A Month of Midnights

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Ziegler Reads

Chapter 12 (v.1) - XII

Submitted: March 03, 2018

Reads: 140

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 03, 2018




“He’s such a cutie, Blyss. It’s a shame you only got two days with him,” Minnie giggled. I rolled my eyes and laughed. I knew she had been dying to ask me for more details since Rudy and Upright had left only minutes ago to gather more wood to feed our campfire. Between Rudy and me, we managed to give a coherent explanation as to what happened to us while our group was separated. Of course, our discussions by the fire, in the room of bodies, and out on the patio were conveniently skipped over. Minnie, though, could detect the holes in our story. While our explanation seemed to satisfy Upright, the perky faery was not so easily fooled. Though she worked tirelessly to get me to spill juicy details, I resisted. Rudy and I had already made a pact to conceal the details we had divulged to each other.

“Two days was plenty fine,” I said with an impish smile. Minnie pouted.

“Don’t expect me to believe that nothing interesting besides the Bluebeard encounter happened while we were separated,” Minnie reminded me. I lifted my hands in surrender.

“Nothing happened,” I swore. “How many times do I have to tell you this?” Minnie’s bright eyes narrowed.

“You’re hiding something, Blyss Bannon. I can see it. When you and Rudy look at each other, there’s definitely something you two know that you’re not saying.” I shrugged.

“Even if there was and I told you, I’d have to tell Upright, no? Surely, you can understand why I wouldn’t want that to happen,” I reasoned with a grin, knowing this was my ticket to victory. Minnie conceded.

“Alright, I supposed you make a valid point. But could you tell me one thing? One itty bitty thing, please? I promise I won’t tell a soul. Not even Avon,” she pleaded. The horse looked up curiously, as if it knew we were talking about it.

“I don’t know. Avon might overhear us,” I jested.

“Please!” Minnie persisted. “Before they come back!” I bit my lip and looked at her warily. In Chorio I had no close friend to confide in, even if it was over trivial things. It seemed Minnie wanted a confidant just as much as I did.

“Okay, one thing!” I said. Minnie was already squealing in delight. She hovered closer.

“Go on!” she urged. I didn’t know what I was going to tell her. All of it seemed so private, and I didn’t want to betray Rudy’s trust. Thankfully, I didn’t have too.

“So, you’re saying if I slaughter a pig in front of other pigs, it’ll come back to haunt me later?” I heard Upright ask somewhere nearby. I rolled my eyes at the sound of the familiar topic.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying!” Rudy answered. The two broke through the trees.

Upright said, “You know, I actually can agree with that. One time, I had to-what are you two doing?” Upright and Rudy looked between Minnie and me. I’m sure we looked suspicious, both of us hunched over towards each other as if we were plotting something devious.

“Nothing now,” Minnie complained. Rudy shot a wary glance to me. I didn’t say anything, don’t worry, I thought as I shook my head slightly. It appeared that Rudy understood. Slowly we were improving our silent looks to each other since the incident at Bluebeard’s dining table. It was obvious we still communicated better through his thought projection though.

Rudy and Upright set their gathered wood in a neat stack close by but far enough away from the fire.

“You think he’ll stay?” Minnie asked me with worry. I looked at Dane, still glowing and possessed by something neither good or evil, who was tied to a nearby tree. We hadn’t figured out a way to get him to stop walking, so our best option was to prevent him from doing so. His legs still kicked weakly in the dirt as they tried to walk forward.

“He’ll give up eventually,” I said plainly. Tomorrow would mark the beginning of the last week in the Month of Midnights. We were counting on our new guide to lead us to the Writer within the next seven days. At this point, there was nothing left to do but follow.

We ate our food and had a surprisingly pleasant conversation. Though they hadn’t gotten along at the beginning of the Month, it seemed Upright much enjoyed having another male to talk to. It was one of the happiest atmospheres we all had been in since our journey together had began. For a while, I felt under the illusion that this was my family, and I would have this happiness for the rest of my life. Upright and Rudy cracked poorly timed jokes, and Minnie always had something charming to say. I spent most of the time laughing rather than speaking. Not only did I wish I had Rudy growing up, I wished I had all of them. This kind of joy was new to me, and I never wanted it to end. I knew, though, that nothing as perfect as this could last forever. The Writer would help Upright, and he’d be off to his story. Minnie would return to her village and probably get chosen to be in a story as she always wanted. And Rudy. I saw him grinning wide with laughter. He noticed my glance and gave me a little wink. After the Writer fixed his glitch, he’d be gone. He’d go live his life as Prince Charming, saving the day and marrying Cinderella. It hit me then that he’d never actually bring me flowers or sweets as he had mentioned on the patio.

I’d likely never see any of them again.

I didn’t realize that my face was becoming gradually more downcast with the thought of never seeing my new companions ever again.

“Blyss, you all right?” Minnie whispered. I hadn’t noticed her fly up to my ear. I quickly smiled and brushed away my sadness.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” I said. Both Upright and Rudy spared a glance towards me but one convincing smile quickly absolved their worries. At least I thought so. Dinner was finished, and everyone retired for the night. Minnie appreciated the pocket in my new cloak but opted to sleep in the folds of Upright’s pale green stocking cap. She had slept there that past few nights and had grown accustomed to resting there. I had no arguments against this. I estimated about two hours had passed, and the others were sound asleep. Even Dane, the glowing guide, had stopped kicking and closed his pupiless eyes. I was still wide awake, drowning in the thoughts that had come to me during our meal. I had told Mother I’d rather be in Chorio the rest of my life then become someone as evil as Maleficent. While this was still true, my desire to lose my magic and return home had significantly lessened. Maybe if I stayed as Maleficent, I could visit the others after our stories were finished. That is, if we even stayed in touch that long.

I heard the sound of someone stir. I closed my eyes  and listened to the footsteps draw nearer. I opened my eyes and found Rudy laying next to me.

“Figured you’d be awake,” he said with a smirk. Upright rolled over on his side. I put a finger to my lips, telling Rudy to be quiet. Nodding his head, Rudy moved closer and put his head against mine.

“Again, I ask, why can’t you just use your hand?” I thought grumpily.

“It’d get tired after a while,” he replied. “Now tell me what’s wrong.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to me, Blyss. I knew it the second we started eating,” Rudy said. I was quiet. “I can read your thoughts. Don’t you think it’d be better if you just told me yourself?”

“If the others wake up we’re going to look really weird,” I finally said. I heard Rudy chuckle.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said.

“I know, I know,” I admitted. “It’s stupid, Rudy. You should just go back to sleep.”

“You think I’ll be able to sleep now?” Rudy asked. “Why won’t you tell me?”

“Because I don’t know how, okay? It’s all pinballing back and forth. I don’t know how to make it make sense.”

“Then don’t.”


“Just let it go. I’ll piece it together,” he said confidently.

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Rudy waited for me to begin. So I let it go. Everything that was weighing me down, I let it be vocalized for Rudy to pick up. Of course, I got carried away and let one thing slip that I would’ve preferred to keep to myself. I stopped myself after I had let it go.

“I didn’t realize…” Rudy’s voice trailed away. He didn’t realize he’d have to fall in love with another girl.

“I know I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill,” I quickly said. “I suppose I knew this all from the beginning.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rudy said quietly. I could only image the pain on his face. “I didn’t even think about after the Writer, when you go to Chorio and I go…” Rudy’s voice struggled to stay even. Somewhere past the darkness, I felt Rudy hand grab mine. I felt a tear drop down on my fingers, but I wasn’t sure if it was mine or his.

“We’ll stay in touch,” I said trying to be optimistic. Rudy was taking this harder than I was. “You can visit Chorio when your story’s done. Or, maybe, if I just stay and become Maleficent-”

“No, you won’t,” he said coldly. “That’s not an option.” I felt him let go of my hand.

“We’ll figure it out, Rudy. Our friendship doesn’t have to end because of this.”

“Even if we find a way, I’d hate it. I don’t want to be just a friend for the rest of our lives.” Rudy pulled away from my forehead and returned to where he was sleeping before. He remained bitter into the next morning.

We set our guide free again, and he resumed leading us into the thicket of the forest. His strange blue glow was so full of raw magic that it singed the leaves beneath his feet. It was always a challenge to tie him down at night without being heavily burned. Just like when we had followed the guards to Maleficent’s castle, the air began to grow colder, and I could see clouds of my breath in front of me. Even at high noon, a thin layer of frost sparkled and clung to its plants. Rudy refused to ride Avon and chose to walk beside us.

“What’s wrong with horse boy?” Upright asked me. I looked to make sure Rudy had not heard him.

“He’s upset with reality,” I said, surprised to see how bitter I was myself.

“Not getting his way?” Upright snickered. My shoulders slumped.

“None of us are.”

Everytime we paused our journey, whether it was for a bathroom or water break, Rudy refused to converse with me. If I was lucky, I’d get a cold glare but nothing more. We spent two more days like this, and I was beginning to become fed up.

We had five days left. It was late morning, and Avon was in desperate need of a water break. While Upright tied up Dane and Minnie observed this with great interest, I boldy walked up to Rudy who was scowling at the stream.

“Don’t tell me you’re still mad,” I said. Rudy folded his arms.

“It’s not fair I have to follow the stupid Story,” he said.

“You know, most people would kill for a place in Istoria,” I pointed out.

“And yet you’re going to leave.” I tried to let that bounce off harmlessly.

“Well, if I remember correctly, even you said you don’t want to me to stay.”

“That was before you reminded me I couldn’t come back to Chorio with you.” The fantasy did seem nice. I liked the idea of living an uneventful life in Chorio with Rudy by my side. But that would never happen. I didn’t let this dampen my anger by one bit.

“Oh, so it’s my fault? It’s my fault you just forgot you’re going to become a prince?” I threw my hands up in the air. This was completely ridiculous.

“It’s not your fault,” Rudy said gritting his teeth.

“Then why are you mad at me?”

“I’m not mad at you!” I knew I was striking a nerve.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” I snapped. Rudy turned to me.

“You know what? I think I am mad at you. When we were at Bluebeard’s, you let me say all these things to you, knowing nothing would be able come of it!”

“I didn’t know! It just occurred to me two nights ago!”

“I made a fool of myself!”

“Oh, so that’s what it was? Everything you said, you were just being a fool, right?” Bitter tears welled up inside me.

“Everything I said was true! That’s why I’m angry!” shouted Rudy. By now, Upright and Minnie were watching us with great interest. I waited for him to continue.

“It doesn’t matter what we try,” he said at a quieter volume. “After the Writer, we’re parting ways, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Then why even try being friends, right? Is that what you’re saying?” My throat tightened.

“No,” said Rudy, “yes, I don’t know-”

“No, no, it is. No matter what happens, I’ll end up a peasant again or a villain. And once you’re a prince, there’s no way you can associate with either of those things.” Rudy stared at me with glossy eyes as he sucked in his lips tightly. It broke my heart to watch him fight the will to cry. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t hold it against you. I want you to be a prince, I do. Just promise me you’ll save the world like you told me you would.”  How naive could I have been to think we could still be friends and stay in touch? If I was sent to back to Chorio, we’d be worlds apart. If I was Maleficent, we’d never be allowed to associate, and he’d be married, and I’d be destroyed. And even if all of those obstacles didn’t stop us then, Rudy brought up another point. We’d have to only friends, nothing more. Cinderella would always be on his arm, smiling sweetly but watching me carefully. My presence alone would risk ruining his story.

Mother was right to warn me of love. It was dangerous.

It was early morning with three days left that I woke up first. A strong breeze stirred me awake. Though the sun sent powerful, bright beams down through the branches, the air was frigid, and the wind only amplified its coldness. A lone dove cooed a melancholy tune that echoed the pain in my heart. At least I had one thing to be grateful for. After my quarrel with Rudy, I was sure my suppressed magic would make a resurgence. So far, it hadn’t.

Wrapping my cloak around to shield me from the morning wind, I looked around to see the others dozing. Unsurprisingly, Rudy’s back was turned to me. Since our argument, I was beginning to think he was no longer angry at me but rather at the whole mess of things we were both caught in. I had just been the person he took his anger out on. It was while I was looking at the others that I noticed the gap. Something was missing. It was not Avon. He was tied to the tree beside me. No, it was someone else. I saw the thin rope lay limp around the trunk of the tree across from me.

He had escaped.

I shot up to my feet and instantly spun around. He was nowhere in sight. Dane must’ve broke free hours ago. I began pacing back and forth, panicking and hyperventilating. What do we do now? We have three days! We’re doomed! I thought frantically. Upright was next to wake up. His eyes widened.

“What did you do?” he sputtered.

“Nothing! He was gone when I woke up!” I exclaimed. Now everyone was up.

“How tight did you tie it?” Rudy asked beginning to examine the ropes.

“As tight as I’ve always done it! What, you think this is my fault?” Upright accused. I saw Rudy roll his eyes.

“No. But obviously he must’ve been eager to get to wherever the Writer is if he was able to break loose. That means we’re close,” said Rudy standing back up. He avoided eye contact with me.

“Then what do we do?” Minnie asked. “Track him down?”

“We think have too. It’s the only choice,” I said.

“And just how are we gonna do that?” Upright asked skeptically. He folded his arms and looked at me expectantly.

“Leaves,” interjected Rudy. He pointed to a patch of charred leaves beside him. “He burns them with every step.” Upright raised his eyebrows.

“Not bad, horse boy,” he said. Again Rudy rolled his eyes. This time Rudy mounted Avon with the rest of us, this time taking the front of the saddle. Upright, enjoying the opportunity to create mayhem, insisted I sit in the middle. Not wanting to create a scene, I bit my tongue and climbed on behind Rudy. His body tensed as I wrapped my arms around his torso, but it slowly relaxed. For a moment, Rudy placed one of his hands on mind. Before I could even take a breath though, he moved it away. Upright was helped up and sat behind me, but his hands could not go all the way around my waist. Minnie took her usual perch in between the horse’s ears.

With all of us settled in, Rudy led Avon forward, and we steadily following the blackened footsteps through the forest. The farther we followed them, the longer the space between them. Dane was running. Unfortunately for us, being possessed by an unknown magic meant you could run for a very long time without tiring. Just like that, the entire day was consumed, and we had no choice but to stop for the night.

As I was nurturing the little flames that had just ignited, I noticed Rudy begin to scale one of the trees. I called out, “What are you doing?”

Pulling himself up to the lowest branch, he said, “Trying to see above the trees. His glow will be easier to find at night.”

“Oh, I can do that for you. No sense in risking breaking a limb,” Minnie perkily offered.

“No, you stay here. Get the food ready,” he answered. He disappeared into the treetops within a minute or two. Minnie’s little shoulders slumped.

“It seems like all I do is make food and cast spells,” she lamented. Upright spoke before I did.

“Don’t feel too bad. At least you have something to contribute,” he said plainly. Most people in Upright’s position might have felt guilty for just tagging along for the ride. Of course, Upright probably didn’t even care. I still felt compelled to say something.

“That’s not true, Upright. You helped keep Dane in check even when he began glowing,” I said with a laugh.

“Yeah, look how great a job I did at that,” Upright grumbled.

“Don’t feel bad,” said Minnie, “it would’ve happened no matter who tied the ropes.” Upright looked at her gratefully.

“You’re actually pretty good for a pixie,” he said. Minnie furrowed her eyebrows. “Ah, I mean faery,” Upright corrected himself. I was happy to see how far they had come since Minnie had first joined us. It seemed so long since I had met both of them. It felt like just yesterday the dwarf was pulling me out of the river and telling me his new name was Upright. Come to think of it, besides “Grumpy,” I had no idea what Upright’s real name was.

“Upright,” I said, “we’ve traveled a month together, and I feel like I know nothing about you.”

“Not much to know. Grew up in one of the southern villages. Had a normal height and no facial hair until that stupid Storyteller bestowed magic on me,” he said scrunching his nose at the memory.

“But how old were you?” I pushed. “What was your name?” Upright was taken aback.

“Well, I was in my early forties. It was actually a surprise they called my name. I wasn’t even planning to go that day. I had no kids who could be chosen. But I guess I thought, ‘What the heck. Most people don’t get to see this day in their lifetime.’ So I showed up to watch, and just as I think the last person is called, I hear my name.” I waited for him to say it.

“Theodore Figbee.”

I couldn’t stop the stupid grin from coming onto my face.

“Theodore? That’s such a good name!” I shrieked.

“Did anyone call you Theo?” Minnie asked enthusiastically.

“No, that would be stupid,” Upright scowled. This didn’t dampen Minnie’s spirits.

“Can I call you Theodore? It’s a lovely name!” Minnie’s excitement bubbled over the surface.

“You call me Theodore, and I’ll make sure you never fly again,” he threatened. Minnie sucked in her lips and quieted herself.

“So, Mr. Figbee, what happened when you met the Storyteller?” I inquired, trying to suppress any more smirks or giggles that were trapped inside me.

“Well, our Storyteller was this really old man, probably days away from death. He told me they wanted a bachelor like me already halfway through life to become the new Grumpy. He gave me my magic and sent me on my way. I went home, took a nap, woke up and suddenly I couldn’t even reach my blanket which had fallen on the floor. I went to our village’s library-”

“You had a library?” I asked with wide eyes. Anything like that was considered a trivial amenity in our village.

“Our village was right next to a coal mine. Economically, I guess we were on the higher end of the scale,” said Upright as if it hadn’t really mattered. If only he knew what life was like for poorer villages like mine. “Anyways, in the library, I couldn’t find anything on dwarves besides Snow White’s story. I asked the librarian if she knew anything, and she pulled out a stack of books from her desk. These books were all by the Writer, but the public wasn’t supposed to have access to them. She let me leaf through them, and that’s how I discovered I was technically to tall for a dwarf. One of the books explained the whole Month of Midnights process and a few days later, I ran into you and horse boy.”

It was an interesting mental journey I took, trying to picture Upright as a normal, beardless man. I’d always known him as short, pudgy, and with bushy facial hair that augmented his grumpy expressions. It just went to show how much magic could change you if you didn’t fight it. I wondered how I’d look to Mother or Leo, so changed by my own magic and my surroundings. I could only imagine how worse off I’d look if I wasn’t suppressing it.

Rudy swung himself back down the tree but fell the last few feet. Upright and Minnie laughed; it looked like even Avon found it amusing. Though my impulse was to snicker, I kept my face still as a stone. Rudy glanced at me to see if I was laughing and looked almost relaxed to see that I wasn’t.

Brushing himself off, Rudy said, “There’s a faint light to the north. Can’t tell if it’s blue though.”

“What about past the mountains to the west?” Minnie asked abruptly. Rudy looked at her curiously.

“No, nothing.” Minnie must’ve been asking for one reason alone. When she had spoken of her instance with someone she believed to be the Writer, Minnie had mentioned seeing a beacon of light come from the other side of those mountains. It must’ve been Minnie’s hope that if there was light coming from there, we would soon see the Writer.

We woke up early the next morning to get a head start. Rudy had us racing through the trees as fast as possible. The burned tracks led us northward just as Rudy figured last night. Time passed farther and farther along, and we still hadn’t caught up to Dane. If there was ever a time to panic, it was now. Tomorrow was the last day of the Month of Midnights. Despite all our efforts, we were coming down to the wire. If I hadn’t been a villain, this wouldn’t have taken so long, I thought resentfully. Then again, if I hadn’t been a villain, I wouldn’t have had to do this at all.

Everyone was afraid to stop. We thought we were finally closing the gap on Dane, thus no one wanted to be the person to interrupt progress for bathroom or food. The only stops we made were to give Avon rest who we had galloping incessantly. During one of these opportunities that took place around noon, I darted into the trees, telling the others I needed to relieve myself. I couldn’t be sure but I thought I saw Upright leave as well.

Fixing my dress and readjusting myself, I hesitated to step around the large tree that shielded me. I heard a thumping sound. It wasn’t a natural forest sound. It was no animal, no effect of the wind. It was flesh on flesh. My heart began sprinting with each beat. A previously undiscovered instinct inside me told that it was Rudy was being hurt, and that crushed me. Crouching towards the ground, I darted from bush to rock, rock to tree, coming closer to where I left the others. I heard more thumps. Somewhere there were people fighting. As I moved again, I could see the top of someone’s head. It was black and curly; no doubt it was Rudy. Then I noticed to others. It looked like a man an a woman. I hid myself behind a thick brush whose single leaf was bigger than my hand. Through the foliage I could see three sets of legs. I heard the sound of another punch, and Rudy’s feet bobbled backwards. I bit my lip to keep me from screaming.

“Where is she?” a husky male voice demanded to know. Rudy only spit a glob of blood in reply. It landed mere inches from my face. I scrunched my nose and shifted away from it.

“Tell us where the girl is,” the woman demanded. Her voice was low but somehow beautiful. I pictured a sleek, mysterious woman with an irresistible attraction that probably got many men slaughtered before.

Rudy stumbled closer to where I hid. “You’ll have to be more specific,” he taunted raspily. I rolled my eyes. He’d give them snark even if they completely beat him black and blue. It looked as if the man grabbed hold of Rudy and heaved him up against a nearby tree.

“Listen here, boy,” the man threatened, “word has it that the new Maleficent is on the loose. Whichever Madmag brings her in first gets extra food for a year and a very nice sum of a cash. Now, Henna and me is willing to share, ain’t that right, Henna?” I guessed Henna nodded because the man continued. “Now, all you’s gotta do is tell us where the pretty lil thing is.”

Rudy was quiet.

“Tell us!” the man shouted.

“Over my dead body,” I heard Rudy whisper. I sighed in relief. We may have had a falling out, but he still cared enough to protect me. The male Madmag threw Rudy to the ground and kicked him multiple times. Rudy’s whimpers could barely be heard. The Madmag continued, refusing to let up on him. Stop! You’re killing him! I cried silently.

“Edgar, stop! We’ll never get anything outta him if you beat him to a pulp,” Henna inserted. Edgar wisely heeded her words. Rudy’s bone-chilling moan left me itching to stand up and vaporize them both to cinders. I could probably do it too. My emotions were fired up enough, and I could already feel the tingling in my fingers and toes. If I failed though, I’d only put the rest of us and danger. I clenched my fists and tucked them against my chest.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the tip of a little green hat poking out from the side of a tree. I scooted closer to it and let myself make enough noise to catch his attention. Upright immediately held up a finger to his lips.

“Where’s Minnie?” I mouthed. Upright pointed up. Crouching on a tree branch several feet up was Minnie who was watching Rudy and the Madmags with great fright.

“Stay back,”  mouthed Upright. I scooted back soundlessly. If I was caught, we all were doomed.

“Get up!” Edgar demanded. I watched Rudy slowly rise to his feet.

“Now where’s the little brat? We know she’s with you. You fit the description. You’re the idiot who saved her,” he accused.

“We parted ways,” Rudy answered.

“Then where is she?” Edgar yelled.

“She gave up looking for the Writer. She went back to Maleficent’s castle.”

“Nice try, we already looked there,” said Henna. There was a pause.

“Then maybe some other Madmag found her first,” Rudy suggested in a snooty tone.

“We would’ve seen them,” Henna snapped.

“Then I guess you screwed up this time.” Edgar roared and slammed Rudy down into the very shrub concealing me. Rudy turn his head slowly, and his eyes widened in terror when he saw me. His lip was bleeding and one of his cheekbones was swollen and red. Before I could stop them, my hands cupped around his face, and I kissed his forehead. I couldn’t thank him enough for keeping me safe. Suddenly, Edgar was dragging Rudy back out, and I had no choice but to stay. I couldn’t risk Edgar, or Henna for that matter, searching the shrub more thoroughly.

“Get up!” Edgar shouted brusquely. I watched Rudy bobble back on his feet. “This is your last chance. Where’s the girl?”

“I don’t know.”

“You liar!” Edgar heaved his fist in Rudy’s abdomen. He collapsed onto his knees, his forehead pressed to the ground.

“Let’s just leave him,” said Henna calmly. “He’s a stupid boy in love. We’ll get nothing out of him.”

“Then let’s just kill him!”

“And draw more attention to ourselves? We barely escaped the Guard last time,” Henna reasoned. I heard Edgar growl. He was fighting between his common sense and his desire to maul my best friend.

“Fine,” he said, “but we take the horse.” I waited for them to mount Avon and gallop far away into the forest before I even dared to move. I gingerly parted the leaves, checking once more that danger was out of sight. I rose to my feet and rounded the side of the shrub.

“Rudy?” I whispered. Upright and Minnie came out of their hiding spots. We circled around him and kneeled down except Minnie who remained in the air. Rudy carefully lifted his head up and looked between Upright, Minnie, and me.

“You all okay?” he croaked. Upright chuckled.

“Are we okay? How bout you?” Rudy shrugged.

“I think the girl could’ve packed a better punch,” he said with a smirk.

“Guess we should be careful about bathroom breaks,” I said with a throaty laugh. Rudy looked at me and gave me a surprising smile.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, his spirits light and unblemished. I helped him up, and he insisted on walking right away.

“Don’t you want to rest?” Minnie asked.

“We have to keep going if we’re going to catch up to Dane,” he reminded us. None of us argued, and we continued to follow the burnt footsteps. It was soon discovered that Rudy couldn’t walk very well without help, and I being the only other tall person, had to act as his crutch. My heart initially raced merely because I assumed he’d still be cold to me, and I figured I would be distant too. Such was not the case. Rudy was pleasant and kind, just as much as when we had been following the strange smoke plume to Bluebeard’s house. We didn’t speak to each other as much now, but he gave reassuring, and even goofy, looks to me occasionally as if our quarrel or the Madmags’ attack had simply never happened. If there was ever a time to repair our friendship before we took separate paths, it was now.

“Rudy,” I started quietly. I was hopelessly unsure where to begin.

“I’m sorry too,” he whispered into my ear.

“I shouldn’t have let it go this far. I shouldn’t have led you on,” I began to pour out.

“You told me yourself it didn’t occur to you until after my stupid speeches,” Rudy said laughing at himself.

“No, but I should’ve remembered how far our destinies are apart and told you so we wouldn’t become so close.” I hung my head at the last part. “And your speeches weren’t stupid. I loved them.” I could see him begin to redden.

Rudy said gently, “It doesn’t matter what our destinies are. We would’ve become close no matter what. Somehow, we would’ve run into each other, and that’d be it.” I knew he was right. No matter how many different outcomes I could have had, I had to believe I would’ve met Rudy and still saw him as someone I couldn’t let go of.

“Even if these are our last two days together, do you think we could spend it well?” I asked. Rudy squeezed my shoulder.

“Of course,” he said warmly. I was still unsure of how his mood could completely flip just like that. He had been so angry at the thought of us having to go our own ways forever. Now, Rudy acted as if none of that mattered to him, almost as if he had forgotten it. I could not find any more complaints than that though. He seemed to be himself, the version that I loved so much. I began to relax against the side of his chest though it was me who was supporting him. I noticed his pace was stronger and more steady, meaning he could probably walk on his own, but neither of us bothered to part from the other.

The setting of the sun reminded me of the severity of the predicament I was still in. The last orange beams of light fell lazily on top of us. The lack of food and constant travel made meweary, and I yearned to fall asleep in the last warm heat of the day.

“It’s funny,” Rudy commented. “Most people will be celebrating tonight and tomorrow. And us? We’ll be tracking down some glowing madman.”

“Wonder if they’re celebrating back in Chorio too,” I thought aloud.

“Probably. It’s one of the last days the chosen people will spend in that realm.” I thought of the few village celebrations that had been put on in my lifetime. Usually it was to celebrate a wedding or a holiday. If the weather permitted it, there’d be outdoor dances in the same square where the Day of the Choosing events were held. Tables would be set out with the best foods families could afford. Those who were fortunate enough to have music lessons and could buy an instrument assembled together to provide live music. The most popular song, the one no one in Chorio grew up without knowing, was the Mudluck. It was a Chorion folk dance that was invented years ago when it was believed that if you owned any precious stone, it would bring you good luck on the Day of the Choosing. People sold their homes, their land, and even their spouses just to get their hands on a diamond or an emerald for their children. People began to realize the gems made no actual impact, and they began to see it as bad luck. Villagers everywhere began throwing their stones out onto the street, and the gems often landed in puddles or mud patches.  Since then, “mudluck” became the term every time someone wasn’t chosen to get into Istoria. Even though I was technically given a role, I often considered myself to have mudluck. A dance and accompanying song was created to mock the whole superstition, and it had taken like wildfire in the rest of Chorio since then. Though there was no reason to perform the dance after the Day of the Choosing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still included in the festivities. The Mudluck was one tradition Chorio had that separated them from Istoria.

“What are you thinking about?” Rudy asked abruptly. I hadn’t realized I was smiling, and I laughed uneasily.

“The Mudluck,” I said shyly. Rudy chuckled at the memory of the dance.

“It’s been a while since I danced the Mudluck,” he laughed. “But I remember the words.”

“Ha, I don’t. It’s been too long,” I said. I hadn’t been to any dance in our village since before my father was alive.

“I think it started with, ‘I had a mother and a father and a spouse who loved me. And then came ‘long three little babes who were pretty as can be.’” A memory, one long forgotten, stumbled its way to the front of my mind. It was the McLarton wedding. Mother and Father were on the dance floor, dressed in their very best. They were hopping and skipping around the dance floor doing none other than the Mudluck. I forced my memory to look closer at their faces. Their mouths were moving. They were singing. They were singing the words Rudy had just sung for me.

“‘And I couldn’t help but wonder what luck could I bring,’” I finished, surprising myself that I could even remember. On cue, we both clapped three times.

“And then we dance!” Rudy declared, suddenly folding his hands so one was on my waist and the other was locked in my own hand. He began flinging me around the trees, voicing the sound of the Mudluck melody while I desperately tried to remember the steps.

“I don’t want that ole mudluck, mudluck, mudluck, no I don’t want that ole mudluck so please don’t give it to me,” Upright chimed in. I assumed he’d be angry to see us dancing, but he only laughed and sang along.

“What’s this?” Minnie asked, a huge grin already on her face.

“It’s the Mudluck. It’s a Chorio thing,” Upright gruffly explained. Though Minnie had no idea what the dance was, she was already too excited and joined in by clapping her tiny hands. Rudy still twirled me around, but I was finally beginning to recall the dance.

“Once, I saw some pearls for sale and knew that I must buy them,” I sang merrily. I envisioned everything I remembered my parents did in the dance and replicated it with Rudy. As Upright finished the next part, Rudy suddenly stumbled, and our dancing stopped. He clutched his ribs and winced.

“Still hurts,” he whispered. How quickly I had forgotten he’d been badly hurt only hours ago.  This concluded what I thought would be the end of our dancing.

As the last trace of daylight began to disappear, we were fortunate enough to find a village. Before we got to close, I threw on my hood. A bad feeling inside me told me to keep my horns covered. We looked but found no trace of the Madmags or Avon. The townsfolk, however, were more than delighted to let us stay for the party, offering us food and drink and many opportunities to come dance. With one day left though, we agreed to take some food but stay no longer. As Rudy and Upright began raiding the other tables, I noticed Minnie wander towards the desserts. I smiled and quickly followed her.

“They look good, don’t they?” I asked picking up a miniature berry tart. It smelled sweet, and I couldn’t stop myself from gobbling it one bite.

“Blyss,” said Minnie hovering down to stand on the table. She walked around a plate of cookies as she spoke. “Is it silly that I don’t want to find the Writer?” I set down the third berry tart before I could cram it in my mouth.

“Not at all,” I said honestly. “I don’t want to find him either.” Minnie looked up at with big, round eyes.

“Really? But don’t you want change your Story before you turn into Maleficent?”

“Well, yes, but once we find the Writer, I’ll have to leave you and the others.” I began to pick at the the tablecloth.

“Isn’t that part of what you and Rudy were arguing about?” Minnie asked curiously. I gave her a smile.

“We’re good now. We both understand that some things aren’t meant to be, and I guess we’re at peace with that,” I said, almost convincing myself it was true.

“But you two are meant to be!” Minnie protested. “I mean as-well-meant to be in the sense that…”

“It’s okay, Minnie,” I chuckled. She laughed in embarrassment.

“I don’t want to find the Writer not only because I don’t want to leave any of you but because,” Minnie struggled to finish her sentence.

“You’re happy with the way you are?” I guessed. Minnie nodded.

“This adventure, this whole journey I’ve had with you and Rudy, and even Upright, can never be beaten by any Story I could hope to be apart of. And-and I like how I look. It makes me different,” said Minnie. I could almost see the weight being lifted off her shoulders.

“I like how you look too. I couldn’t imagine you any other way, Minnie,” I benignly said.. She gave me a heart-melting look of gratitude. “Now, you have to try a bite of these tarts!” I insisted as I broke off some crumbs. She took some from the palm of my hand. Minnie began to take a bite when she dropped the crumb; clearly I had given her one too heavy for her to hold. The crumb, fortunately, landed on my boot and not on the grass. I watched Minnie fly down to pick it up. When I lifted my head back up, I almost screamed at what I saw.

Dane was standing right in front of me.


© Copyright 2020 Lancaster Wood. All rights reserved.


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