Something was tickling her nose. Sheila groaned in sleepy protest. "Einstein? That you?" she muttered. "Cut it out, cat."
The tickling continued.
Sheila sniffed, then gave a mighty sneeze. Her eyes popped open. Jolted awake, she stared blankly, realizing all at once that she was lying full length on something hard and bumpy, her head cushioned by her arm. It hadn't been Einstein tickling her nose at all, but what . . .
Sheila blinked in bewilderment. This wasn't the laboratory, was it? She was lying on what seemed to be a shaggy, mangy, dusty green carpet, a twist of which had been rubbing against her nose. Carpet? It didn't smell like carpet. In fact, the air smelled funny, too, full of a sweet, dry, deserty sort of scent. The lab had certainly never smelled like this!
Sheila closed her eyes again, trying to clear her dazed mind. This is really weird, she thought groggily. Wouldn't Dr. Reit have moved her to a bed if she had fainted? She had fainted, hadn't she? It wasn't easy to remember what had happened. The last thing she could recall was tripping over Einstein and falling. . . .
Yes! Falling for what had seemed forever through all those weird blue clouds!
"Where–where am I?"
Sheila sat up sharply, then winced as her head throbbed. After a moment things settled down again, and she glanced warily down, half afraid she would find parts of herself missing. But to her relief, everything seemed to be in place. No missing pieces. And she was still wearing her shirt, jeans, and sneakers; she even had her backpack
But she wasn't sitting on a carpet. She was sitting on thin, spiky blades of grass scattered over bare, sandy earth.
"This is impossible." Sheila struggled to keep her voice steady. "This is absolutely impossible."
Carefully she got to her feet and looked around.
Nothing. No lab, no house, nothing but mile after mile of rolling, empty grassland reaching to the horizon in all directions under a wide, clear blue sky. There wasn't a sound, except for the hissing of a dusty wind and the faint, thin cry of what she guessed must be some king of hawk.
"I'm dreaming, that's what it is. I must have hit my head on something, and I'm having a weird dream."
But she ached from lying on the rough ground. And she was growing thirsty under the intense sun. Sheila wondered uneasily if you could feel any discomfort in a dream.
"If this is a dream, it's an awfully real one. And I don't know hot to wake up and get out of it, either."
What if it wasn't a dream? That could mean only one thing: the doorway, the Molecular Acceleration something-or-other, had really worked. It had thrown her right out of her own world and into . . . wherever.
Sheila swallowed dryly. "All–all right," she said. "If it's a dream, I'm bound to wake up after a while. And if it's not a dream, I'll just wait here till Dr. Reit brings me back again."
Could he bring her back? After all, he had hinted that his invention was still in the experimental stage. Maybe when she had fallen through the blue clouds, she had somehow broken the whole machine! Maybe she was trapped here! Sheila blinked, fighting back her tears. She wasn't going to start bawling like a baby! And she wouldn't let herself be scared! Not yet, anyhow.
Time passed. The hot sun moved slowly across the sky till it was almost directly overhead. Nothing else happened, nothing at all. At last Sheila sighed and stood up.
"If Dr. Reit could have gotten me back, he would have already done it. Whatever this is, dream or reality, I guess I'm not going to get out of it by just standing around."
Which way should she go? She spun around, trying to find something to give her a clue, but the grassland still looked the same on all sides. The sun beat down on her head so strongly that Sheila wished she had a sun hat.
"Wait a minute! Somewhere in my backpack there should be . . . yes, here it is. I knew I'd put a scarf in here."
It wasn't as food as a hat, but it was better than nothing. Sheila looked around again. Nothing had changed, not even the dusty moan of the wind. She shrugged. Shouldering her pack one more, she randomly picked a direction and started on her way.
By the time the sun had moved three quarters of the way across the sky, Sheila was too hot and tired and thirsty to care about any more hiking. For all she knew, this empty grassland went on forever, all the way around whatever world she was on. She had a quick, scary mental image of herself trudging on and on till she collapsed from exhaustion. Maybe she would die here, and her bones would lie bleaching on this plain forever. . . .
"No, wait! I think I see something on the horizon!" If only there was a tree she could climb to get a better view! But there wasn't so much as a bush, so Sheila tried jumping up as high as she could. "There–it's smoke–I'm sure of it." Panting, she stopped jumping to catch her breath. "Maybe the smoke is coming from a campfire! That means there are people on this world after all! I'm not alone!"
She started to run. But suddenly a shadow passed swiftly overhead, and Sheila staggered to a stop, starring up. What was that? It looked something like the golden eagle she had seen on a trip out West. No eagle she had ever seen was that huge! It was as big as a man, and it's wings looked as wide as those of a small airplane. Bright, fierce eyes studied her for a moment, and Sheila wondered nervously what she was going to do if the eagle decided it wanted her for its next meal. But then, with a sharp cry that sounded almost like a mocking laugh, the eagle flew away, spiraling up to rejoin a whole flock of its kind.
"But eagles don't fly in flocks!" Then Sheila caught herself. "Well, maybe they do in this world."
The eagles were swiftly soaring off in the direction of the campfire. Shading her eyes with her hand, Sheila stared after them, the started forward again. She hadn't gone far when a sudden cloud of dust erupted on the horizon.
Sheila's eyes widen in alarm. "That's not a cloud! Those are horsemen–and they're galloping right toward me!"
For a hopeful moment she thought they were coming to rescue her. But those shrill, savage yells didn't sound like the yells of friendly rescuers! And now she could see that the riders were brandishing swords and spears!
Frantically Sheila looked for a place to hide. But there wasn't any! And she certainly wasn't going to be able to outrun galloping horses!
As the riders bore down on her, Sheila froze, staring in wonder. Those five fierce riders weren't men, but women–warrior-women dressed in a rainbow of bright silks and leather and pieces of armor glinting brightly in the sunlight, like something out of a fantasy story. And those weren't horses they were riding–
They were unicorns!
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 4: Questions
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away