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- Something Different
The little girl was tossing and turning in her sleep. Soft moans and murmurs could be heard from under the covers. She was dreaming, for certain. But something seemed different. There was sweat on the girl’s forehead and her face wasn’t peaceful as usual. What was she dreaming of?
Elle was standing on a rocky ground, staring at a scarecrow. The loosely hanging clothing was flapping from the harsh and cold wind that was blowing. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing to get warm. The scarecrow looked very creepy, almost like a skeleton. With wavy, thin fingers that moved in the wind, it seemed to be waving, or pointing, ahead. Curious as she was, she started walking into that direction, even though a shudder moved through her as she passed the scarecrow.
A strange, dark and barren landscape opened up to her. The howling wind deafened her. Slowly she moved forward, walking towards what seemed to be a house. It was hard to see in the distance. There seemed to be a fog hanging over the land, even though the wind should have cleared the air.
The house was abandoned, some overturned furniture was left and nature had found its way inside. Not that the plants were lush and green and nice. They had a sickening colour to them. It made Ele sad to look at them. She moved further into the abandoned village and saw a figure at one of the ruined buildings. “Hello! I’m Elle, who are you?” she called out as she waved, happily moving towards it. “Go away!” A grumpy, growling voice greeted her. She halted instantly and looked at the gnome, for that was what it was. Surprise showing on her face. “Excuse me?” she asked, confusion clearly showing.
“Go away! Move along! Make yourself scarce! And be quick about it!” The gnome beckoned her forward. “But, I wanted to ask you…” she started before getting interrupted. “I don’t answer questions. Leave me alone. Don’t make me get my pitch fork!” The look on the gnome’s face changed from mere grumpy to menacing. Elle sighed, hung her head and nodded, biting her lip. “Alright.” She mumbled softly, walking past the gnome further into the strange landscape. She felt sad that the first sign of life had been such a disappointment.
She noticed a statue further away and walked up to have a closer look. It was a statue of a small, thin boy who seemed to be looking in the distance, waiting for something, or someone, to arrive. Elle sighed. So many questions! Who was the boy? What had happened to the people in the village? Why was the gnome so mean to her? She looked around hoping to find somebody who might help her, as they had always done in her dreams.
She was running, heart beating heavily in her chest. Looking behind her she saw a winged creature, flapping as it flew after her and a ugly looking creature that looked like a strange dog barking and running below it. They were chasing her, screaming at her in a language that made no sense. She didn’t know why, just that the ruin behind them and these creatures scared her so much she was shivering. And running for her life. It seemed they were gaining up on her. She cried out for help and tried to run even faster.
Suddenly she was somewhere else. The wind howled over a plain, sand danced over the ground. At first she thought she was looking at piles of rocks scattered around the plain, but with another shudder that chilled her to the bone she realized she was looking at dead creatures. They looked like figures from a movie she once sneaked a peek of, watching through a slightly opened door when her parents were watching tv and whenshe should have been asleep in bed. Trolls or demons, that kind of thing. They seemed to be made of stone.
Someone was watching the plain, like her. She hid behind the pile of rock that seemed to be the only bump not made out of bodies and took a cautious peek. Carefully, afraid of being chased off again. The creature looked like a warrior. She couldn’t tell if he was alive or not. His features had a skeletal look on them and he didn’t seem to move. He had a strange looking weapon in his hand, bits of which were fluttering in the wind. So were his clothes. She clasped her hand in front of her mouth to stifle a scream when the head slowly moved to turn and look straight at her. She was frozen and couldn’t have moved had she wanted to! Panic took hold of her and her breathing got heavy, her heart beating out of her chest by now. Staring back at the warrior, unable to help herself she swallowed hard and waited. The creature seemed to be staring at her for ages. Then it slowly moved back and he was overlooking the plain once more. She thought she saw his shoulders move as if he had just sighed deeply, but she could have just imagined it. After a while she felt confident to move again, the warrior being as still as before.
She was on a ridge, trying to keep her balance, walking slowly to the other side of a large ravine. When she reached the other side she saw another ruined building. Still the curious child she decided to check it out. She climbed on top of the rubble until she reached the roof. She turned around to take a look at her surroundings when she felt something pushing at her back and before she knew it she fell down a hole. Scrambling to her feet, surprisingly not bleeding or feeling any pain from her tumble down, she started to climb up again, only to stop and stare as a creature came into sight, staring at her from the edge of the hole. Big eyes on sticks were looking at her. The creature reminded her of the watchers she encountered in her dreams once. They had been colourful and bright though, and helpful. This one looked like the creatures from her cousin’s space comics and there was nothing helpful or bright about it! “Gurgu!’ it screamed, hopping excitedly. “Gurgu!” then moved the eyes down to stare at her. The big mouth snarling at her. “Gurgu tsa cha!” It seemed to be a warning, a threat. It sat down, eyes on her. She was trapped. It was clear she’d get hurt if she tried to move past the creature. She moved back down again and shivered once more. It was pitch black and she couldn’t see anything at all. Who knew what was down there with her in the shadows? Fighting back the tears which she felt welling up, she sat down, as close to the light as she could, hugging her knees. She had never felt so afraid and alone before.
When she opened her eyes again, the chill hadn’t left her. Her environment had, however. She found herself wandering around in a dark forest. Strange creatures were lurking among the trees and their screeches and growls made her teeth chitter. She saw some flowers which looked pretty but when she got up close they were just as scary as everything else. Little skulls were staring at her. She felt eyes on her from just about every corner! A creature with very thin legs walked towards her. Snarling menacingly. She backed away. Watching the creature carefully she kept backing away slowly. Something tugged on her hair. “Ouch!” she cried out, rubbing her head. Looking up she saw a huge rat, standing on its hind legs. It was like a creature she had seen in a cartoon movie once. It held a doll in its hand and was wrapping the strands of hair it pulled off of her head around the doll. Then it looked up at her and opened its mouth wide, showing its sharp teeth. The screeching sound that came out of it was similar to fingernails on a chalkboard. The rat was laughing as it took a pin and pushed it into the doll. Instantly she felt a very sharp sting in her arm. “Ouch!” rubbing her arm she stared around her, wondering what happened. The snarling creature was still there, but kept its distance from the rat. It took several more stings on several places of her body for her to realize it was the rat’s doing. She looked at the doll and then back at the rat. The grin was even scarier than the pain she felt. “Go away! Leave me alone! What did I do to you! “she cried out, tears now streaming down her face. Suddenly she remembered the gnome she had met before, her own words sounding so familiar as he had said something similar. She started to move her ams, hitting the air around her, swatting at things that weren’t there. “Go away, go away!” She rushed away – away from the rat, away from the thin legged creature – away from the creepy flowers, out of the dark forest.
She was on a narrow bridge, crossing another deep ravine. On the other side she climbed up a hill and saw another ruined building. Hoping she might be safe there, she stepped inside. Tripping over something in the dark, she stumbled further into the room. A flickering light seemed to be coming from upstairs. Thinking there might be a warm fire there, she slowly walked up, looking back every now and then just in case the creatures had followed her. When she got upstairs there was nothing that even remotely looked comfortable. Just a hole in the ground where the light seemed to be coming from. Peering over the edge she saw a figure, barely visible. A wavering figure of….yeah, of what? A robed person. Was it a priest? A monk? Or perhaps just a hermit? It was a ghost, that much she knew for sure. It looked up at her briefly, a soft smile on his face. Then he seemed to forget all about her again. Sighing softly, realizing she’d not get any conversation or friendliness from a ghost, she moved back down the stairs again.
When she came down again she saw people gathering. A group of robed men were moving down from the stairs of the roof, huddling before the pillars, curiously watching her. Even though there was a group, she didn’t get any of the menacing sensations she had experienced with all the other creatures she had encountered. Their demeanour was friendly. They bowed their heads reverently towards her. Communicating amongst themselves through wordless conversation they seemed to reach a conclusion. One of the men had a robe draped over his arms. He walked up to her, head bowing, arms reaching out to hand her the robe. Not having been warm since she arrived, she didn’t even think of it and just accepted the robe, wrapping it around her as quick as she could. It fit her perfectly. Suddenly she remembered the ghost in the hole. Hoping these people were more helpful than the rest, she looked at the one who had handed her the robe. “I’m Elle, I think I am lost. Can you tell me where I am? And who is the man in the hole upstairs?” feeling a bit more comfortable as she was finally warming up a bit. Her questions seemed to agitate the friendly men and they gestured between themselves again. Most of them were shaking their heads vigorously. Then one of them, one who looked much older than the others, moved towards her and touched her arm gently. He pointed upstairs and shook his head again. Then he pointed outside. All the other men looked at the spot he was pointing at. It was a tower on top of a steep, high mountain. They all pointed towards it and the older man gently nudged her to move outside again. Elle wasn’t sure what they meant, but as they had been the friendliest so far, she figured the tower was her way out of here. She thanked them all, for the directions and the robe and forgot about her other questions, eager to get home.
She was walking around in a castle, continuously walking up and down stairs, through doorways, trying to find her way out. Each time she thought she had found it, and then there was a wall where a door should be, stairs going nowhere. It felt like a maze, a labyrinth she remembered from a movie. Frustrated she called out for help, but there was not a sound. Only the wind, blowing through all the openings, seemed to be howling at her. Out of one of the windows she saw the high mountain and the tower on top. “That’s where I need to go!” she called out in frustration. “I want to go home! Let me go home!” She banged on the walls of the castle, stormed up and down stairs again. Then, taking a moment to catch her breath in one of the rooms, she saw a crest hanging on the wall. She stared at it angrily. Thinking it was the crest of whomever had lived here. Blaming whoever they were she picked up a rock and aimed to hit the shield. “Stupid people!” she called out as she threw.
And then she was at the foot of the high mountain. Desperately trying to find a way up. There was no path, no ladders, nothing. And when she tried to climb up the rocks, she had to stop after a few metres. It was just too steep. She’d fall down. Feeling defeated she sat down and started crying. After all this time she found the mountain, and now she couldn’t get to the tower anyway. Would this nightmare never end??!
Swoosh, swoosh! Something was flying over her head. Heavy wings were moving air, she could feel it. She looked up with teary eyes, seeing some creature moving above her. She blinked a few times to clear her view and then clasped her hand in front of her mouth to stop another scream from escaping. There was a dragon flying there! She scrambled up and looked around for a place to hide. The dragon looked at her as it circled above. Expecting it to torch her with fire breath she cringed, unable to find somewhere to shield herself. She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable. And waited, and waited. The sound of flapping wings had stopped. With her heart beating heavily, she slowly opened her eyes….and looked straight into the huge dragon’s face. It tilted its head as it looked at her curiously. Nostrils vibrating, tongue licking the air. It had huge, sharp teeth, but its eyes were friendly. The dragon lowered its head and gently nudged her side. Hesitantly she reached out to touch its nose. It was warm and softer than she’d imagined. The dragon nudged her again. Then it lay down on the floor, looking at her and then turning its head around. Did it want her to climb on the back? Elle was unsure. As the dragon nodded at unspoken thoughts she gave it a thin smile and climbed on between the spiky pieces on its back, holding on to the one right in front of her. Legs tightly against the dragon’s sides. It was going to fly,wasn’t it. It was going to….ohhhh and they were off! The dragon flew off with heavy beating of wings and a growling sound that seemed to vibrate across the land. It took her for a ride all over the land she had roamed around in. She saw all the places she had gone to appearing in front of her. The forest with its creepy creatures, the strange figures of monsters that had chased her, captured her. They all came to see the dragon, then cringed and scrambled as it roared again. The gnome tried to hit it with his pitchfork, the skeletal warrior merely glanced up for a moment. The robed men waved and bowed at them, the castle with its strange interior seemed to beckon her, but the dragon flew around it and then went higher and higher and higher. Until they reached the tower. It landed on a wall and made sure she’d slide down the right way. She fell on the ground and with shaky limbs held onto the wall, trying to get up again. “Hello, little girl.” She looked up in surprise. Someone was actually speaking to her, and nicely too! She saw a boy standing on the wall, caressing a little dragon that was perched on his arm. The dragon who had taken her up roared once more and then flew higher up the tower and perched on a ledge, watching them and the lands all around.
“H..h..hello”, she stammered, still in shock of the whole situation. “I’m Elle, who are you?” she asked. The boy smiled. “Why, I’m the Dragon Keeper, of course. Pray tell me, how did you manage to get Peety to fly you up here?” pointing at the dragon above. “She usually ignores all creatures unless they’re a threat.” Elle shrugged. “I don’t know, she found me trying to climb the mountain and took me on her back.” “Hm…” the Dragon Keeper pondered. “I suppose you could have found the Chalice then. Did you find and touch it?” tilting his head as he looked at her again. Elle frowned as she thought hard. She didn’t remember touching any chalice. “I don’t know, I don’t think so?” The boy looked surprised. “Oh, that is strange then. Because touching the Chalice will make Peety come look for you straight away, and if she deems you dangerous, you’d have been ashes by now!” he laughed loudly at the shocked look on Elle’s face. “No worries, you are safe, little girl! Peety likes you.” The dragon roared in agreement from above. Elle glanced up and then back at the boy. “What is this place, I don’t think I have seen it before.” The Keeper grinned. “Oh, but you have! Last time you were here you couldn’t walk yet though, so you probably have forgotten.” He waved at the lands stretching out in front of them. “This is the Haze, little Elle. This is where you go to when your dreams are strange, scary and confusing.” Elle shivered. “It has been scary a lot. There are not many nice people here.” She stared down, not really seeing anything because the fog was still heavy. The Dragon Keeper laughed again. “Yes, well. They are not supposed to be nice. Though you would never really get hurt, not physically at least. He stroked the little dragon’s back again which growled softly at the touch, almost like a purring cat. Elle watched it for a moment before answering. “I don’t really like it here, even though you seem nice and your dragons too. The robed men gave me a warm robe for my comfort, they were nice as well.” Only then did she realize that she hadn’t been wearing that robe for quite some time. “oh..” . The Dragon Keeper nodded. “They are the keepers of the Chalice. If they helped you, you did find it. Not many people that come through here find the Chalice and are granted the right way passage out.” Elle’s face brightened and she looked at him with hope in her eyes “Does this mean I get to go home now?!” He nodded. “Yes, once you are at the tower, you will find the way back home in fairly calm weather…” He looked down towards the plains in the west. “Not everyone is that lucky.” Elle wondered what he meant, or whom he was talking about. Then she remembered about the statue of the boy. “The statue, in the village, that boy. Is that you?” The Dragon Keeper looked surprised for a moment. “Oh, you mean Ralph? No, that is not me. That poor soul roamed these lands for ages before he found his way out.” He smiled reassuringly to her. “Alright, let’s get you back home, shall we?” And he reached out to touch her arm.
She was passing through a gate and then another one, and then there were colours. Such lovely colours everywhere. Such a relief after all the darkness and barren lands. She smelled the flowers, touched the trees and finally got a smile back on her face. Glancing behind her she could still see the Haze through the gates, but blurry and non-threatening. A memory in the making.
“Elle, Elle, wake up, sweetie.” Her mother was stroking her arm gently as she woke up, warm and safely tugged under her duvet. “Hi little one. Are you awake now? We woke up and heard you scream. Did you have a bad dream?” Elle sighed softly and nodded. “Yes, mommy, it was horrible. There was….erm….and then I ….er…” she tried to think but it all became blurrier and blurrier with each second. “There were dragons!” she remembered. But all of the rest were now only memories of emotions and sensations. “I was scared, so scared. And alone, and cold.” She shivered a little and let her mum hug her tightly. So safe and warm and protected! “Well, it’s all over now.” Her mother kissed her on the forehead. “Back to sleep now, darling. It’s the middle of the night, you know.” Elle nodded and hugged her duvet around her. She’d not go back to the Haze that night, but the fear she had experienced stayed with her at the back of her mind from then on. And before our little girl would be all grown up, she’d see more of the Haze than she would have cared for!