Snowed: The Weekend Trip

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless from the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs, smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a competitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider again. In one instant, he took the chance and pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

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Short (okay more medium), Sweet (okay, maybe not so sweet) and a Grumble.

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TWO-hundred mile drive, a promise made to Dads are as important as a promise by a dad to a child.

I said I would be there for the meeting with Mama Dash and her new oncologist.

When I arrived, about 3:30 pm local time, Papa Dash and I were talking and he said that about 2:00 local time, the Drs office called him and wanted to move the meeting up an hour.

He said no. 1. People (me) were coming from out-of-town and were currently out of contact. (All that line-of-sight stuff with phones and mountains)

2. Just no. Transport has been arranged, again, people from out-of-town and chemo is on the schedule for tomorrow. (Thursday) and they require her isolation for two days afterwards.

Yes, forty-eight hours after treatment, she is forbidden to have physical contact with anyone or leave her room. People cannot touch her, if they do, they must wash, surgeon style before they move anywhere out of the facility.

As I sit there and check on things, get updated by Papa Dash and help Mama out of the bed into a wheelchair (needing to use the lady’s room) I paged for the nursing assistant to do the other end of the job, I can move her, but the lady’s room has a line I won’t cross.

3:55 rolls around, we are getting all our plans planned. Questions written down, and I said that the transport unit had arrived.

Then it left.

“Um… Dad, it’s not out there anymore.”

4:00 PM. Meeting is at 4.15. Drive time is 10 minutes.

That is not a lot of time for loading, driving, offloading and such.

Rehabilitation center calls the transport company, transport company says they never got the call from the Dr’s office. A call to the Doctors office?

They moved the meeting up to 3:00.

No one was notified.

What?

Long story short… well…medium…

Doctor’s meeting now is on Thursday at noon.

“noon? When the office is closed normally?” A-yuh.  So it seems.

We’ll find out. So now I am sleeping on my sisters sofa, and not drive 200 miles home, then 200 miles back in the morning.

I am being entertained by the 11-year-old, sitting and talking. But now she has gone to bed. Leaving me with two cages of hamsters. One with a dozen BRAND new baby hamsters. (anyone want a couple?)

They don’t squeak loud, but they do squeak.

Papa Hamster is on the wheel trying to run away.

This is going to be a long night.

Meeting in the morning, record all the doctor has to say, ask questions and then we do a family “Round Table” discussion afterwards to weigh our options.

My only thought now.

If YOU as a patient call THAT MORNING to your doctor and request to change the appointment. They will, but they will charge you for the missed visit.

Or if you DON’T call and unilaterally change it. You get charged.

This is wrong on many levels for the thought that the office in turn can just dismiss the appointment and, in this case move it UP by over an hour without people knowing.

Will the office now charge for a missed appointment?

I realize that sometimes MD’s get emergency calls.  But a specialty like oncology, emergency response from the MD is not a common issue.  Not like a trauma surgeon, or an active cardiologist that might be in surgery longer than expected or has an emergency call.

So why move it up by an hour? or… Why move it up and NOT tell ANYONE? Rehab center, transport company, …patient?

Maybe we should charge that office for our time wasted. Fortune has it, of course I did budget for the fuel for this trip. But not for the time lost for tomorrow.

Ah well. Tomorrow is another day.

Update on Mama Dash:

She is getting stronger, quickly, but it still looks like at least another week of weakness to overcome before she can come home to a house that she would have trouble navigating around in.

Upside:

I have practiced some archery “magic” for the 11 and 16-year-old to watch.

I can shoot a smiley face into a target using about 10 arrows.

But I do it upside umop and then turn it over so it appears familiar.

“Have a nice day.”

I do enjoy being the “cool” uncle. Just as I do being the “Cool” dad. (Drives Princess #2 crazy, a lot of HER friends have broken homes, parents hate each other and fight in courts. Then the kids come over to our house and tell her she has cool parents. She has nothing to complain about.)

So that is my blog for the night. Not long, but not short. I am still annoyed with the Dr’s office for unilaterally changing the meeting without confirmation by ->anyone<- that they are even aware.

But I am pleased to be a part of this family, we are awesome- (Well, they are awesome, I am just “okay”, working on fine, good, great and then awesome). We might take it in the shorts and we still pull it together.

Fiction is delayed for a few days, but I will keep you updated on the RL adventures of the prince of unpublished, undiscovered, unknown un-novels!

Dash

 

 

 

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

2 Seconds… T-Minus 14,400 Seconds

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T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather of the midsummer’s offering. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that human now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the random walk from the core of the sun had now lost much of their energies.

Frequencies, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the compressed and glowing hot gasses reduced to a density to allow the photons to reach speeds commonly associated with light. Ten percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light moves in a vacuum, the EM radiation began to move.

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had routed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption while giving more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while wearing their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold on to the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him close, it was just a perk of riding on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue of the mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven around the earth’s circumference, just on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. Camping along the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the souls of the couple that escaped the daily grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the business-creator and owner husband that was their work week.

Winding their way through the forest, following the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, but the mason got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife, but rolled her eyes and shook her head at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal, sitting on a balcony, overlooking lake waters so clear, that it could give cause for acrophobia- a fear of heights, looking down through the water to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant holding hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with a machine’s patience.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

Time was T-Minus 6,300 seconds.

Dragon Master University Chapter 22. Morningtime

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Chapter 22. Morning Time

Jona walked between classes as he was in deep thought, Eva landed next to him in the courtyard.

“We did very well,” She said softly while folding her wings tightly against her body and walking upright. ‟We bumped two trees and you held on. I have a small bruise where I knocked off four of my scales, but they will grow back soon enough.”

Walking upright, she was beautiful even outside of Dragon standards. Eva would have made a graceful, beautiful human woman.

Who just happened to tower over most other humans.

Jona chuckled, his own joints hurt, the inverted banking as they did a hairpin turn around a mountain to catch up with Qo’noS had nearly dumped him off the back of Eva, it was a turn they were going to have to practice, he only was able to hang on by luck as much as strength or skill. Even his fingernails ached.

“Jona, I have talked with others about the future races,” Eva said conversationally as they walked along. ‟I have someone I am seeing. He is a dragon at Drakensberg University.”

Eva smiled, touching her lips as if a memory of a kiss. Dragon kisses, it is rumored, to leave a soul burning for more.

‟I know that there is some cheating planned. There have been observers on the race course, we may have to train in other areas of the mountains. Where is Teva? We need to talk to him.”

Sol landed nearby and walked up to them, looking happier without reins on his shoulders, rubbing up against Eva with a wink.

“Flirt.” Eva laughed softly.

“Drakenberg racers are notorious for cheating but there is something more. Jona, your safety is in danger.” Sol said.

‟My rider seeks to have you removed one way or another, she is not above cheating. So long as she rides me, we will never win, I will never cross the finish line first.” Sol said grimly, “Even if I have to crash at the last stretch. She will never stand in the winners circle.”

“I hate that we keep trying to knock you out of the race, Eva,” Sol nodded slowly, guiltily looking down. “You too, Jona, my most sincere of apologies. But it is late in the season, I cannot train with a rider and I cannot win with her riding. She has no winning heart.”

“Thanks,” Jona smiled and put his hand on the golden dragons shoulder. ‟And we will avoid you, you are a great flier, you have done fantastic corners.”

“Drakes’ will have faster rides,” Eva continued. ‟They are larger than we are as a group. Most are Kanus’ size, a few are bigger.”

Sol and Jona nodded.

Jona pointed out that they had the advantage then of the corners in the valleys, then paused.

“Could they go high and go over a corner? Avoid banking?”

Sol shook his head while Eva answered.

“They would be penalized with time added on. So even if they crossed the line first, they may actually lose the race if they skipped too many corners.”

“Even if they flew faster than anyone at the beginning,”Sol added. ‟If they didn’t get down into the canyons, a record pace would be for naught.”

Eva nodded as Jona pulled at his chin and took this in.

“There has been something else, a smell, I have picked it up, you have been busy racing and I have been sight-seeing.” Sol added, “Something smells, I don’t know.” He paused “The smell on the most strong in the northern canyon, where we go lowest and the turns are sharpest and we fly slowest, the smell makes my scales tingle.”

Eva paused, pulling at her ear.

“I thought that was just the group of us racing, the challenge of the corners and how close we were getting to each other.” She said thoughtfully.

“You have been racing, I have not.” Sol nodded.

“Spies?” Jona asked.

“Maybe.” Sol said.

“Spies would be undetectable.” Eva shook her head. ”Volcanic action, Sol? Can you smell volcano’s?”

Sol gave a nearly imperceptible shrug.

“There are those in my family who can, I have not smelled them before. Could be that this time I am smelling the start of a volcano’s eruption. This would affect the race, if we had to fly through a cloud.”

“If the race is going to go through an ash cloud, we would have to avoid it.” Eva nodded.

“Not so much for you,” Jona shook his head. ‟But for the humans and others that don’t have the kind of lungs that a dragon possesses.”

Both dragons looked at Jona and nodded.

“Not counting the lightning that happens, that is also kind of hard on the teams, as well.” Eva added.

Jona choked.

“Lightning? As in thunder and lightning?” Jona was afraid of thunderstorms since he was a child.

“I will tell Professor Ghoti, she is in charge of the racer’s safety, it is important that she and the other judges and professors look in the area.” Sol said mildly. “I’m the one that smelled it, I’ll be the one to show her where it is.”

Eva nodded as Sol set off for Professor Ghoti at her office in the Obsidian Spire.

“I knew that Sol was a good wyvern,” Jona noted. “Those reins on him are the only ones in the entire group of racers.”

“And a total insult. They won’t race together after this season, he will reject his rider and any other dragons will follow suit if she re-applies next year. The only way she would fly is if she grew wings and rode herself.” Eva growled irritably. “She has some dragon in her, you can see it in her eyes, but it is all the worst part of dragons.”

Eva and Jona took off and few northwards out over the sapphire blue lake, it was so large, the water was so pure as Jona could see the bottom of the shallows down to two or three dragon lengths deep. It was like looking through crystal.

Eva looked back as they soared and enjoyed the cool mountain air.

“The water tastes as good as it looks, but it is so cold as to give me a headache. There is a bay that is nearly emerald-green, lately we have called it emerald bay. I kind of hope the name sticks.”

‟That is an awesome lake, so high in the mountains, what feeds it?” Jona asked.

‟Snow. If you ever go swimming in it? You will know that right away.” Eva laughed. ‟There is a story of, years ago, a swimmer dragon jumped in after a long, hard winter with an exceptional snowfall. The snow was at the peak of melting and the swimmer jumped in with ruby-red scales and came out with sapphire-blue coloring. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I can believe it.”

Laughing, the rider and ride sailed along the crest of the mountain range until they banked and headed out to the sea, spending time soaring over the rugged coastline. Eva told him of dragon homes and lore.

‟You have dragon-lore this year. I would suggest coming here and do independent studies. I am also a tutor, and I wish help teach you and keep you on the race team.”

‟Thank you. There is so much going on.” Jona said softly.

‟This is just warming up for the year. You have passion to learn, from what I have heard. Four-years of basic schooling then another four years of advanced school. Your scholarship’s earned by your father and mother with the teaching of dragons over the years.”

‟How long has my father been teaching?”

‟Don’t you know?” Eva said. ‟I always knew when my parents were teaching.”

She pondered a moment.

‟But then, the two societies are different with intolerance of a few creating grief for all. Humans tend to less tolerance than Drakes. If any of your kind thinks or looks different, the first thing the others want to do is declare a war on it.” Eva’s body trembled in revulsion. ‟Humans have more followers of death than they do of life.”

Jona sighed and looked down. Thinking of the times that he and his friends would throw rocks at statues or works of art depicting kindly acts just on the word of someone who said it was wrong.

‟Worry not, Jona. Those things that make you feel guilty are those actions of someone who does not know better. You will learn here.” Eva gave him a friendly bump. ‟You will learn that all things exist and create beauty. Even dragons.”

‟It’s your first year.” She glided over the waters of the big lake again, slowly. Jona could see the fish that swam under the surface, glistening like jewels. ‟You will find beauty in the most unexpected of places.”

Jona held on tight as Eva stroked hard into the air and gained altitude.

Beauty in the most unexpected of places. Jona found beauty in the wisdom.

The Red Witch’s Dragon (A short story about 3,000 words)

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The Red Witch’s Dragon

Smoke of the burning ships drifted across the hills.

They had come.

The warriors from the north and east to the verdant land. Of the people, even the Green Wizard had summed up his advice in one word.

Flee.

Even the Green Wizard had told the younger, more volatile Red Wizard of the west to leave the area. They could return to the land after the raiders had left.

The Red Witch and Wizard taught the artisans the ways to perform their own brand of magic on ingots of gold, silver, copper and other metals. As they traded for and wide for the raw materials that they brought back to the village, both the husband and wife of the mountain felt they owed the village the best protection they could do.

“The best protection, my son, is to lead them to safety.”

Safety from the Dubh-Gall. Ferocious warriors that the world had not before seen. They came out of the north in high prow-ships, rowing like madmen. Swift, unstoppable and terrifying. In another age and language they went by another name.

Viking.

****

“Move along! Quickly! The sooner we are through the hills…”

A scream echoed down the line of people. In the distance, the glint of steel shown through the forest.

They were coming.

“RUN! Drop everything that you are not wearing, carry the children and run!”

Oengus, the Red Wizard turned to his wife and they both knew what they had to do.

“Come with me.” The Red Wizard said to the most well armed of the men that did duty as the rear guard.

“Flank guard, come with me!” Assa the Red Witch said loudly. ignoring the irritated look from the Green Wizard as he herded the people through the gap.

Taking a group of adults to the rear, the plan quickly evolved to keep the Dubh-Gall from crossing the stream. They lined up in two rows, forming a giant V to keep the raiders from crossing the water ford and away from the escaping people.

The plan was to force the raiders to think they had broken through, only to cross at the deepest part of the stream where the swift waters flowed into a cataract.

****

Confident in their plan they deployed their under-armed and untrained warriors, painted the ruddy color of blood, they took finely forged weapons meant for trade and selling to princes and kings. This time, the people used the fine weapons to defend children, and those that could not defend themselves.

These were not soldiers, the was the leader, but the Wizard himself was no soldier.

Still, he had read the books of Alexander and Hannibal.

****

The rending of wood and metal upon flesh. The battle of the artisans against those of the raiders was decidedly one-sided.

Battle hardened from their many raids where the people ran like sheep. They were not ready for the she-wolf in red hair in the form of Assa, The Red Witch.

****

Their attack faltered as they surged forward against the raiders, the bright red hair and furious scream of a wild-eyed warrior woman bent on protecting those that have asked for it— fell.

Of all the things to happen to a person with arrows flying both directions, spears thrown and sharp instruments swung like scythes in the field.

Stepping sideways to dodge a swinging ax, she moved in front of a charging horse that killed the murderous berserker with its massive hooves and knocked her down in the process, stepping on her foot as it charged forward.

****

Two-hundred fifty paces from the front of the lines, she was not in the lead and her line began to falter.

Fighting and falling back, the line of home protectors, elders and the crazy aunt that everyone has, stood between the fleeing line of family and the bloodthirsty men from the sea.

In the clearing of bodies, Assa’s head bobbed up and down as she tried to make a splint out of a dropped battle club. Too far away, Oengus the Red saw his wife laying on the ground in harm’s way.

The line had moved away from her as his line was putting pressure on the raiders with archers and running battles.

But Assa was alone. Without a leader, her line began to fall back.

****

One-hundred fifty paces between her and the fighting line of death.

Arrows fell around her, the Wed Ritch without a weapon or tool, dragged herself to a broad shield dropped in the heat of battle and pulled it over her as three arrows hit nearby. Using it thick leather, wood and metal as an umbrella to protect her from the steel rain.

And the viking archers were finding her range.

Pulling the shield over her, broad as two men, an arrow struck the shield at a dangerous angle. This archer was spot on target and she was the bullseye.

Looking about, Oengus sought a volunteer to become a protector of his wife. Try as he might as they pushed towards where Assa was, the raiders were too strong and pushed back.

One-hundred twenty-five paces, the line grew closer to her. The defenders were retreating inexorably back, no one stopped to help her, they were all too busy fighting. Those that fell were on their own.

Such are the costs of war.

Oengus continued to search, but no one could break away, his own line unable to make headway.

****

Her line of defense was enough to keep safe the lives of the fleeing villagers that had moved out ahead of the landing of the high-prowed ships. Little did they realize that the well planned invasion had come in three parts, each raiding party had landed ten miles apart, north to south to cut off the refugees escape route.

One-hundred paces.

The line had to reform as the fighters fell back from a wedge attack the raiders had formed.

The vikings were trying to punch through the lines and nearly did so, but Nial had other plans, half his family had yet to cross the water ford and de was not about to let the line closest to them break and endanger the people he is trying to protect.

Failure was not an option for any of them.

****

Seventy-five paces away from Assa.

Looking about at the melee of furious fighting, Oengus saw his love and reason for living now only steps from capture, hiding under broad shield, even from here, Oengus could see that her left foot was not in the anatomic normal position. It was badly broken by the warhorse stepping on her, the pain would be excruciating. It was no small wonder that she had not cast some spell of hiding or concealment, the agony of her broken foot kept her from focusing.

****

Forty paces.

No one was able to take the time, everyone was defending to their utmost

Assa could see the individual hairs in the beard of the pig-tailed, pig nosed man who carried a sword nearly as long as he stood tall.

Two thin lines of defenders, one defender deep stood between her and death, like mighty trees standing against the storm. Screaming berserkers, by the twos and half-dozens, charged time and again against the smiths, tinkerers, carpenters and farmers, crashing like waves against stone. Steel upon steel and bronze upon leather, the screams of the dying and the momentary victorious sounded along the battle line, it all blended in an awful din.

Oengus knew that they could not keep up the defense, the archers left alive were running low on arrows. Youthful runners sprinted, some never returned, a small few returned bringing arrows in hand and in body before collapsing in death, giving the arrows that had pierced them as they had run. Each man bled to hold his line next to his brother or cousin. None of the villagers would give a willing inch to the biting axes and hissing arrows.

Their own archers gave the raiders something to respect. Time and again, even as their own had fallen to arrows that came in, they outdistanced the Viking archers with their long bows.

Thirty paces. The wounded men stood against the charging invaders of the land, like time and waves on rock, it was wearing them down.

Twenty-five paces.

The line retreated, but at a hideous cost to the men of the east, dozens fell with arrows jutting out of their eyes and stuck in their throats.

Twenty paces.

Oengus was in a panic, he needed a subject, someone who would willingly endure a temporary transformation and be the hero of the day.

No one!

Anyone?

None could turn to even engage the question. Everyone was committed to the battle.

****

Fifteen paces.

He was the wizard of harvest, he could bring a flood and storm. But here in the vale, they were all in the floodplain. He had one spell, ten-thousand spells for the same effect, ten-thousand ways to cast each one and he had to undo what he was about to do. Once done, anyone else would be hard pressed to cast a counterspell on changes he wrought with his words.

****

Ten paces.

Out of time. Oengus knew who would do the heroic deed. But the return would be so much longer than the first transformation.

Sliding his sword into the scabbard and dropping it against a tree. He readied himself for the power to flow and transform.

Oengus, Wizard of the Red Dragon of the Westland was ready.

He imaged in his mind his subject and began chanting the five-keys of spells in a specific pattern.

He awoke the land and called upon its power.

****

Assa the Red Witch of the Setting Sun, hid under the broad viking shield, dropped by a raider when her defenders surged forward out of the narrows where the water flowed, her ankle hurt so bad, she screamed when she moved it. Remaining still was not an option.

“Protect the Red!” The artisians yelled. A gravelly voice of the singularly talented smith in seven villages, he called himself “The Smite”, bellowed that no one would be allowed to take the Red Witch.

“Gather her! Pick her up and take her away!” As his great hammer inverted yet another Norse shield into the unfortunate wielder.

But no one came.

She was alone. In a sea of friends and family, of those she had healed, the only help could be had were those that were fighting to protect her untenable place under the broad disk of bronze and iron.

Using a sprig of a spice she dug from the ground, Assa chewed on it for the narcotic, albeit minimal, effect it had.

She needed greater magic than she had with her, her bag, torn from her body by Ulain and his bronze-armored steed when she was ran over by the thundering hooves that stepped on her ankle.

“HERE! Assa!” It was Ulain’s son with the armored horse holding out his hand whilst holding onto the reigns of the angry warhorse with the other.

They were in a semi-circle of a path, a lane really, two rows of fighters, archers on one side shooting between the ranks of the defenders on the other, into the bodies and heads of the raiders that surged to drive the villagers into the water.

It was the plan all along, to draw the heavily armored invaders into a white water grave in the rapids, but with the falling of their leader, she now needed more protection than any of them.

A loud sound, like that of a gong, sounded loud and the great black horse fell, Ulain was gone, Assa did not know if Ulain died somewhere or unhorsed and was fighting on foot. His son now lay crushed under the horse that had an embossed mark like a hammer on the side of the horse-helmet, struggled.

Assa could feel the horse remained alive, but instead of shifting emotions and feelings of the animal, it was a soft blur, the horse was unconscious.

****

Then Assa spied an object that made her heart leap for hope— Her medicine bag, lost in the early part of the fighting. In it she could heal a broken ankle in moments, give strength to the fighters defending their homes and heal herself.

Now she needed Oengus and he was a thousand paces away and the killers of women and children were…

****

Ten paces.

The villagers would shove and battle, gaining ten steps and be driven back eleven.

If viewed from above, the line moved as a snake, writhing, biting, killing— pain.

Her bag, was fifteen paces behind her, she struggled towards it, putting distance between herself and the inexorable retreat of the line to the river.

An ax banged against the shield and bounced away.

The battle was twelve paces distant. She was getting hit with debris that flew about during battles.

A blast of wind blew her bag towards her hand, almost into her grip, but paused.

Not waiting, she lunged and grabbed the soft leather and pulled it under her makeshift roof.

Focusing as she pulled out a stone, spit on it — which was a challenge as her mouth was dry — she only needed a little moisture to have the powder stick to the stone.

And … A sound that grew louder…

The battle seemed different.

Sounds of the rage of war had changed, becoming screams of fear.

Lifting up the shield that was her savior several times in the last few minutes, she saw what looked like ruby-red tree trunks just to the battle side.

It was…

A dragon!

****

The roar of the furies combined with the sound of a thousand storms were no match for ruby-red dragons voice.

The roar echoed off the distant mountains and rolled back along the battle line.

Although in legend and by fire they bragged about being brave, but on this day, the raiders had a collective loss of bladder control at once… Then ran.

Snarling with fury the great dragon launched itself against the fleeing hoard and continued to roar and snarl as they dropped weapons to run faster. The raiders of the lands did not feel they had to outrun the dragon, just the man next to him.

Sure victory had become a race of retreat to the boats.

In legends down time, the people told and re-told the story that the roars of the dragon echoed in the hills around the vale for three days after the battle.

Those raiders fallen  behind were left by their brothers, the Dubh-Gall that fought and drove the farthest inland were now the most far behind when the running began,  finding themselves abandoned by the hoard of now frightened men who sailed away on the ships they arrived in. The abandoned warriors settled peacefully, never wishing to draw the ire of the red dragon of the west ever again.

In the vale, where the villagers returned, blood that had seeped into the ground from the defenders that would give their lives for the loved one named Assa that taught them all how to live, love and laugh.

In the days that followed, leaders looked for Oengus. After weeks of searching, finally identified him by his medallion of a Red Dragon hanging around his neck. No help could be rendered in by any artesian or even the great Green Wizard of the east.

Oengus had changed himself into the dragon, but unable to speak any human tongue in his condition, no one knew the spell he performed.

Finn of the White Water, where he lived on the river, was able to perform the mathematics to figure out the time needed to change Oengus back to his normal self.

One-hundred million ways to cast the spell, each one taking a half-minute to recite in a rush without mistakes.

Assa would age, pass, then be dead and gone if she had to go to the end and try every spell to get her husband back.

Such was the price of a hero.

He won the respect of every day the villagers lived in peace, but had no part in the celebration, he could never know the hugs of the children that he saved.

For dragons live forever, men and women do not.

Even witches and wizards.

In the decades that followed, if one stopped and listened in the far end of the vale, one could hear the red witch yelling at her husband, calling him names for using a spell that no one could reproduce.

****

Early one fine spring day, about two years after the battle, Granuaile walked to the mountain of the dragon and announced herself.

The Red Witch, always enjoying company, yelled at the husband.

Once they called her Assa, the Red. The Gentle Red Witch.

Now, she called herself Nessa, meaning “Ungentle”, she became Nessa the Red, the Warrior Witch of the Westland.

“Dragon! Show yourself! It is the girl from the village.”

Pointing to the vale, Granuaile told them of the trees that the Green Wizard had planted.

“Come see. A monument to the day you saved us all.” With that she ran off down the path, waving at the Red Witch.

In the lane, near the ford, trees now lined the path that followed where the dragon had stood and walked until the fighters and defenders that held their ground in defense of the Red Witch of the Mountain, was safe.

In the times that followed, the stream silted up and moved, the ford became a meadow, but the trees remained. When they died or fell, there were people of the land to replant the trees, eventually becoming giants, growing over the path with a protective canopy along the section where once stood a dragon that was a man who gave his life as a human to protect the jewel of his heart.

In time the vikings would return, forgetting the Red Dragon that lived in the Westland.

They would not forget for long.