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