Legions of Tercia is no more. Untied Shoelaces will be removed soon…
I am hoping Mark IV is up and running soon…
Sorry. Costs just started to skyrocket way too quickly…
Legions of Tercia is no more. Untied Shoelaces will be removed soon…
I am hoping Mark IV is up and running soon…
Sorry. Costs just started to skyrocket way too quickly…
Heather brushed a few errant strands of straight, brown hair out of her eyes. “You know there’s a goblin living in the woods…”
I raised one eyebrow. “Which woods?”
“That little chunk of woods between Willow and Vine.” She pointed in the direction of the woods with her right hand, but then lowered her arm.
Ben fingered the hole in his pant leg with his thumb. “That’s like four trees and two shrubs.”
She shook her head.
The wind drifted through our playground kicking up little dust storms of dried leaves and dirt. I looked in the direction of Willow and Vine.
I was distracted when Angie punched me on the arm and then bounced back a step with her fists up. “Chicken!” She was thin as a rail and had pale skin stretched over boney arms and hands. She wore tan pants and a white, button up shirt.
“What?” I asked.
Angie still held up her fists. “You’re afraid of the goblin.”
Ben laughed. “There isn’t any goblin.”
“I’ve seen it.” Heather nodded. “It said, ‘Good morning, my lady,’ to me.”
Angie poked me in the chest.
Ben stopped picking at the hole in his pants. “They want you to go check it out, Jeff.”
My brow furrowed into knots, and my eyes squinted.
Angie moved in close to me and put a fist within an inch of my face. “The woods, Willow and Vine, after school.”
The bell rang, and we raced back to our classrooms. Math, after lunch, then art, then history, then the four of us were walking towards our homes. Towards Willow and Vine. We stood on the edge of the vacant lot, and I looked from one friend to the other. The lot was overgrown with weeds taller than me, a few shrubs here and there, and this dense little cluster of trees in the center that could easily be hiding an elephant.
Angie kicked me on the shin. “You’re it!”
“Why can’t we go check out this goblin together?” I said.
Heather threw her hands into the air. “I’ve seen it.”
I looked at Angie and Ben.
“You think Angie hits hard…” Ben said.
“Come on, guys. This isn’t right,” I said. “We’re supposed to be friends.”
Angie pointed at my face with a rigid index finger. “Into the woods! Make the goblin come out!”
I started walking towards the center of the woods. I pushed past weeds and shrubs on a sort of trail that wound and twisted its way through the property. I walked and walked. Then I stopped. I should have made it to the other end of the lot by now. I turned to look back at my friends. Forest surrounded me and nothing more. I shouted, “Hello!”
A flock of birds took off from one of the trees. I started to retrace my steps. I walked and walked. Hunger and thirst started to get to me. I came across a stream and smiled. I took a drink of the water. I had to!
“Aren’t you worried about pollution?” A voice asked from behind me.
I turned to look. A short creature with dense brown hair all over its body looked at me. He was humanoid, I guess, but only a foot tall. He held a wooden pipe in his right hand and wore brown pants and a green shirt. His ears were big and pointy, and his eyeballs were huge for the size of his skull. He only had three fingers and a thumb on each hand, and each finger was adorned with a sharp claw. He had a distinct chin and a short nose with flaring nostrils. He had a backpack slung over one shoulder, a beltpouch on his waist, and a tiny dagger maybe an inch long. “I said, aren’t you worried about pollution?”
I shook my head. “You haven’t had the tap water around here, have you? Are you a goblin?”
“I’m James Fourtooth,” the tiny creature said. “I’ve been called many things.”
“But some people call you goblin…”
James shook his little head. Then he turned to leave.
“Wait! I need to get out of the forest,” I said.
“Why did you come here?”
“My name is Jeff. My friends sent me to find you. They want to meet you.”
I knelt down to be level with the goblin, and he sort of backed away a bit. “At least, show me the way out of the forest.”
“No, see, your friends knew the forest was enchanted, and they just wanted to get rid of you. You’ll find you can survive off nuts and berries and fruits. As you grow older, you’ll learn to hunt and trap for meat. It’ll take months, but you’ll learn how to make your own fire.”
My eyes opened wide. “Help me!”
“You must do me a favor. I will show you the way out of the forest, but you must bring me something in return.”
“Wait, bring you what?”
“I need two 3 lbs. bags of fresh apples.”
The little creature’s eyes narrowed into slits. “There isn’t a single apple tree in this forest!”
“I don’t have any money for apples.”
“Then I guess you’re doomed,” James said.
The goblin winked at me. “You could steal the apples. Just walk into the grocery store, pick out two nice looking bags, and walk out with them.”
I looked from the goblin around to make sure no one overheard.
“Come on…” The goblin said.
“I’ll do it!”
The goblin pointed to his left. “Walk straight that way, and you’ll reach the edge of my domain. If you don’t return within 3 days, I’ll come looking for you.”
I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed in. Within a few steps, I turned to go around a bush, and my friends were standing there pointing at me and laughing. I walked up to them.
“Did you see the goblin?” Ben asked.
“You were in there for like an hour,” Heather said.
Angie stomped on my toes. “I bet he was in there wanking.”
“Oww! I was not!”
“We better get home,” Ben said.
We all went our separate ways. I went directly into my garage, and hopped on my bike. I pedaled like mad for the corner grocery store. I leaned my bike against a post and walked inside the store. The Granny Smith apples were closest, and I grabbed two bags. I started walking out the door. I made it to my bike. Somebody shouted, “Did you pay for those?”
I threw the bags in my oversized basket on the bike and took off. I raced all the way to Willow and Vine. My heart thumped in my chest, and my legs burned. I climbed off the bike and walked into the woods with the apples. Within a bit, I found myself at the stream again.
“Granny Smith?” The goblin asked.
I smiled. “They’re the best apples.”
“They’re disgusting. I specifically asked for Red Delicious!”
“You did not! You said apples. Granny Smith are my favorite!”
The goblin fingered the dagger on his belt. “Red Delicious!”
I glared. “Tell me how to get out of the woods.”
“You’ll bring me proper apples!” The goblin said.
“Tell me how to get out of the forest.”
The goblin pointed in a different direction than last time. “If you don’t return within three days, with the right apples, I’ll come looking for you.”
And I thought to myself, yes, if you come looking for me, I’ll punt you across town…
I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed. Soon enough, the familiar sight of my bike greeted me. I pedaled home. My mom was sitting on the porch waiting for me with a scowl. I sighed. “Where have you been?” she asked.
“That’s not good enough, Jeffrey. I was this close to calling the authorities.”
I looked her in the eyes and whimpered. “Would you prefer the truth or a lie?”
Her left eye squinted. “Would I believe the truth?”
She waved at the front door. “Get inside. I’ll cook us some dinner.”
We ate canned corn, dinner rolls, and black beans & rice. I went to sleep early.
Then next morning on the walk to school, Heather joined me. I mean, she came running up to me. She grabbed my arm and made me stop. “What?” I asked.
She grinned wide. “I slept through the night!”
“Well, lately I’ve been having these nightmares…”
I nodded. She kissed me on the cheek and took off in a run towards school. I shook my head. School passed quickly. In fact, the next couple of days seemed to just fly by. On the third day, I lay down to sleep.
My mind started to drift as I slipped into my slumber. Then I saw the goblin. He showed me his teeth and drew his tiny blade. Forest surrounded me. The goblin came at me, and I kicked at him. He jumped up real high and cut me on the arm. It hurt bad! I opened my eyes, and I was in bed, safe and sound. I curled up with my pillow, and drifted off. Soon enough, I was in the forest again.
The goblin came at me, and I ran. He chased after me and stabbed me in the calf. He must have hit a nerve because the pain was worse than last time. I woke up. I stared at the wall. I paced my room. I crawled back into bed. Soon enough, I was in those damn woods, and there was the goblin with his little dagger drawn. I shouted, “What do you want?”
He charged me and jumped up slicing into my face with his knife. The pain woke me. I took a hot shower and waited for dawn. It was Friday, but I didn’t even head to school. I pedaled my bike to the grocery store. I went in, and found two nice bags of Red Delicious apples. I looked around, and the coast was clear. I casually walked towards the entrance. A manager stepped in front me. “Are you going to pay for those apples?”
I moved fast. “I’m hungry, my mom lost her job, and we don’t have anything to eat.”
The manager sighed.
I did my best to look pitiful. I pretended Angie just hit me.
The man grabbed for one of the bags. “You can have one but don’t come back without money!”
“I need two!”
The man glared at me. “Put both bags back where you found them.”
I gauged my odds. I kicked the man in the shin and ran. He didn’t give chase. He was kind of pudgy to be honest.
I put the bags in the basket on the bike. I raced to Willow and Vine. I walked into the woods, and soon enough I made my way to the stream. I shouted, “Where are you?”
The goblin did a tiny dance. “Give me the apples.”
I handed over the apples. He sampled one. I said, “Which way is out of the forest?”
The goblin ignored me and kept on eating the apple. I said, “Which way?”
“Do you know what whiskey is? Cause I happen to need some,” the goblin said.
I shook my head. “I only seen whiskey in old John Wayne movies.”
“Well, you need to find me some, at least a liter. Bourbon whiskey.”
The goblin laughed. “No, I’m in charge.”
“I want out!”
The goblin shook his head. “The only way out, is for you to send somebody into these woods in your stead. That’s how Heather got away from me.”
“Get me the whiskey. Maybe I’ll let you go forever then.”
“I don’t even know what whiskey looks like!”
“It comes in bottles. Adults keep it around the house just search for it. The label on the bottle needs to say BOURBON.”
I shivered just a bit.
The goblin pointed. “That way will get you out of the forest.”
I started walking. I biked home. Then I remembered, school day. I ran all the way to school. On arriving, I was quickly escorted to the principal’s office. “It’s past lunch, and you’re just now getting here? We tried to reach your mother at work, but we couldn’t.”
The principal rubbed on his chin. “Where have you been?”
I did it. I started to cry. It was the best solution I could come up with.
“Oh dear Lord, not another one!” The principal exclaimed.
I cocked my head to the side.
“Where were you!” He asked.
“I didn’t sleep last night, and I was on my way to school, and I fell and ripped my pants, so I had to go home. I just lay down on the couch for a moment, but I slept and slept.”
The principal nodded and nodded. I stopped crying.
“Get to class!” He said.
I ran to class.
Heather, Ben, and Angie caught up to me on my walk home. Angie punched me on the arm. “How’s Jeff today? Late for school much?”
I turned to face Heather. She said, “I had no choice!”
I shook my head and started walking. Ben and Angie chased after me. Heather went the other direction. Ben said, “What’s going on?”
I paused. “Oh, nothing.”
“Something’s going on,” Angie said.
I looked at Angie and smiled. “You haven’t seen the goblin yet…”
“There’s no goblin,” Ben said.
I pointed at Ben’s chest. “You haven’t seen him either. He’s pretty cool.”
Ben shook his head. Angie punched me in the kidney. I started walking. Ben and Angie walked alongside me. Ben turned to go to his house. Angie walked next to me. I said, “You want to meet the goblin. He’s so cool.”
Angie smiled. “I’ll go into the woods, if you go with me.”
We walked to Willow and Vine. We pushed out way past shrubs and bushes. Soon enough, we were in a dense forest. The stream babbled, and I took a little drink.
“Two for the price of one!” The goblin howled.
Angie and I turned. The goblin stood there with a massive grin. I said, “Which way is out, goblin!”
The goblin shook his head. He pointed at me. “You’re in charge of the Bourbon.” He pointed at Angie. “You’re in charge of the cigarettes.”
“What?” Angie asked.
My eyes narrowed into tiny beads. “You said if I got somebody else, you’d release me!”
The goblin started to dance and then stopped. “If she had come in alone, I would have, but now, the rules have changed.”
“What rules? What’s going on?” Angie asked.
I didn’t want to answer.
The goblin pointed at Angie’s chest. “You have essentially two choices. Stay in this forest forever, surviving off nuts and berries, or you can bring me a pack of cigarettes. You have three days to return, if you don’t return by then I come looking for you.”
“I don’t know anybody who smokes!” Angie said.
“How do we get out of the forest?” I asked.
“I’ll give you three days too, to bring the whiskey.” He pointed off in a direction, and I started walking.
“Wait!” Angie yelled.
I stopped walking.
She pointed at the goblin. “You did this to Heather already. We suckered Jeff into coming in here. If we send in somebody else, you’ll release both of us?”
The goblin nodded.
I started walking again. Angie hurried to catch up to me. We made it out of the forest. She stopped walking, and I stopped. She hit me with a right cross hard enough to knock me on my ass. “Angie!”
“What happens in three days!”
“The goblin will invade your dreams.”
“Ha! I’m not afraid of a dream!”
I pushed myself off the ground. She took another swing at me, and I dodged!
I spent the next three days doing my best to find a bottle of bourbon, to no avail. The goblin haunted my dreams, and I simply stayed up. At school the next day, Angie looked like she hadn’t slept a wink. Heather, Ben, Angie, and I were eating lunch. Angie gave Ben a curt little smile. “You haven’t met the goblin yet.”
“You’re both trapped now?” Heather asked.
“Hush,” Angie whispered.
Ben stuck his finger in his finger in his macaroni and cheese. “I wish they gave us more macaroni and cheese when they served it, and it’s not even hot.”
“You want to meet the goblin,” I said.
Ben nodded. “No.”
Angie picked up her tray and stood up. “I’ve got to go.”
Heather followed her. “See you, guys.”
I gave Ben my best friendly face. “You need to meet the goblin.”
He poked me in the chest. “No, you need to kill the goblin.”
“Get yourself a good-sized rock. Bash his skull in. Heather told me everything. It’s up to you.”
“But… I’ll be trapped in the forest forever.”
Ben shook his head and whispered, “The goblin is the source of the magic. Finish him, and the forest will return to normal.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Better you than me.”
The school day passed away uneventfully. The four of us were walking home. I said, “I’m going to kill the goblin. Come with me and wait for me to come out of the forest.”
“Yes,” Ben said.
We made it to the edge of the vacant lot, and I found a nice rock that was just bigger than the palm of my hand. A plan formed in my mind, and I carried the rock behind me as I walked into the forest. After a while of wandering, I came up on the stream where I always met the goblin.
The goblin stepped out from behind a shrub, and I said, “I’ve got something for you, but it’s a secret.”
“Yes, let me whisper in your ear what it is.”
The goblin pranced about a bit and then cupped his hand over his ear. “What is it?”
I leaned in close. I swung that rock on his head as hard as I could. Blood flowed. The goblin howled, “You’ll be trapped forever!”
I hit over and over. The goblin lay still. I put my hand on his heart. No beat. I tossed the rock aside and started walking back the way I came. Walking and walking, I came upon the stream and the goblin’s body. I tried again. I got nowhere.
Ben’s words echoed in my mind. “The goblin is the source of the magic.”
I took the goblin’s knife off his belt and hacked off his head. I held the head in my hand and started walking. I stepped past a tree, and Heather, Angie, and Ben all laughed and clapped. I smiled and tossed the head at their feet. “One dead goblin.”
Ben picked up the head and lifted it as if to test its weight. “This is just enough to make soup.”
Heather went, “Ewww…”
I kicked my heels into the horse to keep up with the others, and for the first time since the start of this ordeal, I thought to myself, I’m too young to die. The horse galloped forward, and in the distance, the edge of a great field of tall grass lined the horizon.
The tops of black helmets rose up in the distance climbing up the slope of the other end of the field like a line of obsidian specks. A line of black as far as the eye could see dotted the edge of the horizon. I rode at the front of the vanguard, so far in the front, that I was only two places from High Lord Kirl who lead the charge. Kirl drew his blade, and I instinctively drew mine in a flash with the rest of the vanguard. I remembered back to the stories the elders told around the fire about The Throng: stories of hellspawn and demons.
As the distance closed between us, The Throng’s long pikes and shields glimmered in the morning sun. They wore pitch black plated armor from head to toe. A great volley of arrows flew up from the rear ranks of the enemy. Kirl raised his sword high. He grimaced with concentration and shouted out a word from our cryptic ancient tongue. The swarm of thousands of arrows changed paths as they descended, landing harmlessly to the left and right of us.
Galloping at full speed, we closed the distance to The Throng in a flash. The enemy pointed their pikes down at us and met our charge. A pike caught me in the gut, and I jumped upwards careening high over the first line of footmen. It hurt, but it didn’t pierce my chainmail. The smith promised me it would be good for two or three solid blows then no better than common steel.
It threw my mind into gear with the pulse of adrenalin raging through my heart. I’m going to die, I thought to myself. I plunged my sword into the chest of the closest of my enemies, and in a flash, the high points of his life echoed through my psyche: his first true best friend, his first experience with a woman, and his training with The Throng. It rushed through me, and I pulled my sword free.
The sword drank up the thin glaze of blood and gleamed clean and shiny in the sun. An enemy tried swinging at me, and my blade moved out of instinct parrying the pike. I pushed the blade through the faceplate of the other soldier, again, another life flashed before my eyes. My anger flared like a tiny burning chunk of charcoal in my chest. These people were the same as we are–why do they attack us?
In a heartbeat, I thought back to my own life. Three months ago it changed on a new year’s morning with my youngest sister jumping on my bed shouting, “The call-to-arms! The call-to-arms!”
I growled at her. “Get out of here.” Thinking, could it be true so early in the year and just three years after the last invasion?
I rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. I wasn’t about to give up my warm bed over the cries of a six year old. Then a few minutes later, a firm knock reverberated on my door, which I knew to be my dad. I said, “Yes?”
“They’ve called the conscription, Son. Get up and get breakfast.”
I crawled out of bed, ran my fingers through my hair, and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. I made my decision as I jumped down the last three steps of the stairs. I would fight. Mom set a plate down on the table and poured me a cup of milk. Dad said, “They’re expecting everybody to report today, Memnock. You don’t need to take anything with you. Just go down to the town center after breakfast.”
“He shouldn’t have to go,” Mom said. “There are rules. We already lost one son. He doesn’t have to go.”
Dad glared. “I faced The Throng three times, Woman! It’s not a death sentence.”
My mom reached up and touched her eye like to rub back a tear and whispered, “I miss Jericho.”
“We all do. There won’t be many this time what with the last conscription being just three years back. He’s needed. We’ll still have Jacob.”
I spoke quietly between bites, “I’m going to fight.”
Mom and dad simply nodded. I finished the last of my food and went to my room, what used to be mine and my big brother’s room. I wanted to at least be wearing my best pants and shirt. I donned my coat and headed to the front door. My little brother eyed me and looked down at his feet. I ruffled the little bugger’s hair. “Don’t worry, Jacob. We’ll break their line. We’ll send them running back to the ocean.”
Jacob twisted his head out of my reach obviously preferring not to have his hair ruffled. “I want to fight!”
I thought silently to myself, if I fail you might just get your wish. “You’re too young, little brother.”
“I’m too young for everything but chores!”
I laughed and reached for his head a second time. He dodged out of the way and ran. I headed downstairs.
My mom, dad, and little sister waited at the door for me. I nodded to them. “Well, I’m off.”
Mom tried to smile. “Just remember, you don’t have to do this. You can change your mind.”
Dad sniped, “He’s not going to change his mind.”
I smiled. “Goodbye.”
I made it to town and some soldiers directed me to the army’s training field. When I made it there, I was told to stand in line. One by one young men would step into a tent, then step back out of the tent through a separate opening wearing a blue bandanna on their arm. When I got to the front of the line, I kept hearing someone cry out right after a person stepped into the tent. It came to be my turn, and I stepped into the darkness. A shirtless, veteran fighter, with rippled muscles and scars, sat behind a low burning fire of embers. He looked me in the eye. Then he whipped his hand out from behind his back and threw something at my face. I caught it. I cursed. It hurt my hand, a chunk of iron, and it would have hit me right in the face!
The fighter asked, “What’s your name?”
I almost threw the iron pellet back at him. “Memnock.”
He wrote down my name in a book, glanced at me again, and asked, “Your brother was Jericho?”
“You look like him, and just like Jericho, you’ve made it into the vanguard. I’m putting you with Lord Patrick.” He stepped forward and tied a red bandana on my left arm and pointed towards a flap in the tent. “That way.”
“What do I do?”
“Find Lord Patrick and tell him you caught the iron.”
I stepped through that tent flap into the troop compound. I went from person to person asking about Lord Patrick until I finally found him with a group of well dressed men wearing purple tunics with gold borders. I told him I caught the iron pellet. He grabbed me by the shoulder and grinned like a starving carnivore that just grilled a thick steak. I simply stared back at him. He said, “Most young men hear about the test, and make a conscious choice. If they want to be in the vanguard, they try and dodge the iron. If they don’t want the glory, they let the pellet hit them.” He shook his head. “They just close their eyes and hope not to loose a tooth.”
“I never heard of anything like it. What’s it mean to catch the iron?”
“Boy, it means either you got very lucky, but you’re actually inept, and you’ll be one of the first to die, or it means you were born to fight in the vanguard. You’ll ride by my side, and I’ll be right next to High Lord Kirl.”
I smiled, hoping for the latter. Lord Patrick turned to face the other
lords and seemed to ignore me. I asked, “What should I do?”
Patrick pointed to a pile of rusty old swords. “Take one of those swords, go to one of those trees in the field over there, and hit it.”
“Hit it again. Until you can’t hit it anymore.”
I nodded. I went over to a stack of swords and picked out one of the less rusty ones. The edge of the blade looked dull and here and there it had nicks in it. I tested the balance. It clearly weighed heavy towards the point and seemed far heavier than it needed to be. I walked back over to Lord Patrick and cleared my throat. “Excuse me, my lord, will I carry this sword into battle?”
Patrick shook his head. “You surely won’t be fighting a tree when the time comes either. We’ll forge a blade for you to use.”
The next day, in the chow tent, I gave up trying to count how many young men had a fresh bruise on their face from the test of the iron.
A few weeks later, I was summoned to the armory tent. I stepped inside, and Lord Patrick waited. He handed me a sword in its scabbard. “There’s your fury blade, Memnock. Take it!”
I took the sword and drew it. I hefted its weight and smiled. The balance was perfect and the edge razor sharp. Suddenly it purred in my hand like a young kitten almost. I looked to Lord Patrick. “It’s alive?”
“Yes, forged with dragon’s blood, attuned to you. It has your name on the hilt.”
I looked and indeed carved on the hilt was the word, Memnock. I smiled and sheathed the sword. Months passed as the army trained and trained. On the eve of the battle, I met Kirl for the first time. He had piercing hazel eyes and a tightly trimmed beard. He stood next to a boiling cauldron of red liquid. Patrick waited for me. An ancient hag poured some of the liquid into a silver cup and held it out to me. Lord Patrick said, “Drink it, Memnock.”
I took a sip. “Eww, what is it supposed to taste like?”
“Dragon’s blood,” Kirl said. “Drink it. It’ll prepare you for the battle tomorrow.”
I drank it down. It burned in my stomach. It tasted of ash, soot, copper, and salt. Setting the cup down, I looked to the lords. Kirl said, “In the battle tomorrow, you’ll be at Lord Patrick’s right, if he should fall, form up with me.”
I pondered the situation. “What if you fall, Lord Kirl?”
Lord Patrick laughed with some passion. “If he falls, Memnock, all is lost.”
“My boy,” Kirl said. “If I fall in combat, you can consider yourself in charge. Advance. The plan is a simple one. We need to punch through the body of The Throng and reach their command pavilion, hopefully killing some or all of their generals. In the past, if we’ve reached their command pavilion, they’ll order a retreat. We’ll have to give chase. Understood?”
I nodded. Both lords seemed to ignore me at that point–I looked to Lord Patrick. “What should I do?”
“Most men try to sleep, some know they can’t and just stay up, play dice, and watch fires burn.”
I knew that meant I could do whatever I wanted, a rare luxury in military life. “Thank you, my lord.”
As I walked towards my tent, my thoughts drifted. The earth below my feet seemed to get swampy and mushy. It felt odd, but I felt strangely at ease. I wanted to get plenty of sleep so I went into my tent and lay down on my mat. I drifted off into endless colored dreams. I dreamed of so many things it felt like an afterlife’s worth. Dreams of harvest time played over and over in my mind intermixed with dreams of my family, and then there were the dreams of women, dozens of dreams of women. I woke to the sound of thundering drums. The first time they’d played the drums since the start of my conscription. They thumped so loud, and my head felt so strange that it felt like they vibrated through the very Earth. I donned my chainmail and strapped on my blade. I stepped out of the tent, and a beautiful vixen of a maiden ran towards me carrying another silver cup of red, frothy liquid. She shouted out, “Memnock!”
My first thought was that I was dreaming, but that I should play along. I smiled. “Over here.”
She stepped towards me and held out the silver cup. “From High Lord Kirl.”
I took the cup and drank it down. The sheer acid taste of it burned my throat and woke me to the reality that this wasn’t a dream.
* * *
As the battle raged around me, I struck down opponent after opponent, trying to fight my way back to the rest of the vanguard. With each enemy I struck down, I seemed to breathe in their life force and grow stronger. My blade stayed clean and sharp the entire time, then I noticed it started to cast off white light and move faster than I could possibly swing it myself. That’s when a behemoth of a man struck down Lord Patrick with one swift blow to the neck sending his head flying off.
He stood a hand and a half taller than me and almost twice as wide with black hair and pale blue eyes. His arms and legs rippled with muscle. Unlike the other enemy warriors, he wore no armor save for a horned helm and leather protecting his groin. His axe blade glistened red with blood in the stark morning light. Blood of my fallen brothers.
I charged him aiming with all my strength for the point on his neck where it attached to the shoulder. He flashed his teeth at me. Then he moved the axe with a swiftness I couldn’t believe and our blades stuck to together. We both jerked back at the same time pulling the blades free. He examined the edge of his axe peering intently at the new dent. My blade didn’t lose its edge. I redoubled my effort striking over and over at his face and neck. For every strike I made, the axe flashed.
He flipped his grip on the axe, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye aimed for my neck. I ducked straight under it, and an exposed kneecap presented itself as a golden opportunity. I lashed out with my sword slicing an inch deep cut right through his leg. My enemy screeched in pain and dropped his guard. I didn’t have time to revel in it. I spun around, lopping his head off.
In a circle around me, the fighting had stopped and both sides watched. Then I heard a low roar from my side of the line. A great splattering of lightning crashed down around Kirl. The word ‘Rally!’ sounded louder than thunder from him. I ran like the wind through the tall grass and over the bodies to where Kirl stood.
I reached the high lord first. The Throng surrounded us, but more of the vanguard approached. I looked to Kirl. “Why do they attack us? They’re no different from us.”
Kirl sighed. “It’s because we use magic, Lord Memnock. Don’t you feel the power flowing through you?”
I paled at the thought. Why not use magic? Magic strengthens the farmer’s plow. Magic seals the grain silo. Magic heals wounds. I took note though. Arcane energy flowed through me like never before.
The vanguard finally formed up around us. Kirl howled. “Advance! Advance!”
My guts pulled me forward into the hornet’s nest of enemy swords and pikes. In the distance, with just a few more ranks of enemies in the way, the honor guard flags of the enemy war generals rustled in the wind.
The full moon above twisted the shadows into shapes of demons and specters. I clutched at Jessica’s hand as we walked through the woods looking for refuge. October is upon us, echoed through my mind, and the beasts and goblins reigned like tyrants this year. First they overran the big cities conquering humans in a blood rite unseen for countless centuries. What awakened the monsters this October? They advanced through population centers like hordes of flesh crazed maniacs. The metropolises stood devoid of human life soon enough, and the devilish masses started crowding into small towns in the night across the weeks before Halloween. Only in the tiniest of remote rural locations did humans still walk the earth.
We were in the process of fleeing from their dark carcasses that seemed to bleed pieces of reality. We needed to find a house and quick. The moon lit the trail a bit, and I whispered to Jessica, “Let’s run…”
So we ran. A light in the distance sparked in the blur of a slick grey fog. A simple house fleshed itself out in our vision the closer we ran. I saw the hell hound on the porch, and I knew the wicked creatures were ahead of us…
Jessica pulled on my hand, and the canine with jagged contours of solid obsidian wrapped tightly across a skeletal form looked up at us. Well, at me, right in the eyes. It made a deep guttural growl that sounded more like gravel grinding on gravel than a dog’s growl.
I said in the most hushed of tones, “The dog!”
“He’s on a chain! Come on!”
We ran up to the door and knocked. A humanoid shape answered with hewn rock arms and legs and a fat, plump belly. The entity of deep cut edges laughed a throaty crackle. The abomination’s clothes were a shifting, turning array of colors in paisley patterns. The thing’s adornments made me stare at the mind numbing shapes as they morphed between dreams.
It shouted in a broken, choppy voice, “Look, honey, trick or treat’rs! And they’re dressed as little humans!”
A second granite like figure stepped down the hallway with a kaleidoscope of colors weaving out tales in the fabric of her dress at a lightning pace.
Jessica and I held out our bags.
The female rock thing said, “Did they say ‘Trick or Treat’ yet?”
“No. Wait, maybe they did… Get the candy.”
The female promptly returned and dropped two full sized candy bars into each of our bags.
We pulled to a stop, and Jessica started eating a treat.
“We can’t keep doing this,” I said. “It’s been almost a week!”
“Do you have a better plan? No, these creatures think every day is Halloween, we have the perfect costumes, and we have to eat!”
“I don’t even like candy!”
“Damn you, Lucas, and your diabetes! I give you all the fruit we get, don’t I?”
“We got apples once in six days, and they were covered in caramel!”
“Come on, we can get three more houses in before dawn.”
* * *
We slept the day away under a willow tree by a rolling stream. Hunger ate away at my insides and my hand shook. I reached in my bag, pulled out a bag of disgusting gourmet chocolate treats with a crunchy candy shell, and ate just enough to quiet my stomach and calm my nerves.
Darkness fell on us as the sun set, and we were off. We hit house after house that night. With the rising sun, we collapsed in a ditch by the side of the road.
I slept for a while, but the grip of hunger woke me, and I ate gummi candies until the shakes began to subside.
A voice shouted, “You kids! Are you alright?”
I looked. A man in an army uniform, with a machine gun at his side, was crouching at the edge of our ditch with one knee bent. His hands were on his knee, and he was smiling wide.
The most primal of thoughts raced through my mind. This man might have food!
I nudged Jessica. She rubbed at her eyes and looked around.
“Are you kids alright?” The soldier man asked.
“We’re ok,” Jessica said.
I said, “We need food!”
The soldier laughed. “Come along with me, and we’ll get some food in you.”
Jessica and I ran at the soldier and hugged his legs tight.
The man patted our heads. “Come on. Hop in my jeep.”
We climbed into the back of his jeep, and he started driving.
“You kids are lucky to be alive,” he said. “We’ve been pushing the rock monsters back, but they’re heavy in this region.”
We nodded. We rode maybe a mile, maybe two. The encampment didn’t have a wall or even barbed wire around it, just a cluster of tents and vehicles in a field of hay. The man said, “My name is Myers. If you need anything, look for me.”
He showed us to a tent, and we stepped inside. It had a big rectangular table in the center with four chairs around it. Myers said, “I think we have roast beef or turkey sandwiches today. What do you guys want?”
“Roast beef!” I said.
“Turkey!” Jessica exclaimed.
Myers took off in a run. Jessica and I smiled and in perfect unison started rubbing our hands together like the gleeful man plotting his escape from a tyrannical situation.
Myers returned with clear plastic packages. At first, I didn’t notice anything strange then I more closely examined the package he set in front of me. It looked like food, but there was something strange about it. It had rough contours and looked like it had been made of rock pieces mortared together. I couldn’t wait. I took a bite. Imagine biting into a gravel with mortal and sand sandwich. Rocks. Sand. Mortar. Jessica and I spit our bites out back into the plastic containers. Myers asked, “What’s wrong?”
I noticed it finally. Myers was all straight lines and painted solids, not like a real person. Jessica stood up, and I followed her lead. She said, “Umm, we left something back by the side of the road. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Oh, no, you can’t leave,” Myers said.
Jessica yelled, “Hiya!” jumping into the air and throwing her foot at Myers head. He sort of crumpled into a ball of lines and solid colors.
Jessica and I ran to the flap in the tent and took a look around. The coast was clear, and we walked calmly away from their camp.
“You kicked Myers in the head!” I exclaimed.
She said, “Yeah.”
She stopped walking and turned to stare at me. She reached out with her finger and poked me in the chest. She said, “I’ve been telling you for years that I study Kung-Fu.”
“Yeah, but I…”
“You never listen to me.”
“I didn’t think they’d teach you how to kick somebody in the head,” I said.
“What do you think you learn at Kung-Fu?” She asked.
“I never thought about it. I thought it was maybe like dance class.”
“Come on, we’ve got to find our candy bags. Let’s run.” She pulled at my hand.
“No! We’ve got to find real food!”
“We have to find real food, or I’m gonna die, Jessica.”
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
She looked at me. She spoke softly, in her little I’m perfect we’ll do as I bid way, “First, we’ve got to get our bags. We have to eat something. Then, I have a plan.”
We walked and walked looking for our bags. Finally, just after dusk, we spotted them.
We ate a little bit then we started looking for a house. We knocked on the door.
The rock monsters gave us candy, as expected. But we didn’t run.
Jessica used her, please I’m cute voice, “My friend missed dinner. Is there any way you could spare a roast beef sandwich for him?”
The male rock monster looked to his female companion. Both creatures began to rub their chins.
I whimpered, “Please?”
The male smiled a wide toothy grin of razor teeth. The female said, “We don’t have any roast beef.”
“But we grilled bratwurst an hour ago. We have some left,” the male said.
Jessica looked at me. I drooled and said, “Bratwurst would be great.”
The female asked, “Mustard? Ketchup? Pickle relish? Fresh onions?”
I smiled. “Mustard and onions!”
The female wandered into the kitchen.
The male said, in a choppy, haggard voice, “My name is Johnathon. My wife is Bethany.”
The woman returned carrying a flat, crystal, square plate hosting not one, but two bratwurst in buns. I grabbed the plate and sat on the floor with the plate resting on my knees. Jessica kneeled down and tried to grab one of brats. I twisted out of her reach and said, “Get your own.”
Jessica looked up at the rock monster pair. Bethany cackled, with a high pitched voice, “There’s another one in the kitchen, deary. What do you want on it?”
Jessica whispered, “Mustard and relish, please.”
Bethany returned carrying two of the crystal plates. The first carried a brat, which she held out to Jessica. She took the plate and sat down on the floor. Bethany held the second plate out to us, and it had two forks and four heaping bowls on it: coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and macaroni salad. Bethany said, “Leftover from dinner,” and set the plate on the floor between me and Jessica.
The two rock monsters left us alone in the hallway, and we stuffed ourselves like pigs.
At the end of the food, I said, “I feel much better.”
Jessica lay back on the floor, and stretched her legs out. The food was starting to work on me, and I felt a bit groggy.
“I’m tired,” Jessica said. “We’ve been running and walking nonstop for ages.”
“Me, too,” I said.
I lay down on my back and stared up at the ceiling.
“I’m gonna close my eyes for a few minutes,” Jessica said. “Wake me up in a little while.”
My eyes closed soon enough. I woke to the rays of the sun and looked around. I was in a bed, a bunk bed, and I could tell from the pace of her snoring that Jessica was in the bed above me.
I nudged her mattress.
“Wake up, Jessica,” I said.
She poked her head over the side of the bed and looked at me.
“You didn’t wake me,” she complained.
“Yeah, yeah. What are we gonna do?”
She blinked her eyes a few times. “You know what? I bet they’re cooking food again.”
“This is our chance to escape! We’ve got to get out of here!”
“We’re getting breakfast first!”
We heard a knock on the door. Johnathon opened the door and said, “I hope the beds were alright… Bethany has breakfast on.”
We followed Johnathon downstairs. Bethany hummed a wicked tune while she stirred up a small feast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast with jelly.
Jessica and I ate our fill. Bethany moved to clear the dishes, and Jessica said, “Bethany, let us get the dishes for you.”
Bethany smiled. “So polite.”
“It’ll be our pleasure,” I said.
Jessica and I started clearing the tables. Jessica washed, and I dried.
“Are you kids going to take off your costumes?” Bethany asked.
Jessica grabbed my hand with a fiercer grip than I would have imagined possible. In fact, she may have broken a bone or two in my hand. She shouted, “RUN!”
I ran. We both ran.
The rain fell like icy steel pins. Lightning etched between clouds high above illuminating the landscape. The troll ducked under a tree and shivered. He looked down at the knife in his right hand. He dropped the knife and ran for home.
The troll ran through the woods until his lungs burned and his heart raced thumpety thump in his chest. He’ll miss that knife, he thought. The rain stopped, and he started walking back to where he left his blade. He picked it up and stared at the gleaming metal.
He knew the sun approached, and he couldn’t afford to be seen in daylight, so he started running again for his cave. He approached the bridge as the first rays of daylight burned their way into the clouds above. He climbed under the bridge and into his cave. If only he’d caught a rabbit, he thought. He tossed a few logs onto his fire pit and blew feverishly on the coals to spark their energy once again.
Soon enough, he had heat in his abode. He stashed a potato at the bottom of the fire and waited. No meat, he thought. He waited a long time and nudged the potato out of the fire. He waited again for it to cool. His hunger gnawed at his insides. He grabbed up the potato and bit into it over and over taking great chunks out.
He curled up in the far corner of the room and drifted off to sleep. He dreamed of a great feast of roast boar, cinnamon apples, and wine, for he knew of those things from his homeland.
He stirred awake, but rays of sunshine still crept in his cave entrance. He stirred his fire and cooked a potato. The light dwindled into twilight, and he waited. He stepped out of his cave and took a drink of water from the river. The troll’s heart froze as the iron clad hooves of a horse thundered across the bridge above.
The troll went back in his cave for his blade. A rabbit, he thought, if he didn’t get meat soon he would waste away. He chose a new path through the woods that night. He traveled and traveled hoping for a rabbit as the need for meat gnawed away at his stomach.
He stumbled upon a patch of raspberries and ate greedily, but he knew in his heart he needed meat. His tendons ached, and his muscles were growing stiff. He wandered through the night. Plagued by the aches in his flesh, he didn’t notice the sun rise.
His eyes squinted. A shape loomed in the distance, and he slowed his approach. A rabbit, he thought. It carried a giant basket and picked at clusters of ripe grapes. He tried to be quiet as he approached it from behind. Within a few steps of the creature, he stepped on a twig.
The creature breathed in heavily and turned to face him. It had bright blue eyes and long blonde hair. It was wearing a blue dress of sorts and had long delicate fingers. It spoke in some language the troll couldn’t understand. The troll advanced. The rabbit turned to run, but the troll was quicker leaping forward with the knife thrust in front of him like a great spear on the end of his arm.
The knife plunged into the rabbit’s back, and it screamed a high pitched wail. The troll gutted the creature cleaning out its intestines to make for an easier carry. He threw the carcass over his shoulder and took off in a run for his cave.
Emily peered into the dark recesses of her school locker seeking out her tattered book of poetry. She simply knew it was in there somewhere, perhaps behind her Unicorn covered notebook.
She felt hands squeeze her breasts and a bulge rub against the crack of her ass. She shrieked and spun around. John let go of her and laughed. Then he walked away. His locker was just seven lockers from hers and had been since the start of high school four years ago. She snarled. He looked her over: black dress as always, black eye shadow, black lipstick, and black fingernails adorning pale white fingers. She was the typical Goth chick.
He turned back to his locker and started working the dial.
Emily decided it was time to make her move. She wanted a date for The homecoming dance, and John the football player would serve. She summoned every last bit of courage, and approached him. She tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face her. She moved in to kiss him on the lips. He stepped backwards and hissed. He said, “Don’t do that!”
“Why not? You started it.”
“I wouldn’t want to be seen with you.”
“What? Why not?”
“You’re a Goth chick! I have standards.”
She glared, and then turned away. She went back to her locker and found her book of poetry. She made her way to her ancient Pinto and drove home. After dinner, she and her mom were doing dishes in the kitchen when her mom said, “You know it’s a full moon tonight.”
Mom continued, “Well you know how your father gets during the full moon. You should stay at a friend’s house tonight.”
Emily sighed. She didn’t want to spend the night in the woods, and if she called upon any of her few and far between friends, they would freak out when they learned the truth. So, she’d spend the night in the woods like so many other nights over the years.
Emily’s mom could see her resistance, and her mom spoke quietly, “Just be glad this isn’t the dark ages. Be glad you weren’t born male.”
Emily nodded. “I know. I know.”
Emily went to her room. She stripped naked. She put on a red silk robe. She went downstairs. Her dad smiled at her. He said, “I’m sorry, honey. You just don’t know what it’s like for males.”
Emily said, “I’ve heard this story a thousand times, Dad. I’ll run through the woods. I’ll be fine.”
“Thanks, honey. I’m glad you understand.”
She didn’t understand though. She hated it. She walked out to the back porch and noticed a faint glint of the moon rising on the horizon. She felt a stir in her belly.
* * *
John played football that night. Hell, he more than played, he scored two touchdowns, sacked the quarterback, and intercepted two passes. He played the whole first half and the last quarter. His teammates called him Iron Man for playing offense and defense. His coach reminded him after every game that he’d have to choose offense or defense when he made it to college. He hadn’t gotten any offers to go to any colleges, but with almost a year of high school left and most of the school’s football season left, there was still time. He’d be on the local 11 o’clock news on two channels for sure.
The buses dropped them off at the school, and he was counting on his sister to pick him up. His sister was a no show. He waited. He stood alone in the parking lot in the moonlight. He knew in his heart his sister was off blowing some hobo or stoned out of her gourd, so he started walking. The path was lit with streetlights all the way home, but it was nearly three miles. He knew if he cut through the woods it would be closer to two miles, and he knew the way, and he had the moonlight.
He took off in a slow jog.
He made his way down a well known path when he saw the eyes. Just two eyes that flashed in the moonlight off to the side of his path. He slowed, and stopped. A wolf bigger than any canine John had ever seen stepped directly into his path. It was mostly grey except its face which seemed to be painted with strips of black. John said, “Nice doggy.”
The wolf smiled a canine smile and started wagging its tail. John held his palm out below the animal’s nose, so it could get a good sniff of his scent. The wolf sniffed at his hand. John petted the animal, and it wagged its tail even more. John smiled, and thought to himself, I’m not going to die after all.
The beast bit down viciously on John’s hand, and out of reflex, John smacked it upside the head with his left. The wolf let out a yelp and ran into the woods.
John looked at his hand. It was bleeding bad. He took off his shirt and wrapped it around the puncture holes. He took off in a jog again keeping pressure on his right with his left. By the time he made it home, the shirt was soaked, but the bleeding had mostly stopped. His mom screamed when she saw him.
His dad said, “Let me see. Unwrap it.”
John gingerly unraveled the bloodstained shirt from his hand. His dad looked, grabbed his hand, and turned it this way and that. He said, “Wiggle your fingers.”
John wiggled his fingers.
Dad said, “You need stitches. You need a Tetanus shot. You likely need Rabies shots.”
“It’s barely a scratch!”
“You’ve never had a Tetanus shot,” Mother said, “so now is as good a time as any. And if a dog bit you it might have rabies. If we could find the dog, we could find out if it has rabies.”
“It was a wolf!”
“You shouldn’t go through the woods!” Dad exclaimed.
“It was my sister’s fault! She was supposed to pick me up.”
His parents nodded. His dad grabbed car keys and said, “Let’s go, boy.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital!”
“Quit being a cry baby,” Mom said. “You’d think they intend to cut off your penis. Tetanus is fatal. Rabies is fatal. You need shots.”
John sighed. His dad started making tracks for the garage. John followed. They drove in silence to the hospital. The doctor stitched him up. The doctor gave him two shots that he would rather have not had. The doctor gave him the bright news that he’d have to come in for more rabies shots over the next 28 days unless they found the canine that bit him. The doctor handed him a white envelop and said, “Take this before bed tonight.”
“What is it?” John asked.
“Just a little something to help calm your nerves.”
“What is it?”
“Just a five milligram Valium. I’ve seen you play: you’re good.”
“What is Valium?”
“It’s a sedative,” the doc said. “It’s like a little treat. Take it.”
“Keep it, doc. Drugs aren’t treats.”
“Good for you. Your family doctor will likely administer the rest of the Rabies shots.”
John’s dad was asleep in the waiting room when John emerged. They drove home in silence. John wanted to say so bad, “Why don’t you ever come and watch me play?” He knew the answer though. His dad hated sports. He considered them a waste of time. John should be concerned with a real job, not playing with his friends.
* * *
As the moon set that morning, Emily donned her silk robe and went into the house to take a shower. She was tired, so tired the weariness seemed to creep into the joints between her bones. Her stomach growled its empty growl. She decided the shower could wait and started foraging through the kitchen for food. She ate and ate. She headed towards the stairs and her room, but the couch lured her in with its soft cushions and warm blanket.
School days passed by, and John made no more moves to grope her. Word around the school though was he still didn’t have a date for Homecoming. There were at least four girls ready to put out for him, but he seemed intent to make them fight over him. Perhaps he planned to do them one-by-one. Perhaps he preferred boys. The girls talked and talked about his reasons. None were sure one way or the other though.
A quick month passed, and John found himself walking home through the
woods from a football game once again thanks to his whore of a sister. The moon crept up into the sky, and a gut wrenching tightness descended on John’s insides.
He stumbled to his knees and hands. His back arched in pain as he felt his muscles stretch. His skin started to tingle and then burn as hair grew into a fur coat. His mind started to slip, and he ripped all his clothes off. His hands grew into paws with sharp claws. His arms stretched out as his gut wrenched. He knew hunger. He knew nothing else. He started to run sniffing at the air. He smelled what he knew in his carnal heart to be a rabbit.
He chased down the scent until he found the rabbit. He practically ripped it in two and feasted on all but the bones and fur, and in his fury, he ate some of the bones and fur, too.
He started racing through the woods searching out another rabbit. He saw a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and tried to chase it down. Then he heard a howl in the distance. He ran towards the sound, for it sounded pretty. He saw a grey wolf with black streaks painted on its face. The wolf turned its butt towards John, and John knew in his heart that the other wolf was female. His rod sprung to attention, and he had no choice but to carnally mount the other wolf.
As their bodies separated, the other wolf ran into the woods. John just lay on the ground panting, satiated and hoping for another rabbit. He saw another squirrel and chased it down ripping it to pieces and feasting on the tender flesh and innards.
As the moon set, John’s body and mind wrenched its way back into human form. He was naked, alone, and in the woods. He took off in a run towards home. He jetted past other houses and made his way through the back door of his house. He ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. His hands and face were covered in blood. He hopped in the shower.
He stood under the pelting hot shower and pondered his fate. Was he a werewolf? Was he going to turn into a wolf again?
He climbed out of the shower and dried off. He got dressed. He heard his mom shout, “Breakfast!”
He raced downstairs. He ate like a fiend, asking for seconds and then asking for thirds. He looked to his mom and dad. His sister wasn’t around, of course. John said, “Mom, Dad, remember that wolf that bit me?”
“Of course,” Dad said.
“Last night I turned into a wolf, Dad.”
“What!” Mom howled.
“You’re doing drugs!” Mom said.
“I am not!”
“LSD is a bad drug, John,” Dad said. “Don’t ever take it from anyone. Are we clear?”
“I turned into a wolf!”
“You just had a bad acid trip, honey,” Mom said. “It happens if you’re doing drugs.”
John sighed. Then he realized. Maybe somebody did slip him something. He shrugged it off. What are you gonna do, he thought.
Monday arrived. John was at his locker. Emily approached him and said, “Hi, John.”
John turned on her and said, “What do you want?”
Emily smiled at him.
John noticed the makeup again for a second time. Emily was the werewolf.
“So, we’re going out?” Emily asked.
“We’re not going out.”
“You’re a Goth chick.”
“I am not!”
“You wear all black,” John said. “You wear black lipstick. Black everything.”
Emily frowned. “I look good in black.”
“I can’t go out with a Goth chick.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed. “You want me to wear a pink miniskirt and matching halter top?”
John smiled. “Yes.”
Emily turned and left him to his fate. She knew, without the right concoction of herbs, he would be an uncontrollable monster. He would kill. He would be hunted. He was doomed. She smiled.
* * *
John’s thoughts began to race between his harsh new reality and the everyday events unfolding before him. His math teacher lectured on the greatness of the cosine function while John’s mind drifted ceaselessly to that bitch of a werewolf, Emily, who bit him and infected him with the lycanthropy. He would turn into a wolf again, and that thought echoed in his head over and over. As the day progressed, the muscles in his neck began to ache from the stiffness caused by his errant thoughts. He walked in a trance to his locker. Emily put a few books in her locker and slammed it closed. He chased after her and said, “You gotta help me!”
“Why would I do that?”
“I’m a human being!”
Emily smiled. “Not any more. Now you’re a creature of the night.”
John glared. “If you don’t help me, I swear, everyone in this town, hell, everybody in the state will know you’re a werewolf.”
Emily’s eyes opened wide.
“Help me,” John begged.
Emily smiled. “My dad takes an herbal concoction. It helps him keep his humanity when he changes.”
“What does he take!”
“I don’t know. I take a different herbal mix. I’ll have to ask him.”
“Ask him when you get home. Call me.” He scribbled his number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. She hesitated. Then she took the number and stuck it in her pocket. They caught their separate buses home.
Emily’s house was empty, and that suited her plans perfectly. She went into the basement. She grabbed the shelves just so and pulled a section of wall out of the way. She reached in the secret room and hit a light switch. A thick book sat under a simple incandescent bulb in the center of the alcove. Emily stepped up to the book and paged to the index. She found the remedy to halt the transformations and wrote down the herbs and dosages. She closed the book and resealed the room. She went upstairs to her room and dialed John. He answered, “Emily! Did you talk to your dad?”
“I talked to Dad, yeah. Here’s what you need to take to stop the transformations.” Then she rattled off the list of ingredients and dosages.
“Thanks a million. I guess you’re not a bad person, even if you are a Goth chick.”
Emily glared. “I’m not a Goth chick!”
“Yeah, yeah. Look, where do I get this stuff?”
“The best herb shop in town is on the south side. It’s called the Willow Connection. It’s on the corner of Elm and 15th street.”
“I’ll Google it!”
John hung up the phone. The computer produced a map, and John quietly approached his sister’s door. He knocked on the door.
“What?” His sister shouted.
“I need a ride, sis.”
“You know the deal. Mom and Dad pay for your car, and you have to give me a ride if I need a ride.”
“What do you need a ride for?” She asked.
“It’s a long story!”
John could hear his sister growl. She opened the door and poked her brother in the chest in a very painful way. “Where?” she asked.
“Elm and 15th street. I have a map.”
She didn’t say another word and headed straight for her car. They rode in silence. They pulled up outside the shop, and she snarled, “Hurry.”
“I need a few things. You gotta wait.”
John raced in the store. It was almost pitch black inside, and there were no signs for anything. A woman wearing a long dark dress smiled a wide bright smile, and spoke in an almost musical tone, “The light will damage the potency of some herbs. Can I help you find anything?”
John nodded. “I need Horny Goat Weed, Cinnamon, and Cayenne.”
The woman tilted her head to the side, and one eye opened wider than the other. Her complexion radiated life and had a smooth flawless nature even though the wrinkles implied she was at least forty if not fifty years old. She whispered, “This way.”
John followed her down the first aisle. The woman said, “That is an interesting combination of herbs you need. We have all three, for certain. I can’t directly recall what the combination does, something ancient if I my fogged memory serves at all.”
The horn sounded on John’s sister’s car, and John said, “I’m in a hurry.”
The woman grabbed a bottle off one shelf and held it out to John. Then she moved to another aisle and grabbed another bottle. Finally she went to a refrigerator and withdrew a final bottle. John asked, “How much?”
The horn sounded again from outside.
“Quickly! What do I owe you? She won’t honk again.”
The woman nodded. “Make it an even twenty.”
John handed over the money and took off in a run for the car.
His sister hit the gas and merged into traffic without bothering to look behind her or even into any of the mirrors. She said, “What’d you get?”
“It’s not important.”
“You used up your one free trip this month, and it wasn’t important.”
“The rule isn’t one free trip a month,” John said. “It’s whenever I need a ride!”
“You’ve got a bike,” she said. “You’ve got perfectly good feet.”
“I swear if you don’t let up, I’ll find your stash and flush it down the toilet.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“I’ll do it.”
She glared at the road and slowly pressed the gas down until other cars flew by like turtles struggling against a strong headwind.
He started taking the pills everyday. It eased his mind, if nothing else. Day by day, he could feel a change ever so slowly creeping into his body. He watched the calendar waiting for the full moon. It was due to rise at 7pm, and John went outside to wait.
The moon rose, and John’s body began to twist and contort. He howled, “Stop the transformation my ass!” His fur began to grow and his hands and feet turned into paws. He was the wolf again. He took off in a run towards the woods and freedom. He killed a rabbit and ate it raw. Through the night in simple little stages, he forgot his name, he forgot his family, and he forgot his life. The moon set.
Emily sat on her back porch in her robe, waiting. The wolf stepped into her backyard and eyed her. She smiled at it and whispered, “Come’ere, boy.”
The wolf smiled and walked up to her. She patted it on its head. He sat on his hind legs, wagged his tail, and barked once ever so politely.
“I will call you Benjamin,” Emily said. “I’ll feed you everyday. I’ll play catch with you. We’ll go for long runs on the bike trail.”
The wolf barked again.
Tracy walked up to her sister’s front door and let herself in. Tim vaulted down the stairs shouting, “Aunt Tracy! Aunt Tracy!”
He grabbed her in a hug. Tracy’s sister stepped into the hallway grinning from ear-to-ear. Beth said, “You know, Tim, you’re to be good for Aunt Tracy today. It’s just a short trip to OSU to drop off your cousin’s laptop, and then Tracy is taking you shopping for some new clothes for your birthday yesterday.”
“I know I know.”
“Don’t be running off or nothing!” Beth said.
“I’ll be good!” Tim cried and began running around the room with his arms out like an airplane.
“He’ll be fine,” Tracy said. “I’m going to do what grandmother did to us at his age.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Tim asked; his arms dropping down as he stood still.
Beth looked at Tracy with a wicked grin. “Good, make sure you get the money. You know how they can be. I want my cut.”
“You’ll get your share, sister of mine.”
Tim looked to his mother and then back at his aunt.
Tracy grabbed Tim’s ten year old hand and pulled him out of the house. She said, “Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!”
Tim and Tracy ran to her vintage black Corvette convertible and climbed inside. Tracy gunned the machine to life and started speeding down the road. Tim said, “We’re going to get at least one video game for my birthday along with new clothes right?”
Tracy laughed violently. “I have bad news for you.”
Tracy plotted her next move with methodological precision. “You’ve heard of the gypsies in school haven’t you?”
“They are tribal nomads traveling the earth moving from place to place. They are originally from India, but they migrated through Europe and to North America.”
“Oh,” Tim said.
“They live in camps and have a rich heritage.”
“After we drop off the laptop at your cousins, we’ll stop and get clothes as promised, and then we’ll stop at a gypsy camp, and I’m selling you to them.”
“What?” Tim asked.
“It’s time we sold you to the gypsies, so you can start earning your keep harvesting in the fields and rooting out weeds.”
“You are not!”
“Harvesting the Jalapeno and Habanero peppers will be the worst of it for you. The spicy oil gets on your hands, and the smell makes your eyes water. Most people can’t help but rub their eyes, and that makes them burn even worse.”
“Your mother and I were both sold to gypsies as slave labor when we were ten. Parents get one hundred dollars for every year of life of the child. You’re worth a cool grand. Your mother and I stole from travelers and merchants in order to make enough to buy our way out of slavery. You’re a bright kid. I’m sure you can do the same.”
“You did not!”
Tim’s eyes were wide, and he very slowly started shaking his head back and forth.
“It’s not all bad. They’ll feed you well, and they are great cooks.”
Neither said anything for miles and miles as highway raced past them. They parked at OSU and Tracy fished the laptop out of the trunk. They rode the elevator up 16 floors to Jen’s dorm room and knocked. It took a moment before she answered, but when she did, her eyes lit up brilliantly when she saw the laptop. “Oh, mom. Thank you SO much. I can’t believe I forgot my laptop.”
Tracy nodded. “This is why I wanted you to go to school close to home, my dear.”
Jen knelt down to Tim and poked him in the stomach. He giggled. She said, “And this one is ten now: prime time to sell him off.”
Tim cocked his head to the side, mouth gaping wide. His eyes shifted left and right between aunt and cousin.
“Yes, we were thinking the same thing,” Tracy said.
“You’re not going to sell me!”
Jen rolled her eyes. “It isn’t that bad, Tim. You’ll find ingenious ways to make money with the gypsies, and if you scrimp and save, you’ll be able to buy your freedom. And food, oh my god, the food is so good.”
“We have to go,” Tracy said. “We’re buying him his work clothes today.”
Jen said, “Yes, he’ll need good strong jeans and thick cotton or wool shirts. And boots, those are essential. Oh, and get him a good knife. I was so glad grandma packed a sturdy knife with my things.”
“He’s kind of clumsy. He might cut himself.”
Tim stared at Jen.
“Yes, all boys are clumsy,” Jen said, “but he’ll need a knife for sure.”
“What am I going to need a knife for?”
“To fight off bandits and thieves, Tim,” Tracy said.
“Enjoy school, Jen. I’ll see you at thanksgiving.”
“Thanks again, Mom.”
Tim seemed rather distracted, so Tracy grabbed his hand and pulled him along to the elevators. They made it back to the Corvette, and they headed south on the interstate. Tracy said, “You know, after you’ve been with the gypsies, they’ll likely teach you how to put a gypsy curse on someone.”
“Gypsy curses are quite powerful. I’ve seen a man with a gypsy curse lose his leg over it.”
“A thief once broke into an old gypsy’s house and stole her life savings. The old woman put such a strong curse on him that they had to amputate below the knee. They call him Pegleg now.”
Tim didn’t say anything, but he seemed lost in thought. The flea market signs started to appear by the side of the road. Tracy pulled the vehicle into a parking space, and they started wandering around. Tracy had Tim try on blue jeans and thick cotton shirts. They purchased a number of articles. Tim carried the bags while Tracy searched the aisles of the flea market moving from booth to booth. Tim trailed behind her burdened by the heavy clothes and work boots. She finally stopped at the booth of a knife seller and began to examine each item with hell-bent eyes.
“There, that one,” she said, “with the bone handle, curved blade, and leather sheath.”
“That’s a nice knife,” the merchant said. “It’s a discontinued model, so it’s on sale.”
“You’re getting me a knife?” Tim asked.
“Jen was right: you’re going to need one.”
Tim whimpered a little quite quietly.
“Selling him to the gypsies, eh?” The seller asked.
“That’s right,” Tracy said. “I want you to throw in a whetstone and oil.”
Tracy paid the thirty-two dollars and stuffed the knife into one of the bags of clothes. The look on Tim’s face was utterly priceless. Tracy said, “Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!”
Tim didn’t move.
Tracy grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him along to the car. Once they were moving again, Tracy said, “You’re going to behave when we get to the gypsy camp? You’re not going to make a fuss or run away? I’ll have to take less than a full thousand for you if you give them trouble.”
Tim didn’t say anything.
“You don’t want to give them trouble, Tim. You’re always giving your mother trouble, and that’s no good. You don’t want to mess with the gypsies.”
Tim started to cry. “Please don’t sell me! I’ll be good!”
Tracy laughed and pushed the accelerator down on the Corvette.
Tim tried to wipe the tears out of his eyes, but there were entirely too many.
“We’re not going to sell you,” Tracy said.
“Yes. I was just teasing you. The knife you can keep since your father says you’re old enough.”
“You tricked me!”
“And you got a new knife out of the deal.”
“You shouldn’t trick me like that!”
Tracy smiled as the hand painted sign saying “Gypsy Camp” loomed in the distance. She took the exit and steered the car in the direction the signs pointed.