On the morning that my adventure began, I found myself dozing on my bed. I had already dressed and drawn the curtains, allowing a golden blanket of sunlight to bathe me as I stirred. Summer sounds greeted my waking senses; rustling, flapping and chirruping floated in through the open window. The combined scent of flowers in bloom mingled with fresh grass cuttings and barbecue smoke; wafting in on each fresh current of air.
I rose from from my bed and drifted to the window, savouring the delicious sensory awakening. As I gazed upon the dazzling blue sky that stretched and shimmered into bold green woods, I became aware of a new sound. A sort of rising and falling wave noise with a varying cadence; voices. They seemed to emanate from my kitchen. Cocking my head, I backed away from the window and headed into the chill, dark, heart of the building. My ears felt a vacuum descend upon them as I padded down the stairs, the rush of blood to my head blocking all sound as my body succumbed to panic instinct. I recovered a little of my composure as I passed through the dining room, giving myself a pep-talk as I neared the kitchen door.
‘This is absurd, it’ll just be farmworkers on the lane. Nothing to worry about,’ I thought.
I saw nothing through the frosted glass that suggested anything out of the ordinary beyond, so I entered the kitchen. The moment that I did, a dozen or more pairs of eyes swivelled from varying heights to receive my presence. A sheet of ice rippled down my muscles from the base of my skull, leaving me weak and breathless. I sat down on the floor, my legs giving way before I could make it to a chair.
“Well, do sit down,” came the voice of a badger.
‘Yes. A badger. A badger just spoke to you,’ I thought.
“Well, no need to introduce yourself,” said the badger.
“B-b-but, this is my house… who are you?” I blurted.
I allowed my eyes to leave the badger for a moment to take in the other visitors: a red squirrel, a wild rabbit, a hare, a foal, a sheep, two mice, a pretty blue bird, a calf, three black cats and a goat blinked at me in a way that told me they also possessed the ability to talk.
“Oh so you do speak, how splendid. So dear, of whom am I delighted to make the acquaintance on this fine summer morning?” continued the badger.
As I opened my mouth to respond, what I had thought to be the foal shifted position, a tiny protrusion between its nostrils glinted as sunlight caught it, I gasped.
“You’re a baby unicorn,” I breathed.
With a mouth far more pliable than seemed possible, the unicorn smiled and giggled.
“What a queer young lady you are. I believe I asked you a question dear, to whom am I speaking?”
“My name’s Abigail, and to whom am I speaking?”
“Delighted to meet you.”
The badger lumbered towards me, hoisting himself onto his hind legs and offering me a paw adorned with five pointed claws. I took it in my hand, then, with a careful and dextrous movement he took my fingers to his mouth and kissed them.
“You are speaking to Alfred, King of the woods, General of the Wooded Army, and your humble servant madam.”
Alfred let go of my hand and lowered himself to the floor, bowing his head. As he did so the other creatures imitated him.
“Pleased to meet you Alfred, although I must admit, I’m a little curious about why you’re here… um, is there something I can help you with?”
Alfred raised his head, the menagerie behind him raising theirs a fraction of a second later.
“We have come to ask your assistance, the gods have directed us here to ask you to fight for our cause.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Gods? What cause?”
“Of course, you are full of questions. Let me try to explain. The world we live in, you and I that is, for we do live in the same world, is more similar to an onion than perhaps you have ever imagined.”
The young unicorn sniggered, Alfred ignored him.
He continued, “It is based upon layers, I have come to your layer in the hope that you will accompany me back to ours to help us vanquish the black army that threatens my people and, unbeknown to your kind, your entire layer and all of its inhabitants.”
I blinked several times and fought the urge to laugh. Alfred’s sincere expression, coupled with his absurd explanation left me speechless. I tried question after question on my tongue but nothing seemed to fit. Alfred frowned.
“You are more tongue-tied than I anticipated.”
“It’s just, what on earth sent you to me?”
“Why? That you should ask ‘why’, indeed…” Alfred shook his head. “Are you not shocked when you see our corpses lying beside the road? Do you not grieve a little each time you pass one of our mangled bodies on the track?”
Remembering the jolt to my heart each time I come upon a dead creature, I nodded.
“Then I cannot see why you ask such a question.”
Alfred’s response seemed so fantastical to me that once again, I found myself speechless. The badger leaned towards me.
“I am sorry to press you Abigail, but I must have an answer; will you or will you not assist us?”
For the first time since sitting down I felt the cold of the kitchen tiles beneath my buttocks, the physical sensation seemed to bring some function back to my brain. I considered my position; I sat on the floor of my kitchen with several species of animal, having a conversation with a badger called Alfred. Either I was dreaming, or I had gone crazy. In either case, I felt a strong desire to help Alfred and his kingdom. So, without another thought, I offered my hand to the badger who placed his paw on my fingers.
“Alfred, it would be my honour to assist you.”
Once again the badger bowed his head and his entourage followed suit.
“A thousand, thousand thanks. You cannot imagine the gift that you give us,” Alfred raised his head and kissed my hand again, “I am sorry to rush you in your moment of kindness, but we must depart for our layer immediately.”
Alfred tugged on my hand. I stood and followed the creatures as they left my kitchen via the back door and headed diagonally across the garden. The troop stopped behind a bush to the side of my shed. Alfred turned to me.
“You must dive into what appears to be the middle of a bush. I will go first to prepare the others for your arrival and so that you can see how it is done.”
Alfred leapt into the foliage and disappeared. I made a move to follow him but skidded to a halt at the last second, sending soil into my shoes and my heart crashing into my chest. Wide-eyed, I glanced at each of the menagerie before me. The unicorn spoke.
“You will not injure yourself, Abigail.”
He trotted forwards and nudged my leg with his tiny horn. My knee buckled. I swayed close to the ground, dripping beads of sweat from my forehead into the dusty soil. On an impulse, I straightened and dived into the bush yelling, “Thank you!” to the unicorn. The instant the words left my mouth I felt brambles scrape into my arms and face. I heard an unfamiliar voice calling my name.
“Abigail, can you hear me?”
I lay on my back and ached all over. I felt sure that I must have passed out for a while after diving through the portal.
“Abigail, can you hear me?” came the voice again.
“Mmmm, did I make it to your layer?” I replied.
“Who’s Alfred, Abigail?”
“The badger, the King. What animal are you?”
I opened my eyes and blinked furiously as a bright light that I took for the sun blinded me. As my eyes adjusted I realised that it was an electric bulb. The room seemed very white.
“I’m not an animal, I’m a doctor.”
My ears directed my eyes to the owner of the voice. I saw a human man, wearing a white coat, with a stethoscope hung around his neck and holding a clipboard.
“Abigail, you’ve been asleep for a long time after your accident.”
About the author
Alicia writes about a variety of topics including mental illness, languages, education and cats. She also loves writing poetry and fiction. Alicia lives in Rutland, England with her partner, cat and dog.
Find her on Twitter: @aliciabrunskill