Hello there!

Welcome to my blog, brought into existence because I believe in the power of stories. I hope you'll find a few things you like here. Let me know what you think and leave me any verdict, suggestion, challenge or request you want.

Contact: stories@hotmail.be
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Happy readings!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Episode 1

He poured himself a drink from the beautifully wrought crystal carafe and carefully placed it back on the cherry wood Louis XV, pensively.
“You shouldn’t overexcite yourself so much. The girl will return.” He finally stated, to break that awful silence, and sipped.
“You think so?” A broken voice replied from the sofa, the speaker kept from sight. The prince hadn’t stirred for hours. He handed him a full cup along with a comforting smile.
“I’m sure.”
A deep sigh.
“I wish I could be so positive.” He sprung up and ran a hand through his half-long messy dark hair. “But I fear the worst.” The lad paced toward the window and looked out, his hand on the pane as if he could reach out to her.
Velvet curtains of the dimmest shades of red lined every opening. It was about time his young master adjusted to more modern times instead of clinging to the era of his birth. Maybe this girl could be of use.
“Don’t worry. All our available trackers are out looking for her.”
“And? They’ve been looking for hours and still no trace of her. No news.” He looked down at his cup and flung it against the wall. Frustrated. Like a caged animal. They better find her soon.
“They will find her. They will bring her back.”
For the first time since he came in, his young lord looked up at him, tears in his eyes. His voice sounded choked.
“I hope so.”
The desperation in his gaze was too much to bear for his older counsellor. He looked away. The prince realized the cause, and turned back to the window, staring out into the dark. Where could she have gone?
“Where are the Nightstalkers? Are any rogues roaming about?”
“No, Your Highness, none are on our grounds. It’s safe.”
“Double the squads regardless. Tell them to eliminate all potential threats at sight.”
He nodded and went into the hallway to hiss the order to one of the guards. He ran off, passing the message on to the squad commander.
When he came back in, the prince had his two palms up against the glass, looking out. He looked so gruesomely tired.
“My Lord, you haven’t slept all day, please, get some rest. Let us take care of it.” The lad smacked his head against the glass so hard it showed slight cracks.
“Oh, why did she leave me, Lucas? I’ve been good to her, right, why would she run away?”
There was a long silence. How could he explain it to this boy, who was so much still a stranger to love?
“Because it is in the girl’s nature.”
The boy sobbed quietly. To this man who has been his care-taker all his life, it was deafening. Why couldn’t he have saved himself all this heartache and picked a more docile mate?
“Please stop crying.”
“I promised her everything. The world she could have on a silver platter, if only she accepts me.”
“Give her time, my prince. The girl is only confused. She’s lived her entire life in fear of us, fighting us, protecting all she holds dear from us. Have some patience with her.”
“Patience?” His eyes flickered for a minute with anger. It was a promising start to returning to his former self. “I’ve waited for her for centuries, I’ve always waited for her and now that I’ve found her, she turns me down.” He picked up a vase from a stand and hurled it across the room. It smashed into a thousand pieces with a racket as loud as if it came from hell itself. “She flees from me!” Now the stand itself met a similar end and his master sunk unto the ground, looking like a boy again.
“Please.” He said, the word pending in the air. He stood there, gazing at him awkwardly, torn between the counsellor, that stands strong beside his ruler at all times, and the caretaker in him.
He made a hesitant step towards the boy that was his son in all but blood, reaching out and pulled back when the door was yanked open suddenly.
A messenger bowed to each of them. “Your Highness, sir... I bring word from the...”
The prince scrambled up, a gleam of expectation over his face. “Have they found her?”
“No, my lord, not yet. But there is a snow storm headed right this way from the north. The troopers fear it will cover what’s left of her tracks.”
“Good grief, she will get caught in it!”
The chancellor quickly waved the messenger off, so he wouldn’t see his ruler collapse in front him, moral’s been low enough as it is with their leader risking everything over a mortal girl.
The door fell shut.
“Lucas, she could die!”
“She will be fine, Darius, she’s strong.”
“She’s only human.”
“She managed far well all these years without you, in both deserts and snow land.”
“I pray you’re right, Lucas, I don’t know what I’d do if anything were to happen to her.”
“Nothing will. She’ll be back before you know it.”
The sound of the clock on the wall, it was so nerve-wrecking. Hours ticked by without a word and big flakes of snow and hail came pouring down across the sky. Darius clasped his hand over his mouth gasping when he saw it. Lucas knew he had every reason to be worried. He’d seen people dying over less.
The sound of excited voices emerged from the hall, followed by numerous footsteps hurrying up the stairs.
A juvenile herald came stumbling in, crying out “Milord, milord...” They looked at him questionably.
“They found her.”
The mixed look he threw them, evading their penetrating glance, left them feeling eerily ill at ease. Something was amiss. Anxiously they scurried after him.

Author’s note:
I’m going ‘retro’ when it comes to my personal writing style and topics. What I’m occupied with here is what I’ve always been concerned with and then moved away from. Now I’ve made a full circle and returned where I started, bringing in later experiences. The whole feel of the things swarming around in my head right now are all part of what I like to call ‘21st Century Romanticism’ which is pretty much my artistic home (for the time being).
This, for instance, is part of what I expect to be the next project after Notebook: a tale of four brothers. As far as I can tell now, it will be some sort of vampire fiction work, though not the most conventional type. I’m very concerned and excited to find out where post-Twilight vampire fiction can take me. I have a general idea of what will happen, but it’s all very vague and is more of a loosely-knit set of episodes such as this one with no telling of how they’re interconnected, what goes where or what will turn up in between the ‘light-spots’. Like groping around in the dark.
I know I’m kind of shooting my own foot here taking on too many projects all at once, but I really can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s turned into some sort over-fine-tuned receptor and every single thing is pulling/hitting strings in there, it’s maddening. And wonderful * smiley face *, somehow. Swallows up energy though, but hey, I’m not complaining. I digress...
I think there might be more episodes like these popping up here now and then, which I’ll take up again in the not-yet-even-started novel once I know where to place them. They will probably not make much sense, leave more unsaid than they reveal, and not be at all chronological or consistent with perspective or focalization, but I do like the atmosphere and the mystery of it all. So it looks like we’re finding out where it leads together. This is new for me, I’ve spent my life being rather solitary as a writer, definitely not developing stories out in the open like this.
Short stories aren’t meant to give everything away in the first place, are they? So I think I’ll leave you lot guessing, and myself as well. That will keep it interesting, don’t you think? I think I’ve nailed the right kind of tone though.
You know the drill: I’ll be happy receiving any kind of remarks, suggestions or other kinds of feedback in the comment-section.
And one more practical thing: I kinda came up with this on the spot (yes, I should be studying, but I was doing this instead, not that I could’ve stopped it; it’s a bit like a dam with a hole in it at flood, I have no control whatsoever), so it’s not a scheduled post just yet. Since I’m going to be abroad next week, the next posts (except perhaps the last of this week, I might get that one on here manually) will be scheduled ones. Don’t be alarmed if I don’t respond to comments, I will when I get back.
All best wishes,
Stories Inc.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Writing Competition, 150 words - Second Edition (host: Hannah)

Hey there,
In for another in-thread writing contest? The second edition is now hosted by Hannah, the winner of the last Blogger Coffee Shop Writing Competition. This edition is another 150 words – of which 5 words randomly picked and obligatory – challenge.
These are the rules, as quoted from the fabulous Hannah:


5 words will be chosen randomly through here;
http://watchout4snakes.com/CreativityTools/RandomWord/RandomWord.aspx

You have to construct a story that incorporates all of the 5 words, and is exactly 150 words in length all together.

You will post your story as a reply to this thread. For the sake of clarity, you will italicise the entire 150 words, so that the stories are easy to spot as one scrolls through the thread, and you will bold the 5 random words in the story.

An entry that is not 150 words exactly, that has not been italicised, and that has not bolded the target words, will be ignored, because I just cannot be bothered to sift through everything and find stories and/or words in stories.

The winner is determined by how many 'Yes, this answer is helpful' votes she or he gets. Any 'No' answers will not be taken into account, because seriously, stop being petty.

The competition ends a week from now (IE; Next Tuesday), at whatever time I can manage to get online.

The winner of this competition will host next week's competition, and be declared winner on Stories Inc.'s page, with their winning entry posted, as well as a link to their blog.

(Example entries can be found here, if you're still unclear about the rules;
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/thread?tid=6576a96d76aeb054&hl=en. The 'italicise entries' rule is new, that's why the entries here are not italicised.)

Your five randomly chosen words are; Preliminary, Yellow, Contrary, Dying, Draw


You can enter the competition by posting your entry here.
Good luck to all of you and I’ll be looking forward to reading all of your entries at the Forum ;)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Writing Competition - And the winner is... (drum roll)

And the winner of the first Blogger Coffee Shop Writing Competition has been revealed:
Hannah
Hannah wins, apart from all our awe and respect, this fabulous award, which she can show off in her virtual trophy case.

To see Hannah’s blog or to go and congratulate her yourself: www.scornfulprose.blogspot.com
This is her winning entry:

"I closed my eyes and thought hard. What could I do to remedy the situation? I didn’t want her to leave, of course I didn’t. But I couldn’t just let her wave her monopoly over my emotions right in my face, could I? I had to maintain some pride, some dignity. If only she hadn’t been such a bitch, such discipline wouldn’t have been necessary.
She could report me. I hadn’t thought about that. I’d be in a whole heap of trouble then. Shit.
Breathe, Hannah.
I didn’t think I could subject myself to that train of thought any longer without doubling over in panicked nausea, so I turned my mind to more pragmatic concerns. What now?
There was nothing else for it. I raised my weapon-wielding arm, and brought it down, hard. The crunch of bone, and the crimson spray on my face told me that it was done."

And I have to say the competition was great for this first edition (click to see the other fabulous entries) and will no doubt be greater still for the next edition, which will be hosted by our talented winner. Keep an eye on the forum for the challenge.

All best wishes,

Stories Inc.

Notebook: a tale of four brothers - part 4: The deal (fantasy short story)

Hey guys,
Sorry it took so long, there was a lot going on lately.
It’s about time to conclude the series, so this is where the short stories and the novel-in-progress start going their separate ways. I’ll let you know what comes next at the end of the last part.
This is the last but one part. Because there’s a lot going on in it for which there isn’t much space available, it may seem to be a bit fast-going. I really have to step on it at this point, fit a lot into the frame of a short story since I have three characters developing (in split up ways) all at once. Please let me know what you think.


PART 4: The deal
Of jesters and men.


Click here to go to part 1, part 2 or part 3.
The woman shook Edward as if he were a ragdoll.
“He bit the apple.” She replied viciously. “By Darmay law, that makes him mine.” Her voice was like rough cotton in her shrivelled throat.
“Please let him go.” Robert pleaded, for the first time in his life, to save his brother, preparing to go down onto his knees if he had to.
“No, the boy belongs to me. I can do with him as I please. He is my slave.”
She laughed her nail-scratching laugh and resumed her hex.
“We’ll buy him off your hands.”
She stopped instantly, listening to the ring of gold coins in her head. Then she chuckled once again.
“Buy? With what. You don’t look particularly wealthy. I’m sure you have nothing of value to me.”
“Make us an offer.”
“An offer?” She thought long and deep. “An offer...” She said, a gleam of greed and pleasure coming over her eyes.
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to benefit more from all three of us than by turning one of us into a toad.”
George persuaded her with velvet tone. How he kept his cool on times like these, was beyond both of his brothers.
“Why yes, there might be something.”
Now even George’s poker face showed signs of unease. That was far too easy. The boys exchanged a glance of concern. The woman still lifted Edward by his collar, clenching her claws into the cloth. The boy had to stand on his toes not be hanged.
“And since you care so much about your brother’s...” She looked at him with a gleam of anticipation in her eyes and licked her lips “wellbeing, would you risk to share his fate, should you fail?”
“We are at your mercy.” George added, bowing his head in submission.
“This might work out.” She was suddenly surprisingly pleased. The siblings braced themselves for what was to come.
“Here’s the deal: all three of you will perform a certain task and if by sunset, either one of you has failed to carry it out, all three of you will become my property...”
She opened a wooden chest, an upright suitcase of chestnut brown wood, and revealed a case full of shrivelled formerly human dolls, hung up by strings like people hang up clothes, a detestful grin frozen on their lifeless faces.
“And join them.” She let out a horrible hysterical laughter, making the puppets circle in a grotesque dance in the air.
The boys shrugged in horror.
“We accept.” George said, pulling himself together after a deep breath. Robert nodded and Edward was in no condition to do more than look from one to the other nervously.
“You guys, you shouldn’t...”
“We have no choice, Edward, you got all of us in this mess.”
“Let’s hope you’ll learn to use your brain for once!” Robert added through clenched teeth. They were trapped.
The woman chuckled. “Oh, how cute.” She laid such heavy emphasis on the consonants that it made her sound intrinsically evil. She was surely rejoicing in her ploy, rubbing her hands.
Her bent silhouette, so exhausted to the hasty eye, did not flinch under the weight of a huge basket full of goods from her stand. She tossed it to Robert, who could only just catch it, falling backwards to the ground.
“Sell these, you wuss,” she hissed like a serpent, “every each one and should you come back with anything but a basket full of gold instead, you will make me an excellent toad!”
“Whatever!” He strode off, handling his cargo rather roughly in his struggles with the inconvenient luggage. He bumped into an invisible wall.
“I’m not finished yet!”
Carefully, he rubbed the sore spots. What was that?
“Don’t bruise any of my apples, or your brothers will be sorry, got that? Whatever you do to my fruit, I will do to them.”
“You crazy old tart!”
The hag snarled with chagrin.
“I’ll teach you!”
She made some furious gestures in the sky and muttered to herself. Robert paid her no mind, and just kept going, until for some reason he tripped over his own feet. Falling, he heard a hint of bells above his head. It was only when he scrambled back up, that he noticed what had happened. His entire outfit had been replaced by a suit of a bright red-yellow check pattern. On his head was a big Fool’s hat.
She turned him into a jester!
“Now try to sell like that if you can, you big mouth!”
Infuriated, he wanted to go to her, but his shoes were so many sizes too big, it was difficult for him to move. It gave his every attempt to something ludicrously humorous. People around him stopped and pointed, hardly even masking their laughter.
“You!” He called out, panting in anger. With every work the poor boy spoke, frogs and snakes would leap and slither from his lips.
He clasped his hands on his mouth in shock. He was mortified. People stumbled back from him, uttering cries of revulsion.
“That’ll teach you, you little rat!”
“What did you do to him?” Edward cried out, heading out to help his brother.
“He got what he deserved, come here you!” Edwards wanted to leave, but her swift hands pulled him back by the collar.
“This one I will keep as a down-payment.” The boy looked up at her with desperation. “What? Did you honestly think I’d let you walk right out? Neither of you would return and I’d never have any compensation for my sufferings.”
“Sufferings? It was just an apple for God’s sakes!”
“Be it as it may, you’re staying right here as my guarantee. You better pray your brothers do my bidding properly, or else...”
The boy tried to slip away, but the witch had resurrected a barrier around the booth, which he could not leave.
“Damn you!”
“Watch that tone of yours, me boy, or you will not be the only one to pay!”
Excruciating pain went through him, cramped his stomach. He fell to his knees and screamed. He heard to distant echo’s and watched his brother’s collapse in a similar fashion by the street corners. She would tackle all three of them.
“Alright, I’ll be good, just make it stop. Leave them out of it.”
The woman sniggered.
“You’re such a good sport.” She pulled him to his feet harshly and pushed a broom into his hands. “Make yourself useful.”
Forcefully biting his lips, he started sweeping the spot vigorously.
“Atta boy! It better be cleaned up good, now!”
He sighed, but kept his mouth shut.
“Now as for you!” She turned to charge, who had been watching the spectacle somewhat pensively.
“Across the street there is a house.” She pointed out a high sandstone building with a gloomy atmosphere. “It has long been abandoned. In this house, at the top of the stairs, you will find a room and in that room, a flower. I want you to bring that to me.”
He nodded and ran off. He passed through the dark entrance and got swallowed up by the darkness inside, disappearing into the house. The door fell shut behind him.
“It’s a trap, isn’t it?” Michael yelled.
“Did you think I would make it so easy?” She lined her chin in contemplation. “Hmm, what will I do with them... Toad soup or toad pâté? With some nice crispy legs on the side. Mmm, mouthwatering.”
Edward struggled the best he could to keep his composure so he wouldn’t give her a chance to vent her frustration on his brothers any more than she already had.
Meantime Robert was wobbling through the streets as if he wore flippers like a diver ashore.
He tried to sell some fruits, first politely, but the vermin he spread with every word drove all potential customers away. Then he tried more aggressive, finally violent approaches, all to no avail. People steered away from him, he staggered after them, all citizens mocked him, no matter where he crawled off to hide from them.
He jelled insults at them, the worst he could think of, and they relied with more laughter, throwing rotten food at him. Some kids even attempted stones.
“Sell this!” They cried, chortling.
“You, FREAK!”
An egg hit his cheek, the mush dripping down along his face.
“Yeah, ain’t that f...funny.” He stammered, nearly chocking on a slithery tail.
He felt someone bumping up to him and grabbed the person’s mantle, clearing his eye with the other.
“Hey, you, buy some fruit!” He said, turning his most threatening gaze at the dwarf he clutched. The tiny creature struggled and jerked free. He gave a nasty low kick against Robert’s shin-bone and ran off as fast as his tiny legs would carry him.
“Why, you... I’ll show you!”
Robert wanted to go after the little devil, but forget his situation and fell to the ground, face in the dirt, managing just in time to save the basket from a similar fate. Everyone around burst into apathetic laughter and covered him in a pile of rotten fruit and vegetables.
“Yes, go ahead and laugh, why don’t you!” He cried out, bobbing out of the street as fast as he could. That humorous attempt of course only made the laughing worse.
“Why don’t you all drop dead.” He uttered, leaving a trail of frogs and snakes behind, which quickly dissolved once they hit the ground.
He smashed into figure entire wrapped in an oversize grey cloak, face completely hidden away in the hood.
“Hey, watch, where you...” He caught a glimpse of burning bright eyes in the shadows, like green fire, a face laced with dark, curly hair. It made his breath stop. Then she was gone. Hardly two seconds their eyes had met. The world was put on hold, and then started to move again, too fast, too crowded.
“Wait, I...” He wanted to go after her, but couldn’t, and she disappeared. No way of knowing which way. How could she not run, she could not help but be repelled by him, and his vermin.
He lowered his head. He had been going at this all wrong. For the next hours, he held his tongue and persuaded people to buy his fruit with gestures only. It worked. He thanked them with a bow of the head. They paid him extra, his basket quickly filling up with shimmering gold.
George was in the entrance of the hall, waiting for his eyes to get accustomed to the dimness. He took a deep breath and whispered to himself to just breathe, just keep breathing and all would be well. He never told anyone how much he feared the dark.
It wasn’t long until he clearly discern the contours of steps leading up.
“The staircase!” He exclaimed, and rushed up two steps at a time. The sooner he’d get back out into the light, the better!
Just like the witch said, he found himself in a room, as dark as any other in the house, with in the middle a ray of light coming from a hole in the roof. The ray encompassed a beautiful black rose in a narrow crystal vase.
“The flower!”
He quickly plucked it from the table and gave it a brief examination – it was of a kind and colour such as he’d never seen before – and made off. His task was complete. All he had to do was go a few more yards to the...
All of a sudden, the ground started quaking. The door shifted further away and the house turned into a gigantic labyrinth in which up-down, left-right, forward-back were all mangled and nothing made sense.
He strolled, ran, went around corners that had not been there before and bumped into walls that rose out of nowhere. Hallways just swayed wherever they pleased, whenever they pleased, stairs lengthened or clipped as they so desired, obeying only a will of their own. After an hour of wandering through the irrational dark, he was soon to find that he was utterly lost. No laws of direction mattered in this maze. He picked something up from the floor and threw it up, where it stuck to the ceiling. Even gravity itself had become unreliable. Who could he ever get out of here?
He looked down at the black flower in his hand. He had the prize, but no way to deliver it. Now what?

To be continued...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Writing competition: here's the challenge! - 150 words short story 'The Vial'

Hello, bloggers!
In for a little challenge? I just started a writing competition (a really tiny one) in the Coffee Shop. To enter, go to this thread and write/post a story of 150 words containing the words remedy, subject, monopoly, report and discipline as your answer. The winner will be determined by voting in the forum (result on Saturday, you can submit till Friday). Good luck to every participant! Here’s an example:


The Vial


He carried the vial across the street like a torch. All his life he had looked for it, this remedy... Those that called him mad and left, the lonely years, the humiliation, the deceit, the betrayal, all the sacrifices he made ceased to matter, accumulating in his outstretched hand.
“A monopoly!” The CEO said, a trace of drool along his chin.
“The report was promising: every trace gone in each of the subjects.”
“Lovely.” He listened only to the coins ringing in his head, rubbing his hands. “The Holy Grail of the discipline, mine.”
He groped for the vial with eager claws. Somewhere between vigour to obtain and reluctance to let go, the vessel was flung through the air.
Frantically reaching for it, their hands continued to clash. Both men held their breath as the beautiful crystal of dreams with a jingle like heavenly music, scattered into a thousand pieces.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Applause - flash story


Applause

Three minutes of fame was all she asked for: Three. Minutes.
A crew member signalled to her: “you’re up in two!”
She nodded. Deep breath. She shook her arms, shoulders, getting ready for the moment. Standing in the opening to the stage, the arena, she heard the crowds roaring, stamping their feet; her audience, impatiently waiting for her. A bell was struck.
Suddenly, insecurity crawled up on her. Should she smile or keep a straight face? And what kind of smile should she use, mysterious? Or laugh widely, cheerfully, girl-next-door style? And her eyes, how should her eyes... She should be tempting, beckoning, maybe a slight bit naughty?
She plunged forward from the curtains, enshrined in spotlights, and strode across her private catwalk, making her little turn in her leopard print bikini and held up a sign saying “Round 2”.
Applause resounded.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Notebook: a tale of four brothers - part 3: The magic city (short story)



PART 3: The magic city
Of ties that break.


(click here for part 2)

“Hey, let us out!”
They banged on the doors, but it was no use. The guard in front just shook his head at them. They were stuck.
Discouraged, they turned around to view their desert-coloured prison. Darmay was a beautiful city, of a mystic aura, and buzzing with people in various attires. They ran crisscross through the narrow golden streets. At every street corner, there was some performer spitting fire, playing music, belly-dancing, telling heroic tales or a magician showing off his tricks. Throngs formed around them in awe or bursting with laughter. Most residents were a cheerful lot, others shuffled by in greyish tones.
The city was a hive of high stone apartments where women were beating clothes and hauling in their washing lines. People were on their balconies looking down over the crowds.
Darmay was of a Roman scheme, with narrow, straight streets all coming together in one slightly broader main road, forming a forum in the middle of the city, where the fountain was, the heart of Darmay. At the end of this road, beyond the well, was a huge white and gold palace.
“Oh, it’s good to be home.” Robert said, rubbing his hands. They made their way through the masses, shoving through to the palace steps.
“Robert, I don’t know about this.”
“You’ll see, they’ll wait on us hand and foot, welcome us like lost sons.”
He mounted two or three steps at a time, his brothers one step behind him, eying each other suspiciously. They strode into the palace and swayed open the doors to the grand hall, where the king and queen were seated.
Robert burst into the throne room, arms wide, crying out that he’d returned.
The king rose and stumbled down the steps to the throne platform in sheer surprise, but Robert, was certainly no prince of his house. Red hot in anger, he commanded the guards, who tumbled in following the swift intruders, to throw them out. Once again, Robert was grabbed and flung through the air, quickly followed by his brothers. With a loud thud, they landed alongside each other, stretched out in the dirt of the streets, the debris in the gutters and the horse dung.
Edward wrinkled his nose in disgust as he tried to get the smeared dirt off him.
“I hate to say I told you so.” George added dryly. Nothing would ever stir his temper, not even the filth he brushed off his clothes.
“Whatever. This is just ridiculous. Now what?”
“Well, firstly, we’ll need someplace warm to sleep and something to eat.”
They tried pleading with the villagers they came across, offering to trade services for a bed and a meal. George was quite successful reasoning with some of the locals and came close to getting them a cosy resting place – in exchange for help of some kind – on several occasions, but Robert in his arrogance had to ruin it by insulting them in whatever way possible. All left sticking up their nose in anger and they stayed out on the street, hungry and cold.
In the end, they had to make due slipping into the royal stables unseen. There they made a nest for themselves out of hay, among the stench, the dung and the bolting horses.
“Oh, great. Thanks a lot, Robert.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not my fault. George, say something!”
“I’m with Edward on this.” He said, clutching the stack of hay that was to pass for a pillow and stretching out on and underneath the straw. “You should really learn to keep your mouth shut.”
He waved the flies away that had been stalking them ever since they came in.
“One of these days, it’s gonna cost you. Do you have any idea how close you got to getting all three of us killed today?”
“Whatever.”
Exhausted, they finally fell into a deep sleep, despite the unpleasant odours and relentless noises of the horses around them as darkness spread across the land of Drover.
In the meantime, Michael was left with troubles of his own. After all, mum had just summoned them for dinner. How on earth would he cover for his brothers’ absence? If they found out what happened...
He had to come up with something fast as he heard his mother pacing below, wondering what took the usually exuberant bunch so long. And so he picked up the phone to start the negotiations. By the time he disconnected, he had provided them with an alibi, though it cost them dearly.
He hurried downstairs and nearly crashed into his mother, who had come to call for them a second time.
“Are you boys coming? Dinner’s ready.”
She quickly toyed with his hair and started to put the steaming bowls of fresh green peas, potatoes and the saucer of hot beef on the table. Surprised that four hungry sharks hadn’t rushed to the table and started digging in before the table was even fully set, his mother frowned.
“Where are your brothers?”
“Uh, Danny asked if they wanted to come to his sleep-over. They left.”
“What, just like that, without asking? All three of them?”
“Danny said they were having fries for dinner, then they started packing.”
“Ah, I see.” She shook her head. “Those boys will never change.” She planted a carafe of water on the table. “They could’ve at least told me.”
“Well, you know how they get; they hear ‘fries’ and they lose their senses.”
“We’ll see what your father has to say about that. Remind me to phone Danny’s parents after dinner, will you dear.”
“Sure.” Not a chance. But everything was arranged. Amazing what a little bribe could do. Right now, Danny would even confess a murder if he asked him to, lying about a sleep-over or doing a little voice-imitation would be no problem. He was good at that, experience and a lot of bad report cards/mischief had that going for him. Great friend to have, Danny. Unfortunately, he also had a great sense of what friendly favours like his cost.
“Such a shame though.” His mother continued. “With grandpa coming all this way from the home to come see you boys.”
“Grandpa’s here?”
“Dad’s gone to pick him up from the train station. They’ll be here any minute now.”
And indeed, they could hear an engine running outside. Someone turned up the driveway. He ran to the door and into the old man’s arms, who had only just scrambled out of the car.
“Gramps!” Michael yelled, nearly knocking the poor man over.
“Oh, dear, my old bones.” The man exclaimed, laughing.
“Michael, check yourself. Your grandpa just had a long and tiring trip. Help me get his bags inside. Father, why don’t you go ahead already and start dinner. We’ll be right in.”
Michael had immediately forgotten his more urgent affairs and thus left his vast sleeping brothers to their own devices.
The three boys woke up from troubled slumbers early the next morning, to the cries of cocks and horses. Robert woke and shoved a racket-making rooster off his chest. The nerve of those beasts! All three had feathers and straw in their hair. They looked and smelled like they had been drifting for months. George stretched and sighed.
Edward, still dazed and shadowy-eyed, cried out that he was hungry. His stomach churned.
“We all are, Edward! Let’s try to figure out what to do.”
“If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
“Oh, sure, it just has to be my fault.”
“If you’d been a little nicer, we would’ve had a comfortable bed to sleep in and a decent breakfast by now. Hell, we wouldn’t even have ended up in this damn book in the first place!”
“You picked the book up too.”
“Only because you made me!”
“You were all too eager, weren’t you? I had nothing to do with that.”
“We should’ve stayed out of that attic, but you just had to drag us all up there.”
“You weren’t complaining then!”
“Guys, there’s no point arguing, so don’t waste your energy doing it. We’re all out fault in coming here, now we should plan our next move to get out.”
“What move? We’re check over here.”
“Quit being so negative, Edward, you big baby!”
“I’m not a baby! You jerk!”
“It’s not my fault you look like a midget!”
Edward shoved Robert so hard, he fell flat on his side and stormed out, tears of rage in his eyes.
“Edward, come back here!”
The boy just kept walking and was soon out of sight.
“Let him go, he needs to blow off some steam. You insulted him, Robert.”
“He should just stop taking things so seriously. It was just a joke.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Never mind, let’s just... Shit, someone’s coming.”
When they heard the royal stable boys approaching, they sneaked back out of their shelter and were once again lost in the streets of the city, without a friend to rely on or a place to go.
“We can’t stay here and wait till Edward returns; they’ll catch us and flog us for sure. We’ve got to find him, before he gets too far.”
“How do you plan to find him in this swarming mess? We don’t know where he went. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Well, if you were Edward, where would you go? Place yourself in his position.”
Robert just stared at him, face blank.
“I don’t know.”
During that time, Edward was stamping along, staring at his feet. He hardly watched his step, turning into alleys at random. So he chanced to find himself in the middle of a market in one of the many squares in backstreet Darmay. There he looked up.
There was laughter, there was shouting, there were loud voices crying out praise of their products from various stands. Edward picked up an object from the nearest booth, which was immediately snatched away by a protective salesman. Couldn’t blame him, he looked like a bum. The most curious things were sold here. There were vegetables and fruits, many of which he had never seen before, but also strange animals in cages, small and large, all sorts of jewellery asserted to have magical powers, crystal balls, carpets, cloth rough and smooth with every pattern imaginable, peculiar cards and runes, every kind of rock and stone you could think of, smelly potions in every colour of the rainbow, ointments, tinctures, herbs... The weirdest of folk frequented this bazaar. There was unfamiliar music from long forgotten instruments all around him, it was dizzying. People spit fire or swallowed swords in every direction. Disoriented he clashed into one of the many soothsayers, who pushed him away after one glance at his by now rickety clothes. “Sorry”, he stumbled, and nearly crashed into the next. It was difficult to dodge all the flames and people. Blind women scrambled through the masses leaning on sticks or bent like broken twigs, grabbing wrists and palms, proclaiming what they saw for some change.
Edward pulled away from all this and leaned against the wall to catch his breath and regain his composure. There was so much going on it was overwhelming. His stomach hurt. He rubbed it. He was so hungry it burned through him, deep inside. If he didn’t get something to eat soon, he’d faint!
To his right was a stand where an old lady sold fruit. And apple, red and round, lay glimmering in the morning light, beckoning him. It was so tempting, just beyond his reach. If he but stretched his arm a little, he could grab it. No one was near enough to stop him, and surely, the old lady couldn’t see it. He would come at it from an angle out of her sight. She looked ancient, she would not get to him on those crooked old legs bent like broken twigs even if she did see. His stomach made funny noises, then violent ones, louder. He had to eat. He was sure she’d understand, he was only trying to survive. She had so many apples.
He snatched the apple from the booth and turned to run away, bringing it to his mouth. Hardly had he even managed to bite it, or his hand was snatched with incredible force, long pointy nails digging into his skin. He saw the blackish dirty hand, the filthy nails and looked down at the old lady as she pulled him by the ear with the other claw, dragging him along behind the booth. She shrieked and cried.
“You! Stealing my apples, are you?” She called out in a shrill voice. “Well, I will damn you to hell!”
Bringing two long fingers to her elongated pointed chin, she lined it, pondering, pausing on the big hairy wart at the end.
“Hmm, what am I to do with you...”
“Uh, let me go?” Edward stammered, hopeful.
The hag burst out into a sharp, piercing laughter. She stroke him across the face with a swiftness he never would have imagined she’d be able to muster. Astounded, he felt up the swollen spot. She packed quite a punch.
“I know! I shall change you into a toad!”
Always with the toads...
“No, please don’t!” He called out helplessly, pleading, apologizing, holding up his hands in defence. She just continued, spitting out her high-pitched prattle.
“Abi abo aboe, in a toad I now change y...”
“STOP!”
Two voices cried out in sync. His brothers came running. A sigh of relief went through the boy. Just in time.
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