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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cloudstorm

The heavily gloved red fist came at her quick, sticking Maya in the eye just before she had a chance to dodge. Thankfully, she had on headgear, so while the blow jarred her head aside, she wouldn’t end up with a black eye. She threw her own arm out, striking her opponent in the ribs. He doubled over in pain briefly, and that’s what she wanted. While he was distracted trying to block another blow she sent to his ribs she shot out her other arm straight towards his head, slamming her gloved fist into his hear and knocking him back a step or two. That was when the alarm claxon went off.

Her and her opponent stopped, turning to look outside the boxing ring at the small group of people watching their boxing match. One of them, a tall man in the same blue jumpsuit the rest of the people were wearing, stepped forward.

“Okay, Maya and Pyotr,” Richard said. “Sounds like play time is over. Back to work everyone.”

“You mean we’re here?” Maya asked. “But I was winning!”

“You only think so,” Pyotr said in his heavy Russian accented as he exited the ring. “Now come, girl. We are at Jupiter. This is much more exiting.”

Maya had to agree. This was the culmination of all their work, and she wanted to see it with everyone else more than she wanted to finish the match. She shucked off her gloves and exited the ring right behind Pyotr. She took off the headgear but, like her fellow boxer, didn’t bother to head to the shower rooms to change into her uniform. She was a little embarrassed to be at this historic moment in her sweaty work out clothes, but it was too important to take the time and change first.

“Here we are gang,” Richard said. “After a year of travel, the Zeus has finally arrived at Jupiter. We’re going to be the first people to ever see the planet up close, folks. Let’s make it worth it.”

Everyone nodded, but no one moved right away. They all were watching out the view port to see the majestic sight before them. The swirling orange and yellow mass that was the largest planet in the solar system loomed large before them. They were finally here. The mission was to take samples of the clouds and see if maybe they could penetrate and find out what truly lay beyond them. So far, every probe that had been set to the gas giant stopped sending signals as soon as it entered the cloud layer, and none of them returned.

“Okay everyone,” Richard said after a few moments of silence, “It looks like we have an hour before we hit atmo, so let’s get to work. Maya and Pyotr, go shower and get into uniform. Everyone else, you know what to do.”

Maya and Pyotr nodded and turned to leave the observation room. Richard turned to watch them go, a slight smile on his face.

“Oh, and you two,” he said, causing them to pause and turn to look at him. “Please don’t take a shower together, we really don’t have the time.”

The two flushed and ran out of the room to go to the showers.

“Well,” Maya said in Russian, “that’s the trouble with living on a small ship with twelve people over a year. No secrets.”

“Da,” Pyotr said. He smiled at her. He had taught her Russian during the trip, and she had picked it up very quickly. It was one of the many talents that had landed her on this mission.

A short fifteen minutes later, Maya was out of the shower and dressed. She didn’t even wait to see if the large Russian was done or not before heading towards her station. Maya went down a deck to the engine room. She saw Rick there already, sitting at his station monitoring several screens that all displayed charts and graphs on them. She came up behind them to get a look.

“How’s things looking, Rick?” she asked.

“Fine,” he said without looking at her. He tapped a few buttons on his console and one of the monitors changed, showing a blow up of a particular chart with a large, red bar shooting straight up. “Looks like we’re having some increase in our intake of hydrogen since we got close to ol’ Jup out there, but I don’t think it’s anything we really have to worry about.”

Maya crouched down and looked. She nodded, agreeing with his assessment. But, they were about to hit the atmosphere of the gas giant.

“Shut down the scoop anyway,” she said. “If we’re getting this much of an increase just being close, imagine what will happen when we actually hit atmo.”

He nodded and clicked a few more buttons. The glowing red bar stopped rising, indicating that the hydrogen had stopped being collected, and turned blue. She turned to another consol on the wall and punched the button.

“Engineering to Commander Davis,” She said into the wall device. “We’ve shut off the scoop due to an increase in hydrogen, but otherwise, we’re nine by nine.”

“Rodger,” Richard said over speaker.

The next forty minutes went relatively smoothly, the engines only needing minor adjustments to make the transition from pushing off another planet to pushing against this one to slow down. By the time the countdown started before entry, the ship was exactly at the speed it needed to be.

“4… 3… 2… 1…” came the voice of one of the other three women on the Zeus. “Contact. We have entered the atmosphere of Jupiter.”

A cheer went up that could be heard not only over the speaker but also up and down the corridors of the small ship. Maya and Rick moved to the only window in engineering to watch the swirling colors that appeared as they entered the gas giant. It was mesmerizing. Until the ship shook. Lightning flashed outside the window, and Maya and Rick were thrown back. She hit a desk with her shoulder, causing her to cry out in pain. She couldn’t see where Rick went.

“Alert,” came Richard’s voice over the comm. “We’re experiencing some kind of storm. It’s affecting the ship pretty severely, and electrical systems are going out all over. Maya! What’s the status of the engines!”

She pulled herself up and ran to the console. It was sparking with electricity and totally useless to her. She ran to a port where she could give the engine’s a manual look over. They were sparking as well. This was not good. She slammed the comm. unit.

“Sir, the engine’s are down,” she said. “Whatever’s affecting the electrical systems has also effected the engines.”

“Damnit,” came Richard’s voice. “Then we’re in for a rough landing. Everyone, to the escape pods. Abandon ship, repeat, abandon ship!”

Maya quickly looked around for Rick, and saw him laying unconscious in a pool of blood by one of the work stations. She didn’t take the time to check on his wounds and instead just lifted him up and slung the small man over her shoulder, carrying him to the escape pod.

“Thank God the engineers that designed Zeus had the brains to put escape pods in every section of the ship,” she said as she dropped Rick onto one of the seats and strapped him in. She did the same for her self just as the ship shook again. Sparks flew over her head as she landed in her seat and she knew that the escape pod had been compromised. She didn’t have much of a choice, though. She strapped herself in and punched the big red button next to her seat, and prayed.

The groan of metal rubbing against metal let her know that the release mechanism wasn’t working. She slammed the red button again, and this time, she felt the pod free itself from the ship. It did not have view ports, or even controls of any kind, excepting of course the door controls and the release control. There was also a parachute control for water landings, but she quickly shut that idea out.

She pod shook, and she saw more sparks fly across the ceiling. Whatever kind of storm it was that was happening out there, it was harsh. She gripped the cross that hung at her neck, kissed it, and said another prayer. Another lightning bolt hit the ship, this time sending the electrical sparks flying through her. She screamed and fell silent, everything going black.

***

She awoke with a splitting headache. Did she have too much to drink? There wasn’t that much booze onboard, that didn’t seem likely. She remembered the match, against Pyotr, and wondered if she had lost due to a particularly well-placed blow to the head. Then, she remembered everything else. She snapped upright, regretting it immediately as the pain in her head doubled. She took a few quick breaths, letting the pain reduce itself to a dull roar and pressed the release button on her straps. She looked across the pod to Rick, and gasped. His neck was bent in a way that human necks were not meant to bend. Rick was dead. She tried not to gag, instead going for the door controls.

She was greeted with something she didn’t expect. Green leaves and foliage practically blocked the door from letting her out. Yellow sunlight streamed in from between the leaves, and she blinked. It looked almost like a jungle on Earth. Where was she? She pushed past the leaves and saw that, sure enough, she was in a jungle. A quick glance, however, confirmed that this was not Earth. Oddly shaped flowers and strange looking blue insects abounded. It was all so very beautiful.

She shook her head. Exploration and discovery could wait. She had something important to attend to. She used some rocks to dig a shallow grave, and then buried Rick in it. She lowered her head, kissed her cross, and said a prayer for him again. When she was done she realized that she was hungry. She went back into the escape pod and pulled out the emergency kit that lay within. It had a gun, a first aid kit, a tent and fire building tools and some basic foodstuffs, like power bars, dried fruit and nuts.

This wasn’t going to last her long. And the pods were meant for landing on Earth, where she would eventually get rescued, so there was no way to escape Jupiter with it. She was stuck here. So, she set up a campfire as the sky turned dark, and set about her work. She found a long, thin, hard stick of wood and used the knife to carve a sharp point to the end. She didn’t want to waist the few bullets in the gun hunting. When she was done, she went to sleep inside the pod.

The next morning, she set about finding herself some breakfast. It didn’t take her long to find a small rodent like creature, about the size of a small dog. It looked like a lizard, except that it had six legs and two tongues, one it used to constantly feel around it and the other to feed itself from the fruit it was eating. She threw the spear at it and struck home. She briefly hoped the thing wasn’t poisonous, and set about cooking it over the fire. It smelled fantastic, like roast beef or maybe even chicken. She chuckled over that. She pulled it off the fire and started eating. It had the consistence of chicken, but the flavor was unique. Kind of spicy, but good. She ate with enthusiasm.

A twig snapped behind her. She grabbed her spear and jumped to her feet. She saw something moving slowly out of the brush. It was sleek and black, with green eyes. It looked like a large cat, maybe a panther, but it also had two tails and six legs. It wasn’t growling at her or showing its teeth, however, and as she watched, she noticed that it was limping slightly on one of its legs.

It’s injured, she thought. It must have been drawn to the smell of the food. She pulled off one of the lizard’s legs and tossed it to the other side of the fire, in front of the creature. It smelled it and then sat down and started eating. She noticed that it never took its eyes off her. She ate her share while watching back. When she finished, she tossed the rest of the lizard at the creature and watched it devour it. After it was done, it sat with a rather contented look on its face and began to clean its paws and face.

Curiously, she walked closer to the creature. It watched her, but continued to clean. She came up to the middle leg. She saw that it had a good sized gash on it, that was still bleeding slightly. It growled as she started to touch it, and she looked right back at it.

“I can fix this,” she said to the beast. “It’s not too deep, and my first aid kit should help.”

It continued to stare. She got up slowly and went back to the pod to get the first aid kit. She returned half expecting to see the creature gone, but instead it was still lying there, staring at her. She came back up to it slowly.

“This is my first aid kit,” she said, showing it to the beast. “I’m going to pull stuff out of it to help your leg.”

She started by putting some salve on the wound, and the large cat let her, only sniffing some as she did so. Then, slowly, she wrapped the bandage around the wound, and with the exception of a growl when she wound it too tight, the beast stood still for the whole procedure. She smiled down at it, and it just licked its lips. It had been a long day, so she crawled back into her pod and wet to sleep, keeping the fire lit for the beast.

The few days went pretty much like this: She would wake up and hunt, bring back two or more lizards or a strange creature that looked like a cross between a bird and a bat and cook them. Her and the creature would share the food, and then she would go to bed. On the fourth day, the beast started to walk, and she took off the bandage.

“Okay, Bagheera,” she said, choosing a name for the creature from her favorite Disney Movie. “Let’s see what you can do.”

The creature tested the new leg for a bit, and then sprang off. She followed with her spear, but it turned out to be not needed. The creature led her to down several paths and to a river. She had followed it further than she had been away from her camp so far, and she was a little nervous that she wouldn’t find her way back. There was no sun in this sky to guide by. When Bagheera stopped, he was looking down a small hill to a herd. The beasts that made up the heard looked like a cross between a dinosaur and cow to Maya. One of those would feed the two of them for a month!

“Good job, Bagheera,” she said, and the two of them started down into the crowd.

She followed the cat as it started to pick out a choice looking creature that was slower than the rest of the herd. They stalked around, Maya following Bagheera’s lead. As they circled, Maya heard something snap that didn’t sound like a twig, but before she could react, the trap had sprung and the two of them fell into a deep pit.

Both she and Bagheera attempted to climb out of the pit, but it was too deep. Even if she attempted to help the cat by lifting it, the pit was still too deep. She slumped back, the cat curling up in her lap, and she sighed deeply. Whoever built this knew what they were doing. It didn’t take long before the creators of the trap came to pull them out.

They were vaguely human-like, with a head, torso, arms and legs, but beyond that it was obvious this was no human. The skin was a dark, brick red. The face had three eyes in a line, and two long slits instead of a noise. The hair was short and bristly. The chest was bear, but they all wore bandoliers across them. The arms ended in three fingered hands and the legs ended in feet that resembled the hands to the point that Maya suspected they could be used as hands.

There were three of them, and they spoke to each other in a strange language. Maya sat quietly as they pointed to her and Bagheera, and then left, probably to get help. Sure enough, a short time later, five more of the aliens were there to get here. She couldn’t believe her luck. Since landing she has made more miraculous discoveries. A real planet under the clouds of Jupiter. Life on that planet. And now intelligent life. But instead of greeting that life as an ambassador to Earth, or having any hope of bringing these discoveries back to Earth, she was now their captive.

The aliens threw a net down that effectively captured her and the cat, and hauled the two of them out. They spoke to her, but she shook her head.

“I don’t understand you fellas,” she said. “None of you by chance speak English, do you? Or maybe Spanish? Russian? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

They seemed frustrated by her words, and started to shove and poke her.

“Hey,” she said, pushing back. “Stop that.”

One of them, pulling her out of the net, tried to grab her arms and pin them behind her back. She threw him off and gave him a right jab in the ribs. He stumbled back and she sent a hook that landed square with his jaw, dropping him to the ground. Another came up to her and she swung an uppercut into his jaw that threw him back a couple of steps. She followed quickly, staying inside his reach, and threw punch after punch into his ribs until he finally fell. She turned around, her hands raised in defense, waiting for another to come after her. She saw the remaining men just staring at her in shock. Finally, one pointed to her and said something. Another stepped forward and pulled something round and black off his bandolier. He threw it her and before she knew it, she was covered it a dark, sticky goo that constricted around her, preventing her from moving.

She saw that they had thrown one of those things on Bagheera too, though it appeared that he managed to get in a few good swipes himself. She smiled at that. They carted the two of them to some kind of wagon. She wished she knew what it was they were saying. If she could communicate with them, maybe she could find a way out of this. The wagon was pulled by one of those cow-dinosaurs, and after an hour, hooked up with a whole caravan of wagons, many of which had cages holding people in them.

Maya started when she saw that the people in the cages were different from the ones that had captured them. Not just a little different, like the different races back on Earth, but whole other species different. They were extremely human-like in appearance, with light green skin and sparkling blue eyes. They were exotic, and overall rather attractive as a people, given what she saw from the twenty or so that were in the cages.

They threw her into a cage as well, with Bagheera, on a larger dinosaur like creature that resembled a triceratops. Only one other person was in the cage with them, another of the green skinned people. After their captors left them alone and the caravan started marching again, the man they were with pulled a canteen from the floor and poured the water over the binding that held her in place. Quickly, the whole thing left her body and reconstituted into a ball.

“Thanks,” she said, but he obviously didn’t understand. “Can I have the canteen?”

When she pointed to it, he finally understood and handed it to her. She used it to release Bagheera. When he immediately moved to the back of the cage, she smiled.

“It’s okay,” she said. “This is Bagheera. He’s with me. With me.”

She shook her head when she realized that he didn’t understand. She shook her head and kept Bagheera on the other side of the cave. She curled up on the cage floor next to him and slept. The caravan pulled to a stop when the sky turned dark, and she awoke to rough hands pulling her out of the cage. They took her to a pit and threw her in. She saw that another person was in the pit as well, a very large, muscular green skinned man. The outside of the pit was surrounded with the red skinned people. She understood instantly. This was a fight.

The man charged her, probably wanting to get her in a hold. He was pretty slow, however, and she quickly ducked to the side. He did manage to get a slap on her back as he went by, and it took everything she had not to fall to the ground. She spun around quickly, her arms up in defense. This guy was strong. She needed to end this quickly. And so she did. The guy charged her again, and this time she charged back. She ducked his swing and placed a hard jab at his ribs. She followed up with a jab at his stomach, which caused him to double over. Quickly, she hooked down at his face, hitting him right above the eye. She hit him again and again in the face before he got in a wide swing, hitting her in the face hard and pushing her back.

She wiped away some blood from her mouth but when she looked at her opponent, she saw that he was more beat down than she was. She smiled. She knew she had won this fight already. She charged him this time, blocking a week, slow swing by him and hitting him hard with a hook to his face. She followed up with some body blows, and then jabbed at his nose. He staggered back, and she went in for the kill. Jab after jab into his face she went, hitting him as hard as she could, finally breaking his nose and spraying blood all over both of them. She stumbled to the ground and stayed there. She took a step or two back, whipping the sweat away from her face.

She looked up and noticed for the first time that the crowd was cheering. For her. Several of the men that had captured here were shaking hands with a fat, older man. At least she assumed it was older, because his hair was gray. They had set this up. They were showing off her fighting skills. She wasn’t quite sure why, but it gave her a very bad feeling.

They returned her to her cage, and the man in it came to her to check on her injuries. She was okay, but she let him anyway, because he was actually pretty good looking, and really it was rather pleasant. She fell asleep not long afterwards.

For the next several months, things continued just like this. The caravan would stop every few days, outside of a town she presumed, and they would throw her into a pit, where she would fight some other prisoner. Sometimes, it was a green skinned man, other times a red skinned prisoner. Occasionally, it was another woman, but not often. Always, she had no choice but to fight. During this time, the man she shared a cage with taught her the language all these aliens seemed to share. He was called Ryss, and informed her that the world she was now trapped on was called Dyphon according to the natives. He was just as fascinated by her as she was of him and his world. It didn’t take long before the two of them started talking to each other romantically. From the point of view of the other, they were each exotic, and it was exciting.

“So, you still haven’t told me who these people that hold us are,” she said one night in their cage, Bagheera laying between them.

“They are slavers,” he said, then explained the word he just used.

“Slaves?” she said. “That’s what we are? We’re going to be sold?”

“Most likely,” he said. “And you will be sold to a gladiatorial school, no doubt. You are gaining quite the reputation. The pink skinned two eye, they call you.”

“No,” she said. “We’re getting out of here, the first chance we get. I’m not sure how yet, but we’re getting out of here.”

A few days later, the caravan pulled into the spot that Ryss informed her would be the sight of the auction. It was little more than ruins in the jungle, with a city of tents in the middle of it. This was it, though, she knew. They had to escape soon. That night, she noticed something in the clouds that looked like lightning.

“Cloudstorm,” Ryss said when she pointed it out to him. “It is rare, but it does happen that the clouds above come down to the surface. When they do, they bring the lightning and heavy rain and mist. It is harsh weather, and everyone seeks shelter for it. That we will be stuck in one is a bad omen, I think. They will likely keep the slaves outside during the storm.”

“Cloudstorm,” she repeated. “This is our chance.”

Sure enough, Ryss’ words proved true. As the storm drew closer, most of red men disappeared. A few of the green men went with them, but for the most part the slaves were left outside. A guard came by their cage, and she started wailing.

“Please, you can’t leave me in here!” she cried, and shook the cave.

He looked up at her, and she broke out in more wild actions and cries. Anything to get his attention. He came up to the cage, drawing his sword, ready to put her down. Perfect.

“Please!” she cried, “I can’t stand the rain or the lightning! Please, you have to get me out of here! I’ll do anything!”

He poked her with the sword and she backed away, but she continued to trash and make noise. He opened the cage and came in. He threatened her with the blade, and that was all the Bagheera needed to see. He jumped on the guard, cutting him to ribbons in a matter of seconds.

“Come on,” Maya said, and grabbed the guard’s sword. “Let’s get out of here.”

The two of them made their way through the ruins very carefully. She thought she must cut quite the figure, in the tattered remains of her uniform, a sword in hand, black, six legged cat and a green skinned man following her. They spotted a couple of other guards, who were battening the last of the slaves down and moving to shelter. Three of them spotted them and drew swords. She charged.

She managed to take one down quickly by sheer surprise, running her blade straight into his chest. The other two came up to her and quickly she found herself on the defensive. Fencing was not her sport, and she realized that these two were better than she was. She already had several dozen cuts on her, and it would only be a matter of seconds before they killed her. That was when she saw one fall to a blade sticking out of his chest. When he fell, she saw Ryss, holding the sword of the guard she killed in her charge. He turned to face the other guard, and she saw that he was obviously more skilled in the blade that she was. He dispatched of the guard quickly.

“Where did you learn that?” she asked.

“Royal fencing school,” he said. She looked at him and blinked.

“Did I never tell you?” he said. “I am the crown prince of the high city of Kalishmar.”

“A prince?” she said. “No, you never mentioned that.”

He bowed low to her in a flourish that reminded her of some old Errol Flynn movie.

“Now what, oh Prince?” she said.

“Now, we free as many slaves as we can and flee before the storm is really upon is.”

She wondered how long that would be, as rain already w as falling. Strangely, it stung a little. They quickly set to work, and Maya discovered that there weren’t nearly as many slaves as she thought. Only a hundred or so. They freed them all as the rain started to fall harder, and then they lead everyone out of the ruins.

“Where to now?” Ryss asked her.

She looked around, and then spotted something. It was another ruin; something separated from the city, but appeared mostly intact. It was pyramid shaped, probably a temple or burial mound or something, she though.

“There!” she said, and they all ran. The rain was doing more than stinging, she saw. It was burning. Prolonged exposure to this stuff would surely kill someone. As best they could, they rushed everyone into the building. The last of them got in as a lightning bold struck the city ruins, causing a column of stone to fall. She and Ryss were the last ones in. It was cramped, but everyone fit, and the ceiling was still in one piece, meaning they could all stay there safely.

“We cannot stay long here,” Ryss said. “Once the cloud storm has passed, we should leave. They will no doubt look for us.”

“I don’t doubt they will,” she said. “We’ll keep a watch, then. As soon as the storm breaks, we all leave. The question I have is, where do we go?”

“Why to my city of course,” he said. “I know the way. These people are my people. You, my dear Maya, will be a hero.”

“Yeah?” she said. “I like the sound of that. A hero. Okay then, we wait out the storm and flee.”

The two nodded and then sought out sleeping space amidst the rest of the refugees. Maya looked at these people and thought of her situation. She wondered briefly if the rest of the crew of the Zeus survived. She vowed that she would spend the rest of her life searching Dyphon until she found them all.

But that is a different story.

The End

Week 34

Posted very late, but I just made it under the wire! Man, what a week!

I won't bore you with details, on to the story!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Woods-Girl

Long ago, in a time when wonders and magic were still common in the world, a girl lived alone in the woods. She had lived there since her father, the woodsman, had died several years ago, but not before he could teach her all he knew about being a woodsman. Not only was she accomplished at this, but in the years after her father’s death, she had learned to speak the languages of the animals, and thus they became her friends. But the talent she was best known for was her ability to track. It was said that the woods-girl could track a mouse across a stream and into the deepest part of the forest, where no light shined.

Although she often visited the local village to trade furs and meat for things she needed, like cheese, milk, pots or knives, she mostly kept to herself. Thus, it was a surprise to her when one day a visitor appeared at her cabin door. It was a woman from the village, one she had bought honey from before.

“Oh, woods-girl, please, you have to help me,” she said. “My son was playing near the woods and now he’s gone missing. Please, use your tracking skill, and find my missing son.”

The woods-girl nodded and asked to be taken to the area he was last seen playing. She looked carefully around the area, starting at the spot where even the mother could see the boy’s tracks and moving out from there. She immediately spotted a small wooden sword that the boy used to play. She knelt down there and felt the ground, seemed to sniff the wind, and then turned to the mother.

“I will have your son back to you by sunset,” she said, and set off to find the boy.

For the next few hours, she traveled through the forest, stopping every now and then to kneel and check the trail, making sure she was on the right track. Then, a huge owl flew in front of her, startling her, before it went to land on a tree.

“Owl!” she cried. “You startled me.”

“I’m sorry, woods-girl,” the owl said. “I heard you were seeking a human child.”

“I am,” she said. “He got lost in the woods. Have you seen him?”

“No,” the owl said. “But, I thought I would come along, maybe help if I can.”

She looked sideways at the owl.

“What?” The owl said. “I just want to help.”

The look became a flat glare.

“Okay,” the owl said. “Human children always have the best treats on them, especially the boys. Dead mice, worms… yum.”

The woods-girl rolled her eyes, then smiled at the owl.

“Okay,” she said. “You can come.”

The two traveled together, following the trail. Eventually the trail led to a section of the forest that the woods-girl had never been in before. She paused before entering, unsure what to expect.

“Come on,” the owl said. “It’s just like any other part of the forest.”

She followed the owl in, moving slowly and checking each tree and bush as she went. She wasn’t really scared, but she grew up in the rest of the forest, and knew those trees, bushes and trails inside and out. These were completely new to her, and she found that unsettling. The trail continued as it had, but she noticed that the paths it crossed contained the tracks of several game animals, like deer. Wherever she was, she realized that this part of the forest had abundant game in it. She noted that for later.

It wasn’t long after entering the new woods that she found the boy. He was huddled by a stream, crying. She came up to him and he jumped.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your mother sent me.”

“I’m lost,” he sobbed.

“I know,” she said. “I can take you home.”

And she did just that. As promised, the boy was reunited with his mother before sunset, and everyone rejoiced. Some called the woods-girl a hero, but she refused such accolades. She just said that she simply did what any decent woodsman would do in her position. And with that, she returned to her cabin.

It was a few days later when she noticed that her larder was full that she decided she needed to go hunting. She remembered the plentiful game of the unknown part of the forest and decided to hunt there. Grabbing her bow and quiver, she set out. As she expected, finding game didn’t take long for her to find suitable game, a nice deer buck. She trailed it for a while, chasing it somewhat as it tried to get away from her, until she eventually caught it at a stream, drinking. Slowly, she drew back an arrow in the bow and took aim. When she knew it wasn’t aware of her, she fired, and took the beast down.

“Good shot!” cried the owl, which had followed her once again.

“Thank you,” she said.

She walked up to the buck to get a closer look at the kill when she heard the snap of a twig from her left. Her bow was up in her had before she even thought of it, and an arrow was drawn from her quiver in another second. A large man was standing across the small clearing they were in, his own bow raised and knocked, the arrow pointing straight at her.

“Please, drop your weapon,” he said in a calm but authoritative voice. The woods-girl complied.

“I am the Lord Forester, and this is the kings forest,” he said. “Do you know what that means?”

She shook her head.

“It means that the deer you just killed belonged to the king,” he said. “And that means you have just stolen from the king. And so, I must now arrest you. Are you going to resist me?”

She shook her head again.

“Good. Please, follow me, I have a horse near by,” he said.

She followed him to the tree line near the lake edge, and she saw a massive horse tied to a tree. He got up and then pulled her up behind him, and rode off. It was a good hours long ride, but they eventually came to the castle of the king. It was the most impressive building the woods-girl had seen in her life. Towers and buttresses seemed to be everywhere, statues decorated the corners, and the drawbridge was a miracle of wood and iron.

He rode the horse through the main gate and then got off and aided her down. Several soldiers were there immediately to take the horse as he lead her away. He took her into the castle proper, where she was awed more by the decorations. Everything seemed to be made of gold or silver, and the rugs were such rich shades of red, yellow and purple. He didn’t take her very far once inside. The main chamber led to a set of three steps, where a large, ornate door rested. A man in front of the door nodded at the Lord Forester and pushed the door open.

Inside was another large chamber, this one lined down the center with columns. At the end of the room sat a pair of ornate chairs, thrones she realized. Sitting in the larger of the two chairs, the one on her right, was an older man, with a gray and black beard and a gold crown upon his head. She realized that this was the king.

“Your highness,” the Lord Forester said, bowing as he arrived in front of the throne.

“Lord Forester,” the King said. “Who is this you have brought before us?”

“I caught her poaching one of Your Majesty’s deer in the King’s Forest,” the Lord Forester said. “I followed her as she tracked the beast. I must say, it was the most expert tracking I have ever seen. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Milord, I believe that this is the woods-girl we have been heard rumors about.”

“Truly?” The King said. He turned to regard the woods-girl for the first time, and she lowered her eyes as her father had taught her to do around nobility. “Is this true? Are you the girl that tracked the lost boy into the forest and returned him home?”

“I am, Your Majesty,” the woods-girl said.

“Well, this is most excellent,” the King said. “You have poached our deer, according to our Lord Forester. Is this also true?”

“I am afraid it is, Your Majesty,” she said.

“Ah, well,” the King said. “That means, of course, that I must punish you. Chamberlain, what is the punishment for poaching of the King’s deer?”

“Death by hanging, Your Majesty,” the Chamberlain said.

“Oh dear,” the King said. “That will never do. I believe I have a better solution. My dear woods-girl, please step forward.”

She did so, bowing and lowering her head once again when she stepped in front of the throne directly.


“The tail is tragic,” the King said, and then lowered his voice. “My son, the prince, has been kidnapped by an evil witch.” The woods-girl noticed that the King had switched to first person instead of the royal ‘we.’ “She has taken him to the other side of the mountains. She had demanded that I give up my throne or she will kill my son. But to do so would be to plunge the land into darkness, and I refuse to do that. However, I cannot stand the thought of my dear son being harmed. Please, woods-girl. Track down the witch and rescue my son.”

The woods-girl nodded. “I will, Your Majesty. Your son will be returned to you before the new moon.”

The King smiled. “Excellent,” he said. “Go to the stables, we will provide you with a fine horse. And take this,” he said as the chamberlain came to her with a bow and quiver of arrows. They were finely crafted, much better than her own. The chamberlain also handed her a purse filled with coins. She looked at the King and raised her eyebrows.

“I require no reward, Your Majesty,” the girl said.

“Then think of it as a retainer,” the King said. “To pay for needed supplies.”

The girl looked at the purse once more, tied it to her belt, and nodded. She was guided to the stables, where she picked out a fine chestnut horse. She went to the wall outside the prince’s room and found signs of the witch. Owl flew down then to join her, and she explained to him what was going on. He said he wanted to help, and she agreed.

She set of for the mountains as soon as she had the trail. Her horse was fast, and it only took her a day’s riding to get to the mountains. She came up to the foot hills and set the horse free, realizing that she couldn’t take it through the mountains. It ran back towards the palace. She smiled and started looking for a place to set up camp. Just as she found a place, she heard something that caught her attention. It was a growl, but not like that of any animal she knew. Curious, she moved toward the sound to see what it was.

In a small clearing just behind the trees that dotted the hills she saw a large, hairy creature that she recognized right away as a troll. It had in its hands a small figure that looked like a boy dressed in a rag with long, gossamer wings on its back. A fairy! As she watched, the troll tied the fairy to a stick and then placed the stick over a fire, as if to cook it.

“No, don’t eat me,” the fairy cried.

“Hahahaha,” The troll laughed cruelly. “Of course I’m going to eat you. Fairies are tasty.”

The woods-girl started reaching for bow, planning on rescuing the little fairy, when she remembered the stories her father told her of trolls. Her arrows would not pierce its rock like skin. She would need a different way to beat trolls. She thought about what she knew of them. They were not very bright, but they were also very strong and hard to kill. They were greedy, too, and liked games of chance. The woods-girl’s mind went to the coin purse hanging from her belt. An idea formed in her mind, and she strode into the clearing.

“Nice looking dinner you have there,” she said. “Got enough to share?”

The troll quickly turned and placed itself between her and the fairy. It bared it’s ugly, sharp, yellow teeth.

“I don’t share my food with humans,” it said. “No get off and find your own fairy.”

“How about,” she said, “we play a little game. Winner keeps the fairy?”

The evil monster narrowed its red eyes. “What kind of game?” it asked.

She pulled out the purse and jangled the coins around, making sure that the troll knew what was in it. “See this purse?” she said.

The creatures eyes went wide and she saw a glint in them. She smiled.

“I’m going to give this purse to my own,” she said, and Owl flew down and onto her shoulder. “It’s going to take the purse and drop it somewhere nearby. The first to find the purse get’s not only the fairy but the coins in the purse as well. Deal?”

She saw the troll latterly start to drool. It looked form the purse to the fairy and back to the purse. Then it eyed the girl. Probably planning on eating her too once it won, she thought.

“Deal,” the troll said at last, unable to resist getting everything.

Owl took the coin purse and flew off. As soon as the owl returned, both she and the troll ran off into the woods to find it. The woods-girl almost immediately turned around and went back to the clearing. She paused at the tree line and saw that the troll was no where to be seen. She smiled. Her ruse had worked. Quickly, she went to the fire and pulled the stick with the fairy off of it and began untying him.

“Thank you, my lady,” the fairy said. “Thank you!”

After she finished untying him, the fairy flew up and around her head, glowing a bright gold as he did so. Then, he flew in front of her face and kissed her nose. He waved his hands and a gold coin appeared in his hands. He kissed it, then handed it to her.

“In gratitude for helping free me, I gift you with this,” he said. “It allows you to call me to aid you. I have the power to call things to me from anywhere. Simply hold this coin and say ‘help,’ and I will appear. But be warned, you have but three uses from that coin.”

The girl took the coin and nodded. “I’ll remember,” she said. “Thank you, little fairy.”

“No, thank you,” he said. Then he flew off into the night sky. Just then, the girl could hear the sounds of the troll crying in elation as it found the purse. She quickly ran from the area. After traveling for some time, she felt she was safe and set up a quick campsite and slept for the night. The next morning she started her assent up the side of the mountain. It was tough going, but with the aid of Owl, bringing rope up and tying it to a sturdy rock or spire, she made good progress. She figured it would only take her two days to reach the top at this point. She was right, and on noon the second day, she had reached the top of the mountain.

She was very tired and very cold. She began looking for a place to set up camp when Owl came flying at her very excitedly.

“I see smoke!” he said. “Smoke, this way. Come on!”

She followed. After crossing a rise, she saw the smoke. She started to hurry, and crossing the next rise she saw the log cabin the smoke was coming from. It looked warm and inviting, and she rushed down the hill towards it. When she got to the building, she saw that it was huge. The door alone looked like a person twice her size could go through it. Still, she was cold, tired and hungry, and just wanted a place to rest. She knocked on the door. No one answered. Figuring that some trapper must live here and was out checking his snares, she pushed open the door and went inside.

The furniture matched the size of the door. A large table and four large chairs and there were four large beds by the fireplace in the corner. Curious, she closed the door to keep in the heat and walked into the room. She climbed into one of the large stuffed chairs by the fire and pulled out some cheese and bread from her pack. After eating, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

“Who are you?” cried a loud, gravely voice.

The woods-girl awoke quickly and started reaching for her bow by instinct, but paused when she saw who had asked the question. Four faces were looking at her, two very large and two normal sized, thought they looked like the faces of children. She looked at their bodies, and saw that they were giants. The two adults, a man and a woman, really were twice as large as she was. She gulped and looked back at the giant man that was facing her.

“Who are you?” he asked again.

“I am a simple tracker,” she said, “sent here on a quest for the King.”

“You are trespassing in hour house,” he said, the anger obviously not leaving his face.

“I did not mean…” she started.

“And that means, you get to become our dinner for tonight!” he cried, and the other three laughed.

“What?” the girl said. “But I am so tiny.”

“You will only make a good meal when thrown into our stew, true” he said, pointing to the pot over the fire, “but we have no food stores anymore, so you’ll at least give us a dinner tonight.”

He grabbed her and started lifting her off the ground.

“Wait! No food stores?” she asked. “How can an obviously skilled hunter like you be without food stores?”

He paused, looking at her through narrow slits.

“A troll,” he said after a moment. “I caught a troll stealing food out of my bin. When I chased down after him, he pushed the bin over the cliff and down the mountain. Now, my family is left without stored food, and I must hunt doubly hard to feed us. But then you came along, and so we have dinner tonight.”

He reached the pot and held the woods-girl over it.

“Wait!” she cried, and he paused once again. “I can help you.”

He paused again, looking the woods-girl up and down, clearly wondering what such a little thing could do to help three giants get food. Quickly, she pushed her arm into her pouch and squeezed out the magic coin. She pushed her hand out through the giants fingers and showed him the coin.

“This is a magic coin,” she said. “With this, I can get your food back for you.”

He cocked his head to the side as if not quite sure he believed her. “How?” he asked.

“Watch,” she said, and he set her down. He crouched down to watch her, though, making it impossible for her to simply run away. She held up the coin to her face and closed her eyes.

“Help me, oh fairy,” she said.

A second later, there was a flash of smoke, and the little fairy was floating in the air in front of her.

“How may I aid you, oh woods-girl?” the fairy asked.

“These giants lost their food storage bin,” she said, waving to the giant family. “It was pushd down the cliffs. Can you bring it back up?”

“I can,” the fairy nodded. He flew around the woods-girl, sparkling lights making her face appear a rainbow of colors. Then, he suddenly stopped.

“It is done,” he said. “You have two more uses left in the coin.”

And with that, he disappeared in another flash of smoke, and the coin was laying on the floor. The woods-girl quickly picked it up and put it back in her satchel.

“That’s it?” the giant said. He turned and waved at the youngest giant, who ran out side. A few moments later, he came back in.

“Poppa! Poppa!” he was crying. “It’s back. With the food in it! The storage shed is back!”

All three giants then quickly rushed back outside, and the woods-girl followed. Sure enough, behind the cabin, there was the food bin. And she could see that it was stuffed with grain, bins of fruit, preserved meat and even cheese.

“You did it,” the giant said, turning to look down at her. “You returned our food. I cannot thank you enough.”

He reached down and pulled her back up to him, giving her a hug that he no doubt thought was gentle but she felt like he was a second away from breaking her spine. He set her down a second later.

“Where is it you are going?” he asked.

“I travel to the witches castle to rescue the prince,” she said.

He nodded. “Travel down the mountain is treacherous. Let me aid you,” he said.

He left to go to the third building that she now saw was a stable, and returned a few seconds later with a large mountain goat.

“Here,” he said. “Take this goat. It will bring you to the bottom of the mountain safely and quickly.”

She thanked the giant, who then lifted her onto the back of the goat and gave it a slap on the rump. It took all she had just to hold onto the beast as it ran down the mountain. After a while, it slowed down due to tiredness, and she saw that they were already nearly halfway to the bottom. A screech to her side caught her attention and she turned to see Owl flying nearby. She waved at the bird, grateful to have the company.

The stopped for the night and started again early the next morning. True to form, the goat took them down the hill and amazing speeds. They reached the bottom of the mountain before noon. In gratitude, the woods-girl let the goat go, and the animal quickly scampered up the mountain. Owl came flying down and took his customary place on her shoulder.

“I think I saw the castle,” he said. “It’s just over those hills, not more than a few miles away.”

“Well, no time like the present,” she said, and moved off.

It didn’t take them very long at all to reach the castle. Though not as large as the King’s castle, It was an imposing structure, all back rock and sharp, pointed towers. She saw no windows and also no visible means of entrance. She sent Owl off to see what he could see from up above. She shaded her eyes from the sun and watched as he made a circle around the building, when suddenly a great net sprung out from nowhere and grabbed the bird. He screeched, but could do nothing as he fell behind the walls, captured by the witch.

Quickly, the woods-girl drew her bow and knocked an arrow, waiting for a similar trap for her. When it didn’t come right away, she moved off around the castle, once more looking for an entrance. As she wandered around, she though she heard the sound of a woman’s laugh. She spun around quickly, her bow up and drawn back ready to shoot. But nothing was there. She lowered her bow again, and sighed. She was never going to get in at this rate.

Suddenly, the walls to her right moved, and reached out to grab her like great stone hands. She had no time to move or even to raise her bow before the wall had her and pulled her inside. She held her breath instinctively, but when she was pulled in, she felt something hard hit her on the head and blanked out.

She awoke on a small, wooden cot. As she opened her eyes and looked around, she saw that she was in a cage made of metal bars. She got up and looked around. The cage was in a larger room made of dark stone. There were no windows, all the light coming from the torches lining the walls. She realized quickly that she was without her stuff, just her belt and her satchel. Her backpack, her bow, her quiver, all were stacked neatly in a pile in the far corner of the room, far out of reach. She also saw, across the room, a cage in which Owl was kept. He was sleeping at the moment, and didn’t appear to be injured, but the woods-girl was grateful to see her friend still alive.

Before she could do anything more, a door that she hadn’t previously seen opened, and a woman strode in. She was tall, and much older than the woods-girl, but clearly beautiful. She had long, sharp features; straight, shiny black hair, and dark eyes that seemed to draw you in. She wore a long dark dress with seriated sleeves, and a tall, pointed hat. This was obviously the witch.

“Hello, my pretty,” she said. “You were sent by the King to rescue his pathetic son, weren’t you?”

The woods-girl nodded, not seeing the point of lying.

“Well, as you can see,” the witch said, “that is a foolish idea. I am far too powerful for a little woods-girl like you. Even your mighty bow cannot stop me.”

She laughed, and the woods-girl recognized it as the sound she heard outside. The witch then left, and the woods-girl slumped down on the cot. She had been defeated. What could she possibly do now? Just then, she looked at her satchel. Curious, she reached inside. Sure enough, there was the coin. The witch must have missed it when she was taking off her possessions, or just didn’t think it a threat. She held the coin tight.

“Help me, oh fairy,” she said. The coin shook in her hand, and started to get warm. In pain, the woods-girl yelped and threw the coin down, where it landed just outside the cage. She started at in, and then sighed. Even the coin wasn’t working in here. She should have known. The witch was a powerful magic user after all. Then the coin shook again, and she looked at it. A puff of smoke rose and the fairy boy appeared before her, the coin gone once again. He looked around, somewhat confused. When he saw the bars of the cage, he gasped and flew backwards a few inches.

“Iron bars,” he said. “No wonder I had trouble getting to you.”

“Fairy, are you okay?” she asked.

“Woods-girl,” he said. “You are trapped in a cage made of cold iron. My magic cannot penetrate it. I cannot get you out of that cage.”

The woods-girl looked around desperately, then she saw something. Next to the cage that held Owl, she saw a ring of keys.

“The keys,” she said. “Can you bring them to me?”

“I cannot enter the cage,” he said.

She shook her head. “Just put them on the floor right out side the cage, where I can reach them.”

He nodded in understanding then, and quickly flew to the keys. He sprinkled some of his rainbow dust on it, then lifted the thing and flew it to her across the room. Almost immedatly after he dropped it by the cage, she reached down to grab it.

“Thank you, fairy,” she said.

“You are most welcome, oh woods-girl,” he said, then vanished in a puff of smoke once more, being replaced by the coin.

Without further hesitation, she used the key to unlock the cage and get herself out. She used another key to open the cage that had Owl, and woke him up. Then, she grabbed her stuff, nocked an arrow into the bow, and used the final key in the ring to open the door that lead to the rest of the castle. The castle itself was surprisingly empty. In the King’s castle, there were servants and noblemen bustling about and moving from place to place, but here, there was no one. Making a guess as to where the prince was kept, she climbed to the tallest tower in the castle. There, she saw a door that was yellow, making it stand out against the black of the castle walls.

Knowing this was where the prince was held, she opened the door. Inside, she saw a cage just like the one she had been in, and inside was the prince. He was young, only slightly older than she was. And he wore the finery she had expected. What she hadn’t expected was how fit he was. She thought he would look like the king and the rest of the nobles, fat on the rich food they ate. He was quite plainly the most handsome man she had ever seen. He stopped his paceing in the cage and looked at her, equally stunned by the sight that greeted him. Shaking her head, she moved to the cage.

“Your Highness,” she said. “I am here to rescue you.”

She pulled out the key ring, and used the same one that had opened up her cage. It fit, and soon the prince was out of his cage.

“Thank you!” he said, and before she could react, he pulled her close to him and kissed her on the lips. It was the most amazing sensation, and she felt her heart fill with joy. Then the door opened, and she didn’t have time to raise her bow before a bolt of lightning struck the two of them and she went flying across the room. The witch screamed at the two of them.

“I do not know what magic you used to get yourself free, but it will not help you now,” she said, her face twisted into a mask of anger and pain.

“Owl!” cried the woods-girl, and Owl came flying into the room, flapping it’s wings and clawing at the witches face.

Quickly, the woods girl pulled up her bow and knocked her arrow. She said a quick prayer that the shot was true, and then fly. The arrow struck the witch straight in the heart, and she fell to the floor dead. Owl took his position on the woods-girl’s shoulder. The prince stared from the fallen witch to the girl and back again.

“That was amazing,” he said.

“Come, Your Highness,” she said, and once again pulled out the coin. She called for the fairy and he appeared. The prince once again goggled.

“This is your last call for aid, oh woods-girl,” the fairy said. “What can I do for you.”

“Can you teleport the prince and myself to his father’s castle?” she asked.

The fairy bowed. “I most assuredly can.”

He flew around them, and a rainbow of colors sparkled, obscuring their vision. When the smoke cleared, they found themselves standing in the throne room of the King. Several people were surrounding them, all looking at them in awe and amazement. The King stood in front of this throne, a look of shock on his face.

“Father!” the prince said, and rushed up to the King to embrace him. The King returned the embrace, and then smiled. He looked at the woods-girl, and then walked up to her and clasped her on the shoulder.

“My dear woods-girl, you have done it!” he said. “You have returned my son to me, and saved the kingdom. I don’t think we can ever repay you for this.”

The woods-girl smiled, blushed, and bowed. Then, she saw the prince whisper something into the King’s ear. The King smiled and then laughed. He clasped his son and nodded. Then he turned back to the woods-girl, the smile still on his face.

“My son would like to present his own gift to you,” the King said.

The prince came up to the woods-girl, then got down on one knee.

“My dear woods-girl,” he said. “You are the most amazing, beautiful girl I have ever seen. Would you do me the honor of being my bride?”

She was shocked. She put her hand to her mouth, unsure what to do. Then she looked down at this handsome man before her and smiled.

“Yes,” she said, and the two embraced. A week later, they were married in the largest celebration the kingdom had ever witnessed. And they went off to live the rest of their lives in happiness forever.

The End

Week 33

Well, here we are, another week and another story.

This one I am particularly proud of. I decided that this week, I wanted to write a fairy tale. And by that, I mean a straight up fairy tale, with trolls, giants, an evil witch and in which the girl rescues the prince. And I have succeeded. So, enjoy this week's offering, Woods-Girl.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Murder of Mr. Weathers

The Murder of Mr. Weathers

Of all the offices in all the world, she had to haunt mine. In her defense, though, this place used to be her house before it was renovated into a series of offices. That’s the way things go here San Francisco. The City that I call home. My name is David Poblocki, and I’m a private detective. Her name, I learned after our first meeting, was Rose Phillips. She’s a ghost. And also my partner in my detective agency. I realize that all sounds rather odd, so let me start my tail at the beginning.

I had been working in a detective agency for a few years now, but really, there was nothing out of the ordinary about that job. I did my time following cheating spouses, finding lost pets and searching for missing loved ones. In fact, I got something of a reputation as someone that’s great at finding missing people. I was able to work a couple of the bigger cases, earning enough in bonuses combined with my savings, to finally open my own detective agency. One with just me, not even a secretary to answer my phone, but with advertising and a new office.

So, there I was, my own boss for the first time in my entire life. Admittedly, I was only 28, but still, I felt like I want busted my ass to get to this point. I already had two cases, but they were the normal cheating spouses, and those never take long. A few days of following said spouse with a camera trying to get proof. It’s not fun work, and sometimes I feel guilty following someone around and taking their picture, especially when it turns out they are not cheating, but it pays well, and meant I would have my first months rent both at the office and at home.

So, there I was working on the paper work for these two jobs, when I got the phone call. It was a rather frantic older woman on the other line, so I calmed her down.

“Ma’am, I’m having trouble understanding,” I said. “I want to help you, but I can’t until I understand what the problem is.”

“My husband,” she said, and I started to roll my eyes. Another cheater. Then, after a sob, she continued. “He’s missing. Please, I have been told that you’re an expert at finding missing persons. I need you to find my husband. The family is in such disarray without him, please Mr. Poblocki, come find him!”

A missing person! That was something I could really sink my teeth into. I got her information, and discovered that this was Mrs. Weathers, wife of the famed Edward Weathers, local Internet tycoon and wealthy socialite. His websites were known through the country for those fancy little cartoon greeting cards you could send a friend. This case could pay me a lot of money. I gave Mrs. Weathers a slightly increased fee and she agreed.

“Fantastic,” I said, hanging up the phone. “Not only is it something that will be fun, but I’ll make nearly twice my normal rate out of it too!”

“Taking advantage of that poor woman like that?” said a voice from behind me. “You ought to be ashamed.”

I practically jumped out of my chair, and started to scramble along my desk as I turned around and saw a woman. She was wearing a purple dress that had a stiff collar that covered her neck, puffy shoulders and a sever cut to it. She also wore a large brimmed hat with feathers that matched the dress. The most amazing thing about her, however, was that she was translucent. I could see the wall and window behind her.

“What the hell…?” I said.

“Tisk, tisk,” she said, waiving her finger at me. “Such language. I thought it was rather plan to see that I am a ghost.”

“What?” I said, no longer back up because I had hit the wall across the room.

She rolled her eyes. “Please tell me that you do know what a ghost is. A spirit? A spector? The undead spirit of one who has passed on?”

“What?” I said, then shook my head as she started rolling her eyes again. “No, I mean, I know what a ghost is. I’ve just…”

“Ah,” she said. “You’ve never seen one before. Understandable, then.”

With that, she nodded her head and introduced herself to me.

“This building you find your office in was once my house,” she said. “Or rather, my husbands until he died. I got a job as a photographer for the miners here in San Francisco to help pay for it afterwards.”

She went on to explain to me that she wasn’t really haunting the house that was now my office so much as this was her home, and she just didn’t see the need to go on to anyplace else. She then suggested I should go out to the Weather’s Estate to aid the poor woman that called me. I nodded and shakily got my jacket and hat and headed out. I entered the address Mrs. Weather’s had given me into my GPS unit and drove the hour trip to her place. Much to my surprise, my unanticipated roommate decided to travel along with me. She assured me that it was quite all right; no one could see her unless she chose them to. She would remain ‘quite invisible’ to everyone else.

On the trip over, she was amazed by the GPS, and asked me all kinds of questions about it. It was very surreal, but at the same time, the conversation and the simple act of answering her questions made the whole thing seem more normal. By the time we arrived at the Weather’s place, I had become somewhat used to her presence. This made it rather awkward when I parked and Mrs. Weather’s came out to greet me.

“Mr. Poblocki,” she said, “I’m so glad you came.”

“Please, just call me David,” I said, and then started to introduce Rose before I caught the ghost lady shaking her head.

“She can’t see or hear me, remember?” Rose said. I nodded, somewhat unnerved by the fact, and went on about my business.

“Mrs. Weathers,” I said, pulling out a note pad and pen, getting my mind on the job, “Please tell me, when was the last time you saw your husband.”

“Well,” she said as we walked up the steps, “it was yesterday, right after the big announcement he made to the family. Around noon time, it was.”

It was obvious from looking at her that she had been crying, probably since yesterday. “Can you tell me more about this announcement?”

“Well, he… uh…” she hesitated. She obviously didn’t want to tell me. “You see, my husband had asked the family here for just this announcement,” she said after a few moments. “He was making some major changes to his will, and felt it would be best if he let everyone know what those changes were in person.”

“I see,” I said, making notes. “And can you tell me what those changes were?”

“Well,” she hesitated.

“I can,” said a gruff voice from ahead of us. I turned and saw a muscular man with short-cropped hair and an angry look on his face at the front door. “He was telling us all that we were cut out of the will, and that everything would be going to his dear wife, here. Bastard.”
“I’m sorry, and you are?” I asked to the newcomer.

“I’m Jeff Weathers, Detective, SFPD,” he said, emphasizing his rank. I noted that he did not extend his hand.

“I apologize, Detective Weathers,” I said, “I wasn’t aware that the Police had been called into this matter.”

“Oh, they haven’t,” Mrs. Weathers assured me suddenly, fear on her face.

“He knows that, Emma,” Jeff said, disdain dripping from his voice. “He’s trying to pretend to be polite while at the same time insulting me. Isn’t that right, Mr. Poblocki?”

“Something like that,” I said, not really seeing the need to deny anything. “And please, call me David. I’m always looking for my dad when people call me Mr. Poblocki.”

He didn’t move, he just kept staring at me. So, I decided to ask him a few questions.

“So, Detective Weathers,” I said, “am I to take it that Mrs. Weathers here is not your mother?”

“Of course she isn’t,” he said right away. “My dad married her ten years ago.”

“Ten years?” I asked. “And your father only just now decided to change the will?”

“Why do you think we’re all so pissed off,” he said.

“I see,” I said, writing more things down in my notebook. He watched carefully, then finally moved out of the way. I got the distinct impression that he was making sure I did my job correctly before letting me by.

“Please, come in, Mr… uh… David,” Mrs. Weathers said, catching herself on my name. “I’ll introduce you to the rest of the family.”

She lead me into the house, and I use that word lightly. This place was huge, and the front atrium had so many windows I felt like I was still outdoors. I followed her down a corridor that was wide, the walls covered in fancy, original artwork. It opened into a large room that featured a TV larger than the wall in my office, several couches and chairs and a few beanbags. There was enough room there for twenty people to watch a movie comfortably. There were currently three, two women, and a man. They seemed to be in the middle of arguing about something when we came in.

“I don’t care, there’s got to be something we can do about it,” one woman, the older one, was saying. “I’ll call my lawyer, I bet I can get Edward declared insane, that will fix this whole mess.”

Mrs. Weathers cleared her throat. “Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. David Poblocki. He’s the private detective I hired to help find Edward.”

“Great,” the older woman said, “just what we needed.” She threw her self onto one of the beanbag chairs and made a concerted effort to not look at me.

“That’s Lynda,” Mrs. Weathers said. “She’s Edward’s sister. Don’t mind her. She’s just upset over this whole will thing.”

“I think we all are,” the man said, and then he stood and shook my hand. “I am Anthony Weathers, Mr. Poblocki. I wish I could say that it was a pleasure to meet you.”

“You’re Mr. Weathers’ son?” I asked, taking notes on who everyone was. He nodded.

“And this,” he waved towards the younger woman in the room, “is my sister, Donna.”

“And just so I am completely clear on this, none of you are related to Mrs. Weathers here?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. I find that asking obvious questions like this will sometimes get people to reveal information they would otherwise keep secret.

“That’s correct,” Anthony replied.

No wonder everyone here was upset. Dad remarries, and then ten years later decides to cut everyone else out of the will and give it all to his not-so-new wife. If all that were true, he really was a bastard. Now I just have to find out if it was true.

“All of you were here for the announcement Mr. Weathers made yesterday?” I asked.

They all nodded, but no one offered any information, and Mrs. Weathers turned her head away. She was clearly embarrassed or shamed by the events of the previous day. I didn’t yet know what her relationships with her husband’s children were before, but it’s clear that her husband did not win her any friends.

“Would someone mind filling me in exactly on what he said?” I asked.

“Jeff didn’t tell you at the door?” Anthony asked. He appeared to be the spokes person for the group.

“No, I didn’t,” Jeff said as he entered the room behind me. He passed by close but made sure not to touch me. He glared as he walked by. Nice guy. “I told him all he needed to know. As for the rest, well… I didn’t see that it was his business.”

“Listen, Detective Weathers,” I said to the rather angry man. “I get that you don’t like me. Probably don’t like private detectives in general. I’ve run into that before with cops. You feel like we’re stepping on your toes, and sometimes, we are. But, I’m here at the request of your father’s wife, who is concerned that your father seems to be missing, and would like me to find him. I can do my job just as well without your help, if you’re not willing to led such aid to find your dad, but I would really appreciate if you did.”

He simply glared back at me, but declined to say anything. When I looked around the room, no one else was forthcoming with the information either.

“Fine,” I said, “I guess I’ll continue my investigation without all the information. It’s not like it’ll be the first time. Now, were you five the only people in the house at the time of Mr. Weather’s disappearance? At the time of the announcement?”

“Well, yes,” Mrs. Weathers said.

“No,” Donna said at the same time. Mrs. Weathers looked at her, confusion on her face.

“Your house servant,” she said. “He was here. He’s always here.”

“Jose?” Mrs. Weathers asked. “Well, I didn’t even think of him.”

“No, I’m sure you didn’t,” Donna said, glaring at Mrs. Weathers.

“Donna, that’s enough,” Anthony said. “I didn’t think of Jose either, are you going to try and say I’m racist?”

“I may,” Donna said. “Honestly, Jose is a person, just like we are. Why can’t you people see that?”

Obviously, lots of love in this family. “If I may interrupt this lovely discussion,” I said, “who is Jose?”

“He’s our house man,” Mrs. Weathers said. “He did stuff like clean the house, cook dinner for Edward and myself, and occasionally he did some yard work. Except of course for my garden. I don’t let anyone in my garden. Not even Edward.”

“I see,” I said. “And he’s still here? Now?”

“Well, he came back, yes,” Mrs. Weathers said. “I mean, he doesn’t live here, so he went home last night. He’s in the kitchen right now, cooking us lunch.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll go talk to him, I think. No, no, please, Mrs. Weathers, stay here, I’d like to talk to Jose by myself.”

“He wants to make sure you’re not going to coach or intimidate the help,” Jeff said.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes I do. Can I trust the rest of you to stay in the house in the mean time?”

Everyone started to grumble but Anthony cut them all off. “Yes, we’re all sticking around.”

“Good,” I nodded, and moved off towards the kitchen. The place was amazing, and the whole thing was larger than my bedroom. I looked around for a few moments, just in awe by the pans and cooking utensils. Then, I was caught by the smell. It was chili, but it was the most amazing smelling chili ever. I then saw the figure that must be Jose. He was tall, and rather muscular compared to the image I had in my head. He wore a suit, though he had off the jacket and tie off, and had a smock over it. It was covered in stains from whatever tomato sauce he was using in the chili.

“Jose?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said simply, never looking up from the massive pot he was stirring.

“My name is David Poblocki,” I said, moving up closer to him. “Mrs. Weathers hired me to help find her husband.”

“Ah,” he said, a slight trace of a Spanish accent. “Mrs. Weathers informed me she was doing so. I made more then enough lunch, sir.”

“Ah, thank you,” I said. “It smells fantastic. But, that’s not why I am here.”

“No?” He said, looking at me for the first time. “You wish to ask me questions, then?”

“I do,” I said, relieved to be talking to someone that was not angry. “I need to find out what everyone in the house was doing at the time of the disappearance.”

“Do you know when Mr. Weathers disappeared, then?” he asked.

I looked down at my notes and realized that I didn’t. Just that it was some time after the announcement. “Not specifically, no,” I replied honestly. “I do know that he was last seen just after his big announcement.”

“Yes,” Jose said. “Afterwards, he came into the kitchen to get some carets and a glass of water. He loved to eat carrots. Then, he walked up the stairs to his room, and I have not seen him since.”

“Was anyone else here at the time?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you know if anyone else saw him after that?” I asked, taking more notes.

“Yes,” he said. “I heard him arguing with his sister, Mrs. Lynda.”

“Arguing?” I asked. “What were they arguing about?”

“Mrs. Weathers,” he replied. “Mrs. Lynda does not like her, and was very unhappy that she was to be left out of the will.”

“I bet she was,” I said. “Anything else?”

“No,” he replied. “They argued about that for a few moments, Mr. Weathers stated that his decision was final, and then he continued upstairs and she left. I heard nothing more after that.”

“And how, exactly, did you hear this fight to begin with?” I asked.

He pointed a ladle at a vent on the wall by the ceiling. I looked at it and then to the stairs and saw that they winded up towards the place where the vent was. I nodded at him, and walked up the stares. On the way up, I saw Rose.

“Well, well,” she said, only the top of her torso appearing through the wall. “This seems like an interesting case. Is he really missing? Or maybe one of the children killed daddy for revenge.”

“You sound like you’re enjoying this,” I said in a whisper, trying to make sure I wasn’t heard by Jose down stairs.

“Oh, I am,” she said. “Quite simply, this is the most fun I’ve had in a hundred years. Plus, I know something you don’t know.”

“What?” I asked, suddenly realizing that I was talking to a ghost. She could get into places I couldn’t, and even spy on people without their ever knowing. It was perfect.

“I know where Mr. Weathers is,” she said.

“Where?” I asked again, almost forgetting to whisper. I had reached the part of the stairs where the vent was. I was clearly visible on the floor, but only if you knew what to look for. This section of the stares was a bend, and the vent was just beyond it, making the vent out of most common eyesight.

“He’s under the stairs,” she said, giggling. Then, she slipped back through the wall. Disturbed, I walked down the stairs and found that they lead to a landing where a small closet could be found. Somewhat apprehensive, I opened the door. Inside the closet, as I feared, was a body, folded in on itself, the back of it’s head smashed in.

I called in Mrs. Weathers and Detective Weathers to come look at it. Both identified it as Mr. Weathers, and Jeff called the police. They took my statement over the phone and said that a detective would be there shortly. Jeff informed me as a professional courtesy that this was not his precinct, and so it was likely that he would not know the man arriving. I thanked him, and then asked if I could ask him a few more questions. Grudgingly, he agreed.

“I know you don’t like private detectives,” I started, but he waved me off.

“Mr. Poblocki,” he said. “My father was killed. That’s obvious by the fact that he was shoved in a closet. I want to know who did it, and I want to help whoever can find that out. You currently have a head start on whatever suit the PD will send out here. So, for now, I’ll assist you in any way I can.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, somewhat taken aback by his honesty. “I’ll try my best. Now, to my questions. Were you aware that your Aunt and your father fought right after the big announcement?”

“No, but that doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Those two were always fighting. They were worse that Dad and Mom. Dad never did approve of her husband, who, as normal, couldn’t quite make it to this little family gathering. And so Aunt Lydia always made sure everyone understood that she didn’t like Emma. Usually quite loudly.”

“I see,” I said. “Do you know why your father suddenly pushed everyone out of his will?”

“I have no idea,” he said. “It’s rather out of the blue, and I even have trouble suspecting Emma on the matter. She’s so meek, usually stuck out in her garden tending her flowers and veggies. I have a hard time imagining she would even want all that money, never mind demand that Dad cut out all his children for it.”

“Really?” I said. “So you don’t suspect Emma in the murder?”

“Honestly?” he said. “No. It’s not her style. She had to get Dad”

“When was the last time you saw your father, Detective?” I asked.

“The announcement,” he said. “He told us all that he was cutting us out of the will and turning all the money over to Emma. He also told us that he was going to divorce Emma, and then move out of the country. Wouldn’t say where, just that he was going on some kind of spiritual quest of some sort.”

“Spiritual quest?” I asked. “This is what you wouldn’t tell me earlier?”

“It is,” he said. “Apparently, this is what sparked the change. I haven’t seen the will, but I still don’t understand why cutting us all out of it would be needed before he went about traveling the world to find God.”

“Thank you, Detective,” I said. “I’ll need to speak to your siblings now.”

Next, I spoke to Donna. The meetings were happening in the dining room, just outside the kitchen. I made sure that Jose couldn’t hear us.

“Donna,” I asked. “Tell me, what did your father say at the announcement.”

“He said that he was going to go on a vision quest,” she said, with a smile on his face. “It was something he had been talking about for a while now, at least to me. He said that he wouldn’t need much, just enough for food and travel, and the rest he would work out as he needed. And so, he was going to give all his money to Emma.”

“And you approve of this action?” I asked.

“Well, I wasn’t happy about being cut out of the will, no,” she said. “But I did like the idea of Dad going on a spiritual quest like that. I did one once, and it’s amazing.”

“Did he say anything about divorcing Emma?” I asked.

“Divorcing? No, I don’t recall him saying anything about that,” she said in shock.

“When was the last time you saw your father?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, thinking. “I think it was just after the announcement. He went into the kitchen to get some snack, a glass of milk I think. I saw him in there, and said I was proud of him, though I still didn’t understand why the will needed to be changed, but that I would back him up. Then he went off to bed.”

“Than k you, Donna,” I said, scribbling down notes.

Next, I spoke to Anthony.

“Tell me what your father said yesterday,” I said.

“Simple,” he replied. “He was leaving Emma. Oh, not like a divorce, of course but he was going on some harebrained scheme to travel the world to, I don’t know, find God or something. I don’t pretend to understand. Anyway, this apparently necessitated the change in the will. I was pisseed let me tell you. In fact, I confronted Dad, that night, in his bedroom. Emma was there, sadly. I hated to do all that yelling in front of her. But still, Dad had no right to give our rightful inheritance to this woman. Not to mention that he’s still… well, he was still young. He was only 50, for crying out loud. I was pissed, and I let him know it.”

“I see,” I said. Then I thanked him and moved onto the next person. Lydia Winters.

“Tell me, Lydia, when was the last time you saw your brother?” I asked.

“When he told us all he was cutting us out of the will and leaving everything to that bitch, Emma,” she said. I could see that her eyes were puffy, clearly from crying.

“She’s lying,” said Rose, who was suddenly standing next to me. That was going to take some getting used to.

I looked sideways at her. I already knew she was lying.

“I mean, about more than the last time she saw him,” she said, looking me square in the eyes. “She’s not just not telling you the truth, she’s holding something back.”

“Lydia,” I said, turning back to my suspect. “I have information that indicates that you were having an argument with your brother not long after the announcement.”

She hesitated, glaring at me. “Yes,” she said at last. “Yes, we did. I accused him of cutting all of us out of the will to get at me, out of spite. He argued, and we yelled at each other for a few minutes. Finally, he said that this was final, and left for bed. I did the same. It was the last time I saw him, I swear.”

“She’s still hiding something,” Rose said.

“Thank you, Lydia,” I said, and she left. Rose turned to me in shock.

“You’re letting her go?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I can’t question her based on a ghost’s intuition. I need something more than she’s lying to me. All of them are lying to me. It’s pretty normal in a murder investigation. No one wants to be fingered, so they all lie.”

“Listen to me, Daivd,” Rose said in a low voice that almost echoed. “this is not intuition. I believe that this woman murdered her husband, and that belief is because as a ghost, I can look into her heart. She’s holding back something important.”

“Oh, believe me, Rose,” I replied. “I believe you. I just can’t act on this information. I need proof, evidence.”

“Well,” she said, “there’s still one more person to talk to.”

And with that, Mrs. Weathers came in and sat down at the table.

“How are things going, David,” she said, making sure to say my first name this time. “Have you found who it was that killed my husband?”

“I have a suspect,” I said. “But I need to ask you a few questions first.”

She nodded, but said nothing.

“Were you aware that your husband was changing the will?” I asked.

“Oh, heavens no,” she said. “I would have tried to talk him right out of that. Imagine, cutting your own children out of your will, and then leaving it all to someone that they all hate. I don’t blame them one bit. I was upset too. In fact, I was so upset that I had a tough time sleeping. My husband got out of bed to go get me some milk in the kitchen and that was the last I saw of him.”

“I see,” I said. “One last question, Mrs. Weathers. Do you normally have a glass of milk before bed?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Some times long after getting in bed.”

“And did your husband get them for you?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I normally got up and got them for myself.”

“Is this common knowledge?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said. “I mean, Lydia might know, she bumped into me a few times over the past week while she stayed here.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Weathers,” I replied. “Would you be so kind as to gather the family?”

A few moments later, I stood back in the living room, facing the family and Jose. I was ready to make my announcement.

“I believe I have solved the crime of who killed Mr. Weathers,” I said simply.

They looked at each other and then back at me expectantly.

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “The murder wasn’t aiming at killing Mr. Weathers, but rather his dear wife, Emma. Isn’t that right, Lydia?”

She gasped, and then glared at me. I continued.

“See, after the announcement, Lydia confronted her brother. They argued about her husband and his wife, someone Lydia hated. After the argument, she was unable to convince her brother to change the will back, and so she decided to get her revenge by killing the person who would get all the money. She knew Mrs. Weathers liked to get herself a glass of milk late at night, and so waited for her to leave the bedroom. When someone did, she waked that person on the back of he head with some kind of heavy object, and the body fell down the stairs. It was only after that she discovered that the body was really her brother, so she quickly hid the body in the closet.”

Everyone gasped and loved over at Lydia. She was crying. Then, she got up and pointed at Mrs. Weathers.

“it was supposed to be that bitch,” she said. “She took my brother from me, and then she took my remaining share of the money left to me and my brother from our dad. I wasn’t about to let that happen. But instead, she sent my brother to get the milk, and… and… I hit him on the back of the head with a crowbar. I was supposed to be her!”

“Thank you for that,” said a voice from the door. It was a man in a dark suit and glasses. He flashed a badge. “A confession will make this all go so much smoother at the office.”

It all went pretty normal after that. The cop arrested Lydia, Mrs. Weathers wrote me a check that was far larger than my fee, and the rest of the family went back to arguing over the will. As I drove away, Rose appeared at my side.

“That was very well done, Mr. Poblocki,” she said.

“Well,” I replied, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“We do make a rather good team, don’t we?” she asked.

“Yes. Yes we do.”

The End.

Week 32

Well, another week and another story. And yet another one posted very late on Sunday.

Why? This one was truly hard to write, and I personally think it's crap. Still, I got to have a story, and getting out the crap is the reason I do this, so here it is.

Lesson learned: I suck at mysteries.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Blue Rose

The doctor leaned down to look the boy in the bed over, shaking his head as he did so. He pulled out a strange instrument from his bag that looked like a small wooden stick stuck to a finely crafted brass handle. He waved it over the boy, and the tip began to glow a pale pink. He shook his head again.

“I’m afraid that William here has Red Fever,” he said, standing up and turning to face the woman in the room.

He looked her over. She was tall for a Jandurian woman, but stood slightly stooped, probably due to a life of raising children and running a farm. A touch of gray could be seen in her otherwise still shining brown hair, and the signs of age could only just be seen on her face. She was not what one would call plump, but her body was also not the skinny of youth any more. He shook his head once more. Such a woman should not be raising three children and a farm on her own.

“How is that possible?” she whispered. If he had not been looking at her at the time, he wouldn’t have even known she said anything. “No one has had Red Fever in…”

“Generations,” the doctor said. “Yes. It’s true, in this part of Janduria, the Red Fever is all but a myth. Occasionally, however, someone will break out in it. It’s likely that your son contracted it from that bite I saw on his leg. Was it a stray cat?”

“No,” she said almost absently. She moved to the bed now, looking down at her sleeping son. She started to cover him up in his blankets as she spoke. “It was a squirrel. It bit him four days ago. I thought I had cleaned out the wound.”

“No doubt you did,” the doctor said, taking her face in his hands to make her look at him. Her eyes remained absent. “Listen to me, Bhodi. That squirrel probably was a carrier for Red Fever. I saw this kind of thing all the time in the larger cities, but occasionally an animal will get infected and go mad. We don’t know how, but once infected, they’ll bite people, as if purposely trying to pass the disease on.”

“But,” Bhodi said, tears coming down her cheeks, “there is a cure, yes? Red Fever went away, no one gets it anymore.”

“Well,” the doctor hesitated.

“What?” Bhodi said. “Tell me.”

The doctor hesitated for a moment, studying Bhodi’s stern look before sighing heavily. “I saw written in an old journal of the previous doctor for our village, my master, had spoken of the cure. It said that if you take the petals of a blue rose, and crush them into boiling hot water, and then drink it once it’s cooled enough to do so, it will break the fever and bring the infected back to health.”

“Then let us do that!” Bhodi said, her eyes bright with hope.

The doctor looked down at the floor, refusing to look her in the eye. She put her arms on her hips and stared at him like she would her son when she knows he’s lying to her.

“What?” she demanded.

“There’s a problem,” he said.

“I figured that much,” she said.

“There are no more Blue Roses in this area,” he said. “They stopped growing here years ago. The only place left to get them now is the other side of the Dragon’s Teeth Mountains.”

“What?” Bhodi said. “The Dragon’s Teeth are a week away, at least.”

“Yes,” the doctor said.

Bhodi looked from the doctor to her son and then back again. She sighed again.

“How long does Willham have?” she asked.

The doctor looked back at Bhodi’s eyes. He saw determination there.

“About a month before the Fever kills him,” he said, deciding that honest truth was best with this woman.

She looked back down at her son, her jaw set. She thought hard about what the doctor had told her. Red Fever was deadly, but a month… that would give her more than enough time to travel to the Dragon’s Teeth and get a blue rose and return. If only Davin, her oldest son, was here. He was the adventuring hero, out fighting evil monsters with his friends. She was just a mother and farmer, and at forty was too old for adventure. But, Davin was not here. He was in far off Flandar, according to his last letter and gift of two gold coins a year ago.

“Thank you doctor,” she said after a few more moments, nodding her head. “We’ll call on you again if Willham gets worse.”

The doctor hesitated for a moment, but seeing the look of determination crossed with anger on her face, he decided it was best to leave. Bhodi remained in the room with her sleeping child for nearly ten minutes before she collapsed on her knees and started crying. She didn’t know how long she spent there with the tears coming from her eyes, but eventually she was brought back to the real world by a gentle touch on her shoulder. Getting up, she turned around to see her middle child, her thirteen year old daughter Sahnda.

“Momma?” she asked, concern on her face. “Is… is Willham going to die?”

Bhodi sat up and hugged her daughter. Sahnda had inherited her father’s gift for getting straight to the point.

“No, my dear,” she said. “Not if I have anything to say about it. And unless God wills otherwise, I do.”

She stood her daughter up, got on her knees and looked Sahnda in the eyes. “I’m going to need your help, though.”

Sahnda nodded, eager. Bhodi smiled. It was obvious that Sahnda had a close attachment to her younger brother. But this would be hard on the young woman, who was just three years away from marrying age.

“I am going to have to go on a trip,” she said, “to get medicine for Willham. While I am gone, I need you to look after him. Do you think you can do that?”

“I… I don’t understand, Momma,” she said at last.

Bhodi decided to tell her daughter the truth. “Sahnda, your brother is very sick. He has a disease known as the Red Fever. If I don’t get this medicine he needs, he will die. So, I am going to get the medicine. And to do that, I need you to stay here and take care of him.”

Sahnda seemed to be thinking this over. Finally, she nodded. “Yes, Momma. I can do that.”

“Good girl. Now,” Bhodi said. “I need you to help me gather my things.”

A few hours later, Bhodi was dressed in her traveling clothing, including a pair of expensive leather boots she had bought with the gold her son sent her, a walking stick and a backpack filled with what supplies she could carry. She leaned over the bed of Willham and kissed him on the forehead. It was hot, even to her lips. She frowned, but realized that she didn’t have the time to waist waiting.

“I’ll come back, Willham,” she said. “I’ll bring you the blue rose, and you’ll be okay. Momma promises.”

She walked to the front door where Sahnda was waiting for her. She looked worried. Bhodi smiled what she hoped was a comforting smile and hugged her daughter.

“You will be fine, my daughter,” she said. “I have trained you to run this household, and you can do it better than even I. I will not be gone so very long.”

“Do hurry back, Momma,” Sahnda said.

“I will,” Bhodi said. “And remember, the money I have left you is…”

“Is for food,” Sahnda interrupted. “And for the doctor should Willham get worse. I know mother.”

Bhodi smiled. “You will be okay.”

The two smiled at each other, and then suddenly, Sahnda ran down the hall to the kitchen. Bhodi watched her go, realizing that this was just her not wanting to watch her actually leave. Taking a deep breath, Bhodi turned and walked out the door. She exited the town with tears streaming down her face.

The first few days of her journey are uneventful as she traveled down well-worn merchant roads. She even managed to catch ride on a caravan that was passing by. After a few days riding with the caravan, she finally reached the city of Danka. Having spent her whole life in the small village of Hillside, Danka was a sight to behold. Walls surrounded it, and guards could be seen all along the top. The main gates were open during the day, and the Caravan just came right in. She looked around and thought that the land the city occupied could have held ten farms and the whole of hillside. And the people! Never in all her life had she seen so many people. They were running about here and there on some errand or another. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry.

When the Caravan stopped at the warehouse district, she got off and thanked the caravan master for the ride. She decided that she didn’t want stick around Danka if possible, the city made her nervous. It was late in the day, though, and she didn’t fancy sleeping on the ground when there were Inn’s so close by, so she decided to get a room and move on in the morning.

She was following the directions to inns that were safe for visitors tot the city when she felt like someone was following her. She turned to look, but other than the mass of men and women from the caravan, there was nothing that really looked like she was being followed. She shrugged and kept moving. A little while later, she turned down a street and found that she was alone. The few shops down this street had closed up for the day, and everyone had left. She was nearby the inn the caravan master had recommended, though, and so continued to stride on. Then she got that feeling she was being followed again.

She stopped and turned to look again, this time seeing several young men in black clothing. They didn’t hesitate when they saw her looking and charged up at her. Bhodi screamed and started running, but with the backpack slowing her down, the toughs caught up to her quickly and dragged her into an ally way. Bhodi was not completely defenseless. She had dealt with pig thieves several times since her husband had died, and knew how to handle the walking stick she was carrying. She swung it in a wide arc, slamming it into the side of one thugs head. He collapsed to the cobblestone grabbing his head.

“Grab her stick!” one of the youths said.

She swung it again, backing into a wall, and caused the young men to hesitate before rushing her. She tried to take advantage of their hesitation, and swung again.

“Just what do you boys thing you’re doing,” she said in her best Mom Voice. She used this voice when trying to intimidate her children into doing something they didn’t want to do. It seemed to work, and the boys attacking her actually took a step back. She wasn’t sure what to do next, however.

“What are you waiting for,” one said, pushing another towards her. “Get her!”

She tried to swing the walking stick again, but this time they were ready for her. One thug grabbed the stick and yanked it out of her hands. This caused her to stumble forward, off balance. Another tough took advantage of this and grabbed her arms, yanking them behind her and holding her up by them. She struggled, but moving caused her pain in her shoulders. The one that had been shouting orders that the others came up to her and punched her hard in her stomach, knocking the wind out of her.

“Old cow,” he said. “Stupid old cow. This could have been easier on you. We just want your purse. Now, we’re going to have to teach you a lesson, as well.”

He punched her in the stomach again, and Bhodi tried to double over and cough, but the youth holding her kept her up. This gave her the perspective to see what the boy in front of her was doing. He pulled out a long knife, the kind used in hunting, and held it up for her to see.

“Now, I’m going to have to cut ya,” he said.

She tried to scream, but another of the youths held her jaw and twisted her head around so that the side of her face was now towards the leader. He put the cold metal blade up against her face, right next to her eye. She was sweating in fear, and a tear escaped her eye. The youths all around her laughed, and the leader slowly scraped the blade down her cheek, tracing a line of red down to her jaw. She tried her best to not cry out in pain, lest the knife do worse than a mere cut.

“Hey, Jed,” one of the youths off to the side said in surprise. “You have to see the money in this ladies purse.”

This caused the leader to back off and go see. She was left alone with the young man holding her arms.

“By the name of God, this is nearly a whole gold,” the boy said. “We’ve struck it rich, gang! We’ve got enough here to buy ourselves a whole house.”

“Too bad you’re not keeping it,” said a voice from down the alley. A flash of red came sailing into view and smacked the youth holding Bhoid’s purse in the face, which was then covered in a runny red paste of some sort. Another red blob hit the leader, and Bhodi saw that they were tomatoes. Rotten tomatoes from the smell.

“It’s that little snot from yesterday,” the leader said, wiping tomatoes from his face. “Go get him!”

“What about the cow, Jed?” the one holding Bhodi asked.

“Leave her,” Jed was saying, already running down the alley towards the boy throwing the tomatoes. All the others ran after him, taking her purse with them and leaving Bhodi alone in the alley. She collapsed to the ground and began to cry. She couldn’t hold it back, and just lay there on the cold cobblestone, crying. She wasn’t sure how long she had been there when she finally got up, but she saw that the sun had gone down, and now it was well and truly dark. Shaking, she got up, grabbed her backpack and her walking stick and slowly made her way out of the alley.

“Hey, you’re still here,” came a voice from the street, and Bhodi clutched her walking stick, ready to attack again.

“Woah, there, lady,” the voice said, and Bhodi saw it was attached to a young boy, maybe eleven years of age. He wore ragged clothing so dirty that it was difficult to determine what color they really were. But it was obvious that he was not part of the gang that had attacked her earlier. He carried a satchel over his shoulder, and was reaching into it while he moved slowly towards he.

“I got something in here I think you might like,” he said.

Bhodi watched as he carefully pulled out a small leather purse and then offered it to her. It took her a few seconds to realize that it was her purse. She reached out and took it, and felt that it was still heavy with coin.

“I don’t know if they managed to get any money out of it before I snatched it from them,” the boy said, “but I didn’t take anything out of it when I got it.”

She opened the purse and looked in, and saw that most, if not all, of the money that had been in there when she entered the city was still there. She looked back up at the boy, shock on her face.

“Thank you,” she said after a second.

“You’re welcome,” he smiled at her. “Not everyone in the city is a bad person. Plus, I have a personal vendetta against Jed. There’s really no need to thank me.”

She found herself smiling back at him. Then she realized that he looked like the other boys in that he must live on the street. She reached into the purse and pulled out a silver coin.

“Oh, no,” he said, waiving his hands at her. “I didn’t do this for a reward.”

She continued to hold the coin at him. “Consider this a retainer,” she said. “I need a guide in the city. I’d like to hire you.”

He looked at her suspiciously.

“For instance,” she said, looking around at the dark buildings. “I need an inn for the night. Then, I’m going to need some help in the morning. Let me hire you.”

He walked up to her and looked her straight in the eyes. After a moment, he nodded and the smile returned to his face. He took the coin, stuffed in into a pocket in his satchel and then extended his hand to her.

“My name’s Tadd,” he said.

She accepted his offered hand and shook it.

“My name is Bhodi,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Tadd.”

“Now, to an inn,” he said. “There’s a great one that is friendly to visitors to the city just around the corner. I know the owner; he’ll give you a good deal. Come on.”

And so he lead her to a fine three story building that was still open and introduced her to the innkeeper, who was cleaning up the last of the dinner plates and glasses. He told the innkeeper the story of her mugging and the man took pity on Bhodi and gave her a fine room for a single cooper. The next morning, she went down to the commons room to find Tadd and the innkeeper waiting for her with a bowl of hot breakfast.

After eating, she told them the story of her quest, that she needed a blue rose to cure her son from the Red Fever. They were both shocked. Red Fever hadn’t been seen even in the city in generations. They understood her need, but getting up the Dragon’s Teeth was difficult. There were, of course, mountain men that lived up there and came down occasionally to sell furs or meat and purchase needed supplies before returning back to the mountains. Bhodi brightened. Perhaps she could hire one of these men.

“It’s unlikely,” the innkeeper said. “They generally don’t like people. Thus, they live in the mountains. It’s not likely that they will hire themselves out, and especially not to a farmer looking for a flower.”

Bhodi’s face fell at the news. “Is there no one that can aid me?” she asked.

“What about Mikhail?” Tadd asked. “I heard he was back in town the other day.”

“Who?” Bhodi asked.

“You do not want Mikhail,” the innkeeper said. “He is a drunk. He goes into the mountains for months at a time and when he does come back, it is only to trade his furs for money that he immediately spends on alcohol. He drinks himself into oblivion for a few days, then when his money runs out, he goes back to the mountains.”

“Months at a time?” Bhodi said. “Is that normal?”

“No,” the innkeeper said slowly. “Normal for mountain men is a few weeks. It is difficult to survive up there in the snow and rocks.”

“But this Mikhail does it for several months?” Bhodi asked. “Then he is very good.”

“Good?” the innkeeper snorted. “He is perhaps the best mountain man there is. His furs are always the best, his tracking skills are second to none, and as you pointed out, he can survive in the mountains for extreme amounts of time. But he is untrustworthy. You should seek out someone else.”

“Is there anyone else?” she asked.

The innkeeper and Tadd looked at each other and then back to her, but neither said anything. She nodded.

“Tadd,” she said. “Take me to Mikhail.”

About an hour later she found herself in another inn, spooning food into the mouth of a large, dirty, smelly man that Tadd assured her was Mikhail. He was sobering up pretty quickly given the fact that he was passed out cold when she first found him. A quick dousing with ice water and some food has fixed it. Finally, he shoved the spoon away from his mouth, coughing.

“Who are you, woman?” he asked, his words only a little slurred. “And what exactly are you doing to me?”

“I am Bhodi of Hillside,” she said, “and I am attempting to sober you up so I can hire you to take me to the peaks of the Dragon’s Teeth Mountains.”

“You want to… hire me?” he said through the rough fur that covered his face. Then he began to laugh, a loud and rough laugh that made Bhodi think it was an action he didn’t perform often.

“Yes,” she said after he was done. “I hear you are the best mountain man out there, and I wish to go to the top of the mountain.”

“I don’t do tours,” he said.

“I’m not looking for a tour,” she replied. “I’m looking for a blue rose.”

He stopped and stared hard at her, and she simply stared back at him. She was unflinching.

“Why?” he asked simply. Talking was obviously not Mikhail’s strong suit.

“My son is dying of Red Fever,” she said quietly. “The blue rose is the only cure.”

He looked hard at her again, and again she refused to look away, though this time a tear wet her cheek.

“Okay,” he said at last. “I’ll take you.”

“Thank you,” she started to reply.

“There are rules,” he interrupted. “First, you do everything I say, when I say it. No hesitation. No questioning. Second, you carry your own weight. I carry supplies for myself only. Third, no complaining about the food. I hunt, you eat. Those are my rules.”

Bhodi had to bite back from laughing. “Those are acceptable.”

“Good,” he said. “We will go in the morning. I need to sleep off this hangover.”

Abruptly, he good up and walked to the innkeeper. “I want one room. She is paying.”

The innkeeper handed him a key, and he walked abruptly upstairs, not even sparing a glance at Bhodi. Without a word, Bhodi walked up to the innkeeper and paid for Mikhail’s room, and then one for herself. She spent the rest of that day shopping for mountaineering supplies with Tadd’s help. She thanked Tadd profusely, paid him another silver, telling him that he could go home now. He refused, stating that he would help her right out to the city gates, and he would wait for her to return. She smiled. He reminded her so much of her oldest son.

When she awoke the next morning, it was to a loud banging on the door to her room. She dressed quickly and went to open the door, only to find Mikhail there.

“We go now,” he said, then looked her up and down. “Finishing dressing. I will wait down stairs. But hurry. We are burning daylight.”

With that, he left downstairs. Bhodi quickly dressed in her new mountaineering gear and rushed down stairs. True to his word, Tadd was there, smiling. Mikhail was glaring at him, but stopped when she came down. He walked up to her and made her turn around while he inspected her gear. He grunted, but she was unsure if that was in approval or not.

“It is good gear,” he said. “Your boy Tadd knows where to buy good equipment.”

She smiled at Tadd. Mikhail nodded once, then started to leave. He didn’t look to see if she was following, but she quickly rushed after him. At first, following Mikhail was a bit like when she first left Hillside. A quick, easy walk, but quiet and somewhat lonely. Still, she felt better knowing that this time, at least, she had someone to follow. Once they reached the mountains, however, it all changed. Sometimes, they were hiking, other’s they were climbing the rocks. He was patient, if somewhat gruff, seeming to understand that she didn’t know what she was doing.

That first night, once the camp was set up and they were eating, she decided to start talking to him. She had been thinking about some things and wanted his response.

“I was always told that there were monsters in the mountains,” she said, finding her voice to be loud in the quiet of the night. “Is that true?”

He grunted. “Trolls,” he said, nodding his head. “There used to be hundreds of ‘em living here in the mountains. But, they were mostly hunted away. They tented to attack and eat the woodsmen and mountain men like me that tried to make a honest living here. Now, they’re all gone, pushed over the peaks to the other side.”

It was the most he had said all at once to her since they had met. She smiled. So, he could talk. He just didn’t. Probably wasn’t used to it.

“So, no dangers going up the mountain?” she asked.

“Oh, plenty of danger,” he said. “The mountains are temperamental. They like to test you, to see if you’re serious. Rock slides, snowstorms, ice… there’s lots of danger. Just not from monsters. Or trolls.”

With that, he stretched out and went soundly to sleep. She marveled at his ability to simply shut off like that, and then tried to sleep herself. She thought of Willham back home. She still had three weeks to make it back, and if this pace kept up, she’d be there with a week to spare.

The next few days were relatively quiet between the two of them. As per his rules, Bhodi did whatever Mikhail said, when he said it, with no hesitation or question. At least twice, doing so saved her life. At night, they would talk, and he warmed up to her some as time went on. She learned that he used to be a merchant, with a wife, but she died of an illness as well. It’s why he lives in the mountains, and why he agreed to take her up. No one should see a loved one of illness die when a cure exists.

When they reached the plateau right under the peak, he pointed out the tips of the bushes that grew up there. She could just make out the blue roses blooming in the cold.

“Do they need the cold to survive?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “Blue roses are hardy, they grow almost anywhere. Just happens to be here is all that’s left.”

To her surprise, Mikhail told her to set up camp. It was still daylight, and she was anxious to get a rose. Still, not wanting to question his expertise at this late stage, she did as he commanded. After getting the tent set up, she turned around, expecting him to be setting up the fire, and saw that he wasn’t there. She panicked, and started looking around the camp. Then she saw his climbing gear had been hooked up. He had gone onto the peak without her. She was angry at first, and briefly contemplated following him, when she realized that this wall was far too steep for her inexperience. She would never make it. It was all up to this hairy stranger now. She returned to camp and started setting up the fire.

She had started cooking the snow rabbits he had caught the night before when he returned to camp. He smiled when he did, smelling the rabbits.

“Mmm,” he said. “Smells good. How long?”

It took everything she had not to smack him with a hot fork right now.

“Did you get it?” she asked instead.

“What?” he asked. Then he looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Of course I did,” he said, and pulled something out of his jacket. It was a small bouquet of roses, all a dark, deep blue. She jumped up and kissed him square on his cheek. It was covered in snow and dirt, but she didn’t care.

“Oh, thank you!” she said, taking the roses. “Thank you!”

“It was easier for me than you,” he said, whipping his cheek as if he could clean away the kiss. “Faster. I figured that was what you wanted.”

She was so happy. They ate in silence, but she didn’t care. She had the rose. The cure. All was right in the world. She slept soundly that night, and woke up to find herself colder than when she went to bed. Mikhail was already outside, picking the last of the rabbit straight from the pitch.

“Storm,” he said. “You slept through it. It was a big one, too.”

She crawled out and looked around. Everything, everywhere she looked, was white. It was a bit, white, show covered blanket, covering the whole mountain. What she didn’t see was a way out. Their tent was half buried as it was.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“Noting to do,” he said. “Take to long to dig ourselves out, maybe a week. Better to just wait for it to melt.”

“No!” she cried. “My son is sick and dying. I don’t have time to sit around and wait for snow to melt.”

And with that, she started to dig. At first, with her bare hands, then she pulled out her pack and started to dig with her plates. He let her go at it for several hours, probably figuring that she was just upset and would quit. When she didn’t, even after he offered her food, he grunted. Finally, he picked her up and pulled her away from the snow.

“Nooooo!” she cried, but he dragged her back to camp. When she started to get up again, he pointed back at the spot he put her down on, in front of the fire, and yanked her plate out of her hand. Then, he did something that surprised her. He went with her plate to where she was digging and started to dig himself, taking over from where she left off.

It took them then next five days to dig through the snow and finally back down the mountain, but they did it before the snow melted, something Mikhail thought was not possible when they started. When they parted ways, Mikhail refused his payment, stating that knowing her son would be safe was reward enough for him.

When she returned to Danka, so wasted no time, and got Tadd, who was waiting for her, to help her get a ride on a caravan heading back her way. He came with her, much to his surprise, and with the aid of the caravan, they returned home. She came up to her house and hesitated before going in, fearful that Willham would be dead already. Tadd nudged her on, and she entered.

“Momma?” Sahnda cried, running down the hall. She threw herself into her mothers arms. “Momma, thank the name of God that you are home safe!”

“Willham?” Bhodi asked.

Sahnda nodded. “He has gotten somewhat worse, but he still lives. Did you get the medicine?”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes I did.”

She reached into her pouch and pulled out a single blue rose and handed it to her daughter. Everything was right with the world, Bhodi thought. Everything would be okay now.

The End