Fate’s Fiery Fist
Benny stood before the flaming throne. He looked around the room into which he had been so swiftly summoned to. Flames of every color flickered upon every surface—the golden tiles making up the mosaic on the floor, the columns of brass emblazoned with the mighty embers, and even the planes of polished bronze of the ceiling. The room seemed to be designed to reflect, augment, and amplify the ever-present blaze that suffused the room. The multi-colored flames seemed alive, moving about and flickering brightly. Only the ground where Benny stood clear of the great conflagration. The warmth surrounded him but it did not scorch him, though he felt that he was truly at its mercy.
He turned his attention to the being which resided over this realm on this awesome throne. He looked up into a face of fire. The inferno he wore; the fire he commanded. Benny peered closer at the blazing visage, squinting in the face of this great force. The face was impossible to see as the fire burned brightest in its presence. The flames dimmed and Benny was able to see the two great eyes that belonged to this blazing being. He sought to see intent in those eyes as he had done so many times with others. In the eyes, he only saw himself, a small green-eyed halfling in large clothes and a fedora. Who was he to appear before such a powerful force? He had nothing to his name, save the clothes on his back and a few coppers left in his pocket. What could he give to show his respect for such a being?
The room shook. The being spoke as if reading Benny’s mind. “Your story.” Those two words contained more authority than Benny had heard in his life. Suddenly, the fires around him started to shift, and he found him watching the events of the past few days.
Benny stood on one of the many roads in the city of NeverWinter, the city where he had lived his whole life. He was helping unload the cart of a merchant in exchange for a few coppers. He carefully set down the last box and wiped sweat from his brown mop of hair. The merchant rose from the seat of his wagon where he was laying. Grumbling, he counted out three coppers into Benny’s hand.
“This is half of what we agreed on,” Benny exclaimed indignantly.
“And it took half the time it should have,” roared the merchant as he slapped Benny across the face.
“Are you punishing me for working hard?”
“No. I’m punishing you for cutting my break short. Now take it or leave it,” and with that, the merchant stomped off into his shop, stroking his elegantly groomed mustaches, and leaving the pittance in Benny’s hand.
Benny fumed. He could have put a little into his savings if he had been paid the original price. Now he would be forced to spend all of it on his next meal. He stormed back to his home.
Nash was waiting there for him when he did. The muscular young man claimed to own the small cluster of makeshift shacks where Benny was currently residing. He turned to Benny and grinned in his wolf-like manner.
“You haven’t paid yet, Benny.”
“Yes, I did Nash, and you know it.”
“You’re behind on payments Benny. My protection might expire if you don’t renew your debts soon.”
Benny seized a single copper out of his pocket and thrust it at Nash.
“There you go. Now let me through.”
“Payments have gone up since last time Benny. You still owe me another copper. Now pay up.”
“Two coppers to stay in an alley. That’s outrageous.”
A quick punch knocked Benny off his feet and slammed him against the brick wall that marked the boundary of the shack city. Benny stood up again.
“You’ll get these over my dead body.” He held up both the coins… and swallowed them.
Nash raged. “Why, you thiev’n son of a granged goat.”
Nash leaped towards Benny and proceeded to pummel him with his formidable fists. Benny felt lots of pain. He started to black out. A bark rang out.  In the split second that Benny had, he rolled away. He saw the massive form of Japp, his dog. Nash paled and growled at Benny.
“I’ll get you next time when your dog isn’t around to save you.”
Nash finished abruptly and started sprinting down the courtyard for Japp was soon upon him. Benny walked up to the massive mastiff and petted his snout as that was as far as he could reach. When he swung himself up onto Japp’s mighty back, a mighty grin covered his face.. He looked down into Japp’s trusting brown eyes.
“Look what I’ve got, Japp.” He displayed three coppers. “I snitched mine back from him when you showed up. Good dog. Let's go home. I have something I need to pick up.”
Benny rode back to his alley. He unlocked and opened an old rotten chest. He pulled out a set of very worn but nice clothes. He put them on and walked out of the alleyway.
And with that brief command, he started off to the road where he had worked for the merchant. He arrived in a few minutes. He ducked into an alley. There, he pulled out a piece of broken mirror and looked into it. He recalled the face of the 10-year-old child of the late Mayor. Slowly, he watched as his features shifted and rearranged. He remembered the first time that he had used his gift. He had pondered its origin for many days and nights until he came upon the conclusion that it had been inherited by a parent. He did not know his parents and he never did. He had decided that one of them was a changeling, a race with the ability to change their appearance at will. They had no true form, and as such only could borrow one from another. Benny was not like this. He was born a halfling and always defaulted to his halfling form. He figured that one of his parents was a changeling and one was a halfling. This would explain the many inconsistencies that his power had compared to other changelings. He could not remain in another’s form for very long, he couldn’t grow his size beyond four and a half feet, and, for some strange reason, he could not grow facial hair. As such he could mostly just shapeshift into children and other halflings. As his transformation completed, Benny smiled; the merchant was in for a nasty surprise.
On his way out of the alleyway, he slipped on a slip of paper. As he cursed, he realized what it was. It was an old arrest warrant for the Mayor’s assassin. That had been a scare. Normally, changelings were distrusted and hated by a few, the reason that most of them—including Benny—choose to hide their identities as such, but that had brought the entire city down on them that time. Benny had had to flee several districts before he had escaped the Watch. He was innocent of course, but they didn’t know that and were more prone to engaging first and asking questions later. Benny had been even more careful about his shifting after then. He ripped up the paper and walked into the merchant’s store. He saw that it was a bakery. He also saw that it catered to the rich. The fine marble tiles and gilded counters gave him proof of that. All the better. Benny was going to enjoy this. He walked up to the counter. The merchant looked down and saw the richest, most influential child in the city. He quickly composed himself and started speaking. He sounded a whole different man when he was in the presence of a superior.
“Little Monsieur, what can assist you with. Please give me this opportunity to help such a wealthy patron… I mean such a handsome young man. If you desire anything, merely name it, and it will be provided for your excellency.” Benny grinned inwardly. This was fun.
“Give me your most expensive items,” Benny curtly replied.
“Why, most certainly your excellency. You need merely speak and the renowned Poifar will act.”
Benny sat at the largest table and watched as the merchant alternatingly gathered pastries and stroked his mustaches. Benny observed him gather a very expensive plate and start laying his delicacies upon it. Benny grinned again. This was going to be very fun indeed. There were a great many patrons in the shop at that hour, and all were waiting for Benny’s order to be filled out. Benny grinned even wider as the tray was set before him, the pastries arranged in the shape of a lion, the symbol of the Watch. Benny took one and bit in, savoring its rich and bitter flavor. He spit it out onto the merchant.
“What garbage is this?” Benny yelled. “I don’t know about you, but we feed stuff like this to the animals at my house. Are you trying to poison me? Are trying to disrespect me because my father isn’t with us anymore.”
Benny swept the dish off the table. It shattered when it hit the ground. He then stood up and ground his foot into the remains of the pasties and fine china. The face of the merchant grew red with anger. He quickly composed himself and stroked his mustaches even more furiously.
“I am sorry, most wonderful patron. I did not mean to disrespect you or your most illustrious father. I merely sought to serve you to the best of my ability. Allow me to make it up to you in some way.”
The crowd looked on with disgust with this grown man groveling on the ground before this child until they realized who the child was. They quickly vacated the shop, most leaving without paying for the pastries that they had purchased which were suddenly unfit for human consumption.
Benny now stood alone with the groveling man.
“Now that you think of it… my birthday party is in a week.”
“And you would like me to cater to such a great crowd of high-bred gentlemen. It would be an honor.”
“No. You have done enough already. I do not wish to poison my guests as well. However, you may be able to help me in a great way. It is a costume party. I need a mustache for my costume, but I have not been able to find one that suits me. Now I have. Your mustache is needed for a higher purpose. Donate it.”
Dismay fell upon the merchant’s face.
“Surely… not this, sir.” He lovingly stroked it.
“Yes, now hand it over. I need to be gone.”
Reluctantly, the merchant sliced off his fine mustache. He mournfully handed it over.
“Thank you, good man. Now get me a drink of water. I must wash that horrible taste out of my mouth.”
The merchant turned and entered his kitchen to supply this need. While he was turned around, Benny gathered up the remains of the half-eaten, deserted food on the tables around him. He stuffed them into his jacket. He looked longingly at the ones behind the counter but didn’t take them. That would be stealing. That wasn’t right. The food he was going to throw away already was fine. The fresh stuff wasn’t. At least this would feed him for a day or so. He snatched part of the ripped up warrant and a piece of charcoal out of his pocket. When the Merchant returned, all he found was an empty room, crumbs, and a slip of paper. It read… “Karma.”
Benny stood in the alleyway next to the shop. He was shaking from uncontrollable laughter. He knew the trick was risky and that he might not be able to take the form of that young noble again, but the trick was worth it. The merchant got what he deserved. Benny was merely the agent of such a great catastrophe.
He gazed out into the street beyond. The city whisked past him. He watched great men pass by. He watched poor men pass by. This was NeverWinter, the City of a Million Faces, and he, Benny, had them all. He held the piece of glass to his face and watched as his features melted back into their normal shape.
He lowered the glass. He saw a shocked expression gazing at him. He saw the gold and black uniform of the Watch. He saw those features shape into a visage of hatred. The robed uniform was pushed back and a hammer drawn. Just like the last time. Benny saw the irate Watch Officer pull back and swing. Benny ducked. The hammer rose up and came crashing down. Benny was always a nimble one, but now, before the onslaught of blows, he could not dodge a single one. Benny was slammed into the wall for the second time that day.
He rose quickly, feeling the massive bruises in his side. He ran up to the back of the alley. A barrier of brick and mortar stood between him and his freedom. A dagger spun through the air and impaled his fine clothing, a few centimeters from his neck. Benny desperately shrugged off his cloak and swung himself up on the dagger, over the wall, and onto the other side. He found himself in a schoolyard full of children of about his height. Shoken, Benny rapidly shifted his features to a child that he had seen many days ago. He mingled with the growing crowd of children, appearing to be one of them in his fine clothing.
The Watch Officer hurdled the wall. He looked around and witnessed the courtyard. The children clapped and peered up at the Watch Officer who gallantly protected their city. “Form ranks,” he barked and the children hastened to perform his curt command. Benny watched as he examined each child in turn. He arrived at Benny. He bent over and peered deep into Benny’s eyes. He saw nothing there, just the earnest gaze of a schoolchild trying to please a revered elder. He moved on.
After he had gone through all the ranks, he whipped around and grabbed the child next to him. The young girl screamed. Her teacher ran outside and demanded that her student be let go at once. The Watch Guard ignored her. “Do you want this child to die, Changeling? Do you want her blood on your hands? Choose now…or suffer the consequences.”
Benny turned and ran. The Watch Officer ran after him.
Benny spun out of the courtyard, feeling a mighty blow severing the air behind him.
He heard a low snarl behind him. “Stop in the name of the law. You are under arrest for suspicious circumstances. If you continue, you will be guilty of resisting arrest and given a two-year sentence. Stop in the name of the law”
“I didn’t do anything. You were the one who assaulted the child.”
“If you weren’t guilty, then why are you resisting arrest?”
“Because you have a hammer, and you are swinging it at me.”
“That's what they all say. I’m afraid that we’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
Benny ducked as another knife whistled past his head. He kept up his break-neck pace. He was tiring. He had short legs and could not keep this pace forever. He must get to shelter. The innumerable crowds of the Great Square would provide him just that opportunity.
Another serrated knife spun through the air, this time ripping off the shoulder of his jacket. Benny dashed through an alley to his left, avoiding the throngs of people that were beginning to congregate around the chase.
He saw the Great Square in front of him. Just a few more yards. Suddenly, black surrounded him.
Benny’s head swam, he heard a knife clatter to the ground behind him. He stumbled and rushed on.
In the Great Square, the Watch Officer turned around. He saw many people. He saw many children. He saw many well dressed children. He saw a well-dressed child without a sleeve. He grabbed this child with a wicked smile. He looked into the face of a child he didn’t recognize. The child’s father, an extremely fat man with the most impressive mustachioed face, rushed out and slapped the Watch Officer. “What are you doing with my son?” he demanded. “If you want trouble, I’ll give you trouble.” Furious, he slapped the Watch Officer repeatedly. The Watch Officer left, clutching his hammer and cradling a wounded head. The Father smiled as he bent down and unstrapped boxes from under his feet. He conspiratorially looked down at the child and slyly handed him a copper. The child stared in amazement as his father changed into a boy of his height. “Just keep your mouth shut, ok. That’s what the copper’s for.”
Swiftly, Benny slipped out of the Great Square, thanking the fates for his luck and the merchant’s mustache.
Benny walked calmly into an alley, but his mind was a whirl of chaotic thoughts. That was too close. Benny knew that they would come for him now. He knew that he couldn’t hide forever. He had to flee the district; just like so many others. It was different this time. The officer was ruthless; Benny knew that he would stop at nothing to catch his quarry. Benny had been almost captured and taken away to the dark cells that no changeling ever came out from. He could not be taken there. Benny started sprinting back to his ‘home.’
Meanwhile, the Watch Officer stood in a black and gold building. A lion towered above everything in the room. This was the building of ultimate justice. The innocent depended upon it. The guilty trembled in its mighty presence. Kendrik was merely a vassal of its magnificence. He was ushered into a side room, a room where his superior waited for him. He sat in a gold-colored velvet chair and gazed across the black desk, gilded in the corners. An agreeable face waited on the other end.
“I hear that you’ve had some action today, Kendrik.”
“Yes, I have. That's my job—To protect the weak, uphold the innocent, and smite the unjust. That is our motto, is it not?”
“It is, and no one could accuse you of doing what you thought was wrong, Kendrik, but however…the methods you use, are…unsatisfactory.”
Kendrik had sensed that the man was about to say ‘illegal.’ He bristled at this obvious accusation.
“I had every right to arrest that changeling. He was engaging in suspicious activities. He ran when I told him to stop. He was breaking the law.”
“I have no objection to your actions, Kendrik. Your methods are the problem. I have twenty eyewitness reports that you held a child hostage. This is not an act becoming of a Watch Officer. You cannot endanger lives over a resisted arrest.”
“The changeling would have harmed the children. It was better for me to flush him out at the cost of a scare.”
“What of the second child? You cannot arrest people for no reason. Besides, your previous search had shown that the changeling in question could disguise himself beyond your recognition. I see the father gave you… a talking to.”
Kendrik rubbed his head where Benny had seen fit to give him a thrashing.
“May I have men to flush out this threat to the city. I understand that the Anti-Shifter squad is on furlough. Could I reform them?”
“No. Kendrik, you must understand. Resisting arrest and suspicious circumstances are not grounds for a search party. The Anti-Changeling act is now over, you can’t just do that anymore.”
“But he was a changeling. Possibly the one who murdered our beloved Mayor.”
“I understand that you have a past with that race of shifters, but I can’t spare any resources right now. The Archon Case is still open and we haven’t caught the serial killer from the Caremor series. You are dismissed for the week, Kendrik. You may come back on dawn of the 7th day of the 6th month.”
“May I pursue on my own?” asked Kendrik, carefully concealing his rage.
“No. You have no legal authority beyond your Watch Position and you will not have that until you come back.”
Kendrik started towards the door.
“Stay out of trouble. Think about your family. What would they do if you lost your job?”
Kendrik stormed out of the office in a wave of rage. He fumed as he walked out of the building. He had always hated the Captain. He stopped when Kendrik would start. He let rules and regulations get in the way of pure justice. Justice must happen no matter what. He heard the Captain’s last words echo through his mind, “What would your family do if you lost your job?” He was right. If Kendrik pursued and was discovered, he would most definitely be without a job. Was it worth it? Revenge for all of those years ago, was it worth it? That fateful night—both his parents were killed, with no one to mourn them but Kendrik. Rage burned in his heart against any and all Changelings. He would stop at nothing to make sure that they got what they deserved—Death for all of them. That would be true justice, an unwavering verdict, carried out to the ultimate end. It was life’s work, even more so than his family. He must proceed. He knew exactly where to go for that.
Kendrik entered the Tavern of the Bloodied Wolf. He walked up to the bartender, a man with yellow teeth, a sharp eye, and a vicious expression, and began to speak.
“I’m starting the hunt tonight. Tell my wife that I won’t be home till late.”
“The child’n being v’ry disappoint’d, Kendrik Changeling-Slayer.”
“You know there is no other way.”
“Ey, there is the only w’y. The path o’ blo’d. Follow it to yer last breath.”
He handed Kendrik an amulet.
“This’ll guide ’e. The inner wolf’ll do the rest. The pack will follow”
Kendrik stepped out of the tavern. The chase was on. The hunt had renewed. The prey was waiting. Kendrik howled and dashed down the street.
Benny stood panting in the alley that he called home. He quickly gathered up his meager belongings, grabbed his small savings, and mounted Japp.
“It's time to move on, Japp. We’re on the run again.”
He fed them both a scrap of fine pastry. He knew that this was the way he must live, the way his kind were fated to live. He started Japp at a trot, and they started their next phase on the long journey.
Night fell while Benny and Japp were on the road. Benny looked up at the sky. The moon was full. The stars twinkled down at them. No matter where he went, the stars were the same; the same stories being played out again and again, dancing and unfolding across a stage of milky black. The star of misfortune shone bright, its red gleam growing steadily. Benny turned around. A breath of wind? An animal? Benny could not see far in such darkness. He turned and shouted a challenge. A shadow in an alley moved. Benny turned towards it.
“Do you not remember me?”
The words came as a snarl behind his back. Benny jumped back and spun about to face this unknown beast. What he saw was beyond nightmares.
A bipledaled form loomed over him, its form hidden and distorted by the black cloak it wore. It tossed this back in contempt, letting it slide to the ground. What Benny saw was almost too horrible for words. The thing was covered from head to toe with gray fur. Claws grew out of its hands. Teeth jutted out from every angle. Its face was mostly covered by a mask, crimson and gold. Benny could see its eyes. There was almost no humanity in them. Beastial instinct ruled this thing. Its eyes were colored yellow. The claws and teeth were stained red. A wolf’s head amulet glowed red at its neck. It threw back its head and howled. Other beasts circled around, each throwing off its cloak and howling in turn. The sound was horrific, almost as horrific as the beast themselves. The sound penetrated the mind, rended the soul, and tore the heart. Benny turned around seeing as more and more of these things surrounded him.
“Do you not remember me, Changeling? If not, then stand and know that I am the killer of your kind, slayer of Changelings. I feast on flesh. I deal out justice, I let none more be harmed by your actions. I am Kendrik Gothemfree, Officer of the Watch. I am Kendrik Wolfspath, follower of the Wolf God. I am Kendrik the husband, Kendrik the father. I am Kendrik the dealer of justice, and without my protection this city would fall. I am Kendrik, the sworn enemy of all Changelings. Hear my name and TREMBLE.”
Benny kicked Japp in the side, urging him onward. With a mighty leap, Japp cleared the circle of beasts. Japp’s claws scraped the cobblestones as he changed directions and tumbled through another alley. The beasts followed behind, tearing through the streets, muscles rippling, claws straining. Sparks lept from where their claws met the street, revealing the hellish nightmare that followed. Benny urged Japp onward as the wave of beasts tore towards them, crawling on top of one another in their haste to kill and feast. They grew closer, teeth nipping Japp’s paws. He turned again. For a moment, it seemed as if the pack would have difficulty making the steep turn. They just flooded ever closer.
Japp was tiring quickly. He knew that he would not have enough strength to escape the onslaught. With one final burst of strength, he threw Benny on the nearest roof.
Benny rose from the tumble and watched as his friend fought off more and more of the hideous beasts. Benny watched as his friend was slowly torn apart by gnashing teeth. He watched as the beasts feasted on the flesh of his only friend. Kendrik laughed,
“If this is what we do to a mere beast, what will we do to you? Run. Hide. We will be waiting for you at every turn. Your beast’s sacrifice will not protect you for long.”
Benny turned and ran through the rain.
Tears streamed down his face. His constant companion, his only friend, his protector, gone. What would he do? Why continue? What was there to live for? Japp had died for him. He must not let that go to waste. He would live as long as he could.
Benny set his jaw. He hadn’t gotten this far by being weak. He would be strong to the end, strong for his friend. Benny selected the spot for his final stand.
On the ground, the waves of beasts grew by the second. They circled around the building on which Benny was now standing. Benny started to climb even higher. He would stand there and look death in the eye. There was nothing else to do. There was nothing he could do. Benny reached the top. He stood, slipping on the slick surface. Lightning struck the building next to Benny, its sudden glow revealing the hordes climbing to their prey. Benny set his jaw and pulled a knife from his boot, the very one that was hurled at him by Kendrik that fateful day before. He lowered the brim of his hat. He prepared himself for his last stand.
A massive beast leaped onto the roof landing on all fours. It stood, the lightning revealing its cold, blood hungry eyes. Rain poured down on the faces of a vicious beast and a desperate halfing.
“I see that you have courage. It will do you no good. Have you not wondered about that day, the day when this all began? Have you not wondered why I am set to destroy your kind? My parents were killed by a Changeling. There was no public outcry, just a small boy mourning the death of the only people who had ever loved him. I grew, as did my hatred and desire for vengeance. Then I found the Order of the Wolf. They shared my hatred, and I quickly rose through the ranks. I was selected for a task that would change the whole city of NeverWinter forever. I killed the Mayor, sparking the public outcry which swelled our ranks and let us move about, completing the good work, keeping this city safe. It was better that a few men die than more being slowly killed. So, this is where it all began. The place where your troubles began. And this is the place where you will meet your end.”
Kendrik dove at Benny. Benny sidestepped the attack and met it with a blow of his own. Kendrik merely laughed, the cold glow of lightning illuminating his cruel snarl, his wet fur, his bloody teeth, his blood hungry eyes. Benny stood on that rooftop prepared to fight to his last breath. Japp would not have died in vain. Benny circled his opponent. Lightning struck. Benny caught a glimpse of the hoard below him. The echo of thunder rang out, resounding as a true trumpeter sounding the cry of doom, for indeed, doom was certain.
The howls rose, giving voice to a rage unheard of by any mortal. The hunt was nearing its close and Benny prayed that its end was not the same as his.
Lightning raced down from the inky, majestic sky. Benny thought that would be his last vision, the lightning racing down towards him, silhouetted against that polar backdrop dotted with the finest stars. Benny prepared himself for the strike. The bolt split above him. Benny gazed up at the dome of blueish energy which now spanned the air above him. The bolts finally struck the earth all around him. Fire rose up around him. Igniting the city, they rose, a colossal conflagration of heat, an immense inferno of flames, a symbol of power. There was also beauty in the flames. Benny snapped back from his cogitation. Kendrik looked down at his hoards in shock as they were rapidly dispersed by the flames.
“I do not need the cowards to complete our mission. They can flee the flames. I will win this last battle.”
Kendrik dove towards Benny, knocking the knife out of his hand.
“That feeble weapon won’t help you now. Face me and know that there is no hope.”
Throughout the very depths of his being, Benny felt despair. He could not conquer this foe.
The fire raged around them, throwing itself at the wall of the roof of the Mayor’s home where the participants of the battle stood.
Suddenly, Benny heard a great voice speak out of the flames.
“Hear me well, little one. I am one of and with the flame. I can offer you protection if you so wish it, but you must make the leap, the leap of faith. It is not an easy thing to do. Do you see the destruction that I cause? You can not lightly leap into the arms of such a great power. I have destroyed civilizations. I am the righteous flame, the good and beautiful fire. I will not harm you, but it is you who must decide whether I can be trusted. I can give you a better life and save the one you have now. You need only take that step of faith. Leap.”
Kendrik lunged again. Benny spun out of the way. Kendrik dove. His teeth sank into Benny’s back. Pain ripped through Benny’s mind. He stumbled back under Kendrik’s hateful gaze and gnashing teeth. Benny had no choice. He fell backwards through the fire.
Benny watched as the fires around him melted away. He looked up at the stoic being.
“There you have it. That's my story. I’m a nobody, born from a line of nobodies. We don’t have anything, not even names or faces to live with. Why did you save me?”
The flames melted back on the being of fire. He finally spoke, each word resounding like thunder.
“I am the good and righteous fire. I must help those who are in need, or I would cease to be. It is who I am.”
“Why me? There are many in the city I live in who need help more than I do. Why did you choose me?
“I choose one who would accept my help, one who would trust when all hope had given out. You are that person.”
“I have one favor that I want to ask of you.”
“What is that, little one?”
“I wish to know what happens next.”
“Then I will show you.”
The flames swirled again and another scene played out before them. The flames showed the Watch Office. In it, two men were arguing. One wore the uniform of a High Watch Officer, the other wore common clothes and a wolf’s head amulet. The former spoke.
“I warned you Kendrik. I told you this would happen. I gave you every piece of advice, every bit of guidance, and still…still you have failed. What will your family do now, Kendrik? What will they do when they discover that their father is a murderer?”
“I never did anything that was wrong. I dealt justice, and I protected the people of this city. I rid it of a curse, a scourge. I brought a menace to justice.”
“We have laws for that, Kendrik,” the Officer’s voice rose to a bellow. The flames seemed to rise with his anger. “You of all people should know that. There are ways for criminals to be brought to justice. That is why we exist. The Watch is here to bring people to justice. We protect. We don’t form groups of vigilante murderers. We don’t deal in black magic to kill even more ruthlessly. We don’t murder.”
“I never murdered anyone. I killed to protect.”
“You killed for vengeance, Kendrik. You slayed for revenge. That’s forty years, Kendrik. You are going to have to serve them all.”
The flames stirred again, this time showing a group of changelings coming out of jail for the first time in years. A man stood smiling as he ushered them out, announcing in a loud voice that they had been freed on account of extreme bias on their prosecutor. They laughed as they looked at the sun, the great ball of fire in the sky.
The flames flickered as the scene shifted yet once again. It showed a family. They were broken. Their father had been taken from them. A husband was taken from them, not by the Watch, not by the court, but by the monster that he was. The warmth of a sole comforting flame lit the room. The flames into which Benny was peering dissipated. The being looked down at him with a smile.
“These things I have shown you. Now it is you who must decide what to do with them.”
Benny’s head spun. What would he do now? Where would he go? What would he do about his loss?
“What is it that you want to do most?”
“I want to eat a mountain of chocolate cake.”
The being roared in laughter. The fires around him seemed to shake with him.
“I have no doubts about that, little one.” He suddenly grew serious. “What is your motivation? What would you do with your life?”
Benny grew quiet, his mind pouring over a thousand possibilities.
“I want to help others. I wish to keep people from going through the ordeal that I did.”
“That is a wise choice. It shows your age beyond years. I will help you. You shall learn the Way of the Fire. You shall be a comforting candle in the dark. You shall be a raging inferno to the ones who would hurt others. But before I grant you this boon, answer me but one question. What makes you different from Kendik? He also thought he did right. He also could be gentle. He also could be a vicious tornado to his enemies. Why would you be any different?”
Benny sat down. He started to protest but then he realized the validity of the question. What would make him different? What would keep him from going down the same path that Kendrik did? He saw that he could easily go down that path, reaping vengeance on the ones who had and would hurt him.
“You would stop me, sir.”
The being laughed once again.
“You are discerning, little one. You speak the truth. If you went down that path, you would find that all of your fiery arcane might would be stripped from you in an instant. However, that is not a good enough reason by itself. Why wouldn’t you follow the Way of Vengeance, the Way of the Wolf.
Benny searched his mind, soul, and heart. He knew that he must give an answer. He knew he must give a good answer. Benny racked his mind trying to find a clever reply, ransacked his soul for an honest one, and shook his heart for a convincing one. He discovered the truth.
“You can’t know that. You must trust, just like I trusted you to get here. I don’t wish to cause undue harm. You realize this for sure. I do desire vengeance. I am only a man. I will work to quell this loathsome impulse. I will try with all of my heart, all my soul, and with all of my mind. You will help me, because I can’t do it alone. I know you will.”
Booming peals of laughter filled the flaming room.
“You have audacity, little one. You have courage, you have hope, and now you have my trust. I will help you to the utmost degree. Sometimes you will not realize it, sometimes you will, but I will be there every step of the way, helping you.”
The fires spun and swirled, entwining into a beautiful dance. They flew through the room and entered into Benny. The power was intoxicating. The fire filled him, the flames fed him, the inferno ignited his passion anew.
“Now go forth, my noble servant. Go forth, and aid the suffering, help the hurting, and give grace to all men. Go.”
By Emma Mith
According to Siri, your ears never stop growing. That means while I’m writing this sentence my ears are growing. While Grady is tending the orchids his ears are growing. While Ms. Peony is slowly lifting the bread off the rack in the bakery, her ears are growing. While our next door neighbor Judy is grumbling under her breath her ears are growing. Actually I take that back. I don’t think “Judy’s” ears are growing because I don’t think she’s a human. She’s basically a witch but she despises cats and wears a colorful cardigan instead of those hideous black gowns. I know she probably has a magic wand somewhere hidden in a closet. I just know it.
I wonder when I turn ninety if my ears still grow bigger because just looking at Ms. Peony I doubt that she can hear anything even if I scream at her through a megaphone. Maybe you start to lose hearing when you get into your nineties because logically the larger your ears the better you can hear. When I turn ninety I hope my ears still work fine because I would LOVE to be able to hear about every single scheme Judy’s planning with her fellow witch crew. I mean don’t witches live an extra 90 or 100 years so I doubt she’ll be dead by the time I hit ninety. Unless she’s not actually a witch but let's not talk about that. I mean I’m twenty-three and Judy’s like sixty or something rather. So by the time I’m ninety she’ll be around a hundred-and-twenty so I’ll still have time. I don’t actually know what old Judy is because Judy says that if she tells me “bad spirits' ' will come. I also suck at math especially adding so I’m probably wrong but whatever. I’m probably making too big of a deal over ages and numbers.
What do you think witches do when they have a witch meeting? They probably talk about who they're going to kill next, how to kill them, when to kill them, where they kill them and more. I mean being a witch is pretty boring. You’ve got to act like a sweet old grandmother who misses their grandchildren a lot but secretly your ambition is just to kill humans and break them into tiny pieces. I also wonder where witches have their witch meetings. I mean you can’t have it in your house because that's not private enough. I also know that you probably can’t book a reservation at a restaurant for 2 am unless it's a restaurant like McDonald which I think is a huge no-no for witches.
I saw Judy today sitting on her front porch reading a book called Heidi which is a book about a girl who grows to be a happy girl and loves nature. I mean the only nature I think witches like is human nature. Judy always gives me those chills down my spine and that smile that looks as if engraved to her face is sick. I’m literally about to puke. She probably hid another book behind the book Heidi because I could never see a witch learning about such kindness and playfulness that Heidi possesses. Anyway I told my husband John about Judy and Hey! Their names kind of match. Regardless, He said that I should take some strawberries to get to know Judy better. Johns is an optimist and he’s always telling me not to worry but we all know that Judy is nothing better than a foul, ugly looking creature. Pathetic. Tomorrow John and I are taking over strawberries freshly from the garden of our cousin Dann who is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. The complete opposite of Jarring Judy. Anyway I hope I don’t get killed in her lair of misfortune.
Wish me luck
Never say never is what my husband always says. If someone offers to take you Antartica with shelter, water or food, my husband's answer would always be yes. Today we experienced just that but we surprisingly came out alive and there were no ice bergs. I'm starting to question my logic and I’m wondering if Judy is actually a witch because after my thorough examination I found nothing witchy about her except her creepy smile. Never judge a book by its cover. I guess.
Anyway so we walked up to her driveway and here she is again reading Heidi on her front porch with her legs crossed. I gulped and we carefully walked up to her while she pretended that she couldn’t hear us even though we were making a lot of noise in the driveway stepping on gravel.
“Ah, Emma and John, great to meet you.” Judy laughed as if she hadn’t just seen us. I immediately wanted to go but John was persistent.
“ Great to see you too. We bought some strawberries for you. They're fresh from our friend, Dan's garden. Amazing guy. How are you?” My husband asked as he placed a fake smile on his face that mirrored Judy’s smile. He quickly set down the strawberries on the empty seat
“Not good. My doctor diagnosed me with skin cancer so I have a surgery on Tuesday. I hope that goes well. Thank you again.” Judy announced in a strangely pompous voice. Her skin was sallow and truthfully she did look like she had a severe condition of skin cancer. I was very curious as to why she sounded so proud. I did feel a tiny bit sorry and I could tell so was my husband.
“Well I know that John has work next Tuesday but I am completely free on Tuesday. I could come to your appointment with you that way if you need extra help getting home I can assist.”
I surprisingly offered. I was quite shocked that those words had rolled out of my mouth but I held my mouth shut and smiled widely. Every second that passed seemed to feel like forever.
“Thank you so much. I would love for you to come. Please come in and enjoy lunch with me.” I was having second thoughts. Having lunch with a witch could be deadly. I was positive she was a witch. I just wasn’t sure. After a lot of thought I went in hoping to be able to leave any second. I took a last look at the strawberries to see a brown dot. Since I didn’t bring my glasses I suspected it was a bug so I immediately went over to check before my husband rushed me in the house and went to fix the strawberries. I was so nervous to have lunch with a witch. I mean how often does this actually happen. So—
Sorry John needs me to help make dinner. Tell you the rest later.
Anyway, I went inside and all that could reach my nose was the foul smell of rotten eggs. I looked around to see plain green paint carelessly spread on the walls. The green was a horrible vivid green that made me want to faint. Apart from the surprisingly fluorescent walls everything else seemed to be granny-like. I mean there was one of those tall, big, ancient clock-things. The plates seemed prehistoric and there was no air conditioning. When it’s 97 degrees Fahrenheit all I want to do is be able to have a nice lunch with the air conditioning ON. Anyway Judy sure did take a long time getting to the dinner table. I sat patiently while I watched John be a gentleman and help out with the bowls. I then gasped out loud in frustration to see a huge dollop of soup being served into the 3 plastic bowls. I carefully grabbed mine and winced. I did not need this to happen to me. This was pure torture. I watched John sit down and immediately swallow what looked like a distressing concoction. Grimacing, I pushed down a liquid form of zucchini and ice cream. Although I hated the food, I did feel astonished to find that I wasn’t dead or in any need of medication. My husband who seemed also quite shocked played along and complemented Judy’s cooking.
Judy started a lame conversation with my husband about the weather while I looked around. There was no magic wand, no evidence of a murder, no cats. I started to suspect myself of hallucinating when I thought of something. Maybe Judy had used her witchy-powers to predict that we were coming over today so she had hid the evidence in a room upstairs. I immediately cut through their animated conversation to question.
“ So Judy, you live here alone right?” I asked in a way that showed I wanted a detailed answer. I glanced up to see her smile fade the smallest bit.
“Yes darling. Oh how sssscrumptious you look tonight. I could just eat you.” Judy answered in a very hypnotizing way. I watched Judy get up and look for some sort of rushed manner. That’s when it hit me. Judy wasn’t joking about what she had said. Did she really want to eat me? Was she a vampire? I needed more evidence before I could place an accusation.
“ Thank You! Do you think I could look around your house? I would love to be able to see the view from the balcony.” I replied insistently to make sure she understood. I knew she was making mischief and I wanted to be the one to catch it. There would be nothing I could accuse her for that was in the kitchen I needed to see more.
“I would love to invite you for a tour but unfortunately I have a counsel meeting to run off to now so I must leave otherwise I’ll be late.” Judy yelled in a way that let me know that it was the end of the discussion. I couldn’t help noticing the aggressive tone in her voice. She bustled of into a another room down the whole before shooing us out of her house.
“That was weird.” John uttered as he rubbed his head and patted me carefully on the shoulder he knew I was in a state of confusion and wanted to be left alone.
“More like Fishy.” I mumbled before walking into our front door.
I don’t know what it is but I have a feeling that Judy’s hiding something. I know it.
Anyway it’s like four in the morning and I should probably get some sleep.
I’m really regretting agreeing to go to Judy’s surgery because first of all I don't know if she's a witch, a vampire, a goblin or werewolf you name it. According to Judy the place she’s having her surgery is Mufaja hospital which in my opinion sounds like something out of a fairy tale. I doubt it’s even a real hospital. Anyway I’m wondering whether I should just fake plans so I don’t have to go to her surgery because the last way I want to die is being killed by a witch/vampire/goblin/werewolf. I mean I’m 99.999999% sure that I'm gonna get killed in the hospital so if I want to live a long and happy life I should probably plan something because just by her secretive manner I can tell some things up.
I’m currently thinking of excuses to make so I can get out of this “surgery problem” with Judy. I mean the best excuse I thought of was that my friend’s wedding is on the same day. I could also say that one of my friends' birthdays is on the same day but deep down we all know that going to support a neighbor when she’s having a surgery is more important than going to a friends party. I should've never said I could go. I just felt the words come out of my mouth and there was no way to explain it. I’ve asked John what I should do and he just said I was overreacting but I definitely wasn’t. When I asked him to come along so I felt safe he gulped and made a lame excuse on how he needed to go to the bathroom and would talk later. Well sometimes optimists aren’t very optimistic I suppose.
It’s currently 7:56pm and if the surgery is the day after tomorrow at exactly 2:15pm I have exactly 29h 57 minutes or something rather because like I said I suck at math.
I’ve got a plan! John said he can cover for me and say that I’m sick with a cold and so he came. He’s going to pick up Judy and stay with her at the hospital and then drop her off at her house next to ours. That way I can stay home and relax and I don’t need to worry about dying. Perfect. John is so sweet to do this for me. I wonder why he was so happy to do this for me when he was shivering before about the idea.
Anyway that’s all for tonight and I know I didn’t write much but I seriously need to get some sleep because it’s like 12 in the morning.
While I’m eating my cornflakes, I can feel my hand shaking in the darkness. I think this is normal, right. I dunno. I mean John looks pretty confident. I guess I should follow his lead. I mean how bad could this be?
See you later.
If I’m alive.
OH THAT WITCH IS DEAD TO ME. HOW DARE SHE? HOW DARE SHE? WHAT’S HER PROBLEM WITH THE WORLD? WHY IS IT ME SHE HAS TO DO THIS MISERABLE AND ANNOYING SPELL ON LIKE WHY? OH SHE’S THAT FILTHY SCUM. THAT PESKY LITTLE-
OH THAT LITTLE VERMIN CREATURE WITH THAT WEIRD CLOAK OF WITCHINESS. WHAT DOES SHE WANT FROM AN INNOCENT PERSON LIKE ME. OH JUDY THAT LITTLE THING OF DREARINESS AND SADNESS. SO WHAT HAPPENED, calm down Emma, John took Judy to that Hospital in his red toyota and I made sure to tell him that he could call me whenever he was in danger or needed help because after all we were in this together. I was really worried and what made me feel that this was a bad idea was the way Judy was staring as if she knew I was there. It was like she knew I wasn’t sick and was ready to do anything to keep John and I’s relationship going. I saw her smile widen when she waved goodbye to her house. She was showing her teeth that were crooked and browning and looked as if they were left in a can of soda for days. She hopped in before it made me wonder why Judy was so happy about her surgery. I mean shouldn’t she be anxious about the results. Before I could stop the car they had already driven off the driveway and onto the road. I was deeply disturbed during their absence and was determined to find a way to stop any trouble from happening. Our house only had one car and I knew I could have borrowed Ms.Katie's car but I was truly scared that Judy would spot me in the mall and rat me out. I knew witches could technically see through somebody's disguise.
When they got home I saw Judy come out of John's car with a smile that made her face light up. Her cheeks were a healthy crimson red and her hair seemed to be more curly than imagined. She was almost a human except for her soul. Her soul was in other words permanently damaged because of witchiness. I assumed the surgery had gone well and I went over to greet John at the door. He looked tired and very sleepy. He charged in without saying a word to me before locking the door of his bedroom. I was confuzzled. NO matter how sleepy he was John had always greeted me with a smile he had never just stormed in. I followed him and waited outside his room for 10 seconds before calling his name quietly.
“ John. Are you all right?” I asked patiently before I knocked on the door softly. John must’ve fallen asleep or something and I was just about to go confront Judy when I wondered whether Judy had fed John any information.
“John, Did Judy tell you anything that you need to tell me?” I questioned patiently. I wanted actual evidence before I made an accusation.
“JUDY! Is she here?” He half screamed and immediately flung open the door. His face was burning with happiness and his cheeks were a bright red. He ruffled his brownish hair before looking at me weirdly and it looked like he wanted me to lead him to Judy.
I stormed out of the front door to find Judy only to find she had disappeared. There was no trace of her in the house. When I went upstairs I found a note saying ‘HIS SOUL WILL STAY WITH ME.’ Confused, I left the house and called the police. That’s when I realized Judy had taken John's soul and left. I was devastated and the police said they were calling a search party.
10 years later…
Today marks the ten year anniversary of Judy’s disappearance and guess what the authorities found her dead in a shack in Afghanistan. She had a dog but he was in terrible condition and was sent to an adoption shelter. John and I are so happy and it turns out Judy was actually a phantom and needed other people’s souls to live that’s why she made up that story about her surgery. I HATE JUDY but she got what she deserved and I’m not going to say anymore. Anyway I think I need to go to bed. I'm tired and I really want to see our new dog Snoopy.
Lot of love
By Shaivi Gupta
Please comment if you read!
Four friends, JOHN, ROSE, ALEX, and DAPHNE, are sitting in JOHN’s apartment in New York City. They are all 15 years old. JOHN is a laid back teenager dating ROSE, a brilliant perfectionist. DAPHNE is rather stupid but nice, and ALEX is always trying to find a way to make a quick buck. They all get in rather stupid scenarios but have fun along the way.
ROSE: So, JOHN, I have a tea party thing and I need a date. It’s on Saturday.
JOHN: Why do I have to go?
DAPHNE: Because you are her boyfriend. This is one of those things you signed up for with the verbal contract.
ROSE: Thank you, Daphne. You really keep this relationship together
DAPHNE: I am the cream cheese
JOHN: Excuse me?
DAPHNE: You know, you, JOHN, are the bottom of the bagel, Rose is the top of the bagel, and I am the cream cheese that holds your relationship together.
ALEX: Where do I fall into this scenario?
DAPHNE: Um you know the little nuts and seeds on the top of some bagels? Some have little onions. The part that no one really cares about, but they make a nice touch.
ALEX: I’m honored
WILLIAM ATWOOD and JOHN’s DAD, ERIC, are sitting in ATWOOD’s apartment talking about ATWOOD’s fiancee, Nella.
ATWOOD: Have I shown you Nella’s wedding ring yet?
ERIC: No, you haven’t shown me.
ATWOOD: Well it's right here
He puts his hand in his pocket and there’s nothing there
ATWOOD: Well it was right there. It isn't there anymore.
ERIC: When was the last time you saw it?
ATWOOD: I don’t know when I put it in my pocket this morning. Nella’s going to kill me. She told me my only job was to have the ring, something about how I can't be trusted with anything.
ERIC: Well I can understand why.
ATWOOD: What do we do? I’ve been all over this stupid city since then.
ERIC: We’ll just have to start at the beginning and trace your steps.
ATWOOD:Okay let’s start at my apartment. Oh I’m going to be murdered my own fiancee. I’ll make the local news.
Alex is sitting with a bagel in his apartment. He is picking off the nuts and seeds on the top and eating them.
Barbie, his mother walks in.
BARBIE: What are you doing?
ALEX: Eating the me part of the bagel.
DAPHNE is sitting in her apartment with her mother, ANNA, a hard working mother of three.
DAPHNE: Mom, I’m so happy you’re off! This is so exciting.
ANNA: I know. I never sit around. What do I do first?
DAPHNE: Nothing, we just sit and relax.
ANNA sits and looks at the wall
ANNA: Okay, this is kind of boring.
DAPHNE: You should watch some TV.
She puts on the TV and sits.
They watch for a minute
ANNA: You know what I should do. Fold laundry. I can watch TV and Fold laundry at once.
DAPHNE: You never sit still do you?
ANNA: I can't, it's a problem.
She runs and grabs some laundry.
ANNA(Off camera): You know what we’ve never done? Organized the shoe closet.
DAPHNE: Yeah, and let’s keep it that way!
Barbie and Alex are sitting on their sofa
ALEX: You know, Mom, I was thinking. Remember when we went to your friend Darla’s house in Detroit.
ALEX: Well they're selling their house aren’t they? Darla and Matt.
ALEX: Remember that door they had? The really nice wooden one. But it wasn’t the main door because behind it there was another one, the boring plain one. Well no one really needs two doors, so I was wondering if we could take the interesting door and um sell it.
BARBIE: Alex, why would they give us their door?
ALEX: Yes, but they don’t need two doors. We could have one.
BARBIE: Okay, Alex, for some reason if Darla decided to give you her door, fine. But she already sold the house. To someone else. And how are you supposed to get a door from Detroit to Manhattan anyway?
ALEX: I have it all figured out.
He picks up a big poster board. It’s pretty big, not as big as a door, but big. He holds it out in front of him so his arms are straight and he is holding it straight out in front of him. He starts shuffling sideways
ALEX: I will shimmy
BARBIE: You are going to shimmy the six hundred miles from Detroit to New York. With a door!
ALEX: Well I was hoping to get a train somewhere on the way.
ALEX: I mean think about it. That was one hell of a door. The basement is loaded. We could make some big bucks here.
BARBIE: Alex, honey, I love you, and please don’t take this the wrong way. Where did I go wrong?
ALEX: I am going to get that door, I will give it my all. I will get that door.
BARBIE: And I will take a nap.
ATWOOD AND DAD are in the hallway of the apartment discussing where they left the ring and GERTRUDE AND LUKE overhear. GERTRUDE AND LUKE are teenagers, GERTRUDE is a huge gossip and LUKE a hypochondriac.
ATWOOD: If Nella finds out, she’s going to kill me.
DAD: Oh my gosh she’s not going to find out.
ATWOOD: I’m so nervous.
GERTUDE(whispering): Oh my gosh, I think he’s cheating on her.
LUKE: ATWOOD wouldn’t do that.
GERTRUDE: You heard him, he literally said that if Nella finds out she’ll kill him, what else could that mean?
LUKE: Look, they're leaving, let's follow them.
GERTRUDE and LUKE follow ERIC and ATWOOD out of the building.
ATWOOD:I was at the department store this morning. Maybe I left them here.-
ERIC:That's like fifty blocks from here.
ATWOOD:We’ll take the subway.
GERTRUDE(whispering): I don’t have any money for the subway do you?
LUKE: No, I left my wallet at home. And I refuse to ride the subway, it’s disgusting. You know how many people touch those seats and railings. There is no way I am getting on that train.
GERTRUDE: Then you’re out of the mission.
LUKE: Oh fine, screw it.
LUKE: But we still have no money
GERTRUDE: Wait, I have an idea.
She runs into a cafe and comes back with two empty coffee cups, handing one to Luke.
She then starts singing opera surprisingly good.
A couple of people drop change into their cups.
GERTRUDE: Oh my gosh it worked.
LUKE: I didn’t know you could sing like that
GERTRUDE: I don’t tell everyone everything.
LUKE: That’s a huge lie
GERTRUDE: I know
They walk into the subway station following ATWOOD and ERIC
ATWOOD: I can’t believe I’m doing this. I mean what’s wrong with me, how could I be so stupid?
ERIC: I know I keep wondering that
LUKE: Does he have no shame? Poor Nella! What would she think of all this?
GERTRUDE: I wonder who she is. His side girl. How old do you think she is?
LUKE: She’s got to be young.
GERTRUDE: Do you think she’s pretty?
LUKE: She can’t be prettier than Nella.
GERTRUDE: Nella is very pretty.
ERIC: I’m very uncomfortable, I feel like someone is following us.
GERTRUDE and LUKE exchange scared looks
Rose and John at a big tea party. Rose’s parents are there with many other people. They are all very fancy.
JOHN: Okay, here we are. At a tea party. What do I have to do?
ROSE: Just smile, shut up, and put your pinky in the air when you drink.
JOHN: You know, just because I’m your boyfriend doesn’t mean I always have to listen to you.
ROSE: Not always. But it can’t hurt once in a while.
Daphne and her mom
DAPHNE’S MOM: Why aren’t the twins awake? Should I wake them?
DAPHNE : No
ANNA: Okay um I organized the closets, did the laundry, dishes, refilled the hand soap, and waxed the kitchen floors.
ANNA: What do I do now?
DAPHNE: I dunno, sleep?
ANNA: I can’t sleep. There has to be something productive. When was the last time the smoke detector batteries were changed?
DAPHNE: Never. Those things don’t work anymore.
ANNA: Great, now I have something to do.
She gets a screwdriver out of the drawer and goes to change the batteries.
ANNA: I’ve never had a day off before, is this what people do?
DAPHNE: Not in a million years
Alex’s house, he is on the phone, the scene cuts between Bob’s office and Alex’s house as they each speak
ALEX(On the phone): Hi, this is Alex, you don’t know me. Is this Bob Balakin, the real estate agent?
BOB: Yes. Why Are you calling, may I ask?
ALEX: Well, a couple weeks ago. You sold a house for Darla and Matt? Um 673 River Street? Well there was this door that was part of the house and I want it.
BOB: Excuse me? I sold the house, why do you want the door for?
ALEX: You know I could sell it for big bucks.
BOB: Well I already sold it.
ALEX: You sold the house. I just want the door.
BOB: Well the door is part of the house. I’m sorry I really have to go.
ALEX: Well I was just wondering if you could ask the owners if I could have the door.
BOB: No I can’t.
ALEX: Fine, I’m just going to have to get it myself.
Rose and John’s tea party. ROSE, JOHN, and ROSE’S PARENTS are at a tea party. They are eating biscuits.
Rose’s Dad: This is awful
ROSE’S MOM: Shut up, someone’ll hear you.
ROSE’S DAD: Am I wrong?
A woman comes by serving tea
She pours tea for everyone
JOHN takes a sip and chokes. Rose hits him
JOHN: You know that really disgusting cough syrup you have to take when you're sick as a kid. This tastes like that mixed with old socks and seaweed.
ROSE’S DAD: John’s not wrong.
Her mom is hanging up pictures on the wall, cooking, and talking on the phone all at once.
ANNA: I can’t believe it either! Okay so you move to managing, and send Lauren downstairs. No! She quit? Okay um what about George? I forgot he’s in Miami! No! Yes, go ahead.
She ends her phone call.
ANNA: Okay, Daphne, what do we do now?
DAPHNE: There’s nothing left for you to do.
The phone rings again.
ANNA: I miss one day of work, and everything’s falling apart.
DAPHNE: I hate to break it to you, but I think a national insurance company is going to be okay if ANNA YANG doesn’t come in one day.
Alex’s house, he and Barbie are there
ALEX: Okay, Mom. I am going to Detroit.
BARBIE: There is no way on this planet I am going to Detroit to get a door. Why do you even want this door?
ALEX: It’s pure wood. You know how much that could sell for? Over 150 bucks.
BARBIE: Paying for transportation, me missing work, paying someone to remove that awful door, don’t you think that’ll cost more than $150?
ALEX: No. Because I have figured it all out. The school band is taking a trip down to Detroit to perform. I just hop on the bust with them, pretend I play the tuba or whatever. Once I’m there, I run to Darla’s old house and ask the new residents for the door. I’ll bring a drill, grab the door, shimmy down to the school bus, and voila bring it back home.
Barbie puts her head in her hands
Alex sitting in his house, later in the day
He dials up the phone
ALEX: Hi, Bob, this is Alex again. I was wondering if you got any progress on the door?
BOB: I told you no! Now stop calling, kid!
DAPHNE: Hi, you got any flour.
She goes to the pantry to look and grabs some.
DAPHNE: My mom’s baking. She’s bored out of her mind, she’s never been off before. She cleaned every closet, tightened every door knob, and did every puzzle in the house. So now she’s baking cookies for the soup kitchen.
ALEX: Well I am going to Detroit to make big bucks. I am so smart
DAPHNE: All the words I think of to describe you right now, smart is not one of them.
DAPHNE: So basically you will go all the way to Detroit. Go to this woman’s house, you’ve never met her, but you’ll go to her house. And ask for her door. Which you will bring back to New York and sell here.
ALEX: Yep. I am a genius, Daphne.
He pats her head.
DAPHNE: You’re shirts backwards, Alex.
DAPHNE: How is your mom even letting you do this? Go to Detroit.
ALEX: Well honestly I think she’s just happy to get me out of the house and have some peace.
An auditorium. The band is sitting there, Alex in the corner with a tuba. Everyone starts playing really nice. Alex plays a really awful note and everyone stares at him
TEACHER: Okay, are we all ready to go to Detroit? ON the bus everyone.
Everyone goes outside and boards a bus. Alex sits next to a pretty girl.
GIRL: Are you in band? I’ve never seen you before.
ALEX: Oh yeah, I just normally sit in the back. Alex.
They shake hands.
ALEX: You’re very pretty.
BIRDIE: Thank you
They start making out
Barbie is coming home. She starts reading a book. The phone rings.
BOB: Hi, this is Bob. Is Alex home?
BOB: Okay, well when you see him please tell him I am changing my number, and I will not get him that door.
Nighttime. Daphne is asleep in her bedroom. The fire alarm starts going off. She wakes up with a jolt.
She gets up and meets her parents in the living room who are carrying crying twins.
DAPHNE: What’s wrong?
ANNA: No idea, but we better get outside
Cut to everyone in the apartment sitting outside.
The firemen come out of the building.
FIREMAN: Nothings wrong. There is no fire. Something was wrong with one of the fire detectors. Someone put the wrong batteries in.
ANNA: That may have been me. Sorry everyone
MAN : I have to get up at five am tomorrow, thanks for ruining my sleep.
The next morning.
ALEX is waking up at a hotel.
He gets dressed and leaves.
Him outside DARLA’S house.
ALEX lady opens the door:
LADY: Hi, can I help you?
ALEX: HI, I’m ALEX LABUDDE. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But my mom’s friends used to live in this house, but they sold it to you. Anyway, I want your door.
LADY: Excuse me?
ALEX: Well you have two doors. This one and another one inside. I just want the outside door. It has no purpose for you. I want it. And I’ll even pay you. $20 seems fair?
LADY: Okay, listen I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but please leave.
ALEX: I will leave with that door.
ALEX: Let’s just talk. That’s an amazing door.
LADY : I know. It’s also attached to my house.
ALEX: I could fetch I don’t know, 200 dollars for that. How about I pay you 50.
LADY: How about you leave before I call the police.
ALEX: $100. I will give you $100. That’s not bad.
LADY: Honey! Come downstairs please!
A guy comes down.
LADY: This kid wants our door. He says he’ll pay us a hundred bucks for our door. Make him leave please.
ALEX: You don’t understand, I don't want both of your doors. Just one. You don’t even need two doors. I’ll just take this one and go.
Her mom is playing with the twins.
ANNA: Isn’t this nice. Me and my three daughters. Maybe I should just be a stay at home mom.
DAPHNE: No! No offense, Mom, but if you stayed at home much longer you’d have cleaned every closet in Manhattan.
The phone rings
SHe picks up
DAPHNE’S MOM: Hello?
MAN: There’s a big problem. I’ve been working here for six years, and never had anything like it.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. What does he want? How much? Never anything like it.
DAPHNE’S MOM: There’s a kid in Detroit, who wants the door off a house we sold last month. He’s very persistent.
DAPHNE: Oh my gosh.
ATWOOD: I can’t believe it! They’re not here! Oh my gosh
LUKE: “They’re not here” There’s more than one girl!
GERTRUDE: I mean I know Atwood’s good looking and all, but more than one!
LUKE: Shh listen.
ATWOOD: I can’t believe this. I’m calling Katherine. She better answer. Hello? Katherine? Where are you? Not here? What do you mean Miami? You have to tell me wherever you go! You’re not allowed to leave the city! No I’m not trying to sound controlling I’m just saying. Oh my gosh well what about Marissa? She’s with you too? Oh my gosh.
GERTRUDE: He’s leaving Nella for a Marissa and a Katherine.
Luke: This is bad.
JOHN and ROSE sitting in Rose’s apartment
ROSE: SO the party didn’t suck
JOHN: Obviously we have different definitions of “didn’t suck”
ROSE: It wasn’t that bad.
JOHN: Who has tea parties anyway. I mean we’re not in 1714 England anymore here. So now I’m your boyfriend, I’m obligated to go to these kinds of things.
ROSE: Yep. It’s the rule
JOHN: You know that’s a stupid rule. I mean a couple of people get together all of a sudden there's all these stupid rules. I don’t remember signing any kind of contract.
ROSE: It’s more of a verbal agreement.
JOHN: Okay, so tomorrow I’m watching the twins, after school, because Daphne’s mom is going back to work, so because of this verbal agreement you should have to be there with me.
ROSE: Yes, but see, this verbal agreement doesn’t work if the other person is extremely busy.
JOHN: And are you extremely busy?
JOHN: Doing what?
ROSE: I don’t know, I’ll think of something
Cut to Alex getting ready to board the bus.
He sees a free ugly chair outside someone’s house and picks it up and loads it on the bus.
He sits on it in the aisle of the bus. He sees the girl he kissed before.
BIRDIE: Hey, why do you have a chair?
ALEX: Well funny story. I actually came here for a door and then
BIRDIE: You are a complete weirdo. Who lies about band to get a door!
She shakes her head and starts talking to another girl.
ANNA: This is fun. I can’t believe I have to go back to work tomorrow. Maybe I should just take a week off.
DAPHNE: NO! Look, mom, I love you a lot. But please go back to work. You're going crazy here. And taking everyone with you. I mean most of us are already there, we were there long ago, but still. You need to go back to work. For the sake of America. Please. I am begging you.
ANNA: I am going crazy here. I mean there’s just nothing for me to do. I’m used to being so busy and always working. I just feel so bad, you girls are growing up and I want to be here.
DAPHNE: MOM, you are here. Every night. But you know you have your work and home and you have to balance it. Not overdo too much of either.
ANNA: You're right. Gosh, you smart.
DAPHNE: There’s a sentence I’ve never heard before.
Alex getting off the bus with the chair. A teacher talks to him.
TEACHER: I heard you playing trumpet. Please never come back, you’re horrible.
ALEX: I won’t. Between you and me I never was in the band I was just pretending.
TEACHER: What are you doing with a chair?
ALEX: Well it’s actually a very funny story.
Rose and John are sitting around.
JOHN: Oh, I almost forgot next week I am touring the sewage plant and I would hate to go alone, and don’t worry I know you’re free because your plans were to hang out with me.
ROSE: You win! I give up! Screw the verbal agreement! Okay, happy you win!
Alex getting off the bus with the chair. He shimmiess from the best stop to his apartment.
Cut to ALEX coming home
He rings the bell
MOm: Hi sweetheart, you’re home!
ALEX(Shimmying with the chair): Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy shimmy shimmy
MOM: What happened with the door?
ALEX: Well apparently the lady didn’t want to give it up. So I took this free chair.
MOM: Why is it so um ugly?
ALEX: It is not. It’s beautiful. And it’s got to be worth something.
Cut to: JOHN’s apartment the four are sitting there
A: So this guy is threatening to send me to jail, so finally I give up and grab this free chair. But the good part is I got a chair and I kissed a girl. The bad part is I didn’t get the door and I broke up with the girl.
J: Why, ALEX, why?
ATWOOD and DAD are in the elevator, Gertrude and Luke join them.
ATWOOD: I can’t believe Marissa and Katherine aren’t here.
LUKE: You’re cheating on Nella? With this Katherine? Nella’s going to kill you.
ATWOOD: I’m not cheating on anyone. I lost Nella’s wedding ring. Katherine and Marissa are girls I bought the rings from. I need to buy another one.
GERTRUDE: You lost the rings? Nella’s definitely going to kill you now.
The Corpse Flower
By Nick Stephen
What happens when humanity steps out of line and defiles the sanctity of nature? Will nature stand still, not responding? or will it retaliate in frightening ways? This story serves as cautionary tale to respect the boundaries that nature has set. Disturbing those boundaries may have some dreadful consequences.
Long ago, there was a village named Kayung. It was a quaint little village that accommodated around fifty people or so, located near a lush rain-forest. The abundant forest provided the people of the village plenty of wood for all their needs. Not only that, there were lots of different types of resources that were contained in the forest. It became a valuable resource for the village and its people who made their livings through collecting and processing the forest's resources.
The woodcutters would gather the wood from tall trees with their axes. It usually took around two or three to cut one down. These logs would then be transported back to the village, where they will be processed by carpenters. They were responsible for creating almost everything in the village—from furniture to housing materials. Thus, they were the most highly paid profession in the village.
The aforementioned jobs were usually filled by men, but some women also did them. Although there were some women who were woodcutters or carpenters, a majority of them took less physically taxing jobs. For instance, weaving crafts out of leaves. Wood wasn't the only thing to be extracted from the trees. They had wide leaves that could be converted into beautifully handcrafted items—baskets, hats, mats, the list goes on.
Through this great gift, the village thrived for generations, becoming the biggest producer of wood in the land. Naturally, this would attract other villages. They would regularly visit to buy wood; and not just wood, but also handcrafted items. It started off with a couple, but then word would start to spread, attracting more and more people. Increase in demand—along with the growing population—jacked up resource collection. The forest was being extracted for resources almost to an excessive degree. Trees were being cut down at a faster rate than they were being planted, disrupting the careful balance on which the forest was maintained. For the people who were selling these resources, this seemed like a non-issue. More resources meant more products, and more products meant more income. But to a significant portion of the people, this pillaging of resources concerned them.
One such person was a woman named Maya. Standing at almost six feet tall, Maya was certainly one mighty woman. Athletic, energetic, and caring, she would certainly make a solid impression to anyone who met her. While she might be a little rough around the edges, one thing that she kept pristine was her black hair. It usually was in braids, keeping her from getting steamy in this warm climate.
She worked as a woodcutter, a rarity for women in this village. Being a woodcutter was one of her targets in life. She didn't feel that a lot of the jobs that the women usually do were suited for her; precision work was never her strong suit. But her wish to become a woodcutter was shortly interrupted when she had kids with her husband Banja.
Her husband Banja used to be the woodcutter of the family because she was too busy taking care of their two boys, Maul and Walat. She always wanted to help Banja because she could see that he wasn't physically suited to be a woodcutter. He was a lean man with skillful hands that were more suited to crafting. When their kids got older—16 and 15 years old respectively—and learnt how to take care of themselves, Maya stepped in as the family's woodcutter. Meanwhile, Banja became a carpenter—a profession that suited him much better.
Despite pushing towards her 40s, Maya liked being a woodcutter, it kept her fit and let her explore the forest. Though, she was concerned at the amount of trees that were being chopped down. It felt like more and more trees were being cut and none replanted. Keeping the balance between cutting down and replanting was important. Ever since the village started utilizing the forest, they kept this practice in mind. Nowadays, that seemed like it was irrelevant.
Her concerns weren't unwarranted. The forest looked a lot more bare than it was back when she was a child. A lot of older people also noticed how bare the forest was compared to before. She was a bit distraught at the waning of the forest. So much so that she took her concerns to the village head. "Sir, I have a few concerns regarding the forest," she stated.
The village head looked on with intrigue, "Oh really, what is it?"
"I'm worried that we might be cutting down too many trees. You have to admit that the forest is looking a lot more bare than it once was."
The village head seemed to understand her concerns, but he reassured, "Look Maya, you can put your worries aside. I have it under control."
This response didn't seem to quell her worries. "We really need to start slowing down our wood production if we want to restore the forest," she added.
"Maya, trust me, I'll have this matter taken care of." With the village head giving nothing but lip service, Maya returned back home. It was clear that changing things would take more than just a plea. She was also tired from a long days of work, so it would be better for her to rest and wait for tomorrow to sort things out.
At home, she was greeted by her husband and two kids. They have already took the liberty of preparing dinner. Banja was cooking some haruan fish while Maul was making the sauce that consisted of onions, garlic, chili peppers, tamarind, along with some salt and sugar. The smell was quite aromatic, the spices blended perfectly to create a spicy, sweet and sour flavour. Meanwhile, Walat was preparing some rice. After finishing, they set up the dinner table—putting down the haruan fish, rice, and some sauteed fiddleheads.
As they dig in, Banja asked her, "So, how did it go with the village head?"
"Awful to say the least," she bluntly said, "You know how dismissive he is." Her disappointment with the village head was shared by a lot of other members of the village. Unlike his late father—may he rest in peace—the current village head was not quick to take action, even to his own father's disappearance. His father didn't die in the usual sense, rather he seemingly vanished mysteriously.
One day, his father and some other men went to go survey the forest. After an entire day, none of them came back. Days had passed and still no sign of them. At that time, the village head was only 14 years old. One would think that the disappearance of his father would greatly impact him to be extremely attentive to any issues lurking in the village, but no. In fact, quite the opposite. His father's disappearance might have left him feeling hopeless in the face of any issues—thinking that they would most likely take care of themselves one way or the other. The inevitable culling of the forest might just be one of them.
The next day, Maya met with the village head once again. She pleaded the same case to him, with more vigor this time. "As this village's head, you need to be responsible for our greatest gift," she asserted, "Without the forest, our village would be nothing." She thought that her passionate plea would finally convince him to take action, but he still wasn't budging.
"Maya," he said sternly, "While I appreciate your passionate plea, I'm the one who you should be pleading to."
His words struck a chord within her. She's been pleading her case towards the wrong person. Even if the village head wanted to push back production, the countless woodcutters who work on said production wouldn't. This was their livelihood after all; they weren't just going to halt their income. Maya herself was also a woodcutter, her livelihood would also be affected by this change. The rising demand from the other villages also impeded it. It was becoming very clear that a strongly worded plea wasn't going to cut it. They needed to rework this entire system—something that couldn't be done alone.
In order to give the village head some insight into the situation, she suggested for him to come with her and see the forest first hand. Seeing the issue up-close would maybe help him decide what to do going forward. They could also try convincing some of the woodcutters to help their efforts.
When they were at the forest's entrance, they spotted something special. A flower was growing near the entrance—a big one at that. What made this flower special was how rare it was. Only a few have been recorded to exist in this forest, one of them Maya had seen long ago. It was probably around a meter wide, sporting five big petals. Those petals had reddish-brown coloration; along with white spots that were speckled about. In the center was a cavity that hosted its reproductive organs—reminiscent of a gaping mouth. Last but not least, the smell that emanated from this flower resembled rotting flesh. Its distinctive smell has earned it many names—"The Stinky Lily"; "The Rotting Blossom"; or to be more morbid, "The Corpse Flower".
The flower's beauty could not distract from its putrid smell. Many woodcutters avoided getting near it as the smell diverted their focus. Extended exposure to this flower's scent might lead to headaches, according to some woodcutters. But since it was possibly a rare specimen, nobody dared to get rid of them. Even if they wanted to, it would be an unpleasant process. The smell alone made it hard to get close without feeling sick. Other than that, because of its size, the flower was heavy; a lot heavier than flowers usually were. These flowers were only an inconvenience to the woodcutters since the grew deep in the forest, covered by the canopy. It was unusual for it to grow near the forest's edge.
As they went past the flower, Maya and the village head delved into a particularly bus part of the forest. There, the village head could see how much damage the forest has endured. Usually the gaps between the trees could barely fit an adult human, but now, it could fit two people stretching out their arms. The stumps were also removed to be used as fuel. Hardly anybody was replanting these tress, maybe a couple here and there, but not enough to replace the ones that have been cut down. On top of this, the vibrant green grass that covered the ground had withered away from all of the stepping.
A look of great sorrow was plastered all over the village head's face as he witnessed the once great forest—now a shell of its former self. He could not deny any longer; something must be done to stop this forest from deteriorating any further. "All right," he said, facing Maya, "Its high time we fix this." She could not be more thrilled to hear those words. Finally, they were going to restore this vast swath of vegetation to its former glory.
A committee was formed to analyze, investigate, and solve this problem. First off were the countless woodcutters who would need some sort of reimbursement, maybe a reassignment to another job while the restoration was ongoing. They could take up other manual labor jobs that needed to be done.
Then there was the actual restoration itself. A surplus amount of seeds were readily available for use, so plenty of trees could be restored. While the tree's trunk may be gone, the roots were still intact. This could make growing new trees a lot easier as they could connect to the already existing root system.
Last but certainly not least, something needed to be done about the loss income due to the halting of wood production. The forest has been this village's main source of income for quite some time. This may be a good chance for the village to reduce their reliance on the forest. They could expand their horizons to other areas nearby. There was a floodplain near the village that has a whole host of different resources. One of them was fertile farming land.
With a plan in hand, this restoration was shaping up to be a success. All they needed to do was survey the forest. Unfortunately, some other news would greatly impede the restoration.
Tomorrow arrived and the sun was shining down upon Kayung. It was looking like a wonderful day. While Maya was getting ready for the day, a knock could be heard from the door. She checked to see who it was, thinking that the village head might be coming over to go over the plan a bit more.When she opened the door, she was surprised to see that it was one of her neighbors—a young woman. She lived next door with her husband.
She look distraught, almost like something bad had transpired. "Maya, have you seen my husband recently?" she said with a touch of worry in her eyes.
Maya was confused as to why she would be asking that. "No, I haven't seen him. Why do you ask?" she replied.
"It's just that he hasn't come back after going to work at the forest yesterday." Alarming, to say the least. No woodcutter would ever dare spend the night in the forest without equipment. At night, the forest would almost be pitch black. So, most of them would call it a day when the sun was still up.
Maya relayed this news to the village head. He was talking with the committee about the survey when Maya brought the missing woodcutter to his attention. Surveying the forest would have to wait until this man was found. A search party was formed, consisting of three people. They were properly equipped to venture out to the forest. Since their supplies would only last up to a week, they were ordered to return after a week, even if they didn't find him. Most of them were hopeful that the man would be found, but their hope was gradually whittled away after a week had passed and no one returned. Day by day, they waited on their safe return, but nobody was coming back. Now, they had another crisis in hand; four people had gone missing in the forest.
The survey seemed like it was going to be delayed indefinitely, but the village head decided to press on ahead anyway. Maya had some apprehensions about this decision. She felt that it didn't feel right to go on with the survey while the people were still missing. The village head wanted to convince her by suggesting that maybe they could help search for them while surveying the forest. So in addition to the surveyors, they will be another search party joining them, lead by Maya. This time, everybody had to leave the forest by dusk—no exceptions.
Joining the search party was Maya's second son, Walat. At first she didn't want him anywhere near the forest, but because of his persistent, she allowed him to join under the condition that she would be watching him at all times. The entire search party was ordered to keep an eye on each other so that nobody went missing. To be frank, most of the members of the search party didn't have high hopes on finding them. They would likely have run out of supplies. If they managed to find a sustainable food and water source, then maybe survival was possible. Of course the chances of that happening was still pretty slim. Maya was probably the most hopeful out of the group. She clung on to the small chance that they may have survived. At the very least, they could find their bodies to give them a proper burial.
They headed out to the forest first thing in the morning, hoping to make full use of the sunlight. Not a single second should be wasted. They got a good 12 hours before they had to return. The forest itself was very empty that day. The disappearances deterred a lot of people from going into the the forest, less they also disappear.
While 12 hours might seem like a lot of time, being in the forest really messed up their sense of time. One minute the fresh morning air was permeating the forest, the next minute, it was the sweltering afternoon, and yet they still made no progress. They hadn't come close to finding any semblance of the missing people.
At that point, most of the members of the search party were ready to return. The surveyors had already left, so it was a matter of time before they did as well. Of course there was still one person that was still determined to find them. Maya hadn't given up yet. She was going to keep searching until the bitter end, or at least until night. Walat on the other-hand, was over it. Even though he persisted on joining, he was expecting for it to be more eventful.
Maya was none too pleased at him. "Are you serious? You were the one who kept on badgering me about joining. Now you're just going to leave?" she said furiously.
"Face it mom, we're never going to find them," he retorted.
The nerve, the gall, the audacity for him to be saying this when he was the one who insisted on coming. It was hot and humid, she's completely drenched in sweat and Maya just had enough of it. "Well you can take yourself home because I didn't raise a quitter. I'll do this myself," she yelled out.
"Fine," he yelled back. Walat stormed away furiously as Maya watched. This search effort went wrong in every possible way, but Maya was not willing to give up. Despite all of the signs that this was hopeless, she kept on going. Although, something was going to make her leave—if she wanted to or not.
A few minutes after Walat stormed off, a scream could be heard echoing through the forest. Maya heard this shriek and immediately recognized who it was—Walat was in danger. She rushed towards the direction of the scream, avoiding obstacles with great agility. This forest could not stop her maternal instincts. Nothing except for the safety of her son was in mind.
After some time running, the scream stopped as quickly as it started. Maya stopped to catch her breath and reorient herself. She checked out her surroundings to find that flowers were all over the place, one type of flower to be specific. Corpse flowers were littered all over the place, on the ground and trees. The thought of being around all of these flowers was already enough to make her hurl, but weirdly, the smell wasn't what it usually was. Unlike the usual smell of rotting flesh, this smell was more metallic. If the corpse flower usually smelled like a decaying corpse, then this smell was like the blood.
Maya was understandably disturbed by it. This smell was even more unpleasant than the usual. Enough to make her a bit lightheaded. Her vision began to blur and when she felt like she was about to faint, she heard a voice. It was faint, but she could clearly hear it—almost like it was inside her head. She looked for where the voice was coming from. While it may seem absurd, she thought that the voice was coming from one of the flowers.
She approach said flower. inching closer and closer until her face was in front of the flower's cavity. The voices kept getting louder—now a cacophony. In the midst of her daze, the cavity looked like an empty abyss. She kept staring into the abyss, still confused. Eventually, she spotted something—a face. Her blurred vision didn't let her recognize who it was, but she would soon as the face got closer. Not long after, it was clear as day. The face was none other than Walat, looking lifeless with completely whited out eyes. Blood started spilling out the flower as Maya's eyes widen in horror. A few seconds of silence preceded a moment that she would never forget. "Leave this place," the face said in a ghastly voice. Immediately, Maya screamed in terror. She bolted away from the flower, desperately trying to escape the forest. Her mind was filled with a mixture of fear and sorrow, contemplating the loss of her son and complete utter terror.
The other members of the search party were unharmed, while Maya was irreparably psychologically damaged. Her love for the forest had turned into a debilitating fear. She couldn't bring herself to attend her son's funeral.
In other news, the restoration project was definitively cancelled. The corpse flowers have taken over the forest. Turns out that these flowers were parasitic, feeding on the plants they grew on. The forest was closed off to the populace and would not be opened up ever again. Obviously, this had major ramifications for the village. They now would have to set their eyes on new horizons. Several lessons were learned that day, but the most important one was—Don't Fuck With Nature.