Someone was pounding on her door. Loudly. The phone on which Bria had just said goodnight to her mother, Sandra, slipped out of her fingers as she sat frozen on her bed. Peeling flecks of white paint broke away and floated lightly to the carpet as the thin door shivered against the force of the harsh rapping. As panic began to take root in her fearful face, Bria eyed the shaking wood. How had he gotten inside the house, she thought as her heart hammered against her ribcage. She knew who it was outside the door, because she had been warned by that very person. Exactly two and one half months ago, Bria had had a very strange dream.
As she had drifted off to sleep, Bria felt as if she was flying somewhere, but she was completely still. It was more like everything else was in motion around her. At last the peculiar feeling subsided and she opened her eyes to look around. She was still in her room, but she was no longer alone. A man stood by her desk with one finger to his lip, as if that would soften the shock enough to stop her from yelling in surprise.
"Who are you!" she snarled, with one hand holding the quilt against herself protectively.
He didn't move from his place by her desk. "I can't tell you yet, and I won't be able to tell you when I return. I can only tell you that in one year, I'll be back, and you will come with me. Remember that."
Before she could think of anything else to yell at him, he'd leaned back, as if to rest against the wall, but he kept leaning back until he fell, right through the wall, into a swirling black portal, which had been hidden behind him, and disappeared. She woke up with a gasp of surprise, but her room was as empty as when she had fallen asleep.
Bria had remembered. It wasn't easy to forget such a vivid dream. However, it had been a dream, after all, so the pounding on her door was still extremely disquieting, and more than a little frightening. Why hadn't he waited a year, like he said? He couldn't possibly believe she would willingly follow a complete stranger into a hole in the wall which emptied into…where? She moved towards the door as quietly as she could and, without bothering to turn on the light, as she feared it might make the intruder aware of her presence, quickly turned the tiny lock to its secure position.
Padding back towards her bed, where she had dropped the phone out of surprise, Bria picked it up and had already dialed one nine before the pounding stopped and he spoke.
"It's been one year, Bria." She stared at the door in confusion. It had only been a little over two months. "I can't wait any longer. We need you. Now." She looked up from the phone and stared at the door for one quiet second.
"Why do you need me?"
"I can't tell you here. Things are too slow here. It would take more time than we have to spare. Please open the door. I can't leave here without you."
She hadn't told anyone about her dream, so she knew it couldn't be one of her friends playing a prank on her. Something about his voice…he was pleading. She walked timidly towards the door and unlocked it before moving back to stand by her bed and inform him it was unlocked. He opened it right away and shut it behind him, briefly glancing about her room to finally rest his gaze on the bare wall beside her desk. The shadows of her room lingered about his face, concealing his features. All she could discern in the darkness was that he was quite tall, six feet at least. He tore his gaze from the wall briefly enough to ask her, "Have you ever Traveled before?"
She thought it was a rather ridiculous question. "Of course I've traveled before. I've actually been out of the country twice-"
"That's…not what I meant. Ok. I had hoped you might know how already, because that would have saved me a lot of trouble, but my luck has never been that great…" he trailed off. "Well, there's nothing for it." He looked directly at her for the first time, giving her the 'I mean business' look. "You'll need to leave a letter for the person most likely to come to your house first. Inform them that you are not….yet…in any danger of dying, but it is important that they keep your body alive, as…you'lldieifitdoes." He'd said it all very quickly and softly, giving her the impression he was half hoping she would miss that little quirk.
"Die? There's a possibility I might die if I help you? I don't even know who the hell you are, and you want me to die for a cause I am not yet aware of?" She stared at him, waiting for a really impressive answer.
He looked slightly uncomfortable. "Look, I wish I could explain every little detail about why we even need your help, now, but as I don't even know the answer to that…" He sighed, looking at the ceiling as if he was hoping the answer might be hiding in the shadows. He looked back to Bria. "All I can tell you is that there are a lot of people, my people, who are going to die if you don't help us. I don't know why, but there are a few things I do know. However, until we reach my home, I can't tell you anything else. Have you got paper?"
His question took her by surprise, as she had been trying to absorb the rest of his news. "Paper? Oh. Right, the letter. Yeah, just a moment."
Jumping off of her bed to span the few feet across to her desk, Bria grabbed some paper from the lowest drawer and picked up her favorite pen before returning to her seat. She considered his answer carefully. People were going to die? Many people, he had said. If she didn't help them, people would die. Bria stared at her hands. What could she possibly be able to do for those people? She liked where she lived, and she loved the school she was going to. More than anything, she loved her mother. And yet, the man seemed so desperate. Looking up at him, Bria knew her decision had already been made. She didn't want anyone to die if she could stop it somehow. "I'm guessing I should be quick?" He nodded, curtly.
"Will it hurt? –Going there, I mean," Bria asked tentatively as she finished writing the hastily scrawled note to her mother.
"I would be lying if I said no, but from what I'm told, the experience is different for everyone," muttered the man. "Are you ready yet? Time moves so slowly here, they could all be dead by the time we get there…." With that bleak implication, he began to pace around her small room, back and forth like a caged animal.
Bria observed his nervous pacing out of the corner of her eye before replying. "Almost. I'm sorry; it's just that, this is all happening so fast. I wish I knew more about what was going on-"
"There's not TIME for that!" he snapped, glancing at the only windowed wall in her room, and pulling out a small, leather-bound book which looked to be quite aged, all the while muttering to himself. She thought she caught something about 'windows', but dismissed it with the assumption that he had a problem with windows. Currently, there were more important things to think about.
Realizing that she had flinched slightly because of his outburst, she straightened her back resolutely and stared one last time at the note. Yes, it would have to do. She looked back at the man. He didn't appear to be convinced he had impressed upon her how important it was for them to move quickly. "I know there's no time," she assured him, soothingly. Why was she the one comforting him? "I know you will tell me everything once we're there." Once she was there, wherever there was. Bria watched him as he flipped frantically through the book, mouth forming silent words in the dark.
Looking briefly around her room, Bria found herself trying to memorize every detail of her room, from the elaborate quilt on her bed to the stained glass lamp she had inherited from her grandmother, which sat unlit on a simple oak writing desk. She stared at the bookshelf in the corner opposite from her bed and thought of all the great stories she and her friends had found and shared over the years. Her friends. Her mother. How long would it be before she saw them again? Would she ever see them again? Looking at the photographs which dotted the wall beside her bed, she couldn't help but smile back at them all as she brushed a tear from her cheek. She would see them again. After a few seconds, she realized that the man had resumed his frantic pacing and she was grateful that he had allowed her one moment of peace to think, and to remember.
At last the man could no longer quietly wait. He turned from his pacing to look at her sharply and said, as softly as he could, "We have to leave. Now."
Slowly, Bria lifted herself off of her seat on the bed without replying and moved forward to place the note on her desk. The man, who was once again absorbed in his little book, noticed what she was doing and quickly blocked her way to the desk with one arm, not even bothering to look at her. "The desk is not where she'll be looking, Bria. We can't risk her missing it at all costs. Keep it in your hands. She will be sure to notice it then."
She looked at him like he was insane for one quick moment before she remembered his prompt explanation after he had first arrived. She sighed, and then looked stubbornly up at his face, still masked by shadows. "What do I have to do?"
His tense shoulders relaxed slightly, as if he had feared she would try to back out now that it was time to go. He glanced at the book and once more at the window before answering, "I will take care of everything. All you need to do is lie on your bed and try to make yourself as comfortable as possible." He motioned for her to hurry up, so she scurried back to her bed while he continued. "Be sure that once you've arranged yourself, the note is clearly visible in your hands. I cannot stress enough how important that is. Lastly-" He looked around her room as if there was something he needed but couldn't find. Glaring at the window he finally grumbled, "Is there any way to cover that window?"
Still clueless as to what exactly it was that he had against her window, she suggested they cover it with the quilt on her bed. "Why does it matter?" Bria asked curiously, after they hung the quilt haphazardly over the bare curtain rod.
He faltered almost too quickly to notice, like he hadn't been expecting her to ask. "It would be….unwise to be seen. What I am about to do is not something most people see every day….or any day for that matter," he muttered the last part softly to himself, but she caught it anyway.
He looked at his book again and began to walk towards the wall which was only partly blocked by her desk. Except for that, it was completely exposed. Not troubling to turn back around, he addressed Bria one last time. "Close your eyes and try not to think much. I know it's hard, but I've been told that it's less jarring if your mind is clear. I'll admit, though, that I would really admire anyone who can do this for the first time without quite a lot on their mind," he laughed. She nervously did as he commanded. His laugh had been unexpected and did nothing to settle the butterflies which now occupied her stomach, and her mind was anything but quiet. She felt as if she had never thought so many things at once and quickly surrendered the idea that she may be able to follow through with his suggestion. Even so, her mind slowly calmed down as she allowed the darkness to trick her into feeling drowsy, and the minutes of silence dragged on.
She really was drifting off to sleep when an unexpected 'whoosh!' from the wall beside her desk brought her back to full awareness. "Don't open your eyes!" a voice, the man's voice, shouted, but it seemed strangely dim, as if her room was much larger and he was shouting from the other side. Bria remained still, almost as if something were holding her in place. She shifted slightly, trying to rid herself of that claustrophobic sensation, and realized that something actually was holding her in place, like invisible chains surrounding her, imprisoning her. Panicking, she tried to open her eyes, but they, too, were frozen in place. This alarming feeling, however, lasted only a second or two, at which point she felt a tremendous tug at her feet. The tugging feeling ran all the way up to the end of her hair, and then she was flying through the air, still unable to control her body, but moving all the same. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over, and she hit a hard wooden floor, rolling a few feet before she regained enough control to throw out a hand to avoid crashing into an oncoming wall. Standing up shakily, and relieved that she had evaded the pain he had implied, Bria looked around and saw the man staring happily at her. He took a step towards her, looking appraisingly about the small wooden room they found themselves in. With a short but not an unhappy sigh, he took both of her hands and shook them warmly.
"Welcome to my home, Bria," he said bracingly. "Welcome to Arenthia."
Above them, although neither seemed to notice, a swirling black portal began to close, through which another room was still visible. Another room where a young woman slept silently, with a slightly crumpled note in her hands that read:
I wish there was another way, but this is something I have to do. Keep me safe, and keep me alive. I'll be back.
A.N. Ok. This is my rewrite of Chapter 1, because I got a number of comments concerning the pointlessness of having a ten-minute flashback. To be honest, I agree. I'm still not sure if I like the way it came out though, so please review to let me know what you think!