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The Tree in the Forest

She's been here many times before. She knows it better than she knows the home she grew up in. Mostly because this is where she went to run away from her troubled home life. The yelling and the screaming. The throwing of objects, once she even heard her mother hit the floor. It was too much for a twelve-year-old to bear; for anyone to bear actually. So she'd sneak out her window, climb down the drain pipe, and ducked past the large, thinly veiled side window. She never peeks inside. She knows what she'd see. She's seen it so many times before. Her mother protecting herself from an object or an arm about to be flung in her general direction. And her father, drunk, as usual.

She'd make her way towards the back of the house and slide through the broken down fence her mother always asks that he fix, which almost always starts the fighting. She wonders why her mother does it, why does she ask him the question she knows will cause her harm, as she finds the hidden path. She found this place when she was just eight years old. He almost came at her one Saturday afternoon, but before he could lay a hand on her, her mother opened the front door and told her daughter to run. She ran and ran through the woods she was forbidden to ever play in. She wasn’t exactly sure why she was running or to where, she just liked the way the wind felt pushing against her face. 

She stopped just before the entry into the heavily wooded area, with trees so tall in comparison to her she felt like she was surrounded by giants. There were so many leaves on the trees the sunlight was kept out almost completely. You'd have to squint to see it, which is what she did as she leaned forward on her tiptoes, and saw the slightest glimmer of light peaking through an area about one hundred yards in front of her. She was practically on her tiptoes, leaning forward to get a better look, but was too afraid to go any further, for fear she might get swallowed whole by the darkness and the trees. But at eight years old, her curiosity invariably trumped her fear and she stepped one shaky foot after another in front of her. She turned back once to make sure no one was watching her, in case she was doing something bad, an accusation hurled at her by her father on multiple occasions for as long as she can remember. No one was there so she kept walking towards the light. Every step she took making loud echoing sounds within the walls created by the tall trees. Branches breaking and dead leaves from seasons past being crushed under her tiny slippered feet, now so soggy and dirty you can hardly tell they were once bunny slippers.

Eventually the rugged path smoothed out just as she came into view of the most magnificent tree she had ever seen in her young life. It was also the fattest tree she'd ever seen. Nestled on top of a hill, its roots appear to be gripping onto for dear life, otherwise it might topple over into the small stream directly under it. To her the tree seemed alive. With its vines hanging limply from the huge trunks she imagined the mornings she'd sneak into her parents bedroom and watch her mother getting ready. How she'd take her time to apply make-up, even though she never went anywhere besides the grocery store, not realizing she was hiding the bruises. Then after the make-up she'd slide on one bangle at a time onto her wrists. Dozens and dozens of bangles. And when her mother was done she'd rotate her hands and smile at the sound they made in the silence. Little did she know, her mother was always aware that her daughter was standing behind her watching her. The bangles was her way of letting her daughter see her happy. The vines on the branches being moved by the wind passing through the trees, made her happy. 

Ever since that day she's been escaping to this tree in the woods. She'd bring a book to read, sitting under the shade it created for her, protecting her from the harsh sunlight. As she got older she'd take a notebook with her to write down her sorrows. And when she was done she'd stand up and read what she wrote out loud to her tree. She knew it wouldn't answer back, but she also knew it felt what she was feeling. During her college years, grateful to have gotten out while she still could, on a track-and-field scholarship, she'd still go home, being sure to avoid the large window and the front door entirely, to share her hopes and dreams to her tree. It always amazed her that no one else knew about this tree, or at least no one was ever there when she was.

She brought her first serious relationship to this tree one late night. Her girlfriend carried the lantern up high, illuminated several feet in front of them as they made their way into the woods so dark at night you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. They spread out a blanket under it's might branches, now naked from the seasons frost, its leaves directly under them, making noise so loudly they both giggled and giggled like two young school children expecting to be caught at any moment. But they never were. They fell asleep in each other's arms. But when she awoke her girlfriend was no longer with her on the blanket. She jolted up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes she finally saw her standing just around the other side of the tree. She heard scratching.

As she approached her girlfriend she saw the beginnings of a heart carved into the side of the tree that would eventually contain their initials inside it. She was happy to have shared this place with someone she knew cared about her as much as she cared about the tree.

Two decades passed before she visited her tree again. In that time she got married and had three children. She never visited the tree because her reasons were now both gone. She buried her mother today. She is dressed in all black. Her wife, the same one who carved their initials into the tree, squeezes her hand tightly then lets it go, walking back the way they came, leaving her to do what needs to be done. As she steps closer to the tree, she leans her head against it, tears fall from her eyes on to the box she is holding in her hands. It's all her mother left her. She stands up straight, squares her shoulders and wipes the tears from her eyes. Placing her back against the tree like she had done countless times before, she slides herself down to the ground, the box now on her lap. She takes a deep breath and opens the box to see it filled with her mother's bangles. 

One by one she begins to slide them onto both of her arms. Tears streaming down her face as she's doing it. When she's done she stands up under the shade of her tree just as a huge gust of wind is passing by. She spreads her arms wide, closes her eyes, and shakes her hands wildly, smiling to herself, as her mother always did, hearing the sound the bangles made. She wraps her arms around herself when the wind stops, takes another deep breath and nods her head, looking up at the tree.

She walks up to her tree one last time and patting it says, "thank you mom. Thank you."

 

The End

The Silent Car

As the car parked in the abandoned clearing overlooking the city of Los Angeles at night, the lights of millions of people filling the sky, the key made a quarter turn in the ignition, turning off the engine, but leaving on its other functions.

“You always do this.”

“Do what?”

“You always shut down the second I want to talk about us. Where we’re going? What will happen to us when you leave?”

“Don’t. Don’t put this on me.”

“You’ve known for months I was leaving. I have to leave.”

“Take me with you.”

“See what I mean. You always do this.”

She slams the steering wheel with both her hands. Opens the car door and after taking in a deep breath slams it shut. She walks to the front of the yellow sports car with her arms crossed, the headlights illuminating her in the night sky. She can barely see her girlfriend in the car from the beams of light in her eyes, but she knows what she’s doing in there. She refuses to give in. She turns and leans on the hood of her car, her sweaty palms leaving streaks as she braces herself on the hood. She cringes slightly when she hears the passenger door open, knowing what is coming.

“I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me. Come back inside the car. It looks like it’s about to rain.”

“I need to think for a minute. Just give me a minute to think okay?”

The car door slams shut and the sound of gravel crunching underfoot is as unwelcome as the car door opening.

“Talk to me. Why do you always shut down and internalize everything? I’m listening.”

“No, you’re not listening. That’s the problem. You never listen to what I’m telling you.”

“That’s not true. I listen to you all the time.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Where else would I--”

“No that’s not what I meant! Why are you standing in front of me right now? I said I needed a minute to think. So you listened to me so freaking well you decided to stay out here when I clearly meant I wanted to think alone. You never listen.”

Her eyes get watery and her lower lip begins to quiver. She turns on her heels and gets back in the car, slamming it loudly shut. Now her arms are crossed.

A long sigh can be heard coming from both women at the same time.

She shakes her head and walks back to the driver's side of the car and gets inside, leaving the door wide open.

“If you start I swear to God I’ll walk out of this car and walking home. Understood?” She nods her head.

“But…”

“What did I say?” She puts one foot out of the door.

“Okay. I’ll be good. I promise.” Her eyes shut to prevent any tears from falling.

“Good. Now I realize what my leaving means for both of us. You know how I feel about you. I care--”

“Are you about to break up with me? Cause if that’s what’s about to happen then stop. Just walk out the car and walk home.”

“Shut up please and let me finish my thought for once.”

The silence in the car is deafening as she waits to see if her girlfriend is going to interrupt her. She always interrupts her. Always. After two minutes go by, which feels more like two hours, she continues.

“Why do I let you drive me crazy like this? That was a rhetorical question. I know why, cause I fucking love you damn it. Imagine, loving a woman who drives you as crazy as you drive me. Can you imagine it?”

She nods her head ‘yes.’ Then puts her face in her hands afraid to look at her. The break-up is coming, she feels it.

“It’s too quiet in here.”

She leans over and turns the radio on. Changing the stations erratically, stopping on each long enough to know what kind of music she’s looking for. Romantic music. Mood music. She brings her leg she put outside the door back inside and slams her door shut, making her girlfriend look up suddenly, afraid she was alone in the car again. But she wasn’t.

“There’s that beautiful face. Don’t ever hide it like that from me.”

Their song comes over the radio suddenly and they both slowly look in the direction of the radio in disbelief. They then look at each other and begin to laugh, reaching out for each other's hands.

“Letting you go will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’ve got a solution to that.” She leans over to the glove compartment, opens it, and pulls out a small box, handing it to her girlfriend. “Don’t let me go.”

Tears begin to fall down her girlfriends face as her shaky hands open the box to see the most beautiful engagement ring she’d ever seen. A purple stone set between two slightly smaller diamonds catch the light of the moon. Her hands are shaking so much and there are so many tears in her eyes she can’t get the ring out the box so she hands it over to her.

“Put it on my finger.”

She takes the box and removing the ring from it slowly places it on her shaking ring finger. She moves to turn the radio off.

“Leave the radio on.”

“Okay baby.”

The driver seat is lowered till it’s almost flat as the sounds of heavy breathing fill the space inside the sports car. An elbow presses down on the window button, lowering all the windows in the car, letting in a gust of wind.

“I want you so bad.”

From the passenger seat she positions herself on top of her fiance, pulling off her shirt with her right hand and dropping it right outside the car window onto the floor. Her breasts are bulging from inside her bra that is quickly unclasped, letting them droop slightly, her nipples hardening from the cold wind and her sex-drive increasing. She leans forward and they kiss passionately.

While on her back she cups her girlfriends breast in one hand being totally turned on by the feel of her hard nipple between her fingers as she squeezes, making both of them moan. With her other hand she places it between her girlfriend’s legs, massaging her between her legs as they make-out, both of their tongues dancing with each other as a bolt of lightning strikes somewhere in the distance, lighting up the inside of the car. They both stop instantly and are panting so heavily they can hardly speak.

“I want you more.”

As she spreads her legs wider, enjoying the feeling of her girlfriend’s hand massaging her, she begins to undo her pants, pulling off the belt and dropping it onto her shirt just outside the window. She unbuttons and unzips her, then lowering herself on top, feeling her breasts pressed up against her girlfriends she whispers in her ear.

“Cum for me baby.”

She slides her hand down her pants, under her boxers, and finds out instantly just how wet she is as she slides three fingers inside her, making her grip the handle above the car door, lifting her body slightly, signaling she wants it harder and faster. She bites her lower lip and her eyes roll back as she is about to orgasm. She screams out her girlfriend’s name which gets muffled as thunder is so close it shakes the car slightly.

The sound of the car rocking up and down echoes in the distance as a shirt comes flying out the open driver side window, lands on the ground and gets blown over the ridge by the wind that’s picking up. Large raindrops begin to hit the car, drowning out the sounds that are getting louder and louder from inside the car.

The End

The Hanging Tree

The sounds of a party were evident to any passersby along the dirt road. The only discernible path to Parker Manor, the scattered cobble stones strewn about the ground. As Savannah neared the house she stumbled on a stone, nearly losing her balance and falling to the ground, as she became distracted, looking up at the nearly dead tree situated in front of the house, where the noose still hung. Seeing it brought back memories for her that she was trying to forget. But she squared her shoulders, turned away from the menacing tree, and continued walking towards the house. The sun was just beginning to fall from the sky, shining brightly on her caramel colored skin, casting a long shadow that reached the front porch before she did.

She hesitated at the foot of the front porch steps and took one more look back at the tree, at the noose, and looking up to the sky that was now beginning to show signs of an incoming storm, she took a deep breath as she ascended the two steps of the porch. A loud creaking noise was made upon each step she took as she walked towards the front door. She kept looking down, expecting she would fall through the floorboards at any moment, but she didn’t.

The front door is slightly ajar, and Savannah can see people walking around, as well as hear the sounds of laughter and old music that can only be coming from a record player, emanating from within. She peeks one eye through the small gap in the door, then quickly steps to the side when she sees Bobby come into view. Her breathing quickens with fear at what she is about to do, but she catches her breath, and closes her eyes tightly, saying a little prayer to herself of assurance that this is the right thing, the only way. She knows she could easily have written a letter or at least waited till the party was over, but Bobby isn’t the only person she’s here to see.

After what feels like an eternity of leaning up against the wall of the house, she rights herself quickly when a couple of women, laughing hysterically, come bursting out of the front door. They stumble drunkenly down the two front porch steps, not noticing Savannah at all.

“Hey ladies, come back here. You’re too drunk to drive,” Alexander shouted to the two girls who are already several feet down the gravel stone path, headed towards their car parked at the end of the road. He notices someone moving to his left and turns to see what it is. “Holy shit!,” he screams, stumbling back past the front door until his back collides with the wooden front porch railing. The two girls hear him scream so they stop dead in their tracks to see what has him so spooked. When they see her they are equally mortified and frozen in place.

She realizes there’s no turning back now. What she came here to do must be done. She squares her shoulders, grips the gift wrapped box in both her hands, and walks straight into the front door with Alexander and the two girls following her inside, but at a safe distance. As she crosses the foyer and stops in the center of the living room she feels almost transported back to high school. Nothing in the house she only saw the inside of once, has changed. The only real difference is everyone there is now fifteen years older.

Someone standing by the record player lifts the needle upon seeing Savannah enter the house, causing the room to be completely silent. Bobby Binks, the birthday boy, emerges from the kitchen gripping with his fingers four ice cold beers.

“Okay, who said they wanted a beer?” He realizes the room is eerily silent. “Hey, Mark, put the music back on man,” Bobby says, as he starts walking towards Mark, who’s gesturing with his eyes towards where Savannah is still standing, glued to her spot. Bobby turns to the front door and sees her. He instantly drops all four bottles of beer to the hardwood floor and they shatter upon impact. Everyone but Savannah flinches.

“Bobby I --,” Savannah begins to say but is cut off by Bobby.

“What did you call me? You come into my house uninvited and think you can just call me what all my friends call me? Get out!,” he shouts angrily although everyone can’t help but notice that he’s taken several steps back from her since he started getting angry.

“Bob -- I mean, Robert, I’m not here to argue or cause a scene.”

“Too late for that. Why are you here? What do you want?” he asks her, still backing away from her, looking around for a quick exit in case the need should arise.

“I wanted to wish you a happy birthday and bring you this gift which I hoped would give me an opportunity to apologize to you. To all of you really,” she says, looking around the room at all the terrified faces. “What it something I said?”

“Listen Savannah, you need to leave, now.” Bobby signals to a few of his guy friends who are at the party to join him in kicking Savannah out. Three of them step forward and flank Bobby as he finally finds the confidence to walk towards her. The posse headed right in her direction causes her to step back so far she finds herself back where she started, on the front porch of the house.

“Wait guys. Listen, I’m not here to start any trouble.”

“Tell that to the noose hanging from that tree right there,” Bobby says, pointing to the completely dead tree just a few feet away from them. His three friends move past him towards her, making like they are going to grab her, but before they reach her she walks backwards down the two front porch steps, reaching behind her back and pulling out a handgun, pointing it at everyone on the front porch.

“I didn’t want to have to do this Bobby. But I need to do this you see? And, and, you left me no choice you see? So let’s all walk back inside and just talk for a little while, then I promise I’ll leave and none of you will ever see me again,” she says, pointing her gun very steady and still, waiting for everyone who has now gathered outside on the front porch to move, but no one is budging. She points the gun up in the air and fires off one round making everyone flinch and rush back inside the house. Everyone except Bobby who is so stunned and scared he is glued to one spot. “Bobby!,” she screams, causing him to jolt back to reality, looking past the barrel of the gun and directly at her finally. “Inside please.” She motions for him to go inside with the hand holding the gun. He turns slowly and walks back inside, his stride a bit unsteady.

Just before she enters the house, Savannah turns and looks at the tree with the noose, smiles wickedly, then closes the front door behind her. Everyone is huddled in the furthest corner of the room away from her whispering to each other, probably trying to come up with an escape plan. Bobby is standing alone in the middle of the living room floor staring at Savannah who is still holding up the gun in one hand and the birthday present she brought with her in the other.

“Hey, all of you in the corner, break it up. Scatter now or Bobby here gets one in the head,” she says, keeping her eyes fixed on Bobby, smiling menacingly, as she winks at him.

“What do you want freak?” someone from the party shouts out loud.

“Who said that?” Savannah asks, circling around Bobby, pointing her gun one at a time at everyone. “Who the fuck said that?”

“Hey, Savannah,” Bobby whispers to her, as she frantically turns the gun on him again, still looking wildly at everyone who have now spread out in the room. She’s quickly realizing that may not have been the best thing to tell them to do. “Hey, over here Savannah, talk to me, don’t worry about them. Tell me what you want? Why are you here? How did you even know we’d be here?”

“Everyone get back together. I can’t focus with you spread out like that. Did I tell you to spread out like that? Are you trying to confuse me?”

As she’s becoming erratic and unsure of what she wants Bobby signals to his friends with his eyes, trying to convey he wants to take her down, but they shake their heads at him. He’s alone in figuring out a way to get out of this situation.

“Savannah. Hey Savannah,” Bobby speaks calmly, snapping his fingers in her direction, careful not to set her off again. She turns her attention away from the small group of friends back to Bobby, still pointing her gun in their direction. “Just tell me what you want and we can all get back to normal, okay?”

“Normal? You want to get back to normal? How can you get back to normal after what I did to you (insert mean nickname for Bobby here),” she says in the same mocking voice she would use back when they were in high school. Bobby flinches as his heart quickens and he’s taken back in his mind to one of the worst days of his life.

It was his sixteenth birthday and unfortunately for him, his parents thought it would be a good idea to invite his entire class to their house for a party. Little did they know they would also be inviting Savannah, his biggest and scariest bully. She never wasted an opportunity to tease and torture Bobby. And just because it happened to be his sixteenth birthday didn’t mean she would give her antics a rest and let him enjoy this one day. In fact, she felt she needed to do something even worse than her usual cruel games. She had heard that Bobby’s home was at one time used to house slaves and she thought it would be funny to make the school believe he still practiced and believed in those heinous practices.

During his birthday party Savannah talks Bobby, who won’t admit it himself but had a huge crush on her at the time, into going outside with her, to talk. He agreed, thinking he was finally going to get lucky with her after she had been playing so hard to get for so long. He remembers telling his friends to keep everyone busy and away from the front of the house where she wanted him to meet her in exactly ten minutes.

When he is able to sneak away and gets to the front porch she is nowhere to be found. Looking out towards the path leading down the road he notices she’s up on the bench under his favorite tree, climbing it the way he used to when he was a kid not too long ago.

“Hey what do you think you’re doing?” he asks whispering loudly to her as he makes his way towards the tree. He stops just a few feet from the tree when he see, dangling from her neck, a rope, tied into a noose.

“Bobby, so glad you could make it. You’re just in time for your birthday present,” she grunted down to him as she started to crawl out onto a limb that, at the time, was strong enough to carry her weight.

“God damn it Savanah get the fuck down from there before you break your neck.”

Bobby walks up to the tree, and stands just below the limb she is currently balancing herself on. She bends over on her hands and knees and begins to tie the other end of the rope dangling from her neck around the tree, pulling it tightly every so often to check that it’s not going to come loose.

“What did you think was going to happen between us when you came out here? Telling all your boys to distract everyone. Did you think you were gonna get in my panties Bobby?” she asks. “Whoa,” she said suddenly, gripping onto the limb tighter with both her hands as she almost fell over.

“Savannah I swear if you don’t get down from there!”

“What? You’re gonna what? Push me off and be done with me? That’s what you want isn’t it? You want to hang me don’t you Bobby? I wonder how many of your people have hung my people from this very limb?” she asked, sitting on the limb next to the knot she just tied, her feet dangling down close to where Bobby is standing but just out of his reach.

“None you psycho bitch. This tree was planted when I was born by my father who was hoping to build me a treehouse when I got older,” he said as he jumped up trying to grab her legs to get her down off the limb.

“Oh you want me to come down do ya?”

“Yes for fucks sake. Before someone sees you. Shit Savannah. What goes on in that fucked up mind of yours anyway?”

Suddenly her happy-go-lucky attitude while up in the tree changes. Her eyes grow cold and black. Her eyes were something Bobby would see for many years to come in his nightmares. She looked down at him and smiled the most menacing smile he’d ever seen as she began to sing “Happy Birthday” to him in a breathy voice, almost mimicking the way Marilyn Monroe sang it to President Kennedy. Bobby felt a cold chill crawl up his spine at that moment.

“...Happy birthday to you…,” and as she sang those final words she leaned her entire body forward, allowing herself to fall off the limb down towards Bobby, who instinctively raised his arms to try and catch her before her neck would snap from gravity taking its course. He grabbed her around the ankle, trying with all his might to prevent her body from falling any lower as he could hear her making gurgling sounds high above his head.

“Help!” he tried unsuccessfully to shout towards the house currently filled with all his friends from school having a good time, listening to loud music. Suddenly, the friends he had asked to keep everyone away from the windows at the front of the house, decided to take a peek for themselves and were stunned to see Bobby grabbing around Savannah’s ankles as she was dangling from the tree outside by a noose.

Everyone came running out of the house to see what was happening and before Bobby knew it he was being yanked away by his mother abruptly as his father cut down Savannah, who was still alive, and laid her down on the grown. Bobby couldn’t hear what she was saying but from the way she was clawing at her throat, where the rope was still around her neck, with one hand and pointing towards Bobby with the other he knew his life was about to go from bad to worse.

His parents never looked at him or treated him the same way again. Even when he was sent away to finish high school at a military academy rather than face the shame of him and how the town might treat him if he stayed.

Now, ten years later, with four of those years spent in a Military Academy and another three on a tour those old feelings of fear are creeping back into his mind. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead as his military training fights to take over from the frightened boy he was so long ago.

“Savannah,” says a mysterious male voice standing in the doorway of the house. She suddenly turns towards it, the hand holding the gun shaking a little at the sound of the voice. As if she recognizes it.

“No. No. No. No. No. What are you doing here? How did you find me? Go away! I have to apologize to Bobby. So you go away now,” she says, beginning to whimper like a small child.

“Savannah, it’s time to come back home okay? We’ve been worried sick about you. Why didn’t you tell us where you were going? You know you can’t just leave like that,” the mysterious voice says, walking further into the room until we see Dr. Young, a dashing gentleman of forty-two, in a suit and tie, sporting a brand new shave and haircut. “Give me the gun child. Where did you get it from anyway?”

Dr. Young holds his hand out to her. He’s not afraid and doesn’t flinch. He fully expects her to comply with his request without any incident, like they’ve practiced time and time again. Slowly her face contorts into frustration. Her instincts tell her to hand the gun over to Dr. Young but her head thinks that would not be a good idea. She takes a step back away from Dr. Young as she thrusts the present she had been clutching all this time in Bobby’s general direction.

“Take it,” she says to him, but doesn’t turn her gaze from Dr. Young who is standing there smiling at her softly, still holding his hand out to her for the gun. “It’s for him okay? I’ll go with you but only if you let him keep his birthday present?”

“Okay Savannah. He can keep it. Now let’s go home. You’ve had us all worried sick.”

Savannah turns her gaze towards Bobby who has not moved a muscle.

“Take the box Bobby. Don’t you wanna know what I gotcha?” she asks him. He shakes his head “no” and won’t take the box from her. “Fine,” she says with a smile and places it down in front of him. She had been clutching the box so tightly the wrapping paper has come loose and the lid of the box has opened slightly, almost revealing its contents.

She then puts the gun down on the floor as well and with an eerie giggle to no one in particular she skips two steps to Dr. Young and takes his arm in hers.

“Are we going to see momma today?”

“Maybe Savannah. You know, you haven’t been such a good girl today,” Dr. Young said. As the two of them walk out of the house and down the two front porch steps Savannah turns one last time, and looking Bobby right in the eyes she smiles and winks at him.

“I been a good girl today really. I wanna see momma!”

Savannah, walking alone down the road, argues with a figment of her imagination as a huge gust of wind kicks up dust and dirt around her.

And if we follow this gust of wind as it travels back up the dirt path towards the house, past the old tree that no longer has leaves on it and no noose on it either, it makes it’s way up the two front porch steps and blows into the house that has been completely empty for over a decade, and still is to this day, except for a box.

The wind blows the lid open and we see the noose rolled up into a ball inside, where it will undoubtedly stay, forever.

 

The End

Parker and the Giant

Maximillius always spent a majority of his days sitting by the river, throwing out his fishing line, never really intending to reel anything in. It is just the sheer act of calmness he feels whenever he casts his line that he enjoys the most. He sits out there for hours every day, waiting, but he does not know what for. Maybe for the one time when he’ll actually catch something? Although that wouldn’t matter if he did because he’s a friendly giant and would probably just throw whatever it was back into the river. But regardless of not knowing what he’s waiting for or why he’s waiting for it at the river, that is where he goes and that is where her stays.

Until this most ordinary day turns extraordinary when he hears someone sneeze nearby. He is so stunned by the soft, yet powerful way in which the sneeze happened that he nearly lets go of his fishing rod.

“Who’s there?” he asks, surveying the land around him trying to spot the source of the sneeze, but there is no one in sight.

Parker kicks a small pebble near her foot in frustration, causing dust to come up around her. The pebble bounces off Max’s hand which is resting on the ground fairly close her.

“I felt that,” he says, lifting his hand up off the ground so fast a force of wind caused her to fall to the ground with a thud.

“Ouch! Watch it!” Parker spoke out loud in the giants general direction before she could stop herself. Realizing she just broke a cardinal rule; never speak to a giant, she clasps her hand around her mouth to prevent her from saying anything else.

“Come out from hiding right now. Don’t make me get my ma. She’ll get you good.”

“I’m down here you big oaf,” Parker says, still laying on the ground, checking on a few scraps she sustained on her hands from the fall.

“Down where?” Max asks, looking down on the ground next to him as he puts his fishing rod down on the river bank and backs away from the source of the sound in fear. “Are you some evil spirit like my Ma warned me about? If you is I ain’t scared of ya, so show yourself already.”

“Hey, watch how you’re moving around up there before you step on me! I’m kind of small here ya know or are you blind or something? I’ve heard rumors that giants can’t see so good.”

“I can sees good. Just shout out some more so I can focus. I wanna get a good look at the runt that’s disturbin’ my fishin’ spot,” Max says, carefully crouching on all fours, bringing his head close to the ground and squinting his eyes as he scans the ground around him, looking for the source of the mysterious voice.

“Almost there. Keep moving to your left. Okay. Okay. Stop!” Parker says, waving her arms wildly at the giant whose eyes narrow, almost to the point of becoming cross-eyed as he focuses on her.

“There you is. Wow runt, you’re nothin’ but a speck o’ dust. And here I was gettin’ alls a scared of ya,” Max says, chuckling to himself so strongly that he knocks Parker back onto the ground.

“Hey, stop it Oaf before your breath kills me. Sheesh!”

“Anyone ever say you is mighty rude and real mean like?,” Max questioned, reaching forward with his right hand and grabbing Parker between his thumb and forefinger by her collar, lifting her gently.

“Put me down you Oaf before I make ya,” she screamed, wriggling around wildly as she’s being lifted higher and higher in the air. She looks down momentarily to see just how high she is off the ground and is stunned into silence at the great height. Once Max is standing up straight he places Parker down onto his open palm of his other hand which he’s put level with his nose so he can see her clearer. “You can’t go round picking people up like that. It ain’t right,” she reprimands, sitting cross-legged on his palm.

"Maximilius, are you out here somewhere? You better not be at that lake again wasting your life away fishing!,” his mother shouts to him. Their house is several hundred yards away, but being a giant it carries pretty far when she shouts.

“What was that?,” Parker asks, standing up on Max’s palm, unsheathing her knife from her side and holding it out in front of her as if she’s going to fight off whatever dangers might lay ahead.

“Not a what, but a who. That be my mum. She can be frightenin’ even to me sometimes. She hates findin’ me out here. I best be gettin’ back,” Max sulks, bending down to put Parker back on the ground.

“Wait a second big fella. Don’t go just yet. I’m starving. You got any edible food back at home you could give me? At my size I don’t need much to fill me up,” Parker asked staying on Max’s palm, not moving to jump off as his hand is resting on the ground. He frowns at her, realizing she isn’t going to get off his hand. He stands back up wondering what to do. “I promise your mum won’t see me. Just put me there, in your pocket,” she says, pointing to the pocket on his button up shirt that’s worn and torn in the corner.

“Okay but you gotta be quiet okay. No sneezing or she’ll take a switch to me quick and I been tryin’ to avoid getting hit,” Max instructs, picking up his fishing rod and sticking it up in a really tall tree, his personal hiding place for things he knows he can’t take home or his mum will be even more disappointed at him than she already is.

“Wow, look at that collection of stuff you got there,” Parker gasps, looking up into the tree and looking at all of the random things stuck up there. “Where’d you get all this stuff?”

“Found most of it, stole the rest of it. I’s a giant, no one’s gonna stop me takin’ what I want. But I gotta hide it all here. My mum already thinks I’m soft on hu-mans. If she saw me keepin’ their stuffs she’d rage on me or worse.”

“Why’s your mum so tough on you?,” Parker asked as Max starts walking towards home in a slow and steady pace.

“My paw, who died some time ago was a Giant Legend. I am a descendent from the House of Kratag.”

“Sounds intense.”

“You have no idea. I’m ranking the lowest in all my Giant subjects in school. And everyone of the teachers hate me because I’m tarnishing the Kratag name. Even my own mom would disown me if she could but the future of our House rests on my shoulders. I’m the only living male now. It’s up to me to produce a male to continue the family lineage,” he explains as he walks past so much terrain to get to where he lives. Parker is enjoying the scenery, the breeze blowing through her long brown hair, and listening to Max’s story about his life.

“What do you want… Hey, I don’t even know your name big guy?”

“Max. Maximilius Kratag of the--,” he starts but gets cut off by Parker.

“Yeah, yeah I get it. Of the House of Kratag. What do you want though? Do you want to be the best Giant and be continue the Legend that your father was? Or do you want to be your own Giant?”

“I just want my paw to be proud of me. And I want my mum to be proud of me. My teachers to stop hating me and--,” Max is cut off yet again by Parker.

“Okay, I get it. It sounds like all you need to to do is just get better in school.”

“Easier said than done. Now hide down there. My house is just over this hill. Oh wait, you smell like a tiny hu-man. Sorry for what I’m about to do, but if I don’t she’ll smell you,” he says as he picks up a handful of dirt from the ground and shoves it into the pocket Parker is currently hiding in.

“Hey, wait. Watch it!,” she shouts, spitting dirt out of her mouth and trying to shake it off her hair and body as he keeps packing it in around her, making it it harder for her to move, but also concealing her smell so his mum won’t notice. “Next time ask before you do that,” she said, sounding smothered as she’s fully concealed in his pocket.

“Shh!,” he whispers as he waves to his mum who’s standing outside their home with her hands on her hips, looking like she’s about ready to give him a beating.

“And where have you been?,” she asks as he approaches her. He has to get around her to get inside. She sniffs the air around him long and hard, closing her eyes as she does it. “What’s that I smell?”

He becomes nervous that she is smelling his new friend hiding in his pocket, especially as he can feel her squirming and sees bits of dirt shifting around. His mother suddenly opens her eyes and he just knows he’s been caught. He squeezes his eyes tightly, preparing for the blow that is sure to come.

“I knew it! You’ve been at that lake again fishing. I can smell the salt water all over you. And don’t you deny it,” she says, her hands still on her hips, giving her son a look of disappointment. “What have I told you about going out there? What if one of the neighboring families catches ya eating fish? They’ll think you don’t want to eat humans or something. What will your poppa — may his soul rest eternal — think of what you’re doing? Thank goodness he isn’t alive to see you. I can’t stand the sight of you. Go to your room. No dinner for you. Let’s see how you like living off fish for the night.”

She takes one small step to the side giving him a narrow berth into the house behind her. He has to turn sideways to get past her. His pocket stuffed with dirt and hiding Parker dangerously close his mum’s nose.

“Yes Mum,” he says as he thinks he in the clear, crossing the threshold of their house.

“Wait Maximilius. Come back here.” She turns on her heels, facing him, her hands back on her hips again. He turns back in her direction cautiously. “What is that?,” she asks, pointing towards his pocket full of dirt.

“Nuthin’ mum. Jus’ some dirt.”

“What for? There better not be some creature in there you’re trying to help. Or even worse, you’re not thinking of becoming some plant lover now, are ya?,” she asks, her eyes growing wide with concern.

“No mum. I’m just collectin’ it is all. For experiments,” he shouts, surprising himself at the excuse he came up with. Maybe she’ll buy it?

“Strange child,” she says, shaking her head and walking around the house to the back, picking up an axe leaning up against a tree as she goes.

Max breaths a sigh of relief, rushes in the house and up to his room, cupping his hand over his pocket, protecting Parker from falling out as his quick movement is causing dirt to fall out all over his hand.

Once in his room, with his bedroom door closed he let’s out a huge sigh of relief. He plops down at his desk, his chair creaking slightly under his weight, as he digs out the dirt in his pocket, his tiny friend includes and places it on his desk.

 “Let’s not do that again,” Parker says, as she coughs and spits out dirt from her mouth.

“Better a little dirt in yer mouth than me mum eatin’ ya I’d think,” Max says, sweeping the dirt off his desk and dropping into a trash bin by his desk.

When Parker is finished dusting off as much dirt as she can off her already dirty clothing she looks around Max’s room in amazement.

“Max, for a Giant, and I mean no offense, you’re neater than I thought.”

His room is pristine with everything in its place. His bed is made neatly and he even has a bookcase littered with books on fishing and botany. However, on the other side of this room is a wall that looks like a shrine to his late father, the Great Kratag. His trophies and medals on one side of a trophy case, obviously making room for the prizes Max should be winning, but isn’t. Max notices what Parker is looking at, and opens the trophy case, fingering one of the trophies but afraid to pick it up, as if his lack of victory will tarnish it.

“This case used to be in the family room, until I came home one day after losing every Giant Competition the end of last year, and found it blocking the door to my room with a note pinned on it,” he says softly, as he rifles through his desk drawer and pulls out a note that he tosses on the desk next to Parker so she can read it.

Can’t stand the sight of ‘em or you any longer. Get rid of it.

“I couldn’t very well throw away all that my father worked his whole life for just because I'm a disgrace. Soon I'll have trophies of me own to add all on this side. Just as big and shiny,” he said, more to himself than to Parker who was listening intently.

“You got a plan on how you're gonna magically win all these competitions?”

“Well, do better duh!”

“Carry me over there would ya? I need a closer look,” she said, squinting her eyes to read the many competitions those trophies and medals came from.

“What fer? You lookin’ at ‘em ain't gonna change nuttin’ as tiny as you is,” Max said, as he picked up Parker and gave her the closer look she asked for.

“Max! Max my friend, I can help you,” she shouted, jumping up and down on his open palm from excitement.

“Shh! My Ma can hear a little persons from far ways. Now what's got you all happy and the like?,” he asked, sitting back at his desk and placing her down in front of him.

“You wouldn’t know who I am because you aren’t small like me, but if you was you’d know I’m the roughest, toughest, fiercest warrior around,” Parker said, swinging her tiny sword around her and performing all sorts of kicks and flips to show off her skill. Maximilius starts to chuckle to himself. She notices him chuckling at her and stops abruptly. “Hey, can you do what I just did?,” she asks him, her hands on her hips as she waits for his answer. He has none. “I didn’t think so. I can help you win these games.”

“How?,” he asked, genuinely interested in hearing her answer.

“Well, what do you wear during these games?,” she asked, looking around his room, searching for anything that might resemble his once being in a battle, but nothing immediately jumps out at her. He gets up and walks over to what looks like a closet built into the wall in the corner. It has a torn and tattered old piece of cloth hanging from it to conceal what’s inside. He pushes it aside and stoops inside.

Parker hears loud bangs and clangs coming from inside and grows worried that Max may have injured himself until—

“Okay, are you ready?,” he asks from behind the curtain. He doesn’t wait for her answer before he emerges wearing his battle gear, none of which is fitting pretty loosely. She can tell right away this armor must have belonged to his father and was naturally passed down to him by rights. She suppresses a smile and focuses on the problems at hand. “What do you think?”

“Well, there’s potential here. For starters, I think I can probably fit inside your helmet. Put me up on your shoulder,” she said, as he carefully walked over to her. The armor is heavy, clanging loudly as he walks. He picks her up and places her on his leather shoulder pad. “Okay keep still while I see if there’s a way for me to stay secure in here,” she says, as she crawls up inside his helmet. “Testing one, two, three,” she whispers as softly as possible to him, right to his ear.

“I hear you. But can someone sees you in there?,” he asks, walking over to a broken mirror he has hanging in his room. He turns his helmet from side to side, checking if he can see Parker hiding in there. “Wow, you’re hidden up in there good, I can’t see a lick of ya.”

“Excellent, now get me down…”

After one week of practicing together Parker travels to Giant School with Max, in his front pocket again. This time instead of putting dirt in there he wears a handkerchief to conceal her from his mother or anyone else he passes by before the practice games in the afternoon.

When he arrives in the locker room to get dressed his nerves start to  get the better of him. He doesn’t want to terrify Parker by seeing all these Giants getting ready so he purposely moves very slowly to get ready, all the while trying as best as he can to ignore the insults and shoving being thrown his way by his classmates who all can’t believe what a terrible Giant he is.

Once everyone is gone he proceeds to put on the last of his armor, carefully taking Parker out of his shirt pocket.

“Those apes! We’ll show them Max. They can’t talk like that to you. You are Max Kratag of the House of Kratag! Okay, let’s go, you remember what we practiced?,” she asked him and he put her on his shoulder so she could then hide in his helmet.

“Yes, I remember. I just hope this works,” he says, sounding nervous about the possibility of being caught and the laughing-stock of the entire Giant world, if they find out he’s been training with a tiny human.

They make their way out to the stadium where the sounds of the crowd of Giants is booming and rumbling. Max walks into the stadium just as he’s being announced.

“And what latecomer do we have here ladies and gentlemen? Looks like the son of The Great Kratag. He hasn’t won or placed in any of the games since he started—,” the announcer said, muting his mic after he reads that last line. He turns back to his assistant who’s busy playing a game on his smart phone. “Is this for real? He never won anything and he’s Kratag’s son?” His assistant nods without looking up from his phone. The announcer rolls his eyes and goes back to his excited and eccentric personality. “Well, it appears my information is correct. Max has not won anything yet. But who knows what today has in store?”

Max makes his way through the stadium to the center where his fellow students are awaiting the first challenge. Boo’s and food is being thrown from the stands at him, but he doesn’t flinch or lash out. He’s used to this kind of reaction from the crowd.

“Wow this crowd is brutal,” Parker whispers to him from inside his helmet. She straps herself to his helmet with a makeshift belt she created while they practiced his fighting abilities everyday at his lake.

One by one the games begin and one by one the secret team of Parker and Maximilius wipe the floor with their competition. He listens to every direction she gives and comes out victorious, much to the crowd’s dismay, who, up to this point looked forward to making fun of him.

How was he doing it? How did he go from the worst Giant to now all of a sudden the most fiercest Giant they’ve seen? Almost as fierce as his father before him. In fact, rumours quickly began to spread, after multiple days of his defeating all of his classmates, that he was following in his father’s footsteps exactly. Even his mother, who normally wanted nothing to do with him would go to the games and cheer her son on.

Parker stayed with Maximilius in his room as they became the best of friends. They would go to the lake together and talk about what life would be like if he didn’t have to be a Giant and if she could be just a five feet taller. Then the time came for the Finals. Everything was on the line and all of the Giants wanted the top prize.

Unbeknownst to Max and Parker his fellow classmates were concocting a plan on how to finally put an end to Max’s sudden success. They are going to injure him and make it look like a terrible accident.

The night of the Finals was underway and Max was as ready as he’ll ever be. In fact, since he met Parker he gained the weight he needed in order to fill out his father’s armor and as a surprise his mother polished and shined it for him. She even proclaimed how much like his father he looked, shedding a tear.

Max was unstoppable as usual, leaving his competition in the dust on the first few games. He was closing the gap steadily between him and the leader who was getting frustrated. Before the next game was to begin he called together his fellow Giants to prepare to implement their plan.

Max and Parker both were too busy enjoying their victories to notice the blatantly obvious meeting the other Giants were having about him. If they were ever going to take him out now was the time to do it.

As the next competition was under way and the crowd began cheering for Max instead of booing him like they used to, the Giants each winked at each other, and this Max noticed.

“Parker, something's up,” he whispers so only she can hear him.

“What?,” she asks, speaking into his ear.

“I don't know but they're all winking at each other.”

“Winking? I'm gonna need more than that Max. Don't be a wuss! We’re so close to winning this whole damn thing. I didn't hide in your helmet all this time for you to up and quit,” Parker replied, pulling on Max’s ear for emphasis.

“Alright, alright. Just know I warned ya. These Giants ain't happy I been winnin’ and they look like they been schemin’ I tell ya.”

Just then the horn blew to signal the start of the game. Not five minutes after they began was Max struck in the helmet so hard he fell to the ground with a thud. He wasn't knocked out but he was sure disoriented. The severity of his injuries were cushion by his helmet which now sported quite a large dent. It took him several head shakes and groans before he was able to right himself.

He realized where he was pretty quickly and, knowing what happened was no accident, decided to fight back by beating everyone in the competition on his own without the help of—

“Parker! Parker?,” he questioned, looking to the side of his helmet where Parker usually hides, but he hears nothing.

As the crowds of Giants in the stands clamor onto the field to congratulate and console the students he pulls his helmet off and looks inside. It's empty!

“Son, that was bloody brilliant. Your father will be so proud. I bet you get recruited to join the army and become a mighty warrior just as he once was,” his mother rambled on, hugging and patting her son gruffly on the shoulder as he continued to examine his helmet, looking for Parker. “What's wrong son? I can't believe how you recovered so quickly and defeated them all either.”

“Mom, can you go wait for me by the winners circle? I'll be right there. I just need a minute,” he asked, trying not to sound too sad.

“Sure,” she replied, squeezing his shoulder one more time. “You did good son, I mean it.” She gave him one more reassuring smile then walked away, a look of worry on her face. When she was a safe distance away she turned and looked back at her son who was on his hands and knees crawling around the, now empty, stadium floor and calling out someone's name. Her eyes suddenly went wide in shock. “No, it couldn't be,” she whispered to herself under her breath as she continued walking towards the sound of the announcer getting ready to present the medals and trophies.

“Parker? Come on say sumthin’! You know I can't sees ya cause I’s so big and you’s so little,” he cried out for her, as he continued to crawl, slowly and carefully, on his hands and knees. Finding his search fruitless he sat down near the center of the stadium in a big huff and sighed. Then, in the distance, he heard a faint cough. He sprang to his feet and standing perfectly still, so his armor didn't drown out the sound, he waited till he heard it again. When he did he quickly turned in that direction and dropped to his knees upon finding her, sprawled out with several discernible injuries. He gently picked her up and placed her inside his helmet. He could hear the announcer asking for the top prize winner and asking where the son of the mighty warrior Kratag was hiding. He'd have to tend to her wounds when all this was over.

Cradling his helmet in the crook of his left arm he smiled and waved and wore all the medals he won proudly around his neck. Refusing to put down his helmet or let it out of his sight the entire time.

Once home her ran to his room and slammed the door behind him, knowing full well it would alarm his mother and cause her to burst into his room, which she's done many times before. But instead of barging in she knocked, and not a loud banging knock. She lightly tapped on his door as he lifted Parker out of his helmet and laid her onto his desk.

“Son, I know what's happened. Let me in,” she requested, again something she's never done. He looks down at Parker and knows he has no clue how to save her. So he opens his bedroom door with tears in her eyes.

“Where is he?,” she asked upon seeing her sons face.

“He? Parker's on the desk,” he said, as she pushed passed him and looked on his desk.

“A girl?,” she asked rhetorically, in disbelief. “No matter.” She pushed passed her son again and he heard her rifling through cabinets in the kitchen mumbling incoherent words to herself. She came back with several bottles of things he'd never seen before and placed them on his desk next to Parker who was moaning softly.

“What is all this?,” he asked, walking over to his desk and reading off the labels on all the bottles written in a language he didn't understand.

“It's a remedy. If we give it to her quickly she may survive,” his mother answered, mixing bottles of powders and liquids and mashing them together in a bowl.

“But wait, how'd you know?”

“Your father. How else do you think he became Cornelius The Mighty?,” she asked, dipping her pinky into the mixture and placing it near Parker's lips. “Come on love, just a little nibble should do it.” She gently lifted Parker's head to her finger as she ate some of the medicine. “Good. Now rest here.”

“He had help?,” Max asked his mother who was still tending to Parker.

“Yes. His name was Gunther. He was responsible to all of your father's success. What are the odd that the same thing should happen to you?,” she questioned, turning with her hands on her hips. “I always knew you'd turn out just like your father.”

Wait, so all his medals, his trophies, he didn't win any of them on his own?”

“No. he didn't.”

“What happened to Gunther?,” he asked, but his mother got quiet all of a sudden and wouldn't answer him. Averting her eyes from his.

“Your father was overconfident and thought he could take on entire armies all on his own. Well, just him and Gunther. Only he couldn't do it all by himself. Stupid Oaf,” she said, wiping a tear away. Max can't remember ever seeing his mother cry, not even when the Mighty Kratag died tragically on the battlefield, the way he wanted.

“Why didn't you tell me? You let me go on thinking he was some great Giant. Some great warrior—, he started to say then stopped when his mother's slap came quickly across his face. It stung but he didn't move one muscle.

“Don't let me ever hear you speak of your father as anything other than Great and Mighty you ungrateful child. All that man sacrificed to leave you with this legacy and you dare speak ill of the dead? Not in my house. Not in his house. So I suggest you keep this all to yourself otherwise I'll tell everyone of your little secret,” she threatened, and from the look on her face he could tell she meant it.

“I won't tell mum,” he answered, rubbing his cheek that's beginning to turn red already.

“Your friend is waking. I'll have dinner ready for both of you. Just this once you can eat it here. She really shouldn't be moved and you should have been more careful. In this house, as small as they are, they're considered the luckiest of charms,” she says, giving her son a wink and a smile as she leaves his room.

“Did I hear your mother speak of the Great Gunther?,” Parker asked from the makeshift bed that was made for her on the desk.

“You did,” Max responds, moving from his bed to his desk chair to hear her faint voice better. “I take it he's a bit of a Legend for you like my father is for me?”

“He's more than that. He was my father,” she replied.

They spoke the whole night, each telling the other stories of the exploits and adventures their fathers had together. Eventually culminating in what battles they would encounter as they both felt it only right they continue what was already started. Of course, after they take a much needed break by the lake, to fish…

 

The End

The Toaster

“Shit.”

She woke up in a freight, sweat beads forming on her forehead. Her world calls out to her in her dreams every night, but she ignores it. She can’t go back. She won’t go back.

As Allura wiped the sweat from her forehead she gets out of bed and plops herself down at her vanity, looking at the bags and redness of her eyes in the mirror. She peeks over at the slightly ajar bathroom door. A chill crawling up her spine, she squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head to try and remove the memory of the nightmare she just had from her mind.

“Fuck that.”

She takes a whiff of her pits and shrugs her shoulders. She smells fine and can go at least one more day without entering her bathroom. Ever since the nightmares started she’s avoided her bathroom at all costs. Even going so far as using the gas station bathroom that’s open twenty-four hours. She looks at the clock on her bedside table and notices it’s blinking twelve o’clock. She forgot to set it before she went to bed. She goes to her window and pulls back the heavy curtain, covering her eyes instantly from the bright sun that’s shining. She begins to toss her covers and pillows around her bed, searching for her wrist watch that’s actually on her dresser on the other side of her bed.

“Damn it.”

She bounces across her bed to the other side, reaching for her watch, almost losing her balance on a pile of old, worn, clothes that she has on the floor. Her watch reads 9:13am, almost a half hour past the time she should already be at work.

“Shit.”

She grabs a pair of pants and a shirt off the top of the pile of clothes, sniffs them quickly and cringes. They smell like deep fried grease and onions. She grabs her perfume bottle off her dresser and sprays way too much on both articles of clothing before putting them on quickly. She grabs her purse that’s hanging on her bedroom door that she flings open with a loud bang. Just before she closes her bedroom door she stops and looks at the bathroom door still slightly ajar. She can swear she saw it move to open. She rushes to it, throwing her whole body against it to close it shut.

“Allura…”

The voice is soft and low, coming from the bathroom. She takes several steps back, gripping onto the bedroom doorknob. She keeps stepping backwards, closing the door behind her. She takes a deep breath, still clutching the doorknob. As she turns to leave she bumps right into Lois, her sex crazed neighbor.

“Hey, Ally, right? Where’s the fire?” she asks, as Allura keeps walking past her, down the hall, towards the stairs. Lois cringes her nose at the smell of body odor. She takes a quick whiff of her armpits to confirm it’s not her before she lightly knocks on another door down the hall. “Hey Sketch, baby? You up yet? I’m bored…”

Allura stops at the top of the stairs and looks back down the hall at Lois as the motel room door opens. Lois turns towards Allura, blows her a kiss and gives her a quick wink before she walks into Sketches room, closing the door behind her. Allura shakes her head and smiles to herself as she hears giggles coming from that room. She looks down at her watch, 9:20am, and races down the stairs to get to work, passing by the owner of the Motel’s room, the door standing open, his son standing in the doorway, holding a plate of toast in his hands.

“Want some toast?” the nine year old boy asks her as she walks by. She backs away from him in a fright, looking over his head into the little kitchenette behind him, the sound of the toaster on the counter signaling more toast is done.

“Freak,” she says, as she rushes out of the motel doors.

“Henry, what have I told you about standing in the doorway like that?” his father can be heard saying from somewhere in the apartment.

“Yes dad. I was just saying hello to the smelly crazy lady from upstairs,” Henry says as he closes the door behind him.

Allura crashes through the front double doors of Waffle King, causing all the patrons to turn and look at her in disgust. She fixes  herself at the door as she power walks to the back, avoiding eye contact with Vinnie the manager, who’s sitting at the bar, with his back to Allura.

“Yo, where have you been? Vinnie is fuming right now,” Hazel, the waitress, with her hair a bit frazzled from having already put in a double shift, whispers to Allura who’s hanging her purse on her hook and putting on the apron. Hazel scrunches up her nose at Allura as she leans in and sniffs her, almost gagging at the odor. “Damn girl you reek! This place really seeps into your skin huh?”

“Listen, I don’t have time for this right now. I just need to get through this shift alive,” Allura says as she pushes through the wrong side of the swinging doors at the exact same time that Sera, the other waitress is pushing the door, but with much more force, banging it into Allura’s face, causing her nose to bleed.

“Oh fuck, man. Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

Allura holds her head back as blood begins to come down her nose uncontrollably. Hazel takes the tray with plates of food on it and puts it under Allura’s nose to catch the blood that’s coming down her face. It all gets soaked up by the leftover pieces of toast on her tray. Allura’s eyes widen when she sees the toast and hears the sound of the toaster behind the counter go off, making her woozy, almost passing out as she stumbles back onto Sera.

“Get off me bitch. You stink!”

“What is going on back here ladies? We have cust-- Oh, look who decided to come into work today. Fuck Allura, what died?” Vinnie says, covering his nose with his hand. “Hazel get her cleaned up in the back. And Sera, there are customers waiting to have their orders taken. Let’s go ladies, move it, move it!”

Hazel leads a still woozy Allura into the kitchen area and sits her down on a stool by the sink. She grabs a towel she keeps tucked into her apron and soaks it in the hot running water, placing it on Allura’s nose as she keeps her head tilted back.

“What the hell is going on with you Aly? You’ve been really spaced out lately. Vinnie is not gonna keep you on if you can’t get your shit together.”

Allura pulls back the towel, now soaked in her blood and runs it under the sink water as she sniffs several times to make sure her nose has stopped bleeding.

“You got a mirror?” she asks Hazel, holding out her hand. Hazel hands her a mirror, also located in a pocket of her apron.

“Did you hear what I just said? He was just saying the other day--,” she stops when Allura abruptly stands, looking over at the back door that just opened, revealing Lois standing there, looking totally shaken.

“What are you doing here?”

“You need to come back to the Motel. Now.”

“What? Why?” Allura asks, the fear mounting in her shaky words.

“Cayden is here.”

Allura’s skin crawls at the sound of his name. She’s been running from Cayden and her world for years now, avoiding the portals at all costs, but now she’s starting to feel as if invisible walls are closing in all around her.

“Did you say Cayden? Where did you hear that name?” Allura asks Lois, panic and fear becoming evident as her voice begins to crack. She grabs Lois’ arm tightly. Her dirty fingernails digging into Lois’ clean white t-shirt. “Tell me damn it!”

“Get off me you freak,” Lois says, wrenching her arm free from Allura’s grasp. “I always knew you had some screws loose but fuck Ally, look at you. Your look and smell like shit and now you’ve got this creeper coming out of your place looking like he slept in a full tub of water last night.”

“Oh no. No. No. No. NO,” Allura repeats over and over and over again, walking backwards until she collides with the kitchen island, knocking over pots and pans stacked high. “You said water? No, that can’t be. I haven’t turned water on in my bathroom in over a week. There can’t be any water. How is that possible?”

“Look, can you snap out of the whole sounding like a complete psychotic and come back to the Motel. This freak is holding Sketch hostage till I bring you back with me and I’m horny as fuck. So let’s go already,” Lois says, motioning Allura to walk towards her. When she does, Lois grabs her hand and pulls her outside of the diner with great urgency. As they round the corner towards the front of the diner they pass the window where Vinnie likes to sit and observe customers while working on the businesses financial books. When he sees Allura being dragged away he begins to bang on the glass facade to get her attention, which he does and her eyes go wide, knowing she’s in trouble. He moves swiftly, considering his large size, out of the booth as he makes his way out the front door of the diner.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Vinnie asks Allura as she’s being dragged past him.

“Does it look like I want to be leaving right now Vinnie?” she responds, hoping he’ll get her hint and stop Lois from dragging her away.

“Leave now and you’re fired,” he shouts to her as she’s being dragged down the road towards her Motel.

“Lois stop. Please. You heard my boss. I leave I’m fucked,” Allura says, finally stopping her forward momentum long enough to get out of Lois’ tight grip. “Look I’m really sorry about your friend Sketch, but I can’t help him. I have to get out of here.”

“Get out of here? Fuck that shit! You have to come back to the Motel and get creepy wet dude to get out so Sketch and I can do what we do best.”

“Lois, I can’t. That guy. He’s not who you think he is okay. He’s a really bad guy--,” Allura says, getting cut off by Vinnie who’s been standing there the whole time watching the exchange with these two women, amazed that they are completely ignoring him.

“Hello! I hate to interrupt you two women bitchin’ and moanin’ about nothing, but Allura, either you get your ass inside and in that kitchen or don’t come back.”

“She quits. Come on Ally, we’ve apparently got a bad guy we need to get rid of,” Lois answers, grabbing hold, this time more tightly, of Allura as she continues to drag her down the road. The Motel about one hundred feet away.

“Why did you tell him that? I can’t quit, I need this job. Shit Lois. This guy is real bad news. Let’s just call the cops and let them handle this, okay?”

“No, he said he wants you. That if I don’t bring you in the next twenty minutes he’d kill Sketch. He’s the best lay I’ve had in a long time Ally. We can’t let him kill Sketch,” Lois says, pouting at Allura, pulling slightly at her heartstrings as they approach the entrance into the Motel.

“Damn it Lois. Just promise me you won’t leave me alone with this guy okay? If you leave me alone with him he’s going to kill me! Let’s just get Sketch and then get this guy to go back where he came from, without me.”

“Back to where he came from? What is he, an alien or something?” Lois asks, holding open the door of the Motel.

“Or something…”

Both Allura and Lois walk up the stairs to the second floor. Allura is walking in front, slowing down as she approaches Sketches door. Lois taps Allura’s arm that’s reaching for the doorknob and shakes her head. Sketch isn’t being held in his room. She points to Allura’s door. They both slowly approach the door, stopping to look down on the floor that is sopping wet under their feet. Allura jumps back instantly to a dry part of the carpeted floor.

“Shit, you better hope that’s not dripping into the floor under you,” Lois says, knocking loudly on the door. “Open up, I brought her like you asked.”

The door swings open, it seems, on its own, and all that can be seen is Sketch sitting at the writing desk in the room. Lois enters the room slowly, her footsteps making squishing sounds on the damp carpet. She looks from side to side to see if that creepy guy is hiding somewhere, but she doesn’t see anyone. She shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head at Allura, signaling her that no one is there while she helps Sketch to his feet by putting his arm around her neck and hoisting him to his feet with strength she does not look like she would have. Both Lois and Sketch exit her room and walk towards Lois’ room which is the closest being right next door.

“Wait, where are you going? You promised you’d stay with me?” Allura asks Lois, as she opens her door and starts to enter.

“I promised to stay with you to help you get rid of the creeper. He’s not in there so I have no reason to stay. Relax Ally. And do me a favor, take a fucking shower! You’re too sexy to be walking around reeking like that. I used to want to do you, but not looking like that. Get your shit together,” Lois says, looking at Allura up and down, half turned on and half disgusted. She closes her door behind her. A loud thud is heard seconds later, probably the sound of Sketch being thrown down on the bed.

Allura takes a giant leap through the doorway into her room, trying her best to avoid the puddle on the carpet. She lands on her feet off balance and falls to her knees. She sits back on her butt to look at the damage to her knees. She has bad rug burn on both her knees, and they are slightly bleeding. She will have to clean these wounds or risk infection.

“Fuck,” she shouts to herself, as she drops her head into her hands. She lifts her head and looks at her bathroom door, realizing for the first time that it’s wide open. This causes her to stand up much faster than the pain in her knees can handle and she winces as she tries to back away from the bathroom door slamming into her hotel room door, feeling around for the handle. Her eyes never leaving the doorway to the bathroom.

Out of the shadowy corner of the bathroom walks a hooded figure past the door. Allura gasps but is too frightened to move. She knows she’s been found and once that happens there is no place she can go, no place she can hide. Suddenly her muscles in her whole body gives out as she slides down to the floor, in tears. In her mind she is reminded of the years of fun she had on this planet. Earthlings are, she discovered, much more fascinating than she was taught back in her world. She doesn’t want to go back to that drab colorless world, so two-dimensional, so flat. But The Cayden are the most ruthless hunters in her world and are only sent out in cases such as these.

Half-breeds, which is what Allura’s species are called, when they reach maturity begin to miss their human-sides world and without realizing it will cross over into it. Whenever this happens The Cayden are sent to retrieve them before they become too comfortable with Earth and fight to stay. Allura proved to be a formidable prey for Cayden-459 who has been tracking her scent for over five years now. In that time she was search for her human lineage, something she was told existed but could never and should never be pursued for any reason because she was conceived from what they term “an anonymous donor egg.” An explanation on what that means exactly was never given.

“Hey Allura what’s wrong with you? Sketch can’t get it up with your crying distracting him,” Lois shouts to her from the other side of the door. Allura quickly stops crying, hardly realizing just how loudly she was sobbing. She wipes her tears away and stands, opening her door to Lois, who is wrapped in the Motel blanket, her bare shoulders signaling she’s naked underneath.

“Sorry Lois, just a rough day at week for me I guess.”

“That guy in here with you? He really gave us the creeps you know. Who was he?,” she asked peeking her head into the room and looking around, making sure to  hold on tightly to the blanket wrapped around her.

“He’s gone. Just needed to give me a message. Sorry he was so weird. My uncles like that sometimes.”

“Oh he was your uncle? Huh. Well what was the message then?” She leans against the doorframe, clearly not about to leave.

“Are you completely naked under that blanket?,” Allura asks, trying to change the subject in the hopes Lois will get bored and just leave before something bad happens.

“Yes, and don’t you think you’re going to get rid of me that easy. Asshole fell asleep,” she says, walking past Allura into her room and plopping herself down on her messy bed. “You really oughta let the maid in here every once in awhile at least to change your sheets Ally, man, it reeks in here. Don’t tell me your tubs acting up too? Sketches was all fucked up last week so he had to shower in my room. I’m not complaining of course.”

Lois gets up from the bed and walks towards the bathroom to inspect her tub and make sure it’s in working order, but Allura gets there faster and blocks her way.

“No it’s fine. It’s just from working at the Diner for so long. No matter how many times you wash your clothes or shower that smell just never leaves ya know?”

“You’re acting weirder than usual Ally. If i didn’t know any better I’d swear you were hiding someone--,” she stops cold, her eyes piercing deeply into Allura’s, unbelieving. “No way! You little sneaky bitch. He’s in there isn’t he? Trying to tell me he’s your “uncle”? I knew that was complete bullshit. Damn, and here I thought you were a complete lesbo Ally. I’m devastated. I had hopes of tapping that ass one day. Ya know, when I got tired of Sketch and you stopped looking at me like I’m some kinda slut when you’ve got a guy stashed away in your bathroom!”

Lois pushes past Allura who grabs onto the blanket, trying to stop her, but finds it was a huge mistake when she’s left standing there with it in her hand and watching Lois’s bare ass tip-toeing into the bathroom.

“Shit,” Allura says under her breath. “I’m sorry Lois.”

“Hey Ally, I think there is something wrong with your tub, there’s water all over this floor. Oh, wait, it’s cause you’ve got the water running still.” Lois leans over the tub and turns the knobs to stop the water. She shrugs to herself and steps inside the tub slowly cause the water is really hot. “Hey why don’t you get in, I’ll clean you up good!,” she shouts from the tub.

Allura reaches over to the desk (mention this desk and the toaster on it earlier!) and picks up the toaster. She looks at herself briefly in the reflection, speaking the following words.

“Half-breed moon, Half-breed sun. The transformation has begun. Give my soul to this one.”

The image of Allura in the toaster begins to change and she no longer looks like herself, but like Lois. She looks up suddenly as the Cayden moves from hiding behind the bathroom door.

“Holy fuck! How long have you been creeping back there?,” Lois says, not all that concerned by his presence.

“Allura! It’s time to go!,” Allura screams, tossing the toaster in the air towards the tub. Cayden steps onto the puddle on the floor, causing it to shimmer and reflect a two-dimensional world within it. Their world.

“What the--,” Lois screams, reaching up in horror as the toaster comes flying towards her. It’s long wire still plugged into a socket close to the bathroom. As it lands in the tub, instantly electrocuting Lois both her body and that of Cayden-459 begin to slowly sink into the water, to eventually come out the other side.

“Hey Lois! What’s going on in there? You better not be fucking Ally. I thought you said we would do a threesome first,” Sketch shouts from the other side of the door as he’s pounding on it.

Allura, who now looks completely like Lois, closes the bathroom door as the last signs of life being in there are completely disappearing.

“You’ve made a  terrible mistake Allura,” the Cayden speaks as his head is slowly disappearing.

She slams the door shut and rushes to take off all her clothes, wrapping the blanket laying on the floor around her. She puts her hand on her Motel room door, takes a deep breath and composing herself, opens the door as animated as she knows Lois would.

“Hello lover! Bout time you woke up I need a good fuck like you would not believe!”

“Where’s Ally?”

“Don’t know, looks like she left. I think she had business to take care of with her uncle.”

“Is that who that creeper was from earlier?,” Sketch asks, following Lois down the hall to his room, forgetting to close Allura’s door that has a perfect view straight through to her closed bathroom door.

“Yeah, but let’s not talk about her anymore. There are plenty of other hot babes to have a threesome with, and until then it’s just you and me. Hope you don’t mind?” Lois leans against his Motel room door all seductive and opens her blanket so he can see her naked body.

“Fuck no I don’t mind,” he says, leaning into her, as he reaches behind and opens his door. They both giggle and kiss as he backs her inside towards his bed, kicking his door closed behind them. The sounds of them giggling and falling onto his bed can be heard as back down the hall and through the bathroom door, peeking out her head from the bathtub is the head of someone who looks very much like Allura.

 

The End

The Mermaid and the Pirate

The evening fog was so thick the pirate ship was forced to drop anchor several hundred yards from its destination. The crew was beginning to get restless as this was the twelfth day they’ve been anchored to this point and Captain Swift was running out of ways to distract them from trying to plan a coup. This was his ship and his dream, he wasn't about to let a less than mediocre crew change what he believed to be a predestined chain of events that would lead to his finding the Island of Whispers.

Some call it a myth, a place where one of the more revered pirates to grace these seas, Daiman Tally, hid his treasure. Others say you’ll spend so long trying to find it you start hearing whispers in your head and madness inevitably creeps in, hence the name the Island of Whispers. Daimon Tally was the only man who ever claimed to have been to and seen with his own eyes this place. Then again, he was deemed mad when he went to the gallows shouting for someone to find his treasure in the Isle of Whispers.

As Captain Swift lay in bed restless, listening to the heavy breathing and snoring of his crew of twelve men below deck, he felt his ship, The Leviathan, rock slightly. If he had fallen asleep like he was supposed to a subtle movement like this would have lulled him further to sleep, instead he jolted up out of bed and stood very still, listening. But the loud snoring below blocked him from determining if his ship was being infiltrated by his worst enemy, Captain Slade, who heard through rumors that Swift was on a mission to find gold he saw in his dreams. He laughed at the thought but Swift knew he was desperate enough for a challenge that he intended on seeing for himself if this dream had any truth to it.

“Blasted crew,” he shouted under his breath as he made haste to get dressed. If he was destined to die today he vowed he'd always be fully dressed, with sword in hand, having fought the best he ever had. He wasn't called Swift for nothing.

As strapped on his trusty sword around his waist and released it from its sheath the boat rocked slightly once more.

“Captain Slade, I know you're up there you rapscallion,” he shouted to the ceiling this time, loud enough for his crew and anyone within earshot to hear, but the snores continued. He crept to the door of his cabin and looked through the small window, not seeing anything beyond a few inches, the fog concealing his view and any enemy who might be using it to attack should he take one step out his door. But he knew he had no choice. It was up to him to protect his ship and his slumbering crew, to the death. So he pulled the door open and ran out several feet from his door, his sword out in front of him, the thick fog surrounding him. He knew if someone was out there they had him at a disadvantage having seen him run from his cabin.

“Show yourself you son of a fishwife!,” he shouted, but no one answered.

“Swift…,” came a soft angelic voice from the direction of the calm waters.

“Of all the oceans in all the world!”

He sheathed his sword and walked so swiftly through the fog it moved out of his way as he approached the side of his ship, looked over and down into the water.

“Mermaid,” he mutters under his breath to himself, scrunching his nose in disgust at the sight of her. Mermaids are known for their ability to charm any man into open waters and ultimately to their death. However, Captain Swift has developed an immunity against them so he neither desires nor fears them. “What is it you want from me Mermaid?”

    “I am Melody of the Isle of (name here) sent by Vanora the Great, to deliver a message to Captain Swift of the Leviathan. Please fetch him slave,” she answered, as she swims towards a rope ladder hanging off the side of the ship, preparing to climb on board.

“Wait damn it. You can't board my ship. I do not give my permission.”

“Your ship?,” Melody asked as she placed one leg over onto the deck of the ship then the other. Her legs were still showing scales as the transformation takes longer for younger Mermaids who aren't permitted to walk on land until they reach their fourteenth birthday.

Swift could tell her inexperience in walking by the way she stayed glued to one spot once stepping onto the ship. He quickly calculated the time it would take him to grab her and throw her back where she came before his crew discover him talking to a Mermaid. He was forced to put his plan on hold when she did take a step and began to stumble. He ran to her quickly and helped steady her by putting an arm around her waist.

“Vanora said I'd know the Captain by his willingness to help a Mermaid even though he knows what we are. I must say, you don't look like the Captain of this great ship.”

“Well just between us it isn't as great as it looks,” he replied, realizing she no longer needs assistance yet was lingering closely for longer than necessary. He quickly let her go and took several steps away from her. While he's one of few who's able to avoid their charms and knows distance makes no difference he has always felt being too close is harder for him to avoid their charms. “So what does Vanora want?”

“Why do you not call her Vanora The Great like all humans beneath her should? Only Mers are allowed to call her Vanora and you are not Mer are you?,” she asks, sniffing the air in his general vicinity.

“Perhaps I am not beneath her--,” he replied, but could not finish because the next thing he knew she had grabbed him around the neck and lifted his entire body off the ground. Mermaids, while fast swimmers are just as quick on land. Even the adolescents.

“How dare you say you your life is equal to that of Vanora the Great?,” she asked, choking the life out of him from pure rage and anger.

“Melody--you can't kill me. Stop--,” he manages to choke out. She knows he's right and loosens her grip. He falls to the ground coughing and hacking as he rubs where her hand just was, feeling the imprints her fingers left on his neck.

“Why does she say you cannot be killed?”

“Don’t you know?,” he asks, still rubbing his neck, the bruising starting to show.

“I’ve heard rumors Vanora loves you. What is love?”

“Imagine my luck, a Mermaid asking a pirate what love is? Love is when you see a man and don’t wish to kill him or do him any harm. When Vanora sees me she doesn’t want to kill me. She wants to kiss me.”

“Enough! You have managed to corrupt her mind, you will not do the same to me. Just let me deliver this message and leave this vessel already,” Melody replies, her face showing signs of utter disgust and unease at being near Captain Swift for this long.

“Temper. Temper Melody. Imagine if Vanora the Great heard you accused her of being corrupted by me? It would be you at the other end of a Mermaids grip on your neck.”

“Vanora wants you to know if you stay here any longer you will go mad,” Melody says, looking away from him just then, as if there’s more to tell but she’s hesitant to go on.

“Is that it? I doubt Vanora would send you all this way to tell me something I’ve heard all before. Out with it.”

“Do you hear that?,” she asks, looking over her shoulder out into the fog. She squints her eyes to try and see into the distance as if she hears something out there, but it’s no use, the fog is far too thick.

“Hear what? Is someone out there?,” Swift asks as he removes his sword from his sheath and readies it for battle.

“No, the voices. Do you hear them? I can’t make out what they’re saying. They’re… whispering…,” she says, her eyes widening with fear as she backs away from Captain Swift towards the side of the ship. “Who are you? Venora was right, you’ll die if you stay here waiting for a dream that will never come true. The whispers are coming for you Swift. You’re giving them exactly what they want. For your sake and the sake of your crew, leave. Leave now or perish,” she says as she turns and with one jump, leaps over the side, somersaults and dives into the water, her legs changing back into a fin right away.

“Wait! What do you mean the whispers are coming for me?,” he shouts out to her as she swims away faster than he’s ever seen a Mermaid swim before. “Damn it Venora. Why didn’t you come here yourself?”

“Who are ya speakin’ to Capt’n?,” Timbers, his second in command, asked coming up behind him and scaring him half to death.

“Timbers! What have I told you about sneaking up on me like that? And why aren’t you asleep with the men below deck?”

“I thought I heard voices Capt’n so I thought it best I investigate before rousing ya. I wasn’t ta know it was you was I? Who was ya talkin’ to? Not yerself I hope. I’ve had a right tough time tryin’ to get ‘em to stay in spite of yer strange dream quest,” Timbers rambled on, not even stopping to take a breath.

“Dream quest? Is that what the crew's been calling what I’m doin’ here? Well it’s not some bloody dream quest and you can tell ‘em that direct from me. It’s real Timbers. It is. I can feel it. It’s out there. Everything is going according to plan,” Swift mused, closing his eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath in self-satisfaction at knowing he’s about to uncover one of the biggest mysteries in pirate history. He’s going to find the Isle of Whispers and claim the treasure.

Just then a bolt of lightning is barely seen in the distance, illuminating the night sky, which is helpful in being able to see through the thick fog they’ve been stuck in the middle of.

“Looks like a storm is comin’ Capt’n. But I’m sure you already knew that right? That is, if yer dream qu-- I mean, yer PRE-monition is happenin’ jus’ like yer saw it?”

Swift looked over at Timber wide-eyed, not knowing what to say. He had a dream about this place. The dream led him here and told him to wait, the Isle of Whispers would come to him, but it didn’t tell him exactly how or when, or even more importantly, why? He’s just as lost and confused as his crew, but he’s the Captain so he must always at least look and sound like he knows exactly what he’s doing.

The lightning struck again, this time much closer to his ship as thunder began to sound in the distance, like a loud explosion in their ears. Just then, huge raindrops began to fall all around them soaking them in seconds. They both ran for the Captain’s quarters and ducked inside, shaking off whatever rainwater they could. Swift took his long hair that he keeps pulled back in a ponytail and rung it as dry as he could onto the floor. Another lightning and thunder as the waves outside began to make the boat rock to and fro.

“Rouse the men and hoist anchor,” Swift shouted over another sound of thunder that felt like it was right next to the Leviathan.

“Does that mean we’re finally leavin’ this God-forsaken place Capt’n?,” Timber shouted, holding onto the door of Swift’s quarters, about to take his leave.

“No! But I will not leave us sitting ducks while this storm passes through. We’ll move as far out of its way as possible till it passes then come back,” Swift shouted just as loudly. He’s knocked practically off his feet as he struggles to maintain balance. Books and papers and various objects he’s collected over the years start to rattle and fall off shelves all around his room.

“But Captn--,” Timber starts to argue but is cut off by a lightning strike that has hit their topmost sail, lighting it on fire.

“Go! Now!”

As Timber runs to wake the men, most of whom already started waking at the sound of the first thunder, Swift sways over to his desk and pulls open a side drawer. In it he pulls out an ornate wooden box with a symbol on it of a beautiful Mermaid. He opens the box and pulls out a pendant, shaped like the tip of a Mermaids fin, made out of a stone that is glowing a mesmerizing shade of blue and purple. He quickly puts it around his neck.

This pendant was given to him by Vanora as a token of her affection for him. All of her most trusted Mermaids are given this same pendant as a way to contact her if they are ever in need of her assistance. When Swift left Marinelle Bay, where Vanora and her Mermaids live, he vowed to himself he would never use it. Little did he know he’d one day find himself wishing she were here. Because other than her ability to lure men to their deaths Vanora can also bend the weather to her will and Swift needed her to stop this storm. He held the pendant to his lips, kissed it and whispered, “Venora…” before he tucked it inside his shirt and made his way out of his cabin, careful not to fall over, as the ship began to slowly rock back and forth against the waves.

Outside his quarters his crew was scrambling around the deck, slipping and sliding as they prepared to move the ship. Swift looked to where the anchor should be resting once it’s pulled up and noticed several crewmen struggling to hoist it up. He ran to them, passing Timber who’s wrangling ropes in both his arms, helping other crewmen steady the sails that are flapping unsteadily in the fierce gale winds.

“Timber, get up to there and take the wheel on this thing while I get this anchor up. Hold her steady! Help is on the way,” Swift shouts into Timber’s ear. For a brief moment both men look at each other and Swift winks at him, giving him a sly grin.

“Capt’n not Vanora?,” Timber questions back. Swift pats him twice on the shoulder before going to his men to help bring up the anchor.

Timber releases the ropes that were wrapped several times around his arms and hands them over to the first crewman who comes running by. He then sprints up to the upper deck and takes a hold of the out of control wheel, trying with all his might to steady it as the water keeps rising around them, coming onto the ship in floods. Every few seconds he’s wiping his eyes to monitor the crew and make sure the Captain doesn’t get injured. He notices the anchor is finally back up in its resting place. The Captain looks overboard and waves furiously to something or someone Timber can’t quite make out in the distance.

Suddenly the waves stop rocking the ship mercilessly and the men who were struggling against the wind with the sails have all fallen on top of each other as it has suddenly stopped blowing as well. The clouds overhead are parting and the constant heavy fog is also beginning to dissipate, but only slightly. Looking around them the men can hardly believe they were just battling a raging storm.

“Venora…,” Timber whispers under his breath as he lets go of the wheel and runs down to the Captain who’s waiting by the rope ladder to help her on board once she reaches the ship. “Capt’n you can’t seriously be thinking of letting her on this ship. The men don’t take kindly to Mermaids you know that. Remember the time it took to get them to come back after the weeks you spent anchored just off the coast of Marinelle Bay?”

“The men had someplace to go then Timber. Here they are stranded. Here they’ll have to make do,” Swift answers, putting his hand on his most trusted friend’s shoulder trying to reassure him.

“But nothing good can come of you summoning her here. She’ll--,” Timber started to argue but was cut off.

“I’ll not have you speaking such things about a woman who just bloody well saved all our lives and you be sure to tell that to the men as well. Think what they want of her and of her kind but do not let me hear their thoughts in my presence. Is that understood?,” Swift orders, waiting for Timber to nod his assent before releasing the now tight grip he placed on Timber’s shoulder. “Now go help the men clean this place up, I’ll not have the future Mrs. Swift living in squalor.”

Timbers eyes widen with shock to hear the Captain speak of marrying a Mermaid. But they’ve been through too much together over several decades for him to let what he considers to be a phase come between them.

As Vanora’s hand reaches up for Swift to grab a hold of, Timber takes his leave to gather the men and retreat down into the belly of the ship.

“You came,” Swift said sweetly, a smile creeping across his lips as Vanora stepped onto the ship. Her legs are still changing, green scales present on them. She’s wearing a shimmery purple gown with spaghetti straps, hugging her just right to accentuate her hourglass figure and large bosoms. Her long black hair, with one purple streak running through it, even after just come out of the water, falls perfectly around her face.

“You called,” she replied, kissing him softly on his cheek. “That is what you humans like isn’t it? Touching, you call it?”

“There are things we like more than a kiss on the cheek,” he said, speaking softly and provocatively, since his men are nowhere in sight to hear him.

“Teach me. I want to pleasure you,” she begged, unsure if she was speaking the right words to convey her thoughts.

“Stay with me and I will teach you everything you want to know.”

“You'll go mad if you stay here Swift,” she replied, sounding genuinely concerned for him. Part of her hated that she was so weak over this human, but the other part of her that desired to explore her feelings was winning. For the first time she was following her heart, an organ Mermaids were rumored not to have.

“If you stay you can make sure I don't,” he reasoned, fully expecting her powers to be able to easily handle his possible turn towards madness.

“Not if I become less Mermaid,” she thought to herself, not wanting to leave him but also not wanting to worry him. “You expect me to stay? How can Vanora the Great stay on a pirate ship? What will my Mers think?”

“They'll think whatever you tell them to think Vanora. Please,” he continued to whisper, this time stepping closer to her. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer, she was weak against his will, but didn't want to pull away the way all Mers are supposed to. He leans in slightly and kisses her passionately, feeling her give into him completely by the way she began to moan. He pulled away before they both got too carried away. “I need you Vanora.”

He looks deeply into her eyes and know instantly she's not going to leave. He takes her by the hand and leads her to his quarters where they made love to the sounds of waves splashing loudly against the ship. An unavoidable effect caused by Vanora experiencing something she never has.

In the belly of the ship the crew tried to listen to Timber as he explained the Captain’s orders. Emphasizing there was nothing to be concerned about when it comes to the Captain’s loyalty, it will always be with his men. It didn't help that Timber had to shout this assurance over the sounds of Captain Swift and Vanora making loud passionate love directly above them, so raucously the ship was rocking slightly. This sound went on all day, the Captain not showing his face to the crew until nightfall, when the sounds of sirens roused him and Vanora who were a tangle of naked limbs and sweaty sheets on his bed.

“What the bloody hell is that?,” he asked, sitting up in bed and covering his ears from the sound that's growing louder the closer it gets to the ship.

“It's the Mermaid call.”

“What?!,” he tried to shout above the sound but found he had no voice. He opened his mouth to speak and no sound came out. Whatever was approaching managed to silence him completely.

Vanora rose from the bed as if unphased by the noise or what was happening. Standing naked in front of Swift, who was still aimlessly attempting to block out the sound, she grabbed his robe off the corner bedpost and flung it on in one motion. She walked slowly to his door, turning once to beckon him to follow her with her hand. He made to follow behind her then stopped in his tracks realizing he too was naked but she was wearing the only robe he owned. He quickly put on the pants he was wearing earlier and followed her out onto the deck of the ship where the sound was so loud he fell to his knees clutching at his ears in agony, his crew scattered around doing the same. Vanora walked to the side of the ship and with her right arm stretched she motioned it in a sweeping arc and the sound suddenly stopped, leaving the men disoriented, with a ringing in their ears.

“What are you doing here? I ordered you to stay at Marinelle Bay and await my return. Why have you disobeyed me?,” Vanora asked, addressing her question directly to Melody.

“We wish to know why Vanora the Great rushes to the aid of a man?”

Vanora turns her body away and looks up at Swift who's regained himself and looks to be coming to her defense, but she stops him with a head shake. She knows a Mer-Challenge is about to come. She's been ready for it ever since Swift swam, quite literally, into her life. Instead of killing him and stealing his soul, as she watched him drowning her heart did something it had never done before, it skipped. Before she realized what she was doing she grabbed him around the torso with one hand and swam to the surface with the other. They both were injured from the battle that had just taken place. Neither side was winning but too many Mers were dying to allow this to go on, so Vanora ordered a retreat, leaving her behind with Swift, who was dragged overboard by a Mer just as his ship was sailing away. He was beginning to get heavier in her arms as she struggled to hold his head above water. She did not have enough energy to get him to land which was several hundred miles away, but she found a piece of wood off the side of his ship that broke off earlier, floating by. She hoisted his body onto it and together they stayed that way for several hours until she regained enough energy to take him to the nearest shore.

“Vanora, I challenge your right to rule over the Mer of Marinelle Bay,” Melody shouted to Vanora.

Vanora turned back towards the vast sea surrounding them then down at her legs and smiled, satisfied in the decision she was making.

“Did you not hear me?,” Melody asked, stepping onto the ship, her legs transforming in front of the crew. Some of them have never seen this firsthand and audible gasps could be heard all around them.

“You don't want to do this Melody. You know I'll destroy you,” Vanora whispered so the other Mer in the water couldn't overhear.

“If I don’t do this someone else will. What would you have me do?”

“What exactly is about to happen here?,” Swift asked, stepping cautiously between the two women.

“We are about to battle,” Melody responded, insulted that Swift is unaware of Mer law.

“To the death,” Vanora added.

Melody and Vanora started making wide circles around each other on the deck of the ship while the men sat on the sidelines and watched. Just then lightning struck in the distance and a loud howling sound could be heard overhead.

All at once the Mers in the water look up frantically as if they know exactly what they heard and are afraid. Swift’s men do the same, scrambling to hide.

“What is that, sir?,” Timbers asks Swift.

“Amazon Howlers,” Melody answers looking about her the best means of escape. “You'd do best to hide human.”

“I don't take advice or orders from a Mermaid,” he replies, turning to Swift, awaiting his orders, just as a creature unlike anything he's ever seen swoops down upon them all. Timbers grabs Melody and pulls her to the ground with him, covering her with his body as the talons of the creature grazed at her arm, leaving behind three small gashes.

“Men take cover!,” Swift shouts, unsheathing his sword and looking towards the sky.

“No don't! Howlers are after Mers. I need to save them. Help me. There are too many of them,” Vanora says, pointing out in the distance. The men stay frozen in place, unsure of what they're seeing. The creature that was just there has brought dozens all howling loudly. Vanora runs to the side of the ship where the Mers are very frightened but not retreating. “I order you to go home! Go now!,” she screams as the Howlers get closer.

“You can get off me now human,” Melody says to Timber who's still shielding her with his body. He moves out of her way as she stands. “They won't leave without their Queen,” she says to Vanora.

“And they won't.” Vanora removes her ring and grabbing Melody’s hand puts it on her finger. It glows pink as its powers prepare to enter her.

“What have you done?,” Melody screams the last word in agony as she crouches in agony. Her ring glowing even brighter. All Mers including Swift who are wearing a pendant notice it's glowing that same pink color.

“Don't fight it,” Vanora whispers into Melody’s ear as she holds her in her arms. The Howlers are now upon them, circling like vultures. “Swift, protect us. She needs more time.”

He quickly springs into action. He and Timbers hand out swords and guns to the men.

“How do we kill them?,” he shouts to Vanora.

“Fire! Or cut their bloody head off!” Everyone on the ship stop and stare at her in disbelief at her word choice.

“Aahhh!,” Melody screams as her eyes and mouth open wide shooting the same pink glow into the sky.

The Howlers, knowing exactly what's going on, take this opportunity to kill as many Mer as they can. They swoop down into the water, able to breath underwater, searching for the Mermaids who dove deep when they saw the Howlers approaching. They vowed not to leave without their leader, knowing it will most likely lead to many of their deaths.

From the ship the crew is shooting at the Howlers as they fly into the water. While they can breath underwater it's not indefinitely. Eventually they have to come up for air and when they do the pirates will be ready for them.

“Get ready men. Be careful not to shoot a Mermaid,” Swift shouted, looking back to see what was happening to Melody whose skin was beginning to glow pink now. Timber has been transfixed near her the entire time, not leaving her side. “Timber, snap out of it. The men need you.”

A Howler lands on the deck of the ship, its massive wings knocking some men down. The sound of claws carving into the wood underfoot as it walks towards Melody and Vanora, still on the ground, gets Timber back into action who unsheathes his sword and in one quick motion drives it through the Howlers long neck before it can react. It dies instantly. Other Howlers see what’s happened and decide to try and land on the ship to avenge their fallen. The crew turn their attention towards the Howlers overhead just as Melody stands on her own, not exhibiting any signs of pain like she just had moments ago. In fact, the arm that had the gash on it from the Howler is completely healed.

She winks at Timber, who’s struggling to remove his sword from the neck of the beast he just killed, causing him to drop it onto his foot. She then blinks once and her eyes glow pink as she raises both her arms in the air and pushes them upwards, causing wind to formulate and throw the Howlers several hundred feet away. They get scared instantly and retreat. She then walks over to the side of the ship where other Howlers can be seen picking apart several Mers who are obviously dead. Her rage builds as she motions her hands in their direction and with her new power she lifts the Howlers out of the water, then closes her hands into fists that instantly snaps their neck.

Vanora steps forward and places her hand on Melody’s shoulder to calm her rage.

“It’s done Melody. You can stop now. You did good.”

Melody drops the dozen Howlers she just killed into the ocean, turns to Vanora and hugs her tightly.

“Why did you do this? I can’t rule like you,” Melody cries into Vanora’s shoulder.

“I do not wish you to rule like I did. You have a pure heart still. Not corrupted by man or by Mer yet. Rule as you want and it will be the best way. I would not have given you the ring if I did not know it to be true,” Vanora says in a reassuring tone.

“We will be back to check on her,” Melody says to Swift. She reaches into his shirt and yanks the pendent that is still glowing pink now and places it in Vanora’s hands. “But if you should ever need me, you call me,” she says, as she readies herself to dive into the ocean.

“You do know what love is,” Swift spoke to Melody.

“Careful human. I also know what hatred and revenge is,” she replied, looking back at him with a menacing grin on her face. Then she was gone in the water, hardly the sound of a splash made. Vanora watched as her people she once ruled swam away.

They would return often to The Leviathan to bring whatever food and provisions Vanora asked for. She would always be sure to ask for enough not just for herself but the others as well.

After a while Vanora became pregnant causing Swift, for the first time since he arrived to this remote part of the vast ocean, to consider leaving. Being born on a ship was no way for any child to come into this world. But that night the dream that he only ever had once before he had again. Only slightly different. He was preparing to leave, for the sake of his unborn child but once he did he ran into his enemy Captain Slade. They fought a great battle and Swift lost. He and his crew were taken prisoner while his wife who could no longer transform into a Mer was taken as a personal sex slave to Captain Slade.

Swift woke with such a fright, his wife sleeping soundly, a slight bump showing already. He would not do anything to risk his family. He would stay right where he was forever if he had to...

“...but did Captain Slade come find grandpa?”

“Yes, son, he did. I was twelve years old—,” (Mer name) said, cut off by his sons gasp.

“That's how old I'll be next week,” (another Mer name) said, looking around him in fear. “You don't think Captain Slade will come for me do you?”

“You mustn't believe everything the other children tell you son. Now do you wanna hear the rest of the story before bed?,” he asked his son who nodded enthusiastically, his eyes wide with excitement.

“Grandpa killed that mean old Slade didn't he?”

“Yes son. He killed him. And after hearing from Timber that a lot of his men didn't wish to stay on the Leviathan any longer, some of them having families of their own they left behind for the treasure, he let those who wished to go take Slades ship, along with his crew’s survivors, and leave.”

“Was grandpa all alone?,” he asked, really concerned.

“No son. He wasn't. He had me and mum. Timber stayed as well. Stayed till the end.”

“Wow dad, I wish I could've met grandpa,” he said, his eyelids beginning to close.

“Sleep now son. I have a surprise for you in the morning.”

The next morning (fathers name) was woken up by his son pouncing on him in excitement.

“They're coming dad! Get up! Get up!”

He sat up and smiled at his son who ran out the room. He could still hear his excitement through the door as he got dressed. Strapping his father's sword around his waist. He then went and joined (son's name), who was helping carry crates, as best he could.

Then she came on board.

“Hi Melody. Did you know today's my birthday?”

“I did actually,” she replies, crouching down to his eye level. “I have a birthday present for you.”

“Really?” His eyes widened with excitement. “What is it?,” he asks, bouncing up and down.

“Patience son. What have I taught you about patience?”

“It’s for the weak?”

“I see he is learning from the best,” Melody replies, chuckling a little to herself. The time that has passed since her encounter with Swift and becoming the leader of the Mer of Marinelle Bay has been long. When Vanora died of natural old age, a side-effect of giving up her Mer powers, Melody never stopped bringing food and supplies to The Leviathan.

“Okay I think he’s calmed down enough where you can give him his surprise,” (Swift son) says, winking at Melody, who smiles warmly back at him.

“Come with me young man,” she says, holding out her hand for him to take. He looks back at his father for assurance that it’s okay and he nods his head. “Today I’m going to tell you why you could never swim with me in the saltwater ocean.”

(Little boy) turns to his dad frowning about her idea of a surprise and he laughs.

“Son just hear her out. You’re going to love this.”

“Young man. You are half-Mer. Do you know what that means?”

“You’re kidding?,” he says even more excited than he was before. “Of course I know what that means. I have a fin like you. But—,” he stops his excitement and starts to sulk.

“What’s wrong?,” Melody asks him, not expecting this reaction.

“If a full Mer can’t come out of the water till they’re fourteen I bet a half Mer has to wait even longer to get IN the water huh?”

“Smart boy,” Melody says, looking over at (Swift’s son). “That’s my surprise you can enter the water on your twelfth birthday,” she answers, leading him to the side of the ship. She bends down to him and whispers in his ear, “all you have to do is jump in. Don’t be afraid (young boy). I promise you will be okay.”

“Aren’t you coming with me?,” he asks, a hint of worry in his voice.

“I can’t. Not on your first dive. You have to learn to do it yourself. We’ll be here watching. Go on,” she says, winking at him and smiling.

He takes a deep breath and nods at her that he’s ready. He closes his eyes and does a cannonball into the water, sending the Mer that have been lounging around the ship talking each other, scattering in all directions.

Melody leans against the rail of the ship looking down at her son who’s legs are transforming into a fin. He’s having so much fun using it to splash water at the Mer around him. His laugh is so infectious she finds herself laughing and doesn’t notice when (Swift’s son) stands next to her and puts his hand on hers.

“He has your father’s energy and curiosity,” she says to him when she looks down and sees his hand on hers. She takes it in hers and squeezes tightly.

“He has your love and heart though,” he replies back.

“Are you sure you’re okay with him ruling the Mer of Marinelle Bay some day?,” Melody asks him.

“Yes, I won’t have him trapped on this ship like me. He deserves to be free from this curse and that ring will free him some day,” he answer as a huge splash from in the water comes up and hits them both in the face, soaking them.

“Are you two gonna come in now or what?”

“Of course, once he’s ready,” (Swift’s son) says, picking up Melody in his arms and throwing her overboard then diving in after her.

All three of them splashing their fins at each other in the sun next to the Leviathan, where it is still anchored, as a warning to anyone who comes to look for the Isle of Whispers.

The End

Meet the Dalrymple's

“Dakota, I thought I told you to go get dressed and help your father in the Fourth Sector? You know how his eyes have been acting up lately? All I need is to get angry phone calls again. You know how much The Voice hates when that happens?”

“Aww mom, make Austin go. He loves doing that stuff and at least dad doesn’t bore his head off. Besides, I was gonna take Tex for a walk,” she replied, as if I don’t know how to take myself for a walk. I’m always walking around this place, I know it inside and out. I probably could find my way around here better than any one of them blindfolded, but I won’t tell them that. Dakota’s mom, Lillian, put her hands on her hips, like she always does when she means business. “Ugh, fine!”

Dakota rolled her eyes, unclipped me from the leash I hate they insist putting on me, but I go along with it for the treats I get afterwards for, as they put it, “being a good boy,” and then scamper away wagging my tail for effect. Being a dog is hard work, but I do what I can to get what I need from them, such as shelter, food, and the occasional belly rub.

To be a good sport about not getting to go outside with Dakota I decide to escort her to her father, my owner, although I’m not one to be owned by anyone, who is undoubtedly doing the wrong thing in the fourth sector. He’s better suited for the second sector, where the only maintenance that’s ever needed there is the occasional mopping and dusting of the machine. But in the fourth sector is the computers. Even I don’t fully understand what they all do but I know enough to not touch the keys for any reason. Harold on the other hand knows nothing and therefore must always be watched closely whenever he’s sent to clean the fourth sector.

Lillian is the leader even though I’ve never seen her wear one pair of pants. Don’t ask me, I’ve heard it said the leader wears pants. I wear no pants so I lead no one but myself, and even then, only when I’m not on a leash.

She appointed herself in charge when we first got here after receiving a rather cryptic letter from her rather eccentric Uncle whom everyone assumed died when he went off to fight in the war. He asked his favorite niece to take his place at The Factory if she did not hear from him in seven days. It would mean wherever he went he perished, never to return again. Her children, her husband, and even I felt this move and change of scenery was preposterous. Who was this man we never met nor heard of and why were we to simply pack up and move on the basis of some silly letter? Granted, I have no friends of relations the way my owners do, but I had places I liked to frequent, I had routines that that were completely interrupted by this move. And what do I have to show for it? Some old musty factory with no scenery and no place to play that is highly dangerous or just plain dirty.

We finally reach the fourth sector and find Harold staring at a wall of knobs and dials and other buttons that each, I’m sure, serve an important function that neither he nor I know a thing about. Strangely enough Lillian seems to know. I still haven't quite figured out how? Another mystery for another day. If Dakota wasn't here to stop him from what he's always almost about to do, it would be my job to bark and bark at him to get his attention away from touching something.

It's so tiring to bark and I only like to do it when it's absolutely necessary. The possibility of being blown to smithereens because Mr. Nosey wants to know “what does this button do?,” makes it absolutely necessary.

“Hey dad, how's it going?,” Dakota asks, trying to distract him from what she knows he's about to do.

“Well daughter, this do-hickey here seems to be out of alignment with the others. Or perhaps it's the others that are out of alignment with this one?,” he replies, furrowing his eyebrows deep in thought. He's unsure of what to do in this situation and sadness begins to creep across his face. I'll never understand why older adults always want to look smart and brace in front of other younger adults, but he does. “Oh well, I'll fix it later…”

He always does this. Dakota and I know best exactly what's coming with more certainty than we know the sun will set this evening. He’ll become indecisive which will lead to anger at himself for being so unsure of himself in front of his daughter until he’ll ultimately decide to do it. What's so fascinating about this situation, besides the fact that we go through this every other day, is that it's in the same spot with the same do-hickey. It's gotten so he's almost convinced me maybe he's right and there is some sort of misalignment going on? But since we haven't been blown to bits yet, and living here makes that much more of a possibility than say if we lived over a mine field, he's probably wrong.

Oh, here we go. He's turned away from the knobs, turns back. He'll do this a few more times. Only now Dakota and I don't wait for it to go too far. For one, because we simply don't have the time and second because trying to turn his attention away from what he deems to be the problem at hand can become much more difficult the longer we let him go on. This means I start degrading myself and all dog-kind by barking loudly while I stand up on my hind legs as I do what I think Dakota called “dancing” the first time I ever did it.

Humans. So easily amused.

As is routine around here he quickly abandons his desire to touch anything and begins to laugh as he watches me barking and dancing around like a complete fool. I do this for a few more minutes, till I know he's been sufficiently entertained then I stop. Not so much because it's absolutely humiliating, as I'm sure you can imagine it was, but because I am getting old and I can't stand on my hind legs for long periods of time like I used to.

"Good boy, Tex. Good boy," he says to me as he pets my head and reaches into his pocket to pull out one of God's greatest creation, the biscuit. Humans take it or leave it, having it only during tea time or as a snack, me on the other hand, I swear by them and am willing to humiliate myself daily just to sink my teeth into one.

"Dad, you do remember Tex is a 'she' right?," Dakota asks her dad. I don't know why she bothers trying to get him to remember that. I'd tell him but why bother? With a son who has no time for him he needs to be able to call someone 'boy', better me than one of his daughters.

Suddenly an alarm unlike anything I've ever heard before began blaring, scaring the crap out of us all. Dakota covered her ears, her face cringing from the blaring as it got louder and louder. Even I couldn't help doing the one thing I suppose dogs are expected to do in moments of crisis, I barked and barked and barked. My barks being drowned out by the alarm. Surprisingly enough Harold didn't flinch once at the sound. Seeing him not reacting at all to the alarms made me stop barking and look at him sideways in disbelief.

It was the first time I'd ever seen him take control and know exactly what to do. He grabbed me by the collar and took Dakota by the hand and we followed him willingly through a door I don't recall ever seeing before. As the door closed behind us the sound of the alarm was gone and everything was eerily quiet.

"What was that?!," Dakota shouted, not yet fully realizing we were no longer hearing that loud alarm so she didn't have to shout. Harold grabbed both her hands by the wrist and pulled them away from her eyes so she could hear the silence. "OH!"

"Whatever that alarm was, I don't think it's good. What do you think boy?," Harold asked me, crouching down to scratch my under my chin. Now I will admit this is another action humans do towards dogs that I love. What I don't love, or understand however, is why he insists on asking me questions as if I'm going to answer him, as if I speak human? And he's not the only one who has done this. They all have done it at one time or another. They all ask my opinions on things big and small and they all get the same response from me; woof!

"What is this place dad? I've never been in a room like this," Dakota said, looked around, now that her ears have stopped hurting from the sound.

"Oh you know me honey. I'm always looking for hidden things, doorways and passageways. Come on, let's go find your mother. I'm sure she knows what that was and if fast on the case of fixing it."

Dakota followed behind him without question, I had my reservations. I've followed him before down an unfamiliar passageway he discovered not too long ago only to discover we happened upon the disposal site for the entire facility. I still can't get the smell out of my nose. Nope, I have no intention of following him ever again. She realizes I'm not following them, and to prove how much I'm not going to I decide to lay down right where I am. She taps her father on the shoulder and points in my general direction.

"Come on boy," Harold says, but I ain't budging. Then he reaches in his pocket and before the biscuit is in sight I'm up and at his side, wagging my tail like the embarrassment to dog-kind that I am.

After walking for what didn't seem like forever to me because I was too busy savoring my biscuit, we exited into another sector, the main one actually. I barked the question I’m sure was on Dakota’s and my mind, “how did you know this passage existed?” but it was pointless because I can’t talk human and they can’t understand dog. Well, that’s not a hundred percent true actually.

“The dog wants to know how you found that passageway?” asked Austin, the strangest human I think I’ve ever met. He actually does understand me. How does he know what I’m saying when all he can hear is my barking I do not know and quite honestly I don’t care to know. Until I met him I never truly appreciated the separation between human and dog. I like not being understood sometimes. So whenever he’s around I try to keep a low profile and not speak my thoughts. I know what you’re thinking, he and I should naturally be the best of friends. Perhaps you missed the part where I said he’s strange? It’s not just his ability to understand me, couple that with his inability to communicate effectively with his own kind and I’d say something just isn’t’ right there.

“You’re too weird bro,” Dakota says to him, but he goes on ignoring her as if she’s not even there. I agree with her very astute statement of facts but I keep my thoughts to myself.

“Why isn’t your mother here? She’s always here,” Harold began to mumble to himself, pacing back and forth the way he does when things aren’t going just as he expects them to. “What was that sound? What did I mean? I knew the end of the world would come if we stayed here.”

“Honey, I’m right here,” Lilly, his wife and head of the family shouts from the other side of the sector. She has Charlotte in tow, looking like she just woke up, which is very likely since that’s what she does best. Lilly puts her arms around his shoulder to stop his pacing and reassure him that everything is fine.

“What was that mom?” Dakota asks.

“Who cares, we’re all gonna be stuck here till we die. What difference does it make if it’s of old age or from some freak accident?” Charlotte ponders, walking towards her brother, taking him by the arm and leading him to a makeshift seating area comprised of two second hand couches and a coffee table that’s seen better days.

Austin will only allow his sister Charlotte to go anywhere near him. Even if his mother attempts to hug him or touch him he will start screaming uncontrollably. I told you he was strange.

“Someone’s been messing around down in the control room. And for your information young lady we almost did all get killed in some freak accident. That’s the second time this week,” Lilly whispers to Dakota, the only other person in this Godforsaken place that has some sense. I’ve read somewhere once that daughters emulate their mothers or mothers see themselves in their daughters? Either way, Lilly could not have been prouder of at least one of her children and she considers herself lucky that she was able to produce one good egg considering the crazy she’s had to deal with from her husband and having Austin a few months too early. She blames herself for that so she lets him get away with being strange.

What? You still stuck on the fact that I read? Well I do. I’ll admit that’s the one thing Austin is good for, his taste in literature is vast and whenever I know he’s nowhere near his room I’ll sneak in there and skim a few pages of whatever he’s left on his desk. Sometimes I get the feeling he knows I do this and will leave particular books just for me because he thinks I would benefit from them? I try not to think about that though, otherwise I might have to give up reading, and I quite enjoy it.

“When you say ‘someone’ what exactly do you mean?”

My thoughts exactly. I'm not all too happy with the idea of someone else being here that I have to look after and without realizing it I begin to wire my grievances, appreciating my barks being translated. Only, this time the translation doesn't come. We all turn to where Charlotte and Austin are sitting. Both of them sharing identical looks of fear on their faces. Their eyes growing wider as something approaches us from behind. Something that smells absolutely rancid, causing me to move quickly towards them and cower next to them.

“What is it?,” Harold, the idiot, asks us. Even his wife took the hint to move when I did and followed suit. Then again from where we stood we could see what was approaching and I'm beginning to think I'd rather be standing with Harold, my back to Death.

“Harold, honey, walk towards me real slow,” his wife asked him calmly so as not to alarm him.

“Why?,” he asked, starting to do as she asked just in time. The thing was finally beginning to come into view as we all gasped upon seeing a tall slender man who looked like he hadn't seen sunlight in years, shielding his eyes from the harsh sunlight coming through the dirt covered windows where we all currently were.

"Who are you?," Lilly asked the mysterious man, pulling her husband behind her as he turned to see who she was talking to.

"What are you doing here? Why are you here?," the mysterious man asked, holding his head as he swayed back and forth on his feet, moments away from collapsing to the floor. Austin, never one to come to anyone's rescue, moved quickly towards the man and caught him just before he fell, attempting to hold him up on his own around the waist but failing. Finally Harold stepped from behind his wife and helped his son carry this frail thing to the couch.

Now if it were me I would have turned him over to the authorities immediately. Who knows who or what this man might be or be carrying in the state he's in. But being I'm just a dog and my vote didn't count when they all decided to take a vote on what to do, his pockets were promptly rifled through as he slept, in an attempt to find some form of identification.

All he had on him was a newspaper clipping dated over one century ago, about a man who discovered the secret to living forever then disappeared after he refused to give over the formula on how it's done. The picture of the man looked remarkably like the man who was right now laying on our couch.

Austin believed the story and that he was the man the clipping was talking about right away. Lilly had her doubts. Charlotte and Dakota, after discussing it extensively for all of five minutes, decided it would not be cool to live that long. Harold was, as I expected him to be, fascinated. The next decision to be made was what to do with him? Should they hold him captor and force him to give them the formula? While none of them claimed to want to use it for themselves, instead realizing they could sell it for millions of dollars and finally get out of this hell hole we were all living in, I had a feeling a small part of them wanted to use it.

Another idea that was thrown out was to see if there might have been a reward for his whereabouts still like it said there was back then in the paper. I didn't like either idea. Especially after none of them noticed him waking up. I noticed and I barked to get their attention but none of them paid me any attention, still discussing what to do about this gold mine that walking into their life. I was more concerned about where he'd been all this time and where he was sneaking off to now as he slowly crept away without any of them even noticing.

Humans...

I decided to follow him. Not so much because I wanted him to give me the formula, but because a small part of me was hoping me came from someplace far away and if he went back maybe he could take me with him. Besides, what could a dog do with the ability to live forever? I'm tired of barking all the time and relying on my ability to make a fool of myself on command for treats. That is no way to live.

"You're right. That is no way to live," the mysterious man said as he kept walking in a direction I'd never gone before on my own. Wait, did he just hear my thoughts?

"Yes dog. I did just hear you. I guess you can say one of the side-effects of my formula is the ability to hear everyone's stream of consciousness," he replies, stopping his stride to kneel down to eye level with me, patting me on the head. "You see, everyone thinks I ran away because I was being selfish. In fact, I left to find someplace quiet where I couldn't hear everyone's thoughts in my head. What good is living forever if I can't hear myself think? Then again what good is hearing myself think if I'm all I've got?"

Have you been living here all this time? I asked him.

"No. Not ever since I left. I've moved around a lot. I found this place about ten years ago and just stayed here. Then all of you showed up. I thought maybe I'd try to be around people again, fill my loneliness. But the closer I got--."

The more you couldn't handle all the thoughts swirling around their heads? Yeah I know what you mean. I can't handle the things they say out loud sometimes. That's the Dalrymple's for you. But they're harmless really.

"Well dog. I'd love to sit around here and chat with you all day, honestly I would, but I think it's time for me to get a move on. You all know too much about me already," he said, standing to continue his journey.

Wait, take me with you, I barked at him, much louder than I had intended.

"Dog, you don't want to go with me. I have no means of caring for myself let alone you. Look at me," he said, pointing out his shabby clothing, unkempt hair, and the dirt caked into his fingernails. He was right, he did not look nearly as well groomed as me, but anyplace had to be better than here. Haven't you ever heard of man's best friend? I promise I'll keep my thoughts to a minimum, and I'll get my own food too. Come on man, you need a friend and I need freedom, I'd say we were made for each other wouldn't you? I asked, whimpering as best I could, really laying it on thick.

"Okay. Okay. I guess it would be alright. But you'll need this first if you're going to stay with me forever," he said, taking out a small vial he had hidden in the sock of his left leg. It was a translucent blue that shimmered as he held it out to me in the light. He took the cap off and beckoned me to lift my head up and open my mouth. I did it without question. Licking my chops as I swallowed it down.

Hey, you think just because I’m a dog I don’t have the same wants and desires as the next human? So, friend, you got any biscuits on you?

 

The End

The Life Expectancy of a Parakeet

I hate my life. No, I mean I really hate my life. It’s been one year to the day that my uncle died and the memory of the funeral service is still present in my mind. He and I were the only ones who ever got each other, so that day was filled with a bunch of fake family who all pretended he would be missed even though they didn’t know the first thing about him. His sister, my aunt, gave the eulogy, and it sucked. She talked about his stamp collection, which he gave away years ago, and his dog Spot who died when they were teenagers. Never bothering to mention the parakeet he owned for fifteen years and just passed away. Why didn’t she know that? Probably because she hasn’t spoken to him in twenty years, never bothering to even see him when the news of his sickness spread throughout the family about as fast as his cancer did.

If I were giving Uncle Matt’s eulogy I would have talked about how we would spend hours at the community pool, which was where he taught me how to swim when I was little. His dream, like mine, was to swim. Only, he wanted to swim in the Olympics. His parents were much more supportive than mine. They let him join his school’s swim team and they even went as far as getting him a swim coach. Granted they went bankrupt in their attempt to help him live out his dream, they never regretted their decision. Instead, my mother regretted it for them. She never let a Holiday go by without mentioning how Uncle Matt bankrupted their parents, leaving them penniless for a long time. My mother had to go straight to work when she turned eighteen in order to add income to the family and resented my uncle for it ever since. Hence, why his younger sister gave the eulogy today.

After spending so many years and lessons helping me to improve my swimming only to have my parents refuse to even let me join a team, it broke his heart that he couldn’t do more for me. Then again I’m glad he’s not here to see what’s become of me now. Standing here, a drone, holding onto a pole in a subway car, for dear life, as it jerks to a stop. Its doors open up to let a throng of people off while more fight to get in. It’s always a fight, which I never understood because none of us actually like what we’re doing or where we’re going every morning, but we fight about it anyway. Why? I know why, because we’ve lost our drive and forgotten what our dreams were, if we ever had them to begin with.

A woman knocks her enormous purse into my stomach causing me to lunge forward slightly to prevent further injury. She turned and smiled at me in the usual “I’m so sorry” way it’s done. I smiled back at her as if to say “no worries” but really I wanted to smack her upside the head and question what she was lugging around in that bag that she felt it necessary to carry it with her every day. But I didn’t. Instead I chose to smile because if it’s one thing I hate more than people around me is talking to them. Which is unfortunately since talking to people, especially irate and angry ones, is what I do for a living.

My job, as glamorous as you may think, is dealing with customers at a Retention Center. Making sure we don’t lose your hard earned money is my job. Really, I’d rather just tell everyone who calls in to save their money and put it towards something more meaningful than some overpriced plan. And to those jerks who think they are right about everything, I wish I could tell them where to shove it, but unfortunately, I need this job, if only to afford the crappy one-bedroom apartment I’m living in. When my Uncle Matt died a year ago he left me his pet parakeet, Maple, which my parents would not allow in their house. Inheriting Maple was the best thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to move out on my own.

But then life and bills got in the way and I had to choose between paying rent and eating every day or pursuing my dream of Marathon swimming? I chose to eat and have only ever been able to make that choice for the last year.

As the train pulled into my stop I shoved my way through those standing by the door, as if it’s their job, refusing to move even an inch to let us off, making sure to push just a little harder than I normally would, the woman who knocked into me earlier. I made sure to smile back at her my apologies and she made sure to curse hers right back at me continuously until the doors closed and the train kept on its schedule. Did I mention how much I hate my life?

Before I make my way to the office I stop at a food cart to pick up my usual morning coffee. The only thing that gets me through my morning. As I’m standing in line, with just two people ahead of me, a large group of people walking down the sidewalk force the line I’m standing in to move closer to the curb just as a passing car decides to speed up and splash into a puddle from last night's heavy rainfall. The water completely soaking me from my knees down, ruining my slacks, socks and sneakers.

“Hey Kindra, lousy start I see?” Darryl asks me, looking down at my soaked pants as he holds open the entrance doors for me.

No shit Sherlock, I think to myself as I give him a sly grin and shrug my shoulders. All motions and movements I feel are ingrained into us when we enter the workforce to get us through the day without ever having to actually communicate much.

Unfortunately, Darryl never gets the hint, no matter how many mornings I spend trying as hard as I can not to say much to him, that I don’t want to engage in small talk, he does it anyway. What’s worse is he talks so animatedly about work. The phone calls he received the night before and how excited he is about the wacko calls we’ll be fielding today. I feel sorry for him, finding excitement like he does in a mundane and pointless job can’t be all that easy or fulfilling. Then again I have felt pretty lifeless and unfulfilled for quite some time now so I can’t complain or argue.

As we step off the elevators on our floor I’m glad that he and I don’t sit anywhere near each other. I know if we did he’d talk my ear off in between each phone call, and that would not be how I want to make it through my day. For a moment, I feel sorry for whoever his neighbor is, both at work and wherever he lives.

As I walk down the hall towards my cubicle the squishing sounds my sneakers are making serve as a constant reminder that I don’t have any time to enjoy my coffee because I need to change. I dump the coffee in my small trash bin located under my desk and open the file cabinet where I keep spare clothing for those “just in case” moments. Believe it or not I have them more often than not. I grab a fresh pair of slacks, socks and sneakers and make my way to the bathroom.

As I'm fumbling in there to take my wet slacks off and change them the door to my stall accidentally opens and for longer than I had intended I'm exposed to the elements. The elements in this case being Asher Davis, another co-worker who cares a little too much about this mundane job. Unlike Daryl, she does sit next to me, however, and also unlike him, she understands there is such a thing as boundaries and doesn't talk my ear off all day. I suspect its cause she has a slight crush on me.

“Wow, Kindra, are you a swimmer?” she asks, standing right outside gawking at me. Her eyes scanning every inch of my lower half, showing off my swimmers bathing suit.

“Uh, no. At least not anymore,” I reply, closing the stall door so I can put my change of clothes on. Peeking through the tiny slit in the door I can see that she has no intention of leaving the bathroom as she leans back against the sink, her arms folding, and waiting for further explanation. “I've only ever swam in the local Y pool. My dream, before my Uncle died was to be a Marathon swimmer. But sooner or later we have to grow up and realize dreams are for children, not for adults with bills and responsibilities,” I let out quickly, not realizing I'm lecturing more than simply answering her question as I burst out the stall completely dressed with my wet clothes in one hand.

“Dreams don't discriminate based on age. Or want for that matter. Why did he die?” she asked, obviously about my Uncle. Damn it. Why did I tell her all that? Now she'll think we're friends and invite herself over. And… well, if I'm honest with myself, at the moment, she is my only friend. I'm sure if I gave it even further thought I'd conclude that was also a sad fact.

“Cancer came and snatched him from me just when I really needed him. I hate Cancer.”

“I don't think anyone likes Cancer,” she says, sensing she's losing me as I exit the bathroom to head back to my cubicle. “So Marathon swimmer huh? That does sound interesting. Is that like Marathon running? Probably not. Sorry, I'm rambling.”

Yes, you are and I really wish you'd stop.

“Have you ever heard of Diana Nyad?”

“Of course I have. Her book was such an inspiration. Did you know she swam from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage at the age of like 65 or something? Oh, well of course you must know, you brought her up. Is that called Marathon swimming? That's what you want to do? Really?,” she asked, finally stopping to take a breath.

“She was 67 actually, and yes, that's what I want to do. It’s been my childhood…,” I started to say but stopped myself. Why am I telling her all of this? Just shut up Kindra and get started with your day.

There was no graceful way of exiting the moment after I just stopped speaking the way I did, my voice trailing off into silence as I stared at her, probably looking like a deer caught in headlights. So I just smiled and moved past her out of the bathroom. I can feel her close behind me as we approach our cubicles. Hers is over the wall from mine, a set-up I would love right now if the wall was just a few feet higher. Unfortunately, the height is excellent for those who wish to talk to each other in-between phone calls. I avoid this tradition that happens all day around me by making sure I’m constantly on a phone call attempting to resolve an angry caller’s complaints before it escalates and I have to get a manager involved. Because I take on so many calls the second they come through it has caused my retention rate to dip drastically, so I’m constantly receiving a verbal warning. But I’ll take the hit if it means I don’t have to participate in the mindless conversations I hear happening around me.

“So when did you first hear about Nyad? I was a teenager I think? And I remember being fascinated by her story. Especially because she was on just about every news channel at the time for what she did. You're not going to swim with sharks are you?”

“No, not anything as death-defying as that. At least not yet. I have some time before my sixty-fourth birthday to attempt something as challenging as that. In the meantime, I think I’ll stick to making sure I don’t lose my job,” I reply, taking my seat and putting my headset on. If I were her I would take my action as a sign to stop talking to me, but she doesn’t.

“Oh who cares about this place? I think Marathon Swimming is much more exciting. But how does one make money from doing it though that’s what I wonder? I mean, if you were to just go and be a Marathon Swimmer, who pays you?” she asked, clearly not about to end the conversation unless a phone call should come through and I am lucky enough to answer it first. I always used to be lucky enough at least to grab the first phone call of the day. Today was not my luckiest of days, however, as I stared at my computer screen, willing a phone call to appear. My trigger finger hovering over my mouse, ready to accept the call in an instant. “Oh my God!” she screamed, causing me to jump in my seat, moving my hand for a fraction of a second away from my mouse, just as a call came through. I was too late. Someone else picked it up. “Do you think maybe you could end up meeting her one day?”

“Who?” I asked, this time really annoyed. I’ve never spent this long talking to a co-worker and now I know why. They are too damned nosey. What makes her think I’d want to talk about something I love but don’t have the time to do anymore?

“Uhm Diana. Diana Nyad? It could happen. I'm sure Marathon Swimming is a pretty exclusive club,” she replied, finally getting the subtle hints I was trying to drop to stop talking to me. She turned and sat in her chair, just her nose and eyes visible to me over the cubicle wall. I could see tears forming as she blinked them back. Jesus Christ.

“I don't think Marathon Swimmers have get-togethers or anything like that. But you're right, it would be cool if I got to meet her.” I pulled out my book by her looking as loved as any book could ever be and for the first time in a long time I smiled. I wasn't necessarily happy, but the possibility was there. I glanced up to see Asher staring at me. I couldn't see her mouth but by the look in her eyes I could tell she was smiling at me.

“Kindra, my office, now!” my boss bellowed from his office doorway. I dropped my book on my desk and stood abruptly, used to his loud voice by now. He's called me into his office enough times. Asher winked at me and because, despite her bossy nature I liked her too, I winked back.

Turning to walk towards his office I bumped right into the water guy who happened to be carrying a newly opened jug to a water cooler a few feet away. It falls to the floor onto its side and water begins sloshing out onto the carpeted floor. He picks it up quickly, giving me a scowl as he walks by with it.

If there were ever a person who loved the sound of his own voice it would be Dick Chambers, my boss. Trust me when I tell you, his first name fits. He hated when he was promoted to manager meaning he would field less calls. He loved talking to customers, swearing he was the best snake charmer around. Granted he got the promotion because his retention rate was the best, but charmer he is not.

“Kindra, sit please. I have some distressing news.” He always starts his reprimands this way. I sit and put on my best pouty face. He won't fire me, I won't quit, even though I should be insulted for being written up four times already. This would make my fifth. They should be giving me a Badge of Courage for dealing with all the customers who swear they're right. I'm simply better at explaining to them why they're wrong and not at kissing their backsides like everyone else here. “I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go.”

The waves of emotions came over me and I almost couldn't breath after what I just heard.

“Wait, what?”

“Effective immediately,” he continued, ignoring my words as if he's reading a pre-written script on what to do when firing someone.

“You can't fire me.”

“Please, don't make things difficult. I've been instructed to call security if I need to,” he said, leaning forward in his desk. He attempts to reach out for his phone but knocks into a glass of ice water on his desk and it spills everywhere. He searches around frantically for something to wipe it up, but there's nothing. “Damn it. Helen I've spilt water on my desk,” he shouts to his secretary who comes running in.

“Yes, sir?”

“Didn't you hear me you dummy? Look at my desk,” he instructs. She steps forward and leans over his desk, putting on the glasses she keeps dangling around her neck. Helen isn't old but her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. At least that's what she always tells me when we’ve been in the break room getting our afternoon coffees together. For the first time I felt sorry for her. Imagine that! I was just fired but I'm feeling sorry for her. Mostly because I get to leave this hell hole and never come back, she on the other hand has to contend with this prick probably till she retires or he up and dies. They’re both the kind of employees who are so dedicated to their job they’d never even consider leaving.

“Looks like you’ve spilled water sir. Would you like me to wipe that up for you?” she asked, turning and winking at me quickly before Chambers noticed.

“No, I want to stay here with water all over my desk,” he replies sarcastically, lifting his keyboard up before the water surrounded it.

“I guess I’ll be leaving now. It’s been real,” I reply, standing and leaving his office. I take one more look back at him as he fusses with Helen who’s reaching over his lap to grab a roll of paper towel she apparently leaves in his desk for just this occasion. I shake my head in disbelief as I walk back to my cubicle for the last time. I grab my Diana Nyad book, place my ID card on my desk and turn to leave. I made sure not to have personal items on my desk like others around me. I’ve seen picture frames of loved ones, little toys and plants and basketball hoops. To me that’s just a bunch of stuff I’d end up having to carry with me when I quit or, in this instance, get fired. I’d much rather leave in a blaze of glory.

“Where are you going? If Chambers catches you, you’ll get written up again. And the next time will be the last time. You’ll for sure get the axe,” Asher said, stopping me in my blaze of glory tracks.

“Too late for that,” I reply, turning back to face her. She gets what I’m saying and her jaw drops. She is genuinely shocked that I’ve just been fired. Probably the only human in my life, in my immediate circle of friends, who’ll care, which at the moment is just two; Asher and Maple my parakeet.

“Well, screw this place. I don’t want to work anyplace that is dumb enough to fire one of their best employees. I quit!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, making everyone in their cubicles look up at what all the commotion was about. Even Helen, holding clumps of wet paper towels and Dick still clutching his keyboard, came rushing out of his office. She unclipped her ID card and as if she was just holding a microphone in her hand she dropped it onto her desk. “Boom.” She then winked at me and beckoned her to follow behind, which I did, for reasons I still don’t understand.

We stopped at the elevators and laughed out loud together. What just happened was about as much blaze of glory as I knew I’d ever get and it was awesome.

“You realize you just quit your job for me?” I asked her, finding that kind of cool. No one’s ever done something so chivalrous for me before. I’ve been in plenty of relationships before where usually I’m the one doing random, crazy things, to show my affections. Most of my crazy was never appreciated though.

“Yeah, I know,” she said as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. She stepped inside first, turned back, grabbed my hand and pulled me into her, kissing me in the elevator. Her hands dropping down and cupping my ass as she did. I didn’t stop her. As the doors were about to close she stopped kissing me and winked at someone across from us. I turned to see the entire floor, with Helen and Dick in front, were watching us through the glass panes. I couldn’t help but laugh into her neck, my body still pressed up against her as the elevator began its descent to the first floor. “Sorry about that. I wanted the first time I kissed you to be much more romantic.”

“Oh yeah? Well, for first time kisses, that one would probably rank pretty high on my list.” What was I saying? What was I doing? Today was definitely not like any other day.

The elevator stopped on the Lobby and we stepped off together, holding hands tightly. We stopped at the revolving doors when we saw there was an absolute downpour happening outside.

“I don’t remember seeing rain in today’s forecast,” Asher remarked. “Oh well, let’s go,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders and moving to push through the doors. But I tensed, stopping her in her tracks. “What’s wrong?”

“Let’s wait till it lets up okay?” I asked, not really sure why. This rain didn’t look like normal rain to me. It was falling so hard it looked like only Noah’s ark could get through. Stranger still, I was scared of drowning out there. How could I be scared of drowning? I’m the best swimmer I know.

“You’re not afraid of a little rain are you?” she asks, a look of concern showing on her face for me.

“No, of course not,” I lied, as she pulled me in front of her as we both pushed through the revolving doors. Outside was as I expected, the rain was falling rather heavily and we were drenched in seconds. “What should we do now?”

“Your place or mine?” she asked, stepping close to head my answer, because the sound of thunder was beginning to rumble through.

Without answering her I simply wink and crack a smile, my second in one day, I think my life is improving from where it was yesterday. I was starting to feel free and I liked it, for now.

We arrived at my apartment in no time. I'd forgotten how empty the subways can be when it isn't Rush Hour. We actually found ourselves in an empty train car and plenty of time to enjoy each other.

I live on the fourth floor of a walk-up. My upstairs neighbors screw loudly all the time while my downstairs neighbors watch way too many sports at volumes no living human being should have to subject themselves to. My next door neighbors have twin screaming newborn babies who only just entered the world a week ago and are already their reputation precedes them. My across the hall neighbor has a party just about every night that goes some nights till sunrise. I'm invited every night and went once just to see what kind of sound system he had that could cause the entire building to shake. And all these lovely presents are gift wrapped with a pretty red bow by the nosey landlady. A little old lady with bad eyesight and the worst case of emphysema I've ever heard. I know it's from the two packs of cigarettes she smokes daily but she refuses to do what her doctors tell her. Like to quit smoking. But I love her philosophy, you only have one life to live, do what you want with it. So I'm the only tenant who doesn't get on her case about her smoking and incessant coughing. Sometimes I wish I did because then maybe I wouldn't be subjected to her checking up on me, bringing me horribly cooked food I feel too bad guilty to say tastes like last weeks garbage. So I smile, accept the plate, and tell her I'll eat it later since I ate out. She thinks I eat out too much. I think I don't eat out enough. And it was Mrs. Lake who greeted us upon approaching the building. As I expected, she spends all day sitting on the front steps smoking. She probably thinks the fresh air would do her lungs some good.

“What are you doing here so early? Is it six o’ clock already?” she asked, covering her mouth in the crook of her empty hand and looking at her nonexistent watch in her cigarette hand.

“I was let go Mrs. Lake,” I told her, quickly realizing I had another friend who'd care about my news today.

“Good. You hated that place. I could tell. You never look happy leaving and look even worse coming home," she replied, as the long string of ash she was nursing on the tip of her cigarette fell on the step below her. A small mound was collecting there, showing just how many smokes she'd gone through already. "So what's your story?"

"I quit," Asher replied before I could say anything.

"Well, we're soaked, so we're gonna go get out of these wet clothes," I said, grabbing Asher's arms and pulling her up the steps, but she resisted.

"Why aren't you soaked?" She asked Mrs. Lake, and now that I think about it, I should have been wondering the same thing. Her mound of ashes indicate she's been sitting here for at least the last several hours yet she's bone dry. Come to think of it so is the entire neighborhood.

"Soaked? What does that mean? Can you backup a little? You’re dripping on my smokes," she answers, taking her pack of cigarettes off the step and putting it on her lap.

"Wasn't it just raining Mrs. L?" I asked her.

"Nope. Nothing but sunshine all morning. Wow, you're wet too," she said, squinting up at me. "What you two do? Throw yourself in ocean to celebrate no more working?"

"No, it was raining--," I started to explain, but was stopped by Asher who seemed to think my explanation pointless and perhaps she was right.

"That's exactly what we did. Jumped in the ocean. Enjoy your smokes," she replied, pushing me the rest of the way up the front steps into my building. We climbed the stairs quickly, making sloshing sounds in our wake. I let us into my apartment and she began to quickly undress in front of me, as she walked into my bedroom then walked back out as if looking for something.

“Do you mind?” She asked me, opening a linen closet.

“If you go through my things? No, not at all,” I answered, as she stood in the middle of my apartment with just her underwear on.

“Your shower? I feel kind of gross from that downpour earlier?”

“Oh, right. Of course. Through my bedroom on the left,” I answered to her back as she made her way towards my directions.

“Cute bird by the way,” she shouted to me as she disappeared from view in my bedroom. Poking her head out she continued, “are you coming or what?”

Briefly taking stock of my life up until that moment I've had very little in the vicinity of remotely happy. I've had not so bad days but never truly great ones. Today was fast becoming one of those great days. Except for the car splashing on my pants, the water jug just barely missing my toes, getting fired, and the torrential downpour we suffered through earlier. Okay, maybe when put into context this day wouldn't be considered great to the average person. But for me this was definitely one of my better days.

“Kindra get your sexy ass in here right now,” she shouted over the sound of the gushing water as she turned the shower on. I was out in the same downpour as her so I would need a shower as well eventually. And what better way to save water than to shower together. So I shrug my shoulders and enter my bedroom as I begin to peel off my second outfit in as many hours that's been soaked through, leaving them in a pile in a corner by the bathroom door which is currently encased in steam. I can't see anything as I squint my eyes and take a step inside, my hands out in front of me as if I don't already know the entire set-up of my bathroom. I've used it many a night when I was half-asleep and never missed my target.

Suddenly, she appeared out of nowhere in the fog the steam was creating, and pulled me towards her. I could feel her naked body as she pressed up against me, her arms wrapped around my waist.

“If I had known today would be the day my dream would come true…,” she whispered in my ear, just as she placed her lips on mine, kissing me passionately. “That's how our first time should've been,” she whispered in my ear again. Taking me gently by the hand she led me into the shower with her. I expected the water to be so hot it would burn but it didn't. As we both stood under the shower-head, we let the water wash away the grime of the day. I closed my eyes, for the first time enjoying my life and where I am right now.

She leaned into me and kissed my neck, sending a sensation down my body I hadn’t felt in such a long time. My breathing became shallow as her hands pressed up against my body; my stomach, my back, my ass. She pulled me into her, our wet body sliding against each other as the water came down all around us. I let my hands climb up her body one slow caress at a time with my fingertips along her back till I reach her hair and run my fingers through it, tugging on it playfully when her hand moves between my legs.

I moan into her neck, as her fingers take me places I can’t remember ever being. Nibbling on her ear, I whisper, “don’t stop.” She pushes me up against the wall, her breathing and mine quick and in perfect harmony as we enjoy each other for what didn’t seem like hardly enough time at all.

After the shower I lent her a pair of shorts and a tank top that she gladly put on, making her look much cuter in it than I ever did. While I sat on my couch wearing nothing under my bathrobe checking the computer for my next job, she made herself at home going through all my kitchen cabinets, presumably looking for food to eat.

“Wow, all you have in your fridge is eggs and bacon. Don’t you ever eat lunch or dinner?” she asks me, turning on the stove and placing a frying pan on it.

“Are you going to make me breakfast right now?” I ask her, totally falling for her, especially if she makes the bacon just the way I like it.

“I am actually. Aren’t you hungry after the workout we just had?” she asks me, giving me a sly wink. I couldn’t help but smile back. To think, just this morning I was finding her nosiness to be annoying and now here she is wearing my clothes and cooking us food in my kitchen.

"I could eat, but seriously, don't go to too much trouble for me. I'm not really a breakfast person," I reply, looking outside at as I notice an unusual overcast for this time of day. As I'm about to walk over to see why it's suddenly gotten so dark outside Asher screams as the faucet she just turned on begins to spray out of control, sending water everywhere. I sprint over to her, move her out of the way and quickly turn off the water, but not before it splashes all over me as well. "Okay, now things are getting weird."

"What do you mean?" Asher asks, grabbing a dishtowel and wiping herself off.

"Well, and this might sound strange to you, but I feel like the universe is trying to tell me something through water."

"The universe is talking to you through water? What's it saying?" She asked in a tone that was slightly condescending, reminding me what I disliked about her.

"See, I knew you wouldn't understand. It isn't saying anything, it's showing me. All day today I've had several incidents with water," I replied as she looked at me questioningly. "Don't look at me like that. I know how it sounds, I'm not crazy,"

"Perhaps it is telling you something. Like how now would be as good a time as any to pursue your dream?" Asher explains, shocking me.

"My dream? You mean to swim? I can't. I have to start looking for a job. I've never been a saver so I don't have much to live on," I reply, grabbing an old, folded, newspaper off the counter flip through it to the Want Ads.

"Stop," Asher replied, putting her hand on mine to prevent me from continuing to look through the paper. "Just your luck, I've been saving money all my life. And I can't think of a better way of spending it, than on your dream."

"You can't do that. I won't let you."

"You gonna stop me? It's my money, I can do what I want with it. And right now I want to use it to help you be a Marathon Swimmer."

Tears of joy appeared in my eyes as I realized her offer was serious. How could I accept her money? Then again how could I not?

"What exactly do you mean?"

"Don't worry about money. Just do what you love, the rest, I promise, will work itself out.”

“Do you realize what you're saying? I'm sure there isn't much money in the kind of swimming I want to do. Man, if my uncle—,” I started to say, then stopped when I noticed his bird, Maple, looking out of the window. And for a moment I knew what she must have felt like.

“What? You've got this look on your face,” Asher said, standing next to me and looking in the direction I'm looking. “Your uncles Parakeet?”

Without a second thought I go to the window and lift it wide open. Then I carefully take Mable from her cage, and take her to my open window. I press her close to my chest and kiss her, whispering, “be free Mable, the way Frank and I never could be.” I release her, arms stretched out through the open window. She spreads her wings instinctively and floats through the air. I stand at my window and watch her till she's completely out of sight.

“Well, that was unexpected. Why'd you do that? Is that what your uncle would have wanted?”

“I think so, yes. Let's go for a swim,” I reply, suddenly feeling the urge coursing through my veins to be in water.

“Sure. The weather looks improved since this morning. The beach?” she asks me, and I nod yes, grabbing my keys and taking her hand.

The train platform is surprisingly crowded for the middle of the day when everyone should still be at work. She and I have to stand huddled close together is the platform continues to get crowded. Suddenly, a down-pour of rain breaks through the bright sky. The crowd quickly moves to stand under the awning, leaving no space for us, but we don't mind. In fact, we both turn our faces up to the sky and let the rain pour down on us, smiling, as we hear the mumblings and grumblings of those under protection. The idea that I will never be one of them excites me as I spread my arms wide, imagining I'm swimming in the Pacific, the waves working with me.

Something grips into my right shoulder as I feel the rain beginning to subside and without opening my eyes I know it's Mable. I feel her unusually long wings fall past my shoulder and for a brief moment I can swear my uncle is with me as she places her head against my temple.

The rain clouds part and I hear a click a few feet away. I lower my arms that were still out stretched that entire time and peek through one eye to see Asher has taken a photo of Mable and I.

What could I do but laugh? A great moment, that will hopefully last a lifetime, as the train pulls into the station.

 

The End

Bartolomeus of the Sacred Forest

Once upon a time, there was a mighty King by the name of Calden who ruled over the Kingdom of Avarion. During his daughter’s twelfth birthday celebration within the castle walls he was visited by Morgaine the Witch in the form of a beautiful swan. She flew in through the window and with her wings spread wide to get everyone’s attention, she landed on the table in front of King Calden and dropped from her beak a rolled-up parchment which began to unravel once it landed on the table.

The Witch then turned her long swan neck towards young Adelais, seated to the left of her father and winked, then with as much fanfare as when she arrived she flew into the air and was quickly out of sight.

“That bloody witch, thinks she can come in here unannounced and just drop scraps on my table,” the King spoke loudly so the entire court could hear his obvious frustration.

“It’s a note poppa. What does it say?”

The King carefully picked up the parchment with his fingertips, just in case she put a hex on it, that could harm whoever touched it. He unrolled it steadily and squinted to read what it said.

“In a forest far and away,

sleeps a boy who lives by night,

Get him quick before he wakes,

Or he will make your Kingdom quake.

The Forgotten Army will be remembered (finish poem)

The King suddenly became afraid for his daughter, and acting swiftly stood, which signaled for the music being played in the far corner of the room to stop. Everyone in the court stopped dancing and talking and having a good time to hear what King Calden was about to say.

“My daughter’s life is in danger and as the King…,” he began, but his daughter drowned out what he was saying, turning her attention to the parchment the swan dropped. She leaned over just enough to read what it said and showing confusion at his reaction to it she tugged on the sleeve of his robe till she gets his attention. “What my child?”

“Poppa, where does it say I’m in danger?” she asked, pointing to the parchment.

“You mustn’t read such things. You’re just a child and wouldn’t understand. Men!” he shouts to his guards assigned to his daughter at all times, “take her straight to her room and make sure she stays there until you hear from me again.”

“But poppa what about my party? I haven’t even had a chance to open my presents in front of everyone like a good Princess is supposed to do.”

“Enough Adelais, can’t you see I’m trying to save your life child. Ever since your mother left this place for a better one I’ve had to do what’s best for you. Haven’t I done so thus far?” he asked her, as he bent to her eye level, placing both his large hands on her small shoulders. She nods ‘yes’ to him reluctantly. “Good. Now go to your room and wait there. Trust me.”

She stands as gracefully as a Princess is supposed to during a time of what appears to be great distress and takes her leave out a side exit towards her bedroom to wait, as her father asked.

“Someone get my armor and horse ready. And where is that blasted Doran when I need him? Tell that boy he’s to have my steed ready or the next sound he hears will be the dungeon door slamming.”

The King then ordered his army to search all the forests in this land and all neighboring lands till they found the sleeping boy. They weren’t to stop searching until they found him. The army spent nearly one decade searching. In that time, his daughter, Adelais, was confined to her room, not allowed to receive any visitors, especially gentlemen callers. She grew to be resentful of her father for abandoning her over a witches poorly written poem.

During those ten years her father was away she spent a majority of it wandering around what few parts of the castle she was allowed. One place that was always her favorite was her mother’s study. While there she’d sit for hours and read through all her mother’s personal journals. One day, while attempting to reach a higher shelf by climbing up on a stool she began to lose her balance and grabbed onto the nearest thing she could find to try and brace herself; a book. Her attempt at stopping the fall failed as she went down with a crash, bringing the aforementioned book with her. It landed on her lap with less injury and noise than she did.

After nursing the ache she felt on her backside from the fall she noticed the ornate writing on the book in her lap. She ran her fingers along the gold trim, fascinated by the look, then proceeded to examine it thoroughly, looking for a title, but came up empty handed. Finally, she opened the book, only to discover blank pages. Thinking she found an unused diary that once belonged to her mother, she promptly took it back to her room to begin writing in it. Every time the pen touched the pages however the ink would not flow. She tried everyone to write words on the pages but nothing would stick. She even tried to tear the pages with no luck there as well. Her fascination with how indestructible this book was mounted as she then tossed it into her well stoked fireplace. After a few minutes of fumbling with a fire poker to get the book out, making it land with a thud on the floor, there wasn’t a scratch on it.

No matter what she did to the book she could not harm it nor could she use it and it frustrated her immensely. She decided to go back to her mother’s study to find something there that might tell her what the book is and how to use it. She spent several hours searched, coming up empty handed. And just when she was about to give up completely a swan, similar to the one that interrupted her twelfth birthday party nearly ten years ago, flew through the open window.

It landed on the ground in front of Adelais who was covering her eyes with her hand as she leaned up against one of her mother’s many cluttered bookcases. She parted the fingers of her hand and peeked through to see what just landed in front of her. She recognized the swan immediately, and without a moment’s hesitation she got up off the ground and began backing away cautiously.

“What do you want? Haven’t you ruined my life enough already?” Adelais asked the swan, backing up into another bookcase, causing some to fall over and spill onto the floor.

“Do not be troubled dearie, I am not here to cause any harm or trouble,” Morgaine, the witch, replied, fluttering her wings back and forth quickly as she transformed into her usual human self. Adelais had never seen the witch in her human form and was shocked at her fair look. She had long black hair that fell all about her, almost to her waist. She wore a gold and black satin dress that fit tightly about her, flowing down past her ankles, picking up whatever dirt would be on the ground. The dress caught Adelais’ eye so much she didn’t hear anything further the witch was saying. “Hello, are you still with me?” she continued, snapping her fingers at Adelais.

“Yes, yes, I’m here. I’m paying attention.”

“Not what you expected a witch to look like dearie?” she asked, as she turned slowly, to give Adelais a better look at what she was wearing in its entirety.

“You’re beautiful,” she replied, with more surprise in her voice than intended. “Wait, that’s not what I meant. I mean, well, yeah, a witch I thought had warts and wore black rags and were dirty and smelly with rotting teeth. No offense.”

“None taken. Truth be told, I used to look exactly as you described, but a former friend, a former witch, taught me the error of my ways. She helped me realize by doing the occasional good deed I could reverse the hideous effect being evil puts on a witch,” Morgaine answered, as she walked over to the table in the center of the room that contained various vials and bottles with things Adelais didn’t know how to pronounce so she left them be. Morgaine beckoned her over to the table so they could both sit on the two stools that were there.

“So, you’re a good witch?” Adelais asked, hesitantly.

“I hate the term ‘good witch,’ let’s just say I’m helpful. Which is why I’m here.”

“You’re here to help me? I wish you could, but ever since you came here, not ten years past, on my twelfth birthday, with that dumb prophecy about some boy who’s going to destroy the kingdom, I’m held captor by my father. He’s afraid I’ll be assassinated, thereby killing his only living heir to the throne. The fate of the entire kingdom rests upon my shoulders, so I’m sure you can guess what I need help with most?”

“Freedom?” Morgaine asked.

“Exactly. I feel so trapped you know? I just want to walk the grounds, ride my horse, throw a ball and invite the entire kingdom. But father,” she said, as she left the stool and walked over to the windows, looking down at a guard stationed just below. For the last ten years there’s been a guard below every window and just outside every door surrounding the castle. No one could get in or out without being apprehended.

“Adelais, I knew your mother.”

Upon hearing these words, she turned sharply away from the window and looked with anger at Morgaine for the first time since they began speaking to each other.

“How dare you make such a claim?”

“It’s true. Remember the witch I told you about, who helped me realize I needed to do good deeds not bad ones? Well, that witch was your mother,” Morgaine explained, realizing what she was saying could find her hanging from the gallows.

“My mother was not a witch! I ought to call the guards in here immediately and have you thrown in the dungeon for saying such things about your former Queen,” Adelais said, her anger mounting as her face began to turn red with rage.

“I can prove it if you’ll let me,” Morgaine replied, hoping she can calm Adelais down enough to do what she came there to do.

“I can’t imagine how you can possibly prove my mother was a witch let alone a friend of yours, but you have exactly two minutes to try before I call for the guards.”

“There’s a book here,” Morgaine said, walking over to a bookcase and scouring the shelves, scanning the spines with her hands and she worked her way row by row, moving onto the next bookcase when she was done. “It’s got your mothers spells in them. Every witch has one.” She briefly turned back to see Adelais’ face look absolutely wracked with fright. “What’s the matter dearie, you look like you’ve seen a…witch…”

“No I don’t,” Adelais responded, trying to fix her face which had quickly turned from fright to guilt.

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“Yes you do dearie. Where is your mother’s book? You shouldn’t even have it. There are spells in there you couldn’t possibly understand. It’s dangerous Adelais. I think you better just give it to me. I’ll know what to do with it.”

“You can’t have it. Besides, I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to. The pages are all blank. So your proof doesn’t exist,” Adelais said, folding her arms in what she thought was complete triumph. “And your two minutes are up.”

“Not so fast dearie. You probably don’t know the magic words to make what's written appear to whomever possesses it. Your mother put that spell on the book just in case it should ever fall into the wrong hands, no one could use what’s contained within its pages. Take me to the book and I will show you. Your mother trust me enough to tell me what the magic words are. Then maybe that will be proof enough for you.”

Adelais thought about this offer for a long time before she moved over to her mother’s desk and, pulling out the bottom drawer she popped up the false bottom that she found during one of the many days she spent in that room going through everything. She reached in and pulled out the book Morgaine was talking about and handed it over to her.

“Ah, that’s it,” she exclaimed, placing it down on the desk and opening it to the middle pages. “Now, repeat after me.”

            When darkness creeps upon my soul

            And death makes me no more

            Let my words become your sight

            Let my life become your light.

As Adelais repeated the last line the words on the page suddenly appeared and she gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth. Tears suddenly formed in her eyes as she turned her head away and leaned into Morgaine, letting out sobs she had been holding for so many years.

“Why didn’t she ever tell me?” Adelais asked through her sobs.

“How could she dearie? You were far too young to have understood who she was and by the time she was ready to tell you…well, you know the rest. No use in drudging all that back up again. But I know if she were here today she would have given you this book and let you into her private world that almost no one knew about.”

“Okay, I guess I have no choice but to believe you,” Adelais replied, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her dress. “So how will this help me get what I need?”

“Oh I can’t tell you that. While I’m able to guide certain people I care to help in the right direction, the laws of spells and prophecy prevent me from directly telling you what to do.”

“Then why are you even here if you can’t tell me anything?” Adelais asked, skimming through the book that was now filled with her mother’s handwritten notes and spells that she’d collected over many years.

“I came to tell you the prophecy I had foreseen nearly a decade ago is about to come true.”

“What? When? Your prophecies doesn’t exactly tend to be spot on, so excuse me if I don’t seem as alarmed as my father was,” Adelais replied, closing the book and holding it close to her chest as if it were a shield protecting her heart.

“Now. The boy of the forest is here,” Morgaine said, transforming back into a swan and taking flight before Adelais could question her further. She flew out of the window, bursting them open wider just as the trumpets were sounding. The call brought Adelais to the open window.

Looking out she could see a legion of soldiers, many carrying a familiar banner she’s seen hanging in the Great Hall of Calden Castle. Leading the soldiers was the unmistakable General Doran on his horse adorned in armor. And draped across his lap was what appeared to be a young man.

“The boy of the forest…” Adelais muttered under her breath as she felt her mother’s book, clutched to her chest, beat, as if it had a heart of its own.

 

The King, who had sheltered himself away in the castle, despondent over the last few years, of the state of his Kingdom. He refused to listen to his people when they begged him to stop his search of a boy many believed didn't exist. His refusal to bring their army home led to many villages in his kingdom being raped and pillaged of their meager possessions.

Instead of accepting responsibility for what he's done he doubled down on his search efforts, leaving the Kingdom without any defense, and news was traveling fast the once flourishing Kingdom of Avarion was vulnerable to any neighboring warlord who's had his eye on it.

Then there was the matter of his daughter. A once lovely and delicate flower, rumored by servants to be, dealing in Witchcraft just as the former Queen. Would she succumb to the same fate? Only time would tell. Her training was coming from the same person believed to be the last to see the Queen alive, Morgaine. The King did not find this relationship ideal, but wracked with guilt over keeping his daughter prisoner among the castle walls for so long, he allowed it.

Morgaine treated Princess Adelais the same way she did the Queen before her. They were almost identical in their manner and curiosity. Always wanting to rush her lessons with them so they could put into use what she'd insisted needed to be practiced extensively first.

Missing the Queen the way she did she went from visiting the Princess every other day, to two and three times a day. Her age finally getting too much for her to fly, the Princess ordered a room within the castle walls prepared for her to stay in. The connecting room next door to hers was prepared and thus their friendship grew.

“He’s here isn't he?” Morgaine asked, walking into Adelais’ bedroom from her own. She nodded, clutching her mother’s journal even tighter. “No matter, we have a busy day tomorrow, get some rest.”

“What? How can you of all people expect me to rest knowing the reason for all that's gone wrong is here?”

She watched as the Forgotten Army, so named for the length of time spent away from what should have been their main goal, protecting the Kingdom, entering the castle walls with their prisoner. As he approached the gate, General Doran looked up and into Adelais’ eyes, giving her a wink and a smirk. Ever since he was named General of the Kingdoms Army it was widely expected he would marry the Princess. She chose not to believe such rumors as she turned away and winced in disgust, not wanting to embarrass him with her reaction to his advances should his men also be watching her closely.

“At least he fancies you,” Morgaine replied, not needing to peer out the window to know the reason for her sudden facial disfigurement.

“Fancies me? He doesn't even know me. If he knew me he wouldn't.”

“You have precious little suitors and even less time to do what every woman in your place has had to do since the beginning of time dearie. You'd be smart to just go along with what is expected of you. When it's all said and done it is the woman who always rules anyway.”

“I have no interest in ruling this Kingdom. My father has left it to rot and I intend to do the same. I want to explore. I long to see what is beyond the castle walls. If she were alive she would've understood me, let me pursue my desires,” Adelais replied, tucking her mother’s book of spells under a pillow on her bed. Morgaine, taking a seat in her chair by the fire began to laugh haughtily at the words Adelais just spoke. “Something funny?”

“You think your mother would have allowed you to carry on this way? When you were a child perhaps dearie. But when you came of age, fourteen I'd like to think, she would have explained to you your responsibilities and she would have expected you to follow them to the letter, with no argument or rebellion. Your mother understood what it took to rule, far better than your father ever did. He knew that I suspect. It's probably why he won't rule anymore. She did it all. She knew every problem before it entered these walls. She had every solution ready to hand out before they left,” Morgaine explained, as Adelais sat at her feet by the fire, like she has countless times before, listening intently to how her mother was being described. She hated to admit it but this Witch was her friend, and most importantly, the only one willing to talk to her about her mother. After listening Adelais stood to leave. “Where are you going?”

“As you said, my mother would have been disappointed in my behavior. I’m going to make her proud.”

No sooner did Adelais open her bedroom door was she met with solders running around the corridors shouting words she couldn’t quite make out. Finally, she stopped one of the soldiers long enough to find out what was happening.

“The boy. Escaped. Must find him. The King believes it to be a part of the prophecy. Sorry Princess, can’t stay and chat,” the out of breath soldier responded, taking his leave as quickly as he came.

“Adelais, I think it’s best if you stay here,” Morgaine shouted over the noise of the soldiers frantically searching the castle for the missing boy. She didn’t wait to hear Adelais argue with her before she transformed into a swan and flew down the corridor.

Adelais closed her door and made a mad dash for her bed, grabbing her mother’s book from under her pillow. As she turns to join the search party she runs right into the boy everyone is searching for.

“What the--,” she says, disoriented, as he places one hand over her mouth and the pointer finger of his other hand over his own, urging her to stay silent. Suddenly there’s a pounding on her door.

“Princess, we must search your room immediately, by order of the King,” a soldier shouts through the door.

“Please…,” the boy pleads as he backs away from her and climbing one of the posts of her bed, hides himself atop her four-poster bed. The pounding comes again, not giving her much of a chance to react to what’s happening. She quickly drops her mother’s book to the floor and shoves it with her foot under her bed before opening her door, letting in four fully armed soldiers. One of them is General Doran.

“Princess, that boy has managed to escape within the castle, are you alright?” General Doran asks, putting his hand on her shoulder, resting the other on the hilt of his sword, as he stands taller, sticking his chest out unnecessarily.

“What boy? I just woke up,” the Princess replies, attempting to fake a yawn as she stretches her arms to get him to move his from off her shoulder; it works. “Why have you disturbed by sleep?”

“I’m sorry Princess, but the King has ordered we search all rooms, and move you to your mother’s study immediately. There are less ways to infiltrate that room than this one,” General Doran replied. “Quickly put some clothes on and come with me.”

“I am not leaving. My father has ruled over my life and movements long enough. What do I care if you’ve managed to lose a prisoner? He isn’t in my room,” she shouts, watching the solders as they surround her four-poster bed, ready to search it thoroughly. Her heart begins to race as her mind scrambles for a way to get out of this. “Leave now please, and take your incompetent goons with you.” She points to her door and stands just as sternly as he does with her chest sticking out, even though he towers over her by at least two feet, she still has a much more commanding presence than he ever will.

“Men! With me!” he shouts, as he bows to her before taking his leave. His men stopped just in time before they searched her bed. She closes her door and leans against it, breathing a heavy sight of relief that they are gone. Before she can alert him that they are alone he jumps down from his hiding place and lands on all fours as nimbly as if he were a jungle cat.

“Thank you,” he replies, holding his hand out to shake hers, but she doesn’t respond. Instead, she shoves him out of the way and gets down on the floor, reaching her arm under her bed and pulling out her mother’s book.

“I didn’t do it for you so you don’t need to thank me. I didn’t it to protect my mother’s secret,” she replies, clutching her mother’s book to her chest, wiping off dust that isn’t really there as she sits on her bed, watching his every move. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Your King had me kidnapped. Or didn’t you hear?” he replies sarcastically. “Turns out he’s been looking for me for quite some time, although why he has I do not know. Perhaps you can tell me?” he asks, climbing up on her bed like he’s a monkey and sitting cross-legged next to her. She backs away from him as if he has some infectious disease.

“You’re supposed to be some sort of bad luck or something to me, my father and this entire Kingdom.”

“Really? That’s fascinating. Don’t you find that fascinating?” he asks, laying down on her bed and staring up at nothing. She glances up in the direction he’s looking in to see what has him so mesmerized, quickly stopping herself when she realizes he’s not looking at anything.

“What I find fascinating is you don’t seem the least bit concerned that when the soldiers find you and the King decides what to do with you, you’ll most assuredly be executed. Don’t you find that fascinating?” she retorted.

“You don’t have many friend’s, do you?” he asks, sitting back up and staring at the book she has clutched to her chest still. “That’s a pretty book, can I see it?” he asks, reaching out to touch it. She quickly swats his hand away.

“No, you can’t see it. This is a very special book that belonged to my mother. Only I’m allowed to see it.”

“You’re mother? What’s a mother?” he asked, looking at her curiously for the first time since he showed up in her room.

“What’s a mother? Well, a mother is… Uhm, wait, everyone has a mother. How do you not know what a mother is? Did she die giving birth to you? I hear that’s common among peasants,” Adelais responded, growing more and more curious, and less and less afraid of him.

“I don’t remember. All I remember is waking up in a forest surrounded by soldiers. They knocked me out and brought me here. It was when they were deciding where to keep me till the King was ready to see me that I managed to escape right from under their noses.”

“Well aren’t you clever? What exactly is your plan then? Do you have a father? Where were you living before the soldiers found you?”

“Strangely enough, I don’t remember that either. All I remember is waking up. You seem familiar to me. Though I don’t know from where or why. Perhaps the prophecy you speak of is true and I’m here to destroy you,” he says, smiling at her mischievously.

“Well, you are much too well spoken to be some commoner. And your clothing, though outdated looks to be of good quality,” she says, inching closer to him to inspect the clothes he’s wearing. Your hygiene however leave much to be desired,” she replies, backing away from him again to a safer distance.

“You flatter me,” he says leaping off her bed and opening the first door he comes to, a closet. He then walks over to another door and opens it, her private washroom.

“What are you about to do?”

“I’m about to make myself presentable for a Princess. If you wouldn’t mind not giving away my hiding place I’d appreciate it,” he says as he disappears in her washroom and closes the door behind him.

“Wait, you can’t--,” she shouts to him just as her bedroom balcony windows burst open, a swan landing a bit sloppily on her bed. It quickly transforms into Morgaine who rolls over and lands on her back.

“Wow, dearie was that fun. The King is in a right state, shouting orders and trying to put his old fighting gear on. He’s gained so much weight you should hear him squeezing himself--,” she says as she rights herself on the bed. She begins to sniff the air extensively. “He’s here isn’t he? Where is he?” she asks, jumping down off the bed and moving about the room, searching in the least likely of places for someone of human size to be hiding. She starts by inspecting the fireplace.

“He’s in the washroom,” Adelais answers, not even bothering to hide the fact that the boy everyone is currently looking for is hiding in her bedroom. Morgaine is her closest friend and would surely know what to do in a time like this. “He doesn’t remember where he came from or nor does he know why he’s been brought here. He also doesn’t seem like he wants to leave. If the King finds him here he’ll surely kill me for hiding him.”

“Okay dearie, just relax. You’re fussin’ over nothing. The King won’t find him here. I’ll simply turn him into a swan and he and I will fly right out of here. I’ll take him some place safe till he can remember where he came from and everything will be back to normal.”

“Wait, you were the one who delivered the prophecy, shouldn’t you know who he is and where he came from?” Adelais asked, for the first time in disbelief at what she’s hearing.

“Well, you see, the thing about prophecies, dearie, are they never reveal themselves in their entirety to me. I can only see the pieces I’m meant to see. In this case, I just saw him, asleep, in the Sacred Forest,” she said, “and then I saw the castle in flames. What would you have prophesied?”

“I confess I do not know. I wish my mother were here--,” Adelais replied, being cut off by Morgaine.

“But she isn't here. She will never be here to help you, dearie. And the sooner you start taking responsibility for yourself, and stop waiting for a ghost to guide you, the sooner her book will become more than just gibberish on the page.”

Before Adelais could respond the door to her washroom slowly opened.

“It's fine. She's a friend. Come out and meet the witch who prophesied you and hence is the reason you find yourself here against your will. Like me,” she replied, her words hanging in the air as she realized she had much more in common with this stranger than not. He crept through the door, much cleaner than he was when just moments ago. He even wet his long locks of golden brown hair and combed it back, away from his face, revealing deep blue-green eyes she couldn't look away from.

“And your name?” Morgaine asked, searching for a way to break the awkward silence as she noticed a definite spark between the two young people.

“Bartolomeus,” he answered, clearly and plainly, as to not need it to be repeated.

“And you truly don't remember where you're from?” She waited a moment as his nose scrunched up, deep with thought, finally nodding. “How about just before you were caught?”

“It just isn't clear to me.”

“He must be someone of distinction, just listen to him speak, dearie. Can you fight?” Morgaine asked, walking circles around him, as she sized him up.

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Let's see shall we?” she replies, saying a spell that makes a sword appear in his right hand. Not expecting that to happen, or its weight, it falls to the floor with a thunk. “Pick it up and let's see your stance.”

“No, something tells me I'm not very good with swords.”

Adelais, who'd been watching him closely ever since he snuck into her room finally decided to break her silence.

“I know what you might like,” she replied as she rushed to her closet, tossing things out, rummaging through it like mad. Finally, she emerges with a bow and a quiver filled with arrows. “Here, try this.”

He reluctantly takes the bow and quiver from her, realizing they belong to her. He balances the bow in his hand, drapes the quiver across his body, as he looses an arrow and ready’s it in the bow.

“Yes, this is perfect,” he says as he replaces the arrow into its quiver. “But I can't accept this. Besides, what do I need it for? I'm not about to fight an entire army to get out of here.”

“No, dearie, it's not for you to fight against the army, it's for you to fight with them.”

“Why can't you accept this? No one can reject a gift from a Princess, it's not very polite,” she replies, feeling insulted at his refusal.

“It is yours is it not? What will you use to defend yourself if I take it?”

“Not to worry dearie,” Morgaine replied, snatching the bow and quiver from Adelais and shoving it in his hands, “Princesses don't go off to battles. Now let me look at you,” she continued signaling him to spin around, and he complied. “Something's missing. Isn't something missing?”

“A horse?”

“No, not that dearie, ah!” She shouted, snapping her fingers and hitting her forehead with the palm of her left hand. “Now hold still. This will only take a moment.” She squeezed her eyes closed attempting to recall a spell. She licked her lips and blowing dramatically onto the fingertips of both hands she prepared to bring forth magic.

When she was done casting her spell, Bartolomeus was standing there, in full armor. No one would be able to tell who he was and that was the point.

"Wow, I hardly recognize you under all that," Adelais replied, walking up to him and touching the metal armor. It covered almost his entire body, leaving room to move swiftly. He also wore a helmet that covered all his face except his eyes, which she noticed for the first time shone a deep blue-green as he stared back at her just as intently.

"Okay boy come on, time to see you put your skills to the test."

"Wait, now?" He asked, for the first time concerned at what he had just gotten himself into. He wasn't ready to do what was being asked of him. "I'm not a fighter."

"Can you handle the bow and arrow?" Morgaine asked, taking a seat in her chair by the fire, out of breath just from walking across the room to it.

"I feel like I can," he replies, as he loosed an arrow from the quiver on his back, places it swiftly on the bow, pulls back, and releases it without warning. It sails through the air and shatters a vase on the mantle above the fireplace, dangerously close to where Adelais was just standing. She moves quickly away from him when she saw he was about to fire an arrow in her general direction. "Sorry."

"Watch it with that. You could hurt someone," Adelais replied, shoving him playfully.

"I think you're ready. A great army is on its way here as we speak, led by the ferocious warlord General Lynx. He's heard this Kingdom is vulnerable to anyone who chooses to enter and conquer it. You must help this army defeat him. I'm afraid you are their only hope of winning."

"Is that another one of your spot-on prophecies?" Adelais asked, her arms folded as she takes an inquiring stance in front of where Morgaine is seated.

"It is as a matter of fact. And I'm almost positive what I see happening will come true, but only if he goes out there and fights. If he stays here like a coward, we will all be doomed."

"I am no coward," Bartolomeus shouts, taking offense to her assuming he's a coward. He can't remember where he came from, but he knows wherever it is he was never a coward. He was beginning to grow over confident in himself that he could take on this army, probably single-handedly. "I will do it. I will fight in this war, I will save the Kingdom, but I will require something in return," he continues, this time addressing his comment to the one person he knows can grant the request he is about to make.

"Why are you looking at me? I'm just a Princess, I don't have the power to pass a ruling or anything like that. I don't even have the ear of the King as many might assume I do. He and I are like night and day, avoiding each other as often as we can get away with it.

"I want my freedom, and I know you can't simply wave your hand and make it happen, but you can influence the King, your father, even if you two aren't speaking. Either way that is what I want. Take it or leave it?" He replies, giving an ultimatum that just could not be ignored.

"And what of your original prophecy from ten years ago? Why should I ignore that one and favor this one?" Princess Adelais asks the witch.

"Your mother always taught me, sometimes an old way needs to be utterly destroyed for something new to be born," Morgaine answered. "This boy is the key you need to ruling over the Kingdom in a way your father never could or ever will Adelais. It's what your mother would have wanted had she been here to see what he's done to her Kingdom.

"You still think I'm fit to be Queen someday? Look what it did to my mother," Princess Adelais replied, in disbelief her good friend would suggest she follow in her mother's footsteps. The very footsteps that got her killed.

"Your mother's mistake was in believing she had to do it all alone, without your father. You, dearie, will not make that same mistake," Morgaine says, taking Adelais' hand and placing it in the hand of Bartolomeus.

“You can’t be serious! Besides, I’ve been promised to General Doran. My father already thinks of him as the son he always wanted.”

“You don’t intend to ever marry him. I know that and deep down inside he knows it too. Why marry for love? Your mother did and look what it got her, dearie?”

A loud boom outside reverberates through the castle. Bartolomeus and Adelais both run to the window, still holding each other’s hand, this time a bit tighter as they look out at a fierce battle unfolding.

“You’ll want to get down there boy, no one will be looking for you now, they’ll be too busy trying to stop General Lynx,” Morgaine says, letting her last words hang in the air as another boom is heard in the distance. A legion of warriors, some on horseback, carrying the mark of Lynx, are seen galloping towards the castle walls.

“I'm going too,” Princess Adelais proclaimed, rushing to her armoire, clothes flying out as she searches for the perfect outfit to wear for just such an occasion.

“Princess, you cannot. Tell her Witch.”

“You'll learn quickly, telling a Calden woman what to do never works. Besides, I think she can actually help, unlike her mother who wasn't ready,” Morgaine said, causing Adelais to stop short, as she found the clothes she was looking for.

“What did you say? My mother died shortly after giving birth to me. Didn't she?”

“That is what you were told so you wouldn't follow in her footsteps. Your father, bless his stubborn heart, did it to protect you. I warned him against it. I felt you would have benefited long ago from knowing just how strong and brace your mother was on her final day. He banned me from the castle. But I think you're ready to know the truth now,” she said, as she waved her hand over the large mirror hanging over the fireplace. “And who better to tell you, than your mother herself.”

The mirror turned black and began to come away from its frame in a thick liquid form as it fell to the floor, forming into a solid person right before their eyes. Bartolomeus drew a bow in defense, but Adelais raised her hand to signal he should stand down as her mother was standing before her. Not knowing what to do, she bowed low before the Queen. Bartolomeus did the same.

“Daughter, please stand. All of you,” she said, winking to Morgaine who also bowed. Upon righting herself tears could be seen in her eyes. She grabbed Bartolomeus by the arm, and putting a finger to her lips, led him away and outside of the bedroom.

“Win this war for her and for yourself. This Kingdom will need you both. I can hold her off only for so long.” Without a word spoken Bartolomeus exited towards the loud sounds of battle. Morgaine returned to Adelais and the Queen who were in a warm embrace.

“Mother, how lost I've been without you. What happened?”

“How much does she know?” the Queen asked, looking to Morgaine, who shook her head. The Queens expression suddenly grew angry. “You mean you've gone all this time not knowing the truth?”

“Father told me you died after having me. I killed you.”

“That man. In the end I felt he grew to resent my choices but I never imagined he'd take his anger of me out on our daughter. Adelais, you did not kill me. I was killed defending the Kingdom. The very enemy who is attempting to enter the castle now is the same enemy I fought more than two decades ago. Lynx cannot be trusted nor can he ever be allowed to rule here. I thought I could persuade him to join Kingdoms instead of fight a battle I did not think we could win. That was my mistake. I did not have faith in our army the way your father did. The way he always has. I met with General Lynx in secret. And in secret he killed me. My final act was to do all I could to protect you.”

"What did you do?" Adelais asked, intrigued by the true story of what happened to her mother. The Queen didn't answer. Instead, she looked towards her closest friend, Morgaine, to fill in the blanks.

"When your mother died, dearie, I was charged with looking after you. I put one of the most complex spells I had ever done one you. I made it so General Lynx could not go anywhere near this castle till you turned twenty-one years of age. Our hope was he would eventually forget his desire to rule over this Kingdom or have died. As you can hear, none of that happened. I did the best I could,” she said, her last line directed to the Queen who nodded her understanding.

“Daughter, this battle cannot be won without you. I've kept you from it long enough, but now you must go. Join Bartolomeus and together put an end to General Lynx. I've been watching you grow and learn the art of Witchcraft from my dear friend, Morgaine, so I know you are ready. You had more time with her and more patience,” Morgaine, the Witch, smiled and nodded at that, “I'm sure, than I ever had. Make me proud and prove your father wrong about Witches. I'm afraid his time with you, on this Earth, as King, is in its final days.”

“No, not father too. What will I do without you both? How will I rule?”

“You will rule better than your father or I, Adelais, because you have not been influenced by either of us. Follow your heart,” she replies, opening her arms wide for her daughter to embrace her one last time. “Now go. And remember, I will always be in your heart, watching.”

 

Young Adelais, ready for this battle and for the many she will face in her future, fled the room, with sword in hand. The very sword I attempted to give Bartolomeus. It belonged to the King, her father. After killing General Lynx on the battlefield his army retreated. The King, knowing his time was soon coming to an end, had his daughter crowned Queen. Her first act was to pardon Bartolomeus and appoint him to be her closest advisor. She turned down General Doran, deciding to spend her first few years as Queen alone.

As for me? I lived out my remaining years doing as much good as I could through the guidance of Queen Adelais and eventually King Bartolomeus.

And they lived happily ever after.

 

The End

The First Reindeer

Many know the story of Santa Claus and his eight Reindeer, but no one ever wonders who his first Reindeer was? Before he became Santa Claus he was Nicholas Claus, the Toymaker, who lived in a small town, but had dreams too large to contain or ignore. This is the story of the Reindeer sent to make sure his dreams would live on in every boy and girl…

 

“She needs you more than I,” he explained, as he held down his shimmering red cape that shone silver under the moonlight, while we walked down a dirt road. We stopped at a small cottage, nestled among others in a long row, in a town that didn’t look prosperous, but I could tell was very promising.

“You’ll be the best medicine for her. As I hear it, she has precious little time. I'm counting on you to make it the best she'll ever have,” he said as he pat me on my head, making sure to avoid the baby antlers I had growing already. “You understand me, girl?” I nodded vigorously, excited for the opportunity to bring joy to someone’s heart, especially a child. “From now on those who need to understand you, will.” He tapped lightly on the door, gave me one last pat, and was gone. But I knew I would see him again.

A gentleman, who looked very different from the one who brought me here, came to the door. Not being expected, he looked right over my head at the empty streets before him, then started to go back inside. I huffed loudly which made him look down right at me. His startled reaction caused a woman inside the cottage to join him.

“Honey, who is it?” she asked as she stood by the door, just as frail. He gestured down to me and she gasped, exclaiming “is that a Reindeer?”

He put his finger to his lips to get her to keep her voice down, but it was too late, the reason why I was there had heard all. “A Reindeer? Really? Let me see papa.”

He opened the door wide, letting me inside their tiny home. The room I entered looked like it was a living room at one time, however, their daughter occupied it now. Of the three of them she looked the weakest. She was barely able to smile as her eyes widened upon seeing me. As she lay on the tattered couch I knew right away she was very sick.

Both her parents continued to look around outside, expecting whoever owned me to be hiding somewhere just up the road. After several minutes, they gave up their search and re-entered the house to sounds of giggles and laughter unlike any they'd heard in a long time. They quickly realized I must have been sent to keep their daughter happy for as long as she lived. I knew it too, but I had no idea how little time there would be.

“Her name is Noelle, papa,” she exclaimed, as her parents held each other tightly, tears in their eyes.

“How do you know that Daisy?” her papa asked.

“She told me!” Daisy announced. Both noticed right away color returning to her cheeks as she continued to smile at me, with a twinkle in her eye. She kept that twinkle for two years more before she was gone. No one told me where she went, but while she was here I made sure she spent every day laughing.

Her parents were concerned, once their daughter was gone, with how they would continue to care for me. They’d never say it, but as I grew up my size dictated the amount of food I needed to eat. I tried to cut back on my intake, but the more I tried the more I failed. Until one night there came a knock on the door that muffled the sounds of my stomach.

I knew who it was even before the door was opened. The one who brought me here had come back for me. I had another, very important job to do. The little girl's parents didn't question my leaving, knowing in their hearts I was going to share the joy I brought to their daughter with someone else.

“You did very good Noelle. But this next home I send you to does not have any children. He’s just a humble toymaker,” he explained, as we walked along a different dirt road, to my next, and what would become my final, destination. "He needs someone to guide him along his special path, and your time with the little girl, we think, has prepared you for him.”

“We?” I asked, for the first time realizing there were more of him in the world.

“Who we are isn't as important as what we do. You won't see me again, but I'll always be watching, Noelle. Now go, and spread as much joy in the world as you possibly can.”

When I approached the toymakers door I turned back briefly and just as before, he was gone. I raised my front hoof and knocked. I could hear sounds within of someone scrambling to answer, bumping into things on his way.

“Yes, I'm coming,” he shouted through the closed door just as he started to open it. “Who's—,” he said, then stopped short when he saw me, a Reindeer, standing on his doorstep.

“Hello,” I replied, hoping he could understand me the way Daisy could, “my name’s Noelle.”

“Whoa, easy there boy, I hear you loud and clear, you want to come in?” he replied, stepping aside. He didn’t have to give me too much room since I was rather small for my age and for an average Reindeer. I like to think I stayed small so I could live inside the small cottage for the two years I was there. As I entered his tiny home I knew two things; first, he could not understand me and second, my work here would not be an easy one.

I looked around his humble home at what was primarily his workshop. There were toys of all shapes and sizes everywhere. Nestled between the completed toys were models he had started. They didn't look like much, but I could tell by his finished toys, any little boy or girl would be excited to own them, once done.

“Welcome to my home. It isn't much but it keeps me fairly warm in the winter,” he replied, as he watched me closely. “Listen to yourself Nicholas Claus, you're talking to a Reindeer like he can understand you.”

I picked up a girl doll off the desk closest to where I stood, with my mouth, and held it out to him.

“What are you trying to tell me boy?” he asked as I shoved the doll into his hands with as much urgency as I could. “Are you a ‘she’? Is that what you're trying to tell me?” I nodded my head. It was then I knew, at least, our friendship would be a long lasting one.

That night, as he did every night, I discovered, he’d spend at one of his tables crafting the perfect toy for a child. The next day, however, I noticed he stayed home, never going out to sell all he had made. This concerned me as I knew of many children in the town that would love and appreciate them.

Finally, on the third day, I decided I had to say something, because the food he had was less than what I was getting in my previous home, and my hunger increased. He ate less than I. Soon we both would waste away to nothing if something wasn’t done. But the strangest thing happened on this night. He began to gather up all the toys he had completed and placed them inside a large brown sack I hadn’t noticed when I first arrived, hanging on a hook by the front door. It was large enough to fit practically all the toys he made.

“How about we take a late-night walk, girl?” he asked, holding the door open for me to follow him outside. Once in the blistering cold he looked both ways before sprinting at top speed down the road, carefully holding the bag full of toys over one shoulder. I followed closely behind, wondering what he was about to do.

After walking for what seemed a long time, he finally stopped at a row of houses all with their lights off. He crept up to one, and lowering the sack, reached in and pulled out a toy. He then proceeded to place one toy inside each pair of tiny shoes left just outside the front door. He repeated this all night, passing from house to house, putting toys in shoes and baskets. He even slipped one through a little girl’s bedroom window. When his sack was empty we walked back, getting home just as the sun had begun to rise. Both of us exhausted from being up all night, we promptly fell asleep, sleeping the day away.

I soon discovered Nicholas’s purpose and mine; to bring joy to children everywhere. But first, we needed to sort out the food situation. If he was going to continue working endlessly with little sleep, he'd need food for energy. And if I was to be of help to him I’d need my energy as well. So, one day, while he was too busy designing a new toy, I went to visit my previous owners. I knew they didn't have much by way of food but perhaps they'd have a solution. Plus, I missed Daisy and they were my only connection to remember her.

Her mother was happy to see me as she ushered me inside. In one corner of the room they placed everything that once had belonged to their daughter neatly on a table. I recognized all of her favorite things, including, a toy I realized was made by Nicholas. I picked it up carefully in my mouth and used it to urge her to follow me. I hoped in her seeing the toy maker and the good he was trying to do; she’d come up with a solution to our food shortage.

After a few days had passed the time had come for us to do another delivery of the toys Nicholas made. This time, however, I noticed there were a bit more than usual.

“Tonight girl, I think you're ready to help me bring joy to all the little boys and girls in our town and the next.”

When we went outside, there in front of the house was a sleigh that wasn't in the best shape, but looked like it could at least hold Nicholas and his toys while I pulled. He hitched me to the front and gave me the following instructions, “pull me to the next town and while I leave the toys, follow close behind. We aren't expected, and in case we should be spotted I'll need a quick escape.”

That night we made it into and out of the town without anyone noticing us. Even happier news was upon returning home there were bundles on his doorstep. He carried them inside and found they contained various food items, all fresh, and all anonymous. I had a feeling who they were from, but when Nicholas asked me, I pretended not to know.

Ever since then we never went hungry, coming home to so much food each time we went out we’d take some with us on the journey, leaving food for families we knew needed it more.

Our next trip took us to a town we’d never been to before. I was feeling particularly energetic in my youth and decided to go further than we’d ever gone.

As Nicholas walked away from a home where all was quiet, a young woman holding books in one hand and reading in the other, almost bumped into me, as she crossed the road, without once ever glancing up. I took several steps backward, pushing the sleigh back as well. Nicholas shushed me as he feared the sound would be heard by those sleeping. I huffed in the direction of the woman who never slowed her stride, oblivious to the fact she almost got trampled by a Reindeer. I didn’t notice the piece of paper she dropped from her open book, but Nicholas did, and promptly went to return it to her.

He tapped her on the shoulder which caused her to jump with fright as she nearly dropped everything she was holding. He caught her by the arms and helped to steady her. They looked into each other’s eyes smiling. The only time I ever saw him smile that way was after he’d finish one of his many toys. At that moment I knew she would be joining our family of two.

“Who are you? What are you doing out here at this time of night? I don’t recognize you,” she managed to get out, not stopping to take a breath.

“I’m Nicholas. And this is my Reindeer,” he said as he introduced us. It didn't take long after seeing me for her eyes to widen, reminding me of the way Daisy looked at me when she first saw me.

“You have a Reindeer? Where did you get her?” she asked as she walked up to me and made to pat me on my side, but stopped short. “May I?” she asked, looking me right in the eye. I nodded and she gasped, “She understood me.”

“Yes, she is a rather special Reindeer,” he replied with a wink. I winked back and she gasped again, amazed.

“What’s her name?” she asked him, and I realized perhaps I should try again, after many failed attempts with Nicholas, to get her to understand me.

“I don’t know actually. She just showed up on my doorstep one day. Don't know where she came from and she won't tell me.”

“My name’s Noelle,” I answered. She slowly turned towards me and smiled as she laughed to herself in amazement. She understood me.

“Won't or can't?” she replied winking at me. I winked back knowing from then on she would understand me best. “My name’s Jessica. I'm the school teacher here. What were you doing at the Sanderson’s house just now? Their boy is a handful at school,” she said as she continued to pat my stomach gently.

“I was just leaving a toy,” he answered, causing her to gasp again.

“A toy? Oh no, get it back this instant. I just had to reprimand him this morning for breaking little Sally’s toy. How would it look if for his punishment he wakes up to a new toy? Who gives you the right to walk into a town and leave toys anyway?”

“No one. I leave toys for all boys and girls. I want to bring them some happiness in an otherwise gloomy world,” he replied as he climbed into the sleigh.

“Happiness is great Nicholas, but respect, responsibility and good manners is what’s most important to impart on the hearts and minds of young children,” she countered, as she peeked in his sleigh at the toys he had yet to deliver. “Better let me come with you. I know all the children here. Who's naughty and who's nice. I won't have you undoing all that I've been working to instill in these children in just one night.”

“If you insist,” Nicholas replied, making room for her to sit beside him.

“Your Reindeer’s name is Noelle by the way,” she said as she climbed into the sleigh next to him.

“Noelle. That’s a beautiful name. I should have known that. Did she tell you?”

“Yes, and one more thing, did you know she’s pregnant?” Jessica asked. I knew she was talking about me and I tried to look back to get an explanation from her as to how she knew and how it was possible.

“No, I didn’t. Are you sure?”

“I am,” she said as she leaned forward in the sleigh to try and relax me with her reassuring words. “But don’t worry, my family owned a farm and I’m familiar with assisting in births. You’ll be fine Noelle. I promise.” And with that, the three of us continued our journey through the town, only leaving toys for those children most deserving of them.

Soon after they were married and Jessica became known to everyone in our town as Mrs. Claus. She started to befriend the local school teachers of any town Nicholas planned to visit to get a list of all the nice children. After a few times, she found it was easier for her to organize our late-night trips if she stayed home, while Nicholas and I went out. She felt she slowed us down. I think she felt more at home with her nose in a book, especially when it got colder. Although she loved the cold too she preferred to remain indoors with her cup of cocoa and her ledger. This was the place where she kept track of all the toys Nicholas made, who he gave them to, and who wouldn’t receive toys unless she heard they changed from naughty to nice. She took her role as his wife, but most importantly his partner, very seriously. So, she made a point to remember all the children in every town. And when one would do something worthy of being taken off the naughty list she made sure Nicholas brought them a toy.

On such an occasion, we were sent with explicit instructions not to forget Little Tommy, whose mother proudly reported had been surprisingly good. On our way back from our deliveries we took a detour to leave him a toy. She’d plot our route as well as each stop we made. She showed me the map beforehand, not bothering to show Nicholas, who cared more about the toy giving than how we got there. On this particularly cold and icy night, I found myself slipping and sliding down a hill, right off a cliff. I was powerless, or so I thought, to try and put a stop to what was happening, when suddenly there came a miracle. I started to fly.

Nicholas had his eyes closed the whole time, refusing to look as he thought we were falling to our deaths. After several seconds passed he finally peeked over the side of the sleigh and saw we were several hundred feet above the ground. He let out a hearty laugh that was heard throughout, causing some in their homes to wake, and look to the sky for the source of the noise. In a flash, I carried us higher as I tried to get us out of sight. We were home the fastest we’d ever done it, almost as if time had slowed down for both of us to do all we needed to in one night.

News of a mysterious man and his Reindeer spotted flying at night began to spread through neighboring towns. Mrs. Claus grew worried that people would discover who the man was and through human curiosity want to steal his magic Reindeer. The thought worried us both as my stomach grew larger. The second miracle in my life would be soon.

We didn’t want to stick around till the townsfolk came to our door, so Mrs. Claus made some inquiries into a group of toymakers she’d heard rumors of in a faraway land. They had previously reached out to Nicholas, wishing to offer him assistance when they heard of all the good he was bringing children around him, but he always turned them down. He believed moving to the North Pole would put him much too far away from what he was born to do. But his wife was insistent. She felt I could not be expected to give birth to Reindeer in a town that would soon become unsafe for us all. Besides, we needed a new place anyway, ever since Nicholas began making more and more toys. His small workshop was no longer big enough for the three of us and all his toys. Finally, after a lot of convincing that he would not be giving up his ability to deliver them, he relented and we began what would end up being good training for me. While pregnant, I flew us all to the North Pole.

The second we arrived we were greeted by the smallest people I had ever seen. They numbered in hundreds, or so I assumed, and surrounded us straight away. The climate was well below zero but it didn’t bother me one bit. I couldn’t say the same for Mr. and Mrs. Claus who were thrilled to be shown inside what would later become the most famous and largest Toy Factory in the world. These tiny toymakers were called Elves. They were always toymakers, sending their toys throughout the world, but never at a rate and speed they wanted. Which is why they were so excited when we arrived.

Mrs. Claus went right to work, organizing and planning as she always had. I spent most of my time resting. Becoming a mother when I wasn’t expecting it I knew wouldn’t be easy, but I had an entire legion of Elves all willing to help.

One cold wintry night, not too long after we arrived, while everyone was indoors trying to stay warm, I gave birth to two beautiful Reindeer, and named them Comet & Cupid. This worried Nicholas as we had been planning to do our first delivery since arriving at the North Pole, and he couldn’t help but wonder if I would be able to do it? So, the Elves nursed me around the clock till I was ready to fly on the seventh day.

The night before our flight our first piece of mail arrived, addressed to ‘Santa Claus.’ None of the Elves knew who ‘Santa’ was but recognized the last name so they handed it over to Nicholas to inspect its contents and determine what to do with it. Upon opening the bundle, he found the most beautiful red jacket with white lining he’d ever seen. He quickly put it on, as if he knew instinctively it was meant for him. It fit a bit loose on him but it kept him warm and was just what he needed for the journey we were about to make. The Elves worked tirelessly, with Mrs. Claus as their leader, making sure they had everything ready for our first official flight, with the most number of toys we’d ever delivered.

As I took off, Nicholas stuck his hands in the pockets of his jackets to warm them, finding a note that was put there. He read it aloud:

 

Dear Santa Claus,

 

An Angel, wearing a shimmering red cape, and holding my Little Girl Daisy’s hand, came to me last night, with a message that I believe is meant for you:

Bringing joy to the little children of the world is the best gift you can give them. Don’t ever stop. They need someone to believe in.

                                                                        Love, Daisy’s Mother

           

P.S. Tell Noelle “Thank You” for the joy she brought to our little family.

 

In just twelve months after our first flight my Reindeer children grew faster than anyone thought possible, but we never questioned the miracles bestowed upon us. I taught them all that I knew about flying and on Santa Claus’s second flight he used them instead, this time leaving me behind. I knew I would live forever same as Santa and Mrs. Claus, but I also knew I needed to step aside and make room for the team that would forever be remembered in the hearts and minds of children everywhere.

Mrs. Claus took charge over reading through the many letters we began receiving once our address was known to all the children around the world. I took on the role of mentor and teacher to the eight Reindeer that would become Santa’s team. The remaining six arrived much later, two by two, to join Comet & Cupid. They were given the most important task of them all, the responsibility of carrying the toys safely to their destination.

To honor me, Santa’s very first Reindeer, he decided to deliver the toys to all the good girls and boys, once a year, on the date I gave birth, December 24th.

 

The End

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

[Symbol] 

Dorothy and Toto hid themselves under her bed, fearing the worst. As the cyclone carried them in the house for what seemed like hours, across fields and meadows, causing destruction in its wake, they both fell asleep. Suddenly, it came to a complete stop in a strange land. 

“Honey, did you hear that?” Keeler Munchkin asked his wife as he sat at the kitchen table reading the morning paper. 

“I heard it and I felt it. Just look at my new apron. Ruined!” Andromeda said as she grabbed a dishtowel and tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the jelly stain. “Are you just going to sit there? Glinda will be wanting a detailed account of what that was Keeler.” 

“It was probably Hagar with another one of his experiments. I'll mosey on over after I've finished my breakfast,” he replied as he dunked toast into his cup of hot chocolate. 

“You know best dear, but remember what happened the last time one of Hagar’s experiments exploded? I don't care how useful some of his work happens to be in the Land of Oz, I refuse to spend another night hunting for Snits before they destroy crops. You're the Sheriff, not the clean-up crew. And I'm your wife, not your assistant,” she said as she slammed a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes down in front of him. The Oz Gazette, held up by Keeler, blocked his wife’s view of his face as he rolled his eyes. She plopped down in her chair and read the cover of the paper, not believing her eyes. 

TWO MORE MUNCHKINS KIDNAPPED IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT 

Seven Munchkins in total, taken from their homes. No one can speculate why or how? Sheriff Keeler claims to have a few good leads, but with each passing day the fear in every household is the same, “who will be next?” The less the Sheriff says about these frequent occurrences leaves many wondering if he’s intentionally delaying reporting all he doesn’t yet know to the residents of Oz until election season is over? We at the Oz Gazette, after having lost our Copy Editor to the hands of this kidnapper, have a message for the Sheriff: Give us some concrete answers or lose the backing of the one and only paper in Oz. 

We will not be forced to lock ourselves in our homes while nothing is done. There’s a real threat here and it seems like no one cares. A meeting with Glinda the Good Witch is scheduled for this evening in the Center of Town. We hope she can give us some answers on how to catch the Wicked culprit and bring her to swift justice… 

“Keeler, have you seen this?” Andromeda shouted as she snatched the paper out of his hands and pointed to the front-page article. 

“Of course I’ve seen it honey, it’s on the front-page. Nothing to worry about. Glinda should be here shortly to discuss a way to stop the kidnappings and bring the Wicked Witch in for questioning,” Keeler responded as he took a long and final sip from his hot chocolate. “Mind if I have another? You make the best hot cocoa dear,” he smiled over at her. 

“With Glinda coming I feel much better. You’re a great Sheriff honey, but a great communicator you are not. You’d never make it through tonight’s Town Hall alone,” she said as she removed her apron. She took the jug of steaming hot chocolate off the stove and poured more in his cup as she glanced at the clock on the wall. “What time did she say she’d be here?” 

“She didn’t. She’s an early riser though, so I’d expect her about nine this morning. Why?” he asked, looking at the clock, same as his wife. Both their faces fell simultaneously. “In all the years you’ve known her, has she ever been late?” he asked, as the clock ticked to a quarter past the hour. 

[Symbol] 

As the Wicked Witch of the West flew overhead she saw what happened and decided to land. She sniffed the air around the house, trying to determine what it was as she’d never seen a structure quite like it in all of Oz. She made her way to the front of the house. She looked down and saw the pink frills with matching slippers of the Good Witch of the North. Her fear that it was indeed Glinda were corroborated when she saw the wand that had previously been responsible for the Goodness found in Oz and for undoing the Wickedness the Witch of the West and her friend, the Witch of the East, were often responsible for. Tears formed in the Wicked Witches eyes as the enormity of what happened took hold. 

“I’m telling you Sheriff, it fell out of the sky and landed over there by the side of the Yellow Brick Road…,” a Munchkin shouted in the distance. She realized the Munchkins would arrive on the scene soon and surround her, so, without giving it much thought she reached down and took the wand out of Glinda’s hand. And with little time to fly away she silently spoke a quick spell which made her disappear in a flash leaving the faintest of green smoke in her wake. It was all gone by the time Sheriff Keeler, his wife, and another Munchkin wearing a white lab coat, Hagar, all arrived to the devastating scene. 

The Sheriff signaled them to stay back as he slowly approached the house. It was tipped over from landing haphazardly on a hill near the side of the road, so much so he thought it would fall over onto him. He staggered backwards and fell to the ground upon seeing the unmistakable pink dress that he knew belonged to Glinda. 

“What is it dear?” his wife asked, rushing over to help him up. A heavy fog rolled in as the once sunny morning was quickly taken over by rain clouds in the sky. “What did you see?” 

“OH MY GOD!” came a scream from near the house, the fog so thick Andromeda couldn’t see. “The Good Witch Glinda is dead!” shouted Hagar at the top of his lungs as he ran towards the Sheriff. 

“Stop it. I’ve never heard such nonsense. She can’t be dead. Oz can’t exist with just Wicked in the world. Honey, what did you see?” she asked looking down at her husband who wasn’t there anymore. He now stood a few inches from the house, staring down blankly at her pink dress. His wife stood next to him and reached out for his hand. Suddenly, dozens of Munchkins emerged from the fog. 

“What is it?” 

“What’s happened?” 

“Glinda the Good Witch is dead!” Hagar shouted as they got closer. The Munchkins began to murmur, wondering if it was the same person suspected of kidnapping Munchkins. 

“Her wand is missing,” Sheriff Keeler replied, his fist clenched, as his anger mounted. 

Just then the door of the house opened and all the Munchkins backed away quickly, hiding behind foliage on the side of the road. The Sheriff peered out from behind a rock to see Dorothy holding Toto in her hand. 

“Hello?” she questioned, looking around cautiously as she stepped down onto the Yellow Brick Road, walking closer to where all the Munchkins were hiding. 

“Don’t come any closer,” a mysterious voice shouted from behind a rock, making Dorothy jump with fright. 

“Who said that? Who’s there?” she asked, as Sheriff Keeler stepped out from behind a rock. “Oh, hello. Why are you hiding? I won’t hurt you. I’m lost. Can you tell me where I am?” 

“Is that thing over there yours?” the Sheriff asked her, pointing towards the house. 

“You mean my house? Yes, it’s mine. Although, back in Kansas it doesn’t tip over so much.” 

“Then you killed her! Why? Who sent you?” the Sheriff asked, walking towards her slowly, both his hands balled into fists, growing angrier with every step. The other Munchkins cautiously joined him. 

“I killed her? Killed who? No one sent me. My house was picked up in the cyclone. Didn’t you see it?” Dorothy asked, as Toto began to yelp furiously. She looked down and noticed a body sticking out from under her house. “Who is that? I didn’t do that, did I?” 

“You killed Glinda the Good Witch. The nicest, sweetest and most helpful person in all of Oz. Now we must kill you to avenge her death,” a Munchkin threatened. 

“It was an accident. I had no control over where the cyclone was going to drop me,” she said, slowly backing away. 

“Get her!” Andromeda shouted, starting the charge of other Munchkins who all began to run, but their legs being so short, however, prevented them from keeping pace with Dorothy. She dropped Toto to the ground and ran off the path of the Yellow Brick Road into the forest. She finally had to stop, panting heavily, trying to catch her breath.  

As she turned to continue running she bumped into a Lion standing on its hind legs, about six feet tall, looking at himself in a rather large hand mirror. 

“What’s all this disturbance in my forest?” he asked, not breaking his gaze with the mirror, trying to catch his reflection in the best light. Dorothy froze. “Come now, speak up, speak up. What have you done to make the Munchkins dare to enter my forest and make such noise?” he continued to question, finally putting down the mirror long enough to get a good look at Dorothy. 

Speechless, Dorothy could only shrug her shoulders. Without waiting for explanation, he placed his mirror gently on the ground, dropped down on all fours, sprinted towards the Munchkins. From a distance, she could hear his booming voice as it reverberated through the forest. 

“Stop! I will not have runts running amok in my forest. Leave now or I will swallow every last one of you whole,” he commanded, followed by a roar that shook the leaves from the trees. The sound of murmurs then tiny retreating footsteps could be heard. The Lion returned to where he left Dorothy, leaped in front of her and came to a regal stop. 

“You didn’t swallow any of them, did you?” she asked, picking up Toto, who hid behind her. 

“Don’t be ridiculous, they’re far too meaty for me,” he replied, looking down at his body. “Munchkins go straight to my thighs.” 

“Thank you for saving me. They would have killed me if you hadn’t. And I need to get home. My Auntie Em will be worried sick. Especially, after she sees the house--,” Dorothy said, being cut off by the Lion who raised his paw to silence her. 

“Whatever your problem is I don’t want to hear it. The Wizard is throwing his Annual Color Gala next week and I want to make sure I look my best. Besides, you can’t go back the way you came. What did you do to make the Munchkins so angry?” the Lion asked her, picking his hand mirror back up to his face. 

“Nothing,” she answered. “My house was dropped here in a cyclone.” 

“I’m impressed. I’ve always wanted to make an entrance like that,” he said as he stood tall on his hind legs and leaned up against the tree. “Where did you say you were from?” 

“Why thank you…sir?” she replied. “I’m from a small farm in Kansas. Can you help me?” 

“No, I do not. Nor do I care to help you. What would it look like if a Lion were to help a child?” he posed to her, throwing his head back so his mane could catch the wind blowing through his long blonde locks. “Leave now, I’m tired and I need my beauty sleep before tonight.” 

“What’s tonight? I thought you said the Gala was next week?” 

“Tonight, if you must know, I’ve been invited to dine with the Wicked Witch of the West, and if you learn anything from your stay here, it’s to never turn down or be late to an invitation from a Wicked,” the Lion answered as he stretched and yawned loudly.  

“Do you think she can help me get home?” 

“She might have the answers you seek, although I hesitate to take you to her,” he grimaced. 

“If she can help I’m willing to try anything.” 

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now, be quiet while I’m sleeping and keep that mutt's paws off me,” he said, laying down on the ground under the shade of the tree. 

“Sleep? No, you can’t sleep, I need to see the Witch right away. Those Munchkins aren’t going to stop coming after me just because you roared at them,” Dorothy said quickly. 

“Are you doubting my ability to scare Munchkins?” the Lion asked, as his eyes started to close. 

“Yes, I am. They will just get more Munchkins, causing a disturbance and waking you. But maybe if you went to see this Wicked Witch right now she would have a way to stop them?” 

“The Wicked Witch of the East is their ruler,” he scoffed. “You really are a stranger here, aren’t you? But you make a good point.” 

“How many Wicked Witches are there?” Dorothy asked, her eyes growing wide with fear. 

“The number is not what you should concern yourself with, but what a Wicked will do with you if you get on their bad side.” He dropped down to all fours so she could climb on. She hesitated, weighing the pros and cons of riding on the back of a Lion. 

“What do you think?” she asked, looking down at Toto. He looked up at her pleadingly as he barked twice. “Right you are, this is no time to wait for help. We must accept help whenever it is offered.” 

With that, she picked up Toto, and climbed atop the Lion as he reared back on his hind legs and pushed forward into a lightning sprint through the forest. 

[Symbol] 

The Lion stopped at a wrought-iron gate. Dorothy dismounted and smoothed out her blue and white checkerboard dress. 

“Hey you, slave, open up, I have someone here to see the Witch,” the Lion said, to a young, fair haired man, holding an axe high above his leg. His other arm is missing from the elbow. 

“Stop!” Dorothy shouted to him, as Toto ran through the gate and began to bark incessantly as the axe trembled slightly. 

“I can’t,” he managed to say through his gritted teeth. “Look away,” he continued as the axe came down on his leg with a crunch. Dorothy and the Lion both covered their eyes. From a window in the castle they heard someone cackling, unmistakable to the Lion. Dorothy stopped wincing and looked up towards the sound. 

“That’s her. The Wicked Witch of the West,” the Lion said, turning away from the gate. 

“Maybe this was a bad idea. What if she turns out to be worse than the Munchkins?” Dorothy asked, gulping down her fear. She looked over at the young man, fitting a piece of metal onto his leg that appeared to have been made just for him. 

“Lion, what brings you here so early? And who is that scrawny thing you have with you?” the Wicked Witch asked as she noticed them standing just outside her gate. He gave a low growl to Dorothy, as the young man who just chopped his own leg off limped over to the gate and pulled it open. 

“The Wicked Witch will see you now,” the Tin Woodman replied. Both Dorothy and the Lion entered cautiously, trying to avoid eye contact with him and his awkwardly affixed limb. 

“Lion! How are you?” the Wicked Witch asked, as she appeared at the top of the stairs. The Lion looked over at Dorothy completely confused at the way the Wicked Witch was behaving. “Do come upstairs and introduce me to your friend.”  

They entered a dank and dusty room that looked like sunlight hadn’t been allowed inside for many moons. Dorothy found it difficult to breath, let alone see inside, as she began to cough uncontrollably. The Wicked Witch rushed to the windows and forced them open. Dust fell around her as a gust of wind and sunlight burst into the room. 

“Your Wickedness, this is Dorothy. A stranger among us. She’s on the run from the Munchkins,” the Lion replied, speaking as quickly as he could, hoping the Witch only caught a few words. Dorothy couldn’t stop staring at the Wicked Witch. In all her years of living she had never seen anyone who was so green.  

“What are you staring at girly?” 

“Pardon me for saying this, but, you’re really green,” Dorothy ignorantly stated. The Lion cringed, expecting this to be the end of the road for both he and Dorothy. “Were you always this way?” 

“No, I wasn’t always green. I honestly don’t remember how or why it started happening. But that’s not important. What interests me is why the Munchkins are after you?” 

“The Munchkins? They uhm…,” she floundered, as she searched her mind for a reason why. 

“It’s not in their nature to chase after someone. Maybe it has something to do with what I heard about something falling out of the sky in Munchkin Land. Did you hear about that Lion?” 

“No your Wickedness, I haven’t. I was too busy bringing her here. I thought perhaps the Great and Powerful—.” 

“Don’t say it! She isn’t all that Great or Powerful, believe you me. But yes, you are right. She might be the one to help. We can head out tomorrow, you will be safe here till then. In the meantime, we can find out from the Wicked Witch of the East what’s going on with the usually well-behaved Munchkins? She’ll be here for dinner,” she replied, as she grabbed a bell from her rather cluttered desk and rang it loudly. 

“Your Wickedness,” the Lion began to speak, his voice wavering just a little at what he was about to ask, “are you feeling okay?” 

“Am I not Wicked enough for you Lion?” the Wicked Witch asked, standing strong before him. 

“You rang your Wickedness?” the Tin Woodman asked, interrupting them. Her face made a slight cringe upon hearing his voice, which Dorothy noticed. The Wicked Witch suddenly put a grimacing smile on her face as she gave her orders, keeping her back to him. 

She instructed him to escort her two guests to their room and then bring them down to dinner where she expects to have her friend, and ruler over Munchkin Land, the Wicked Witch of the East, join them all, hopefully with answers about what’s been going on. 

As the Tin Woodman climbed another flight of stairs to the next landing, Dorothy and the Lion couldn’t help but notice his limp was disappearing rather quickly. By the time he stopped in front of their bedroom door it had gone completely. 

“Can I ask you a question?” 

“Little girls should be seen and not heard,” the Tin Woodman replied quickly. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to ask and didn’t want to have to go through the entire story about what she and her friend saw him do outside. 

“Why haven’t you attached a metal arm the way you did your leg?” she asked, ignoring his comment about little girls completely. 

Shocked by her question he stopped to mull it over more seriously than he had intended. After a few moments, and the Lion coughing loudly, causing him to snap out of his mental trance, he responded, “I was hoping I wouldn’t do too good a job of chopping off my own limbs if I had to use my bad arm.” He opened the door and stepped inside before either could respond. 

Normally, a curious and nosey child such as Dorothy would not have let anything prevent her from continuing to ask the Tin Woodman questions, but nothing happening to her was normal. The Tin Woodman stood in the middle of the room with his eyes downcast, knowing exactly what they were seeing and realizing it was having its intended effect. They were both mortified. Even Toto, who was staying surprisingly well behaved all this time, was barking his disgust at the sight. 

On the floor, sticking out from under the bed, was the skin of what used to be a lion. Its head facing them, mouth agape and eyes wide, as if about to roar a warning to anyone who stopped here; “TURN AROUND AND RUN AWAY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.” 

“Tell her Wickedness she will not receive any more trouble from me,” the Lion said to the Tin Woodman who bowed his head stiffly in understanding. 

“I’ll let you two get settled in and will return within the hour to take you both to dinner. We mustn’t keep her Wickedness waiting, so try not to sleep, whatever you do. This room has a way of making those who sleep in it stay that way, forever.” 

Before the Lion or Dorothy can stop him to explain further what exactly he meant, the Tin Woodman was already out the door, shutting it tightly behind him. 

“I wonder what he meant by that?” Dorothy asked as she stretched her arms high above her head. She began to move about the room looking and touching all that was within her reach. 

“Stop touching those things. We are in the castle of the Wicked Witch child. Listen to me. Trust no one and most importantly, touch nothing,” he commanded as he stretched out on the floor with a long drawn out yawn, which caused an involuntary yawn to spring from Dorothy. 

“Strange that I’m tired so suddenly. I was filled with so much energy before. Look, even Toto is tired,” she said, pointing over to her dog which was asleep on the bed. She slowly walked over and collapsed next to him. 

The Tin Woodman, returning to collect Dorothy and the Lion for dinner, stops short of knocking on the door when he hears loud snoring coming from within. 

“Oh no!” he shouted as he opened the door and rushed in to see the Lion, Dorothy and her dog fast asleep. He quickly grabbed Dorothy off the bed and flung her over his shoulder while taking hold of her dog and racing out of the room, lowering both to the ground. He then braced himself and went back in. The Lion being twice his size, he knew would not be easy to move, but if he didn’t, the longer he stayed in that room asleep the harder it would be to ever wake him. The Tin Woodman, relying on his metal leg for support, lifts the Lion a few feet off the ground. He grunts loudly as he gets a good grip on the Lion and pulls him, dragging his feet along the way, through the door and places him next to Dorothy who has already begun to wake. 

“What happened?” she asked groggily. 

“I told you not to fall asleep in there. It’s a good thing I came and got you when I did. Any longer and I’d be placing your eternally slumbering body next to the others.” 

“The others?” the Lion asked, waking up as well. “What others?” 

“That’s not important. We have to get downstairs, the gong will be sounding for dinner soon and if we’re not all in our seats before it does the others will be the least of our worries,” the Tin Woodman said, quickly descending the stairs. Dorothy and the Lion, still sluggish from having just woken up, attempt to keep close behind. Toto ran down the stairs past everyone, his nose smelled the food, telling him exactly where to go. 

As they entered the dining room it was kept very dark, the only lights coming from the many candles spread throughout the room. Everyone moved slowly towards the long dining room table to find a seat as the gong could be heard throughout the entire castle. Seconds later the Wicked Witch of the West enters from a corner of the room that didn’t seem to have any door that could be seen. She takes her seat at the head of the table and glares as someone enters the room, late. 

“So glad you could join us Scarecrow. Please, have a seat,” the Wicked Witch exclaimed, staring daggers into his chest as he took a seat next to Dorothy, his nose in a book. 

“I was just reading this fascinating piece in this book here, on the time-space continuum. It says here that ‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it. Scientific people know very well that Time is only a kind of Space.’ Isn’t that fascinating?” he asked Dorothy sitting next to him, pointing out the line he was reading to her. He looked over at her and nearly jumped out of his seat upon seeing her. “Who the heck are you?” 

“If you would stop keeping your nose in a book and look around you every once in a while, you wouldn’t miss out on what’s going on around you so much,” the Wicked Witch argued, “isn’t that right…Dorothy was it?” 

“Uh, yes, that is right,” Dorothy replied, as she looked over at the Scarecrow who was looking down embarrassed. “But reading is also a great way to learn too,” she continued, making him perk up a little. 

“Where is that damn Witch of the East?” the Wicked Witch of the West grumbled under her breath, as she ignored what Dorothy said. 

[Symbol] 

The Wicked Witch of the East, sat at a table in the middle of a dark and dank room, with one flickering candle on the center of the table. Her feet propped up on the table as she leaned back in her chair using the light from the full moon outside to read the paper she was clutching in her hands. 

TWO MORE MUNCHKINS KIDNAPPED IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT 

… We hope she can give us solutions we so desperately need on how to catch the Wicked culprit and bring her to swift justice. 

There have been reports of flying creatures in the dead of night, suspicious for these parts. A witness claims he saw one wearing an outfit that was last seen on a missing Munchkin. Since then sightings have been increasing. Could these creatures be a part of the Wicked plan we all know exists in order to overthrow the Wizard and rule in the Land of Oz? None of us are, or would be, prepared to fight an army of flying creatures. So, until we receive word from the Wizard we must all be vigilante, by taking these necessary steps: 

  1. No Munchkin is to travel alone. It’s harder to be captured if there are more of us fending off the beasts.  
  1. If you see something flying in the sky report it to us, as we are keeping detailed records of all sightings from now on. 
  1. Lastly, whatever you do make sure you are home before sundown. Being captured at night seems to be how all of this is done. 

The Wicked Witch of the East let out a loud cackle of delight, causing the two Munchkins she kidnapped the night before to flinch with fright. 

“They think walking in groups and staying in at night will protect them? The fools. And what’s even better is their believing the Wicked Witch of the West is behind all this! It’s obvious who they mean when they say Wicked,” she replied, putting emphasis on the last word. “I suppose I should be insulted that they don’t consider me Wicked enough to be behind this all? What do you think?” she asks the Munchkins, as she lowers her booted feet off the table. Both stare at her wide eyed, fearing what she is about to do to them. 

As she tosses the paper on the table she walks around it slowly, pointing one hand in their direction and they know a spell is coming, just not which. She calls upon an evil they’ve never heard of, then a cloud begins to form over their heads as it rains upon them. But this is no ordinary rain. As it pours over the two Munchkins they begin to writhe and scream out in excruciating pain. Their faces cringe and contort, their ears growing pointier as they begin to shape-shift. The chairs they were seated on break under them as wings sprout from their backs. When the transformation is complete the raincloud dissipates, leaving two Flying Monkeys in its wake. 

“My babies. Come,” the Wicked Witch of the East said, holding out her hands to them. They looked at each other dumbly, then without hesitation they went to her, taking her hand in theirs. She led them to the open window and instructed them to fly till she called for them again. 

As they flapped their wings wildly to hop up onto the window ledge they looked down at the unkempt garden below. They both gulped loudly, weighing the chances they’d fall as soon as they attempted to take flight. 

“Oh bother, wait there,” the Wicked Witch of the East instructed, as she stormed to the door of the room they were in. Flinging it open she shouted “Garrik!” at the top of her lungs, “get up here, now!” By the time she got back to the window, a Flying Monkey came through the door and landed before her, with a bow. “Show them how. I don’t have time to teach them. I have more important things to do.” 

Garrik walked over to the window where the two new Flying Monkeys were perched and without hesitation shoved them both through it. They screamed out and flailed their arms as they began a quick descent to their deaths, until their wings spread out causing them to climb high above the trees and float there, moving back and forth against the changing winds. Garrik joined their flight as he spoke to them in a language even the Wicked Witch of the East couldn’t understand as they flew out of sight. 

On the way to her bedroom she heard a familiar cry in the air. A smile crept across her face as she knew who was approaching. 

“I was expecting you,” she whispers to herself. The Wicked Witch of the West, flying on her broom, enters through an open window in the hall outside of the East’s bedroom. Without greeting her or paying her much attention the Wicked Witch of the East enters her room, leaving her door open for the West to follow behind her. 

“You were missed at dinner tonight,” the Wicked Witch of the West stated as she entered the bedroom, placing her broom on a bench near the door and removing her gloves. 

“I was? I didn’t think you noticed since I hear you had a special guest at your table?” the Wicked Witch of the East replied, her back still turned away. “Strange she should arrive at the same time as that house that landed on Glinda. I can’t help but wonder if the two may be related?” she asked, as she turned to face the Wicked Witch of the West. 

“I hadn’t considered that.” 

“What’s gotten into you lately? It’s like you’re becoming…Good,” the Wicked Witch of the East questioned, as she looked suspiciously at her friend, wondering if it were possible? 

“Are you insane? I could never turn Good,” the Wicked Witch of the West replied, as she stuck her hand in the pocket of her long cape and touched Glinda’s wand, also wondering herself if it were possible? 

“Of course you couldn’t. You’re much more evil than I am!” she replied, cackling loudly. “Can you imagine? You of all people, becoming Good?” 

“What kept you locked away all night?” the Wicked Witch of the West asked, as she attempted to change the subject, starting to poke around the bedroom as if the answer to her question is hidden there somewhere. 

“I think I came up with a way to reverse your green skin,” the East replies, finally turning towards the West. 

“That so? And I wager those Flying Beasts helped you?” 

“Oh them. You saw them did you? Well, don’t bother yourself with that. I’ve got it all under control,” the East says, trying to assure her long-time friend. 

“Wait a minute,” the West replies, finally realizing what’s going on, “were those the two Munchkins that were kidnapped just the other day? The one everyone in Oz thinks I’m responsible for?” 

“Possibly. But don’t be angry with me. I did it for you. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t do all in my power to help you get rid of that ridiculous green? I’ll bet Glinda never made any attempt like I am doing, to help you?” the East asked, expressing her obvious jealousy, which has served to cloud her judgement. 

“She said no one can reverse this but me.” 

The Wicked Witch of the East cackled loudly, which echoed throughout the castle, and out into the wet marshlands. Her cackle carried on the wind, through the trees, and the thick forests, till it emerged and died away back at the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. 

[Symbol] 

The cries of dozens of angry Munchkins attempting to climb the wrought iron gates just outside of the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle is all Toto can hear as Dorothy is trying to calm her poor yelping dog down. 

“Can you please do something about that thing?” the Scarecrow pleaded, looking up from his book long enough to scowl at Toto. “If those Munchkins figure out a way to climb over that gate and storm the castle, my book here says they have impeccable hearing. They’ll hear that sound it is making and find us straight away.” 

“I’m trying to quiet him. Perhaps if there were someplace we could hide where we couldn’t hear the horrid screams?” Dorothy pleaded, looking around at the Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow, hoping one of them would know where to go. 

“Follow me,” the Tin Woodman instructed as he quickly led us out of the Wicked Witches laboratory and down a long corridor Dorothy doesn’t ever remember seeing before. After what seemed like ages of walking he finally stopped in front of a large metal door. “Do you mind?” he asked us. We all turned away from him slowly as he extracted a key from a hidden compartment in his metal arm and proceeded to shove the door open. 

Hearing his huffing and puffing the Lion sprang into action and assisted in opening the heavy door just enough for them all to enter, before forcing it closed again. The five of them found themselves surrounded in complete darkness and silence. All they could hear was the sound of their own breathing and of metal clanking against the stone ground. Within moments a light appeared before them, blinding them all except the Tin Woodman who was standing holding a torch he lit at the far end of the room. He walked along the perimeter of the room, lighting a torch every few feet away till he was back where he started and the room they all stood in was now completely illuminated. 

“Who do all these books belong to?” the Scarecrow asked, dropping the book he was holding and looking around him in awe at the row upon row of shelves filled with books that reached the ceiling. 

“These belong to the Witch. She used to love to read. Now she just loves to be Wicked,” the Tin Woodman answered. “She forgot about this room, but I have not. All the nights we spent here—,” he started, but stopped when he realized the company he was just baring his soul to might not be the best. 

“You and the Witch?” the Lion asked, grabbing his stomach and letting out a laugh loud enough to rattle some of the books on the shelves. 

“Sh! You’re disturbing the books!” the Scarecrow exclaimed in the loudest whisper he could muster. “Besides, everyone knows the Witch was in love with him, until he went and absconded with her best friend.” 

The Lion’s eyes went wide as the Tin Woodman took one step towards the Scarecrow, raising his arm as if to strike him, but upon seeing his reflection in the metal he suddenly slumped his shoulders in defeat, and sat down gruffly in a chair near him. He put his head in his hands and suddenly began to weep. 

“Tin Woodman, why are you crying?” Dorothy asked, putting a calmer Toto down so she could comfort the Tin Woodman. 

“I still love her you know,” he replied, looking up at her with bloodshot eyes. 

“How could you love her? She’s the one who’s done this to you. Turning you into some man made of tin,” the Scarecrow tried to reason. “It simply isn’t logical.” He picks up the book be dropped and proceeds to scan the shelves ignoring Dorothy sucking her teeth at him. 

“Don’t listen to him. He’s too busy with his nose in books to know anything about feelings. Why is the Witch making you chop yourself up into pieces? She seems really nice.” The Scarecrow chuckles to himself at her remark but continues to keep his attention on the books. 

“She thinks I cheated on her with the Wicked Witch of the East. But it’s just not true,” he argued, making to grab Dorothy by the arms, but his metal hand stayed frozen open. “Oh bugger.” 

“What’s wrong?” Dorothy asks, staring at his arm which the Tin Woodman is now unable to move at all. 

“It’s rusted from his over exaggerated tears. You’ll find an oil can over there by the fireplace,” the Scarecrow answered, never taking his eyes away from the books. A smile crept across his face as he eyed one book in particular which filled him with instant joy. He looked around him to make sure no one was watching and his gingerly removed it from the shelf. The Lion and Dorothy were too busy tending to the Tin Woodman to notice what the Scarecrow was up to. 

“There, that should do it,” the Lion said, as he finished applying oil to the fingers, wrist and elbow of the Tin Woodman. 

“Thank you,” the Tin Woodman replied as he flexed his fingers, wrist and arm, checking to make sure he was no longer rusted over. 

“It must be awful. Never knowing if the next time you drop your axe it’ll chop off another arm, leg or worse, you’re head!” 

“I'm ready for any casualty,” the Tin Woodman replied, tapping his metal leg. 

“Yes, we see you are. But I think the question on everyone's mind is why? Surely you can't be suggesting to us you're allowing yourself to be ruled by an emotion? They can never be relied upon. Making strong people weak and smart people angry.” 

“Angry? That doesn't make any sense,” Dorothy said, pondering his last words. “Why should emotions make smart people angry?” 

“Because a smart person doesn't know how to process feelings. There is no logic, no equation.” 

“But without emotion how would you know you were happy? Even smart people need happiness Scarecrow,” Dorothy replied, gently closing the book he currently has his nose in and placing it on a nearby shelf. “Why not try paying attention to those around you for a while?” 

“Children should be seen and not heard. I read that some place once. Now I know what was meant by the statement,” the Scarecrow scowled, taking the book back off the shelf and going back to reading. 

“You’re ridiculous!” Dorothy replied. “Emotions can't be ignored or reasoned. They can only be felt. You keep on ignoring them and you'll  be sorry.” 

The Lion began to laugh loudly as he stretched himself out on a musty old couch, sending dust up in the air, causing him to cough erratically. 

“Something funny?” the Tin Woodman asked as he peeked through a heavy curtain at one end of the room, down at the courtyard. The Munchkins are attempting to build a human ladder, but lack of a leader they are willing to listen to, like Glinda if she were alive, their efforts result in Munchkins falling on top of each other over and over again. 

“Just listen to the two of you. One crying and the other defending feelings. The Scarecrow has it right. Feelings are for the weak and spineless. You won’t catch me acknowledging feelings or emotions. They have no place in the life of a Mighty Lion such as myself.” 

“I think you would do better to— 

Suddenly, a blast so loud it shakes the castle is heard. The Tin Woodman’s eyes bulge at the sight. Dorothy hid herself by the Lion who sprang from the couch, ready for whatever would come next. 

“Those damn Munchkins blew the gate wide open. Looks like they're being led by a man in a white coat. We must leave. Now!” Without stopping to ask questions Dorothy picks up Toto, the Scarecrow reluctantly puts down the book he was reading, and the Lion takes up the rear. As they leave the way they came the Lion peeks through the partly opened curtain and notices two figures with rather pointy hats flying side-by-side. 

[Symbol] 

Both Wicked Witches flew in circles over the Munchkins who were now climbing over the gate they blew open with one of Hagar’s explosive experiments. 

“I’ll handle them. You go tend to your guests. Honestly, you'd think the Munchkins were turning Wicked like you and I? Next thing you know you'll be turning Good!” the Wicked Witch of the East replied as she started a fast descent down to the Munchkins. 

The Wicked Witch of the West flew up to the highest windows of her castle, then flying circles around it she descended, peering through each window she passed till she found what she was looking for. The Lion, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, Dorothy and her tiny companion were running down a long flight of stairs that would lead them to the bottom and out the back door of the castle. She decided not to stop them and instead landed by the door she knew they would soon emerge from. 

After several minutes they all burst through the door, the Scarecrow in the lead, slamming into the Witch, causing a chain reaction of abrupt stops all the way to the Lion. 

“What in Oz is going on around here? I come back to find Munchkins blasting their way into my castle. The East says it’s not in their nature and I agree with her. Things haven’t been the same since Glinda died and you showed up,” the Wicked Witch of the West replied, looking over at Dorothy who is trying her best to not look guilty of anything. 

“Perhaps you are correct to question this child’s sudden appearance here and its connection to sudden Munchkin uprising, but might I suggest we continue this line of questioning in a more secure location?” the Tin Woodman asked, never looking the Wicked Witch in the eyes. 

“I’m sure the Wizard will know what’s going on.” 

“Excellent Idea!” the Wicked Witch replied. Everyone looked at her suspiciously. A Wicked Witch has never been known for being cheerful or excited about anything that didn’t involve the pain and suffering of others. Even she stopped momentarily, thinking to herself that perhaps something is seriously happening to her on the inside. “I’ll lead the way,” she said, turning to walk towards a path near where they all stood. She reached into the pocket of her cloak to feel for Glinda’s wand. A smile appeared on her face, something she hadn’t remembered doing since the time’s she spent with the Tin Woodman. She touched her face with the same hand she was just holding the Wand with and noticed her palm wasn’t green anymore. Shoving it back inside her cloak so the others can’t see it she marched onward as they all followed behind her. 

The Wicked Witch of the East, spying on the scene below, disappears from the Munchkins who have since broken down the castle door and are now storming the castle, in order to summon the two Monkey’s she finished creating earlier. They both reluctantly arrive. She tells them to follow Dorothy and report back to her whatever happens. As they fly away, talking frantically in their own language she doesn’t understand, she eyes them suspiciously. 

They both still aren’t the best at flying, although it has improved since they were pushed out of a window in the castle, but their landing isn’t something they’ve quite mastered yet. As they see Dorothy they both attempt to land near her, but instead end up rolling end over end, knocking into her and all the rest till everyone, except for the Wicked Witch of the West, are on the floor. 

“Ouch! What was that?” Dorothy asked, rubbing her head, which hit the ground hard, as she squints her eyes, looking around her. Suddenly, a pair of tiny yellow eyes are staring right at her and she screams. Everyone turns in her direction, nursing their own wounds and looking around for the cause. The Wicked Witch walks up to the Monkey staring Dorothy down, grabs it by the neck and yanks it away from her. 

“Who are you and what do you want?” she asks it. “More importantly, what are you?” 

“That thing looks like a Monkey with wings,” the Scarecrow replies, sounding most intrigued by what he is looking at. “Fascinating. Do. You. Speak. English?” 

“Why are you yelling like that? It doesn’t look hard of hearing or of understanding,” the Tin Woodman replied, coming to the aid of a creature he sympathized with rather quickly. “I’m sure it didn’t ask to be turned into a Monkey with wings. Did you?” 

The Monkey shakes its head as the Wicked Witch puts it down. The Lion, in disbelief at seeing the Witch let free the winged creature steps up to it rather forcefully. 

“She may have let her guard down, but I have not. What do you want? Who sent you? The Munchkins?” 

The Monkey shakes its head as it looks over the Lions shoulder, beckoning to someone behind him to come forward out of the shadows. Creeping slowly forward is the other Monkey. Upon seeing him everyone looks up to the sky, expecting more of them to come flying down at any moment. The two Monkey’s begin to talk to each other in a language no one can understand, flailing their arms and shouting back and forth. 

“Enough! What is it you want? We can’t stand around here all night waiting to hear whatever you two came here to say,” the Wicked Witch shouted, shocking the two Monkey’s into silence. Finally, the one who was hiding in the shadows steps up to Dorothy and speaks slowly, but clearly. 

“We are Munchkin. Turned by the Wicked Witch of the East.” He shakes his head, unable to speak anymore in English. The effect of being turned into a Monkey is rapidly taking hold. He looks over at his companion. 

“She no like you. She will keel you fast. Go home. Now,” the other Monkey managed to say before he stopped speaking as well.  

“That’s impossible. I don’t believe it. Why would the Wicked Witch of the East kidnap her own people and turn them into Flying Monkey’s? It’s illogical,” the Wicked Witch of the West replied. 

“Since when has anything a Wicked’s done been logical?” the Tin Woodman questioned. The Wicked Witch turned to him in anger, looking straight into his eyes for the first time since she put the curse on him and her heart, an organ she hadn’t felt in years, began to ache. As a tear began to form in one of her eyes she turned away. “Let’s continue on to the Wizard of Oz. If what they say is true surely he will know it and have an answer.” 

“But how will we find our way in the dark?” Dorothy asked. 

“Silly girl. By following the Yellow Brick Road of course.” 

[Symbol] 

The Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Dorothy, Toto, the two Flying Monkey’s and the Wicked Witch of the West finally arrive in the Emerald City by day break, having walked along the Yellow Brick Road all night without stopping. They are immediately ushered inside by a disheveled man who, upon seeing them approaching the gated entrance to the Wizard of Oz’s castle, ran all the way to greet them. 

“Please, come in, come in. The Wizard has been expecting all of you.” 

“All of us? But how could he know—,” Dorothy began to ask but was cut off by the strange looking man. 

“The Wizard of Oz knows all and sees all. That’s why he’s called “The Great and Powerful.” Or hadn’t you heard? Come this way. We are preparing the hall for the Purple Party happening later this evening so please mind your step and stay close. Wouldn’t want you getting lost,” he continued as he marched them on, with purpose, through a large banquet hall. The ceiling was several stories high and all along the tops were people hanging dark shades of purple along the walls, covering up the bright yellow underneath. 

“Does the Wizard like the color purple?” Upon hearing Dorothy’s question a nearby maid dropped a serving tray containing several Champaign flutes containing a purple liquid, to the floor with a crash, shattering them all. Everyone in the hall stops working. 

“When in Emerald City you only ask the Wizard a question. Also, you never ask what his favorite color is. It’s common knowledge the Wizard loves all colors. It’s just a matter of what color he feels like celebrating today. Now please, follow me, and try not to ask any more questions.” 

The group walk quickly to catch up the him as he opens a large door at the other end of the Hall. He steps aside as they all file inside. 

“A word of advice young lady. Wait till you are spoken to. You’ll find you get further if you do. Oh, and Welcome to Emerald City everyone. Don’t come again,” he says, this time looking directly at the Wicked Witch with a hint of disgust in his tone, before leaving, closing the door behind him. 

“Step forward,” a loud and booming voice speaks from the opposite end of the room, making everyone jump, including the Lion who hasn’t shown a hint of fear till now. Dorothy takes a step forward in the semi-darkness, towards the sound of the voice. “Not you. Her,” the voice continued. Dorothy turned and looked at the Wicked Witch with a smile on her face. The Witch squared her shoulders and putting her hands in the pockets of her cloak, feeling for Glinda’s wand, she walks forward, without fear. 

“Wizard, I am not the one who seeks your help. It’s the stranger here—.” 

“Silence. You will tell me what she desires most. She is a stranger here. I only speak to Ozians.” 

“She wants to go home…,” she says, trailing off as more light comes on in the room they are all occupying, in the form of balls of fire contained in what appear to be eye sockets on an enormously shaped metal face. 

“If that is what she wants why have you brought her here?” the Wizard of Oz asks. 

“Why? So you can send her home of course.” 

“You of all people know I cannot send her home. You of all people must know the one and only way she can go home? So I ask my question again, WHY ARE YOU HERE?” His eyes grow brighter with flames flickering so wildly they almost reach out and touch the Wicked Witch, who is forced to take several steps back. 

“I’m afraid I do not know what you mean,” the Wicked Witch replies. 

“I know what he means,” the Scarecrow says out loud, quickly covering his mouth, shocked that he spoke out of turn. 

“Well, if it isn’t the smarty pants Scarecrow. Do tell us all what I mean? Perhaps it will jog this Wicked’s memory.” 

“I’ve heard rumors of the magic contained within the Wicked Witch of the East’s shoes. It is said, whoever wears them can have whatever they wish for.” 

“Well done Scarecrow. Turns out listening can be a useful tool sometimes. Do you deny his statement Wicked?” the Wizard of Oz asked. 

“No…,” her voice trailed off again. The wheels in her mind turning as she realizes what the Scarecrow said is true. All this time her friend had the answer but never said anything. “But wait, she can’t even take those shoes off. I remember her telling me how annoying it was to be cursed to wear those shoes for all eternity.” The Wicked Witch seemed rather pleased with herself. She’s stumped the Great and Powerful Oz. Beat him at his own game. 

“Ah good. That means you know what must be done then?” Everyone except Dorothy gasps. 

“What? What is it that must be done?” Dorothy asked, looking around at everyone who are looking to the Wicked Witch of the West. 

“The Wicked Witch of the East must die.” 

“NO! That can’t be right. I won’t be responsible for another death. There has to be another way,” Dorothy pleaded. 

“There isn’t,” the Lion replied. “I’ll do it. I’ve taken life before. Another won’t matter much to me.” 

“No! It has to be her or Dorothy cannot leave Oz,” the Wizard commands. The Wicked Witch locks eyes with the Tin Woodman and for the first time sees what she has done. A tear falls down her cheek, leaving a streak that clears away the green on her face, leaving behind the color of her former skin. She wipes it away quickly, removing the green from half her face. 

“He’s right child. Stay here. You shouldn’t see what I am about to do,” the Wicked Witch says as she prepares to leave. 

“Look at your hands,” Dorothy said. The Wicked Witch looked at both her hands to see they are no longer green. “Your face has changed too!” 

“How can this be?” the Wicked Witch asks, turning back towards the Wizard of Oz. “I’m Wicked.” 

“You are only as Wicked as your deeds. Also, I think you’ll find that wand helped,” the Wizard replied as the Witch removed Glinda’s wand from inside her robe. 

“I wondered what that was when I saw it at dinner,” Dorothy replied. “It must have allowed you to feel again.” 

“Now what? If I’m no longer Wicked I can’t defeat the Wicked Witch of the East.” 

“Of course you can. You’ve got something she could never hope to have,” the Tin Woodman said, walking up to her and taking hold of her free hand. “You’ve got love. And the Good Witch’s wand. I’m sure it must be more powerful than anything a Wicked can throw at it.” 

“Yes, but only if a Good Witch is wielding it. I’m not a Good Witch.” 

“You are if you believe you are. I believe you are Good. I’ve always believed it. Now it’s time you believed it too.” 

The Tin Woodman squeezed the Witch of the West’s hand tightly and she squeezed back before turning to give Dorothy one last nod of assurance that she would do what needed to be done, and quickly left the room. As she walked down the long banquet hall she pulled out her broom and with the wand firmly held in her hand she took flight, leaving Emerald City behind. 

[Symbol] 

“Do you really think she’s suddenly Good enough to handle that Wand, kill the Wicked Witch of the East, and return with those silver slippers, so Dorothy can return home?” the Lion asked as he chomped down on a large plate of food placed before him. While they all waited for the inevitable return of the Witch of the West, the Wizard of Oz had a table, chairs, and plenty of food prepared for his guests. 

Before the Tin Woodman could answer the doors burst open to reveal the Witch of the West standing in the doorway battered and bruised. In one hand, she is clutching the wand, in the other a pair of silver slippers. Everyone stands from the table immediately. The Tin Woodman rushes to her side and grabs her around the waist before she collapses, and leads her to a chair by Dorothy. 

“I told you I’d do what needed to be done,” the Witch of the West replied, placing the shoes on the floor in front of Dorothy. “Put them on, tap three times and repeat ‘There’s no place like home.’” 

“Thank you, Good Witch of the West,” Dorothy said, winking at her. The Good Witch smiled weakly and winked back. Dorothy quickly took off her shoe and put on the silver ones which fit perfectly. “Are you sure all I have to do is tap three times and say those words? Seems too Good to be true.” 

“Trust me child, nothing is ever too Good to be true,” the Witch of the West said as she reached up and touched the metal hand of the Tin Woodman who was resting it on her shoulder. 

“Lion, thank you for coming to my rescue. Scarecrow, see all you could have missed if you kept your nose in a book the whole time? Tin Woodman, take care of her. And if she ever puts a curse on you again, do yourself a favor and don’t stick around till you fall to pieces,” Dorothy said to all her friends. 

“You better leave quickly. Before she perished the Wicked Witch of the East was sure to tell the Munchkins where you were. I’m new at this whole Good thing so it will take some time for me to reverse the effects of losing Glinda. I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold them off.” 

Dorothy nods her understanding to the Good Witch of the West and gives her a big hug, which the Witch returns warmly. Then Dorothy steps back from them all, picks up Toto in her arms, and closing her eyes tightly taps her shoes together three times… 

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” 

[Symbol] 

“Dorothy honey, wake up! Dorothy! Henry, I can’t wake her,” Aunt Em shouted to her husband with worry in her voice. 

“Step aside dear, let me see what I can do,” Uncle Henry replied, replacing his wife in the chair next to his niece’s bed. He looked back over his shoulder at his wife cautiously as he leaned forward slightly, and in one swift motion, lightly smacked Dorothy’s cheek. “Dorothy child, now get up this instant. You’re worrying your poor Aunt Em to death with your murmurings.” 

The shock of his smack woke Dorothy instantly. Her eyes shooting open and darting around the room, unsure of her current surroundings. 

“Toto, where’s Toto?” she asked, looking all around. Suddenly, Toto came barking into her room and jumped up onto her bed, licking all over her face. “Yes boy, I know. It was quite an adventure, wasn’t it?” Uncle Henry and Aunt Em give each other a worried look. 

“You must’ve had quite a nightmare. Your Aunt Em never left your side, monitoring you as you tossed and turned and said some of the strangest things. But it looks like she’s all better dear. Nothing more to worry about. Now maybe we can all get some sleep around here?” Uncle Henry asked rhetorically as he left his wife to finish tending to Dorothy. 

“A nightmare? No Aunt Em, it wasn’t a nightmare I had I assure you. It was real. I was in the Land of Oz and—.” 

“Yes honey, I’m sure it seemed real. But I assure you, I kept my eyes on you ever since you went to bed a fort night ago and never woke up. Even had old Doctor Tibbs around to check on you. He said you came down with a fever but would soon fight it off on your own. And fight you did. But you’ve always taken after your mother. Now rest child. Your Uncle will be expecting you to help him around the farm starting tomorrow. There’s a lot that’s gone undone since you took ill,” Aunt Em continued, not letting Dorothy get a word in, as she pats her on the head and walked out of her bedroom, leaving her alone with Toto. 

“At least you believe me don’t you boy?” she asked Toto, throwing off her blanket to get up out of bed. She stood at her window with Toto at her feet wagging his tail and panting excitedly as Dorothy put her hands in the pockets of the dress she was wearing. In one of the pockets she felt a folded piece of paper that she pulled out quickly. A smile crept across her face as she read its contents: 

the good witch of the west 

As soon as the stranger arrived we at the Oz Gazette knew there was something just not right about her. There have been too many questions and not enough answers to go around. But we here at the Gazette never let our faithful readers down. Therefore, we are proud to present to you the facts as we’ve come to learn them from a very reliable and reformed Wicked source. 

We hold no blame and cast no stones to the Girl known to us only as Dorothy, and her furry companion, for dropping their house on our dearly beloved Glinda the Good Witch. As it turns out all terrible things happen sometimes for Good reasons.  

The culprit responsible for kidnapping the Munchkins, the late Wicked Witch of the East, was dealt with and we have been promised she met with a rather Wicked end. As for the result of the kidnappings, we at the Gazette are afraid to inform you, our dear brothers and sisters will forever remain Monkeys who fly. As we have been told there is no reversing the Wicked curse placed upon them. 

The Wizard of Oz has mysteriously disappeared. Leaving many, not just in Munchkin Land, but all throughout the Land of Oz, wondering what will happen now? Who will take over? If these events took place before we lost our beloved Glinda the Good Witch we all know, without question, she would rightfully assume the throne and no one would have anything to say against it. But fear not, although she is gone her Goodness, it turns out, remained. The Former Wicked Witch of the West, it seems, has miraculously shed her green skin and through the good deeds she managed to do for not only Dorothy, a perfect stranger, but the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, she has permanently become Good. 

We here at the Gazette wish her the best of luck as she has a most difficult job to do. Righting the long list of wrongs the Wicked Witch of the East left in her wake, finding the Wizard of Oz, and maintaining peace throughout the Land from those who think the throne is in a state of weakness and can be easily overthrown. 

That just leaves one unanswered question: Where is Dorothy and will she return to help her friends? 

THE END 

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