Sunday, May 2, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 5: Dragon Enchantment

The dragon towered over me as I lay trembling on the ground, its red scales glinting in the firelight as if they were made of solid fire. Smoke poured slowly from its nostrils and from behind its razor sharp teeth. Huge claws dug into the ground, one tearing up a boulder as if it were made of sand.

My eyes met the dragon's, and I found I couldn't look away. Everything faded as I gazed into those eyes that seemed older than the ground I stood on. Dark thoughts began swirling through my mind. All the things I hated about myself, every bad memory I had came to me then, tormenting me, making me wish I had never been born. I began sobbing uncontrollably, convulsing on the ground, wanting desperately to just die.

After what seemed like hours of lying there, I slowly began to realize how ridiculous I was. If I really wanted to die, then I had nothing to fear from the dragon. I laughed through my sobs as I thought about that. Ignoring the despair, I stood up slowly, holding my knife to the dragon in defiance.

He stared back at me amazed, and his mouth spread wide in what I understood to be a smile. His sides heaved in low, booming laughter, and I nearly crumpled to the ground again as if struck with a blow. The voice made me feel a deep shame, and I wanted urgently to do something that would please the dragon, even if it were to walk toward him unarmed so that he could kill me more easily.

Instead I gathered my wits, gritted my teeth and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Why are you laughing?"

The dragon fell silent, then looked straight at me. I couldn't tear my eyes away from his.

"I find it amusing that you seem to think you are a match for a dragon such as myself."

His voice echoed through my head, and I felt that everything I had ever known or seen was a lie, that only a voice like his could speak truth.

"You stand there armed with a knife—or is that a toothpick?—and jeans. No shield to protect you from my flames, not even a shirt! I could think of thirty different ways to snuff you out before you even began to tickle me with your toothpick."

Every word he spoke was like a dagger in my heart. I felt ashamed as I stood there holding my puny knife toward him, and each derisive insult drove me deeper into despair. Thoughts of taking my knife to my own heart or dashing myself against the rocks came to my mind.

I desperately tried to remember something I wanted to live for. Finally, Sally came to mind, and my head cleared a bit. I had to live so I could save her.

"Oh, great one," I said, and though my words seemed silly and foolish compared to his, I went on, "It may seem that I am powerless before one such as you, but there is more to me than meets the eye."

I saw a glint of doubt in his eyes before he covered it up. "No man, woman, child or beast has ever bested me, foolish boy! I am dragon! I have lived countless lives of men. Hundreds of knights have fallen by my fire! An army was unable to destroy me! I have fought giants, trolls, men, dragons, demons, and none have overcome me."

Fear completely swallowed me so that I could hardly even see straight. "That doesn't sound too impressive." My tongue felt dry in my mouth.

"I am dragon!" he said again, anger swelling in his voice. "I am called Destroyer, Hellfire, Destruction, Flame of Death. Men pay tribute to me, gods fear me, I have been the death of countless men. I am the last thing you will see before you die. All who see me despair."

"But that's just it!" I continued, not at all believing what I was saying. "All who see you despair, and do they just cower and then let you kill them?"

"They despair, because they know they are completely powerless before me."

"Sure," I said, "But is your flame really as hot as they say? Are your claws really strong?"

At this, he roared loudly, and spewed a giant ball of fire above me in a blinding flash. He tore into the cliff with his claw, and giant boulders flew over me and crashed loudly into the water. He snorted and looked back at me.

"I suppose that's impressive," I said, as casually as I could. "I mean, I've seen worse."

At this remark he glowered at me, letting me know how dangerous this game was.

"But you know," I continued, a desperate idea coming to my mind, "All of that strength and fire are for nothing if someone just gets in a good thrust with a knife, or a bullet from a gun."

"Are you blind?" the dragon screamed. "Do you not see my scales? They are stronger than steel. Nothing can penetrate them!"

"I don't believe it. They can't be all that thick."

The dragon roared loudly, then took his claw, ripped a scale from his chest, and threw it at my feet. I picked it up. It was heavy, feeling vaguely metallic. I wasn't thinking about the scale, though; I was thinking about the spot that it left open.

"Right. Well I suppose a knife couldn't cut through one. But have you ever been hit by a bazooka?"

The dragon snorted. "Foolish is the man who thinks he can kill me with one of his toy weapons. I have lived thousands of years. Men have used countless weapons on me, and none have prevailed. Do you really think you will?"

"There is more to me than meets the eye." I said again, not really believing it.

His eyes narrowed at me, and he leaned close so that his face was only inches from mine. "You think that you are special? That no one before you has ever stood in front of me, pretending to defy me? How many do you think defeated me? How many have I spared, letting them walk home unscathed?" He began to laugh quietly. "Of course, mighty giant-human. You are different than the others. You are so clever that you have gotten me to take a piece off my armor with the vain hope that you might thrust your toothpick into my flesh. Is that not so?"

I stood there, staring blankly. He had simply been toying with me the whole time.

He laughed again. "Well, human? The hole is there. How do you propose getting the knife into it? But then, once I'm dead, what do you propose doing? Your sister is with the goblins, likely dead already, or worse. The goblins are not known for compassion. Your brother and your parents too. Do you really think they are still alive? You are dealing with a power greater than anything you could imagine."

I shifted uncomfortably, my heart beating fast as I realized how foolish I was to leave my dad alone. How did I know that some goblins hadn't stayed behind? And my mom and brother were far away and I could only hope that whoever had sent the goblins didn't know where I lived. But somehow they'd known what house we were staying at.

"Well at least you have the Hunter, James," the dragon continued, "He'll protect you, of course, from all the dangerous creatures, but—where is he now? Funny how when it comes down to it, he's never around to actually face the monsters. He'd rather let others do the killing for him."

He smiled widely and went on, "But the real question is, who is James trying to kill? Would he really send a kid who knows nothing about fighting to face a mermaid? Or let him fight goblins alone? Or a dragon?"

Doubt crept into my mind. It occurred to me that I didn't know James at all. Suddenly, the image of him in his chaps on the beach seemed menacing to me. His aloof attitude when I first met him now felt arrogant and scornful, his over-excitement an act. Why would he have shown up at that exact moment when the mermaid took Kyle? Why did he send me down to a mermaid without any warnings or protection? Did he really expect me to live? And why did the goblins show up at the house after he casually stopped over for dinner?

I had had enough. Sally was as good as dead with the goblins, my brother and parents were also likely dead, even my girlfriend—my ex-girlfriend, I reminded myself—was probably dead too. I truly had nothing to live for. All my hope was in vain.

The dragon laughed at me, interrupting my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that the despair I was feeling was not my own. It was being forced on me unnaturally. My mind was under attack. The dragon's real power was in his mind, and though I still felt no hope, I looked up at him in anger, ready to take my last stand.

I spat at the dragon, then jabbed my knife in his eye. He roared loudly and drew back his neck. The knife had done nothing, his eyes were as hard as glass.

A flickering light appeared at the back of his throat and I sprinted to the right just as huge flames enveloped the spot where I had been standing. I felt the fire lick at my back as I reached the cliff wall and ran alongside it toward the burning debris. The dragon stopped spewing fire and turned to face me again.

I grabbed what seemed like a long sturdy stick from the fire and turned to the dragon. To my surprise, he was so close I could feel the heat building in his throat as he prepared another burst of flame. I jammed the wood down his throat, and he doubled back, choking. I ran up to his chest, trying to get close to his missing scale.

There was a loud crunching sound above me. I looked up to see the dragon spitting splintered wood far out into the ocean. I looked back at his chest. A bit of pink flesh was staring at me from between his scales. I jabbed my knife toward him, but he turned, and the blade hit scales. His neck twisted around so that even though my back was against his side, his face was in front of me again.

I dropped to the ground and rolled under his body to the other side. I jumped up as he began turning to face me. I kept under his wing, following him as he moved. Suddenly he stopped and kicked his hind leg at me. I ducked and rolled under his body again. This time he thrust his weight downward at me while I was under him. I barely managed to roll way in time. I got up, but his face was right in front of me. With nowhere to go, I jumped on top of his snout. Surprised, he shook his head to get rid of me, but I held on tight. He jerked his head upward, and I did a back flip, losing my grip and sliding down his neck, falling to the ground just below his chest. Looking up, I saw the exposed flesh again.

I jumped up quickly and thrust my knife deep into the hole. The dragon jerked upward and I was thrown off my feet as I held on tightly to my knife, still stuck in the dragon. I grabbed onto one of his scales with my other hand, and pushed the knife harder into the wound. A desperate scream sounded from the dragon. The wings opened up, and he pushed off from the ground. Frantically I tried to dislodge my hand, but the scales were pinching my hand with the motion of his body.

Wind rushed around me as we soared high into the air. The dragon pitched from side to side, trying to rid himself of me. Finally he rolled over, and as I was facing the stars, my hand slipped out of his flesh and I found myself flying free. Then waves came rushing toward me, and I curled myself into a ball and hit the water hard.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 4: Goblin Ambush

The wild face staring at me turned panicky, and I blinked hard to clear my eyes as the adrenaline washed over me. When I opened them again, it was gone. I jumped up into a crouching position on the bed and looked around the room. There was no one there. My eyes scanned it quickly, searching for the intruder. Suddenly something moved in my peripheral. I spun my head toward it, but there was nothing there. It was just a trick of my eyes. I stood up and something trickled down my neck. I reached my hand up to feel it. It was blood.

Now my mind was racing, and excitement built up in me. I looked around the room again, this time staring intently at every little thing in it. The nearly full moon was shining into the room, making strange shadows I kept jumping at, thinking it was the man. As I gazed intently at a picture of an 18th century ship on the wall as if it was about to come alive and sail into the room, I saw what I thought was a short man in the corner of my eye, but when I looked straight at the spot, there was nothing. I ran toward it and felt the wall behind where I thought I had seen the man. Feeling foolish once I realized there was nothing there, I turned around to look at the rest of the room.

"Just my imagination," I said out loud, trying to convince myself of that fact, but the shadows kept jumping out at me, and my eyes darted here and there still trying to figure out what was going on. Finally I closed my eyes to clear my head, but the face with the black eyes stared at me from the darkness.

"Nothing but a bad dream," I muttered squeezing my eyes harder and trying to think about something calming, like ocean waves. But mermaids kept popping up on rocks behind the beach. I shook my head to get rid of that thought. The image of the eyes staring at me came back to me. It seemed too real to be part of a nightmare.

A rustling sound caught my attention, and I opened my eyes quickly to look in that direction. This time the man was really there, straight in front of me on the other side of the room, looking at me as if surprised that I could see him. I rushed at him, and he drew out a short knife with a blade on one end, and jagged shards shooting out the other end. I didn't see it in time to move, and he slashed the blade across my bare chest. Pain tore through my brain, but I ignored it, and with my left hand grabbed hold of his knife arm, smashing his wrist against the wall. The knife went flying away. I threw a punch with my right, and the man crumpled on the floor. I jumped on him, holding his arms down with my legs.

"Who are you?" I yelled as he struggled to get free. "What are you after?" I noticed for the first time that his teeth were sharp and pointed. His slight body, hardly more than half my weight as well as several inches shorter, was covered only in a loosely fitting band t-shirt and plain blue jeans. There was a bulge in his front pocket, and I reached in and found the wad of bills James had given me.

"So you're just a common thief, then?"

"No!" he said nervously, in a high, raspy voice. "I mean, yes! I just came for the money, I'm sorry!"

"What do you mean, no and yes?" I asked, now suspicious of his motives.

"Nothing!" he squealed as I pressed down hard on his neck. "Just a little disoriented from being sat on, you know."

"Sorry if I don't trust you. You were standing over me with a knife to my neck and all."

He gave a funny snort, and I realized he was laughing. "Well, it's not me you have to worry about."

I loosened my grip a bit. "What do you mean?"

His gaze turned meaningfully to the doorway. I looked where he was looking, and with a shock, realized that voices and noises were coming from the other side of the door. It sounded like a whole group of people had just come into the house. Fear swept over me as I realized that Sally and my dad were both in danger. Suddenly, while I was distracted, the man twisted his body and kicked my groin. The wind was knocked out of me, but I knew that I only had one chance to take this man down before he got out the door and warned whoever else was out there. I took a deep breath, trying to ignore the throbs of pain and the desire to vomit.

The man was crawling toward his knife. I grabbed his leg and pulled him back, then stood up, and aimed a kick at his stomach. He rolled over, and my foot hit air. He then jumped to his feet with more agility than I expected. I gathered my strength and aimed a kick at his face. It connected, and he fell to the ground, hitting his face on one of the bed posts on the way down.

I leaned over him. He was unconscious, but still breathing; his face was bleeding, and a large bruise was forming over his eye.

All the pain I had been holding back came over me again, and I knelt to the ground for a second before I forced myself to remember that Sally and my dad were in danger. I stood up, took my pocketknife from my dresser, and went over to the door. After drawing in a quick breath, I opened it.

There in front of me was another man, the same size as the one laying unconscious in my room. The word "goblin" suddenly popped into my head. He turned to me, slowly it seemed, but it was really only a split second. There was no time to think about consequences: there were voices in the kitchen, and I needed stealth if I wanted to keep Sally and my dad safe. I leaped toward him and stabbed my knife into his chest, holding my hand over his mouth and letting him drop slowly to the ground. I didn't have time to consider what I had done, but slipped into my dad's room which was just next to mine.

My dad was lying on the bed, a goblin standing over him, choking him while my dad tried vainly to shove him off. I ran toward him, but something tripped me, and I stumbled to the ground. As I spun onto my back, a goblin who had followed me into the room jumped on top of me wielding a knife and screaming at me. I kicked up hard with my legs, flinging the goblin over me. Quickly I jumped to a stand as the goblin scrambled to his feet.

Suddenly I heard a whistle blow from the other room, and the two goblins in the room suddenly ran out of the door, leaving my dad and I alone. I ran to my dad, who was breathing heavily.

"Dad! Are you okay?" I looked down at him. His arm was bleeding badly, and one of his legs was broken.

He struggled to regain his breath, and I put my hand on his arm to try to stop the bleeding. He shoved my hand off and put his own there.

"Sally—" was all he could manage to say. And suddenly fear leapt into me and I raced away from him and into Sally's room. It had been ransacked, and Sally was nowhere to be found.

"Sally!" I yelled at the top of my lungs as I raced through the house, looking for her in vain. But I knew where she was. I nearly kicked down the back door as I ran to the porch and looked toward the ocean. I heard a scream, and saw a group of people running fast away from the house. I leaped over the porch rail, not bothering to use the steps, and sprinted toward the ocean.

They were far away, and I was only gaining slowly. Panic rose as I knew that I couldn't keep up a sprint forever. I closed my eyes for a moment and steeled myself, thinking only of Sally and what they planned to do with her. I sped up. Finally, the goblins were getting closer. I saw Sally in the middle of them, being carried by one of the goblins. Some glanced back worriedly at intervals. Suddenly, when I was only a few yards away, two turned around. I couldn't stop in time, and they slashed at me with knives as I passed them. I kept running, ignoring the burning in my sides. I had fallen back many yards, and I braced myself against my will and ran faster.

A cliff rose on my left and the beach narrowed. As I neared the goblins once again, three of them turned to face me. This time I was prepared, and they were the ones surprised as my knife found an eye on one, the neck on another, and slashed across the chest of the third. I kept running, but now I was even further behind, and my legs were wobbling. I gritted my teeth and ran on, but I could barely keep up with the pace of the goblins. Suddenly, a few hundred feet ahead, the cliff swung out into the water, effectively walling the goblins in. Hope rose in me as I thought that I had them trapped, and I sped up, spurred on by the thought.

But as I leaped over a pile of debris that lay across the beach, I saw that there was a rope ladder up the cliff, and the goblins were climbing it, escaping. Sally let out a yell as the goblin who was carrying her reached the top and threw her roughly onto the ground. I rushed toward the wall, reaching the ladder just as the last goblin was halfway up. I started climbing, but when I was twenty feet up, it was cut from the top, and I fell hard on the beach sand.

I cursed loudly and looked for another way up, but the face was clear of handholds. Suddenly I heard a loud roar from above and behind me. I turned and looked up, but saw nothing. The shriek sounded again, and I froze in fear. Without warning the debris I had jumped over burst into flame, and even though it was a hundred feet away, I felt the heat and began to sweat. The beach lit up menacingly, flickering as if the sand and the cliff were on fire too.

The roar came again, and I looked up, still seeing nothing. Suddenly I realized I had been set up, that this was an ambush. I looked out to the water. Waves crashed onto sharp rocks, making it too dangerous to swim. Behind me was an unscalable cliff, and in front of me a line of blazing fire. Above me flew some horrible creature, and I was armed only with a pocket knife. I was trapped.

A steady beating sound grew louder and louder in my ears. Wind rushed down on me from above. I looked up slowly as a large silhouette descended. The firelight reflected off the creature's scales, which covered its entire body from its long neck to its hulking stomach. The ground shook as it landed in front of me. I lost my footing and fell to the ground as its large, hideous eyes stared at me, laughing silently at my impending defeat as it looked down upon me. Its huge body took up most of the space between me and the fire, its tail nearly grazing the fire while its head was only a few feet in front of me. The wings folded into its side, and I knew what it was, though I had never before seen one. It was a dragon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 3: The World I Thought I Lived in

"What's going on, Brad?" Lizzy asked as I continued to stare at James, just disappearing from sight.

"Um, it's no big deal," I said, unsure of what to tell her.

"Are you sure? Why were you shouting at that guy?"

I finally turned to her. As always, she looked stunning, in her blue bikini top and matching mini skirt, her figure curving gracefully underneath them. Her brown eyes beamed softly at me with a smile, and matching hair fell in locks to just below her shoulders. I smiled, for a moment forgetting about James, or mermaids, or any of the other creatures I had just discovered existed.

"Well?" she asked impatiently.

I sighed as my head returned to reality.

"Well, there was an incident. Kyle nearly drowned."

"Really? I thought he was a pretty good swimmer."

"He is. But, you know, riptides and undertows..."

"Oh, yes," she said seriously. "I've always been afraid of those. They can kill the best swimmers. But Kyle is okay?"

"Yeah, he's a bit shaken up, but he'll be fine."

"And that man saved him? He looked kind of weird. Maybe even a bit creepy."

"No, he's cool. Yeah, he, uh, helped me with Kyle. We, um, both swam out when we saw Kyle go under. I was out there first, and I dove under the water and tried to pull him up, but I, sort of, ran out of—strength—and he came out and pulled us both up. His name is James." I finished lamely.

"Wow. Then it's a good thing he was there, right?"

"Yeah, really good." But I was probably thinking of different reasons than she was.

She put her hand in mine, and we walked toward the beach and along the water, letting the waves lap our feet.

"So this morning I talked to Sally, and she was drawing a picture of Rob, you know, Trisha's brother? I asked her about it, and I think she likes him..."

As Lizzy rambled on, my mind drifted to James and his unusual job of freelance monster assassination. I tried to imagine that sort of life, and wondered what kind of creatures he had come across and what they looked like. Or if they even really existed. I reminded myself that I had only seen a mermaid, nothing else.


Lizzy squeezed my hand and tilted her head as if to ask what I was thinking about. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to keep my mind in the present. I looked back at her and smiled, then splashed some water playfully at her as a wave came in. She squealed and ran away from the water like it was going to melt her.

"Don't do that!" she said indignantly.

I laughed. "Why? You're in a swimsuit!"

"It's cold!" she whined. "And all salty and yucky."

I rolled my eyes as she came back to my side. "You came out to the beach to do what again?"

"To get a tan!" she said, as if I should have known already. "And to listen to the waves. And to swim. I'll swim later, I just want to be salty as little as possible. And I came to be with you!" She squeezed my hand and smiled at me.

I smiled back. My thoughts once again automatically turned to James as we stood in silence staring out at the ocean.

"Brad, what's on your mind? You're not all here."

My smiled faded. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you and Kyle were out all morning. No one even knew where you were. And Kyle nearly drowned, and you don't have much to say about that. And who really was that man who saved him?"

I sighed. "Lizzy, if I told you, you'd think I was crazy."

"No I wouldn't!" Lizzy answered back confidently. I wasn't as sure as she was.

"Look, do you promise not to laugh, and to take me seriously? You have to agree to open your mind a bit."

She smiled. "I'm a very open person! Besides, I can't even imagine what you could say that would make me think you were crazy."

"Okay, well." I swallowed and took a deep breath. "This morning Kyle and I were out looking for—something—in the water. And then we found it. And Kyle swam out to it, but it—" This was harder than I thought. I knew she'd think I had gone insane the moment I said the word "mermaid." Lizzy was looking at me expectantly.

"It pulled him underwater," I continued, "And the man—James—gave me something to help me swim underwater, and I followed Kyle and it to a cave, and I, well, I got rid of it, and then I brought Kyle up out of the cave, but then the thing that James gave me wore off, so I started to run short on breath, and James came down and pulled us out." I stood there staring at Lizzy, feeling sheepish.

She gave me a confused look. "This thing that pulled Kyle underwater, it was, like, a rope or something he got tangled in?"

I shifted on my feet. "No, not really."


I took a deep breath and held it in for a moment. "It was a mermaid," I said quickly, and exhaled, half hoping she hadn't heard me.

"A what? A mermaid? Come on, don't joke around."

"I'm not joking." I said quietly.

She looked at me amazed. "A mermaid? Really? You really think you saw a mermaid?"

"No," I said, confidence building in defense of my own sanity, "I killed a mermaid. A mermaid sang to me, and to Kyle. There was a mermaid lying on a rock in the ocean, luring Kyle to her, and she took Kyle to her lair, and I killed her."

She dropped my hand and began walking along the beach again.

"Lizzy," I said as I ran to catch up to her.

"No, Brad, that's too much," she said. "I promised to take you seriously, and, I'm not sure I can, so let's just not talk about it."

"Okay, fine. I wasn't going to tell you about it anyway." I felt a bit betrayed, but I knew it was just because she couldn't wrap her mind around anything she didn't expect.

"I'm sorry Brad. It's just—let's just think about other things. There's so much more to talk about." She paused for a moment, before adding, "Like—remember when we first met, Brad?"

"Of course I do. It was the audition for the school play, and you sang with the voice of an angel."

She smiled. "And every time you kissed me in practice, I hoped you really meant it."

"I did. I really did."

The rest of the walk to the beach house we reminisced on old memories. As much as I tried to keep my mind focused, I couldn't stop thinking about the mermaid, but for Lizzy's sake I didn't mention it again. As we came to the house, we were met with the smell of food cooking in the kitchen.

"Hey you two," my dad greeted us as we walked into the room. He was cooking stir fry in a wok over the stove. "Brad, you've been gone a while."

"Sorry about that. Kyle forced me to come help him look for something this morning."

"Did you find what you were looking for?" he asked.

Lizzy muttered something about changing out of her swimsuit, and went to her room.

"Yeah, we did," I abridged.

"He seemed kind of upset or something when he came back."

"Um, well, there was an incident. He sorta almost drowned."

My dad looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "Yeah. That's about as much as we got out of him, too."

"Is it dinner time already?" I asked, trying to change the subject.

He raised his eyebrows even higher, but answered my question. "Just about. Usually I figure when I'm getting hungry like this it's time to eat. And you haven't had anything since breakfast, I'll bet, so you're probably twice as starved as me."

Actually, I hadn't eaten since the night before, and suddenly hunger hit me, as if my body knew that I had been too busy for food earlier, but now it was making up for lost time.

"How long till it's ready?" I asked.

"It's almost done. In fact, why don't you go get your sister? I think she's in her room."

"What about Kyle and mom?"

"They went home. Mom got called into work last minute, and Kyle decided to go with her. He seemed pretty shook up."


"Yeah. 'Oh.' They might be back tomorrow, as long as mom doesn't get stuck at work. Go get your sis, and the two of you can set the table."

I went to her room and pushed open the door. She was sitting on her bed, her skinny frame bent over a large sketchpad, drawing. Her long, brown hair was pulled back into pigtails, and she hardly seemed to notice me entering the room.

I walked toward her and peered over her shoulder at her drawing. It was of a small faerie flitting among the leaves of a tree. It was quite good, especially for a ten-year-old.

She cringed as I stood there staring. "Are you just going to keep breathing down my neck," she said, "or do you have something useful to say?"

I smiled. "I thought I'd just stand here watching you draw. It's really good."

"Ugh," she said, and closed the sketchpad, turning to face me with a look of scorn.

I rolled my eyes at her. "Time for dinner. We're supposed to set the table."

She stuck her tongue out at me, but jumped up and helped me with the chore.

Just as we had sat down and taken our first bites of dinner, there was a knock at the door. My dad got up to answer it, and Sally, Lizzy and I sat, listening to the muffled conversation in the hall. Finally, my dad came back in, followed by none other than James.

I stood up quickly. Lizzy looked pale.

My dad cocked his head funny and said, "Brad, this gentleman says he knows you."

"Yes," I stammered. "He saved Kyle. You know, when he almost drowned and all."

"Oh really?" my dad said as he turned back to him. "Well, you should have said something! You said your name was Jim, right?"

"That's right," James said. I noticed he was carrying an army backpack over one shoulder.

"Well, I can't even begin to thank you for looking out for my son." He reached out his hand to shake James'.

"It was nothing, really," said James. "Brad did most of the saving today. I did want to have a short word with him, though, if it's alright. I owe him some thanks too."

"Well, we're having dinner right now, Jim. Why don't you have a bite first? It's the least I can do to thank you, really. Sally, get a plate."

"Thank you, sir. I am a bit hungry."

"Call me Tom. And have a seat."

Sally brought a plate and silverware out, and my dad moved his chair to an empty spot, while getting a folding chair for himself. James sat down, dropped his backpack beside him, and began helping himself to the food.

"Jim, you know Brad, of course, but maybe you haven't met his girlfriend Lizzy, and this is my daughter Sally."

"Pleasure," he said as he nodded his head toward each of them in turn.

"So tell me Jim, how did you happen to be on the beach today at the same time that Kyle was drowning?" my dad asked.

"Oh, well, it was actually part of my job."

He stopped short when he glanced at me and saw my eyes widen in horror.

"Really?" said my oblivious father. "Now what kind of work do you do, then?"

"Oh, odds and ends," he said carefully, glancing toward me. "I work freelance, do things that others don't want to do, or can't do. Mostly it's extermination and pest removal."

"Oh yeah? You an expert with bugs? I gotta nasty termite problem at home. Sometimes if you put your ear up to the wall, you can even hear them gnawing on the studs."

James laughed politely. "Well, I might be able to do something for you. Where do you live?"

"Out in Portland. Far enough from downtown that it's a hassle to get to work, but close enough to smell the pollution."

"He thinks that a mermaid drowned Kyle." Everyone stopped eating, and stared at Lizzy as she said it. There was a long silence.

Finally my dad spoke. "Sorry, Lizzy, did you say mermaid?"

Lizzy's fork clanged loudly against her plate. "It's true! Ask Brad! He thinks he saw it too!"

There was a dead silence, and now everyone was staring at me. I sunk into my chair at a complete loss for words.

My dad broke the silence again. "Brad, did you see a mermaid?"

I took a deep breath, and looked at James, and then at Lizzy. She was more upset than I expected. Apparently her mind simply could not handle anything at all out of the ordinary. I thought that perhaps I could deny that I had ever seen the mermaid, say that I was joking. Or I could plod ahead with the truth. Either way, I knew suddenly that if I wanted to be with her, she and I would have to forever pretend that none of this had happened.

Almost against my will, I started speaking. "Yes, I saw a mermaid today. She lured Kyle out into the water, and then took him to an underwater cavern."

My heart beat faster as I realized what I had said. The words hung in the air, and I began to doubt myself. Maybe I was crazy, and the whole thing had really been a hallucination.

My dad spoke finally. "Well, Brad, you haven't lied to me since you were five. Any time you thought you were in the wrong, you've admitted it. And you've never before seen things that weren't really there. So if you say there was a mermaid that nearly drown Kyle, then there was a mermaid that nearly drown Kyle."

I smiled at my dad, relieved to know that he trusted me so completely.

"So Mr. Jim," Sally piped up, "You go around killing mermaids?"

"Absolutely!" he replied cheerily. "Not just mermaids, either. I deal with all sorts of faerie creatures. I'm a Freelance Monster Assassin, actually."

"Faerie Hunter," I muttered.

Sally leaned forward excitedly. "I stopped believing in magic years ago, but you're saying it's really true? I always hoped the faerie tales were real! Are you magical?"

James laughed. "I'm just human! But I work with magic a lot, yes."

"Can I see some?"

Suddenly Lizzy stood up, throwing her fork loudly onto her plate. "You're all crazy! You really believe there was a mermaid? You think this guy can just walk in and tell you, 'Oh! Magic really does exist!' and you all fall for it, like six-year-olds waiting for the tooth fairy to give them their quarter? What the crap?" she yelled, and before we could say anything else, she ran down the hall and out the front door.

We all stared after her, at a lose for words. James was the only one who didn't look astonished. He simply reached to his backpack and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it, and a small flame appeared, and to our surprise, began to grow in size, as if the fire was a tangible gas that, instead of fading into smoke, simply was pushed upward as more of it appeared. When it was nearly the size of a basketball, James put one hand underneath it, and turned the lighter off. The huge flame sat an inch above his hand writhing in beautiful, glowing yellows and blues. He then blew the flame in deliberate angles, and the fire spread, weaving an extraordinary pattern in the air, floating a few feet above the table. Then suddenly it grew bright white, and I felt the heat from it for a few seconds, and then it all disappeared into smoke.

"Wow." said Sally. "Can I have one of those?"

James smiled. "Sorry, kid. I only own one of these. And it's a bit dangerous for you to use, probably. But there might be something else you'd like in here I could give you. What sort of things do you like doing?"

"I like drawing!"

"Hmm." He rummaged through his pack. "Aha! I thought I still had one of these!" He handed Sally a pen. "It's for drawing temporary tattoos on yourself."

Sally looked questioningly at my dad, who asked James, "Temporary? I'm not gonna be spending hundreds of bucks later to get this scraped off her, right?"

James laughed. "No, it'll wear off in about a week, I promise."

At a nod from my dad, Sally pulled her left sleeve up and immediately began to draw something on her arm.

James leaned in toward me. "Now for business. Brad, today you did something that not even I have managed to do. You killed a mermaid after it sang to you. That shows something about you. You're tough, you've got a strong mind."

I shrugged. "I did it to protect my brother."

"Right. Well, I have an offer for you. It's a once in a lifetime sort of deal. I'd like you to come with me for a while, be my intern, so to speak. You'd help me with all my jobs, I'd teach you about fighting magic with magic."

I sat back, stunned. "What? You want me to do what?"

James leaned back and frowned. "I want you to be my apprentice."

"No, I couldn't do that. I've got a scholarship. I'm going to college."

"I'm not asking you to come with me forever. Just six months, or a year. Then you can decide whether you want to continue, or go to college."

"Six months?" I said incredulously. "I'm supposed to be in college in one!"

"Brad, understand that this really is a once in a lifetime offer. You have no idea how rewarding my work is. And not too many people are cut out for it. But I think you are."

"What I'm cut out for is college!"

"Wait a minute, don't be too quick, Brad" said my dad. "What does he get in return? Is this a paid internship type deal?" he asked James.

"Of course! Food, lodging and transportation will be entirely taken care of, and in addition, he'll get a percentage of whatever I make on a job."

"And how much is that?" I asked.

In answer, James reached into his backpack and pulled out a wad of twenties, pushing it toward me. "This is what I was given today for the mermaid's death, minus transportation and food costs for the trip here, and a few other overheads."

I picked up the cash. It was probably more than a thousand dollars.

James spoke again. "It's yours, Brad."

I looked up at him, surprised.

"You did the work, Brad. You earned it. That's about an average pay for a job. If you come with me, I'll give you twenty percent of the profits for each job, plus bonuses, if I think you bore the brunt of any one job. Consider this a bonus.

"You're just giving this to me?"


"But I don't think I can say yes to you."

"Well that's a shame, Brad," said James as he stood up. "You keep the money no matter what you decide. But don't make a final decision right now. Wait until morning. I'll come and see what you say then. Things are always clearer in the morning."

He made his way toward the hallway. My dad got up and walked with him to the door. I fingered the money I had just unwittingly earned. It was tempting, for sure. Even twenty percent of it would be a large chunk. But I kept thinking about my plans for college, and how they would go to waste if I took his offer.

I looked up at Sally, who was still drawing a faerie on her shoulder. The ink seemed to be glowing softly on her skin, shimmering and slowly changing colors. She looked back at me, and down at the money, her eyebrows raised.

I heard my dad shut the door, and before he came into the room, I ran to the back door, stuffing the money in my pocket, and stood on the porch that looked out over the ocean. I needed to be alone for a while. Too many things had happened in the last twelve hours. Sitting down in a chair, I stared at the sky above the ocean. Slowly, the sun fell toward the water as I sat, unmoving for almost a half hour, just thinking. Finally, the door opened behind me. I turned to see Lizzy closing it.

"Hey there," I said as she sat beside me. The sun touched the horizon and began to sink into the water.

"Hi, Brad. Listen, I'm sorry about running out at dinner."

"It's okay, Lizzy, don't worry about it. It's no big deal."

"No, Brad. I think it is a big deal. I'm sorry I acted so immaturely, but I realized something. I don't think we're meant for each other."

My heart dropped, and I sat up straight as I heard this.

"Brad," she said, her eyes looking sadly into mine. "I didn't get the scholarship to UC. I can't go."

"That's okay," I said quickly, "We can work it out, we can talk on the phone! I'll come back to visit," I said almost desperately as she shook her head.

"No. No, it won't work that way. Brad, you're just different than me. And I'm different than you. We shouldn't tie each other down."

"It's not like that!" I nearly shouted. "I want to be tied down to you! I love you!"

"No you don't, Brad. You're just really, really loyal. And you're an amazing person. But you're just not like me."

Yes I am! I wanted to scream. But words stuck in my throat. I couldn't believe this was happening. My whole life seemed to be crumbling into pieces. I had nothing to live for if Lizzy wasn't a part of my life.

A tear rolled down her cheek, and she got up, kissed me on the forehead, then ran back inside. I sat gaping at her as she left. I heard her car start on the other side of the house, and it hit me that she was really leaving. She wasn't coming back.

The last ray of sunlight disappeared under the water. Numbness overtook me as twilight deepened, until I finally got up and stumbled into my own bed. I found that I was utterly exhausted, and despite all the thoughts racing through my brain, I fell instantly asleep.

Wild dreams haunted me, and the image of the mermaid's bared teeth turned swiftly into the face of first Lizzy, then James, then back into the mermaid. I tossed and turned, but the dreams only got worse and more incongruent. As they went on, I felt something cold tickling my neck, which grew more and more prominent in my dreams, until I finally realized that it wasn't in my dreams at all, and I woke up. I opened my eyes, and right in front of my face were two dim, black eyes peering at me from a drab colored face. The tickle on my neck was a knife.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 2: The Freelance Monster Assassin

I lay on the beach like a dead man, staring up at the sky and listening to the waves throbbing their beat against the shore. If seeing a mermaid was an unusual start to my day, then killing one, not to mention the stranger with his leather chaps, the chocolate he gave me, and the ability to breath underwater that I'd acquired then lost, was a bit too surreal to process all at once.

The stranger dragged Kyle up the beach and laid him next to me. He was now wearing only a pair of jeans. The webbing on his hands was disappearing rapidly. He hadn't spoken to me yet, and I wouldn't have thought it strange if he had just walked off without saying another word, leaving me to wonder if any of this had really happened. Instead, he bent over Kyle, studying the bite marks left by the mermaid.

Finally he turned to me and asked, "What happened to the mermaid?"

I sat up slowly, going over the details in my head. "She disappeared," I said finally.

He frowned. "Disappeared? You mean she left? Did you see which way she went?" His eyes began scanning the ocean, as if expecting her to suddenly appear on a rock.

"No, I mean, I stabbed her, and she disappeared in a mist of bubbles."

"Hell yeah!" he said unexpectedly, jumping in the air like he was celebrating a touchdown. The change in his mood was so sudden that I leaped to my feet in surprise. He ran toward the ocean and started picking up rocks and throwing them as far as he could.

"You stupid mermaid! You thought you could win against me, bitch? Well I've got a new weapon! And it's a hell of a lot stronger than you!" He kicked the sand on the beach repeatedly while continuing to yell and swear at the top of his lungs. Finally he turned around and walked back toward me. A smile was on his face.

"So you killed her, eh?" he asked.

"Yes," I stammered, confused. This hardly seemed the same man who moments ago was so solemn I'd doubted he'd ever laughed at a joke.

"Sorry," he said in response to my look, "My name's James." He held out his hand to me.

I shook it, mumbling, "I'm Brad."

"So tell me all about it! You killed the mermaid before she even had a chance to sing to you? That's quick work."

"Well, no," I said, "She actually did sing to me—"

"She sang to you?" he said, suddenly clutching my shoulders and looking at me with a new respect. "Alright, tell me what happened."

I began from the night before when Kyle had first told me about the mermaid and related everything about the swim to the cavern. When I came to the fight, and the mermaid singing to me, James did nothing but stare at me, his mouth wide open.

"You know, Brett," he said as I finished, "no one ever escapes from a mermaid that sings to him. You're the first I've heard of, and that includes myself. I usually fight those things with ear plugs. I meant to give you some, too, but you swam off before I could."

"Wait," I said, trying unsuccessfully to place James into a stereotype, "you fight mermaids all the time? Is it like your job?"

A self-congratulating smirk appeared on his face. "Not just mermaids," he said. "I'll fight any creature that kills people." He walked over to a pile of clothes I hadn't noticed, pulled out a business card from his leather jacket, and handed it to me.

The front read: James Hunter, Malevolent Magical Creature Extermination and Removal by Freelance. A phone number and an email address were listed underneath it. On the back was an image of a lion, like one you might see on a medieval crest, but strung at its side was a modern-day machine gun. The emblem popped out like a hologram an inch or so from the card.

"I kill mermaids, goblins, giants, trolls, wolves, zombies, dragons, whatever. If someone pays me to take care of their problem, I'm on it. And if you can't pay, but it's a real nasty problem, I'll do it pro bono." James walked back to his clothes and began dressing himself.

"Wait," I said slowly, "All those creatures—goblins, dragons, trolls—they're real?"

"Absolutely," he said as he zipped up his chaps.

I sat down in shock.

"Not just the bad ones, either." he continued. "Faeries, elves and dwarfs are out there too. And I can guarantee that you've seen them before today. They're everywhere. Though the elves tend to stay in the woods; don't like to be bothered. They're like the Amish of Faerie, sticking to the old ways as much as possible. But faeries usually hang around humans, so you've seen plenty before. They blend in with us."

"What about their wings?"

"They usually don't have them."

I shook my head, trying to come to terms with all of this. "So, you're a—"

"Freelance Monster Assassin," he said, putting on a t-shirt that said exactly that on top of the same emblem of the lion and machine gun that was on the card. "That's what I like to call myself, anyway. It hasn't really stuck well, though. Most people just call me 'Faerie Hunter.'"

"Faerie Hunter," I repeated quietly. It sounded right on my tongue. "So why don't people know about this? I mean, about all of the faerie creatures out there. Is it some big secret, or conspiracy?"

"Actually, you'd be surprised how many people do know," he said as he took his hair out of the pony tail and let it fall to just above his shoulders. "It's not a secret. No one cares if people discover Faerie, or if they don't. But most of the time they don't."

I nodded as if I understood whatever he was talking about.

As he put on his leather jacket, he walked toward me with a strange glint in his eyes. Feeling uncomfortable, like I was being assessed in some way, I stood up, staring back at him warily.

"Brett," he said slowly.


"Right. Brad. You're what, seventeen?"

"Eighteen. Why?"

"Just graduate?"



"Um, Six-one, actually. Why do you—"

"One seventy?"

"Why do you need to know my weight?"

He stared at me blankly until I started to get uncomfortable.

"One seventy-five," I replied, just to get him to stop looking at me.

"Hmm...brown hair, amber eyes, dark skin for a Caucasian..." He stepped around me and looked down at Kyle.

"Light brown hair..." he continued muttering, "Also darkish skin...probably five-eleven. How old is he?"


"So he'll probably be pretty tall, maybe taller than you."

He knelt down, and forced one of Kyle's eyelids open. "Are you the only one with amber eyes in your family?" he asked.

"I think so. No, wait. My grandpa had amber eyes. Is that...bad?"

"How tall is he?" he asked as he stood up again.

"He's dead," I said coldly, putting as much irritation as I could muster into the reply.

"Sorry to hear that. How tall was he?" he asked again, unfazed.

"I don't know, he died when I was twelve, so he seemed very tall to me."

"Do you work out?"


"Do you work out?"

"No. I play soccer though, and sometimes wrestle a bit. Why do you want to—"

"Very good. About what I thought. And you've only just graduated, so you haven't decided what you want to do with you're life. That's good."

I started at this. "No, I know what I want to do. I've got a scholarship to the University of California, and I'm going there for chemical engineering. My girlfriend's going with me."

James frowned at me, then walked a couple paces toward the ocean. "You following her, or is she following you?"

"No, it's not like that! I mean, we both liked the college."

"Would she go there if you weren't going?"

"Yeah," I said quickly, "She's got a scholarship too."

"And would you go if she weren't going?"

"Well—I wouldn't go there, I guess. I'd probably go to M.I.T. But I'd still do chemical engineering."

He turned back to me. "So you're following her, then."

"No!" I said, walking toward him quickly. "I've wanted to go into science and math for a long time! It doesn't matter what college I go to."

Suddenly Kyle started coughing. James quickly ran to his side as he spit up some water and opened his eyes.

"Where's the mermaid?" were the first words out of his mouth.

"Dead," I answered. "I killed her."

His eyes grew wide, and he tried to sit up, but James forced him back to the ground.

"Why would you do that? She was beautiful!" he shouted angrily. "Why do you always ruin everything for me?"

"Hang on, kid," said James, as he rummaged through his jacket pocket and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid. "It's not what you think. No harm has been done. Just relax for a second. Open your mouth."

He struggled a little, but it was obvious that he was too weak to argue, and he gave in to James, letting him pour the contents of the vial into his mouth.

Slowly the anger left his face, replaced by confusion. He groaned.

"What just happened?" he asked. "Was there really a mermaid? Did I—?" His face turned sour. "That song. She was trying to kill me."

"Don't think about it, kid. It's pretty much impossible to be unmoved by their songs." James glanced at me, smirking as he said it.

Kyle got up, unhindered by James, and began walking down the beach. I ran after him.

"Kyle!" I shouted.

He turned and shoved me as I got near. "Go away! Just leave me alone." He turned and started running in the direction of the beach house.

"Kyle! Wait!"

"Let him go for now," James said as he walked up behind me. "He'll need some time to sort out all of his emotions. The potion I gave him gets rid of the song in his head, but he'll still have some lingering desires and strange thoughts. And he's also recovering from the coma the mermaid put him in."

I stared down the beach, watching my brother disappear from view. Another figure appeared in the distance.

"Listen Brett. Brad, I mean. I've got to go perform a couple rituals right now, but I'll be checking in on you later tonight probably."

"Rituals? What do you mean?" The figure was now close enough for me to see that it was my girlfriend Lizzy, walking toward us.

"Nothing big. There are some people who just don't like anyone who goes around killing faerie creatures. So I'm going wipe your trail away, make sure that no one will realize who killed the mermaid. It's probably not a big deal, He'll just think it was me who killed her anyway, but I want to be extra careful."

"So now I'm a target? Great." I rolled my eyes. The simple act of looking out for my brother, trying to save his life, seemed to be turning into something that kept growing, eating away at the corners of my world. I pushed the thought out of my mind.

"Not after tomorrow morning," James replied confidently

"Why, what happens tomorrow?"

"The last ritual has to be completed at sunrise. Don't worry about it." He began to walk away from the shore. "I'll find you again tonight, alright? We'll talk some more."

"Wait!" I shouted after him. "Why all the questions about me?" But he never turned back. I would have run after him, but just then Lizzy reached me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 1: The Mermaid's Lure

The dim, red lights of twilight filtered into the beach house as Kyle shook me awake, and I groaned, annoyed at him for waking me up so early. I sat up and looked at him. His eyes were fierce, wild, and bloodshot: he hadn't slept at all. Suddenly adrenaline washed over me as I remembered last night's conversation.

"It was a mermaid. I swear that's what it was," he had said. "She was lying on a rock, and she was singing, Brad! Her voice was so clear and beautiful. I swam out to her, but she jumped in the water before I got to her."

I'd looked at him from the bed across the room, puzzled. "A mermaid, Kyle?" I asked.

"You gotta believe me!" he said fervently. "I wasn't seeing things! It had a long fin instead of legs, and above the waist it was human. And singing, too!"

"Are you sure it wasn't a manatee, Kyle? A lot of people think that the old explorers saw manatees and mistook them—"

"No! It wasn't an animal!" he interrupted, sitting up in bed. "It had a human upper body, human head, hair, and it was a woman. I mean, it was female, you know with, well—" He paused awkwardly, then finished, almost mumbling, "You know, it had, like, boobs."

I chuckled at his embarrassment.

"You don't believe me, do you?" he said, starting to get angry.

"No, it's not that, really!" I said quickly.

"Look, tomorrow morning I'll show you. We'll go and find the mermaid, and you can see for yourself."

Now, in the morning, as my dreams were slowly dissipating, it was hard to separate fantasy from reality, and it seemed just as likely as not that there was a mermaid out there. I threw on some swim trunks, grabbed my pocketknife on a whim, and rushed after Kyle, who was already out the door and heading for the beach.

I caught up to him, and we walked back and forth down the shore, looking out into the ocean for a sign of something unusual. Soon the sun rose high into the sky, but we still hadn't seen anything. My parents were probably wondering where we were about now, and I started to wish I was hanging out with Lizzy. I grew more tired and frustrated as the time went on, but Kyle became frantic, almost panicky. Finally I reached a hand out to stop him, about to tell him it was time to call off the search.

Just then an eerie song reached our ears, coming from behind us. Kyle jerked his head in its direction, and began running toward it. I followed after him, excitement racing through me.

Kyle jumped in the water and began swimming toward a rock that was about a hundred feet out. I waded into the water till it lapped up to my knees. Kyle had just reached it and was looking at the source of the strange song. There, lying on the rock, was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her red hair fell in graceful locks around her face, winding downward, clothing her otherwise unclothed body, teasing and tempting my basest desires. The curls left off just above her navel, and my eyes moved downward to her waist, which slowly shifted from the smooth peach skin to rust colored scales that ran down a long tail that lay in front of her, with two fins that shot out from the tip. There was no question about it. She was a mermaid.

The song reached a climax, and somewhere inside, I felt an urgent desire to swim out with Kyle, to obey the call of the song, but stronger than the desire was an intense fear of this mermaid. An instinct judged that the voice was by no means friendly, but rather meant to ensnare those who heard it. This was no Disney princess singing to my brother. Instead, the image of a screaming Ulysses tied to his ship's mast, listening to the sirens who wished to lure him to his death, came to my mind. I stayed where I was, caught between wanting to swim out to protect Kyle and getting far away from the enticing song.

The song ended, and the mermaid looked intently at Kyle and said something that I couldn't hear. Fear began to build inside me. I tensed in anticipation. The air around us stilled, and the waves died down. Time seemed to slow as the mermaid gazed into my brother's eyes, and Kyle stared back at her stupidly.

Suddenly I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see a man walking toward me, gazing intensely at the mermaid out in the water. He stood next to me, still staring into the ocean as if he didn't even know I existed. He was tall and wore a leather jacket, brown leather chaps and boots. His black hair was tied in a small pony tail, and his face was covered in creases and scars. Strangely enough, my mind had a harder time coming to grips with this mysterious man's existence than with the mermaid's. I wondered if he realized his boots and chaps were getting wet.

I looked back at the mermaid, who was hissing at the man and crouching menacingly. Kyle was treading water and still looking at her entranced.

Suddenly she dove onto Kyle, shoving him underwater, and they disappeared, leaving only ripples behind. I screamed and began running out into the water. A rough hand grabbed my shoulder before I got too far, twisting me around to face the man's piercing grey eyes and perfectly calm expression.

"Let me handle this, boy," he said as if nothing more unusual had happened than a spilled glass of water.

I wrested myself from his grasp and shouted at him, "That's my brother! I'm going after him!"

He looked at me carefully. It was only for a moment, but I couldn't help thinking that every second, the mermaid was swimming farther and farther away.

Finally he spoke. "Alright, but you'll need this."

He handed me a piece of Hershey's chocolate, and I stared at him blankly.

"Eat it. Trust me."

Trust a stranger that wears chaps and a jacket to the beach in the middle of summer? But time was moving quickly, and whatever this man was, he didn't feel crazy: instead, every instinct told me this man deserved the utmost respect from me. I grabbed the chocolate from his hand and shoved it into my mouth, then turned back to the water.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my hands and feet. I held my hands up and watched as they elongated, and thin webs appeared between my fingers. Then my legs buckled beneath me, and I fell into the shallow water. My knees bent the wrong way, and I found myself touching my feet to my stomach. With a cry of horror, I tried to push them back to their normal position, but as I pushed on my now webbed foot, it too bent the wrong way.

"Don't be afraid!" the stranger said. "It's part of the transformation. In just a few moments, you'll be able to move and breathe underwater as well as the mermaid for almost an hour."

Everything was becoming blurry around me, and soon my breath stung in my throat. I looked up at the stranger, and he placed his boot on my chest, forcing me underwater. I struggled for a few moments, holding my breath. Spots danced before my eyes, and just as it became unbearable, I swallowed water. Immediately my head cleared as if I had taken a breath of fresh air. The man lifted his foot off me, and I knew what I had to do. I swam out to the rock the mermaid had laid on. My heart sank; she was nowhere to be seen.

As despair overtook me, I noticed a trail of mist like small bubbles leading farther out into the water. Quickly I began to follow it, hoping beyond hope this was the trail of the mermaid. It led toward the ocean floor, then along it as the water grew deeper and the light darker. Just when the trail began to disappear in the gloom, I noticed movement in front of me. I swam faster, trying to catch up. My new webbed feet and hands, along with the ability to twist my legs in any direction gave me more speed than I'd ever experienced underwater. Soon I was close enough to see that it was indeed the mermaid dragging Kyle behind her. Suddenly she disappeared. I hurried to the point where I had last seen her, and noticed a gap in the ground, a crevice that she must have dived into. Hoping that my ability to breath underwater would last, I dove in after her.

The darkness turned to pitch black, and I put my hands in front of me, feeling my way downward. The cave became smaller and smaller until I barely fit. Eventually the passage turned horizontally, and I saw a light coming through the end of the tunnel. Cautiously I made my way toward it. A few swaying plants blocked the entrance, and as I pushed them aside and swam through the opening, I looked around amazed. I was in a large cavern, bigger than a house, lit by blue, luminescent plants that climbed the walls and covered the ceiling. Only half of the cavern was underwater; as the floor sloped gently upward from the opening, the water grew shallower until the rock shelf emerged from the water. Where the water met the land lay the mermaid, bending over Kyle. As I looked at her I realized with a shock that she was biting his neck and drinking his blood.

With an unfamiliar fury, I hurled myself toward her. She turned and hissed at me, baring her bloodstained teeth before jumping in the water in front of me. Just as I was about to grab hold of her, she slipped to the side, and I hit rock. A claw grabbed my leg and pulled me backwards. I twisted around toward the mermaid, who dug her claws deeper into my leg. As pain raced through my brain, I managed to kick her hard in the stomach with my other leg, and she let go. Quickly I turned to face her. She darted towards me, her hands enveloping my head, and her mouth opened wider than I thought would have been possible. Staring into her sharp teeth, I reached my hands in front of me and pushed her face away from mine. Then I shoved my finger into her eye, and she pulled away from me, her eye bleeding. As she turned, I grabbed her tail, but it slipped away from me. Pain shot up my arm, and I looked at my hand. There was a long gash where the tail had cut through it; it was as sharp as a knife. Suddenly she began attacking me with her tail, slashing back and forth as I swam away from her, barely out of reach. Just as she had me backed against the wall on the side, I saw an opening in her attacks, and as she swung her tail back for the next strike, I lunged toward her, grabbing her face and twisting it sideways to break her neck.

I had her; this was the final blow. All I had to do was push a little more, and she would die. But suddenly she began singing to me. My grip softened. The words of the song, in some language I could not comprehend, entered my mind and touched some sort of switch in my unconscious. I stopped caring about where I was or what I was doing. All I wanted was the melody that floated around me. It was mesmerizing, filling my head with a blissful peace that left me unable and unwilling to do anything but listen to the song. The mermaid took my hands and drew them away from her head to my side. She leaned in close to me and smiled as she sang. I smiled back. I knew that she was killing me, that I would die soon at her hands. She would probably drink my blood, weaken me like she did with Kyle, but as long as I could hear this song, I didn't care.

But at the same time something else in my brain lit up. A very small area in my mind was working outside of the spell of the mermaid's song. As if watching myself from above, I tested my limbs one by one to see if they would move while she dragged me toward Kyle. Nothing moved. I tried again. This time I managed to twitch a finger. She laid me down in the water, and then dragged a claw across my cheek, as if caressing me. I shuddered in disgust, and suddenly, something snapped. That little part of my brain that was in control grew bigger, and now I could move my arm. Quickly I reached into my pocket and felt for my knife. I grabbed it, flipped it open, then thrust it into the heart of the mermaid, before she even knew that she had lost control. Her face changed quickly from triumph to surprise.

Her skin began to bubble, as if boiling. Her eyes and mouth turned downward at the corners as if melting. Then suddenly she burst apart into a mist that floated to the surface. Nothing was left of her. My head was reeling from the song that was still playing softly in my mind. I shook my head to get rid of it, and tried to think of other things. Kyle was still on the shore. I swam toward him, took a deep breath of water, then climbed next to him. He was pale and cold to the touch. Fear swept over me as I thought he might be dead, but then I noticed he was breathing softly. I felt his pulse; it was slow and light. It dawned on me that it would have been impossible for the mermaid to bring him down here under normal conditions without drowning him. She must have put him in some sort of trance in order to survive the trip. We had to get out of the cave before he woke up, or he would be stuck in this cavern. Then I wondered how long my ability to breathe underwater would last. I had been out of the water for a minute now, and was breathing almost normally. Panic overtook me and I dove underwater again, and cautiously took a breath of water. I could still breathe, but I also noticed my hands and feet were shrinking. Hurriedly I took Kyle in my arms and swam for the entrance.

I had thought the tunnel was small before, but now I was with my brother, and the rocks scraped against my back as I tried to keep Kyle from the same fate. The tunnel turned upwards, and I saw the light far above me. As we emerged from the cave, I found that I couldn't breathe anymore. Then suddenly my knees and ankles snapped back into place. My hands and feet were normal sized. Now each kick brought me only a few inches upward, and with the lack of oxygen, panic rose in my mind. I struggled not to surrender to the strong desire to take a breath. The sky was still hundreds of feet above me.

Just as I was about to give in, something broke through the surface above me. A man dove toward me, swimming faster than I'd even seen anyone swim. As he grabbed Kyle with one hand and me with the other, I saw his piercing grey eyes flash toward me. Soon the surface drew nearer and nearer until we broke through, the sun shining directly on my face as I gasped for air like I had never breathed in my life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Faerie Blog

Hello World!
8:23 PM, September 15

Hello everyone, or as it's more likely, no one. I don't write that often, and I've always been horrible at keeping up with blogs, and journals and things like that, but something happened recently that I felt the world needs to know. And where else can I do it but online, where no one will think I'm crazy, because no one knows who I am, right? So here goes.

Yesterday, I saw a faerie.

Really! I'm positive, because I saw her when she thought no one was looking.

My last class ends at three, and I decided to go into the woods for a bit of 'nature absorption,' as my boyfriend J. calls it. The path follows the creek and crosses it at several points. What I like to do is wade down the stream from the first crossing to the second. J. was of course the one who got me into doing this. Before him, I generally stayed out of the woods, and especially out of the water for fear of the water moccasins, crawdads, and other creepy animals. I still get a bit freaked out if I think too hard about it.

As I was getting near the second crossing, I saw someone coming down the path, so I stopped, preferring to stay out of sight until I knew who it was.

It was K. I know K. a bit, but I really didn't feel like talking to her, so I stayed where I was. As she came to the water's edge, instead of walking across on the stepping stones, she lightly sprang into the water. But get this: she didn't wade through the water: she walked on top of the water! I couldn't believe it! In fact, I figured I was seeing things, but then she reached the other side, bent over, placed her hand on the ground, and immediately a flower sprang up. She laughed, picked it, and stuck it in her hair behind her ear, then ran off as if this was all normal!

I was reeling, but strangely enough, it all made sense. K. dresses ridiculously, wearing almost nothing at all even in the winter. She always wears pastel or earthy dresses, hardly ever wears shoes, and her ears definitely look a bit pointed at the tip. And she changes her hair color almost every week. I don't think she has wings, though. I'll have to look that up to see if all faeries have wings. Maybe she was hiding them, or they're invisible. But I know she's a faerie. Once the word entered my mind, everything clicked into place. I told J., who was a bit skeptical, but he wants to ask her about it. I told him he wasn't allowed unless I was there. He would do that, though, go ask her if she's a faerie just for fun.

Please don't think I'm crazy. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't seen anything. I mean, I'm a physics major! But even if people forget it, science is about observation, so I have to live by what I observe.

Anyway, I'll let you know once we talk to K., and see if we can force her to tell the truth about herself.

My Boyfriend Isn't Gay, but...
6:07 PM, September 16

So I thought that discovering the existence of faeries was world-shattering news, but I found out something that shakes my world up even more.

Today at lunch, J. and I got our food, and as we were looking for a seat, we spotted K. sitting by herself in a corner. I nudged J., and we walked over to join her.

Before I could even confront her with what I saw in the woods, she looked oddly at J. and said, "You're a faerie."

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. My jaw dropped to the table, and J. started laughing. I was speechless for a full minute. My mind raced through this ridiculous conjecture, as I tried to imagine why she would say this. Finally I came up with the only reasonable explanation.

"He's not gay," I said, oddly praying that this was what she meant. It wasn't, of course.

"Duh," she said, as if I were the stupidest person on earth, "I don't mean that kind of fairy. I mean the magical kind of faerie. The ones that leave changelings in place of babies, stick around humans because you're so fun to tease, and are mostly immortal."

"But we came here to ask if you were a faeire!" I protested.

She laughed. "I am," she replied. "And so is he."

I blanked for the rest of the conversation. J. and K. talked like they were long lost family. I guess they are. I left them still talking to go to my next class. I haven't seen either of them since. I think I've lost my boyfriend....I mean, how can I compete with a faerie?

Maybe It's Not All Bad
11:43 PM, September 16

An hour ago, J. burst into my room to show me what K. taught him. He cupped his hands together, and slowly pulled them apart. Inside was a blue light that grew as he opened his hands. Then he smiled and shoved the light onto my chest, right over my heart. Immediately I felt a warmth spread over me. My depression lifted a bit. He tickled me, as if to make it clear that he really does love me still, even if I'm not a faerie like K. I think things are going to be okay.

And by the way, I checked Wikipedia: Faeries only started sporting wings in 19th century art and literature. Before that, faeries flew around on the backs of birds. They also come in all shapes and sizes, some being taller than human, and some just a few inches tall.

Maybe It Is Bad...
8:16 PM, September 25

This week's been a living hell. I don't think I can take much more of this. J.'s been hanging out with K. non-stop all week long. And then he sends me mixed signals by doing extra nice things for me, like taking me out on an expensive date, and surprising me with chocolate at the beginning of a class period. I can't tell if he's just super happy to be a faerie, or if he feels guilty for spending so much time with K. Every time I think it's the latter, though, I look in his eyes, and I think I see his love for me. He's never been one of those sort of people who's subtle, hiding his feelings. Everything's pretty straightforward with him.

And he still teases me like normal. I mean, I hate it when he does it, but I think if he were feeling guilty, he would stop teasing me so much.

Either way though, the feeling is growing on me that he's losing perspective on life. K. will start talking about her 'true' home in Faerie, then sort of glance at me and change the subject. But K. and J. talk about it when I'm not around. From what I can drag out of him, it's not a place that humans are allowed to go, and it's sort of a place to rest and recharge, filled with magic, and amazing food, and blah, blah, blah.

I just want him to stay here, and I tell him about finishing up his degree and getting a job, but he just stares at me, his eyes asking why he should care. He can't connect with anything except K. anymore. I've spent a lot of nights crying myself to sleep.

I really can't take much more of this. I wish I'd never seen K. in the woods. Why didn't I just shout "hello" to her, or something? Why did I have to be in the woods at all?

K. Hates Me
9:37 PM, September 27

Today at lunch, J. and I were sitting across from K. like normal. J. had a meeting, so he left early. It was just K. and me, staring at each other. I decided to try to be nice, but after a few attempts at small talk, I gave up. Then after a moment of awkward silence, K. spoke up.

"S., Why are you still dating J.?"

I looked up, surprised.

She continued on, "I mean, he's a faerie. We aren't meant to be tied to humans. You're just bringing him down."

I was reeling with shock and anger. I probably shouldn't have said anything, but I nearly shouted at her, "J. loves me! How dare you try to break us up!"

A crooked smile slowly appeared on her face, and she raised her eyebrows. "Hey, I just want what's best for J. He really wants to come with me to Faerie, but he doesn't think you'd appreciate that. You're the reason he won't come."

I wish I could say I was mature in this, but I wasn't. I won't even repeat what I yelled at her as I furiously picked up my tray and raced for the door.

Now in retrospect, I have to wonder if she's right. J. truly loves me, I think, but it's true. He gets a far off look when K. talks about Faerie. I don't think he really belongs here.

And that makes me think about myself. Why did I start liking J.? I mean, obviously, he's gorgeous, but that sort of thing by itself doesn't warrant dating someone long term. I guess what really intrigued me about him was the fact that he got me to do things I would never do if he weren't around. I never used to go into the woods, now it's an almost daily ritual. I used to care about what people thought of how I dressed. Lately I've been experimenting with all sort of different looks, not minding, and even loving the unusual stares people give me. And last month I even went with him to T.P. Prof W.'s house.

But is that really a good thing? I keep thinking about my future. I'm incredibly good at physics, and I have an eye on all of the top graduate schools in the country. I think I might even be able to get into M.I.T. But I think I might just be blind about this. J.'s not going to follow me to a graduate school. I know for certain that he wouldn't be able to handle a long term relationship. And he's definitely bringing down my grades. I could push them back up before the end of the semester, if I weren't dating.

Life sucks. Why does anyone even get into relationships? They suck. There's no easy way out.

4:03 AM, October 1

After struggling for a week with my conscience, I did it. I told J. to go to Faerie, to leave me behind, that our lives were obviously going two different directions. He didn't wait an extra second; I saw him and K. running into the woods an hour after we talked. He's probably not coming back. Ever.

Goodbye, J. It was fun while it lasted. I should have known it had to end, you're so very different from me. I think I just changed myself to fit in with you. I guess I can be myself now. Maybe it will feel better, less cramped.

Maybe not. At least, not for a while. Right now, I just feel a heavy weight in my stomach. I can't find a reason to go on, to keep living. I can't sleep, I just keep thinking about J. Even though I know it's not true, I feel like the world will never be right again.

Life Goes On
9:02 PM, December 18

Today I went into the woods for the first time since I broke up with J. A flood of memories swept over me, and I wondered, did I really make the right decision to break up with him?

I mean, obviously it helped me. I graduated summa cum laude, which I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done if he had stuck around. And I haven't gotten into any sort of trouble. My life seems a lot more stable, which I like.

But I keep feeling like I'm missing something, even after I 'got over' J. Last night I went on a date with this guy, L., but it just wasn't exciting. We just talked, and he was really, really nice, and I liked him. But J. was so alive. L. was, well, he's just like me, I guess. He took me to a restaurant that J. took me to one time. That time, J. had talked the whole time with a middle-eastern accent just to see how the waiter would react. Last night L. was as polite as possible with the waiter, cracking all the right small-talk jokes, and giving him exactly fifteen percent. Part of me was relieved not to feel embarrassed the whole time, but another part missed the excitement of it.

After going into the woods today, I thought that I would go to class with my shoes off, but I chickened out as I got to the building. I needed J. there to do it with me. Otherwise, it just seemed too silly.

Of course it doesn't matter. I think J.'s gone for good, and even if he ever comes back from Faerie, it's not very likely that he'll want to come back to college. He'll probably just live in the forest, flitting from tree to tree or something. Oh well.

Goodbye World
7:09 AM, December 24

I don't have much time for this, but I don't think I'll have access to the internet for a very, very long time.

J. came back! He said it's only felt like a week or two in Faerie, but he still missed me, and he came back for me! He wants me to come with him to Faerie!

Technically, humans aren't allowed into Faerie, but J. just says "That just makes it all the more fun!"

He wants to disguise me as an elf or something; he says that he can do glamour pretty easily now, whatever that really means. We'll stay until they kick us out, and then we'll go who knows where! I don't care. I mean, I can start my life as a physicist anytime, if I really want to. I've finally figured out that it's secondary to the things that make me love life.

So this is S., signing off. Maybe someday I'll come back and tell everyone all about Faerie. It sounds pretty cool. J. says that there are some Faeries with wings, and he was even thinking about growing some himself.

Anyways, goodbye world, take care of yourself while I'm gone! Hope no one misses me too much; I don't think I'll miss you very much.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Lure of the Mermaid

Jacob was four years ahead of his brother Brad in age as well as in school. So when Jacob graduated from high school, Brad was just entering it. And as Brad finished high school, Jacob graduated from college. Their parents decided to celebrate their graduations by taking them to the beach for a weekend with their friends.

The second day at the beach, Jacob noticed Brad looking intently out into the water. He ran up to his side, away from the volleyball game everyone was playing.

"Whatcha see, Brad?" Jacob peered out over the ocean, but his eyesight wasn't as good as Brad's.

"Oh, I dunno," said Brad, "Maybe some seals way out there on a rock. I think I hear something too."

For a moment Jacob caught a flash of something strange, and maybe wild in Brad's eye, but then it was gone.

"I think I'll go see if I can get closer," Brad said casually.

Jacob shrugged and went back to the volleyball game. Occasionally he glanced toward the ocean, but Brad was a good swimmer, and he wasn't very worried. Brad swam out several hundred feet, then swam straight back.

As he jogged back to the game, Jacob shouted to him, "See any seals?"

Brad looked up surprised. "Seals? Oh, yeah. No, no seals."

Jacob forgot about the incident, and at the end of the day, all their friends left and went home. The two brothers and their parents were staying at the beach a few more days for what their dad called "bonding time." That night in bed, Brad surprised Jacob by bringing the subject up again.

"It wasn't seals," he said, "I swear it was a mermaid. And she was singing this song. It was, well, it was just beautiful. She was gorgeous too, but when I got close, she swam away."

Jacob felt disturbed on hearing this, though he couldn't put his finger on why it upset him.

The next morning Jacob and Brad went to the beach by themselves, Brad insisting that Jacob come hear the song of the mermaids. After walking for miles along the beach, Jacob began to tire of searching for the elusive mermaids, but Brad became panicky. Finally they heard a strange voice singing not too far down the beach. Brad started running toward it, and Jacob chased after him. As they drew closer to the source of the music, Jacob saw the singer, a mermaid, perched on a rock a few hundred feet from the shore. Brad was running, then swimming toward it, heedless of anything else around him.

Jacob slowed as he reached the edge of the beach, listening to the eerie song that floated across the waves to him. It was beautiful, certainly, but it filled him with a dread, and he realized that this song was not meant for him, but only for his brother. Suddenly the singing stopped, and the mermaid looked intently at Brad, then dove into the waters and disappeared. Brad swam slowly back to shore, and the two walked back to their rental house.

"Well, it certainly is exciting to see such a strange sight," said Jacob, "but I wouldn't ask to see it twice."

"No," said Brad, "I guess not." But the look on his face said differently.

That night Jacob had trouble sleeping. He lay in a state of half-dreaming for an hour, tossing and turning. Finally, he opened his eyes and sat up. Suddenly he looked over at his brother's bed. It was empty. Immediately he threw the blankets off of him and jumped out of bed. Without bothering to dress, he ran out the door to the beach in his boxers, grabbing only his pocket knife on the way out and clipping it to his boxers. Racing down the beach in the light of the full moon, he cursed himself for not reading his brother more carefully. He was certain that Brad had gone to seek out the mermaid, and he was equally certain that the mermaid meant nothing good for him.

On his left, the side opposite the water, a figure ran out toward him from a beach house. Jacob slowed, and approached the figure cautiously. It was an older man who looked as excited as Jacob, holding something in his hand out to Jacob.

"I saw your brother with the mermaid yesterday," he said without prelude, "He is in grave danger. Take this; swallow it, and you should be able to breathe underwater for a few hours."

Jacob took a small berry from his hand and eyed it suspiciously. But after looking carefully at the man, he decided that he had neither ill-intent nor insanity in his eyes.

He muttered a quick "thanks," then turned and continued running down the beach. Soon he began to hear the eerie singing, Far out in the water he saw his brother swimming away from the shore to where a mermaid was waiting on a protruding rock. He shouted, but Brad ignored him, or couldn't hear him. Jacob ran into the water, fighting the waves to get to his brother. When his feet no longer touched the bottom, he paused. His brother had just made it to where the mermaid was waiting. She looked down at Brad and laughed. Suddenly she bared her teeth and hissed, diving on top of him and shoving him underwater.

A shout stuck in Jacob's throat, and he swam out to the rock. There was no sign of either of them. Suddenly he remembered the berry the old man had given him, shoved it in his mouth and swallowed. Immediately he felt a sharp pain in his hands and his feet. He held his hands up and watched as they elongated, and thin webs appeared between his fingers. Then he felt a cracking sensation in his knees and ankles. At first he thought they were broken, but then he realized the joints had realigned themselves so that he could now bring his foot up to his stomach and bend his foot backwards. Finally, as he noticed his eyes going dim, he drew in a breath, but it felt dry, and burned as it went down his throat. Something told him to submerge himself, and he realized that somehow, he was breathing the water. He found he could see exceptionally well underwater, and his eyes didn't burn with the salt as they usually did.

Hoping that all these changes were temporary, he looked around, and spotted the mermaid with his brother moving quickly away from the shore. Immediately he swam toward them. Soon, there was a small opening in the ocean's floor, and the mermaid dove into it. Jacob hurried behind her, and after a moment's hesitation, plunged into the cave behind her.

Darkness enveloped Jacob as he swam farther and farther downward, and he put his hands in front of him, feeling his way slowly. Eventually the tunnel turned horizontal and the water in front of him grew brighter. It ended in a cavern as large as a house. Looking up, he saw that the water only reached halfway up the cavern walls. On the roof was something luminous, emitting a soft blue light, which Jacob realized was the only source of lighting.

Where Jacob was floating near the entrance, the floor was lowest, but it slowly sloped upward, until halfway across the cavern, it rose out of the water. Just above the water level was the mermaid, lying on top of the limp figure of Brad. With a shock, he realized that she was drinking his blood.

Immediately he swam as fast as he could to her. She turned and bared her bloodstained teeth at him, leaping into the water. Jacob pulled his pocketknife from his boxers and held it out toward her. She swam at him, dodged the knife and grabbed his legs with claws that tore into his skin. He twisted around, and plunged the knife into her arm, forcing her to let his leg go.

Suddenly she began singing to him. All thought of fighting left him as he listened to her song. He forgot who he was and what he was doing there, thinking only of her beauty and the enchanting song. He froze in place, mesmerized by her voice as she came closer and stretched out her hands to his neck.

But as her hands softly touched him, he stirred, and a small part of him woke up to the danger, perhaps remembering the claws in his leg. Without thinking, he thrust the knife in her chest. A look of shock appeared on her face. Bubbles began rising from her skin, and then suddenly she exploded into a mass of bubbles and mist. Jacob shook his head in disbelief at this, but quickly he dismissed it as he remembered his brother.

Brad was in a deep sleep. He seemed to be breathing very slowly, if at all, and his pulse was weak. Jacob wondered if the mermaid had done something to him to temporarily slow his breathing and heartbeat so that he could survive the trip through the tunnel. If so, he realized that he would be able to get him out the same way. He thought quickly about the dilemma. Could he risk his brother's life and assume that if the mermaid got him down here, he could get him back up to the surface?

There really was no choice. He had to get out of the cavern before he lost his ability to breathe underwater and they were both stuck there to die. Jacob grabbed Brad securely by his waist and slipped back into the water. As he made his way through the tunnel, he felt his arms and legs begin to shrink to normal size. When he emerged from the cave, his sockets popped back into place, and soon his head began to swim from lack of oxygen. It became a desperate struggle to drag himself and his brother upward as his lungs screamed for air.

Finally his head burst out of the water and he gasped for air. He brought his brother's head above the water, and he too, drank in the air. Jacob swam slowly to shore, and as the waves dumped them onto the sand, the old man walked up to them and dragged Brad further away from the water.

"What happened? Did you kill her?" the man asked.

"I struck her with my knife and she dissolved, so, yeah. She's dead."

The man frowned as he looked at Jacob. "Very good," he finally said. "That's one less danger to haunt the world."

Jacob looked at him quizzically. "Do you hunt mermaids for a living?"

The man smiled. "Oh, not just mermaids. I deal with a long list of dangerous creatures most of the world thinks don't exist."

Something inside Jacob perked up when he heard this. The man leaned in closer to Jacob.

"You know," he said, "I'm about to retire from active duty, and I'm looking for an apprentice to train. Not too many people would have dived into danger with no thought for themselves, you know. And to top it off, you survived! What do you say? Join me?"

Jacob grinned and turned to look at the rising sun. It was a brand new day in his life.