Sneak Peek Monday

The conclusion of The Monster in the Lake…

The Monster in the Lake

Chapter 4

by

Johi Jenkins

 

The Monster

 

Thal punched through the last inches of limestone with his clenched hand, then watched as the first trickle of water from the river outside poured down the small tunnel and into the pool he had carved at the bottom of his new hollow in Amka’s cave. He raked smooth the perimeter of the final length of tunnel with his fingers as the water started filling the basin. Then he stood back to admire his work. He had worked for the last few days on this new addition: a chest-deep pool that channeled water in from the river outside, and drained to the same river some distance downstream once it was full. The pool would provide a place where he could bathe that was not out in the open; and, more importantly, it would give him back a connection to the water. He had been missing that since leaving his underwater home; but then, he would give up everything, if it meant being with Amka.

As if he’d called her with his very thoughts, he heard her approaching some distance away. He was expecting her much later in the evening; the sun was still high in the sky, and she would’ve assumed him to be sleeping. He’d gotten up earlier to work on his bath, but Amka didn’t know that.

Then, as he focused on the sounds that announced her approach, he distinguished her breathing was quick, her heart agitated. And it wasn’t just from running.

Amka was scared.

He ran out, eyes shut to avoid the glare, ignoring the pain in his hands, face and other exposed skin not covered by his scale armor that immediately reacted to the harsh sunlight. The sun didn’t light his skin on fire, but it nearly felt like it. His eyes were the most sensitive to sunlight and suffered the most damage; with enough exposure they could get destroyed completely to the point that he would be fully blind. Luckily, they would eventually heal. So he was counting on his body surviving the sunburn as he ran outside sun toward Amka, eyes closed, guided by her scent and the sound of her heart. He reached her in no time and wrapped his arms around her.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered urgently. He tried to open his eyes to see her, but the ruthless glare made it impossible.

“Thal! What are you doing out in the sun? I’m fine—go back inside immediately!”

Relieved to hear she was alright, and realizing he had completely overreacted, he lifted her off the floor and ran back to the cave. Once safe inside his skin started to heal, and he opened his eyes and finally managed to look at her. Her face had that subtly darker color that he knew came from the blood that flushed her cheeks; her heart still beat rapidly as though she was afraid. But her thoughts were a rush of excitement, not fear. She was thinking of him, and simultaneously thrilled and nervous for—

“A child?” he asked in a whisper, shocked.

“I-I think so,” she replied breathlessly. “I wasn’t sure, but my mother knows the signs, and she’s convinced.”

“Wait—your mother?” Thal said, not recovering his voice. “She knows?”

“Come inside,” Amka said, tugging his hand and pulling him further down the passage. “I’ll tell you what she said.”

As they walked deeper into the cave to his new home, Amka detailed her conversation with her mother, Mayna. Her mother had noticed the changes in Amka before Amka herself had; Mayna attempted to get her daughter to reveal with whom she had mated; but Amka, not wanting to risk the village learning of Thal’s existence, had denied there was anyone in her life. Mayna had then assumed that Torren had raped Amka and that’s why Amka had killed him, and now Amka was carrying Torren’s child.

“And I didn’t deny or care to correct her because, well, I don’t really need anyone asking me questions about you. So let them assume what they may,” she concluded.

A child.

How was it even possible?

Thal’s people were similar to humans in some ways, but they were two very different species. Would the child drink blood? How could there even be a child? According to his mother children among them were very rare. His people lived much longer lives, but didn’t reproduce as quickly as the humans did.

“Thal?” Amka asked nervously.

He realized he’d been rendered speechless by the news and hadn’t answered her, and her thoughts had turned fearful about his reaction. He quickly embraced her. “Amka, these are amazing news. You don’t know how happy I am. My people—the unk-ga—we don’t often have children. Your people, the sihg-zhe—sun-dwellers, that’s what it means—have the advantage, being able to reproduce so well by comparison. Babies and children are sacred in our history. That’s why my mother escaped at the first sign of trouble, because she was carrying me.”

“Well, my people’s child-carrying abilities are at your disposal,” Amka joked. “We will see what a half-unckga, half-sig… um, half-sun-dweller looks like.” Then with the cutest little frown, she asked, “What does the name of your people mean?”

Thal smiled. “Unk-ga means ‘the children of the gods’ … which should be ironic, since we have so little children. But that’s the name the sun dwellers called us, when our people all lived together, hundreds of years ago.”

Amka raised an eyebrow playfully. “Children of the gods, eh? And here we sun dwellers were calling you merely blood-drinkers.” She laughed. “But I can see why my ancestors would call you that. You’re so strong and fast, you heal so quickly, your blood heals us, and you say your people live such long lives. If we do have this baby, I hope she or he has your abilities.”

“I hope she can walk in the sun, and carry children of her own, if she’s a girl.”

“Carry children?” She crossed her arms over her belly protectively and turned away from Thal, with a teasing scowl. “Let her be born first, and live a long life before having to worry about having children.”

Thal embraced Amka from behind, placing his chin on her shoulder and his hands over hers. “Of course. I only meant that she’d be able.” Then he quickly added, because he saw in her mind that she was about to laugh and say she’d been joking, which he already knew anyway, “But Amka … are you worried about having this child?” He voiced his fear out loud. That Amka would be scared of having a little half-monster baby.

She freed one arm and brought a hand up to his check, tenderly cradling his face. “Never. This child is a blessing, Thal.”

“It is. I can’t imagine being happier than I am right now. I love you so much, Amka.”

“And I you.” Then she thought of something. “How long do children of the gods gestate?”

Thal laughed. “Real children of the gods, I have no clue; but my people gestate for a year, according to my mother.”

“We only carry babies for nine months. Let’s see what this one decides to do.”

 

***

 

Eight months later Amka no longer cared about what the baby decided to do. She wanted that baby out. Thal felt simultaneously guilty and amused by Amka’s wavering thoughts.

“Thal, you’re doing it again.” Amka’s attempt at a reproaching tone was canceled out by the mirth in her manner.

“Oh, I’m sorry, my love,” he said as he brought his head up from the water, pulling away from her belly. He’d been entranced yet again listening to the baby’s thoughts, his head underwater pressed against her skin, as she rested lazily in the cave pool after making love for the second time that afternoon. (Amka had requested a second time. She was really demanding in that department lately).

“What’s there that could be possibly so interesting, anyway?” she asked.

“I don’t know why I find it so fascinating; there’s hardly anything to hear. But just now I believe the baby was thinking about his or her leg.”

“Her leg? Aww,” Amka crooned, rubbing her bulging belly. “Is she wondering what is that thing that she keeps kicking me with?”

The baby didn’t have real, definite thoughts, but there was something there, flickers of feelings about his or her little home. It was mesmerizing to Thal, trying to decipher what those little thoughts meant, and he often spaced out with his ear pressed against Amka’s belly. So much so that he forgot to reply to Amka. Again.

“Well, I should be going,” Amka said after another minute, standing up in the pool. “These walks have become more and more tiring … even though I don’t do the actual walking myself.”

Thal always carried her on his back to and from the cave and her village, using an underground tunnel he’d completed months ago. Recently, he knew, even though she never complained out loud, she would become uncomfortable when he ran too fast; but on the other hand, if he walked at human pace it would kill one precious hour of the little time they had together. So he’d found an in-between pace where he walked fast but slowed down when she he could tell she needed a break.

He would’ve preferred for her to stay with him, of course. But Amka was convinced that she needed to live with her people a while longer, as long as she could manage the travel, so he had carved this underground tunnel connecting their secret cave and her hunter’s hut.

“I know what’s on your mind, Thal,” she said later, as he carried her down the tunnel in silence. “I just don’t know how to do it—how to tell my mother that I have to leave. I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could tell her the truth. I want to tell her the truth; I want to raise the baby with my family. But I don’t know how.”

“I know, Amka.”

Of course he knew. He knew her dreams and her fears. He knew how much she loved him and how much she wanted to be with him, but he also knew how much she loved her family and how much she feared the thought of leaving them. She wanted to raise her baby with them, especially with her mother. She also felt bound to the village by her hunter duty; she didn’t want to leave her people to fend for themselves, not while the four young hunters she was training weren’t ready to take over her role. They weren’t good at hunting on their own just yet, and Amka (well, Thal) was currently providing meat for the entire village. Amka felt she would be abandoning them, if she left the village for good. Her oldest sibling was only twelve years old. She couldn’t just leave her family and her people on their own.

But Thal also knew that Amka had given their situation much thought, and that deep down she knew her only choice was to leave her village, eventually. She was just putting off the inevitable. It was a hard choice, he knew, so he never pressed her. And he couldn’t object to her wish to remain in her village for as long as she could because he knew his experience was wildly different than hers. He didn’t have a family he would miss. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—make a decision for her because he wouldn’t know what it was like, leaving family.

And there weren’t really any other options. Thal couldn’t possibly live in the village with her. Even if her family embraced an outsider with pale skin and pale eyes—assuming they never found out that he was a blood-drinking monster—Thal couldn’t live in a human village, or near one, if the humans knew about him. There was always a risk of the wrong type of human finding out what he was. Despite his strength and speed, he was too vulnerable; he was useless in the sun, and there were far too many more of them. His people had made that mistake before, attempting to live with humans, and had ultimately paid with their lives. Every one of them. Including his mother.

Still quiet, saddened by their uncertain future, Thal reached the circular stone door that marked the entrance to the basement he’d dug under Amka’s hut. After confirming there was no one around he set her down and rolled open the door. It was meant to be a deception; a heavy stone wheel hiding within a rectangular frame that resembled a doorway, one which a human intruder would find almost impossible to open unless they knew where to look. There was a locking pin out of sight near the base of the wheel; when removed, the door would easily roll to its hidden pocket in the wall. When in place, the wheel couldn’t move, and the doorway appeared to be a solid stone rectangle. It was just one of Thal’s many projects he’d worked on while Amka slept.

He helped her through and then pulled her up through her trapdoor to the hut’s floor.

“Thank you,” she said, without letting go of him. She pressed her cheek against his chest. “And please don’t be sad. We’ll figure it out. If I have to go, I’ll go. No matter what, we’ll be together, the three of us. I love you more than them, you know.”

He tightened his arms around her. “I know. And I love you—which is why I stand with you, whatever you decide, whatever you need.”

“Whatever I need?” She stood on her toes and leaned in even closer, and whispered in his ear seductively. “Well … we forgot to do something in the cave today.”

“We did not forget,” he corrected her, pulling her back. His eyes traveled to her neck, where her vein was bulging with all the extra blood she carried. He bent down slowly and brought his parted lips to her neck, then gently nipped her skin with the tip of his fangs, as she held her breath. “We … just don’t do that, now.” He kissed her neck instead and pulled away from her, with some effort.

Thal,” she complained, breathing again. “It just feels so good. You don’t know how good it feels; no one’s ever done that to you.”

Thal laughed. From her thoughts when he drank her blood, he did have an idea. It was as good for her as it was for him. Just thinking about it made his fangs ache, and had his blood rushing to the most responsive parts of his body. “I want to—so much—but you and the baby need all of your blood.” He had stopped drinking Amka’s blood only recently, one day when he’d seen her a little too pale after drinking from her. He’d felt so guilty ever since.

“Come on. It’s been one week. I won’t ask for another week, I promise. I’ll just ask for regular lovemaking.” Slowly she reached down between their bodies and placed her hand over his bulge.

He forgot why he was resisting her. He only sort of remembered he shouldn’t give in. “Amka,” he chided.

Thal,” she replied in the same tone. Then, very gently, she squeezed.

Whatever semblance of restraint he had up until then disappeared. He scooped her up and placed her down on the tangle of blankets she kept in her spare hut. He removed his and her clothes from the waist down in the same swoop, knelt in front of her, and in the next second he was inside her, pushing into her, while she dug her nails into the back of his thighs. Amka, Amka, Amka, he cried her name in his mind with each thrust, her own exhilarated thoughts answering him, her building passion fueling his. Her ragged breaths became panting moans as they neared that glorious peak together; then Thal bent over her and sank his fangs into her neck, her galloping heart pumping her delicious blood into his mouth, taking over his senses until nothing existed but Amka and the eruption of pleasure that she was experiencing. And together they came undone, their thoughts a jumble of ecstasy and bliss.

“Ahh …” Amka sighed contentedly beneath him.

Regaining some sense, he managed to stop drinking her blood and quickly healed her wound. “Oh, Amka,” was all he said, still holding her close.

“You said whatever I need, Thal,” Amka reminded him, her eyes closed, a genuine smile plastered all over her face. “And all I need is you …”

How could he deny her anything that made her so happy? He lay down next to her and kissed her cheek.

“Rest a while. I’m going hunting for you; I’ll be back soon.”

 

***

 

Thal did the business quickly, hunting in the woods nearby where he could still feel Amka sleeping. After dropping off the animal outside her home, Thal went back to her hunter’s hut and gently woke her up.

“Let me walk you home,” he offered as she stretched away her short nap.

“Nah, thank you. I’ll be fine,” she said, declining his help. She always did. She liked walking through the village on her way back. When he walked her home they had to take a path on the outskirts of the village.

And that was the path he took, alone, following her home as he always did. The walk from her hunter’s hut to her family’s hut wasn’t long, but still he always lingered near to make sure she made it home safe. Tonight she was greeted by a disapproving Mayna. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who worried about Amka.

“It’s late,” Mayna said, and Thal could easily picture her disapproving scowl.

“I’m alright, Mother,” Amka attempted to pacify her mother as she came in. But as it had been these past few weeks, it didn’t work.

“You are less than a month away from giving birth, yet you insist on going hunting. Stop that. Medda is old enough; he and his sister can take over for you. They and the other young hunters will have to, anyway, for several moons after the baby is here.”

“I can hunt elk in my sleep, Mother,” Amka joked with an inward nod to Thal, knowing he was listening. “I had no trouble at all bringing in this guy outside. And I mean no trouble. At all.”

Thal laughed silently from the copse of trees behind Amka’s hut where he presently sat.

“It’s still too much work for you,” Mayna insisted. “I don’t like how flushed you are. Your hair is a mess; your clothes aren’t even tied correctly. Come, I’ll prepare a rosemary bath for you before supper.”

Amka’s thoughts shifted to the reason why her clothes weren’t tied correctly and Thal suffered the entire length of her bath, wishing he was there with her. He suffered, but he loved it. He could stay hours on end just listening to Amka interact with her family, at supper, at story-telling, or even at bedtime when they got ready to lie down for the night. And he often did, now that his cave and tunnel were mostly complete and he had not much to do.

Tonight after their supper Amka chose for her siblings a story about the unk-ga, referring to Thal’s people as “children of the gods” instead of as “blood-drinkers”. In the story, the unk-ga and the humans lived in harmony. The children were fascinated by the beautiful creature Amka described.

Thal smiled. She was doing her part to change their perception of his people. He only wished it was enough.

But his smile disappeared as Amka’s father uttered words that sent a terrible chill to his heart.

“Amka, don’t romanticize those blood-drinking demons,” the man said with disdain. “You may believe these are only stories, but these monsters are real. It’s time you knew that. And you all need to be scared of them, not worship them.”

“Father,” Amka said reproachfully.

“Don’t scare the children, Tahik,” Mayna scolded her mate. “There’s no need. They’re just stories.”

“I’m just telling them the truth, so that they don’t get confused with the idealized creature from Amka’s story. Children … the demons are real. Your birth mother was killed by one of them. A blood-drinking monster.”

Everyone gasped and uttered exclamations of surprise and disbelief. Amka said, “What? No, she wasn’t. Their mother was killed by a rival clan in that ill-fated expansion campaign, along with my birth father and my brothers. Right, Mother?”

“Tahik, we don’t know that for sure,” Mayna said. “We weren’t there.”

“But Malkon was, and he told me what really happened,” Amka’s father insisted. “It wasn’t the northern clan as everyone believes. It was one of those demons. Only one of them, and she killed, what, about twenty of ours? Malkon saw her with his own eyes. Pale and ghastly. He said they found her buried in the earth but when they dug her out she was alive—she was a demon! So they killed her … or so they thought. Malkon said he only survived because he was hunting for the party when she woke up. He came back to find everyone dead and the demon missing; he knew right away what had happened. But the few others who came back from that expedition never knew; they never saw her, they were further south when it happened. Malkon was the only one who knew, and he kept it a secret.”

The children erupted with follow-up questions to satisfy their wild curiosity, but Amka was frozen. Outside, Thal was frozen. Mayna spoke over the children’s questions.

“Tahik, you first told me this story when Malkon died and Amka believed that she had seen a scaly monster over his body. But she never found it. I tell you now what I told you then. I can’t believe this version of the story. Malkon, my own brother, wouldn’t have lied to me.”

“But he did,” Tahik said. “He lied because he was the only hunter we had left and he didn’t want to admit that a single woman had killed our best hunters in a single blow. But he confessed to me months later, after you and I had coupled and he had become my brother. He said it once, and we never spoke of it again.”

“I just don’t know …” Mayna said.

“It can’t be,” Amka whispered.

But Thal, alone in the dark, knew without a doubt that Tahik was telling the truth.

 

***

 

When Thal turned ten years old, his sweet mother Yamhi decided that they needed to relocate. She had seen the trend of the animal population decreasing, and she had also noticed a slight change in the temperatures of the lake. But she wouldn’t leave blindly with her son; she had to find the perfect location first. And, more importantly, she wanted to find their people. She wanted Thal to have company other than her. Throughout his life she had gone outside for short expeditions looking for any other unk-ga, perhaps any survivors of the raid that had forced her to leave her home, but had always come back at daybreak, exhausted and empty-handed. Thal promised her that he didn’t need any other company, but she had persisted.

So on that last excursion Yamhi promised her son that she would come back within two nights. And she did. But she came back wounded, and died within the day. With labored breaths she told him that she had journeyed north, searching, listening, until the sun came up. She had dug a hole to sleep in for the day where she thought she’d be safe from the sun, but hadn’t counted on humans finding her. These humans had been exploring on their own, looking to expand their domain, when they came across the newly-turned earth and discovered her. They’d immediately thrown their fishing net on her and attacked her—with no motivation other than the fact that she looked different—and nearly killed her. She had escaped by pretending to be dead so they would stop assaulting her. They were bringing her body to their village, she understood from their thoughts, and, thinking she was dead, removed the fishing net so they could fish. Once free she had remained there motionless, her skin badly sunburned, her deep wounds barely healing … listening to their thoughts, waiting for the right moment. And it had finally come, when the ones on watch were distracted. One by one she managed to kill the whole lot of them. She sustained more wounds, but eventually escaped and managed to return to young Thal. Unfortunately her wounds were too great and she didn’t survive.

Now Thal knew why Amka’s uncle, the man named Malkon, had attacked him unprovoked. He had recognized what Thal was; he had known the unk-ga weren’t just tales of old. He had come across one before and likely thought of Thal’s people as a threat. But if he knew of the unk-ga’s strength and speed, it didn’t make sense that he’d attack Thal on his own that night, unless he really thought he had a chance while Thal was distracted with the elk. Or maybe the survivor guilt he had possibly carried these past ten years had made him act recklessly. Whatever the reason, it made more sense that he attacked Thal believing Thal was a blood-drinking monster than attacking an unarmed boy for no reason other than for hunting an elk. Amka had always thought of him as a kind-hearted person.

Thal’s heart was heavy. The fact that Amka’s people had been the ones that killed his mother hurt more than he could bear at the moment. Maybe it was just bad timing; Thal had recently considered living among these people to make Amka happy, despite his mother’s constant warnings against living among the sihg-zhe … only to find that his mother had been right, and that the sihg-zhe could never be trusted.

Or maybe it was just bound to hurt, no matter what, learning who his mother’s killers were.

“Thal? Thal, are you there?” Amka murmured from her cot. Please, if you’re there, I need to talk to you.

But he couldn’t.

He would, eventually, but he needed time tonight. With sadness in his heart, Thal retreated to the safety of his solitude.

 

***

 

But when he opened his eyes the next evening, it was still early afternoon, and something was horribly wrong. Amka’s pain had woken him. He ran to her in his tunnel, faster than he ever had before, and came out at the base of her hunter’s hut. He stopped to consider the best way to reach her—burn his way through the town? Or burn longer but take the safer path in the outskirts of the village? (Why didn’t he ever connect his underground tunnel to her family’s hut?)

But Amka, as if she knew Thal was listening, suddenly projected her thoughts to him, somehow so clearly that he could hear them in the hut where he stood. I’m okay, I’m okay, she grunted. I’m—okay—the baby’s—early—coming—NOW!

He heard her final long, driving scream. A moment later Thal heard the baby’s first cry.

He sank to the floor.

A boy, he saw in somebody’s mind. He froze for a moment, for an eternity—then he heard Amka’s cry again—but this was a gentle sob, a combination of relief and joy—and he realized he could move, because she was okay. Then he stood again and stepped to the doorway. He steeled himself, and pushed the heavy drape aside, daring to look at the sun.

Pain shot through his head as his eyes burned and then attempted to heal, but he memorized the position of the sun in the sky to mark the minute of his son’s entry into this world.

“Oh, Thal … he’s perfect,” Amka said, the face of their son cradled in her mind by a blanket of devotion.

“Thal?” repeated Mayna.

“Thakal,” Amka replied to her mother. “His name is Thakal.”

Then she whispered for Thal’s ears only, “I’m so sorry … about your mother.”

Of course she had figured out that the woman in her father’s story last night was Thal’s mother, even though Thal had never told her how Yahmi died. Amka was just that perceptive.

It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself. Nothing else mattered now except Amka and Thakal.

Then he fell back, excitement and fear consuming him.

 

***

 

On the eve of Thakal’s hundredth day on this world, Thal made the biggest mistake of his entire life.

Amka had remained living with her family while the baby was newly born; Thal visited and held him at night, allowing Amka to rest while he did so. He was entranced by the little person in his arms and spent most of his waking hours with him. He’d carved another branch of his underground tunnel leading to the woods behind Amka’s family’s hut to be as close to her and Thakal as possible.

And while spending so much time in the vicinity of Amka’s people, he had learned some terrifying things that he chose not to share with her. He should have, but he didn’t.

He just didn’t want to trouble her. Her heart was already so full of worry—love, primarily, but also constant worry. She worried over every little thing about the new life in her arms, and Thal didn’t want to add more trouble to the list. And anyway, he felt it ultimately didn’t matter because Amka was leaving the village soon. On Thakal’s hundredth day, she meant to present him to the village for the first and last time. She would announce that she was moving away. It had taken a toll on Thal, not being able to live next to his son, and Amka was finally ready to leave.

But the villagers, unbeknownst to Amka, had an ongoing favorite gossip—the mystery of the child that had been born to the village huntress. Of special annoyance to Thal were the parents of that dead cretin Torren, who were convinced that Thakal was their grandchild, for they believed the rumor that Torren had forced himself on Amka on the night of his and Aruk’s death. Torren’s mother had tried to see Thakal every day since she heard he was born, but Mayna would not let her in.

On that day, while waiting patiently for his turn—waiting for Amka’s family to finish supper and go to bed so Amka could come out with Thakal—Thal heard two villagers gossiping. He usually ignored them, but Amka’s name caught his attention: two women were discussing that Mayna had been acting strangely, keeping well-meaning townsfolk away from Amka, as if Amka were some great deity that would not grant audience to the regular folk. It was unfair to Torren’s mother, they said, not allowing her to even meet her grandson. Mayna would not even wash clothes at the river with the rest of the women anymore; she was evasive and guarded when asked about Amka and the baby. And they had seen Mayna packing clothes and food—they concluded that Mayna and Amka were planning to leave the village, and that they were hiding something—something related to the baby—from everyone.

The distrust in their voices and the even uglier thoughts that accompanied their spoken words had Thal’s blood boiling with rage. But he couldn’t do anything about it, he thought, so he tried to let it go.

Had Thal mentioned his concerns to Amka, maybe things would have turned out differently.

 

***

 

Thal woke to her soul-splitting scream.

It was very early in the day but he was instantly awake, instantly afraid. The fear clouded his mind and didn’t let him see past his immediate need to run to her aid—if he had, he would’ve taken an additional minute to dress in his scales which would protect him somewhat from the sun that he knew, based on his internal clock, was still high up in the sky. But she was his greatest weakness—he couldn’t stop to think, to plot, to come up with a feasible strategy. She was in danger so he just acted. He ran in her direction, outside toward the lake.

The sun burned his skin, but he ran. And in the few minutes that it took him to reach her, even before his eyes registered the patch of red that stained the water where she’d been so violently assaulted, the darkest part of him already knew he was too late to save her, and that he would kill everyone in sight.

They didn’t know he existed, so the monster part of him delighted in seeing the fear in the thoughts of that first man who carried the spear that still dripped Amka’s blood. Torren’s father. As he killed them, all eight of them, the ones that fought and the ones that ran, he was able to piece together from their final thoughts what they had done, led by the savages that had spawned Torren.

Torren’s mother had shown up at Amka’s hut demanding to see the baby, but Mayna had again refused, yelling that the child was not Torren’s but an outsider’s. Incensed at this, the woman had shoved Mayna aside and barged inside to take the infant by force … only to learn there was no baby, but a pale demon thing at Amka’s bloody breast. It was drinking his mother’s milk and her blood.

Abomination!” she had cried.

This despicable woman then ran to her mate, a creature even more awful than her, and the two of them had quickly gathered a small mob to come in and take the small monster, ready to kill anyone who stood in the way. They had to keep their village safe, the man yelled, and several more agreed. Among the mob were the parents of the other hunter, Aruk.

They returned to Amka’s home and found the hut empty. Amka had fled, but they followed her trail to the lake, where they found her already rowing the boat out into the water. But two of the aggressors jumped in and swam after her, taking her oars, and overcoming her who wouldn’t give up her son. They dragged her down into the water but she fought them, yelling and cursing, until the accursed man stabbed her and she stopped struggling.

They were now all dead.

Thal had been heavily injured by several men he couldn’t see while attempting in vain to revive Amka at some point after killing Torren’s father. And now, after the fight was over, he didn’t care to inspect his wounds because he was still half out of it, coming down from the blinding rage that had taken over him. He was in denial as he approached the water again, turning his back on the bloody shore. The sun, his damaged eyes, and the glare of the water made it impossible to see, but she knew exactly where she was, her body floating serenely in the lake.

As he picked her up again he detected Thakal’s scent and his mind seemed to restart. Thakal was here, with Amka. He thrashed his way to the boat, looking for any signs of his son, but the boat had capsized, and Thakal was nowhere to be found. His scent was gone as well. Desperate, he felt around, and dove underwater, but his senses didn’t tell him where Thakal’s tiny body could be.

I’m sorry, Amka. I’m sorry, Thakal,” he cried in his native language. “I have failed you.”

He couldn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t sure he had any. He had lost most of his blood so he knew he wouldn’t heal now. He was dying, and he didn’t have the strength to look for his son’s body. But he had Amka’s. With his last bit of strength he swam out to the middle of the lake holding what remained of the girl he loved. He embraced her, and then he died, sinking to the bottom of the lake together.

 

 

The Woman

 

Across the lake, the woman skipped down the rocky shore to where the shape was squirming. She wouldn’t have believed it was alive, but she had heard its cries.

“I’m coming, Thakal,” Mayna said, her eyes brimming with tears. “Your grandma is coming, and we’re going far, far away.”

 

***

The END

 

Catch up on The Monster in the Lake….

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Friday–Welcome 2020!

A Coastal Town in New England
is Full of Crazy Characters

by

Johi Jenkins

Words: lobsterman, bicycle, light bulb, yoga, fireworks, infantile, weave, leopard, balding, sunset

Aguaclara sat down on a wooden bench under the shade of a beautiful tree whose name she didn’t know. A man rode by in a weird-looking bicycle, but no one appeared to question his transport. Along the boardwalk people walked with careless abandon, looking for all the world like this coastal town in New England was totally normal. It totally wasn’t. What the sign on the road had advertised as a charming little town, had actually turned out to be a ridiculous parade full of crazy characters.

She tapped her forehead in frustration. “We should’ve gone to Hawaii instead,” she bemoaned.

“Agreed,” a voice said above her. She looked up to see Laster as he sat down next to her. “Although all twenty islands are just one giant tourist pit, I’ll take a Hawaii sunset over this weird town and that awful storm that came out of nowhere on the way here.”

They had flown in from California, but as they had descended over the Appalachian Mountains they’d barreled through a thunderstorm that no weather monitoring bot had predicted.

“That storm was awful, right?” Aguaclara agreed. “And this town … yeah. Everyone talks so funny and acts so strange. I think they’re going for quaint, but it’s remarkably archaic.”

“Yes! Oh my gosh, this place is nuts!” Laster held up his hands in frustration. “The people are crazy! Just now, I saw a balding man asking for money. He said he didn’t have anywhere to live.”

“What? Where does he sleep?”

“I don’t know! It doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t want to pry. Well, I tried to give him money, and he didn’t have a scanner. He even asked me, ‘why would I have a scanner?’ What! How does he expect people to help him? Can you believe that?”

Aguaclara nodded sadly. “Laster, I believe you, but only because I went into a little store where a woman was selling handwoven goods, and she also said she didn’t have a scanner. She did have a hand computer that looked like a scanner, but when I waved my wrist over it nothing happened. She took back the scarf I meant to buy and said she didn’t weave for free. I said I didn’t want it free; I meant to pay but her scanner didn’t work! And then she acted really confused and said her computer was a phone and not a scanner. Okay, crazy lady, bye. I left.”

Laster shook his head. “This whole town is crazy. While you were shopping I went by the beach. I stopped to watch a small group of people stretching in unison. I wondered out loud why they would do that. A woman next to me heard me and said they were doing yoga and that it was a great way to keep their bodies flexible.”

“Why would they need to exercise for that? That’s why we have metaxalone in the water. Ooh …” Aguaclara snapped her fingers. “Maybe these people drink untreated well water. So they’re all stiff. That’s crazy.”

“Right? But that’s not as crazy as the other thing she said.”

“What else did she say??”

“She said she was a better teacher than the guy teaching the class, and had more experience. But she quit when she found out that he made more money than she did.”

“What! How come? If she was better, she must have been getting paid more.”

“I asked the same question, and she just shook her head and mentioned the gender gap.”

“The gender gap in population? What has that got to do with salaries?”

“No clue. She was wearing tight pants printed to look like leopard spots, though, so I just assumed she wasn’t right in the head.”

Aguaclara shook her head. “These people are crazy.”

“Definitely,” Laster said. “Maybe we should just head back.”

“I’m hungry, though. Let’s find some food. Someone is bound to have a scanner.”

“Let’s hope. I’m hungry, too.”

They walked along the boardwalk until they reached a small shop with a sign that read: All forms of payment accepted. They walked up to the counter eagerly and read the menu. Attempted to, anyway.

“I have no idea what any of this means,” Aguaclara confessed after a minute.

“Me neither,” Laster said. “Bacon, ham? Drumsticks? What’s that?”

“And what about this chicken, fish, lobster? Why call food after an animal?”

At that moment a young man came out of a door in the back and smiled at them. “Hi, welcome to Ed’s Lobster House. What can I get you?”

“Um, we’re not sure yet,” Aguaclara answered.

“How ’bout our famous lobster? Ed just brought them in this morning and they’re super fresh.” Seeing their confused expressions, the young man added, “Ed’s the owner and also the lobsterman.”

Laster frowned, extra confused. “You mean like a superhero? Like Spider-Man?” He’d heard of Batman and Spider-Man, but not Lobsterman.

The boy looked confused. “No…? I meant like … a lobsterman? You know, a person who catches lobsters?”

“Why does he catch lobsters?”

“Uh, maybe to serve them—” he said in an infantile tone, as he pointed to the restaurant sign “—in his Lobster House??”

Aguaclara and Laster looked at each other in horror as the light bulb turned on in their heads. And they ran away. Out of the town and across the road, and into the clearing where their monojet was parked. Only when they were back inside their jet did they stop to catch their breath.

“These people eat animals, Laster.”

“What crazy town did we stumble into, Clara?”

But Aguaclara’s gaze had drifted to a banner that was hanging from a tree. The large, bright letters were printed over depictions of fireworks. She read the words, but they didn’t make sense.

Happy New Year! 2020

“Gosh in Heaven, Laster,” she finally whispered, horrified. “You know that crazy storm we went through on the way here?”

But Laster couldn’t answer, because he had too seen the sign, and had lost his voice.

“I think it warped us back through time,” she concluded miserably, “… to the 21st century.”

Dun Dun Dunnn

The End

Find & Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Johi Jenkins

When Stars Will Shine

When Stars Will Shine…

A collection of short stories from your favourite authors who have come together to deliver you a Christmas read with a twist.

With true war tales that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost and found, this anthology has something for everyone. And, with every penny made being sent to support our troops, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.

From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Lucy Cameron, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!

When Stars Will Shine is the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life!

♦♦♦

Note from Emma Mitchell:

As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.

Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.

There isn’t a person in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.

It has been an honour working on these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Full contents:

Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman
Four Seasons by Robert Scragg
The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff
Believe by Mark Brownless
What Can Possibly Go Wrong? by Lucy Cameron
Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell
The Art of War and Peace by John Carson
A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton
Free Time by Stewart Giles
Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake
The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen
The Village Hotel by Alex Kane
A Present of Presence by HR Kemp
The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin
Brothers Forever by Paul Moore
Girl in a Red Shirt by Owen Mullen
Pivotal Moments by Anna Franklin Osborne
Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli
Time for a Barbeque by Carmen Radtke
Christmas Present by Lexi Rees
Inside Out by KA Richardson
Penance by Jane Risdon
New Year’s Resolution by Robert Scragg
Family Time by Graham Smith

When Stars Will Shine is available to in digital and paperback formats and on Kindle Unlimited.

For more information, please contact Emma Mitchell: emmamitchellfpr@gmail.com

edmcreatingperfection.com

Short Story Friday–Poem Edition

A Wild Animal Loose in the House

by

Elizabeth L. Lemons

It was the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Were remnants of spillage
Nog all over my blouse
For while I was chilin’,
Feet up by the fire
A deer crashed the window
Wearing sleigh-bell attire
He stomped and he slipped
He knocked pie to the floor
He licked it all up
Then looked to me, wanting more
Being pregnant, I moved slow
But tried to reach a broom
Ripping apart a pillow
White feathers he consumed
I coaxed and I yelled
I pleaded and I cried
While shaking straw broom
My pleadings still denied
When suddenly, on the lawn
My husband arrived home
He walked through the door
While this beastie still roamed
With one powerful yell
Hubbie threatened with all might
Get out of my house, deerie
Or there will be a great fight!

 

Short Story Friday

Selling a Childhood Home

By: Victoria Clapton

Large, puffy cumulus clouds rolled across the sky and the golden rays of the sun pierced through the cottony fluffs mocking the somberness that had settled upon the day.

A genesis, a new beginning, to be a pioneer in someplace new–that is what my grandmother hoped for when she made the rash decision to sell our two-hundred plus year old family home where generations had lived.

I looked back one last time at the stately Georgian dreamscape, the only home I’d ever known, and listened to my grandmother’s pitiful attempt to convince her family that selling this part of our legacy was a good decision. I locked the beauty of our home into my mind, the pristine condition of the gardens before I jumped into my mom’s red truck, mashing the seat-belt into its locking mechanism, hoping I could erase the negativity brought on by this tragedy of a day and one day only remember my childhood home with fondness and not loss.

♦♦♦

Find and Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Victoria Clapton

Short Story Friday

A Teenager Whose Parents Have Unwelcome News

by 

Johi Jenkins

Words: comic book, battery, crumbly, apartment, angelic, breach, shooter, soda, engineer, substantiate

“I’m home!” Love closed the front door behind her and shrugged off her school backpack and coat, then she jumped in fright as she noticed her parents standing five feet away, staring at her. “God, you scared me,” she said, adjusting her volume.

“Hello, Love,” her mother said, a worried frown clouding her usually perfect face.

“Hello, Love,” her dad said, looking equally worried. “We have some news.”

“Okay,” Love said. “Give me a sec, I need to plug in my phone; it ran out of battery.”

“This can’t wait. Let’s sit down,” her mom said, and she motioned to the adjacent sitting room.

“Oh-kaay…” Love had no idea what this was about, but she knew it was going to be bad from her parents’ expressions. She sat down in the closest armchair. “Alright. What’s up?”

Her parents sat in a lounge chair opposite of her. Her mom took a deep breath and said, “Love, honey … we’re moving.”

Love just stared at them, trying to determine if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.

“We’re so sorry about what this will do to you,” her dad started to say, and was joined with similar apologetic words by her mom, until Love finally found her voice.

“We’re moving out of Woodstock?”

Her mom frowned in anticipation of dropping possibly the most unwelcome news. “Darling, we’re moving out of the country.”

“Are you kidding me!” Love almost yelled in happiness. “This is the best news! I hate my life here. I hate my school. And the country currently sucks too. I’d rather be anywhere else. Anywhere!”

Again her parents exchanged a look. “You hate your life?” her mom asked.

Love shifted in her chair. “I mean, it’s not like I hate you guys … just my school and its stupid backwards mentality. I told the counselor I wanted to be an engineer and he said I should try a career more geared towards women. What the hell? And I also hate the idea that any one of my ignorant classmates could be a potential shooter and he could just walk into a store and buy whatever weapons he wanted, and nothing is being done about it. Oh, and I hate the stupid soda machine that never works. High school sucks.”

“That’s all … very …” her mom started to say, but didn’t finish.

“Awful, yeah. I know. So … moving is the best news I’ve heard all day. Where are we going? Why are we moving?”

Love could tell her parents were ill at ease; they were shifty-eyed and looking suspicious. They didn’t answer right away, so she became apprehensive. After another few seconds of silence she all but shouted, “What’s going on, guys?”

“Hold on, sweetheart,” her mom said. “This is very difficult for us to say. We haven’t been honest with you about our … parentage.”

“Your parentage?”

Her dad tried to explain. “Our family … which we’ve always said were dead, they’re now really dead, and we have to go back home to take care of … it.”

“What!” Love asked, totally confused. “Who’s dead? Who’s not dead? Take care of what?” She flipped her hand palm up in sign of questioning. “Can you be any more cryptic? Please explain.”

Her mom looked at her dad, then back at Love. “Okay, we’ll tell you everything. It might be very upsetting to hear,” she warned.

“I don’t care. Just tell me.”

Her mom took a deep breath. “First of all, we are … not human. We are fae. Faeries.”

Love’s jaw dropped. No words came out, so her mom continued. “We came from another place, the faerie world, where we lived under the rule of our father …”

“Did you say faeries??”

“Yes. And I know it might be hard to substantiate that claim without some form of proof, so look.”

Her parents held an open palm toward the other and held them a few inches apart. Before Love’s very eyes, a ball of light appeared between their hands. They held it there for a few seconds, then, with a quick burst of light, it vanished.

Love’s jaw dropped. “What was that?”

“Our magic,” her mother said. “It works much better back in our world.”

There was a moment of silence while Love’s brain tried to make sense of what was happening. It sounded crazy, but it also seemed very true. And it was … kind of exciting. Actually, really exciting. Her favorite comic book had always been one about faeries—she had been captivated by them for years and years. And to learn that faeries were real? That there really was a magical faerie world … and her family was going back to it?!

Her mom looked anxious. “We know this might be difficult for you to grasp—”

“That’s where we’re moving to? The faerie world?” Despite her parents’ apprehension, Love could not contain the excitement in her voice.

“Yes,” her dad answered. “We just learned that our father passed away. He wasn’t a nice person, which is why we never wanted to talk about him and pretended he was dead, and why we were so eager to leave our home and live here amongst humans. But … he was the ruler of our kind back home, and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take care of our family and our people.”

“Your father was a ruler?” Love asked. “You mean like … a king?”

Her dad nodded. “Yes, a king—”

“Oh my God.” They were royalty.

“—and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take our place in the realm,” he finished.

“So you get to be king now?” Was she going to be a princess?

Her parents exchanged a worried look again. “Maybe,” her dad said. “Maybe I’ll just be a prince, and Aurelia will be the queen. We don’t know yet.”

She looked at her mom, Aurelia, who closed her eyes; and before Love could form a question in her head, her dad spoke again.

“This might be a little disturbing to you,” he warned, “but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Your mother and I are twins, firstborns of our royal parents, King Razel and Queen Ashelia. We hated the royal world and our father’s tyrannical rule. We always relied on each other for strength; we were inseparable. After our mother passed away, our father only got worse; he forced Aurelia to marry an awful prince of another kingdom without caring that he was a known sadist; so Aurelia fled the night before the wedding. In his arrogance our father never expected her breach of duty and obedience, so it was easy for her to escape. I went looking for her and a month later found her here, in the human world. We stayed hiding, and we never meant to go back. But as of this morning, we’re both feeling a strong magic pulling us back home, as though something inside us has been activated with the passing of our father. It seems we can’t escape our blood.”

“Oh God.”

“I know this is a lot to handle, my dear,” her mom said. “Ash and I never meant to return, and we thought it would be extremely dangerous for you, so we never wanted to tell you. But we didn’t know about this magic that would call us back home.”

“Oh God!!” Love didn’t know what to think. She could handle having a tyrannous grandfather in a magical kingdom that she’d never been told existed before … but her parents, twins? This was some incestuous Lannister shit. Oh God. She was afraid she might puke. “You … is this normal in the faerie world? Brother and sister … relations?” Gross.

Her parents looked at each other and immediately started talking at the same time.

“No! It’s not like that—”
“We’re not lovers, no!”

“We love each other, but not like that.”

“We’re just best friends …”

“Wait, what?” Love was confused. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she pointed out.

“We’ve slept in the same bed since we were born, honey,” her mom said. “We’re like two halves of one soul, and we sometimes joke we’re the same person in two bodies, male and female … but that doesn’t mean we’re involved romantically.” She laughed awkwardly.

“But then … how did you have …” me, Love trailed off and couldn’t finish her question. Because all of a sudden a lot of little things that she’d noticed or questioned about her life, but always mostly ignored, started popping up in her head. First and foremost was that her parents were impossibly beautiful and she looked nothing like them. They both had fine blond hair that matched their bright golden eyes, and yet somehow had managed to produce a daughter with brown hair and brown eyes and average looks.

“You’re not my father?” Love asked, looking at the man that she called her dad. She was starting to question who her real father might be when her mom spoke.

“Our dear daughter,” Aurelia said with a deep sigh, “Ash and I are not your birth parents.”

“Whaaat …” Love started. She took a minute to let that sink in. So many signs pointed to it, yet it wouldn’t sink in. She was adopted? She knew a girl who was adopted. That girl knew she was adopted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Her parents looked very uncomfortable and took a few moments to form an answer. Finally her mom spoke.

“We’re faeries, dear. I didn’t know what to do when I found you. You see, your birth mother—I was hiding in this world, living in the woods, learning to live on my own, when I heard a human shuffling around. I could tell it was a woman, but she didn’t say a word; she left as quickly as she came in, got in a car and drove off. I didn’t follow her; I didn’t think much of the odd, brief visit, until some short time later I heard a baby’s cry! I just rushed to the noise and found the most angelic thing I’d ever seen. I picked you up and decided to keep you safe. I joined human civilization for the first time. I stole infant formula to feed you and clothes to dress you and keep you warm. I left my crumbly shack in the woods and moved into an apartment in this small town. By the time Ash found me and told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep an abandoned baby, that I should’ve taken you to the human police, I loved you more than I could ever describe, and I couldn’t give you up. I had named you Love.”

“So naturally I stayed here with my sister, and we raised you together,” her dad concluded.

“So let me get this straight,” Love said. “You’re faeries, you can do magic, you’re royalty, and we have to go back to your faerie world for you to rule now that your father is dead?”

“Yes, Love, that is correct,” her mom said.

“But I’m just … a human someone abandoned in the woods?”

“Well, yes; but you’re not just any human; you’re our daughter and we love you so much—” her mother replied, not seeing the problem here.

Love burst into tears. “That is just the worst news ever!” And she ran up the stairs to hide in her room.

***

The End

 

Find and Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Johi Jenkins

Short Story Friday

St. Nicholas Day

by
Anne Marie Andrus

A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”

“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”

“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”

“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”

“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”

“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”

The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.

“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”

“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”

The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.

Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”

The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”

“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”

Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.

Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.

Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.

“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”

 

 

If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from the Monsters & Angels Realm, catch up on the saga...

 

Short Story Friday

Anonymous Gifts

by
Christian Terry

A light tapping on the screen door awoke James. He had checked his alarm clock to confirm that it was way too early in the morning for any company to come over. Besides, he wasn’t expecting anyone in the first place. After a loud yawn and a bone cracking stretch, James shot out of his warm bed and immediately wrapped himself in his bright red house coat and made his way down the stairs to the screen door.

To his surprise there were eight neatly wrapped boxes with fancy bows on the tops of them. This puzzled him. Christmas was three months away and he had just moved into this home two weeks ago. This had to be a mistake. James decided he would investigate by inspecting the stickers on the boxes.

When he did, his name was written there in bold blue ink and no hint on who it was from. He tore into the box only to find small birch twigs bundled together by red wire. He opened another one and another to the same results: twigs. Angry, he dumped them all in his garbage to await pick-up on Friday. He closed the porch door and began to make his way up the stairs. Before he could make it midway up there, a sharp knocking made him stop. James made an about face and sped to his porch door.

Once he opened it, there were several more wrapped boxes in front of him. He tore through them only to find the same twigs in the same bundled pattern. This had to be the work of the teenagers who lived a couple of streets over. He couldn’t see them, maybe they were camouflaged in the bushes laughing at him.

“You’ve got the wrong one today. Do it again and you’ll be sorry!” James barked as he stormed in the house.

He made it to the top of the stairs when a knock at the door made him dive under his bed to grab his rifle. Once again he opened the porch door. This time a small man with pointy ears and a light green coned hat stood with his arms folded.

“Ummm…can I help you?” A confused James asked, scratching his head. The little man cleared his throat. “James, I’m Wrinkles, we have a mutual friend in the north pole. Those gifts were to send you a message that you’re on the naughty list. Do you understand?” The elf asked as James nodded with his mouth agape.

“Good, you need to get your act together or you’ll be using twigs to build yourself another house, ya hear me?”

“Loud and clear. “

“Good. ” The elf snapped his fingers then vanished into the morning air. James shook his head in disbelief. No one would ever believe that this had happened. He then used his phone to search for the nearest soup kitchen where he could volunteer.

♦♦♦

Find & Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Christian Terry

Short Story Friday!

A NEW TAKE ON THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND

~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~
aka: another tale of Luke and Laura

by
Elizabeth L. Lemons

WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list

Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.

The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.

It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!

“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.

She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!

As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.

Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!

Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.

And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”

Short Story Friday

A STRANGE PROPOSITION FROM A STRANGER

Arbor Winter Barrow

“I’ll have you know I don’t normally show up to luncheons wearing designer sequins carrying a toolbox.” The woman wasn’t just wearing designer sequins and carrying a toolbox, her hair was frazzled and sticking about in all directions. There was definitely glitter in it too.

”Oh?” I asked, uncertain. I didn’t know who this woman was or what she had wanted but I had been sitting at the Sammy’s Sammiches minding my own business when this woman had plopped down across from me.

“May I?” The woman held the toolbox over the table where my notebook and cellphone were sitting.

I moved most of my stuff out of the way just in time for her to drop the toolbox loudly on the table top. The only casualty was my half-eaten sandwich. The other patrons of the sandwich shop looked over, some annoyed, some concerned. I tried to form some kind of verbal protest but the woman opened the toolbox and pulled out a stack of loose papers. Was she using a heavy tool box for a briefcase? All things considered I guess that wasn’t the strangest thing.

The woman eyed the papers like she couldn’t quite make out what they said and then leaned over the table at me conspiratorially. “How about forty acres?”

“Forty acres?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Mars?” She said this as if it were obvious.

“Mars?”

“What are you, fifty?”

I squinted at her, confused. “Twenty-three.”

“My apologies, it’s hard to tell these days. You’re a young lady, you are a lady right? Last time I assumed I misgendered someone and they were not happy. I felt terrible about it for days, I’m absolutely determined to never do it again.”

I just nodded. “You’re right… this time.” Was this woman for real?

“I know forty acres on that dustball of a planet doesn’t sound all that great, but listen, terraforming is only a decade away, what costs you pennies on the dollar today will get you a thousand times the investment.”

“Wait a second. Are you trying to sell me real estate on Mars?”

“It’s what we agreed to!”

“Uh, I didn’t agree to anything.”

“Look, I know you might be having second thoughts–”

“I’m not having second thoughts, I haven’t even had first thoughts. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy a sandwich between my classes and you turned it into a pancake with your toolbox.” I pointed to the pitiful thing, half-eaten and half-squished.

The woman peered around the toolbox and frowned. “Why ever would you put your sandwich under a toolbox?”

“That’s…oh my god.” I ran my hand across my face and tried to find an escape route without being obvious about it.

“Listen here Miss Cargill–”

“Thomas,” I said absently and regretted it the second I did.

“Excuse me?”

“My last name is not Cargill; it’s Thomas. Dany Thomas.” What was I doing?! Run away you fool! Abort! Abort!

“Are you sure?” She looked mildly alarmed.

I pointed to the student ID clipped to my collar.

“Oh my.” The woman leaned back and stared at me like she we seeing me for the first time. “You’re not the person I’m supposed to meet.”

“No…shit,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “You owe me a new sandwich.”

“Where’s Cargill?”

“How should I know?”

“I was supposed to meet them here.”

I lifted my hands in a shrug and then waved my open palms in a half-circle to indicate the rest of the sandwich shop.

“Oh, this is bad! I’ll lose my commission over this!”

“Listen, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone.” Lies! I’m telling everyone this bonkers story!

“Oh no, you don’t understand. It was certain, for sure, the contract is right here! It’s supposed to be signed today! If I don’t have a signature and a buyer, I’m toast! I’ll be banished to live on Mercury! Oh, what a world! The worst. No margaritas anywhere!” She genuinely looked on the verge of tears.

“Are you okay? Humans have only been to the moon. No one is going to send you to Mars, much less Mercury.”

“Oh you poor human girl, you don’t get it do you?”

“I’m obviously not getting something, no, so please enlighten me.” Why? Why did I keep encouraging her?

The woman wiped at a nonexistent tear and seemed disappointed there was nothing there except specks of glitter. “I’m from a small backwater planet about fourteen light years from here. This was supposed to be my big break into interplanetary real estate. This pilot program was going to boost our economy and everyone in my family was going to be able to afford all the finest luxuries.”

I was nodding encouragingly until the entire thing percolated through my sleep deprived, over studied, hyper caffeinated brain. “What?” I said stupidly.

“You wouldn’t know it, I think it shows up as being about fourteen light years from here on your star maps.”

“You’re an alien?”

“For better or worse.”

This lady was either on the fast train to crazy town or already there. Or she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately upset that I wasn’t the person she was supposed to meet. I honestly didn’t know which direction I wanted to believe.

“Alright,” I said and crossed my arms across my chest. “Assuming that you’re telling me the truth. How do I know that I’m actually going to get the forty acres after I pay?”

I think she got glitter in her eyes while wiping at invisible tears because suddenly they were sparkling. “You’re interested?”

“Maybe.”

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” The lady started frantically going through her toolbox. “I’ll have to amend the contract but that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“First, what’s your name?”

“Unpronounceable!”

“Your name is Unpronounceable?”

“Oh! No! I mean, yes, but when I’m here I go by Chuck.”

“Chuck. Okay, Chuck, my last question…”

“How do you know you’ll get the forty acres?”

“Yes.”

Chuck readjusted herself and a new demeanor took over her posture. She was cool, confident, and sparkly in her designer sequins.
“I am not of this world. However in two years’ time the Galactic First Contact Association will be contacting your world and providing technological advancements, assistance, and personnel. Your species has been selected for a pilot program to determine if near-space faring species can be contacted and enriched without destroying themselves.”

“That’s encouraging.”

“It is isn’t it? I’ve seen the reports, even if you do destroy yourselves the chance that another sentient species will rise on your planet is at nearly 88%! Those are great odds.” Chuck didn’t seem to realize that wasn’t encouraging at all.

“So in two years we get contacted and then we get to go to Mars?”

“Yes! We give you the supplies and provide transport and a 25 hour help desk!”

“25?”

“A Martian day is almost an hour longer!”

My phone beeped and I pressed my finger to the near-silent alarm. It was almost time to head back to class. I could miss one class of Special Topics in Anthropological Literature. I could probably write a whole essay about what I was experiencing right now. If it was real.

“Now, since you are being introduced to this fresh, I don’t want to force you into a contract you know nothing about. May I see your cellular device?”

I clutched my phone close to my chest and frowned at her. “Why?”

“I need to call in a transport.”

I reluctantly handed over my phone and she fussed with it for a moment before awkwardly holding it up to her ear.

“Karen! I need a transport from my location to the prospective acreage. Yes. Yes. That too. New inductee! Byeeee!” Chuck handed me the phone back and smiled happily.

“So…where are we going?”

“Mars!”

“Uh…”

I didn’t have a second to question that idea because the air around us started to glimmer and a feeling of warmth replaced the cool sandwich shop AC. The chair under me disappeared and I fell to the floor. But not the floor of the sandwich shop, the floor of a UFO.

Chuck appeared next to me and lifted me up onto my feet. “Apologies, our gravity is heavier than yours.” Once I got my feet under me and stable enough I got a good look at the rest of the room. A wide window looked out on Earth and in the distance I saw a sliver of the moon. Other than the window, the room didn’t have many other features. There was a wide doorway that led into a hallway and a single console in the middle of the room.

Chuck tapped the floor with her foot and the area opened up. A couch lifted up and Chuck pushed me to a seat.

Okay, up till now, I had just been playing along, looking for a good story, and not really taking Chuck’s antics seriously. But I was sitting on a purple couch IN A UFO! I was looking at the southern hemisphere of the Earth. Australia and New Zealand took up the length of the window.

“Ready to see your new plot of land on Mars?” Chuck asked.

I just nodded, at a loss for words.

Chuck took up a position in front of the window and tapped her foot on the floor again. A control panel lifted out of the floor and Chuck tapped happily on the buttons. “Here’s hoping I don’t bring this back to Karen dented!”

“Dented?” I asked. The view out the window shifted as the ship turned away from Earth. I felt no movement or momentum. The only indication that we were moving coming from the track of stars across the viewer as the ship turned. The view went white and colors streaked as the ship zoomed forwards. In seconds we were no longer in orbit around Earth. The rust red surface of Mars filled the window and I gasped again. The pictures I had seen of Earth and Mars from space did nothing to compare to seeing them with my own eyes. I gingerly got up off the couch and went to stand next to Chuck at the window.

“Amazing isn’t it?” Chuck asked.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Seeing is believing!”

Chuck tapped a sequence into the console in front of her and the ship began to descend. I watched with amazement as the Martian landscape filled the viewer and Chuck landed the ship on a flat, rocky bit of terrain. In the distance, huge mountains broke up the horizon line.

Chuck led me further into the ship and at an airlock had me pull on an overlarge EVA suit. I felt like I was wearing a tent. “Why is this so big?”

“This is the suit that was made for the previous contract signer. We had their measurements prior to this flight. After we visit your plot of land we’ll have to have to get your measurements.”

“My measurements? What for?”

We have to make sure we get the right habitat for you. We can’t be trying to put a human sized person into a cat sized habitat now can we?”

“Wait, are you selling Martian real estate to cats, too?”

“Well, of course! They have every right to be there just like you!”

The image of a cat habitat with cats in little cat jumpsuits was unavoidable. I snickered.

“Come along!” Chuck had her own suit on, and of course, it had sequins and glitter all over it. We walked out onto the Martian surface. Chuck used a little red laser pointer to show me the area of land I was being sold.

“How much?” I asked after a minute. It was too much to take in. As soon as I got back I was going to skip class and go home and sleep.

“One US dollar an acre.”

“A dollar…an acre? That’s really cheap.”

“Like I said, pennies on the dollar!” She clapped and then wiggled her fingers outwards like she’d just performed a magic trick.

Forty dollars wasn’t that much if this all turned out to be real, but forty dollars was a weeks’ worth of groceries for my poor college ass if it wasn’t.

“What’s the chance this all falls through and I don’t get to come to Mars?”

“Oh! The money is held in escrow until successful integration and introduction is complete.” Chuck seemed really proud of that.

“Wait, why do you even need money? Earth money isn’t going to be good on other planets.”

“On the contrary. The galactic economy is built on the economies of every species in it. If your planet successfully enters the galactic society your Earth money will be incorporated. One of the reasons my people are doing this is because the sooner you get a jump on and initial standard of another planet’s money the more profitable you’ll be.”

“Well that sounds really complicated.”

“It is.” Chuck nodded.

I looked out on the barren desert and tried to imagine it lush with gardens and greenery. “Two years?”

“Two years. I believe they will try to aim for a slow news day on Earth. They have some algorithm they follow but that is not my forte.” Chuck smiled at me through her helmet.

“Alright. Sure. Let’s do it. I can eat ramen for a week.”

“Oh! Ramen!”

“You can come by my apartment and have some if you want.”

“I would enjoy that. I’m very fond of the chicken flavor. It’s very ubiquitous.”

I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”

So I signed the contract and handed over forty dollars. Chuck joined me for a ramen lunch and two years passed with little trouble. There were only a couple times I regretted the purchase. But the ride to Mars alone was worth it. I graduated from university, got a job as a programmer, and found myself sitting in a cubicle typing code for hours on end. Above my monitor I had a postcard with a picture of Mars on it. Chuck had given it to me after I’d signed the contract. I had put a sticker of a cat in a spacesuit on it at some point.

Chuck had never given me an exact timeline of when Earth would be contacted by aliens but I really wanted it to be today. It was slow, the news was just stories about a goat rescue in China, reforestation in Chile after a forest fire, and every baking show was a rerun.

I guess whoever was in charge was listening, because every screen in the office flickered and a message appeared on the screen.

“Hello, people of Earth. We come in peace.”

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The End

 

Find & Follow!

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~Arbor Winter Barrow

https://arborwinterbarrow.com/

Writer | Artist | Jane of Most Trades