A Night in the Woods
It was the first of November and following a long evening of haunting human beings on Halloween night, the various demons, ghouls, witches, and monsters sat in the deep, dark woods, huddled together in front of a crackling bonfire. This was an annual tradition of theirs -- a chance for them to unwind after all their hard work and dedication. Some of the little monster children wandered off a ways, and the werewolf warned:
“Beware, little ones, I saw a princess riding a unicorn in yonder forest. She was being escorted by a handsome knight in shining armor, too.”
The children shrieked, their eyes wide with terror, and quickly scampered into the comforting arms of their hideous mothers.
The witch directed a reproachful glare at the werewolf, and hissed, “Don’t frighten the children like that. Speak to them of nice things like savage cannibals, or bloody beheadings, or deadly plagues and such.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” asked the corpse, wriggling itself out of a freshly dug grave. “I thought that exchanging spooky stories in front of a bonfire was standard practice?”
“Indeed,” agreed the vampire, sipping blood from a flask he had brought with him from his castle in Transylvania. “The little ghouls must learn how to be dreadful. Last night, I saw your child, Witch, shrink away from a drooling baby costumed as Mary’s little lamb. It was a disgrace, I tell you. Let the mummy tell the spooky stories -- he’s the best storyteller we have. It’s for the good of the children...”
“Yes, let the mummy tell us a story,” pleaded the grotesque little rotten ones.
“I will,” nodded the mummy, rewrapping his loose bandages by the light of a silvery full moon. “Listen carefully, children... it all began on a clear, sunny day --”
“Eww!” the ghastly children cried.
“Hush,” their mothers reprimanded. “No rude interruptions.”
“The sky was so blue, and the puffy clouds looked like cotton candy --”
“I think I’m gonna vomit,” groaned a little skeleton boy. “Oh, wait... I forgot that I don’t have a stomach.”
“Dozens of beautiful human girls and boys with bouncing golden curls frolicked in the meadow collecting fragrant wildflowers. Adorable birds chirped from their nests, and the warm sunshine bathed everything in light...”
“No, not light!” Screeched a young banshee. “Anything but light!”
“Soon a lovely princess riding the most gleaming white unicorn ever born trotted into the meadow and delivered the darling youngsters a basket full of the most delicious red apples...”
“Were they rotten apples?”
“Not rotten in the least.”
“No worms, or bruises?”
“None whatsoever. The apples were ripe and juicy, and... and...”
“And what?” the young ghouls cried out in unison.
“And the princess is coming up behind you right now!” the mummy shouted, pointing to the woods beyond the little monsters.
“Egads!” they whimpered, before bolting off in opposite directions.
The mummy laughed, but their hideous mothers were not impressed. “You’ve gone and frightened them. Now we must track them down, and that can take hours.”
“They’ll be fine,” said the elder zombie. “The experience will be good for them in the long run.”
“But the mummy did not have to make the story so horrid,” the witch protested. “Couldn’t he tell them a cute, soothing tale -- like the time Joan of Arc was burned alive at the stake?”
Soon, the first signs of the sun’s rays began to lighten the sky. The monsters would have to depart, shortly, before daybreak turned most of them into heaping piles of ash.
“Well, I must be off,” the vampire bid farewell to all. “See you next October 31st.”
“Yes,” the mummy added. “We need to wrap things up. Get it? Wrap things up.”
All the other ghouls grumbled and rolled their decaying eyes for none of them were overly fond of puns.
Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall
Humpty Dumpty woke up one morning in the merriest of moods. Today was the first day of fall -- his absolute favorite season, and the egghead had planned several fun activities to celebrate. First thing was first, Humpty Dumpty hurried to get dressed, pulling his comfy fleece sweater over his head. It was difficult work, but he managed somehow. When he had finished his breakfast, he shoved his hands in his pockets and enjoyed a lengthy stroll in the autumn sunlight, observing the vibrant coloration of the foliage all around him.
Later that day, Humpty Dumpty hopped into his car and drove to the This Little Piggy farmer’s market. There, he selected the biggest, roundest, orangest pumpkin he could find. The oversized squash was so cumbersome, Mr. Dumpty was forced to carefully roll the whole thing back to his vehicle. When he arrived home late in the afternoon, he spread out some of yesterday’s newspapers on his kitchen table and carved the spookiest pumpkin anyone in Mother Gooseville had ever seen.
After the pumpkin had been set on his front porch for all to see, Humpty Dumpty grabbed a ladder and dragged it to his backyard where a large apple tree grew tall and sturdy. Apple picking was one of Mr. Dumpty’s favorite hobbies, and when he had collected a whole barrel full of the reddest, juiciest fruits, he whipped up a batch of his famous homemade apple sauce. He didn’t forget to fill a mason jar with a generous helping of the spiced apple sauce for his neighbor and dear friend, Jack Benimble.
As the day was drawing to a close, Humpty Dumpty felt a wee bit tired, but was in all, extremely satisfied. He pulled a much-cherished novel off his bookshelf and settled down to read by the roaring fireside. Snuggling into his plush armchair, he sighed in contentment. Yes, indeed, Humpty Dumpty had had a great fall.
What’s the Word?
Prince Eric’s overworked brain just barely registered that his name had been called at all, as he sat hunched over the desk in his private study. Shuffling some papers around, he picked up a pen and signed the bottom of a particularly important document. Unfortunately for the soon-to-be king, the pen exploded in his grip just as he scratched the final letter of his name—a generous blob of black ink pooled on the page in front of him. The document was ruined, no question. The papers would have to be drawn up again—an unwelcome and time-consuming task.
“Great,” Eric griped, using a handkerchief to wipe the excess ink from his hand and fingers. “This is gonna stain.”
He haphazardly tossed the soiled handkerchief aside, and the square-shaped cloth hung limply off the corner of his solid mahogany desk.
“Hmm?” the prince grunted, finally acknowledging his new bride who sat patiently in the study waiting for him to finish his royal duties for the night.
“Huh?” Eric looked up, this time, to see Ariel seated in a plush armchair overlooking the fireplace. From his vantage point behind the desk, he could only gaze at her profile, but he could tell that her features were twisted in a profound concentration. The gears in that wonderful brain of hers—under that shock of voluminous red hair—were quite obviously turning, and Eric thought her completely adorable.
“What’s fire?” repeated Ariel, stretching her hands toward the flickering flames in the hearth.
“It’s heat and light,” Eric answered plainly, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.
“But how do you make it?” Ariel persisted. “When we entered the study earlier you struck a... a... what’s the word?”
“Oh, right... a match. Then, you tossed it in the fireplace and the logs caught flame.”
“How did you do that? Do humans wield magic, too? Like Daddy? Like Ursula?”
“No, it’s a chemical reaction.”
“Is this related to more of that... what’s the word? That science stuff you’re always talking about?”
“Yes, that’s right—chemistry, in this instance.”
“But... why does it—what’s the word—burn?”
“Fire occurs when a flammable material, in combination with an oxidizer, is exposed to a heat source—” Eric automatically began rattling off what he remembered from his lessons during his schoolboy days, but stopped abruptly when he noticed Ariel staring at him quizzically. ”—It’s... it’s a chain reaction.”
“I still don’t understand,” Ariel groaned, grabbing fist-fulls of her wild, flowing hair. “I feel so incredibly stupid since becoming a human bean—”
″—Being, darling, a human being.”
“Interesting. Daddy just called all people barbarians... or fish-eaters...”
“Well, now, that’s somewhat offensive. A fair number of us are vegetarian.”
Naturally, some other folks were strictly pescetarian, but he wasn’t dumb enough to tip her off about that. He had already banned all fish dinners from the palace out of due respect for his bride’s unconventional origins... what more could the prince possibly do?
“Human being, is it?” Ariel queried.
“Are you sure?”
“That settles it, then. I just barely comprehend how anything works here on land. I’m just... dense, that’s what it is.”
“You’re not stupid,” Eric assured, before rising from his seat and strolling over to her. “These concepts take time to learn. Most people amass their body of knowledge over a lifetime... as they grow from a baby to a child, to an adult—you’re doing it all at once! So... no, darling, you’re not stupid. Please, don’t sell yourself short—I won’t stand for it.”
At about this moment, Max padded into the room and dropped a slobbery rubber ball at Ariel’s feet. She giggled, and apparently not the slightest bit bothered by the copious amount of saliva that coated the toy, picked up the ball, and gave it a hard toss. The ball sailed out the open door, and Max—a massive fur-ball on four legs—bounded after it, barking happily.
“He’s a good dog.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a man telling his wife that she’s unearthly beautiful, is there?”
“No, but we weren’t talking about—”
Eric suddenly grabbed Ariel by the hand, pulling her from the armchair, and planted a kiss square on the lips. She didn’t miss a beat, however, and threw her arms around his neck, matching his kiss in perfect rhythm.
“How’s about a quick science experiment?” Eric asked when they finally parted.
“You wish to know how fire burns. Is that right?”
Ariel nodded vigorously, her big blue eyes twinkling at him.
“Um...” Eric ran his fingers through his thick hair. “Ah. Okay, here.”
The prince snatched a silver candlestick from its spot on the mantle, dramatically plunked it on his desk, and rhymed, “Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick.” Then he reached into a side drawer and pulled out a box of matches.
“Who’s Jack? Is he a friend of yours?”
“Uh, never mind that for now, but we will certainly have to carve out some time to read nursery rhymes together. All right, back to the experiment.” Eric looked up at her as he struck the match, “Fire requires three ingredients, if you will, to burn: oxygen, fuel, and heat. You learned fire is hot the hard way, didn’t you?”
With a frown, Ariel looked down at her pointer finger. “Yes, and it still hurts just thinking about it.”
Eric chuckled, “I warned you not to poke around near the fireplace.”
“Yes, you did... but I was far too stubborn to listen to your sage advice.”
Here he paused to light the candle’s wick and then blew out the match. Ariel was hanging on his every last word, and Eric reveled in her rapt attention.
“Fire is a result of a chemical reaction—that’s called combustion. Notice how the wax melts and gets smaller? Once something’s been burned, it can’t ever be un-burned. It’s forever altered, chemically.”
“It’s so beautiful and captivating,” Ariel said, admiring the dancing orange flame.
“It’s also dangerous,” Eric cautioned seriously. “But to put out a fire, you simply remove at least one of the ingredients—then it can’t burn. Do you remember the three ingredients?”
“Oxygen, fuel, and heat.”
“Precisely! That’s my girl!” Eric grinned, proudly. “We’re going to remove the oxygen.”
Eric moved back to the mantle where a small, but stately, golden clock rested nobly underneath a glass dome. He carefully lifted the glass from its wooden base and returned to where his wife stood eagerly waiting by the desk. Slowly, steadily, the prince covered the flickering candle with the borrowed dome. Gradually, the flame began to die down, until finally, the light was snuffed out completely, and only thin wisps of smoke remained swirling around the candle.
“See? Once its air supply was cut off, the fire ceased burning altogether.”
“Wow, that was amazing! You’re so smart, Eric.”
“Aw,” Eric felt his cheeks flush slightly, “I’m no more intelligent than the average man.”
“Just accept the compliment, mister,” Ariel poked him in the chest.
“Yes, ma’am, if you insist.”
Ariel kissed his cheek.
“So, that’s why fire burns. Are you satisfied? Is your curiosity satiated? Has your never-ending thirst for knowledge been quenched?”
“I’m glad to know what’s a fire, and why it burns... but...”
“You never explained how the match catches fire, in the first place.”
Eric ran his hand along the side of his face. He would never finish his paperwork at this rate—he was going to hear about it from Grimsby, that much was certain.
“Well, when you strike a match against the rough strip on its box, that creates friction... and friction creates heat. Rub your hands together, Ariel—that’s friction.”
Ariel rubbed her palms together a few times, then asked, “But what’s the fuel source? You said fire needs fuel to burn.”
Eric laughed, “That’s right! And here you were thinking you were dim-witted... the end of the match is coated in some kind of combustible substance, like sulfur or phosphorus, sometimes powdered glass... the particularities aren’t important.”
Ariel smiled at him, “Thank you for always making time to teach me. I know it must be a tedious undertaking, but you’re always so kind and patient... and loving.”
“I’m here for you anytime. Do you have any further questions about our impromptu science experiment?”
“No, you’ve answered all my questions thoroughly. I feel like I’m up to speed.”
Eric chuckled, “That’s all right. Somehow, I suspect you’ll have another whole list of questions for me tomorrow.”
The young prince took her in his arms and kissed her again. He truly loved this woman. She was beautiful and bold, and inquisitive, and the fact that he occasionally had to stop everything to explain seemingly the most mundane aspects of humanity—was a minor inconvenience, when he considered the trade-off. It was all worthwhile if he could be withAriel always.
Eric scooped Ariel up, bridal style, and she squealed with laughter.
“Ready for bed?”
“It’s still early. I’m not at all tired.”
“There’s no law that says beds are for sleeping, only, you know.” Eric wiggled his dark eyebrows suggestively.
“But you haven’t finished your paperwork... and you said it was of the utmost importance.”
“Oh, well. Who cares?
″Grimsby cares—you’re going to get an ear-full from him at breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“Then I’ll deal with that tomorrow. I’ll simply tell him: ‘Grim, I’m the prince and future king—I’ll decide when and if I do any tiresome paperwork!’ ”
“Oh, I’m sure your approach will go over splendidly.”
“Grimsby can’t boss me around, the old dinosaur...”
“Dinosaur, am I?”
Ariel gasped at Grimsby’s unexpected entrance, and Eric, caught quite by surprise, accidentally let Ariel fall from his arms.
“Oh. Sorry, darling,” Eric stooped to help his wife back to her feet. “So, Grim, I—”
″—Your paperwork isn’t completed, I take it, Eric.”
“Not in its entirety...” the prince admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck with his ink-stained hand.
Grimbsy glared sternly at the prince, which caused Eric to shrink back in guilt and embarassment. Sir Grimsby’s frame was pin-straight, his suit wrinkle-free, and his shoulder-length gray hair was pulled back neatly and tied with a single silk ribbon. In short, the gentleman’s whole countenance conveyed an utter lack of amusement.
“I left you to review those documents hours ago. You have had ample time to accomplish this uncomplicated task. Eric, you are to be King within the next year. You must begin taking your royal responsibilities all the more seriously.”
“Please, Grim...” Eric complained through gritted teeth, “not in front of my wife... you’re making me look incompetent.”
“You’re absolutely correct, Eric,” Grimsby replied.
“Indeed. Rather than bore the young lady here, I’ll escort her on a leisurely evening stroll through the palace gardens. You, in the meantime, can remain in this very room until all your work has been finished—and by that I mean—every i dotted. Every t crossed. Every last page dated and adorned with your royal signature, do you understand?”
“Yes, of course, Grim.”
“Very well then... with that, I shall bid you adieu, Your Highness, as it appears you are going to be burning the midnight oil, so to speak.” His demeanor changing suddenly, Grimsby turned to the princess and cooed affectionately, “Come along, my dear, the gardens are lovely this time of night—I’m quite partial to the yellow variety of roses, myself. Did you know that the yellow rose symbolizes friendship and happiness?”
“Why, no, I didn’t. How fascinating...”
“If we’re lucky, Miss Ariel, we just might catch a glimpse of that sprightly little nightingale that has made its nest in the old knobby tree, near the hedge maze.”
“That does sound delightful...”
Speechless, Eric watched as the older gentleman, his cherished friend, left the study while leading his precious Ariel away gently by the arm. He stood there frozen in place for a minute or two, then flexed his jaw a repeatedly. Grumbling, the prince ambled over to his desk once more and hunkered down to finally finish what he had set out to do originally. If only paperwork weren’t so menial, and dull, and long-drawn-out...
Feeling supremely defeated, Eric grabbed hold of his pen and sighed with dejection, “This—what’s the word?—bites.”
There was an unusual lull at sea today, and Prince Dylan leaned his elbow against the Triton’s railing, lazily watching the dead-calm sea below. The afternoon sun shone unobscured on the sea, which caused the water to take on the glittering appearance of a solid sheet of uncut glass. They were caught in the doldrums, unfortunately, and the young prince knew the ship was not going to move anytime soon -- until the winds picked up again. Dylan sighed listlessly; when he first decided to join the Royal Navy for one tour, earlier this past spring, he never dreamed life at sea could prove so monotonous at times.
Poor Dylan, caught completely unawares, was startled from his thoughts when he heard a sharp cry:
Immediately, Dylan turned round and saluted, only to see the pin-straight frame of Captain Samuel Bennett appear on deck, his arms tucked neatly behind his back, his uniform crisp and pristine. Now, Sam was a close personal friend of his mother, the Queen -- Sam was practically family, essentially a second father to Dylan -- but at sea... the captain was business as usual, and a well known sundowner to boot.
Dylan gulped, as Sam’s piercing blue eyes seemed to zero in on him. His fears were confirmed, when Sam slowly began stalking directly toward the young prince. As the captain finally reached Dylan, he stretched out his hand and brushed some specks of dirt off the boy’s uniform shoulder -- his expression conveyed an unmistakably profound disappointment.
“You look bored, Ensign. Can’t seem to find something productive to do instead of skylarking?”
“Oh, Sam --”
“It’s Captain here aboard the Triton.”
“What’s your assignment today?”
“Splicing rope, sir.”
The captain nodded, “Then haul your ass down to the Bo’sn’s locker, you bilge rat. Make yourself useful, and remember, you aren’t a prince here, Ensign. You wouldn’t rather be scrubbing the poop deck, or scraping barnacles, would you?”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Jesus Christ, thought Dylan. Sam’s demeanor at sea was markedly different than his behavior back at home. The cocky, fun-loving, trouble-making prankster he had grown to love over the first sixteen years of his life had completely disappeared, and instead, standing before him, was this stoic, humorless disciplinarian. The prince resolved that it would be decidedly imprudent to press his luck any further, so he’d better hurry below deck right away. However, before he could comply with his captain’s strict order, Dylan was distracted by a another loud call -- this time from high above in the Crow’s Nest:
“Ahoy! There’s something in the water!”
Suddenly, the entire ship rocked with savage violence, leaning heavily toward the port side. Dylan craned his neck over the railing just in time to catch a glimpse of a massive shadow glide underneath them. The Triton shook again, this time teetering perilously starboard.
“Sea monster!” Someone hollered, and chaos descended upon the vessel.
Just a paltry few yards ahead of the bowsprit, a formidable water dragon reared its ugly head, rising from the sea.
The beast was easily fifty feet in length, and its colossal mouth was opened wide, displaying an array of razor sharp, dagger shaped teeth. Two horns rested menacingly atop its head, which was set off by a large frill protruding from its thick neck. Armor-like scales in iridescent hues of various blues, greens, and purples covered its whole body. The dragon roared and hissed as it circled their ship. Where had his monster come from so suddenly, and how were they supposed to escape from this unexpected threat?
The crew stood in stunned silence for just a moment, before the beast helped itself to a generous piece of the bowsprit, spitting out jagged shards of splintered wood. After that, all hell broke loose, and the sailors began running amok and screaming wildly.
“All hands on deck! To your battle stations, men!” the captain cried over the confused din of the panicked sailors, and most of the crewmen sprang into action.
Temporarily immobilized from shock, Dylan remained with his feet firmly rooted to the deck, but Sam roughly seized him by the arm, and dragged the prince over to help man the waiting swing guns.
The dragon submerged again, and Dylan, perhaps naively, thought that the beast possibly decided the Triton and her crew weren’t worth the trouble, and swam off. However, the dragon soon resurfaced, practically directly in front of Dylan’s face. The sea monster stared at him with enormous, feral, red eyes; its pupils were two large black slits. It blinked, and the prince realized it possessed two sets of eyelids -- one being a sort of transparent film that protected its hellish eyes. The beast never seemed to shift its imposing gaze away from Dylan, and gradually, the young prince was overcome by a sudden realization.
“Wyrm?” Dylan whispered in disbelief, tentatively reaching out his hand.
“What the hell, Dylan?” shrieked Sam.
That’s when the first cannon was fired. The heavy cannonball missed its mark, however, and sailed clear over the dragon’s head, landing with a loud splash some ways beyond the monster. The beast, apparently, did not take kindly to this, and roared mightily -- before charging at the Triton. The crew immediately defended her, firing a volley of cannons at the dragon. In response, the creature quickly submerged once more, and disappeared somewhere beneath the ship.
“Stay alert, men.”
Dylan looked over his shoulder, and forgetting the respectful address of ‘captain’, he began, “Sam --”
The dragon soon launched out of the water, its long, tapering, ribbony body twisting acrobatically in the air. It landed with a great splash, drenching the crew with cold salt water, as they stood tensely on deck. The creature was swimming broadside of the Triton now, and Dylan was certain that Captain Bennett was fully prepared to defend his ship.
“Fire!” Sam ordered.
“No, wait --”
Yet another volley was launched against the monster, but seemingly undeterred, it continued circling the ship for some time, until it finally reared almost its full length directly afore the bow.
“Ready, men? Fi --”
“Hold fire!” Dylan shouted over the captain’s command.
“What?” Sam questioned angrily, his eyes narrowing.
“Please, Sam -- I mean, Captain -- trust me.”
“All right,” the captain groaned in concession. “Hold your fire!”
Slowly, Dylan advanced to the front of the ship, attempting to approach his old friend, Wyrm, as gently as possible. Sam, of course, was right behind him when the prince carefully stepped on the prow with the intention of getting as close to the dragon as personal safety and common sense would permit.
“Hey, buddy, it’s me -- Dylan.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Quiet, Sam. Use soft, gentle, calming tones, please,” Dylan warned, never taking his eyes off Wyrm for even a minute. It had been over two years since the last time he had seen Wyrm -- the dragon was likely unpredictable -- and the prince wasn’t taking any chances.
“Come on, boy, you remember me.”
Dylan slowly, and deliberately held out his arm toward the beast. It snorted a puff of hot steam at him, and viciously snapped its serrated teeth. The prince hastily drew back his hand, and thoroughly inspected his fingers -- thankfully, all of his digits remained perfectly intact.
“Dylan, have you lost your mind?” the captain erupted, raising his voice.
“Please, we’re using soft, gentle tones... remember? I’m trying to soothe a savage beast, here.”
“Unbelievable. You're risking your life!”
"Aw, don't worry, he won't hurt me... probably... maybe... hopefully..."
"This feels ill-advised."
"I know what I'm doing."
"If the Queen catches wind of this, she will positively skewer me."
"Wyrm," demanded Dylan, "Look at me, Wyrm."
"You seem personally acquainted with this beast."
“Come on, Wyrm,” the prince tutted at the monster, “remember that chat we had, previously, about not harassing any passing ships?”
Wyrm only snorted an even larger puff of hot steam from its nostrils; so far, their fraught situation did not appear promising.
“Does that thing breathe fire?”
“What a ridiculous question! Of course water dragons don’t breathe fire.”
“Wyrm expels scalding hot jets of water from two tube-like structures lining either side of his throat.”
“How comforting. Why can’t I blast this monster into oblivion?”
“He’s not a monster... he’s Wyrm... and we sort of raised him.”
“We? Who’s we?”
“Me and Cordelia, and --”
“My daughter! You dragged Abri into this?”
“Sam, lower your voice.”
“It’s Captain, and don’t order me --”
Unexpectedly, Wyrm spat out two long jets of that scalding water the prince had just warned Captain Bennett about, and the super-heated water unceremoniously seared a gaping hole straight through the middle of the foresail.
“No! Bad! Bad dragon!” Dylan chastised, clicking his tongue. "Do you see, Sam? I am doing my damnedest to diffuse this unfavorable situation, and now you've gone and set him off!"
"I beg your pardon?"
Then the prince snapped his fingers loudly at Wyrm, as if he could command the dragon’s undivided attention. “Down, boy, down.”
“When did you kids find the time to raise a sea dragon?”
“We found Wyrm half dead on the beach near the palace. We were about twelve at the time -- well, okay, Abri was elevenish... but you get the idea. Wyrm was only a little thing then -- he could fit in the palm of my hand -- initially, we thought he was just an ordinary lizard. We fed him worms we dug up from the palace gardens... that’s how he got his name.”
“Where did you keep it?”
“At first he lived quite happily in a glass tank in Abri’s room, you know, along with her collection of all the other creepy crawlers she holds so dear.”
“Are you seriously telling me that a dragon lived under your mother’s roof, and none of us knew? None of us knew absolutely anything about it? Not me. Not the Queen. Not your landlubber father --”
Dylan shrugged, “In our childish innocence, we truly believed he was an injured lizard, though we kind of figured out he was a dragon when we realized how rapidly he grew. Eventually, we moved him into one of the caves cut into the cliffs along the beach, but in our defense, he was a whole lot smaller the last time we saw Wyrm -- when we released him into the sea, about two years ago. Say, remember Rex?”
“Your Old English Sheepdog, yes.”
“Wyrm ate him.”
“We all assumed the dog simply ran away.”
“Nope. I found Rex’s collar in the cave Wyrm lived in. I found some fur and blood, too. It was a grim scene to stumble upon, for sure. Never told the girls about it, though. Didn’t want to upset them.”
Just then, Wyrm rose even higher into the air, and plucked poor unsuspecting Stanley from his post in the Crow’s Nest. Stanley dangled helplessly by one leg, screaming for his life, as Wyrm mercilessly shook the unfortunate sailor from side to side.
“No!” Dylan roared and stomped his foot as loudly as he could. “Put him back. Deep sea fishing only, Wyrm. Large squids and porpoises... and other creatures like that. No people. No ships. Got it?”
Wyrm snorted another puff of hot steam, but the beast relented and dropped the clearly shaken sailor back in the Crow’s Nest. Stanley, surely wishing to place as much distance between him and the dragon as possible, desperately scrambled down the shrouds, and quickly retreated to the stern of the ship.
“It’s time to go now, Wyrm. Dive deep. And remember... stay away from ships from now on.”
Wyrm blinked its large red eyes at the prince, but finally plunged back into the sea. The dragon’s powerful, rudder shaped tail was the last to vanish into the depths.
“You have some explaining to do, Ensign.”
Dylan simply turned, grimaced, and asked, ”Are you going to record all this in the Captain’s Log?”
“And let your mother know I allowed you to have a dangerous standoff with a sea monster? Hell no!”
“How are you going to write off the damage to the bowsprit and foresail?”
“I’ll have to think about it.”
Dylan opened his mouth to reply, but yet another cry from the crew suddenly cut through the still, salty air:
“Ahoy! Pirates! Two points abaft the beam, starboard side!”
“Mother of --” cursed Captain Bennett. “Today is not my day. Back to the battle stations, men! Look alive! Be ready for a fight! Goddamn pirates...”
“At least you can blame the damage to the Triton on the pirates, now.”
“Good thinking, Ensign.”
“Well, you’re late turning in tonight, Your Majesty.”
Melody glared at her husband who displayed his back to her as he undressed for bed.
“Please, try not to be angry with me, my love. Although I promised to retire by eight, it’s now only ten thirty.” Lance said, shrugging off his jacket, and hanging it neatly in the wardrobe. “I wanted to get a head start on that ungodly stack of paperwork steadily piling up in my office. Which, let me assure you, has proven a mammoth undertaking thus far. Not to mention, I needed to prepare for that conference this upcoming Thursday. Melody, darling, you have to understand that a king’s work is never done.”
“I understand that I work as hard as you do. Do you think I simply laze around on my royal bottom all day long?”
“No, no, I don’t. I never meant to imply — ”
“Do I not run a tight enough ship, in your opinion? Do you feel this palace could run so impeccably smooth without me at the helm?”
“No, no, of course not.”
“The only difference is that I complete all of my duties within reasonable working hours. Whatever is left over can be easily dealt with the next day. You, however, are often still working into the wee small hours of the morning. You are a workaholic, Lance Manelin, and that’s a problem!”
Melody punctuated her impassioned outburst by unceremoniously chucking a pillow at the back of her husband’s head.
Pivoting to face her, Lance remarked, “You are a perfect child.”
“Do I look like a child?”
Having said that, Melody untied her robe and let it slip to the bedroom floor, revealing a seriously sexy little number.
Clad in nothing but thin, black lace, the queen stood as tall as she possibly could, her chest heaving in defiance.
″Wow. What’s the occasion?”
“Looks like you’ve forgotten our anniversary.”
“Ha ha, Melody, but my memory is not so faulty you can hoodwink me by using that tired line. We were married in the month of July, and celebrated nineteen years of wedded bliss almost two full months ago. Now, I’ll ask you again, what’s the occasion for that tantalizing ensemble?”
“There’s no particular occasion... other than to show that I love you. However, since you couldn’t deign to keep our appointment, I am no longer in the mood.”
“I’m here now,” Lance muttered, stripping off his button down vest and draping the garment over the back of a sturdy chair.
The queen shrugged, causing the strap of her négligée to slide off her shoulder, and Lance stared for a moment, entranced. His eyes traveled down the length of her body and then roamed back up again. Then, he unconsciously licked his lips twice before swallowing a hard lump that had formed in his throat.
“Are you coming to bed now, Lance?” Melody cooed, holding her hand out to him.
Lance nodded slowly, reaching for his wife with one hand, while loosening his suffocating necktie with the other. They kissed, immediately falling to the bed, and Lance rolled her body underneath his — their lips never once parting.
“Can you believe Karah is leaving for the university at the beginning of next week?” Melody asked, abruptly pushing Lance away from her.
“Can you believe that Karah is leaving for the university at the beginning of next week?”
“I heard you loud and clear the first time. It’s just... let’s talk about that later.”
The king hurriedly kissed his queen again, but his efforts went unrewarded when Melody shoved him away once more.
“No, we’ll talk now.”
“You’re killing me,” Lance growled, tilting his head back in defeat.
“Oh?” Melody tapped him on the nose. “Do you think I would give myself to you so easily, when you kept me waiting half the night? Let that be a lesson to you, Your Majesty.”
“Oh, fine — and you know I hate it when you use my title.” Lance sat up, leaned his back against the headboard, and crossed his arms grumpily.
“You’re not excited for Karah? She’s attending our beloved alma mater.”
“I can tell you this much — I’m not excited about all the prospective boys she’ll meet there.”
“That’s where we met.”
“I know. How can I ever forget? You were so gorgeous. Even after all these years, you are still so incredibly beautiful.” Lance paused to kiss her gently on the neck.
“Are you attempting to butter me up?”
“I’m trying my damnedest to seduce you. Is it working?”
“Hmmm,” he groaned in disappointment, raking his fingers through his hair.
“I don’t think you have to worry much about Karah, dear. We raised her responsibly, and as a result, she has matured into an intelligent, dependable young woman. Also, I’m sure the young men who attend the university are of excellent caliber, both morally and academically.”
“Oh, really?” Lance laughed incredulously, his green eyes narrowing, “Let’s reminisce on our college days, Mel. Would you feel comfortable if our daughter were to engage in some of the same shenanigans that we did when we were young? I’m telling you, some of our behavior was... inappropriate.”
“Well, that’s true, but we managed to save ourselves for our wedding night.”
“We were hardly that bad.”
“Yes, we were that bad. Maybe even worse than you care to remember. We used to frequent the library archives, located in the basement. Practically no one ever ventured down there, the place was very dimly lit, and we spent an indecent amount of time by ourselves — decidedly not studying. Honestly, Mel, you must remember that. God knows I’ll never forget.”
“What I do remember is the first time I saw you,” Melody nudged him slightly with her elbow. “You were sitting alone at a desk on the second floor of the library. You looked so handsome and striking, lost in thought and twirling a pen between your fingers. I didn’t know who you were at the time, and I couldn’t muster the nerve to actually broach a conversation... So, I ducked behind a bookshelf and spied on you for minutes until you finally packed up your books and left.”
“Perhaps that was the first time you saw me, but that wasn’t the first time I saw you. Do you recall?”
“Refresh my memory, why don’t you?”
“All right,” Lance pecked her lips softly. “Let me paint the scene. I was leaning against that brick wall in the main courtyard — I was with Gabriel, actually. It had just finished raining, when you came racing at breakneck speed across the courtyard. Suddenly, you slipped on a patch of wet grass — poor thing — and skidded on your stomach the entire length of the lawn. Papers and books flew every which way and I, like a gentleman, rushed to help you collect your things.”
“Of course you did. You were always the picture of chivalry.”
“Damn right. I asked if you were okay and helped you to your feet, but you wouldn’t look at me. You only mumbled something about being late for class and ran off again.”
“I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact, because I remembered peeping at you from between two thick volumes of Chaucer and I was dying of humiliation.”
“So you weren’t late for class?” Lance questioned with raised eyebrows.
“Oh, no. I was tardy — for history with Professor Richards... no, his name was Richardson. He was notorious for locking the door on students who consistently wrestled with punctuality. I received an infraction that day, too, for sporting a dirty uniform. No matter how many times I washed my clothes, I was never able to lift those grass stains from my best white blouse. I suppose that’s why, even now, Gabriel persists to call me Mud Bath.”
Lance chuckled heartily, and grabbed hold of her hand, “When you left, I asked Gabriel: ‘Who is that?’ And Gabe, he said something along the lines of: ‘She’s some exchange student from Shireland. She’s only here for the semester, I’m fairly certain.’ It wasn’t until later that I discovered you were the Princess of Shireland.”
“I was only supposed to study in Westland for one semester, but in the end, I decided to finish all four years, here, in their entirety.”
“Much to my absolute delight.”
That bothersome loose strap slipped again and Lance seized the opportunity to tease the lace material further down her shoulder, leaving a trail of tender kisses in his wake. To the king’s dismay, his romantic advances were rebuffed for the third time.
“Patience, Lance.” Melody said, slapping his hand away.
“Can’t I just have a little peek?”
“You own me, my Melody,” the king whimpered desperately.
“This is utter torture, completely inhumane. A cruel and unusual punishment!”
“Settle down, now. You’re acting a bit too theatrical for my taste. Kind of like that sappy poetry you used to write for me. Oozing with purple prose: My dearest Melody...”
She began reciting dramatically, but was interrupted by Lance, “My God. Please, don’t repeat any of that doggerel nonsense. It’s far too embarrassing.”
“My love for you is like...”
“Have mercy on me! I was only nineteen years old, for crying out loud.”
“I treasured every last word you wrote, and I still do.”
“Surely, your opinion of my literary prowess is based strictly on sentiment. I employed ever so many terrible, terrible rhymes. Comparable to Shakespeare, I ain’t”
“Oh, but you were so adept at so many other things. Captain of the debate team, and the chess club, and the rowing team...”
“I was only captain of so many extra curricular activities, because everyone else was too cowardly to run in opposition of me, the Crown Prince of Westland. That was, until you arrived on campus and began shaking things up.”
“Are you referring to the time I destroyed you in that fencing bout?”
“I knew I was sparring with you the whole time. I let you win, my dear.”
“You did not know it was me. I can, to this day, still see that stunned look plastered on your face after I removed my helmet — and then you clumsily dropped your blade.”
“Touché, darling, it’s true.” Lance raised her hand to his lips, and kissed her knuckles, “I could have been knocked down with a mere feather when I saw that shock of glossy black hair cascading over your shoulders. The light streaming in from the windows was hitting you just right, too — blue eyes sparkling. You smote me that day, literally with your épée and figuratively with your beauty.”
“Is that so? Did I smite you?”
“I was totally smitten with you. Especially when, after my fellow teammates told you girls weren’t welcome in the club, you signed up using the pseudonym Mel Benson. You never allowed anyone to push you around, and you still don’t. That’s one of your most becoming traits, in my humble opinion.”
Melody clutched her husband’s head to her chest, and he nestled his face into her bosom that spilled over the bodice of her négligée. Lance glided his hand over her stomach, and sighed in contentment.
“I could be if you would permit me to undress you,” the king began moodily. ”Oh, God... I want you.”
“Believe me, your feelings are perfectly evident. Your ardent desire is poking me in the thigh as we speak.”
Lance bolted upright, shocked at his wife’s phrasing, “What has gotten into you tonight?”
“Melody, that is vulgar.”
“Oh, Lance, you’ve always been so straight laced. You can afford to loosen up, now and then, given our advanced ages.”
“We’re not old,” Lance challenged. “We’ve only just broken our forties — you forty and me forty-two. That’s a far cry from declaring us as geriatric patients. And to address your firm assertion that I am too straight laced... well, that simply isn’t true. In my youthful days, I did indeed sow my wild oats... once upon a time. I courted you and Katherine Dwight simultaneously, if you recall.”
Melody snorted, and inspected her fingernails, “That is not how I remember the situation.”
“All I know is you were horribly sore when you first discovered her.”
“I overheard the other girls in the dormitory talking about Katherine and your two-timing, philandering ways.”
“Nasty gossip. I was completely drunk off you, and forgot all about Katherine when we met, if I’m being honest. In my defense, I ended things with her as soon as I realized...”
“And how did that pan out for you?”
“It was an extremely messy process. I left campus one weekend to travel to her father’s manor and I’m sure the poor creature assumed my unexpected visit, would result in a marriage proposal — after all, we courted for two years. Anyway, I brought her out to the garden, and I sat her down, and then I broke the news that I was cutting her loose. She then proceeded to mercilessly crush my big toe with the exceedingly pointy heel of her shoe.”
“No wonder Katherine hates me,” Melody mused aloud. “She was on the fast track to become the future Queen of Westland, before you pulled the rug out from under her. I saw her at an event last year, and to put it politely, she was beyond frosty.”
“Look, I’m not proud of the way I handled things, but you had captured my heart and I had to break things off. It was the right thing to do, even if it was a little lacking in the chivalry department.”
“You shouldn’t judge yourself too harshly, Lance. You could have taken the coward’s way out, and written her a Dear Jane letter. Instead, you bravely resolved to face Katherine one on one.”
“I didn’t know you felt so strongly about that.”
“I simply won’t tolerate anyone questioning my husband’s chivalrous nature, not even you.”
“And let’s not pretend that you didn’t have your fair share of suitors, my dear. What was the name of that one fellow who you were rather seriously dating?”
“Poor, dear, sweet Ronan. The end of our courtship wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the epic demise of Lance and Katherine, but he did cry a little bit. Oh well, I’m sure Ronan is over me by now — it’s been over twenty years. Ultimately, I guess, no man could compare to you, my love.” The queen switched topics, suddenly, “Derek looks so remarkably like you. Imagine all the hearts our son is bound to break when he starts college.”
“Thank God that scenario is still two years on the horizon. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Rather unexpectedly, Melody moved to straddle her husband’s lap, and leaning forward she rested her palms flat against the headboard.
“Does this mean our lengthy stroll down memory lane has finally come to a halt?” Lance queried, his breath hitching in excitement.
“Yes, I suppose we have reached the end of the line,” the queen stared down at him, her blue eyes alight with mischief.
“Kiss me, Melody.”
“I am an independent woman. I don’t take orders from any man.”
“Will you kiss me, then?”
“Maybe, if you ask nicely.”
“Please, kiss me.”
Melody obliged, passionately pressing her lips against his. They thoroughly enjoyed their kiss for several minutes, before they were forced apart to take in some air.
“I love you,” Melody touched her forehead to his.
“I don’t just love you, Mel, I worship you. You are my Queen.”
At long last, Melody allowed Lance to lift the négligée over her head, and he carelessly tossed aside the bundle of black lace.
“Don’t mind my wrinkles,” Melody whispered, uncharacteristically self-conscious.
Lance knitted his brow in alarm, “You’re stunning — a vision as always. How could I possibly think otherwise? You bore me two children, and every last mark on your body is a reminder of another happy year we’ve spent together. Now, I’ll ask you kindly to never disrespect my wife in my presence ever again. Besides, in all fairness, I’m not exactly the prime specimen I was in my twenties, or even my thirties.”
“You’re perfect,” Melody lunged at her husband, kissing him repeatedly.
Lance quickly yanked his limp tie from around his neck, as his wife eagerly unbuttoned his shirt, throwing it behind her with reckless abandon. Embracing one another tightly, Lance rolled atop her, settling himself between Melody’s thighs. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, and Melody grasped a fistful of his blond hair that looked almost silver now. When the deed was done, they lay in each other’s arms in complete ecstasy. Melody lovingly stroked her husbands unkempt hair, and Lance listened to the peaceful sound of her breathing, until they both drifted off to sleep.
When the queen awoke the next morning, she was surprised to find herself still securely wrapped in her husband’s warm embrace.
“Lance?” Melody whispered softly, shaking him awake, “You’re still in bed?”
“Where else should I be?” Lance croaked, rubbing his blurry eyes.
“I’ve just grown accustomed to waking up alone. You usually rise before the sun does.”
“Well, that ungodly stack of paperwork will still be waiting patiently on my desk when I finally do get down to my office, and I’m mostly prepped for my conference at this point. There may be a few kinks to iron out here and there, but there isn’t anything truly pressing on my agenda this morning... but if you’d rather I be somewhere else, presently, I’m sure I can rustle up something to do.”
“Oh, no!” Melody erupted, snuggling against him, “I think we can afford a lazy morning in bed, just this once.”
“I’m glad you agree, darling. I’m glad you agree.” Lance looked over at Melody, and planted a kiss square on her lips, “I love you.”
“I don’t just love you, Lance, I worship you.”
Pull back your arrow,
And send my love
On the wings of a sparrow
To the heart of
My one true love.
Cupid, each day I sigh
Hoping to be
The apple of his eye.
Could you try?
I understand your
Services are in high demand,
But a single arrow shot from you
Would cause his heart to expand.
If only my love could find
Room for me in his life,
I may soon be a wife.
Oh, Cupid, I beg of you
Desperate for some sort
Your bow and arrow
Are all I need
To make his heart
Bleed for love of me.
Don’t you agree?
Perched at the edge of the cliff, she stood watching... waiting... watching... waiting. Tonight was the most curious of all nights, any night. Everyone had heard of falling stars
— she had even wished on one or two before — but had anyone ever heard of a falling moon? She certainly hadn’t. At least she hadn’t until tonight. Until she was staring straight at the moon, as it slowly sank toward the glittering sea far beneath the cliff. How could mankind survive without a moon? She wondered. She should probably feel panicked, she realized. Only, she didn’t. If anything, she felt unduly calm. Gradually, the light of the moon was snuffed out, as in dipped further into the sea. Finally, she heard a great splash, and all light ceased, as the full moon was swallowed completely by the sea. She sat, for a moment, blinking in the ink black void that engulfed her. Perhaps she could retrieve the moon? She thought. Slowly, she rose to her feet, and taking a deep breath... she dived into the sea.
The Trouble With Rain
One Tuesday afternoon, the clouds rumbled mightily, and it began to rain. Princess Ariel didn’t mind the rain as much as the others who lived in the palace seemed to. Ariel had only been human for about a year, now, and found the soft, pattering sound of the rain on the palace roof to be quite comforting. Sometimes, when it rained, she liked to stroll along the beach to skip and dance in the wet sand. Then, she would return to the palace dripping wet, while the staff looked at her as if she had just sprouted a second head.
By Wednesday night it was still pouring, and the steady pounding of the rain sounded overhead while she sat with her husband in the palace library. Eric was busily attending to paperwork that he said was important. He would be crowned King soon, and the monarchy’s affairs absolutely had to be in order. While he signed document after document, Ariel continued her studies. There was still much to learn about being human. History. Economics. Literature. This night, Ariel was reading up on theology. She had converted to Eric’s religion when they first wed, and she found the Bible incredibly interesting. There was the story of Noah and his ark, for instance. Ariel gazed out the window, and wondered if it was possible to continuously rain for forty days and nights.
The dawn of light, on Thursday, only brought more rain. Feeling rather stir crazy by this time, Ariel ventured out to the beach. As she walked along the shore, she noted how much smaller the beach seemed. The water level was encroaching on the sand; it was almost as if the sea wanted to swallow the Earth whole. The rain was falling heavier, now, and again Ariel thought of Noah’s ark. Would the rain ever cease?
Friday’s forecast was more rain, again. By noon, Ariel’s stomach started to feel queasy; Carlotta sent the princess to bed immediately and called for the doctor. After she had been examined, Eric sat with her at the edge of their bed while the doctor delivered some news. Ariel was with child. They were going to be parents in about eight months time. Eric was over the moon at the revelation. Ariel was so nervous that she fell asleep for almost three days.
When the princess awoke on Monday, she found it was still raining. The ground floor of the palace was beginning to show signs of flooding. Eric appeared ill at ease. Apparently, the ongoing rain was ruining the kingdom’s crops. Several farmers were angry, and they expected Eric to find some solution to the problem. Did they honestly expect him to control the weather?
Today was Tuesday. Exactly one year earlier, the clouds rumbled mightily, and it began to rain. The rain hadn’t stopped since, not even for a minute. Ariel had an infant, now, a little girl. Her child had never known a world that wasn’t cold and wet, with rain stinging their faces. Months ago, the kingdom fled to higher ground. Not everyone survived the trek up the mountain, and the water level was increasing everyday. Tomorrow, Eric decided they would launch the ships, attempting to fit everyone they possibly could on Eric’s fleet of massive navy ships. Ariel wasn’t sure if an indefinite life on the sea was sustainable. Humans were not designed for such living. The princess resolved to contact her father, King Triton. Perhaps he’d be willing to turn anyone, who wished to be, into merfolk. They could find refuge in Atlantica. She didn’t know how Eric would receive her idea, but she had to try. After all, she had a daughter to think about. With or without her husband’s support, she would return to Atlantica. Ariel was ready to go back home.
Heaven and Hell: The Final Battle
“I need your assurance that you won’t pose a problem, Michael.”
Raguel’s voice sounded at my left flank. Keeping my gaze fixed ahead, I clenched my jaw tightly. I didn’t want to give Raguel the satisfaction of looking at him.
“There is no problem.”
“Your head and your heart must be in this battle.”
“I said... there is no problem.”
“Isn’t there? She’ll be among their ranks, you must know that.”
I nodded tersely, surveying the wide expanse of the battlefield before us.
“I’ve heard rumblings that she now enjoys a high position of power - one of the Grand Dukes of Hell.”
I fought off a growl that I felt brewing deep within my soul. If I wished to know of her undertakings, I would inquire with Jeremiel. He was the angel charged with keeping abreast of such matters.
“In any case, she follows the path of Lucifer, now. You must not forget that.”
I turned my head sharply, and glared at him, “I will never forget.”
How could I ever forget? Her betrayal will always be fresh in my mind. The once good and beautiful Naamah... now a fallen angel.
“That’s all I needed to hear, then,” Raguel began, “Are your angels in position?”
“My squadron is always at the ready. You’ve no need fretting about them, Raguel.”
All too soon, the demon army appeared on the horizon and the din of hellish battle cries was carried by the wind. Raguel and I drew our swords in anticipation. I called out to Ariel, my second in command, and she nodded once before transforming into a lion. Though I thought it strange, Ariel preferred to fight with claws rather than swords. Her peculiar style didn’t hinder her on the battlefield, so I didn’t begrudge her that.
The demon army advanced, drawing closer every minute. I steeled my nerves, preparing for the moment I would have to face Naamah. I had not laid eyes on her since first she succumbed to Lucifer. Suddenly, the demons charged letting loose the most bloodcurdling cries. The angels charged, too, meeting the evil ones halfway. Despite all previous preparations, my breath hitched at the sight of Naamah; she was leading the charge. Her appearance was much changed since our last meeting. Naamah’s hair and eyes, once a soft brown, now seemed to be composed of fire itself. Her wings were now bony and leathery, instead of the white feathered wings characteristic of an angel; she had sprouted beastly horns atop her head.
All around me, my fellow angels sprang into action. The clang of metal, sword crossing sword, filled the air. In my peripheral, I glimpsed Ariel in lion form, lunge at a particularly heinous demon. Blood, guts, and various extremities flew with reckless abandon.
With ease, I deflected simultaneous attacks from multiple demons. I am Michael, an archangel. I don’t sit at God’s right hand for nothing. However, when my sword clanked against Naamah’s, I froze. Despite my earlier promise to Raguel, I lost my wits. My brain instantly flooded with memories and nostalgia, with little room for all else.
I remembered when Naamah and I would walk the gardens of Heaven, whispering sweet nothings to each other, or make love among the clouds. Angels are not permitted to love. I was foolish enough to think we could hide our romance from God, the all knowing. It was Naamah who pointed out how feather headed that was. God knew. God had always known. I recalled how Naamah used to smell like lavenders, her favorite flower.
I thought all this in a single instant, before Naamah’s sword came crashing down toward me. I beat her back with brute force, raising my sword high... but I hesitated. I knew in my heart, I could never bring harm to Naamah. For a fleeting second, our eyes met. She used my weakness to strike, running her sword straight through my ribcage. Gasping one last painful breath, I smelled the familiar aroma of lavenders.