Elliot’s 20/20 Vision

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Photo credit: wall.alphacoders.com

Following a golden line threading its way through leafy trees and brambled bushes wasn’t as easy in his altered state as Elliot had anticipated. Sometimes the light seemed alive and beckoning. Then it might taunt him by vanishing down a burrowed tunnel to shoot into the sky several yards away as the barely visible trail of a manic firefly, only to fall into a puddle or pool like a disillusioned star. (It was impossible for him to tell which it was, pool or puddle, or even if there really was a body of water there at all.)

The minutes stretched to hours, the hours to days, and the days to years that lasted only seconds. I’ve been here forever, he thought. Why hasn’t the sun come up?

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Queen Reishi

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Photo credit: Herbert Baker

The first spongy bite tasted, not like chicken, but bitter like betrayal. Spinning back to face the creature in the tree, Elliot saw no one.

“Show yourself!” he demanded, but no one answered. “I knew this was a mistake. It’s probably poison, and now I’m going to die right here among these singing weeds.” What was it they were singing?

The hum in his head clearly told him to take another bite.

So he did.

Like anger, it roared to flame in his mouth, burning the song to ash, pouring steam from his eyes, clouding the sky with mosquitos.

“What the…?”

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Aye, You’re a Long Way from Home

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Photo credit: Edward E. Louis, Jr

Caught by those strange orange eyes, Elliot went limp, his uncertainty and growing aggravation evaporating in the warmth of that bizarre smile.

“I’m afraid I’m lost,” he admitted.

“We are all of us lost from time to time, and some are lost for all of time. Do you know in which land you dwell?”

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Clifton

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Photo credit: Mark Berkery

“What’s our Hero been doing all this time?” I’m glad you asked.

Elliot hadn’t eaten or slept since Cassandra disappeared more than two days ago. His infinite pacing traced a twisted, shiny slime path across the bower’s floor.

No one had heard from Vernon. His replacement, a pleasant enough nephew of Queen Lilian, unmotivated by anything except the promise of his next meal, apparently thought this new assignment was a vacation.

“Hey, Elliot, give the floor a break. Let’s go get a drink. It’s almost dinner time — wouldn’t it be nice to prime our taste buds with a little nectar first?”

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Sylvia

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Photo credit: Peaquod

Sylvia’s lament crumpled as she looked up at her brother. “Arturo? You’re alive?” Flying to hold him close, she sobbed the news. “Rebels came early yesterday to take me, and when Father and Mother tried to drive them off, they attacked the nest and killed all the unborn. Then they said we would never see you again. We thought you were dead!”

“How are you still here?” he asked in wonder.

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Rori Aideen O’Shay

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Photo credit: Steven Scott

“Rori Aideen O’Shay,” she corrected him, holding out her hand, “an’ I’m not ashamed ta say it.”

Bowing as deeply as his bandages would allow, Vernon took her hand and pressed his lips to it. “Now I know why your children are so beautiful.”

Fergus laughed. “Were ya thinkin’ I musta brought ya ta the wrong family?”

“I thank’ee kindly, Mr. Vernon,” Rori Aideen smiled as she wrapped Fergus’ arm around her shoulders and snuggled at his side, “but the finest qualities our children possess come from their fahther.” Her smile vanished in an instant and tears welled in her eyes. “I hope ye’ll forgive me rude behavior earlier, but I was so worried we’d lahst him…”

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Freeborn O’Shays

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Photo credit: Vincentius Ferdinand

Without a word, Fergus leaped to the call, leaving Vernon surrounded by a passel of curious hoplings.

“Me name’s Quinn. What’s yers?”

“Where do ya live?”

“Watch me! Can ya do this?”

“Why’re yer legs so skinny?”

“What’s that stuff on yer chest?”

“Did ya bring us any treats?”

Vernon held up his hands. “Hold on a moment. One at a time, please. First, let’s have some introductions. My name is Vernon. We’ve already heard from Quinn, so let’s go down the list.” He raised an eyebrow at the next one. “You start.”

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Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

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Photo credit: robinbabu

With the sun warming the meadow, Vernon and Fergus took refuge in the woods’ indelible shadows.

“Tell me, laddie, what became of that fancy fella? Is he really as ahful as yer friends had him soundin’?”

“D’Arc? He was worse, but he met with a sticky end. You’re fortunate you never had to deal with him.”

“We keep ta ourselves out here — mindin’ our own business, livin’ our own lives — respectin’ our neighbors. We’ve no need fer a king or a queen ta tell us what ta do. Nivver really cared ta have anyone lordin’ it over us.”

“Did you know Spike and his rebels were preparing to do just that?” Vernon asked. “Were you ready to fight them?”

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Another World, Another Life

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Image credit: Antrey

Low and halting, like a song overwhelmed by tears, Pristalwhisp’s melodious voice told them her tale.

“I had a family — sisters and brothers and a mother who cared for all of us with gentle discipline. She used to tell us we were destined for love if we would heed her counsel. We learned cleanliness, peacefulness, and the joy of being stroked. Then, one by one, we were taken away. I never saw any of them again.

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Fee for the Spinnerman

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Photo credit: Suhaib Ayaz

Standing tall before the solitary ant, Arturo said, “Out of respect for the living, we ask you to leave.”

Boldly facing Arturo’s size and stinger, the ant’s voice pierced the air. “Respect for the living brought me here. My people need to eat, so we serve the world by giving purpose to its dead and decaying. This place smells of death, so I am here, and I must tell them what I’ve found. When we return, we will give thanks to honor the life that was taken from one and shared with others.”

Arturo dropped to one knee. “Is it too much to ask that you wait to give thanks until the life is truly taken?”

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