Like the field, and the sky, and everything else she’d seen so far, the forest didn’t look quite the way it should to Lucy, although that didn’t stop her from approaching. She didn’t have much of a choice, to be honest… The wall of corn seemed to stretch out forever on either side from where she’d escaped, and she suspected if she tried to go around, it would just keep growing. It didn’t make sense, but neither did anything else.
Like the cornstalks, the trees had grown larger, more plentiful, and closer together, though they hadn’t woven together into a maze… It was more like a fairytale forest, deep and dark, rather than the nice, peaceful, sunny place she was used to going to be alone every now and then.
As she cautiously stepped inside, she could hear the sound of animals calling and cooing further in, the rustling of feet. She froze for just a moment, listening, before pressing on; by the time she heard an ominous growl and turned back, the path she’d come in on had wooded over, leaving her facing a solid wall of trees with no obvious way out, just like the corn maze.
She might have suspected this whole thing was a long, crazy dream, except her knees, as well as being muddy, were also slightly sore from crawling through the field for so long, and she could definitely feel the mud that had filled her diaper, sloshing and squishing around in there. She hadn’t seen anyone other than the doll, so she almost considered taking the diaper off, at least emptying it out, but she had a feeling there had to be other things, or people, around, and, with as dirty as her hands were, she wasn’t sure she would be able to get the tapes to stick again if she removed them. She could have just worn her shorts without the diaper, or anything else, beneath it, though that didn’t really seem like a much better option.
She was glad to see that the geography of the forest hadn’t changed entirely as she came across the little bridge over the stream that ran through the forest, which she liked to sit on sometimes, staring down at the trickle of water running under her; if she was really daring, she might take off her shoes and dip them into it, although there was usually only enough liquid to do that after a really heavy rain.
But, even while the basics stayed the same, the rest was far different. Nobody would dare call the water running under the bridge a ‘stream’ anymore; this was a full-fledged river, deeper, wider, and faster than it had ever been, or could ever be, even after the longest and hardest of rainstorms. The bridge had gone the opposite direction, changing from a solid slab of wood to a rickety rope bridge, right out of an old adventure movie.
And there, at the start of the bridge, stood a giant robot, wielding a wicked looked axe, its one long, red eye scanning the forest for something, possibly intruders like her. She slipped behind a tree, heart pounding, trying to decide what she should do. The axe was probably about the same size as her, the robot holding it at least twice as big…. She wasn’t getting around them easily. Normally, the bridge was there mostly for kids, and convenience, since teenagers and most people older – other than, potentially, Kari, whose legs might not be long enough – could hop over the banks of the stream at some of its narrower spots, or just climb down into it and back up.
Lucy had a feeling the river was too wide to get across that way anywhere, and she didn’t want to risk falling in. Her legs were fairly long, but still almost definitely too short to stretch from shore to shore, and her jumping prowess would be heavily hindered by the bulky diaper. It was possible there was another bridge somewhere in this version of her woods… It didn’t seem like a good idea to venture into parts of the forest she wasn’t as familiar with, however. As long as she stayed on the trail, she felt slightly safe; even in the real world, she didn’t like going off it too far.
No, she was going to have to go through the robot. She peered around her tree momentarily, gulping at the sight of the monstrosity. It was huge, leaving deep footprints in the mud and shaking the ground as it paced, made of what looked like shiny silver. She tried to tell herself that the whole thing couldn’t be silver, that it was probably just plated in it, then reminded herself that wherever she was, however she’d gotten here, this world didn’t seem to follow normal rules.
It didn’t really matter, anyway… No matter what material it was made out of, the robot was intimidating. If she could just get past it to the bridge, she’d be fine, since there was no way the robot could step onto that without snapping it. Then again, the robot might not care about that… Maybe it would cut the bridge down with its axe, or allow itself to plunge into the water, or jump – or maybe fly, it could have a rocket pack or something – to the other side and beat her there.
She had to deal with the robot in one way or another. She had no form of weapon, certainly nothing that could stand against that axe, and even if she did, she doubted she could beat it in hand to hand combat. It was hard to judge how strong the robot was, since it didn’t have, or need muscles. The metal – whatever it was – that made up its arms was smooth and gleaming, but also looked sturdy, the gears that powered its joints moving easily. Maybe she could jam those somehow, keep it from being able to move, though she’d have extremely close to be able to pull that off, well within range of the axe.
Having a weapon of any kind would have made her feel just a little better. Not that she knew how to use any weapon proficiently, but having something to hold onto might have given her a touch more confidence, less of a fear that she was about to die here. Even with the rainbow blazing bright overhead, reminding her of her mission, she wasn’t so sure that it was worth all this, not anymore… She’d gotten through the maze, and the doll; that might be as far as she could make it, unfortunately.
The trees behind her were still a solid wall, however, without nearly enough space between any of them that she could see to slip past – even if she could get through the first layer, she had been walking a while, and she didn’t want to get partway back and realize she couldn’t squeeze any further than that, or, even worse, that the path behind her had closed up as well, trapping her there, among the trees.
She was trying her hardest not to panic, knowing that was only going to make things worse, but it was hard to do when the forest floor was shaking every few seconds with another heavy footstep, reminding her why she was so desperate to find another way through, or back out of, the woods.
As she stared back at the way she’d came, still trying to decide if it was worth heading back or not, she heard a loud thunk right behind her, making her jump nearly out of her skin, spinning just in time to see the tree she’d been hiding behind sway and fall to the side, revealing the massive robot standing behind it, axe in hand, eye glowing bright red. She felt her bladder let go at the sight, her eyes bulging as she scrambled backwards, not having far to go before hitting the wall of trees.
“What are you doing here?” the robot demanded in a flat, unsurprisingly robotic, voice.
“N-Nothing!” Lucy insisted, shaking her head. “I-I… got lost, and then I couldn’t get back through the forest!”
“I understand.” It sounded menacing, just because of the volume, and the thing saying it; Lucy couldn’t tell if it was meant to be taken that way or not.
“I-I don’t mean you any harm,” Lucy gave a tiny smile.
“Ha ha ha,” the robot replied, saying the words rather than making any approximation of laughter. “I was not afraid, little one, but thank you.”
Lucy stared up at the robot, still trying to suss out the correct way to interpret its words. It had lowered its axe, plunging its head into the ground, causing a small ditch to form underneath, seemingly not ready to attack, though she didn’t know how quickly the robot could move when it needed to.
“My home is back through there,” Lucy said, pointing in the direction that she hoped the house still was, even in whatever warped version of reality she was in now. “But I can’t get through these trees on my own. I-I don’t suppose… I mean, you have that big axe, and trees are obviously no match for you…” She glanced down at the one she’d been using as a hiding spot until moments before, gulping at the sight of the cut, one solid, smooth stroke. If the robot wanted, it could cut her in half even easier than that…
“I would love to help,” the robot told her, taking just enough of a pause to get her hopes up before continuing with, “however, I cannot.”
“B-But… Why not?” Lucy asked.
“There are two reasons. One: I must guard the bridge. That is my duty. Two: I do not have the energy to chop down all of those trees.”
“Oh,” Lucy frowned. “If you could just get me back to my house, I could bring you some… batteries or something,” she shrugged, not sure they have anything big enough to power something of the robot’s size, not even if she stole the battery from the car. Once she was home, though, hopefully she wouldn’t really have to worry about it.
“Ha ha ha,” the robot said blandly again. “You are adorable. My wife would love you.”
“Wife?” The idea of this machine being married had never even crossed Lucy’s mind.
“Yes, my wife. We were designed as a pair. When we are together, we provide power to each other. She has been gone for a long time, however.” The voice hadn’t changed, yet Lucy could have sworn the robot sounded sad there; its single, unblinking eye almost looked mournful, somehow.
“Maybe you should go look for her,” Lucy suggested. “I-I could help.” She didn’t really want this to take any longer than it had to – Mommy might already be home, for all she knew – but she hated for him to be all alone, when he clearly didn’t want to be.
“I must guard the bridge,” the robot reminded her.
“Oh, yeah,” Lucy nodded. “Well… How about I do that?”
“Ha ha ha,” the robot repeated. “That is kind, little one, but you are not intimidating.”
Looking down at herself, in her brightly colored, if muddy, clothes, her diaper quite obvious beneath her shorts, she had to agree. It really didn’t seem like there was anything for her to do to help him, though, as far as she could tell, he did seem willing to aid her, if he could. She was tempted to ask if she could cross him bridge, but guarding it was his main objective, and telling him that’s what she wanted to do seemed like a quick way to turn him against her.
“How about if I just watch it while you make me a path?” she suggested. “I’ll keep an eye on it, and yell if anything gets close, then you can come and defend the bridge… Then, I can go look for your wife and send her back here, then go home.”
“I do not have the energy,” the robot reminded her, the light of its eye seeming to dim slightly. “Unless…”
“Unless?” Lucy squirmed, feeling like she was getting scanned by the robot’s eye as it stared down at her. Could it see through her, discover her real plan? While she’d heard plenty of odd animal noises in the woods, she hadn’t actually seen anything, so she was sure the bridge would be just fine… She was going to let it get to work, then slip to the clearing, find the end of the rainbow, then hopefully get back before the robot was finished. After all, it had a long way to go, and, for all she knew, the trees would just grow back as the robot chopped them. She felt a little bad, possibly stranding it there like that, knowing it was running low on energy, but hopefully its wife would come looking eventually, and then they’d be fine… Besides, the robot belonged here; Lucy did not. She just wanted to get home, and moving forward seemed to be the best way to accomplish that.
“Our power supply was based on human.” The robot stopped speaking for a moment, to the confusion of Lucy – it sounded like it had completed the sentence, although that didn’t make sense. “I can not recall the word,” the robot finally continued, making the girl realize it had been struggling to think of that. “Perhaps you can help.”
“P-Perhaps…” Lucy said nervously. She wasn’t sure she liked this… The robot hadn’t had any trouble speaking until now, the fact that the one word it couldn’t remember was the thing it needed from her made her suspicious.
“You are a human, are you not?” the robot tilted its head, just slightly.
“I am,” Lucy admitted reluctantly. “But…”
“You do want a path, do you not?” Lucy nodded. “I only need to borrow some,” the robot told her. “As long as you bring back my wife, I can replace it.”
Lucy stared up at the thing, hoping it wasn’t equipped to decipher expressions, because hers surely revealed how little she wanted to do this. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help the robot – she hoped it did find its wife – she just didn’t want to spend any more time here than she had to.
On the other hand, she still had no idea what the robot was going to take. Maybe it wasn’t even anything important… Maybe she’d be fine without it. “Are you sure you can’t remember what it’s called?”
“I cannot,” the robot said, almost instantly. “I only need a little. I can start with your feet.”
“What about my feet?” Before the robot could answer, or she could change her mind, the huge, cold, metal hand stretched out, pressing gently against her. Lucy braced herself, unsure what to expect; after a long moment, the robot stepped back, nodded.
“Please go guard the bridge,” the robot said, turning and lifting its axe, facing the wall of trees. Lucy hesitated, staring down at herself, trying to work out what had changed, what the robot had taken. She felt the same, totally normal… Finally, she shrugged and headed towards the bridge.
She made it a single step before landing on her face among the leaves. She gasped, catching her breath before trying to scramble back to her feet, but they refused to hold any weight. They were completely numb, unresponsive, all feeling apparently drained out of them. She stared at the robot, slicing through the trees with its axe, contemplating telling it that she’d changed her mind about their deal.
However, she was now even more powerless before the hulking mass of metal, and if it decided it didn’t want to return what it had taken, there was no way for her to make it. She sighed and made her way to the bridge, reduced once more to crawling on her hands and knees, staring across to the other side. It should have been so simple to run across, find the rainbow, get back… But there was no way she could make it like this, with no feeling in her feet so that she couldn’t stand, much less walk. She was just going to have to hope the robot, unlike the last ‘person’ she’d met here, really was trying to help her…
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