It was Wednesday, December 18, 1996. A slushy rain was dimming the last red rays of sunset, a dragon was on the evening news, and Kevin MacArthur was about to get hit by a car.
Kevin's mother had interrupted his study session at his friend Trent's house to tell him dinner was almost ready. So Kevin -- a mousy teenager that had discovered puberty but not yet his growth spurt -- packed up his math notes, put on his overcoat, jogged past Dog River High School, and stepped out into Center Street after a cursory glance in both directions.
A block away, Gerard Angove, father of twins, had just pulled out of the parking lot of the Pitt Creek drugstore after an unusually long and vexing search for baby formula. In his haste to get home, in the glow of the parking lot overhead lamps, he had forgotten to turn on his headlights. Now, a block later, Gerard took his eyes off the road to find the headlight knob, and Kevin MacArthur found himself pinned down in the sudden glare of high beams.
Kevin's last thoughts were not particularly eloquent: "Oh, shi-"
He heard the squeal of brakes. He saw Gerard's panicked face through the windshield. Then pain exploded through his body. The world whirled around him, headlights streaking like falling stars through his spinning vision, and he tried to scream, bent double, and suddenly it felt as though he were being pulled apart in every direction at once, and the headlights winked out --
A single onrushing point of light, and Kevin cringed and tried to dodge, flailing unresponsive arms and legs against the emptiness of space, then with a thunder like the train derailment he had seen eight years ago while biking home from school, the light slammed into him. Kevin gasped, and realized he could breathe again -- just in time to get the wind knocked out of him as he bounced off of the unyielding ground. He rolled to rest, twisted, pained, left arm pinned behind his back.
He tried to sit up. His body refused to obey. He breathed, and coughed up liquid; wiped his face, and his right hand came away red. Moaned, and let the world drift out of focus.
Kevin heard singing -- the chorus of distant voices.
And a much closer voice: "Not yet."
A hand touched his shoulder. His back spasmed, and arched; his lungs filled with a sharp breath. His eyes snapped open to see an indistinct figure crouched over him, its hand on Kevin's neck. The figure gently moved Kevin's arm out to his side, straightened his legs, and touched him on the forehead; Kevin sank to the ground, and his pain ebbed away.
Kevin tried to focus his groggy mind. It was ... daylight? And much warmer. All he could see was a clear field of blue above him, and the blurry figure, which failed to resolve into substance no matter where he focused. He tried to twist his neck and look around, but the figure's hand held his head firmly in place.
"Don't move," the figure said, and its voice, too, was featureless, completely indistinct -- unaccented, neither high nor low, neither old nor young, a perfect and inscrutable cipher.
Kevin found his voice. "Wha -- what happened?"
The figure didn't answer. Pulled at Kevin's arm; there was a short, sharp pain and a quiet pop, and then a gentle numbness set in.
"Where am I?" Kevin persisted.
No answer. Kevin tried to sit up again, but the figure held him firmly down.
"Who are you?"
The figure stopped and looked straight into Kevin's eyes. "You tell me, Kevin MacArthur," it said.
Kevin squinted. Blinked. "I don't know!" he said. Then considered: "Are you a paramedic? But if you were, I'd be in an ambulance." He turned his head, and the figure made no move to stop him. Hazy, distant mountains rolled into view on the horizon above a flat, dusty plain.
Kevin tried to sit up again, and a strong hand held his body down. "Where am I?" he asked insistently.
"Safe ... for now," the figure said. "Have you recovered enough to see me yet?"
Kevin ran his fingers through the dust. Where was he? How had he gotten here? There must have been some sort of magic involved ...
He looked back at the figure. "Magic," he said. "This hurts too much to be a hallucination. This has to be magic."
And the figure seemed to twist into focus. A soft face, pale blond hair, flowing white robes --
Kevin gasped. "Rosalind?"
"Hmmm?" she answered, quiet, feminine.
"Rosalind. From Dragon Legend III. The video game. Are you?" He blinked hard. "You are. Aren't you? What are you doing here? Please tell me -- what's going on?!"
"Kevin," she said, stroking his face, "it's bad enough I'm here. Please don't ask me to break any more rules."
"I'm sorry," he said. He gazed at her in wonder -- yes, Rosalind, exactly like in the game -- and glanced around at the flat, featureless dust.
"... Am I dead?" he asked.
Rosalind smiled. "We'll see soon enough," she said. Then she whispered the word "sleep," touched Kevin's forehead, and drowsiness overtook him.