The Virtual Red Couch is hosting a collaborative short story project. Each week, a new author will continue the story. Check back every Monday to see how the story unfolds!
Written by Amy Emerson
Torch in hand, Emma squinted into the black nothingness, trying to focus her eyes on something — anything — that gave a clue as to what kind of “treacherous” fate might lead ahead.
“How do you know where to walk?” Emma pleaded, worried that the ground could suddenly subtract itself from their puzzling equation altogether.
“Pete’s bill has a sixth sense,” Everett explained, his face barely visible in the flicker of his torch’s flames. “You and I may not be able to see, but as long as we follow Pete, we’re in good hands.”
“Oh?” asked Emma, trying to hide the start of a smile but realizing Everett couldn’t see much of her facial expressions anyway. “Is that some sort of… magical feature that platypuses have in this world?”
“Actually, all platypuses have it, mate,” Pete said as he stopped in his tracks, causing Everett and Emma to crash into each other momentarily. “I have electroreceptors within the skin of my bill that helps me detect the electrical field generated by movement. But no worries — my species keeps that ‘lih-ole tidbit to ourselves. Heh. Heh.”
Emma and Everett glanced at each other through the flames, stifling their laughs, and continued following Pete as trudged along through the darkness. Even though this sequence of events wasn’t exactly planned for and her heart remained riddled with worry for her brothers, Emma couldn’t help but feel a little optimistic. She’d gotten to witness some incredible terrain and beyond fascinating creatures; plus, having an adventure with Everett that wasn’t interrupted by the “Ope”s and “Excuse me”s of shoppers at the Inkwell Bookshop stepping over her as she sat cross-legged on the floor was quite refreshing.
“Are you alright, Pete?” Emma asked. “Something caught in your throat?”
“That wasn’t me, mate,” Pete said, passively.
“Well what was it, then?!” Emma cried, becoming overwhelmed by the thought of all that could linger in the void that surrounded them. Everett pulled her behind him and turned to face the darkness they had just walked from. The light from his torch had barely flickered enough to see anything, but Emma’s gasp indicated there was something there. Everett took a few cautious steps forward, waving his torch from left to right to catch another glimpse, when all of a sudden he felt something near his left shoe. He slowly led the torch toward the floor…
“AHHHH!” Emma and Everett screamed and yelled — screllmed — in unison.
“I thought you guys forgot about me!” grunted Little Piggie.
Panting from the fear, Emma and Everett exchanged a glance and couldn’t help but let out a laugh of relief.
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” Little Piggie grunted softly. “I took cover when the Griffin landed earlier and didn’t want to interrupt your conversation, so I just followed at a distance for a little while.”
“Well I’d be lying if I said you didn’t give us a major fright,” Everett said with confidence, “but we’re happy to include you on our journey — that is, if you think you want to, of course. It could get dangerous.”
“Well I sure won’t let out the same girlish scream I heard you make earlier!” Little Piggie said with a hiccuppy laugh of oinks and grunts. Everett was glad the flushing of his cheeks couldn’t be seen in the firelight.
“Well, we’d better —,” Everett stopped mid-sentence as he and Emma turned to see Pete bill-to-face with a giant maroon-colored hardback book in their path. The 12 foot tall, 8 foot wide cover of the untitled book was in pristine condition. Its golden-swirl embellishments stemmed from the center and crept their way in fractals across the cover.
“We’re here, mates,” Pete stated directly. “Our first challenge.”
No one needed to say it aloud — they all knew that the only way to continue making their way through the tunnels would be to open the cover and see what was inside. Before Everett or Emma could reach for the cover to begin the process of pulling it open, Pete made a few click-clicking sounds with his bill. The cover creaked open slowly as if made of ancient wood while bright white pages flipped along, sending wind hurling back at the small band of travellers. The ferocious wind and flipping of pages gradually softened and slowed as the massive book reached its center pages. Without any hesitation, Pete leapt — bill-first — into the seam where the giant pages met, disappearing on impact, with Little Piggie right behind.
“After you, milady?” Everett chivalrously asked Emma. Emma swallowed down her fear, gave him a determined nod, and took her dive. Surrounded by streaks of white light, it felt as if Emma was being pulled upward at ridiculous speeds. She started to feel nauseous and closed her eyes, reminding herself with visuals of her brothers whose safety depended on her bravery. When she opened her eyes, ready to face whatever was before her, she found herself seated at the head of a long rectangular table that seemed to go on forever. Other than the many silverware-adorned plates, teacups, and desserts that lined the edges of the table, she was surrounded by darkness once again.
Emma was surprised to discover that none of the others were anywhere in sight. She shifted in the purple velvet chair, attempting to glance behind her. She let out a disappointed sigh, and turned back to the table only to come nose-to-nose with a giant cartoonish rabbit topped with a hat.
“You’re late,” he said, bluntly.
Emma blinked, astounded.
“You’re late!” the rabbit said again, this time with a more accusatory tone. “The missus will not like this, oh NO she will not like this!”
“I’m sorry? The ‘Missus’?” Emma asked, confused. “You don’t mean Mrs. Schreibel?”
In a voice far more familiar and womanly than the one Emma had been addressed with only moments before, the growingly anxious rabbit started to yell, “NO ONE IS ALLOWED IN THE MISSUS’ STORE PAST FOUR!”
Instinct told Emma that she needed to run; and it was a good thing she did! Seconds after she hurriedly climbed out of the cushiony chair, gold wrist watches grew from the chair’s arms, attempting to hold the seated guest prisoner. Sensing that the girl had fled, the bands of the watches multiplied into a vine-like structure that speedily followed Emma as she ran.
“THE MISSUS WILL NOT LIKE IT, NO NO, NOT ONE LITTLE BIT!” the rabbit shrieked louder and louder as Emma pumped her arms and legs as fast as they could go.
Just sprint to the end, just sprint to the end, Emma’s brain screamed to her tiring muscles. Where were the others, anyway? She felt something graze her shoulder and looked back to see the rabbit angrily frisbeeing pocket watches in her direction. One had clipped her, and the pain started to overwhelm her entire right arm. She held pressure on her wound, determined to reach the end of the seemingly never-ending table — all while continuing to dodge violently spinning watches as they tornadoed her way.
No matter how much Emma ran, she couldn’t seem to cover any real ground. It was as if she was running on a treadmill where the strip of running belt simply grew and grew. She knew she needed to do something else to escape the rabbit’s wrath, but what?
“I SAID — NO ONE IS ALLOWED IN THE MISSUS STORE PAST FOUR!!”
Another pocket watch zinged past and a few moments later Emma felt the same swelling pain she’d felt in her arm, only this time it was in her left calf. There wasn’t much left to do and the pain was beginning to feel overwhelming. Until….
Emma spotted a silver glint in the distance, and as she ran it grew bigger and bigger, clearer and clearer. She could soon make out that it was a silver rope dangling from what would have been the ceiling, and lack of options told her just what to do. She yanked the rope with all the strength she could muster and suddenly a trap door from the ceiling area released an avalanche of books.The wave of hardback covers and razor-sharp pages crashed against the table, sending teacups and pastries every which way. The rabbit let out a shrill yell and abandoned the chase, dropping his collection of pocket watches where he stood and hop-running in the opposite direction.
Emma may have lost her nemesis, but her muscles ached and books continued to cascade. With everything she had left, Emma ran up an accumulated mountain of fallen books, dodging more tumbling novels by mere centimeters as she climbed. Two massive hardbacks began to fall and Emma knew that if she didn’t jump off the heap of books now, her brothers would have to dig her out of the rubble — if they could even find this place again, that is. Emma took her leap of faith, jumping off the massive pile as if hurdling off a cliff and into the unseeable sea.
Below her, another 12 foot by 8 foot book emerged (similar to the one she’d originally jumped into that led her to the rabbit), but this time it opened automatically as if made just for her. She continued to fall, getting closer and closer to the center seam where the middle pages shone white with promise. As her legs sunk into the pages, followed by her torso, head, and arms, she was transported once again into flashes of blinding white light. She shut her eyes tightly, fighting the nausea and building hope that she’d find the others.
After a few moments, there was no longer wind whipping in her face or engine-like speed sounding all around her as she tumbled down to who knows where; Emma felt nothing but stillness. She opened her eyes to test the truth of this feeling, and she once again found herself in total darkness except for the flickering torch light of Everett, Pete, and Little Piggie.