The Glass Forest: Chapter One

Dreams With Sharp Teeth

Brilliant light. The kind that dazzles and disorients you and leaves your pupils aching, blinded, for a moment. That, and the abrupt stutter of the engine as it stopped, the vehicle drifting to a halt.

Defining moments. That first terrified leap off of the diving board at the local pool. The day I got my first period, in gym class, of course. A train ride in Germany and the scant number of seconds in which my family went from three to just one. And now, in this moment and time, another defining moment, and one that made no sense, whatsoever.

The creature levitating next to my car was impossible, completely so. It hovered a scant three feet off the ground, at car window height. Which seemed completely impossible given its undersized stumps of wings. Although they moved at a fast blur, they did not seem capable of sustaining flight. Especially when you took into consideration the size of creature’s round, rather protuberant belly. As I struggled to process what I was seeing, my befuddled brain could only produce a quote I had heard once.

Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know this so it goes on flying anyway.

I blinked, reached up and rubbed my eyes before I looked again.

Nothing had changed. There was still the same impossible creature before me. It was slightly larger than Widdershins, Aunt Martha’s aging and decrepit rat terrier. Like Widdershins, it had a narrow, rat-like face. That was where the resemblance ended, however. I couldn’t think of any living creature that had this creature’s shade of shockingly orange skin. When paired with its potbelly, small feet and short, ineffective arms – the combination seemed impossible. And yet here he was – not just defying my understanding of physics but flaunting it. He looked like something straight out of a movie or fantasy novel.

I miss reading. I miss it so much. I used to tear through stacks of books as a child. Mom once said, “The library sees you coming and shudders in fear like a refrigerator does when faced with a teenage boy.”

Which really, if you think about it, seems rather silly. Refrigerators are made for holding food, and libraries are made to hold books for readers, so why…never mind. I am being over-analytical.

As I continued to stare, the creature reached out and tapped politely on my car window. Its delicate fingers, all four of them, ended with sharp claws that flexed into what could only be interpreted as a welcoming wave.

I sucked in a breath. “What… the… hell.”

And if that were not enough, it now leaned in, bared its teeth in what I could only interpret as an attempt at a smile and called out a cheery “Hello!” through the thick glass.

The creature’s mannerisms were human-like, and I found my hand raising in response. To do what? Wave back? I caught my hand in time, stopping it from automatically waving in response, my head dipping slightly in response. I felt silly. What was I responding to? A hallucination? Its human-like behavior was at odds with its impossible appearance.

I blinked, rubbed my eyes again, and tried to clear my head. Perhaps if I ignored it, the strange vision would disappear. My mind felt muddy, as if I were emerging from an intense dream. My thoughts came slow, thick and plodding. I feel like I’m full of molasses.

The creature said something else, but its words were muddled and indistinct through the window glass. I cocked my head, trying to hear his words more distinctly, but it was as impossible as the creature before me.

Despite its bizarre appearance, something that I was still struggling to comprehend, along with the sneaking suspicion that I had to be dreaming, the thing seemed to want to talk to me. It was now pantomiming rolling down the window. Occasionally it stopped to cast quick, glances at the tree limbs overhead. I might have been trying to read too much into it, to ascribe human characteristics to it, but it appeared to be nervous, even afraid of something there in the forest.

The old car’s engine was dead. I tried it once again just to be sure. Not even a click when I turned the key. This had seemed to coincide with the blinding flash of light. One minute I had been driving down a wooded lane, listening to Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh, then a burst of static and a blinding flash had filled my vision. It left my eyes hurting and they were still obscured with large spots.

As my eyes recovered, I could see that the road was gone. In fact, there was no trace of it remaining. Had I turned the wheel? Driven off of the road? I turned to look behind me. There was nothing, no tarmac behind me, not even a rutted country road. Everywhere I looked there were trees. And it was so green. Had I entered some evergreen forest?

No amount of pumping the gas or turning the key would induce the vehicle to start again.

I missed my Mazda. Unfortunately for me, the Mazda’s transmission had failed and now I was stuck driving Auntie’s ancient 1976 Dodge Dart until I could afford to have a new transmission put in. The Dodge Dart, built in the dark ages before computers or cell phones, relied on quaint concepts such as actual handles for rolling down windows. Without power to the engine, there would have been no way for me to roll the window down in my little Mazda. But the engine on this car had died upon arrival to this strange place, the machine slowly coasting to a stop, leaves and sticks crunching under the tires. It now showed no signs of starting back up no matter how many times I tried turning the key. The engine would not turn over, heck, I couldn’t even get a dry click out of the starter.

This has to be a dream, I thought. The creature was insistent, tapping again on my window and again pantomiming that I should roll down the window. It had become overwhelmingly hot in the car. Sweat trickled down my brow, my winter coat was heavy; perhaps it would be cooler with the window rolled down anyway. I eyed the creature cautiously and rolled down the window a few inches.

The air outside was hot and humid. It smelled of summer and something else. A thick, cloying spicy smell. It was lovely, actually, and felt like home had been neatly boxed up and handed to me. A home I had never smelled before, yet knew, in my bones, was where I belonged.

“Greetings Mistress, welcome to Fyrsta Heim.” The pot-bellied creature executed a half bow, no mean feat when you are pear-shaped with midget dragon wings and hovering three feet off the ground.

“Uh, hi?” I didn’t know what to say to this strange creature. My body was beginning to bead with sweat; it was even hotter outside the car than inside of it. My brain still felt like it was filled with thick molasses – where was I? What was this place? Had I hit a tree sliding on that ice? Was I hallucinating? Was this a dream?

“Mistress, I am Pernicious Pert and I am your dragoman while you are here in the World.”

“My… what?” I rolled the window down the rest of the way, blinking at the heat. How had it turned from winter to summer so quickly? I knew Missouri was given to abrupt changes in weather, but this was ridiculous.

“Dragoman… mm,” His hands flapped expressively, and included a very human-like shrug of the shoulders, “Escort, interpreter, if you will. I am summoned whenever you enter Fyrsta Heim and I will remain by your side throughout your stay here.” I noticed he had violet eyes, which continued to shift from gazing at me to keeping a watchful eye on the branches of the trees surrounding us. Now that my window was down I could hear strange hissing sounds. There was also rustling, as if a large body or bodies was moving overhead. The occasional creak of branches betrayed the presence of something large, as if something were walking on them or jumping from one to the other.

This had to be a dream, it just had to. Nothing else made sense. I’m asleep, in my own bed, just dreaming that I went to work today. I haven’t actually woken up yet. I smiled, decided to roll with it, “You have perfectly purple eyes, Pert Pernicious. Did you know that?” The p’s felt rather delicious as they rolled off my tongue. “I’m Liv Parker, by the way.”

The creature bared its sharp teeth in what I hoped was Pert’s attempt at a polite smile.

“Why, thank you Mistress.” He bobbed again in midair before casting another nervous eye to the trees that surrounded them. “If we could perhaps leave this particular area for, ahem, safer accommodations. The forest is not safe, even during the day, and night will be here soon.”

“It’s barely noon. I think we have a while.” I said, and then remembered it had to be a dream. The sky was noticeably dimmer than it had been a few moments ago. “Well, perhaps not.”

The hissing from the trees seemed to be growing and I craned my neck outside of the car to stare up into the dark branches overhead. The trees were strange, like nothing I had seen before. Dark brown, with a high sheen to them that made them look as if encased in glass. As I stared, a large shape zipped past, leaping from one branch to the next.

“What was that?!” I leaned out further, staring up at the branch it had crossed. The oily red leaves still trembled from the creature’s passing. I craned my neck, leaning out of the car window in an attempt to see better in the growing gloom.

Pert emitted a distinct whine of distress, “Mistress, it would be most advisable to leave now.” The hissing was increasing markedly. The lower branches on a massive tree to the right waved frantically as creatures flitted through them, hissing and whispering. I was sweltering. I pulled my coat off, setting it aside on the front seat, and then removed the keys from the ignition. These I tucked into my purse, before I slid the purse straps over my shoulder.

Pert’s gaze flitted from me to the trees, and back repeatedly. The whites of his eyes showed, rolling in growing fear. “Mistress, please, I must insist we leave this area immediately.” Before his voice had seemed concerned, but now there was a distinct panic in it.

This is such an amazingly clear dream, I thought as I opened my door and slid out. God, it was hot even without my coat. The air was thick, heavy with moisture. The dry winter air had been replaced with the humid wet of summer. I hitched my purse closer on my shoulder and stepped gingerly out of the car, my heels sinking into the spongy forest floor. I glanced down and stared at the thick humus, a dozen unfamiliar plants along with a creeping ground cover, all jostled for space and light. Something swooped past me, a mere flicker in my peripheral vision. The activity in the trees was increasing, the creatures within were becoming bolder and bolder. I stared up into the canopy of trees, trying to glimpse the source of the noise. There was little to see past branches moving and waving, sometimes rather wildly. I caught a glimpse of a patch of red, then yellow, but the creatures moved far too quick to be identified properly.

“Mistress, please, we must leave now!” Pert’s panicked voice registered somewhere in the background as a creature the size of a medium to large-sized dog flew towards me, its wide, leathery wings partially bent, it’s elongated beak extended. My eyes widened as I saw the sharp row of teeth set in garish yellow with red splotches on its leathery bat-like skin. As it flew towards me, I stared at it with incomprehension. What I saw was impossible. Everyone knew that dinosaurs were extinct. Despite that small and rather incontrovertible fact, here one was. It hissed again, its mouth open, and it looked hungry. I screamed and dove out of its path, nearly face planting into the spongy ground, my hands digging into the loamy soil and breaking my fall. The creature, its flight path determined, could not maneuver away. It slammed into the old Dodge and then fell, its wings flapping. A loud, angry screech issued from it as it cartwheeled through the open car door and window and toppled headfirst into the armrest that rested in the middle of the bench seat. It uprighted itself quickly, looking disgruntled, casting about in the front seat of the car for something to attack.

“Please Mistress, if we could go into the woods now.” Pert’s voice definitely held panic and he was edging away from me, eyes on the trees above. I could see him wrestling with the option of leaving me here.

I picked myself up off of the forest floor. A coating of pine needles from the trees that stretched above them smelled like lilacs and they clung to my clothes. “Right, let’s get out of here!”

Pert zoomed before me, his wings a blur, one small hand pointing towards a small, overgrown path nearby.

“This way, Mistress!”

I scrambled after him, clutching my purse as I ran. Behind me, I could hear the beast snarl and rip into the car. As the trail turned to the left, I had one brief glimpse of the Nova. The creature was now in the middle of the front seat, ripping savagely at the ancient radio. I could hear the ripping and crunching fade behind me as I ran out of sight. I stumbled then, my heel catching on a thick root, and, cursing my high heels, I focused on following Pert into the darkening, glassy forest.

For a dream, this sure felt real.

Ahead of me was thick underbrush, and Pert zigzagged as he cast glances back over his shoulder to check on me. If I didn’t hurry, he would easily disappear from sight. My hair was already straggling out of the neat bun I kept it in for work, damp rivulets of sweat trickling down my neck and back. A thick wall of trees and underbrush lay ahead, a small ragged and narrow trail just barely visible. Pert disappeared out of sight.

Just before I made it to the safety of the thick underbrush, another creature dove past, hot rancid breath on my cheek. I had a clear view of rows of sharp, pointed teeth. It turned, hissing, and angled upwards. I bit back a strangled scream. I could run, or I could scream, but I couldn’t do both. Was it turning back around to attack? I stopped trying to understand what was happening. There was no time to ask questions or try to quantify what I was seeing. Instead, I ran for my life.