Re: Fit for Life
Five days of hiking.
Rigel looked over the rag-tag group as they rested in the shade of a small clump of oak. The day was working up to be a hot one. That was bad news because it had rained about dawn just enough to get everything damp, and the evaporating water was making it muggy. Except for Austin and Anaph, all the guys were already shirtless. Rita said they’d lose more water that way, but Rigel had let it go; there’d been a tiny trickle of a spring in the previous night’s grove, enough that each had gotten two good swallows before the water was gone. When they left, it was refilling about as fast as a kitchen sink with a faucet that dripped every few seconds.
Melanie came to sit by him. “He’s weird”, he announced. Rigel didn’t have to ask; she meant Anaph, and he couldn’t dispute the point.
“How are the shoes working out?” he inquired. The day before, Melanie had stumbled on a rodent’s hole; she hadn’t been hurt, but the cheap, flashy shoes she’d worn didn’t have the same luck; the right one had been torn, upper from sole, and the upper cracked. Anaph had given her his own shoes, and was going barefoot.
“Good now. That moss in the toes idea worked – they don’t slip now.” That had been Oran’s suggestion, a trick from survival training, he’d said.
“Kool. Um, I need to ask a question.”
“Sure.” She grinned at him. “Big man.” Rigel groaned; Antonio’s nickname for him was catching on.
“You and Dmitri and Casey. How serious a thing is that?”
Melanie reached over and stroked the top of his thigh, upward from the knee, and stopped with her finger poking him about three centimeters from his crotch. “We like to fuck. You made that silly rule, or you could join us.”
“So it’s just sex?” he pressed.
“It’s not like just finding a ho and fucking. A ho’s just a warm slot or stick, not people. We’re friends. We’re there for each other. We fuck when we’re scared, we fuck when we’re lonely, we fuck when we’re horny." She turned and looked him in the eye. “People are talking, huh?”
Rigel stifled a laugh. “Well, you were kinda loud last night.”
“I know. Austin told us to keep it quiet, you know? But they were both in me, together, going opposite ways, and it never felt like that before.” She shrugged. “We ain’t nothing but mammals, and my mammal got out.”
That was an understated way to describe a sound that had been part shriek, part “Ah!” of surprise, and part panting, and had gone on at least ten seconds, Rigel thought. He struggled for the right words.
“Um, would you say you guys are a triple? Like a couple, but three?”
She gave it a moment’s thought. “Kinda a open triple. We’re not, like married or anything.” Rigel’s suddenly pained expression spoke volumes. “Oh! You think we should be married, to have sex!”
“Melanie, it can’t be just like trading back rubs. Sex is serious stuff. Everyone needs to know who’s with who. It makes a difference if everyone thinks you’re just easy for sex, or if they think you’re, well, with each other.”
“With”, Melanie interrupted. “But not married.”
“Okay. But I want you guys to do something that will help. It’s a bonding ceremony, to say to everyone you three belong to each other–“
“We’re not property–“
“I didn’t say that. It just means you’ve got a bond that’s just yours, with responsibilities and boundaries, not... not just sluts.”
Melanie considered that for a while. “I get it – kinda like a formal announcement that we’re, like, going together.”
“Something like that.” Rigel felt relief that she’d gotten the idea, at least sort of. “I’d like to have a ceremony soon.”
Melanie was interrupted by a gun shot. It was just one, which meant Austin was getting better: this would make three cats they’d killed. Primitive they might be, but the spears made a big difference; the shooter could be guarded by a wall of sharp points while he aimed. He feared the day when those spears might be all the protection one of his people had against one of those beasts.
When cheers came from the grove, he jumped up with everyone else and they all went to see what had happened.
“Deer!” Chen called out when he saw Rigel coming. “Or something like one. The cat just killed it, and we killed the cat. Now it’s ours!”
Antonio was already at work skinning the cat. They’d found that if they rubbed the back of the hide with the lemony herb and urine, and let them dry in the sun, the smell wasn’t so bad, the bugs left – and the fur as a “mattress cover” made sleeping a lot easier. Lumina had the first; she was getting weaker, tiring faster than anyone. She slept better now, and wasn’t such a drag on their speed. Rigel worried about her for another reason: more and more she seemed unaware of where she really was. Devon was spending a lot of time with her just to get her to do the simple things required by their simple life; without him, she might just have sat down, not eating, not moving even to pee, and just died.
Oran was whistling as he skinned the deer. Rigel understood the sudden good cheer: they’d had nothing to eat last night, and only a few “Anaph nuts” each this morning. It wasn’t a big buck – it wasn’t a big cat – but to Rigel’s untrained eye, it looked like enough to keep their stomachs from complaining for three or four days.
“We have to cook all that before we carry it”, he thought out loud.
“Nope.” Chen grinned at him; he’d just returned from disposing of the guts by the expedient of dumping them by a rotten log and rolling it on them. “We cut branches, strip them, make poles. We cut the meat into strips, and hang them over the poles. Then we march in the sunshine and make sun-dried jerky.” The grin vanished. “I don’t know what to do with the organs, though. They won’t last, in this heat.”
“Ooh, gross!” Crystal exclaimed. “You mean like the heart and kidney? Throw them away!”
“Bad idea.” Ocean’s comment surprised Crystal. “Crystal, meat can be a nutritious food and you don’t need much else, but you have to eat everything. If we could make sausage, we’d throw in–“
Ryan caught her from behind and clamped his hand over her mouth. “We’d put in all the kinds of meat”, he finished for her.
Barf averted, Rigel thought. All we’d need is for Crystal to hear that the intestines are part of sausage..... Later, he nearly barfed himself when he asked about making sausage, and Ocean explained that the lungs and brains should go in, too.
It was an hour before they set off again, but their spirits were all high. Full nutrition or not, it was going to be good to have meat.
Five days, Rigel thought. Five days, and we should have come over a hundred kilometers.
“Brooding about our speed again?” Ryan asked him as they watched Oran supervise the stacking of dead wood for a fire. Once again, it wasn’t the grove Rigel had meant them to reach. “We’re going as fast as we’re going, buddy.” He marked off on his fingers: “Sixteen klicks, twelve klicks, ten, fourteen, and today eighteen.” Those were all estimates, of course; they had no way of measuring distance but counting their own paces. “Everyone got sore the first day, suffered from it the next two, recovered, and now we’re starting to get good at it. So we’ve only managed seventy instead of a hundred? We’re moving.” He caught a chunk of wood Dmitri tossed at him and stacked it. “More important, we’re learning to work together. We’re getting in shape. It's progress.”
“We’re destroying muscle mass”, Rigel countered.
“Meat for a while will help. Maybe Antonio can kill another deer on his own.”
“Maybe.” Rigel brooded. “And maybe I’m just feeling like no matter how far we go, it all looks the same ahead. Where’s this water?”
“Ocean said at least four more days, probably five.”
“Probably five”, came Ocean’s voice. She dumped an armload of small branches near Oran, who had decided things were organized enough for him to concentrate on a fire pit and then a fire. “I know it’s there. We’re getting closer.”
Rigel looked to be sure no one but “council” was close before answering. “We may not have five days”, he told them. “Unless we find more water, we barely have water for three days.”
“Someone could go ahead, with empty bottles”, Ryan suggested.
Rigel shook his head. “And what are the odds of the right group having the gun when a cat attacks? No; we stay together, until Chen can find the right tree to make bows.”
Oran spoke up. “With a long spear, you could stop a cat.”
“How long is ‘long’?” asked Rigel.
“The person’s height plus a meter. Then you put on a crossbar half a meter from the tip.”
Ryan was curious. “What’s that for?”
Oran looked at him seriously. “So when you wait for the cat to jump on you, and you stick the point in its throat, it can’t reach you when it starts climbing the spear to tear your throat out.”
“Uh-huh. Ever done it?”
“Hardly”, Oran conceded. “But it doesn’t sound too hard – just point the spear tip at the cat’s throat and stay grounded.”
“Okay, what’s ‘grounded’ mean?” Ryan wanted to know.
“You stick the butt of the spear in the ground, and kneel and hold it, and stay far away from the tip. The cat does the work by landing on it.”
Rigel intervened. “Well, so far we don’t even have any spears as tall as any of us. We can talk about this again if we ever get some long enough to work. The point right now is no one goes off ahead – whatever we’re going to do, we do together.”
That night Anaph held a bonding ceremony for Melanie, Dmitri, and Casey. Rigel’s mind was elsewhere, trying to come up with a solution for the water problem. To have come this far, to have had the luck they had, to be working together as well as they were, and then die from lack of water... His mind snagged on the word “die” and wouldn’t let go: hadn’t they died already? There was something important there, he was certain, but nothing came.
He remembered nothing of the ceremony; dinner, though, was a different matter. Each person got three strips of meat wrapped around something in the center – but before they started eating, Rita had a little lecture.
“Eat all of it”, she said. “It’s got what we need to hike another day. We’ve had cramps, and dizziness, and headaches, from poor nutrition. Each one of these has something different in it, with nutrition to fight those things. So chow down!”
Ocean sat next to Rigel and explained the three items. One had deer heart, one had liver, and one had kidney, inside. They’d crushed “Anaph nuts” and one almost-ripe strawberry per serving to help flavor it before roasting it over the fire. Rigel thought the effort was great, but wasn’t so sure of the results; in his view, the only way to eat kidney was drunk enough that everything really did taste like chicken.
Everything got eaten anyway. Mostly, they were so hungry they were ready to try grass – and some had been trying different plants along the way.
Maybe with the meat, they could go harder tomorrow. That was in Rigel’s mind as he snuggled up against Devon and aimed for sleep. But the thought that went with him to dreamland was this: five days’ hiking, three days’ water.
Re: Fit for Life
A day passed: no cats, no new water sources, indeed no groves along the way. The closest was at least thirty kilometers, and to Rigel’s pleased surprise, they reached it. As the sun went down, Ryan thought he saw a haze on the northern horizon. He thought about pointing it out to Rigel, but decided not to: if he was just imagining it, he didn’t want to give false hope.
About noon the next day, a rumble came from the north. Anaph heard it first, then Oran. They pointed it out to Rigel, who called an early lunch halt; he asked everyone to be quiet, so they could listen.
“That’s thunder!” Ocean exclaimed. “Thunder means rain!”
Rita disagreed. “It could be from heat lightning. When ht air hits mountains–“
“Mountains mean rivers! Rivers mean water!” Ocean argued.
“Maybe”, Ryan cautioned.
“It’s a good chance, though”, Rita conceded. “Something waters this savanna, and we haven’t seen any rivers out here.”
“That cliff was evidence of an old one, wasn’t it?” asked Austin. “I know there are cliffs like that back home.”
“Or it could be a fault line”, Ryan pointed out. He stared north. “If it was from a river, that river carved its way across here. If it carved its way across here, there should be oxbow lakes left as the channel moved. We haven’t seen any.” All at once he spun around. “Antonio should go up a tree as soon as we get to some.” His gaze was toward Rigel, who nodded.
“But why not you?” he asked his friend.
Ryan grinned. “I’ll go up if he thinks he sees anything.”
Eagerness put energy in the group’s steps. Chen started to jog once, then stopped sheepishly. “Can’t go long that way, huh?” he asked no one in particular.
How far they went that day was uncertain. They’d been relying on an averaging of Rigel’s, Ryan’s, Chen’s, and Antonio’s paces, but the eagerness infected them as well, making their stride lengths uncertain. It was the widest spread of their pace counts yet; using Chen’s, they’d come thirty-one kilometers; using Antonio’s, they’d come twenty-four. With his and Ryan’s coming out to twenty-five and twenty-six, respectively, Rigel decided to call it twenty-five.
But the distance didn’t dampen spirits, even though it made them weary; Melanie had fainted an hour before they stopped. Rigel let her have an extra mouthful of water, knowing she needed it, knowing someone else would come up short later because of it. There were no easy decisions. Yet they’d pressed on, drawn by the sound of thunder, the hope it meant rain, the hope rain meant a river.
From his tree perch, Antonio thought he saw a lake or pond. Ryan went up to look, as did Rita, but none was sure. Rigel decided not to say anything to the group. “If it’s real, let it be a surprise”, he reasoned, and Ryan and Rita agreed.
And after the sun went down, they could see lightning.
“A lot of that is heat lighting”, Rita argued. “It’s going sideways, from cloud to cloud.”
“Depends where you look”, Devon said, with a chunk of dried venison in his mouth. “Over there on the west end, it’s all vertical.”
“That means rain?” Melanie asked weakly.
“Good chance, anyway”, Ryan allowed. “We can hope.”
Next morning, there were clouds closer – and that wasn’t all they saw: Ryan was elated to note that the air had cleared, and there were plainly hills to their north, if not actual mountains.
Rigel dampened his excitement. “This is it, buddy: we’re already fainting because there isn’t enough water. If we don’t find some today by lunch...” He slammed a fist into palm. “This is crazy! Someone pulled us here, and dumps us out where there’s not enough water, not much food— what’s the point? Are we just amusement?!”
“Maybe their aim is bad”, Ryan suggested. “Maybe this is a test: do we drop some of our number so some survive? Are we loyal, not leaving anyone behind? Are we resourceful, finding resources where there are hardly any?”
Rigel, along with Ocean, Rita, Chen, and Oran, stared at him. Chen broke the silence. “And if it’s a test, which way do we choose? Which choice means we pass?”
Oran’s frown was serious. “And what happens if we fail?”
“Maybe”, Rita mused, “It’s not pass-fail. Maybe there aren’t any consequences like that. Maybe it’s just to learn about us.”
“I like that idea”, Ocean responded enthusiastically. “I’m gonna pray it’s true!”
“Pray to who?” Ryan asked, curious.
“Whom”, Rita corrected.
“The universe”, Ocean said, eyes practically glowing. “The universe is aware. It can bend events to benefit the sentient.” She didn’t see the look Ryan got, or his rolled eyes.
“What makes you think we’re in the same universe?” Chen blurted out. “In our universe, wouldn’t we be dead?”
“Um, let’s not go there right now”, Rigel admonished. “If this universe is ours, or not, maybe it can hear Ocean. At least it can’t hurt to try. I say the best way to get it to listen, if it can, is to do our darnedest to do everything we can. We don’t wait for it to rescue us – we move.”
With that, he took his spear/staff in hand and led off.
Casey fainted first, about an hour before noon. Another mouthful of water, Rigel thought. Then it was Melanie again, and this time she couldn’t get back up. Antonio gallantly hauled her up to sit on his shoulders, but Rigel could see the strain. Third was Lumina. Agonizing inside – only a few knew how short their water was – he was helping her drink in little sips when Oran came running and yelling.
“Water!” he hollered. “Rigel, it’s water!” Rigel almost spilled the bottle he was holding. Devon caught it and took over, murmuring quietly to the ever-more-distant girl, who seemed hardly interested in drinking.
Rigel put a hand on Oran’s shoulder. “Calm down, bud. What did you find? How far?”
“It’s like a sink. The dirt on top is damp” their scout reported. Rigel had to chuckle at his delivery; each statement was separated from the next by a gasp for breath.. “ It’s by a sort of cliff, with shade. Chen found it. We dug down to see if it got wetter. About two feet down, we could squeeze water out of the dirt. At three feet it was seeping slowly. That’s when I came back. He’s still digging.”
Rigel could have cried for relief. He settled for hugging Oran tightly to himself for a full half-dozen seconds. “Thank you”, he breathed into the boy’s ear. When he released him, Rigel waved his arms for attention. “Chen and Oran found some water”, he announced. “Oran will take us there.”
Some did cry, at that; everyone joined in a cheer.
Crystal collapsed on the way. Breeze helped her up, but soon collapsed herself. Tanner got them to their feet, and the struggled on, tanner in the middle and the two leaning on him. Grimly, Rigel parceled out water: even though there was water ahead, this was their last clean bottle, and if the water was contaminated... he didn’t finish the thought.
Chen, they all learned, had silk underwear. That was revealed because it was the only thing he’d had fine enough to really filter the water to get it clear enough to drink. Some laughed, but most were excessively grossed out by the thought of drinking water that had been filtered through anyone’s underwear.
But the alternative left the water brown and borderline disgusting: one by one, they caved in, and drank. Rigel limited them to a swallow each at first, then started to fill bottles When half the bottles were filled – and it was slow going because of the filtering – Rigel let everyone through for a major mouthful.
He, Ryan, Chen, Austin, Crystal, Tanner, and Ocean were at the hole. The others had retreated to the grove on the far side, where they were watching actual rainstorms drenching the land to the north. They speculated about better water the next day, maybe even enough to swim in and try to get clean – not many were backpackers, so they hadn’t had the experience of being without bath or shower for days at a time.
Austin tapped Rigel on the shoulder and asked, “What’s that sound?” It was a sort of muted roar, but high pitched.
Ryan’s eyes got big. “Quiet!” he ordered. Seconds later he was grabbing at bottles. “Out! Everyone out!” he yelled. “Up hill!” Not that there was any hill, but they got the idea: get higher than they were.
They were off the mostly-bare dirt and onto grass, and Rigel turned to Ask Ryan what was happening. But his question died on his lips: still at the hole he saw Austin, scooping up a bottle. And beyond Austin, at a distance he couldn’t judge, came a wall of water, muddy, with sticks and stones tossing in the front.
There was no way Austin was going to make it.
Re: Fit for Life
Wow. Dead and ready to die a horrible death all over again.
Unsuspecting, intent on helping the group.
What comes next? I feel like I should post an old Batman Rock 'em Sock 'em end of show cliffhanger type cliche'.
(Good story, I'm a little slap happy this morning. Nothing another 4-6 hours sleep wouldn't help! lol)
Thanks, again, for posting these inventive novellettes for us.
Re: Fit for Life
This is a really intriguing story! Can't wait to see more!
Re: Fit for Life
Fascinating! If I wasn't before, Now I'm Completely hooked!! :=D:
And, I'm no longer thinking King as much as I am Tolkien! Lord of the Rings ... Rigel as Frodo, Ryan as Samwise, Anaph as Gandolph, Austin as Stryker, etc., etc. ..|
I sincerely hope there is enough, within You, to keep this going for a long, long, time!! (!w!)
THANK YOU!!! (group)
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
You can thank a certain other prolific writer here for the cliffhanger.
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
I got to that point, and was struggling with how to follow it, when the thought occurred that he left us with cliff hangers quite frequently -- so I did it, too.
Re: Fit for Life
I'm going to pretend I never saw this, because those links to Tolkien's characters would really screw with my people's personalities and development.
Originally Posted by Kyanimal
To wipe it out of my mind, I'm going to have to write in some sex. :eek:
Re: Fit for Life
This next chapter sort of wrote itself last night; I left you guys with a cliff-hanger, but I couldn't sleep that way. My dog, Bammer, went off to bed anyway, so I wrote this up with only the fire to keep me company.
I've been polishing it since breakfast, and I think it's ready.
Re: Fit for Life
Oran was ripping clothes off; Chen began to sprint for Austin, who was oblivious to what was coming. Ryan screamed at him: “Run!” Dmitri tried running toward his friend; Ryan tackled him, while Devon tackled Chen. Austin ran, looked over his shoulder, and sprinted.
Austin was smart, Rigel noted calmly emotionally detached as he awaited the inevitable. The kid was running at an angle, not trying to outdistance the wall of water yet not trying to get straight to high ground, but making a course to do the best of both. Then the water touched his heels, and he threw his backpack, with its water bottles. It hadn’t even landed in Rigel’s arms before Austin vanished, slammed to the dry ground and overrun by tons of water and dirt.
Oran had peeled off everything, and was cutting across the slight rise they were on to a farther part of the watercourse. Others followed. Rigel went, too, crushing the backpack as though it were Austin himself. And as he went, a thought occurred to him....
Okay, whoever, whatever brought us here. If you could move us from our own world, I think you can do something to save Austin. Do it – or I swear that whatever you brought us here for, we won’t do. His final thoughts were vehement, filled with anger that Austin should have been saved from a car wreck and a bastard of a father only to drown before he had a chance to make anything of his new opportunity for a life.
An arm rose above the churning flood. Oran sprinted right into the water, running until his knees got wet. Then he performed the best long shallow dive Rigel had ever seen. Rigel’s breath caught in his throat. “Please”, he whispered.
There was a cheer when Oran came up and stroked swiftly to where Austin’s body was tumbling. Anguished, because that body looked lifeless, Rigel watched the Eagle Scout get Austin into a cross-chest carry and steady him. But before he could tell what Oran had planned next, the two were swept out of sight around another bend.
“Flash floods”, Ryan said tonelessly at his side. “I should have known from the watercourse. We were getting water from the last flood, water that caught in a pocket in the bedrock, so it didn’t seep away. The light dirt on top kept it from evaporating. I should have seen it! The rain north of us, the slope toward the mountains...”
“It’s not your fault”, Rita assured him. “Oran was stupid to go after him, though! Now we’ve lost two.”
Ryan nodded miserably, not believing it. They began to wander downstream, hoping.... and as they moved, the water began to subside. It had just been the exact wrong time to be in that bed, Rigel thought, sinking into misery.
Anaph’s voice snapped him out of it. The kid knelt briefly. “Master, come – we must go to them while there is still life.”
Something about his certainty moved Rigel. “All right”, he replied. “Antonio, keep watch here. Rita, you’re in charge. Ryan, Chen – let’s go.”
Antonio hefted his spear – he and Rigel had ones taller than they were – and saluted with fist to chest. Only then did Rigel realize what secondary disaster might have befallen them: Austin had the gun, the only real protection they had against the cats.
Thus a grim trio set off at a jog, following Anaph, who seemed to somehow know the way. They cut across the watercourse once, where the water was down to twenty centimeters; they cut across it again, where it was down to ten. Then there was a small hill, with a grove on the south side, and they saw a wide pool of water, in fact a growing lake that hadn’t been there before. Halfway down its edge, Oran was struggling to bring Austin’s body ashore. Rigel, Ryan, and Chen broke into a run; Anaph continued at the same pace as before.
The trio got to the water’s edge while Oran was still struggling. Chen waded out and helped; with one of Austin’s arms over each set of shoulders, they brought him to the grass and lay him down.
Oran looked at Rigel, misery in his eyes. “I tried. But it was too rough – I couldn’t do mouth-to-mouth in the water. Then we got tumbled, and when I rolled us up again, water just poured out of his mouth.” He stepped forward and nearly fell against Rigel, who wrapped him in a tight embrace, ignoring the mud – and blood! -- and tears, though the latter made him feel awkward.
Anaph, though, was focused on Austin. He rolled the body over, lifted arms, and water gushed out. He did it again, and a third time, then rolled him back over, and put his ear to Austin’s chest. He grabbed Chen, and tapped Austin’s chest; Chen got it, and got ready for compressions. Oran started off: tip the head to clear the airway, turn the cheek to feel for breath, suck in a big one and give three quick, forceful breaths. The moment he stopped, Chen got to work: pump, pump, pump, pump. He stopped, and Anaph gave Austin two breaths. They kept going.
“I bet he’s cold”, Ryan said. It sounded silly; if his heart was stopped, what difference did that make? But Rigel followed his buddy’s tug on his sleeve, and they set about undoing Austin’s pants and slowly tugging them off. Anaph nodded in approval, which made Rigel feel better. Then he got daring, and managed to pull Austin’s shirt up between Chen’s sets of compressions, then over his head when Anaph paused next.
He and Ryan were rubbing Austin’s feet when it happened: Austin coughed. Immediately Chen put his head to the bare chest. A relieved smile blossomed, but he stuck to procedure and checked for a pulse at Austin’s neck. “He has a pulse”, he whispered in awe, tears beginning to stream down his face.
But Anaph had to do three more sets of breaths before Austin was breathing on his own. Rigel thought he should look triumphant or something, but when Anaph sat back on his heels, he looked puzzled and troubled. He looked up at Rigel. “He is not home”, he announced.
Rigel dropped to his knees and tried to get a response from Austin, the classic Red Cross shoulder shake and "Hey!", but there was nothing. Angrily he slammed fist into palm, and would have done it again except something dropped into his palm: it was the gun.
“In his side pocket”, Ryan said quietly. Rigel just nodded. Holding the .357 calmed him, gave him a focus.
“We won’t give up”, he announced. “Ryan, your spear is pretty long. If we take off our pants and string them on it and mine, we can make a stretcher. We’ll carry him.” He looked around. “To the grove. Chen, go get everyone and bring them here.”
Anaph took hold of Chen’s shoulder and stopped him from getting up. Without saying anything, he reached out his hand to nearly touch Rigel’s hand where the gun was. Their eyes met; Rigel nodded, and handed the firearm to Chen. In good practice, Chen opened the cylinder and checked the rounds, then looked through the barrel before closing the cylinder again. That methodical adherence to proper safety also helped steady Rigel.
“Not quite clean”, he observed. Bending, he plucked three strands of the fuzzy grass that dominated this section of the savanna. The gun he handed to Rigel, quickly braiding the grasses together, then took the gun back. He carefully threaded the small end of his grass cord through the barrel, and gently pulled it through. It came out with slight brown streaks. Chen looked again, didn’t like the result, and repeated the process with a new grass braid.
“Close as it’ll get, I think”, he decided, then closed the cylinder – after another check to be sure he hadn’t dropped any rounds. He gave Rigel a salute, then started off. After just two steps he stopped and peeled off his shirt. “I’m not surrendering my pants”, he said, “but here’s my shirt”. Rigel caught it with a grin, remembering that Chen’s underwear had been their water filter.
While Rigel was helping Chen, Anaph had used his staff, the longest of anyone’s, and Rigel’s, to start the stretcher. Rigel surrendered his pants and shirt, and Chen’s shirt. Three sets of pants and three shirts made an odd but dependable stretcher. Ryan and Rigel rolled Austin onto it, then grabbed the ends. “On three”, Ryan instructed. “One... two... Up!”
“You didn’t say three”, Rigel noted. His spirits were definitely higher.
“You lifted anyway”, Ryan countered.
Anaph walked silently, right hand on Austin’s chest, just resting there, rising and falling with the boy’s breathing. Oran walked on the other side, oblivious to being naked, oblivious to the blood running down from cuts on his chest and sides. Rigel noticed that Anaph’s hand lay atop three leaves, green ones – oak, he thought – and he wondered what was going on in Anaph’s mind. Surely, he thought, the kid doesn’t believe in magic!
A scream came from the grove. Rigel was tired of screams, and frustrated because there was nothing he could do about this one: they were too far away to make a difference. But three shots rang out in quick succession, accompanied by the scream of one of the cats. Then there was another scream, and two more shots. Yelling followed. Torn inside, Rigel plodded on. Why now? he anguished. Isn’t a drowning enough?
They reached the grove.
A large chunk of Rita’s shirt was gone, torn off her back: she had deep scratches, and was barely conscious. Devon was stretched on the ground, holding his left arm and gritting his teeth. Chen was advancing on the cat, fumbling with the cylinder on the .357.
Antonio was on his back – under the cat. But he was smiling grimly and in satisfaction: his hip knife was buried to the hilt right behind the cat’s skull. He gave it a twist, and the cat jerked. Crystal screamed.
“Just muscle reaction”, Antonio explained calmly. “It’s dead. Now will someone get the thing off me, ¿por favor?” Rigel and Tanner moved to roll the carcass, but Rigels’ attention was on Austin.
Anaph’s skin was pale white. He’d shed his cloak to make a sort of tent over Austin, holding it up with three spears he’d just taken –from girls who made no protest. It was a very somber group that settled in to make camp earlier than they ever had. Oran dug the fire pit with a gift Antonio had made the night before: a wooden shovel, He made it deep, setting the sod around the edge in lieu of rocks.
“We’ll rest here a few days”, Rigel decreed. “Let’s make this look like home.”
Once again he found himself building walls of whatever was available. With Antonio’s gift to Oran, that was easier: the walls were mainly sod, taken from a ditch Oran dug near the edge of the grove. “The latrine”, he informed them all, “So use it.” It was far larger than they needed for a latrine, but that was to provide sod for their windbreak wall.
When Oran made the announcement, Breeze came up and began gently wiping his wounds, cleaning the blood off. He was still nude, which didn't seem to bother either of them, but when she was finished, she led him to where his clothes were stacked neatly. "I got them for you", was all she said.
Devon's arm had been torn; a great gash ran at a slight angle down his left bicep nearly to the elbow. Ocean had him sit, stuck a stick between his teeth, and produced a needle and thread from somewhere; after rinsing the wound with some water filled with crushed plants, she began sewing. He passed out before she was done; she just caught him, let him slide to the ground, and kept sewing.
Rita's back was a mess. Ocean had assigned Crystal to clean it, but the girl just sat there shaking; Melanie took on the job, using the last of their clean water. When Ocean checked her over, she declared, "You'll be sleeping that way for a while. And no twisting or turning, no heavy lifting."
"Hit me on the head", was Rita's response. "Knock me out." Ocean snorted faintly but didn't say a word.
Rigel was setting a piece of sod on the corner, making sure it overlapped the ends of the pieces below; suddenly, with no warning, Austin sat up. The sod landed clumsily; Devon snapped at Rigel, but subsided when he saw what had their leader’s attention. The sod stayed where it was; with Devon’s torn arm, he couldn’t lift it.
“Hi”, said Austin. Then, “Hey – did I lose my gun?!” He wiggled his butt, trying to feel if there was anything in his pockets.
“We’ve got it”, Rigel assured him as everyone else gathered around. “What... I thought you were in a coma, or something.”
Austin shivered. “Oran, fire – now”, Rigel ordered. “Austin, let’s get you by the fire.” But he looked at Anaph for approval, sensing that this weird kid knew things he didn’t.
“When it’s going”, Anaph agreed. Rigel’s gaze followed Anaph’s, and his eyes widened in astonishment: though Austin was sitting almost vertically, those three green leaves were still on Austin's chest.
Re: Fit for Life
You are making a full fledged adventure novel out of this great story.
And there's still all the background stuff we started with that we still don't know about - no I haven't forgotten.
They really need to learn how to skin and cook those cats so that their meat is disease free. Lots of protein there.
You are a prodigious writer.
This and the other story both concurrently in rapid succession.
Thanks for all your efforts.
Re: Fit for Life
Cook cat meat?
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
DQ, cats carry so many diseases the meat isn't fit for human consumption.
OTOH, they really ought to wake up and realize what they're throwing away by only taking the skin -- many of the bones are useful, as are the intestines (ever hear of 'plucking the ol' cat gut'?).
The other story is easy to write -- there's no goal, and no real plot (though I feel a tug to take it somewhere). This story.... well, the last chapter required a total of five hours and forty minutes from first keystroke to clicking on <submit reply>.
I'll confess that probably forty-five minutes of that involved relearning some Paint Shop Pro stuff, to get the artwork right. It tempted me to ditch the artwork, but I went and collected so much just for the future of this story that I slugged it out and got those three leaves tacked on.
That reminds me -- I have a chapter to write, in which the amazing sticking oak leaves get explained, and we meet--
well, you'll see. :D
Re: Fit for Life
Until you mentioned PaintShopPro, I didn't think to check out your home page and the gallery.
just took a quick look - it's late.
Oh, yeah, my home laptop died,so I'm pushing my kids to use "their" PC's for a couple hours here or there at home. (They tend to forget who ordered AND PAID FOR them! lol
Re: Fit for Life
I keep meaning to ask a mod if that gallery can be hidden. I don't want to mix them in with all the pics for CE & P and F & G, but I'd really rather not have them public....
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
I'm currently two hours into the next chapter, and things are getting.... well, they're getting. You can provide an adjective later. :D
Re: Fit for Life
This is shorter than I'd planned. It just insisted on ending where it did, so what was going to be one chapter will be two.
Re: Fit for Life
Austin saw the direction of Rigel’s gaze. Frowning, he looked down. On seeing the leaves, he moved his left hand to touch them.
Anaph intercepted that hand with a grip that made Austin wince. He held it, looking deep into Austin’s eyes. After a couple of seconds, he turned to Rigel. “He is not fully returned”, he announced quietly.
“Returned from where?” Rigel demanded. “What are you talking about?”
Anaph put Austin’s hand in his lap, with a push to say he meant it to stay away from those leaves, then rose. “His body was losing life. His spirit was ready to depart, but the life-master caught it, and held it. We gave life back to his body. But his spirit has not yet fully returned. Until it does, he is in great danger.”
“And the leaves have to stay put?” Ryan inquired skeptically.
“They must. They are the... call them the anchor, so his spirit does not wander.”
Rigel wanted to grab the leaves and tell Austin to chill by the fire, but Anaph’s weird explanation, however bizarre it seemed, stayed him. “Ryan, remember how we decided we were snatched from the car before it quite crashed?” Ryan nodded, so Rigel continued. “What got grabbed?”
Ryan looked disbelieving. “You mean you think we have spirits?”
“If we don’t, what got grabbed? If we’re nothing more than bodies with chemical activity, how are we here?”
“Maybe our bodies aren’t really back there”, Ryan muttered.
Rigel laughed. “Oh, no you don’t, mister – you’re the one who convinced us all they were. So answer me: what got grabbed?”
Ryan stared at the leaves on Austin’s chest. “The patterns of our brain waves. The electromagnetic activity of our bodies.”
“Our auras!” Ocean declared reverently.
Rigel hadn’t seen her join them, but nodded to her. “Auras, brainwaves, whatever – there’s something to us besides just our bodies, or we wouldn’t be here. Ocean says ‘aura’, Anaph says ‘spirit’, I say it doesn’t matter.” He took a deep breath.
“And when we were running after Oran, I sort of yelled at whatever brought us here, and told it to stinking well do something.” He left it there, for them to think through themselves.
Ryan was nodding almost before Rigel finished. “So you’re thinking that it did the same thing here it did before – except it didn’t need a new body, so we had to save that. Then it put Austin’s... put Austin back in his body, but not all the way? Like, it screwed up?”
Anaph shook his head furiously. “The life-master made no error! It is the spirit which wishes not fully to return.”
Ocean had dropped to her knees by Austin. “Young one, what do you remember?” she asked, just barely loud enough for the others to hear.
Austin licked his lips; his eyes looked... odd. “A great vast... vast space. It was all green, but gray. It was all things like me...”
“People?” Ryan interrupted.
Austin shook his head. “No – no, what Anaph said: spirits. It was spirits of trees, and grass, and birds, and... and everything.” He looked at Rigel with awe on his face, and spoke with pleading in his voice. “I was part of all of them, and they were part of all of me. There was balance, and everything was... was, like whole.” Tears began to leak from his eyes; plainly he was trying to hold them in, but failing. Ocean reached to embrace him, but some feeling made Rigel wave her off. “I was me, and nothing was bad. I wasn’t an abomination – I’m not an abom–“ Tears overwhelmed him.
Understanding came to Rigel. “The best place he’s ever been”, he whispered, deeply touched. “The only place it was okay to just be Austin.” He looked to Anaph. “No wonder he doesn’t want to come back.” Ryan was nodding in agreement; Ocean just sat and cried on Austin’s bare thigh.
Oran had been listening as he worked on the fire, which he’d just got set up for igniting. “Anaph, isn’t there something you can do?” he asked. “Make him want to stay!” Ocean looked up hopefully at his words.
To Rigel, it was strange how they’d drifted from skepticism to, well, maybe not trust, but belief that Anaph could do some things they couldn’t. He’d seen the look on Ryan’s face as Austin described the ‘space’ where he’d been; the doubt was gone. Ocean was, he’d thought, off the deep end with a universe that listens to prayers, which made her ripe for such a thing, but she was looking at Anaph now with the trust a child might give a parent. Oran didn’t seem as persuaded – or was it ‘converted’, he wondered – but was hopeful. Anaph plainly had no doubts at all; from talking to the spirits of trees to this, he’d never shown the slightest uncertainty.
And now, he was pondering, regarding Austin intently, seemingly looking at something none of them could see. Bending, he traced around the leaves with the middle finger of his right hand. The hand rose, the index finger landing lightly on Austin’s forehead. Rigel wondered how long he was going to stand there – a half minute passed, and more.
Anaph stood. “Mistletoe”, he announced. “Find and bring mistletoe.”
Ryan snorted and laughed lightly. Ocean sprang into action, grabbing Crystal and Breeze, pressing them into service. Rigel stood regarding his sworn follower.
“So mistletoe is magic?” he asked finally.
Anaph almost looked offended. “There is no magic. It just has properties appropriate to this situation.”
Rigel didn’t think that was much of an answer – too much like someone trying to sound wise, he figured. “Like what?”
Anaph’s expression changed; it seemed he considered that a worthwhile question. “Mistletoe speaks of love, of joining. It will call the spirit to bind again to the body.”
“Why wouldn’t it call the spirit to go back to that gray-green place?”
Anaph smiled. “Because the mistletoe is here, not there.”
Rigel considered that. Austin had spoken of the spirits of plants and animals, in that place he’d been. If he could tell an animal spirit from a plant spirit, and tell plant spirits apart, maybe he would recognize the spirit of mistletoe.... “Wait a minute – that bit about mistletoe and love, it’s just a tradition, right? a superstition.”
Slowly and firmly, Anaph shook his head. “Master Rigel, why do you think the tradition began?”
It was a worldview Rigel wasn’t entirely comfortable with – nor Ryan. They both saw things in the world as being just what they were, in this case cellulose, chlorophyll, stems, leaves, roots.... But things having a significance beyond their mere existence, a meaning that could be felt or sensed, was a stretch. But as their leader, Rigel wasn’t going to object except in private – and besides, if it worked? maybe he needed to adjust his worldview.
“Or maybe the rules are different here”, Ryan commented quietly, echoing and completing Rigel’s train of thought.
Much to Rigel’s surprise, Ocean and her two helpers came back with a handful of mistletoe each. In a stray thought, he wondered if there’d even been mistletoe in the grove until Anaph wanted some – but that was too crazy, far crazier than mistletoe having a spirit with actual meaning for other spirits.
Anaph placed sprigs of mistletoe around Austin, who watched with a bemused expression. A final sprig, biggest of all, he handed to Ocean. “Hold this high above him”, he instructed. She stepped forward, all solemn, and held it out at arm’s length. It reminded Rigel of Christmas, and he tried not to laugh. Ryan had his hand over his mouth, fighting the same problem.
Anaph knelt, straddling Austin’s knees. Then he made all their jaws drop: he leaned forward, slid his right hand behind Austin’s neck, and planted a firm kiss right on his lips. For a moment Austin sat stiffly. In a single instant, that changed: he went from frozen to frantic, reaching out and pulling Anaph close, wrapping his arms around him, turning his head and changing a lips-only kiss to a hungry, passionate one.
The three oak leaves fell from Austin’s chest.
Re: Fit for Life
I can see why you felt that was where the story told you to end for the chapter.
A very metaphysical installment. I like it, a lot.
And, talk about your incentive plans for staying on "This" terra firma, instead of going into the light! Anaph does seem to have a grasp of things others are too blind to see or understand -- or, maybe part of it is just plain not stopping to think and consider, while Anaph considers all things.
A very spiritual installment, with a splash of spice at the end that, too, is spiritual in its context. Clever.
Re: Fit for Life
The worst thing about it was that I needed to come up with an appropriate chapter title. :eek:
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
You ain't seen nothing yet. :D
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
Gee -- I just wrote it that way in line with the basic parameters and plot lines.
Re: Fit for Life
I'm very much looking forward to a LOT More!! :=D:
And, I promise to stop comparing You to other authors. This is going in directions that no longer have any parallels!! (group)
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
Well, I had an argument with the latest chapter. When I got done, it insisted very firmly that the second half was happening too early in the tale.
So I have a half-chapter to write, and shelve the other half for later use. I meant to have a new one this morning. :(
Re: Fit for Life
I can only Imagine your inner turmoil, because I'm not nearly as Creative as You are! #-o
However, I'm definitely in great anticipation for reading more from your amazing brain! (!w!)
And, when I HAVE to, I can be very, Very, VERY, Patient!! I KNOW it's going to be worth the wait! ..| (group)
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
You can compare me to any authors you want; just don't mess with my mind by comparing my characters to anyone -- especially now, while I'm still working out their identities/personalities.
Originally Posted by Kyanimal
Actually, if I were going to compare this story to anything, I'd go for one of Terry Brooks' tales, like the Shannara series.
Re: Fit for Life
I just pounded out a new chapter. On review, I decided to send it to our Mighty Mod for him to review.
So if it's slow in appearing, you now know who to bother with complaints. :badgrin:
Re: Fit for Life
The new chapter was too long for one post!
So our mighty mod is reviewing it in pieces. The first one is back... and I've made it its own little chapter, to keep the character limit happy.
Re: Fit for Life
Re: Fit for Life
Rigel sat with Ryan and Oran overlooking the place where they’d dug for water, where the day’s troubles had begun. They spent a good deal of time talking about anything but Anaph. Across from them, what had looked like a sort of cliff was clearly just that: granite, Ryan claimed, carved by a river that once flowed here. Where their dry watercourse had been was now a pond; it filled a basin that was granite all around – just as Ryan had realized, a bit too late to see the consequences. Some quirk of the flood waters had scoured everything out of that pocket – between three and four meters deep, it looked (no one had gone in to measure; when Antonio had reported the discovery to Rigel, Rigel had decreed it off limits until the water had cleared, and all their bottles filled; only then was anyone going in).
It seemed hard to believe that a river had once flowed there. That meant that the whole grassland had actually been lower, Rigel figured; then the river dried up, and the land got higher somehow. Not that I really mattered; they weren’t staying any longer than they had to, anyway.
They tried not to discuss the injuries, either. Devon’s arm was in a sling made of his own shirt; Rita wasn’t going to be moving for a while; Oran, Chen, and Antonio were scratched up. Then there were the more subtle injuries: Lumina wasn’t improved at all, and had to be led around like an infant; Crystal was jumping at every little thing, and muttering to herself constantly; Anaph...
“Let’s look around the grove better”, Ryan proposed when Anaph’s name came up again. “Since we’ll be staying here awhile.”
“Right”, Oran agreed. “Get to know it better.”
“Yeah”, Rigel responded sarcastically. “And maybe there will be buried treasure.”
Oran laughed. “Know what I think would be treasure? A sleeping bag, a lantern, and a mess kit.”
“A tent, a self-inflating mattress, and... a pillow”, Ryan said. “Your turn, Rigel.”
“Treasure?” Rigel mused. “A flint striker... a camp saw... a compass.”
Ryan looked at him closely. “You really are turning into a leader. We thought of things for ourselves, and you thought of things that would help everyone.”
“The striker and camp saw would help me”, Oran teased.
“The time you saved with the fire would help everyone”, Ryan pointed out. “You’d have time to help with other things, too, and that would help everyone.”
“Any of us could start a fire, with a striker”, Rigel said. “Any of us could cut wood with a camp saw.”
Ryan nodded agreement. “Here’s another treasure: a sharpening kit.”
“And a shaving kit”, Oran declared with a grin, tugging at his chin. “This beard’s getting long.”
For him it was a joke, but for others it was more serious, Rigel thought. His face was getting fuzzy, and itching, and he wasn’t alone. And the girls were unhappy with the hair showing on their legs. He’d been putting it off, but maybe it was time to talk with Antonio about turning a blade into a razor.
They meandered. Rigel felt somewhat guilty about not helping with the camp, but he needed time to let his thoughts drift, and absorb what has been happening. He figured that since everyone had sort of made him leader, he deserved some time to get his head clear, so he could make good decisions.
Rigel stared at Chen, who had just stepped out of a gap in a sod wall that was four feet high. It actually had a gate: two upright oak logs held in place by sod piled against them to shoulder height, and then another layer outside that. The outside of the sod piles sloped, rising at about a seventy-degree angle instead of ninety. The walls sloped, too – and that sloping face ran four meters in either direction from the gate, which was topped by a slender oak branch that still had leaves.
Oran stepped ahead of Rigel, who’d stopped at the surprise. “Comes now Rigel, lord of this humble domain and our leader”, he proclaimed, grinning widely at Chen. Ryan burst out in laughter.
Chen made a half-bow, bringing the spear he’d blocked the gate with upright. “Enter then, Lord Rigel, and welcome to this your hall.” Rigel gave him a dirty look – “lord”, my ass!
From inside he could see more of the wall: it went all the way around, enclosing the space completely except for the gap where Chen stood guard. Almost straight ahead was a massive oak, with a young one right in front of it. A fire pit had been fashioned, and more.
Ocean came to give them a tour. “It’s wonderful!”, she gushed. “The universe provides when asked – see?” Her waving arm took in the whole of the camp as she spun, eyes aglow. Rigel wondered that she didn’t lose her balance on the uneven ground – and that’s when it hit him: the ground was in fact smooth and level, and as he looked around he realized that no roots poked up through for anyone to trip over, no tangles of grass or moss stuck up to entangle feet, no branches hung so low as to be in the way....
“How....?” he asked, at a loss for words.
“Oh, see it all first!” she urged. “Come!”
The details of Ocean’s enthusiastic and kind of mystical tour were boring, even annoying; at least Rigel and Ryan found them so – Oran went off to see what someone had done with the fire pit, which had been his domain, so he didn't share their suffering. She absolutely had to show them every detail, and make those details part of some almost supernatural plan; and she absolutely had to tell not just Rigel and Ryan (over and over) how wonderful it all was, she had to tell everyone they met – which she’d probably done before, but that didn’t seem to bother her in the least.
“I bet she found something fun, and got high”, Ryan whispered once when Ocean was gushing and bubbling to Crystal how fine her “mattress” of dead grass looked, and how wonderful it would be to sleep on, and...
“I hope not”, Rigel whispered back. “We have enough troubles.”
“Unless maybe it works as a pain killer”, Ryan mused. “That would be worth it!”
Rigel stopped to talk with Rita, who said her back felt like it was burning, and was stopping to itch terribly. He wanted to look at the wounds, but Ocean shooed him away. “Anaph says the covering must stay. Now, come see....”
For a while he thought she would never run out of things to describe. Patience with her ran out when he was trying to talk with Devon about his arm: she took his arm to pull him along.
Rigel calmly grabbed her wrist and moved her arm away. She tried to grab again, but for all her efforts he stood holding her wrist, which stayed like it was stuck on a wall hook and wasn’t going anywhere. Some force Rigel hadn’t felt in himself since he stood up to a counselor at summer camp one year simmered, boiled, and broke free.
“That’s enough. You don’t grab me like you’re in charge. I’m listening to your tour, but when I want to stop and talk to one of my people, I will do so – and you will not try to bend me against my will.” Rigel caught her eyes with his, and she couldn’t look away. As he spoke the last words, her eyes widened.
Rigel didn’t know what a curtsy was supposed to look like, but when with his final word he released her, she bent her knee and bowed. “As you say, lord”, she whispered. Rigel and Ryan looked at each other. “‘Lord’?”, they mouthed silently, together.
But Rigel knew it was no accident: in his mind, as he spoke, he felt as he imagined a feudal lord might, talking to... a serving woman. And some of his words hadn’t been ones he would have chosen. That troubled him, and he made a mental note to talk with Ryan about it
Later, Casey drew a map of the camp, and it was like this:
Tour over, Rigel realized there were some people missing. He made a guess at one. “Is Antonio hunting?”
“Yes”, Ocean exulted. “We will have fresh meat!”
“Who went with him?” Rigel knew Antonio wasn’t such a fool as to go alone.
“Up the blesséd oak.” Ryan gave her a look at that, and shared a glance and shake of his head with Rigel. Anaph had changed, and was still changing, becoming... something. Now Ocean – well, she’d seemed a bit New Age and mystic before, but it had been like a layer over an ordinary person; it seemed that the ordinary person was fading, and the mystic (and airheaded, Rigel told Ryan later) part was coming out and dominating.
“Anaph and Austin?”
Ocean didn’t say anything, just smiled beatifically. When Rigel insisted on an answer, all she said was, “Ask Casey, lord.”
Casey blushed a little, but grinned. “They found a good... spot”, he informed Rigel. “You’re the only one I’m s’posed to tell. C’mon.”
If he’d had to give directions later, Rigel would have said, “Past the half-broken oak tree, through the patch of ferns, past two more oaks, and hang a left at the huckleberries. Go twelve paces, and around the fallen oak full of vines and thorns.” Casey pointed them at that last item, grinned, and headed back.
Re: Fit for Life
They built quite a Fortress for a few days stay - but with as banged up as the group as a whole is, and plenty of fresh water, as soon as it settles down a bit, maybe it's not such a bad place to call home for a few - they don't know what else they will encounter.
The place does seem to have a mystic aura permeating it, and insinuating itself into the psyche of the troupe.
You continue to hold my attention.
Thanks, I know you're working hard on these chapters.
Re: Fit for Life
Hmmm ... Interesting! MOST Interesting!! ..|
Perhaps it's just me, but this new "beginning" seems a little disjointed to me. I had some trouble catching my bearings. I'm still not all that sure about everything that is going on. There is a different "air" about how everyone is reacting. Why were they avoiding talking about Anaph? Where did the new "my Lord" attitude come from? Something has "shifted", and I'm not quite sure what it is, or where it came from. :confused:
But, I'm LIKING it! And, I know there is more coming! (!)
Looking forward to it!! :D
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
They were just going to do the little sod & log wall they did once before... until Anaph got in there with his staff. I'd hoped the reader would figure that out. Apparently I'll have to work that info in later!
"Later" will be soon, because I got more words back from our Masterful Mod, and now need to do my rewrite of the last part of what was one massive chapter.
Awesome to have feedback like this to fix any weaknesses before they're long buried! ..| (*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
It's supposed to feel a little rushed, because Rigel was feeling a little rushed. In fact, you caught what's going on in his head very nicely!
Originally Posted by Kyanimal
As for Anaph, this was supposed to tell why they were 'avoiding talking':
Casey blushed a little, but grinned. “They found a good... spot”, he informed Rigel. “You’re the only one I’m s’posed to tell. C’mon.”
The next chapter will help a bit... but not completely. :p
Re: Fit for Life
And next, once I re-format it for JUB, is the next 'bit' of that once-long chapter!
Re: Fit for Life
Ryan took one look and retreated. Rigel found himself fascinated, and stood there, settling after a few seconds to lean against a soft, mossy branch.
Both Austin and Anaph were nude. The surface they were on was a brilliant green moss – the same color as various stains and streaks on their bodies. Sweat rolled off them; the sight brought forth thanks to the universe (or Who, who, What, or what-ever) from Rigel for the fact that they now had all the water they could want – until it sank back into the soil or evaporated.
But it wasn’t nudity – he’d gone to a summer camp in Sweden where everyone spent more time naked than clothed – that fascinated the group’s leader. Nor was it the beautiful moss, or the sweat, or even the reasonably fit bodies he was looking at; no, it was what was going on with those bodies.
Austin and Anaph stood facing each other, palms together, their feet far enough back that if one moved, the other would fall. Rigel had seen it before; it was a sort of trust thing, not easy to do: two people had to put their hands together, then take turns making slow steps backwards. Usually someone got nervous and frequently quit when standing became a matter of relying on the other person. A bit beyond leaning on each other, it got to the point of totally depending on the other person to hold up his side of the deal, because the slightest withdrawal could lead to both falling.
And that was sort of the point, to illustrate our interdependence, that if we let someone else down, we’re letting ourselves down, too. But he’d never seen it taken to this extreme; he guessed that the angle between them was past seventy degrees – and as he watched, Austin backed up yet again, half the length of his feet.
Another thing that amazed Rigel was that their eyes were closed. He couldn’t imagine keeping his balance in that position, without the visual references. He also couldn’t figure out why their feet weren’t sliding on that bright green moss – to him, it looked slippery, He thought of going over to feel it, but didn’t want to disturb... whatever they were doing.
They were even breathing in synchronization, he realized. With their eyes closed, he didn’t see any way they could have achieved it. But with what had been happening...
Do I believe in auras?, he asked himself. Do I believe in spirits, or souls? Can two people connect without hearing or seeing each other? People talk about dreams where they get messages from relatives, or even from the dead, and some of those dreams turn out to give accurate information – doesn’t that mean there’s a realm beyond what I can see and touch? And that was back home! Here... maybe Ryan was right, and the rules were different here. Maybe it wasn’t the Snatcher – or at least not all of it.
Rigel sighed. He wasn’t going to solve those problems by himself, he knew. Maybe they wouldn’t even solve them together. Maybe they were just subjects for the Snatcher to be amused by, and there was no purpose for them being given a new life here.
He turned his attention back to the leaning duo. At first he’d thought they were starting some odd sexual thing – were there things gays did no straights knew about? Not that he knew much about gays in the first place! – but it was obvious they weren’t. Maybe it was some off-the-wall form of prayer for... whatever Anaph was now – a witch-doctor? A shaman? Whatever....
One of those mental connections that makes no sense hit him. He actually had done something “gay” once....
Rigel knew guys gave each other head; he’d done it once to some freshman at a party when he was a junior – it had been an overnight trip, three nights actually, for the school speech team. The second day of the tournament, the debate team had scored big and would be heading to the semi-finals; Rigel had wowed the judges with his interpretive reading of an article written by a soldier in Afghanistan who’d been pinned down and had to watch a family systematically slaughtered because there was nothing he could do – and the freshman had the highest cumulative score in the tournament for extemporaneous speaking, against all the veteran seniors and juniors.
He found it odd he couldn’t remember the kid’s name – but he could remember losing a bet, then peeling down the guy’s underwear, and the view... and that was it. He knew he’d gone down on the kid, and gotten a mouthful, but what stuck in his mind was the view. He supposed it was because he’d never been that close to another guy’s crotch before – or since.
He did remember the name of the senior, a kid who by age should have been a freshman, who laid down the law when clothes started coming off. Drinking was one thing, Trevor had said, but underage sex with an adult even in the room was not going to happen. So they’d ganged up on Bret – or was it Bart? – their twenty-two-year old college chaperone, and locked him out of the room. If he wasn’t there, Trevor had explained, he couldn’t get thrown in prison for anything sexual with minors.
He also remembered the complaints about how stupid the law was, that they were old enough to decide what they wanted, but even though two girls wanted to go get Bret and just let him watch (what they’d really had in mind, Rigel had found later, was losing their virginity to a college guy, which to him was a massive “Not!”), Trevor had insisted on sticking to the rules. Rigel smiled at the memory; an hour later two big juniors had declared they weren’t going to let any puny “barely a teenager” kid tell them what to do, and announced they were going down to the boulevard to pick up some whores and bring them back. Two seconds later everyone present understood Trevor’s confidence: it turned out he had a red belt (four black stripes) in Tae Kwon Do, and was about to challenge for brown in Kung Fu – and he’d grown up with a family who considered ju-jitsu something appropriate for afternoon play. In short, the two drunks found themselves halfway back across the big motel room and flat on their backs – and decided that Trevor had a good idea when he told them to go sleep it off.
He wished, just then, that he had learned some of that from Trevor, or even that Trevor were with them – though he wouldn’t wish death on anyone, this didn’t seem to be a bad place to end up after not dying from a car crash but being dead anyway.
A voice snapped him out of his reverie. Anaph was standing there, holding something out to him – a cord with something on it. He looked closely, and saw an acorn made of silver, and a darker leaf that looked like it was made of pewter. Where Anaph had gotten it, he didn’t know, but he did know it wasn’t something that had “come over” with them. Taking a deep breath, he calmed his mind, letting his memory bring back what Anaph had said – and it worked.
“I’d be proud to place this on you, Anaph”, Rigel said, and Anaph beamed. Austin was standing behind Anaph, holding Anaph’s staff against the “shaman’s” back. Rigel took a wide, ‘manly’ stance, and took the cord from Anaph. He held it a moment, letting his mind go still – and as he’d hoped, words came.
“By Ash and by Oak, by Life and all that lives, bear this emblem in honor and humility. Let all know by its sign that you serve Life, and let it ever remind you of your duty to serve Life at all times. This is your burden and your privilege – by Ash and by Oak.” Rigel began lifting the cord – the necklace, he decided – when he said “bear this emblem”, and held it so the acorn and leaf were right in front of Anaph’s eyes. At “This is your burden”, he put it over Anaph’s head, lowing it till the jewelry rested on Anaph’s chest, and with the final “By Ash and by Oak”, he dropped it onto the waiting shoulders – except that Anaph caught it first.
“By Ash and by Oak”, Anaph responded, “to this charge I will be true: to serve Life, aiding as I can those in need, defying those who would destroy life. I accept this burden and this privilege – by Ash and by Oak.” He let the cord come to rest on his neck then. He looked solemn, yet radiant. After a few heartbeats the solemn part faded away, and he smiled.
“Master Rigel, I knew you would come in time. You have done good service here. I will return service for service”, Anaph declared. Then he turned and took the staff from Austin.
“I told you, didn’t I?” he said.
Austin grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, you did.” He turned to Rigel. “Anaph said you’d be here at the right time, and you’d know the right words. I thought he was crazy, but....”
His young face grew solemn. “Anaph and I were going to seal the... covenant?” he asked, looking at Anaph. “If you’d join us, I mean.”
From Austin’s glances, Rigel understood what he meant – and knew he had to say “No”.
“If it’s not your way, it’s not, Master Rigel”, Anaph said with a smile. “It is not unnatural; nature has formed many spirits for this path.” He reached out and touched Rigel’s thigh. “Yet it would be a great pleasure and honor to us, if you would consent...” He regarded Rigel neutrally, neither encouraging nor discouraging, leaving the decision totally in Rigel’s hands.
Except it didn’t seem to be totally in Rigel’s hands. Austin’s face had a pleading look, but he also looked different: the haunted, oppressed look was gone from his eyes. It was a new Austin, no longer the condemned and partly self-condemning one who began this journey... but it still wasn’t a confident Austin. He was uncertain in his new freedom, in need of affirmation, so how would he take it if Rigel said “No”?
It touched Rigel’s heart, Austin’s need. He reached out and slipped his hand around the kid’s neck, and squeezed gently. He started to speak – and then his own rule, his own words, came crashing back to him. For a moment he hated himself.
“Austin, you’d really like to?” he asked gently.
The young head nodded hard. “Ever since you first touched me. I want to taste you, feel you–“
Rigel cut him off. “Listen: I’d love to, but – there’s a wall we’re not going to break down.” He waited, tense inside, wondering what he was going to do, or have to do.
“Your rule.” Austin sounded crushed. Rigel’s heart ached for his young friend.
“Yes, my rule. I’m not going to break it for you. If I did, no one would pay attention to any other rules.” He waited, holding his breath, for the response.
Austin nodded slowly, regret with understanding written on his features. He looked into Rigel's eyes. “I get it. I hate my dad ‘cause he said I was an... that I was wicked. But I hate him because he – because I couldn’t trust him. He made rules for us that he broke when he felt like it. When he got elected mayor he got the city to make rules that he and his friends broke if it got them money. Then he was in the legislature, and there he broke rules to make liberals happy or conservatives, whoever could help him ‘get ahead’. When he got governor, he got worse.” There was vehemence in his tone, and lingering pain. Austin looked solemn, and his gaze wandered downward. “I want to – to do a lot with you, to feel your body all over mine.” He looked right at Rigel. "But if we did, you’d be like my dad. It starts with just one rule.” He smiled, not happily, but seemed content.
Rigel looked at him in awe: he had friends at college who were officers in their fraternities who didn’t have that much sense – or maybe it was wisdom. Pushing aside what he at that moment wanted to do for this gem of a kid, he instead took Austin’s head in his hands and planted a kiss on his forehead. Austin spoiled Rigel's solemn, exalted feeling with a giggle.
"Your dad is a fool", Rigel asserted softly, holding Austin with both hands around his neck. "Anyone not proud to have you as a son would be a fool." He pulled his young friend into a crushing embrace. "I'm proud to have you for a friend", he whispered, then stepped back to hold Austin by the shoulders. “Austin, you have my promise: when you turn eighteen, I’m yours. Anything you want, unless it freaks me out too much."
Young eyes locked on his; Austin bit his upper lip. “If we live that long.”
“We will.” It was Anaph who answered. “Master Rigel will see us to the goal.”
And just what is the goal? Rigel wanted to demand, but holding his silence as Anaph turned, throwing an arm around each of them, drawing them close for a moment before releasing.
Austin’s deep breath brought Rigel out of his wishes of what Anaph would reveal. “Rigel, I want to do what Anaph did”, the boy said. “I want to be your... man of life and limb.”
Ages can pass in a heartbeat. Rigel experienced a couple as Austin’s request bounced around his head. Among all the rest, his biggest thought by far was, “Where is this all going?”
He shook his head. Austin’s face fell. “No, wait!” he blurted. “That wasn’t a ‘no, I wont’ head shake, it was a... a ‘it won’t work that way’ shake. At least, I don’t think it will. Look – you’re not like Anaph, are you? Like, talking to the trees, and knowing there’s danger before it happens?” And explain that one as our kidnappers feeding the kid information! “And... and everything?”
“Well, sorta, but not a lot. I guess I’m learning. But why?”
“See, if you’re going to be like a fighter, you don’t take an oath like that till you’re eighteen.” Rigel was drawing on memories of stories about King Arthur. “Until then you’d be a... um....”
“A squire”, Austin stated. “I know that one: page, knight, squire.” He grinned impudently. “I’m too old to be a page,”
“We don’t have a castle and all that to be a page in, either”, Rigel added with a laugh.
“Body servant”, Anaph said suddenly. “Lords had knights and squires and pages, but they had body servants, too.”
Austin was eying Rigel’s body like it was a tasty morsel; Rigel moved to head off that thought. “Right – and attendants”. Whatever those were!
“Then I’ll be your body-servant and attendant”, Austin declared. “Does that get an oath?”
“Sure”, Rigel answered. “We’ll let Anaph figure it out and tell us later. Right now, let’s get dressed, and.....” His words trailed off when he realized Anaph wasn’t paying attention: he was on his tiptoes, feet wide, arms out and palms up, looking like a human version of an ‘X’, chest out with a full breath, just not moving. Whatever the deal was, both Rigel and Austin felt they shouldn’t interrupt.
Lungs let go, ankles relaxed, arms dropped slowly; Anaph came to a normal stance again like a figure skater flowing from a championship pose to another. He smiled. “It is enough, for now.” And he started getting dressed.
Re: Fit for Life
This is definitely becoming a very interesting tale of cross cultures and customs, among other things.
I look forward to seeing your continued development!
Re: Fit for Life
p.s. The man knows his Forensics! (That's Speech and Debate, to those of you who only know about Medical Examiners, lol.)
My personal favourite is Congress - a LOT more exciting than most, but we can talk about that offline, lol.
Re: Fit for Life
Are they aliens?
Originally Posted by Magnetar
Is it really a wilderness?
Are they in Middle Earth?
I used to know all the constellations. I can still estimate the tides by knowing when the moon comes up, and keep track of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.
Originally Posted by Magnetar
I know, it hangs out with the Beetle Geese a lot. :cool:
Re: Fit for Life
When they were back at the camp, Rigel realized what had been bugging him – besides minors wanting to have sex with him, that is: the place was a hexagon ten meters on a side, with a ditch all around walls of sod, walls that were four feet high; there was a higher section of sod covered with crumpled long grass and moss, where the people with injuries were hanging out; there was an excellent fire pit with a sod edge around it; limbs had been trimmed from the big oak to make the path Tanner had used to climb up... and more. How had they gotten that all done while Austin and Anaph were off having sex, he and Ryan and Oran were on a walk, Lumina was out of it and Crystal – or was it Breeze? – following her, Devon couldn’t work because of his arm, and Rita in that “hospital” area because of her back, Antonio and Dmitri had gone off hunting... there were seventeen of them, and that was eleven who weren’t there to work! And of the ones left, Casey and Melanie and... Breeze? didn’t have that much strength, and Ocean wasn’t that in touch with the world.
Ocean came rushing up – like a frothy wave on the beach, Rigel thought. She almost ignored him, speaking instead to Anaph. “He aided you!” she exclaimed – then glancing at Rigel.
Anaph’s grin was almost teasing. “Yes, but not as you think”, he told Ocean. “He raised up Sophia, not Eros.”
Casey stepped forward and handed Anaph a rather large acorn. He seemed to examine Anaph’s face intensely for a moment, then asked, “Can you do it now? Some chunks fell off. I don’t know if they’ll stay very long.”
Rigel looked to Ryan, who shrugged in a way that communicated back to his friend, How’d we get in this looney bin? Rigel mouthed back to him, Have you seen a white rabbit? Ryan rolled his eyes.
Yet it seemed they were the only skeptics. Everyone else – Antonio and Dmitri had returned, and a dripping deer carcass hung from a tree branch, over the ditch, and here was Rita, looking pale and weak, leaning on Tanner , who looked defiant (and what was that about?, Rigel asked himself) – was gathering in a circle between the gate and the fire pit. Anaph moved to stand near the gate; Austin followed.
Rigel started to ask what was going on, but Anaph shook his head and said, “Please”, motioning Rigel to join them. Discontented, the group’s leader found himself – no, I was guided, he realized – between Austin, who gave him a quick hug, and Casey, who with a smug look on his face came hand-in-hand with Melanie. Even Lumina was there, her face blank as usual, being led by Devon. Ryan took her other hand to bring her into the circle, and when they came to stand between Oran – who was holding Crystal’s hand – and Tanner, the circle was complete. Ryan grabbed Tanner by the neck and whispered into his ear; Rigel knew from the look on his friend’s face that he was delivering a lecture – and after a few seconds, Tanner nodded and composed himself more calmly.
Anaph leaned his staff on his own shoulder lifted his hands, and called softly, “Raise, then join ,your hands.” They all did, though Devon’s wounded arm went up all the way only because Melanie lifted it. The following Anaph’s lead, they lowered their hands.
“Life.” It was a simple word, but Anaph filled it with joy, reverence, hope, energy, and love. “Life”, many of them echoed, and at that moment Rigel found himself deluged with sexual sensations in a way he’d never felt before, sensations flooding up from every part of his body he’d experienced as sensuous, and from others, while pouring in, flowing through from the hands of Austin and Casey. Lust took second – no, not even that high! – place in a symphony of desires and longings – and fulfilments – Rigel couldn’t have described in return for a mansion with electricity and running water and every luxury he could imagine in exchange for the dumpy camp they had. His thighs felt the flame he got when he saw a girl he’d do on request, but the feeling came now at anything alive that fell in his gaze, and with the flame came a yearning for everything and everyone to be whole, to be healthy and vibrant and thriving and reproducing. His hips trembled from longing to thrust, but not to plunge himself into a girl, instead to plunge his whole self into a great thing called life: to be one with it, with all living things, seeking harm to none and the benefit of each and every being. He trembled with fear, wanting out of that bond; he trembled in joy, at knowing such a bond; he trembled in anticipation, of... he didn’t know of what, but he knew that to anticipate is to live.
If a dozen others in the group hadn’t agreed they’d seen the same thing, he would have sworn he was hallucinating. Anaph broke hands with Ocean ever so briefly, their fingers still touching so the circle remained complete, and twitched his shoulder so his staff rolled, then tumbled to pass through those fingers and fall. Its fall ended with the bottom touching Anaph’s bare foot, the top – with that big acorn Casey had brought stuck to it – landing softly in the turf stacked with grass out on the inside of their wall....
And the spot it touched turned green. Anaph began to hum, and Ocean joined him, somehow making a harmony when there was no tune. One by one they all joined in, trying to match Anaph’s note or Ocean’s, searching for one their own. Rigel, not much of a singer, settled on a bass note as low as he could go, imagining himself the bass drone on a set of bagpipes that was playing itself.
The green spread. The advancing edge pulsed in time with a subtle rhythm that had come into their group hum, racing faster and faster to circle the inside of the wall, turning all that dry sod green, and to wash up over the top in places, and down across the ground in others.
Then all at once it was over. The hum died in just a second, as they all sensed their part was done.
Ryan was the first to move. He walked over to Rigel. “Buddy, I feel like I just had sex with half the pep squad.”
Rigel chuckled. “I had the other half.” He glanced down, just then realizing something: he had, in fact, come!
Ryan understood the glance, and the widened eyes. “Me, too – right when the acorn touched the turf. So did half the guys, I bet.” The way he looked somewhere else then told Rigel he didn’t want to talk about it.
He wasn’t going to be put off, though – not completely. “Think about this.” Ryan turned his gaze back. “How does this fit with your hypothesis that our... call it the Snatcher – is behind Anaph’s gig?” Rigel didn’t wait for an answer, but headed for Anaph.
Tanner intercepted him, a dark look on his face. “I don’t like it. You have to stop this kind of thing!” He stormed off and climbed the big oak before Rigel could even think of what to say. Then it was Dmitri, who stopped Rigel with a hand on his chest and said simply, “Witchraft!” Then Casey grabbed him – with an eager invitation for him to “join with” himself and Melanie, and invitation he answered with a question: “And how old are you?” Casey looked crushed, so Rigel added, “Look – go ask Austin to explain it.” Then Chen was waiting for him. “Lord Rigel, you should check this out.” Rigel would have punched him except for the teasing look.
“This” was the inside of the wall. The brilliant green had faded some, but it was still the richest-looking grass in sight. Chen grabbed at the turf and tugged. Rigel started, reaching out to stop the inevitable fall of sod blocks, but there wasn’t one. “It’s all bound together – like it’s been growing for years, and just now decided to stand up instead. The roots and stems are all entwined. It’s one big piece now.” He dropped to one knee. “Same thing at the bottom – it blends right in with the grass on the ground, all one piece. And it probably”, he finished as he stood, “did the same thing over onto the front of the wall.” He looked Rigel square in the eye.” He took them apart, and he put them back together.”
“Took them apart?” The words popped out, spawned by Rigel’s shock and bafflement. “What do you mean, ‘took them apart’?”
Chen stared. “You didn’t know? Oh, that’s right; you went on your walk. It was– well, we started chopping out chunks of turf to build a wall, right? We’d decided on a ditch, where we’d get the sod, and just one opening. Anaph watched what we were doing, and then he drags that staff of his along the ground, walking what I thought was a crooked circle. When he was done, he just smiled, then took Austin and went off somewhere. Oh – he grabbed Casey and said something, and pretty soon Casey is heading off with Melanie.
“Well, Dmitri and I took a look, and where Anaph had dragged that staff, the ground was sliced. We thought, kool, and started pulling up chunks. But there was another slice, and another, and another.... It was like magic; the kid sliced up the sod in a big swath around our camp spot. All we had to do was decide how long we wanted the pieces.”
Chen looked distant for a moment. “I took a water break – you know how nice it is to be able to just take a water break?!” He was silent a moment, then sighed. “Anyway, I looked at what I was pulling, and, I know this sounds crazy, but it hadn’t been cut. All the roots and stems and everything were fine, not sliced, except they curled back into their own pieces, so nothing was connected..” He looked disbelieving. “So what he did now? He just made those roots and all uncurl and stick themselves back into the dirt next door, and we have a solid layer of turf covering our wall, like it had been there fifty years.”
Rigel ran it through his mind. “So he, um, separated the sod, you stacked it, and he put it back together.”
“Not quite”, Chen corrected. “Making the outer wall, the sod didn’t always fit very well. Then we dug more loose dirt from the ditch. We used a lot of dirt from the ditch for just fill, too. I think we were half-height when Anaph came back and took a leak on the wall, in the dirt I’d just dumped, and told us we’d need to water it every few layers. Weird, huh?”
“True – but perfectly reasonable, if you knew what he was planning.” The whole idea troubled Rigel, but he was willing to examine it on its own rules.
Chen looked disturbed as he fumbled for words. “Oh, hell, Rigel – what’s happening to him? He is... he’s different.”
At that, Rigel had to laugh. “Very. I guess the way he swore himself to me really freaked out his friends, too. Heck – hey! No one’s talking to him! Our turn.”
The two practically pinned Anaph against the big oak. It looked threatening to Ocean, who came rushing over. Rigel wasn’t in the mood for her; he stuck out his right hand to stiff-arm her if she kept charging, and gave her a look that was eager to scorch the paint off the walls... if they’d had walls that could be painted, and paint to do it with. She landed herself by Anaph.
Chen was pulling no punches. “Kid, you’ve been getting weirder. Now you’re doing stuff some of us think is like black magic. You know things and do things people shouldn’t be able to do.
“What’s going on? What are you turning into?”
Anaph looked at Chen, then at Rigel, quite calm, maybe thinking. Ocean wasn’t so restrained.
“Don’t you men know anything? I felt it in my bones!” she asked forcefully.
Chen started to swear at her; Rigel slapped a hand over his mouth. “Fine”, he asked calmly. “So, what is he becoming?”
Re: Fit for Life
Fantastic!! Thanks Kuli.
An oak grove, with all the spirits !
Re: Fit for Life
I'm trying frantically to catch up - been running, not been able to be on a lot.
Great installment. Very Metaphysical. Druid!
Some of the Commercial Novels I've read, recently, have had dealings with the standing stones left by the Druids.
You are crafting a very interesting tale.
Thanks for investing the time and effort and publishing this for us.
Re: Fit for Life
Ryan, Oran, and Chen were waiting with Rita in Anaph’s “hospital” area as Rigel had asked. With him came Austin, who since taking oath as his attendant and squire-wannabe, had stuck to Rigel like a tail to a comet: always there, sometimes hardly noticeable, sometimes brilliant. He’d insisted on brushing out Rigel’s clothes. He insisted on bringing Rigel his dinner. He insisted on – too many things, Rigel thought. But he’d accepted the kid’s request, and taken his oath, so where he went, Austin went. He had drawn the line at spooning for sleeping, though; in his mind, it would only encourage Austin’s sexual notions toward him.
But he thought his attendant would be helpful in this meeting. He’d called this select group because of their good sense, to a meeting to help him get a grip on what was happening: Anaph becoming a Druid, people calling him “lord”, Ocean getting bonkers, and perhaps most critical, Tanner and Dmitri going ballistic over Anaph’s “black magic” or “witchcraft”. That had been bad before the circle gathering where Anaph had made the sod wall firm and strong; now it was vehement: they wouldn’t talk to him – or Austin, for that matter – or sit with him, or even be on the same side of the camp. Anaph didn’t seem hurt, just... saddened? The word wasn’t right, but it was as close as Rigel could come.
The night before, he’d climbed the big oak with Antonio and stared at the stars. They’d tried to come up with some constellations, but the stars were much, much thicker in the sky here. Not seeing the Big Dipper – Ursa Major, he corrected himself – had been disappointing and disorienting – like having a bright blue north star wasn’t bad enough! – but when there wasn’t anything, nothing at all that looked like his favorite constellation, Orion, his heart had suddenly ached with the homesickness he hadn’t felt once since they’d arrived. Tears had come; he hadn’t wanted to cry with Antonio there, but it had come out all right. “Me, too”, Antonio had said. “I’ve cried half the nights I’ve been on watch in the tree. I stare at the stars, on my back on a big branch, and wonder if the Sun is one of those lights up there, if our constellations are out there but just, oh, lost to us.” The big guy had gone silent for a quarter minute before continuing. “Without the stars up there, I don’t feel whole. I feel like a stranger. So I take all my clothes off and climb – makes me feel like a creature of nature. It helps, some.”
Rigel had laughed – he finally understood why Antonio had been naked in the oak tree that night Austin and his friends had showed up. And the conversation had helped, in more ways than one: he knew he wasn’t alone in feeling lost, he knew he could adjust, because Antonio was, and he understood Antonio as someone more than a muscle man who loved blades. He’d even learned that Antonio was Native American, Navajo and Aztec, with Castilian Spanish from the time of the Conquistadors. Antonio even spoke Spanish – badly, he’d admitted. Knowing all that had somehow made him more confident in the group’s safety. He’d slept well the rest of the night, back to back with Austin.
Today he’d announced a swimming party at the downstream lake, which was fading fast. He’d figured there would only be a few more days until it was gone, so urged everyone to enjoy it while it lasted. It was also a chance to exercise some muscles that the constant weary walking hadn’t. That would help everyone feel better – and get them ready for more walking, ahead, to a real water supply. He hated thinking about leaving this camp behind, as nice as it was compared to what they’d had, but deep inside something told him that whatever doubts he’d been harboring, there were better things ahead for them.
The swimming party had also allowed for this meeting without other ears around and no one butting in to bother him. So now he stepped up on the raised ground of the “hospital”, nothing that the area where Rita rested had been covered with the hide from the previous day’s deer – a nice three-point buck whose head, with antlers, and hooves had been turned over to Asaph. Rigel wondered if their Druid would show up wearing it as a hat one day; the image made him almost giggle.
As he sat he couldn’t resist an old line. “I suppose you’re all wondering why I called you here today”, he began. He even got some laughs from it.
That was followed by a frown: out of his peripheral vision, he noticed Austin standing, on his right and behind him. “Austin, get your cute little ass around here and sit. You can mother me just as well from where I can see you.” Austin chuckled; that line had already become a joke between them – and he sat.
“So why did you call us?” Chen inquired. “What’s the emergency?”
“Our pretend druid”, Ryan fired at him.
Rigel shook his head and pointed a finger at his best friend. “Caution, there, Rye. You explain scientifically what happened yesterday, and I’ll entertain skepticism. But in this council, we accept it as real. Got it?” Why did I call it a council? he wondered.
“It did happen”, Rita assured Ryan. “I know better than you do. Here – look at my back.” She sat up, peeled her shirt off – Nice software, Rigel found himself thinking – and turned for them to look.
What had been a barely-scabbing back with torn muscles and deep slices had changed. The scabs that there were appeared strong, dry on the surface as they should be to protect the healing wound. The deep slices were just gone! Rita raised her arms and twisted back and forth to show that the muscles were whole, too.
“I caught some of that... magic”, Rita told them. “I thought I was on fire; it hurt almost as bad as getting torn by the cat. Then it felt cold. When I got back here I was thirsty – ‘way thirsty; I drank two bottles in the next half hour. I asked Ocean to check, and she told me what it looked like. She wouldn’t shut up about Druid Anaph and the powers of Nature, and kept talking about Ash and Oak, or Oak and Ash.
“Rigel, you have to do something about her.”
“That’s one of the items today”, Rigel replied. “My thought is, since she’s so thrilled about Anaph, is assign her to him. He’ll calm her.”
“If you tell him to”, Oran said. “I think he likes having a fan girl.”
Ryan chuckled. “She’s twice as old as he is.”
Chen looked doubtful. “If think Anaph is weird enough on his own. Sometimes he seems like two people.”
Rigel nodded his agreement. “Yes, he does. I need to talk with him, too. He’s getting knowledge from somewhere – maybe the Snatcher”, he added to head Ryan off. “But he’s gaining judgment and stability, a calm ability to wait. Melanie said he wasn’t like that before – he was jumpy, angry a bunch, impulsive, kept to himself a lot.”
“That sure doesn’t describe him now”, Rita opined.
“Okay, maybe”, Chen conceded. “But maybe he’s gaining a split personality.”
Rigel shook his head. “Austin can tell you about that. And I think Austin’s good for him, too. They’ve gotten pretty close.”
“He’s good for me, too. We... enjoy each other’s bodies”, Austin confessed. “When I’m with him like that, he’s just a kid like me. When he’s being a Druid, he’s more like... like a priest.”
For Rigel, the description fit. Chen tilted his head, thinking, and nodded after a while. Rita signalled her agreement with an “OK” sign. Ryan was staring at Rigel, and didn’t say anything.
Relief flooded Rigel: two topics down already, and no arguments. But it was going to get tougher. “Next: what’s with people starting to call me’lord’?”
“It’s stupid, is what it is”, Ryan fired at him. “Just some game they’re playing.”
Chen shook his head. “It’s not some game. I mean it as a joke, but it feels right.” He looked at Rigel and shrugged. “Sorry... lord.”
Rigel scooped up moss and threw it at him, drawing a laugh from all of them.
Rita chimed in. “Rigel, he’s right – it feels right. Laying here, I watch everyone, and even when no one’s calling you ‘lord’, they’re deferring to you, expecting you to make tough decisions. We all expect you to know what to do, for all of us.”
“Anaph says you will lead us to the goal”, Austin reminded him, quite serious. “He says you won’t fail us.”
“He doesn’t call me ‘lord’”, Rigel pointed out.
“No, he calls you Master, because he swore to you – like I did. But that doesn’t feel right to me. It’s like Chen said – it feels right to call you lord.”
“What, do you guys think we’re in the Middle Ages?” Ryan exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “Rigel’s just a college guy, like me and Devon!”
Rita stared at him, and Ryan deflated. “None of us is ‘just a’ anything”, she said softly. “We’re people who should have died in a wreck – but didn’t. We got put here, brought here, Snatched. So you’re not a college guy, Ryan, and neither is Rigel. We’re what this world is making us: it’s making Anaph a Druid. It’s making Antonio a warrior.” She pointed toward the gate, where Antonio lounged, but with his own long spear and three short ones ready to hand.
“And it’s making Ocean a loon”, Ryan chimed in sourly and sarcastically.
Oran turned to him. “It seems to be making you angry and bitter. Or are you doing that to yourself?” Ryan glared at him. Under the resentment, though, Rigel sensed fear... and confusion. He let it be for the moment; that would be between them, when Ryan was ready.
“It’s changing us all”, Chen summarized. “Even me. Call me weird, but I know what I know: my reflexes are faster, my eyes and hearing are sharper. I feel alert all the time, like always on watch. It’s awesome, and I thought for awhile I was imagining it, but I know I’m not.”
“I feel loyal”, Austin tossed in. “I never felt loyal. I hated my dad, I hated the pastor at church. I didn’t trust my mom, ‘cause she was afraid of dad. I really didn’t have any friends till last year, ‘cause I was afraid they’d hate me if they knew.
“But I want to serve you, Rigel. When you agreed, I felt like pieces were sliding into place. I felt like I’d fallen into where I belonged.”
“Rigel, you can’t tell me you haven’t felt it”, Rita said, reaching over to touch his arm, locking his eyes with hers.
He began to tremble. I have felt it, he admitted to himself. I’ve felt it with Ocean, and with Anaph, and with Austin, and with Antonio. Rigel dropped his eyes and stared at his hands. “You’re right”, he whispered. “Damn and blast, you’re right. I felt it when I gave Ocean orders, and then she called me ‘lord’.” He looked up at his friends, his council. “But I don’t like it. I’m okay with being the leader, but I’m no lord who gives orders and doesn’t explain things, who can’t be disobeyed. That’s not me.”
Chen laughed through his nose. “You don’t have to be that kind of lord, dude. You’re thinking a lord does what he wants, and everyone has to go with that, right? Well, then, that means you get to decide how to be a lord. If there’s a tradition you like, do it. If there are things you think are the way lords are supposed to be but you don’t like, ditch it.”
Slowly a smile grew on Rigel’s face in place of the doomed look. “Yeah, I guess I can, huh? Does that mean I can command maidens to my bed?”
Ryan laughed at that. “That’s the Rigel I know!”
Chen raised his hand to claim the floor – or the moss, which was what they had. “Rigel, since we’re talking about this, I’ve been feeling something else, too: I need to take oath with you, too. Not like Anaph and Austin have; there’s no ‘Ash and Oak’ for me. I was raised Orthodox, and that just doesn’t fit.”
“Make your own oath”, Austin told him. “We made one for me. Well, Anaph did.”
Chen nodded. “Okay. But there’s another thing: I feel like I need to do my oath with a blade, like a sword. And we don’t have anything like that.”
Rigel let himself face something he’d been repressing. “You guys saw that necklace thing Anaph has?”
Oran laughed. “How not? He’s stopped wearing a shirt, and wears it on his chest all the time. He probably even–“ he stopped and glanced at Rita, blushing a little.
“Where did it come from?” Rigel pressed. “I know he didn’t have it when we were snatched.”
“I found it”, Austin admitted. “He said I shouldn’t say anything, but” – he turned to Rigel – “I gave you my oath, not him. It was mostly buried in a rotten stump, one that kid of fell apart when I sat on it.”
Rigel nodded. “So Austin found a necklace–“
“Amulet”, Rita interrupted. “It has power.”
They all stared at her. Rigel decided that didn’t need to be pursued. “The thing is that he found it. Now, what does that mean?”
Ryan was ready with an answer. “It means we’re not the first ones who were Snatched. Someone else was here before we were. They dropped it.”
“But did they bring it with them”, Rigel asked quietly, “or did they make it here?”
That rocked them back. None of them had thought in terms of someone being Snatched, and actually making a home good enough that they could make jewelry.
“It is kinda crude”, Austin told them.
“And if it was made here, then people made other things”, Oran stated, finishing the argument that Rigel had ignored in his head.
“And maybe they made swords”, Rigel concluded. “So, Chen, if you don’t mind waiting....”
Chen laughed, shaking his head. “That’s crazy.”
“He could swear like I did”, Austin suggested to Rigel. “Be your attendant, or whatever.”
Rigel considered that. “No, Chen’s good enough to be a squire. Sorry, Austin; I know you wanted that. But that’s four years away–“
“Three and a half.”
“– and we can probably make Chen a knight by then.” But as Rigel looked at Chen, he didn’t think the seventeen-year-old from Hong Kong was going to be a knight. Antonio was, he understood in that moment, but Chen was going to be something else.
Austin was happy with that. “I’m good with that.”
“Next, then”, Rigel announced before anyone else could speak up. “Anyone know what the deal is with Tanner and Dmitri?”
Chen raised his hand again. “Dmitri’s Russian Orthodox. They’re pretty harsh about witchcraft.”
“And you’re not?” Rita asked. “You said you were raised Orthodox.”
“My parents were Thomist Christians, from southern India where St. Thomas ended up. In Hong Kong, the closest thing was an Orthodox church that was Evangelical Catholic Orthodox. We were taught that witches have to give up their witchcraft, but that every person has to be treated the way we would treat Christ if we met Him.” He shrugged. “So I think Anaph is in a dangerous space, but I won’t trash on him.”
“I like that”, Rigel responded. “You think you could talk to Dmitri?”
Chen shrugged again. “I’ll give it a shot. No promises.”
“A shot is good”, Rigel assured him. “Now – anyone know anything about Tanner?”
Chen spoke up again. “I don’t really, but Antonio might. They were kinda tight for awhile in the program.”
All Rigel had to do was glance at Austin, and his attendant sprinted off to get Antonio.
Antonio came over alone. “Austin’s on guard”, he announced.
“No way”, Ryan challenged. “He’s too small.”
“Chen – go switch with him”, Rigel ordered, realizing that it felt natural to just be giving orders. In moments Austin was back. He didn’t say anything, just sat down by Rigel. Rigel found that impressive.
“You want to know what I know about Tanner”, Antonio stated. “Austin told me. What’s the deal?”
Rita spoke up first and explained. She’d overheard Tanner’s complaint to Rigel the day before.
“Ah, lo veo”, Antonio said when she was finished – I see it. “Yeah, he goes to this crazy church where they wave their hands in the air and talk nonsense at the top of their lungs. They do it all at once, and it’s supposed to make God happy.
“They hate all kinds of people. They hate gays the most – Austin, if they had their way, they’d burn you at the stake. Witches are next. But they call anything they don’t really understand ‘witchcraft’ – incense is witchcraft, black lights and strobes at dances are witchcraft, Wicca people are witchcraft, naturism is witchcraft. I don’t really go for any of that anyway, so Tanner and I get along.”
“Can you talk to him?” Rigel asked.
Antonio made a sour grimace. “It won’t do any good. Even if you had a Bible and found verses that said he was wrong, he wouldn’t change. The Bible means what his preacher said it means, and that’s that.”
Rigel sighed with disappointment. He saw in Tanner a rebel who had to be dealt with, and his best hope had just fallen down.
He considered himself a Christian. He’d been confirmed at an independent Lutheran congregation when he was thirteen, and after the sober, thoughtful, and very rational approach to everything he had never been able to grasp what he thought of as the rabid ruthlessness of Christian who thought the whole world ought to kneel to them, and to heck with waiting for the Lord Jesus to return. So he didn’t know how to begin to talk to Tanner about the problem; he was far more comfortable with Anaph, actually, and couldn’t really see what a Christian would have a problem – well, with the sex, probably, as part of an energizing ritual. He wasn’t blind to what had gotten Anaph and Austin all sweaty the day before, or why Casey had been so smug, and proprietary over Melanie, and he thought he knew enough about nature religions to know what it had been about. That part he could talk to Anaph about, but Tanner....
Rigel sighed. “Well, if I’m the lord, I guess it’s my job to talk to them.”
“Talk to Anaph first”, Rita suggested. “Get him on board so there aren’t any arguments with him, anyway.”
“Good idea”, Chen agreed. “Never face two enemies at once if you can help it. And you have Austin, too – he knows Anaph.”
So easy for them all to just let me do it, Rigel thought.
Re: Fit for Life
Another great installment.
Building bridges across differences, trying to get the group to be cohesive and work together in all things.
Enlightenment of their own sort, as they discover the talents of the individual members being enhanced by the forces of this place.
Thanks, again, for sharing your talents with us.
Re: Fit for Life
My talents are being enhanced by the special forces of this place. :cool:
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
Re: Fit for Life
Better sooner than late, Rigel told himself yet again when he reached the lake. The shore was muddy except for one sandy stretch that was marked by the piles of clothing. Austin at his side, both the their spears ready, he headed that way.
They’d all adjusted pretty much to being naked around each other. When you had to stay close to everyone for safety, there wasn’t much choice – and besides that, clothes were beginning to wear; sleeping on grass and moss didn’t do much for them. Rigel thought it was healthy, the casual nudity: it seemed to bond them as a group, because in his view it required a measure of trust.
With that thought he recalled that the two most uncomfortable with being naked outdoors at all were the two he needed to confront later: Tanner and Dmitri. He toyed with the idea that the nudity could be worked into his arguments, but gave it up when they reached the sand.
Austin waited to strip until Rigel had, standing with his back to the lake, spear at the ready, keeping watch. Once Rigel was in bare skin, he took the watch position. He noted with approval that spears were set in the lake itself at regular intervals in groups of three, available to the swimmers in case anything came for them. That danger was evident in the tracks along the edge: cats had been here, all along the shore. The numerous deer tracks told why. With a wry grin Rigel realized that this was probably where Antonio had got that buck they were feeding on – and that reminded him he needed to give everyone a talk about what they needed to eat.
Then Austin was ready, so they waded in to knee deep. The two scanned the swimming and laughing group in opposite directions. “There”, Austin called out softly, pointing with his spear. He’d spotted Anaph, who in most un-Druidly fashion had Melanie on his shoulders, dodging Casey with Breeze on his.
Rigel hated to interrupt the fun... but duty was duty. He wondered why anyone sane had ever wanted to be a lord – then thought of the wild history of the feudal period, and wondered if maybe he wasn’t on to something.
Just as they got there, Breeze succeeded in dislodging Melanie. Melanie caught Breeze by the foot, though, and all four went down in a splashing heap of bare bodies.
Perfect timing, he thought, then with a grin handed his spear to Austin, and waited for Anaph to begin standing up. When his sworn follower did that, he did a shallow dive that caught Anaph by the thighs, throwing him down again. Rigel stood, Anaph between his legs. When the kid’s head came above water, Rigel reached down and caught him by one arm. “You are conquered!”, he declared.
Anaph laughed, not a serious or sober Druid laugh at all, but the laugh of a seventeen-year old having a great fun time. The sound was refreshing, and gave Rigel a feeling of hope. He changed his grip from conquering to helping, and lifted Anaph.
“Finally done with your secret gathering?” Anaph teased.
“Yep – and now I have to talk with you”, Rigel replied.
“There’s a great place”, Anaph said, turning. “See that log out there? A tree the flood caught, I think. Five people can sit on it.” Rigel approved, and the three swam to it.
It was, Rigel had to agree, a good spot. They could get high enough, to where three branches spread, to see everyone at play – except Tanner, who stood guard with the gun... and underwear still on. So, he decided, nudity will be in the talk, too.
“What’s up, big man?” Anaph asked, stretched out on his back on one of the limbs.
Rigel went straight to the point. “First: are you going to be doing any more sex rituals?”
Anaph sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees. “No. That was to trigger the amulet. I thought I might have to do more, but it’s more tuned to Life than I thought.”
“Good. Tanner and Dmitri are all freaked about your ‘black magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ and ‘prostitution worship’.” He’d heard the last from Chen. “If I can tell them there won’t be any more religious sex, it will help.” He waved off Anaph’s protest. “I know, you don’t think of it as religion, but they do. They think it’s pagan, wicked, and a challenge to God.”
Anaph laughed softly, then louder. “Rigel, it isn’t against God at all. The Creator made Life, and Life comes from the Creator – all the time. The All-Maker didn’t just start Life up, but feeds it continually. By honoring Life, we honor the Creator.”
Austin was listening like it was a lesson from some wise teacher. Rigel pondered that for a moment, and decided Austin might have a point. He decided to ask. “Anaph, did you know all this before... before the wreck?”
The response was a shaking head. “A lot of it – no, all began when I woke up and heard the trees. Every time I talk with them, I learn more. I don’t even know what I learned, sometimes! Then I’ll need something, and the knowledge pops out. Like the amulet”, he said. “Austin brought it to me, and I thought it was nice, and would go with my Office. Then I touched it, and knew things – that it was a focus, a channel for Life... that I needed to trigger it. I started to tell Austin thanks. I looked in his eyes, and knew right then that the trigger would take passion, and love.” He shrugged and grinned, looking affectionately at Austin. “So I caught Casey, and asked him to get with Melanie, and I took Austin, and we... generated passion and love.
“Now the amulet is alive. When I wear it, I just know what’s going on around. I know where there are berries and things to eat. I know if a mossy branch is strong enough to hold me.” He shrugged again, as if to say he wasn’t sure what all it would help him with.
“What about the cats?” asked Austin. “Can you tell when they’re around?”
Anaph looked beatific, Rigel decided, a mixture of awe and wonder, of pride and strength. “They won’t bother us now”, Anaph replied. “One was coming last night, to see the camp. I took my staff out and met her. She had hungry cubs, so I told her where there was a sleeping buck, one with a wound that she could catch easily.” He shifted his position, draping one leg off the limb, more relaxed. “She wanted to know why the two-legs were back. I told her we were changing homes, because we lacked food where we came from. She asked if our new home was near; I said we journey to the mountains. She asked if we had killed a cat with thunder, and I said yes. Then she said she would let other cats know that we carried the thunder, and to stay away. She also said she would tell them there was a Life-bearer here, and ask them to keep the gr’venstut away.”
“This cat talked to you.” Rigel’s tone made it clear he didn’t believe it.
Anaph just grinned. “Not with words. It was... it was flavors, and scents, feelings and... attitudes, images – lots of images. Like, I thought of our first camp, and moving scenery, and this camp, and then moving scenery... sort of. Pretty much, I guess. That’s how I said we were moving to a new home.”
“What’s a gruvenstot?” Austin asked.
Anaph grinned. “You have to think how a cat would say it, if it could talk. She kind of did say it, even. It’s kind of a short ‘grrr’, then ‘ven’, back in your throat kind of like a growl, and ‘stut’ – ‘ut’ like ;put’.
“It’s something big, with big teeth or tusks – tusks, I think. It’s not afraid of anything but the cats, and only if there are three or more together. There was an image of me kneeling with my staff, pointing it at this monster animal while it charged at me. I think she meant that’s the only thing we can do.”
“A .357 might change it’s mind”, Austin suggested.
Rigel shook his head. “Anaph’s cat is probably right – we just want to avoid them.” A chill ran through him, an image flashed in his mind, and he knew they were going to meet one before the mountains. “But... I think Antonio would know how to make something better than your staff to fight one.”
Anaph laughed so hard he almost fell. “Dude, if one ran into my staff, and I was really tuned in with Life.... It would drop dead, its gut would split and all the gross stuff inside would fall out, it’s skin would fall off, and the meat would stack itself up in pieces all ready to cook.”
Austin laughed at that. Rigel watched Anaph’s eyes, though, and he knew their Druid wasn’t kidding. “And what if you weren’t really tuned in?”
Anaph shrugged. “No big deal – it would drop dead, and probably roll on me.”
“And if it was big enough, it would break your ribs”, Rigel pointed out. “Can your amulet fix broken ribs?”
That sobered Anaph. He shook his head. “I don’t know enough. Maybe, if I did. I think... someone else... I mean, healing is different from being a Druid. We need a Healer.”
“Lumina”, Austin said quietly.
“She’s not even aware of the world!” Rigel protested.
“I know. We have to find something.” He looked into the distance, towards the mountains, then at Rigel. “I saw it while we were meditating – when you were watching. I forgot till now. She’s going to wake up, and she’s going to heal. Heal others, I mean. It’s because she’s gone so deep into hurt, she knows the way out. Well, she will know the way out.”
The weird thing to Rigel was that it almost made sense. But time to get back on-topic.
“Okay, Anaph: you won’t do any sex rituals again. Serving life, you serve the Creator. But here’s the problem: they’ll still not like it, because to them the Creator is God the Father, Father of Jesus the Lord.”
“And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life”, Anaph quoted softly. Rigel even recognized it. “I went with a friend to an Episcopal church sometimes. We snuck in, so we could go up in the balcony – we weren’t supposed to be there, but it was super from up above. And every week they sang this song....
I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made;
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man,
and was crucified also for us, under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, and was buried;
and the third day He rose again in accordance with the scriptures, He ascended into Heaven, where He sits on the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and dead;
His kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father through the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets;
And I believe one catholic and apostolic church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
The look on his face was a wonder, as though he was on the greatest drugs for getting a happy high, and had just won ten million dollars, and had just given his virginity to the person he truly loved.... Rigel ran out of comparisons; he was looking on pure joy. In that moment he truly believed in a connection to Heaven – one that didn’t depend on worlds, or constellations, but depended on a Creator that held it all in His hands.
Then Rigel himself start grinning. He had, he thought, a way out of this mess without even having to talk to Tanner and Dmitri. What Anaph had just sung very beautifully, was the Apostles’ – no, that wasn’t right; it was what he and a grade school friend had called the “Nissan Creed”: the Nicene Creed, one of the oldest statements of faith Christians had, one that all Christians shared... and anyone who didn’t was playing games, not being a Christian (though, he knew in his gut, believing it didn’t make someone a Christian, either; there had been an elder in his church....).
He had to pull himself back to the conversation. Austin had asked....
“So the Holy Spirit is in your amulet? He makes it work? He’s the One who gives life?”
Anaph puckered his lips and shook his head a little. “The amulet is its own thing. It touches Life, not the Life-Giver. She sustains life–“
“‘She’?” Rigel blurted out.
“Like our Mother in Heaven?” Austin asked.
Anaph actually giggled. “No. We don’t have a Mother in Heaven. We have.... hmmm... the Holy Spirit is like our Nanny from Heaven. She’s very quiet. She talks to people sometimes, though. But She’s behind, or under, every cell, in every living thing, always giving it life. She can kill, just by stopping that gift – like in the old part of the Bible sometimes.”
“Um... I think you’d better not talk about ‘she’ around Tanner and Dmitri”, Rigel advised. “Maybe later they’ll be ready for it. But right now....” He described what he had in mind.
Dinner that night was venison – fresh, not the hard dried stuff they still had. No one would have eaten the hard stuff then, anyway, and besides, Ryan had decreed it was going to be saved for their next long hike – with wild strawberries, odd nuts from under that strange moss like where Anaph and Austin had done their ritual, more fern tips, though they were starting to be bitter as they grew and hardened, some sweet-tasting fern roots that reminded them all of root beer, and a wrinkle-leafed plant they mostly agreed looked gross but tasted like sweet lettuce. There was even dessert, one each, a seed pod from some plants that had popped up where the flood had raced and already produced their fruit – the pods were a lot like pomegranates because they had to peel them apart seed by seed, and each seed had a juicy, sort of chewy layer around it that tasted, as Crystal described it, like “strawberry-rhubarb-mango”.
After dinner was what Rigel was waiting for. First, he had some words, part of them from a discussion with Ocean and Ryan about nutrition. When dessert came, and Ocean showed how to eat it, they all moved to the fire pit, where Oran had a small fire going but a stack of wood ready for a big blaze.
Rigel stood and just waited. Within ten seconds everyone had quieted. t was a trick he’d learned from his high school biology teacher, who never had to call the class to order, and had once subdued two assholes who’d gotten out of their seats and were throwing things at each other, just by standing there and looking at them. He knew he didn’t have the presence that former Green Beret had had, but the trick was effective because people got uncomfortable watching him just stand there.
“First topic tonight”, Rigel began, “is food. We had an awesome dinner.”
There were calls of “Word!” and “Woot!” Rigel grinned at them all.
“Yeah – after nearly starving, this is awesome, huh?” More calls of approval came. “Well, we have about four days’ worth of meals like this here, then it’s no more berries or nuts. So we have to think about food for our trip.” He let that sink in.
“We’re going to dry some of the berries, if we can, and some of the nuts, to take along. That means we have to stretch out food supply. Devon says he can hike, but Rita shouldn’t move for five or six days, anyway.
“What we’re going to do is eat more meat. By that I mean more kinds of meat. Humans can live on just meat, but you have to eat every part of the animal.”
“It’s balls?” Casey called, bringing laughter. He stood and bowed.
“If we had a grinder, those would go in sausage”, Rigel told him seriously. “Instead, we’ll see if you can swallow them whole, Case.” Hoots and whistles answered him, and Casey turned beet red. “Really – for now, we’re going to start eating the heart, and the liver. Those will help a lot. Ocean is working on herbs to make the kidneys taste tolerable.” There were groans, and a few calls of “Not!” and “No way!”, and one “Like hell!”
He didn’t care who’d said that. “Okay, people, you’ve made your noises. But you’ll eat it, or you’ll think you’re in hell. That’s not a threat – when you start getting weak, and dizzy, and nauseous, and cramps, and headaches because your nutrition sucks, you’ll think it’s hell. But that’s not going to happen: anyone like that would be a burden, and I’m not going to allow burdens. We have a couple already anyway; we can’t afford even one more.
“Instead, if you won’t eat it, I’ll tie you down and feed you. I’ll shove it into your mouth and force you to swallow, if I have to.” He scanned the faces, catching and holding eyes. “There are things out there we haven’t met yet. Antonio, tell them.”
Their warrior-becoming stood. “Um, I found tracks. By the lake. Really big tracks, like as wide as four of my fingers.” He took a breath, obviously not used to speaking like this. “They looked sorta like pig tracks, sorta like... maybe cattle. But there were claws on the front. The marks tell me the claws are like this” – he stretched out his fingers like his hand was a paw – “and pretty sharp. And there were marks in the mud, places torn up, too, like somebody stuck a spear in and ripped up the ground.” He took another breath.
“I think they’re like six times as big as a cat. Those tusks – what made those marks – those could go through you like a soldering iron in butter. The claws could probably rip your spine out of your body.
“If we meet one, anybody who’s too weak to run is dead. If you fall down and one runs over you, those hooves with put holes in you that pin you to the ground. And we won’t be able to stop and go back for anyone.
“That’s it”, he finished and sat down with a “whoosh” of breath in relief.
Most of the faces were white. Breeze was holding her mouth like she was trying not to throw up.
“Sorry about that”, Rigel told them. “Except, not really. Everyone has to know this isn’t a game. We’ve had it pretty easy; we can’t count on that to last.” He scanned faces again.
“So everyone will eat what gets cooked. You don’t have to like it, you can even gag on it – but you’ll swallow it. And you’ll stay strong.
“And the next part of that is Antonio is going to lead spear practice. Almost everyone has a spear taller then they are. Before we leave, everyone will. You’ll keep your old, short ones, too – we might need some to throw and then run. So after breakfast there will be a quiet time for whatever you want to do” – he noticed Tanner perk up at that, but then turn and scowl at Anaph; Rigel grinned inside at what was coming up – “and then we’ll all do spear practice. Devon, that means you, too – you’ll just have to learn one-handed.
“That leads to the next thing: clothes. Ours are wearing out, and there’s not a J. C. Penny or K-Mart anywhere I’ve noticed. So for spear practice, we wear underwear at most. The rest of the day, we wear only what we need to for the job. When it comes time to hike, we hike as close to naked as is sensible.
“From now on, people, clothes are armor: we put them on when we need them, and that’s it. Chen has found a mix of plants that we can rub into the deer hides, that seem to preserve them – if that works, we’ll start making kilts.”
“Where’re the bagpipes?” Chen called. He put his thumb in his mouth and blew, raising his fingers slowly until the stood, and then launched into a rendition of something vaguely Scottish.
“You can make pipes out of leg bones”, Antonio called to him, “in all your free time”.
Even Rigel laughed. It was a good way to break the somber mood, and he appreciated it. Then he wondered if Chen understood that, and that was why he’d done it.
“That’s my bit”, Rigel announced. “Now – any questions?”
“What are we going to do for water?” Crystal called. “We still just have the bottles.”
Rigel knew this one. “Chen had a shirt made of waterproof stuff. Ocean made some bone needles, and we’re pulling thread out of other clothes. They seal the seams with sap. We’ll get two of them – each one big enough to be about four bottles worth.
“And Chen is trying to figure out making water bags from deer hide.”
“If deer hides are going to make water bags, how will we make kilts?” Dmitri asked.
“Eat more deer!” Casey called. Everyone laughed.
“Actually, yes”, Rigel said. “We want to get at least three more while we’re here, just to turn into food for the hike. If you guys keep stuffing yourselves, we could eat two more while we rest here. Five hides – Chen, how many water bags and how many kilts?”
Chen stood. “I think I’ve figured out how to cut them so we can get two kilts and two water bags out of each – a big water bag like you told, and a smaller one. The trouble will be enough herbs for the skins, so the water doesn’t taste bad. Everybody, whatever you’re doing tomorrow, bring a couple handfuls of the lemon-like stuff. That way, I can spend my time looking for the tougher ones, and working on the hide we have.” He waved to everyone and sat down.
“Anything else?” Rigel asked.
“Yeah”, Melanie responded. “I got athlete’s foot. It’s bad.”
Antonio stood; Rigel nodded to him. “Rub mistletoe on it – really. Then go barefoot. The mistletoe will help kill it, and going barefoot keeps it down. It likes moist feet, and if you’re barefoot, they’ll stay drier.”
“Anaph could hit it with his staff”, Casey called. Tanner looked angry and started to get up, glaring at Casey.
“Sit. Down”, Rigel said in a soft, but deadly-sounding voice. The whole group went silent, turning to stare at Tanner. Tanner looked at Rigel; what he saw there on that face made him swallow hard, and drop to the ground, silent.
Rigel waited a ten-count. “Is that everything?” He counted to ten again, to give a chance for them to think.
“Okay. Oran, torch up the fire. Crystal, is that pipe finished? Can you play something?” Crystal looked happy, but nodded and went for the instrument she’d made. Rigel blessed whatever source her urge to make that wooden pipe had come from; it was perfect to help morale.
While people took a break to take a leak, throw away scraps in the depression under the roots of a fallen oak, fetch water bottles, or just stretch, Anaph slipped away.
They all gathered back by the fire when Oran announced it was as big as it was going to get. Crystal had been running scales on her pipe – the notes were a little off, but just having music was going to raise spirits. When Rigel nodded to her, she started playing bouncy little tunes while everyone finished settling in again.
Then Rigel stepped up as close to the fire as he could stand. Ocean had gotten them all settled on one side, so he could see them all and they could see him. He saw quite a few eyes closed, people listening to something they had back, if not like before. Lumina, who hadn’t responded to anything – well, she’d relaxed and actually waded at the lake – smiled a very weak smile, which was infinitely greater than anything for days.
“We didn’t quite die in a car wreck”, he began softly. “We got this far even though we got really thirsty.” People were nodding. Crystal played very, very softly, mellow now instead of jaunty. “We survived cat attacks. We survived a flash flood.
“Now we have enough to eat. We have a safe place to sleep. We’re figuring out how to make things to keep staying alive and have enough to eat.” Everyone’s attention was on him; it gave him a feeling that maybe he was actually a lord.
“We’ve discovered this world is different than Earth. There’s a bright blue north star, the stars are thicker and brighter. There are plants that are the same, but there are plants that are different.” Rigel almost bit his lip before speaking the next words.
“And we’ve discovered that there are powers that work here that maybe we didn’t have at home. Those powers have worked to keep us safe and alive, too.” Dmitri’s face was set in stone; Tanner’s was like a volcano.
“So we’re going to have a celebration of thanksgiving.” That was Crystal’s cue” she began a soft and slightly eerie rendition of “Amazing Grace”. “Think of something you’re glad about. It can be big or small, it just has to mean something to you.” Tanner had recognized the tune, and was relaxing some. “We’ll go around the circle. Tell what it is – keep it short”, he added, thinking of Ocean – “and after each person speaks, we’ll have a short period of silence. I’ll go last – so, Oran?”
Oran stood, frowning in thought. His face brightened. “I’m thankful Austin had that three-fifty-seven. Otherwise, some of us would be dead.” Murmurings of agreement came. Rigel saw an annoyed look on Chen’s face, and guessed he’d been planning to do that one.
“Breeze?” he called softly after counting to eight – ten always seemed too long, at camp.
“I’m thankful we have Ocean and Anaph, who know how to find plants we can eat.” That brought smiles and nods of agreement.
“I’m glad Lumina’s here. I’ve wanted to just give up, but she needs me, so I keep plugging away.” A lot of surprised faces turned to look at him, but understanding came as he explained. Even Rigel hadn’t thought of Lumina’s condition as something to be thankful for, in any way.
“For her”, he said softly, “I say she’s thankful for you. She’s still inside her shell, but she hasn’t fallen over and quit.”
“I’m grateful for that storm and flood. I’d never been as thirsty in my life when we got here. Now I have all I can drink.” He emphasized his words with a belch. Seeing smiles, yet no sound, thrilled Rigel: they were showing a maturity and respect for each other that hadn’t been close to possible at the beginning.
“Ryan?” Rigel dreaded this; his friend had been negative and bitter again most of the day.
“I guess... I guess I’m thankful for Rigel. I thought I was a leader, but he’s pulled us together and kept us together and kept us working together. We’re still all alive and going because of him.” That’s when Rigel bit his lip to hold back tears; there was a distance between them, but Ryan could still reach right into his heart.
She didn’t stand, but spoke from her half-reclining position. “I’m thankful for Chen and Antonio and Austin. You guys saved my life.” Austin impulsively went and hugged her.
“Ocean?” He gave her a look he hoped said to keep it short.
She popped up and almost bounced. “I’m thankful for Anaph, who has shown us how to connect with Life.” Tanner was gritting his teeth; Dmitri was still stone-faced. But there was no explosion. Rigel let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.
Crystal had paused for breath after three repetitions of “Amazing Grace”, so Rigel took the opportunity to call on her. “Crystal?”
She smiled like she’d just been named prom queen. “I’m glad Austin got Snatched her with the rest of us. Now he can be himself and not be hated for what he was born as.”
Huge smiles broke out at that; most of them had felt that way after Austin’s tears the one day. But Rigel’s two problem boys looked upset. Well, they had a surprise coming.
“Wow. I’m thankful for a lot. But I’ll just say Crystal and her pipe. Just having music... and I love “Amazing Grace”. Thanks, Crystal.” Her tears kept her from starting to play again.
Rigel tried not to show his nervousness. “Tanner?”
Tanner stood, looking troubled. He glared at Austin, who thankfully didn’t see it. Rigel shot him a warning, which was heeded. “I’m thankful for these spears, and those who made them. I feel a lot safer, having them.” Casey, Chen, and Austin waved their short spears in the air in approbation.
The boy bounced to his feet eagerly. “I’m thankful for Melanie. She makes me feel like there’s a future.” Melanie blushed and hid her face.
Still stone-faced, he got to his feet. Rigel shot him a warning glance, too, but...
“I’m thankful for God the Father, who made everything there is, and has supplied us with everything we need.” A number of frowns answered this, some actually directed at Dmitri. His declaration seemed formal, stilted, and most of them didn’t understand. Rigel understood entirely too well, and gave Dmitri a cold look that made the younger kid wince, and drop suddenly back to the ground.
Her voice was soft. Rigel couldn’t make out what she was saying. “Mel, you’ll have to talk louder. Oran made a pretty loud fire”, he declared.
She giggled and started over. “I’m grateful for almost all of you. But I’ll say Rigel, who makes me feel like someone knows what we’re doing, and Casey, who makes me feel like a princess.” To the side, Chen was making silent whoops. Austin grinned like a pair of Cheshire cats.
Austin looked solemn, and tears started. “I’m thankful we all died – or, didn’t. Back home I was an abomination, something my dad was ashamed of. Here I get to be me: just Austin, who can have friends just the way I am. I want–“ But they didn’t find out what he wanted, because he turned, took a step and fell into Rigel’s arms, shoulders heaving. Rigel held him, stroking his back.
Ryan started it: he got up, walked over, and hugged Austin from one side. Then Rita got up, obviously in real pain, and limped over to hug from the other side. Chen and Antonio bumped into each other on their way, and shared the space to hug Austin from the back. Then it was a flood, putting Austin into the middle of a group hug like he’d probably never experienced before.
It was too cliche, Rigel thought, when someone started to sing.
Kum ba ya, my Lord, kum ba ya...
Then even Tanner stood, and pulled Dmitri to his feet as well. They didn’t join the group, but they sang along. It became a flashback to summer camps for Rigel, as Kum Ba Ya was followed by “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”, “Barges”, and other mellow songs from childhood. After seven numbers, for all of which Tanner and Dmitri kept standing, Rigel called a halt. Austin came out of the huddle, as it dispersed, with a look of awed amazement. Since everyone else was returning to their seats, he didn’t notice that Tanner and Dmitri hadn’t joined in the hug.
Rigel waited till they were settled, and then longer. He let the silence grow right up till someone shifted nervously. “We have one more”, he stated. “More than any of us, he has changed in this world. He’s given us aid in strange and even shocking ways. To some of us he’s given wisdom and insight.
“Almost all of us have said he’s odd, weird, strange, looney, or something. But I think he’s adjusted to this world in ways we’re all going to have to depend on.
From the other side of the fire, Anaph walked forward confidently. He wore his dark brown half-cape with its variety of shades of color, from which ferns streamed down to cover his read end. His boots had been refreshed somehow, so they shone, almost glittering in the light of the flames. He wore the same cargo pants stained now with a camo pattern that was nearly perfect for these grasslands, but no shirt: instead, on his bare chest that was no longer pale rested the acorn-and-oak-leaf amulet Austin had found. His necklaces and chokers decorated his neck, the necklaces shortened to let the amulet ride alone. The copper bracelets on his wrist sparkled, newly polished a rich, deep color, amidst, once again, bracelets of living strawberries. In his right hand his white staff shimmered with an inner light, Casey’s acorn still on top, among the green oak leaves. It made Rigel think of Gandalf, or maybe Allanon of Shannara, but neither of them really fit: this was Anaph, the Branch, bearing an ancient Hebrew name in a very new world, and he was a Druid, every inch of him. Rigel wondered if those books would have sold well at all if their Druids had been gay, or bi.
Anaph had the touch Rigel lacked: as he waited, the silence became absolute; no one even moved. His had become a commanding presence, one Rigel could see that even Tanner and Dmitri were moved by. The silence deepened, and even the crickets and night birds fell silent. Expectation flavored the night, and for a moment Rigel nearly expected the fire to freeze in place.
“I am thankful for Life”, Anaph intoned, his voice breaking the silence like the sudden roar of a lion you hadn’t known was there. “I am thankful not only that we are alive, but that we even have life, that there is life at all.” Austin stood and walked quietly to Anaph’s side.
“I am thankful for all of you and every one of you.” Whether you like it or not, Rigel heard unstated.
“And I am thankful most of all for the Lord of Life, the Giver of Life.” Rigel watched Dmitri mouth the words, a curious look touching his face. “I’ve asked Austin to join me now for a song in the Life-Giver’s honor.
And they sang the Nicene Creed Anaph had sung out on the tree in the lake. Anaph’s voice was strong, deeper than Rigel recalled – an effect of being Druid on the job? Austin’s voice was sweet and clear, a triumphant harmony rising now above, now below, now in unison, and on certain parts falling silent as if in solemn respect.
Tears streamed from Dmitri’s eyes. He was saying the words softly along with the song, stumbling sometimes when the song cadence differed from the usual rhythm in a church. When they reached “who for us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven”, Dmitri knelt and crossed himself.
Tanner sat, staring at his co-foe of Anaph, bewildered. Rigel didn’t think he was even hearing the words, he was so shocked at Dmitri’s reaction. But Antonio was singing along quietly, not getting it quite right; Chen, too was joining in with the words. And in spite of himself, Rigel found himself speaking the familiar declaration of faith, clinging to it yet declaring it victoriously
Then it was over. No one spoke, no one moved except Dmitri, who was trembling as tears till flowed. But Tanner still looked unhappy.
Rigel stepped back to the fire, putting one hand on Anaph’s shoulder and the other on Austin’s. “Amen”, he pronounced quietly. Then he gave a little push to propel his two loyal charges to their seats. He had to smile when they fumbled to join hands, and sat holding hands.
“We’ve been through a lot”, he said. “But we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Let’s remember that, and sleep well.” It was a dismissal, and taken as such. There were only quiet murmurs of talk as they went.
“You never said what you’re thankful for”, Ryan said at his shoulder.
“Oops. I was going to say I’m thankful for Antonio, who watches the stars and watches over us. He’s a good guard.” Rigel smiled at his friend, but the wall was still there.
Oran finished pushing the fire together and came over. “That was awesome”, he said.
But Rigel’s attention was on his troublesome pair. “I need to talk with someone”, he told his friends, and went to where Tanner was whispering furiously at Dmitri.
“Maybe you should share this with all of us”, Rigel said to announce his presence.
Tanner stood, furious. Rigel’s look stilled him, but didn’t silence him. “This is foul deception!” Tanner hissed. “The serpent speaks the words of God, but he is not of God!”
Rigel seethed inside, and lost his temper. “Just where in the Bible does it tell you to be hateful?” he demanded in a low but intense voice. “Where does it say you can go around condemning people and treating them like shit? ‘Who named you judge over us?’ I thought Jesus said to love one another!”
“I do not love those who pervert the truth!” Tanner spat out.
“Jesus said to love your enemies, and hate those who persecute you.” Rigel pressed on. “Are you greater than your master? He never struck out at anyone, or had an evil word! But you sit here and decide who is condemned and who isn’t. I thought I remembered something about ‘do not condemn, or you may be condemned’. Did that get cut out of your Bible? Did you cut it out?
“‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, it says. Anaph is your neighbor. Do you go around wishing you would die because you’re ‘evil’? Do you spend time glaring at yourself because you’re an ‘abomination’? Do you try to poison people’s minds against yourself? Do you even pay attention to the words of Jesus?”
Tanner retreated under Rigel’s barrage. He looked confused – and scared. His mouth opened, but no words came.
Rigel wasn’t done yet. “You get yourself breakfast every morning, right? Well, loving your neighbor as yourself would mean you ought to get Austin’s breakfast for him, wouldn’t it? Every night you work to make your sleeping spot comfortable – have you ever checked to make sure Austin’s is?
“You’re supposed to think of others before yourself. At dinner, I saw you dash to get the last piece of venison before anyone else could take it. When we gathered moss for beds, you set aside the best stuff you found to use for your own, didn’t you?” The words were striking home.
“To Anaph that wasn’t just a song, tonight. It wasn’t for Dmitri, either, or for me. They set out the faith that’s supposed to be yours – but were you thinking of the words? No, you were thinking that your ally in hate was being stolen from you, and afterward you were thinking of how to win him back to your life of condemnation of those you don’t approve of.”
Tanner was up against the inside of the camp’s wall. Rigel decided it was time for some last words. “Anaph explained things to me today, and there’s nothing in his beliefs that go against Christian ones. If you decide you don’t like what he stands for, that’s your own opinion, it has nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity. If you keep on hating, you make yourself an enemy of God, an enemy of Jesus, besides being an enemy of all of us who sang that song or spoke the words tonight. You think about that.” Rigel had to pause for breath.
“Anaph is gong to keep being a Druid. If I see him wandering in some way contrary to those words in the song, I’ll call him on it -- not you. He swore himself to my service, so I’m his master, not you. Somewhere Jesus said that what the servant of another does isn’t your business; your job is to follow Him. And from where I sit, and a bunch more of us, you haven’t been following Him worth shit.
“Starting tomorrow you will treat Anaph with respect. I believe now that his power is from the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. That’s the same Holy Spirit you believe in–“
Tanner finally got a word out. “I don’t follow creeds, I follow the Bible.” Rigel wasn’t going to take that, but Dmitri beat him to it.
“You know nothing! You say the words, but you throw away the Creed. But everything in the Creed is from the Bible! The ancient fathers took the Bible and considered what was most important from it. They put those things together, to get the Creed!
“Our lord Rigel is right. If you want to be a Christian, you must know the Creed. It is the center of the truth, what the Holy Spirit taught according to the promise of the Christ. So tomorrow I will start teaching you. You will put each line of the Creed into your memory, and you will learn not just the words but what the lessons from them are. And we, you and I, will go to Anaph and to Austin, and we will learn to sing it, for the joy of our hearts.” Dmitri had calmed at the end, but the whole thing astounded Rigel. He hadn’t heard the young... Russian? Speak that many words total on the entire journey this far, and now they’d poured forth.
Time to be a lord, he decided. “You have your quiet time in the morning”, he told the two of them. “This is what you’ll do with it – what Dmitri just said. We don’t have any Bibles here, so that Creed is it. We know it’s right because the people who wrote it practically studied from the Apostles.”
Dmitri shook his head. “That is wrong. They were the students of the students of the Apostles.”
“Close enough for me”, Rigel responded. “Before we leave here, Tanner, you’re going to be able to recite for me the whole thing. I don’t care if you sing it or say it, so long as you have it.
“You got that?”
Tanner opened his mouth and shut it, and tried again. “Yeah, I got it.”
Dmitri punched him, hard, on the shoulder. “You say, 'Yes, lord Rigel’.”
Tanner couldn’t look Rigel in the eye and say it, but he did say it. “Yes, lord Rigel.”
Things seemed to shift and click in Rigel’s mind. He’d done what he needed to this day, and all of it felt right.
“Good. Let’s sleep, then.” With that he turned, ready to rest, content that things were where they belonged.
Re: Fit for Life
Wow. The Nicene Creed in a Gay Story Thread.
The form is a little different than the one I say at mass every week, but it's close enough. Minor variations between denominations over time is expected.
After all, it hails from around the 4th century AD/ACE as you count it.
A very powerful, emotional chapter.
It meant a lot to me, as it did to your characters.
Thank you for your continued development of this intricate story line.
Where we ultimately wind up is in your hands; and quite capable word-smiths they appear to be.
(*8*) :D ..| :=D: :santa: :menorah:
Re: Fit for Life
I have no words at the moment. There is much to ponder ...
Awesome chapter!! ..|
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Re: Fit for Life
This has to be one of the most intriguing and interesting stories I've ever read... that includes commercial novels and such. You have a talent, Mr. Kulindahr!
Thanks for the awesome chapter, and, as always, can't wait to see more!
Re: Fit for Life
In part it's my own translation -- I used to have it memorized in the Greek. It also owes some to the attempted reconciliation between the East and Rome way back in the day.
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
The broader form is from an Episcopalian soft-rock Mass -- the attribution made in the story.
You're right, though; when writing that, I asked myself WTF I was doing putting it in a story on a gay board! But it flower logically from Anaph's "Life-Giver" to "Giver of Life". At that point I suddenly knew more about him.
Jingle Bells.... ..|
Originally Posted by DonQuixote
Re: Fit for Life
The future has been rushing at me in this story, so I'm rushing to get it down before my absent-minded cranium loses track of it all.
On that note....
Re: Fit for Life
Three days went by, days of peace for Rigel. Anaph had done no rituals except meditating during the morning quiet time. Tanner had worked through the first part of the Creed. Ocean had stopped gushing, after a lecture from Anaph – Rigel didn’t know the content of the lecture, and didn’t care so long as there was peace. Antonio and Chen were training everyone in spear use. Ocean was teaching Crystal, Melanie, and Breeze about herbs. Oran was teaching knots and tracking skills, the latter along with Chen. Rita was moving about, slowly, and had found that she could weave a rope from the long, rough native grass. Crystal and Rita had learned to weave that same grass together into sheets. Dmitri was teaching wrestling moves to whomever would come. Devon and Tanner worked together to make cords out of the deer hide left over from making water bags. Casey served by helping anyone who needed help, and being a runner to carry messages if needed. Everyone was occupied with something to aid and improve the group’s skills and materials.
Ryan had been secretive the whole time since the thanksgiving gathering. Rigel worried, but didn’t press his friend. He couldn’t guess at what was keeping them apart, but he trusted that in time it would come right. Then, on the fourth morning, he learned what Ryan had been up to.
He came after quiet time carrying what looked like a pole. When he set one end on the ground, the other rose a full arm’s length above his head. Rigel would have thought it was a spear, but halfway between the top of Ryan’s head and the point was a crosspiece. Ryan was grinning like a fool.
Memory stirred. Anthropology class, third period, Chest Hall... it was a ‘boar spear’, a weapon devised for hunting wild pigs by the simple expedient of getting in their path and letting them charge you. If you flinched, you could be in trouble, but if you held steady and faced that charge – led by tusks like a dual set of short spears – then the boar, short-sighted and single-minded, charged right onto the spear and kept pushing until it met the crosspiece. Then all you had to do was hold on until it bled out. Rigel just raised his eyes.
“Anaph helped”, Ryan said. “Antonio and I found a tree that was still alive, but had fallen. It was really, really straight. We both thought of longer spears, but I remembered Professor Dvorak and boar spears. When we’re done, we’ll have eight. We have all the pieces; we just have to put them together.”
“Rye, that is awesome!” Rigel looked on that spear with its crosspiece and saw hope for what he knew was coming.
Ryan sobered. “Just thought you ought to know. Here.” He tipped the spear toward Rigel and let it drop, turning to leave while Rigel caught it.
That night Rigel did inventory, with Austin and Casey’s aid. They were almost ready for their journey – a lot more ready than the first time! There was pemmican, a trail food the American Indians had used – this was made of deer kidney and liver and heart with nuts, berries, fern, and a dose of the lemony herb, all ground together. There was lots of sun-dried jerky. The supply of water they were going to be able to carry would be enough, at one drink per meal, for ten days. They had bags made of Rita and Crystal’s grass sheets, for carrying jerky and pemmican. Rita and Chen had turned grass sheets and deer-hide cord into two backpacks for carrying clothes they weren’t going to wear – they’d started on a third, but were waiting for more hide to make cord. Everyone had a long spear and a short one – and there were now two boar spears.
He knew there were other things they could use. Moccasins would be fantastic. Hats would be wonderful. Blankets of some kind would be superb! He was sure there were things they needed but he couldn’t think of until they needed them desperately. But he was confident that in two mornings they would be as ready as they could.
But the next morning disaster struck: Casey, Melanie, and Crystal had cramps and diarrhea.
Rigel left Rita to the task of finding out what those three had done that no one else had. Her quest took until lunch time.
“You won’t believe this”, she told him when he sat beside her with his “plate” of grass, made of scraps from making bags. He asked the question with a raised eyebrow. “The three of them went swimming after dark, at the lake. They had a threesome on shore. All three admitted that during that little frolic, they got mud all over themselves – and in their mouths.”
“So some bug in the mud has them leaking shit”, Rigel concluded.
“Yep. Anaph is baffled – he says he wishes our Healer would wake up. Ocean has tried herbs, which help the cramps but not the runs.” Rita grinned. “You’ll love Dmitri’s idea.”
“Okay – hit me.”
She swung a fist and tapped his shoulder, an old joke between them from college. “He says make them eat venison and drink lots of water, to wash it through them. What’s crazy is that Ocean says if they take the herbs along with it, it might work. Oh – and she wishes she could make tea.” Rigel’s frown brought an explanation. “Some of the herbs they’ve found will work better if they’re used in hot water – guess the active ingredient comes out then, so it’s more useful.”
Mentally, Rigel ran through their list of supplies. Water was no problem; the clean pond had dropped only a foot while they’d been in camp. Venison.... “Give it a shot.” he turned to his shadow. “Austin, tell Antonio he can get another deer – we’ll all pig out on fresh meat before we leave.” Austin nodded, grinning, and raced off to find their chief warrior and commander of the hunters.
“He grins a lot”, Rita observed.
“I know. Every time I give him something to do, he does that”, Rigel informed her. “It’s like he’s happiest when running errands for me.”
“You’re his lord”, Rita declared. “That’s seeped into most of us, but for him it’s very, very real. And you’re the kind of lord all nobles should be; Austin senses that and loves you for it. Of course he also loves you for standing up for him.
“So to him it really is an honor and a privilege to serve – quite a contrast to his dad, who mouthed the words but used his office to rape the people.”
“He’s shown me things about being a leader that help me a lot”, Rigel responded. “He’s never been a leader, but he’s seen really rotten things about leaders – he knows an awful lot about his dad. Did you know he has a half-brother the same age as him? They found out about each other and became secret friends. Dallas – the half-brother – didn’t have anyone he could tell about how rotten their father was, so he’d sneak out and go tell Austin.”
“Austin and Dallas?” Rita laughed. “I suppose they had another brother named Houston.”
Rigel grimaced. “Actually – yes. And one named Baltimore.”
Rita stared. "Anyone who’d name their kid Baltimore is a....”
“Bozo”, Rigel completed. “That’s what Austin says. He told me that naming your kids after cities is a clown act.”
“I’ll go with that”, Rita decided. “Too bad the voters didn’t see what a clown he is.”
“Want to know what’s really bad?”
“I’m not sure – but tell me.”
“His dad thinks he can be the party’s Veep nominee next time. Then he wants to be President.”
“Gack. They say people get the leaders they deserve. I don’t think anyone could deserve that!”
“Well, Austin’s free of it now. We all are. I’ve been thinking, up in the tree with Antonio–“
“Do you go naked, too?” she teased.
“Yeah, and we make out like bunnies”, he teased back.
Rita laughed. “And what have the bunnies learned about the universe?”
“We may be the only humans here. That gives us a chance to make something really new, and avoid all the mistakes. That means that the job I do as leader – okay, lord”, he said, changing the word at her glance, “is really important.”
“What if there are other people here?”
“Then we do our best to aim things away from the game of power politics with greed and corruption and the money men behind the scenes buying the candidates they want.”
“And if they don’t go for it?”
Rigel took a deep breath. He looked serious, and pained. “Then we beat them at their own game, then change things.”
“How about just doing it our way and beating them that way?”
“Maybe. It’ll depend on – well, lots of things. But unless we meet some other people, I’m not going to worry about it.”
“Enough to worry about now”, she agreed.
By evening, the trio was still “leaking shit”, as Rigel had put it. The cramps were gone, though. After he thought that through, he almost decided they could hike with the runs – but remembered their water supply. He bounced ideas off Anaph, Rita, and Dmitri – who was becoming sort of the priest of a small group of Christians. He was still ruminating when he went to bed – as far across the camp from the now-smelly “Hospital” as possible.
In the dark of the night he suddenly awoke. Ocean has said there was water ahead, but this isn’t what she meant! Within a day or so, they were supposed to hit her source! He’d believed her before because he had to; now he believed it because of Anaph.
“What’s wrong?” It was Austin.
“Sorry. I just remembered something important. It means we can leave tomorrow even if those three are still sick.”
“Awesome. I’m tired of this place.” With that Austin snuggled back down against Rigel and was asleep in a snap.
Not everyone was as happy with the decision, especially when he woke everyone up before dawn to get ready. Melanie cried when Rigel told her she was either hiking sick or staying behind. Casey just accepted it, though. “We have to go”, he explained to Melanie. “If we stay here we’ll run out of food.” Crystal wasn’t sure she could hike, she felt so weak.
“We go”, Rigel told them. “You don’t have to carry packs – Tanner and Antonio are going to hang yours from a spear, and carry it on their shoulders. And if you need help, Ocean or someone will be there.”
He granted a fun farewell celebration: a swimming party in the rock hole. They weren’t going to be getting water from it any longer, so it didn’t matter if it got dirty. He did make everyone take a good drink of water first, though. But that celebration got cut a little short – he was about ready to call a halt anyway – when Crystal doubled over suddenly and cut lose from both ends, vomit and diarrhea. She couldn’t climb out, and when they got her out she couldn’t walk.
“No problem, lord Rigel”, Antonio declared. “We rig a litter.”
So they were only a little later getting started than Rigel had hoped.
Three hours into the hike, Anaph came to Rigel. “There are cats about”, he said. “To the west, they guard us.”
“Some of those beats out there?” Rigel inquired.
“There are gr’venstut. They travel in a herd. That is not usual.”
“So what’s it mean?”
“The cats don’t know. They wish we would go farther east.” Anaph looked worried.
“Okay, we’ll go farther east”, Rigel decided. He called a break, and made his announcement.
Ocean objected. “If we got farther east, we may miss our water.”
“There’s danger ahead, Ocean, and we have to avoid it. I’ve decided – we’re cutting east. We won’t go straight east; we’ll go northeast, so we’re still heading for the mountains.” Those mountains were like a beacon ahead, calling them onward; no one wanted to stop getting closer.
One foot in front of the other. Watch out for ground-rodent holes. Set your feet down carefully; the ground is uneven beneath the grass. Keep your eyes out to the side of the column you’re on – is there danger approaching. Check the mountains ahead, to be sure you’re heading toward the guide peak. Pay attention to the hiker ahead of you; don’t get so close that if you trip, he gets knocked down. Remember to keep your load balanced; if you don’t, your back will tell you about it in the morning. Breathe through your nose, to conserve water. Watch to see if anyone around you is turning red; we can’t afford to deal with sunburn. Try to not think about water; it will come at break time, more than on the last hike. Nibble some pemmican every now and then, for strength and nutrition.
Oran had made all these points to them. Rigel was sure that someone would forget. It hadn’t been so bad on the first hike; they hadn’t been carrying much weight except themselves, but now they were all burdened – and weren’t all used to it. So he led from the rear, keeping watch over everyone, willing no mistakes, no injuries.
By evening they were going uphill. It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t the up-and-down of the savanna; the land had dips, but overall just kept rising. Their pace was slowing; Oran and Chen, their scouts, began looking for stopping places.
But their pace changed. From a distance, but not a great one, they heard the scream of some beast, and the calls of cats. No one had to urge them on; they walked faster in silent agreement to get away.
Rigel sent Austin for Anaph. “News?” he asked. Then he smelled it, and turned. “Oh my God!”
Behind them, on the savanna, fire raged. Rigel thought he could see their grove with its camp, with flames leaping up through the trees. “I think we’d better hurry”, he said, judging the speed of the fire.
Anaph shook his head. “Only a little. The breeze will die soon, and the fire will slow. It may even die. But that is not the main danger, lord Rigel. The cats fought a herd of gr’venstut charging this way. They could not stop them all.”
Rigel nodded to Austin, who immediately jogged of to tell those who had the three finished boar spears. There was nearly a fourth, so Austin told Chen, who was managing to work on it as they walked. That, and looking for a place to stop, was all they could do.
Oran found the place they needed. Along the ridge they were climbing there was an outcrop of granite, topped by several kinds of tree. The only way up was maybe two meters wide, which made the spot defensible. It would be crowded, but there wasn’t a safer spot in sight.
Rigel breathed easier once they’d made the top. Crystal had stopped heaving half an hour before, and Rita was feeling strong, so they all walked up under their own power. Rigel was proud of that for some reason – was it that when a member of the group was weak, he felt like they were all weak? Whatever; he was glad they were there, with no sign of gr’venstut or even cats. No cats – should that make him concerned? He wasn’t used to this business of their being allies and not enemies. Before, if there hadn’t been any cats, he would have been happy. Now, did it mean they were on their own, with no guardians patrolling for them?
Rigel laughed. That brought strange looks from Tanner and Dmitri. “I realized I’ve been asking myself questions with no answers”, he explained. “That seemed silly.”
Tanner chuckled at that. Dmitri, though, differed. “Questions with no answers lead to the deep things of life”, he said.
“That sounds very Russian”, Rigel told him.
Dmitri scowled. “I am Ukrainian.”
“Oops – sorry. My bad.” Rigel felt thoroughly embarrassed. He knew that Russians had treated Ukrainians like second-class citizens, and should have remembered the difference. Dmitri shrugged and kept moving.
Watching Anaph and Chen bring up the rear, Rigel wondered if the gr’venstut were out there close. Those were the two to know, Anaph with his ability to sense animals at a distance, Chen with his increasingly better tracking skills. They saw him waiting, and picked up their pace.
“They’re out there”, Chen reported. “More than one.”
“There are three”, Anaph asserted. “One has crossed our track, but it’s wounded. We’ve crossed into the range of other cats now, so I let them know we’ve come, and where to find easy food. That one isn’t a concern.”
“So we have two to worry about”, Chen said in a thoughtful voice. He looked at the bare rock ridge running up to the heights. “At least they can only come from one place. Anaph, my guess is one of these is bigger than what left tracks at the lake – I just sense it.”
Anaph nodded in agreement. “Much bigger. Even Austin’s gun won’t kill it easily.”
“Okay”, Chen replied, “we have to have more defenses. Rigel, with permission, I’ll grab Antonio and Tanner to help me – I have some ideas.”
Crystal had an idea of her own: once they were in camp and had no reason for leaving, she had everyone bring every small stone or twig or acorn they found to the top of the granite of the way up. She and Casey, with Austin standing guard with his .357, dug out every bit of moss and grass from the stone surface. Her idea was simple, really: take away any good footing for an animal with hooves, then cover the surface with things that will roll. She wished for marbles, but settled for what they had. It wasn’t much of a defense, but since part of the beasts’ danger came from their speed, reducing their footing would help. Crystal’s hope was that it would slow one just enough for one of the spearmen to spit it on his point, so Austin could shoot it before anyone got hurt, or Anaph could strike it dead with his staff.
On his second tour of the camp, Rigel noticed Crystal stumble. “Time for you to quit”, he told her, reaching down to help her up. “Dmitri can help Casey with this.” Crystal didn’t protest, just followed him to Anaph’s “clinic” area. She was asleep almost as soon as she hit the ground. Rigel watched her for a while, wondering if he should have made her sleep when they'd arrived. But they needed any defense they could get....
The good news was that by dinnertime it was plain that the fire on the savanna wasn't going to reach them. The only flames and smoke they could see were far to the west -- where we might have been if we hadn't changed direction, Rigel thought.
Chen worked on his idea right up to dinner, then after it. Stars were coming out when he, Antonio, and Tanner came to the top of the ramp with what they’d been working on. Rigel watched them drive stakes into the ground to hold it. It looked dangerous – there were sharpened points sticking out the front – but he couldn’t tell what it was more than just a wall with sharps points. He knew it was more, because there were sharp points down inside the frame.
He asked about those. “How’s an animal gonna get stuck with those?”
Proud of his creation, Chen explained. “See these sticks here? They hold the top part long enough for the first spearlets to jab into the beast. But it’s weight breaks the sticks, and the top section collapses. Then the critter falls on the lower ones.”
“Clever. And our spearmen stand behind it?”
Chen nodded. “Right. It slows the...gr’venstut and wounds it. When it comes on through... balls!”
“What?” Rigel asked.
“If the beast hits the barrier, how do we know it will keep coming the same direction? I may have made things worse!”
“Hold on”, Rigel urged. “Let’s think it through again – we have spearmen, we have a fence, and we have a slippery slope....”
Chen grinned. “Yeah, I like that idea Crystal had. In fact, Devon has been working to help it.”
“For this fence, we left a lot of small branches. He’s got Dmitri, Crystal, Melanie, Casey, and Breeze using Antonio’s blades to cut them into small pieces.” He grinned wickedly. “Pretty soon they’ll have enough to make that slippery section twice as wide.”
Rigel looked at the slope. “If the beasts came through that, they’d keep coming pretty straight, wouldn’t they?”
“I think so”, Chen answered afyer a bit of thought.
“Wouldn’t the fence hurt them more if they hit it full speed?” Chen looked thoughtful, so Rigel went on. “If we put the fence as far down as we can, and then the slippery part, and the spearmen at the top....”
“Then they hit the fence and get hurt, and slowed down or even stopped”, Chen continued eagerly. They get free of the fence, come charging again, hit the slippery stuff, and by the time they get to the spearmen they’re wounded, bleeding, and slow!”
“If we’re really lucky, they’ll hit the fence and give up”, Rigel added, though he didn’t believe it for a minute: those beasts were coming, both of them, and the only reason there weren’t three is that Anaph had directed their cat friends to a fresh dinner.
“Not a chance”, Antonio stated. He’d been standing there silently, waiting for a decision about where to put the deadly fence. “They’ll just get angry. But it might rip some guts out, and they could trip over there own intestines.”
However much he knew that would be great for his people, the image made Rigel nauseous. Antonio noticed and laughed. “Never gone hunting, have you?”
“No”, Rigel confessed. “And don’t even tell me – we don’t have enough food to waste it by me throwing up.” At that Chen and Antonio and even Austin laughed.
“Well”, Chen said, “let’s get this thing in place.”
“Austin – find us some muscle”, Rigel ordered.
Less than a minute later, Chen, Antonio, Tanner, Rigel, Austin and Dmitri were dragging the massive thing down the slope. They went as far as they could without leaving room for any gr’venstut to get around the ends. The stakes they’d made for anchoring it – they had to pull up the ones they’d driven in higher up – wouldn’t go deep anywhere they could find, so they weighted the fence as best they could with what rocks were about. The stakes they tossed in among all the loose debris of Crystal’s idea for defense.
“That’s not bad”, Antonio said in evaluation. “They have just enough space after the fence to get up some speed so when they hit the loose stuff, they’ll really skid and slide. Then, past it, they have just enough space to get up enough speed to stick themselves on our spear points.”
“Then I shoot ‘em”, Austin added.
A raft of clouds was drifting across the sky to the north. There were bright shooting stars coming right at them, it seemed, from the east. Near the end of the third watch, a breeze had come up; it made Chen shiver. He stood and headed for his bed, where he’d set a shirt in case he got cold, but he’d forgotten to bring it when it was his turn at watch. His hand was still a foot from grabbing it when he knew that coming back had been a mistake.
The scream woke everyone. Most hadn’t cleared the sleep from their eyes before Chen was half way back across the camp. Devon was looking around frantically, kneeling alone with his boar spear at the line where Chen was supposed to be.
Where’s the second scream? Chen asked himself as he ran. Did only one come? Instead of a second scream he heard grunting, and a scraping sound, and knew two things: that one of the beasts had gotten past the fence somehow, and that he wasn’t going to beat it to the line.
Behind him he heard other feet. Ryan sprinted naked, his boar spear in hand, but he would be later than Chen. Rigel wore only a tee-shirt, and he was closing behind Ryan, but he had three throwing spears, not a boar spear. Everyone was up and moving.
The gr’venstut wasn’t charging for Devon; it was aiming for the gap. Terror gripped Chen at the sight of one long tusk with dark stains on it, and a shorter one – broken once, he thought – but by determined force of will he kept his path, knowing that without his boar spear he was dead anyway.
Devon shifted. His spear point took the beast in the chest, but he hadn’t been directly in front of it. Instead of running right into the chest and stopping at the cross piece, the spear punctured, then twisted, ripping a huge wound but not stopping the animal. It screamed in rage, tearing the spear from Devon’s hands – and charged again.
Chen dodged behind the beast and grabbed his spear. In the starlight, he saw that he had another race to run, once he was determined to win: the second gr’venstut was free, through the slippery zone, and charging. He screamed at it, letting his guilt at leaving his post flavor the scream, putting his fear into it: Here I am! I’m prey!
At the last moment he shifted right. His spear tip hit the massive chest a little above dead center, and the shock made every bone in his body scream at him from the pain. His world went to slow motion: centimeter by centimeter the smelly hairy chest drove forward on the spear. Blood spurted, the gr’venstut pawed at the ground. Momentum carried it onto the weapon, forward, forward...
Chen was ready with a war whoop of victory; the chest was a finger’s width from the cross piece – and his spear snapped. He thrust the piece still in his hands in its face, and rolled frantically, knowing that at any moment one of those horrid feet would punch a hole clear through his body.
Another whoop announced his deliverance. Rigel saw it and didn’t believe it: Antonio came racing out along the nearest tree branch, continuing to run as it sagged and broke. He sailed through the air and came down on the gr’venstut, not quite on center. Rigel was certain he was going to slip off and die. What he hadn’t seen, though, was that as Antonio plunged down, he was already aiming his largest knife, and that knife didn’t miss: it hit the beast in the center of the massive hairy mound behind its head, driven by the strength of Antonio’s arms with all the energy of his flying body behind it.
Antonio held to the knife grimly; it was his only hope of survival. He knew it was where he wanted it; the thrashing beast was now its own greatest enemy, for with each toss of its head or buck of its back, it twisted the knife inside its own body. Blood poured out, making things slippery, but Antonio held on.
Rigel almost screamed: the thing was nearly on Chen, and the guy didn’t see it coming. But Antonio was aware of the situation – and tackled it: he heaved himself around, grabbing a massive ear for leverage, and landed a kick on Chen’s side that he worried might crack ribs – but better a cracked rib or two than a couple of punctures by huge, filthy hooves.
Chen cried out as something hit him hard. Manic laughter came out as he realized he hadn’t been hurt. Then he saw a knee zip past his head, and somehow he knew he was safe. The relief was so great he peed his pants, laughing and crying at the same time. He got to his hands and knees and scrambled away.
Then a spear drove into the beast’s side. Ryan had come running up with his boar spear held like a pole at a track meet, and used it the same way: he charged in, speeding up instead of slowing, planted the spear, and let his momentum carry him forward and up. Things snapped and tore as he rose, making the spear change direction wildly, and he hung on grimly until the cross-piece hit. As he’d expected, the moment that happened, he got thrown on over and lost his grip. The landing, on his left shoulder, jarred him with pain.
Everything seemed quiet as he rolled over and up on his feet. Chen was holding another spear aimed at the animal that had nearly killed him; Rigel was pulling a spear out of its belly; Casey was helping Devon to his feet; Antonio was wrestling his knife free; Austin stood there with his gun at arm’s length in a double-handed grip; Anaph stood by him with his staff. It was over.
Rigel was thinking the same thing at the same moment, but there was still a knot of fear inside him. Devon’s animal had gone down with Devon’s spear dragging from muscle tissue on the chest, and two small spears in its neck. Everyone had turned their attention to the other beast, where Chen’s life was– The fear erupted into suspicion, and he spun.
No one had made certain of Devon’s beast – it had stopped moving, Chen was about to die, and everyone tried to do something to prevent that. Antonio had saved Chen, Ryan had pinned the beast, everyone with a spear had attacked it in an explosion of relief at Chen’s rescue. And now, Devon’s beast lurched to it feet, and screamed defiance. Antonio, on his knees with his knife, had his back to it, and the beast chose that most vulnerable of targets. Rigel shrieked a warning, but it was too late. In slow motion he saw Antonio turn, and everyone else lift their weapons. But the gr’venstut wasn’t stuck in slow motion: it exploded forward. Rigel threw a spear, but knew it couldn’t do the trick.
Then a loud boom! by his head made him wince. Austin had spun at Rigel’s yell, gun still at the ready, seeking a target – but Rigel was in the way. So Austin didn’t ask: Chen was on his knees, and his shoulder was something Austin could jump to. That put the .357 less than a foot from Rigel’s ear, but there was no time....
A second shot rang out, and a third, and a fourth. Austin was pulling out the quick-loader as he sent the last shot into the animal’s left side, hoping for a lung. He popped the cylinder open and slapped out the brass, then slammed in the quick-loader without taking his eyes off the beast.
For a brief moment Rigel hoped, along with everyone else, that Austin had saved the day. But the most horrible scream of the night erupted as the gr’venstut’s long tusk punctured Antonio’s side and kept going. You cannot have him! Rigel screamed inside, at the Snatcher, or anyone at all who might be listening.
Austin hadn’t slowed down. He bounced off Devon and dove to land beside the animal. Determined, he ignored the thrashing hoof and put the revolver right up against the animal’s ear, and fired. He moved it down a couple of fingers’ width, and fired. He slid it backward on the head, and fired. Then a hand has on his wrist.
“You got it, kid”, a voice whispered. He heard the pain, and looked: it was Antonio, there on his knees, a great tusk thrust in one side of him and out the other.
Austin dropped the gun and cried.
Re: Fit for Life
WOW!, Kuli!! WOW!! Just f'ing WOW!!! :=D: ..|
Here's to hoping than Anaph, or Lumina, can help Antonio!! :help:
This has become such a Great, Amazing, and Wonderful story!! THANK YOU!! (group)
Keep smilin'!! :kiss:(*8*)
Chaz :luv: :xmas:
Re: Fit for Life
Only Rigel heard what Anaph whispered to himself as he rushed to Antonio: “If I’d been here sooner...” Rigel walked beside him, heading for Austin. The first thing he did was scoop up the gun.
Everyone kept back as Anaph knelt beside Antonio, who was holding very, very still, breathing shallowly and slowly. Anaph held out his staff for Antonio to grab with his left hand, which Antonio couldn’t lean on without moving. Antonio nodded thanks, and began breathing a little deeper.
For a long minute they all watched Anaph run his hands over Antonio, very slowly, covering the entire area around the tusk. Rigel pulled Austin to him, rocking him and whispering in his ear. Austin calmed enough to watch Anaph as well.
Anaph shook his head in amazement. “Life has favored you”, he told Antonio. Looking over to Rigel, he explained: “Nothing internal is punctured or torn. There are scratches, but nothing big.”
“No way!” Chen cried. “You’re saying that tusk went in one side of his abs and out the other, and didn’t rip him up inside?”
“Yes – because it’s true. What must be done now is to determine how to slide the tusk out safely.” Anaph gazed at Chen evenly. “Set aside your disbelief, and think.”
“Can’t you use your staff to make the tusk fall off?” Chen asked.
“It would shift, and tear Antonio’s insides.”
“So we have to move Antonio, not the tusk”, Ryan concluded. He knelt by Antonio to see just how he was sitting.
Breeze surprised them all. “I know how”, she said. “We have one deer hide that’s still whole. If we can slide it under him without moving him too much, then we can use it to pull him off.”
“And if it catches on something on the ground, he’s screwed”, Ryan fired at her.
“So we have to... make the ground slippery”, she answered.
“That’s easy”, Casey pointed out. “There’s a lot of blood from these beasts.” Antonio grinned painfully at the idea of using the blood of the beast that had nearly killed him, to try to save him.
“Let’s do it”, Rigel decided. So Breeze went to get the deer hide. Rigel lifted Austin and got him out of the way; the kid was still crying, silently now. Casey moved in and started pushing blood across the ground with his hands. When Breeze returned, Rita came along with some of their grass sheets, to catch blood in from the still-bleeding gr’ventut. By the time Chen and Oran had worked out with Antonio just how to get the deer hide under him, the ground around him was a bloody mess.
The first idea didn’t work: they rolled the hide up and tried to roll it out on the way under Antonio. The failure came when he couldn’t even lift one knee high enough without hurting. Next they wanted to try just dragging it under him, an idea Rita vetoed.
“You’ll drag him with it”, she told them. “But look: fold it in two. Slide it halfway under him. Then carefully slip the top layer over then unfold it.”
Centimeter by centimeter they advanced. Devon and Ryan carefully lifted Antonio’s left leg, and slid the hide under. The bottom side was slick with blood, so it moved under him easily. Once it was halfway, they pulled the top half in between his legs, letting his left knee sit on the hide. They’d almost finished pulling the other half through when Antonio gasped sharply. “Just finish!” he hissed between clenched teeth when they stopped.
Ocean wanted to give Antonio herbs for the pain. Antonio didn’t want them: “If I can’t feel anything, how will I know something’s wrong?”
“And if it hurts so much you pass out, it will rip your intestines in two”, Rita admonished. “Ocean, don’t give him enough to kill the pain, just enough to ease it some.”
The curve of the tusk – an uneven curve, at that – made the process difficult. Rigel vetoed rolling the carcass the moment it came up; one bit too much roll, and Antonio would be dead. So they went centimeter by centimeter. The worst was in the middle, where the tusk was lowest – Antonio nearly passed out then, but Ryan held him. It was Ryan’s idea to pull the hide away from the tusk and let Antonio lean back on him, in order to keep from tearing Antonio open as the tusk got lower. Ocean didn’t like it, Anaph didn’t like it, but there were no better choices. At the end, when the tusk curved higher, Chen grimly cut to enlarge the hole in Antonio’s side, so the last bit of tusk could slide free.
Then it was over. Ryan eased Antonio back onto the ground. Rigel could have sworn he heard twenty sighs of relief.
“We have to wash the wound”, Ocean said to Anaph. “Can you do anything?” Rigel was pleased with her more practical, less worshipful attitude toward Anaph.
The Druid shook his head. “There is too much life. I can’t keep it separate.”
Ocean nodded, whether in understanding or merely acceptance. “Then we need hot water.” She turned to look at Rigel, who sought out Oran. “Any ideas?” he asked their fire-master.
Oran nodded. “We can get water hot, no prob. There are some low spots in this rock; all we have to do is fill them with water and then drop in hot rocks from the fire.” He shrugged and frowned. “I don’t know how to get it from there to where you need it.”
“Then we move the patient to the water”, Ocean responded.
It took longer than anyone liked. Eventually, though, they had a small pool of steaming water, into which Ocean had Breeze crumble three different kinds of herbs. Once they were wet, she asked for another hot rock.
“Last one”, Oran announced. The first four were sitting by the fire to dry before going back in.
A minute later Ocean pronounced it sufficient. Antonio lay on his side, on the grass so they wouldn’t soak the hide with dirty water. Carefully she wiped the skin around the wound where the tusk had gone in, on Antonio’s right side. Even more carefully, Chen spread the edges of that wound so she could trickle water in to clean inside as best they could. Antonio passed out before the water ran out – that was a good thing because he held still a lot better, but a bad thing because he couldn’t tell them if anything really hurt.
Most of the group had stayed to watch. Melanie asked the question they all had: “Is he going to be okay?”
Anaph and Ocean both shook their heads. “We didn’t get all the dirt out”, Ocean replied. “Without all the dirt gone, he could get infected. We don’t have anything for fighting infection deep inside like that.”
“There are ways to help”, Anaph added, to provide some hope. “We can keep him alive longer with them. But what we need”, he said more to Rigel than anyone else, “is to keep going. There is no help for him here.”
That was all there was to say, so most of the group headed back to sleep. Anaph walked to the edge of the short cliff and stared out over the savanna. After a little while, Rigel followed him. Anaph glanced at Rigel briefly, but went back to staring.
“You wished you’d been there quicker”, Rigel said softly. “Why’d you say that?”
“You heard me...”, Anaph whispered with a shake of his head. “Lord, I tripped. I came running, but I tripped. Had I arrived when I should have, Antonio would be whole.”
Rigel pondered that, and they stood in silence. Some time later – Rigel had no idea how long – there came the sound of someone clearing a throat. They both turned to see Chen standing there, looking miserable. Rigel waved him to join them.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I abandoned my post.” When Rigel didn’t say anything, Chen went on. “I got cold. I went to get my shirt. The beasts attacked while I was away. If I’d been there, Antonio would be fine.” A smiled played at Anaph’s lips at that.
Rigel smiled wryly. “Who else’s fault is this?” he asked. “Anaph says it’s his. You say it’s yours. I’ve been thinking it’s mine.
“Let’s forget about fault. Chen, don’t leave your post any more. Me – post a bigger watch when there’s a threat, and a gofer to get things for the people on watch. Anaph, tell the trees to put their roots where we won’t trip on them.” The last statement broke the somber mood.
“Now, Anaph, what did you really mean about keeping going?”
Anaph smiled. “I can hide nothing from you.” He turned away from the savanna and pointed north. “I know Austin’s vision: Lumina will be a Healer. Somewhere up there is a place, or a thing, or an event which will wake her to her new self.” He turned his head to look at Rigel. “If we can find it soon, Antonio can live. If we fail....”
“He dies”, Chen finished.
Re: Fit for Life
I finally had a chance to spend some time out here and get caught up on your double installment.
Action packed and very believable. Mayhem and Gore, complete with cunning, killing machines.
And a bit more of the transcendental that permeates your good story, lol.
Onward and Upward, reaching for the Mountains, and the resurrection of independent thought and life force for the healer designee of their group.
Thanks for two more captivating installments.