The Traditional Hunt

Tags

, , , , , , ,

My family had a special Easter tradition during my childhood. Like most families, my siblings and I woke up to a great hunt every Easter morning, but instead of hunting eggs, we were hunting for our baskets. We had the traditional, colorful baskets that were a good size, and they were always filled with candy—including the large chocolate rabbit. Each of our baskets were labeled, so we weren’t allowed to claim the first basket we found. You wouldn’t think such a basket would be easy to hide, but my dad was a pro at hiding things. My dad would hide our baskets in the fridge, in the trashcan under the trash bag, in our standing piano, behind the movies on our VHS shelf, and under our LaZboy recliners. He would limit our search to one or two rooms, usually the kitchen and the living room, and his hiding places would get ever more clever as we grew older.

I would never find my basket first. I would usually find one of my brothers’ or my sister’s basket, and very occasionally my reaction and big mouth would tip them off to its location. There was one year my dad hid my older brother’s basket on top of the ceiling fan. I was leaning back while my parents outlined the perameters of our hunt when I spotted it, and my young brain didn’t think to keep my discovery a secret. I loudly pointed it out, and, as punishment, I wasn’t allowed to search for my own basket until my other siblings found theirs.

One Easter’s eve, my mother was using rags to curl my hair as a special style for our church service the next morning, and I decided to be a smart aleck. I turned to my dad and asked, “So, where are you going to hide my basket?”

My dad met my eyes and said calmly, “Under your bed.”

I chuckled at the thought and went to bed with my usual Easter anticipation. The next morning, my siblings and I were given our normal clues to the locations of our basket. My elder siblings found their baskets first, then my younger brother found his. They all camped on the couch, tearing into their candy as they watched me continue to turn the living room upside down looking for my candy.

Whenever I asked my dad for a clue, he would grin and tell me, “I already told you where it was.”

Frustrated and close to tears, I began going back through the places I had already scoured. Still no basket. I felt like a failure, and my dad kept grinning while my sibling chowed down on their chocolate.

After begging my dad for clues again, my mom broke down and asked me, “Where did he tell you he was going to hide it?”

I sat and thought, playing with the “boing-boing” curls in my hair. Then the light switch clicked “on” and I ran upstairs to my room. There was my basket, candy and all, tucked under my bed just as my dad had said. I carried it down, more than a little miffed as my family started laughing. “I didn’t think you were serious!” I complained.

My dad pulled a similar stunt a few years later. I was entering my teenager years and was very into nail polish. I had a small box purse that I kept my polish collection in, and I had left it in the living room overnight. This year, my siblings and I came into the living room to a disappointing sight: our baskets were sitting in the middle of the floor! A blanket was covering them, but we could all tell it was our baskets underneath. We slumped into the couch as our parents began their Easter speech, and then my dad sprung a surprise on us. He lifted the blanket, and we could all see that our baskets were empty! My dad told us that he had stuck our candy in baggies, and had hidden those baggies around the living room. The baggy condensed the candy, making it smaller and easier to hide. It increased the challenge, but we were all excited that we still had a hunt ahead of us. As had happened before, all of my siblings found their baskets before I did.

Again, I got frustrated, and again, I begged my dad for clues. All he would tell me was that I “already had it.” That clue irritated me. I couldn’t figure out what it meant! I had checked under my bed and in other places in my room, but my candy wasn’t there. I searched all around the living room, ignoring my box of polish, because I “knew” what was in that. After my dad repeated his clue—with that annoying, knowing grin—I figured it out and picked up my box, clicking it open. There was my candy, all my chocolate and gummies ready for me to eat. I gave my dad a look and ate my candy happily.

We grew older, and the objects of our search grew smaller. From baskets, to bags of candy, and to just our chocolate bunnies. Honestly, I don’t think any of my siblings cared about the candy. We loved the hunt! Our dad was so good at hiding stuff, that we felt genuine pride whenever we managed to uncover our prize. Even in our late teens, we insisted that my dad keep up his old tricks and keep hiding stuff on Easter. We were all in college—my oldest brother was even married—by the time my dad decreed that we were all too old to keep up the old tradition.

The final year of this tradition, my dad hid eggs filled with money. Even though it was the most recent hunt, I don’t remember much about it. I don’t remember how many eggs we were allowed to find, or who found the egg with the most money, but my dad was just as creative with his hiding places as ever. I remember finding an egg buried under the tissues of a tissue box, and I know there were others hidden inside various objects around the room. The biggest thing I remember about that year was knowing it was our last.

As second youngest, I felt it unfair that I didn’t get as many hunts as my older siblings, but I knew that it was time to end the tradition for my generation. It’s been several years since my dad has staged a hunt in our home, but now I have a nephew. He’s only a few months old, so this is not the year to stage a big return, but as the first grandchild in my family, I hope he heralds a new age of my dad’s epic hunts. I am looking forward to seeing how the next generation fares in this annual game of hide-and-seek.

 

Advertisements

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Bruce Coville was my original favorite author. (Technically and officially, J.R.R. Tolkien has that forever spot in my heart, but as a child, I always differentiated between the dead and the living.) The first book of his I read was Into the Land of the Unicorns, and from there I started picking up his Magic Shop book series. I collected his books with a passion, digging them out of discount bins, scanning titles on thrift shop shelves, and, of course, buying his most recent books the week they came out. I also frequented his website, http://brucecoville.com/, where I was able to compose little messages to him—messages he always responded to. And of course, I sent him whole letters via snail mail, which he also responded to. (One letter he was a bit late replying to, so to make it up, he sent me a copy of the prologue to his then-not-published book Dark Whispers.) I always admired how he treated his fans; that, and his wonderfully imaginative stories, is what earned his place in my heart.

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is my favorite book of his, and is part of his Magic Shop series. The Magic Shop series also includes the titles Jennifer Murdley’s Toad; The Monster’s Ring; Juliet Dove, Queen of Love; and The Skull of Truth. Each of these books can stand on their own spines. A reader can pick up any one of these books to start the series and not feel lost, as there are only two real things that connect them, Mr. Elive’s Magic Shop, and the librarian Hyacinth Priest.

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher begins in art class, where the title character is attempting to draw a dragon. Dissatisfied by his drawing, Jeremy tries to get a second piece of paper to start over, only to be stopped by his embittered art teacher, and then embarrassed by the same teacher a few minutes later when he’s passed a love note and the teacher decides to read it aloud. The note promises Jeremy that the sender, a girl named Mary Lou, will give him a kiss after school, and prompts the boy to flee the campus as soon as the school day ends. As he runs, he finds himself in a strange neighborhood (“That wouldn’t have been so strange in a city. But Blodgett’s Crossing was a small town. I’ve lived here all my life. How can I be lost?”[1]) and sees an “old-fashioned shop” labeled: Elives’ Magic Supplies, S. H. Elives, Prop. In the shop he meets the proprietor, Mr. Elives, and buys a dragon egg for a quarter. Jeremy rushes home with the egg and special instructions that he must follow to the letter.

“Full moon’s light to wake the egg,

Full moon’s light to hatch it;

Midsummer’s Night will crack the world,

But St. John’s Day will patch it.”[2]

According to Jeremy’s veterinarian father, the next full moon was that night, and though Jeremy doesn’t quite believe he has a dragon’s egg, he’s curious enough to try it out. He sneaked out at midnight, found a patch of moonlight, and waited. Three hours later and the little dragon begins to hatch! Jeremy rushes the hatchling inside, keeping its egg shards safe as they crumble away. When the dragon tumbles out on his desk, Jeremy begins getting colors swirling inside his head, bringing odd sensations of emotions and questions. The next morning, Jeremy checks his hatching instructions only to find that the instructions have changed from hatching to raising. After feeding the dragon a delicious breakfast of chicken liver, Jeremy decides ton conduct some additional research at his public library.

He finds the librarian, Hyacinth Priests, and asks for information concerning dragons. She takes a special interest in the topic and helps him find a stack of books for him to comb though. Though he finds several names that could possibly fit his new dragon (like Niddhogg), none of the books cover raising dragons. When he again asks Hyacinth, she retrieves a book from behind her counter that has no picture or title on the cover, but inside is written On the Nature (and Disappearance) of Dragons by S. H. Elives.When he asks where the book came from, Hyacinth vaguely replies that she had been saving it for him, and that he may take it home, where he should read it very carefully.

Drawn home by and overwhelming hunger, Jeremy walks into his room to find thelittle dragon trying to eat his pet guinea pigs. He quickly figures out that it had been the dragon’s hunger he had been feeling and sharing, and he is in the middle of trying to convince the dragon not to eat his pets when his mother comes in to investigate the source of the disturbance. Even with the dragon perched on his shoulder, Jeremy’s mother was somehow obvlious to its presence, and once she had accepted Jeremy’s quick explanation of all the noise, she reminded him of his weekend duties and left. After finally managing to feed the little creature, Jeremy has to create mental images to ask the dragon why his mother couldn’t see it. The dragon casually explains with a menal oimage of its own that the dragon was invisible to her. Satisfied, Jeremy sates the dragon with a large bowl of milk and completes his chores before coming backto wake the dragon and begin naming her. He tries several different names , such as Fafnir and Smaug, but the dragon finally settles on Tiamat, and Jeremy learns that the dragon is, in fact, female.

After this revelation, he is visited by his friend, Specimen, or “Spess,” who also cannot see Tiamat. Spess helps him search for the mysterious magic shop, but they cannot seem to find it. Tired, hungry, and therefore irritable, the two boys have an argument and split ways. Their anger didn’t last, and they were friends again the next day at school–even though Jeremy wasn’t too keen on going back. Avoiding Mary Lou was tricky, but Jeremy managed to make it to art class without incident. In art class, however, he got in trouble for drawing a dragon when he was supposed to be drawing a fruit bowl. As the teacher tried to make him start over, Jeremy was seized with sudden panic, and once again raced out of the school, screaming that he was going to puke. When he came home, he found Tiamat perched ontop of his bookshop, and that Mary Lou had followed him home from school–and that she could see Tiamat. He kicks her out of his room, and with the only explanation of her seeing Tiamat being her love of dragons.

Tiamat continues to wreak havoc on Jeremy’s life. Jeremy’s parents have a special dinner with Mary Lou’s family, and Tiamat escapes Jeremy’s room and begins terrorizing the cats, ruining the dinner. Then while he is at school, she escapes again to comfort the distraught Jeremy, staying close to him throughout the day. When Jeremy’s least favorite teacher, his art teacher Mr. Kravitz, makes an announcement regarding the much anticipated art contest, Jeremy gets irritated, and accidentally provokes Tiamat to set Mr. Kravitz’s foot on fire. This prompts Mr. Kravitz to withold the art contest from his class until the culprit confessed, which greatly disappoints both Jeremy and Spess. On the way home, Jeremy saves a cat from his bully, only to have the bully turn on him instead. Tiamat comes to his defense, but gets hurt in the bully’s blind thrashing. Jeremy takes Tiamat home to get medicine for her wing, and his dad almost sees her, but instead gets medicine for Jeremy’s wound, sparing a little extra at Jeremy’s request.

Jeremy finds a letter from Mr. Elives intructing him to bring Tiamat, her shed skin, teeth, and whatever pieces of eggshell he’d managed to save, to him on Midsummer’s Night, which he learns ins June 23rd, the last day of school. Though Tiamat is excited about going “home,” both she and Jeremy are sad at the idea of being separated. Unfortunately, Tiamat is growing at a rapid rate, aand Jeremy has to move her out to his parent’s barn, keeping track of hrgrowth on the stalwalls. Still broken hearted at the thought of losing his dragon friend, he tells Mary Lou everything, and she offers to help provide food. As the two weeks start to run out, Jeremy has to confess to giving Mr. Kravitz the hot foot so that his class could join the art contest. Despite not believing his confession, Mr. Kravitz reinstates the class in the contest–all except for Jeremy.

As Tiamat continues to grow, she starts letting Jeremy mount and join her during her midnight flights.These become Jeremy’s favorite part of the day, even though it wears on him. On their last day together, Jeremy asks Tiamat why she chose him, and she responds,

“I liked the colors in your head. I knew we could share beautiful pictures.”

She then bows her head and cries a single tear, which falls as a diamond into Jeremy’s hand. That night, Jeremy gathers Tiamat’s shed skin, teeth, and shell as instructed, but decides to keep her diamond tear for his own, and sneaks out to meet Mr. Elives at “Main and Not Main.” Instead, he meets Hyacinth Priest, and she leads him and Tiamat to the Magic Shop, which is now located in the middle of a forest clearing. Mr. Elives greets the trio, and Hyacinth begins building a small gate out of Tiamt’s skin, teeth, and shell. Jeremy confesses that he doesn’t want Tiamat to leave, and Hyacinth gently explains to him that Tiamat is a part of him, and will never truly leave him. Even so, as Tiamat leaves, Jeremy’s heart begs for her to stay, accidentally trapping the dragon halfway through the portal. Mr. Elives and Hyacinth tell him to release her, warning him that she could die trapped as she was, and though it breaks his heart, Jeremy lets her go.

Over the summer, Jeremy slipped into despair, stopped drawing, and stopped spending time with his friends. It wasn’t until All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) that he began to feel like himself again. Slipping away from his parent’s Halloween party to Tiamat’s stall, Jeremy retrieved Tiamat’s diamond tear and cried. Then he suddenly felt Tiamat’s presence, and knew that, once again, their minds had been linked. He could see Tiamat, and see Tiamat’s world, though he remained on Earth. That connection revived his broken heart, and he once again began to draw.

Recommended Reading Age: 8-12

Pages: 148

Favorite Character: Hyacinth Priest, because she’s a character that reappears throughout the Magic Shop books, and she’s always supportive of the main character, a steady person that understands what the child is going through.

Favorite Scene: When Tiamat sets Mr. Kravitz’s foot on fire.

Favorite Quote: “Nothing you love is lost. Not really. Things, people–they always go away, sooner or later. You can’t hold them, any more than you can hold moonlight. But if they’ve touched you, if they’re inside you, then they’re still yours. The only things you ever really have are the ones you hold inside your heart.”[3]

Coville, Bruce. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002.

[1] Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, pg. 6

[2] Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, pg. 17

[3] Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, pg. 138

Reading Month Book Review – Artemis Fowl

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I can’t remember exactly what made me pick this book up and read it. I read it in my early teens, I know that, but I can’t remember why. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book—a really good book—I just can’t remember what about it caught my attention. The cover of the book is gold and pretty simple. There are no dragons on it (or in it) so it didn’t trip my radar. I’m thinking that my sister, Beckie, shoved it in my face and told me to read it. With the main character being a 12-year-old criminal mastermind going against fairies, it’s one of the books she forced on me that I continued to read.

The book is treated as a case file, with a prologue discussing the main character’s psychological profile (or lack thereof), and it ends with an epilogue warning against further contact with one Artemis Fowl. The beginning of the actual story is a little on the slow side. You’re introduced to the vampire-like Artemis Fowl in India, following a lead to a miracle healer of sorts. The healer turns out to be a degenerate pixie, outcast from the fairy lands, earning her next drink by healing minor illnesses with her magic. Artemis tricks her into letting him photograph her fairy book, a book of rules, guidelines, and traditions of the fairy folk, then returns home to translate the hieroglyphics. You learn that his father, Artemis Fowl Sr., has disappeared off the coast of Russia, presumed dead, though Artemis Jr. continues to look for him. You also learn that his mother, Angeline, went insane at the news of her husband’s presumed death, leaving Artemis himself essentially an orphan. Angeline is taken care of by Juliet, Butler’s younger sister, while Artemis himself is escorted, protected, and aided by the deadly assassin/body guard known only as Butler.

As Artemis works on decoding the fairy book, the narrative moves below the Earth’s crust to where the fairies had taken refuge after man grew strong enough to take over the upper lands. Here you meet Holly Short, an elf who works for the LEP, recon division. Yes, as it turns out, leprechauns are the fairy versions of police known as LEPrecons. Holly is the first female fairy to ever enter the LEPrecon ranks, and as such, is held to a higher standard than the other LEPrecons by Commander Root. After giving her a really hard time about being a minute late, Root sends her on a recon mission to locate a rampaging troll in Italy. She jumps at the opportunity, and Foaly, the beyond tech-savvy centaur, sends her above ground after it. She finds the troll outside of a restaurant and is commanded not to engage the beast. But when the troll enters the restaurant and a child calls for help, Holly enters the fray and single handedly puts the creature out of commission. Unfortunately, she hadn’t performed the fairy ritual for renewing her magic, and is unable to remain invisible during the fight. The fairies manage to wipe the humans’ memories MIB style, but Holly is still in trouble for endangering the People like that. Root sends her to perform the ritual, and forbids her from returning until her magic is fully renewed.

By this time, Artemis has translated and essentially memorized the fairy book and has been staking out multiple sites where the renewing ritual can be performed. This is how he and Butler manage to find and capture Holly. They take her back to Fowl Manor and imprison her in a specially crafted cell, using the tricks from the book to keep the elf from using her Mesmer (hypnotism) on them and forcing them to release her. Root and Foaly both go a bit nuts when they discover Holly has been captured, and Root returns to the field to make sure that the elf is returned safe and whole. Artemis buys some time by planting Holly’s locator on an abandoned oil rig, luring Root to the rig, then blowing it up to make a point to the People.

Foaly locates Fowl Manor, and Root puts a time bubble around the perimeter to buy the People time while they negotiate with the boy. Artemis naturally demands the gold ransomed that is reserved for scenarios such as this, and Root is naturally determined not to cater to his demands. Since the People are unable to enter human dwellings without an invitation lest they lose their powers, Root decides to go a different route. He makes a deal with the kleptomaniac dwarf, Mulch, who had lost his magic decades ago from breaking and entering, and the dwarf agrees to eat through the foundation of the house and free Holly. Holly, meanwhile, is working on her own plan of escape. She had been in the middle of the renewing ritual when she had been taken. The renewing ritual dictated taking a seed from an ancient tree and planting it in a different spot, encouraging nature to spread and grow and thus regenerating the fairies’ powers. She had stashed an acorn in her boot during Artemis’s attack, and she was determined to plant it and renew her magic. She uses the metal bed frame to start smashing through the soft cement to reach the dirt beneath. Foaly hacks into the Fowl security system and manages to loop the tape reels, meaning to buy Mulch time but also buying Holly herself some much needed time. Artemis catches the loop almost too late and sends Butler to take care of Mulch and Juliet to stop Holly. Both fail miserably. Mulch discovers the safe where Artemis hid his copy of the fairy book, and ejects his digested dirt into Butler’s face. The force of the ejection throws the large man back into the opposite wall, giving the dwarf the chance to escape. Holly tricks Juliet into taking off her mirrored sunglasses and uses the Mesmer to make the girl believe she was watching pro-wrestling in the cell, and escapes through the open door. Artemis tries to step in to stop her, but she sends him back on his rear, embarrassing him, and goes to wreak havoc in the house, planning on continuing until the boy allows her to leave. Upon finding Holly free, Mulch escapes back through his tunnel and fakes his own death to avoid going back to jail.

Disappointed in Root’s tactics, the fairy command replaces the LEP commander on the field. His replacement, an annoying, backstabbing fairy named Cudgeon, decides to send the troll that Holly had fought earlier into Fowl Manor to kills the Fowls. Artemis had “mistakenly” granted the fairies access to the house upon his death, and Cudgeon meant to make that death premature so that they could rescue Holly. Foaly manages to warn Holly of the incoming troll, but not before it is shot through the door. Butler had just dragged Juliet from Holly’s cell when the troll entered, and he tried to fight the troll to keep him away from the still-Mesmered Juliet. Despite all of Butler’s intense combat training, the troll pulverizes and basically kills him, then moves to eat Juliet. Basically kills him. Never one to let an innocent get hurt, Holly flies in and attacks the troll with her magic fully juiced. The troll pulverizes her, too, sending her careening into the wall behind one of the Fowl tapestries. His only mistake was putting her within reach of Butler. As her magic begins healing her, Holly knows that she would never be able to keep the troll from eating Juliet with her damaged LEP gear, so she reaches over and heals Butler first. Butler is surprised to find himself still alive, knowing the wounds he’d received were all fatal, but he isn’t about to let his little sister get hurt. He arms himself with the nearby medieval armor and sword and adjusts his battle tactics to those of fighting a wild animal. The LEP were able to watch the battle through Holly’s lens cam, and it is stated in the book that Butler’s tactics against the troll were later used in LEP training rooms. Butler is about to kill the troll when Holly stops him, claiming his life debt to spare the troll’s life. Butler spares the troll and throws it out of the mansion grimly.

Holly had sealed Artemis in his room, and the boy had watched the entire fight in relative safety. Once Butler had dispatched the threat, Artemis hailed the reinstated Commander Root and secured a promise of payment. Butler frees him from his room, and the fairies dutifully pay Artemis his ransom. Even Holly is awed by the amount of gold Artemis is given, and, inspired by her awe, Artemis strikes a deal with the elf. The fairies are surprised and delighted when Holly emerges from the house with half the gold that had been paid, but they quickly retreat below ground. Rightly predicting that the fairies would use their bio-bomb on Fowl Manor, a bomb that wipes out all life within the time stop, Artemis uses a sleeping drug on himself, Butler, and Juliet to free them from the time-stop. Thinking they had out-smarted the child, the fairies go in after the bomb detonated to retrieve the rest of the gold, but find that they can’t because Artemis is still alive. The fairies are forced to admit that their gold is lost and return to their refuge beneath the crust. When Artemis and Butler wake up the next morning, Butler lectures Artemis on his endangerment of their lives, but Artemis calmly explains away Butler’s lecture, and points out that they’re all still alive. Then Angeline Fowl wakes up and comes downstairs for the first time in months, whole and mentally stable, and you know that Artemis paid Holly to heal her.

Artemis Fowl is a great book because it takes a new approach to the fairy people, modernizing them without abandoning the traditional lore. The back and forth tactics are enjoyable, and the fairy lore and rules featured in the book are fascinating.

Author: Eoin Colfer

Genre: Fantasy

Recommended Reading Age: 12+

Pages: 279

Favorite Character: Foaly, because he’s a smart aleck computer genius and a centaur. And he wears an aluminum foil hat to keep the humans from scanning his brain.

Favorite Scene: When Mulch releases his digested dirt at Butler.

Favorite Quote: “Holmes, Moriarty, they both look the same with the flesh scorched off their skulls.”

Should I Read This?: 8. Absolutely

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl, New York: Scholastic Inc., 2001.

 

 

 

Reading Month Book Review – The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This is the only book I can remember that when I reached the end, I went back to the beginning and read it again. Three times. I’ve reread almost all of my books, but I don’t think I’ve even read The Lord of the Rings twice consecutively. Of course, that may have something to do with The Lord of the Rings[1] being 1031 pages (and that’s if you don’t read the appendixes, which provide an addition 107 pages of reading material) while The Two Princesses of Bamarre is a mere 293. I think one reason it appealed to me so much as a child is that it was very easy to associate the two main characters with my sister and I, my sister being Meryl and I being Addie.

The book is written in first person, and the younger sister, Addie, is the narrator. She doesn’t have a very high opinion of herself and is constantly comparing herself to her older sister, Meryl. Meryl has an adventurous spirit and yearns for adventure, practicing fencing and reciting from their favorite epic poem Drualt. Drualt is constantly referenced throughout the book, and is about a young hero who battles gryphons, ogres, and dragons. Meryl dreams of being like Drualt, while Addie can’t even handle the sight of a single spider.

Their adventure begins when Addie is almost lured into the woods by a spectre. Meryl saves her just in time, and orders the spectre to tell her when her next adventure will begin. The spectre tells her that the next adventure won’t be what she expects, and then vanishes. A few days later, one of the servants in their castle contracts the Gray Death. This disease has been plaguing Bamarre for centuries and is the driving point of the plot. It comes in three stages: the weakness, which lasts an indefinite amount of time; the sleep, which lasts nine days; and the fever, which leaves the victim’s face ashen gray and lasts for three days before the disease ends in death. There is no known cure, though it had been prophesied that “the cure would be found when cowards found courage and rain fell over all Bamarre” (4). Addie tries to convince the servant to fight against the disease by continuing her daily routine when she felt weak, by refusing to sleep, and by keeping herself warm through physical activity. Not too long after, Meryl also contracts the Gray Death.

Addie is rightfully terrified, but she takes hope when King Lionel, a well-known coward, decides to seek the cure for his daughter. Unfortunately, he gives up after one of his men is nearly killed by a spectre. Furious at her father for giving up so easily, cowardly Addie decides to go after the cure herself. Rhys, the apprentice sorcerer who is spending his required time in the king’s court, gives Addie some special gifts to help her in her quest: a near-invisibility cloak that can fool every creature but spectres and dragons, a magic tablecloth that can produce an infinite amount of food out of thin air, and non-magical maps of the kingdom. The nurse elf, Milton, and the princesses’ governess, Bella, also give Addie gifts. Milton gives Addie a packet of flowers that help relieve pain, while Bella gives Addie peasant clothes and passes on gifts from the late queen: a magic spyglass and a pair of seven league boots. Meryl gives Addie her sword, Blood-biter, wishing she could be the one wielding it instead. Addie sneaks out of the castle at dawn, her plain clothes giving her the impression of a servant and allowing her to escape into the countryside to begin her quest.

Addie literally bumbles into an ogre almost right away. Since ogres are the stupidest of the monsters plaguing Bamarre, he is quickly dispatched and gives Addie a much needed boost of confidence. Her confidence is shaken after her second encounter with a spectre, but she continues on her quest anyway. Rhys pops in and out of the story, constantly checking on Addie and worrying about her. He has to attend the Sorcerer’s Council, and Addie has him keep tabs on Meryl for her, otherwise you get the impression he would have stayed to help the princess on her quest. When Addie decides to seek out a dragon for the cure, Rhys tells her that dragons are anti-social, but get lonely, and that the best way to get the cure out of the dragon was to keep it entertained. On her way to a dragon’s lair, Addie is beset by gryphons and uses her tablecloth to trick the gryphons into eating themselves to death. The gryphon carcasses lure the great dragon (!!!) Vollys into appearing. She kidnaps Addie and whisks the princess to her lair for company–after gorging on the stuffed gryphons.

Vollys keeps Addie trapped there, rewarding her for keeping her entertained by giving her gifts of treasures from her horde. Addie wants nothing to do with the treasures, imagining what misfortune befell on their previous owners, but Vollys warns her that she will need the treasure to survive. Addie eventually understands that Vollys will give her treasures when she’s happy, but when she’s irritable, she will take the treasures away, and when the treasures are gone, Addie will die. Addie sacrifices four pieces of her treasure to the dragon in exchange for knowledge of the cure to the Gray Death, but then has to suffer knowing the cure while being unable to help her sister. Addie constantly uses her magic spyglass to check on Meryl while she’s stuck in Vollys’s lair, and her despair grows when Meryl enters the final stage of the Gray Death. A strange presence keeps her hopes up during her imprisonment, however, and Meryl manages to twice escape Vollys’s lair.

Using the seven league boots to race back home, Addie reaches Meryl on her final day of life with news of the cure. Knowledge of the cure isn’t enough. Addie has to take Meryl to the source of the cure, with only hours left before her beloved sister dies. Rhys goes with them, carrying Meryl who has some strength but is still quite sick. Rhys and Addie manage to get a few villagers to guide them to the location of the cure, but Vollys is waiting for them with a host of monsters. Meryl is weak, and Addie, Rhys, and the villagers are outnumbered, and there’s only a half hour ‘till sunrise when Meryl is scheduled to die.

 

If you want to know if they reach the cure in time, you have to read the book for yourself.

 

One of the funniest things about Addie’s character is her immense fear of spiders. She has Rhys banish the arachnids from the palace right after they meet, and before him she’d had Meryl remove any spider that she caught sight of. She almost doesn’t set out at all when she catches sight of a spider in the Mulee Forest. She defeats an ogre, faces down a spectre, and kills a flock of gryphons, but it isn’t until she’s Vollys’s captive that she finally manages to face and defeat a simple spider.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this tale was that it presents the reverse view of the standard hero. While in Vollys’s lair, Vollys gives Addie the dragon version of Drualt, portraying him as a murdering monster. Addie is offended because Drualt is her hero, but I, as the reader, can see how the dragons have this view of him, especially when you find out that Drualt killed Vollys’s mother.

This book positively delights me. I love the relationship between Meryl and Addie, and I love watching Rhys and Addie fall for each other. Addie’s character is very dynamic, her courage and confidence growing as she faces one fear after another. It is rewarding to watch her grow from a timid girl to a brave woman who wants to fight for peace in her kingdom. The Two Princesses of Bamarre has an interesting twist at the end, but one that I believe will satisfy the reader.

 

 

Author: Gail Carson Levine

Genre: Fantasy

Recommended Reading Age: 10+

Pages: 293

Favorite Character: Rhys the sorcerer. He’s very dramatic and curious, always excited about everything. My favorite part of his character is that he’s always bowing, and not just the simple bow, a flourishing bow. I think how he bows says a lot about his actual character.

Favorite Scene: When Addie accuses Rhys of being a spectre. He gets so flustered and distraught at her accusation because he only wants her approval. It’s an adorable scene.

Favorite Quote: Be brave, Bamarre!/Go forth, Bamarre,/The timid with the strong./Let not your heroes/Fight alone. (193)

Levine, Gail Carson. The Two Princesses of Bamarre. New York: HarperTrophy, 2001

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Reading Month Book Review – Deltora Quest

Tags

, , , , , ,

This series works in a traditional quest format: obtain goal, receive gifts that help in the quest, gain companion with necessary information to complete quest, defeat terrible monster, obtain treasure. The first seven books follow that pattern. A story like this can become tiring and predictable if not executed properly, but Emily Rodda managed to shake up the story enough to engage the readers without disrupting that necessary pattern.

The story begins where it always does: book one. The Forests of Silence sets up the main story arc quite nicely by killing the king. The king supposedly dies as the result of a fever, leaving his young son, Endon, to assume the throne. Jarred, Endon’s childhood playmate, becomes suspicious of the death and curious about the artifact the Belt of Deltora that was to be worn only by the king on the day of his coronation. Jarred begins delving into the shelves of the palace library, and he finds a small blue book containing the history of the belt. The book weaves the history of the kingdom of Deltora, telling of how the Shadow Lord once tried to overtake the realms, but a blacksmith by the name of Adin united the seven tribes and drove the Shadow Lord out of Deltora. He did this by collecting the seven gems of the tribes, talismans of powerful magic alone but together form a spell that could protect the lands from even the Shadow Lord’s terrible magicks. The book also warned that the Shadow Lord is patient and clever, and is covetous of the beautiful lands of Deltora. Jarred goes to tell Endon what he learned, but is instead accused by Endon’s chief counselor of being a traitor and assassin, and is forced to flee the castle. Jarred is taken in by a blacksmith outside of the palace walls, and learns that the people are starved and bitter, believing to have been long ago abandoned by their king. Jarred can do little to convince them otherwise, he being an outcast, and so he joins the blacksmith at his forge. Years pass, Jarred marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Anna, and while all doesn’t seem well in the slightest, Jarred remains alive and whole. Then, as Jarred’s wife is pregnant with their first child, Endon sends out a signal asking for Jarred’s help. Jarred goes to him, and Endon begs for forgiveness for believing that Jarred would ever be anything but loyal. Endon then reveals his suspicions that the Belt of Deltora is in danger, and he and Jarred go to check on it. They find the belt itself, forged by Adin’s hands, horribly mangled, and the seven powerful gems missing. Endon’s chief counselor, Prandine, reveals himself to be a minion of the Shadow Lord and tries to kill Endon, Jarred, and Endon’s pregnant wife, Sharn, who, in turn, kills him. But it is already too late for them to save Deltora from the Shadow Lord. All Jarred can do is smuggle Endon and Sharn out of the castle to safety as the Shadow Lord descends and conquers the kingdom. And boom! The villain wins by the seventh chapter of the first book.

Sixteen years later (otherwise known as chapter eight), our main character, Leif, appears. He’s the son of Jarred and Anna, longtime blacksmiths of the city Del, running wild amongst the gutters and ruin of the once great city. It is here, on Leif’s sixteenth birthday, that they set him on his quest. Jarred has repaired the belt, but the gems are still missing. Leif must find all the gems which Jarred has learned were hidden in the seven most dangerous places in Deltora: the Forests of Silence, the Lake of Tears, the City of the Rats, the Shifting Sands, Dread Mountain, the Maze of the Beast, and the Valley of the Lost. And naturally each place is guarded by an evil, powerful guardian. Jarred gives Leif a sword and Anna gives him a magical cloak, and they introduce Barda, one of the palace soldiers who had escaped the slaughter sixteen years earlier, who is supposed to accompany and protect him as he braves each challenge.

As the title of the first book suggests, they begin their quest in the Forests of Silence. They’re almost eaten as soon as they cross the borders of the forest and are saved by the wild child, Jasmine, and her two animal friends, Kree the raven, and Filli the hedgehog. (Let me clarify for you Hobbit fans out there: hedgehog, not dwarf. There are two l’s.) They learn that Jasmine has been living alone in the Forest since she was seven, ever since her parents were dragged away by the Shadow Lord’s soldiers, the Grey Guards. She acts as the first guide to the Guardian, using her ability to talk to trees and animals to help Barda and Leif defeat him and claim the first gem for the Belt. The topaz grants Jasmine a vision of her mother, confirmed dead, who tells her that she needs to join Barda and Leif on their quest. Jasmine joins them, along with Filli and Kree, making their duo a stoic trio.

In the next book, they make their way to The Lake of Tears. They have to cross into Thaegan’s territory to reach the lake itself, and that is not an idea that pleases Jasmine. Thaegen is an evil sorceress in the services of the Shadow Land who had long ago cast ruin on the lands. They meet one of Thaegen’s victims at a bridge, a cursed warrior forced to kill travelers if they don’t answer his questions correctly until lies joins with truths. Barda and Jasmine answer the guard’s questions correctly, but Leif fails, forcing him to find a way to break the guard’s curse to survive. He gives the guard a trick answer that unifies truth with lies, and he is able to continue. The trio rescue a Ralad named Manus from the Grey Guards, but in escaping the soldiers, they fall into a trap laid by Jin and Jod, two of Thaegan’s children. Manus helps them escape and leads them to his home, where they all rest and recuperate before going on to the Lake. There they confront the Guardian, Soldeen, who, in exchange for the ruby at the bottom of his lake, asks them to leave Manus to keep him company. They refuse, even though Manus is willing, and Leif manages to talk Soldeen into giving him the ruby. Thaegen finally appears just as Soldeen surrenders it and starts blasting everyone until Kree kills her. Her death breaks all the curses she cast upon her subjects, restoring Soldeen to his former glory and returning voices to the Raladin. Leif locks the next jewel into the Belt, and the trio press on, after Manus swears to someday repay their kindness.

Book 3, City of Rats, has the three travelers visiting a merchant named Tom, who sells all sorts of fascinating items. They buy several important items that will later help in their quest (though they don’t know it at the time). This is also where my favorite character makes his initial entrance, though he remains an unknown in this book with only a small part. Tom sells them creatures called muddlets, in lieu of horses, and when Leif ignores Tom’s warnings about keeping to the left, the muddlets take the companions to a strange town  called Noradz. There they find themselves a part of a germophobic society run by the nine Ra-Kacharz. There they meet a young girl named Tira, whom Leif saves from a sound lashing at the hands of Reece, the head Ra-Kacharz. Reece takes an instant disliking to the trio, and takes advantage of discovering Filli on Jasmine’s shoulders to try to have them killed. Leif outsmarts him at the trial, and they are only imprisoned. When Tira discovers that Reece has no intention of feeding or watering them, she helps break them out instead. The trio escape in Ra-Kacharz garb (solid red ninja costumes) through a hole lined with moss that kills when it comes in contact with skin. The costumes, as well as the souvenirs from Tom’s shop, help them reach the City of Rats without getting devoured by the R.O.U.S.es that live there. In the city, the giant snake who rules and guard the gem lures Leif to the center so he can eat him easily. Jasmine chops its head off while Leif is in its mouth, nearly crippling and killing Leif, and the remainder of the fire beads from Tom’s shop catch the city on fire.

Next up is The Shifting Sands. Here, they nearly get discovered by the Shadow Lord’s Ak-Baba, the dragon-bird equivalent of ringwraiths, and almost stung to death by the crazy cat lady of bees, Queen Bee. From there, they make their way to Rithmere where they compete in gladiator type battles to earn money to buy provisions for the remainder of their trip. It’s here that Doom remerges and gets a name as a fellow competitor in the games. He secretly attacks them and locks them in their room, trying to keep them from entering the games. When Jasmine manages to make it to the finals, Doom tries to drug them to keep them out. Jasmine refuses the offered drink, and instead finds herself face to face with Doom in the championships. Her agility is a win against Doom’s strength, but when the innkeeper suggests taking an alternate way out of town to avoid thieves and ruffians, they end up in the hands of the Grey Guards on their way to more violent games in the Shadow Lands. Doom frees them and asks them to join him and his rebellion, but they decline and continue on their quest. When they reach the shifting sands, Leif goes into a form of daze, the guardians of the desert using a form of hypnosis to bring him to the center of the desert where they can claim the coveted Belt for themselves. Leif’s mind clears, allowing him to remember their confrontation with Queen Bee and her mentioning that smoke calms her bees, allowing her to get their honey. He uses that trick to calm the Hive beneath the sands enough to retrieve the lapis lazuli. Jasmine looks optimistically toward the next spot on their journey, while Barda and Leif dread it.

Dread Mountain comes next in the series. The trio find refuge at the Dreaming Spring, drinking the water and experiencing very real dreams. In Leif’s dream, he finds his parents’ forge branded by the Shadow Lord and his parents gone. Terrified by the horrible revelation, he wakes up and finds a Kin, a strange, kangaroo, bird, dog thing named Prin. He befriends Prin then rescues her from a pod of Grey Guards. To repay him, Prin’s family agrees to fly them to Dread Mountain. Prin follows them and gets stranded with them during a storm. She helps them fight a Vraal and helps clear a path through the thick Boolong thorns. They make their way to a secret entrance of the Dread Gnomes and get caught in one of their vacuum sealed death traps. They use their supply of water from the Dreaming Spring to figure out the way out and simultaneously discover the grotesque, giant, poisonous frog that enslaved the gnomes and guards the emerald of the Belt. They break through the two-way mirror that sealed them in the tomb and convince three of the gnomes to help them defeat the frog. One of the gnomes betrays them almost as soon as they enter the frog’s cavern, and he is the first one to die at the hand of the frog. They try to use some of the Grey Guards’ blisters (poisonous sacks the Guards would sling at their opponents) on the frog, but the frog mocks them for using his own poison against him. The gnomes confess to leaving jars of the poison at the base of the mountain as tribute, and the trio infer that the Shadow Lord uses the frog’s venom on his enemies. Leif remembers that the spring water warns those of evil intent not to use it, and throws a bottle of the water down the frog’s throat. The frog almost chokes on the bottle itself, but then the water’s magic begins its work and turns the monster into a frog, sending the emerald tumbling down into Leif’s open hands. Leif convinces the Dread Gnomes to form an allegiance with the Kin, and the Dread Gnomes give him a gold-tipped arrow, telling him to send it their way if he should ever need their help. The gnomes then promise to leave a harmless decoy substance at the bottom of the mountain for the Grey Guards to use instead of the frog’s venom, and the trio press on to the next place on the map.

In The Maze of the Beast, we are introduced to a new species called Ols, shapeshifters created by the Shadow Lord to enact his many plans. Two Ols would have killed out three heroes in the first chapter of this book if they hadn’t been rescued by one of Doom’s young companions, Dain. Dain tells the trio about Ols and leads them back to the Resistance’s stronghold. Doom, remembering the last he’d seen of the companions they had been heading into the Shifting Sands, accuses them of being Ols themselves, and imprisons them until he can tell for sure whether or not they are who they say. Much like what had happened in Noradz, Doom leaves them in the prison, but after the required time, Dain lets them out and asks that they take him to Tora, Del’s sister city. They let him think that Tora is their destination and escape the mountain, encouraging him to talk and tell them what’s been happening. Jasmine decides that she has become a liability to their group because she’s too unique, with her wild-child hair and Kree always following her, and splits away from their company. The three men continue on, a bit forlornly, and reach a town on the riverway, who’s people had been murdered and treasures plundered by pirates. It upsets Leif that huamsn would treat other humans this way of their own free will, especially when the Shadow Lord makes life miserable enough for all humans, and he makes himself a promise to exact revenge upon the pirates for the town’s sake. They get on board a river barge and sail down the river, eyeing their companions distrustfully until one, a fine lady in purple silks and make up, turns out to be Jasmine in disguise. Their boat is attacked by the pirates that attacked the village, Dain is captured, the Belt is taken, and Barda is thrown overboard to get eaten alive by the carnivorous leeches that lurk in the water. A little ways down the shore, Barda emerges from the water, quiet and sullen. Jasmine and Leif are delighted to have him back, but his change worries them. They stumble upon a map with notes from the pirates saying that they had been hired by Doom to retrieve the gem in the Maze, and Barda convinces them that the quest is lost. A second Barda attacks the first and kills him, revealing that Barda to have been an Ol intent on getting the pair to give up. The three get captured by the pirates and learn that they plan to sell Dain to the Shadow Lord because Doom fosters a fondness toward the boy. They manage to get the belt back thanks to a thieving polypan, but the pirates throw them and a mutinous pirate into the maze and leave them there. The guardian of the Maze, the slug-like Glug, is waiting for them just past the entrance. The pirate freaks and runs away, trying to escape through the Maze as the Glug leisurely chases after him. Leif, Barda, and Jasmine begin to find their own way out, and Leif stumbles upon the hiding place of the next gem by sheer luck. Unfortunately, their movement attracts the attention of the Glug, who had been feasting on the mutinous pirate, and Jasmine and Barda lure the slug-beast away from Leif as he tries to dig the jewel out of the wall. The walls of the Maze are made by a kind of glue-like-slime that hardens into an imitation stone. Leif is able to use a dagger to cut through it to reach the amethyst, and in doing so uncovers of breath of ocean air. He digs away enough of the wall to be able to crawl and calls to Jasmine and Barda who quickly follow him. They escape through a blow hole while the Glug patches the hole in its precious maze, and the force of the blow hole just happens to kill the pirates who had captured them.

The final jewel, the diamond, is hidden in the title location, The Valley of the Lost. Here they rescue Dain and stumble upon Tora, a magical city that doesn’t tolerate those of evil intent. Doom catches up to them at Tora, and the companions make him enter it to prove he isn’t an Ol. The magic temporarily drains Doom of his anger and hate, allowing Leif to get some of his mysterious back story out of him. Doom has no memory before his escape from the Shadow Lands, and took the name of the man who had nurtured him and brought him back to health at the base of Dread Mountain. Doom resents them for taking advantage of his weakness, but warns them not to enter the Valley. Naturally, the trio ignore his warning and press on, grudgingly agreeing to escort Neridah, a spoiled athlete Doom rescued from the Rithmere Games, halfway to her home. She overhears them talking about the diamond the guardian is protecting, and follows them into the valley to claim the diamond for herself. The Guardian is an armored man with four disgusting beasts named Pride, Envy, Hatred, and Gluttony. The Guardian promises to surrender the diamond to them if they play his game, but if they lose, they become one of the thousands of lost souls trapped in the mist encompassing the valley. Neridah refuses to play the game and leaves, but the trio know they can’t leave without the diamond and agree to play. The Guardian tells them that there are clues hidden all around his castle that will tell him his name, and the name is the password to the safe for the diamond. There is a looming deadline and the clues are hard to find, but then they discover the truth: the password to the safe is ENDON. Distraught by the discovery that the evil guardian is the once king of Deltora, the only thing that comforts the trio is the knowledge that Endon is alone and Sharn and the heir are still out there. They discover then that Neridah had stolen the diamond and escaped, and in the Guardian’s anger, his beasts turn on him and start eating him. Leif quickly severs the cord connecting the beasts to the Guardian, and the spell over the valley begins to break. The trio hurry to find Neridah, who had tripped at the banks of a river at the edge of the valley and smashed her skull in, and retrieve the diamond. When they return, they discover that all the trapped souls had been returned to this plane, and that the guardian had been returned to his original state as an old hermit. He confesses that his real name was Fardeep, not Endon, and the majority of the souls trapped in the valley were the people of Tora, who had been cursed after not helping Endon as they had promised. The Torrans weave a spell to shroud the valley in mist again, and Doom and Dain join the trio as they begin to make plans to find Endon’s heir, return to Del, and defeat the Shadow Lord.

I won’t include the last book, Return to Del, in this review because there are so many spoilers bound in its pages. There are so many turns and twists as you find out who Doom is, who Jasmine is, what happened to Leif’s parents, and where Endon’s heir is hiding.

I love these books. Beside their traditional quest format, they are filled with tricks, puzzles, and riddles, encouraging the reader to think and try to figure out the clues before and along with the characters. If you can figure out the plot twist at the end of the book before it is revealed, let me know, because the first time I read this book, my mind was blown. Despite its seemingly simple nature, it really does encourage you to think more than other books. You should definitely check it out.

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Recommended Reading Age: 8 – 14

Pages: 731

Favorite Character: Doom. He’s the character who you’re never sure what side he’s on. He claims to be the leader of the rebellion against the Shadow Lord, but his allegiances are continuously questioned as clues show up through the companion’s travels as to Doom’s true identity.

Favorite Scene: When the companions return to Del. The entire finale of the series is mind-blowingly epic. First time I read it, I had to sit back and just process everything that had just happened.

Favorite Quote: “Who am I? All is darkness. But I will not despair. Three things I know: I know I am a man. I know where I have been. I know what I must do. For now, that is enough.” (417)

 

Rodda, Emily. Deltora Quest. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008.

 

 

Did Someone Mention “Reading”?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of my friends on Facebook mentioned that March was National Reading Month. Because *everything* on the internet is true, (and because I’ll take any excuse to talk about books) I decided to spend this month reviewing and recommending a few books I’ve enjoyed.

Three of these reviews I stole from my previous blog called “The Bookwyrm’s Bookshelf.” I had started that blog because several parents in my circles had begged me for recommendations for their kids. These parents didn’t have time to read all the books for themselves, but they wanted to know what kind of stories and characters that would be going into their children’s head. So I decided to go through the books and give a more plot and character based review.

The books that I’m reviewing are at the middle grade reading level, and are all fantasy. I still enjoy all of these stories as an adult, but I did originally read them when I was a member of their target audience. They have a lot of sentimental value to me because I was exposed to them in those formulative years, and they helped shape not only who I am, but what I write. If you are a middle grade reader, or if you are an adult with a middle grade reader, I highly recommend you check out these books.

If you are a young adult and would like something to read, I recommend these:

  1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (and I’m totally judging you if you haven’t read this already)
  2. The Goblin Wood  by Hilari Bell
  3. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  4. Cinder by Marissa Meyers
  5. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  6. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  7. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
  8. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffry
  9. Dragon’s Milk by Susan Fletcher
  10. Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If you have a recommendation for me, leave it below in the comments!

Blood on the Snow

Tags

, , , , , ,

Aurella ran through the winter storm, her black hair spilling behind her. The cold wind tore at her bare arms, freezing the blood that dripped from the open wounds slashed across her shoulders. She tripped on a root and collapsed onto the ground with a sob. She struggled to regain her lost breath, the icy air painful to breathe. Her fingers clenched the cold snow as she slowly climbed to her feet. High a above, a black, winged shape circled the full moon.

Aurella watched the creature, and fear pierced her heart when it let out a horrible screech. She began to run again, but her growing exhaustion turned it into a shambling stagger. She had only made it to the next clearing before she fell back into the snow. She lay there, her heart pounding, her breath coming in ragged sobs. Her white dress was soaked with her sweat, and it outlined her frail body as she lay there. She sobbed, her golden eyes squeezed shut as large tears formed under her lases and froze on her cheeks. She was so tired that not even her terror could fuel her escape. All she could do was lay there and wait for her fate.

The black creature landed in the clearing, crouching on all fours as it sniffed at the air experimentally. He was larger than a man, with a human torso and legs, but he had the face and wings of a bat. There were horrible scars across his face and chest, and his sharp fangs were flecked with blood. He moved toward her, his clawed feet inching their way through the dry snow. He sniffed at her, his black nose brushing against her bare and bloodied shoulder. He stank of dead flesh and sweat. Aurella was too tired to even flinch. Her heart slowed, and she let her eyes flutter closed. She could feel the heat emanating from his leathery body. The creature opened its mouth and hissed, his warm breath caressing her shoulder.

The sound of horses’ hooves came to the clearing. The bat creature growled as he turned to face the threat, and he roared at the armed riders that appeared in the mist of the trees.

The riders didn’t say a word, their black eyes as cold as the world around them. Their black cloaks rippled in the slight breeze, the moonlight striking their sharply angled faces. Each rider was armed with a sword, bow, and a quiver full of arrows. The moonlight bounced off the snow and splattered across their shining armor. Their white horses pawed at the snow, snorting and huffing eagerly. They faced the beast, cruel sneers of hate and disgust slashed across what would otherwise be handsome faces. As one, the riders drew their bows and fired at the bat.

Aurella shot up and screamed as the arrows flew through the air. Her scream was ragged from her running and her crying, but it still pierced the air like a sword through the heart. Some of the riders looked at her, dismay and fear tinting their otherwise heartless scowls.

The beast roared, enraged by the arrows that bounced off his thick hide. He spread his wings, showing his full mass to his enemies, and bellowed. His roar rippled through the air, startling the horses and ripping alarmed yells from the riders’ throats. The beast pounded on the snow, continuing his intimidation for a minute before charging.

Aurella watched with growing horror as the beast landed amidst the riders, clawing at them and their horses. The air was filled with bitter shouts and enraged roars. The tears Aurella had been trying to hold back came freely now, hot trickles of water freezing on her cheeks and chin. The beast’s hide was thick, difficult to penetrate, but not impossible. The riders struggled to dodge his claws, ducking his wide wings and snapping jaws to get under his guard and plunge their silver swords into his chest. With every drop of blood they drew, there was a shout of triumphant. The pain infuriated the beast, and the smell of his own blood drove him into a frenzy. He tore into the riders with claws and teeth, destroying every last one of them. Wha horses survived fled, whinnying in panic from the sight of the rampaging beast. Blood stained the driven snow, adding a morbid color to the black and white surroundings.

The beast chased after the horses for a few minutes, tearing into the hide of the slowest one and throwing it against the trees. His rage seemed to simmer as he surveyed the destruction his wrath had wreaked. His anger-fueled adrenaline seemed to melt from his body, and he shook his head. He heaved in exhaustion, his hot breath coming in heavy grunts. He suddenly seemed very tired and worn. He turned to Aurella, three of the riders’ swords still embedded in his chest. He staggered toward her, blood dripping on to the snowbanks, melting it before it refroze. Aurella struggled to her feet as the beast approached her, her limbs shaking with the exertion. The beast moved closer and closer, his breath getting more ragged and strained. Finally, it seemed like he could move no closer, and he knelt before her.

Aurella stared at the beast, her own breath rough and waning. The riders had mercilessly driven her from the city into the forest and ten miles in. They had turn the townspeople against her, called her a witch. She wasn’t a witch. Witches called their power from herbs and spells, but Aurella’s power came from within her. There was only one creature that had stood up for her, protected her: Jar-Xareth, the bat man. Jar-Xareth had protected her as she fled the city, and he had protected her from the riders that had come to kill her. Now, he was dying from wounds the riders had inflicted. Only Aurella’s power could save him.

Aurella closed the space between her and Jar-Xareth. He waited for her, his dark brown eyes beginning to cloud with death. Very gently, while murmuring soft words of reassurance, Aurella pulled the swords from Jar-Xareth’s chest. She placed her hands over his wounds and closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of his life leave him. She inhaled, then let out her breath slowly. Light flowed out from her hand, healing the holes in his chest. Jar-Xareth straightened, his strength returning to him, but Aurella, the last of her energy draining from her, fell forward. Jar-Xareth caught her and gently lowered her to the ground. He draped his wings around her, protecting her from the bitter cold of the winter forest. He leaned over her, letting the revived warmth of his life warm her.

Aurella put her small hand on his chest and whispered, “Thank you, my friend,” before slipping into a tired dream.

Bitter and Heartbroken

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen checked his watch as he set his book bag by his chair and sat down. He still had a half hour before he had to be in his next class, so he was going to relax in the Commons and check out what was going on with the locals. He spotted several of his friends right away, but he didn’t bother acknowledging them or drawing attention to himself. He was just there to watch and see if anything interesting was going to happen. One of his work friends, Vivien, walked in the Commons door and began to cut across the lower level, apparently aiming for the mailboxes. The guy of one of the eye-baby couples looked away from his girlfriend and waved to her. A strange look crossed her face, but she waved back.

“You look nice today,” he said, causing his girlfriend to turn around and look for herself.

Vivien fingered her long brown braid with an awkward smile. “Thanks,” she said. “But please, don’t compliment me ever again.”

Stephen, the guy, and his girlfriend were all shocked by the request, but Vivien hurried past their table. Almost overwhelmed by curiosity, Stephen flagged her down. Vivien smiled when she saw him and came to his table.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi. What was up with that?”

She looked over her shoulder at the eye-baby couple and flinched. “I just don’t want him complimenting me.”

“Why?”

“Because every compliment he gives me is an insult.”

Stephen frowned, confused more now than ever. “He didn’t mean to insult you.”

“I know.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

Vivien smiled cryptically and said again, “I know.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket, checked the time, and then let it slip back in. “If you don’t mind hearing the story, I could explain it to you. I think I have enough time before class.”

Stephen checked his watch. “I have enough time for a story. It sounds interesting.”

“I don’t know about interesting, but it’s definitely dramatic.” She sat down and set her book bag beside her. “It’s kind of a girl story.”

He shrugged. “I’m up to it.”

“Okay, well, it started last year when my brother first came to college. My brother and him,” she jerked her thumb back at the eye-baby guy, “worked on the same machine at the Print Shop, and my brother invited him to join us for dinner. He was the strong and silent type, but whenever he did speak, he was hilarious and way cool, plus he’s way cute.” She glanced over her shoulder and added bitterly, “I started crushing on him around midterms. We got him to come to the Christmas fine arts with us. We went to the play first and then had dinner. I sat next to him during the play, and he stayed with me when I saved our group’s table at dinner. We got along really well, and he fit in perfectly with my group.

“Things changed at the Valentine’s fine arts. He went with our group again, and he gave all the girls in our group a bundle of three roses. They were the first flowers a man besides my father had given me, and I flat out love roses. One was even red. We sat together again and I made him laugh, and he walked me back to my dorm. It was a cloud nine night. He was such a good guy, and the roses totally swept me off my feet! I thought – I hoped – that he would be different than every other guy I’d ever met.

“I was worried that I was getting too excited, and I kept asking my group if I was being obvious, but they always said I was acting perfectly normal. I don’t know if they were lying or if they honestly couldn’t tell either, but I scared him. He admitted to my brother that he was avoiding me for a few weeks. I pretty much hated myself for that, and I completely backed off. I thought maybe if I stopped paying so much attention to him, he’d come back, and he did for a while.

“That’s where she came in.” Vivien looked down, but Stephen could see the anger in her eyes. Vivien tossed her hair back and met Stephen’s patient gaze. “She was dating one of his friends the first semester, but her parents didn’t approve of her boyfriend so she broke up with him. I give her full credit for that. Her mistake was telling her ex a month into the semester that she still had strong feelings for him.

“She started pursuing him,” she glanced back at the eye-baby guy, “pretty much the day she got back. She got him a Valentine’s Day card, she would wait outside her dorm so she could walk with him to work, and one time while I was trying to interview him for my Journalism class she tried to get her ex to help get him away from me so she could have him.” She laughed a little at the memory. “That infuriated my brother to no end!” Her laughter died and a frown pulled at her lips. “It was soon after that she told her ex that she hadn’t cared for him since Christmas. She completely shattered his heart and she didn’t care. That, to me, is unforgiveable.”

Vivien sighed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before continuing. “I think it was late March that she started wearing his jacket constantly. My brother asked him about it, since, you know, a girl wearing a guy’s jacket usually means she’s with that guy, and he said that she had been cold, so he did the gentlemanly thing and let her wear and she hadn’t given it back.

“Two weeks later, he broke his promise to join us for dinner. He promised me three different times that he would join us, and each time he didn’t show. My brother managed to corner him at the cereal bar one night and ask him about it. He was breaking his promise because of her. She had told him point blank that she wanted to start a relationship with him, and he was perfectly fine with it.

“I didn’t like her before, but after that she became unbearable. She was wearing his jacket all the time – I mean eighty-three degree weather with a sun index of eight and I am not exaggerating! I checked that day. She was walking around campus like she owned the whole place. Several times she stopped at my chapel seat to ‘talk’ to me, but it felt like she was only gloating.”

“You don’t know that she wasn’t,” Stephen said. “She could’ve just wanted to talk.”

Vivien smiled, almost dangerously. “You don’t know how women think, especially as far as our men are concerned. She was gloating.”

“Okay, I’ll take your word for it, but you do sound like you’re bitter.”

“Bitter? Maybe. I’m mainly mad. Possibly even furious. Look at her.”

Stephen looked at the eye-baby girl. She was short, round, with bobbed purple-red hair, and a pinched face.

“Now look at me.”

He looked at her. Vivien was tall, definitely not thin, but not overly fat either. She had long, dark brown hair and large eyes that he could never figure out if they were green, brown, or some strange color in between.

“I want your honest opinion.”

He was instantly dreading the question.

“Which one of us is prettier?”

He sighed and answered honestly. “You are. But aren’t girls always going on about how it’s more than looks?”

She smiled. “Yes, but I’m trying to make a point here. Look, girls naturally think that the other girl is prettier, and I do not have a very high opinion of myself at all, but even I know that I am prettier than she is!”

“Then maybe he likes her for her personality.”

“He has poor taste if he does.”

“Oh?”

Vivien held up seven fingers. “I kept a running list of reasons why he shouldn’t date her and I reached seven without even trying. Granted, I can’t remember all of them right now, but I have them written down in one of my notebooks. I can remember two of the reasons right off the bat. One reason is she still flirts with other guys. I was walking out of chapel with some of my friends and we ended up right behind her. She was wearing his jacket, but she was literally hanging on another guy’s jacket.”

“Maybe she was holding on so she could keep up with him?”

“Nope! There was an easy ten foot swath around them and she was having no problem keeping up with him. She was hanging on him because she wanted to.

“Reason number two, ever since he started dating her, he’s broken promises, and been significantly late to things.”

“Like dinner?”

“No! Like he and my brother were supposed to work on some project together, and he was a half hour late because she wouldn’t let him go.” She snapped her fingers. “And I just remembered a third reason, all his friends have ditched him.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

“Okay, she had three friends, he had seven. She pulled her friends over to their group, and I watched as one by one his friends slipped away over a period of weeks and reformed at a different table. Now he’s constantly hanging with her best girlfriend and their ‘guy’ friend while his cool guy friends sit at a different table and laugh at him.”

Stephen looked at her skeptically.

“You think I’m making this up, but I’m not.” She leaned back in her chair with a smirk and checked her phone.  “Five minutes left.”

He checked his watch. “I have fifteen.”

“I like being early to class. It’s the ten minute quiz cram.” She winked.

“Okay, so why don’t you want him complimenting you?”

“Because he chose her over me, and by doing that he’s saying that she’s better than me in every way. I am the second ugliest, second dumbest, second meanest person in the entire school, but she’s beaten me in all three categories! He says I look nice, but I don’t look as nice as her. He says ‘Nice hair,’ but it’s not as good as hers. Every time he compliments me, it’s like he’s saying I’m second to the only person I think I’m better than, and thank you, but I don’t need or want those kind of compliments.” Vivien stood and shouldered her bag. “Get it now?”

“Yeah, but are you sure you’re not being a little spiteful?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care.” She looked over at the eye-baby couple. The guy saw her and wiggled his fingers in a strange kind of “good-bye” wave. Stephen was surprised when Vivien returned the wave. The guy’s girlfriend looked over her shoulder to smile at them, and even Stephen had to admit that the smile was rather smug. “He’s a great guy,” Vivien said quietly, “but he’s stupid to think she deserves him.” She looked back at Stephen and smiled. “I’ve been dying to talk to somebody about that. Thanks for listening.”

He shrugged easily. “I wasn’t doing anything.”

“Even so.” She checked her phone again. “Gotta go to class. Quiz on the Presidents. See ya at work tomorrow!” She waved and strode quickly out of the Commons toward the AC.

He watched her go and looked back at the eye-baby couple. The guy was leaning back in his chair listening as his girlfriend said something. The guy seemed both totally involved and totally disinterested. Stephen glanced back at where Vivien had walked off and shrugged. It wasn’t his problem. If that guy wanted to go out with the wrong girl, it was his problem. Stephen picked up his bag and walked out, not to think of it again.

 

Hollow Chocolate

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Maxine quietly slipped through the door of her classroom, carefully balancing a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates and gifts. She spotted her sister Chloe carrying a stack of papers out of her classroom, and managed a small wave. Chloe came over and opened the school door leading out to the staff parking lot.

“That’s quite a haul,” Chloe commented appreciatively, eyeing the box of goodies.

Maxine grinned. “I know. It’s the one day of the year that I get more goodies than Theresa. And you know, some of these cards are hand-written—which is saying something considering my students are three and four years old.”

“That is impressive.” Chloe checked her watch. “And I’m guessing it’s naptime?”

“Yup. Theresa let me slip out to put these in my car. One less load I have to carry after school. Your kids in gym?”

“Yep! One blissful hour of peace and quiet.” Chloe opened the trunk of her sister’s car for her. She spotted an aluminum balloon in the box and grimaced. “I’m sorry I couldn’t take your extended care shift for you today. Liam had these reservations at the steakhouse for two months.”

Maxine shrugged nonchalantly as she plunked the box in her trunk. “Don’t worry about it. It’s your first Valentine’s Day together. You should enjoy it. Get two steaks. And a bloomin’ onion.”

She grinned as they headed back inside the school. “So, what about you? What are you going to do tonight after work?”

“Same thing everyone does after and eleven-hour workday: crash on the couch.”

“That’s it? You’re not doing anything special tonight?”

“I’m going to take advantage of the house being empty to watch the 1977 Lord of the Rings cartoon with Sam. Does that count?”

Chloe gave her sister an estranged look. “Really? That stupid cartoon is the best you got?”

“Hey, don’t diss my Lord of the Rings!” Maxine laughed. “You’re going to be off eating steak with your boyfriend, and it’s not like I’m forcing anyone to ‘suffer’ through it.”

“What about Mom and Dad?”

“Chloe, it’s Valentine’s Day. They’re going out tonight, too.”

“What about Hailey and Claire? Are they coming over?”

“No. Claire is out of town on a business trip, and Hailey is going out with Josh. And before you ask, Zoey is going out with Logan, and Brook is going out with Carter. Everyone is going their separate ways, and I’m going to be at home eating way too much chocolate.” The sisters paused outside of Maxine’s classroom door. Maxine had one hand on the knob, looking suddenly exhausted.

Chloe looked at her younger sister guiltily. “So, you’re really going to be alone tonight?”

Maxine managed a playfully smile. “What? Doesn’t Sam count?”

“No.”

“Then I guess that’s what I get for being single. I’ll be fine, Chloe. Enjoy your date with Liam. I’ve got to get back to class. See you tomorrow.” Maxine quickly slipped into her darkened classroom before her sister kept her longer.

The rest of the day dragged by. Maxine tried not to let her impending loneliness weigh her down as she passed out pink cupcakes to the children left in the school’s extended care. The sun set, and she received one or two cards more from grateful parents picking up their children. The clock struck six, and Maxine and the other extended care workers happily punched their timecards and went to their homes.

Maxine parked her car in the empty driveway and honked a four-beat rhythm. Sam came tumbling out the dog door, brown ears flopping, tongue lolling, and tail wagging as he ran down the steps to greet her. She opened her door and let her large puppy crawl onto her lap and cover her face with slobber, and she thoroughly enjoyed the loving attention.

“That’s my good boy, Samwise,” she cooed at her puppy as she ruffled his floppy ears. “Are you ready for dinner? Yes? Let’s get my goodies and we’ll go inside and eat. Come on, Sam!” She gently pushed her dog off her lap and gathered her things, carefully juggling her lunchbox and gifts as she unlocked the front door.

Since her salary wasn’t quite enough to allow her to live on her own, Maxine had been living with her parents since she’d graduated from college. Sam had been a Christmas present, and he had been the perfect sweet-tempered companion for her since Chloe started dating. With silence echoing through the empty house, Maxine was reminded how thankful she was to have such a devoted pet.

There was a note from her mother on their kitchen table, letting her know that there was spaghetti and cake in the fridge for her. Samwise followed her around the kitchen as she heated her dinner then laid at her feet when she turned on her movie and sat down to eat. The spaghetti was delicious, but the cake was better. When she had finished both, she placed her empty plate on the floor for Samwise to enjoy, and then took it to the kitchen to be watched and sanitized. She went back to the couch to finish her movie and picked up her puppy and put him beside her. Sam yawned and rested his head on her lap as she opened her phone to update her social media.

Maxine checked Facebook first, grinning at all the messages her friends had posted on her wall. She made sure that she liked and commented on every single one. Then she opened Instagram, smiling forlornly as she scrolled through the pictures of her siblings and friends’ dates. There was Chloe and Liam with their bloomin’ onion and steak. Zoey and Logan were at some fancy Italian restaurant showing off their oozing chocolate desserts, while Carter and Brook were posing in front of some romantic movie poster. Hailey and Josh were playing laser tag, and Claire was posting sunset pictures of the Washington Monument. Even her mother was posting pictures of her and her father together with their imperial crab cakes. The pictures made the house seem emptier.

“You know, Sam,” Maxine told her dog, “I usually prefer being alone, so I thought I’d be okay. I have you with me, after all. But right now, I honestly wish someone was here with me.”

Sam licked her arm and yawned again.

She put her hand on his head and scratched behind his ears. “I’m glad they’re having a good time, though.” She snuggled against her puppy and turned the movie up louder, trying to drown out the roaring silence.

It was the first time she had ever been alone on her birthday.

The Guy’s Guide to the Perfect Proposal

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

You’ve been dating this girl for a while now, and you know she’s the one. When you look at her, it’s as if there’s no one else around. You want to seal the deal, but you don’t know how. How the proposal is done has delighted women and tormented men for years.

There isn’t a wrong way to propose, but there are some proposals that have become cliché, such as hiding the ring in the champagne glass, having waiters sing your song while you propose, or proposing on Valentine’s Day at sunset. There are millions of ways to propose, the trick is finding the best way.

Spicing Up Clichés

Sometimes the best way to propose is a cliché that have been spiced up with a personal flair. For example, Dan proposed to Kaycee on Pensacola Beach, which sounds cliché until you hear the whole story.

Dan and Kaycee met in college, and he had made it a point to visit her every summer while they were dating. However, right before the summer of 2011, Dan told her that he wouldn’t be able to visit her because he was taking a summer class. Then he bought three wooden boxes, labeled one Wednesday, one Thursday, and one Friday. He put rose petals inside the Wednesday box and wrote ‘Past’ on the lid. Since Kaycee loved puzzles, Dan made a puzzle that created a picture of the word ‘Present’ and put it in the Thursday box. Finally, he put a one dollar bill for the admission fee for Pensacola Beach in the Friday box with a little note telling Kaycee where and when to go. Then he shipped the boxes to her and told her she couldn’t open the shipping box until she had a bad day at work. A week and a half later, Kaycee opened the box, and Dan told her she had to open each box on their specific day. That Friday, Dan flew down to Pensacola and waited for her. When she arrived, they went for a walk down the beach where he finally proposed, and she said “Yes.”

Ordinary to Extraordinary

Of course, spiced up cliché’s may not be the best approach for every girl. When Matt wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Bekah, he took an ordinary activity and made it extraordinary.

Matt and Bekah loved geocaching together, spending time in parks and woods searching for the hidden items. On January 1, 2012, Matt pulled up the coordinates for a geocach in Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge, Michigan. There is one geocach in Fitzgerald Park, but that wasn’t the cache they were going to find. Matt gave Bekah the clue “Journey’s end will also be its beginning, a hill a trail a fork a bend, by now your head is spinning,” which led them to the playground. There they found the next clue, “Broken tree, bended knee, surprise.” Matt let Bekah pick the trail they’d follow as he grabbed a walking stick. Bekah picked the trail, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere. When she told Matt that they should try a different trail, he explained the clue to her. “Broken tree,” he gestured to the walking stick. “Bended knee,” he got down on one knee, and held out the ring. “Surprise.” She said, “Yes.”

Special Events

Another way to propose is to take advantage of a special event. When Ben learned that his family and extended family – girlfriends included – were planning on going on a cruise, he knew that it would be the perfect time and place to propose to his girlfriend, Erin.

Not only would Ben be able to introduce Erin to his extended family, but he’d have the perfect setting for a proposal. He bought a wooden jewelry box that had a secret compartment in the back of the drawer, and hid the ring inside. He gave the box to Erin on the fourth day of the cruise at dinner, and let her open it and look at it without telling her what was hidden inside. She didn’t find the ring, but she loved the box. After dinner, Ben took her out to the top deck of the ship. He had planned to propose under the stars, but a storm was gathering above them, completely blotting out the starlight. However, when he showed her the secret compartment in the jewelry box and got down on one knee and asked her, the weather didn’t matter. She still said “Yes.”

Location, Location, Location

Sometimes, it’s simply the location that makes the proposal special. With Josh and his girlfriend, Sara, where not to propose was the only thing that mattered.

Josh knew that Sara did not want to get engaged on the campus where they had met, so he planned accordingly. He had one week off work for Christmas, and had to split those days between his family in Massachusetts and Sara in North Carolina. The last time he had visited Sara at her home, they had gone hiking in the mountains, and it had been something that they both enjoyed. So Josh decided that another hike would create the perfect scenario for a proposal. The day he arrived, he and Sara hiked up to the outlook on Raven Rock. It had a breathtaking view, but it had attracted another family to its heights. Josh took pictures of Sara against the backdrop while waiting for the family to leave, though Sara had no idea what was about to happen. As soon as the family left, Josh heaved a sigh of relief and got down on one knee. It took Sara a moment to realize what was happening, but when she did, she started crying. Then she said “Yes.”

The best advice for any engagement is fitting it to the girl. Keep an eye out for things and activities she likes and incorporate them into the proposal. Listen for hints of what she wants whenever you talk with her. But no matter what you do, if she’s the right one, she’ll say yes.

_DSC0188

Ripped Paper Heart

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It was Valentine’s Day, and fourteen-year-olds Alli Clairing and Ellie Black were shopping for art books at the mall. As they wandered through the stores, nibbling soft pretzels and sipping lemonade, Ellie caught sight of two familiar faces in a nearby jewelry store.

She nudged Alli and pointed. “Isn’t that Jake and Alice?”

Alli looked, chewing her pretzel thoughtfully. Jake Hernon, her older sister Brittany’s boyfriend, stood with Alice Howard, Brittany’s best friend, looking at the extravagant display of engagement rings. “Want to go spy on them?” Alli asked.

Ellie nodded, and the girls ducked behind the pillar marking the entrance of the store. Alli peeked into the store, watching the couple intently. She frowned as Jake slipped a silver band with a large ruby on Alice’s slender fingers. Alli stiffened as he took Alice’s hand in his to examine the ring. His approving smile was unmistakable.

“Jake,” Alice said ecstatically, “you have made me the happiest girl alive! I can’t wait until tonight!”

Alli stepped out of hiding. “What’s tonight?”

They whirled around, their matching expressions of guilt quickly changing to anger.

“How long of you been spying on us?” Alice demanded.

“How long have you been cheating on my sister?” Alli spat back.

“W-what makes you think that we’re cheating on her?” Jake asked.

“Yeah,” Alice added quickly, “what makes you think this ring is for me?” She inclined her hand to show it off.

Alli slapped Alice’s hand away from her face. “Brittany likes sapphires, not rubies, and it fits you. You know Brittany’s fingers are short and stubby. Your rings don’t fit each other. That ring is screaming your name!”

“It is, isn’t it?” Alice admired the ring smugly, then frowned when she realized her almost-confession. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Sure it doesn’t.” Alli turned on Jake. “What are you doing? You know what Brittany’s favorite gem is. You’ve been dating my sister for four years, and you’re just going to throw it all away? You were happy! You were going to get married!”

Jake avoided her eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah,” Alice cut in, “it’s not like you have a boyfriend. Or have ever had one.”

Alli lunged forward, but Ellie grabbed her before she could reach the couple. “You low two-timing freaks! How dare you do this to my sister!”

“Alli, don’t! They’re not worth it!” Ellie begged.

Alli straightened proudly. “You’re right,” she said. “Let’s just go home and tell Brittany.”

Jake grabbed her as she turned to go. “Alli, don’t! You don’t understand! Just let me explain! I still love Brittany—a lot—but—look, Alice has leukemia. She doesn’t have as much time as Brittany.”

Alli gave him a look. “And that makes it okay? Why didn’t you just tell Brittany?”

Alice shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t want any sympathy. Jake found out by accident. Alli, we don’t want to hurt her, honestly. That’s why we haven’t told her yet.”

“Can’t prove it by me!” Alli snapped.

“You can’t tell her!” Jake growled.

Alli didn’t hold back when she kicked him. “Watch me!” she shouted, running away.

“Alli, come back!” Jake started to limp after her, but Ellie kicked him in the other leg before running after Alli herself.

The two girls dashed out of the mall and raced down the bike trail toward Alli’s house.

“What do you think Jake’s going to do?” Ellie shouted.

“Before or after that broken leg I hope I gave him heals?”

The mall was exactly a mile away from Alli’s house. Both girls were exhausted when they reached the porch. Ellie sat down panting as Alli stumbled inside. Brittany was sitting on the couch, cutting hearts out of red, pink and white construction paper. Markers of the same colors surrounded her as she hummed her favorite love song.

Brittany looked up and smiled as she showed Alli the heart she was making. “I know it’s cliché, and a little tacky, but I think Jake will like it. What do you—what happened to you?”

“I ran from the mall.”

Brittany laughed. “Why’d you do that? Was someone chasing you or something?”

“We were, but then we saw—”

Ellie burst into the room. “Jake’s here!”

“Jake’s here?” Brittany jumped from the couch and dashed into the bathroom to primp.

A minute later Jake limped into the house. “Brittany?”

Alli clenched her fists and growled threateningly, “If you don’t want me to crack your face like I cracked your leg you’d better get out!”

“Girl or not, you just try it and see what happens!”

“Oh yeah?” Alli lunged forward, forcing Ellie to hold her back again. “You’re such a creep! How could you do this to her?” Alli freed herself from Ellie’s grip, seized the heart Brittany had been working on and shook it in his face. “You don’t even deserve her paper heart!”

“Give me that!” Jake grabbed at the heart, catching part of it in his hand. The heart ripped, leaving one half in Jake’s fist and the other half in Alli’s.

Brittany chose that moment to emerge from the bathroom, her hair freshly brushed and teased. “What’s all the screaming abou—” She stopped in shock at the scene before her and looked from her sister to her boyfriend. “You ripped it.” she said numbly.

Jake dropped the torn piece and pointed accusingly at Alli. “That little home-wrecker made me!”

“You’re the one wrecking it!”

“Home-wrecker?” Brittany frowned in confusion. “What’s going on here?”

Jake gave Alli a dark look. “Absolutely nothing.” Somehow he managed a disarming smile. “Look, Brit, I’m sorry about the heart, and even though it was gorgeous, it was only paper. It’s your actual heart that means the world to me.”

Brittany blushed, but Alli hissed. “Sure it does.”

Jake glared at her, and then turned back to Brittany. “Listen, Brit, no matter what anyone says, I love you. Never doubt that.”

“I don’t, and I won’t.”

Jake smiled in relief and checked his watch. “Whoops! Sorry gorgeous, but I’ve got to fly. I will see that fabulous face of yours tonight. I love you.” He winked, and left.

“I love you, too,” Brittany told him dreamily as she shut the door.

After that, Brittany was impossible to talk to. She pranced about the house getting ready for what was bound to be a night she would never forget. Both Alli and Ellie tried to warn her, but Brittany was too busy dancing on her little cloud to listen. As the day wore on, the girls had to resign themselves to drawing pictures of Jake being eaten by a dragon, then throwing the pictures into the fire and poking the ashes as they burned. That night, Alli watched as Brittany applied the final touches to her make-up, still ignoring Alli’s desperate attempts at warning her. As Brittany danced off with Jake on their special Valentine’s date, Jake’s dad waved from the front seat of the car as they drove off.

“Somehow,” Alli commented to Ellie, “I don’t think having a chaperone on this date will keep her heart from being ripped to pieces.”

Ellie hugged her. “Maybe having his shin kicked in twice made him change his mind. And look on the bright side, he’s still limping.”

“Oh, hurray. Brittany gets to live the rest of her life knowing that her best friend since kindergarten stole the man she’s given her heart to for the past four years right out from under her nose. Jake only has to live with limping for a week. Yup. I feel like a winner.” Alli turned to her. “Brittany doesn’t deserve scum like him. She deserves someone incredibly handsome who will love her forever. Someone who will protect her, never hurt her, and kill anyone who even tries. She deserves a real man, not Jake.”

The night passed with seconds that seemed to crawl. Ellie wasn’t able to stay the night. The two said good-bye with a reluctance that had never entered their friendship before. After Ellie was gone, Alli waited anxiously on the couch for her sister to return. Jake walked Brittany to the front door hours later, and they said good night while gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes. As Brittany shut the door, Alli caught the hesitant look on Jake’s face over Brittany’s shoulder. The door clicked shut, and Brittany turned to her sister with wild eyes.

“Tonight was the best night of my life!”

“I seriously doubt that.” Alli muttered.

“If it gets better than this, I don’t know how!” Brittany laughed as she reclined on the couch beside her younger sister. “Want me to tell you about it?”

“No thanks, I’m good.”

“Girls! Time for bed!” Their mother called from the kitchen.

“Yes ma’am!” The girls chorused reluctantly.

As Alli headed off for bed, she dared to hope that Jake and Alice had decided to stop cheating on her sister. Still, the look on Jake’s face as he and Brittany said good-bye was going to haunt her. Alli sent a silent prayer to God for the best.

That night, Alli was woken by a heart-wrenching scream. She sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She heard a loud sob and sleep fled from her mind. Terrified of what she would find, Alli scrambled out of bed and raced out of her room and into Brittany’s. Their parents were already there, trying to console an inconsolable Brittany. Alli froze in the doorway, watching her sister sob into their mother’s shoulders. Their father was pacing around the room, shouting into the phone. A moment later, he shook his head and lowered the phone.

“He hung up,” he growled.

“What happened?” Alli asked, her voice sounding small and insignificant even to her.

Her mother looked up and whispered, “Jake and Alice eloped.”

“Eloped?” Alli went to Brittany’s side, and wrapped her arms around her sister’s convulsing form. “Oh, Brittany, I’m so sorry!”

“It didn’t happen! It didn’t happen!” Brittany’s voice was choked with her tears. “They were my best friends! Why would they do this to me?” She looked at Alli, tears streaming from her blue eyes.

Alli scowled angrily. “Because they’re stupid morons that don’t deserve you.

Brittany sat up. “You knew, didn’t you?” Her blue eyes searched Alli’s open face. “That’s what you kept trying to tell me, wasn’t it?”

Alli threw herself into Brittany’s arms. “Oh, Brittany, I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

Brittany hugged her. “It’s not you, it’s him. It’s all him!”

Alli snuggled deeper into Brittany’s arms. “Want me to kill him? I could dig that rotten heart of his out with a spoon. Give him a taste of his own medicine.”

Brittany managed a small laugh and hugged Alli tighter. “But then I would lose my last best friend.”

The two girls held each other as they cried. Alli told herself that she would never let a guy hurt Brittany again, and she would think twice before believing that a guy really loved her. For now, however, she concentrated on comforting her sister. Alli knew that tears wouldn’t heal the hurt, but they would cleanse the wound. Only time could heal this betrayal.

Unforgiven

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Jenny peeked between the curtains and scowled. Johanna stood outside the opposite house, laughing with her friends as they lounged in the sunlight. Her children were playing tag with the neighbors, dashing around their parents with squeals of delight. Johanna called to her eldest, who turned and signaled her understanding before passing the message to the other kids. Johanna turned back to her friend, bid her farewell, and they hugged. Jenny sneered and let the curtain slide back into place.

“Ugh! I can’t stand her!”

“Spying on Jo again?” Mary asked, sipping at her tea.

“Why does she need to have a party every week? She crowds the neighborhood, her children run amok in the street, and you can’t walk out the door without being accosted with lemonade.”

“It is pretty good lemonade.”

“Oh, shut up. It’s too bitter. And don’t you think a party a week is a bit excessive?”

Mary shrugged and refilled her tea cup. “A bit, but that’s mainly because I don’t like crowds. And Johanna’s parties are harmless. It’s just close friends and family coming to spend the weekend together.”

Jenny rolled her eyes and went to the kitchen. She straightened her vase of lily of the valley and grabbed a beer before returning to her friend at the table. She took a long swig before letting her head bang into the table with an exasperated groan.

Mary stirred sweetener into her cup and took another sip. She stared at the top of Jenny’s head, swirling the tea thoughtfully. “I’m worried about you, Jenny. This isn’t healthy.”

Jenny looked up with a sneer. “I’m fine.”

“Oh really? Every time Jo has people over, you call me and spend the whole time wallowing. That’s not okay.”

“It’s Johanna that’s not okay! The only reason she has friends is because they don’t know what she’s really like. They don’t know how manipulative she is, how…”

Was,” Mary corrected quietly.

Is. She’s just getting better at hiding.” She drummed her fingers on the table, her eyes wandering back to the window. “She was a bully, she’s still a bully, and she always will be.”

“She’s trying. If you just give her a chance…”

“I’ve given her a chance, Mary! I’ve given her hundreds of chances, and every single time she’s turned around and stabbed me in the back!”

“You’re not the only one she hurt, you know.”

Jenny fell silent for a minute, took another swallow of her beer, then admitted softly, “I know. And I don’t understand how you’re still able to defend her like this. I’m worried about you. She’s still using you.”

“No she’s not. Jo and I barely talk anymore.”

“Then why bother defending her?”

Mary looked down at her tea. “A couple of months back, Jo asked if I would meet her at a café. She paid for my lunch, and we talked for hours. She apologized over and over again for what she did and how she treated me, and she let me scream and rant and unleash all the pain she caused. It felt really good, and you know what? I forgave her.”

“So, years of psychological and emotional torture, and a little screaming makes it all better?”

 

She tugged at the edge of her long sleeves, pulling them to the middle of her palms. She took a deep breath before meeting Jenny’s gaze. “I want my scars to heal. I want to move on, and I want you to move on, too.”

“Ha! Johanna hasn’t apologized to me. She hasn’t even tried to talk to me in years!”

“Do you blame her?” She nodded to the curtains pointedly.

Jenny scoffed and downed her beer. Muttering under her breath, she stormed back into the kitchen to get a second beer and downed that, too, tossing it aside and grabbed a third. Mary shifted uncomfortably as her friend drank that one, staring at her tea as Jenny brought the drink back to the table. Jenny opened the drink and looked Mary in the eyes. “Do you blame me?”

Mary looked down. “I think that if you want an apology, you’re going to have to make the first move.” She stood and began clearing the dishes. “I think that if you’re willing to talk, Johanna will respond. She just needs a chance.”

Another chance.”

“Another chance. And if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.”

Jenny grunted and took a swallow. “I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all I’m asking.”

 

~

 

Johanna stepped into Jenny’s house, nervously fiddling with her pitcher of homemade lemonade as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She heard a crash and a curse from the kitchen and ran to help. Jenny was pulling two glass cups out of a spreading puddle, quietly swearing as she grabbed a rag to clean up the mess. Jo sat her pitcher on the table and picked up the white flowers.

“These are beautiful. What are they?”

Jenny glanced at the flowers then grabbed a new vase from the cabinet. “Lily of the valley.” She snatched the delicate flowers and dropped them in the vase, filling it and setting it to the side. She looked at the two cups, then shook her head and set them on the table next to the lemonade. “Thank you for coming over.”

Johanna relaxed and smiled. “Thank you for inviting me.” She filled the cups with lemonade and sat down opposite one, taking a drink of the sweet and sour liquid. “I was surprised to get your invite. It’s been years since we’ve talked.”

“Five years.”

“Yes.” She swallowed. “A lot has changed in five years.”

“Has it?” Jenny picked a tray of cookies from the dry counter and turned to the table. She stopped when she saw the full cups and narrowed her eyes.

“I’m sorry; I should’ve asked if you liked lemonade.”

“It’s fine.” To prove it, Jenny took a large drink.

Jo took a cookie and fiddled with it. “I’m glad we have this time together. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while.”

“Sure you have.” Jenny took another long swig.

Jo tightened her grip on her cup and took a deep breath. “Jenny, I wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry! Everything I did, everything I’ve done… I was so horrible to you, and there is absolutely no excuse for what I did. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, or even this chance to apologize, and I know it’s just words, but I really am very sorry.”

Jenny stared at her for a long minute, but then she started to laugh. It wasn’t a good laugh. “You’re right; you don’t deserve my forgiveness. You deserve to rot in a dung heap, alone and forgotten by everyone you love. But is that what you got? No. You got a nice house, a nice family, good friends—you got everything! You don’t deserve any of it! So, if this is all I can do, no. No, I don’t forgive you. I will never forgive you! I…” Her face went white, and she dashed to the sink, retching violently.

Johanna seized Jenny’s lemonade, rinsed the cup out, and filled it with clean water. She held it out to her retching host, but Jenny turned and grabbed her wrists, eyes wide, pupils dilated. Then she crumpled to the floor, still puking. Jo grabbed her phone and called the hospital, kneeling in the vomit as she tried to resuscitate her old friend.

It took too long for the medics to arrive, and Jo couldn’t save her. Jenny died in a puddle of her own vomit, smelling like barf and bitter lemonade.

Lily of the Valley (2)