, National Novel Writers' Month
Posted: 16-Oct-2004, 04:24 PM
heretic. lurker in the shadows
ok..its rough, mind you
?Ah. There you are. I?ve been expecting you my friend. It?s almost time.?
? What? Who are you? Show yourself. What do you keep bothering me? Show yourself or leave me alone.?
? I will not leave you be little one but we will meet. We will meet very soon. Just?be patient.?
With the same words that have ended every dream for the past two months, the alarm clock radio clicks on and starts to blare the sickeningly cheery morning radio show. He lied there for a few minutes longer wondering if there would be any use in getting out of bed and going to work. Probably not. Nothing he does, or has ever done, made any difference in the grand scheme of things. He was nothing more than a social security number and a cash cow for every one of his creditors. His life was like the ceiling he was staring at: old, crusty, slightly flaky, and slowly falling in on itself.
? It won?t be much longer now?, he thought, ? until it all comes crumbling down?. He snickered softly to himself at how totally ludicrous his entire life had become. Why shouldn?t he give up hope and just end his life and be free of this disgustingly mundane and useless life?
?Daddy! You awake daddy? Come on, daddy, it?s time to get up. One, two, three wake up, daddy! Will you get up if I give you a kiss?? It was his four year old son David running into the room. He thought to himself as David ran to the bed: ?That?s why.?
He rolled on his side as his little boy bounced onto the bed and gave him a big hug and kiss. As he looked at his son he realized that he was the reason. This was the reason that he got out of bed every morning and trudged through the day. This boy with his beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair was the reason. David?s smiles and hugs; his kisses and his unconditional love were the reasons. David was the reason why he didn?t unload a bullet in the vacuum of his head. His sweet little boy was the reason why he kept hanging on.
? You haven?t got your lazy ass out of bed yet? What the hell?s wrong with you? You?re going to be late again and then you?ll be fired! Then what?ll we do? I swear you?re the most useless waste of human flesh I have ever known! I don?t even know why I bothered letting you marry me. I?d have been better off staying single. Well, what are you waiting for? Winter? I said get up!? That voice. That voice was like rusted metal scraping across an old chalkboard to his nerves. She was the reason that he wanted to kill himself.
He had been married to his wife, Ronni, for ten years and each year was worse than the year before. They had started their life together with bright plans and wonderful hopes but something had happened after David was born. She slowly became mean and hateful. The words like honey and sweetheart were replaced by words like bastard and retard. Her petite figure had been replaced by a two hundred pound mass of evil. He had half seriously joked to himself that his wife had been captured and replaced by a mother troll. He knew this wasn?t true. Trolls only existed the books he read. He couldn?t get that lucky.
?Are you up yet, Michael??
?Yes, Ronni. I was just playing with David a little.?
? Put the snot ball down and get ready for work before I kick your skinny little ass!?
? Yes, honey.? He said half sarcastically. He still loved her for giving birth to his son but that was as far as it went.
He had thought about divorcing her a million times but he knew she would try her best to keep him from his son. His son was the only reason he didn?t leave. He knew that and she did too so she exploited it as much as she could.
He set David down and put his feet on the cold, linoleum of the bedroom. He often thought that walking barefoot across a frozen lake in Alaska would be warmer than putting one toe on the floor in the morning.
After stumbling over dirty clothes and toys he made his way to the bathroom to turn the light on and commence the morning rituals. He turned the hot water on and stuck his toothbrush under the running water to wet the bristles before the water heater kicked in and stuck the brush in his mouth. As the water warmed he rinsed a washcloth and moistened his face and head and searched for his razor.
He found it in the medicine cabinet where his wife always put it after she shaved her legs. He shuddered as he rinsed it out and began the daily task of shaving around his goat-tee and shaving his head.
He had been shaving since he was fifteen so now, at thirty, it was more second nature than something he had to work at. Still, it was a quiet and simple pleasure and he had very few of those these days. He finished with shaving and poured a hand full of alcohol into his palms and slathered it across his face and the top of his head. The stinging seemed to wake him up and remind him that his toothbrush was still in his mouth. ?Ah jeez,? he thought ? I hate brushing my teeth?.
He didn?t hate the actual act of brushing; rather, he hated what accompanied it every morning: looking at his reflection. When he was eighteen he was in great shape. At six foot five inches tall and two hundred and thirty pounds with six percent body fat he was a force to recon with and a person that no one bothered. Even though he never played sports or had a temperament for fighting he had always tried to stay in the best shape possible to help his parents. It didn?t hurt that the girls liked it as well. That was then, now was a different story.
At thirty most of his muscle mass was gone and had been replaced by an ever increasing waistline and gray hairs. The stress of his job had taken it?s toll so that he no longer stood proud and tall. He has developed a slouch and a way of walking that seemed to say: Welcome. Please, use me and walk all over me. He seemed to himself to be less of a man and more of a dog that people could kick around. He had dubbed himself the whipping boy and it seemed to fit very well.
Michael finished brushing his teeth and was rinsing his mouth out when he noticed a cut on his arm that hadn?t been there the previous morning. He was so accident prone that it wasn?t unusual for him to find cuts and bruises on a daily basis. He looked at it at put a bandage over it. He snickered when he realized it made the phoenix tattoo the cut was on look like a lame duck.
?How fitting? he thought ? these damn tattoos were as much a mistake as everything else in my life?.
He had collected them during the brief span after he graduated and before he got married. Some called them an eclectic collection but he just considered them to be a mess. An eagle and phoenix on his right arm; a cross on his left; a dragon on each calf and a bear claw on each shoulder blade. At the time they meant something to him but for the life of him he couldn?t remember what.
He went to the closet and proceeded to pull out some partially wrinkled slacks and a fairly nice button up shirt. He had the passing thought that he had enough time do quickly iron the pants but another torrent of obscenities from his wife gave him the little nudge he needed to just get dressed. What good would it do anyway? What was the point?
Michael looked at the clock. ?Crap! It?s almost eight! I really do need to go!?
Hopping on his left leg while tying his right shoe he angled for the front door and freedom. About the time he reached the door he remembered David so he found his precious child and gave him a huge, almost apologetic, hug and kiss.
?I love you, baby boy.? He whispered into his son?s ear.
? I love you too, daddy!? David didn?t whisper. He said it so loud that the neighbors probably heard him. He seemed to be doing to let his mother know where his heart lay.
? You be good for mommy and I?ll be home as soon as possible. Ok??
? Ok, daddy. I love you. Be careful. I won?t bother mommy.?
David said this with such sadness in his voice that Michael almost started crying. He wished he could take David and run away. He wished that he didn?t have to leave his son with that harpy. He wished there was something, anything, he could to make this situation better for himself and David.
He set his son down and headed out the door. Almost as an after thought he looked back and yelled: ? I?m leaving.?
? About damn time!? She yelled back. With that he left for work.
The drive to work was always the most relaxing part of the day. Likewise the drive home was always the worst. It was a thirty-minute drive from his house to the three-story complex that housed his office. It was nice enough scenery and gave him time to think. Today all he could think about was that dream.
That voice was so deep and mellow. Somewhere between James Earl Jones and Barry White. It seemed to be; both, malevolent and benevolent at the same time and to had been everywhere at once. The words and the general tone resonated from all directions including from within his body. It seemed that his spirit was saying the words as they were spoken. Had the dream been a one-time occurrence he wouldn?t have worried. It had been coming to him at least once a week for almost six months and it seemed to be getting more and more intense. That was an odd thing to think about a dream that had never been anything more than a disembodied voice talking from beyond the abyss of unconsciousness.
It was an odd thing, he thought, but his life was so mundane the he welcomed even the most enigmatic piece of nonsense. It would probably go away in time and he would go back to the ordinary dream of flying and walking into a class reunion nude and other such things. Whatever might happen he decided not to dwell on the dream or it?s probable meaning until after he left work. Speaking of which, his exit was coming up.
Collier and Company, Inc. was an electrical wholesale company that specialized in gouging the large, industrial corporations in the area and Michael was the office manager. Basically, his job was to make sure everyone worked; all the accounts receivable were paid in and all the accounts payable were paid out. Really, though; he was just there to catch the flack from the employees who had complaints and to take the crap from higher ups that just needed someone to verbally beat whenever they were in a bad mood or a scapegoat when something went wrong.
He punched in at exactly 8:30 and breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no firing of Michael Raymond today. They wouldn?t fire him anyway. No one else had been with the company as long as him. No one else was willing to put up with as much crap as he would. No one was in such a pitiful situation that they would stay with such a lousy company for eight years without complaint.
? Michael,? he said to himself? you are a sad excuse for a human being.?
Before he could make it to his office he day was already in full swing. Like a strange relay, people would pass by and hand him stacks of papers for him to, either review, or fill out. Shouts from the executive offices came bellowing down the hallway like a gale force wind.
?Raymond, where?s my report??
?Michael, I need to see you in my office ASAP!?
? Michael Raymond, you do still want your job, right??
? Remember, I can fire you for any reason and at any time?. so get to work!?
Ah, another day in paradise. How could he be so lucky to have such a wonderful life?
Ten hours of skipping lunch to finish reports; going blind from the blare of his monitor; and emotional abuse was about all he could take for the day so he clocked out to go home and be abused. But, he thought, David would be waiting for him so that would make it worthwhile.
As he reached his car there came ring from his cell phone.
?It?s six o?clock. Where the hell are you?? It was his beautiful and loving wife.
? I had a late day, honey. I?m leaving the parking lot as we speak.? Damn it why did he have to be so submissive?
? You better be and remember to pick up me dressed from the dry cleaners.? Why? She never went anywhere except the couch or the recliner. Did she want to look good when her soaps came on?
? I will, baby, and I?m going to duck into the bookstore next to the cleaners and pick up a new book. Ok?? Books were his only escape from this world.
? Fine, Just make it quick.? Jeez, her voice sounds like a cat screaming.
? I will, darling. I love,? click and dial tone,? you?. Freakin? **TOS VIOLATION**. If it wasn?t for David?
Ding.? Hey, Mike! Long time no see. Wife been keeping you at the house? I thought you?d been abducted by aliens as long as you?ve been gone.?
Al was the bookstore?s owner, operator, and sole employee. He was old enough to be God?s uncle but as bright and quick-witted as any teenager around. He was the closest thing to an actual friend that Michael had and that may have been because he was also the only customer that Al?s store seemed to have.
?No, Al,? Michael said; the stress of the day melting like ice on a warm day,? I?ve had a lot of things on my mind at work and at home.?
Al?s demeanor changed to one of seriousness. Something that Michael had only seen on rare occasions.? You need to leave that witch, Michael. She?s killing you. She?s sucking the life right outta you. Sneak your little boy out one night and leave her. Surely you have family out of state.?
?I do, Al,? He said with a sigh. ? But the boy needs his moth??
?That?s a crock and you know better than that. You?re a smart man, smarter than me, and you know that the boy needs a house filled with love and not a house where love won?t come within three city blocks.?
?**TOS VIOLATION** you, Al. You have no idea!? The anger subsides as quickly as it came. ?Yes you do. I?ve unloaded on you enough times that you know more than even my family knows. Sorry for snapping like that.? He really was sorry. He was sorry for yelling at his friend and cussing but mainly he was sorry for being spineless.? I guess I?m just in denial.?
?No hard feelings my friend. It needed to come out. Look, find a couple of books you want and just take them home. They?re one the house and I won?t hear otherwise.?
? Thanks, Al. I don?t know what to say. I?ll repay you one day.?
? No you won?t and I don?t want you to even think about it. Actually, if you want to repay me, leave your wife.?
? I know, I know. You?re doing it for your son. Look, I?ve got some new fantasy in the back corner. You might like some of the titles. What?s that guy?s name? Hartman. Yeah, he just came out with a new one. Take it go home and enjoy?
?Ok, Al, and thanks again.?
?No big deal, Mike.?
The fantasy section was tucked in the very back of the store in a corner that light seemed to be unable to reach. Several times over the years lights had been put up in that area but they always seemed to go out in a relatively short time so Al left it dark. Michael and Al both agreed that it seemed to be appropriate that the fantasy section would find it?s home in a dark and dismal corner. After all, that?s how most fantasy books started.
Upon reaching the back isle where the fantasy and horror sections were hidden away like two unwanted stepchildren Michael found something unusual. There was another customer in Al?s Book Haven. The person seemed to be in his or her mid-eighties. Was it a he or a she? He couldn?t tell. The general contour of the body was that of a woman suffering from a severe case of osteoporosis but the general facial features and evidence of facial hair leaned more towards a man.
The clothes this person was wearing didn?t help things much, either. The shoes were a nondescript and well-worn black pair that was so old they seemed to be more of a patchwork of leather than actual shoes. The stranger?s only noticeable garment was an oversized raincoat that hung so loosely that it totally erased any clue as to the sex of this person.
?May I help you?? The voice was low and mellow. It was a beautiful baritone voice that seemed to be out of place coming from the windpipes of this androgynous creature. It caught him so off guard that he realized that he had been staring at the person. The voice did reveal that the person was a male, though.
?I said: May I help you?? The fellow sounded a little perturbed. Michael understood. He would be too if someone was just staring at him.
? Um. No. I?m sorry I just wasn?t expecting to see any customers in the store. I?m normally the only person in Al?s store in the evening.? He wasn?t lying. In the six years he?d been coming here he?d never once seen another customer. He had come to the conclusion, some time ago, that Al be independently wealthy and kept the store open for fun.
?Oh. That?s perfectly understandable, my friend. I don?t often get out this late in the day and, like you, I don?t see many other customers in this establishment.? My friend, the way he said that seemed familiar somehow. He just couldn?t place where he had heard that before.
He seemed polite enough so Michael decided to be sociable and try to carry on a conversation.? So, how long have you been coming here??
?Me, my friend? I?ve been around quite some time. I?ve got quite a collection of books from Al. It?s almost as many as Al has here. I guess I could open a bookstore if I felt so inclined. Tell me: how long have you been coming here??
? About six years now, I guess. It?s a nice place to come and escape the pressures of the day. You know, when you immerse yourself in a good book it seems like the rest of the world just melts away.? Why was he opening like this to a perfect stranger? Why did he feel so relaxed with this person? It seemed comforting and disturbing at the same time.
? Yes, a good book is a form of escape. Pray tell what kind of books do you like?? Pray tell? How old was this guy?
? I try to have an eclectic taste but I tend to lead toward a well written fantasy. One where mystery, action, romance and adventure are so well woven into each other that it drives you forward relentlessly. One that is so well written that you refuse to put it down before you?re through. A book that is so good that you don?t read it you live it. I like a text that engulfs you and absorbs you. One where you can almost believe that the world you are reading about exists somewhere. A book like that is a rare and true treasure.?
? Those are true treasures indeed. And, like you said, very rare. I have a question, my friend: have you ever been on an adventure??
? I don?t understand what you mean?? He didn?t understand. Why would this ancient man whom he had just met blurt something out so odd?
The old man?s voice, unbelievably drops, an octave and begins to whisper as though he was afraid the books might overhear him.? Have you ever stared danger in the eyes and ran toward it full throttle? Have you ever felt you?re blood pump so hard in your veins that you swore it would explode forth from your body??
?No. Why?? This man was starting to make Michael nervous. What kind of lunatic to he run across? What had e started by talking to this guy?
? I didn?t think so. Would you like to??
? Would I like to what??
? An adventure, boy, would you like to go on one?? The elderly man?s voice seemed to have a level of anxiousness and anticipation that made Michael squirm in his shoes like he used to when he was a child being question by an overbearing adult.
? I suppose so, but?? The man cut Michael short.
? Excellent.? The man?s face shown a smile that distorted his wrinkled face even more than before.
Before Michael could finish his sentence, the man produced a cylinder from the pocket of his raincoat that seemed to have symbols painted on the surface.
He thrust it into Michael?s hand where it seemed to fit into his palm perfectly. The cylinder was about an inch thick and warm to the touch. Michael was confused and was about to ask what was going on when the man put his index finger on Michael?s mouth and said:? It is time, my friend. May you find what you are looking for, A?Killia. May we find what we need. Good luck.?
What was he saying? What was he talking about? What did he mean? Michael had no time to ask these questions because, as he opened his mouth, the cylinder started to hum and everything went black.
Michael seemed to lose control of all of his senses. Sight, hearing, speech, touch, and even taste were all gone. There was nothing but blackness. It engulfed him, choked him. It threatened to eradicate the very being that was Michael Raymond.
Then, slowly, his hearing returned. At first it was nothing more than blunt sounds assaulting his ears then they evolved into whispers and finally actual talk.
?Who is he??
? What is he??
?He?s as tall as an elf.?
?Elf?? Michael thought to himself.
? Yeah, but he?s got markings like a dwarf and the build of a warrior.?
?Dwarves? What?? He was thoroughly confused and a little scared but his body was still immobile and he was as mute as a piece of wood.
Gasp? Do you think he?s an escaped pit fighter? I heard that those devils are psychotic.?
?A pit fighter? Are these people nuts??
?No. A fighter would have been killed before he would have been knocked unconscious.?
?Then what is he? Freeborn??
?What the hell is a freeborn??
? Impossible! If he was a freeborn he?d only be about ten years old.?
?Maybe there have always been small bands of free humans??
?I need to say something but I still feel paralyzed. Wait my body?s loosening up.?
?Nonsense! Humans have been slaves to the Horde for more than two thousand years.?
?Horde? Two Thousand years? Are these people on drugs or what? I can feel my body again. I can move! I guess it?s time to wake up.? And with that he started to stir.
?Everyone, look! He?s moving!?
Michael?s body slowly started moving. The life seemed to be stirring back into his limbs and so did pain. His arms and legs felt as though they had fallen asleep. Millions of pins shot through his fingers and toes and worked their way through the rest of his body.
His joints felt like he had a severe case of arthritis. All of them seemed to creek as he moved to sit himself up right. How long had he been out? What had that old man given him to put this much pain into his body? His eyelids seemed to hurt more than anything but he knew he had to open them and that he did. Just as quickly, though; he shut them in disbelief and screamed.
Was he tripping on drugs? Did that old man slip him acid or something? He couldn?t have seen what he thought he had. Could he? That would be impossible. Maybe he had finally had a nervous breakdown and was forever trapped in a shattered mind? It had to be a nervous breakdown; that had to be it. His wife must have pushed him over the edge and now all of the fantasy worlds he had read about were real.
None of this could possibly be substantial and material. None of this could be real. This couldn?t be happening. He couldn?t be sitting on a stone slab with three, no four, people standing around wearing nothing more than loin clothes. This couldn?t be happening then, someone put a soft, comforting hand on his arm.
?Easy does it, son. Take it slowly. You?ve got quite the bump on the head and you?ve been unconscious for almost two weeks. We thought that your soul had left and couldn?t find its way back home. It?s good to see you moving.?
It was an older man?s voice. He could tell that the man was older without opening his eyes. His voice seemed to have the depth of wisdom that was comforting and reassuring. It had a soft, tenor tone to it and seemed to calm Michael for the moment.
Michael slowly opened his eyes and took in his surroundings in full. He was in, what appeared to be, a cave about the size of a city block. He had never seen the inside of one so he couldn?t know for sure but it seemed huge. There were the typical things that Michael had heard were in caves. Stalactites and stalagmites abounded as well as other, more unique, formations that were scattered throughout what he could see of this expanse of space. He was sitting on a natural formation that looked like an oversized mushroom and all around him he heard the steady, monotonous drip of water. This place could be real. It just couldn?t.
He started to take notice of the inhabitants of the cavern. From what he could see there were three people standing in a semi-circle around him and one, the old man, standing next to his mushroom bed. They were all rather haggard and thin. The light in the cave wasn?t too bright but he could tell that all of them suffered from malnutrition to some degree.
Out of the three standing around him the first one Michael took notice of was a woman that looked to be in her mid-forties and seemed have some deformity in her right arm. It seemed shorter than her left and just dangled beside her body. Her hair was matted and her face seemed to emphasize the hard life that this poor thing had been forced to endure.
To her left stood a man about five feet tall and in his early twenties. Except for a slight case of malnutrition he seemed to be normal. Then Michael took notice of the absence of the man?s left eye and the scar that seemed to run from just below his eye socket, up his forehead and, probably, all the way to the back of his neck but he couldn?t be for sure. The socket was completely empty the skin having grown over to seal the hole long ago. The young man noticed Michael staring at his scar and brought his hand over his eye to hide the empty socket. He glared at Michael with his one good eye and tried uttering what Michael thought might have been an obscenity. What came out, though, was something that sounded like a grabbled, muted, string of sounds that led him to believe that this boy was, either, mute or he had lost his tongue. As Michael was contemplating this, the young mute turned and walked off and past the third person in the group.
This man, Michael thought, had to have been intimidating in his younger years. He stood over six feet six inches tall and, even though he looked to be in his forties, he had more muscles than most professional athletes could even wish for. The man?s bare chest was huge and rippled with muscles but it also had a large amount of scar tissue. It looked like the poor man had been beaten for the better part of his life. But who would do such a thing and how could a man that size let it happen? Michael?s eyes met the giant?s and they stared at each other for a brief time then the man, for whatever reason, smiled at Michael. This made him almost jump across the room. The man?s teeth, or at least his canines on the top and bottom, were so long that they touched the opposite gum lines. How this person, or thing, kept those saber-tooth like teeth inside his head without puncturing his brain for his jaw was a mystery. The thing must have sensed Michael nervousness because it started chuckling softly. This did not seem good.
?Quit that, Shokah, this poor creature...err? man has, obviously, been through quiet a great ordeal and he doesn?t need you to scare him on top of whatever may have happened. I am very sorry for that, my friend. Now, where were we? Oh yes! It?s good to see you moving so now you can answer some questions for us, if you don?t mind to.?
The man that had been standing next to Michael this entire time had started talking in his beautiful, tenor voice again and it seemed to wash away the fear that the creature he called Shokah had caused. Michael got a good look at him, finally and was surprised. He was expecting a large, possibly rotund, fellow with some kind of attire on that separated him from the other, rather odd, inhabitants of the odd place. He was wrong.
The person standing beside him was in his late eighties, conservatively, and was so thin that it seemed that the slightest breeze would topple and shatter him into a thousand pieces. His face was hidden in a thick beard that started around his cheekbones and ended somewhere below his waist. His knuckles were swollen with arthritis and he needed a walking stick taller than he was to stand but his eyes. Michael couldn?t stop looking into this old man?s eyes. There was a goodness and a nobility there that Michael only imagined existed in only the purest sovereigns of the books he read. This couldn?t be real.
?Excuse me, but, if you?re finished staring at me I do have a few questions for you.?
Michael was slightly embarrassed by the statement and the general tone of the man?s voice. It was still very disarming, though, and his embarrassment quickly faded and confusion returned.
?You have questions? You have questions? I have questions! Where the hell am I? Who the hell are you? You are the rest of these people? How did you get me here from the bookstore without Al noticing? How far am I away from Notchwood? What in God?s name is going on here??
?He wakes up and won?t shut up. Maybe we should get Shokah to quiet him.? The old woman?s voice reminded him of his wife?s with the metal scraping across a chalkboard quality and the coldness in her voice.
?Quiet, Deala, I?m sure this person has as many questions as we have.? It was the old man again. He seemed to be the leader and, possibly, the only sane person in the room. At least Michael hoped that there was at least one sane person here.
After the woman?s grumblings about only joking faded the old man continued:? My name is Molgo and I am the leader of these people. I apologize for Shokah and for Deala but we are all apprehensive of strangers, even humans. You are human aren?t you? Anyway, I propose a logical way to approach this situation and it is this: you ask a question in a civil tone and we will answer. Then, we will ask you one and you will answer, in a civil manner. This way everyone?s questions will be heard and, hopefully, answered. I think that we may have some of the same questions, though. I will get this started by answering one of your questions.
You are in a secret cave just north of the Horde capital of the northern region. The Horde calls this capital Tal?Mah?Ooth or the city of bones. We are in a cave in the Dragon Neck Mountains that I found just as we were about to die for lack of food. The entrance is small enough that the four of us could fit through and the way the entrance rocks overlap it provides its own camouflage. We explored enough of the cave to find a water supply and a pond with fish as well as mushrooms that were healthy to eat. We had begun to make ourselves comfortable and were trying to recoup when Tolmuth, the boy that walked off, found an altar shaped rock with a body on its top. We thought that we had found a tomb but realized that the person on the slab was still alive. We cared for the body in the hopes that it would return to our realm and we waited. That person was you. How you got here we don?t know. We were hoping you could answer that for us.?
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