Kate perused the shelves in the secondhand bookstore. So far she had either read all the books or they were topics she swore she would never read. Sparkling vampires. She shuddered.
Kate scanned the shelves one last time before deciding to leave. This trip was going to be a bust. She sighed. Just as she was about to around the corner she noticed a large tome tucked away on the bottom shelf. Worn brown leather covered the outside. The book exuded old; she was almost afraid to touch it. The thick spine was blank. She pulled from the shelf and found that the front was likewise empty.
She opened the book to find words printed in a tight, ornate script. The words were not from any language she recognized. She flipped through a few pages to find more of the same. The pages felt thick and rough, more parchment than paper. “I wonder what language this is in. I guess there is no sense in buying it if I can’t read it.” She leaned over to put the book away but the action felt wrong. As the book approached the shelf, her stomach heaved. She pulled her arm back and it subsided. She felt the need to buy this strange book. Tucking it under her arm, she walked to the desk at the front of the store where the owner ran an antiquated cash register.
“How much for this one, John?” Kate asked.
John looked up from the novel he was reading. He scratched his head where the thinning grey hair revealed the beginnings of a bald spot. “Huh. I don’t recognize that. Where did you find it?”
“It was in the fantasy section back shelf. All the way on the bottom. I almost didn’t see it,” she said.
“I just sorted that section yesterday.” His lip curled into a frown. “I don’t remember that one. What is it?”
“I don’t know.” She opened the book to a random page and turned towards him.
He raised his eyebrow. “Is that elvish? Some weird version of Lord of the Ring?” She shrugged. “Well if you want it, it’s yours,” he told her.
“Thanks John,” she said. “I’ll be back on Friday to see if you’ve got anything new in.” She clutched the book to her chest and dashed out the door.
“You’re welcome,” John called just before the door closed behind her.
She rushed the few blocks from the store to the apartment that she shared with her mother. She didn’t know what she was going to do with the book but whatever it was, she was eager to do it. Trippy, meowed while she worked the lock. The grey tabby slinked her long body over and rubbed against her legs while Kate hung her keys on the peg by the door. As usual, the smell of roasted coffee beans from her mom’s cafe downstairs pervaded the apartment.
“Look, Trippy. I found a new book. Let’s flip through it and see if we can find out about it.” She held the book down to let Trippy sniff it. The cat inched closer to it. Her nose touched the cover and she bolted to the other side of the apartment. Silly cat.
Kate flicked on the antique reading lamp her mother had gotten her for her eighteenth birthday and settled onto their beat up sofa. They really should get a new one but Trippy would just claw that one up, too. Propping her head against the armrest, she opened the book, tucking the base into her abdomen.
She drew a finger down the page. It felt warm to the touch and seemed to vibrate. While she still couldn’t read the writing, the page she was on appeared to be some sort of table of contents. She turned the page as trippy walked over and jumped up on her chest. The cat curled up into a ball blocking her view. “Come on, Trippy, not in the way.” She picked her up and set her on the floor before rolling onto the stomach and leaning the book where her head had previously been.
She looked again at the page looking for some clue about the book. It felt warmer now and vibrated as if humming. The page had an odd color, almost as if it was backlit. As she stared, transfixed, the brightness increased. She blinked but found the effect wasn’t her imagination. The page actually glowed.
Soon the intensity increased until it shone out of the book. Soft yellow light bathed the whole room. The letters swirled around the page creating a vortex in the middle. Kate rubbed her eyes. That couldn’t be happening. She watched as the center of the page swallowed the words.
She felt a breeze behind her. That’s funny. The fan is on the other side of the room. Stray locks of her auburn hair floated in front of her face. The draft increased and her hair pulled against her scalp trying to reach the book.
Then Kate felt herself drawn towards the page. She resisted it but the force overwhelmed her, and her head touched the page. It felt similar to dunking her head in water. She gripped the side of the book to try to push away. She struggled, but the force was too strong. She couldn’t hold onto the book’s edges any longer.
She fell facedown to the ground in a heap. A cloud of rough sand rose around her. She heard a meow and felt Trippy land on her back. But it was wrong. Trippy felt heavier than normal. The wind died down and then was gone. Trippy leapt from her back and Kate took the opportunity to roll over.
Her mouth gaped. That wasn’t Trippy; that was a mountain lion. But it had Trippy’s coloring. One tooth extended past the upper lip mimicking Trippy’s cute little snarl.
The big cat meowed. “Trippy?” The lion rewarded her by lion rubbing its head against her thigh. Tentatively, she placed her hand on the cat’s head and started scratching behind its ears. Trippy, there was no denying this was her cat, purred in satisfaction.
“What happened to you, girl? Did you eat some Alice in Wonderland cake or something?” Kate shook her head. “Where are we, anyway?” Her living room was gone. Instead, she found herself in dense forest. Dim light filtered through the trees and birds screeched in the distance. Trippy ignored her question and wandered off to explore.
She lifted herself up. Her clothes were torn and her temple was damp with blood. Otherwise she seemed alright. They had landed in a clearing near a small pond, about the size of a small large swimming pool. Kate walked to it, her head swinging all around to take in her surroundings. The water was so still should could see the reflection of the trees around her. She leaned forward to wash her face but froze in her place.
That couldn’t be right. There was no way this could be her reflection. The face looking back at her had a gash where she felt blood on hers. The hand in the water’s reflection moved with her hand. But she didn’t have green hair. Nobody had green hair, except for those punk rocker girls from school. But this was no bright-green dye job. It looked almost natural, the color of the leaves above her.
The hair wasn’t the only thing that had changed color. Her brown eyes had been replaced with green, the same shade as her hair.
She heard a crack behind her. She turned to see a hunter with a bow drawn and pointed in her direction. Tall and broad shouldered, he wore a green tunic that matched her hair. The hood partially covered over face revealing only a sharp chin and nose.
“Galee. Toloo, tooloo. Gimly toloo,” the hunter shouted at her, waving the arrow at the ground.
She couldn’t understand his words, but his meaning seemed clear enough. She raised her hands over her head and slowly dropped to her knees. From the other side of the pond, Trippy roared. The hunter jumped. As he faced the sound, the arrow shot from the bow towards her cat.
“No,” she screamed as the arrow sped towards its target. A low hanging branch fell from above and intercepted the projectile. Vines dropped down and curled around the hunter’s weapon, then yanked it from his hands.
Now it was his turn to stare. He looked at his empty hands and then at the bow dangling from the tree above his head. His mouth opened and closed several times in quick succession. He dropped to his knees and bowed before her.
“Fawla, tro quinlo.” He trembled before her.
Kate struggled to understand what had just happened. Did she make the tree move? It didn’t seem believable, but it could explain the hunter’s behavior. If somebody had commanded a tree right of front of her, she would cowered before them, too.
She had to figure out if the thing with the tree was her doing or not. She imagined another vine coming down and pushing back the hunter’s hood. One lowered grabbed the hood. A mop of brown hair ringed his head. Were those ears pointed?
As the vine retracted, a tendril brushed his skin. While she continued to hear the strange speech with her ears, the same voice in English spoke in her head. “Princess, you have returned.”
She looked behind her for the princess. She felt silly because only there was only a pond behind her. He continued bowing. Wait, was he calling her a princess?