Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Ballad of John Little

The Ballad of John Little

He’s not the only one with a story, you know. Sure, everyone knows his the best, Robyn of Loxley, Earl of Huntington, comes home from the crusades to find his lands have been taken by the Church and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and becomes the famous outlaw known as Robyn Hood. It didn’t take him long to gather a band of like minded outlaws to fight against the injustices of the Sheriff and Prince John, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, and generally making a legend for himself. And a legend he is. He’s my best friend, and I believe that he should have stories told about him. But, as I said, he’s not the only one with stories. My name is John Little, and I’m here to share some of those other stories with you. I’m starting with my own.

I was born John Naylor, son of Richard and Mary. My father was something of a lazy cad, according to my mother. I never knew him, he left before my second birthday, and I’ve never missed him. In fact, when I got older, I insisted that people call me John Little, my mother’s maiden name. The one thing my father did do for us was leave us the farm. Until I was old enough to run the place myself, my mother had trouble hiring help, so we struggled. We managed, mostly through the help of an old man I remember from my childhood, named David.

I first remember David from when I was about ten years old. He came to the farm looking for work, and was happy to take room and board as payment. I was instantly curious about him. His only possessions were a small sack, a bedroll, a hunting knife and a quarterstaff. He stayed in the barn with the animals, and seemed happy to do so. He taught me a lot during his time with us. He taught me how to milk a cow properly, how to get just the right kind of split in the soil when tilling, and how to plant crops so that they take as much advantage of the land as possible. But, he taught me other things as well.

David figured that any boy living without a father would get into lots of fights, and he was right. I got into scrap after scrap with the other kinds in the village, over every slight, real or perceived. Well, David, he taught me to fight. The first rule he taught me was that in fighting, there are no rules. The goal is to win, to survive. And in survival, anything goes. He taught me fisticuffs, how to dodge and where to punch a man to do the most damage without breaking your fist in the processes. I took his lessons to heart, and promptly picked a fight with the biggest bully in town, kicking the snot out of him in record time. I didn’t get picked on again after that.

David was always teaching me, anything I was willing to learn. And I was a sponge, willing to learn it all. But my favorite lessons from him were the quarterstaff lessons. Every day, after we had finished our chores around the farm, David would take me into the woods. There, he taught me how to find foods to eat, track animals for hunting, and how to fight with the quarterstaff. He did it out there in the woods because he didn’t want my mother to see. Inevitably, I would wind up battered and bruised. David always made sure to hit me someplace my mother wouldn’t see it when we returned, and as time went on, I was giving as good as I got.

One day, out in those woods, he decided to test me some. He clonked me on the head hard with his staff, knocking me on my arse for a time. When I cleared my head, he was gone, and I was in a part of the woods I had never been in before. I needed to find my way home, and quick. The sun was near to setting. I used that fact to help me determine what direction to head back home in, as I knew what direction the forest was compared to the farm. I hadn’t been traveling for long when I ran into the bear.

Now, I should take this moment to state that, even as a young boy as I was when this happened, I was big. At eleven, I was as tall as your average man, and pretty broad due to all the work on the farm. But, even at this, the bear dwarfed me. It was truly huge, at least ten feet in length, with claws that looked as long as my forearm, and teeth the size of fingers. The only benefit I had was that it was sleeping when I came upon it. It was quieter than I had expected, having always imagined that bears snored like old men in the cold. But this one, while breathing heavily, was only making noise like leaf rustlings.

It was breathing in deeply and slowly, and looked like nothing more than a small mountain. I held my own breath for fear of awakening the beast. After a few tense moments of waiting to see if it was truly asleep, I started moving as slowly and quietly as I could, in a wide arc, around the bear. I had just about made it half way across when, of course, I took a moment to look away from the ground and towards the bear. This proved to be my undoing. I stepped on a twig, creating a loud snapping noise that echoed through the immediate area. The bear snorted and started to wake.

I didn’t wait to see what it would do, I simply ran. I pushed my legs as hard as I had ever, and ran through bushes and low hanging branches, gathering cuts like a starving man would bread loafs. Sadly, the bear knew the land better than I did, and managed to cut me off at a stream not far from his napping ground. It reared to its full height and let loose a sound that I can only describe as a cry of pure anger. I am man enough to tell you that I have never been more terrified in my entire life than I was at this point. I thought for sure that I was dead.

I closed my eyes, prepared for the lunge that was coming, when a thought of my mother sprang to my mind. She would be left alone if I died, and would surely loose the farm. I found that I couldn’t allow that to happen. I snapped open my eyes just as the bear lunged down towards me. All the training I had received in fighting from David came into focus just then. David was not a big man, and he had taught me not only how to use my size to my advantage, but how he could use it to his. He also taught me how to defend myself against someone else trying to use my size against me. In this case, I was the smaller of the two fighters, and realized that I knew how to use the bear’s size against him.

I stuck up my quarter staff and pushed it out right in front of me, punching the bear right in the nose. This caused him to try and rear backwards, but it was too late, the lunge had too much forward momentum to stop. Off balance, the bear’s attack was thrown off enough for me to dodge to the right. Now at the side of the bear, I took the opportunity to smack it with my staff one more time on the rump. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake. It took the bear’s concentration off the pain in its sensitive nose and back to me.

I realized that I should stick to my original desire to get home, and not to defeat the bear. It was in this fight that I learned that not all fights need to be won; you just need to be able to walk away from them. I did a pre-emptive duck from a swing of the bear’s paw as it turned around and got in another shot at its face with my staff. I didn’t hit him in the nose again, but I did get a solid crack on the jaw, and even managed to see a tooth knocked out. Again, the bear reared up, this time in pain, and I took advantage to run off again.

This time, I took a jagged path instead of a straight line, getting myself lost in the processes, but getting away from the bear. I had survived, and I had done so by use of my mind combined with my muscle. I was elated, and couldn’t wait to see David so I could tell him all about this adventure. It took me another two hours to find my way home, mostly because I wasn’t using all that David had taught me until a good hour into it. When I got to the farm, it was dark, and both my mother and David were waiting for me.

I had never been in as much trouble as then, and I noticed that even David was in trouble, which surprised me. I had never seen an adult in trouble with another adult like that before. Still, it didn’t last long. Punishments from my mom usually were more work around the farm, which I never minded. I loved the farm. And I loved David, even though he did leave me in the forest. I understood why he did it. I learned valuable lessons about survival out there, lessons that he couldn’t have taught me in any other way.

David stayed with us for a total of two years, far longer than any other hand had. He became the father I never knew I wanted, and like a brother to my mother, who was in desperate need of the adult companionship. On my twelfth birthday, David had to leave us. It was a day I would never forget. David had left me again, tracking through the forest to find him before we were both late to dinner. This had become something of a game for us, and I had become very good at finding him over the past few months. I found him easily this time as well, standing at one of his favorite places to hunt for food, a clearing near a stream.

He was talking when I came up behind him, which made me pause. I didn’t think he had heard me, so he wasn’t talking to me. He had a rabbit in one hand, and the other was held out, palm open, to show it was empty. His knife was sitting on a rock nearby, and his staff lay on the ground. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, because that was all I could see. I moved around to get a better look at the whole clearing, and that’s when I saw the real reason he was talking.

On the other side of the clearing were three men. They were all armored, and had tabards that marked them as the Sheriffs men. Two held halberds pointed at David, and the third had a bow, drawn and aiming straight at David’s chest. He didn’t even look tired, and I remember thinking that it looked like he could hold that pose all day long. I froze, unsure what to do, so I just listened.

“Poaching rabbits in the Kings Forest,” one of the guards was saying. “That’s a serious offence. A hanging offence.”

“I’ve done far worse things than poaching,” David was saying. “I think you know that, Bernard.”

“Yes,” the guard replied back. “Yes I do, David.”

I had no idea what they were talking about. Poaching? Kings land? Something worse? How did these two know each other?

“David Smith,” the guard named Bernard was saying, “for the crime of poaching on the Kings land, and for the crime of murdering Rose Smith, our mother, I am placing you under arrest. You are to be taken back to the castle at Nottingham, where the Sheriff will decide your final fate.”

“I’m not going to resist, Bernard,” David was saying. “Just let me gather the few things I have here in the woods, and I’ll go with you to face my punishment.”

Something was horribly wrong. I some how knew that if David went with these me to the Sheriff, that the Sheriff would hang him. He would die. I couldn’t allow this. I leaped out of my hiding place, and put my self between the guards and David, my quarter staff at the ready.

“No!” I cried.

“Stand down!” Bernard shouted back at me.

Somehow, David remained calm throughout my arrival. I think he knew I was there, and was expecting exactly this kind of bonehead move. He reached out and touched my arm. I’m not sure why, but this calmed me down, and I looked back at him. His eyes were sad.

“You can’t go, David,” I said, trying to cut off any attempt he was about to make to talk me down.

“I have to, John,” he said.

“This your accomplice, David?” Bernard asked. “Is he helping you poach the kings game?”

“He’s just a kid, Bernard,” David cried back, pulling me behind him as he did so. “His mom owns a farm near by, and I worked on it for a time. He had no idea what I was before coming here, and he was not helping me kill game. He’s innocent, Bernard. Send him home, you already have me. Send him home.”

Bernard seemed to be thinking this over. After a while, he nodded.

“Okay, David,” he said, “I’ll let him go. But only if he goes now. Any resistance on his part, and we arrest him as well.”

“John,” David said, turning to face me. He was holding both my arms, looking me straight in the eyes. He looked so sad then, but also something else… frightened.

“John, I want you to go no,” he said. “Run, and don’t look back.”

I wanted to protest, but he shook his head, as if reading my mind.

“No,” he said, “you cannot fight them. Go, now, before he changes his mind. Think of what would happen to your mother if you got arrested with me.”

Like that day with the bear, something inside my head snapped. I realized that I needed to not fight, but flee. Tears were beginning to well up in my eyes, and I couldn’t speak for fear of crying out right. I could only nod. He smiled and nodded back.

“Good boy, John,” he said, and pushed me on my way.

I turned and ran, then. I ran as hard as I could, and, like he said, I never looked back. I ran all the way home, and when I reached the farm I collapsed in a heap into my mothers arms. I was crying hard, and when she tried to ask me what was wrong, all I could get out was that David was gone, and that he was never coming back.

Despite the grief over the loss of someone that we both had come to consider important over the last 2 years, life went on. So, mother and I continued to work on the farm as best we cold, sell our goods in town when we had them, and attempted to stay one step ahead of the tax collector.

Life went on for another few years like this, until I was fourteen, and officially a man. I took over the farm from my mother at this point, and set about the important business of finding a wife. This wasn’t difficult for me. Lizzy was the blacksmith’s daughter, the only girl in a family of five brothers. She was a beautiful girl, plump, with curly red hair and freckles. I’d been in love with Lizzy for the past three years, and so it came as a surprise to no one when I asked her father for her hand in marriage.

A year later, after lots of planning and payments made between our parents, the wedding happened at the church. The whole village was there, which was no real surprise for our town. Weddings were a big event, and everyone loved going, especially when food was provided. Thankfully, my cousin was the baker, so food was provided.

Lizzy became an excellent addition to the farm, and with the help of three of her brothers, the farm bloomed again. She had an excellent eye for organization, as well, and things running smoothly in no time. And best of all, a year and a half later, Lizzy gave birth to our son, whom I insisted be named David. Life was looking good for the first time in as long as I could remember. And it continued being good for the next four years. David grew to be a strong young lad, and was everything a father could want. The farm continued to do well, and Lizzy’s brother’s brought their wives into the family, making it even easier to keep up with chores and tasks.

The only bad thing that happened during this time was my mother’s death. It was sad for both Lizzy and I, and I mourned for a full six months. But, it was a quiet and quick death, dignified, exactly how my mother wanted it to be. We were quiet for those months after her death. However, with not only David, but also the new children from Lizzy’s brothers, it was difficult to stay sad for very long. Life moved on again, and we went with it. Then came the day when everything changed.

Derrick was a sergeant in the Sheriff’s guard. He believed he was a big man, and by most standards, he was. He was a little less than six feet tall, and broad shouldered. He was also well muscled, a real solid rock of a man. Not to brag or anything, though, but by this point in my life, he was tiny compared to me. And this bothered him to no end. He couldn’t stand the idea that there was someone out there bigger than him, and so he used his position as a guard to prove that he was a bigger man than me.

For the most part, I never really minded. He was a small-minded bully, who thought that being in the guard made him the person with power in town. But, really, that’s all he wanted, was power in our little village. Like I said, small-minded. So, his bullying me around was something I could easily take. I had everything I wanted in life, everything that made me happy, and I thought that there was nothing he could do to take that away from me. I was so naive.

When Derrick first realized that nothing he was doing was truly bothering me, he changed tactics. It was common knowledge that Derrick had a thing for Lizzy. So he started threatening her. First, he tried subtlety, by indicating that if I didn’t do what he wanted, like pay extra for taxes, than something bad might happen to her. The first time he did this, I went ballistic. My vision turned red. I remember punching him and punching him and punching him, over and over, until the red in my vision was all over his face.

The next thing I remember was being attacked by his guard buddies. It wasn’t often in my life that I ever got a beating, but this was one of them, and it was one of the worse. I couldn’t move my right arm for a week out of pure pain. I woke up in Nottingham Castle’s prison, and thought for sure I was going to be hung. Instead, I got a visit from Derrick.

“You made a huge mistake, John,” he told me through a broken nose. “A huge mistake. I can’t hang you, much as I want to. But, I can guarantee you that you will live to regret that you ever laid a finger on me.”

At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. But, a few days later, I was released, and was able to go home. For the next few weeks, I thought that everything was back to normal. Lizzy was a little off, somehow, scared maybe. I figured it was just because she had never seen me be that violent before. It wasn’t until at three weeks after the event, I noticed that I hadn’t seen Derrick. And Lizzy’s fear only got worse.

I decided to try and find out what was going on. I left the field early one day, and snuck home to do something I still don’t feel good about doing to this day. I spied on my wife. It took a couple of days for me to see anything, because for the most part, nothing was different from her normal routine. But one day, Derrick came to the farm to pay a visit to Lizzy. I didn’t know what he was up to at first. I stayed as hidden as I could, but that left me too far away to actually hear them. Lizzy was crying, but the two just spent time talking. I figured that he was threatening to send me back to the dungeons, or to hang me, if she didn’t do something, give him some information.

Turns out, I should have thought more simply than that. After some hesitation on Lizzy’s part, Derrick stood like he was about to hit her. I was ready to charge in right then and there, but I waited, to see what Lizzy would do next. She stood, her head down, tears still streaming down her face, and began to undress. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. If before I went red, this time I went black. I could only think of one thing. Murder.

And murder was what happened. I charged into the house, grabbed Derrick by the neck, and threw him into the wall. I held him there and then squeezed. I felt his windpipe crush under my hands, and kept squeezing. I closed my hands around his neck until I could feel everything in there break or crumble. I wanted his eyes to bulge out of his head and roll onto the floor, so I could squish them too. I wanted to kill him in so many different ways, I couldn’t believe the thoughts running through my head.

When it was done, it was like waking from a dream. I looked at Derrick, dead in my heads, and was in shock. I released my grip, and his limp form fell to the ground with a sickening thud. Lizzy threw up right there, and I wanted to join her. She looked up at me, fear in her eyes, and started apologizing.

“I’m so sorry, John,” she said, through sobs, “I’m so sorry. He told me that if I didn’t… if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would have you hung. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to loose you.”

I crouched down and took her up in my arms and hugged her. I told her to hush, that it would be all right. We would hide Derrick’s body, and claim that we hadn’t seen him in since the incident if anyone asked. But she just kept shaking her head. Finally, she explained to me why that wouldn’t work.

“He usually doesn’t show up alone. Two more guards, usually the same two, come with him. They stand guard at the door, to make sure you don’t return. Sometimes, they don’t come, like tonight, but they’ll know he was here. They’ll suspect something happened. They’ll find a way to hang you for this.”

I started to try and tell her that we still had time to hid the body, that without it, they couldn’t really arrest me, but I knew that this wasn’t true. If Derrick taught me anything, it’s that the guard can do whatever they want. The Sheriff didn’t really care about local village politics, and public hangings were such great spectacles, why would he do anything different? Still, I was determined to not give up.

I didn’t have much choice, however. As if we were in some kind of play, and this was their cue, we could hear the marching boots of a couple of guards, heading up the walkway to the house. We both knew who it was instantly. There was no time to hid the body, and I would be arrested and taken away from my beloved Lizzy and David. I gritted my teeth and prepared to fight. I’d be damned if I would go down without taking them down with me. But, Lizzy put her hand on my arm. With ears in her eyes, she told me to flee.

“Run,” she said. “Become an outlaw, live in the woods. You can easily avoid the Sheriff’s men in the Sherwood. I can tell the guards a story about how this happened hours ago, and they will leave me and the farm. They will start to hunt you, but at least you will be alive. Some day, this will be forgotten, and you can return. I know it.”

I knew she was right. I had to leave. I had to run. And I had to do it right now. I gave Lizzy a kiss, stood up and left. On my way out, I grabbed a hunting knife and few tools. I snuck around the back of the house to make sure that the guards didn’t see me. I took a moment to look into the house and watch Lizzy, tears in her eyes, tell the guards her story. I nodded, and made a vow that some day, I would return. I would be there to raise my son and protect my wife. I’d be back, Lizzy. I’d be back.

And with that, I turned and fled to Sherwood Forest. Upon entering the wood, the first thing I did was carve myself a quarterstaff. I found that living in the forest was easy. There were nuts and fruit aplenty, and game was plentiful. I spent the next week in there, hunting and living, finding places to bed down for the night. It was a simple life, but a good one. I couldn’t stay happy for too long, though. I was alone, and felt that burden every single night. I started to form a plan, on how to get back to my Lizzy, at least for a little while.

It didn’t take much to make a disguise for myself. I found that if I covered myself in a large cloak, and hunched over, people thought I was a hunchback, and no one paid me any attention. I was able to sneak around all over, from Nottingham to my home village. I found out as much information as I could on the happenings of my village, and discovered that the Sheriff had raised taxes again. I knew that Lizzy wouldn’t be able to pay. I had heard the stories that were beginning to circulate about Robyn Hood at that point, new stories of an wolfs head in the forest that was robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

It was an excellent idea, even if the stories were not true, which I believed at the time. I found that my size made stealing from people easy, and after finding a few rich travelers that were trying to skirt around the woods, I had enough money for Lizzy to pay the taxes and keep the farm. Using my disguise, I did just that. I returned to the farm as a local beggar. I knocked on the door, and Lizzy answered. I gasped, she was still so beautiful. She, of course, recognized me right away.

“John, what are you doing here?” she said in a harsh whisper. “Go, now, before anyone see’s you.”

“Alms for the poor?” I said, in my best old man voice. I winked at her, and whispered, “No one knows it’s me. I’ve come with a gift.”

She looked confused, but when I handed her the pouch with the money in it, her eyes widened.
“Robyn Hood?” she whispered again, looking at me with new awe in her eyes.

I shook my head. I explained that I had heard the tales, and thought it was a good idea. Knowing that she couldn’t pay the new taxes, I decided to use the idea and make sure she could. I may be an outlaw, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t still going to take care of my family. She smiled, nodded herself, and accepted the money. She hugged me and cried.

“Thank you, John,” she said. “I love you!”

I returned to the forest, then. I spent the next few days just wandering, feeling good about myself. It would be a good life indeed, if a little hard and lonely. Then came the day that everything in my life would change once again.

I was walking in the forest, and came to a small log bridge that rode over a flowing river. I prepared to cross when I saw a stranger on the other side. Not many people walked in this part of the woods, and this man was wearing a kelly green costume, making me believe he was an excellent mark for helping Lizzy make her next tax payment.

“Ho there,” he said with a smile on his face, “Stand aside! I would cross this bridge.”

“As would I,” I said, a smile of my own crossing my face. “It is you that should stand aside, stranger.”

And the rest of that story, I believe you all know.

The End

Week 8!

Wow, week 8! 8 stories, two months. I can't believe it's been this long. I think that later this week, I'm going to write a blog post about what a ride it's been so far, and what I've learned so far. I gotta say, it's been fun, and I think that my last two stories have definitely gotten better. This week's offering was a load of fun. I wrote on a favorite topic of mine, Robin Hood, but this time, I told the story of one of his most famous companions. I may even come back to revisit this idea, and tell other stories of the Merry Men. I wold love to tackle characters like Frier Tuck and Alan-a-Dale. I'll add this to the ever growing list of story ideas. Until then, however, please enjoy this week's offering!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Adventuring Party, Part 1: Beginnings

Sharai reached her arm out and plunged her staff into the darkness. She spoke a word, and suddenly the top of her staff flared to life with a fizz and a blue spark. After the initial flash, the blue light settled down and illuminated the steep cave entrance before Sharai and her companions. She watched each of them as they passed her down the hallway.

First was Del, the human warrior. He was tall, nearly six and a half feet, with dirty blond hair that he kept neck length. His jaw was set in a serious expression on his clean shaven face that showed off just how young he was, even for a human; barley out of his teens. He was wearing a heavy chainmaile shirt, with leather padding underneath. On his left arm was a heavy steel shield, and he had his long sword drawn in his right hand, prepared for any trouble they might encounter. It was a family heirloom, a gift from his father, something of a famous warrior among humans, and a source of pride for Del. Sharai had learned that Del contained a wisdom and a leadership skill behind those bright blue eyes that defied his age. The companions had all defaulted to him as their leader long ago, and he was determined to not let them down.

After Del marched Nor Silverbeard, the dwarven priestess. She had a dour look on her face, but Sharai was unclear what that meant, because Nor always had a dour look on her face. Like Del, she also carried a shield, emblazoned with a anvil and three hammers, the symbol of the Three Brothers, the gods dwarves believed forged the world. In her other hand was a heavy hammer that looked every bit as deadly as Del’s sword. She wore heavy chainmaile as well, and had a helmet on her head that included a mask covering her eyes. Her red bear was kept neat and trimmed, close to the jaw line, but with two braids that came down to her belly, which indicated she was unmarried in dwarven culture. Sharai knew that Nor was a formidable warrior, as most clerics of the Three Brothers were, but also that the stout dwarf was a capable healer, and had her own brand of magic that made her an invaluable part of the party.

Sharai got in line next, holding her staff high, the blue flair lighting their way into the earth. Her lithe form moved gracefully into step behind Nor. Though not as muscular as Del or as bulky as Nor, she had a great power stored inside of her. Her blond hair was cut short, to keep it out of her eyes, but the result was also that it showed off her long, elven ears. She was the only member of the party to not wear armor, finding that it constricted her movements and slowed her down, two things that a woman in her profession could ill afford. Her free hand was tracing arcane sigils in the air, preparing for the moment she would need to cast a spell as quickly as possible. Though she was no longer an apprentice, she was still a journeyman wizard, who only knew a handful of spells, and tried not to show her nervousness to her comrades.

Behind Sharai was Dash, the gnome. He was only slightly over three feet (three foot three, to hear him tell it), but he could defiantly pull his weight in the party. His real name was Balderdash, but Del refused to refer to an adventuring companion by such a patently ridiculous name, and so he nicknamed the diminutive party member Dash, and it stuck. Dash was what one would call a professional thief. He would prefer to say he was an expert lockpick and trap specialist, but that still equaled thief to Sharai, although she knew that thief was something of a misnomer. The gnome never actually robbed from people. Well, at least not since joining up with the party. No, he was an adventurer, which meant his thieving was left to tombs and abandoned castles, or at the very least to creatures polite society preferred to think of as monsters. But she still held tightly to her purse when he was around. She turned to look at him briefly. Dash was walking behind the party, two daggers drawn, one in each hand, keeping an eye out for someone or something that might be sneaking up behind them. He had full head of hair, which was a bright green color, like spring leaves. He also had a shock of green facial hair, which he kept trimmed in a Van Dyke. His face was split in a permanent grin, as if he were in on some joke that the rest of the universe was unaware of. His dark green dyed leather armor made practically no noise at all when he walked, and his movements were like that of a cat on the hunt.

Sharai shook herself out of her musings and focused on the task at hand. They were here on a mission, to take down a dangerous beast that lived in this cave. After about twenty yards, the slope they were on stopped, and the cave eased out to a more flat hallway. However, they corridor also bent and twisted in different directions. Del motioned with his left hand, and a few seconds later, Dash was up front, nodding his head. The gnome then took the lead, carefully checking the ground and walls a head of them. Del must have thought a trap was near by, or perhaps just felt that they were close to the monster. Whatever, Sharai was glad for the extra precaution.

It proved to be a good idea when just a few moments later, Dash stopped the whole party, and began to look at a particular patch of dirt covered floor with serious intent. He then reached out with his dagger, and began to draw in the dirt. He was outlining a square, about three feet across on a side. Sharai realized at once what it was. A pit, probably with a fake covering of some kind that had dirt thrown across it to give it the appearance of a solid floor. Had Del still been in front, the heavily armored warrior would have fallen in, creating such a racket that any creatures deeper into the cave would surely know they were here.

Carefully, the four all crept around the edges of the pit. On the other side, they continued to make their way down the corridor. With the exception of the soft jangling of the chainmaile worn by Del and Nor, the four remained quiet. Their footsteps echoed off the walls, and Sharai wondered if the creature they hunted had ears as sharp as hers. If so, it had heard them by now for sure. She kept her staff held high, and the blue light flickered off the cavern walls and stalagmites, casting shadows everywhere. It had Sharai on edge, and she traced the patterns with her fingers faster and faster.

Then, she heard something that made her stop marching.

It was a series of noises, actually, a shuffling and snorting, like you would hear from a large, hoofed animal. Maybe a horse, or a bull. It was faint, not close, but it was clear to her sharp hearing. What was this beast they were sent to kill? She waved her staff to get the other’s attention. They all stopped at the sudden shift in lighting, and turned to look at her. Del had a look of frustration on his face. She pointed to her ears and then down the corridor. His look quickly changed, a smirk spreading across his face as he realized what she meant. He nodded, and every one re-gripped their weapons, ready for what was about to come.

Their pace as they moved through the cave picked up; the excitement growing as they neared their prey. By the time they reached the fork in the tunnels, everyone could hear the noises. A loud snort indicated that the right hand passage was the one to take, and the party headed down that direction. Del re-took the lead and Dash moved back to the rear, replacing his daggers with the small, gnome bow that was previously slung over his shoulders. Despite its minuscule size, Sharai had seen the fae weapon in battle before, and knew how deadly it truly was.

The cave they were following came to a large bend, around which could be heard the pacing of the creature. They were here. Del stopped everyone and turned to make sure everyone was ready. In turn, Nor and Dash nodded. Sharai hesitated, made a few quick symbols with her hand, and nodded. Before they headed in, however, the creature spoke.

“I smell you, adventurers,” it said. Its voice was deep, and gravely, like it had been gargling with rocks. “I can smell your fear. Did your king send you after me? I will send your heads back to him as a message! Come, face me!”

The then let out a roar that caused even Del to take a step back. Just what was it they were about to face? After but a moment’s hesitation, Del stood fully erect, raised his sword, and let out his battle cry, a ululation that had no real meaning to anyone but him. Everyone followed. The tunnel opened up into a large circular cavern. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, but like the rest of the cave, the floor was kept clear of stalagmites. Scattered about the room were torches, bolted to the wall in crude metal sconces, casting more shadow than light about the place. Off on one side of the room was a pile of straw and a dirty blanket, obviously a rough sleeping mat. Next to it was a foot locker, which Dash eyed quickly before returning to the battle at hand. The rest of the room was somewhat spartan, though there were decorations of a sort. Skulls, of all different races, were hanging from the walls and stalactites. Trophies, Sharai realized, of past kills.

Then she saw the creature itself. It was huge, approximately 8 feet tall, and covered in rock hard muscle and black fur. Its feet were those of a massive bull, black hoofs scraping at the floor in anticipation, a small cow-like tail twitching behind it. Its head was that of a bull as well, two large, curved horns protruding from its head. Sharai noticed that they were sharp, and cold probably pierce a person with no problem. In its hands was a massive axe, like an exaggerated lumberjack axe. Dried blood could be seen on the blade’s very sharp edge. A minotaur, she thought. Oh, Gods, a minotaur! We’re dead, we can’t take on a minotaur!

Before she could say anything, though, Del charged right at the beast. Del realized a long time ago that while he was very good at distracting enemies from the rest of the party, getting them to focus on him and his deadly sword while his allies maneuvered into better positions, or cast spells. It was obvious that this was his plan this time, too.

“Come on, minotaur,” he cried as he charged, “let’s see who takes who’s head first!”

The creature threw its head back, and a strange, gurgling sound came from its throat. Was it choking? No, Sharai realized, it’s laughing!

“Indeed, little one,” it said to Del as it easily blocked his sword swing with it’s axe. “Let us see, indeed.”

And with that, it swung the great axe in a wide arc. The creature was surprisingly quick for something so bulky and large. Del barely had time to raise his shield. Sharai watched as the massive weapons slammed into the circular piece of steel strapped to Del’s arm, and winced as the shield, arm and body of her companion were forced back, three full steps, from the blow. She could tell that hurt Del, but he bravely stood his ground as best he could.

And in doing so, gave Nor all the time she needed to position herself behind the Minotaur. She smashed down hard with her hammer, striking the minotaur on the back of his reversed legs. The creature cried out in pain, a primal sound that reverberated across the chamber, and dropped down on one knee. Del took the opportunity caused by the blow and stepped close to the monster, penetrating its right shoulder with his blade, and causing more cries from the creature. Sharai and Dash also took their opportunity to strike. Sharai let loose with a bolt of pure magical energy, a pulsing green ball that flew across the chamber and struck home on the creatures chest. Dash let loose with his arrow, which followed Sharai’s bolt, and buried itself in the creatures other shoulder.

Everything seemed to be going in the teams favor. All the training they had been doing was paying off. At least, that’s what Sharai thought before the minotaur struck back. Del and Nor were readying for a simultaneous strike when, with blinding speed, the monster swung it’s great axe in a wide circle, first striking Del hard in the chest. The blow sent the warrior flying across the room, to land hard against a hanging stalactite, and then slump to the floor below, unconscious. The swing continued around, the creature twisting its torso around, and hit Nor in her head. Though the tough dwarf did not fall, she did move back a step or two, and was obviously dazed.

Standing, the monster completed its turn to face the dwarf. Before it could do any further damage, Sharai let loose with a spell, one of her more powerful ones. She traced the symbols in the air and muttered a few words of power. She pointed her staff dramatically at the monster and spoke the final word loudly, gaining the creatures attention for a moment. As it looked at her, the air around it grew cold, specifically around its feet. Looking down, the minotaur watched as, in mere seconds, ice formed in a square around its hoofs. With no more dirt floor to grip, he started to slip. Only his great strength kept him standing upright, but Nor was able to take advantage of the momentarily distracted beast, and slammed into it with her hammer once more. The blow combined with the ice and caused the creature to fall flat on its back.

A bellow of anger rose from the creatures throat. It kicked out with one of it’s powerful feet, striking Nor in the stomach and sending the otherwise sturdy dwarf stumbling backwards, though she still refused to fall down. Not bothering to get up on the slippery ice, the creature swung it’s axe once more, this time one handed, and struck hard into Nor’s shield. The blade penetrated and struck the dwarf’s arm. Sharai could see blood seep through the crack in the metal, but the dwarf only bit her lip, not letting out a cry of pain. The minotaur pulled his axe back, and Nor’s arm fell useless to her side, the shield dropping to the ground. It was obvious at this point that she was out of the fight.

Dash, meanwhile, let loose arrow after arrow, most of which hit the creature on its back and shoulders, but none of them seemed to penetrate through the monster’s anger. Deciding that enough was enough, he dropped his bow and drew his two daggers, charging forward.

“Cover me,” he said, not looking at Sharai as he ran straight towards death itself.

Sharai didn’t hesitate, but let loose two magic bolts in quick succession, allowing the magic of her staff to enhance the power of the bolts. They struck true, but seemed to have about as much affect as the arrows. Dash ran straight up to the beast, who was climbing its way out of the ice back to the dirt. He did something completely foolhardy then, and leaped on the minotaur’s back. The creature stood up just as Dash started to jab downwards with both blades, penetrating through the tough skin of his shoulders and into the muscle benieth.

Though obviously in pain, bleeding from several small wounds, the creature didn’t seem to be slowed in the least. He reached up behind him with one arm, grabbed the gnome, and slammed him hard into the floor. Sharai heard a sickening thud as Dash’s head connected with a rock, and he passed out. Breathing heavy, the minotaur looked up and straight at her. A sneer crossed its lips, and it started marching across the room. Sharai was paralyzed in fear. She was the only party member left standing, but her only remaining spells would not be enough to defeat the creature. She couldn’t do this, and as a result, she was about to die.

That’s when she hear another voice, a strong male voice.

“Okay, that’s enough,” it said, and the minotaur paused it’s relentless march and stopped. It turned its head to view the speaker and Sharai followed its gaze.

At the opposite side of the cave, from an entrance that she didn’t remember seeing before, stood an old human man. He was about the same height as her, a little over five feet, with a shock of bright white hair on his head. His face was covered in a short cropped white beard, which could not cover the scars that indicated years of battle. His eyes were hard, a dark gray color, like steel, and they were narrowed, glaring about the room. He wore comfortable robes that were not religious in any way, but the sword at his hip and the stance he held indicated that he was no wizard, either. He looked around the room, and shook his head at the fallen.

“Tisk, what a mess,” he said, clicking his toung across the top of his mouth, a particularly human mannerism that Sharai never got used to, even though she had heard it hundreds of times before. “Barr, thanks for participating. You’re free to go home, now.”

The minotaur suddenly took a far more relaxed stance, and nodded its head. “Until next time, old friend,” it rumbled in its deep voice that, even at this softer volume, still sounded like thunder. Then it marched out the newly arrived passage in the cave. Where did that come from, anyway? Illusion, maybe?

“Sharai,” the old human said, turning his attention to her. “Would you help me revive your teammates, here?”

He opened up his cloak, and pulled out several small potions, hold out two for her to take. She nodded.

“Yes, Master Landau,” she said, and moved to take the potions from the man that had been her mentor for the past two years. The two of them administered the potions to Sharai’s fallen party members, and the three were quickly revived.

“Master Landau?” Del said, looking his teacher in the eye with a somewhat groggy look on his face. “Damn, does this mean we failed?”

Landau laughed. “To defeat the minotaur? Yes, of course.”

“Of course?” Del said, obviously confused. “This was to be our final exam, before we went out into the world to make our fortunes. Why is it ‘of course’ that we failed?”

“Calm down, Del,” the old man said in a gentle, fatherly tone. “You were never meant to defeat Barr. The test was more about how you would handle yourselves in a no win situation.”

“I knew there was more to this than simply the minotaur,” Sharai said.

“What do you mean?” Del asked.

“Well,” Sharai explained, “the simple truth is, we’re just not powerful enough to take down a minotaur. Not on our own, at any rate. This had to be a test of something other than our combat prowess.”

“Very good, Sharai,” Landau said, “But not entirely correct. I wasn’t testing your abilities in combat. I know those already. What I was testing, however, was your teamwork.”

“Yeah?” Del asked. “So, how’d we do?”

Landau took a deep breath, as if contemplating the answer. He looked from Del to Sharai and then over to Nor and Dash.

“You did,” he paused for dramatic effect, which caused Dash to roll his eyes. “Excellent!”

“We did?” Nor asked. “But, we lost.”

“Yes,” Landau said, “but you used teamwork to try and overcome. You each used your strengths to work with and cover your teammates. Del, you distracted the beast while Nor took position behind it. Sharai used her ice spell to help Nor drop Barr on his butt. And later, Sharai helped Dash by covering him with her magic bolts. You even used teamwork getting through the tunnels. Dash found that trap, and Sharai’s hearing let you know to be ready for the monster.”

“So, we passed?” Nor asked, still looking confused.

“Ha,” Landau laughed, “Yes, Nor. You passed! That means you have learned all I can teach you. You are ready to go out into the world and become world famous adventurers.”

“All right!” Del said. “I knew it! Come on guys, let’s go get packed! Tomorrow, we go out into the world and adventure!”

Sharai shook her head. She just couldn’t believe she was really ready. Still, Landau was an experienced adventurer himself, and had trained several adventurers after his retirement. If he said they were ready, she had to believe him. He knew what he was talking about. She just didn’t feel ready.

The next morning, the four friends were all set to go. They had their backpacks with spare clothes, equipment and, most importantly, bedrolls and tents for camping during their travels. Landau told them that there was a small town near the borders of civilized lands to the north, called Oak Hollow. If anyplace would lead them to adventure, it would lie there.

So, they headed north. It took them several days to get there, though the journey itself was uneventful, much to Del’s chagrin. He was hoping for a random monster attack, or at least bandits. But the followed a well-used merchant’s road, and bandits tended to avoid it due simply to the large amount of traffic it saw.

Oak Hollow itself was pretty much what Sharai imagined from such a name. It was built by the edge of a forest of oak trees and featured a large lumber industry, as well as the outlying farms. It was a walled town, and featured mostly small, one story buildings. On top of the hill the town was built on stood a small castle, home of the knight that ruled over this land. The town acted as a way stop for merchant caravans on their way to other northern cities, and as such had a larger than normal number of taverns and inns.

It was also the last truly civilized stop for miles before entering what most called the Wild Lands. Once upon a time, the Wild Lands were part of some unknown empire, as evidenced by the numerous ruins that were spread about. But today, it was filled with monsters and evil races like goblins. There were even legends of armies of undead, zombies and skeletons, but no one had seen these to prove if they were true.

As a result of this, the town also played host to several groups of adventurers, those members of society that wished to gain gold and fame through danger and adventure. They often used Oak Hollow as a staging ground for expeditions into the ruins of the Wild Lands. Those that returned came back with wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

This was exactly what Del was hoping to do, and most of the rest of the party was with him. Sharai wasn’t so much interested in the treasure as she was any ancient magic they might find along the way. The old empires had powers unknown by current wizards, and so the chance to learn from the ancients drew her to follow her friends into the Wild Lands.

They came up to the town gates, where a bored looking guard with a long pole arm in his hand stood.

“State your name and business,” he said, not really looking at them.

“We are Del, Nor, Sharai and Balderdash,” Del said, pointing to everyone in turn. “We’re adventurers, come to find our fame and fortune.”

“Adventurers, eh?” the guard said, “Paperwork?”

Del pulled out a scroll from his belt pouch. It was an official paper recognizing the group as members of the Adventurer’s Guild, and gave them permission to carry around their weapons legally. The guard looked it over, nodded, and handed it back to them.

“Right then,” the guard said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. “You’ll be wanting the Laughing Tankard. It’s just down the main road a bit, you can’t miss it.”

“The Laughing Tankard?” Del asked.

“Aye,” the guard said, bored again. “It’s where most adventurers goes. Lots of rumors there, as well as caravan masters looking for sell swords. Great place to find work, eh?”

“Right,” Del said, nodding. He waved everyone on, and they all headed into town.

The guard was right; it didn’t take much to find the tavern. It had a sign hanging over its door depicting a tankard, complete with foamy head, with a large, laughing mouth on it. They entered. The place was not nearly as busy as Sharai expected. Though the common’s room wasn’t empty, it only had a few patrons in it, mostly small groups like theirs sitting in tables going over maps. There were a few patrons at the bar that resembled local farmers, probably regulars that enjoyed hearing the tales of the adventurers that frequented the place. Behind the bard was a small, thin man, with a scraggly beard that was larger than his face. If it wasn’t for the fact that he wasn’t quite that short, Sharai might have thought he was a dwarf.

“Take a seat,” the man said, “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

The four took seats at a round table near the fireplace, though no fire currently burned. True to his word, a few moments later, the bartender arrived at their table.

“Adventurers, yes?” he asked, and all four of them nodded. “I recognize your type. New to the business, too, if I ain’t mistaken.” Again, all four of them nodded, though this time they all looked at each other before doing so.

“Don’t worry,” the bartender said. “I only know because I used to be one meself. Well, that and because I run this place. Names Marc, owner and proprietor of this fine establishment. So, besides drinks, what is it you be looking for?”

“Well,” Del said, settling into his role of group spokesman. “We’re hoping to get into the Wild Lands and find some ancient ruin we can loot.”

“Honest,” Marc said, “I likes that. I take it, though, that you don’t have the money to pay for such an expedition?”

“Pay? What would we need to do to prepare beyond what we already have?” Del asked. He was honestly confused.

“Well, I’m only guessing mind you, but I don’t believe that you’ve got a week or two of rations. And believe you me, that’s about how far you’ll need to go to avoid all the well traveled and well looted ruins nearer to the town. Horses probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. And I’m guessing that you can’t afford any of that.”

The four friends looked at each other, a silent conversation on weather or not it was okay to trust this man before them. Finally, Nor gave a subtle nod of her head, and Del returned his attention to the bartender.

“Frankly, no,” Del said.

“Excellent!” The bartender said, “then I have a job for you!”

“Rats?” Balderdash was saying as the four descended the tavern’s stairs. “He wants us to kill rats? In the tavern basement? This is really undignified for a group of adventurers, don’t you think?”

“Come on, Dash,” Del said, not looking back at the gnome. They had been having this argument for the past hour or so. “I know it’s not glamorous. It’s nothing I want sung in a song about me. But, still… he’s offering us one hundred gold to do this. One hundred! It’s easy money that we can’t afford to ignore.”

Dash grumbled, but stopped arguing with the human. One hundred gold was a lot of money. More, Sharai thought, than killing a few rats was worth. Still, she was with Del completely on this one. They did need the money, and this was difficult to turn down.

“Okay, everyone, spread out and keep your eyes open,” Del said as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He drew his sword, but Sharai noticed that he did not ready his shield. “Marc seemed to think they hung out mostly by the grain sacks, I’ll check there.”

They each took a different corner of the large cellar. It was appeared to be at least as large as the whole tavern above, and was littered with crates, sacks and barrels of foods, ales and wines. Sharai held her staff at the ready and searched her corner very carefully with her eyes. It contained boxes that smelled like cheese, something she considered a tempting target for rats. It didn’t take long for her to spot something moving out of the corner of her eye.

She turned to look, but before she could poke it with her staff, something large jumped out at her. It was about the size of a small dog, and was all snout and teeth. Sharai screamed and backed off, swinging her staff wildly. Everyone turned to rush towards her side. The four lined up next to each other, and then got a good look at the creature.

“That’s not a rat,” Dash was saying.

But it was. It had the long snout, ringed tail and ears of a rat. It was also about three feet long, no counting the tail, and had a very unhappy look in its eyes. Del only hesitated that in that initial moment, then stepped forward, shield raised, and stabbed the rat. It was a solid blow that quickly killed the vermin.

“That was a big rat,” he said. Then they heard more noises coming from behind the cheese.

Nor moved up and shoved the cheese aside, revealing a large hole in the wall. Rushing out of the hole was three more large rats, chittering in anger at being disturbed. The four friend sprang into action quickly.

Del once again stabbed at the nearest rat, getting in a blow, but not a fatal one. Sharai followed up with a blast of her magic bolt, felling the creature. Dash had better luck, ducking under the charging rat and gutting it as it sailed overhead. Nor wasn’t quite as quick, and the rat got in a bite. Thankfully, it hit her shoulder on the chainmaile, and didn’t break skin. Nor returned the attack, smashing the rat in the head with her hammer. The battle was over in a matter of seconds, and the four looked at each other in shock.

“Man,” Dash said, “when he said he had a rat problem, he wasn’t kidding. No wonder he wanted adventurers to help out.”

Del looked at the hole in the wall. It seemed to go down at a pretty sharp angle, into some tunnels below the tavern. He got a grim look on his face.

“They came from here,” he said, pointing to the hole. “Think there’s more?”

Sharai came up and listened, straining her ears to hear anything down the tunnels. “I don’t hear anything. But, if they’re like any other kind of rat, there most likely are more, in a warren or den down there. Hundreds is likely.”

“Hundreds?” Del said, a look of horror on his face. “Hundreds,” he said again, this time more thoughtfully.

“Uh oh,” Dash said, winking at Nor. “I know that look. He’s got an idea.”

A few hours later, they were pushing their way into the hole and to the tunnels beyond. Dash was shaking his head.

“I can’t believe you managed to convince him to pay us another three hundred gold to clear out this warren,” he said.

Del laughed, leading the way down the tunnel. “Well, once we showed him the four dead ones, and that there might be hundreds more below, it was easy. I think one hundred gold each is a fair price, don’t you?”

Everyone laughed.

“Maybe there is something about this adventure to sing a song about,” Sharai said. “The story of Del, the Rat Slayer and Tavern Swindler.”

The End

Week 7 Story!

Well, week 7 is up! Wow, seven stories, one a week. I'm proud of my self for doing this well so far. And I'm really excited about this story, because I really dig these characters. I plan on re-visiting them, soon. If not next week, then the week after. I may do multiple stories of the Adventuring Company throughout the rest of the year. Who knows? I just know that there's many more stories with these characters, and I plan on exploring as many of them as I can. Let me know what you think!

See you next week.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Five Years Later

NEW YORK, NY – It was five years ago today when they first appeared in the early morning skies over New York. Three massive, city sized ships, each the shape of a disk. It was like something out of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. And like in those blockbuster’s, people in the city reacted in predictable patterns. Fear, confusion, excitement. The army was called in, and soon the streets of the city were filled with tanks and trucks and men and women in green BDU’s, all shouting and running.

I myself remember being in my office trying to write an article on the Mayor’s latest indiscretion with the local prostitutes, when a co-worker dragged me to the windows to see what was going on. There they were, pushing their way out of the clouds and blocking the sun. They were so big I remember that I couldn’t even see the entirety of the one that was right above us. Just this big, black curve, with the occasional blinking light or protruding piece of equipment.

I remember seeing the military pull up and get situated within minutes of the arrival. I remember thinking at the time that it was a quick response time, but of course, later we learned that the government had been tracking the three ships as soon as they passed Mars orbit. The young soldiers on the street were getting people to go back inside, to clear the streets. It was obvious they weren’t trying to evacuate the city, although they did help ease all the people who were cramming the roads get out of town. I think they were just trying to get people out of their way.

Then came the part that had us all on edge. The waiting. After moving over the city, the just hung there, completely motionless and silent. We began to wonder if they were even manned. Air Force jets could be seen doing flyby’s, but no matter how close they got, nothing could be seen. The waiting lasted for hours, during which time the entire world came to a stop to watch and see what would happen. Stores shut down, schools closed, banks locked their doors and people everywhere looked up to the skies or at their TV monitors, wondering what they wanted, and where their more?

Finally, after hours of quiet, we got the signal. Televisions, radios and even people’s blackberry’s and iPhone’s all started to pick up the signal. Transmissions of greetings and we come in peace. A world wide collective breath was released. Over the next few days, delegations from the UN and the aliens were to meet. We learned their story. A planet killer asteroid had destroyed their world. These three ships held seven million people, the last of their race, called the greck, who had been flying under suspended animation for approximately 100 years until they reached us, their nearest galactic neighbor. They were looking for a new place to live, and they hoped that we would be willing to take them in. Of course, we were. Our governments couldn’t wait to get their hands on their technology, and scientists just wanted to look at the newcomers to our world.

Of course, we all know now that they left their ships after a month. And our world changed. They moved all over the world, and while most of them settled in and around New York, even building their own community upstate, there is practically no country that they are not found now. For the most part, our world is now one large government, in order to fairly parcel out the new technology. Our space program has been given new life. But, we’re not here to discuss these things. We’re here to celebrate the Arrival.

Arrival Day has been a national, indeed a worldwide, holiday since two years after the big event. Today, we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Arrival, and I thought it would be appropriate to interview some eyewitnesses of the big event. I found four individuals that were at the scene that day in New York. We start first with Sergeant Lance Davis, who was part of the soldiers called in to clear out the city. Then, we move onto Mrs. Miranda Hunter, a schoolteacher whose class was interrupted by the arrival. Third up is Father O’Sullivan, a catholic priest who brings us the Church’s view of the events that happened 5 years ago. And finally, we have LaDonna Lawson, CEO and President New York Telegraph, Inc, a cell phone manufacturer whose company has had a big burst of growth thanks to the alien’s arrival.

When I called up the US Army about this article and asked if I could interview a soldier that was at the scene, I expected to get a polished officer, someone that was good at giving just these kinds of interviews. What I got was refreshingly not polished enlisted man, a infantry man who had only been in the military a brief time when the ships appeared in our sky. Sergeant Lance Davis, a muscular African-American man, met me in his dress uniform, but I got the distinct impression that he wasn’t comfortable wearing it. He was a brass tacks, no holds barred kind of guy, who didn’t want to waist time on small talk and got straight into the interview.

“I was only a corporal back then,” he told me. “My unit was getting ready to ship out to the Middle East. I was excited. Hell, it was why I had joined the Army in the first place, to see some action. I thought it was all some big action flick. I guess I was stupid back then. We were based in Fort Drum, and all I kept thinking this would be the last time I saw the place. Last breakfast in that chow hall. Instead, we got an emergency alert. At this point, they hadn’t actually arrived yet, so none of us had any clue what was going on.”

“We reported on the parade ground, where we received our orders. We were moving out in 2 hours. We were heading to New York City. Apparently, something big was happening, or would be happening, it wasn’t real clear. All I knew was that I had to hurry and finish packing, grab my gear and report with the rest of my battalion to the planes that would bring into the Big Apple. I’d never seen anything this big happen this fast before. There was word spreading through the troops that we had been invaded. Enemy troops had landed in New York itself, and we were heading there to hold them back.”

“To be honest?” he said, taking a pause to have some orange juice. “I think I’d rather it had been the Arabs who landed that day. It would have been easier to understand. On the way there, we got a further briefing, detailing exactly what was going on and what our jobs were to be. We were told that there were three city sized alien space ships were on their way to Earth, and that they would arrive in New York within the hour. At first, we all laughed. Then, they showed us the pictures from the satellite tracking.”

“I’ll tell you, it all felt like something out of a sci-fi movie. But, the brass acted as if it were real, so that meant, no matter how stupid it all sounded to me, I had to treat it as real too. We landed, exited the plains, and got our first real glimpse of the ships. When I first saw them, I stopped dead in my tracks, mouth gaping open, and said something I can’t repeat to your readers. Even the officers were gaping at the sky. Finally, our LT shook his head and got us moving again.”

“Our immediate job was to clear the city streets. It was too late for a full evacuation, so it was decided that the best bet was to keep people inside. This isn’t as easy as it sounded. The NYPD had already started this process, but by the time they were in gear, the ships were visible already, and people were rushing out of the city on their own. My unit joined up with the National Guard unit that was already there, and became glorified traffic cops. Except that when the guy directing traffic has an M-16 rifle in his arms, you tend to listen to him. It took two hours to unblock the log jam, but we managed to either get people to go back to their homes, or get them out of the city.”

“After that, it was just like the rest of the country. We waited. We marched through the city streets, keeping things clear as much as we could, bringing food to people trapped in office buildings and moving school kids to be back with their parents. But, mostly, it was long periods of standing there, ‘on watch,’ just staring at the sky. I remember it being quiet. I’d been to NYC a few times before, and it was always noisy, no matter the time. But then, it was quiet. It was almost like the city had been abandoned. We had all held our breath, and were waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“I’ll tell you what the worst part was, and it’s something that people hardly ever talk about regarding Arrival. It started raining. It came down pretty hard, and my unit was one of the ones on the ground. We didn’t get a Duce-and-a-Half, or get assigned to one of the stations at the city. Nope, we mostly stood guard, watching to make sure that there was no one on the streets of our particular slice of the city. So, we stood out there in the pouring rain. We heard later that the rain was a direct result of ‘atmospheric dislocation’ caused by the space ships, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. It sucked.”

“The good news about that was that it only lasted about an hour. Poured down like you wouldn’t believe during that hour, but then it was done, like it never happened. All this time we spent there, waiting, watching, looking up at the sky, I only had one thought on my mind. Come on, someone do something! By the time the rain ended, I just wanted something to happen. Anything. An attack, a message, giant robots, whatever. Then, our communications equipment squawked to life. And you know this part. The Message. It was a recording, in several languages, espousing peace and a desire for peaceful talks. I heard at least three languages I recognized, including English, of course, and several I never heard before.”

“I remember thinking at the time that he voice sounded… recorded. Fake, somehow. And, of course, later we found out it was. The aliens decided it would be friendlier if the message came from our own voices. Then was the exciting part. A delegate from the aliens was going to land in Central Park, and meet with representatives from the UN. My unit didn’t get to go, though, so I wasn’t one of the first to see them. We stayed behind, and continued with keeping people out of the streets. It was decided that it would be best until we could verify their intentions before letting people swarm them.”

And no doubt a good idea, because as a report, I know that I would have. I thanked the Sergeant for his time, and the story. He grunted and told me to thank the top brass. He just reported where ordered.

Next, I met with Mrs. Miranda Hunter, a grade school teacher from Lincoln Elementary. I drove out to her school in the middle of the after noon, when all the children were playing. I was not surprised to see a mixture of human and alien children there. Lincoln was one of the first schools to integrate the two cultures, and even hired the first greck teacher in the country, who now taught math to 5th graders.

We met in her classroom. It was exactly what you expected from a 2nd grade class room, with chalkboard, books on the shelf, papers on the wall and a few projects the kids had made themselves hanging from the ceiling. Mrs. Hunter was a in her early 40’s, with salt and pepper hair that she wore cut short just under her ears. We had a few minutes of conversation before getting into the heart of the interview, and I found that she was a pleasant woman, but also one that you would not want angry at you. It was difficult to not think of her as a mother figure, even though she was only slightly older than I am.

“School had just started when they arrived. It was supposed to be a sunny day, and I was looking forward to that, but for some reason, it was dark that day. Clouds had rolled in, and I don’t just mean fluffy cotton clouds, I mean some heavy-duty storm clouds, dark and angry looking. Only, there wasn’t any rain coming from it. I was frustrated, because it looked like my sunny day was about to be ruined. Little did I know how right I was.”

“It was Jeremy who noticed them first,” she said, pointing to one of the desks that was located next to the windows. “He’s a bit of a day dreamer, and is usually looking out the window. So, when he raised his hand to ask a question, I went right to him, because he never asks questions.”

“What did he say?” I asked her.

“He asked why there was a city in the clouds. When I asked him what city he was talking about, he pointed out the window. I didn’t even have to walk to the window to see part of the ship. After Jeremy pointed it out, everyone in the class rushed to the windows to look. It was massive, and took up the whole sky. Big and black and circular, there were blinking lights and what looked like towers on the underside. I mean, it had to be the underside, right? That was all we could see. So, from our point of view, it not only looked like Jeremy’s city in the clouds, it was an upside down city.”

“At first, I couldn’t comprehend what it was I was seeing. Then, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. It was the principle, Leonard. He was letting us know that the school had just been contacted by the police, and that we were to begin lock down procedures. He would be coming by to each class room to talk to each teacher.”

I asked her what lockdown was.

“Well, after 9/11, most of the schools in the country came up with emergency procedures to protect the children. They were called lockdown, because basically that’s what we did to the school. We would keep the children in the classes, and call their parents to inform them that we were protecting their kids and that the school was locked down until further notice.”

“It was hard to believe that the thing hanging in the sky was real, but the lockdown order form Leonard solidified it for me. The children all looked at me with fear in their eyes. I told them not to worry, I’m sure it’s just a drill. I followed lockdown procedure and closed down the class, and then had every re-take their seats. I didn’t think that returning to the lesion we never really started would be a good idea, so I decided that we should turn on the TV and find out what was happening.”

“That’s when we learned that these were, indeed, alien space ships that had arrived mere moments ago. The TV news showed footage of the Army clearing out the streets and the traffic clogged roads as people tried to escape. After about a minute of that, I shut the TV off. Several of the children had questions, but I put them off as I saw Leonard at the door. He gave me the list of parents for my classroom and their phone numbers, not that I needed it. I always kept a copy. He also told me that the military had posted guards around the school.”

“I called the parents. I told them in no uncertain terms that we had shut down the school. That we were protecting their children, and that part of how we were doing that was by not letting anyone in or out of the school grounds. I told them that we had military guards to help keep their children out of harms way. All the while, I was wondering what it was we though we were protecting them from. Anything that big that could just float into the sky was not going to be stopped by lockdown.”

“Then we waited. Eventually, more soldiers appeared, with pizza and sandwiches, and we fed all the kids. After a few hours, they told us that they were taking all the kids and returning them with their parents and families. I told the soldiers that came to my room that I wasn’t going to let a single child go until I had spoken with their parents on the phone to make sure it was okay. One by one, most of my kids left. The few that stayed with me watched out the windows, or sat at their desks. I had everyone left draw a picture of the ships when the message broadcast itself all over the place. It hit my phone, and I quickly turned on the TV so the kids could watch it as well. It was history in the making, and I realized at that point that some day, I would be teaching this day to other students. And now I am, to a class that includes 4 children that were born on board those ships.”

At that point, lunchtime was over, and the children started returning to the classroom. I thanked Mrs. Hunter for he time and returned to my office. I left Lincoln Elementary with a different perspective on things. If I had ever had a child, I would want someone like Mrs. Hunter to be watching over it.

Next up was a visit to the Catholic Church. Father Thomas O’Sullivan was a portly man in his early fifties. Not fat by any means, but not in shape either. He had a big, warm smile to greet me when we met at the door. I suppose at this point I should come clean, and let you know that Father O’Sullivan and I have known each other for years now. He’s been my contact at the Church for when I need a quote from a priest, or for interest pieces like this one. This is the first time I’ve used his name, though, and it was done at this request.

We sat in his little office behind the otherwise dominating large church where he preached to his parish. It was a comfortable office, filled with things he had collected as gifts over the years. Crosses of all make and model, a hand-carved mask from a village in Africa he once visited, a paper-machae globe made by a 4th grade class to thank him for helping them raise money for a Disneyland trip. We both sat in comfortable chairs, and he choose one not behind his desk to make this a meeting on more even footing. We drank tea he served us while we talked.

“I supposed you’re not here for the official position of the Church on Arrival,” he said with a laugh. “That’s a position well known to all by now. We’ve accepted our brother’s from space, and announced to the world that greck have souls and are children of God just like we are. No, you want to know my personal story of where I was and what happened to me at Arrival.”

I nodded for him to continue.

“Well, before we begin, I must confess something to you that I’ve never told anyone before. I’m a huge sci-fi geek.” A smile crossed his face, and I had to laugh. I had never heard this from him before, and was intrigued. “Ever since I was a child, the only thing besides a priest I wanted to be was an astronaut. I wanted to be Captain Kirk, exploring the galaxy and finding new life forms, children of God out in the stars.”

“So, when, that morning five years ago, while I was sweeping the steps of the church, I saw t he ships appear in the morning sky, breaking through the clouds, I was a ten year old boy again. They had come at last. God had answered my most secret prayers. But, I knew what would come next. I didn’t waist a second in preparing, and ran inside to get the younger priests into gear. We cleaned up the church and started making coffee and food for the people that were about to flood the church, seeking answers.”

“And, of course, they came. Hundreds of them. The military showed up pretty quickly as well, and were helping direct people into the church. It was standing room only in a matter of an hour. Many were my regular flock, but many more were people I had never seen before. All were welcome. All wanted to know what was happening, were the ships a sign from God, or a sign of the apocalypse. That was a popular thing back then, to see signs of the End Times in everything.”

“After passing out coffee and toast out to everyone, I got up on the pulpit to deliver a speech. I notified everyone that this was not a sign of the End Times. It was, however, a message from God. It was God telling us that we were no longer alone in the universe. Our friends, nay, our brothers and sisters from the stars were coming to welcome us into the bigger family of God. This was a momentous occasion, a turning point in the history of not just our world, but of two worlds. A moment we would tell our children and grandchildren about.”

“It seemed to help calm everyone down, and several people seemed to believe me, but there was still a lot of people in fear. We had been in the church, with a military guard out front, for hours and there was nothing happening. We had the radio hooked up to the speakers so we could all hear the latest on the events. But the big question everyone had was ‘what were they waiting for? War or peace, shouldn’t they have done something by now?’”

“Of course, just when the tensions were threatening to bring people to the verge of madness, we got the message. It broke out over the speakers, interrupting the news announcer. They were messages of peace and co-existence. A great cheer broke out among the people in the church. People started dancing and hugging. Even the soldiers outside joined in. It was truly a momentous day.”

I thanked the Father for his time and the interview, and stayed around after for some more private conversation. I always enjoy my time with Father O’Sullivan. Of all the people I have talked to about their experiences regarding the Arrival over the years, his was perhaps the most hopeful, the most inspiring. He was never afraid of our visitors from the beginning; his faiths guiding him on how to not only greet the strangers to our world, but how to guide his flock in doing the same. Truly, he is an inspiration to me.

My final visit on this whirlwind tour of interviews was the tower office of New York Telegraph, Inc. It wasn’t quite the dominating presence of places like Trump Towers or the offices of the bigger banks in the word, but the fact that this company took the top four floors of this particular sky scrapper was still pretty intimidating, even for me.

LaDonna Lawson was waiting for me in one of the conference rooms, sitting with her laptop open and typing away at the end of a long square table. She motioned for me to sit at one of the chairs next to her, which still kept her at the head of the table. I expected nothing less from the CEO of the fastest growing telecommunications company in the country. She greeted me with a friendly smile and shake of the hand, and then pressed a button on the speaker phone and had her assistant bring coffee and some scones for us to nibble on during the interview. I thanked her for her time.

“It’s no problem, really,” she said. “I love talking to the media about the greck. They’ve been a huge boon to my company, and have advanced telecommunications a hundred years ahead in a matter of a month’s time. I’ve worked with them as employees and friends and have even spent money on greck advocacy groups, making sure they get all the fair treatment as citizens of this nation. It’s a small matter for me to rearrange my schedule to meet with you here now.”

“So, let me get right to the story, shall I?” she said, and I nodded. “As you know, five years ago, my company was working on the latest generation of smart phones. We had just signed a contract with Google to design a new Droid phone, something that could not only access the internet, but would have accessories like Microsoft Office designed for use on the phone, with Voice Recognition Software for ease of use. Advanced stuff at the time.”

“I was in early, because I had a meeting that day with my main programmers, and wanted to get ready and get in some other work done before then. My office back then still had a nice large corner window. I therefore had a fantastic view of the large, black discs breaking through the clouds. They were like huge records or tea saucers. I instantly thought of the old 50’s sci-fi movies my husband loves to watch.”

“I called my assistant to ask her if she knew what was going on, but she hadn’t seen anything yet. She came into my office, looked out the window and shrieked in fear. He quickly went to the break room and turned on the TV I had bought to boost employee morale a few months ago. The news reports were a little confusing at first. No one was sure if they were truly alien space ships, something launched from our own government, or an attack by a previously unknown enemy. All anyone knew was that something momentous was happening.”

“I’ll tell you what I thought, looking at that great, floating disk in the sky. The technology to make something that large just float there in one spot was amazing. And I wanted to get my hands on it. Imagine what they must have for communications. I bet they could send real time messages from the Earth to the Moon, or even Mars. I was drooling thinking about what they could do. I only hoped that they weren’t hostile, though I had a hard time believing that they were. I mean, they traveled how many millions of light years to get here? If they were hostile, why not just attack right away, why wait hours before contacting us?”

“When the message arrived, and it took over every form of communication around, including my own blackberry and my assistant’s iPhone, I knew that I needed to get rights to that technology. This would revolutionize the world in ways no one had ever dreamed off. As soon as the message ended, I called some friends of mine, contacts in the UN that I had done business with in the past, including one old school mate of mine from MIT. I managed to wheel a deal pretty quickly that had me included in the Technological Investigations team the UN was forming. And here we are now, five years later, and my company still is the only ones that have turned greck technology into something useful by humans, the new Google Holo-Droid, a hand held 3D Holographic video phone.”

And with that, she was done. I knew well the Holo-Droid, it was the phone I was carrying in my pocket during that meeting. Her quick thinking managed to land LaDonna Lawson on tech blogs and magazines all over the world, and propelled Google to the top of the smart phone market, creating the first phone to truly beat the iPhone. Of course, we all know that Apple has fought back, with the iGram, it’s own version of the holographic video phone, but the Holo-Droid has held solid at number one for two years now.

And with that, I bring my little excursion of the past to a close. There are as many different views of the Arrival as there are people in this country. I once spoke to a college student that stated he was so afraid that the aliens were here to eat everyone that he hid in the basement of his dorm for three days before coming up to see what had happened. I saw another that had lost complete faith in his religion, that the alien’s very existence belied everything he believed. And still other’s that were excited that the mother ship had finally come home.

So, I end now with these closing words. Five years ago, our world, our very conception of the universe itself, changed. Though we are still not a unified world under a single government, the world is now united in a way that it never was in the past. A truly international space program is in existence now, and a permanent base on the moon now exists, where we plan on sending ships to Mars. Aliens walk among us, and while many are still unhappy about their arrival, they have integrated themselves into our societies and minds fully, even having their own Saturday Morning cartoons about cultural heroes. The world changed that day. And I wonder, how will it continue to change in the days to come?

-Sandra Cameron, staff writer, UN World News Daily

The End

Week 6 story is up!

Another short blog post as it's Valentine's Day, and I want to spend it with my family. So, enjoy the story!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


When you come right down to it, I supposed I’d have to say that my dad is just like most other people’s dads. He wants what’s best for me; he wants me to be happy. He loves me, in his way. He wants me to avoid the mistakes he made in his life. He even wants me to have the best education, and has paid for the best private schools around. It’s really just his job that separates my dad from other dads. I’m sure you’ve heard of my dad. Hell, you probably saw him on CNN last night. My dad is known as Doctor Von Terror, the famed super-villain.

Most super-villains I know would try and tell you that they’re not really villains, that they’re just misunderstood. They say that they really want what’s best for the world, or that they were framed, or that it’s really the super-heroes that are the menace, and they just want to rid the world of them. But not my dad. He’s a died in the world, one hundred percent, bonafied, card-carrying super-villain. He wants to rule the world, and he makes no bones about it.

Why, you might ask, does he want to rule the world? For the simple reason that he believes that he can do it better than the current world leaders. And honestly, when I look around at the current state of the world, I sort of agree. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my dad and all, but he’s not exactly playing with a full deck, so I’m not sure he’s really cut out for world ruling. But, his point about the current world leaders is kind of true.

One other thing you should know about my dad. He has no super powers. I mean, I know most people are aware that the armor isn’t a power, and that this is how he flies and blasts people, but they are also unaware that the armor is also the source of his super-strength. Personally, I find that strange. You think someone with super-strength needs powered armor? Also, I want to set this record straight. My dad does not have “super-smarts.” Yes, he’s smart. Really smart. He’s been rated as the 3rd smartest man on the planet, right behind two heroes, Incredible Man and Doc Muscle. He invented all the gadgets he and his army of followers use in their battles to take over the world, including his armor, his armored zeppelin base of operations, which he likes to call the Sky Terror, and his minions freeze rays. But, really, all of this just comes from his natural intelligence. His brain is not in any way altered to make him smarter.

As you can imagine, my dad is not too keen on the world figuring out who I am. I mean, can you imagine what would happen if his arch-nemesis, Captain Valliant, found out that Doctor Von Terror had a teenaged son? You always hear stories about villains using loved ones of heroes to get to the masked vigilante, but you never hear stories about the reverse. But, believe me, they happen. Remember from a couple of years ago, that villain Destructinator was on a rampage, destroying the world’s landmarks? He goes through the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle and a part of the Great Wall of China, and then suddenly up and disappears, and no one knows why. Sure, there were a couple of battles with the Justice Heroes and the Amazing Eight, aired on CNN and all the news networks. But, they never really defeated him or captured him, just stopped him from destroying places. Then, one day, he just stops. Ever wonder why? Turns out, he had a wife. She had no idea her husband was a super-villain, but she’s arrested anyway by Captain Valliant and C.H.E.S.S. on charges of Conspiracy to Commit Terrorist Acts against the United States. So, Destructionator turns himself into C.H.E.S.S. on the condition that she be released. So, yeah, heroes finding out I exist equals bad.

Sadly, one day, that’s exactly what happened.

It started off like most other days. My alarm went off, a blaring siren coming from a speaker across the room, which was also where the off button was. My father invented it because it was the only thing that would get me out of bed. I dragged myself from the wall speaker to the shower, then got dressed and went down stairs for breakfast. My father’s robot butler, Carl, had coffee waiting for me, which I greatly appreciated, as well as my backpack with schoolbooks. Dad came down later himself, in his best business suit. I pointed and laughed. Dad always looked uncomfortable and silly in a tie. Completely relaxed in a suit of powered armor, but like he was headed to a funeral in a suit and tie.

“I’m working today,” he said in response to my laughter.

He meant in his secret identity, of course. Yes, my dad has a secret identity. People think that only heroes have those. But, really, what do you think villains do when they’re not out robbing banks? You think they sit around in their masks and capes twenty-four/seven, watching TV and ordering pizza? Okay, so it’s true that this is what Clarion does, but he’s insane. Just like heroes, most villains have something else they do. Day jobs, or, more likely, like my dad; part time jobs were they make appearances every now and then to keep up appearances. I won’t say what my dad’s job is, because that would give away his identity, but for now, it’s enough to say that on this day, he was working.

I was okay with this, because it meant that he would be taking me to school personally, rather than being driven by the robot butler. We ate, then headed down to the hanger of the Air Terror, got into the flying car, and flew to the ground. Just outside of town, we landed and drove into the city, where Dad dropped me off.

“Remember,” dad was telling me for the third time this morning as we pulled up to the school, “I’m going to be gone most of the day. If you need a ride home before then, call Carl, he’ll come get you.”

“I know, Dad,” is said, letting a little anger slip into my tone. I quickly opened the door and jumped out before he could give me a lecture. He was always going on and on to make sure I was okay. I mean, I love the guy and all, but seriously. So, I waved good bye to him and headed to school as he drove away.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. I hooked up with my two best friends and went to homeroom. Later, I ran into little Tommy Dobbs, who still didn’t have my five dollars. My friends and I were forced to stick him head first into the toilet.

What? My dad’s a super-villain, you really expected me to be something other than the school bully?

Anyway, a teacher busted us and I was sent to the principle’s office. Had a pretty normal speech there, too, where he told me I was too smart for this behavior, and what would my dad say. Seriously, my dad would be pissed. Oh, not for dunking Tommy Dobbs into the toilet, but because I got caught. He always said I was smart enough to do whatever I wanted, which included being smart enough to get caught doing it. I always hated getting caught as a result. It made me feel stupid, like I forgot something. Which, of course, I had.

And so, my day went on. lunchtime, which included me picking up trash as punishment for the morning, and then to the rest of my classes. Truth be told, I actually liked taking classes. Even though Dad was right, and I was smarter than most of my teachers, it was fun to learn things. Much as I was a bully, I was also a straight A student. And then came final period, which was my favorite class, PE. See, I was the captain and star center of our school’s basketball team, so PE was actually basketball practice. I loved basketball. No other sport was like it. When I played, there was no crowd, no coach, no on yelling. The world melted away, and it was just the ball, that net, and me. It was my dream to become a professional basketball player, and Dad supported me in this. He always came to my games, paid for new uniforms for the team, and generally did all the supportive things crazy parents do for a high-school sports team.

So, needless to say, I was excited about PE. Sadly, I never made it past the locker room.

I had just changed into my uniform and was about to head out when I noticed that I was alone in the locker room. That was pretty odd, but I figured everyone was just in a hurry because I was in a bad mood. I shrugged it off. I should have listened to Dad’s advice, who always said that your enemy, even when they’re the hero, always plays dirty. No exceptions.

I was grabbed from behind by black suited arms, and had a chloroform patch put over my mouth, all before I even had time to react. Just before passing out, I saw the traditional red and blue costume of Captain Valiant, and I realized why it was that there was no one in the locker room. When I woke up, I was in a dark room, tied to an uncomfortable chair. There were no lights, so I couldn’t see anything. My arms were tied behind me, and my legs were bound to the chair legs. I wasn’t gagged or blindfolded, though, not that it mattered much.

I honestly have no idea how much time I spent in there. Long enough for me to go from panicky to bored. Then, a light went on, right over my head, practically blinding me. A door opened behind me and then closed again. Someone was in the room, but with the lights on, I couldn’t see them. I heard them walk around to the front of me, but whoever it was stayed just outside the light. It was like some bad cop movie.

“Okay, kid, let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” he said. I nodded, but really, I had no idea what he was talking about. ‘Cut to the chase’ was one of those phrases used by adults that never made any sense to me. I just usually nodded and pretended to go along with it.

“We know who you are,” he said, trying to be all mysterious. I could make out his shadow, but all that told me was that he was warring a trench coat.

“A high-school basketball star? Good for you!” I said in the best non-fear laced tone of sarcasm I could muster.

“No,” he said, not taking my bait. “We know who your father is. I mean, who he really is. We know he is really Doctor Von Terror.”

And now the fear really started to take over. How could they, whoever they were, possibly know that! And if they knew that, that meant only one thing.

“I’m bait, then,” I said to him.

“Smart kid, just like your old man.” Was that a compliment? “We figured,” he continued, “that your dad put some kind of tracking device on you. Either on your person sub-dermally, or in your clothing somewhere. We were hoping that the chloroform would have set it off.”

“But obviously your plan isn’t working,” I said smiling. “Or you wouldn’t be in here talking to me.”

He nodded again. Who was this guy? He didn’t seem to ever rise to my taunts, like most rule-enforcer types did. I had assumed at first that he was some kind of cop, or C.H.E.S.S. agent, but now I was starting to be afraid that he worked for one of Dad’s rival villains. Someone trying to take out the competition through me.

“So, now what?” I asked.

“Now,” he said, and he turned and walked out of where I could see him easily, “we talk.”

I heard him drag something metal across the floor, and saw as soon as his shadow returned to my vision that it was a metal chair, presumably a duplicate of mine. He set it down in the circle of light with the back facing me, and then he straddled the chair and faced me. I saw blue and red flash from under his trench coat, and when his face came into view, I gasped. No wonder this guy hadn’t risen to my taunts. This wasn’t just some toady working for another villain, or even a low level C.H.E.S.S. agent. This was the big guy. Captain Valiant himself.

“Wow,” I said, not knowing what else to say. “This must be a real serious problem if you’re here.” I know. I’m captain obvious sometimes.

“Oh, you have no idea,” he said. Then, he was silent. He just sat there, staring at me. And let me tell you, staring into the blue eyes of Captain Valiant, eyes that can burn through solid concrete with laser vision, is not fun. It was taking all my will power just to avoid pissing my pants. After about five minutes, I couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“So,” I tried to make it sound casual, like I wasn’t terrified. Instead, it came out as a squeak. I did a fake throat clearing, as if Captain Valiant would fall for something like that, and started again. “So, you want to talk?”

He only nodded, continuing the silence. I have to tell you that at this point, I felt like a total wuss. I heard stories from some of my dad’s buddies about torture. But all the stuff they talked about was physical. The Captain had yet to actually DO anything, just sat quietly and stared at me, and I was ready to spill my guts.

“Okay,” I said, “what is it you want to talk about?”

“Your dad,” he said simply. I waited again in the silence.

“You know, normally,” I said, trying to hide my discomfort through sarcasm, “people I talk to understand that it’s a two way street.” But, he just nodded his head.

“What is it you want to know?” I asked at last. That seemed to get his attention. He sat back slightly and the intense look in his eyes went away, to be replaced by something more casual.

“I would like to know a lot of things,” he said. “I would like to know why an international terrorist like Doctor Von Terror, has a secret identity. I would like to know how he manages to keep his Sky Terror blimp hidden. It’s a blimp, for God’s sake, how does he do that? I would also like to know how he managed to keep you hidden for so long. But, let’s start with something easier. Like, who your mother is.”

“My mom?” I said, surprised. “I don’t have a mom. She died, back when I like two.”

That seemed to surprise him. Ah, I thought, that means you and C.H.E.S.S. don’t know everything. “Really?” he asked. “You mean to tell me that Doctor Von Terror, one of the worlds most dangerous super villains, is a single father?”

“What, like this is a surprise?” I said. Upon seeing in his eyes that this was, in fact, a surprise, I explained. “It’s not like being a super villain is a safe line of work. I mean, how many super heroes, besides Mister and Misses Amazing, can you name that have successful marriages? I mean, I read in the news that just last week Mr. Mean killed the Tornado Jogger’s 2nd wife. And the Blue Arachnid just got divorced for, what, the fourth time? It happens on the other side of the fence, too.”

He nodded, and seemed to be thinking about what I just said. “So, tell me about your mother,” he said at last. “I mean, what you know.”

I looked at him hard, to make sure he was serious. “I don’t think telling you anything is a good idea,” I said at last.

“And why not?” he replied.

“You’re the enemy,” I said in my best ‘no duh’ voice. “Giving you secrets about my dad isn’t exactly a good idea.”

“You don’t know,” he said. “Your dad never actually told you anything about your mom, did he?”

“Oh, right,” I said, “because dad knew that one day I’d be a security leak and so to protect from that day, he kept information about my mom from me. Of course I know who my mom was.”

He seemed to chew on that. Literally, he was chewing. Finally, I realized he was chewing gum. He saw me looking, reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a packet of gum. “Want one?” he said, offering me a stick.

“Sure,” I replied, wiggling my shoulders around, “I just have this little issue with my arms being tied behind my back.”

He nodded again, but this time more as if he were making a decision rather than in response to my comments. He stood up and moved around behind me. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but suddenly, the zip ties that held my arms to the chair were loose. A simple pull on my part freed me. But, just my arms, I noticed. My legs were still strapped to the chair. He cam back around to the other side and sat back in his backwards chair. He pulled out the packet once more and offered me a stick. I gratefully took one and started to chew it.

“So,” he said after giving me a moment to chew. “Is there anything you can tell me about your mother? You know, without breaching security.”

“Why are you so interested in my dead mother?” I said. I was starting to get angry. “This isn’t exactly a fun and exciting topic of conversation for me, you know.”

“Of course, I’m sorry” he said, seeming genuinely sorry. “That was very rude of me.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “it was.”

“It’s just,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken, “I want so very much to understand your father. I thought, maybe if I knew what kind of woman would marry him, or who he would be interested in, I could learn more about him. Understand him better.”

“See, and then we come back to that security breach I mentioned earlier,” I said, punctuating my sentence by jabbing my finger in the air accusingly. “If I help you even with something as innocent sounding as helping you understand my dad better, what I’m really doing is helping you capture him. I’m so much into the dad being sent to prison thing.”

He nodded again. He seemed to be very understanding about everything, and frankly it was pissing me off.

“Okay,” I said after a moments silence. “You want to know about my mom? I’ll tell you something.” He leaned in, an almost eager look on his face.

“My dad blames you for her death,” I said at last, a smile on my face.

“Blames me?” he said taken aback. “I’m a hero. I save people, I don’t kill them. How can he blame me?”

My smile broadened. I’d obviously hit upon a touchy subject. I decided to press my advantage. “This would have been about fifteen years ago, when you and dad were still pretty new to your carriers. It was a battle that took place at the top of a building. My mom was in a crowd of civilians, and apparently actions taken by you resulted in my mother falling off the top of the building to her death. Thankfully, I was back at the Sky Terror, or I might have gone with her.”

I could see the gears working in his brain as he thought about this. Then, he snapped his fingers, and got an excited look on his face. I started to wonder if I hadn’t said too much.

“I think I remember this fight you’re talking about,” he said. “You’re dad was trying to use the Empire State Building as a conductor to brainwash all of New York City into doing his bidding.”

I smiled. That sounded like one of my dad’s schemes.

“But, if that’s the fight he’s talking about,” he continued in a kind of half mutter that was like he was speaking to himself rather than to me. “everyone survived that fight. Everyone except… Oh, my God.”

He looked at me, and I gulped. Yup, I had definitely said too much.

“Brenda Baker,” he said. “Your mother was Brenda Baker. That son of a bitch!”

He stood, real anger visible in his eyes.

”You,” he said, pointing at me. “Yes, I can see it now. You look like her.”

I scooted my chair back. “Woah,” I said, raising my arms up to ward him away. As if that would help. “I never knew my mom’s name. Dad only told me what I told you. I have no idea what this is about.”

He stood and stared at me for a moment. “No,” he said, “of course you wouldn’t. Allow me to explain some.”

He started pacing, which was actually more nerve racking than him sitting. I could at least see him while he sat. Pacing, he walked in and out of the shadows, and I got the impression that was being stalked by a lion.

“Brenda Baker was a famous news anchorwoman 20 years ago,” he was speaking from the shadows, and when he came back into the light, he was staring at me. “She became famous by covering the growing war between your father and I. And your father and I, well… we both wanted her for our selves.”

I stopped trying to follow him. Suddenly, things were beginning to make sense.

“She was amazing, beautiful,” he paused, and stopped walking. He was right behind me, so I couldn’t see him without turning my chair, something I was not about to do. I started sweating.

“She chose your father, apparently. I had no idea, I thought I still had a chance, but looking back, now, I can see that I never had one. She picked him, and that explains the reason she… she…”

Suddenly, the wall behind him exploded inwards. We were both forced to move due to the force. I, with my legs still tied to the chair, fell over and was pushed across the floor. I was covered in dust and rubble, but looking back, I saw why I wasn’t crushed by more debris. The Captain had only moved a single step, out of surprise I’m sure. He had lifted his coat out so that it was covering most of the blast, and I saw chunks of wall hitting his back and falling harmlessly off.

Light came streaming in, and I had to shade my face with my hand from its brightness. I saw that we were up a couple of stories, because there was no ground immediately outside. I also saw what had caused the explosion. A man was just outside, in shiny silver armor with blue trim. He stood in a menacing pose, pointing towards Captain Valiant.

“She sacrificed herself, to prevent you from killing me,” the metallic voice from the armor said. I knew instantly who it was then.

“Dad!” I cried, even though I didn’t want to.

“Don’t worry, kiddo,” he said, “I won’t let this so-called hero hurt you.”

Captain Valliant took offense to that apparently. He tore off his trench coat, revealing his full red and blue costume underneath. His rippling muscles were visible under the spandex, and he presented truly intimidating presence. I could see why most villains didn’t want to fight him.

“Von Terror!” he said, his voice slightly deepened from when we were talking. “I knew you’d come for your son.”

He sounded angry. I mean, really angry, not just upset. I tried to scoot my chair around so I could get a better look.

“Of course I did,” my dad was saying. “Unlike you, I actually care about the people of this world. I may want to rule over them, but I don’t needlessly take lives.”

“I save people from villains like you, Von Terror,” Valliant was saying.

“Like you saved Brenda?” Dad said.

That sent Valliant over the deep end. He flew out the hole towards dad and smashed into him in a football tackle. The two fell down out of site, but I could hear them struggling down there. Then, something struck the building we were in and the whole room shook. Then, Valliant flew back up to where I could see him. He was pointing downwards.

“That was not my fault, Terror,” he was saying. “That was yours for bringing her there in the first place. Trying to give her an exclusive interview with the famed villain? Please!”

A blast of blue energy came up and hit the Captain square in the face then. My dad flew back up and extended his left arm in an elongated uppercut that caught Valliant square in the jaw, pushing the hero back some.

“I didn’t start the fight,” dad said. “I didn’t throw that chunk of roof. And I didn’t just float there as Brenda plummeted to her death. I was pined under that same chunk of roof that you threw. She was trying to push me out of the way when it hit, but you are too good a shot for that. She was pushed off the roof when the debris hit, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. And you. You just stood there.”

Another blast from dad, this time with both hands, hit Valliant, square in the chest. It pushed the hero back some more, but the hero seemed defeated already. After the blast hit him, he just floated there, staring at my dad, his arms at his side.

“No, I…” he started to say. “You’re a villain. I was trying to stop you. I…”

“You allowed her to die!” dad cried.

Valliant looked at Dad. He looked down. He looked at me. I saw tears in his eyes. He seemed to truly be lost.

“I… I froze,” he said at last. “I loved her. I wanted her to love me. I thought if I could capture you, and she could get that in her story, then… then…”

“Then what?” Dad cried. He was still angry, and for the first time in my life, I understood why he hated the Captain so much. “She would love you? She was my wife, you bastard! She was the mother of my son!”

“I… I didn’t know,” Valliant said. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

Dad stopped advancing. He floated there, just a few feet from Valliant. The two of them stared at each other; the Captain looking dejected and lost, truly defeated for the first time in his career. It was harder to tell what Dad was feeling because of the mask, but I could tell that he was breathing hard. Dad never talked about mom. This had to have been hard for him. I scooted my chair across the room a few feet, trying to get a closer look at the two of them. I suddenly just wanted to be with my dad, back at home, watching a movie on our big screen TV. The both stopped and looked at me.

“I didn’t know,” he said, and I didn’t know who he was saying it too. “I’m a hero, I save people.” It sounded like he was trying to convince himself.

“Go home, Captain,” Dad said. His voice was much softer this time. “Go home to your own wife and son. We can try and kill each other another time.”

The Captain looked at him and then looked back at me. He nodded, and then looked back up, squaring his jaw.

“Next time, Doctor Von Terror,” he said in his best heroic voice, “I won’t be so easy on you.”

“Nor I to you,” Dad said, his villain voice back. I shook my head. Never in a million years will I understand this whole hero/villain thing. It seems like a big display of testosterone. Dad once tried to say that it was like playing a basketball game against a long time rival. Smack talking ensued, he said. I still didn’t get it.

Captain Valliant flew off, leaving dad and I to look after him. Then, Dad turned to look at me. He flew into the damaged room and walked over to me. In silence, he untied me from the chair, and gratefully, I got up, rubbing my legs to get the blood flowing. We stood there for a moment, looking at each other.

Then, dad did something unexpected. He took off his helmet, so I was seeing his eyes. I could see that, like the Captain, he had been crying during their fight. He looked me in the eyes, and for the first time I felt like an equal to Dad. It was a little scary.

“Son,” he said, putting a gauntleted hand on my shoulder. “I want to apologize. I should have told you about your mother before. The whole story, I mean. It’s just, it was too painful. It still is, even after all this time.”

I stared at dad. We looked at each other in silence for a long time. Finally, I gave Dad a hug. It wasn’t easy, wrapping my arms around that armor, but I didn’t care. I just needed to be close to him. Dad hugged me back.

“Come on, Dad,” I said, “lets go back home.”

The End