Young Sophie Learns the Game Part 3

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

Sophie hiked through the woods in the direction Iam had directed. Her surroundings began to grow unfamiliar and the flora became strange and dense. The undergrowth reached up to her knees, making her progress slow, as she whacked at it with her bow, like a blunt machete. The canopy above began to connect and blot out the dim light of an already overcast day. She stopped to get her bearings. The forest around her was dense and she couldn’t see more than a few feet, which was made all the worse by the dying day.
“How could not notice a forest so big in my own neighborhood?” she thought, “I need to pay more attention.”
She continued on and the light of day disappeared. She was cloaked in darkness. She looked overhead and through the rare gaps in the leaves, she saw starlight and ethereal colors. The starlight was piercing and hurt her eyes.
“What the heck did I do? Mom is going to freak when I get home.”
She continued on. The trees and undergrowth began to thin again. In the sky, the stars were bright and swollen, like a ceiling strung with Christmas lights. They seemed so close she could reach up and grab one. Accompanying the stars were paint smeared orbs that looked like planets, but none she was familiar with. Some planets hung so low she could see the movement of cloud patterns in their atmospheres. Swirling around them, like bunting and streamers, were streaks of blue mist, like contrails from a joyriding spaceship doing loops around the heavenly bodies. Ahead of her, she saw the trees separate and open onto a dune covered beach of silver sand that glittered in the starlight.
“Definitely, not my neighborhood.”
She stepped out onto the beach and her feet sunk into the fine sand. She trudged along, each step kicking the sand into the air. She stopped and looked behind her considering abandoning her quest and returning home, but the forest was gone. She bit her lip and her hands shook. Sophie flopped onto the ground and held her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. She felt like she wanted to weep, but wasn’t sure if it was from being lost in a strange land or the beauty of the dome of sky stretched out over her and meeting the horizon.
She sat in silence staring at the silver land around her. On the horizon, she saw a line of marching figures drawing close. She wondered if she should hail them or hide. As the drew nearer, she could see they were wearing shining, silver armor and wielding weapons, like spears and bolas. The group stopped and one of them pointed in her direction. They readied their weapons and charged toward her. She scrambled to her feet and tried to run, but the fine sand grabbed her feet. The harder she ran the tighter her feet became lodged. She dug with her hands into the sand in an effort to make herself a hiding space, but the soldiers were bearing down, several yards away. A spear landed in the sand by her feet. She grabbed her bow and pulled an arrow from her quiver. She nocked it, drew and fired at the approaching soldiers. The arrow clanged against a soldiers armor and fell to the ground.
As the soldiers became close she saw that they were simian in appearance and weren’t wearing armor at all. They were covered in shining silver fur. They surrounded her, pounding their chests and grunting. She fired arrow after arrow, all bouncing off their fur and sticking in the sand. She reached back for another arrow. It was her last one. As one of the apes lunged at her she stabbed it in the face. The arrow stuck into its eye and it howled. The others howled in sympathy. She crawled between the injured one’s legs and tried to run as best she could. She noticed the sand in the direction she was running was becoming packed and damp making her flight easier. She heard the sound of water washing up on a shoreline. She ran toward the sound, the moon monkeys shouting behind her.
When she reached the waterline, she stopped and rested her hands on her knees, panting. The warrior apes were nowhere to be seen. She sat on the wet beach and breathed heavy.
“Ahem,” she heard from the water.
She looked for the impatient voice and saw a small wooden boat bobbing in the surf. At the helm was a cloaked man. He was lit from behind by a soft blue glow of a lantern hanging from the bow.
“Charon?” Sophie asked the cloaked man.
“Sure, whatever, you getting on or what, I got shit to do.”
“Rude is better than violent, I guess.”
“So sorry, princess, I’ll make sure I don’t break your fragile sensibilities.”
Sophie closed her eyes and sighed, “You again?”
The man pulled back his hood. It was Iam and he was looking at her with an impatient scowl, “In or out? I don’t have all day.”
Sophie waded into the water and climbed onto the boat, falling over the side and hitting the deck.
“Graceful,” Iam said, “If I didn’t know better I’d say the smart money was with you being the last of your miserable kind.”
“But you know better?”
“The rest of the ride, no talking, or I’ll throw you over.”
“What did I just say?”
Sophie held up her hands in surrender to the irritating argument.
As they floated and lost sight of the land, the stars and planets reflected in the still water, only disturbed by the wake of the boat. It looked as though they were floating among the stars.
“It’s beautiful,” she said leaning over the side and letting her hand drag in the water.
Iam let out a long, loud sigh.
“What is your problem with me?” Sophie turned to face him.
“You turned me into a drooling idiot who needs a nurse to change his shitty drawers,” Iam said.
“I’ve never met you.”
“You haven’t done it yet.”
“So you’re from the future.”
“It’s not that cut and dried. Time and space are illusory.”
“How did you get here?”
“Condemned by the universe for my sins. Sins which I’d commit again. Over and over. I fucked with time travel and now I’m stuck in a loop. Some of me is anyway. Don’t pretend you understand any of this, because I’m a genius level intellect and don’t understand it.”
“What was your sin?”
“I tried to rule it all. You and your friends weren’t having it. And now here I am.”
“Iam. I guess I should remember that name.”
“Don’t bother. It’s not the name you’ll know me by.”
“And what’s that?”
“You ask a lot of fucking questions. Shut it.”

Sophie laid back in the boat and watched the sky sail by. The stars looked so low that she could reach her hand out a pluck one like a sparkling diamond. She raised her hand with hesitation and then reached out. Her finger touched a star and it dropped in her lap. She held it up and looked through it. The world inside the diamond was small, dense universe teeming with life and energy. She became transfixed and didn’t notice the boat had stopped.
“That took long enough,” Iam grumbled, “You like wasting my time. An annoying little habit you’ll never grow out of.”
She sat up and slipped the diamond in her pocket. They were floating still in the middle of a starry sea.
“Perfect. Do that,” Iam said.
“Why did we stop?”
“Can’t you ever just wait and see?”
A webbed hand grabbed the side of the boat, followed by another and another until the boat was being rocked in violent jerks. She started the whack at the flippers with her bow and hands. Fish and molluscoid creatures began to climb onto the boat reaching for Sophie. She began to fight them off. Iam lit a cigarette.
“You could help,” Sophie shouted.
“Not my job,” Iam said through a cotton wad of smoke.
A creature that looked like a drowned and bloated dog carcass hopped onto the boat and slashed and Sophie. She knocked the blows away with her bow.
“Whatever I did to you, I haven’t done it yet, please help me,” Sophie pled.
“From my point of view, you did. Time and space are some crazy shit ain’t they?” Iam puffed on his cigarette.
Iam leaned on the bow and watched Sophie fight for dear life. He gave a aggravated grunt.
“A knack for wasting my time,” he mumbled, “Look, honey, if you haven’t guessed yet, this is where you get off. So if you don’t mind,” Iam kicked her into the water, “I’ve got other psychopomp shit to do.”

Sophie sank, pulled down by tentacles and clawed fins down into the dark. Bubbles poured from her mouth and launched toward the surface of the water. She held what little breath she had left as she struggled against her aquatic assailants. Her chest ached for a breath and she couldn’t hold it any more. She gasped taking lungfuls of water. But she could breathe. Her feet touched the bottom of the sea and the tentacles released her. The creatures swam away leaving her alone in the dark. The focused on the curious feeling of water entering and leaving her lungs as she panted. When she caught her breath, she remembered the star she had plucked from the sky. She pulled it from her pocket, but it was dark.
“C’mon,” she said aloud. Her voice was audible and clear, despite being underwater.
She stood the dark, not know where she was or which way she should go. She cried and her tears floated away in the black water. She sat down and covered her face, weeping.
“Sophie,” she heard a familiar voice from her distant past, “Sophie, why are you crying, honey?”
“Mom?” Sophie looked about her. A figure emerged from the darkness.
It was a woman who had undergone significant decomposition. Her lipless mouth and empty eyes smiled. Sophie recoiled and the rotting visage of Laurel Fischer.
“What’s the matter, honey,” Laurel said.
Laurel reached out to grab her and Sophie stumbled backwards.
“What’s the matter? I thought you wanted to see me again? Is it my appearance? I’m dead because of you. I ate a bullet to get away from you. I never wanted you,” Laurel began screaming and swiping at Sophie, “I’d still be alive if I never had you.”
“I was just a child. I didn’t know anything. I still don’t.”
“It’s your fault I’m dead, your fault, your fault,” Laurel yelled as she grabbed at Sophie.
“I’m sorry, mom, I’m sorry. I was just a kid. What happened?”
“You happened,” Laurel exploded into a mass of reaching claws and fangs.
Sophie ran. She ran until she collided with someone. Cheryl looked back at her glowering.
“You ruined your mom’s life and now you want to ruin mine,” Cheryl barked.
Sophie stood frozen.
“My parents have paid attention to me since you came along with your cute little smile and sickening, cloying attitude.”
Sophie turned to escape, but Charles and Clare Ellers blocked her path.
“We dote on you because you’re so fragile and useless, just like your mother,” they said.
“What?” Sophie cried, “What are you saying?”
“The little dummy is asking stupid questions again?” Cheryl said, “Is there anything you do know?”
She felt a sharp pain as her hair was pulled from behind and she was pushed to the ground. She looked up to see Bridget, the girl from school, sneering down at her.
“Fight back, Sophie,” Cheryl said and burst out laughing, “Who am I kidding? I’m going to have to pull your ass from another fire. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with mom and dad. You are a fucking helpless little china doll.”
Cheryl, her parents and Bridget, transformed into gaping maws, full of sword like teeth. One pulled her close and put her head in its mouth. As the mouth closed down around her neck she could feel the other’s biting down her limbs. The pain of being torn asunder, blinded her. She lost consciousness.