Chapter Three

Realizing he would not win this tug of war, Frank attempted to let go. Try as he might, though, he could not free himself from the mop’s handle. He laughed at the absurdity of the situation as the wall pulled him closer and closer. Finally, he drew up against it, somehow passed through it, and incomprehensibly found himself standing in a very real archway.

He felt a bit light-headed and disoriented: all around him was a forest. Gray large stone hovered over him. Dry leaves littered the ground, surrounding their parent trees which stood dozens of feet tall with thick grey trunks. He stood in a clearing about thirty feet in diameter. A wide path headed straight out in front of him with those large twisted trees darkly overhanging the well-worn trail. Silence crept up his back. Swinging around quickly, he held his mop-headed staff out defensively, steadying himself against whatever unseen assailant might have snuck behind him. Nothing but an empty archway and the path continuing on through the forest extended that direction.

Where am I? What’s going on? he silently questioned. Hopefully, he walked back through the archway, thinking he might be able to reverse whatever had occurred. He stepped through the arch and onto the path, still in the middle of a clearing in an unknown forest. Probing every recess and line of the structure, his hands crossed every bit of the archway he could reach, looking for some sort of switch to trigger or button to activate so he might get away. Nothing happened.

Fighting panic, he assessed the situation. If he could find the sun, he knew he would be able to determine North, or at least he hoped he could. It had been a long time since he had been in Scouts. He searched the forest canopy, looking for shafts of light or something to clue him into the sun’s whereabouts.

Soon, he realized the luminescence of the forest simply existed. He could not find any light sources. No light shone through the tops of the trees or streamed into the clearing. A subtle light permeated the atmosphere and provided enough clarity to see, sort of a dusky brilliance, but he could not find its source.

The dead leaves whispered with silent laughter Frank’s confusion took hold. Listening for sounds from the overbearingly silent forest, he sensed voices surrounding him, snickering. He brandished his mop hoping to scare his opponents, real or imagined, into leaving him alone.

I need to find a way out of this place. Maybe I’m dreaming. If so, wake up!

Off in the distance to the right of the arch, a large bare hill rose above the trees. He could not be sure at this distance, but it looked as though something might have moved on the hilltop. Determined to get a better understanding of his surroundings, he started down the path in front of him, hoping it might lead to the hill.

As he walked, his mind cleared, the haunting, watched feeling subsided, and he began to enjoy the movement. The pail swung in his left hand, creating its own clock-like momentum. Quickly, he lost many of his apprehensions and looked forward to continuing this insanely odd adventure. Perhaps he was trapped in a land where he would become king like in the story books. Maybe this was some sort of ancestral home, and his parents were secretly hiding a fantastic family heritage that included wizards, dragons or talking beasts.

Then again… he was probably just dreaming.

Standing on that hill in a swath of shadow, and watching the newcomer make his way down the path, that figure guessed at by Frank, sat atop a black war horse, nodded to himself and waited, wondering if this person was the one prophesied to come in his lands’ greatest needs or whether he was a sad joke. His thoughts turned more towards the latter. He checked his reins, slapped his mount’s flank and rode the path down the opposite side of the hill from where this stranger would eventually come.