Poor ogre

The shadow loomed above him, menacing in its looming heaviness. Leo shivered, the darkness created by the monster stealing all the warmth from the late afternoon summer sun. The boy crouched next to the brick wall, hoping his quickly sought hiding place would protect him.

“Boy! You can’t hide from me,” the booming voice of the monster echoed along the alleyway behind Leo. Thudding feet stomped toward the boy. The shimmering concrete under Leo’s feet shuddered with each of the monster’s steps.

The teenager felt tears sliding down his face. He couldn’t stop the flow. His sobbing breaths were painful in his chest, his throat.

He looked up, gauging the closeness of the monster by how much its shadow had grown. The darkness had expanded so much, Leo couldn’t make out the shape of the monster in the blackness. A staggering blow against his concealing brick wall knocked Leo over, to lay spread-eagle in the middle of the alley’s mouth.

“I found you,” the monstrous voice crowed, “and now you will be mine!”

Leo heard a scrambling noise and he knew the monster would be over the wall before he could get to his feet. His blubbering became frantic. His eyes closed in terror. He begged for his life.

Thunder crashed under Leo. The monster had jumped from the height of the wall to land before the sobbing boy.

“Umm, never mind,” the creature said.

Leo opened one eye, peeking through his long lashes. He expected to see a single foot. Instead, in front of the boy stood a tiny, orange haired girl-looking thing. It was wearing a purple plaid skirt and snowy white ruffled shirt. A minuscule pair of daggers in twin sheaths was strapped across its chest.

“You’re… you’re TINY,” Leo exclaimed. “And you’re a girl!”

“Yeah, like I said, never mind. Please,” the girl muttered. “My da’s gonna kill me.”

Leo’s face scrunched up in confusion, “Why were you chasing me? More importantly, why’d you look so huge?”

The girl put a hand on her hip and cocked her head at the boy towering over her. “My da’s an ogre. I’m the ‘runt’ of the litter and the only girl. I was just trying to prove I’m as scary as my brothers.”

“That doesn’t explain why your shadow looked so big,” Leo said.

The miniature ogre shrugged, “It’s magic. Ogres don’t usually use it, but my only friend’s dad happens to be an ogre wizard, and he gave me the spell. It was supposed to scare you into submission.” She looked down and shuffled her feet, a sure sign of embarrassment, “You were supposed to be my prize for my da. Adult ogres love human stew.”

Leo reflexively jerked away from the girl at her statement. “Umm, I don’t think I can help with that. Sorry. Maybe I can help you figure something else out, though?”

“Nah,” the tiny girl grinned, her sharp pointed teeth showing. “I got it. In fact, you were easier than I thought.”

Leo’s confusion grew, until he felt the tiny teeth of several other ogres pierce his skin. The venom in their saliva numbed his legs and he fell over, helpless to move. The tiny orange-haired girl climbed up to sit on his chest.

She explained, as the other ogres feasted on the boy, “You humans always think of ogres as huge, hulking monstrosities. You’re all wrong.”

The girl smiled, showing her teeth again, before she sank her teeth into his tear-stained cheek.

 

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At the stake

“So what’s your plan now, Medavo,” the shivering woman asked the man staked next to her in the bonefield.

The tall, muscular man she addressed simply grunted at her, his attention focused almost entirely on loosening the constricting bands of hemp rope that bound him to the splintered wooden spar. His loose cotton clothing gave him sparse protection from the night-fallen chill. The black leather eye patch that covered his left eye prevented him from seeing his female companion.

The last of the trio, a ferret-faced man with long stringy hair, whimpered. Mangy dogs, their eyes full of hunger, snarled and snapped at the blubbering man’s feet. He gathered himself enough to yell at the dogs, “Go away! Get away from me! Please, please.”

“Grieg, leave off! They’ll ignore you no matter how much bellowing you do. They’re feral dogs,” the woman snapped at him. More calmly, she asked again, “Medavo, you have a plan, right?”

The half-blind man grunted again. His wrists, bound together behind him, flexed and twisted, loosening the ropes. He whistled, sharply, causing the questing dogs to quiet and slink away to lurk behind the huge bleached bones of massive, unknown animals.

“Leave me be, Maeve,” he told the woman. “Shut up, Grieg. You haven’t been bitten, yet. The mutts will come back, eventually, and they won’t be stopped by any commands of mine.”

The woman giggled, the sound disturbing in the macabre landscape the trio found themselves in. “Fine, I’ll leave you alone, but the sooner you flex your iron-stranded muscles, the better. I’m growing bored.”

Medavo flexed again. His thin-lipped mouth twisted in concentration. The other two watched, as always, in awe, as the man’s muscles hardened and grew. The ropes binding him to his post stretched taut and then, with a creaking objection, snapped loose.

The massive man’s landing caused thunder to roll across the boneyard, rattling bones and causing the lurking feral dogs to whimper and squeal in fright. Medavo rubbed his wrists, easing the pain of his captivity, and stalked to a pile of bleached debris. He selected a jagged piece of leg bone. Quickly, he stepped to Maeve’s side and with a flick of his aching wrist, the woman was free.

While Maeve slowed her fall, Medavo sauntered to Grieg’s side. He slipped a second piece of rough-edged bone into the smaller man’s hands while he freed the bindings.

Grieg slid down the splintered log, landing heavily beside Medavo, who whispered, “Prepare, boy.” The men slipped their weapons into handy hiding spots within their clothing. They moved to flank Maeve.

The woman straightened her stained, once-snowy shirt and said, “So, who do you two think set us up? My money’s on the storekeep where we fenced the goods.”

Her shirt bloomed in a pair of crimson blossoms as Medavo leaned in to reply, “My money’s on you, love.”

The men stalked from the bonefield, leaving their traitorous companion to the feral dogs who rushed in at the smell of fresh blood.

The monster in the tunnel

The stairs loomed before him. The first few steps nearly glowed in the bright afternoon sun, but darkness gathered at the top, causing the last several feet to disappear from sight. The boy paused, panting, gathering his courage together.

The enormous shadow behind him grew closer and he could hear the echoing footsteps of the thing following him. Impending doom shoved his courage from his chest to his feet and he stumble-ran up the darkening stairway.

The tunnel’s arching top concealed the boy from the warming sun. His shirtless torso, dripping with fear-sweat, chilled. Pinpricks of goose-flesh raised, causing the youngster to shudder. His bare feet slapped loudly on the grimy, cold concrete.

At the top of the stairs, the tunnel stretched unknowingly, and lightlessly, far. The thundering at the bottom of the stairs whispered to the boy, telling him to flee.

He ran. The broken chunks of man-made rock cut his feet as he flew down the tunnel. His heart beat at his ears, making him deaf to his own ragged breathing. The monster behind had no such limitations.

The boy stumbled. The unforgiving concrete battered his hands, covering them in dust and debris, hiding the blood seeping from countless tiny scratches and cuts. With a wordless cry, the child pushed himself up and onward, ever forward in the darkness.

A low, guttural sound followed his flight. It surrounded him, cutting him off from escape. In the darkness, the boy cried. His arms flailed, his feet pushed him forward, his eyes burned with sightlessness.

Until the tunnel ended, in a pile of rubble too unstable to scale. The boy collapsed, his breath spent and his body breaking.

Silently, he waited. The monster would find him, she always did.

Red Riding-Hood

“Don’t go out into the woods alone, Deirdre.”

The girl in red shrugged her shoulders, acknowledging her mother silently and almost sullenly. Deirdre loved being in the forest. It was the only place she could hear herself think. Her family’s comfortable home on the outskirts of the city was bubbling over with younger brothers and sisters, noisome creatures that scuttled about endlessly.

Deirdre slipped on her galoshes, scarlet like her ankle-length overcoat and shouted over her shoulder as she lifted the crossbar from the door, “I won’t, Mother. I’ll just pop on over to the neighbor’s, see if perhaps Jillian wants to visit a while in the garden.”

“That’s fine, dear,” her mother replied, her voice drifting off as she chased down the youngest pair of twins.

“‘Don’t go into the woods alone.’ What does she think will happen? There’s been nothing dangerous in the forest in years! It’s practically a public parkland, now,” Deirdre mumbled to herself once she sauntered into the neatly hedged yard of her family’s home. The rebellious girl kicked the bottom of the garden gate to speed its opening, her thoughts racing, her intentions outpacing her mother’s warning.

Outside the garden, Deirdre turned left, away from her friend Jillian’s country manor, and trotted toward the dark forest. The sun warmed her from its perch high in the sky and birds whistled happily as they flitted around the flowered fields on either side of the road.

“She’ll never know. The youngsters keep her busy. I’ll just go sit on my rock and relax for a half hour. I won’t be long,” Deirdre promised herself as she hurried along the dusty old carriageway.

Her delight in having outwitted her mother burbled up through her chest and burst from her lips in an airy, happy hum. She beamed at the joy she felt. Her teenage angst melted from her slim shoulders and her feet danced across the hard-packed earth.

Deirdre’s special place, her rock, was only a few hundred yards inside the edge of the forest and a few dozen feet from the road, at the bottom of a small rise in the forest floor. The boulder, its jagged edges worn away by the rough handling of wind and rain, was of a height with Deirdre, but its companion rocks formed a stable stairway to the top. Deirdre loved to sit in the sunken spot at the top, her feet curled up under her, and contemplate her existence.

The sun-heated concavity at the summit was welcoming and freeing to the girl. She relaxed, in her spot, more than she could ever do at home. Deirdre let her guard down, trusting her safety in the forest to the guardsmen who patrolled the old road regularly.

The young girl drifted in her thoughts, the current pushing her mind along in a spiraling circle of what-ifs and if-onlys. The cooling of the granite beneath her lightly-clothed legs tugged her mind sharply back to reality.

The darkening forest startled Deirdre. She had lost track of time.

The girl ignored the natural staircase in favor of a quick leap from the top of her boulder. Her feet thundered in the hushed woods. Deirdre quickly brushed stone dust and leafy debris from her clothes and scurried toward the road. Her mother would be furious and Deirdre would be forbidden from leaving the house without supervision for weeks.

Saddened at her fate, the girl turned to say good-bye to her special place. But the appearance of a tall, slender girl standing in the sunken seat of the huge boulder caused Deirdre to jump.

“Ahhh,” the strange girl purred, “I knew if I waited, patient as only a Hunter can be, I would find something to test myself upon.”

“Wh- who are you,” Deirdre whispered, her voice carrying across the tomb-silent clearing.

“I am a Hunter, beast, and that is all you need to know,” the stranger snarled. Her feet made no noise at all when she hurled herself from the boulder. Her laugh was harsh at Deirdre’s fleeing back.

The girl in red ran. Her coat caught and caressed every breath of wind, slowing Deirdre’s headlong rush, so she tore it off, letting the hooded garment flutter lifelessly to the hard-packed road. Her boots, in her favorite shade of red, followed the outwear to the ground. Freed from the restraints of civilization, Deirdre dropped to all fours and ran, the way her ancestors had run from generations of Hunters before.

Her mother’s face radiated fury when Deirdre crashed through the heavy oaken door of her family’s home. But the whispered, “Hunter,” changed her expression to haunted fear.

“Aa-oooooh! Run, children, hide,” Deirdre’s mother howled. She pushed the newest litter toward Deirdre, “Hide them. I’ll keep calling the pack together. No Hunter, no matter how good, will test an entire pack.”

Deirdre watched with horror as her mother strode from the front door, still calling the pack, to face the dreaded Werewolf Hunter.

The chosen one

“What do you mean, I’m the ‘chosen’ one?”

The voice that floated through the air was fragile and unbelieving. Gordon looked slightly ashamed of  himself as he showed his grandmother the letter he’d found in that day’s mail.

“Here, grandmama, read it for yourself,” he said. His shoulders hunched, a childhood habit that made it look as if his head wanted to disappear into his chest in fear.

Vivian snapped at him, her frail voice sharper and more menacing than before, “I certainly will read it!” Her voice dropped to a whisper, the words for herself rather than her timid grandson, “Really, ‘chosen one’ my foot. What kind of nonsense….”

The cream colored parchment felt cool in her hands and the deep ebony of the typed words jumped at her from the page, making her eyes water at the stark contrast.

Dear Ms. Vivian E. Fitzgerald,

On Thursday last, the fifteenth day of April, our office was notified of a prophecy made by one Eleanor Delorez of Manchester, in relation to an issue of some import.

As we believe you are aware, the wizard Markus Malachaal has been subverted by the promise of dark magics made by none other than Hester, herself. As such, M.M. has begun moving against the Agency and the Prime government. Members of the Agency are working as well as can be expected to counter his advances, however, we are sadly falling behind. 

Ms. Delorez of Manchester, a seer of some renown, was contacted by the Agency to attempt to foretell the outcome of the dark days and battles ahead. In fact, by the time the Agency’s letter arrived to request her assistance, she had already succumbed to a prophetic fit and pronounced a champion, who would single-handedly outwit and outmaneuver the dark wizard.

That person, my lady, is you. Yes, you, Vivian Elizabeth Fitzgerald are the Agency’s chosen one, the one person most able and eligible to defeat our land’s greatest enemy.

Please respond with your willingness to cooperate, no later than 3o April.

Godspeed and good luck.

Andrew Xavier Bancroft, 
Consul,
Agency of Magical Conduct

“Well, lad,” Vivian Fitzgerald, octogenarian and retired wizardry professor, said to her wallflower grandson, “I’ll be needing my cane. The Agency’s lost another promising young mind to Hester. I’m to go stop him, myself.”

The elderly woman went on, to herself, “Ellie, one day, I’ll have to make the trip down to Manchester and pay back that little bit of gold…otherwise, I imagine, you’ll keep making up these ridiculous prophecies. Mad as a hatter, that one.”

What do you See?

Her dreams always felt the same. Safe. Normal. Happy.

Her dreams were the only place she managed to escape the terror and pain of her existence, but she wasn’t allowed to dream very often. Her captors, the torturers who gleefully bought her from her destitute and desperate mother, kept her semi-lucid most of the time. The drugs they pumped into her almost continually, via the blood-encrusted needle thrust deep into the crook of her arm, not only kept her from fighting, but also held sleep at bay.

Her clan was known for possessing the Gift, an ancient penchant for foretelling. Nearly every first born girl in the extended family that made up the clan could See, although the form of Seeing was different from person to person. Some girls could See the future of the clan, everything from when to plant and harvest, to when new children would be born. Other girls could See dangers, from outsiders, that threatened the clan, itself. Still other girls Saw greater, worldwide dangers and promises.

But she had no Gift. She was the first-born girl of her mother’s, who was herself a first-born daughter. But she had never had a foretelling. When her fifth birthday had passed, the age when the Gift should have shown itself, the age when it was assured she would live, she was still Sightless. Her mother had protected her, giving vague, false Seeings to the Elders. Until her father died. After her mother had promised the Elders that he would return to the clan from a hunting expedition victorious and with enough to supply the entire clan with food and gold for weeks.

She was seven when her father died, revealing to the clan that she had no Gift. The Elders pronounced a shunning of her family. No one in the clan took pity. It might have been different if the girl had had sisters with the Gift. But only boys, three of them, had been given to her family after her birth.

So, starving and penniless, with no one to help, her mother had sold her to the men in unkempt uniforms; men who had known of her clan’s Gift and who wanted to use that Gift for their own profit. Somehow, those men had known only her mother would sell a daughter. Only her mother would give up something so valuable, because she was the only first-daughter who had no Gift.

Now, the men in the dirty uniforms of a defunct government tirelessly pushed her to See for them. They demanded answers, of which she had none. They wouldn’t let her sleep, where her dreams could provide relief from their torture. The men swore at her, beat her, treated her as an animal, all because they were small, surly men who couldn’t accept the now, but had to know when their situation would improve.

She couldn’t See. Not the future of her captors, anyway. But the drugs and torture did help her See something else. Something far more frightening, something dangerous to her clan, the men who held her, and the entire world save one person. Her.

They were coming.