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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Liminal Spaces story contest.

Sixteen-year-old Twig Hewitt trudged down the winding forest trail leading to the Greebik stop. She shuffled along, dragging her feet, and didn't try to catch up with her sister Luika, age nine, who was lugging a large duffel bag and a heavy rausch horn case.

It was the beginning of June. Sunlight burned through the thick morning fog shrouding the Swanwick Trail, dappling the trunks of the tall Glyph trees. A cold, wet mist swirled around the sisters as they walked along the damp, spongy ground. Ferns, mosses, and flowering shrubs grew in profusion along the trail, while carpets of clover-like oxalis adorned the shady hollows.

Both girls were small and slender (though Twig was taller, at 5'2), with sharp pointed features and long beaky noses, which was common among the Canoti People of the Glyph Wood Regions.

Luika made a great deal about being cute and pretty. That was why she had her mother tie her feathery black hair up into three long ponytails. Each ponytail was then adorned with a golden hair tie with a Ping-Pong-sized wire bead. Each of these beads, in turn, had a tiny sleigh bell inside, so whenever Luika took a step, she sounded like a miniature reindeer. She reasoned that they made her stand out; otherwise, no one would have noticed her if she had worn her regular hair ties.

Twig's hair, however, was shorter, streaked with red dye, and swept back in the popular spike-head style. She was an obvious teenage misfit, and she showed a complete disdain for any proper dress or conduct.

Luika glanced over her shoulder. Twig was still slouched, lugging along her suitcase and lunch bundle as if they were full of rocks. Her lips were pouched out while her thin eyebrows were pulled down in an indignant crease.

"Twig!" Luika snapped irritably. "You look like a grouchy cave person. Stand up straight, why don't you?"

Twig didn't answer. She just screwed up her face as though she had swallowed some lemon juice.

Luika gave an exasperated sigh and shook her head. It was going to be one of those days again. Sometimes it felt like she was the older sister, and Twig the youngest. If only Twig would stop being such an embarrassment and start behaving sensibly.

Twig, on the other hand, didn't much care for this being sensible stuff. She abhorred wearing pretty dresses, going to long and tedious social functions, and learning how to dance. She much preferred to spend the whole day exploring or playing rough and tumble games with her many rowdy friends. The thought of being a proper lady made her feel ridiculous. Right now, she was feeling more than just ridiculous. She was feeling furious. Her mother had forbidden her to leave the house until she donned a long green and white dress with frog motifs scattered across it. Twig had a terrific screaming fit beforehand, but it didn't help much; it just left her feeling like an idiot.

Normally, she wasn't very fussy about what she wore, as long as it wasn't silly or a hindrance. She had expected her vacation wardrobe to consist solely of old, everyday clothes. Yet, when she opened her suitcase upon leaving the house, she discovered that this wasn't the case. Her mother had gone as far as to replace most of these with frilly-dilly skirts and dresses. Unfortunately, Luika was hanging around waiting, ready to tattle should Twig decide to retrieve her favorite outfits.

At least she had something to look forward to today. She and her sister were on their way to Eliwa to spend part of summer break with their grandmother, Esmerine.

Twig loved going to see her. At her place, one could sit back and relax without the risk of being yelled at or dragged into hard labor. So long as you didn't tease any falarax or verrat, meddle with cranky magicians, or play in poisonous zuhubergii, you were okay in Grandma Esmerine's eyes.

Eventually, the woods thinned out, and the two were standing before the meandering ribbon of blue dirt that was Kos Road. Rolling meadows brightened with wildflowers bordered the roadway, interrupted by the occasional lichen-covered boulder or oak tree. As the road wound its way in the distance, it rose steadily through shrubby foothills and wandered through dark, brooding forests of oak and cedar before finally dropping down into deep valleys.

Twig had never been to those valleys herself, but she had heard stories from people who had. Half-hidden by groves of gnarled and twisted trees was the ruined remains of the city that few in the Glyph Wood knew anything about. These remnants included many imposing Yngvi temples with geometric designs, elaborately sculptured figures, and colossal stone heads that wore expressions of calm serenity. Somewhere under all those majestic remains, a cache of treasure still awaited discovery. Twig wished she could go there, but that wasn't going to happen today. Anyway, the ruins were probably already picked over by overzealous archeologists and treasure hunters intent on making a quick profit or adding to their private collections.

Luika set her things down on a weathered stone bench that made up this lonely coach stop. She gazed up at the sky; the fog was melting away, revealing patches of milky blue.

A few keurigels circled and wheeled high overhead, their cries mingling with the distant barking of herding dogs and the heavy clanking of qupii bells.

Luika sniffed the early morning air, savoring the various odors of the forest and open field. Delighted and enchanted, she turned to check on her sister again.

Twig had just dropped her luggage onto the wet grass. Now she stood stiffly, tight-lipped, arms folded, staring across the road into a nearby corn field.

"Look, I'm wearing a dress too!" exclaimed Luika cheerfully.

To her growing annoyance, Twig still continued to stare off into space.

Luika started twirling around in an effort to get Twig's attention. Her ponytails swished and flapped like streamers, while her blue, sun-sprinkled dress billowed out like a fully opened parachute. To top off this hectic, flamboyant display, her golden hairbells jingled a lively tune befitting the season.

Twig looked at her curiously from the corner of her eye. There was a remarkable similarity between Luika's whirling ponytails and the propellers of a wind-up whirligig toy. Any more faster, she thought wearily, and she'll go spinning up into the wild blue yonder, and like I really care.

"But did I cry and throw a fit?" Luika went on. "Oh no, I was quite good!"

Twig's crest bristled. What she hated more than wearing dresses was Luika boasting about how awfully good she was. It made her want to puke.

Finally, dizzy by her performance, Luika sat down breathlessly on the bench. Sighing heavily, she looked irritably at her sister.

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Twig had turned her back on her and was now staring down Kos Road toward the distant Helmond Foothills. Amid the clumps of gnarled old trees, rustling corn, and jungles of sprouting tiger cane was a castle-like playhouse, weather-beaten and missing the topmost portions of its tower roof.

"TWIG GULL HEWITT!" shrieked Luika. "Sometimes you can be a real pain in the nose!"

Twig just stood there, saying nothing. Puzzled, Luika got up and followed her sister’s gaze. Nothing to be seen except for standing corn and great oaks towering like Yngvi giants against a blue-green backdrop. Turning back, she examined Twig closely. Twig's eyes were now tightly shut. It looked as if she was having a snooze, or else, just brooding on how badly her day was turning out.

Twig, however, wasn't doing either. In her mind’s eye, she was stepping lightly across the road, moving steadily away in the direction of the playhouse, now a massive alabaster structure with long, slender towers. Here in the silken, bending ears, there was nobody there to annoy her or boss her around. When she ducked under the castle’s low archway, her ridiculous dress rippling with frills melted away into her explorer clothes, which consisted of ragged shorts, a frayed straw hat with an assortment of feathers stuck in the band, an old patched shirt, and various explorer tools attached to her belt.

Now she was exploring an ancient, sprawling hill city of the kind found among the islands of the Meronian Sea. She walked along the wide paved streets, through vaulted alleyways, and down vast corridors. Painted on many of the walls were colorful murals and frescoes depicting scenes from ancient times.

After passing through a series of storerooms, full of enormous pottery jars, she came at last to a great courtyard filled with marble statues and mosaics of cracked tile. At the far end of the courtyard, she found a high-domed building. Although its roof and walls were intact, a bright glow, like that of sunlight, streamed from the door and domed windows. Peering in, she was surprised to find it wasn't sunlight at all. The room was full of shimmering bottles, all blown from different colored glass. They sat on wooden racks and tiers, filling the place right up to the ceiling.

The moment she passed across the threshold, she heard the heavy oaken door close behind her with a muffled thud and saw the glittering multi-colored scene melt and shrink away into the shadows, finally dispersing like smoke on a breeze. The room that once seemed fragrant and cool a moment ago now seemed like a furnace. Twig shivered and stared around her as particles of hot dust burned the lining of her nostrils. There was no longer a high domed ceiling, a multi-colored treasure trove of nearby genie bottles, or even a hint of the familiar road and forest. Instead, she was focusing on a circular deck that was surrounded by wrought iron railings.

Twig crossed to the center with one trembling hand and then with the other. She was now positioned on the concrete platform of an enormous tower, which might have been a lighthouse.

The dead-heated air surrounding her was filled with the smell of heated metal and odd spices as a warm wind swirled around her. It rustled her hair and whistled between the rails.

Twig peered up at the sky; thick layers of purplish-gray clouds mostly obscured it.

"Looks like a storm’s coming," she muttered.

She walked carefully to the railing and surveyed the surrounding scenery. Her large eyes bulged even further. This beach was very different from the one back home. Weirdly sculpted rock formations dotted the shoreline. A fiery ocean swirled around the outcropping, making a soft rushing sound. All across its molten surface, spurts of yellowish flames would break through, whirling around for several minutes before settling back down. Jutting up like silvery digits of bone were other towers similar to the one she was standing on, Twig sprang back from the railing, her hair bristling like porcupine quills. With eyes glued to the reddish glow against pitchy purplish-blackness, she crouched against the metal wall with gritted teeth.

"I wish I stayed back at the coach stop," she snarled, finally racing for the door. Her face blanched an ashen-gray as fear lanced through her like an electric shock. "Just put up with Luika’s antics!"

Far better to take her chances back in the abandoned hill city, rather than out here—wherever this might be. But where was the archway she just came out of?

It was gone, replaced by an entirely different one. The rusty metal door banged gently in the wind, revealing the dust-laden, red-bricked lantern room with its darkened lamp. Twig figured it either burned out on its own or was switched off for repairs.

Reluctantly, she stepped into the room and slammed the door quickly behind her. She leaned against the flaking metal, slowly clenching and unclenching her fists. She didn’t cry though; that wasn’t her thing. Her sweaty fingers gently brushed something cold and hard. Part of the bolt? No, it was much too big and long. It also rattled when she prodded it. Carefully, she slipped it out of the lock and examined it closely. It was a key—a fancy brass one by the looks of it. A ruby-eyed lizard biting its tail served as its handle. She held it up to her eye, searching for spidery runes or arcane symbols, anything that could help lead her out of this nightmare.

Wait a second. Was that crystal eye glowing green? Of course, it could just be the moonlight. Nothing to worry about.

And then she heard it.

A thumping banging sound was growing steadily closer. Someone was coming up the stairs to the lantern room, and whoever it was, it sounded very large.

Twig twisted and turned, frantically looking for a place to hide. She didn’t much care to meet the owner of those heavy-sounding feet.

But there wasn’t anywhere she could hide.

Nothing here, but bare walls! She thought irritably. She checked to see if the lantern room door was locked. It wasn’t.

Leaping into action, Twig pulled the door shut and locked it. Holding her breath, she kept both hands on the doorknob and waited.

The heavy footfalls soon stopped at the door. There came a long silence. Twig swallowed dryly and clenched the knob harder. Finally, she got up the courage to press her ear against the cold metal. Funny, she thought. I don’t seem to hear any breathing. Now a faint odor hovered in the air–pungent and overpowering, like a hint of rotten fish combined with a metallic smell like a jar full of pennies that had been closed a long time then opened.

Suddenly there came a faint scratching, Twig gave a strangled gasp and leaped back. It grew louder as it methodically moved around the doorframe, seeking out some weak spot. The doorknob turned slowly several times, and then the door began to creak and shake, straining against its hinges.

Twig pressed herself back against the farthest wall behind the massive lamp.

“It can’t get in, it can’t get in,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Don't let it get in!”

Jarred loose from its lock, the key jingled to the floor. The scratching and creaking immediately ceased. Then she heard the footsteps again moving slowly away down the iron staircase. A moment later, she heard nothing. However, Twig remained where she was, not trusting the utter quiet out there.

It’s probably halfway down those stairs waiting for me to come out, she thought grimly. Or if it’s creative, it took off its workman boots and tiptoed back. Heck! For all I know it’s probably lurking over the door like Spider-Man. Well, if it thinks it’s messing with some gullible human, it’s greatly mistaken!

Cautiously, she crept around the lamp and cracked open the door to peer out. She heard only the rushing wind and the rumble of the strange surf. Sensing nothing, she squeezed through the narrow gap and scuttled along the deck.

Halfway around, Twig noticed something that made her halt in mid-step: a sliding ladder attached to the railing. It reminded her of a floor-to-floor fire escape on the side of apartments. Swallowing hard, she studied the distance to the ground. Then slowly took a deep breath and let it out. Flexing her sweaty hands, she walked up to the ladder. It looked pretty secure, although there were rusty spots, here and there. Gripping the curved sides, Twig slowly placed one foot on the closest rung.

“Okay,” Twig muttered. “How did that old human saying go exactly? Ready or not, something-something? Oh, never mind!”

And swinging herself over, she let her weight slide her to earth. It suddenly grounded to a screeching halt several feet up, refusing to continue its descent any further. Seeing she had no choice, Twig climbed over the rail and gently dropped to the ground. Then breathing a sigh of relief, she turned to hurry away from the beach. Suddenly, she slipped on a loose stone and her legs shot out from under her as she landed hard on her back.

Twig witnessed the rusted ladder suddenly disengage and fly downward, with one of its bottom points plummeting toward her face as she gazed upward in shock and disbelief.

She was abruptly brought back to awareness by icy dampness. Twig opened her eyes and put a shaking hand on the tip of her nose, where she felt something move. She gaped in horror at her younger sister as Luika smirked mischievously.

“Like the tiny Froggie I found?” she gleefully inquired.

Twig was speechless as she stared at Luika in pop-eyed astonishment. The tree frog jumped onto her cheek after eluding her numbed hand. She quickly flicked it away into the neighboring grass while gasping and wheezing.

“What?” she said, finally choking out the words.

“Good, you’re awake now,” Luika regarded her for a minute before turning away. Thought about tickling your nose with some grass then I found Mr. Froggie.”

Her ears pricked up as her attention suddenly shifted toward the road.

There came a faint sound of whuffling and pattering. A sinuous green and red shape lumbered around a distant bend, half obscured by the swirling fog.

"Here comes our Greebik!" she announced loudly, as though it was something truly amazing.

Not bothering to look up, Twig exhaled slowly as she felt around her right eye.

“I think it looks like a big ole Eastern dragon!" yelled Luika at the top of her lungs. "What do you think, Twig?"

“Yeah, great,” Twig muttered, wiping the sweat from her eyes.

“You know, the Greebik Racers are related to the Eastern dragon,” Luika continued brightly. “Dad said the Yngvi made them from blimp dragons. They weren’t made for riding like nowadays, they started out small like horses. He said the Ancient Ones built them for racing but made them run better and longer by putting in each pair of leg segments a separate pair of powerful lungs and a heart.”

Twig nodded vaguely as she bent down, trying not to vomit. She squeezed her eyes tight for a moment before opening them again. That was one seriously messed up dream I had. Why would I have something like that, and in the middle of the freakin' day too? Must be that Brie I ate this morning.

She glanced up and saw a small, shabby castle house, hardly as big as a large doghouse. Yeah, she thought ruefully as she straighten up.  That’s gotta be it. Something I ate.

At that moment, the Greebik Racer, a heavy-duty commuter equipped with sixty sturdy legs and thirty seat pads, skidded to a rattling, gravel-spewing halt. Some of the commuters inside the crowded shell carriage stared curiously out at them, but Twig barely noticed. Busily, she began fumbling around in her dress pocket, feeling for a handkerchief to wipe the cold sweat from her brow. Nothing at all to worry about. No creepy lighthouse near a burning sea. No smelly lumbering monsters trampling around, trying to get in...

“Just on time,” Luika said, glancing at her wristwatch.

With a faint plop, the handkerchief dropped from Twig’s hand. For a moment she stood staring open-mouthed at the glistening object half-hidden in the plaid fabric. Then her eyes bulged as she choked out, “Key? So it’s all real then?”

“Say what?” Luika asked, walking over. She glanced worriedly at Twig. “What’s the matter, Sis? Is that Lil’ Ole Frog still around?”

Twig only pointed at the ground, unable to say a word.

Luika turned to look at the handkerchief.

Something was slithering out of the fabric. Something green-gold and shiny, and vaguely worm-like. It paused for a moment, flicking its black thread of a tongue before darting off across the road into the high corn.

Twig’s scalp crawled, and her stomach twisted into an icy knot. She held her breath, peering into the dense stalks, expecting the glistening shape to reappear.

But nothing was visible except the dilapidated playhouse and a few sunbeams peeking through the tall corn stalks and ears.

Beside her, Luika whispered, “What...what the heck was that?”

“That was a key I discovered in an old abandoned lighthouse close to the shore of a raging sea,” Twig almost said. “The location of my dreaming journey.” Then she recalled how everyone on board the Greebik was observing them and wondered why there was a delay. Because she witnessed the creature, Luika would believe her, but what about the others? They might all assume she was making it all up, or possibly that she was experiencing hallucinations. She didn't say anything for a moment as she thought. Luika watched her closely.

“Just a lizard,” Twig finally replied, having made up her mind. “Nothing but a lizard."


(Creepypasta) The Things You Meet in the Lonely Places (by Mmpratt99)-2

Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart
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