Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 10

QueenContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 9

The force of the water pounded Belinda deep below the surface. Belinda saw only clouds of bubbles and heard only her own thrashing. She bobbed to the surface, her arms and legs flailing, and the current raced her downstream. She coughed and gasped and tried to swim to the river’s bank, but her tiny body could not fight the river’s course. Her drenched wings were pasted against her back. The final, insignificant spot of fairy dust was clumped, wet and useless, in her bag.

A fallen branch reached into the running current. Belinda grabbed it and pulled herself toward the river’s bank, almost making it to safety, but the end of the branch broke off, returning her to the mercy of the rushing stream.

Holding the broken branch, she wove down the river, her mouth filling with gulps of water every time she tried to take a breath. Ahead of her, rocks jutted from the water’s surface. The river bubbled and churned, water splashing in explosions of spray.

The fairy plunged into the white waters, rushing between rocks, the river trying to peel her from the branch. The branch veered down a tributary, and Belinda held tight, her legs hanging limply in the water behind her.

The branch caught between two rocks, stopping short, and Belinda was forced to let go. She thrashed under water, helpless as a lightning bug shaken in a jar. She found it hard to hold her breath as more and more water forced its way into her mouth and nose. Whenever she broke the river’s surface, she was immediately yanked under again.

Finally, the rapids eased, the rocks dispersed, the white water subsided, but Belinda still found it difficult to keep her head above the surface. Her muscles ached. Her lungs burned. Her head pounded. She wanted to stop and rest, but there was nowhere she could. Her body felt as if an anchor was attached to her ankle. Through blurry eyes, she spotted an outcropping of land jutting into the river. Belinda reached it and crawled up the riverbank to safety.

Belinda collapsed onto the ground. The sun beat down on her. She felt her energy evaporating, the sun draining her powers as the queen had warned. Belinda needed to return to Dreaming Mountain and replenish her light.

She staggered to her feet. The bright colors and kaleidoscopic movements of her dreaming eyes were beginning to fade. She felt dizzy and tired. She tried beating her wings, but they sagged behind her. She peered into her broken bag and found nothing in it but a tiny patch of caked, gold mud. Belinda walked along the river’s edge, deciding that if she couldn’t fly home, then she would walk, no matter how long it took. But her body ached, and she was exhausted.

Be wary of frogs. Don’t get wet. Do not allow your magic to fall into the hands of others.

Being a fairy was more than beauty and magic. Fairies had as much responsibility as any other creature. Her friends in the forest were right, their friend was gone, and all that remained was a fairy that couldn’t perform the simple tasks of everyday fairy life. The determination to walk home, no matter how long it took, drained from Belinda. For it is an elf that is stubborn, not fairies. Belinda sat on the ground and cried.

As she sobbed, she heard a rustling from the woods. She looked up to see an owl standing beside a giant elk. The two animals silently regarded the weeping fairy.

Belinda could not recognize the two creatures. They looked to her simply as animals, an owl and an elk to be exact, no different from any other. But deep in her heart, she knew who they were.

“Aristotle? Goliath?” Belinda whispered.

The two animals watched her with the blank stare of “unthinking” creatures, but Belinda knew of the owl’s wisdom, and of the elk’s devotion, and she knew she would never realize those wonderful qualities again. Belinda rolled into a ball on the ground, crying harder.

Something nudged her. Looking up, she found the elk nuzzling her with its massive snout. He was silent, his thoughts muted from her, but he would always be her friend.

Belinda then looked to the owl. “Aristotle, what should I do?” she said.

“Who. Who,” the owl answered in the voice all owls use to those that cannot understand them.

Belinda cried harder, putting her face in her hands. “I’m no fairy. My heart is that of an elf. It always has been. The only magic I need is that of my friends’ love.”

The elk nudged her again.

Belinda looked up through a prism of tears, seeing a flurry of glowing balls rise from the ground like sparks from a fire. The balls combined into a bright flash of light, and there, before Belinda’s eyes, stood The Fairy Queen.

“Don’t cry, Belinda,” the queen said.

“Your highness, I have failed at being a fairy. I have been unable to follow the rules and laws that govern your magnificent culture,” Belinda said.

“Belinda, my dear child, how could you ever expect to follow such rules? They are rules for a fairy. You are an elf. You have not failed, you have merely learned.”

“Then it’s not too late to be turned back into an elf?” Belinda asked.

“Belinda, you have always been an elf in your heart,” The Fairy Queen said. “But,” the queen said, “before I return you to your elf body, you must follow three laws. Number one: you will recall no knowledge of fairy magic, nor the entrance to Dreaming Mountain, and you must never attempt to rediscover them. Number two: You must remember that each creature is different and unique, and you must always respect and honor that fact. And number three: You must respect and honor yourself, and remember to look for your beauty in your heart. Do you understand the meanings of these laws, and the importance of them?”

“Yes,” Belinda said. And she truly did understand!

“Very well, then,” The Fairy Queen said, raising her arms.

Tiny fireballs engulfed Belinda in a ball of light, and when the light vanished, Belinda was in her old, familiar body.

The Fairy Queen smiled, and with a sweep of her arm, she turned to bright light, shattering into millions of starbursts that faded into the daylight.

“Welcome home, Belinda,” said Aristotle.

Belinda turned to face the owl and the elk, which were now clearly her friends Aristotle and Goliath.

She scooped the owl into her arms, “I’m glad to be back,” she said.

“I missed you, Belinda,” Goliath said in his low voice, his eyes looking down at the ground in his shy manner.

Belinda latched onto his thick neck. “I missed you, too, my friend. But most of all, I missed myself.”

“I’m glad you finally came to your senses,” said Aristotle. “Now, come along, there are many friends that wish to welcome you home.”

And as the three friends walked deeper into the Great Forest, the trees were happy to have their elfin friend returned, and the leaves above clapped in applause.

The End

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 9

SquirrelContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 8

Belinda continued to fly about the forest, lost in the labyrinth of trees. She came across a squirrel foraging for nuts on the ground.

“Excuse me, Mr. Squirrel,” she said, once again, unable to recognize the squirrel to refer to him by name. “Could you please point me in the direction in which the Great River lies?”

The squirrel looked at Belinda, his whiskers twitching, Belinda’s glow reflecting in his dark, curious eyes. Belinda hesitated, hopeful for a response. But none came.

“Oh, it’s useless, no one can help me.”

The squirrel returned to his foraging. Belinda watched him dart about, picking up acorns, studying them, and discarding them.

“Who could help me?” Belinda said. “This squirrel could, if only he could understand the fairies’ language.”

Belinda once again remembered her magic dust. She took a handful of the lightning sand and approached the squirrel, who was sniffing at a pinecone. She tossed the dust, drenching the small creature in a cloud of light. The squirrel’s eyes brightened and his fur glowed.

“Squirrel,” Belinda said, “Lead me to the Great River.”

The squirrel nodded and scampered into the forest. Belinda followed, flying rapidly, dodging and weaving through branches and underbrush. She thought she lost her furry guide when he burst into a tangle of roots and brush, but he came out the other side, still running for the river.

After a time, Belinda heard rushing water in the distance. She flew ahead of the squirrel and landed on a small stone to rest. The squirrel bounded up to her.

“That will be all, Mr. Squirrel. I can find my way from here. Thank you very much. I release you from my magic.”

The luster drained from the squirrel’s fur and eyes. He looked, at first, somewhat confused by his new location, but then he didn’t seem to mind the change in scenery as he began nudging a berry with his nose.

Belinda placed her bag of dust at her feet and stretched her arms. She sat on the stone. Her tiny wings had done a lot of work, and she needed to rest. Her first day as a fairy was truly a strange experience. The world had lost its familiarity. It was an ever-changing mystery, and she was confused about her place in it. But it didn’t matter. She couldn’t wait to see her friends. They would stare in shock, speechless from her beauty. They wouldn’t be able to take their eyes off of her. Now that she was a fairy, they would love her more than anything.

As Belinda sat, her squirrel guide scurried up behind her, sniffing at the ground. He stopped at Belinda’s open bag. His whiskers twitched and his nose wiggled as he sniffed the bag’s contents. He stuck his head into the bag and tasted the dust inside it.

“Wow!” the squirrel yelled, jumping up on his hind legs, his fur turning gold.

Belinda turned with a gasp.

The squirrel held her bag of magic and danced about the forest’s floor.

“Yeeha!” the squirrel hollered, reaching into the bag and scattering the dust like confetti.

“Hey!” Belinda shouted. “That’s not yours! Give it back!”

But the squirrel didn’t hear, or listen. He ran away, still distributing the magic dust all about him. A handful landed on a wildflower, and the flower sprouted to be twenty feet tall. Another handful engulfed a passing chipmunk, and the chipmunk cartwheeled in circles. Another handful touched a bird, and the bird flew off faster than a shooting star.

The squirrel disappeared into the underbrush. Belinda frantically followed. She knew she was going in the right direction, for the squirrel left a trail of magical blunders.

Belinda passed a rabbit that was singing a moving melody in a deep, baritone voice, his hands clasped passionately over his heart, his eyes looking skyward.

The fairy continued to fight through vines and branches, breaking into a clearing that bordered the river. Belinda recognized the waterfall she loved to sit beside as an elf.

She searched for the squirrel.

On the riverbank, a frog hopped in a series of back flips. In the river, a fish levitated above the water’s surface.

“Oh, dear,” Belinda gasped.

She found the squirrel tossing the dust onto the river’s rushing water, forming small patches of ice. “Yeeha!” the squirrel hollered.

Belinda grabbed hold of the bag. The squirrel held tight to the strap. Belinda tugged. The squirrel tugged. Belinda’s wings fluttered. The squirrel leaned back in defiant determination. Until, Snap! the bag’s strap snapped, spilling the remainder of magic dust and catapulting Belinda into the waterfall. She disappeared into the mist.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 10

 

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 8

Fairy Tale TreeContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 7

Belinda darted through the trees of her old, woodland home. As an elf, she knew every inch of the Great Forest, but now, as a fairy in the same woods, Belinda was lost. Each tree looked different, but each tree looked the same, and every time she came to a place she’d just been, she found a new gathering of identical trees.

Belinda hovered beside a tree. As an elf, she talked with and confided secrets to these trees. They guided her in numerous ways in the past, and perhaps they could help her now.

“Mr. Tree,” Belinda said—using such an informal address, for she could not recognize the tree to call it by name—“I am lost, and you have guided me in the past. Please point me in the direction of the river, for that will lead me to my friends.”

The tree didn’t respond.

“Oh, please answer me. I wish to find my way. Please help.”

But the tree remained silent.

She was about to fly off, when she remembered her magic. She was a fairy, after all, with an entire bag of magic dust. Belinda reached into her bag and pulled out a million tiny stars, and with a flick of her wrist, she doused the tree with them. “I wish for this tree to answer me,” she said.

The tree began to glow. Then a small section of its bark twisted into two round eyes with knots as eyeballs. Between these eyes, sprung a small branch nose, and below the nose, a crevice appeared for a mouth. The knot eyes looked about, and then at Belinda. The crevice mouth drew into a smile.

“Hello, Mr. Tree,” Belinda said.

“Why, hello, Belinda,” the tree said with a hearty voice and laugh. “My, it’s good to see you. You look wonderful!”

“Why, thank you,” Belinda said.

“What can I do for you, Belinda?” the tree asked in its powerful, friendly voice. It was a voice Belinda never heard from a tree before. Trees usually spoke in soft whispers of wisdom. They were never concerned with greetings or flattery.

“Mr. Tree,” Belinda said, “which way is it to the Great River?”

“Why, it’s over there,” the tree said, rolling its eyes in an indistinguishable direction.

“Where?”

“That way,” the tree said, rolling its eyes again.

Belinda looked in the direction she guessed it meant, and saw only a deeper forest.

“Well, glad I could help…” the tree said.

“No, wait,” Belinda cried.

“…I’ve got to go now…”

“Please,” Belinda said.

“…Hope to see you again soon,” the tree said. “Goodbye, now.”

And with that, the tree’s face reverted back to a pattern of bark.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 9 

 

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 7

Belinda FairyContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 6

Belinda’s luminance revealed a constricted cavern.

“Hello?” Belinda called, her voice muffled in the small hall.

Belinda then heard the same low note, like someone drawing a bow across a bass string. Daylight streamed in through a growing opening as the tone traveled out. Then the opening slammed shut, snuffing Belinda’s view of the outside.

Be careful of frogs, her friend had warned, they are an unthinking creature and often mistake fairies for dragonflies.

Belinda was caught in a frog’s mouth! The sound she heard—like a bow across a bass string—to a dreamer’s ear, was actually a frog’s croak.

“Okay, Mr. Frog,” Belinda laughed. “You’ve caught the wrong winged prey. I’m no dragonfly! I’m Belinda, a fairy! Hello? Mr. Frog?”

The frog’s croak escaped through his opened mouth, but the mouth promptly collapsed shut once more.

“Oh, dear,” Belinda said, thinking with her chin rested on her hands. The frog obviously couldn’t hear her, and now she was trapped. But an idea sprung to mind. Finding one’s self trapped only happened to boring beings, like elves. She dug in her bag of fairy dust and tossed a handful into the frog’s mouth.

The mouth opened and shut with a sound like, “Ah…” and then again, “Ah…” and again, “Ah…” And then Belinda shot from captivity with a very loud, “Choo!”

She skipped and bounced across the ground into a flailing, flopping landing. She stood, brushing dirt and grime from her, and gave the frog a stern look with her hands on her hips.

“Now just what did you think you were doing? Can’t you see that I’m no dragonfly?” Belinda scolded.

The frog answered with no more than a croak. He made no statement or apology, just an inarticulate sound with a blank expression on his face.

“Silly creature,” Belinda huffed, turning and flying away.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 8

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 6

Belinda at the StreamContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 5

The next morning, Belinda decided to visit her old friends in the Great Forest and show them just how beautiful she had become. Before she set out through the secret entrance, one of her new, fairy friends stopped her. “Belinda,” her friend said, “be careful of frogs. They are unthinking creatures and sometimes mistake fairies for dragonflies.”

“I’ll be careful,” Belinda assured her new friend, and then took off into the day.

The world was a dazzling array of colors and movement. In the sky, the sun was a bright ball, looking so tangible, Belinda felt she could reach out and grab it. Clouds changed shapes: one looked like a giant, sailing ship, and then it turned into a mighty dragon. The tall, green grass was a sea of shining emerald, and when the wind ripped through the blades, it created waves like the sea’s tide.

Belinda skimmed the tips of grass blades and enjoyed the birds’ melodies. Their songs seemed to travel through the air in draped ribbons of sound. She looped and turned into barrel rolls and dives. It was truly a wonderful morning, and Belinda flew high to watch the young daylight on her new, fairy world.

As she looked upon the dancing tree limbs, animated clouds, and the ocean of green grass, she felt no life, heard no animals’ voices or trees’ thoughts. The world was a magical, moving painting—no life, only fantasy.

She came upon the running stream that she had crossed as an elf before meeting with Aristotle for the last time. The rushing water looked like solid crystal and sounded as if it ran in one of her ears and out the other. Belinda landed on one of the rocks she had used, as an elf, to get from one side to the other. She laughed at the stream’s music and then heard a low note, like a bow being drawn across a bass string. Belinda thought little of it, and as she flew off, something grabbed hold of her, whisking her into darkness.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 7

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 5

Mountain FlowersContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 4

Belinda’s first night as a fairy was the most exciting of her life. She and her new fairy friends left the mountain and flew into the night. Belinda found flying to be quite easy. It was just a natural reflex in her wings, and she mastered it quickly. She climbed and dove through the air, leaving a glittering trail behind her.

She looked into the clear sky, wanting to see the stars that she now burned as bright as, but the radiance from her body made the stars look like faded pinholes. But she didn’t care, she had gotten her wish, she was a fairy, and now the world would be seen through a dreamer’s eyes and filled with wishes and magic.

Belinda darted past a bed of flowers that were closed up for the night. When her light washed over them, they opened. They didn’t look like any flowers she’d seen before. They shifted in size and shape, never holding the same color for long.

“Beautiful flowers, aren’t they?” a fairy asked Belinda.

“They’re different than anything I’ve seen before,” Belinda said. “What kind of magical flowers are they?”

“They’re roses,” the other fairy said.

“I’ve never seen roses like this,” Belinda said.

“You’ve never been a fairy before,” the other fairy said. “You’re seeing them through a dreamer’s eyes. From now on, you will hear with a dreamer’s ear, touch with a dreamer’s hand. Remember, Belinda, now you are a fairy.”

“Those are common roses?”

“Of course they are,” the fairy laughed, darting away in a wake of gold.

Belinda approached the gnarled trees she had seen earlier. The trees’ branches swayed and danced in her light. She asked the trees what they knew about fairy life, but they would not answer Belinda. She could neither feel their knowledge nor sense their lives. Belinda then remembered that fairies could not communicate with trees as elves could.

Later, the fairies showed Belinda how to enter the secret entrance of Dreaming Mountain and they brought her to her new lantern-shaped home. Belinda flew into her tiny house, which was a single, empty room.

A fairy popped her head into Belinda’s room. “Do you like your new home?”

“It’s nice,” Belinda shrugged. “Can I decorate it?”

“Decorate it?” the fairy’s flute-like voice giggled. “You silly elf, fairies don’t need to decorate. Imagine decorations if you must.” The fairy flew off laughing.

Belinda plopped onto her home’s floor and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 6

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 4

The Fairy QueenContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 3

At first, Belinda was frightened. The rocks of the mountain were ominous, and as the fairies passed with their internal light, the rocks’ shapes shifted like restless ghosts. The fairies led Belinda through a secret passage, and suddenly, she was in a universe of light and wonder.

The entire mountain was hollow. The walls rose to a distant ceiling thousands of feet above her. Countless lantern shaped objects hung from unseen sources—tiny homes, which fairies darted in and out of, illuminating the walls when they remained inside.

The fairies brought Belinda into a large, empty chamber that, when her escorts left, became dimly lit.

Glowing balls whirled up from the floor like sparks from a campfire, weaving into a giant flash of light, so bright, Belinda’s shadow froze on the wall and remained there for some time. The blinding light faded, revealing a tall, beautiful woman with giant wings and eyes like two stars. She was a hundred times bigger than any fairy Belinda had ever seen, and Belinda knew instantly that it was The Fairy Queen.

“Welcome, child,” the vision greeted with a voice ringing like plucked harp strings.

Belinda dropped to one knee. “Greetings, your highness. I am Belinda, a tree elf from the Great Forest.”

“What brings you to Dreaming Mountain, Belinda?” the queen asked with amusement in her voice.

“I have come to ask that you please grant me a wish,” Belinda said.

The queen said, “If I granted wishes to all who came to ask, there would be a sea of creatures perpetually engulfing our mountain home.”

“But, you see, your highness, my wish is to join you. I wish to be a fairy. Please, I beg you to help me.”

“Now, child, what would a Tree Elf want in becoming a fairy?”

“I wish to fly like a leaf in the wind. I wish to create magic and live in dreams. I wish to see the reflection of my inner, radiant light. I wish to live the life of a fairy, and if you do not grant me this wish, then I will return tomorrow and ask again. And if not then, I will return the next day, and then the next, and the next, for my heart is the heart of a fairy, and I will not give up until that heart is in its rightful place.”

The Fairy Queen laughed and, remembering the stubbornness of Tree Elves, found it better to avoid a useless argument. She would grant Belinda’s wish.

“But,” the queen said, “there are laws which a fairy must abide by. Number one: a fairy’s magic must never be used for evil or greed. Two: a fairy must never reveal the secret passage to Dreaming Mountain. And third: a fairy must never allow her magic into the hands of others. Do you understand the meanings of these laws, and the importance of them?”

“Oh, yes,” Belinda said, her heart filled with joy, knowing her dream was about to be realized. “I am ready.”

“Not yet, child,” the queen laughed. “Those are the Grand Laws. But there are also rules to fairy life that will allow that life to run its full course. First: you must stay clear of water, for your wings cannot become wet. Second: do not linger in the sunlight too long, for it drains a fairy’s light. And third: reserve your magic, for sometimes it can be exhausted faster than you think. Now, do you understand the meanings of these rules, and the importance of them?”

“Oh, yes,” Belinda said.

“Very well then,” said the queen. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, I am!”

The queen raised her arms. Tiny balls of fire rose from the floor, engulfing Belinda, creating a cocoon of light that shrank into a small, bright sphere. The sphere of light disintegrated from the tiny body of a fairy named Belinda.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 5

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 3

Fairy TreesContinued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 2

As the sun sank into the western horizon, the shadow of Dreaming Mountain washed across the land like a black ocean. The sky was a furnace of colors. Bright red bled into the air, staining the bottoms of clouds with gold and scarlet. Long bands of sunrays shot into the deepening violet above Dreaming Mountain, which stood against the sunset as if someone had cut out the sky like fabric.

Belinda paused to rest. Sitting on a large stone, she watched the sun surrender the sky to the stars. Landmarks, such as trees and hills, blended into a landscape of darkness as the final rays of the sun winked out and night manipulated the land into a world of its own. The stars hung, low and dazzling, in the sky. Dreaming Mountain stood, darker than night, in the distance.

Belinda was tired, but she couldn’t wait to see The Fairy Queen, and so, she continued on her way. As she pushed on, she heard strange, nightly sounds—howls, buzzes, chirps. The night closed in about her, gripping her with fear. Her heart pounded, her breath quickened, her eyes found only darkness. The wind blew the tall grass she traveled through, and the blades whispered: Shouldn’t have come. Shouldn’t have come. Shouldn’t have come.

In this foreign land, Belinda worried about goblins and spirits, but the young elf pressed on, trying not to think about her fear. A loud noise, similar to a bark, erupted behind her, breaking her will and pushing her into a frightened run. The noise and dark chased her into a gathering of gnarled trees, their branches reaching like grasping hands. The howls and screams of the night spiraled around her, coming from every direction. Her legs felt weak, her head spun, tears filled her eyes, and she began to sob.

Out of the darkness, a soft light winked like a distant flash of lightning. Belinda drew in her breath and held it, her eyes scanning the darkness. She saw another flash. Then another. And another. And then a bright glow ate up the darkness, and there came the singing hum of tiny wings.

Fairies flew about the young elf, some hovering around Belinda, others darting through the dark, leaving streaks of light like paint made of sunshine. The fairies took Belinda’s hand and led her to Dreaming Mountain.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 4

Nocking the List: Part 6 — Avon Fraulein

Prada-300x225Continued from: Nocking the List: Part 5 — Infamy

They put a good dent in the whiskey, the two of them sitting on the couch side by side with all sorts of World War II memorabilia spread out before them. Carl had Clay Aiken playing on the CD turntable, one track ending and another beginning. Sophie said, “I can’t believe you listen to Clay Aiken.” She giggled this statement, not wanting him to think she was questioning his manhood—even though she was—but she wanted to keep it all playful.

“I can’t believe you don’t,” he said.

“Believe it.”

“Didn’t you see him on Idol?”

“Um, no.”

“It was incredible. And he seems like such a nice guy. Visiting cancer patients and…”

She decided that it might be harder to seduce this guy than she originally thought. She shifted the subject in a random direction to catch him off guard, taking back control of the conversation, asking him in a playfully sarcastic tone, “So why do you have a bubblegum card of Hitler?”

“Huh?”

Sophie picked up what was, in essence, a bubblegum card of Hitler. Beneath the Hitler card was another card with what looked like a Japanese man’s face on a balloon floating over Pearl Harbor. Beneath that card was what looked like an Asian Charlie Chaplain. She read what was written on the back of the Hitler card, “‘Führer Brain Cells?’” she giggled. “What are these things?”

Carl looked stunned. He gently took the card from her. “A bubblegum card of Hitler?” he said incredulously. “These are Infamy Cards. They are very rare and worth quite a lot of money. The story behind them is very interesting. Infamy Cards were created during the Second World War, written by a man named Louis Ting and drawn by a man named Samuel Carey. I guess describing them as ‘men’ isn’t even really right here. They were just a couple of kids, really. Carey was seventeen, Ting only fifteen at the time of the war. Both of them getting into the army on false pretences. They both showed aptitude for creativity and artistic ability, so they were assigned to create propaganda for the military. It was these Infamy Cards that they created. Anyway, when the Allies were storming Normandy, one regiment was short two soldiers, so they grabbed hold of Ting and Carey, and sent them up the beach. They survived the horror that was D-Day, and they were dragged along with their foster regiment all the way to The Battle of the Bulge. This time, Carey did not survive, and Ting, who watched his friend die in a graphic manner, became so disheartened that he went AWOL and began making rogue Infamy cards, attacking everything from American politicians to popular culture. He disappeared and is still wanted by the military and the F.B.I. He continues to create Infamy cards to this day, working with different artists from around the world. No one knows where he is. He is also known to distribute short stories and essays in bottles thrown into the ocean. Some people have tried to trace the bottles’ journeys to their source. But no one has ever found him. My great uncle actually fought with him in The Battle of the Bulge.”

“Wow,” Sophie said. “Once again, that was a lot of information, Carl.”

Carl flushed and said, “Sorry.”

“No, it’s interesting,” she said. There was a brief awkward pause and Sophie said, “So where did you get all of this memorabilia?”

“Most of it is from my family,” he said, his demeanor perking considerably. “A lot of the stuff’s just been passed down and all.”

“Nice that they gave it to you.”

“Yeah. They all knew I collect the stuff,” he said, “Most of them are gone now.” He paused a moment, regarding his collection, then he said, “So, how about you? You have a large family?”

“I come from a long line of only-children,” Sophie said. “I’m an only-child. My mom, dad, grandparents, all only-children. I guess it’s what gives me my independent spirit.”

“You certainly seem independent.”

The conversation was hovering dangerously close to personal territory, which meant that it was heading to a comfortable silence, and subsequently, a potential make-out session. Sophie was hoping she could get Carl so hammered he’d pass out and she could merely walk out the front door without any physical entanglement at all, but the guy was holding his liquor surprisingly well for a supposed light-weight. Maybe she could get him rambling again about Idol or World War II, and he could literally talk himself into a stupor.

“Okay, time for a drinking game,” Sophie said.

“Drinking game?”

Sophie noted that he had this way of asking a question that was not unlike the village idiot. But this guy was far from dumb. It was more the way he processed things that were going on around him. A slow building of understanding in his mind. As if he needed to take apart and analyze every word said to him.

“I’m going to make up a game right now,” Sophie said. She looked at the memorabilia spread out on the coffee table. “Let’s see here…” She was searching for an object that would have the longest anecdotal potential. She picked up a bayonet, the thing about fourteen inches long—a perpetual polishing of the thing had apparently accentuated the battle scars upon it. Something about it brought up the hairs on her neck. She returned it to the table. The bayonet’s story would surely be a buzz-kill. Just holding the thing felt like holding dread. She searched the table again. There were medals and documents, the stupid bubblegum cards, and then, bingo. There was a doorknocker in the shape of an eagle and swastika.

She said to Carl, “Okay, now, you need to tell the story behind this object without using the word and. If you do say and, then you finish your drink. Got it? Ready? Go.”

Carl said, “I can’t say and?”

“Shit, Carl, you already lost.”

He sat there for a moment as his intoxicated, over-processing brain worked out her joke. Then it dawned on him, and he smiled a sloppy grin, saying, “Whoops. Sorry.”

“Okay, try again,” Sophie said. “And no ands, got it?”

“Got it,” he said, picking up the doorknocker and saying, “All righty-then. This lovely item my great uncle Herbert White got off of an SS captain’s house…” Carl paused a moment, obviously about to say and. He sat a moment gathering his thoughts again.

Sophie smiled. It was her first legitimate smile of the night.

Carl continued his story, saying, “They knocked on the door with this knocker. Generally, they’d have just busted down the door and raided the house, but something about a swastika doorknocker cracked them up, and they couldn’t resist cordially using it. After knocking, my uncle calls up in this high-pitched voice, calling, ‘Hallo, Avon Fräulein.’” Carl began laughing uncontrollably, but he stopped when he noticed that Sophie was not laughing.

She knew it would have been a good time to laugh with the guy, a good bonding moment, gaining his trust and all. But if they both started laughing uncontrollably, there would have been nowhere to go but to kiss. So she arched an eyebrow to get him back on track.

Carl continued, saying, “My uncle used to laugh his ass off telling that story, but you probably had to be there. He had one of those infectious laughs.”

Sophie smiled another genuine smile.

Carl said, “I once had a skinhead offer me a grand for the knocker. I would never sell it because it had such sentimental value to my uncle, and…”

“Wait,” Sophie said, “You said and. You owe a drink.”

“Really? I said and?”

“Two drinks,” Sophie said.

“Oh, man,” Carl said, “I don’t even know if I can.”

“Rule’s a rule, Carl. No reneging. It’s drinking-game etiquette. You don’t really have a say in the matter.”

“All right. All right. Give it here,” he said. Sophie was both sincerely impressed and sincerely disappointed when he downed the drink like a champ. But after a moment, she could see his body wasn’t feeling very champ-like. “I think I need that one to hit my head,” he said, and he stood, wobbly.

Sophie wasn’t quite sure what he was trying to say, but she figured he was trying to say two different things at once. Trying to say that he needed the bathroom and that the alcohol had gone straight to his head.

“Jesus, you are drunk,” Sophie laughed as he stumbled off in the direction of the bathroom.

When Sophie heard the bathroom door click shut, she grabbed her bag and stuffed the war memorabilia into it. Her precision was as flawlessly automated as an assembly line, and she cleared the table in seconds. She did leave the bayonet, however—not wanting to touch the thing. Then she turned and headed for a swift exit, grabbing his car keys hanging on the wall beside the front door.

But she stopped.

She paused and then returned to the coffee table. She had no idea why she was doing this, but she dug through her bag to find the swastika doorknocker. She returned the thing to the coffee table, placing it neatly beside the bayonet, before heading back for the door.

But she stopped again.

She noticed something she hadn’t paid attention to when first inventorying the room. She couldn’t believe she’d missed it. It was what she had earlier assumed to be a framed diploma in the bookcase. She had paid it no mind, but now she realized it was a framed certificate, reading: “For ten years of duty with the Mystic Island Police Department.”

“Uh-oh.”

He was a cop. How did she not pick up on this? Well, she guessed in retrospect, it was easy not to have picked up on it. He was not the cop-type. He was way too boring and timid to be a cop. She found that the cops she’d met were generally too stupid to be boring and too arrogant to be timid. But still, there you have it, he was a cop.

His voice came from behind her. At first, she wasn’t quite sure what he said—she only heard her heart beating—but then she realized he said, “What are you doing?”

She didn’t move, her heart still beating in her ears.

She’d only been caught in the act once before. It was in Chicago, and she was able to get down three flights of stairs and out of the building, disappearing into the crowded streets before the fat-fuck she’d robbed was even able to make it out of the apartment. But now she had no idea where she was. If she had to run, she had no idea which direction to even go. Could she make it out to his car before he grabbed her? If not, she couldn’t go running off down the street with this guy chasing her, it would attract far too much attention. And she certainly didn’t want to end up lost in those woods out back. Haunted or not. And what’s more, she had already made a cardinal mistake without even realizing it. Her first mistake was taking the time to return the doorknocker, the second, freezing when she saw the certificate, but her third mistake was the game changer. Her third mistake was not remembering if Carl had locked the door when they first arrived. She always noted those things. She figured she must have been slipping. Or she’d become over-confident.

She turned to find Carl walking into the living room.

Now she had to try and talk her way out of this, but if he was a cop, that probably wouldn’t work. She knew there was no way a cop could let this go. How did she not see this coming? In her defense, generally cops would tell her they were a cop at least twenty times a night. In fact, it seemed they couldn’t not tell her, which is why she always had the chance to bail before ending up at one’s house. But there was nothing cop about this guy, which is why the certificate froze her. And now, she knew that she might have to sleep with him. She’d never had to sleep with a mark. Never so much as a blow job. But sex was generally the only language cops understood when it came to a girl talking her way out of trouble.

She said in a light, airy, don’t-mind-me tone, “Um, well, Carl, I’m not feeling so great. I think I’ll just get going.”

He looked at the coffee table, empty now, save for the bayonet and the doorknocker. She’d even swiped the chess set. And his brain began to do that slow crawl to comprehension, as confusion slipped into his eyes and voice. “You mean, you’re robbing me?”

“It was nice meeting you, Carl, but I’ve got to get going now,” she said, stepping to the front door. But, of course, it was locked. She reached up and fumbled with a deadbolt.

Carl was now right behind her.

She said, “It’s been real, Carl.” She heard the beautiful music of the deadbolt clicking , and she opened the door.

Carl slammed it shut again.

He said, in that village idiot way of his, “You’re really robbing me?”

Sophie turned to face him. She smiled, trying to lay on the charm. But he looked different. His eyes were intense, nostrils flared, teeth bared. She never would have guessed him capable of it, but he actually looked intimidating. However, Sophie found that it was not the anger that was unsettling. It was the confusion in his eyes.

Sophie said, “Look, Carl, why don’t you just take your stuff back, and I’ll be going. No harm, no foul, right?”

He still seemed to be working it all out in his mind, the anger and the confusion seeping across his face like a stain, and he said, “But… I thought we… you’re really robbing me?”

For the briefest of moments, Sophie thought how, at any other time, this bewildered look on Carl’s face would be funny. It would be funny if she wasn’t completely screwed at the moment. “Carl, I need to get going now. Here’s your stuff.” She walked back to his coffee table and began returning the stolen items to it. She knew this was a mistake as soon as she did it. Now Carl was between her and the door. She continued pulling items from her bag, but her fingers kept falling onto individual chess pieces, and she found herself returning his stolen items one pawn at a time.

“You bitch,” Carl said. He said it almost conversationally, but there was a growl to that tone that Sophie did not like at all.

She looked at the bayonet, still on the coffee table. Was she really ready and willing to use it?

Sophie said, “Look, Carl, calm down. I can explain.” Her tone was steady, subdued. She realized she’d crossed a line she’d never crossed before. The line of being in real danger. A situation she was not necessarily going to be able to talk her way out of.

“Me calm down? You can explain?” His voice was screechy and out of control.

Sophie reached for the bayonet, but Carl grabbed her, hard, before she could get to it. She dropped her bag at his feet. He flung her back toward the kitchen. She had nowhere to go now—the front door may as well have been in Istanbul. She figured there could be a back door, but she had no idea where it would lead. The woods? Not to mention, if she ran at this point, he’d be on her, most likely with the bayonet. Like they say, never run from a predatory animal—and the anger in his eyes made him look like exactly that right now. She just needed to stay calm. She could still talk, or fuck, her way out of this. “Let’s talk about this, Carl. This could still have a happy ending.”

“A happy ending?” he said in his confused way. Again, he didn’t seem to get the sexual overtones of her words.

He picked up her bag and checked the heft of it in his hand. “How much did you take?”

Her sarcastic nature of course wanted to say, Obviously I took all of it, asshole, at least I left the doorknocker. But, instead, she mustered her sweetest smile, and said, “C’mon, Carl, let’s not ruin the night.”

“Ruin the night?” he screamed.

And there you have it, folks, Sophie was now witnessing a man that had come completely unhinged.

He swung Sophie’s bag, with a good fifteen pounds of war memorabilia in it, and it caught her right in the chops. She lost her balance and hit her head on the coffee table.

Continued in: Nocking the List: Part 7 — Oh Shit 

Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 2

AristotleContionued from: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 1

Belinda continued her journey, the news of her quest still rippling along the leaves high above her: Belinda, don’t go.

As she traveled, the woods thinned. The sun approached the far horizon, causing shadows to reach for full length. Songs of crickets and tree frogs replaced the songs of birds. Belinda crossed a small stream on raised, rounded rocks. She heard the residing bullfrogs call in their low voices: Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go. Even the tree frogs, with their whistling chirps, hailed: Stay. Stay. Stay.

The Great Forest was all but behind her, only a few trees remaining on the woodland’s edge. In the distance, Dreaming Mountain looked over the surrounding landscape like a king upon a kingdom. With the sight of her destination, Belinda’s determination strengthened and her pace quickened.

“Belinda, stop!” a voice commanded.

Belinda stopped with a gasp.

The tall grass before her parted, and out stepped Aristotle the owl. He held his wing before him in a halting manner. His wide, circular eyes, looking somehow wider, held a combination of disapproval and bewilderment. “When I was told by the trees that an elf, who (he pronounced this word with the sound all owls are known to make) I thought had such elfin spirit and good sense, was going to run away to become a fairy, I didn’t believe it. I actually doubted those very trees, even though I know they never lie. And now that I see you approaching Dreaming Mountain, I doubt my own eyes.”

Belinda looked at her feet, feeling ashamed. Aristotle was a very wise and respected figure, one who taught elves the secrets of the forest, and now he traveled to demand that she go no further.

“What were you thinking?” he said.

“I want to be a fairy!” Belinda cried.

“Why?”

“Because I want to be beautiful and magical, not ugly and boring.”

Aristotle’s intense eyes softened. “Belinda, no creature is more beautiful than another, each one holds an unexplainable secret to its own beauty, equal to the next. Fairies are no more beautiful than elves, only different.”

“I don’t believe that. When I see a fairy, I see someone much more beautiful than my own reflection.”

“That’s not because you are looking at the wrong reflection, it is because you are looking at the reflection wrong,” Aristotle said.

“I don’t care what anyone says. I know you are wise, Aristotle, and I have great respect for you, but no one can change my mind.”

“You should be happy with who you are,” Aristotle said, once again hooting on the word who.

“I’ll be happy as a fairy.”

Aristotle was familiar with the inherent stubbornness of elves. He knew elves had to learn from experience, they could not be told. The old owl stepped aside, knowing Belinda was on a course that would not change. He lowered his head and said, “Farewell, my elfin friend.”

“I’ll come back to see you as a fairy,” she assured her old teacher. “I promise.”

“Farewell, my elfin friend,” the old owl repeated.

Continued in: Quest For Dreaming Mountain: A Fairy’s Tale — Chapter 3