Installment number 6 in the ongoing saga
“We were meant to be together,” Chloe whispered in his ear, causing that funny feeling down his spine, “Too much has passed between us to call it just chance, meeting again like this.” Her endless tresses smelled sweet; she had a perfume about her, natural, intoxicating, headier than the wine she poured them, and the incense she lit. He felt something else, too. It stirred in him; she was his catalyst.
Her apartment was strange, light and dark, cluttered yet unused. The table in the front room was littered with objects, all dust covered, a vague landscape of incongruous shapes.
“Run with me Penn,” she told him, climbing from the bed, pulling on her motley clothes. “We can get away from here.”
“Why?” He rolled over and looked at her with dark eyes, “What do you know that I don’t know? And where would we go?” He looked to her for answers, but there were none. “And what would we be running from?
He heard fear in her voice for the first time, when she answered.
“I wish I knew,” Chloe stopped and looked at Penn with new pearl tears, “From darkness?”
“It’s dark already, isn’t it?” Penn naked, and shivering, jumped from the pile of many blankets and fluffy comforters. “I know I have to get this thing with my grandfathers will taken care of, but the attorney is so damn vague about the reasons and all of the parties involved in Seth’s estate. It has something to do with all the secrecy of my family.” He went to the window and saw only a fog.
“And mine, I guess.” She reached out and touched his hand. “You remember, don’t you?”
Her touch jolted him like nothing he had ever felt. He dropped to the floor, and remembered…
Hunting for Dragons
Penn cursed himself as the back door screen squeaked on its ancient spring hinges; he should have oiled them last night when he was planning his Adventure. Nothing rumbled from the second floor, Dad still slept peacefully; Saturday morning was not the time to wake his father.
He gave the possibility of a good whoopin’ for leaving without telling anyone only a cursory thought. Penn was going to hunt dragons, and any whoopin’ Dad could dish out wasn’t enough to deter him from his Adventure. His father tried to ignore his dragon hunting, passing it off as Tomfoolery, and idle fantasy. It cut into study and chores; Penn’s father was a real hard-ass about study and chores.
He dressed quietly in the cold of his second story room; wool socks inside his new tennis shoes, a cut off pair of Levi’s, and one of Grampy Seth’s elbow worn wool Pendelton plaids over a t-shirt. The air was chill, but not cold, with dew wetting his legs as he ran across the predawn lawn.
Penn thought to himself that he should probably have outgrown this sort of thing years ago; he was almost thirteen after all. He had hunted dragons with his older brother Patrick since he was five, until one fateful trip where Patrick had disappeared. Penn still felt the thrill of the hunt. It didn’t matter that they had never slain any dragons. Or ever even seen any for that matter.
That wasn’t what dragon hunting was all about. Penn had hunted dragons in the winter with Patrick, and in spring with his friends. The hunt was about being out in the wood and the field, crossing swift stony brooks in the highlands, and exploring caves down below the old railroad grade. The railroad line had been abandoned by the early logging interests because of constant wash outs and mudslides, and local rumor was that the caves below the line were haunted.
That was all forgotten as he passed into a tall stand of silent cedars, after passing through the misty fields of the pony pasture. The pasture in the twilight of morning was a special place for Penn; Grampy Seth brought him here often before his death. They would walk through the misty field headed for the Far Stream for fishing, feeding the sleepy ponies fresh oats by the handful, and apples sweet from the tree.
This morning Penn was going to follow the Far Stream upstream as far as the day could take him, until he found the source. Ruthy-Ru told him he might see some things there that he’d never seen before.
His aunt was crazy, but they all loved her, and listened with more than a casual ear when she made a prediction.
He climbed up against the flow of the stream, following one of the many paths that crisscrossed the Mid-Hills, weaving through the tight press of alders until the day grew warm, and the insects began to appear. Mosquitoes buzzed his ears any time he strayed far from the rushing waters, and sucked blood from his exposed legs, so he finally decided to walk the middle of the stream. The attack continued only slightly lessened as he continued his upstream journey, climbing finally out of the dense cover of trees into a breezy clearing beside a waterfall. The sun was still a while from hitting this part of the forest, but Penn felt a chill stronger than the morning mist.
Chloe left sleeping Penn under a thick, purple quilt trimmed with gold tassels. She had someone to meet, and she would be back soon, she hoped. He would be fine, she thought. There was still some time before the effects of the wine would subside. Chloe hated to put him out like she had, but certain things needed time, and she didn’t think Penn was quite ready to deal with what she thought she knew.
As she left the darkness of her upstairs studio for the frozen light of day, Chloe stepped into winter. Unprepared and ill clothed for the cold, she buried her face in long scarves and so did not see the shadow that followed. She glanced out of her cover rounding a corner of the building, stepping into the towers shadow, and saw the black of a long hand blot out her vision.
Price of a Meal
Or Late for Dinner
Think of Elsewhere and turn, Tom remembered. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. This time it didn’t and Tom was in deep shit. A simple visit to Ruthy-Ru and death followed for the feast.
Well. Simple? No. Tom didn’t even know what he would have to say to the old girl after all these years. For a lucid moment Tom remembered it had been over thirty years since he’d paid the witch a visit. But he needed her now, unlike his youth when he was immature and arrogant, refusing to listen to his partners warnings and pleadings, and he figured his own mind was enough for what may come. Tom knew better now, or at least he knew somebody knew better, and Ruthy was the most logical choice.
Beasts had tracked him since he escaped the fiery blast of the obnoxious dragon; servants of something dark, something Tom feared more than anything else. He felt them behind him only, the path ahead was clear. The stars were bright and there was only the last stream to cross, and the warmth of Ruthy’s hearth was minutes away.
A sound stiffened the old troll, echoing through the night. The cry came from something human, someone Tom should help. It was the cry of someone being hunted. He listened longer and heard no responding cry of victory for a kill, catching suddenly on the wind the wail of a hunter cheated.
Tom knew the prey had somehow escaped. He ran for the porch, but saw the silhouette of something lurking black against a shaded window. Tom dodged left as quietly as he could and headed for the rear of the house.
The thing, intent on the occupant of the cabin, didn’t notice the sounds of Tom’s slide and stumble as he crashed through the garden, tripping on pumpkin vines. The frozen squash were deflated and corrupt, staring back at him with knowing, wilted expressions.
He heard the whimper of the last pony dieing slowing in the field, knowing it had been blood let. He couldn’t stop and help, he should but NO!
Tom gained the back stair silent, and found the door unlocked, of course. Ruthy lived in the Mid-Hills and had no need for locks, until now. But Tom knew locks were no use against the sort of challenge they all faced now. The house was small, and Tom saw through the mudroom, beyond the kitchen, to the front room where Ruthy was about to open the front door.
Focus that had been returning to Tom of late, lucid moments of memory, crystallized again sharply as Ruthy reached for the knob. Tom was suddenly behind her, able to whisper. He grabbed her shoulder tight as she turned at his voice.
“Don’t do it Ruthy.”
She reached and started to turn the knob.
“Lock it Ruth,” Tom told her, reaching for the ax, leaning as it should against the wood box.
“My God,” Ruth turned wide-eyed, and uttered, “Tom?”
“The same,” He tried to smile but it wasn’t there. “Lock it! Fast! We can catch up later.”
Ruthy-Ru locked the door, and pulled a two-by-four from behind the chair and barred it. She backed away slowly until she bumped into Tom. One of the creatures slammed into the barred door, sending shudders through the old house. Another assault on the door splintered the frame, and Tom grabbed Ruthy and headed for the attic.
Something screamed like a beast burning. The attack on the front door ceased. They had caught the scent of another prey, and the pack reformed, disappearing into the woods.
Ruthy-Ru acted quick and headed for the back door, throwing the bar across it as a lone creature sprang at it from the dark. The screen door splintered around its neck as it backed away. A howl curdled across the deadly night, calling the wolf-thing back to the pack.
Tom held Ruthy tight as the cries grew faint and new snow began to fall. He released her slowly, not wanting to.
“How long have I been gone?” he asked her as she turned. Her eyes were the same as he remembered, and she was beautiful.
“Forever, Tom”, she said, “And it’s like you never left.”