It all starts in math class. Anne Dee was resting her head on her desk, snoring contentedly. At least she’d gone to the math class—usually she skipped not only that class but all of them. It wasn’t like there were people at home that cared about her, after all. She was mostly left to her own devices, and she was pretty much contented with that.
Her dreams were filled with adventures in faraway lands, of singing and sword fights, of bright lights and adoring fans. They were of black leather jackets, Black Veil Brides playing forever on her iPod, and of her perfect boyfriend. Young and happy forever. Never ending happiness.
Normally, teachers wake students when they sleep in class. But Anne’s were entirely all too used to her behavior for them to care about what she does anymore. They just let her sleep—it’s not like they needed her to wake up anyways. They’d tap her on the arm when it was time to switch classes, but mainly she was ignored.
The teacher, Mr. Frea, was just bemusedly walking by her desk to wipe off the eraser pieces thrown in her long red and black hair by the others when he noticed something strange: Her skin and hair was boiling hot to the touch. Yelping in pain, he snatches his hand away, and looks down at the palm of his hand: No burn mark. Doubting and worried, he carefully touched her hair again, only to snatch his hand away even faster. He touched her shirt—that was also hot to the touch. But her desk? It was just as cold as it usually was. What was going on here?
Students, their attention drawn by his yelps of pain, go to inspect her as well. They aren’t stupid enough to touch her—but of course a few are dared to—and they just stand there, not really sure what to do.
But, suddenly, they realize how weird things really are: A pale violet mist starts pouring from the pores in her skin and flooding the area around her, filling the room and hiding her from view. Out of nowhere, bells and chimes start to sound, a gentle ghostly tune. The students and teacher shriek in surprise and grasp at each other, but as swiftly as the fog had risen it had dissipated, and they staggered back in surprise at what they saw: Anne’s seat was empty.
A thousand and more miles away, it continues in a dimly lit forest. Young Max Jacobson is out wandering again, skipping school because he hates being cooped up in a classroom. He just doesn’t care about his grades; he’d rather be out in the forest at all hours wandering the pathways, climbing trees, and befriending the animals that he saw there.
Max scrambles up the side of a small mountain, snaking his way up the rock face about a dozen times his not-all-that-substantial height, grasping at the handholds and wrenching himself up inch by inch. His muscles groan and his arms ache, but he climbs and climbs, going higher and higher. His breath catches in his throat but he ignores it, setting his every thought on the view of the forest that awaited him at the top.
At last, he pulls himself up the last ledge and collapses onto the top. Breathing heavily, he lies there for an instant before slipping to his feet, and staring around in wonderment. He’d seen this view so many times before, but yet it never failed to fill him with awe. He stared at the majestic pines, the ghostly birches, the long snaky creeks and rivers, and the moss-covered clearing that dot his beloved forest. Smiling, he settle down cross-legged on the mountain top, and rests for a while before deciding it’s best to head back.
He climbs to his feet, all set for the long hard climb down and the swift jog back, when he feels all the strength in his legs suddenly disappear. He collapses hard to the top, gashing his knee, even through his ratty old jeans. His emerald-green eyes widen in fear and shock, and he tries to move them, to stand, but they refuse to respond to his commands.
And then a sense of warmth floods his body.
And the darkness comes to steal him away.
It continues for the final time in a small homeless shelter. Joey Reid nervously brushes a few strands of his short black hair back behind his left ear, revealing the tattoo of a cross on his left cheek. He smiles grimly, and proceeds to help feed the old man that had came into the shelter’s care not too long ago. Joey helps the old man to his feet when he’s done with his meal, and helps him to somewhere where he can sleep. Joey bends down out of habit—he doesn’t like being so much taller than everyone else in the room with him.
However, sometimes his body is useful: His body is naturally that of a runner, and in a homeless shelter, being able to run fast is actually more useful than some might think.
For the next few hours, Joey works and works, more than earning his pay for that day. Tiredly, he goes home, taking the bus as always to his small suburban home. On the way, he listens to his favorite song of all time: Yours to Hold by Skillet. He sings along, earning many weird looks from the people around him, but he doesn’t really care. He just is happy to have finished another good day’s work, and to be on the way home with good music in his ears.
When he arrives home, he unlocks the front door and wanders easily in, dropping his bag, jean jacket, and hat off around the front door. He pours himself a drink of milk, and inhales it thirstily, before pouring himself another and another.
He’s on his tenth glass of milk when his legs give out. He falls hard, and on the way down he knocks his head against the kitchen counter, and everything goes black.
They wake up together in a tangled mass of limbs. Anne wakes up when Max’s foot hits her in the mouth, Max wakes when Joey’s foot moves and sacks him, and Joey moves when the other two wake up with shrieks of rage and pain. Anne shoves the two boys off her and climbs to her feet, demanding: “What the hell are you guys doing here? What is the meaning of this, you assholes?”
Max, cowed by her anger, backs away. She sees him and advances, a smile playing around her lips. “Answer me, you pathetic little runt.”
Joey tackles her from behind. He wraps his arms around her waist, pinning her arms to her side, and pulls drags her away from Max. When her swearing has calmed down just enough for him to be heard over it, he says easily, “Look, I have no idea who you guys are, where you come from, or what in heck we’re doing here. I don’t even know where here is. But I just don’t think that getting into fights and threatening each other is going to be much help.”
Surprisingly, when he lets Anne go, she doesn’t bite his head off. Instead, she looks at him with something resembling respect in her almond-shaped deep brown eyes, and steps away from him. Somewhat as a peace-offering, she gives her name; “My name’s Anne.”
Nodding approvingly, Joey replies, “Nice to meet you Anne, even under these abnormal circumstances. My name’s Joey,” he turns to Max, who is still cowering just a bit in the corner of the dimly lit room they’d found themselves in, and prompted, “And your name would be?”
“M-M-Max.” Max stammers, feeling extremely nervous. And maybe just a bit afraid.
Joey smiles reassuringly. “Well, this is a good start. So, Anne, I do believe you owe Max here an apology.”
“I am not going to apologize to a stuttering runt,” she replies stiffly, “I’m not a goody-two-shoes; unlike others I could name.”
Joey advances on her again. “Apologize.”
She laughs, maybe just a bit nervously. But she doesn’t back away and she doesn’t apologize.
He’s less than an inch from grabbing her again when she breaks, and turns to Max angrily and accusingly. “Look, I’m sorry for calling you a runt and insulting you the way I did. I am also sorry for scaring you.” Believing that to be good enough, she turns back to Joey and asks, “Well, that suit you as an apology?”
Joey groans, but figures it’s the best he’s going to get, so he leaves it be.
With that argument in their past, they turn their attention to more important things. Such as: Where in hell they were.
They couldn’t tell very much from their surroundings. They were in a dark, dim room, and when Joey paced around its edges, they found it to only be about four feet wide and six feet long. Which wasn’t exactly roomy—three people in only twenty four square feet of space? And who knows how long they would be in there for? No matter how many times they tried to get attention by pounding on the wooden door with their fists and shouting through the bars in the window, they couldn’t raise anyone.
In the gloomy light cast by the small torch in the hallway outside their cell, they wander around and talk, slowly getting a bit more accustomed to their surroundings and being in each other’s company. However, it’s not like they’re ever going to be each other’s favorite people.
A few hours pass. Hunger starts to uncomfortably remind them of the time that has passed since their last meals, and Joey’s head wound opens and continues to bleed. He cleans it as best he can with saliva, but it isn’t going to help much. Luckily, it’s small—about the length of the end of his pinky finger.
Anne, when her stomach grows psychotically loud in the silence, mutters to herself, “It’s better than math class.”
Maybe an hour and a half after that, there at last is the sound of hard footsteps in the hallway. They jump to their feet and run to the door, calling out with coarse voices and hope in their hearts.
And the door opens to the sound of an imperious young female voice demanding: “THAT ONE!”
Less than a minute later, one of them was dragged out screaming and fighting by a bear of a man that filled the doorway for the barest instant before departing.
When the door slammed shut, Anne and Joey looked at each other and swallowed.
Max doesn’t return for a very long time. Anne and Joey were curled up on the hard stone floor, nibbling at the remains of the meal they’d received a few minutes ago, when the door opens one last time and Max is shoved back into the cell.
He falls hard to his knees, and groans, putting his head in his hand. Anne rolls her eyes and scampers to the door, sticking her hand out the bars and shooting the hallway in general the bird. Joey eyes her and sighs, before sliding over to Max and touching his shoulder, shaking him gently. “Hey,” he mutters quietly, “You alright? Where’d they take you?”
“T-t-t-to her,” Max stammers out in response, and he proceeds to wretch a bit.
Anne, drawn by the terror in his voice, turns around. “Who’s ‘her’?” she asks, sashaying back to them.
They look at him in shock. Okay, so they wake up in a cell with two complete and utter strangers with no idea where they are, they go for most of the day without food nor drink, one of them is dragged away only to be tossed back in a few hours later, and now there’s a princess?
What is going on here?
They didn’t have much time to figure things out, as the sound of footsteps again sounds in the hallway. They clamber to their feet and scamper to the back wall, breathing shallowly with fear. The lock clicks, the door creaks, and it scrapes open to admit none other than the ugliest, chubbiest, most curly-haired little girl that you ever saw.
From the darkness of the shadowy corner, Joey unconsciously mutters to himself, “That’s the princess?”
She gives a ‘harrumph’, and points at Max. “Take him away!” she cries imperiously, “I wanna play with him.”
Anne, somehow finding reason to grin even in this grim situation, mutters to Joey, “Looks more like she wants to eat him.”
And he mutters back, “I think she already did….”
They laugh a bit and the little girl walks forward towards them, the fat bouncing as she walks. “I wanna play with oo!” she cries, and grasps poor Max’s sleeve.
And suddenly all light disappears. The door is filled with the bulk of a single man, and the princess turns and cries, “DADDY!!!!!”
Like father like daughter….
He steps further into the cell, crushing the poor prisoners against the wall, and his voice booms: “So you’re the three humans my little cherub had teleported here?”
They just look at him blankly. There’s no really good way to respond to that, so they just stand in silence. Eventually, Anne attempts a response with: “Um…yeah?”
His Royal Pudginess harrumphs, and says with a touch of annoyance in his voice, “You either are or you aren’t. If you are, you’re going to accompany my daughter and me on to our summer house so my daughter has someone closer to her own age to socialize with. If you aren’t, I’ll have my guards cease feeding you.”
Less than a second later, Joey practically shrieks: “YES WE ARE!”
The king laughs, and in a thunder of thuds, their Royal Pumpkin-nesses depart the cell, and the door is locked behind them.
In the silence that follows, Anne says quietly, “I suddenly prefer math class….”
A few hours later the door opens once more. They are pulled out from their cell, and marched down a dimly lit stone hallway, their breaths and footsteps the only sounds in this dark prison. Other than, of course, the echoing cries of ghostly prisoners.
After what feels like an eternity of wandering through that desolate maze of cells and twisting hallways, they reach a tall flight of stairs. Feeling a bit afraid, they follow the many guards up the steps, and they enter what can only be described as the lap of luxury. Elegant carpets line the floors, every flat surface large enough to hold it is decorated with a beautiful mural depicting battles or majestic forests, and mystical music drifts through the halls with no discernible source. Gasping with awe and wishing they had time to gawk, the three outsiders are marched through the halls, down tall marble steps, and out the front door.
A few minutes later, they’re in a dainty horse-drawn carriage, sitting on the padded leather seats and looking through the glass-covered windows with dazed expressions on their faces. Anne brushes back her long red and black hair and sighs, before pulling out a makeup compact and proceeding to beautify herself by slapping on powders and dyes onto her face. Joey starts tapping out a rhythm on the empty space beside him, before, still keeping the rhythm, sets to tapping it out on all surrounding surfaces. Max just commences with rocking back and forth.
They ride on through the night, the three prisoners snagging sleep when they can. Anne thinks for a while about attempting an escape, but deems it isn’t worth trying to get past the many guards riding in a ring about their carriage.
Eventually, Joey asks, “Where’d’ya suppose the princess is?”
Anne shrugs, and sarcastically replies with: “I dunno, why don’t you ask Rocky over there?”
Max flushes at her mockery, but otherwise doesn’t respond at all. Joey glares at Anne and wraps a reassuring arm about the younger boy’s shoulders, but he just shrugs him off. “I’m sixteen; I can ta-ta-take care of myself.” Max says angrily, turning his head to glare at him.
Joey slides several inches away from Max, and silence reigns once more.
At least, it does for a while.
At around midnight, things go crazy. Extremely crazy. With a jerk and a creak, the carriage comes to a sudden halt, hurling its occupants forward. Anne smacks her head against the wall, Joey does a face plant into the bench that she’s sitting on, and Max does the same, only….His face ends up somewhere extremely awkward. Angrily, she shoves him away, and glares at him. “Watch where you put your face, runt.”
He winces and scampers back to his seat. Anne crosses her legs, and rolls her eyes. “Well, let’s keep moving then!” she calls out, as if expecting that to work. Of course it doesn’t.
But then, somehow, it does. The carriage moves forward once more, and she grins smugly before she hears the screams from all around. She swears, and stares out the window, seeing nothing. Max cowers under the seat, and Joey bites his lip nervously, hating not knowing what was about to happen to them.
For a time, the carriage picks up speed and the screams silence. Within the carriage, the prisoners smile and let themselves have hope for a better future, but it’s not long until the carriage slows to a halt once more.
And there’s the creak of the lock being slipped open.
Anne tenses her muscles, ready for a fight. Joey stands in front of Max to protect him.
And I open the door.