Tippy Cumber relished the warmth of the noodle bowl as he carried it to his living room throne. He sank into his beloved couch, feeling the familiar indent of continual use.
It was a nasty couch. Once a rich shade of green, fifteen years of sunlight faded it into a lifeless gray. It still served its purpose, though, which was to give its owner something to sit on while he ate his buttered noodles.
The winter wedged Tippy into a routine of work and relief. The lazy people who somehow found it acceptable to leave their sidewalks un-shoveled and dog poo laying in their yards made him resent his job as a mail carrier. The daily sloshing through the slop, however, did have its perks, for it made his couch and noodles something to look forward to every night.
He slurped a mouthful of butter, using his right sleeve as a napkin. The local news was on TV, and he couldn’t find the remote so that’s what he watched while he feasted.
Once finished, he placed the empty bowl on the cluttered coffee table and nestled back into the couch with his feet on the table. The news ended after a short segment on the local animal shelter’s twentieth anniversary. The Wheel of Fortune then came on, and Tippy’s eyes were tempted with drowsiness. Before the Wheel’s first spin, he slipped into sleep.
A flash of light filled the room. He flinched, and when his eyes adjusted, he frowned at the new scenery. He was still on the couch, but his house was gone. A canopy of oak branches was above him; sunlight filtered through the dark green leaves and illuminated the clusters of pollen that filled the air. He sat up and chuckled at the couch, which was overrun by grass. Their clusters pressed against its flanks and their slender blades seeped through the cushions, making it look like the couch had always been a part of the forest.
He stood up and began wandering. The forest was filled with mature oaks, creating a spacious understory that gave ample visibility in all directions. He soon stumbled upon a gravel pathway that meandered through the trees. It wound through the trees, up a gradual slope and out of sight.
A light breeze, warm and aromatic, rattled through the leaves and wheezed through the forest. Like a lover’s touch, it brushed over Tippy. He closed his eyes and welcomed its embrace. When he opened them, a woman stood a short distance ahead on the pathway. She was the forest personified: her hair matched the hues and texture of the surrounding oak trunks, and the greenery of their leaves were woven into her dress.
“Uh, hello,” he said.
She stepped towards him as a spider taunts its entrapped prey. Her footfalls were delicate and the movements of her body accentuated her beauty with every step, and her eyes, never swaying in their gaze, were fixed on Tippy. The grace of her movements trapped Tippy’s gaze with an abrasive allure, forcing him to goggle. His insides were undone; his heart lurched and his stomach sloshed. His feet grew numb, causing him to sway. He needed something to do, so he rubbed his eyes.
“Welcome to Sun Land,” the woman said. Her voice was sweet, like vanilla. “Are you Tippy?”
“Tha’s me.” His voice was loose, a fumbled mix of sound and breath. “How d’ya know me?”
“I’ve been waiting for you.” She stopped a few steps in front of him. The grace and allure of her gait were mirrored in her face. “My name is Mera, and I’m yours.”
“Wha…?” His voice cracked.
“Will you join me on a walk?”
“Anywhere. You’ll always find something beautiful in Sun Land.”
He nodded and averted his eyes, fighting a smile of his own.
“Will you join me to the bluffs?” she said, extending her hand to Tippy.
He didn’t care where they went. He took her hand, and a wave of warm tremors coursed through his arm and into his body. A flood of strength swept into him; he could feel it in his legs and arms. He bit his lip, pursed a grin and turned his face away to relish the fervor.
They silently walked through the grass and approached the edge of the forest, where a large bur oak, cracked near the base, had toppled over and was blocking their path. Its branches snaked in all directions and formed a mass of intersecting twigs. Mera led Tippy into the labyrinth. She released his hand to pull herself through, and immediately Tippy’s knees buckled, throwing him to the ground.
“Easy!” Mera said, extending her hand to help him up.
His strength returned when she grasped his hand. With a quick smile, she pulled him up, then released his hand before ducking into the branches. The weakness returned, but he anticipated it this time. He staggered, grabbed a nearby branch and regained stability.
His bones ached, but he distracted himself from the pain by watching how Mera twisted and ducked through the branches. They soon emerged into an open field; three giant bluffs loomed in the distance. Tippy ignored the scenery and immediately grabbed Mera’s hand, relieved to feel his strength return. She grinned, as if she knew her power on him.
They talked about simple pleasures–trees and the sounds of woodland life, the way the sun graces water and clouds, dusk and dreams and desires. Despite the numbness of their interlocked hands, they kept them joined as they approached the bluffs.
“Are you married?” she asked.
“Never even dated.”
She smiled and said nothing.
“Nothing, just surprised.”
“Really?” He leaned forward, searching her face for more information.
Their eyes met for a brief moment before she looked away, but it was enough for him to catch a curious glint in her eyes.
“I love this place,” he said, still looking at her.
“Doesn’t it just erase all the turmoil, all that’s wrong with life?”
Tippy said nothing as he watched an eagle soar alongside the face of the central bluff. A gust of wind wafted the scent of the sun-heated grass into their faces. “It’s perfect,” he said.
Once they came to the base of the central bluff, she led him along a small trail that wound around the backside before it traversed to the top. “Just wait ‘til you see the view from above,” she said, leading him through a thick patch of junipers that encroached into the trail. A branch caught her arm, then released and whipped towards Tippy’s face. He flinched and released her hand to shield his face, but the branch never hit. He peeked between his fingers and saw Pat Sajak’s head filling up a small TV screen–he was back on the couch and the Wheel of Fortune was on its final spin.
No! It was all a stupid dream! He turned the TV off, grabbed his empty bowl and went grumbling into the kitchen. Good dreams are the worst. He reached to turn the kitchen sink handle, but a knock at the front door interrupted him.
Puzzled, he returned to the living room and peeked out the window. It was Cru, his neighbor, illuminated by the exterior light. Although both bachelors with similar interests, he and Tippy seldom interacted; they had an unspoken rule of mutual avoidance.
Tippy opened the door. “Hey, Cru. What can I do for–”
“Tippy, we have little time. May I come in?”
Tippy frowned, then stepped aside to let Cru enter. He closed and locked the door while Cru paced in the living room.
“Get two glasses of water,” Cru said, pulling a bottle of pills from his pocket.
Reserving his questions, Tippy silently obeyed. He returned with the glasses of water and handed one to Cru, who was now sitting on the couch.
“I’ll explain everything at the forest,” Cru said, throwing the pills into his mouth.
Cru took a long draught of water and swallowed the pills. “It’s about Mera,” he said. “Take two.” He tossed the bottle to Tippy, then collapsed on the couch, unconscious.
How does he know about her? He popped the cap, placed two pills in his mouth and swallowed them with water. The world blurred faster than he anticipated, and he barely reached the nearby armchair before he drifted into sleep.
He awoke in the forest, sitting in the armchair. Cru and the couch were nowhere in sight. He stood up and surveyed the forest, but neither of them were in sight. He began to roam, and while approaching a large oak tree, the familiar figure in green leapt out from behind it.
“Hey, Tippy!” Mera said with her usual smile. “You’re back early.”
Tippy returned the smile. “Yeah, my neighbor gave me–”
Something whizzed from the left and struck her in the side. It was a wooden arrow with gray fletching. Without a sound, she swayed to the right and collapsed against a nearby oak. As her legs lost their strength, her hands ripped and scraped at the bark in a futile attempt to stay upright.
“No!” Tippy howled as he ran to her.
She slumped to the ground in a quiet moan, and after a slight twitch, laid motionless. Tippy crouched beside her and shook her. “Mera!”
Blood rushed to his head and his hands rattled. He stood up and pivoted with hands clenched. His gaze ripped through the forest for the attacker.
As if on cue, a man emerged from behind a thicket with a primitive bow in hand; it was Cru.
“You!” he said, propelling towards him.
Cru made no attempt to prepare for Tippy’s assault: his arms hung at his sides, his face relaxed.
Tippy lowered his head and lunged at him. Cru sidestepped, letting Tippy crash into the thicket.
“Tippy,” he said, holding out his hand. “The guys are waiting and don’t want to linger in Sun Land.”
Tippy scrambled to his feet, clenching his fist again.
Cru stepped back, nocked an arrow, pulled the bowstring and pointed the arrow at Tippy’s chest. “We have no time to delay, a half hour’s all we got.”
Tippy froze and stared at the arrowhead. “What?” he asked with flared nostrils.
“Mera. She’ll be awake in a half hour, and she won’t be happy.”
Tippy’s face loosened slightly, but he kept his fist tight. “She’s not dead?”
“Of course not. She’s immortal, like her father,” Cru said, lowering his bow and un-nocking the arrow. “His name is Kurr, and he’s our enemy.”
Continued in Part 2