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Normally gone unnoticed, until one day, it opened. Stone columns carved in strange, beautiful patterns bordered the entrance. Plain concrete walls formed a maze of broken rooms. Past this forgotten ruin, was a seemingly normal city. A night passed. Early the next morning, a sweet looking strawberry-blonde woman looking at papers, woke me as she called from a screen that popped out of the ground. “Job information please,” it wasn’t a question. “I don’t have a job,” I said truthfully. “That’s what I thought,” she chuckled at herself. She shook her head with a deep breath. “Okay,” I tried to keep the conversation going. “What kind of jobs could I get?” I continued the conversation. “Let’s find out,” An outline of a hand covered the screen, “Place your hand on the scanner please.” I did. I felt a little shock and the woman’s face was visible again. “Erin Richards, five foot six. Hair color, body type, blah blah blah.” She must do this too often. “Results say the best job for you is an Aoi slayer.” Aoi?
“Okay,” What the heck is an Aoi? What’s it mean? And how do I slay one? “The Aoi are ranked by difficulty using vowels. A, e, i, o, u, and y. “A” is lowest and “y” is highest. A “y” ranked Aoi has only been seen once or twice. Most are between “a” and “i”. You aren’t skilled enough to deal with “o” and above. You’re skill will come naturally, so don’t hold back. It’s an important job. And there are few like you.” I looked at my phone and it was 6:27 in the morning. Barely any time had passed and I have more pressure than ever. I traveled down the road pondering my new job. A block later I sat down on a bench next to an old man. “Do you think you couldn’t help me to my destination?” he asked sweetly. I nodded and helped him to his feet. Just my luck, I couldn’t baby sit now. “Thank you,” he forced, completely out of breath. His arm
slung over my shoulder and I supported most of his weight as we walked at a slow pace, back the way I’d come. When we reached a giant three story shopping center he took out a pair of keys and unlocked the front door. As we stepped inside the cool building he explained how he opened all the stores before the employees came. It was quiet inside as we tiptoed through the darkness. A
third set of footsteps echoed toward us. As we came closer the figure of a boy appeared. Daulton’s bleach-blond hair was the first thing I recognized. Was I seeing his double? “What’d you doin’ ‘ere boy?” The man said first, “You ain’t ‘sposed to be ‘ere yet.” He finished out of breath. The man eyed his keys and shook his head, and left. “I couldn’t sleep so I came in early today,” Daulton answered without fear. “Erin,” he nodded to me. He seemed calm and collected but urgency flashed in his eyes. Daulton tapped his skateboard and searched for words. “It’s been so long,” he whispered. What was he talking about? He took me by the arm and led me over to a Dairy Queen. “I’ve missed you, how have you lasted here for so long? Where do you live? What do you eat, if anything at all?” he looked me over. “For so long?” He wasn’t a double; no way. “I’ve only been gone a day.” “You’ve been missing for five months,” he looked at me like I must have hit my head. “Five months? I couldn’t have slept on that bench for five months. I just got my job today.”
“Me too,” he looked worried. “I’m not crazy!” I exclaimed, reading his expression. “I didn’t say that,” he joked. “You were thinkin’ it,” I retorted. “You have to come back,” he said getting serious. “Why?” I asked smug, “I just got here; I’m not ready to leave yet. Why should I?” He started leading me out of the Mall and down a different road. Then he finally continued, “It might seem like a day to you but to everyone else it’s been months. Maybe when you crossed the threshold to this world your sense of time was screwed up,” he reasoned. It all sounded stupid to me. I was fine. This wasn’t one of those Narnia things were time pasted faster in one world than the other. I was leading now trying to leave Daulton behind, but he easily kept up with my quickened pace. Suddenly the bright blue sky faded to a black violet. Shadows in the form of dragons and spiders and every other creature from the fantasy world sprouted out of the ground. Aoi. I’d never faced anything tougher than the bratty girls at school, now these monsters? For some bizarre reason, I actually
knew what I was doing. Diamond sharp blades grew from the palms of my hands, I grabbed the blades, then feeling rather jelly like, I sprung into the air. The moves came naturally, just as the woman said they would. Every slash at their throats never missed and blue electricity shot like blood from their wounds as their bodies lay burning in a black flame before my eyes. Before I understood how I could, I diminished the Aoi as soon as they sprung up. I never knew I could move like that; not even in my dreams. I’m not that creative. My blades glimmered and glowed and shrunk back into my flesh as if they were never there. I sat down on the grass and watched the darkness hanging in the air clear. It was now dark blue and it already started raining. Did it always rain after an Aoi battle? It soaked through my shirt and shorts and right down to the bone. Aoi, I thought. “Blue”. Like their blood. Aoi means blue. “Come on,” he said. I didn’t feel like fighting with him. I got up and we stayed in a hotel that night. If only I had known there’s no money in this world the night I slept on that bench. I knew I liked this world for a reason. I smiled at the thought.
The next day was Sunday and when we walked out into the sun, everyone was in black and carried a Lotus in their outstretched hands. We looked at each other cluelessly and followed them into a big field. As we watched from afar, we noticed each of the townsfolk present their flowers to a mere child. She seemed to control these people. They were all lost in her trance. She couldn’t be much older than me and yet she controlled the adults of the city. They placed the flower to her heart and light orbs rose into the sky, as if a soul was being released. We left. The flowers seem to have a special significance to them. Were the flowers trapping souls? And did this girl need them for something? Daulton and I sat in our room and sipped on warm raspberry tea, when suddenly the walls shook, and windows rattled and the wind blew harder. Was this another Aoi attack? I let my blades enrich themselves with the fresh air they now breathed instead of my usual flesh. They reflected the full moon’s glow perfectly and set rainbow shards of light into the onyx sky. With the sudden change of weather, stronger Aoi must be approaching. I readied myself for this battle expecting more of a challenge. I jumped from the balcony and into the courtyard. The leaves
formed a small twister in front of me, and instead of revealing an Aoi, the girl from before stood in the clearing. She smiled a satisfying grimace. She crossed her arms and studied me closely. “Word on the street is, you’re a natural fighter,” she said slyly. I stared, unsure how to answer this young villain. Besides, I’d only been here two days; news must travel fast around here. I heard Daulton’s running footsteps behind me trying to help in any way he could. “Let’s keep this fair and square shall we?” the girl stated bluntly with a wave of her arm. The leaves spiraled around me and the girl, lifting us into the air. I didn’t have enough time to take in the magic swimming around me until I absorbed my new surroundings in one breath. The rest was a blur. She and I fought this way and that with the wind whipping my hair, slashing me across the face; I tried desperately to shake the strands away. Then suddenly everything froze. My hair went limp; the harsh wind calmed to a soft breeze, and my legs fell out from under me. My ragged breathing hung stiffly in the air. My world spun around me. The girl had disappeared, leaving a small chuckle echoing through the isolated field. I grasped the large wooden stake she’d used, unable to fit my hands all the way around it. The simple vibrations from my delicate touch sent shock waves of pain
throughout my entire body. I let go of the pole and dispersed a jagged breath and concentrated on getting it out. I tried to look for anything familiar, even my fingers were numb from the ribbon-like strands of grass that wrapped around my ankles. I could see death upon me. I sat there with my legs awkwardly set beside me, also numb. I could feel the pole with every breath, I could feel it under my ribs and how its ragged edges tore my skin and how its splinters pulled at the remainings of my shirt that hung around the pole that tunneled only to reenter back out covered in blood on the other side. My hot blood oozed down my back and watered the grass as it stained my pants. Soon I was lost as cobwebs as death wrapped itself over my slipping mind. I felt strange. I rub my arms with ice, trying to cool my aching body, though I don’t feel its isolating cold. It burns. It’s an ash that stains my ruff skin and won’t rub off. Heat boils throughout my body and the ice won’t take effect. I fumble around in the darkness, then a bright light blinds me, however I don’t shy away but embrace its strength. Then I burst though. It feels as if I was under water and I had hit the bottom only to resurface on dry land, sputtering and gasping for breath. I coughed and gagged until I could control my new beating heart. And somehow, some way, I was alive.
I searched for the stake that was once plunged through me. Instead I found a scar that felt rough and bumpy like a burn. I traced it with my finger, surprised at how big it was. I wanted to open my eyes and look at my surroundings and move but all my energy must have been left in that field. I shot up in a sitting position. A cramp like pain exploded in my scar born chest. The fire was back and melting me away. I fell back down again and hugged my aching body, hopping the pressure of my grasp would haggard the bloodless pain. I escaped my mind once more only to find emptiness. Nothing was always so scary but it seemed so peaceful and darkness was simply shade from blinding light. I did not want to wake from this dream. Soon, too soon, I drifted from my paradise and saw a pair of shady figures. I was too exhausted to be worried and let out a low loud grunt. Daulton and someone else became visible in the gloom and I grunted again. “She’s fine”, I heard Daulton explain to the other person. “You sure?” a light voice said worried. “She’s tougher than she looks,” Daulton reassured him. “Shut up,” I grimaced.
“Told ya so,” Daulton laughed. The other guy chimed in. I stretched in to a sitting position much slower this time. They helped me and I leaned on the stranger. He seemed older yet timless. I lightly traced my scar again and ignored Daulton’s attempts to feed me. I wasn’t in the mood for food. I’d be lucky if I had a stomach left after that blow. “Erin,” the stranger whispered, catching my attention. “I think it time for you to go home now.” He seemed to force out his words trying to make them sound like a demand. “I hate you,” I scowled at Daulton. Why did he have to go and tell the guy to vouch for him? The man started to pull me up in a more upright position and took my shoulders. “I think it’s safer for you to leave,” he pleaded. I bit my lower lip and felt how cold is touch was on my scar compared to the other skin he touched. I did miss home. And Daulton’s friend from work didn’t help the situation for me to stay at all. “We’ll leave in the morning,” Daulton decided. And the lights went out. I walked swiftly to avoid curious stares. I crossed my arms around me to hide the scar. My shirt was torn and couldn’t reach the bottom of my rib cage and my pants were thankfully free of blood stains. The walk to the Black Door seemed to take ages.
The path seemed to stretch out in front of me keeping me in place, walking endlessly without getting anywhere of any importance. The stone maze seemed dangerous and misleading. I stopped walking and swayed slightly on my feet. My head felt light and empty. My heart pounded in my chest, looking for a way out. Daulton and the stranger exchanged looks. I let a cold chill roll down my back, raising each hair on its way down. A distasteful chuckle loomed in the air. She was back. “So it worked,” her voice echoed, pleased. “So the little girl from Wonderland didn’t die,” Her voice over head still invisible sounded sly and yet unreadable. “What a shame. But such good news for me,” she finished landing delicately in front of me. The dust settled at her feet slowly with each passing second. I clenched and unclenched my fists, carefully watching her every move. I felt the tips of my blades reaching out of my skin. I poked the tips with my fingers. She grinned an ugly grimace, unmistakably mocking me. And for once her face reviled something new. Just in a moment her youth vanished to show an older woman. Scared and tired. Then we were flying at each other. It was all a blur again, and then we both landed across from each other catching our breath.
“It’s such a bother to have to kill you again,” she sighed clearly troubled; the illusion of a young girl completely gone. Then with a quick flick of her wrists, a swarm of gnats emerged from her sleeves. I slashed helplessly at the cloud of insects but they just regrouped. They landed all over me and I couldn’t get them off, and in my desperate attempts to remove them I cut deep into my own flesh with my diamond blades. In all the confusion I heard a small snap of her fingers and explosions erupted all around me. It took me a while to realize that the bugs themselves were causing this wild inferno. The open gashes in my flesh burned with the flames and ash surrounding my body. I collapsed to the ground screaming in pain and jerking in all different directions to somehow ease the aching. Once the fire ceased, I gasped and drew in deep ragged breaths as I struggled to stand. Daulton and ‘Bob’ for all I cared, were staring at me wondering way I had collapsed. Did they not see? They stood ready to offer helping hands carefully eyeing the cuts in my arms and sides. “Stop her,” I breathed. “She’s headed for the Door!” I could see her clearly as she rushed quietly for the Black Door. They turn in wonderment at the Door. They glanced at each other with wide eyes, finally seeing for the first time, and we jumped after her, and landed on the gym floor. I pinned the woman. I
took one last glimpse at the door as it disappeared, shrinking into itself, leaving a small cloud of dust. The police on the investigation to find Daulton and I came into play strangely on cue. “Good luck.” She laughed. “I can’t die in this world.” The stranger handed me an object and I fondled it in my hand. Thinking. I faced the girl once more, completely sure of myself and said, “Then may you live a thousand deaths.” And I pulled the trigger.
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