Sunday, 11 September, 2016
The Writing(House)Contest - The Winning Stories
It was sooo hard to choose!!!!
So many stories, so many manifold, beautiful ideas, so many fabulous, vivid creatures and characters! We were impressed with the talent across the competition. You made it really hard for us to choose (and that's not just a flowery phrase), but finally we decided on the winners.
So… drumroll… deepest congratulations to:
A BOND STRONGER THAN BLOOD by James Troy
SIR TWIGGENHAM SAVES THE DAY by Joelle Mellon
FIRST FLIGHT by Heidi Morel
A SELKIE'S TALE by Stephanie Nilson
TO ESCAPE YOURSELF by Lauren Evatt
A HAPPY END by Genesis Iraheta Liborio
Thanks to everyone who entered their story in the competition! We are having such a good time with you here at Cornelia's Writing House!
And here they are, the winning stories of this year's WritingHouseContest:
A BOND STRONGER THAN BLOOD
by James Troy
The moon shone bright high above me as I flew across the sea to the Rim of Heaven. It was a calm and peaceful night. All I could hear was the wind in my ears. Riding on my back were my two companions: Sorrel the brownie, Twigleg the manikin, and a human being named Ben.
To be honest, one might’ve thought I was crazy bringing a human with me, since I was searching for a place for my clan to be safe from all humans, who are now reaching their greedy hands towards our valley up in the cold, wet north. But somehow this human- this boy- helped us.
He helped us find the map, rescued Sorrel from a group of dangerous humans, and even received an answer from Asif who knew where the Rim of Heaven was hidden.
Ben was the first human being I had ever encountered, and yet- he was also the most unusual human being I had ever met. When I was hatchling, I used to listen to the older dragons tell stories about humans. Stories of how humans were evil, greedy, and destructive. Stories of how dragons had to fly away and hide because humans were killing off our kind. Before I met Ben, I’d imagined a human to be an ugly, monstrous creature that walked on two legs and would kill anything that wasn’t of its kind.
Ben was not what I had pictured. He was friendly, helpful, and wasn’t even ugly at all. He was… beautiful. He had dark, curly hair, a pale yet slightly tanned face with pink lips, and warm, smooth skin. He had a clean scent to him, smelling almost like the ocean itself. And last but not least, there were his eyes. Deep, penetrating, eyes with the mixed color of hazel and brown. They seemed almost dragon-like. Whenever I think about Ben, I think about his eyes….
I felt Ben crawl carefully along my neck. His arms and legs were wrapped around me. I slowed down a little.
“Ben! What are you doing? Get back over here!” Sorrel shouted. He ignored her, obviously. I felt the human press his face into the back of my head. Small as he was, I could sense he was unafraid, that he felt at peace. I glanced back at him, and he did something unexpected. Balancing himself carefully, Ben sat up, gazed at the stars above him, and slowly stretched out his arms.
While I’ve carried Sorrel as I flew many times, she never enjoyed flying. But Ben did.
That one moment that night, I saw Ben with his arms spread out as if they were wings, and his eyes shone with joy, wonder, and freedom.
Could he really be a dragon at heart? I thought.
“Hold on,” I whispered to Ben. I increased my speed and flew closer to the sea. I turned in one full circle before climbing upwards, beating my wings. Sorrel held tightly onto my spines and Ben onto my horns as I climbed higher and higher until I could almost reach the full moon.
I paused in midair, and Ben reached with his arm so as to touch the moon.
“It’s wondrous, isn’t it?” I said. We were floating in between the stars and earth, and the moon was glowing above us. Ben looked at me with a smirk.
“A little bit higher?” Ben asked playfully.
“NO!” Sorrel shrieked, and laughter bubbled out from Ben’s mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh a little along with him.
“Festering fungus, this isn’t funny!” Sorrel complained. “Quit your lollygagging and let’s get back on course! We haven’t got all night!”
“Calm down now, Sorrel,” I said. “We’ll get back on course.” Flapping my wings in the air, I waited as Ben carefully made down to the base of my neck. “I can enjoy a little flight, can’t I?” I said, snickering at Ben.
“We ought to do that again sometime,” Ben grinned.
“Putrid puffballs,” Sorrel groaned. “You two remind me of my little brothers sometimes.”
Brothers? I thought. Well, Ben maybe a human, but he turns out to be so much more than meets the eye. Brother? Yes- my brother Ben. That was when I felt it: a link, a connection, a bond? It was something I had felt before when I invited Ben to come with us on our journey.
I looked at Ben, and he looked back at me, and I could tell he could feel it too.
SIR TWIGGENHAM SAVES THE DAY
by Joelle Mellon
Merranda was not the only fortuneteller in Stone's Edge, but she was, by far, the most reliably accurate one. Anybody in town who wanted to know what day would be the most fortuitous for a wedding or a baby's christening came to her. She also read cards or runes for those who were anxious about important decisions, and they nearly always left her front parlor knowing the correct choices to make. Admittedly, it was true that the fortuneteller was one of the feline sidhe -- beings who looked exactly like cats, except that they walked upright, were as tall as people, and wore clothes. But she'd been in Stone's Edge for so long that the neighbors scarcely gave the fact that she wasn't human a second thought, any more. She was a private sort of cat who minded her own business, and her only companion was a pet diurnal hedgehog, whom she'd named Twiggenham.
Naturally, she'd read in the Opinion column of the morning newspaper that the new Earl of Stonemont disliked magical beings living in his realm, but she didn't give the story any credence. It was only on a certain Sunday afternoon, when she'd donned her bonnet and set out for her favorite teahouse, The Two Goats, that she began to understand the true magnitude of the problem. All week, she'd been looking forward to settling into a little table in the corner with a nice milky cuppa and some sardine finger sandwiches, while she perused her ladies' magazines. But when she got there, she noticed a sign, punctuated with many parentheses, that had been set in the window. It read:
Elves, Goblins, Dwarves, Green Men (and Ladies), Cat Sidhe, and Other Magical Beings Are No Longer Permitted in This Shop. Forthwith, the Management Politely (but Firmly) Asks You to Take Your Business Elsewhere. (Thank You.)
Merranda gave the sign a long look.
"I suppose I should be going," she said, at last, to no one in particular.
The fortuneteller realized she'd have to leave her beloved home and flee to Fynchester, an Earldom where many other non-human beings were already taking refuge. She bustled about, packing a valise with only the most essential things. After making sure that all the lamps in the house had been blown out, she placed Twiggenham in a well-aired wicker basket, along with several handfuls of blackberries. Before she gently closed the lid, Merranda stroked his face for a few moments as he made contented squeaky noises.
"You're sure to like Fynchester," she reassured him, "They have ever so many new types of fruit and insects for you to eat. I'm sorry that you'll be quite jostled on the way there, but traveling is never very comfortable, is it?"
Taking her suitcase in one hand and placing the handle of the basket over her other arm, she locked the front door and set off, determined not to think about how long she'd be gone. Heading straight for the post office, she booked passage on the morning mail coach, which left promptly at 10 o'clock each day. This particular conveyance's route was West and South. It always stopped in Finbarr Springs to deliver packages and letters to the holidaymakers that flocked to the place at all seasons of the year. Then, it proceeded onward to Fynchester. Usually, the postman made this trip alone.
On that particular Monday, however, the coach was positively packed with magical beings. Merranda was obliged to squeeze between a miserable-looking, long-bearded dwarf and a Green Man, whose leaves kept brushing against her face and whiskers in the most ticklish manner possible. Much to her embarrassment, her ears kept flicking involuntarily, although she politely displayed no other outward sign of annoyance. Squaring her shoulders, she placed the valise between her legs, leaving her lap free for the basket.
After several hours, the coach pulled up to a respectable inn called The Axe and Apple, where the travelers gratefully disembarked for lunch. Merranda found a quiet booth and had a look at the menu, allowing the hedgehog to stretch his small legs by walking along the padded bench at the opposite side of the table. Soon, a barmaid approached them.
"What'll it be, love?" she asked.
The fortuneteller ordered the chicken pie and a flagon of cider for herself, as well as a fruit salad and some water for Twiggenham. The barmaid nodded in response and nipped back to the kitchen, from which appetizing smells of frying onions and stewing meat were emanating.
When she returned with their lunch, she had a curious expression on her face.
"I heard from the Green Man that you're headed toward Fynchester."
"That's right," she replied, taking a sip of her drink.
"Following the army, then?"
The fortuneteller nearly choked on her cider.
"Yeah, the Earl of Stonemont's forces are marching toward Fynchester. 'Course, they're being led by his brother, since His Royal Laziness never leaves the castle any more."
Merranda was so astounded, she could scarcely think of anything to say in response.
"Really?" she asked, at last, rather unimaginatively.
"Haven't you heard? 'Twas in all the papers this morning -- even the Beacon -- and it's a rare day that they have any real news. We might be at war again soon."
"Heavens. I hope not."
"You never know. Lost two uncles in the last one, so I'm prayin' it won't come to that mysel'. Ah well, enjoy your meal. We do a nice chicken pie."
So, the army was on the move! Well, she knew what she had to do, before anything else happened. Pushing lunch aside, she opened her valise a crack and rummaged around in it, trying to find her fortune-telling cards, sight unseen. When she felt a subtle warmth near her palm, she grasped the object and pulled it out. Of course, it was the cards -- neatly wrapped, as always, in a silk handkerchief.
Shuffling with the ease of someone who did it as a daily part of her job, she separated the cards into three piles. Expertly, she stacked them back up again, right to left, and dealt three, facedown, onto the table. Forcing her jaw to unclench, she flipped each of them over in turn. The Lady. The Fishing Boat. The Forest After Dawn. A fairly hopeful reading, then. Nodding decisively, she wrapped her cards back up, tied a knot in the handkerchief and gently replaced them in her luggage.
"Well, Twiggenham," she said, "It seems that we continue on, after all."
He looked up at her with his clear brown eyes and snuffled his nose gently.
Especially during times of crisis, she thought, he could be a most reassuring hedgehog.
An hour later, the coach set off again, its passengers considerably more refreshed.
Most were more relaxed, as well. The Green Man beside Merranda tilted his head back and began snoring loudly, while the dwarf smoked a post-prandial pipe. The fortuneteller, however, was entirely alert, head abuzz with thoughts about the news that the barmaid had told her. But she certainly wasn't going to turn back now, especially after the cards she'd drawn.
Several hours later, however, it turned out that leaving Finbarr Springs, at least by mail coach, was simply not possible for her -- or indeed -- any of the other unfortunate passengers. When the magical beings reassembled at their conveyance, the postman loudly cleared his throat several times, in the vain hope of obtaining silence.
"Sorry to disappoint you folks," he announced at last, over the din, "I've been left an official letter, ordering me back to Stonemont immediately. There won't be any more mail service to Fynchester until further notice. Seems -- God help us -- that we're about to go to war."
The passengers collectively responded to this announcement with rumbles of distress and annoyance, bordering on outrage. The dwarf even shook his fist.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please calm down," the mailman added, face reddening,
"Any that wishes to do so can return back to Stonemont with the coach free of charge. Otherwise, you can have half the money for your passage refunded at the Finbarr Springs post office. Again, on behalf of the postal service, I apologize for the inconvenience."
That won't do any good for those of us who need to go on, the fortuneteller thought, tail twitching with irritation. Determinedly opening her parasol, she set off for the post office. Soon, with her newly refunded shiny reachmarks in hand, she proceeded to Finbarr Springs' famous market. Because the town was a popular vacation resort, it played host to a wide variety of beings, both human and magical. Its market was one of the most eclectic in the country, offering all the comforts of home that travelers might have forgotten from as far away as Braedor. Before the place was even in view, however, Merranda's nose was assailed with scents of exotic spices, and distant strains of foreign stringed instruments wafted their way over the small black hills that surrounded Market Square.
As she came over the crest of one of these hills, she took Twiggenham out of his basket and attached a leash to his green leather collar, so that he could enjoy the sights, as well. Happily, he raised his spiky little head high and took the lead, like an explorer in a distant land -- which, in a sense, was exactly what he was. As soon as she entered the market, though, it seemed that every being in sight began calling out to her as she passed, sometimes even presuming to grasp at her sleeves in their zeal to get her attention.
"Honeycakes, madam, fresh out of the oven!" one pretty elf girl cried out.
"Lovely cat ladee, won't you sample my perfumes? If you do not like, I can blend something for you special, one-two-three." a pale skinned man offered.
"Come, come -- many bargains!" shouted an ancient goblin so wizened, it was quite impossible to determine whether it was male or female.
It seemed that nobody here was reluctant to do business with her, just because she wasn't human. Indeed, they probably would have been happy to sell their wares to Twiggenham, if he'd had any money. Briefly, she wondered how much longer that blessed state of affairs would continue, fearing that it wouldn't be long if the Stonemontian army prevailed in the upcoming conflict.
After buying the hedgehog some roasted crickets for dinner, she wandered somewhat aimlessly through the market. Not entirely knowing why, she paused for a few moments when she came upon a booth selling heavily draped and veiled foreign ladies' clothing. The dresses had all been made in the various shades of purple that women who lived in the lands across the ocean favored. Suddenly, it occurred to Merranda that they looked remarkably similar to the garments that fortunetellers were often drawn wearing in children's storybooks. When she was a little girl, she'd always thought those characters looked mysterious and beautiful. Why, in such clothing, even her furry face would be concealed, and no one would be able to tell that she wasn't human.
"Hrrrrrm..." she murmured under her breath, kneading some thick fabric with her paws.
After spending the night at a comfortable inn, Merranda returned to the market the next morning, dressed in her wondrously concealing new clothing. Parting with a considerable sum of her remaining reachmarks, she bought a well-behaved brown mare. After the merchant had bowed to her, the first thing the fortuneteller did was to securely fasten Twiggenham's basket next to a saddlebag. Then, she easily mounted the animal herself. Resolutely pointing the horse's nose South, she was on her way once more.
It wasn't long before she caught up to the advancing Stonemontian army. They moved slowly, since they were a large force, burdened down with tents, battering rams, catapults, and food for men and horses. But she was far from the only woman traveling behind the troops, so no one paid any attention to her. In fact, no one noticed the still-disguised fortuneteller at all until she decided to try to make some of the money back that she'd spent on the mare.
Of course, many people wanted to know what the future held during wartime, and Merranda was almost uncannily accurate at foretelling it. More and more customers came each night, dropping reachmarks into the basket that, at other times, held Twiggenham. Her cards and runes proved themselves equal to answering even the skeptics' most specific questions, such as "Where did I hide my ring?" and "What was my grandmother's favorite color?” When the lines for her services got very long indeed, Lord Slate, the Earl's brother and commander of the army, was told that there was a talented soothsayer traveling with them.
Merranda, still wrapped in the purple veils that hid her fur and whiskers, was sitting on a brightly colored blanket under a tree, re-shuffling her cards in preparation for that evening's fortune seekers. Suddenly, however, there was a commotion, and all the people who were waiting began to disperse. As she stood to see what was happening, a tall, lean man with closely cropped salt and pepper hair approached her.
"You, sir, are driving all my customers away --" she began, indignantly.
He pressed a very heavy, clinking leather bag into her hand.
"That's more than you'll make in a week," he assured her, "I need to have my fortune told tonight. We go into battle tomorrow."
Suddenly, she realized who he was, and why he had come to seek her services so urgently.
"Very well," she said, "Sit. Shuffle the cards until you feel it's time to stop. Unless of course, you'd prefer runes?"
"Cards will do," he said, gruffly, taking a seat on the blanket.
She resumed sitting cross-legged, and when he'd finished shuffling, she separated the cards into several piles. After stacking them back up again, she dealt three, facedown, onto the table. Merranda turned them over, one by one. The Lightning Strike. The Shaking Earth.
The Wounded Soldier. She shook her head and clicked her tongue.
At last, the fortuneteller said, "Forgive me for this, but --"
"It's bad news, isn't it? No, worse -- perfectly awful?"
She nodded, silently.
"I told him that attacking Fynchester would be a disaster. But did he listen? Of course not. What do the cards say?"
"God seems to be against this battle," she explained, "Storm clouds will gather, and the earth itself will rise up under your feet. I'm dreadfully sorry."
"Don't be. I knew this campaign was a bad idea from the moment it popped into my stupid brother's head. Thank you. I appreciate your confirming my suspicions for me."
When day broke the next morning, it was, indeed, quite overcast, and thunder grumbled menacingly in the sky. From a distance, the Stonemontians could see that the troops from Fynchester had already gathered at the top of a hill and were waiting for the approaching army. Merranda's concealed whiskers twitched with nervous energy as she watched. Lord Slate was dressed in his formal military attire, complete with the impractical thigh-high suede boots that were de rigueur. She knew what that meant -- he was about to go onto the field of battle and parlay with the other commander. With considerable gravitas, he dismounted and began making his way toward his rival on foot. He looked up at the sky, brows knitted, then paused to make the sacred sign, touching his fingers and thumbs together to form a triangle. After this brief hesitation, he moved forward once more.
Like the cats they resemble, feline sidhe have always been very good at slipping into the front of crowds. The fortuneteller used this ability to her advantage as she wound her way among the gathered people to get a better view. Even Twiggenham was caught up in the excitement, and he poked his head out of the basket, seeming interested in the proceedings. Just then, however, he noticed a particularly delicious-looking beetle in the grass. Without any warning, the hedgehog suddenly leapt from his basket and scurried onto the battlefield, as fast as his small legs would carry him.
"Twiggenham -- no!" Merranda called after him.
But it was too late. Undeterred, he ran directly in front of Lord Slate, just as he'd raised a foot off the ground. Of course, when he brought the soft boot down again, he stepped directly onto the hedgehog's spiny back. The unexpected pain caused the commander to stop, mid-stride, a look of surprise spreading across his face. A moment later, he began hopping up and down, cursing and crying out in agony. At last, he paused, one foot still aloft, as the hedgehog, squeaking with indignation, rapidly made his way back to Merranda.
"Just like those blasted cards said," Lord Slate declared, "The earth itself rises against us. My brother is truly a fool. We're going home."
That was how the Fynchesterians won what became known as The Battle of Hedgehog Hill without firing a single arrow. Naturally, they were extremely happy to have been spared from going to war against Stonemont again. Once they found out what had truly happened that day, they gladly accepted Merranda as one of their own, in spite of her fur and whiskers. As for Twiggenham -- the Earl of Fynchester was at least as grateful to have peace as his people were.
In a grand ceremony, he knighted the little hedgehog, and from that day forward, everyone was obliged to address him as "Sir Twiggenham." As you may have heard, though, the fortuneteller and her hedgehog eventually had to move on, going even further West ... but that's a story for another time.
by Heidi Morel
Today was the day. The sun shone down on the dull, black scales of the young dragon. He stretched his wings wide, leathery skin pulling taught over long, skeletal fingers of bone that sprouted from the second elbow joint in the middle of his wingspan. He could feel the bare lick of an autumn breeze drift over his spine, today was the day he would take off for the place of burning sands and hot summer-like winds. But first, he needed to soak up all the energy he could from the small rays of sunshine that broke here and there through the wispy clouds.
It was to be his first journey to the desert. The Elder, an old dragon whose greying scales were worn and jagged with age, had spoken of the way: past the tall circle of stones to the west, through the dark, pine-covered mountains, high above valleys where strange creatures dwelled; and finally, across a vast body of water to the coast of a barren land where his kind were welcome to wait out the winter in warmth and comfort. The Elder had also given the younger dragon advice on where to find the best hiding places, the clearest watering holes, and hunting grounds where he would be sure to get the juiciest fresh meat. The old dragon had also spoken of something else in the dry, leaf-and-gravel tongue of their kind, about a danger that the young dragon did not understand. He was told never to stop in a valley that smelled like a musty, cold cave with a stagnant source of water.
He shook his head in confusion at the memory of the old dragon’s warning. He had often slept in caves with that scent. What could be wrong if a valley smelled of the same? He shifted his weight, shuffling after a larger patch of bright yellow light that bathed the freckled granite stones to his right. He leaned against one of the boulders, soaking away the little warmth it gave, and using a point of the stone to rub at a sudden itch just below his ribs. His scales were dry, another sign of the coming winter. It wasn’t long before he felt that he had gotten enough sun to start his day, and began moving in the direction of his regular hunting grounds. He walked for a while, wings tucked neatly against his barrel-shaped torso, until he came to a grassy slope that rose gently to a cliff-like outcropping.
He took a moment to survey the view; a meadow with more grass than flowers, spotted with the shadows of drifting clouds. He lowered his body until he felt the tickle of grass blades against his soft belly, dug his sharp, dirty grey talons into the spongy earth, and with one tremendous heave, launched himself over the edge. His wings snapped open and he skimmed the ground before pointing his snout skyward and began the powerful strokes that would raise him to where the sun shone without interruption.
As the earth rapidly fell away beneath him, and the thin clouds sent chills down to his bones, he remembered, briefly, the first flight he had managed when he was just a hatchling. It was a small memory, no more than an image of being pushed out of his family nest towards the ground far away, and the skittering, joyous rush that filled him tail-tip to quavering nostrils when his, barely strong enough, wings caught him and he made his wobbly way back to the nest. It had been a short flight, without the safety of his mother to catch him, and he was the only one of the two dragonets to make it. In later days he often flew over the small carcass of his brother lying broken on the jagged rocks below the cliff he called home.
As he reached to the top of the clouds, the smooth ripples of white stretching towards the horizon on all sides, he leveled his path by altering the direction in which he flapped his wings. Now that he had a steady course set, he gagged, bringing up some unfinished deer meat he had been saving for the trip. His razor-sharp teeth made short work of the half-digested flesh and he swallowed it in small gulps to make the feeling of eating last longer. Most of the wildlife had fled the coming winter by retreating deeper into the forests surrounding his territory, which made it difficult for him to hunt. When he was smaller he had been able to chase them down amongst the trees and make some truly spectacular kills. But his wings were now too bulky to make even running, something he prided himself on being rather quick at, through the thick brush and foliage an easy task.
The muscles along his back, below his working wing muscles, twitched in the wind he was making from his flight. But the sun; huge, golden, and deliciously warm on his long body, made up for the crispness in the air. He flew with ease, he was fit for long flights; and, even though he had never flown far from his original nest, his senses of sight, smell, and feel, told him in which direction he should be traveling. He hadn’t been flying long when just ahead and to the left the clouds suddenly bulged and the shining, red scales of another dragon burst forth with tendrils of white sliding off the smooth surface for black-tipped wings.
He had not seen many of his own kind. He knew his mother, the Elder, and the occasionally wandering loner that they chased from their territory, but he had never before shared the same sky-space with a stranger. He needed have worried. The stranger ignored him for the time they were together, veering off in another direction when they reached the stone circle. He craned his neck to look at the spectacle he had heard of, and was surprised to see small winged creatures flitting around the stones.
Intrigued by the glittering beings, he swooped in closer, wondering if they were like the delicious glittering things he snapped up from the lake near his home. He had nearly reached the top of the stones when one of the creatures suddenly appeared before his wide eyes, and gave him a sharp blow to the tip of his snout! He yelped, something he hadn’t done since he was a dragonet, and retreated back to the height of the clouds. Distracted by his tender nose, he blundered straight into something resembling a cloud the color of golden grain.
It was soft, but had structure, and more importantly, it suddenly squawked with a great voice resembling that of one of the feathered flying creatures he used to chase through the trees. It knocked him back and through a small bank of clouds. He shook his head until his vision cleared, his wings working hard to keep him from spiraling out of the air. He looked around to see a creature that was stranger to him than the shiny flying things! It had the head of a great, feathered bird, and had great wings, but its body…its great tawny body had four limbs like his own. There was also a tufted tail, that lashed angrily at the sides of the beast as it screeched at him, raising it’s taloned front feet and lunging at him.
The young dragon tucked his wings to his body and dropped down through the cloud cover, down, down, down until the spinning green of the earth stopped with a snap as he extended his wings just short of hitting hard ground. He skimmed the grassy field, the mad, screeching creature not far behind him. They raced over the fields, back into the clouds, all the while the angry creature was drawing ever-closer. In an act of desperation, the dragon headed for a nearby sea cliff, and plunged over the edge, streamlining himself and filling his lungs in preparation for the wet impact.
His snout broke through the water first, followed almost instantly by the rest of his black body. The coldness of the water caused him to curl up at a depth that was near the surface, but deep enough he thought his chaser wouldn’t be able to follow. With nostrils closed to the frigidness, he watched as the giant shadow stopped short of the lapping waves and slowly began circling. The shadow circled for several more passes, than winged off.
The dragon endured the airless depth for a few moments longer before using all his limbs to lunge for the fresh air only a few feet away. Still cautious, he allowed only his nostrils out of the water to draw in deep breaths. Nothing happened. He raised his head above the small waves, water streaming from his quivering scales. There was nothing in the sky, save the usual white birds that lived off of the sea. He let his whole body bob to the surface, and using his heavy tail to turn toward the nearby shoreline, he began paddling with all four limbs.
He was halfway to the sandy stretch of land when he felt something rub against his belly. Quickly ducking his head underwater, he looked for what had touched him. There was a flash of sunlight on bright scales further in the murky depths and he pondered seeking the creature out as potential lunch. He watched it closely, the long, fat fin of the tail flicking lazily up and down, but the fish did not move. Bringing his head up, he used both wings and tail to propel himself high in the water and, aiming his snout down, dove back in again.
His wings were too heavy to use in the water, so keeping them pinned back, he tried to move closer to the still flicking fins by kicking out with his hind legs. As he slowly got closer, the scaled tail moved out of sight into deep shadows. But shortly, strange appendages appeared in the light. They were like his own limbs, and not like them. They were slimmer, paler, with the shimmer of tiny, iridescent scales showing at the joints. Following these limbs came a head, a head that had long fur flowing out from the top of it in blue-green ripples.
The creature had large eyes that were completely black in color, not unlike his own, and the skin was again very pale. It had a mouth, small compared to its big eyes, which opened just a little at the sight of him. It slowly crawled further forward, he saw thin gills on the side of its neck, like a fish’s, and after a short body similar to that of the glittery, flying things, he saw again it’s fish-like tail. The scales shimmered as it left the small, underwater ledge it had been laying on, and approached him curiously. As it got closer to the dragon it extended both of it’s weird limbs toward his face!
He blew out air through his nose, causing a furious swirl of bubbles to engulf the strange creatures head. With it distracted, he quickly surfaced, and raising his wings, tried to pull himself completely out of the water. The water dragged at his wings, and it took all the force he could generate with his tail to get his wings clear enough from the water to catch the air beneath their billowing width. He flapped frantically, and his body slowly rose from the cold confines of the sea. He was almost completely clear when he felt something grab the end of his tail.
The sea creature, its skin completely white in the sunlight, held tight to his tail with both of it’s strange paws. It was making odd clicking and keening noises, and was trying to wrap something around his tail! He flicked his tail sideways, trying to sweep the creature away from him, and when that didn’t work he twisted his body so he could snap at it with his long, sharp teeth. He missed as the creature let go and disappeared back into the depths, leaving him with a scrap of seaweed strung with white pebbles tied to his tail tip.
He huffed, and wobbled the short distance to the shore. He dropped onto a grassy bank just past the sand, and began to roll. He was wet, and he was cold, two things that his kind could not be for long without becoming ill. Once he felt he was sufficiently dry, he searched around for the best place on which to sun himself. There was bare hill not far from where he now stood that was highlighted by sunlight. It was a short flight, one that aired out the folds of his wings, allowing the small rivulets of water that had collected to be whipped away by the wind.
The dust that rose in whirling dervishes when he landed attacked his slanted nostrils with their mustiness. With a great shake of his head, horns laying back along his neck, he sneezed. More dust devils swirled away from him, and he blinked hard, first his protective inner lids of thin membrane, then his second pair of tough reptilian skin. The hill had no grass, all was warm, brown earth. He sighed, padding around in circles until he found a reasonably comfortable spot before flopping on his belly, all limbs and wings extended where the sun could reach them easily.
He was weary. He had been attacked and chased by at least three new creatures the likes of which he had never seen before, and now he was cold and hungry. He should’ve stopped for a bigger morning meal before setting off on this flight. His body heat was nearly replenished when he heard a noise from down the hill on the side of his right wing. Slowly, silently, he turned his head. There, near the edge of a dark wood, was a group of round, white objects. They were the same kind of creatures that he used catch when he was learning to hunt. But they looked much fatter than the ones he found, and there were many more of them.
He watched the flock, nostrils dragging in the savory scent of their plump bodies. He would char off their fluffy white protective layer and their juicy flesh would be perfect. He swallowed in anticipation of a full stomach, and, taking care that he did not disturb the dust around him, rose to a crouch, his wings already prepared to launch. He would have a filling meal, and then set out on his journey again. That’s when he smelled it. The scent described to him by the Elder. That dank cave smell filled his senses as a sudden weight descended on him from above.
His wings crumpled under the new pressure and, although he was already so close to the ground, he staggered. He tried to raise his head to look around, but his horns were tangled in something that clanked with each movement. He opened his mouth wide, breathing out a stream of red and orange tipped flames that had always removed the obstacles that blocked him before. This time the flames simply passed through the strange thing that held him captive, leaving behind only a little heat. He tried clawing his way out, but it simply pulled the thing tighter about him.
Just then, something jabbed at his left flank, and he kicked out and whatever it was made a sharp crack as it snapped. He was growling now, his lips pulled up, baring his long, sharp teeth. He was hungry, and he had only just gotten warm, and now he was trapped, again!
A SELKIE'S TALE
by Stephanie Nilson
(I know this contest is supposed to be about how a mythological creature of some sort escapes something but I got a bit carried away and the word limit got me to explain a bit *spoilers/explanation I guess* Ronan is a selkie (Ronan means little seal boy in Scottish so I couldn't help but use it for his name) who is trying to find a rumored cure only available on land for an illness that plagues his underwater village. He's gonna go try and steal his skin back (which is what the “nosy environmentalist”, Lester took from him.) from the museum so when he finds the cure he can get back home again. However after failing when he attempts to retrieve it alone he has to tell Mai he is a selkie in order for her to help him and stuff.)
Mai pushed back her mass of wavy, tawny hair as she searched for the familiar outline through the salty coastal mist. There he was again, the faint shadow of a small boy, no older than eleven on the other end of the silty, gray beach.
“Hello?” She took a tentative step forward. “I...um...” What was she supposed to say.
She'd had this same dream three days in a row now, and almost nothing she did ever made any difference. She talked, he was silent. She tried to approach him, he would dive in the water and swim away asquick as a fish. Once in a blue moon she could find something to hold his attention for a little while, but it usually only worked once or twice.
She took another step forward, trying to make it look like she wasn't interested in the boy at all. She meandered her way down the beach, looking at everything but him; the same way one might approach a stray cat they wanted to pet. It seemed to be working too. Instead of bolting away he watched her, his silent gray eyes flashing with apprehension.
Mai had to bite her tongue to keep from calling out to the boy as if he was a stray cat she was trying to temp with a bit of rotten fish. ‘Well I have to get his attention somehow’ she began to sing under her breath now as she closed the distance between them.
“Am I more than you bargained for yet?
I've been dying to tell you anything you wanna hear
cause that's just who I am this week
Lie in the grass next to the mausoleum...”
It was just an old pop punk song she picked up from America but he looked interested -- or at least a little reluctant to leave--so she continued to sing and walk and sing and walk until she was close enough to to make out every detail in his freckled face and catch a glimmer of curiosity behind eyes.
“Um... hey…” she grimaced. ‘the epitome of social grace as always.’ She sighed. ‘Well no good stopping now.’ She raised her hand in greeting while trying to balance her smile somewhere between cheerful, friendly, and ‘I-just-escaped-a-mental-hospital’. “I’m Mai do you... do you have a name?”
“Ronan” he said, giving a half hearted wave back but not quite smiling.
“Woah!” Mai cheered. “Your fingers are webbed! That's so cool!” It was true. Thin, almost gossamer-like webbing extended just above his knuckles, connecting each of his fingers like some special effect for a mermaid movie.
“Yeah,” Ronan flinched as he put his hand back down and hid them both behind his back.
Mai tilted her head slightly to the right curiously like a bird. “Oh, do you not like them?
Well don't worry about that, I think they're fantastic.” She smiled mischievously, eyes wide.
“I bet those are why you swim so fast, am I right?”
Ronan stared at his equally webbed bare feet and began to make small circles in the sand with his big toe. “I guess, but I can go way faster wh- never mind.
“It's nothing.” He shook his head, tossing his choppy dark brown hair into an impossibly messier-looking configuration.
“Shouldn't you be waking up soon anyway?” He was right, she had never stayed this long before. She was just beginning to wonder how much this extra time in “ye ol’ foreboding beach land”–thus she had dubbed it–was affecting her sleep in the real world when she started to notice the feeling of blankets wrapped around her sleeping body, and the determinedly bothersome morning light soaking through her eyelids.
Mai rolled over wrapping her covers over her head and groaning. “No fair,” she moaned, clawing her way out of warm cocoon of blankets. “I was finally getting to know him,” she sighed. She ripped back the curtains, and the usual bright haze that somehow passed for sunlight floated into her bedroom. It lazily poked around her collections of worn notebooks splayed across her desk, and made itself at home in her growing pile of dirty clothes on the floor.
As the smell of chocolate chip pancakes wafted up from the kitchen Mai’s stomach growled and almost made her forget about the boy on the beach ‘Ronan,’ she smirked. ‘His name is Ronan. And he likes Fall Out Boy’
“Mai! Are you even awake yet? Your pancakes are getting cold!”
“I'm coming Rose!” Once Mai knew her grandma was making her favorites for breakfast rabid wolves couldn't keep her away. Well maybe not rabid. Or any really big wolves. Ok, maybe just some golden retrievers or something but that's beyond the point. “Morning Rose” Mai swiped a plate of steaming pancakes off the counter and pecked her grandmother in the cheek. When she had been younger Mai had lived in America with her parents, but after they died in a late night car crash when she was eight she was sent to live with her nan, Rose in Scotland and had been there ever since.
“Hold it right there.” Rose said pointing at Mai’s fork frozen midway to her mouth.
“Awwww” Mai slumped. “I should have known there'd be a catch, you never make pancakes unless you want a favor or something” she complained.
“Oh hush up, I let you live here the least you could do is help out once in awhile.” The stout old woman huffed.
“Fine” Mai dragged the word out as she slumped dramatically across the kitchen table playing dead.
“For a corpse you're awfully noisy.” Rose deadpanned.
“I'm the queen of the undead!” Mai moaned flailing about. Narrowly missing a salt shaker and scattering papers every which way.
Rose leaned over her spastic granddaughter and raised an eyebrow. “Well since I made the “queen of the undead” a fabulous breakfast, do you think she could manage to do the shopping today while I volunteer at the museum?”
“Ok” Mai giggled still lying on top of the table she began shoveling warm, chocolaty pancakes into her mouth.
Everything was damp. His hair – which he hadn't even attempted to tame in weeks. His clothes – which he had slept in the night before. Even the air. It chilled his lungs, soaked down to his very bones, and made his skin itch. It was as if the very land was laughing at him for being so careless. “When I find that man I'm going to steal his skin right off his skinny body!” Ronan muttered under his breath and shivered. He would find that man, he had to. Ronan had no idea how to behave here he didn't know anyone, family and friends were another world altogether and everything was too heavy and square.
Barely a day, that's how long he managed to keep it. After that some nosy environmentalist snatched it away and chided him for a solid twenty minutes about endangered animals and poaching before walking off with his only ticket home.
Ronan shifted his weight from foot to foot trying to keep them from going numb. He had snagged clothes easy enough but shoes proved to be elusive. He eyed the fishmonger across the street he appeared to be busy chatting with a girl of about sixteen or Seventeen (he was bad with ages) she scribbled something down in a little gold note book and stuck her pen behind her ear.
At least Ronan assumed that's where it went, it was consumed by the girl’s mass of wavy coppery hair before he could be sure.
‘If I could just…’ Ronan’s stomach growled as he casually strolled towards the stall. ‘Look at all the fish he's caught he won't miss just one’ his webbed fingers twitched. He flicked his gaze back to man at the stall. He snuck up behind the girl with the gold notebook. She was waiting for her order and humming a familiar tune. He'd been quick as usual darting out a hand and swiping a late breakfast but it wasn't enough.
‘Oh crap’ Ronan tensed his body and prepared to run but that teenaged girl caught him by the hood of his jacket and spun him around to face her before he could get more than four steps away. Their faces ment. His eyes grew wide. Her jaw dropped. ‘No.’ He wriggled out of her grip and tore off again.
“Ah! H-hey kid! Ronan! get back here!” The girl raced after him.
Ronan despaired at sound of his own name. ‘Oh gods. I never thought she was real. I never should have said my name. This is bad.’ He hadn't even thought to ask her name now she's at the advantage. The girl from the beach was real. And she was chasing after him no less than eight steps behind, and catching up. He was light and quick as always skirting around strollers and squeezing past bunches of fat older men who smelled like smoke, but her long strides were eating up the ground between them regardless.
“Hey!” She grabbed him by the back of his hood again. He made a mental note stop wearing things with such easily snatchable parts. In one fluid movement he unzipped the troublesome thing and shrugged his arms out of their sleeves. She was left dangling a grimy hoodie in her hand with a baffled look on her face. She stomped her foot, threw down the hoodie, and continued her pursuit. “You're worse than the kids at the daycare!” She shouted. Ronan glanced over his shoulder and smirked at her. “Look out!” He heard her cry. For a second Ronan felt airborne. Then everything went black.
Ronan regained consciousness in steps. First came feeling, it felt like someone had attached his brain to a taffy pull machine and forgotten to turn it off. Then sight, after blinking away the blurry he could make out the popcorn ceiling he had been looking up at and when he shifted his position a bit, the makings of an average living room. The ugly matching floral printed recliners, the coffee table littered with magazines and rings from cold cups’ condensation. Ronan tensed.
‘If this is a normal house what am I doing here?’ He slid his feet to the floor and sat up on the couch. Spots swam in front of his eyes and made him want to lie his head back down.
A kettle screeched somewhere off in another room. Ronan knew he should leave he wasn't stupid, but the sound of the kettle was accompanied by the delicious smell of fried fish and Ronan’s empty stomach dragged him off the couch, and towards the smell against his body’s wishes. So much so he nearly collided with the girl from the market.
“Oh” she blinked “you're awake. That's good any longer and I would have had to take you to the hospital.” She shifted the tray of food she had nearly dropped when they collided briefly.
“That is quite the trophy you got there watch out for runaway wagons next time.” She gestured to his head about an inch above his temple. Ronan retreated defensively half step and gingerly explored the growing lump on his head. That's what had happened? It felt like he was run over by a train. “Oh come on,” the girl set her tray down on the coffee table and placed her hands on her hips. “Don't look at me like that I could have given you up to Clarence you know.”
“Who?” ‘What kind of look does she want me to give her I don't even know this girl. It's not fair. None of it.’
“Clarence the guy you snatched your lunch from this morning” she breathed a laugh “I told him you were my friend’s little brother. Heh that worked great.” Her tired smile dripped sarcasm.
Ronan eyed the tray of food on the coffee table and stomach rumbled again.
“What you think I poisoned it?” The girl asked. “Have a little faith, man.”
“Faith! I don't know you I don't even know your name!” Ronan exclaimed suddenly the world just seemed like too much. “I don't know where I am or how long I can even stay here, I'm never going to be able to go back home now! My entire ridge could be dead by now! My fami–”
His voice cracked and he crumbled on to the couch. He buried his face in his hands wishing his stupid tears would stop. Wishing he could swipe his words out of the air and swallow them back up.
The girl just stood there for a long minute letting his outburst sink in. Then she sat down next to him. Ronan didn't look up but he could feel her weight shifting the center of balance on the couch. She placed an arm around him and he nearly shoved it off again but, despite himself, it felt comforting.
“Mai” She said in a gentle voice like sea foam. “My name’s Mai, and while I may not completely understand what all this is about, but I'd like to help you get back home. I will personally insure these people at this “ridge” are very much not dead.” A shadow fell over her face. “I know what it's like to lose family.” She added.
Ronan sniffed “Yeah sure,” he muttered head still buried in his hands.
“What's that?” Mai puffed out her cheeks.
“Nothing” He grumbled
“You underestimate me little fish thief.” Mai stood up suddenly back to her perky self and placed her hands on her hips in a victory stance. “I just happen to be an expert at all things child related.” She began to list them off on her fingers. “Finding lost parents and houses– probably the most useful for you–, but also, braiding hair, Telling stories” she pointed at him now “and you'll eat your spinach and like it too!” Mai’s finger fell along with her face when she looked back at Ronan. The wide eyed tween, housing two big pools of grief stared back at her.
“Well” she sighed. “Try and eat something ok? Things always seem worse on an empty stomach I'll get you some water too hold on.” The girl called Mai slipped back into what Ronan assumed was the kitchen, leaving him to awkwardly poke at his food suddenly less hungry. ‘Is this what having a mom it like?’ He wondered.
In the kitchen Mai was wondering something similar. She had never had any younger siblings before, but she had always wanted one, just to make up silly games with and teach how to mooch free cookies off the bakers. ‘This kid has bigger problems than feeding his sweet tooth’ Mai sighed. She refilled her own cup of chai tea and got Ronan his big glass of water. ‘No little brother for me. He's got a family somewhere probably missing him like crazy.’ Hands full, she nudged the swinging kitchen door open with her foot. She set down his water next to his plate.
It didn't look like he had eaten much but, head still drooped like a wilted tulip, he took a sip of water.
“Agh!” Ronan coughed and gagged as the freshwater weighted his chest.
“Went down the wrong pipe?” Mai asked. Ronan shook his head no, still coughing too much to formulate a proper response. He grabbed for the salt, unscrewed it and poured half the shaker into his cup. “Uhhhh……” Mai stared as he proceeded to take a tentative sip, make a face, and dump the remainder of the salt in as well.
“What? I think your filter is broken you should get a new one.”
Mai blanched. “You… That's….. Fine. Why not.”
“What?” Ronan looked genuinely confused. “Everyone drinks water like this back home.”
“Oh I get it now” Mai joked “the webbed fingers, the fish, the saltwater, you're some kind of beached merman aren't cha?”
“A merman!” The apprehension of a caged animal flashed back into his eyes. “No way those gu-” Ronan was interrupted by the door bell.
Mai got up to answer the door but not before getting her word in. “What about mermen? Oh we are so coming back to this.”
Mai peered through the peephole in the door and sighed. “Forgot your key again grandma?” She said dragging the stubborn thing open.
“Yes, but I have some interesting news for you.” Rose sang.
“Oh really” Mai laughed to herself. ‘Does it involve an eleven year old who drinks salt water and has webbed digits? Because I think I win this round.’
Rose nodded with as much enthusiasm as an eighty two year old woman could muster. “You know that skinny young man with the fluffy black hair? What's his name?” She answered her own question before Mai could put in a word. “Ah yes! Lester! Well he's found the strangest seal skin. For one thing it looks as if the seal simply slipped it off its body and walked away. There are no signs of how it even died. And second the inside is full of these...
TO ESCAPE YOURSELF
by Lauren Evatt
Once in the Great Wood hidden amongst the trees
There lived a wolf banished by firm decrees
For the people who lived in the village near
Created of the wolf a great and terriblefear
All alone the creature lived in desolation
No gentle soul to give him consolation
At night the villagers would hear his cry
Cries knowing none would care should he die
Every day the wolf longed to be set free
Even as he was banished by all who would agree
Once while watching inside the Great Wood
The wolf was struck with love where he stood
For a girl of the village did sing that day
And all her words were to him beautiful to say
For the first time the wolf felt not alone
Hope and joy penetrated him to the bone
Timid as a breeze he howled his own song
Heart burning when she started to sing along
The wolf longed for a chance to be free
Wishing for things that could never truly be
Once there was a wolf whose heart was true
He fell in love but would pay a stern due
For the girl of the village was all things good
Only good to steal a beast’s heart could
The creature loved but he felt no joy
For he was a beast meant only to destroy
So as he howled on the darkest night
His longing remained the song’s only blight
The wolf sadly lost all hope of being free
Happiness distant only something to see
Once there was the moon up on high
Forced to live all alone in the night sky
For the world could not live in the dark
Without her life would grow too stark
She lived a life too cold to bear
Longing for someone to truly care
All night long she wished she could sing
Anything to relieve her soul’s slow dying
Every night the moon shined bright
Giving to all the gift of sight
Once the moon heard a beautiful song
She heard it say her heart’s secret wrong
For the wolf howled his soul’s only burden
His kindred spirit in the moon’s heart heighten
The moon felt alone no more
She felt a peace sink into her core
The wolf’s lonely heart comforted her own
His understanding a seed in her sewn
Every night the moon’s soul was bright
Giving and making joy a visible sight
Once there was the moon feeling her joy drain
As she listened to the wolf’s howls filled with pain
For his howls longed for what could not be
Hopelessly reaching for the good he could see
Pity and love welled up inside of the moon
A heavy weight to make the soul swoon
So the moon gave to the wolf everything
And made him a man who could truly sing
Every night the moon cried tears so bight
Giving stars to the world for sight
Once there was a girl whose heart was pure
Yet against sadness she found no cure
For she heard the wolf howl night and day
The girl knew she was the reason for his way
She felt her heart grow ever sore
Wishing futilely to do something more
All she could do was softly sing along
Feeling the sadness deep within the song
She saw her life fly away like a dove
With no one she could ever deeply love
Once the girl sat by her home’s warm fire
Watching each flame’s gentle, yellow spire
For the night outside was dark and cold
Why the moon had dimmed no one told
She heard a hesitant tap upon her door
The girl knew not what it could be for
She opened her home to the man of the night
Knowing instantly what lay before her sight
Her life fluttered like a felled little dove
Giving her whole heart to one to love
Once there was a girl whose husband sang like no other
She could hear in his voice both man and beast together
For she knew he was not all that he seemed
A creature of the Wood somehow redeemed
Knowing this the girl loved him all the same
Even when the time of the full moon finally came
She would try to count all the stars in the sky
And listen, as to the moon the wolf would cry
She saw her life peaceful as a dove
Knowing she would never truly lose her love
A HAPPY END
by Genesis Iraheta Liborio
“No!” The cry broke the silence, and even the master, sitting in his throne on the podium heard it. The flew to his feet and scanned the audience with seething anger.
“Who said that?” Nobody answered. The goldwing, heavily guarded by soldiers, was the only one who didn’t seem to care about the master’s sudden outburst. The soldiers weren’t able to stay quiet either, trying to keep the creature from escaping. The master took no notice, instead kept looking at the sea of people before him. He shouted again.
“Well, who was it?” Slowly, a figure started walking to the front of the crowd. A boy, about fourteen years old, one of the slaves, emerged. He gulped and addressed the master.
“It was me.” The other servants stared, frightened. None of them would even think of defying the master. The master motioned for some soldiers to bring the boy to the podium. They roughly pushed him to his knees before the master, and he lowered himself to look at the boy in the eyes. He grabbed the boy’s chin and forced him to look at him.
“What’s your name?” The boy’s lower lip quivered.
“It’s Jack ... sir.”
“Well, Jack,” The master let go of the boy and pushed him backwards, “Since you were eager to interrupt my ceremony, I’ll let you be part of it.” The boy stared at his master with wide, fearful eyes. “You’ll be part of the sacrifice.”
The boy lowered his head, and cried. The audience gasped. They grudgingly accepted the master’s killing of the beautiful goldwinged pegasus, but a boy? Still, nobody said anything, fearful of suffering the same fate as the boy.
The master ordered for the boy to be thrown into the same cell where the goldwing had been and announced the sacrifice would be delayed until the next day.
“Under the current circumstances, special arrangements have to be made.” He smiled at his subjects, and turned to leave. “Oh, and you have the day off because of the … special circumstances. ” He smiled again and left.
Jack crawled to the other side of the cell, where the goldwing was tied. He stroked the goldwing’s mane soothingly. Then buried his face in it, embarrassed that he was crying. There was no reason for him to be embarrassed, though. The cell was a metal box with wheels so it could be transported easily, and only had one small opening, high on one of the walls. The goldwing snorted softly.
Still hugging the horse, Jack noticed he had been injured on his side. The rope had cut into his skin. He untied his friend and then looked around the cell, finding the container with water their captors had left. He poured water on the wound and used his coat to make a bandage.
“Don’t worry Dave, I’ll get you out of here. I promise.” The goldwing snorted again, as if replying to the boy’s promise. The boy didn’t notice. He was busy thinking of a plan to free his friend.
Hours later, just before dusk, he had already done his planning. He wouldn’t let Dave down. This time he would keep his promise and save him. He hugged the goldwing, with tears on his face. Dave snorted nervously, as if knowing what Jack had in mind.
“When I tell you to go, you have to go okay? I can’t go with you because of your wound. If I ride you, it will surely start bleeding again. Anyways, I would just slow you down.” Jack felt a knot forming in his throat, and he hugged his friend again. “I love you Dave. So please, please, please leave when I tell you and don’t try to save me, okay?
When the time comes, I won’t be able to say goodbye. I hope you don’t mind?”
He made a feeble attempt at a smile. Dave looked at him seriously. What are you planning to do? Jack shook his head.
“Don’t worry about me, okay?”
The bedridden child stared out the window. He looked at the stars and longed to lie on the ground and feel the night breeze on his face, as he used to with his father. The doors to his room opened, but he didn’t even turn to look. He knew it was probably the maid who’d come to bring breakfast.
“Son, how are you?” The voice startled him. A slow smile crept on his face and he tried to sit up in bed, just to be attacked by another fit of coughs. The newcomer hurried towards the boy and tried to help, but the boy turned him away.
“Pap– I mean, Father! I didn’t expect you to come. I thought you were busy.” The father smiled at his son and sat on the bed. He ruffled his hair and the boy giggled, playfully pushing his father’s hand away.
“What? Are you too old for me to ruffle your hair? As you are to call me Papa?” He put his hand over his heart, faking being hurt. “Ah, yes you’re right. How old are you? Fifteen?” He tickled his son.
“No, Father! Papa, stop!” The boy squealed with laughter. “I’m eight, silly.” The father smiled at his boy, his only child. “Papa, will you come visit me again tomorrow?” Before he could answer, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. The father sat upright and assumed a serious expression.
“Come in.” A small wiry man came in.
“I’m sorry sir. I’ve been looking for you everywhere and I didn’t know you were here with your son, but I thought it was urgent to–” The master silenced him with his hand.
“I’ll be with you in a moment.” The man left, obviously relieved at not being
reprimanded. The boy looked at his father with sad eyes.
“So you have to leave now?” The master leaned down to kiss his son’s forehead. The boy turned his head, and this time, the hurt in his father’s eyes was real.
“I’ll try to come again, ok?” The boy continued to ignore him, knowing the answer meant it would be several days again until his father returned. “I’m sorry, George.” He left and closed the door behind him, a determined look on his face. His clerk was waiting outside.
“So what was so urgent you interrupted my meeting with my son.” The clerk realized the man that he’d heard playing and laughing with his son was gone, replaced by the usual, cruel, businesslike man he was in front of his servants. He immediately regretted being the one having to deliver the bad news to the master.
The master raised an eyebrow impatiently. “Well?” The tiny clerk wrung his hands and tried to look at his master in the eye, but failed miserably.
“Well, sir, you see,” The master interrupted him.
“Go straight to the point, Fred.” Fred gulped again, now fidgeting nervously with the collar of his shirt.
“Sir, the goldwing might’ve or might not have escaped.” The master was dangerously close now, and he towered over the frightened clerk.
“ ‘Might or might not have escaped?’ What do you mean by that, F red ? Did it or did it not escape, because if it didn’t escape I see no reason why you should’ve come talk to me.” The clerk was against the wall and had broken out in a cold sweat.
“It did escape, my lord.” The master slapped him hard and the clerk fell on the ground. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Then, realizing his son could probably hear his conversation, he grabbed the clerk by the collar and dragged him into another room.
“What do you mean it escaped?” He shouted. The clerk cowered in fear.
“My lord, please,” he begged, “I don’t know. I was just told to deliver the news to you. I have no idea what happened. Please, my lord.”
“Who told you?”
“It was one of the soldiers, sir. I don’t which one. Tall, in his early forties and darkhaired.”
The master stepped away from the clerk and helped him get up on his feet, as if nothing had happened.
“Thank you for telling me Fred.” He left Fred staring at the door where the
master had exited, wondering about the sanity of his master.
“Why did you do that?” The master was giving his back to Jack leaning on the desk in his office. Jack was too scared to answer. The master turned around quickly and walked towards Jack, their faces centimeters from each other.
“I have a son. He’s younger than you? he’s eight. He is the only person in this world I care about, but guess what? He fell sick one day and none of those useless doctors, that claim to be the best in their profession, could do anything to save him. He’s dying and I–” He straightened his back and turned around again, hiding his tears. He continued.
“I hoped the goldwing, so rare and beautiful. I hoped if I offered it as a sacrifice for the gods, perhaps they would oversee my sins and save my son. But you had to ruin everything! Why did you do it?”
Jack looked back at the master, this time angry himself, and stood up.
“Why did I do it? Well, I also had someone I cared about. My parents died in the famine.
The only family I had left was my little brother. You know what my mother’s last words were? ‘Take care of him, Jack. He is the only one you have.’ The townspeople knew my dad, so they hired my brother and me so we wouldn’t starve.
One day, I was lazy and sent him into town to buy bread for us. I should’ve gone, not him.
The one day I left him alone, you and your men attacked the village. My brother was born with a bad leg, so you killed him. No use for the fields. Why did I free the goldwing? My brother’s name was Dave, and when I met the goldwing he became the only one I cared for in this world.
I named him Dave. He had a right to be free. I had a right to free him.”
The master was staring at Jack, hatred radiating from his body. He slapped him.
“You don’t have a right to anything! You’re a slave. And you’ll be treated as one. The gods won’t accept y ou as a worthy sacrifice. That doesn’t mean you won’t receive the punishment you deserve. For all you’ve done, you’ll be burned at the stake. You deserve a worse death than that, but who knows? Perhaps your story has managed to warm my heart a little.”
Jack stared into those cold, merciless eyes and he knew his story hadn’t softened him at all.
He did not care if he was dying as long as he knew Dave was safe. Dave had always been the one meant to survive.