Amanda limped in the direction she had last seen Petey go, the glint of its mechanical body lost in the underbrush as she used her stick for balance and support and cursed under her breath. This was the last time she trusted a slappy to give her directions, that was for sure. Just a few miles south—you can't miss it, they had said, and then peeled with laughter that was still ringing in Amanda's ears. She was too old for this.
The forest choked the day, casting everything in a gloom that didn't care that somewhere high above the sun was shining. Amanda trudged, cursing louder, then felt a breeze and her heart skipped. Pain tightened her chest and she gasped, pulling out the flask from her jacket. Shit, she really was getting to old for this. She took a large swig. The air was a few degrees colder and dropping. The pain in her chest eased under the liquid heat of the medicine washing down her throat. At least she was in the right place.
Cradling her stick, she quickly checked its settings. To most people it probably just looked like a regular branch, about a meter of twisted wood with a strange knot in the middle and a smooth, cylindrical top. Except the knot was actually the six chambers of a weapon, and the smooth handle that she gripped when she walked was actually its barrel. She clicked the second chamber into place and the stick made a tinny whine, just barely audible.
The forest was colder still, and her breath fogged as she waited, refusing to shiver. It was darker, too, the shadows deeper, fuller. The portal had to be close.
Something burst through the brush and Amanda swiveled, aimed and—stopped her finger from pulling the trigger. Petey barked excitedly, crashing toward her. She held herself back from kicking it. The cold lingered, raised goosebumps on her arms. Nothing came.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed deeper into the woods, Petey now staying close, red eyes bright as it scanned. It pointed left with its nose and Amanda picked her way in that direction, slower now that she had to hold the stick. The trees thinned but it did nothing to increase the light. If anything it was darker than it had been a moment ago, like twilight had swiftly caught her unaware. She gripped the stick tighter and kept forward, silent.
The portal was six feet high and limned with purple energy that pulsed in neon splendor. A Shadow Door. Well, she had already figured that. What she hadn't figured on was the person standing in front of it. He didn't look like much, really. Scrawny, with baggy cargo shorts, a flannel shirt, and a khaki vest. His hair was thin and plastered damp to his forehead. She'd almost have thought him a lost tourist but for two things. One, tourism died along with much of the rest of the world during the Opening twenty years ago. And two, he was talking to a fucking vampire-ghost.
A twig snapped under her foot, and the man and the vampire-ghost both whirled to face her. She didn't react at first, too stunned by the scene—vampire-ghosts did not talk to people. At least, not unless they wanted to play with their food a bit. But the man…it looked like they were deep in conversation, as if the vampire-ghost had no intention at all of sucking out his eyeballs and feasting on his soul. Unfortunately, it didn't extend Amanda the same courtesy. It rushed her, and this time she didn't stop herself from pulling the trigger.
Light burst from the barrel of the stick, its beam hitting the vampire ghost in the chest. It howled, crumpling, and her eyes took a moment to recover from the sudden flare. She blinked and just made out the man turn fully toward her, holding something in his hands. She heard a sound much like the whine of her stick charging. Her eyes went wide, and she flung herself to the side, behind a tree, a moment before a different kind of flash illuminated he clearing.
Grunting as she landed, Amanda heard the whir of a photo being ejected. He had a fucking Doom Viewer. Great.
Everything in the area Amanda had been standing in withered before her eyes, curled up on itself as the magic science of the evil camera did its work. Amanda hissed as she rolled to a crouch behind a tree, her body protesting the rough treatment. She clicked to the fourth chamber. Standing, she lifted the stick and—saw the man enter into the portal, which disappeared in a puff of purple smoke. Her mouth fell open, her finger frozen on the trigger.
Petey's bark brought her back to reality and away from the impossibility of what had just happened. No one…went into the portals. Shit came out, yes. Nightmares. Monsters. Mummies and magic and everything that had turned the world into a giant graveyard. But no one was actually suicidal enough to just walk into an open portal. Of course, no one talked with vampire-ghosts, either. Or carried around Doom Viewers. Something was wrong.
Petey barked again and she almost yelled at it to shut up already when she saw the shadows moving toward her. Cursing, she clicked back to the second chamber and turned to leave. The portal was closed—now all she had to do was survive the trip back to Slappyville.