The Un-funeral

It’s hardly fair to Thomdal. He was a gentle soul and everyone in the village liked him while he lived. But I was willing to bet good money that the only one listening to the eulogy was Priest Bayer and that was only because he was giving it.

Every eye was fixed on the open casket at the front of the chapel–to look elsewhere would be to cast suspicion. The soldiers lounging at the back of the chapel watched the funeral proceedings casually. They seemed mercifully unaware that the boiling tension in the room was not grief.

Priest Bayer finished and it took the congregation a half beat too long to realize he’d extended the Last Goodbye invitation. Hurriedly, the first row stood and filed up to pay their last respects to Thomdal. I watched the soldiers out of the corner of my eye as the rest of the congregation took their turns as if nothing were amiss. The soldiers were only here because they were told to watch us, and we were all here. They had no reason to suspect what was really going on. At least, that’s what we told ourselves. Each congregant filed past Thomdal’s coffin, their faces carefully masking what else was in the coffin–that tucked against good Thomdal’s corpse was a golden bow the height of man. The Kingmaker of Achen was no ordinary bow–and the youth crouched at the foot of the casket was no ordinary child. If the soldiers found our village hiding either, we would all be ash on the wind by sundown.

The Nutcracker Sweet

*Special Christmas Edition – The Nutcracker Sweet*

By Abigail CR

December, 2013

It would be fun, the horse said.

Stop the evil rat, the horse said. Be the soldier. Save the toymaker’s livelihood. Save the toys. Become who you were made to be.

This is the last time that I am going to follow the advice of someone who has more scratches than the couch after the new kitten was done with it. How far had we fallen? I squinted up into the winter sun, trying to guess which window belonged to our apartment. It was the one with the string of colored Christmas lights, I finally found it. Our fight at the top of the stairs really hadn’t gone well.

“Major!”

I didn’t answer.

“Major!” The horse slide to a stop next to me and prodded me with his high quality cellulose acetate hoof. “Are you alright?” demanded the indefatigable equine.

I grunted.

“Good! Come on, he’s getting away!” The horse prodded me more urgently.

“Why do I listen to you, Red?” I demanded, rolling to my feet and checking myself for nicks and gashes. My paint job wasn’t too much the worse for wear. I looked again at the colored lights high above us and shuddered.

“Because you were made to be a hero, come on!” Red pranced.

“I was made to crack nuts,” I griped, climbing aboard my eager plastic mount.

“And so you shall!” Red leapt forward and it was all I could do to hold onto his mane. We clattered across the roofing tiles and jumped up onto the windowsill.  Sliding off Red, I struggled to pull the window open. It finally gave with a crackle of old paint; I got my shoulder under it and straightened to my full 12 inches and had a full view of the apartment building staircase. I could hear the rat scampering down the stairs. Our fall had actually put us ahead of him. Adrenaline suddenly coursed through me. “Hurry, Red!”

The horse came to my side and I remounted. Red heard the rat, too, and he took a tremendous leap off the sill down onto the stairs. We stumbled and nearly ended up in a pile of wood and plastic but Red kept his feet and staggered into a regal position. I drew my curving saber and waited.

In the few seconds that followed it occurred to me that we didn’t have a plan beyond “Stop the rat! Save Christmas for the toymaker!” and I realized that I didn’t care. What had come over me? What enchantment had my psychotic horse put on me? The rat rounded the corner of the stairwell and all time to reflect was gone.

It was the rat-king, for certain. Dark shiny fur, long wicked whiskers, beady black eyes and savage claws were all nothing to the gold circlet on his head and the slim wood box in his clutches. The toymaker’s toolkit. The rat-king and I locked eyes.

“You shall not escape,” I declared. Red stamped his feet for emphasis.

“I would like to see you try to stop me,” hissed the rat-king.

Inside, I thought the same thing.

The rat-king charged and Red dug in to the worn carpet. All at once the rat was upon us and my saber slashed against his claws. I smashed his knuckles with my hilt and with a shriek he dropped the tool box. With both paws free the rat tackled me off Red and we tumbled down the next flight of stairs hissing and spitting at each other. The rat tried to bite my face but got caught in my beard; I slugged him with my free hand.

I heard Red cheering above the din of our fight. The brazen plastic horse had followed us down and was dancing about kicking at the rat whenever he could. The rat-king was getting angry. With a horrible ratty-roar he smashed my face and lunged at Red. I lunged after him and…then…the fight was over.

Red stood, his eyes huge, the rat’s claws a hair’s breadth from his tender side.

My saber stood out between the rat-king’s shoulders.

“You saved me!” puffed Red. “You saved the toymaker’s tools!”

I stood up and dusted myself off. Both legs? Both arms? Some scratches and dings…I ran my fingers through my beard. All there in spite of the rat’s teeth.

“Let’s take the tools back!” Just like that Red was clambering up the stairs.

I stood over the vanquished rat-king trying to catch my breath. I still wasn’t sure that the horse was right about me being made to fight rats, but the saber sure wasn’t for cracking nuts. I retrieved my weapon and gingerly cleaned it off before starting the weary trek back up umpteen flights of stairs. Red was waiting for me on the landing where the toolkit had fallen. He, of course, had no hands. I used my saber to cut a long thread from the worn carpet and tied the toolkit to Red’s back. Together we climbed the stairs and made our way back to the toymaker’s apartment. There was a cluster of toys waiting anxiously for us by the door.

“We’re back!” neighed Red, cheerfully. “The Major slew the Rat-King! It was a mighty fight!”

The other toys cheered. The pretty marionette girl took the toolkit from Red’s back while he told the story and the toy bull used the marionette’s strings to hoist her to the top of the tool bench where the tools belong. The stuffed animals fawned to make sure that I was alright, and the wooden elephant helped me get back on the coffee table next to the walnuts. I looked around the toymaker’s little apartment as the toys scurried around restoring the order—or relative order—that the rat king had disturbed. I’d saved the day—though only with Red’s help. Perhaps I was meant to defend the apartment, just as I was meant to crack nuts.

Merry Christmas, I thought, my world enbiggened.

First line of last paragraph of page 51

Looking for Zare? Click here for Episode 44!

The book: Wings of Dawn, by Sigmund Brouwer.

The line: He clapped his hands twice.

The creation:

He clapped his hands twice. Nothing happened. Strange, it’s always worked before. He kicked the interface and clapped again. this time the ship hummed to life and the lights on the display blinked beneath a thick layer of dust. Sig sat in the pilot chair and blew on the console. The nav computer screen glowed green, happily showing their safe arrival at Herion 1 on May 23rd, Earth Year 2015, and today’s date of March 10, Earth Year 2020.

Stunned, Sig leaned back in the pilot chair. “Five years?” he said, “How can that be?”  Think, Sig. Your last memory–was docking.

Sig stood. The computer must be wrong. Something must’ve messed with its clock during their landing. He left the cockpit with purpose and lowered the ramp to leave his faithful–if delusional–starship.

Before he could take a step a woman leapt onto the ramp and ran to his side. “Sig! What did you find?”

“Who are you?” demanded Sig.

She blinked. “Funny, Sig. We don’t have time for this.”

Life as a Side Kick

Looking for Zare? Click here for Episode 44!

There are a lot of perks to being a sidekick: All the adventure you could want and almost none of the responsibility–it’s the hero’s job to save the day, you just have to help. Plus, you usually survive disasters, which I’ve always found appealing.

No, life as a sidekick wasn’t so bad, but it occasionally led to awkward surprises. Like a strange, freakishly beautiful woman being present when you wake up–in all your ruffled, untucked, possibly drooling glory.

“Who is she??” I demanded hotly, jolting awake and scrambling to my feet.

“Sam, this is Shaya,” explained Declan (the hero, in case you couldn’t tell from his name), “Shaya this is Sam.” Nothing ruffled Declan, so anyone listening to our introduction might have thought we were in a cocktail lounge rather than a lifeboat. Of course, even sunburnt and scruffy, Declan would have made any cocktail lounge proud–even if he would have stood out like a sore, super sexy, thumb.

The lifeboat, I might add, was adrift in the ocean alone when I went to sleep. As it happens, it was still adrift in the ocean alone. Perhaps I had underestimated Declan’s ability to attract women…I stuffed my shirt into my pants and finger-combed my hair in a quick swipe–not that it really mattered. “What a pleasure to meet you,” I pasted on my biggest smile and held out my hand.

She looked at me with a cautious and slightly confused smile of her own.

“A handshake is a gesture of greeting,” piped Declan, seeing her hesitation. He grabbed my hand and pumped it a couple times. “See?” He handed my hand to her, and she imitated his movement with significantly less bone crushing.

“A pleasure to meet you, too, Sam,” she said. She sounded like she was from an Ivy League school. Interesting.

“Don’t take this personally,” I said–might as well ask, Declan could get us out of whatever huff I got us into, “but how the heck did you get on this boat? And did you bring food?”

“I came for help,” she answered.

Of course, because that explains it.

“The leviathan that sank our ship has lost its mind and is rampaging on the ocean floor,” said Declan.

“I’m sorry?” I offered, figuring that was close to the right answer.

“Shaya has come to ask for our help putting it out of its misery,” he finished, his blue eyes sparkling at the prospect of an adventure. “And of course saving her homeland.”

Naturally. I nodded. Just when I thought I was used to all the crazy stuff heroes assume is normal, Declan finds something totally new to throw at me. But I’m a sidekick, and I know how to roll with the punches. I got this.

Fang and Seyba’s wagon

zareleopardcart

I’m learning that wagons are extremely hard to draw–straight lines and boxes aren’t my strong suit. Though, the hardest part is the wheel. I have an embarrassingly hard time drawing wheels. I must find them boring, and therefore feel no motivation to practice so it isn’t a monster fight every time I try to draw a wagon. I should probably work a bit harder at that–because Fang and Seyba’s wagon was really cool looking in my head.