SLEEPING JUDY sneak peek:
Some people call what I have a disease. Some call it a disorder. Some believe that it was just an unfortunate chance that this happened to me—that there is no one to blame. I know differently. It's all been a lie, all of it, my whole life.
On my 16th birthday, the world as I knew it changed. It didn't disappear completely, but it changed into something new and unrecognizable. At first I was afraid—the first time it happened. I was at school, walking out the front doors. Everything around me started to spin and lose shape. I remember seeing the sidewalk coming toward my face in slow motion. I didn't fully comprehend in that moment what was happening to me. I felt the cold rough concrete smack into the side of my head. After that, everything went quiet, then it went dark.
I can still remember opening my eyes, what felt like mere seconds later. I was face down, grass and dirt smothering my face. I could hear birds singing and I could feel the sun hot on my neck. I lifted my head up and looked around. Everything seemed more vivid, more alive. I wasn't where I'd been just moments before.
What had just happened? Where was I and how did I come to be here? What in the heck was going on?
I pushed against the ground, trying to get up out of the dirt, and felt the immediate pain in my joints as I did so. I could tell that the air had been knocked out of me, it was hard to breathe. Maybe I'd broken a rib or something. Obviously I had fallen, just like I remembered doing in those last moments before opening my eyes. The only question now was...from where?
"Mallory," my ragged voice forced the name through my lips. Mallory was my closest friend. We'd known each other since we were three, grown up together. She'd been walking beside me when I'd left the school. I swore it had only been a few minutes since I'd heard her tight voice complaining in my ear. She was telling me another story about her math teacher being a troll, and that she was failing her because she was jealous of her beauty. Mallory had always had a high opinion of herself and a low opinion of most everyone else, but I'd grown use to it over the years.
No one answered my call. I could see thick trees at the edge of what appeared to be a grassy meadow. It looked dark inside those trees, menacing. "Hello," I called out again, putting as much volume into my voice as I could. I pushed myself up all the way and pulled my legs underneath me until I was kneeling. From this position I could see all around me. I must be in a park or something. There was nothing but grass and trees and blue sky.
"Well, I don't think I'm in Chicago anymore," I sighed to myself to break up the quiet of this place. I had lived in Chicago my whole life. I was used to the sprawling city, the heat that rose off the pavement, the smell of exhaust and the grey-blue sky that covered the city like a blanket. There was no noise here. Where was the honking, and the engines and the tires squealing? Where the sound of the bells in the clock tower or the shouting of the taxi drivers? Where was the sound of people—thousands of people moving through the city, going to work, heading to the store, picking up their kids from daycare?
I rose to my feet slowly, wrapping an arm tightly around my rib cage when a sharp pain shot through it. I probably needed a doctor, but first I needed to find out where I was. I began to walk slowly toward the tree line, and then paused at the threshold.
"Don't be afraid," I told myself. I took three steps forward and I was inside. The shade was cool and moist. A stark contrast to the air outside in the meadow. I took a few more steps followed by several deep breaths. The trees made strange creaking sounds as some invisible wind moved them far up above. The broken shadows created by the leaves up above made it hard to know if I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, or if it was just a figment of my over stressed imagination.
A loud quick knocking sound startled me and I spun around quickly. Several unseen birds took flight, disturbing the eerie silence further. I covered my mouth with my free hand, stifling a scream. Something told me that it wasn't a good idea to give away my position when I wasn't yet sure what else might be out there.
My breath came out in huffs as I tried to calm myself. "It's just a park," I whispered to myself. "Any minute I'll step out of the trees and find out that I'm in the middle of the city and this has all been some kind of trick." Even as I said it, I knew that it was a lie. I'd been to the city park before, and this was not it. But surely there had to be some kind of civilization around here. I hadn't left the planet.
I pushed forward with more speed, more conviction. I needed to get through the trees to see where I was. The sharp crack of a branch behind me made my breath catch. I couldn't turn to see what had made the sound. I began to run, letting the thick branches of brush slap my arms and legs and scratch the exposed skin of my arms. I kept running long after I'd left the sound behind me. When I couldn't run anymore without my heart exploding in my chest I finally fell to the ground behind an old broken stump with moss growing out the top. I peered around it slowly, looking for any sign that I had been pursued. There was nothing, just the songs of the birds, and the rustle of the breeze through the canopy above me.
I sat down and pressed my back up against the weathered stump and buried my face in my hands and began to sob. I usually wasn't much of a crier, but nothing about this situation was usual. I was lost and alone and scared. It was getting darker and there were probably wild animals in this thick, relentless forest that would have no aversion to eating me as soon as the first chance presented itself.
I tried my best to muffle my little sob fest. I realized once again that it wasn't safe to draw attention to myself. If I was going to remain safe, then I would need to remain hidden which meant that I needed to be silent. I wiped the back of my hand across my tear streaked face. This situation called for strength and confidence. I had little of both, but no one else needed to know that. I looked around the stump once more before rising to my feet again and continuing in the direction I'd been trudging before I'd gotten scared.
I tried to remember something useful. I'd been to summer camp almost every summer since I'd turned eight. On the hikes the instructor usually went on and on about how to tell the direction you were going, what to do if you got lost, and how to avoid bears and other dangerous animals. I remember him saying that to find your direction you needed to be able to see the sun. No matter where you were in the world, the sun always rose in the east and set in the west.
I looked up toward the sky, hoping to get my bearings. The sun was up, but it filtered unevenly through the thick green up above. I needed to get out of the trees and get to higher ground. I kept moving, faster and faster until I was almost running again. My arms and legs hurt, and the sharp pain was still present in my side. I was hungry and thirsty.
The next sound I heard made my dry throat jump with anticipation. It was the unmistakable burbling of water moving in a stream and it was close. I pushed my legs forward in the direction of the heavenly sound. Finally I came to a sharp drop off with the stream just below. It wasn't that high, maybe six feet, so I got down on all four and then lowered myself backwards over the edge until my feet hit the dirt below.
I dropped to my knees and began scooping the water with my hands and slurping it greedily out of them. My mind screamed at me about the dangers of drinking water straight out of a stream of an unknown source, but I didn't listen. If I got sick and died, at least I wouldn't be thirsty. The water was good. So cold and clear, better than any of the filtered water from back home. I drank more than I needed because it was so good.
When I stopped and leaned back against the dirt wall I had just descended, I heard the water slosh in my stomach. I couldn't complain, it had been so worth it. I stood up, knowing that I needed to keep moving. I was worried about leaving the stream behind me, in case I got thirsty again and I couldn't find it. I decided to follow it. It definitely led somewhere, and since I didn't know where I was going anyway it couldn't hurt to have something to follow.
I walked along the edge of the flowing water, skipping over it now and then in spots where it wasn't very wide. It turned and curled as it made its way along. And I found myself enjoying the company of it. I didn't feel so alone now with its constant chatter there to keep me entertained.
After the next bend I could see that the trees opened up a bit, as I got closer I could tell that the clearing was not made by nature, but by man. The stumps of trees poked up out of the grass and over to the west there seemed to be a dirt path that led further into the trees. My eyes followed the path backwards, searching for its origin, and that's when I saw the cottage.
Like a fairy tale, the small stone structure was nestled in the trees. It had a thatched roof and a stone chimney that poked through it. The windows had no glass, but were covered by cloth which appeared clean and untattered—someone lived here, or at least visited often. Small flowers created a border around the whole thing.
I stepped out of the safety of the trees and headed toward the cottage with apprehension. I had no idea whether anyone was home or if they were friendly. I reached the front door which was a heavy wooden hunk of wood that had been intricately carved with swirling designs and the silhouettes of birds. I raised my hand up and noticed that it was shaking. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and knocked.
Stepping back, in case I needed to run, I waited. There was no movement, no answer from the tiny cottage. A little braver this time, I knocked again. It was answered again by silence. "Hello," I called. "Is anyone home?" Nothing still. I stuck my hand out and grasped the latch. I lifted it cautiously. The door opened with a pronounced creak and I stuck my head inside. It was dimly lit, the cloth window coverings preventing the natural daylight from entering. I took one step in and then another.
"Hello," I called again. The room was empty. The entire cottage consisted of one large room. There was a fireplace against one wall with a large iron pot hung over it. There was a wash basin and empty water pitcher on a small table on another wall. Near the back corner I could make out a small bed with a patchwork quilt and a fluffy white pillow. Nearest the door was a coat tree, which was empty. A large braided rug covered the center of the floor and a small whitewashed table with two chairs sat in the middle of it.
I stared around the room in awe and disbelief. Surely this wasn't real. It was like an antique doll house brought to life. I walked over to the table and couldn't resist running my hand along the back of one of the chairs. It felt real. I headed toward the fireplace and peered inside the large pot. It was empty, but clean, as if it was used often and was a prized possession.
Next I went to the washstand and looked into the oval mirror that hung from the wall aabove it. I looked horrible. Dark streaks of dirt smeared my face, apparently left over from my crying jag earlier. I picked up the water pitcher and took it outside to fill it in the stream. If I could clean myself up and rest for a while, I'd have a chance of making some sense of all this. Someone lived in this place, surely they would come back sooner or later and I would be saved.
I bent down near the edge of the stream and lowered the pitcher into the current to capture some water. A dark shadow rose up above me and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
"What do you think you are doing?" A deep, husky voice demanded.
I whipped my head around and was blinded by a bright stream of light coming out of the trees. Before I fainted, I saw the silhouette of a man standing above me. In his hand he held a sword.