Facing It

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Liz White


Moira was so frightened she was certain her legs would fold under her and she would collapse in a pile of quivering terror. Her stomach first threatened to revolt, then followed through with the threat. She managed to lean over a large rock, protecting the only cloak she owned from what had been her meager breakfast, now being spewed over the ground. She clung to the rock with her eyes squeezed shut in the vain hope that when she opened them again, all would be as it had been five minutes ago. Five minutes, or a life-time, it was the same thing.

She knew it was still there. The fetid air, hot and dry on her neck, crackled with power.

“Well, what do you want?”

The voice boomed in her ear, its echo rolling away down the hillside and up the mountain across the valley to the east. But the terror that filled her mind edged over to make a little room for puzzlement as she tried to make sense of the question. Pulling together all of her courage, she turned toward the voice and opened her eyes.

“What do I want?” Her voice was little more than a whisper, but the answer came anyway, though the response was tinged with a bit of irritation.

“Yes, yes. You called me, so what do you want?”

“I called you?”

“Why do you repeat my words rather than answer me, are you stupid?”

“Not stupid, afraid.”

“Afraid of what? You’re the one who asked for me. I never eat those who ask for me, well, at least not usually.”

Moira’s curiosity overcame some of her fear. “Why would I call a dragon, especially such a huge and terrifying one? It hurts my neck just to look up enough to see your eyes! And your voice is so loud it makes my head hurt.”

The dragon let out a huge, rasping sigh that singed the leaves on a nearby birch. “You were sitting on that very rock. You said, and I distinctly remember this, ‘I wish I had a dragon.'” He was sensitive enough to soften his voice.

She started to tell him that was nonsense when a distant memory rose. She saw herself, a seven-year old girl with a dirty, tear-streaked face huddled in the shadow of the rock. In her memory, she was alternately pounding her little fist on the rock and picking at a scabby knee. The plaintive little voice came back to her, peppered with a mixture of sobs and hiccups. “I don’t want to be a weaver, I want to be a wizard. I would make wings and fly. I wish I could fly with dragons! I wish I had a dragon. I’d show them.”

She bowed her head with the painful weight of that long ago moment, and of the path she had been forbidden to follow. Dully, “Why do you come now, thirty years after I asked for you?”

“Look how terrified you are now. What do you think would have happened if I had appeared to a seven-year old?” Then, gently, “But I did come, many times, and always you ran from me.”

“You never did, a dragon is not a thing I would forget!” She flinched as she felt the heat from an exasperated expulsion of dragon breath.

“Let’s have a little talk.” He settled his huge haunches in a ravine a few yards away, leaned the rest of his hulk up the hill toward the surface, and brought his head down to where Moira could look at him without craning her neck. Warily, she settled herself next to the rock, in the very same place where, as a child she had sought refuge and comfort from her father’s discipline.

“You said you wanted to be a wizard, yet you have run from every opportunity to do so. You,” he pointed a very long, very bony claw tipped with a six inch talon at her, “are a coward!”

She looked down to see how much blood the talon had drawn, surprised to see no physical wound. It was only the dragon’s accusation that pierced her heart so deeply. She reacted in denial, “I’ve worked hard to be the best weaver around. I’ve supported myself since I was ten years old, and since my father has lived inside the mug of mead, I’ve supported him as well.”

“Bitterness does not become you, nor will it win you any sympathy.”

She saw the truth of the statement immediately, but wasn’t ready to concede, didn’t even know to what she would be conceding.

“You said you’ve visited me before, that I’ve had opportunities to change my path, but that I’ve run away.” She paused, starting to feel like she might know what he was going to say when he explained. “I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t want to know. The question is, are you ready to know now?”

“Yes, I am ready.” Her words sounded braver than she felt.

A long silence stretched as the great yellow eyes probed her own, seeming to search her heart, mind, and soul. With a slight nod of satisfaction, the dragon switched his gaze to his talons, examining them while he gathered his thoughts.

“You weave magick,” he began. Her mouth opened to protest such a ridiculous statement, but snapped shut again at the look he gave her.

“You are already a wizard. You just refuse to acknowledge it. You would rather hide in your safe little world, using your bitterness as a whip to lash out at your father, and ignore what others have to offer.”

Moira could feel the color draining from her face. She had spent years carefully constructing a shell around her inner core, and now, in a matter of moments, he was peeling it away as easily as if peeling an onion. She wasn’t sure she could stand it if he exposed her naked heart.

“You think you gave up your dream long ago, and have refused to see otherwise, even when someone comes along to show you. This is how you lost Robyn.” Moira could not suppress a cry at that. Robyn, handsome, strong, funny Robyn, who loved me, and whom I loved so dearly. Why didn’t I marry you in spite of my father? Why did I let him destroy our happiness? The dragon interrupted her thoughts.

“Now your cowardice is about to cost you your other dream.”

She sobbed, “It’s too late! Why are you doing this?”

Though his voice was quiet, it was firm. “I’m doing it because you called me, because you need to choose. Right here, right now, you need to choose to face your dream or lose it forever. If you don’t face it, if you run away again, you will have chosen by default, and that’s a craven, poor-spirited way to make a decision.”

“But I don’t have the time to do it now. I need to keep weaving cloth that people need. I need to make a living, I need to support Father. Besides, I’m too old to start learning wizardry now.”

Impatience laced the considerably louder response. “Stop hiding behind excuses! You can do it if you want to do it.”

“I’m afraid.”

“I know. I even know what you’re afraid of. You’re afraid to show people who you really are inside. But tell me this, what’s the worst that happens if you show yourself? Many people won’t understand you, perhaps most won’t. But Moira, some will, and for those who do, you can make a difference. You can touch their lives in ways neither you nor I can imagine, but almost certainly for the better. Isn’t that worth the risk?”

She felt frozen in place, her face a mask, but her heart and her mind whirled in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions.

“Here’s what you need to do,” said the dragon. “Go home now. Weave a kerchief with my portrait on it. Make it worthy of me, and I will wear it. Bring it to me here in three days.”

She didn’t really understand why he was asking her to do this thing, but somewhere in the midst of her confusion and turmoil was an inner voice telling her it was important. So, she picked herself up off the ground and started off down the hill to the village. As she drew near him, about to pass by, she paused. He raised a knobby, brow in question as she stepped up and gently, but bravely, reached out and touched his face before turning and hurrying off.

The next day she searched through all of her wool to find the finest she had, some midnight blue as soft as the summer night, and some pale yellow that sparkled as the sun on the leaves of the cottonwood trees.

For three days she concentrated on the weaving. She worked hard, weaving with a love she didn’t know she had, until finally, on the third day and in the golden light of late afternoon, she tied off the last of the threads. As she spread the kerchief to fold it she stopped to take a look at it, almost as if she had not seen it before.

In one corner was an exquisite portrait of the dragon and in the opposite one was a finely rendered image of herself. She had portrayed herself reaching for the stars, and she had given herself wings. Carefully she folded the cloth and set out for the hill to meet the dragon.

He was waiting for her when she arrived, so she immediately unfurled the large piece of cloth and spread it on the grass before him. He stared at it for a long moment without speaking. She watched his face carefully, but could not read it, and hadn’t any idea what his reaction was. Finally she let her eyes drift down to the cloth and gasped.

The shadows were climbing the hill as the sun slowly slid out of the sky, and in the last of the light the images on the cloth shimmered brightly. The pale yellow wool had changed to threads of gold. She looked back at the dragon in wonder.

“You see? You weave magick.”

“I did that? How? And what use is it if I don’t know what I’m doing?”

“Listen to me, and listen carefully. Your magick comes from your heart and soul. Don’t worry too much about your head for now. For now it gets in the way more than helps you. Trust your ability, and you will do well.”

Moira felt the old inner voices tug at her. “But..”

“Stop questioning and accept your abilities. Trust yourself.”

“But what about Father? How will we manage .”

“STOP,” he roared. “It’s time to choose, and a choice it must be. To become your dream, you must hold nothing back. You must decide to be what you are meant to be. You must wipe away all your doubts, right here, right now!”

“I can do it, can’t I?”

The dragon said nothing, but watched her closely. She was tingling all over, the skin on her back itched, and stomach was doing an uncomfortable little jig.

“Can’t I?”

“Choose!” said the dragon.

“I.I want to weave magick.” She tried to reach around and scratch her back, the itch was getting worse.

“You aren’t saying that like you believe it.”

“I want to weave magick,” her voice became steadier.

“Say it so I know you believe it, make me believe it.”

“I want to weave magick. I will weave magick.”

“That’s better, but it’s not enough.” She looked at him in frustration. “You see your picture on the kerchief? You see your wings? You feel the itch of them on your back?”

“Wings, MY wings? That’s what’s been itching?” Again, the dragon said nothing, giving her a moment to absorb the idea.

Finally he said, “It’s time to fly.”

Suddenly all the confidence drained right out of her. She could almost feel it seeping out of her toes and soaking into the ground, taking with it the golden image of the dragon and herself, and her childhood dream of becoming a wizard. She nearly collapsed in despair as she thought of how close she had come to grasping the dream and the impossibly difficult thing she had to do now to regain it.

Tentatively she flexed the unfamiliar muscles on her back. She felt the strange bulk of the new appendages so foreign to the body in which she had been so comfortable all her thirty-seven years. She looked pleadingly into his eyes, and though she thought there was some caring and sympathy there, it was not evident in his command.

“Choose Moira. Right here, right now. Fly!”

She flexed again, and this time the wings felt a little more natural, a little more like the arms and legs she was used to. He pointed off toward the spot where the sun had disappeared. “Fly that way, make a circle and return to me here.”

“Fly.” It was not really a question, more like a little voice inside her, there to give her encouragement.

“Choose to believe in yourself. CHOOSE!”

She poised on the edge of the hill, then, finally, putting her faith in the dragon and in herself, she worked the wings into a rhythmic motion and threw herself off the hill.

A moment of panic swept over her as she sank, and she worked the wings harder in an attempt to keep from smashing face first into the rocky slope. She recovered and found herself rising, her clumsy wing flapping smoothing to graceful arcs. She flew out toward the sunset, reveling in her new-found freedom.

When she returned, the dragon and the kerchief were gone.

She cut back on her routine weaving to make time for her magick. People grumbled at having to wait longer for their goods, but when they saw her new work, they were entranced. She began to weave cloth that healed, cloth that brought love, cloth that taught, cloth that told stories. She was sad at the loss of her friend the dragon, but happy with the strength she had found within.

One day, a month after her meeting with the dragon as she sat working at her loom, she saw a man walking up the path with a familiar gait. She ran out to meet him.

“Robyn!”

“I heard of the wonderful wizard who weaves magick into her cloth, and I had to come to see. I had to come back to the woman who learned, finally, to become who she was meant to be.”

Moira could not keep the tears away as she embraced the man she’d thought she had lost forever. “Dry your eyes on this, my love,” he said, and handed her a beautiful midnight blue kerchief with an exquisite portrait of a dragon in one corner, and a winged woman in the other, both woven in gold.

pencil

E-mail: lizwhite[at]netptc.net

Alphonse and Lorenzo

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Liz White


“Lorenzo you idiot! This is why I hate taking you anywhere!” Alphonse could not remember being more angry at his younger brother. Lorenzo looked surprised and offended, “A guy’s got to eat Alphonse! Look, I saved one of the legs for you.”

Alphonse screamed back at him, “You ate the driver! How are we supposed to get this thing to the convention now?” He was referring to his pride and joy, a Humvee he’d recently bought just for this cross-country drive. It was the only vehicle he’d found that was big enough to accommodate his bulk comfortably.

“Oh.” Lorenzo’s face first grew troubled, then gradually seemed to collapse in on itself as he realized the full impact of what he had done. He started sniffling, then blubbering, worked himself up to sobbing, and finally to outright wailing. It was enough to set the farm dogs howling for miles around, and it cut through Alphonse’s head like a rusty saw.

“Shut up and let me think.” He tried to sound calmer than he felt, knowing if he didn’t the din would only escalate. He didn’t want to get the farmers out with their shotguns to see what was going on. He knew this trip would have its challenges, and really hadn’t wanted to take Lorenzo with him in the first place. But there had been no choice. They made up the most famous wrestling tag team in the country, and were the main draw of the convention. There weren’t that many ways for trolls to make a living in the world of humans, so there was a lot of interest in hearing from those few who could manage it.

Alphonse was scheduled to deliver the keynote address in two days, and they were still well over six-hundred miles from Groom Lake where the event was to take place. This was the first annual convention of the Association for the Betterment and General Advancement of Trolls. It would also be the last if the main attraction didn’t make it on time. It had been difficult enough getting a place, and would have been impossible if it weren’t for the relationship Alphonse and several of his associates had with the military and the CIA.

ABGAT was still a fledgling organization with a precarious future. Trolls were not known for their organizational skills, and humans were not comfortable with them even singly, much less in large groups. The military felt it to be in its best interest to help them find a place to gather, and Groom Lake not only kept them from scaring the public at large, but offered a perfect way to keep tabs on the proceedings.

Alphonse had never driven before, but he loved cars, and had been watching the driver work the pedals and transmission closely. He was pretty sure he could figure things out. He’d never read a drivers manual, but he knew something about things that would get you in trouble, like going too fast, or going the wrong way, or running over people. The latter was a good way to get a meal, but tended to attract too much negative attention. He looked at Lorenzo. “Stop crying and get in.” He climbed in behind the wheel and looked for the keys. “Lorenzo, did you eat his clothes too?”

“No, I don’t like the texture. I like to peel them before I eat them.”

Alphonse found the key in the pocket of what was left of the guy’s pants and slid it into the ignition with anticipation. He cranked it to the right as he had seen the driver do, and thrilled to the sound of the engine; even if it did take three tries. This Hummer was built for civilians and had an automatic transmission, so he didn’t have to deal with a clutch. He reasoned out the correct position for the gear shift, put it in drive, and put his foot on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward, scaring them both, and Alphonse stomped on the brake, nearly putting them through the windshield.

He spent the next ten minutes or so figuring out all the controls before he felt confident enough to move out to the road. He carefully turned on the left turn signal, looked behind him to see if any traffic was coming up from the rear, and eased his foot down on the gas. Turning the wheel to the left, he bumped the car back onto the road, forgot to turn the wheel back again, and crossed all the way over to the other shoulder. After a second of panic, he swung the wheel back the other way, over-compensating again, but not as much. With considerable weaving and lurching, he managed to get back to the proper lane and stay there, but he was glad they were out in the middle of nowhere.

He was just starting to enjoy the experience when a bellow from his right made every cell in his body jump with alarm. Alphonse slammed on the brake, sending the car into a spin and nearly rolling it. When they finally came to a stop, he wrapped his hands around the steering wheel so tightly his claws were digging into his palms. He didn’t dare let go for fear he’d rip Lorenzo’s throat open. “What is it?” he snarled.

“Food!” Lorenzo was pointing back to a man by the side of the road. The man had picked up a backpack and was jogging toward them. “Hey Man… thanks for stopping. That was a cool move when you spun across the road like that! Hey! I know you, aren’t you Alphonse and Lorenzo? Oh wow, this is so cool. Wait’ll I tell my folks, they’re huge fans. So’s my sister. That’s where I’m going, home to see them. Hey, can I get your autographs Man?” He started rummaging through his backpack to find something to write with and on. “We watch you guys every chance we get. You are the best! Nobody’s ever had a tag team like you! You should be champions instead of Buck and Butch, those slimy, nasty, backstabbing SOBs.”

Buck and Butch were Alphonse and Lorenzo’s best friends, but in the wrestling world, they were arch enemies. Alphonse smiled. As he was writing, he looked the guy over. “Maybe we can help each other out. Can you drive this thing? I’ve… ah… been driving for hours and hours and I’m… uh… getting real tired.” He ignored the look of disappointment on Lorenzo’s face as he realized he wasn’t going to get his snack after all.

“Sure man. I’ve never driven a Hummer before, way cool. Where are we going?”

“Nevada. We’re headed for a conference. I have to deliver a speech and we’re slated to put on an exhibition match and sign autographs. What’s your name?”

“Richard.” By now Lorenzo had moved to the back seat, Alphonse to the front passenger seat, and Richard was behind the wheel. “Looks like you’re going to need to get some gas.” Alphonse slapped his forehead, he’d forgotten all about fueling the car! He didn’t know if they had enough to get to the next town and started looking for a place to refuel. Just then they passed a sign: REST AREA 1 MI NEXT REST AREA 54 MI. Lorenzo started whining from the back seat.

“Can we stop Alphonse? Please? I’m hungry and I got to go. Please, can we?”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud. All right, all right. Richard, pull in to the next rest stop.”

Richard glanced at the dashboard, “The low fuel light just came on.” Alphonse thought hard. He had to control Lorenzo; they couldn’t afford to lose this driver too. They also had to fuel up somehow. Richard solved both problems. “If you distract a driver long enough, I can siphon fuel from other cars.”

“Okay, park here at the end away from the crowd where we can see who comes in.”

They sat there for a half hour watching traffic come and go before they saw what they wanted. A guy driving alone pulled in right next to them. Alphonse nodded to Richard then he and Lorenzo followed the driver into the rest room. When they came back an hour later, Richard had managed to fill the gas tank about half full and was ready to go. If he noticed the grass stains and blood spatters on Lorenzo’s clothes, he chose to ignore them.

A hundred and eighty miles further down the road, they stopped to fill the tank again and let Richard buy a sandwich at the convenience store. Lorenzo had a colossal appetite with little self-control and Alphonse worried about adding to the trail of human remains they’d already established. He concentrated on keeping a close eye on his brother. Consequently, he wasn’t paying any attention to Richard, and failed to notice when he placed a phone call.

Back on the road, Richard did what he could to get conversation going. “Tell me about the speech you have to give.”

“It’s the keynote, and the topic is ‘Making a Living in the Human’s World.’ Most of us still have to survive in the traditional way, raiding farms for sheep, goats, or chickens and making it look like the coyotes or wolves are responsible.” He put special emphasis the part about “sheep, goats, or chickens”, giving Lorenzo a pointed look. Lorenzo, however, pretended not to hear. Alphonse sighed, “Lorenzo and I are unique in being able to make money legitimately.”

“So how do you get by socially? Isn’t there a lot of prejudice against trolls?”

“Yeah, we’ve run across our share, but there are laws to protect us now, we’re an endangered species. The Feds tolerate us because we’re useful to them.” He paused, and then added, “We do an occasional odd job for the FBI and others.”

Richard drove on in a comfortable silence, and Alphonse watched the sparse desert vegetation fly by as the sun set. The sky darkened to black velvet and the stars grew intensely bright, scattered like billions of tiny shards of glass lit with a black light. With no moon or city lights to interfere, it was a spectacular sight. Alphonse settled back to gaze at it, and fell asleep.

He woke up from a nightmare in which farmers had cornered him in a barn and were waving torches and shotguns in his face. The Hummer was stopped and the torches turned out to be flashlights wielded by a couple of soldiers. He sat up to see they were parked on a ridge overlooking the Groom Lake site. He was certain he had not told Richard the specifics of this location, and he knew Lorenzo didn’t know enough to have told him, so how did they get here? The obvious answer was that Richard wasn’t just an ordinary hitchhiker.

It took him a few seconds to register what the soldier was saying, “…the last of them. What took you so long?” He heard Richard explain about the first driver and running out of gas, and the delay at the rest stop to allow Lorenzo to feed.

Alphonse looked around. “Where’s Lorenzo?” “He’s off in the weeds,” Richard answered. “He said he had to go, and he thought he saw a sheep. I’ve never seen anyone put away so much food! He’s not too bright either, is he Alphonse?”

“He may be a little slow on the uptake, but he’s a good brother, and one hell of a wrestler. Why are we stopped here?”

“This is the end of the road. We’ve arrived at your big convention.” The sarcasm in Richard’s voice was unmistakable, and Alphonse finally got it. They had outlived their usefulness, and the government was tired of cleaning up the messes they left. Here at Groom Lake, no one would notice an operation that would significantly reduce the number of trolls in the world.

He looked again at the guns pointed at him and resigned himself to the inevitable. He was contemplating his death when he heard a soft snap and the two soldiers slid to the ground. He saw Richard turn at the sound and come face to face with Lorenzo.

“Now, Alphonse?”

“Sure Lorenzo, enjoy.” Alphonse watched as Lorenzo deftly broke Richard’s neck and began peeling.

pencil

“I live in North Fork, CA, with my husband and dog, and work as an analyst in Geographic Information Systems. Currently, I’m growing out of adulthood and back to kidhood!” Liz can be reached at whites[at]sierratel.com.