By Bryan Mazza
Tom Sawyer tapped his gnarled fingers on the plank table top and chuckled. His face was craggy and white with stubble that looked like a dusting of new fallen snow. Blue eyes glinted mischievously; a childlike light was offset by dark smears beneath caused by grief, or hardship, or maybe both.
The man who introduced himself to me as Tom Sawyer was big and barrel-chested, thick around the shoulders, a woodsman or laborer of some sort. His hands were interlaced with scars and heavily callused, noticeably red around the knuckles. Raw they seemed, hinting of something about this old man that was dark and maybe violent.
Coveralls of faded blue were held aloft by a single suspender, both knees patched by an expert hand. A thick handmade red wool shirt he wore comfortably beneath, and on his large feet were steel-toed logging boots.
The one room cabin he had brought me to after finding me wandering in the forest was stout and a bit stuffy. A potbellied stove kept it warm and from it hung an iron cauldron and teapot. Rough hewn furniture – a table and four chairs, a pair of pallets heaped high with blankets where the occupants slept – were the only amenities I could see.
It could have been the home of a peasant if it weren’t for the menagerie of weapons I saw hanging from pegs on the walls. These and the iron fortifications to window and door piqued my curiosity as well. Security, from something.
From under bushy grey brows, past a nose like an ax blade, Tom Sawyer scrutinized me. “Now tell me again, how did you get here?” he asked politely.
Nervousness made me fidget like I did when my Pa got after me for some misdeed. I was thirteen and had been whipped plenty. Looking up from my shoe tops, I cleared my throat. After all, it was the truth. “I was in the woods behind my house playing, when on a tree I saw a sign with strange words on it, words I never seen before, not English. I tried saying them, sounding them out like my Ma taught me. Then….”
Seconds stretched as I searched for an explanation. “Then what?” Tom Sawyer prompted edgily. He was anxious about what I was divulging to him.
“Then, I don’t know. I turned back towards home but the trail was gone. The forest was the same but different. I walked until I found a new trail. Soon thereafter, I met you.”
Tom Sawyer snorted softly through his nose and sat back. His eyes took me in with a whole new light. Moments passed.
“You were smoking.” The mound of fur in front of the fire growled accusingly. What I thought was a dog curled before the stove lifted its head to glare at me, revealing not a dog, but a large brown wolf. It sniffed at me disdainfully and said, “A smoking ragamuffin, Thomas.” To me, “Boy, what did the sign say if you could remember.”
The shock from the fact that I was being addressed by a wolf was apparent in my slack-jawed countenance. The great shaggy beast turned and sat on its haunches to face me, its eyes amber lamps of intelligence. Those eyes bore into me, holding me fast as I suspect they had many a deer and rabbit had before me.
“Well?” he asked patiently.
“Um, it said, ‘Owood Chalak Booy’.” I replied as clearly as my squeaky vocal cords allowed.
Tom Sawyer slumped back, slapping his thighs, looking at me in amazement. He shook his head, chuckling along with the wolf who was making an odd snarfling noise.
“We need a savior and they send us a child,” said the wolf, his lips and tongue enunciating the words around the irony pickets of his teeth. He was smiling. “Thomas, those dwarves…”
“I know, I know,” Tom Sawyer interjected, nodding to the wolf. I could see the comfort between the two; they were friends. He focused back to me and said, “Those words were for you, son, meant to bring you to this place.”
A sharp knock on the cabin door cut off any questions I had forming. The wolf stood erect like a man and strode to the door where he looked out a peephole. “It’s her,” he grumbled out of the corner of his mouth.
The amazing animal disengaged the bolts and chains and threw back the final security measure, a thick iron bar, before opening the door. A gust of snow accompanied a slender figure in a hooded cape who stepped across the threshold stamping its boots.
I gaped when the fur-lined hood was thrown back revealing the braided red hair and face of a girl my age who, upon seeing me, scowled darkly. “Nothing followed him, miracle that it be,” she said with an Irish lilt.
I stared as the new arrival hung her cape and a belt of weapons on the wall next to a nicked-up double bladed ax. She had freckles and green eyes that cut into me. She was angry and I could tell by her manner that this was often the case.
“Do you have any idea how careless you are?” she snapped at me. She stood by the fire warming her hands for a moment before taking the teapot from its hook to begin the makings for tea.
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “This all feels like a wild dream.”
Tom Sawyer’s voice was warm. “Red, this is Caleb,” he said by way of introduction. “I believe he’s the one,” he added.
Allowing her tea to steep, the girl Tom called Red screwed up her face. She was wearing a breastplate of boiled leather, breeches and supple boots. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the scars, one a ragged white tear at the juncture of neck and shoulder, and another a livid lightening bolt from the corner of her eye to mid-cheek. “If he is, we’re all in a world of trouble,” Red said.
I was satisfied to let whatever dream I was in to just run its course. I stood there in the middle of that stuffy cabin, swaying a bit, I knew, but I didn’t care. The wolf sensed my disquiet and dropped to all fours, padding to where I was. His gaze penetrated to my soul and I felt weak.
“Caleb, my name is Barrooo,” the great beast said. “You know me from books as…”
“The Big Bad Wolf?” I gamely ventured.
Barrooo visibly flinched at the reference. “That’s right. At one time, yes. But over time, I came to realize the fear and harm I caused and decided to change sides,” he growled in a deep voice.
I had to sit down, the room was spinning. I slumped into a chair across from Tom, Red taking another, while Barrooo the wolf sat down at my left elbow. They all had bemused expressions as if my presence there was as much of a shock to them as it was to me. I could tell they expected someone else, and there was an underlying air of disappointment among them.
The wolf cleared his throat. “No, boy, this is no dream. You are now in a land called Storysend, brought here because of who and what you are: a boy who reads and writes and loves the old tales and ways of creativity.”
“I do know you from books my mother read me when I was younger. But what happened to you? You all are different, changed. Older.”
“This is what happens to all of us,” the wolf said. “We come to live in this land. Yet in recent years, we’ve been under attack. Interest in books has given way to advances in technology. Children no longer like to read or write or play outside, and it is this lack of love that has killed us, aged us or damaged us.”
“Caleb, we don’t know why the dwarves chose you either, but we can only assume they see something about you, something inside you, that they deem special. What do you do? Can you tell us anything that can help shed some light on why they chose you to come here.”
I thought deeply about that and honestly couldn’t. My family was poor. There was no ‘technology’ in our house. No electricity or phone. My clothes were shabby and I was trouble to boot. Nothing immediately came to mind that would make me ‘the one’, whatever that meant. “I’m nobody,” I said timidly. “Look at me. There must be some kind of mistake. The dwarves made a mistake. I’m sorry if I let you down.”
“Nonsense,” Tom said. “The dwarves are meticulous. ‘Mistakes’ rarely come by way of their doing. What I think, and Red and Wolf can correct me if I’m wrong, is that you are a dreamer. You spend a great deal of your time imagining, creating different worlds and characters in your head. And not having technology in your household to sully this strong essence of creative influence, you are a good candidate to join us in our fight against Queen M’Alice and her evil forces that are destroying and imprisoning us.”
It was a lot to digest. I blinked again and again, willing myself to wake up.
Queen M’Alice, Ruler of Storysend: Her Written Thoughts
I like it dead quiet. A stillness that translates to black. Like death. I am allergic to laughter, especially laughter of the young, a sound that makes me nauseous and break out in hives.
Art is poison. Music is toxic waste. I can’t stand beautiful. Things made by those who have the inclination to create causes in me a rage and the desire to inflict pain.
Now destruction? HA HA. Almost as good as inflicting pain. Destroying and hurting; both acceptable in my kingdom. Degradation of happiness is my favorite spectator sport and I don’t like anyone making anything but weapons.
Fading are the heroes of stories of adventure and love. It’s happening in the world of children’s minds. How, I do not know. Yet all those, the subjects of history’s greatest stories are dying – becoming vulnerable, aging, decaying, falling away into oblivion.
I’ve heard through the goblins, the dwarves found someone unafflicted by whatever has permeated children’s wonder and creativity, and they are bringing him here. We’ll see about that.
I need to staunch all creativity because to do so would kill all hope held by my fiercest enemies. Heroes die. Didn’t you know?
The ones I’m talking about are Red Riding Hood, that old drunk Tom Sawyer, and that traitorous, venomous Barrooo the wolf. I’m going to kill them all. Just like the others.
Imprison who I can, my dungeons could always accommodate another Prince Charming or neurotic talking bear. Anyone who stands against me.
What I want is barren. A blank slate. Nobody feeling that cohesion of mind and spirit one experiences when they are doing what is right… doing what they were meant to do. Answering their call.
Reality is decaying. Abundance of wonder dying away in front of a screen. Now to deal with this new threat. The rebels harboring this new hope are unaware that I know where they hide in the forest. I’ll dispatch a legion of orcs. They won’t know what hit them.
“… now Princess, you know our current form as Red’s armor will serve a noble purpose,” Queen Aliah, who has been transformed into Red Riding Hood’s breast plate, told her daughter Clara, who had taken the shape of the warrior’s boots by the magic. Her other daughter, Raline, had been cast into greaves by the same spell of the evil witch, the usurper ‘Queen’ M’Alice. She was trying to reassure the young woman in a time of upheaval in Storysend, a time of death and destruction when even she held little hope.
Her rule had been overthrown by her most trusted friend and advisor, Alice. For her own enchanted origins, she had changed into the sorceress M’Alice quite suddenly and without warning, taking the entire kingdom by storm with an army of monsters. At the beginning of the war, the dwarves had discovered the enchanted royalty in the castle’s armory, and stole them away.
“And you won’t have to worry about being worn by some diminutive goblin,” the queen continued. She had to do this from time to time, convince her teenage daughters of their worth in light of their odious transformation.
“I hope you are right, Mother,” her oldest, Raline, said sadly. “I miss my hair.” She had a boy once, a young knight in the court before M’Alice’s deadly coup. No telling where the boy was now. Many had perished defending Aliah’s reign.
Clara, the enchanted boots, was thirteen summers and enjoyed her part in the magical ensemble. M’Alice had tried for irony in making the Storysend royalty into the boiled leather protection implements meant to protect one of her goblin generals. The boots made the wearer faster, fleeter of foot. The greaves, which were elbow length gloves studded with iron knuckled hands, created a warrior with increased fighting prowess. The Queen, the breast plate, turned away sword thrusts of even the most powerful orc. These things gave Clara pride, and although she too missed her ribbons, she liked the fact that she was able to do her part for the rebellion.
“Sweet sister, I wish you would not complain so. Without us, Red would have been killed. Just look – she is one of the most feared warriors of the war.”
“True,” sniffed Raline. “I just wish it would end soon.”
“It will,” put in their mother. “The boy will prove to be the champion the dwarves say he is. A wonderful child full of the purest gift of imagination. His thoughts he will be able to wield as a weapon. He will be able to change the course of this war, and once M’Alice is defeated, we will return to our natural forms.”
“Thank you, dear family. Sometimes I need to be reminded of these things. I am just grateful the crafty dwarves are on our side. Without them we would be lost,” Raline said with a sigh.
I leave it to you, dear reader….. will imagination, courage, magic armor and dwarves be enough to defeat the traitorous Queen M’Alice??
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Mazza
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