The air around us is completely black for approximately eight seconds. Those eight seconds feel like an eternity. An eternity in which there is no sensation, no light, no sound, nothing. Finally, a blinding flash of light shines and gravity takes hold once again. I land on my butt roughly and my head falls to the ground.
I hear Griff groan beside me. “What the hell was that?” he asks gruffly.
I sit up quietly, rubbing the spot in the middle of my back where I must have landed on something sharp. I look down to the ground to see what might have cushioned my fall and find a large rock.
That’s when I notice we’re not on the sidewalk at the corner of 13th and A anymore. Instead, we’re lying in the dirt next to a well-worn path surrounded by trees and overgrown grass. The trees stretch high up into the sky and completely cut off any view of the sun, clouds, or whatever else might be up there. The light is filtered through the leaves and makes everything take on a green hue. The only other items of civilization around us are four garbage bags, a bicycle, and a few other pieces of random street trash.
“Holy crap, kid,” Griff shouts in surprise. “Did we just get blown over to Central Park?”
“I don’t know,” I say in confusion. “That’s got to be like three miles from here or, you know, there. Do you think that’s even possible?”
“Until today I didn’t think it was possible for a freak storm to pick a couple people up and drop them off like some crazy form of public transportation. If that can happen, I don’t know why it couldn’t take us to the park. Could be worse. Could have ended up in the middle of a skyscraper.”
“Yeah,” I whisper, pulling myself to my feet. “What part of Central Park is this?”
“Do I look like a tour guide to you? Maybe it’s part of that nature sanctuary or whatever.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I agree. “Any clue which direction will get us out of here?”
“I don’t know, kid. Doesn’t your phone have an app for that or something?”
“Good call.” I pull my phone out of my back pocket. Pressing the button on the side to light the screen up, I immediately get a message stating, ‘Phone not registered on network’. “No good.” I replace my phone. “Looks like these trees are cutting off my reception. Any other bright ideas?”
“It’s Central Park, kid. Just pick a direction. Sooner or later you’ll find your way out.”
“Maybe we could use the compass on my new necklace?” I reply. I pull out the time piece and open it. The clock seems to have stopped ticking and, even more concerning to me is that the compass is no longer spinning.
“Musta busted it when we landed,” Griff says, looking over my shoulder.
“You’re probably right. I suppose left is as good a choice as any.” I start down the path away from Griff. He joins me and we make our way along the forested path.
“Kinda pretty out here,” Griff says looking up to the trees above him. “I don’t think I’ve ever been far enough into the park to not be able to see any of the skyscrapers.”
“I didn’t know we had trees around here that were tall enough to block them out. I mean, look at these things, they’re almost skyscrapers themselves. But you know what’s even weirder than that?”
“I could list a ton of things,” Griff chuckles.
“Sure, but have you noticed how quiet it is? No cars, no people, no horns honking. Heck, there’s not even the sound of any animals around here.”
“Well, with a storm like that,” Griff replies, “it’s not surprising for critters to scamper off.”
“You’re right,” I answer. “But it’s still weird there’s no sound coming from the city though.”
“I’ve got you beat on weird, kiddo,” Griff frowns. “How long have you ever been standing around Central Park during the day and not seen at least one person fly past on a bike or something?”
“That is weird,” I agree. “I thought I had heard something when we first arrived, like horses or something. Maybe you were right and we’re in the sanctuary. That’s where the mounted police keep their rides, right? And I’m pretty sure they don’t let just anyone hang out in here normally.”
“That could be it, kid.”
I can’t help but be amazed by the foliage around us. The green light brightening our path gives this place an almost other-worldly feel to it.
And I can’t get over the size of these trees! How could these enormous things be right here in the middle of the city I’ve been living in for the past month and not be something I’m at all aware of? These things are dense, too. Once you get off the path, the rest of this forest looks almost like its night time. It’s admittedly a little creepy to look in there.
The trees give way to a large clearing, with bricked walls going across it on the other end.
“You know, I’ve found that no matter how many times I explore this park, there’s always some old piece of it that I’ve somehow managed to completely overlook.”
“Weird,” I gasp before finally coming to my senses. “I’ve always wanted to visit Belvedere Castle in the park, but I never thought it would be anything like this.”
“That ain’t Belvedere, kid.”
“Well then, what is it?”
“Maybe I’ve got reception now and can get up a map.” I again pull out my phone. Again I find the message, ‘Phone not registered on network’. “Never mind.” I replace it in my pocket. “Maybe the storm knocked out the towers around here or something.”
“I guess the only option left is to see if there’s anyone hiding inside those walls there who can point us in the right direction. Still seems like we should be able to see some of the city skyline from here though.”
“Or people walking around,” I add.
“Good call. Maybe we’ll get our answers inside.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I respond and follow him off into the distance.
As we approach, I notice a river cutting through the wall, making a break in the otherwise unending barrier.
The city even smells different today, fresher somehow, although the smell of excrement seems stronger than usual.
Along the edge of the river sits a small cathedral. At least I’d guess it’s a cathedral. It’s a rather long building with great big open windows in the side and covered in crosses. It’s gorgeous.
“Quite the sight, am I right?” Griff asks. “Gotta be plenty of tourists in there to work, huh?”
“Yeah, I suppose,” I answer. The path continues onward to an arched entryway in the middle of the wall. I hasten toward the entrance in eager anticipation of what may lie inside. I look up to the stone gateway and notice several coats of arms plastered into the side of it, containing a series of lions.
“Smell that?” Griff asks.
“Manure?” I ask in return.
“No. Well, yeah, that too. But that’s not what I’m talking about.” A satisfied look crosses his face. “You sure you don’t smell it?”
I sniff the air and can come up with nothing more than my original answer. I shake my head.
“Barley, almond milk, perhaps a little bit of millet,” he breathes in deeply.
“Okay…” I say, stretching it out in order to accentuate my fear that he may have gone insane.
“Gruel, kid. It’s gruel.” Griff sniffs the air and walks in through the entryway.
“You mean that stuff they made Oliver Twist eat?”
“No!” he shouts, echoing in the small tunnel under the archway. “Well, technically yes, but gruel is so much more than that. My mom used to make it for me when I was a kid. Come on, I’ll scam you some.” Griff is almost skipping down the pathway, not being slowed at all by the uneven cobblestones beneath our feet.
Go to Chapter Seven