The Paradises, Chapter 4: Snow White's Apples.

Note: not proofread very thoroughly. If you spot things, feel free to point them out and it will be a great help to me when I do the second draft.

We wandered until I felt myself nodding off while standing up. My ankle and the itching hand had done an admirable job of keeping me awake, but there was a limit to what pain and discomfort could accomplish.

"Emily," I started.

"Me too," she said. "The ground looks just as good as a bed. I don't care if I get eaten by wild animals any more."

"Me neither," I said, feeling my words slur. We ended up curled at the foot of a tree where some fairly normal looking moss had grown up. Bugs, offered a corner of my brain. But the rest of me ignored that in favor of blessed unconsciousness. Sleep was instantaneous.

If you have ever slept in the woods, hungry, cold, hurt, and contemplating your approaching death, then you will know that it isn't fun. I kept waking up. Not from any noises, particularly, although those were a little scary, but just from discomfort. I think Emily slept fairly fitfully, too, as evidenced by the occasional jab with the elbow.

I awoke for the final time and could not go back to sleep. The light was wrong for morning, but I wasn't awake enough yet to try and guess what time it was even if time ran the same here as it did back on Earth. I couldn't see the hands on my watch. Back on Earth, holy shit, I thought. So I simply lay and appreciated how my ankle wasn't throbbing if I didn't move it, and how my rash barely itched and I could pretend it was several bug bites if I didn't think too hard. I saw a couple of squirrels that didn't look quite right, but they're fast little bastards, so I never got to see why they didn't look right. Probably it was best not to know.

When Emily stirred, I looked over at her and smiled a wan good-morning. We got slowly and silently to our feet and started walking again, empty and groggy and stiff. That was the most unpleasant part, where I had to settle back into the pain, so I could ignore it again.

"I am so fucking hungry," said Emily. "I didn't know I could be this hungry. What the fuck is wrong with anorexics?"

"Well, that is why they call it a disease," I replied absently. I was hungry, too, but I had my ankle to distract me.

"You know," said Emily, staring down at my hand and wrist, "Your rash doesn't look any worse. Maybe Keir got it wrong. I mean, not that we should slow down or anything, but even burly woodsmen must be wrong sometimes."

"I hope so," I said, and felt a little more cheerful.

"I think we should sing," said Emily, after a few moments of silence.

"I can't sing," I said.

"Neither can I, that's not the point." Emily glanced at me. "C'mon. Boredom is not okay, on top of everything else. I need some distraction."

"Okay," I agreed, somewhat reluctantly because I really can't sing. "What do you want to sing?"

"Something obnoxious."

"Well," I said, "the only Britney Spears song I know is 'Hit Me Baby One More Time'."

"And thanks to the music industry and our docile radio stations, I know it too." What I wouldn't have given to be back in the land of docile radio stations. So, there we stood, in the middle of a forest in another-world? Planet? Whatever-singing Britney's first hit at the top of our lungs. We really get into after a while. Emily even attempted some of the dance moves, which I staunchly refrained from at the command of my ankle.

At some point-probably during our second time through the song-I noticed that we weren't exactly in forest any more. There were still tall trees around us, but they were heavy with apples, and the ground underneath them was trimmed and mostly clear of rotting apples and undergrowth. We appeared to be in an orchard.

"Emily," I said, stopping.

"I still belieeeve-what?" she cut herself off. I pointed at the apples.

"Do you think apples in another world would poison us?" I asked.

She paused, considering, before she said, "I don't care if they do. I'm eating ten." She reached a hand up and snatched one down. She ate it greedily, and after her first few bites, my hunger got the best of me, and I grabbed one, too. I was on my second and Emily her third when I put a hand on her arm.

"I think we should stop. We could make ourselves sick." I reached a hand out to a nearby trunk to steady myself. "And I feel kind of funny."

Emily looked down at the apple in her hand. "I feel a little funny, too. In fact," she paused to consider, "I feel a littledrunk."

Now that she'd said it, I realized that was exactly what it was. I felt fuzzy around the edges and my lips and arms felt tingly, just as if I'd been knocking back shots instead of apples. It was kind of scary, but kind of funny. Who knew another world would have alcoholic apples?

I started to laugh, and Emily had taken another bite, when there was a whining sound and then a 'thunk' just behind us.

I jerked around and almost fell over, to see an arrow still wobbling, stuck in the trunk of the tree just at head level.

"Jesus!" I said. Emily dropped her apple.

My first reaction was to sober up amazingly fast. Quivering arrows that had nearly gone through your head would do that to you. My second was to look around the other way, and this time I moved my ankle a bit too far. It buckled and I sat down, probably aided by the alcoholic apples. I clutched it, my mind blanking for just a second as I rode out the pain.

"Thieves!" came the cry.

"Sorry," I heard Emily squeak. "They smelled so good. We're not here to steal your apples, or anything." She stopped speaking, and I lifted my head to see two women standing in front of us. Or, actually, a woman and a teenaged girl.

"What, then, are you here for?" asked the woman, softly, lifting a dark eyebrow. Her voice had a foreign accent-ha, except here we were foreign-but it seemed to fit naturally with the English words. Maybe that was why Keir sent us to this place. They'd be able to understand us.

"I..." Emily hesitated. "I'm an ambassador. From Earth." This seemed to get their attention. "And...I want to talk to your leader." God that sounded stupid. I just barely kept myself from kicking Emily, mostly because it would hurt. I settled for pinching her calf. "Ow!" she said.

The woman and the little girl gave each other a skeptical look. I couldn't blame them. "No one comes from Earth," she said. "It is closed."

"Um," said Emily helplessly. "That is where we're from. We're kind of lost and my friend has a flesh-eating rash and we need help and this mountain man sent us here because he said there was a cure but we only have a few days to get it and then we have to find our way home, and I'm really sorry for eating your apples, but we haven't eaten anything since nine am two days ago-."

"You are not from Earth," the woman said flatly, holding up a hand to silence Emily. "But I can believe that you are very hungry. How many have you had?"

"Two," I volunteered.

"Two and a half," said Emily. We both sounded very guilty. The woman started to laugh.

"You can't eat Havilian apples on an empty stomach," she said. "Come up to the house with us, and we will give you something to soak up the juice. Then maybe we can find a Demon to take you to the capitol. That's the only place I can think of where they would have a cure."

Emily helped me up and then helped me walk-both of us comically unsteady-after the woman and the teenager.

whohasthezebra: Dear Lovely 'Zebra, I apologize for being such an annoyingly irresponsible writer. I wish I could just do the story. Pour it all out and not look back. Anyway, I'm all glowy because you think I'm getting better. I am going to email you later chapters and please, if you feel like it, rip them apart and give me a boost from A to Q because I obviously need help. Also, you need to keep revising your story, because you just got me into it again, what with the coolosity of the descriptions and the fleshing out of characters and if you don't have a livejournal or a journal of some sort, I think you should get one immediately because it is incredibly helpful for writing. At least for me :D

rainyaviel1: Thank you! Okay, so the update wasn't soon. But hopefully it sucks less than it would have if I actually had updated soon. Or something :)