A flash of light, and the beach, the dune and the woman were gone. Victor was back in his suit, back in the mansion, in an overgrown courtyard. It was a wide, open space surrounded by a long-untended garden. Wild greenery climbed the mansion walls and spilled into the paved area of the courtyard; grass sprouted from the slightest gaps between the moss-covered pavement. All colours of flowers bloomed unchecked in a breathtaking border to the yard’s centrepiece: an apple tree that had years ago forced itself up, and now stood tall and wide-branching amid a cluster of uprooted paving stones.
Victor noticed little of this at first. He just stood there, holding the water pistol, and smiling.
After a few minutes he sighed and put the plastic gun in his right jacket pocket. He looked around at the mini jungle, and walked over to the apple tree. As he looked up at its branches, he noticed white clouds lazing high above in the blue midday sky.
“Wait a minute.” Victor spun around; behind him, opposite the mansion, a twelve-feet high stone wall fenced the courtyard. “Hey!” he yelled. “Hello! Is anyone out there? I need help! I’m in the mansion! Help!”
He ran to the wall, leapt up, and began grabbing the leafy vines that hung from the top. They were useless ropes, breaking and collapsing the moment he tugged at them. He frantically cleared the vines from a section of the wall and tried to climb up, but the wall had been built with expert precision and there was not a decent handhold or foothold to be found. He raced inside, and returned five minutes later dragging two chairs from the ballroom. Using stones to lock the chair legs in place, Victor stood one against the wall. He set the second chair on top of the first and secured it as best he could by wrapping vines around it. The top chair teetered and creaked as he made the awkward climb up onto it and then stood upright. His hands reached not far from the top of the wall. He bent his knees, then jumped; the chairs toppled to the pavement with a wooden crash that reverberated around the courtyard, as his fingertips hooked onto the top of the wall. He dangled there, wiggling, working his hands into a stronger grip. With a chin-up motion he heaved himself up until his shoulders were level with the top of the wall, and then threw one arm over, followed by the other. Some side-to-side swinging gave him the momentum to kick a leg up and over the wall, and he was able to sit astride the top. From there he viewed the mansion grounds.
An inhospitable wasteland extended as far as Victor could see. Quicksand pits dotted the flat, stony ground, while spear-wielding goblins patrolled on acid-spitting lizards the size of stretch limousines. Jagged mountains spanned the stormy horizon, spouting lava hundreds of metres into the air. An intense clicking and rattling grew beneath Victor, and he looked down to see dozens of ravenous scorpions amassing at the foot of the wall. Each scorpion was two feet long, and had a syringe for a stinger. A long black shadow, shaped like a hammerhead shark, passed across the bleak landscape; even the armoured goblins cowered. Victor looked up and saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex with ears like Dumbo the elephant’s, flying low overhead.
He swung his leg back over the wall, lowered himself as far as his arms stretched, and then dropped onto the pavement in the courtyard. He stood up and brushed off his pants, then straightened his jacket. “Nope,” he said, and walked back toward the apple tree.
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