Reader looked at the bridge. Then the sign. Then the bridge again.
"Do I really have to do this alone Ernest? Sure the sign has my name on it, but I mean - come on, it doesn't say no You."
Ernest gave a tired expression. Sighing deeply he walked over to the bridge and tapped the first plank of wood with his foot. The sturdy piece of wood that suggests it can prevent your death of falling off the cliff; essentially a life barrier between you and gravity and the fall below, snapped.
Not just snapped. But rotted. Turned to dust. Exploded. In a puff of impossible the thing was gone. Little bits falling silently in mournful slow motion.
"Sign has your name on it Reader. I'll wait. See you when you get back."
If I get back. Oh what horrors await? Will it fail on me as well? If the potential for endless falling wasn't bad enough, there's that whole mystery of what's ahead. What if it's the thing that Ernest thought was following us? What if it's the vampire! I never met the guy. Maybe he'll kill me. Does he drink blood? He didn't drain Ernest... But that doesn't mean he- oooh;;;... Alright. Not getting anywhere with that. Let's just take it one step at a time. It can't be that bad.
Reader stepped up to the edge. Reader took a step. The wooden plank groaned as if in pleasure. Disturbed but not undaunted, Reader took another step. Then another. Another. One foot before the other. Using the rope handrails for support Reader started to make progress into the cloudbank.
This is getting a bit anti-climatic. Monotonous. There's nothing here. Well there was nothing to be afraid of. I mean look it's just dreary cloud, more rope, more foot hold-
Reader held on to dear life. The bridge had ended into nothingness. It was hanging without being attached to anything.
Huff... come on fingers.
Puff... I got this I got this, a little more.
Fwee.. Safe on this miserable bridge again. On my back like this with my feet still dangling into nothing, I can't help but think that anti-climatics will be the death of me.
Getting off the bridge planks, Reader faced the end of the line once more.
"Alright let's try that again."
Approaching slowly this time and with the proper respect for danger, the clouds parted slightly as if on cue revealing the bridge hanging onto nothing. Just beyond clear sight, verging on the blurry, was the next ledge.
Eyes weren't lying. There really is nothing there. Well my feet told me that just now. How far out is that ledge? Just out of jumping reach? How am I supposed to get there. Maybe I can just go back. Wait. Then Ernest will be all like, "What happened?" And I would be all like, "Well there was nothing there." And then he would be all like, "K." And then we would be stuck here. Wandering around. Until he finally asks if anything actually happened there and it would really suck for me to have to tell him that there was a jump section and I couldn't mash jump to reach there. Well. Not mash a button per say, but you know... make the jump.
Reader paced back and forth, looking at the gap. Jump or not to jump. No matter how many times Reader came face to face with that edge the answer was always eeeehhhhhh... looks just out of reach.
Then what do I do?
Maybe I can go back to Ernest and explain what I saw then he could... no wait. I should be able to do this. I should be able to figure something like this out.
Another look at the gap. Another grimace at the distance.
This has to be like one of those game puzzles or something. Is it a leap of faith? No. It doesn't feel like it. I know I can't walk beyond on some invisible thing because I almost fell to my death.
Reader took a look at the last wood plank to see if there was anything underneath that was holding it up.
Nothing. How is it just hanging there?
Reader grabbed hold. Tugged.
It came free. With ease. Reader put it back into place.
And it resumes floating.
Plop. Click. Plop. Click.
What if I put it a little further out? Hey it works.
Looking back at the path taken, Reader steadily gathered wooden planks and placed them ahead.
Hah. I can solve these things too. Piece of cake.
"Tah Dah! I'm at the ledge! Haha! What do you think of that Ernest! Ernest?"
Reader's voice didn't seem to go far. The words being absorbed by the clouds - muffled softly like pillowy suffocation. There was no reply from Ernest. For the first time since arriving, Reader felt very lonely. And vulnerable.
"I-I got this. The bridge is still there, not like it vanished."
Leaving the ghostly rift behind, Reader turned towards the solid ground ahead. Wispy clouds gave way to a cave entrance. There was no going around it. Going back would serve no purpose.
As they say, the obvious is there for a reason. Into the cave then.
With tender feet born from a hasty respect of not wanting to fall forever, Reader took tentative steps into the cave. After a few tense moments of deep breathing and trying to accept that the loss of sight wasn't such a big problem the four remaining senses nearly exploded when a source of light was spotted around a bend in the tunnel.
Dancing shadow light. Nose tickled. The smell of burning candle wicks. Ears struck by the sound of wind chimes. Music of some kind played in tune with those wind chimes. Light laughter making things feel alright.
Something is not right. Around this corner. The twins! So many questions. So many- Ernest said to not listen to them. Are they so dangerous? It looks like they were waiting for me. So beautiful. So alluring. No don't stare. Anything but that.
"Our guest as finally arrive. Yours ours mineminemine~."
Don't listen Don't listen Don't listen
"You've been wanting to know us. To meet us. But you won't greet us?"
Don't listen Don'tlistenDon'tlisten
A folding fan popping and closing. I can't shut off my hearing. There it is again and again. Look around. Maybe an escape. An item perhaps? No just gold veins in quartz, candles, lanterns piles and piles of wealthy temptations.
Gah caught a glimpse. She's the one making the noise. No wait she passed on the fan to him. It's starting to sound like fluttering wings.
"Reader. Reader look into my eyes. I am very real. Right here with you. Don't ignore us. So rude it is!"
Aaah! She's touching me. Fingering my chin.
"I finally have your attention." She giggled.
She was walking circles around Reader. Prowling like a predator.
"What's this? What's that? Hahahaha, so curious. Bring it into focus right? Come here, oh? No kiss? At least a dance?"
"Do I have your attention?"
In my head now!?
Where is Ernest?
"Ernest can't reach you now. He's too far away. Just we and you and our musical tune. Now share in our shadow light, have a snack? Oh your quivering rejection makes me glad. Hahaha, I hunger for this you know? Been waiting. Trying to give you bread crumbs before the feast. Ernest is so tight lipped, won't let out a slip. Naughty boy with all his secrets."
She pulled out another fan. The two were now doing a circling fan dance. The air was getting smoky. Heady. Some kind of smell. Not bad not good just weird.
"What is the ink. What are the twins? We've heard your questions. I'm all around and you are in - oooh this bonding feels good against the skin. Come closer - haha you shrink! Come closer and I'll tell a whispered something."
The circle draws closer and tighter. The cave light flickering. The walls of gold veins like lightning in that quartz. Shimmering with the twin's blood red aura.
"I am the lonely in this box of night. Forever searching for the touch of light. Wish I may. Wish I might. Want to drag you down tonight. Bright ones ride through my starry cage. Some get snared and die on stage. One goes in. None goes out. Not unless they escape my mouth. All the poetry of minstrels and bards, won't save you from this lock-lock-lock."
GAH! Her grip - inhuman. Like Ernest's. Can't escape. It's like being tangled by a snake.
Entangled in her skin tight grip, Reader tries to ignore the sweet nothings her breath sends to the ear. The brother twin now speaks though his lips never match the speed of his words.
"Still confused? Need more shadow for your muse? You will know more. You will see. Even if Ernest is blind from what will be. We'll need your help - in a senseless way - to better reveal what we are today. A journey already stumbled upon. Here is the key for your leisure, to leave and find answers to please you."
He gives a black symbol key imprinted on a sheet of paper. The twins switch roles. Instead of constriction by a snake, the sensation now feels like a hug from a hungry bear. The sister twin leers with a forward disposition. Closer. Closer.
"But that is to leave not to come back," She whispers. "Lucky you have already paid in full - with the coin you dropped fufufu. Chaching! Here you go. A ticket to somewhere and nowhere hoho! It won't bring you to us. But it will take you to where Ernest wants."
She says with a coy slide of the hands. The ticket guided into a pocket.
"Now it is time for us to part Dearest never-love."
"Are you players?" Reader shouted. Breaking the self imposed silence.
"Play play play that's all you ever think of." She responds in a sultry fashion. Leaning forward on a stone to blow out a lantern.
"What is your relation to Ernest? Are you family?" Reader asked again, tugging against the brother twin's grip.
"As close as strangers there ever were we." The brother twin states, releasing and joining the sister in light extinguishing activity.
"Not my big moment, not yet not yet. Just a stripped tease for you my friend." The sister adds. Using her brother like a pole. Sliding with ease. A single candle on a stick now in her hand making the darkness quick.
"It was hard to resist so long. Such a tasty morsel so close to my bosom. Hurry hurry runrunrun!"
No longer so alluring. Only hunger in those faces.
"Before I involuntarily swallow." A red wet tongue slides over glossy lips. "Haa... Haaa.. Haa."
If ever was a cue to exit. It would be now.
Reader turns to run. Desperately trying to escape the swallowing darkness all around. A breath that could be heard as well as felt - extinguished the candle taking time with it. The ground felt unsteady. The place was falling apart. It felt as if gritty hands were reaching out.
Are the stones turning into hands? Best not to think just run.
Reader runs straight out of the cave and off the cliff, not able to stop before flying off the edge.
So this is how I end? Fallin- OW MY ARM! Now my shoulder. Owowowow. I'm not falling. Why am I not falling? The twins? Am I going to get eaten!? Dare I look the lion in the mouth?
Looking up. Reader sees - "Ernest!" Hanging onto Reader. He was hanging onto the side of the cliff and was covered in dirt and the exertions of a climb. Climbing for both, Ernest finishes reaching the ledge only to turn around and look at Reader who is still hanging on to his hand.
"Ernest why aren't you pulling me up?"
"Well Reader. I've been thinking. About that last cliff hanger bargain."