Chapter 3

As I hauled my heavy, muscular body between two of the towering Norwegian spruce trees that bordered the clearing, the intense, broad daylight immediately gave way to the pitch black of a dense forest cluster. I struggled to detect even the slightest vestige of the midday sun, which could have blinded me a minute previously; now, its rays were unable to penetrate the blanket cast over me by the ancient, gnarled trees. I stepped forward gingerly in order to negotiate my way through this dim, murky cluster of vegetation; although I had passed through here many times before, it always took a few minutes for my eyes to become fully accustomed to the gloomy surroundings.

Confident that my path ahead was clear, I swung my leg forwards, only to strike a freshly fallen log. This sent the rest of my body hurtling forwards, finally planting itself head-first into a pool of damp, muddy sludge.

"Ow! Help!" I screamed. Unfortunately, nobody heard my calls...or, more probably, they ignored my cries for assistance, as they wouldn't dare risk losing their way in the woods, or worse...

Eventually, I used my arms to heave my head free, and began to clean the worst of the mud from my face. I also removed my sunglasses, as they would be of no use to me here; unfortunately, as I wiped them clean, I discovered that both lenses had been fractured when I fell. I shed a tear; they had meant more to me than merely a means to look like a rock star and attract girls in the process. I had purchased them as a souvenir while on holiday in Mallorca three years ago, which had been the greatest week of my life so far. Wearing them brought back happy memories of the hours I had spent bathing, the many tequilas I had drunk in the bar, the girls I had got to know...I wouldn't have exchanged that experience for anything. Today, however, it felt like a distant dream, many worlds away from the seclusion and torment that I had suffered in the forest.

Finally, a ray of dim, blue light illuminated my exit. I strode towards it, leaving behind the dingy woodlands that had already claimed one of my most treasured possessions, and instead finding myself in a quiet, peaceful cavern that had been carved into a rock face after many centuries of erosion by a nearby stream, which trickled right past my feet. At the centre of this cavern was a geodesic, almost unearthly structure about the size of my house, which resembled a sphere constructed out of sixty panels of diamond. It shone a dazzling, tinted shade of Majorelle blue, illuminated by many tiny, flickering specks scattered evenly across the roof of the cavern. Seemingly aware of my presence, one of the panels shattered before my eyes, briefly disturbing the tranquility of the scene as they splashed into the river, creating many thousands of ripples on the surface in the process. This provided me with a passage into the dome, although, before I could enter, I somehow had to traverse the stream. I was unable to wade through, as the stream played host to many schools of Carvahnas, several of whom surfaced just as the rippling began to dissipate.

"Hey, Mudface!" one of them sneered in their language. I simply ignored this snide remark; they have an habit of chastising and heckling anyone who passes by. In order to allow me across the stream, I would have to sacrifice something to them. Sometimes it was my lunch, other times it was some money, but today, I would reveal one of my secrets to the world.

"Come on, what are you giving us today? We're waiting!"

"I'm going to tell you a secret."

"Oooh, a secret...sounds fun. Does Dirtyhead still wet the bed?"

"No, you fools! I stopped doing that five years ago." I knelt down beside the stream, whispering as quietly as would be audible, "I'm here to cheat on my girlfriend."

"Tsk tsk. You may enter, naughty boy!"

At that point, the calmness and serenity of the water slowly cascading its way across the cave was interrupted by the characteristic hissing and whirring of industrial machinery, accompanied by a series of weathered, weed-ridden blocks of limestone forcing themselves up from the depths and through the surface of the water, one by one. After half a minute or so, the mechanical humming ceased abruptly as the final stepping stone clicked into place, creating a clear passage to my destination. Not wanting to cause any further damage to myself or any more of my treasured property, I stepped from stone to stone apprehensively, with the utmost care and precision. Fortunately, this time I was able to do so without incident, and enter the dome safely.

On entering, I was immediately dazzled by a blinding blue light that illuminated the entire room, and therefore almost failed to notice the presence of its owner.

"Hi, Iggy! Oh...what's happened to you here...look at the state of you!" she exclaimed, in her distinctive soft, slightly Scottish accent. She was a fairly tall young woman, around the same age as Ruxy, although she looked several years younger. Her skin was unusually pale, and as soft and smooth as silk, while her long, yet perfectly straight blonde hair streamed down her neck and over her shoulders, reminiscent of the mane of a palomino. Her beautiful green eyes shone and twinkled like the many facets of brilliant-cut emeralds, while her lips glimmered in a captivating, lustred ruby red.

"Hey, Crystal. I tripped up on a log and planted my face in the mud."

"You're always doing that, silly!" She giggled lightly under her breath. "Come in here - I'll sort you out."

Crystal walked me over to a large, metallic pod, reminiscent of an alien spaceship from one of the many sci-fi films I liked to watch. Initially, I had assumed that this her shower; however, it was in fact a far more sophisticated contraption, as Crystal demonstrated after she had ensured that the heavy, iron-clad door was firmly bolted shut.

"I need a bath!" she shouted. Immediately, all of the objects in the room vanished into thin air; a few seconds later, everything I would need suddenly materialised in the middle of the room. The main feature was an immaculate pearl bathtub filled with steaming hot water; additionally, I was provided with luxuries such as a smooth, silky towel, a seemingly unlimited supply of bubble bath and shampoo, and even a squeaky toy Psyduck. I never grew too old for those!

"Nice one, Crystal! I haven't had a bath in years. It's kinda difficult to make a good bath out of wood, though..."

"Oh, you are silly! Then again, I was ridiculed when I tried to make a shower out of glass..."

"Actually, I tried to make one of those out of wood, but-"

Suddenly, what felt like a ton of bricks came crashing down onto my head, causing me to lose my balance and smash my head against the side of the bathtub. A few seconds later, I realised that this was the fist of a livid, infuriated Crystal.

"Seriously, Iggy, you need to drop this wood crap! It's getting very annoying," she roared.

" carving!" I felt very offended by her reaction; I'd been working with wood for my entire life. "It's my pride and joy...after you, of course..."

"Yeah, I know. There's no need to be obsessed with it, though!"

"But you're obsessed with glass! You even made a hammer out of it, remember?"

"I STOPPED THAT, because I realised how retarded it was!" She was becoming very angry with me now; her face had gone ruby-red with sheer rage. "In fact, if you don't stop right now, I won't have sex with you!"

"Fine, then." A tear began to trickle down my cheek as a began to ponder. Yes, she was one of the most beautiful young ladies I had ever met, and yes, cheating on Ruxy with her was always immensely enjoyable, but carving objects out of my wood was my passion, and in irreplaceable part of my life, which she was expecting me to give up. Was she worth it?

After a brief moment's consideration, I decided she was; how could I possibly pass up someone like this? "Fine...I'm giving up carving," I lied unconvincingly. Miraculously, she seemed to believe me.

"That's good to hear. I'm sorry I was so harsh to you: I was getting rankled, and I hope you'll forgive me. Now, you'd best get in the bath before it gets too cold!"

"Oh, yeah, I'd completely forgotten about that!" I quickly removed my clothes and lowered myself into the still steaming hot bath, brimming with pearly white bubbles. Aah...I always relished this experience every time! It always reminded me of bathing in the geysers at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile four years ago...and, of course, of the attractive girls I met while I was there. As I sat back and relaxed, Crystal ran her soft, silky hands all over my body, cleaning every speck of dirt of it using her most luxurious, high-quality natural soap. I was having the time of my God, I felt spoilt!

After this arousing, stimulating massage had gone on for half an hour, Crystal decided I was clean enough to come out. My body was spotless: it was now impossible to tell that I had faceplanted in the middle of a wood less than an hour before! After Crystal treated me to her finest wool towel, I knew it was time to do what I had originally come here to do.

"Wanna mess around, Crystal ;) ?" I winked.

"Of course! You look so sexy like this, Iggy..." Crystal's eyes shone at me like two brilliant, glittering diamonds; she couldn't help but stare as my body as she removed her clothes. I felt a tingling sensation in my body as she removed her bra...they were huge!

"So do you, Crystal..." I slowly walked towards her, shuddering with every step due to sheer excitement. When I finally reached her, I wrapped my arms around her waist as tightly as I could, and squeezed her soft, sleek body against my own. In an absent-minded moment, I said soothingly, "Wow...this is just like hugging a tree..."

Crystal immediately punched me right between my eyes and wriggled free of my grip. "YOU DUMBASS! I SAID YOU WERE TO DROP THIS IDIOTIC OBSESSION WITH ALL THINGS WOODEN! NOW, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE. YOU'RE NOT COMING BACK FOR THREE DAYS!" I was shocked and dejected, but I could see that she was so aggravated that there would be no point in arguing back at her. I hastily grabbed my clothes and stormed out of the house, trying desperately to hold back my tears and very nearly slipping into the moat as I crossed the limestone blocks. When I reached the river bank, I cried my heart out and allowed my tears to flood into the river as I slipped my clothes back on. This, of course, elicited an unsympathetic response from the first Carvahna to appear.

"Aww...poor ickle Iggy is crying like a baby!"

"JUST SHUT UP!" I begged. "I'm really not in the mood for this, OK?"

"You're not in the mood...what a shame, what a shame!"

"THAT IS IT!" I screamed as I put my shirt on, fastening only one of the buttons. "TAKE THIS, BASTARDS!" I hurled a heavy rock at the offending Carvanha and quickly abandoned the forest, since it contained nothing of any worth to me. As the sky began to turn from blue to red at the end of a long day, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be meeting Ruxy at Pippi's Pizzeria in ten minutes. This raised my spirits significantly; at last, someone who cared about me!

I strolled back through the park, into the setting sun.