I stood up and brushed sand from my legs, grimacing—as always, there was sand in my shoes and in my shorts as well. Not a pleasant sensation, let me assure you. I hopped out of the pit carefully, trying not to let any more sand in my shoes, and made my way over to my coach, who was with the official. She turned to me with a smile.
"Seventeen feet, five inches," she told me. "Nice job, Sky."
I forgot the sand in my shorts instantly. "Are you serious?" I demanded. If—if—she were serious, it would mean that I'd broken my record by a good seven inches.
Ms. Sanders laughed. "Yes, you monkey. Although you could have done even better if you'd landed on your feet instead of your butt. Even if Abbi doesn't get an amazing score, there's no way anyone can touch you guys. Provided you do decently in the pole vault, of course."
With a grin, I turned and headed over to the pole vault pit where Abbi was taking her run-through. From what I'd seen before, there was only one girl who could give Abbi any trouble but her partner sucked. Of course, I wasn't exactly the best pole vaulter that ever lived, either. The best long jumper, maybe...well, no, I'm just kidding. But it's hard to be humble when you've just flown seventeen feet and five inches.
Let me back up a little bit. My name is Skyla Conelly and I'm a junior at Carver Academy. My best friend (who also happened to be my cousin), Abigail Fairfax, and I were involved in all sorts of sports but track and field (just field, really—we despise running) was our life. We always did everything together. In fact, when people referred to us, they didn't even bother using our names separately. Somewhere around fifth grade we had become known as Skabbi. Incredibly odd, I know, but the name stuck.
On this day, this brutally hot, muggy, humid, nasty day that I was just telling you about, Abbi and I were at the county relays and we were kicking ass. We'd been a team ever since our freshman year and we were unbeatable in the high jump (that's our best event). However, I'm much better at the long jump and triple jump than Abbi is and she routinely kicks my butt at pole vaulting. We both have to do well in order to win.
I waited for Abbi to finish and tried not to fidget too much. What can I say? Sitting still when you've got sand in your shorts—obnoxiously short, clinging, tight shorts, I might add—is no mean feat. Plus, said shorts were giving me a wedgie.
Abbi finished and strolled over, scratching the back of her neck. "You look like you need to go to the loo," she commented, her light English accent barely noticeable. She'd come from a little town outside of Oxford to live with us after her parents died when we were eight.
"I've got sand in my shorts," I said. "But guess what? I just broke my PR by seven inches!"
Abbi groaned. "So that means I have to jump how far?"
"We'll be fine," I assured her. "As long as you don't do horribly."
"That's encouraging," she grumbled, rolling sea-green eyes and flicking a wisp of fine white blond hair out of her face. She's very slim, very pale and almost fragile, my cousin. But she's beautiful in that annoying, glamorous, ice-queen sort of way. She's the type of person that could walk through a mudslide and come out with hair and make up spotless. Me, I'm the type who's hair and make up gets messed up just walking to class. But I'm not bitter or anything, really. I swear.
"Oh, come on," I scoffed, poking her arm. "You're not that bad at the long jump."
"You should take your run-through now," she told me, glancing back at the pit.
"Not just yet," I said uncomfortably. "I actually do need to go to the bathroom."
"There is no bathroom."
"I said, 'there is no bathroom'," Abbi said impatiently. "Honestly, Sky--"
"I heard what you said," I replied irritably. "But I really have to go."
"We could go in the woods," she suggested, even though she knew how much I hated doing that. Actually, that's probably why she suggested it.
I made a face. I really, really had to pee and I was going to go crazy if I didn't get the freaking sand out of my shorts.
"Oh, fine," I said grumpily. "Come on, I have tissues in my backpack."
"What was that?"
"I thought so."
"Hey! Skabbi, where are you going?" Ms. Sanders called after us.
"To pee," I called back, not particularly caring who heard.
We hopped the fence and made our way through the woods until the track was out of sight. Even then, I kept going.
"Sky, no one can see here."
"You most certainly are," Abbi replied with a sniff.
After a few minutes of walking, I found a likely looking place surrounded by boulders. Abbi shook her head and turned to walk back out.
"Make sure no one comes in here," I warned her.
"I wouldn't dream of it."
I finished my business and came out of the circle of stones to find Abbi staring around with a very suspicious, very worried look on her face.
"You know, you don't have to take guard duty quite that seriously," I told her.
"I'm not," she snapped.
"Whoa," I said, taken aback. "What's wrong?"
"Look around," she replied. "These aren't the same woods."
"What do you mean?" I asked with a frown. "Of course they're the same—oh. They aren't, are they?"
She was right. These woods were darker and the trees were much bigger and almost menacing. I noticed that the day was considerably cooler as well. In fact, it was downright chilly. This didn't make any sense.
"Should we try going into the stone circle again?" I suggested.
Abbi shook her head. "Look behind you."
I did as she suggested and felt my jaw drop open. The stone circle was gone.
"Well, that's not good."
Abbi slanted me a glance. "To say the least."
"So...what should we do?"
"I'm not sure," she admitted, looking worried. Abbi hates not knowing what to do. Almost as much as I hate peeing in the woods.
"Let's try walking back toward the track," I said tentatively, knowing how lame it sounded. Abbi scowled and looked at me like I was crazy. "Well, it's not as if we have anything better to do," I said defensively.
Abbi considered, then sighed. "I guess you're right."
"We walk," my cousin agreed.
A few minutes passed.
"I suppose we should start walking, shouldn't we?" Abbi said with a nervous giggle.
"I guess so," I replied, smiling shakily.
So we walked. And walked. And just for a little change of pace, we walked some more. After a while, I began to get thirsty. Luckily, I remembered that I had my water bottle in my bag. Unluckily, it was empty.
"Damn," I muttered.
"What's wrong? Besides the obvious," Abbi added as an after thought.
"My water bottle's empty," I said with a sigh.
Suddenly Abbi stopped and smacked her head. "Sky, is your cell phone in your bag?"
"Oh, duh!" I quickly reached into my backpack and pulled out my phone. When I flipped it open, however, my face fell. "No signal."
"Rats," Abbi said, sitting down. "This sucks."
"Sucks big sweaty monkey balls," I agreed.
"That's disgusting," Abbi said, squinching her eyes closed.
"But appropriate," I said with a shrug. Settling myself beside her, I glanced at the sky. "It's getting dark."
"And cold," Abbi replied, hugging herself.
"D'you think we should stop?" I asked uncertainly.
"Yeah...I suppose so," she said. "Let's have a look at what you have in your bag before it gets too dark to see."
I opened my bag and started taking things out one by one. "Okay...warm-ups, flute, piccolo, chemistry book, notebook, toothbrush--"
"Why do you have a toothbrush?" Abbi asked curiously.
"Didn't have time this morning," I answered, and continued my inventory. "Calculator, pens, pencil, stupid cell phone that doesn't work...ooh, look, I didn't eat all of my lunch today."
"What's left?" Abbi asked eagerly.
"A pear, half a sandwich, and a brownie," I said, laying out our little feast. We split everything and then sat there, not sure what to do. Suddenly something fell out of my bag with a small clink. I picked it up and then grinned excitedly.
"What is that?" Abbi demanded, snatching it out of my hand. "Skyla Connelly, why do you have a lighter in your backpack?"
I could feel myself blushing. "I stole it from Danny so he wouldn't be able to smoke."
Abbi looked blankly at me for a moment, then grinned. "I knew it! You do have a crush on him!"
"I do not," I retorted indignantly. "I just think it's disgusting that he smokes. No one should, least of all an athlete. Especially the best athlete in the school."
Abbi smirked knowingly. "Yeah, alright, you don't have a crush on 'the best athlete in the school'."
"Damn you," I muttered. "Let's just make a fire, okay?"
"Alright," Abbi agreed, still smirking, and helped me gather fire wood.
"I don't have a crush on him, you know."
"He's just a good athlete, that's all."
"It's not as if he'd ever look at me, anyway."
I stopped and glared at her. "You're supposed to disagree. To that part at least."
"Danny goes for blond and ditzy," Abbi retorted. "And anyway, he's dating a freshman. A cheerleader, I think."
"That won't last," I muttered mutinously. "And I'm blond.
"You're not ditzy," Abbie pointed out. "Moronic at times, but not ditzy. And your hair has red highlights."
"Thanks," I said sardonically, and dumped my load of firewood inside the small circle of rocks. "D'you think it'll work?"
"I don't know," Abbi said. "Here, give me the lighter."
I handed it over and snickered as she tried to get it to work. When it finally lit, she held it under a branch and waited for it to light. It didn't.
"The woods all wet."
"No, it's not..." she felt it again. "Bloody hell."
"I agree wholeheartedly," I said with a sigh. I hadn't even noticed while we were discussing my lack of a crush on Danny.
"So what do we do now?" She demanded, glaring at the offending pile of wood.
"Um, sleep?" I yawned, and shivered.
I tossed my warm up pants to Abbi and pulled on the top. Without speaking, we lay down next to each other and closed our eyes. After about an hour I rolled onto my back with a sigh.
"Abbi, you awake?" I whispered.
I hesitated and then asked the question we had been avoiding all day. "Where are we?"
"I've no idea."
Abbi sat up and looked down at me. "Look, I don't know. There's no way we can know. Nothing makes sense anymore." I opened my mouth again. Something was moving around in the forest. "And, before you ask, I don't know what to do."
"I was not going to ask what to do, Miss Priss," I snapped. "Something's out there."
Abbi blinked. "What?"
"Something," I whispered slowly. "Is moving around nearby. Listen."
"Should we run?" she whispered back.
"Not yet," I replied softly. "We don't know what it is. It might not even know we're here."
We waited in tense silence for a few minutes as the sounds came closer. It was coming from the same direction we had come from. I picked up my backpack and carefully pulled it on. Soon I could make out a shape in the trees. It seemed to be shaped like a human, but something told me it wasn't human at all.
Suddenly it stopped and I could tell it had noticed us. We stood stock still, staring at each other for a couple of seconds, and then it moved. Instantly Abbi and I turned and fled. Abbi was way ahead of me because the backpack was slowing me down. Without stopping, I swung it off my back. Looking over my shoulder, I chucked it as hard as I could at the—thing—that was following us. I heard a satisfying thump and an inhuman squeal as I sprinted ahead, ignoring the branches and twigs slapping my face and thighs.
Within seconds I overtook Abbi and plunged ahead. She would catch me soon enough. What I didn't realize, however, was that the monster had recovered and was right on our tail. At Abbi's cry of fear and pain, I skidded to a stop and spun around to see the monster crouching over her with a cruel looking knife.
"No!" I cried, and moved forward.
The thing bared nasty looking teeth at me and glared out of sickly yellow eyes. With an awful laugh, it brought the knife down and silenced Abbi's cries. I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. I fell against the tree and clung there, paralyzed, and watched in horrified fascination as the thing proceeded to rip my cousin apart with its bare hands and eat her—eat her. When it was finished, it looked up and smiled, blood running freely down it's chin. I could see the gleam of it in the moonlight. With a moan of fear, I pushed myself off the tree and ran faster than I ever had in my life.
I came to a fallen log and hurtled over it effortlessly. Soon after, a stream came into view. Later, I would think about it and realize that it was well over seventeen feet, but right then I didn't even notice. Without breaking my stride, I flew over the stream and slid a few feet in the muck and shallow water on the other side. Frantically I scrambled to my feet and kept running until suddenly I was out of the woods and in the middle of a battle.
All around me there were more of the hideous creatures and horses and fire and swords clashing and arrows flying and people and monsters screaming. Ducking low, I narrowly missed having my head kicked off by a rearing horse. I threw myself sideways and screamed as one of the monsters knocked me down and started tearing at my clothes. Instinctively I clawed at his eyes. It grunted and jerked back briefly, but only to deal me a vicious backhanded blow to face. The force of it stunned me; I almost didn't notice that the monster suddenly didn't have a head.
I found myself being hauled into a saddle by a very rough, very strong hand. Too frightened and bewildered to do anything else, I clung to my rescuer's armor as he continued hacking and chopping at the vile, wrinkled creatures and was intensely grateful for his strong arm around my waist. The horse reared, plunged sideways, wheeled around—it was like some hellish circus ride.
When it was finally over, I realized that tears were streaming down my face and I was shaking uncontrollably. We rode a little ways off, away from the carnage, and stopped. The man dismounted and caught me as I slid bonelessly off the horse. He sat me down and asked me something in a strange language. I shook my head and tried to speak but no sound came out. He repeated himself, sounding cross.
"I—I don't understand," I finally managed. "I'm sorry."
"Forgive me," he said softly. "I mistook you for a Rohirrim."
He frowned at me. "A Rohirrim, lady. A child of Rohan."
I shook my head. "I don't understand. Where am I?"
"In Rohan," he said impatiently. "How is it you came from Fangorn Forest?"
"But—I came from Willow Brook—in Connecticut..."
My lip began to tremble as I noticed the crowd of rough looking soldiers watching curiously. "I don't know how I got here—my cousin and I were at a track meet and we went into the woods to go to the bathroom and when we came out of the stone circle we were in a weird forest and it was cold and the stone circle was gone and this thing attacked us and—and it ate her—it ate her--"
The man seemed to realize that I was on the verge of hysterics because he laid a calming hand on my shoulder and snapped out a few orders in his strange tongue. Instantly the soldiers disappeared. My knight in not-very-shining armor lit a fire and draped a blanket around my shoulders. I huddled there and stared into the fire as he removed his armor and sat down next to me to clean his sword. All I could see was my cousin's mutilated body and the disgusting thing crouching over her with her blood running from its mouth.
"Have you a name, lady?"
The question startled me out of my morbid thoughts. In the firelight I could finally see who my rescuer was. And despite everything, I distinctly heard a tiny voice in my head say, screw Danny. He had shaggy, wild blond hair, strong—good looking—features and a stubborn jaw partially obscured by a trimmed beard. Everything about him seemed to radiate strength. I realized that my mouth was hanging open and quickly shut it.
"Skyla," I said softly. "Skyla Connelly."
"A strange name," he said with a frown.
"What of you?" I retorted. "Do you have a name or shall I call you Galahad?"
He glanced up at me, clearly confused. "I am Eomer, son of Eomund, Third Marshall of the Riddermark."
"Oh." Well, that certainly sounded important. "Nice to meet you."
Eomer, son of Eomund's mouth twitched. "It is 'nice to meet you' also, Skyla Connelly."
"Oh...you can call me Sky, if you want," I muttered. "Everyone else does."
"It would be my pleasure, Lady Sky," he replied with a smile. "Your name suits you."
I smiled tentatively back. "Abbi always says--" With a twist of pain, I remembered that Abbi was no longer able to say anything. "Abbi always said that my mother must have named me for my eyes."
"I am sorry for the loss of your kin," Eomer said gently. "It is never easy. In the morning, we can set about finding someone to take you home so you may share your grief with your family. Where is Willow Brook? In Gondor?"
Biting my lip, I replied, "Connecticut. I—I don't think going home is possible. Unless you know where the stone circle is. We came through one to this—this world. When we got here, it was gone."
"You weave me a tale, lady," Eomer said with a frown.
"Why would I lie?" I demanded, my voice shaking. "Given recent events, don't you think I'd be happy to go home? A few hours ago, my cousin and I were about to win the county relays. Now she's dead and I'm completely alone in a strange place were there are monsters and knights in grubby armor and it's freaking freezing!"
After I finished ranting, I scowled at the fire and pulled the blanket tightly around myself. Eomer seemed taken aback by my outburst, to say the least. But he recovered quickly.
"What did you say you were about to win?"
"A big track meet," I said grumpily.
I sighed and rubbed my face. "It's a sport. A competition."
"Something like that, yeah," I said. "There are several races—some for speed and some for endurance—and jumping events and throwing events."
"Jumping—on horses?" Maybe he was asking merely to distract me, but he also seemed genuinely interested.
"No—though we have that, too, at my school—I mean the high jump and long jump and the pole vault. Oh, and hurtles and the triple jump."
"I don't understand," Eomer said, brow furrowed.
I was warming up to the subject and didn't pay attention as several soldiers sat around the fire. "For the high jump, you need to jump over a bar and--"
"How high?" one of the soldiers interjected curiously.
"That depends," I said with a small smile, "on how good you are."
"How high can you jump?" another asked as they all laughed.
I rose to my incredibly impressive height of five feet, five inches (okay, fine—four and half inches). "I can clear my own height by more than an inch on a good day. A really good day."
"Impossible," a grisled old soldier said flatly.
"I can show you, if you like," I snapped, then added ruefully, "although today is definitely not a good day."
The men laughed again and I felt a little better.
"When you are better, you can show us," Eomer said with a grin. "But tell us more...what of the others?"
"The long jump is very simple—you run and jump as far as you can and land in a pit of sand."
"What is the purpose of all this?" the first soldier asked scornfully.
"To strengthen the body," I replied with a shrug. "And...it saved my life tonight. It would have taken me ages to get across the stream if I hadn't jumped over it."
"These are strange times," the old soldier muttered.
"Yeah," I agreed with a yawn, and suddenly realized how exhausted I was. "You killed all the monsters, right?"
Eomer laughed softly. "Yes, all the orcs are slain. Sleep, Lady Sky. You needn't fear any longer."
I hesitated and then curled up with my back to the fire. "Thank you."
I could hear the smile in his voice as Eomer quietly replied, "Sleep well, small one."
I smiled and fell asleep.
A/N: please, please, please review...pretty please? Not that I'm desperate or anything, I swear...seriously, though. reviews, good or bad are appreciated. And the story's basically finished, so I can update as soon as I have reviews.