I looked around. I was in a beautiful forest, lush and green, with mountains in the distance and the songs of birds everywhere. A river meandered past me, and an animal that looked rather like a squirrel the size of a smallish cat was drinking from it.
I recognized that animal. It was a marten.
"Marty?" I asked.
The marten looked at me, shrieked, and scampered up a tree. I leapt up and chased after it.
"Marty, come back!"
I ran across a log that spanned the river and looked up at Marty. He wasn't alone. A figure with two dark braids and a Samurai sword glinting in her hand was in the tree with him.
"Shh." Kida glances around, then beckons me to ascend the tree. "We aren't alone."
"But I can't climb trees," I said before Kida sighed and pulled me up herself. I never realized how strong she was.
But Kida's my imaginary friend. She's not supposed to be able to pull me up trees. She's not supposed to be able to do anything, at least not in the real world. "Where am I?" I asked.
"You're in my world."
I opened my mouth, but a rustling in the vegetation below silenced my voice before it left me. I looked down to see three men on horseback, dressed in the dark colors of a government agency, scanning the forest for signs of life.
"I told you, we're wasting our time. No one can travel fifty miles in two days, on foot, in this terrain."
"I think it would actually be easier without the horses."
"Shut up, both of you," a third voice said. He was tall and spoke with authority, obviously the leader of the group. "Someone find us a road back to civilization. I want a hot meal and a warm bath before nightfall."
The ferns rustled again, and soon I could hear the beating of hooves on a path as the horses galloped away. Kida leapt down from the tree, and I followed her. "What do you know about them?" Kida asked me. "You invented them."
"I didn't put much thought into them," I admitted. "The tall one's in charge. He's smart, but he thinks about himself a lot. His name's Minoru. The other ones are Tashi and Kiyoshi. They follow orders really well, but they don't do much else."
"Where do they come from?"
"They were all born in the same town, but now they don't really have homes. They live wherever the government needs them to." I looked around the splendid forest, then back at Kida. "Am I your imaginary friend? Because I'm not supposed to be in this world."
"You are here for a reason," Kida insisted. She walked back to the river and drank from it. I tried to do the same, but my hands couldn't hold water. They didn't even cause a ripple. It was as if I didn't exist.
"What if I get thirsty?"
"You won't. Your physical needs will be met in your own world, just as mine are."
"I like you better in my world. You make more sense when you talk." I crossed my arms and sat down on the riverbank. "Can other people see me?"
Kida looked at me, then through me, then at me again. She smiled. "No."
"Am I dreaming?"
"In a way."
I leaned back against a tree and looked up. There was so much green that I could hardly see the sky, but I did notice a few blue patches. "How long will I stay here for?" I asked.
Kida looks at me intently. "I'm not sure, Mandy. That decision is yours to make when the time comes."
"A later time." Kida stands and looks at the sky. "For now, you must come with me."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.