Jacob sighed and stretched in the sunlight filtering down between the massive trees that surrounded him. The sounds of a gentle breeze and distant chirping birds were a welcome change from the constant roar of cars and rude people he was accustomed to. He smiled, pulling some of that cool breeze deep into his lungs.
The smile faded into a subtle frown as he realized his situation. He’d been walking for what felt like hours and still hadn’t found the portal the frog (a frog!) had told him to seek in these woods. It still beat dealing with rush hour traffic.
Yet here he was, trying to find his way back to it. He laughed to himself and started walking. What else was there to do?
A small white blur in the corner of his vision caught his attention. He stopped and scanned the ground. There it was! A rabbit, no larger than a mouse, stared back at him attentively.
Jacob raised his eyebrows. “Well hi there, little fella.” The rabbit twitched an ear before turning tail and running a short distance away.
He followed the rabbit, intrigued. It was sitting staring at him once more. Come follow me, it seemed to be saying. Jacob obliged.
The rabbit would hop along a short distance, always looking back for its new companion. Jacob dutifully plodded along behind it. It soon picked up enough speed that Jacob was fairly jogging along to keep up.
It was a short time later when he rounded a tree and came to a hard stop. The rabbit cut to the left and bounded to a sprint. A grizzled-looking old man growled at it before spitting on the ground.
Jacob took a few steps forward and then stopped. The old man appeared much like a farmhand. He wore a battered old Stetson. His faded green button shirt and blue jeans were coated in dust.
His leather boots were coated in something else entirely. Jacob could smell the stranger from where he stood. The old man grabbed the oversize silver buckle holding his belt together and hoisted it jauntily.
He was standing on a series of stone slabs that lazily sloped up to a raised dais. In the middle of the dais raised two large marble pillars. The air between them appeared to be shimmering. The portal!
The old farmhand spit to one side and gave Jacob the stink-eye. “The hell you starin’ at, shithead?” His voice had a texture not unlike burlap and cigarettes, weighed down by a heavy Southern accent.
Jacob looked indignant. “Not much, by the look of it!”
The farmhand’s face screwed up in anger, flashing crooked, tobacco-stained teeth. “I’m worth three of you put together, and you’d still owe me fifty cents!” The anger on his face melted away a moment later, leaving the man guffawing.
“Get the hell over here, ya varmint!” Jacob hesitated. “Oh, come on now! I don’t got no weapon. What am I gonna do, piss on ya?”
Jacob snorted despite himself. He ventured a little closer to the man and the portal, stepping on to the weathered stones that led up to both. He half-waved a self-conscious hand.
“So whatcha doin’ way out here, Mister Cowboy?”
Jacob smirked. “Cowboy?” He shook his head. “I’m about as far away from being a cowboy as you can get.”
“Bull. Shit. Just look at ya! Tee shirt, jeans… Okay, girly ass tennis shoes but slap a clean hat on you and shit on it. You’re a god-damned cowboy!”
“Right.” Jacob tried to peek around him. “Look, I’m sure you’re a great guy and a fantastic conversationalist, but all I’m really interested in right now is getting to that portal behind you.”
“Porthole you say! Ha! A porthole. Ain’t no damn ship around here, cowboy! Gotta walk about oh, ten miles thataway I’d reckon.” The farmhand pointed off into the woods to his right.
“No, portal. The thing behind you!”
“There something behind me? The devil, you say! I didn’t see anything behind me when I came here…”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “You had to see it! What, did you walk here backwards?”
The farmhand shot him a dark look. “Do I look like a fool? I walked right the hell forward, head held high, right through that portal. Ended up here, haven’t turned around since.” He sniffed indignantly.
Jacob thrust his hands brusquely, gesturing toward the portal behind the old man. “You mean the portal right fucking there?”
The farmhand whipped his hand up. A gigantic silver six-gun sat gleaming inside of it. “You show me some respect, you New-York-loving son of a bitch!”
“HEY! WHOA!” Jacob through up his hands. “Easy! I thought you said you were unarmed!”
“I am!” The farmhand squeezed the trigger. A thin stream of water shot across the distance and hit Jacob square in the chest.
Jacob grimaced “Ugh!” He wiped at his shirt, stumbling back.
The farmhand threw the water pistol aside and doubled over laughing. “I told ya… I told ya! I’d piss on ya! Ha ha haaa!”
“Yeah, real fuckin’ cute.” Jacob stared at the sky, sighing impatiently. “Okay…” He eyed the old man. “So yeah, there’s a portal behind you.”
“I know there’s a damned portal behind me. It’s the other end of the one I went through!”
Jacob closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. “Oh, Jesus… You didn’t see it because you came through it.”
“And I ain’t turned around yet!” The farmhand flashed his yellow grin.
“Yeah. Okay. Fine, look…” Jacob spread out his hands. “Can you just let me by so I can get to it?”
“What, the portal?”
“Yes, the portal.”
“Why the hell not!” Jacob took a step forward.
“Chill yer rockets, Mister boatswain McDickerson!” Jacob paused. “You can get up there to your porthole in just a beat. But first… You gotta do something for me.”
Jacob sighed. “What?”
The old man leaned over and cupped a hand to his ear, a plaintive look on his face. “Ya gotta say the magic word.”
Jacob looked stone-faced, but acquiesced. “Please.”
The farmhand snapped back up. “Well, sure!” He sauntered to the side, spreading his hand out toward the portal. “Step on up here, you glorious son of a bitch!”
Jacob warily climbed the stone steps. The old man watched him with wild eyes as he passed. Jacob nodded nervously.
The farmhand gave Jacob a wild slap on the ass on his way by. “There’s a good boy! Give ’em hell and damnation!”
Jacob whirled around, looking quite offended. “What the hell, old man!”
The old man almost looked hurt. “Just passing some good luck on to ya.” Jacob turned away from him and continued on. The old man mumbled. “Jackass.”
Jacob stopped before the portal and looked over his shoulder at the old man. The farmhand flashed him a shit-eating grin and flipped him the bird. Jacob sighed and turned back to the portal.
The air between the marble columns was sparkling, waving and bobbing like the surface of a lake. In the deepest waves he could catch the briefest glimpse of what lay beyond. He closed his eyes and stepped forward into the portal.
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