- Chapter One -

(In which our intrepid heroine gets flung face-first into Middle Earth and nearly drowns.)

It wasn't my fault.

No, really, it wasn't. If anyone wants to start slinging some blame around, it really should land on Brian, my little brother's bratty friend. To be fair to my little brother, Brian wasn'treally a friend; more like a casual acquaintance, or – in more specific terms – a kid who followed my brother around incessantly. Luke, my little brother, didn't find him half as annoying as I did, but he still found him pretty irritating. Then again, Luke didn't have to put up with Brian breaking into my room to steal my diary and torture me by reading it aloud in a sing-song voice. I had to put up with that.

It was a rather sticky midsummer day, the kind of day that makes you feel like your skin will boil away completely, and unfortunately this is pretty common down in Texas. I was draped over the front railing of our house, my hair piled on top of my head in order to get it off my sweaty neck, and admittedly I didn't look my best. I was wearing a tank top tied firmly above my ribcage, and the only reason I didn't dispense with clothes entirely and run around buck naked was because I didn't want to give my brothers an early education. If you tilted your head just right, you could imagine that there was a breeze stirring in the pine trees to my left, but I was feeling too hot to move and go over to the shade.

My alarm bells started going off in my sweaty head when everything went very quiet.

Now, this is a cattle ranch. Cows, hay, chickens, beef patties, the works. When things go quiet, that's a pretty bad sign, since there's almost always some chicken running away from a fight, or a cow with her head stuck somewhere, or my little brothers screaming about a rattle snake. Eventually, I marshaled my muscles into action and slouched off the porch, searching for one or all of my little brothers. There were four of them – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If that sounds familiar, congratulations, you're a Baptist too.

"Boys!" I called out when I was about five steps away from the porch. Our dog, Bowser, poked his head sleepily out from beneath the porch. See, even our mutt was hot. He was risking the family of skunks who lived under there in order to get out of the sun. "Boys, ya'll ready for lunch?"

"Prissy!" a familiar voice whined, and I turned around. "Hey, Prissy, wanna come check this out?"

It was Brian, the little snot bubble. I felt my nails dig into my palms. "What do you want, Brian?"

"Ooh, Prissy's naked," Brian cooed, tossing his stupid brown hair out of his face. I took a threatening step towards him and he shot off like a startled rabbit.

"Come back here, you little brat," I seethed, and hurried after him. Okay, maybe I didn't hurry hurry. It was a hundred freaking degrees out there, what did you want me to do? Sprint?

He ran off, surprisingly agile in the tall grass, and skirted the fence which kept our cows in the pastures and not on our front porch. Brian was following the little trail my father had blazed one summer – it led down to the creek, and it was a pretty good distance away from our house. Once I got going, I started sweating even more than I already was, and I stopped, boneless and tired, once I reached the path. I trotted downhill after Brian, and only started running again once I reached the shady pine trees which followed our creek. "Brian?" I called out. "Brian, where are you?"

There was no answer. And it was still pretty quiet out, even for summer. The cicadas had stopped their unearthly buzz, and somehow that made it seem cooler.

"C'mere, check this out!"

It was Brian. He was hanging over an old well that my father had boarded up, since it had been dry since about the Stone Age. Brian, in his infinite weasel wisdom, had ripped the rotting boards off and was half submerged in the huge open hole.

"Get away from there!" I shouted, and snatched a handful of his shirt, hauling him backwards. "You wanna fall down that hole and die?"

He jerked away from me and put his tongue out. "I wouldn't die."

My hand flashed out and whacked him on the side of the head. "Don't sass me," I snapped. "You go along home, you understand? And if I ever see you near this well again, I'll tell your mama. Mrs. Lorenz'll whip you, and you know it."

Brian looked up at me with mutiny in his eyes. "I hate you!" He spat. "All you do is nag, nag, nag. Go ahead and tell my mom, I don't care!"

I made as if to grab him and he ducked away, splashing into the creek. "Go home," I warned. "Or I'll pitch you into the stud pen and let Rambo gore you." Rambo was our stud bull, an old gray bull who loved nose rubs, cows, and absolutely hated it when anyone went into his pen. He'd go crazy if you tried to clean his pen without putting him out to graze first, and had broken two of my father's ribs last year when my father tried to do just that.

"Shut up, retard," He huffed under his breath, and turned to go.

I should have paid more attention to that murderous look in his eyes. As I turned around to start picking up the rotten boards and piling them back on top of the well, he rushed me.

Brian was a mean little kid, but he wasn't a murderer. I don't think he meant to shove me down the well. But he did, since I was too tired and too hot to register what was happening before I was falling face first into the well. I heard his panicked shout, calling, "Prissy! Priscilla, are you okay?" And there was a roaring in my ears, like the wind rushing past, and that was just about when I started screaming.

I kept screaming, and kept falling. And falling and screaming. Pretty soon my breath ran out and I really began to panic, since any second now I could smash into the bottom of the well and liquidize every bone in my body. I held my arms out in front of me, as if that would somehow help when I landed, and squeezed my eyes tightly shut. A few incoherent prayers, curse words, and jumbled phrases ran through my mind all at once – every nerve ending in my body was on fire with adrenaline and fear. In a split second, I would hit the bottom and die. I hoped it wouldn't be painful.

But that split second passed, and so did a dozen more, until my fearfully paralyzed body began to loosen a little, and I cracked my eyes open. There was a speck of light, way down in the distance, and I wondered if I was impossibly falling up. The speck of light turned into a twinkle, then a glimmer, then a steady circle of bright light that was rapidly widening until I had punched straight through it, gravity yanking me relentlessly downwards.

When I started seeing clouds, my breath conveniently came back to me, and I started the whole screaming/praying/cursing thing all over again.

I started getting soaked, because the clouds around me weren't small fluffy things, they were dark and full of water. Not to mention it was absolutely freezing, and I saw my arms and legs starting to turn blue. I tried to move away from the inevitable ground, as stupid as it sounds, but all I succeeded in doing was scudding through the air and rolling upside down. Now that I could see where I had fallen, I saw a small black dot blink out of existence. I had fallen down the well and into the sky.

Now that I think about that, it sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?

Because I was busy screaming, praying, and swearing like a truck driver – not to mention I was on my back – I didn't see the approaching river. But I sure felt it, and it felt like I had been dropped onto concrete. From that height, I should have spontaneously flattened against the surface of the river, thin as a pancake, and then slowly disintegrated. All it did was knock the breath out of me hard, and I must have plunged easily thirty feet into the water. Everything was numb, but I felt a dull throbbing pain filling every inch of my body like helium.

I was so dazed and panicked I didn't even notice there wasn't a current. But my body realized that I needed air, and I started clawing reflexively through the water in search of it. Big silvery bubbles flew from my mouth, and I frantically chased them towards the surface. Big black patches started appearing in my vision, and I knew that if I didn't get some air in my lungs right this second, I would die. Just as everything flickered out, I split the water and started slapping around like a maniac, sucking in huge breaths half full of water.

Naturally, my lungs contained at least a third of water, and I started coughing like my ancient aunt after a cigarette. Even though there wasn't a current, the waves were choppy due to the wind, and my limbs felt like they had been dipped in gold. Of course, the water was absolutely frigid, but because I was already so cold from falling, I barely noticed this small fact.

I panned around in the water, still coughing, blinking water out of my eyes and still sort of sobbing. I must have wheeled around three times before my brain registered that the shore was at least a hundred yards away, and that I appeared to be in a medium sized lake. Of course, a hundred yards away might as well have been three miles, since I was still crying and being a little bit of a baby at that moment. But hey, you get dropped down a well and land in a huge lake and I'll see how you react.

My legs were treading water, obviously on autopilot because I couldn't seem to move them very well, but I was getting tired fast. Not to mention I was sluggish with cold, and I was positive my lips were blue. Gradually, I regained control of my legs and noticed there was a miniscule island to my left, not far away. It was one of those little patches of land that kept trying to grow grass but failed; as far as I was concerned, it was manna from heaven. I crawled on top of it and flopped gracelessly, catching my breath and shivering hard.

I squinted up at the sky, and noticed that the clouds I had fallen through were swollen with water. Down in Texas, we would've said that a downpour was coming. In the distance, I could see the flickers of lightning rapidly approaching.

Just great. I'm dripping wet when there's a lightning storm coming.

My inner snark hadn't faded at all, and I wrung my orange hair out with shaking hands. I slapped my thighs hard to get some life back into them, and then dried my eyes as best I could. I had to swim to shore. There was a storm coming. Sure, I had fallen into somewhere, and I was most likely dead at the bottom of a well in real life, but I sure as hell wasn't gonna be killed twice in one day.

Priorities, people.

Constructive criticism is vastly appreciated. Any errors, typos, mistakes, or other lapses in logic should be pointed out so I can fix them. Review and be recognized!



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