus, she didn’t want to take too long lest the woman bleed out or something.
Kris walked through the center door and found herself entering a rather cozy shop that looked like an actual store this time. Well. Sort of.
The entire room was decked out in purple - royal purple walls tinged with lavender surrounded her, with the scent of lavender in the air. This, combined with smooth jazz music playing overhead, and the overall design of the room made it feel like she was in a classical music store or a coffee shop, rather than a store room with ‘survival supplies’ being sold.
Fortunately, she caught sight of a person walking about, someone who looked like they might be an owner or THE owner, or a worker, she hoped.
“Um, excuse me?” Kris said. “Sir?”
The person stopped and spun about, revealing a slightly tall, lean man who appeared to be in his mid-to-late-twenties. He was dressed extremely fashionably - like a gentleman out of an old British movie, including a top hat, a cane, and a suit from head to toe. All dark-purple, though his undershirt was white. Kris was a bit surprised, and would’ve expected him to be much older were it not for the youthful face with pale skin and neat brown hair poking out from under the fancy top hat.
“Ah, a customer!” he said.
He seemed to glide across the floor over to Kris, moving with a grace that struck her as far too fluid for a normal person. He stopped before her and smiled - a rather broad, toothy smile, flashing gleaming teeth. His features were thin and angular, jagged almost, Kris noticed, and his eyes seemed almost orange in color. Either was, it was… unsettling for her, to say the least.
“Welcome, welcome,” he said, speaking with a smooth voice, tinged by a faint accent of some kind. “It isn’t very often we get customers out here.”
Kris rubbed the back of her neck. She felt… small before the man. “Oh, uh, well. I wasn’t entirely sure…”
“What room to pick when you entered?” he finished. His smile dropped and he tutted. “Believe me, I know. This shop is run by myself and my two older sisters - older sister one runs the door to the left,” he pointed with his cane, “and the eldest runs the one to the right.” He rolled his eyes, then grinned again, a grin that stretched a little too wide across his face. “We tend to bicker a lot about it.”
Kris nodded, swallowing the lump that formed in her throat.
“Do pardon any unease you might feel with me,” the man said, as if he knew what she was feeling. He cocked his head to the side. “I am known to give off a ‘creepy’ vibe, but I assure you, I mean no harm.” He paused, cleared his throat, and bowed as he removed his hat. “I am Vance, my dear.”
“I’m Kris,” Kris said, a little shakily.
Vance nodded. “Pleasure to meet you, Kris. Now then, rather than leer at you - and trust me, I am aware, but I cannot help how I look - do let me know what it is you’re looking for, hmm?”
He glided across the floor a few steps, then waited for her.
Kris’ mind kicked in. “Well, I was walking down the path--”
“The forest path?” Vance asked, sounding curious.
“Y-yes, the forest path,” Kris said.
He gave another nod. “That tends to be the choice this time of year. Only the braver souls opt to climb that big eyesore of a tree growing close to our quaint little mess of a store, or go through the cave.” He twirled his cane about. “Apologies. Do continue.”
Kris brushed a hand through her hair. This guy was something else. “I came across a… person while I was walking. She looks like a cosplayer, or, I dunno, one of those people that gets surgeries to look more like an animal?” She shrugged. “But she was trapped in some kind of rope, and, she’s free now, but also sort of hurt.”
“Ahhh, yes, yes,” Vance said. “You’ve come here for medical supplies.”
“Yes,” Kris replied. “I just wasn’t sure which, uh, door to pick.”
“We don’t make it easy for potential customers,” Vance said with a shrug. “But when your business is run by three headstrong siblings that can never agree on even the proper color for the walls, it’s bound to be problematic. Either way!”
He hopped over a counter and began sifting about. Kris hadn’t even looked around at the contents of the store, yet she walked up to the counter first, stopping and waiting. After a moment, Vance stood up and set weird vial onto the counter before Kris, like a little potion bottle from a fantasy game. The bottle was green, yet the liquid inside seemed to glow… light purple.
Vance grinned. “In my shop, I don’t have any first-aid materials, I’m afraid. But what I do have is this lovely tonic you see before you. Home-brewed, devoid of any unsavory materials, non-alcoholic, and a money back guarantee that it’ll do the job. You can listen to me explain what my concoction can do. Or, you’re welcome to ask one of my sisters - one of them might have something more beneficial if you hurry and ask. What do you think, Kris?”
Written by Hollowpages on 08 February 2020
Kris hesitated while she mulled this over. The potion before her looked like something out of a video game, but, the fact this weird man was trying to sell this off as if they could help her raised a whole lot of red flags. She was skeptical they would do much good for someone who was bleeding, after all.
‘And no way in hell do I buy into that essential oil healing crap,’ she thought.
But then, she considered if he was this weird, his sisters were likely the same. And she had no way of knowing if they even sold anything that could help.
Vance’s head tilted to the other side, his eyes studying her. “You seem concerned I may be a charlatan. A fair consideration, mind you. I don’t look, nor sound, like the typical salesperson. And, yes, I can see why presenting a suspicious-looking potion as a means of helping might be… odd.”
He sucked his teeth, and spun his cane about. “However, you also seem like you’re on borrowed time. I am afraid this little trinket is all I have available, though you could glance about were you so inclined. I have no interest in cheating you, though, or lying.” He gave a shrug. “So, what do you say?”
Kris groaned inwardly. “What is this, exactly? And how will they help her?”
“This potion is a mix of several herbs, several spices, a few nutrients,” Vance said, like he’d answered the question hundreds of times, “some vitamins, yes, and a few… useful essences, all extracted with care.” He winked. “To put it simple: it’ll help with bleeding by speeding up the coagulation process.”
Kris dithered, but, reminded herself she didn’t have the time. “How much?”
Vance stroked his chin. “Five bucks. No tax, no change.”
“That’s it?” Kris asked - she was genuinely surprised.
“Like I said,” Vance replied. “I’ve no interest in cheating you.”
Kris shoved a hand into her fanny pack where her wallet rested, fished out a five dollar bill, and handed it to the man. Vance gently accepted it, then grinned and handed her the potion. Kris took it and set it into the fanny pack, securely.
“A word of advice before you leave,” Vance said. He leaned forward a little, enough to be eye level with Kris. “Whether you believe in the supernatural or paranormal, or not, be wary that things around this area are… different. I’ve had many enter this shop and tell us that they feel like they’ve entered through the proverbial doorway to Narnia, or Wonderland, or one of those other fantastical places.” He grinned toothily. “Be mindful.”
Kris blinked several times. “Uh. Thanks…?”
He chortled and straightened. “Ta ta, now. I’d be going if I were you.”
Kris felt a tinge of unease in the pit of her stomach, but, with little choice, she turned on her heel and exited the shop. In no time, she was jogging away from the weird store, and in her mind, she hoped to God she wouldn’t have to go back there anytime soon. Nice or not, that place freaked her the hell out.
Either way, Kris focused on being fast.
She ran back down the path to the forest, down to the fork in the road and went left like she had before. About ten minutes or so later, she broke out into the forested clearing where she’d found the weird, wounded cat lady. Thankfully, the cat lady was where she’d dragged her - propped against a tree.
Kris stopped before her and knelt down, then opened her fanny pack. She retrieved the weird little potion bottle and paused to eyeball it for a moment.
‘I doubt this thing will do her any good,’ she thought.
Yet as she looked at it, she noticed some instructions folded up. She unfolded them and saw they were handwritten in neat letters: and she noticed, to her surprise, that there were two different ways she could use the odd potion.
‘The contents of this potion can be of use in one of two ways, depending on the necessity. The first option is to ingest it - this will be as if ingesting an actual healing potion, only in real life. Doing so will work its way through the body and aid in speeding up the blood clotting process for external wounds.’
Kris’ lips twitched. “Okay, that’s… what he said, but then…”
‘The second option you have at your disposal for the use of this potion is to directly pour the contents of the bottle upon open wounds, bruises, or other marred areas. Do so at a slow drizzling pace to ensure its contents enter the afflicted areas - it won’t do much good to spill it or get it on yourself.’
“Snarky directions,” Kris said, scoffing. “Figures.”
‘Both options will work, but, be warned - directly pouring the contents will require the entire bottle, and though it will work quicker, it runs the risk of an external infection if you aren’t careful. Ingesting the contents will take longer, but, you will only need about two to three tablespoons worth to do the trick. This, on the flip side, means the external wound is still vulnerable. Choose wisely.’
Kris’s eyebrows knitted together. Now what did she do?
The main issue she could see - on top of all the other issues - was that the woman’s arm and leg were both injured and bleeding. If she forced it down the woman’s throat, then it would help both, supposedly. But if she poured it onto the woman’s body, then it would only help one.
‘Damn it,’ she thought. Kris needed to pick which option to use, either way.
Written by Hollowpages on 09 February 2020
She weighed the decision, as she had for most of this, with care. On the one hand, she didn’t even know if the potion would work as it was advertised, yet, on the other hand, she didn’t have the luxury of trying to get to the city and find an actual first aid kit to buy and use. What struck her as off, though, was the fact the directions worked for drinking or pouring onto the wound.
‘What the hell kind of tonic can be both?’ she wondered.
She didn’t dare see what was really inside the potion, since, well, logic made it harder for her to believe a potion could work both ways. Still, she supposed it still ended up in the same area… sort of.
Kris made her decision. She undid her bloody jacket from the woman’s leg - grimacing at how messy it was, and doubting she’d be able to get it clean anytime soon - and tossed it aside. Then, she undid the potion’s lid.
Curiosity got the best of her, and she brought it to her nose for a quick sniff, only to recoil at the odor that slammed into her nostrils.
“Jesus, that stinks,” Kris muttered. “Gross.”
She hoped the nasty-smelling stuff would help, though, and proceeded to pour it down onto the cat woman’s injured leg. She angled it close, ensuring she got it in the wounds. The woman gave a loud hiss - Kris figured that meant she was getting the stuff where it needed to go, at least. Yet Kris stopped before she’d emptied the potion bottle. She checked to make sure she got most of it into the bleeding wounds, giving the leg a brisk once over to double check.
‘Looks like I did,’ she thought. She then used what was left and dabbed it onto the woman’s injured arm. Inside, she felt a little swell of pride. ‘See, I’m resourceful enough to make use of it for two spots that were hurting. I hope.’
With little else to do, she discarded the empty potion bottle.
She sat down, pulling her cell phone from her pocket. She checked first to see the battery level - 90%, thankfully - and the bars she had. Enough where she made sure to send text messages to her mom and her friends again, and her dad, too. She waited till they were confirmed to be sent, smiled a little, and put her phone away.
A cool breeze brushed past her. She sighed to herself. While she sat there, Kris took in the woman’s features now that she was closer to see better.
The woman had short, pixie-length black hair that was a little messy and choppy, like she’d cut it herself - or at least, that’s what Kris imagined was the reason. Her features were, like she’d thought she’d seen before, ‘normal,’ but with an obvious feline edge to it. Her skin seemed to be fur, an golden yellowish colored fur that was darker at the face, the neck, the arms, with white fur and those deep black spots all over. Kris couldn’t tell if this woman was trying to be Cheetara, or, if she was aiming to be a jaguar. One or the other.
‘She must’ve really had extensive surgery,’ Kris thought. She was impressed, even if still fairly weirded out about it.
She was, at least, wearing clothes. A short sleeveless cropped top that seemed to be made of… fur? Leather? Or both, it could be, that left her muscled arms and muscled stomach exposed, along with a pair of leather pants - though the pants were torn quite a bit, especially at the right leg where she’d been caught in the ropes - and boots, of all things.
It was an odd combination, Kris felt. Fairly normal clothes, yet she looked like she was going to a Halloween party.
Even so, Kris wondered what to do with herself next. The strange woman was unconscious and would likely wake up - and then… what? Kris didn’t expect a ‘thank you’ or anything, and, the longer she stayed, the later it would get, and the last thing she wanted was to be in the forest when it got too dark.
She felt a little antsy and began mulling it over.
‘Well,’ she thought. ‘I could just go. I’m sure she’ll be okay. I hope. I mean, it’s hard to tell with that stinky potion thing, but…’
Her lips pursed. Kris had to weigh whether or not she should go now and hope the cat woman would be okay alone, or, wait for her to wake up and chance it being later in the day. She had her phone on hand, yes, but, no jacket, and, there was no telling what else could happen if she ventured back at night.
But she had to decide.
Written by Hollowpages on 10 February 2020
Kris was honestly leaning toward leaving. She could logic her way through why leaving was a good and safe idea - and yet, her heart made it difficult, because even if it was the smart choice, it didn’t make it the RIGHT choice for her.
‘I hope I get at least a little appreciation…’ she thought, shaking her head.
Thus, she opted to wait until the cat woman came to. What would come from that, she didn’t know. She’d just have to wait and see, she supposed.
Time slowly trickled by her. Kris remained where she was, only getting up to stretch or walk around to get a look at the area itself. The trees seemed to stretch on endlessly before her, and the air seemed so much… crisper here. She again felt the sensation like she was in some sort of dream instead of reality, yet a brisk pinch to the wrist proved that to be wrong.
After what felt like hours, the cat woman started to stir. Kris remained where she was standing, waiting, watching. She didn’t want to flop down until the woman’s eyes were opened.
This didn’t take long.
The woman groaned, then gradually gathered her bearings. She noticed Kris standing there, frowned, then glanced down at her injured arm and leg. Kris watched her nostrils flare, and the woman recoiled in disgust.
“Ew,” she muttered. “What the hell is that smell? It reeks.”
“Some weird potion… tonic thing,” Kris replied. She finally sat down where she’d been for much of the time. “I bought it from that creepy shop back that way,” she pointed from where she came. “The guy said it would, uh, help.”
The woman snorted. “So the snake sold you some of his poison, did he? No wonder it stinks like rotten ass.” She paused to check her arm, moving it and grimacing, then did the same with her leg. “Well, damn. At least you spared my stomach the torment of making me guzzle that shit down.”
Kris furrowed her brow.
“Oh,” the woman said, meeting Kris’ gaze. “And… thank you.” She clicked her teeth. “Hate swallowing my pride, but, you went out of your way to help my sorry ass. Twice over, it seems.” She let out a sharp breath and bowed her head to Kris. “You have my genuine thanks. Not used to the people I run into these parts being so compassionate. Not that I see very many of them like you.”
Kris blinked. The way she said ‘like you’ didn’t sound the way it should’ve. Yet she shrugged this off. “You’re welcome. I’m Kris, by the way.”
“Kris?” The woman cocked an eyebrow, regarding Kris again. “I see. Name’s Shayla.”
“Shayla,” Kris said. “That’s a pretty name.”
Shayla cracked a smirk. “Used to be, maybe. Not so much anymore.”
Silence fell between the two.
Kris’ lips twitched. “So, uh, you know the people who run that freaky store?”
“Unfortunately,” Shayla replied. She eyed Kris thoughtfully for a moment before continuing, “I’ve met and dealt with all three of them.”
“Are the sisters as… unnerving as Vance is?” Kris asked.
Shayla laughed. “Believe me, Kris - they are far worse. But.” She groaned and began to stagger to her feet, much to Kris’ surprise. “Truth is, they aren’t so bad when you get to know them. Creepy assholes, the lot of ‘em, but they mean well enough, I guess.”
“Careful,” Kris said, jumping up. “Your wounds are--”
“I know,” Shayla said. She leaned against the trunk of the tree once she was up, clutching at her wounded arm with her free hand. She groaned. “Shit, that smarts. Get to smell like garbage while I heal. Guess that’s what I get for being so damn careless.”
She gave a sigh, then regarded Kris. “Thanks again for the help, Kris. Don’t expect you to stick around, though. This place gets a lot less pleasant during the wee hours of the night.” She nodded toward the pathway. “You should be able to get back where you came from without any trouble.”
“What are you going to do?” Kris asked.
“Hobble off to lick my wounds,” Shayla replied with a wry grin. “I’ll survive.”
She turned and began to very stagger away, at a painstakingly slow pace given her injured state.Kris’ lips twitched. She watched Shayla go for a moment before glancing toward the way she’d come - toward the trail that would eventually lead back to her apartment, which she knew would be waiting for her either way. And yet, her stomach knotted at the thought of abandoning Shayla when she was hurt like that.
She clicked her teeth. Today had been a day filled with a lot of harder choices than she expected. Now she needed to make another one. Did she go back and leave Shayla be? Or did she listen to her conscience and stick around for a little while longer?
Written by Hollowpages on 11 February 2020
Kris relented, and, despite knowing what the SMART choice to make was, she turned and started after Shayla - which didn’t take very long since Shayla wasn’t moving all that fast.The cheetah-looking woman paused in her movements and eyed Kris curiously.
“You’re not going to leave?” she asked, looking mildly surprised.
Kris ran a hand through her hair. “I know I should, but… I wouldn’t feel right if I left without making sure you were okay.”
Shayla seemed… touched by this. “You’re far kinder to a stranger than you ought to be, you know. Especially when that stranger looks like me.” She gave a sigh before nodding her head. “Fine, then. If you really want to tag along, I can’t stop you. Wouldn’t even if I could.”
She started to move again, and Kris kept up with her, feeling a little inquisitive now that the woman was awake and moving.
“I’ve seen cosplayers before,” Kris remarked. “So, I mean, sure, you’ve got one hell of a cosplay going on, but it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” She pursed her lips and studied Shayla’s appearance again. “It looks so intricate, too. Must’ve taken a long time to make.”
Shayla chortled. “Hate to break it to you, but this isn’t a cosplay.”
Kris blinked a few times. “Pardon?”
“This,” Shayla stopped and gestured to herself with her uninjured arm, “is not a cosplay. It… Well, I guess it could be considered a costume. Or it was at some point.” She shrugged. “It’s not a costume anymore, though. It’s a part of me.”
Kris stared at her, unsure if Shayla was pulling her leg or trying to really embody whatever character she as pretending to be. But the deadpan stare that Shayla gave her made it obvious she was being very, very serious in that moment. This left Kris feeling even more confused, since…
“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Shayla said. “You’re probably wondering how it’s physically possible, huh? Or if I’m just insane.” She snickered. “Can’t say I would blame you for thinking that. But no. I’m not insane, and I’m not trying to come up with some hokey story to impress or bewilder you. This is what I look like now. It has been for… a long time now, honestly.”
And with that, she started to move again, staggering off the same direction she’d been going. Kris gawked, astonished at the fact Shayla was acting like this was all feasible. Then again, she reminded herself how… weird things were for her ever since she went down that one path that led to the clearing with the awkward shop.
She shook this off and caught up with Shayla. “So you’re telling me that… that what you’re wearing is a costume that got fused to your body, or something?”
“Something to that effect,” Shayla replied. “You asked how I knew the freaky guy with the top hat and his equally freaky sisters? They’re the ones that gave it to me.”
Kris’s frown deepened. “Really?”
“I get that you find this all made up,” Shayla said. “But it’s the truth. Ten to one, you found their shop, what, when you were out on a hike or a walk?”
“Yes,” Kris replied. “This path I didn’t know existed before just sort of… showed up when I was going for a walk. I took it out of curiosity, and ended up in a big clearing with their shop there. And there was this huge-ass tree, and a cave…”
“And signs pointing to a forest and a beach,” Shayla said. “Yeah, been there, done that. That’s how I stumbled onto them.” She grinned when Kris gaped at her with widened eyes. “I went into the store first and ended up meeting all three. Creeped me the hell out, the lot of ‘em, yet they were nice enough. Sincere in giving me tips about the area, as vague as they decided to be.”
“But… but how…”
“I’ll tell you later, if you stick around,” Shayla replied. “Right now, gotta try to use my brain to decide on where to go real quick.”
Kris wanted to ask what she meant, but Shayla gave a wave of her hand, and so Kris held off on asking. A few minutes of slow movement later, the pair broke from the forested clearing where Kris first found Shayla.
Instead of another path - like Kris thought they’d find - they came upon a larger, wide open area, with a river rushing by a few feet to their right, and a rather old-looking wooden bridge to their left. Yet what was beneath the bridge, and what was beside the river, was what had Kris’ jaw dropping: a huge gorge.
The bridge went directly across the gorge to the other side. The river did the same, though at one point, it turned into a bizarrely quiet waterfall going into the massive, gaping hole that seemed to cover a good chunk of the area. There was no way across it in front of them - just a cliffside that dropped off.
“Holy…” Kris breathed. “How the hell have I never seen this before?”
Shayla gave a dry laugh. “If you stick with me, Kris, you’ll learn to stop asking that question pretty damn fast. Far as you should be concerned, you’re going to have to kiss logic goodbye for now. I dunno what alternate world this is, but, it’s the furthest thing from normality. Best come to terms with that one now.”
Kris stared at the woman - baffled confused to the very core. Yet, curious.
“Now to figure out which way to go,” Shayla mumbled.
Kris followed her gaze and glanced about. They had the bridge, they had the river, and, that seemed to be it. But which was even remotely safe?
Written by Hollowpages on 12 February 2020
Kris recognized the fact none of this made any damn sense. She’d lived in this area her whole life, and not once in her previous walks or drives had she come across a humongous gorge at the center of two different areas, one of which had a convenient bridge - despite being a very old-looking bridge - and a large river as the only ways she could see to get across.
She shook this off, though, and glanced at Shayla. “What way did you come?”
Shayla ‘hmm-ed’ before responding. “I’ve usually used that old bridge you see there. But that piece of crap is one wrong step away from falling apart. Those stinkin’ serpents back at the shop could fix it, but, I’d have to swallow my pride even more to bother asking them for help. Besides.” She gave Kris a rather amused look. “I don’t have any money on hand. Not anymore, at least.”
Kris blinked. “Oh.”
“As far as the river goes?” Shayla said, gesturing to it. “I’ve waded through it fine in the past. But the thing is unpredictable. You might think a river would maintain the same speed most of the time - yeah, no. That bitch can get nasty at the drop of a dime. Plus, I’m not exactly in the best shape to be wading through it if it decides it wants to be rapid today.”
Kris sucked her teeth.
She was no survivalist. She’d gone camping some times in the past, sure, but she wasn’t exactly the best nature lover in the world - and she certainly didn’t have the best experience knowing how to brave through an unpredictable river, nor did she have the guts for dangling over a massive gorge on a rickety old bridge.
Yet she had come this far, so, she saw no reason to turn back… yet.
“I guess we could try the bridge,” Kris said. “It looks older than dirt, but, I mean if you’ve been able to cross it safely in the past…”
Shayla considered this. “Guess so. Little extra weight shouldn’t be too problematic. Just in case, though, you should go in front of me.”
Kris sputtered. “Um. Wh-why do you say that?”
“Because if that bitch breaks, you have the best chance of getting across,” Shayla replied. “It’s the middle portion we gotta worry about. I’d rather you get across and backtrack around to the river to get back. I’d be deader than dead at that rate. Wouldn’t matter much to me.” She shrugged. “That’s all.”
Kris stared at her for a very, very long moment. “That’s awfully… nonchalant considering.”
“Either way,” Shayla said. “Come on, then, if you’re still sure you want to tag along. I ain’t forcing you, Kris. You can leave anytime you want, and I wouldn’t hold it against you in the least bit.”
She started toward the bridge before Kris could respond. Kris frowned - she couldn’t get a read on this woman, and that wasn’t something she was used to.
Even so, she pushed on, and followed Shayla up to the old bridge. Once they got to it, it was clear the thing had seen better days - it looked battered and wobbly, and Kris was beginning to wonder if she was really brave enough to cross it without the fear she’d fall to her death overtaking her. She was a normal college student, not an explorer or an action RPG character!
Shayla paused to look at Kris. “You absolutely sure about this?”
Kris swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. Her stomach was in knots, and of course like any idiot, her eyes flicked down - down into the rather dark gorge before them, which had a rapid river bustling through it and plenty of sharp, jagged rocks. Kris knew she would die if she fell down there - there was no way in hell she’d be able to survive. She wasn’t that lucky.
“U-um, w-well.” Kris tried to steel herself from trembling.
Shayla’s features softened. “Hey, hey. It’s alright. You don’t have to come with me, honest. I’m not going to drag some normal person into the madness any deeper than they want to. You saved my ass, and I’m forever grateful for that fact. But, if this is it, then, this is it. No hard feelings, trust me.”
Kris ran a hand through her hair. She could tell deep down that this would be a point of no turning back for a good while. Something about the thickness in her air and the sensation in her stomach made that clear to her. She couldn’t go back on her choice, so, she had to be completely certain she wanted to try and walk across this bridge with a stranger that looked like a cat woman.
Time was ticking.
Written by Hollowpages on 13 February 2020
Kris felt her pulse racing. She really hated being stuck in this sort of predicament when time wasn’t exactly on her side. Yet, she forced her brain to work, and when it kicked into gear, she opted to take the path that was smarter in her opinion - she kept going at a slow pace, moving as calmly and as lightly as she humanly could to avoid putting too much weight into the bridge.
“I’m just going to take my time still,” Kris called back to Shayla. She didn’t dare turn around or stop, either, not at this rate.
“Only if you’re sure about that,” Shayla replied. “Remember - if this bridge starts to fall apart--”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Kris said. She didn’t want to hear that right now.
Each step she took, she felt herself sink, however, and the wood cracked and snapped like it might shatter. It didn’t, though - somehow, despite the fact she was trembling and oozing sweat from her own terror, Kris was able to gradually close the distance from where she’d been to the other side.
“You doing o-okay back there?” Kris asked.
Shayla laughed. “You ask a lot of questions for someone who looks like they’re about to have a heart attack right off the bridge, you know that? I’m sore as hell, and I reek, but otherwise, yeah, I’m just peachy. Busy watching you. Kinda fun to focus on while I’m trying to avoid the usual pratfalls.”
Kris groaned. “Please don’t talk about falls…”
Despite saying this more to herself, she heard Shayla snort at her remark.
‘At least she can find this funny,’ Kris thought. She was scared to death.
Once she was close enough, Kris took a leap of faith and lunged over the final few steps. She flopped onto the grass, rolling a few times until she stopped. She looked ridiculous, and it wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but she made it safe, and she hadn’t risked it too much for Shayla.
Kris picked herself up, dusting off some of the bits of grass clinging to her sweaty skin, and turned to see Shayla still further back. The woman was limping at a much, much slower pace than Kris was able to, and being taller and far bulkier given her muscled frame, Kris could hear the bridge groaning even louder in protest under her weight.
Shayla couldn’t do much else, however. She was keeping her gaze forward, looking like a wounded fantasy creature come to life. Kris grimaced. She didn’t understand much of this, of how Shayla could be what she claimed, but she shelved all her questions for the time being and instead remained on alert, listening to the bridge and keeping her eyes peeled in case she noticed something that could help. Or, if something bad was going to happen.
“You’re almost there,” Kris said. She could at least attempt to be encouraging, even if she felt worn out and wanted to go back home pretty much now.
Shayla snickered. “You know, you sweating so crazily on the bridge isn’t making walking across it any easier.”
Kris’ cheeks flushed. “Um. S-sorry about that.”
“I’m kidding,” Shayla said. “Mostly trying to keep my mind off the gaping jaws of death beneath me.” She took a step and the bridge jolted, and Shayla gave out a yowl of pain. “Son of a…” She gritted her teeth. “Guess I’m going to have to be stupid again to survive this. Move out of the way, please.”
Kris furrowed her brow, yet did so, stepping to the side. “What are you gonna do?”
Shayla sucked in a sharp breath. Without a word, she began to walk across the bridge rather than limp - Kris could tell that this wasn’t exactly pleasant, because Shayla continued to favor her wounded right leg. Her expression was one of pain, too, yet she kept onward anyways. And with each step, the bridge continued to jolt and buckle, clearly agitated and close to breaking.
Kris could feel her heart racing as she watched Shayla make it across the middle portion, at which point she stopped. She had her teeth gnashed together, yet, she slowed her pace back to an almost limp. She looked out of breath - probably from the injury hurting so much from walking on it like that.
“A-are you okay?” Kris asked.
“Been better,” was Shayla’s response. She let out a hiss and stopped moving altogether.
Shayla sucked in another deep breath, and for a moment, Kris thought she was going to break into a legit sprint across the remainder of the bridge. Unfortunately, the instant Shayla took a step forward, her foot snapped right through the wooden board - and her leg shot through it, too. She fell to one knee - right on her injured knee, at that - and yowled again in pain.
Kris gawked at the sight. Her heart started pounding even faster now, and she looked around for something, anything, to try and help. But there was nothing - it was just her. And as she frenzied about, Kris heard more snapping - her eyes zeroed in on the ropes holding the bridge upright and saw they were starting to break.
The bridge was going to collapse with Shayla on it if she didn’t get across.
Kris’ pulse sped. She didn’t know if she ought to try and help the cat woman, or, if she should let Shayla do it herself. Her extra weight could make things worse, after all. She swallowed her nerves and tried to wrack her brain for the better choice. Wait or help?
Written by Hollowpages on 14 February 2020
Seconds felt like minutes, but, Kris opted to run out and risk it. She sped toward the cheetah-looking woman, who was halfway through getting her leg unstuck from the hole she’d created. Kris could feel the bridge beginning to undo even quicker now, and she heard Shayla make a noise of protest.
Yet Kris could only see what was ahead of her, and she used what strength she could muster to help pull Shayla free all the way. The bridge jolted again, and Kris could feel her heart about ready to burst out of her chest.
Shayla’s eyes - her pupils almost slits now - stared back at her. She gritted her teeth, and, without a word, used her free arm to yank Kris close to her. Then, she surprised Kris by bolting at full speed across the bridge.
Everything blurred together. Kris could hardly see or think straight until she was resting on the grass. She gasped as she heard the sound of the bridge falling, only for her attention to focus on the sound of Shayla collapsing beside her.
It took a minute for her to regain her composure. She was drenched in sweat, and trembling, but, she managed to pick herself up. She turned to see Shayla beside her - conscious, yet breathing heavily. Shayla was holding her her injured leg as she somehow managed to shift her posture and sit upright.
For a moment, there was only silence.
Then, Shayla eyed Kris. “You are either the dumbest Good Samaritan I’ve ever encountered, or you are really good at making bad decisions.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I mean, thank you, but, seriously.”
“What was I supposed to do?” Kris asked. “J-just leave you there if the bridge fell with you on it?”
Shayla stared her down, looking genuinely flummoxed. “I would’ve expected a normal person to do that, yes. If there was no hope for saving me, then why risk it? Why risk your own life and potentially die for nothing in the end? You’ve done enough for my hide today, I didn’t expect you to throw your life away for it.”
Kris hugged herself. “W-well, that didn’t happen, though, did it?”
“No.” Shayla snorted. “Guess it didn’t.”
Silence fell once more. It was a tense silence, sure, but, Kris flopped onto her back and caught her breath. She was alive and well, and in one piece, and the living version of Cheetara was alive, too. Today had been one hell of a ride, and she swore if she made it back to her apartment in one piece, she’d never complain about having a boring day for the rest of her existence. She vowed that much.
“So,” Kris said. “Now what?”
Shayla gave a dry laugh. “I didn’t expect you to stick with me since you’re a normal person with a normal life. But, since you’ve saved me twice over now, I got no room to shove you away or bitch about it.”
Kris turned to see Shayla nursing her leg.
Shayla met her gaze. “Tell you what, Kris. You can be the one to decide since your decisions have been a lot smarter overall between the two of us. My home - and yeah, I have a home - is deeper into the forest that way.”
She pointed, and Kris actually bothered to see that there was yet another, even larger and more clustered forest looming before them.
“Thing is, it’ll take a while to get there,” Shayla said. “Probably a couple hours, maybe longer, depending. So.” She grimaced, and checked her right arm. “Here’s how we can do this. We can either try to trek through the forest to my little safe haven, and it’ll be nighttime when we get there, I’m sure of that much. Or, we can try to find some other form of shelter and wait it out. I’ll probably be better tomorrow. I just can’t guarantee it’ll be a smooth night.”
Kris’ shoulders sagged. “Why do I have to be the one to decide?”
“You opted to come with me,” Shayla replied. “It’s only fair you choose since you’re the one who is getting yourself dragged into my world, I’m afraid. Whatever happens will happen - but in the end, what do you feel you’d rather do? Chance finding a place to hide and rest during the night? Or keep pushing on and get to where I live, regardless of how long it’ll take?”
Kris groaned and made herself sit upright. She mulled over her choices…
Written by Hollowpages on 15 February 2020
Kris was unsure of what to do in terms of picking a choice. This seemed like something out of a video game, but, she didn’t know what the best choice to make was. She wasn’t a nature survivalist, or a skilled hiker, and it wasn’t exactly every day you found yourself with a woman that looked like a Thundercat.
She clicked her teeth together. “I guess… finding shelter is the best choice?”
Shayla eyed her for a moment before cracking a smirk. “To be honest, yeah, it probably is. Too many risks involved in us pushing on when it gets dark. You never know exactly what you’ll run into in these parts.”
Kris rubbed her eyes, her mind slowly soaking in… everything.
“I don’t get any of this,” Kris said. She glanced back the way they’d come, and she thought about how she’d started off on a normal, peaceful walk, only to end up where she was now. “Am I in some… some alternate reality now? Is that what this is? Or has all this been around and I just never saw it before?”
Shayla gave a snort. “You stuck around, so, I’ll give you the scoop I’ve got. But we should get moving. I’ll explain as we go.” She paused, her catlike eyes scanning the horizon before them. “I can think of a few spots we might get lucky in. We need to get moving, though.”
Kris groaned inwardly and picked herself up. She wasn’t accustomed to being on the move this much, least of all in the wild, as it was getting dark. Yet she had no choice, and, even so, she was still very, very curious to find out more about.. well, all the madness she’d somehow gotten herself sucked into.
Shayla nodded once Kris was standing. The two started moving together, Shayla still favoring her wounded leg, though being forced to run the way she did appeared to not have added to the pain. Kris was mindful, either way, and kept her pace relatively slow to better match the taller woman.
“So,” Kris said. “What, uh… what do you know?”
Shayla sucked her teeth. She waited for the pair to breach the forested area, one devoid of an actual path for once, then she began to answer.
“I don’t know what the full details are,” Shayla said. “Don’t know if it’s magic, or some bizarre science experiment the government knows about, or maybe we did get whisked away to some freaky world within our world. Whatever the case is, the moment you took that path, the one that led to that shop? You made a choice that got you inserted into… something different, obviously.”
Kris rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m surprised I’m not having a panic attack from it all. I mean, the shop was weird, and the paths being next to one another was strange. Guess those aren’t that out of the ordinary when you think about them logically. But…”
“Running into someone like me sure as hell is,” Shayla finished, adding a smirk at the end. “I get it. Believe me.”
Above them, the sky was gradually beginning to darken. Kris could see the moon rising, and wondered how stupid this decision of hers would ultimately be.
“That doesn’t explain…” Kris trailed off.
Shayla sighed. “I can’t remember exactly when I found that shop. I know I was like you, normal and all that. And I know when I went in there, I went to one of the sisters’ doors - she had a wall of these really intricate human-sized costumes, and she said I could take one for free if I wanted. But, she warned me. Said that putting it on would be a ‘great change,’ and that I’d be drawn to the one that was ‘waiting just for me.’”
“That sounds… vague and kinda ominous,” Kris muttered.
“Right?” Shayla grunted, and paused, glancing about. “I didn’t pick one then. I left, because she was weird, and I had the supplies I thought I needed for a routine hike through the woods. Boy, did I learn how wrong I was.”
“What happened?” Kris asked.
Shayla sniffed several times, breathing in long and deep. She frowned, then began to move left, cutting through several thicker bushes nestled between the trees. Kris followed, wondering where Shayla was going, yet still very fascinated by the whole scenario. It was like reading a really good fantasy novel, only she was experiencing it herself - despite the fact a small part of her sincerely felt she was having one hell of a dream she’d wake up from soon.
“Let’s just say I got lost,” Shayla replied after a moment of movement. “Got lost, got tangled up in a few pitfalls that left me with less gear, and I ended up taking a nasty fall. Honestly, expected I’d die when all of a sudden, that creepy shopkeeper showed up - the oldest sister. She took pity on me, I guess, and gave me one of the costumes, the one you see on me now. A leopard.”
‘Leopard,’ Kris thought. She was fascinated to hear that, yet also fairly amused with herself since she’d guessed cheetah the whole time. She’d completely forgotten that there were other big cats with spots. Not that a normal person would’ve figured that out, of course. ‘Guess I was close in my guess… She still looks like a short-haired Cheetara from Thundercats to me.’
“Hold on a sec,” Shayla said, extending a hand to halt Kris. She breathed in again, long and deep, then growled. “Shit. Well, we’re going to have to make another choice before we continue. I can tell from smell that we’re not the only ones in the immediate area.” She sniffed a few brisk times. “Yeah, we’ve got company on both ends.” Her eyes met Kris’. “Gonna have to choose where we go.”
Kris blinked several times. “Wait, what?”
“It shouldn’t be too bad, but,” Shayla glanced from one side to the other, then back to Kris. “Which way? Right or left?”
Written by Hollowpages on 29 February 2020