The Tree

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Whispers and the occasional shh outside woke Charmaine from her slumber.

With a sigh, she stepped out of bed, slid on her slippers, and wrapped a robe around her tired shoulders. Wrinkled hands stared back from under the long sleeves, and Charmaine muttered under her breath.

It hadn’t always been like this. She was young once, and things had been so much better back then. There used to be a time when no one would dare trespass on her property. When did kids become so disrespectful?

The gate to her garden rattled just outside her bedroom, and she contemplated how best to punish the children. The two boys, she thought, from the squish of their shoes and the slight baritone of their voices, were becoming more brazen with every passing minute. They weren’t even trying to be quiet anymore.

The tiny thieves would learn their lesson.

Charmaine considered her options: skewered, baked, barbecued. But it all seemed like too much work now. She was no spring chicken after all, and her days of roasting children were long gone. No. She needed to teach them a lesson that all their friends would hear about. It was time they feared her again.

She threw open her balcony doors. On the garden path, just by her favorite tree, the boys stood, pockets bulging from their pilfer.

“Thieves!” Charmaine screamed.

Her voice was raspy – foil-crackled rough -, and she reminded herself to have some tea with honey later to soothe it.

The boys turned toward her, mirthful eyes changed to panic-stricken, and they began to run towards the gate.

She glared at the pair for all of a second before snapping her fingers. A puff of smoke consumed the space around them. As it faded, two toads stood where the boys had been. Clothes and gummy bears were scattered on the garden path around them.

Charmaine floated down to stand in front of them. They croaked and hopped around, unsure of how to do either. It continued until they knocked into each other and fell onto their backs. Their legs kicked and kicked, but they weren’t going anywhere.

She picked them up and walked them out onto the street.

Charmaine grumbled and thought out-loud, “I really ought to get rid of that gummy bear tree.”

“Ribbit!” they agreed.

She placed the pair on the ground and stepped away. “And stay out!” she cried.

As everyone on the street turned to look, Charmaine snapped her fingers again. The townspeople gasped as the toads transformed back into little boys, only this time minus their clothes. They both made tiny yelps, jumped, and covered their privates before running away screaming.

The crowd laughed and mocked the pair, ignoring her. She chuckled as she walked back to her manor. Maybe keeping the gummy bear tree would be a good idea, after all. That was the most fun she’d had in a while.

 

The Dragon Room

I entered the Yeah Write Super Challenge #4 this year. There’s so far been 2 rounds to this event, and I’ve successfully moved forward on both rounds. I thought I might share the round 2 piece here, since I’ve been quiet the past few months. 

Group 1

Scene: An arched corridor

Event: learning a nonviolent skill

Summary: Custodial apprentice, Pip, sees his clumsiness landing him in so much trouble that he is led into the castle dungeons. Down there a room awaits him, a dragon room, filled with nothing but stone and obsidium to keep him company, and maybe a few dragon eggs.

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The arched hallway of the castle dungeons was much darker than Pip had imagined. The stone path was cold and coarse beneath his bare feet.

“Wh-what are we doing down h–ow!” he asked as his toes caught on a gap, causing him to stumble forward.

His heart raced, and sweat beads formed on his pasty skin.

No one has ever entered the dungeon before and come out alive!

“This is your fault,” Gregory harrumphed. The castle caretaker and master custodian pushed his way past the young man.

Pip sighed. He knew the old man was right.

The castle halls had not been the same since Pip received the custodial assignment at this year’s Naming Day. He remembered the trials – success judged by a series of events. Turned out, his skinny frame and tiny hands were ill-suited for sword-wielding, his archery skills were non-existent, and his attempts at magicka had disastrous consequences.

He knew he was rather unremarkable in almost every way.

“Did you have to spill the king’s chamber pot on Queen Symphonia’s baby gryphon?” Gregory stopped in front of a large double door.

Pip straightened himself; tears filled his eyes, “Please, don’t lock me away.”

Gregory chuckled, “Oh, dear boy, what kind of kingdom would this be if we locked every clumsy apprentice into a cell?”

“Bu-.”

Gregory shook his head and reached for the metal rings of the door.

“We can’t have you getting clawed to death by an angry gryphon, now can we?” Gregory pulled the doors open and exposed a large chamber with oval stonework covering the floor.

Pip squinted and cocked his head to the side.

“When I was young and nervous like you, the king sent me down here to work. There is naught but stone and obsidian.”

“Nothing to break?” Pip asked nervously.

Gregory shook his head, “And no one to harm.”

He gestured Pip inside, but the frightened young man hesitated. What if it’s all a trick?

“There are no locks on the door, boy,” Gregory sighed.

Pip swallowed, nodded, and stepped forward. “What is this place?”

“The chambers of the great dragon the first king slew two hundred years ago.”

Pip followed Gregory inside and put his hand on top of one of the oval statues. “Ow- It’s hot!”

“Obsidian,” Gregory said. “It retains heat.”

“What are they supposed to be?”

“Dragon eggs,” Gregory shrugged his shoulders, “or so I’ve been told, but never mind that fairy tale.”

Gregory handed Pip a thin cloth.

“The king. He asked for you to polish these dragon eggs.”

Pip raised his eyebrows, “Really?”

The caretaker narrowed his gaze, “It took me years to master. It’s far more complicated than it sounds.”

Pip watched as Gregory showed his expert skill. The motion of his polishing was methodical and unlike polishing a table or benchtop. Pip tried to understand it, but as he followed along with the master custodian, he saw dust and dirt reform on his egg while Gregory’s remained spotless. He couldn’t ever imagine being able to match that skill.

*****

For months, Pip practiced and practiced. He languished over the eggs. With every passing day, he talked to them, sometimes without even speaking, and from time-to-time, he thought he heard them talk back. He dismissed it as nothing more than loneliness. There were often voices in the corridor outside the chamber, so it could have just as well been that which he was hearing.

One afternoon, nearly three months after his assignment began, Pip heard the familiar voices again. Two men must have been in the halls, and for the first time, he listened.

“Your brother, the king,” he heard, “he knows something.”

“Nothing that he’ll be able to stop now. The unicorn horn has already been added to his stew for tonight. He’ll be eating it within minutes,” another voice said. His hushed laugh made the hairs on Pip’s neck stand up.

Unicorn horn! But it’s poisonous. If he eats that-

Pip backed up and fell backwards with an oomph.

“What’s that?” he heard. The door slowly opened, and Pip scrambled to hide behind an egg. His hands touched the obsidian, and he cried.

Please don’t let me die!

A crack appeared across the egg. The sound of shattering glass echoed through the chamber.

The Earl stood in the doorway with a disbelieving look on his face as each of the eggs burst open. Whelplings. Hundreds of them burst forth and circled the diminutive Pip.

With a shriek, he sprinted down the halls of the dungeon, up the stairs of the castle, and into the king’s sitting room only just scrambling past the guards.

The king was lifting a spoon to his mouth. Pip screamed and dove at him.

“Unicorn horn!” he cried pushing the king’s hand.

Outside screams and a flurry of wings echoed through the castle halls. The man pushed through the dining hall door narrowly missing the fiery breath of the tiny dragons. Despite the chaos, the king remained resolute in his chair.

“This man tried to poison you,” the whelplings cried in unison. “Pip told us.”

Pip gasped at the words, at their meaning. They understood him. Every thought, every word, every emotion. The connection was real.

“Thank you, dear boy,” the king said. “You confirmed what I had already suspected and saved the kingdom.”

The little dragons swarmed into the room and surrounded Pip. The would-be assassin struggled against the strong embrace of the castle guards. The king stood up and patted Pip on the shoulder, “Oh, you unremarkable boy. You broke their sleep and have bonded with the dragons. Just as I knew you would.”

Pip squinted at the king, “Wha-?”

“You’re the third born in the third generation of dragon masters.”

The whelplings sang, “Master, protector, friend.”

Pip’s eyes grew wide, and a smile spread across his face. Their joy was his joy, and suddenly for the first time in his life, he understood his place in the world.

The Red House

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Claudia stood at the entrance of the big house and stared at the dark red curtains along the great staircase in front of her. Aside from a few candles on the handrails, there was not much light, and in some ways, the shadows seemed bigger because of the tiny flames.

Claudia sniffed and swallowed.

She turned her head to the front door, but when she saw a bit of light from under a door above the stairs, she was drawn to it.

Forgetting her fear, Claudia stepped onto the stairs. Her eyes watched her feet, and she saw her pink pajama pants and fuzzy bunny slippers move up the stairs.

She was dizzy when she reached halfway. She thought she heard whispers, but she didn’t know where
they came from.

Wind blew in the room, and she stopped as she shook the cold away. The candles blew out. She was in darkness.”Don’t go!” she thought she heard.

Claudia shook her head and looked back down the stairs. Vertigo overwhelmed her, and she swayed towards the bottom.

The sound of someone singing brought her back to reality, and she looked back at the light. It called to her, and she imagined how warm and bright it must be inside.

Claudia ran up the remaining stairs, or at least as much as her tiny legs would let her, and placed her hand on the doorknob.

Whispers from every direction screamed, “No!”, but it was too late. The knob turned, and the door burst open. Light flooded her entire body, and in an instant, she felt warm and happy.

At first all she could see was the bright light. She stepped forward, and the door slammed behind her. She jumped and yelped her terror.

She heard a giggle as a response, and somehow, Claudia’s fear abated.

She thought she knew that voice.

“Are you going to play with me today, Claudia?” she heard.

Claudia rubbed her eyes.

“Gerdy,” she said with a yawn.

She blinked, and for a second, she thought she looked like an old woman, but the image was gone as soon as it came.

Gertrude was surrounded on three sides by dolls and dresses. On the far side of the room, there was a rocking horse and a doll carriage. A table and tea set was in the middle of the room.

Her eyes had focused on Gertrude’s, and with a big grin, she skipped to the corner with her. “Of course!”

She sat down across from the toddler.

Claudia picked up a doll and started to dress it up for the tea party. They always played tea party first.

Playtime went on for hours, as it had three other nights this week.

Tonight, though, Claudia felt an urge. Every moment she looked at Gertrude, she was compelled to say something, but she pushed the thought away. She was being silly. But after an awesome game of chutes and ladders, she just blurted it out. “I never want to leave your side!”

Gertrude’s grin stretched from ear-to-ear, and her eyes grew wide with excitement. A hiss swelled in Claudia’s head.

She felt something in her throat and coughed.

Gertrude laughed, but the sound of it was husky.

The room spun. Claudia’s chest tightened, and she felt like fire burned her from the inside pulling out her heart.

“I’ve waited for so long to hear you say that,” Gertrude said.

Gertrude grabbed Claudia’s hand. Only it was an old woman’s hand. She pulled to escape the embrace, but inside she was being ripped away. She couldn’t see anything on the corners of her eyes. It was like she was in a tunnel, and her mind was being pulled out of her body.

She realized it was. She was outside her body now, and she watched as her hand tightened around Gertrude’s. She heard her voice laugh, but she had not done it.

“You never have to leave again,” Gertrude cackled.

Her tiny child-like body hugged the old lady. Gertrude’s withered form started to change shape. Her wrinkles less pronounced.

Claudia’s mind was still drifting further away. She was dragged down the stairs and out through the front door.

As her eyes filled with darkness, she thought for a moment she saw herself standing in the doorway waving goodbye with one hand and holding a young woman’s hand with the other.

As the darkness took her, the husky laugh echoed all around her. “Thanks for your youth.”