John stared absently at the scabs on the backs of his knuckles, and wondered how they had gotten there. There was some residual pain, as if they had been previously injured, but he couldn’t recall how, if when, that would have happened. It was as if he was peering through a thick fog, and his memory was the shadow hidden beneath its damp embrace.
His house was empty, his wife and daughter having long since gone to her parents. For what reason, he also couldn’t remember, only that he had only spoken to them once, since. She had been angry with him, accusing him of being hurtful during their last conversation, but like the mystery of his hands, this, too, was something he couldn’t remember doing.
He should be angry. Shouldn’t he? It felt as if there was something he should be remembering, something that felt more important than the two things most recently on his mind.
He looked around as if in a daze, seeing his surroundings for what felt like the first time today. He was at the dining room table, upon which were the remains of his last several meals. He didn’t remember eating recently, but the evidence couldn’t be denied. Not by him, nor by the several dozen flies that flew from plate to plate, tasting his decaying leftovers.
The room smelled, ripe from the lack of cleanliness, and he wrinkled his nose in disgust. If he had been hungry before, that feeling was long since gone. He made a mental note to clean before his family got home as he turned and walked into the living room. The thought was forgotten before he’d finished passing through the door.
His living room was in no better shape. Apparently, he had taken a few meals in here as well. Three plates, each with the remains of forgotten meals upon them, sat upon the coffee table, along with an empty pizza box. But was that there before? Hadn’t he had friends over?
He couldn’t remember.
It also didn’t matter right now. He would have to clean that up later, he thought as he lay down on his couch. He wrinkled his nose as he noticed another funky smell in the air, but before he could identify it, he had been overcome with sleep.
– – – – – – – – – –
Hours later, (or was it minutes?), he shot up off of the couch, shrieking. His skin was clammy, and his hair stood out wildly on the right side of his head, but none of these things he would notice until the fear had run its course, nearly two minutes later.
As the dreams faded from memory, they took with them the feelings they had inspired, leaving him to wonder what it was that had frightened him. He looked around as if in shock, struggling to regain his bearings as he finally realized he was awake. The room was darker, and the light behind the curtains fell closer to the wall than it did when he lay down, suggesting it was now late in the afternoon.
The familiar, nasally voice, of someone he knew screamed at him from the shadows, and he screamed as well. He screamed as he fell to the floor. He screamed as he curled into a fetal position. He screamed, and he screamed, and he screamed, until he could hear the laughter no longer.
Deep within the bowels of the fort, where the shadows were cast by molten rivers, and only the most fearsome guardians awaited, was imprisoned a young lady of royal importance. The fourth child of her family, a princess to the Toadstool name, and a fighter in her own right, she came from a race of people who were very similar in appearance to the two plumbers that had come to her rescue.
She’d barely escaped the initial attack, which had begun several feet above the Royal Palace. A flying galleon sank beneath the clouds and docked against her father’s balcony. Rabid Chomps, a rare breed of man-eating plant, that unless chained to the heaviest weight would eat any and everything in their paths, had made short work of her parents.
* * * * * * * * * *
She awakened to the sound of panicked shouts outside of her room. There were tortured screams coming from every direction; through her window, the walls, in the distance, beneath the hurried cries of those outside, and for a brief moment, she had been disoriented. As she struggled to free herself from her blanket, two guards burst through the door, each looking worse the wear.
The guard on the right, whose name was Nu’iratha, was covered in blood. His sword was drawn, but it wasn’t blood that covered the iron. A brackish ooze, slightly green in tint, dripped from the point of his blade.
“Your majesty,” he said with a touch of desperation in his voice. “You must come with me!”
The other guard, whose uniform and weapon had seen less battle, and whose name she recalled as Pou’ic, was frantically glancing over his shoulder, down the hall that led to her parents chambers.
“You must hurry,” the latter cried. “They’re coming!”
As she sat up, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, inserting her feet into her slippers as she’d done a countless number of previous mornings. The difference between each of those times and this one, was that they weren’t to the sound of battle.
Screams echoed off of the walls, each originating from different points of her ancestral home. Smoke rose into the air, outside of her window, and bestial roars preceded what could only been the death cries of her people. Forgetting her modesty, she rose in only her night-gown and rushed to her wardrobe.
“Your majesty, ” Nu’iratha protested, “we don’t have time!”
“We’ll have to make it, then,” she grunted through her teeth. “It’ll not do, for a princess to be seen in her night-clothes, during battle.”
She grabbed a dress and pulled it over her head, securing it to her waist with an embroidered belt. From this, she hung a small pouch, the contents of which she always had on hand; an enlarging mushroom, a fire-flower, and a green mushroom, though never used, was supposed to reverse time a short distance, when the need was desperate.
As she was fitting her shoes, the battle came to her door.
Pou’ic suddenly lunged forward and shoved the other guard into the room. As he did, he shouted; “Keep her safe! She may be surviving member of the royal family!” He pulled the door shut behind him, locked it from the outside, and slid the key under the door. “Love live the Queen,” he shouted heroically.
“Queen,” she mouthed.
“Worry not, your highness,” Nu’iratha had said. The others may yet live!
* * * * * * * * * *
She awoke with a start, helpless to contain the yelp that escaped her lips. She struggled to remember where she had been taken, the memory not as fresh as the one she had just escaped.
The most unexpected sensation she felt was the heat. Sweat beaded upon her skin, already, and the air was thick with moisture. Her dress clung to her skin, soaked from perspiration and reeking of fear. Beneath this was the smell of wet straw.
A single torch lit the room, though its meager light fought hard to push the darkness to the farthest side. She saw only one door, a mighty steel portcullis, of which there was no way to open from this side.
Defeated, she slumped back into the mound of straw from which she had awoken, and cried.