The Fairground

This is part of a writing challenge I gave myself a while ago, but never got around to finishing. I must use five random words in the first sentence, and then see where it goes from there. If you want to see another example of this, check this out. Deb, unless I get some of these stories from you, I’m putting you in the next one. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this piece, The Fairground.

Carly had spent all of last summer standing at the entrance to the local fairgrounds, checking the tickets of the everchanging homeowners and parents and children that desired admittance to the grounds, frequently lapsing into daydreams of gunshots and adventure and excitement, before being awoken by the small bladder of the poodle the fat old woman was bringing in with her. And she had really liked those shoes, too. Oh, the things she did to pay for college. In fact, that was why she was at the fairgrounds, again. Through the entire school year, she had been hoping, praying, that she would find something that would make it unnecessary to return but, like that nerdy boy that likes you, but you hate, and your parents find cute, she had had to say yes to their offer of employment.

The fairground itself was run by Smiles. His other name was Mr. Boss Man. What his name was really depended on the day. If it was dark and cloudy, or if there were a lot of rude people around, or children of any sort, he was Mr. Boss Man. If it was bright and sunny, and less people – once in a blue moon – then he was Smiles. Carly considered it very important to check each morning to see which one he responded do better. She really didn’t want to face his sonic boom of a voice.

There were several other members of staff present. Most of them were around Carly’s age, and insisted on being known by their first name. The rest were permanent members who worked directly with Mr. Boss Man in managing the fairgrounds – everyone else was relegated to the boring, menial tasks of admitting guests, cleaning up after guests, directing confused guests, and telling guests that no, that was not the proper place to set up the tent and yes, they would need to move it. Sometimes it was like being a walking manual.

Now, there were several means of escape one could employ for this work. One of the major ones, reading, was only used by newbies who didn’t know they would have neither the time, nor the comfortable seat, to sit down and read for even ten minutes uninterrupted. This also went for puzzles, like Sudoku and the Crossword. The only real form of escape was witty banter with the fellow workers. Of course, this was rather hit or miss. Last year, there had been a pair of girls who had hit it off immediately, spending their time on hair, gossip, and discussing relationships – you know, the sort of things that make one seem little more than a mouth. Carly had no patience for them, or for the nerd who had joined just for the Renaissance festivals that met every few weeks. She really hadn’t had anyone to talk to last year, so it pleased her that her friend Ray had joined the team for the coming summer. Now she would have someone to suffer with.

Come the first day of her summer work, she rose at the break of dawn, munching on cold, chocolate cereal before heading off to the fairgrounds. There, Smiles liked to begin each day with The Speech. The Speech was essentially the news bulletin for the day, where Smiles told them who would be there and what to expect. Oh, and then there was the motivational part at the end, but Carly never listened to that. She just pumped her fist when everyone else in the team did. Briefly, she glanced over at Ray, who seemed excited by the prospects of the day.

“This is not going to be a good day,” Carly told her friend.

“Why not?”

“Just watch the parking lot.”

The parking lot was the easiest measure of how intense the day would be. Granted, some signs could be divulged from whatever those who had rented the fairgrounds were assembling. Carnivals and Renaissance festivals, however odd Carly might find them, always attracted large numbers of people. For these days, the parking lots filled up fast, sometimes even by dawn. For other events, though, the parking lot was largely empty, and the work light. But today was not one of those days.

No, today was an infinity line day. Carly hadn’t learned in Geometry that a line is a segment that extends to infinity; no, she had learned that here at the fairgrounds. Primarily by being the person checking them all in. After an hour, she wasn’t sure which hurt more, her legs or her mouth. She didn’t think people were meant to stand and smile for such a long time. And she had hardly dented the line.

That being said, she could have danced when it came time for lunch break. She met up with Ray, and together they got their lunches from their cars, sitting at messy benches while discussing their day. Ray went on and on about their work, about roaming around the fairgrounds picking up trash. Carly had to agree that that was one of the worst jobs to be assigned. She remembered clearly from last summer, noticing all sorts of trash, from the infinitesimally small to the kind that’s so large, you starts wondering if you’re at a convention for blind people. Or maybe Apathetics Anonymous. But would apathetic people even have a group, since the whole point of being apathetic was to not join any groups and just lay around all day, uncaring?

After lunch, the two of them were on trash rounds for about an hour before they were at last released. Finally! Freedom! When Smiles announced that they could leave, Carly let out a call that would have made William Wallace jealous. After bidding her friend goodbye, she raced home, celebratory music blasting out of the stereo, the glass somehow unshattered by the volume and intensity. Then, at home, she checked off her calendar for the day. Work was over.

One day down, sixty-nine to go. Well, not counting days off.

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The Preparations – Part 6 of 7

Good day all! I hope you’re all ready for the penultimate part of this series. However, if you missed last week, you can find it here, or better yet, you read the first installment here. I hope you enjoy this!

Kevin and Amanda sat down on a white sofa in the dimly lit room, across from an old man in a green rocking chair. After staring at them for several minutes, he began to speak.

“Well, you’re probably wondering who I am and how I know about your secret. I am Alban Jager. I’ve been around you werewolves for a very long time, tracking them down. You could say I’m a wolf hunter.

“I’ve been tracking down one particular wolf for some time. However, he slipped past me a few months ago, and came down here. I only arrived a few weeks ago, and was rather pleased to see him dead. He wasn’t a particularly good werewolf.

“However, then I found out he had attacked several people, of which you were one of the poor souls. This is a huge problem, though. Usually, there is only one werewolf at a time, but here there is an entire pack. I fear that, given enough time, you may all manage to convert the entire city. We must find a way to stop that.”

“Is there some kind of cure?” asked Amanda, leaning forward.

The white-haired man pursed his lips, but did not answer. “Ordinarily, I would hunt them all down one by one, but there seem to be far too many werewolves now for that.”

“Surely you’re not thinking of killing them all?” Kevin said.

“Of course!”

“But isn’t there another way?” asked Amanda plaintively. “Is there no other way?”

Jager rose from his chair, walking over to the copper sink.

“There may be a way,” he said quietly.

“Tell us!”

“There is a legend of a mixture, a concoction, a potion, that, when ingested, will cure such an affliction as lycanthropy.”

“Will it work?”

“I don’t know. No one in living memory has ever used it.”

“Why not?”

“Because it requires two very important, very rare things: an access to precious metals, and the werewolf’s blood.”

“I see.”

“Can you teach us to make this thing?” Kevin asked.

“I will help you, yes,” replied the old man. “But I make no promises about it at all.”

“That’s alright. It’s just…killing is our last resort.”

Jager pursed his lips. Kevin wasn’t sure if it was a frown or a smile. Either way, the old man disappeared from the room, coming back moments later with a very old, very large book in his hands. Sitting down in his green chair again, he opened it, carefully turning the ancient pages, until he came to the place he wanted. Kevin watched him as he read to himself, wondering what this potion would require besides his blood.

“I see,” Jager said at last, looking up. “It will take until the next full moon for it to finish.”

“Well then, we should begin at once!” replied Kevin.

Although the concoction required a month to brew, that didn’t mean that they needed to work on it every day. Especially since some of the materials were so hard to come by. Honestly, who just carries mercury around? And yet that element was vital to the first step of the process.

Here, they were required to dissolve small amounts six other metals in the mercury: lead, tin, silver, iron, copper, and gold, in that order, before adding in organic compounds that Kevin hoped would ease the potential toxicity of the metals. Then they let that sit for about three days.

In the meantime, while not spending time with Jager creating this cure, Kevin talked with Stephen and Amanda and the other werewolves, largely about getting their blood. The new ones, especially Darla, were suddenly taking him very seriously.

“It was awful,” she told Kevin one day shortly after the full moon. “I mean, it was like a dream, and I had no control over my actions, but…I killed people. Am I a murderer?”

“No, you’re not,” he consoled her. “Don’t blame yourself for it. Just try to not do any damage, or at least minimize it.”

“How?”

“Well, I went out into the woods and hunted deer.” He leaned in close to her. “But there may be a cure.”

As he had expected, the werewolves ultimately fell into one of three camps: the first were with Brandon and Riley, who didn’t care for it at all; the second would have had a common mind with Kuro, in that they saw a use for their “gift”, although they weren’t loath to a cure; the last sentimentalized with Kevin in finding a cure as quickly as possible and, if it failed, finding a way to minimize the killings. Most of the new generation, Kevin was pleased to learn, were part of this last group, and gladly gave their time to helping create the concoction, whether they believed it would work or no.

“It’s always worth a shot,” one older werewolf said.

As it was, the cure itself was hardly a problem worth worrying over. With several people helping out, including Kevin, Amanda, Stephen, Darla, Jager, and the other werewolves siding with them, the work went smoothly and quickly. After the new moon, the first phase was complete, and they began the second, dissolving portions of the concoction in pure water.

No, the real issue was talking with Brandon and Riley’s group. It felt like last month all over again. They wanted nothing to do with him, after what had happened last transformation, so he was relegated to sending over some of the new generation to spy on them. Brandon and Riley wanted nothing to do with the cure either, figuring last full moon to have been a waste, and desiring to once again wreak havoc on the city.

It seemed to Kevin that the only way to get their blood would be to force it out of them. He really doubted he could do that as a person, but feared drawing blood from them as a wolf after the death of Kuro. However, the more he thought about it, the more, once again, it seemed the best option. The problem was that, this time, Brandon and Riley wouldn’t come unless they had a good reason to – namely, to kill someone. Now, Kevin could provide himself as that someone, but he alone wasn’t enough to differ their attentions. He would need others. Perhaps they would have to use that party strategy Kuro had come up with anyway.

By a week before the full moon, the mixture had entered the third phase. Now they had begun cooking it slowly over a fire. Kevin watched Amanda in Jager’s house as she stirred the mixture in its container. During the first phase, it had taken on a black color. During the next phase, it had been white. Now, it was pink, and seemed to be growing even more red.

“It looks good,” said Jager, strolling over to investigate it. “Just a week more, add the blood and a little more heat, and we should be golden.”

“You mean it should be gold in color?” Amanda asked.

“No, it’ll be red. I mean it will be finished and ready for consumption.”

Amanda turned back to the mixture.

“So have you figured out how you’re going to cure Brandon’s gang?”

“Yes, I think so. You remember Kuro’s idea?”

“Don’t you dare think of it.”

“Brandon and Riley will only come if they think they can kill people,” Kevin pointed out. “It’s the only way – since they’d never come just for me.”

“Are you going to sacrifice yourself?”

Kevin didn’t answer. He merely looked out of the window, toward the horizon, where the black night and the red sunset collided. He wasn’t quite sure sacrifice was the way to put what he was planning. He was planning to live, to be cured. But he had no idea what would happen. He was just certain that it would be his last night as a werewolf.

Part 7 here.

Miranda

Before I begin this, I’d like to thank Ashley Jackson and Steven DeVries, who ultimately gave me the idea for this. I hope they find that I’m totally not ripping off their ideas. But anyway, I hope they, and you, enjoy this piece of romantic humor.

David lived in GaGa City. At least, that’s what all his friends told him. 1069 Love Street, GaGa City, in the State of Distraction. David had no idea what they were talking about. He wasn’t too keen on geography, but he fancied he knew enough to know there weren’t any states in the US named “Distraction”. Anyway, he had always thought that he was from Missouri.

Of course, geography really didn’t matter. There were only two locations in the world that mattered: The House of Miranda, and Miranda’s School. Technically, this was also the school David attended, but his friends would argue that he didn’t so much attend there, as be there in bodily form, like a zombie or possessed person who’s spirit is far away. And, naturally, Miranda was his necromancer.

Miranda was a goddess in human form. She had flowing brown hair that, every time it swished through the air, it took away David’s breath. Her eyes were like looking deep into the horizon, bright blue and serenely beautiful. Her lips had kissed roses, and her smile shattered David’s mind every time he caught a glimpse of it. She had a body – well, he wasn’t going to go there. It was too pure, too virtuous to describe.

For some time, David had viewed Miranda from afar, watching her and her attendants walking through the hallways, staring at the beautiful back of her head when they shared classes, all while writing her lovely name in his notebook in his best cursive, enshrining her name with pencil and ink.

When he was home, he wrote poetry, played his guitar, desiring so much to be her minstrel or to be the Orpheus to her Eurydice. If he had to go into the underworld to retrieve Miranda, he would probably fail even worse than that famous poet, not because of his mistrust for Hades, but because he wouldn’t be able to keep an eye off of the beautiful Miranda for even a moment. He had written an entire album of songs for her, but he wasn’t ready to unveil them yet. They must be perfect for his goddess Miranda.

The worst time of the year was summer. That was the only time he didn’t see Miranda on a consistent basis. Sometimes, he would sit in his room for days at a time, agonizing and despairing over the possibility that he might never see her again, because he would have died of starvation from her presence. The best time was the spring, when he had basked in her for so long that he was almost brave enough to ask her out. Not that he had any idea what he would do if she said yes.

However, he had made a deal with himself. He was going to ask her. For Homecoming. Girls couldn’t say no if you asked them out to Homecoming, right? He asked his best friend Alvin about it shortly after school began again.

“If you’re talking about Miranda again, you’ve never even spoken to her!” he said. “I doubt she knows you exist!”

A typical response from the unbeliever. Not that David hated his friend, or thought his friend worth any less for it; his was a message of love.

By the end of September he had picked out a date to ask Miranda. On Fridays, there was a small window of opportunity when, after Miranda’s English Class, she would go to The Locker of Miranda and exchange her books for the next class. None of the Priestesses of Miranda would be there, and he could ask her in total privacy.

Finally, after weeks of talking to himself in his room and reciting notecards on what he would say in front of the mirror, the day arrived. His heart ran faster than a loose chainsaw and those people who loosed it as he watched the clocks in each class tick slowly on. Could time really slow down this much?

But time couldn’t stop, it could only slow down. And, at last, the glorious moment revealed itself. Ten fifty, and the bell rang. David was out of the door, hurrying toward The Locker of Miranda, before reminding himself that he needed to play this cool. He needed his sunglasses. It was a pity that he had forgotten them in his rush to get out the door that morning. He also couldn’t get there before she did – that would be disastrous.

Fortunately, he arrived on time, turning the corner to see her standing before The Locker of Miranda, holding Miranda’s Books, concentrating on opening The Locker. The Locker of Miranda was blue, like most of the other, more common lockers, but it itself was no ordinary locker. It was The Locker of Miranda, and its blue was to the other lockers as marble is to that ugly brown color found in apartment wallpaper.

David approached The Locker of Miranda, unnoticed so far by her Grace, Miranda herself. He was able to get into just the right position, before speaking to grab her attention.

“Hey, Miranda,” he said, carefully reciting the weeks of notecards in front of the bathroom mirror, displaying the face of confidence he had practiced over years for when he would finally speak to her. Now she would turn and, oh, it was beautiful! Her hair swished back over her shoulder as her head turned, her blue eyes making contact with his own, reaching down into his soul and vaporizing any trace of anything we was planning to say next.

His mind went blank in an instant, the pure glory of Miranda’s beauty quickly filling the vacuum and leaving no room for the long-practiced notecards from the bathroom. His heart did a flip – not one of those cool flips one sees freerunners doing, but rather a flip done by a fat kid trying to imitate them in his backyard – before sinking down into his stomach, bringing his jaw down with it.

“Oh, hey,” replied Miranda with a sweet voice that would have made Orpheus jealous. “David, right-”

“Doyawannagotahomecomingwithme?” he blurted out, cutting short the divine Words of Miranda. As soon as they were out of his mouth, he regretted them, and he closed his eyes in contortion and turned, slamming his head into the nearest locker.

“What?” the gentle Voice of Miranda wavered, its divine Mistress unsure of what was happening.

David tried again, more slowly, and more painfully this time.

“Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?”

“Oh.” Her Voice was like pure water cascading over smooth stones. “Oh.”

He stood, waiting for her sentence.

“I don’t know you,” she said. “You’ve always been that kid who never talks and always sits in the back. I’d be more willing to, but I don’t know anything about you.”

She gave him a compassionate look, and then returned to The Books of Miranda, before closing The Locker of Miranda and walking away. David watched her go, his heart melted by her last look, and broken in two by Miranda’s Words. He vaguely heard footsteps behind him.

“Well, I’m impressed!” said Al, putting an arm around David. “You finally asked her out. Don’t worry about this – you still have Valentine’s Day!”

The Battle – Part 5 of 7

Welcome! This is the fifth part to my Werewolf Septology. If you missed the last installment, you can see it here. If you haven’t read any of it, I suggest you start here at the beginning. I hope you enjoy this!

The first order of business was to figure out how to fight Brandon and Riley. Kevin really didn’t want to kill them, a possibility which had entered his mind when he began thinking about putting an end to the carnage, but he was having difficulty with the alternatives. Most of the methods he considered involved death – if not of the lupine axis, then perhaps of their friends or family, to help them understand why it would be wrong to go around killing other people. It would take a miracle to somehow change their perspective on their condition. Kevin had several reasons for his own rejection of his curse, but history has shown that it takes more than reason to effect a conversion.

Nevertheless, he didn’t give up trying to find a solution. He had Amanda and Stephen helping out every step of the way, a boon he appreciated beyond words.

Brandon, Riley, and Tom, their third member, considered his stance on their conditions to be that of a wayward soul that had yet to achieve enlightenment. Why would they want to stop what they were doing when they were having so much fun? They weren’t even interested in the possibility of a cure, a thread that was one of the few reasons Kevin hadn’t fled into hermeticisim yet.

The vigilante, Kuro Okami, proved much more receptive to Kevin’s message. Kevin suspected the reason had to do with whatever had happened at the last full moon, which the vigilante would not discuss. Kuro, though, didn’t want to talk about a cure either, but rather how to take down those malevolent werewolves who had abused their “gift”. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring anything new to the table toward dealing with the other three.

“Look,” Kevin suggested to Amanda one day during lunch. “What if we invite them to party at the full moon in some abandoned shack, Kuro and I could fight them while you and Stephen evacuate everyone else.”

“No! Absolutely not!” she replied vehemently. “I’m not going to be anywhere close to you, or let you be anywhere close to anyone else, after you transform. You said you can’t control yourself then!”

“True, but that’s the best I can think of.”

“You know, you could drive out to the country with them for the full moon,” Stephen suggested.

“I’m rather sure they would see what we were trying to do if we did that,” said Kuro. “I think a party, or even just asking for a meeting on that night would be the only way for us to trap them.”

“But why meet with them during the full moon at all? Couldn’t you confront them on a normal night, when you both have control of yourselves?”

“Because,” replied Kevin. “If we don’t sway them in time, with any luck we’ll end up fighting it out as wolves, stopping them from killing anyone.”

“Additionally,” added Kuro. “This is an ideological battle. Violence is usually the only way to force one’s ideas on another. No one can argue someone to a different position.”

“Still, we have to try.”

“Well, certainly. Otherwise our use of violence is unfounded.”

“Yeah,” said Stephen. “I’m feeling this. Confronting them during the full moon would probably stop unnecessary deaths. But honestly, it still needs to be a last resort, and you two need something else to do in the meantime.”

However, as the days passed and the moon waned, they couldn’t think of something else to do. They still talked to the other trio, but they couldn’t get anywhere, especially when the moon began waxing again – then all the trio could talk about was how much they were anticipating the coming full moon. It didn’t help that Amanda was always asking Kevin if he had figured out how to deal with them.

“No, we haven’t,” he replied for the twelfth time, about a week before the full moon. “And it doesn’t look like we’re going to. We’re going to confront them. We’re setting up a meeting place.”

“Where?”

“An old abandoned factory downtown. But please, don’t think of following us there.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it! It’s your skin I’m worried about!”

Kuro made most of the arrangements. The five of them arrived, the sun low in the sky, the factory black in its long shadow. One by one, they entered, coming into a circle near a window, from where they could see the fading sunlight. It was largely the same as the last time Kevin had been here, though he thought it smelled rather musty.

“So what are we going to do tonight?” asked Riley.

“Try to take over the world!” Brandon laughed.

Kuro glared at him. “We’re here to talk.”

“All we want,” added Kevin. “Is that everyone stay in here for the duration of the night.”

Riley guffawed. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. You realize what we had to postpone to attend your little meeting here?”

“Yes, we do,” replied Kuro. “And that brings us to the point. We want you to end it.”

“End what?” said Brandon. “Being wolves? Killing people? It’s gonna happen whether we like it or not, we might as well make sure we profit from it.”

“But is the profit worth it? Can you even call it profit?”

“We’re targeting people who deserve to die. Idiots and jocks. Isn’t it to everyone’s benefit to kill those people off?”

“Not to the people you killed,” Kevin said. “Or any of the other innocent people who died last month, or will be roaming around this month. What about their families?”

“Come, Tom,” said Kuro, directing his speech at the silent fifth member. “What do you think about all this?”

“Well, you’re all raising some excellent points,” he replied quietly. “But I don’t really know about any of it…”

“Oh, shut up!” snapped Riley. “If you intend to fight us, Kuro, you know you’re going to have to fight us. That’s what werewolves do when they meet each other.”

“Oh, I know. You won’t be moving from this room.” He smiled. “You see, I’ve been pissing in here for the last few days. It’s my territory. And as soon as I transform, I won’t stand for any trespassers. I will crush you all in my iron fist.”

Kevin looked at him in shock. This was taking things to a new extreme. He had never thought of doing something like that. But would it work? And would it mean he would try to fight Kevin if it came down to it? They were about to find out.
Outside, the last vestiges of light had vanished. Now they were in the domain of the moon. Immediately, Kevin felt his scar burst into pain and saw the others reacting as their own began hurting. They fell to the ground, writhing, pain overtaking all their senses. In moments, they had become wolves.

The first thing that came to Kevin’s mind was that odor. It was foreign. Enemy. Someone had marked this as their own, some villain. Around him, four other wolves rose to their feet. Kevin at once identified which one had claimed ownership to this place and was about to leap, before he was superseded by the other three.

Now, he might not have minded that they were after the same wolf he was after. However, he wanted to take down this wolf personally. He growled, and pounced on the smallest of the wolves. It yelped as he slashed its back with his claws, and screamed when he bit the back of its neck. It managed to get out of his grip, and turned on him, bristling fiercely.

He leapt at it, fighting it. They slashed with steel claws and bit with jaws of iron, throwing each other into the ferric machinery around them. But Kevin was the larger and the stronger, and he soon chased the other out of the factory, sending it yipping into the distance.

Now he turned back inside. The other three were engaged in hot contention, the larger two working together against the smaller one, the one who had made claim to the area. Kevin charged into the fight again, selecting one of the larger two as his first target.

This one was much stronger than the coward wolf. Kevin found himself under this wolf’s jaws even more than it was under his, and blood began to cover the ground, though neither was willing to give up or surrender. The fight lasted hours, only ending when, at last, completely exhausted, Kevin ran outside. He collapsed on the concrete outside, but the other wolf didn’t pursue; it was too exhausted to follow him.

When Kevin awoke, he immediately hurried inside the factory. But when he looked in, it made him want to throw up. Brandon and Riley had gone some time before, leaving bloody footprints behind them. They looked like they had both been limping. But that wasn’t what had utterly disgusted Kevin.

He sat in the doorway of the factory, head down, waiting for the sound of tires on gravel to announce Amanda’s arrival. He had to hope she would come, though, since the other werewolves had stolen his phone. It was a dark day, the sky black with coming rain. But he took no notice of them.

He heard that sound he had been waiting for, and then the slam of the car door, followed by hurried feet. Amanda embraced him, barraging him with questions.

“What happened? Are you okay? You look awful! Did it go according to plan? Where’s Kuro?”

“He’s dead,” Kevin said grimly. “Though we did what we set out to do. I suppose that’s something.”

Amanda went inside, but came out quickly when she saw the corpse lying within.

“That’s awful.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What can I do? Keep fighting.”

There was a sudden ringing. Amanda pulled out her phone, confused.

“Who is this?”

“That boy next to you, do you know what he is?” asked the voice.

“Who is this?”

“Someone who wants to help.”

Part 6 here.

The Road to Nikae

This fall, I’ve been taking a course on JRR Tolkien and those works that influenced him. It’s been quite interesting. Especially for a writer, who, whenever he sees something important or symbolic in a story, immediately thinks how he can steal borrow that thing. So I hope you enjoy this piece, fully saturated with Norse myth (among other things).

Lokan Verosten stood at the prow of his warship, looking fiercely to the horizon while his men rowed, trying to overcome the bad weather that hindered their progress. Rain lashed the boat and stormclouds crackled overhead. The wind blew in from all directions, and Lokan could hardly see before him. All that were visible were the shadows of waves and rocks, and even barely enough to navigate these waters.

However, an orange glow suddenly came into view. The ship drew nearer and nearer to it, and soon Lokan could hear a voice as well. There, barely visible even with the glow, stood a man on the barest outcrop of rocks. Lokan immediately ordered his men toward the rock, not willing to let the man either drown or freeze out in the middle of nowhere.

The ship stopped by the rock just long enough for Lokan to stretch his hand out and pull the man aboard. He was old and wizened, his long beard stretching past the lantern he held in one hand. With his one single eye, he stared up at Lokan.

“Thank you for saving me,” he said. “If you could drop me off at the harbor of Nanjiustro, I could show you a way to win glory.”

“Glory is the least of my worries, sir,” replied Lokan. “We’re in treacherous waters now.”

“Well, if you skirt around these two rocks here and continue east, you may find the voyage much easier.”

Lokan swiftly ordered his men to do as the old man had said, and was surprised to find that he spoke truth – their way did become easier. Soon they had left the storm and found themselves with a strong wind from the south, precisely where they wanted it.

“If you go to the port of Higel,” said the old man as they sailed to the port he had mentioned earlier. “You will come to a road through the mountains. This is the road to Nikae. Along the way, there is a tower made from an ash tree, surrounded always by fire. Inside that tower is a woman named Rokina, who was once a Valkyrie, but now waits for the bravest of men to rescue her. If you were to do this, she would prove a most admirable partner for a man’s life.”

“That would indeed win a man glory. I thank you, wise counselor.”

After letting off the old man at Nanjiustro, Lokan immediately set for Higel. Upon arriving there, he said good-bye to his crew and departed along the road, spear in one hand, sword at his side, shield on his back.

The port vanished into the background and the mountains came to dominate his view. He wasn’t yet far into the mountains when, turning a corner, he found his way blocked by a great, swarthy giant. It laughed when it saw him, and it had reason to, being twice his size.

“Who comes?” asked the giant. “Some bookish fellow who, having had enough of his mother’s stories, fantasizes that he can become the heroes his wet-nurse tells him about?”

“I am Lokan Verosten,” replied the warrior. “I seek passage along this road, though I see that your belly is as large as your mouth, which discourages me, for I doubt you could even move yourself from that place.”

“It’s all the better for squashing little soldiers who bandy insults with those clearly their superior!” The giant stomped forward, throwing his fist at Lokan.

The warrior dodged the first blow, and the second, but we was suddenly caught up by the giant’s foot and flew against the rocks. Fortunately, the shield on his back cushioned him some. He was soon on his feet again, spear at the ready.

Again the giant came at him. Punch, punch, kick. Lokan thrust his spear into the giant’s foot, causing it to howl in pain. However, he missed a new punch, which sent him flying back at the rocks. The giant took the spear from his foot, black blood oozing out, snapping the spear as if it were a twig. Lokan eyed the giant carefully, drawing his sword. The giant rushed at him.

This time he did not retaliate, merely dodging the attacks as they came. The giant was now making use of his unwounded foot, as well as both hands. There was a way to win here, he was sure. He just had to learn how to do it.

“Come, you coward!” shouted the giant angrily. “You fight like a doe, always flitting around without making a strike!”

“I think I fight like a wolf,” Lokan said back. “Waiting for the right time to strike!”

The giant missed a punch, and Lokan turned deftly, bringing down his blade over the wrist, severing it. Black blood blasted over the rocks and the sword, and the giant contorted around his missing appendage. Lokan took quick advantage of this moment of weakness and thrust his blade into the giant’s skull. And then the giant’s wailing ceased.

The warrior cleaned off his blade, sheathing it as he looked over the corpse of his enemy. Then he was back on the road, walking onward to the unseen tower.

Coming up on one plateau in an attempt to shorten the winding road, he marveled at the sight at the top, for there, in the center of a lake, stood the tower, surrounded by red flames. Coming toward it, he found that there was a small dock on the lake, where a boat rested and a man stood, staff in hand.

“Who are you?” asked Lokan. “Who should be standing here in sight of yonder tower?”

“I am the guardian of that tower,” replied the man. “And she who inhabits it. I tell you, you shall not set foot on that island until you have defeated my test.”

“Very well. What is this test?”

“I shall give a question and, should you prove unable to answer, you must leave here at once. If you can answer, then you must try to defeat my mind with your own question. If I cannot answer it, then I shall give you passage.”

“This is good. What is your first question?”

“Ever present, yet we cannot see it. Two its masters say we do not see without it.”

“That is yet an easy question. The answer is light.”

“Indeed.”

“Now hear my question, guardian. They say the world will fall to darkness, but I have yet seen a thing that reverses this. For it comes from under the depths, and light is made to shine through this.”

“It is of course a jewel.”

Lokan pursed his lips. “Yes, it is.”

“You must sail with a drummer to keep the time, yet even the best will stop to keep this beat in mind.”

“This is thunder,” replied the warrior after a pause.

“It is. What is your next question?”

“We live by it, with it, and cannot live without it, yet to join it would be suicide.”

“It is water. Perhaps your questions grow easier.”

“I know of another thing that, despite its ubiquity, is utterly deadly. Let our children delight to play in it.”

“You grow yet more elusive, guardian. But I know this answer is snow.”

“You know well.”

They continued with these riddles for some time, each digging deeper into themselves for the next. Yet, at last, Lokan found that he had no more to ask, and could not answer many more.

“It is your turn, warrior. What question do you have next?” spoke the guardian.

A sudden thought came to his mind. “I picked up an old man this day and deposited him at a harbor. Which was it?”

The guardian laughed. “I see you have turned to real tricks to win your way. I cannot answer this. Come, enter my boat.”

Lokan did as he was bid and the guardian stood behind him. He reached down into the water with his staff and pushed, so that the boat began to move gently toward the island. Once there, they stepped out onto the shore.

The tower was tall and made of stone and ash wood, and the wall of flame crackled around it. Lokan could see no break in it, and even circled all the way around the tower to check.

“Behold,” said the guardian when he returned. “See you there eight skeletons, one for each man who crossed here. Some, as you can see, litter the shore, where they died out of cowardice. Others are in the flame where they tried to defeat it. I shall leave you now, only to return if the lady comes out.”

Lokan observed the fire for some time. He could understand how people could wait here until their deaths. The fire was tricky and patternless. He attempted to throw water on it, which subdued a section – but that section quickly roared up again, more violently than before. Lokan smiled. Perhaps the only way to beat the fire would be to meet it head on.

He ran toward it, and leapt through the flames. His clothes were on fire, but he quickly rolled around on the other side, smothering them. He sighed. He had made it. And now he ascended the tower stairs.

At the top was a wide room with a full view of the mountains. To the side was a bed and on this bed lay a woman, as pale and beautiful as Lokan had ever seen. He approached her and touched her cheek. Her eyes flew open, staring into his own.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I am Lokan Verosten,” he replied. “And I’m your rescuer.”

With that, he carried her out. The wall of fire was gone. A raven fluttered from an ashen branch up a nearby mountain, to an old man with one eye, which twinkled as he smiled, and vanished with a swish of his cloak.

Convictions and Conscience – Part 4 of 7

First, a moment to remember a terrible event 11 years ago.

If you haven’t read the previous parts to this story, here is a good place to start. I hope you enjoy this next installment of the series!

She only brought the car. And while Kevin walked down the hill toward her, trying to cover himself with the shredded remains of his clothes, Amanda stared very sternly and very conspicuously at him. He didn’t say a single word the entire car ride, which began with her shouting at him about how dangerous he had been the night before, and ended with her in stern silence, making occasional glances down at him.

“Look, I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I know it was dangerous, but I needed you to believe me. It won’t happen again.”

“It had better not, for your own sake, as well as mine.”

She didn’t stop at her, or even his, house. She drove straight to school. Kevin was beginning to have difficulty telling if she was angry at him for endangering her life, or amused that he was virtually naked. At that continued until she stopped in the school parking lot and got out.

“What about -” he began.

“Just stay in there until Stephen shows up,” she snapped. “I told him to bring clothes.”

Kevin waited for at least ten minutes, all the while trying to avoid the glances of other students arriving in the parking lot, before Stephen showed up.

“Where’ve you been, man?” he asked his friend upon arrival.

“This was when she told me to show up,” Stephen replied. “Are you seriously naked?”

“Yeah. And I’d like not to be.”

Stephen grinned mischievously, handing Kevin a grocery bag through the open window, which contained clothing. Kevin quickly slipped it on, before climbing out of the car.

“Thanks, man.”

“Don’t mention it. It’s the least I could do for my best lupine friend.”

“I’m your only lupine friend. Did Amanda tell you?”

“Yeah. But only when I asked her why she was screaming at me to bring clothes over.”

Kevin smiled, able to picture the scenes in his mind. The two of them entered the school, parting toward their first classes. Almost immediately, Kevin could feel the atmosphere changed from just a few days ago. There was a solemnity hanging in the air, like after the attack that rendered himself lycanthropic. Amanda had told him some people had died, but he hadn’t really given much thought about it until now.

During the morning announcements, the principal had a moment of silence for those killed the night before, and Kevin was able to obtain a spotty list from several people who had seen the news, or else had been friends of the victims. It was like a black cloak had been thrown over the school, muting everything in it.

The attacks really hit home in chemistry, when Kevin realized the girl that had asked him about his shoulder weeks ago was gone due to the attacks.

“Man, you look down,” Stephen told him.

“Any reason I shouldn’t be? These people are lucky that I didn’t join the others in rampaging through town.”

“Others? There are others?”

“Don’t you remember that night? I’ve met four others. Three have made some kind of axis of power, while the fourth’s gone vigilante.”

“That’s crazy.”

“You’re telling me.”

They listened briefly to their teacher talking to them about unusual elements, like mercury, before letting them loose on the lab for the day.

“So is there some kind of cure for this?” asked Stephen.

“I don’t know.” Kevin frowned. “I’ve been looking it up, but none of it’s felt right.”

“Still, it might be worth a shot.”

“The Romans thought that if you exhausted a werewolf, he’d be cured. I did try that one, in gym, but I knew it didn’t work.”

“How so?”

“I kind of have this feelings that, if I were cured, my scar would go away.”

Several minutes later, they turned in the black solution to their teacher. Kevin needed to talk to the other werewolves. Brandon and his group had been enjoying the entire day, though Kevin thought he could feel doubts implemented by their consciences – but that might have just been his own disgust at their blood lust. The vigilante wouldn’t talk at all. Kevin wondered what had happened.

After school, Kevin visited the hospital. He felt connected to them, since he had been in their position only three months ago. He felt obligated to warn them about what might come. He just hoped there were no new bites.

Walking through the white halls, he found the first victim he was visiting to be the girl from chemistry. She lay breathing softly under the white blankets, one arm wrapped in a strong cast, and looked up at him when he entered.

“Hey, Kevin,” she said pleasantly upon his entry. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see you. Darla, right?”

“Yeah. So you heard about the attacks.”

“Everyone heard about the attacks. Were you bit?”

She raised her casted arm. Kevin sighed in defeat, crouching at her bedside.

“I have some very bad news for you. You may not believe me at first, but don’t just ignore everything I say.”

“What is it?”

“You were attacked by a werewolf, and now you are one too.”

She stared at him in surprise and disbelief. Surely he couldn’t be serious! But he gazed, unmoving at her, willing he to believe him.

“Yeah right,” she said. “You’re insane. Plus, it’s not even the full moon!”

“It was last night.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m a werewolf too.” He pulled his shirt down past his scarred shoulder. “I’ve had this for three months, since the first attack.”

Darla raised an eyebrow, as if she were just beginning to maybe believe him. Kevin stood.

“Don’t ignore this. Take precautions. It’ll be worse if you don’t.”

After Darla, he proceeded to visit all the other victims, only a few of them students. He met one sixty-year-old man, who had been bitten and didn’t believe a word Kevin said. That was the general trend of those he talked to, but he didn’t need to talk about lycanthropy with everyone, since only a minority had actually been bitten.

What disturbed him most, though, weren’t the bites, but the critically wounded and the dead. In one night, twenty-six people had died. Murder on that scale could have only been planned. And he knew who had planned it.

He walked out of the white hospital, his mind filled with the stories and figures of the attack. He had tried to stay out of the way and direct his curse away from humanity, but not everyone shared his shame.

He spent the entire night tossing and turning in his bed, wondering what he should do. It would be easy enough to continue going to the country every full moon, but that was a small task. The greater task would be taking on Brandon and Riley, something he didn’t know if he could do, even if he should.

By dawn, it became apparent to him that there was no chance of sleep. Instead, he walked outside, into the bright, red sunlight. With the drops of dew covering the grass, it seemed to light up the ground in red and gold. He looked west, where the moon was slowly setting its silvery self in the sky. He considered that he was, so far as he knew, the only werewolf that had exercised any kind of ethical restraint on his curse. Perhaps he had become a werewolf just for this purpose, not to harm him, but that he might somehow defeat those who would harm others. He had a moral obligation to stop the others from killing anyone, even if they killed him in the process, and the sooner he accepted that obligation, the fewer people would die.

He sighed. He was going to fight.

Part 5 here.

The Cocktail Myth

Yes, another “myth”. If you missed the other one, which I can’t ever not think about when I see it, you can read it here. Additionally, if you missed the latest edition of the Werewolf Septology, you can find it here. I hope you enjoy this explanation for why we call them cocktails!

Dave hurried through the hallway to the door, above which echoed the mechanical bell that had just sounded. He opened the door to see his friend Caleb standing on the porch, brightly lit against the fading twilight behind it.

“Hey, man! Come on in!”

He closed the door behind his friend, who slipped out of his shoes, looking around the empty house.

“So where are your parents?”

“Oh, yeah. They’re out for tonight. I think they went to a cocktail party, or something like that.”

“Fancy.” Dave looked momentarily distracted.

“What is it?” Caleb asked, leading his friend into the kitchen.

They sat down at the table, Caleb bringing drinks from the fridge before sitting himself next to an open laptop.

“Cocktail. What in the world does that have to do with a mixed alcoholic beverage?”

Caleb shrugged. “I have no idea. Just a minute.”

Dave heard the quick tapping of keys from behind the screen of the laptop.

“Here we are. Now that’s an interesting origin.”

“Really, what is it?”

“Over a thousand years ago,” Caleb read from the screen. “There lived a great king. Now, this king was about to be married, and was thus collecting things for the feast. In particular, he desired a drink that would surpass all others. One with less the power of ale, but also its taste. He ordered his knights to find such a magnificent drink, but they all failed.

“Then came a new knight, named Haustus. When he heard of the king’s desire, he leapt to the challenge. He told the king that he would return with such a drink.

“’Best that thou be of haste,’ the king replied. ‘For I wed in one week. Pray ye are not late with this concoction I desire.’

“’You shall see me again in seven days, then, my lord,’ said the knight, whereupon he took his leave and traveled out into the wide, wide world.

“But six days passed and he found nothing. From the breweries of England, to the drinks of Araby, to the strange potions of the far east, nothing would suffice the magnificence the king desired. He began to despair, and sought out the most seldom visited places and inns, seeking something that might be of wondrous taste, but might not muddle the senses.

“In the morning, he came to a tavern named ‘The Black Raven’, displaying the image of a crow upon its sign. He entered it, and asked the innkeeper for the best drink he possessed. The innkeeper presented him a mug, and Haustus drank. The liquid struck him for, while it was nothing marvelous, it did taste strange, and yet familiar.

“’What hast thou used in thy concoction?’ asked the goodly knight of the innkeeper. ‘I seek a drink fit for a king on his wedding day, and while this here may not suffice, it may yet prove inspiration.’

“’That, noble sir,’ came the other’s reply. ‘Is wine, mixed with pepper and olives, which we make when we can, and all the men enjoy for its sharp taste.’

“’A sharp taste it has indeed, but I must find the king’s drink elsewhere,’ said the knight.

“He continued for many hours, until, at noon, he came upon the hall of a large lord, who had once wiled away his days with the pleasures of life, including drink, but had since committed himself to the life of a monk. So Haustus approached him, and thus proclaimed,

“’Lord, I know thou art knowledgeable in the craft of drinks, for surely thou finds most joy in that manner. I seek a drink worthy of a king’s wedding. What of this kind have ye?’

“’I have none,’ replied the lord. ‘Of no drink is there equal to water, for it is clean, simple, and sufficient for all men. But on a day of celebration, men will have none of it, which I, having lived a life of celebration once, do understand.

“’However, many of my friends in the abbey might, on a special day, mix wine with their water, diluting the potency of the former, while keeping its taste.’

“’An efficient drink it must be, my lord,’ said the knight. ‘But while it may give inspiration, I must find the king’s drink elsewhere.’

“So he departed the monk’s residence. Later, the sun marking the time for supper, he stopped by the home of a farmer, who welcomed him in warmly.

“Now, this farmer raised primarily one thing – chickens. There were chickens everywhere, including a couple roosters. After they had both eaten, Haustus spoke to the farmer.

“’I have been searching the world over for a drink worthy of a king’s wedding feast. I wonder whether thou would know of such a drink.’

“’I am merely an humble farmer, sir,’ replied the peasant. ‘I would not even know what to say if I were even brought before his majesty. But I think the two best drinks are cider and wine, for the first is simple and the second is royal.’

“Haustus continued to ponder this, walking outside. Out there, he saw two cocks standing on boxes next to the rain barrel. They lightly jumped up to the rim, but, being unable to occupy it at the same time, or even having the footing to occupy it one at a time, they fell into the rain barrel with a splash. Each was a red specimen, and soon the farmer had extracted them, leaving red feathers in the vat.

“At once, a great epiphany seized the knight’s mind. He took some of the tail feathers, quickly thanking and paying the farmer for the meal, before riding off to the king in excitement. Of course it was so simple, which was why an epiphany was needed to realize it.

“He hurried into the kitchens, and called to the chief cook.

“’Sir, take a vat of cider and a vat of wine, and mix the two together, and add these feathers in each goblet. If the king asks what the heavenly drink is called, you are to point at yonder feather, and say, “cocktail, your majesty!”’

“So the cook presented the drink, naming it appropriately, and everyone thought it perfectly marvelous. And then they all danced the tango and had lots of fun at the feast. Later, Haustus died of salmonella, because the farmer hadn’t properly cooked the eggs he had served. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”

Dave frowned. “Is that really what it says? Let me see.”

He stood and seized the laptop, turning it so that he could see the screen.

“It’s not even on!” he exclaimed. “You made it all up!”

“Yeah. Of course. Did you think any history of a cocktail would have that much detail?”

“I’m so proud of you,” said Dave, wiping an imaginary tear under his eye. “My little buddy, able to improvise his own stories!”

“I’m not your ‘little buddy’! But yeah, it’s time you stopped hogging all the silly stories to yourself.”