Toad Attack

I’ve received a request from a lovely young lady for a story about fairies. What a great idea! And I thought to make the story more whimsical, or maybe just goofy, than usual. Which brought to mind a snippet of a story a fiend helped me start years ago that I never finished.

So this story is dedicated to two wonderful ladies.

Jael – for such a great story idea! May your own writing and reading always be an adventure.

and

Marjorie – who gave me the image of Squirrel Ivan Van Hoven. Your imagination is delightful.

Now on to the story!

Toad Attack

Moira raced with the shadow of a bird. The red-feathered hawk flew above her, high in the sky with its wings stretched to catch the current of the wind. Flapping her wings as hard as she could, she tried to keep her own shadow inline with the bird’s as it flew across the ground, the trees, the brush.

The larger shadow paced ahead and was gone with a single flap of the hawk’s wings. Moira settled on a juniper bush and slumped. She’d never be fast enough. Her shoulders ached by what most fairies could do without exerting themselves. She’d been born too small to be of much use.

Miniature Moira. It was the term the others teased her with when she couldn’t keep up.

The wind played through the bush, swaying it beneath her feet. Maybe a moment with the wind would cheer her. Rising into the air, Moira hovered in the leaves of an aspen tree, enjoying the play of the wind across her wings and the smell of new leaves in the air. If she moved her wings just enough to flutter with the leaves, she could hold the position for hours. Too bad she couldn’t maintain speed that way.

A squirrel scampered into the field in front of her.

Moira sucked in a breath to call a greeting but then the air whooshed from her without sound. The squirrel clutched a small paper sack in one paw. He boasted two crooked front teeth and two hairs sticking straight up from the top of his reddish head.

When he pulled out the sandwich, Moira’s doubt disappeared. Squirrel Ivan Van Hoven, sworn enemy of anything with wings. He hated fairies for their ability to make non-winged creatures fly since he found it the cruelest choice of nature to make a flying squirrel—without wings.

Beside him on the log settled a toad the size of a rabbit.

“They’ll never see you coming.” The words sprayed from the squirrel’s mouth along with globs of boysenberry jam from his sandwich. He was obviously picking up on a conversation Moira had missed.

She shuddered, then stilled, as the squirrel looked her way.

“How many do you need?” the toad eyed the sandwich for the yellow bees stuffed between the slices of bread.

Moira held in another shudder. Boysenberries and bees on wheat. It was Squirrel Van Hoven’s trademark.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

“Ten or so,” he answered while catching a bee that escaped his bite and stuffing it back in between the bread.

Squirrel Van Hoven had launched an attack against the fairies six months before. He’d allied with mosquitoes then but had been thwarted by netting the fairies made from moss.

The toad was new. She’d never heard of the squirrel working with toads but that wasn’t important, their plan was.

“You’re sure?” the toad croaked.

“Positive. Ten fairies for their wings. You produce that and you can have my stash of bees.” He held out the sandwich as proof.

Ten fairies. It was the perfect number. Mixed with a few other choice ingredients, the wings would make Squirrel Van Hoven float…indefinitely.

The toad’s tongue flicked across his narrow lips and he rumbled a croak deep in his throat.

“Done,” he said. With one bound he was back in the trees and gone from sight.

Squirrel Van Hoven bit into his sandwich and chewed slowly. He caught a blob of jam escaping from the back of the bread. Instead of licking his paw clean, he spit on it, and then he pulled back and pitched the jam at Moira.

The sticky mess splattered the leaves and her wings and weighed her to the ground.

“Spying?” Squirrel Van Hoven chuckled. “Fairies make poor spies. You glitter your dust with every flap of your wings.” His crooked toothed grin was smeared with jam. “Good luck warning your friends. That jam won’t come off for days.” Cackling and dripping jam, he scampered from the clearing.

Moira pulled a wing around to inspect the damage. Her fingers stuck to the gossamer.

“Ich!” She tried to pull free but whatever Squirrel Van Hoven used in his jam glued her fingers to her wings. “No, no, no…” she muttered. She had to warn the fairies of the toad’s attack but without her wings she’d never make it home in time. She’d barely make it in time even if she left right away.

“Spit on it.”

“What?” Moira didn’t see anyone near her.

“Spit on it.”

Her eyes swung to the ground. In a glob of jam dropped from the squirrel’s sandwich was a bee.

“How do you think he eats the stuff without gluing himself to everything?” the bee asked.

“His spit?” Moira recoiled.

“Any spit will work.” The bee worked on his own body, spitting and working it into the jam stuck to his wings. Clearly it was working.

“Yuk,” Moira spit on her fingers. With a bit of work, her hands came clean but the damage to her wings was extensive.

“This’ll take forever,” she moaned, holding one wing carefully by the top edge.

The bee, done with himself, buzzed over.

“It is bad,” he buzzed. “I’ll find help.”

“No! Wait!” But the bee was gone. “Warn the fairies.” She said to the thin air. Her own problem was small compared to the squirrel’s plan.

Moira went back to cleaning her wings, spitting on her palms and working globs of jam out of the gossamer.

Mr. Squirrel Van Hoven certainly knew what he was about. By hitting her wings, he’d not only grounded her but stopped her ability to produce fairy dust.

Without the dust, she couldn’t float home either.

A particularly large spot of jam stuck a section of wing to the top of her shoulder.

Moira had almost worked it free when a hum reached her ears. It grew in volume until it droned, vibrating the air around her. The sky filled with yellow bodies and the bee from earlier landed in front of her.

“Brought a friend or two and half my cousins,” he said, gesturing at bees landing all around him.

“Go warn the fairies!” Moira shooed them away.

“Other half of the cousins have that covered,” the bee waved at the sky where a mass of others still flew.

“Oh,” she felt a tug and turned to find several bees spitting on her wings.

“You’re spitting on me!”

“You’ll smell sweet,” several buzzed back.

Moira couldn’t think of a response. Their legs as they worked felt like the tingles she got when she put her feet to sleep, except there was no pain, just tingle.

“There you go.”

The bees held out her wings and dust glittered in a cloud around them.

Several of them caught by it started to float without moving their wings.

“Oops,” Moira caught them before they floated away.

“The toads are coming!” The cry was faint, shouted by a tiny bee high in the air, but it caught everyone’s attention. “They’ve got boysenberry bombs!”

To Be Finished on Thursday

Blessings,

Jennifer

The Game 2 Option Ab2: Together

Readers have chosen to team up with the other ant in the game and see if both of you can get out. Sounds a little against the rules but hey, you were never told the rules, so you may as well try, right?

Let’s see how this adventure ends=)

The Game 2 Option Ab2: Together

The Game Option Ab2: Suggest There’s a Way for Both to Get OutThe ant looks completely dejected. His shoulders slump and his front legs hang beside his wings. Although it’d be nice to simply leave, your conscience would plague you knowing you left him behind.

“Maybe there’s a way for us both to get out,” you say.

“What?” his head comes up so fast you wonder if ants can get whip lash.

“Have you ever tried to leave the game with someone,” you say.

“No, no one’s even suggested such a thing. It could work!” he jumps up and down, fluttering his wings until you pull him back to the ground by his feet.

“Let’s find the ring.”

“Right, right.”

You tell him about the statue of the child with wings and then you fly over the ruins searching. There are a lot of pedestals where statues used to sit but it’s not until you reach the very center of the ruins that you find the child with wings.

Landing by the statue, the ant lands next to you like you’re tethered together. He’s not getting more than an ant leg away from you. Perhaps he’s scared you’re trying to trick him.

“How long have you been in game?” you ask.

“Can’t really tell,” he replies. “Five people have gone through before you. The first few I tried to tell but they hid the map from me and ran away so I stopped telling people they could get stuck here.”

“I can see why.” You walk around the statue as you talk, checking each pock mark in the base for the ring. You’ve circled it twice when a glint of silver catches your eye.

“There,” you pull the ring out and hold it up.

The ant looks at you, fear in his eyes.

“What do we have to do?” You ask.

“They put the ring on and drink from the bottle and poof, they disappear.”

“The ring’s big enough for us both to wear,” you comment, sliding the ring over one of your legs. He slides his right leg in next to yours and you stand shoulder to shoulder as you pull the bottle from your pocket. The ring’s big enough it could fit over your head, so there’s room to spare for both your legs.

Unstoppering the bottle, you drink half and hand him the rest.

“Here goes nothing,” he says and downs it.

He lights up around the edges with a yellow glow. Looking at yourself, you’re glowing too.

In wonder, you look at your legs and your torso, which are changing from ant shape back to human. The glow fades and you look around to see you’re back in the attic with a small man wearing glasses standing shoulder to shoulder with you.

“It worked!” He shouts and jumps up and down just like he did in ant form.

“We’re back,” you agree, stretching your arms and legs as you get used to your human form again.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” He jumps up and down and then hugs you. “I’m hungry, lets go find some human food!” And he races out of the room.

You follow more slowly and end up eating dinner with him and Ms. Williams before heading to bed half believing the whole thing was a dream.

You made it out though and you’re happy with that. The game purported to have treasure at the end and, someday, maybe you’ll go back in to try and find it. But for now, it’s good just to be human.

The End

No treasure but you end the game human and you helped the other ant out too! Not bad for an adventure=)

Thanks for joining in and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Blessings,

Jennifer

The Game 2 Option Ab: Fight

It was a close call but readers have voted to stand and fight the red spider! Let’s see what happens.

The Game Option Ab: Fight

Having an ugly red spider behind you could be really bad. If you leave her behind, she could always show up later to ruin your day.

Struggling to your feet, you check the cane to find it has a blade sticking out the side like a sword. At least the game didn’t dump you in the jungle without something to defend yourself with.

The spider sets down and rears up on her legs. Trails of saliva string from her lips but whether they’re from hunger or anger, you can’t say.

Swinging the cane, it chops off her front right leg. She tilts with a cry but instead of going down or retreating, she shoots a glob of web. You spin to the side but the sticky glob catches your wing, weighing it down. It slows your reaction as she makes a grab at your legs.

The cane flies from your hands and you fall. As you struggle to move, she smacks her lips in anticipation and goes to bite you. You’re weaponless and your limbs are held by the spider, but as her teeth draw closer, you wriggle your wing free and slap her in the face with it, sticky web and all.

She rears back, fighting her own glob of web. You scramble for the cane and feel it’s reassuring dragon head in your hand. Just as the spider frees her face from the web, you swing, catching her body. She flies through the air to land on her back. Then her legs curl in and she doesn’t move.

“Wow,” says the ant, still in a tree above your head. “I’ve never seen someone do that before.”

“Let’s get out of here,” you say.

You and the ant fly into the ruins and you show him the map. It shows a wall of Dancing Ladies in which a bottle is apparently hidden. As you wing through the ruins, you’re careful not to fly into another web, which is a good thing because there are webs everywhere.

As the day slowly fades, you pause in front of a wall. You’ve passed it before but as the light shifts lower to the horizon, the pock marks and crumbling lines shift with purpose. Flying up and down as you watch, the lines on the wall move like a cartoon drawing through a notebook. Ladies dancing.

“Found it,” you call to the ant.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

He’s beside you in no time. “The wall’s covered in webs.”

Pressing the dragon’s eyes on the cane, the sword blade juts out of the side and you clear the wall until you find a small shelf. Tucked on the shelf is a bottle no bigger than your ant leg.

The ant reaches for it but you snatch it out before him. You tuck it into the pocket of your brown coat, eyeing the ant’s look of frustration as you do. What’s the bottle to him?

Checking the map, the next destination looks to be in the same ruins. Instead of the bottle though, you’re now looking for a ring which appears to be hidden at the base of a statue of a child with wings.

The ant tries to look over your shoulder but you fold the map before he gets a good look.

“Why do you want the bottle?” you ask him.

He stutters out a reply about not wanting the bottle but you eye him in disbelief and he deflates. “I’m like you,” he finally says, “I can’t leave without the items on the map and no one’s ever offered to exchange places with me.”

“Why haven’t you just run the game yourself? You had the map in the trunk.”

“I can’t. It only works for the most recent person. If I walked through the door, I’d have nothing to go off of.”

“What happens to the person who stays behind?” you ask.

He shrugs, “they run the game with the next person. I think.”

So do you…

Ab1. Offer to change places?

or

Ab2. Suggest you both try to get out?

Blessings,

Jennifer

(Please post a comment with your choice. One vote per post please but comment as much as you like=) Voting will end at 6pm Pacific Time Wednesday. I’ll post whichever option gets the most votes Thursday and we’ll see how the adventure finishes!)

The Game 2 Option A: Jungle

Reader’s choice has us headed into the jungle for a second time. Let’s see what’s ahead=)

The Game Option A: Jungle

Looking at the map, the idea of picking up details easier appeals to you. There are a lot of little notations. You swing the door closed and then open again.

The ant groans as you step through into the heat of the jungle.

“So what am I looking for?” you ask.

“The treasure, of course,” the ant says.

You look at him and start. You’re looking eye to eye with him. Holding your hands up, you find you have too many of them and, bending to look at yourself, you’re looking at a hard black shell of a body. Strangely enough, you’re still wearing the brown jacket and in your lower left hand, you clutch the head of the dragon cane.

“I’m an ant!?”

“At least you have wings,” the ant points with a smile like maybe this’ll keep you from attacking him.

Twisting to see, sure enough, you have wings. Transparant, wispy things that might carry you.

“Great,” you grumble. “Some game.”

“It’ll be fun, trust me,” the ant grins but it looks more like he’s trying to convince than like he believes it himself.

You turn away and open the map again. The ant in the corner is highlighted and a trail stands out that you didn’t see before.

“Guess I’m supposed to head that way.” Testing your wings, you lift into the air and wobble in place for a moment.

“Yay!” Cries the ant. “They work.”

Oh joy. Your wings working surprises him. But they are working and, giving them a moment to adjust, they feel strong as you listen to the soft hum they create.

Flying through the trees, it doesn’t take long to see the first marker on the map. It’s a crumbling structure of stone like an old temple. The map depicts a jar in one of the temple walls, so you guess you’re supposed to find this jar before moving on. Winging closer, you come up short with a whiplash snap.

Struggling, you only manage to stick yourself more to what you now realize is a gigantic web. A spider with a bulbous red body and long, sharply jointed legs shakes the web as she steps on.

“Weave the web and wait the day,

for something’s sure to catch the lay…”

The spider sings as she meanders closer. Her many legs click in a dance of joy at her fresh meal.

“Weave the web and shake it dry,

let it sit for eyes will lie…”

You look around as best you can but even your head’s stuck to the sticky fibers. Then you see the flutter of transparent wings as the ant settles down on a leaf nearby.

His eyes shift from the spider back to you. Sure she doesn’t see him, he holds out a stick and acts like he’s using it to walk.

The cane.

You tilt your head as far toward your lower left hand as possible and the ant jumps up and down in excitement that you picked up on his charades. He holds out the stick and starts poking the handle of his makeshift cane.

You frown, not entirely sure what he’s getting at, but feel around the head of the cane until you feel the eyes of the dragon give under your probing fingers. Pressing harder, there’s a slicing sound like cutting a vegetable.

“Weave the we-ssss…”

She hisses and her many eyes narrow to slits. You can’t see the cane but it must have done something. You shift your hand as hard as you can and the web sags. She stalks toward you, her round body low to the web and her lips pulling back to reveal more saliva than you care to consider. You cut faster until suddenly you’re falling and fighting to get your wings out to break your fall.

A leaf breaks it instead just before you hit the ground.

“Gahh,” you groan as you roll onto your back.

There, above you, the spider’s lowering herself. She’s coming fast and the look on her face is vengeful. Above her, still on his leaf, sits the ant. He’s gesturing for you to get up and run.

Do you…

Aa. Run?

or

Ab. Fight?

Blessings,

Jennifer

(Please post a comment with your choice. One vote per post please but comment as much as you like=) Voting will end at 6pm Pacific Time Monday. I’ll post whichever option gets the most votes Tuesday and we’ll see how the adventure continues!)

The Game 2

Time for another chance to explore an adventure for a second time! The last time this adventure was run, you found a rather unfortunate end. If you’d like to read the first run in it’s entirety, click here. Now, let’s hope for something more healthy this time!

Read on and, at the end, leave a comment for how you’d like the story to continue=)

The Game

On a whim, you stopped for the night at a random Bed and Breakfast off Highway 50 that you’d never noticed before. You’ve work on Monday but it’s only Saturday and a few days away sound like heaven.

You asked if there was a quiet place you could sit for a while and the owner of the Bed and Breakfast, Ms. Williams, directed you to the attic. You anticipated her to send you to the porch table out back or perhaps the trail that leads from the back of the B&B into the mountains.

“Up the stairs, dear,” she said, “just open the door at the end of the hall and make yourself comfortable. Anything in there’s fair game too, if you want it. It’s where I keep things left behind.”

A stab of disappointment hits you at her words. The attic? Really? But she’s a nice old lady and you don’t want to insult her, so you climb the stairs as they creak beneath your weight and give her a smile as you go.

The door to the attic’s an old relic. Painted a dull red with a crystal handle like you might find in your grandmother’s house.

You find it unlocked and slip inside to find an old style attic, peeked ceiling, wooden floorboards, rounded window and all. There’s a chair by the window and, since you asked for a quiet place to sit, you walk over and sit in the wooden thing.

Quiet’s right. You can just hear the steps of Ms. Williams downstairs as she cleans up from breakfast but after a short while even

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

that fades and the silence surrounds you along with the dry, dusty smell of attics the world over. You watch the aspen leaves fluttering in the breeze beyond the window until your eyes droop from the warmth of the dry room.

Maybe you snore, maybe not, but something wakes you with a start. You’re eyes blur and then come to focus on an ant sitting on your knee. Its shape is fuzzy from the dusky gray now showing through the window. It’s the only light in the attic.

“Oh dear, I’ve been had.” The ant takes flight and disappears into the lid of an old trunk tucked under the eve of the attic.

You shake your head. It spoke. It’s an insect…but it spoke.

Curiosity gets the better of you. Ducking to avoid the sloped ceiling, you pull the trunk from its spot so it sits in front of the chair and then you flip the lid open as you sit back down.

A cane with a dragon’s head stares back at you. Beneath it is a long brown jacket and a folded letter but no ant. Extracting the letter from under the cane, you find it crinkles at your touch and is browned around the folds. Ms. Williams said to make yourself welcome, so you flip the letter open.

Wear the coat and use the crutch and see the world through a different clutch. 

Odd. Not the best rhyme you’ve ever seen. There are two pages to the letter, so you flip to the next page. It’s a map with an ant at one corner and an elephant at the other. Because it’s kind of fun, you pull the cane and coat out and hold them over your arm as you close the trunk and slide it back under the eves.

Then you head for the door because the light from the window is gone and you’re surrounded by darkness.

You open the door and almost stumble into a jungle. A blast of heat hits your face along with a wave of bugs. Yuck. You slam the door shut and try again. You open to sprawling grass land. What the? 

“I suggest the grass land,” says a voice.

In the light from the open door, you see the ant sitting on your arm along with the cane and coat.

“Why? why can’t I just go down stairs again?”

“You opened the letter,” the ant shrugs. “Now you’ve got to play the game. Kind of. If you win, you find treasure, if you loose, you either die or get sent back to your boring life.”

“What happened to you?”

“I was made as part of the adventure. No win/loose for me. Just be. I suggest you put on the coat before you step through.”

The ant flies into the air as you swing the coat onto your shoulders. It fits. Perfectly.

“So what’ll it be, jungle or grassland?” asks the ant as you fit the cane to your hand.

“What’s it matter?”

“Grassland you can travel faster but it’s easier to miss details. Jungle’s slower but you have a better chance to pick up on key points of  the map.”

You open your mouth to ask more but the ant interrupts. “That’s all you get. I can’t say more.”

You scowl at him.

So do you choose…

A. Jungle?

or

B. Grassland?

Blessings,

Jennifer

(Please post a comment with your choice. One vote per post please but comment as much as you like=) Voting will end at 6pm Pacific Time Wednesday. I’ll post whichever option gets the most votes Thursday and we’ll see how the adventure continues!)

Beauty Chapter Three Part Two

Welcome back for the finish to Beauty Chapter Three. Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback. If you’ve missed the previous posts in this story, please find the cliff notes versions below=)

Cliff Notes Ch. 1: Lila Dean’s a young girl who lost her mother in a fire and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally, as a result. Now people just don’t look at her, so when a stranger approaches and asks her to steal the Roy’s ruby to help him save his daughter, she takes the chance to do something good.

But Billy Roy catches her in the theft. To her surprise, he doesn’t stop her, instead he trusts she’s doing it for a good reason. So when Lila Dean goes to give the ruby to the stranger, Michael, she questions his story and it falls apart. She realizes she’s been taken for a fool and runs away. Now she’s determined to return the ruby and make things right.

Cliff Notes Ch. 2: When Lila Dean tries to return the ruby, she arrives to find the town burning and the people taken captive. With the help of her father’s friend, Sheldon Lea, she helps her father and the Roy’s escape but must give up the ruby to the soldiers in the process. (If you’d like to read these in full, they can be found here: Chapter One and Chapter Two.)

Beginning of Ch. 3: Lila Dean and Billy Roy are watching the town when they realize the soldiers are going to bury the mine with everyone in it. They return to their parents for help but can’t convince them because their parent’s believe the soldiers need the wealth from the mine. So Lila Dean and Billy Roy have headed into the mine by an unstable back entrance in hopes of saving the town’s folk.

Now for the rest. Enjoy=)

Beauty Chapter Three Part Two

She headed forward only to look back to find Roy not moving.

“Roy!”

He started. “Right.”

They kept going for another few minutes before other sounds started to reach them. Crying. Lila Dean picked up on the sobs.

“That’s Mary Mae,” she said.

“What?”

“She hiccups when she cries.”

Roy raised brow. Lila Dean shrugged. What else was she supposed to do when she couldn’t play with the others?

In the light of their lanterns, eyes reflected back, then groups of huddled people tied together.

Billy Roy rushed forward to release the first two miners. Lila Dean moved to the next ones.

Surprise lit their eyes, and then they looked away while she cut their cords. She paused. Still they wouldn’t look at her?

Biting her tongue, she cut their feet free. Her hands shook as she moved on to the next person but whether it was nervousness or fury, she couldn’t tell beyond the flush coloring her face.

Ungrateful. Stu-

“Men!” One miner called out. He was free of his ropes and stood at the edge of the lantern light. Lila Dean recognized him as a shift

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

supervisor but she couldn’t recall his name.

“Escape tunnel. Let’s go.”

Lila Dean froze.

“Wait. It’s not safe. Use the back entrance,” Roy called over the general noise.

The man scanned everyone but couldn’t place who’d spoken.

“Back entrance is unstable. Escape tunnel’s safer.” He called, and took off, leading ten or so people behind him.

“No!”

Lila Dean’s shout mixed with Roy’s but the word was lost as those still tied up yelled at those leaving ahead of them.

A touch to the back of her hand pulled Lila Dean’s attention back to the person in front of her. She’d stopped looking at them, just cutting ropes and moving on.

Her eyes met those of Mary Mae. The girl pulled her hand back like she’d been stung.

Lila Dean sliced her feet free and moved on.

“Thank you,” Mary Mae hiccupped.

Lila Dean’s heart skipped. Her throat tightened as she looked back at the girl. Mary Mae was beautiful. She was that girl, the one all the boys had eyes for.

At the moment her blue eyes were lined with red, her cheeks puffy from crying and her hair mussed, sticking up on one side.

She was still beautiful but the mess transformed her into someone approachable.

Lila Dean gave her a nod and pointed to where Billy Roy was explaining to the next miner about the back entrance. Mary Mae smiled, her lips quivering, and moved to join him.

Lila Dean moved down the line of people, her thoughts on those first ten that were now walking straight into the soldier’s explosion.

Her skin pricked, waiting for the concussion to the air of the first charges going off. She’d never been in the mine when explosives were being used and she didn’t want to be now.

Roy went back to cutting people free as the miner took over explaining the escape route to everyone. Lila Dean sighed relief. It was good Roy was with her because she doubted anyone would have listened if she’d tried to explain herself.

What had Roy told them about the escape tunnel? She couldn’t hear the miner’s words but whatever he was saying, no one was arguing.

They only had the two lanterns, so the miners formed groups to lead the town’s people by touch. They instructed the people to hold hands in a line with one miner in front, one in back and then the front man would lead them with his free hand on the left wall.

Lila Dean cut the last person free, marveling at the miner’s courage. The system wasn’t fast but it got everyone moving.

“We’ll take the last group,” Roy informed the miner directing everyone. He nodded and headed out.

Lila Dean joined the last group, wanting to yell at them when they glanced at her and then pointedly looked away.

“They won’t follow me,” she told Roy. She handed him his lantern and moved to the back with her own.

The woman in front of her hesitated to offer her hand. Lila Dean grabbed her right hand with her left, unscarred one.

“I’m not catching,” she muttered. Instead of hearing the woman’s answer, her ears rang and the ground jerked beneath her feet.

“Run!” Roy pulled them forward.

Lila Dean stumbled over rocks and the ground shook again but every one was stumbling, so she doggedly kept on.

They took the tunnel to the back entrance and the walls became less formed. Dirt rained on their heads.

There was a crack and the beam ahead sagged in the middle. They ducked it. Another crack and a whoosh of air and dust caught at Lila Dean’s back as the beam gave behind them. Light appeared ahead through the dust and dirt. They raced from tunnel to open daylight as another explosion shook the ground.

The woman dropped Lila Dean’s hand and turned away.

Roy led them away from the mine, catching up with several other groups along the way.

Lila Dean trailed behind. Their rejection burned at her throat. Before she’d always expected it but somehow she’d thought saving them would earn her some notice, some respect. It made it all the worse instead.

Lila Dean leaned against a tree as her tears escaped. Not even saving them made her acceptable.

I never will be.

“Help!”

Lila Dean’s head pivoted. The cry was faint but then it came again and she was sure she wasn’t mistaken.

Following the sound, she came into view of the escape tunnel—or what was left of it.

“Help!”

She crept closer, bracing herself for blood or amputation or-

Rubble filled the tunnel’s entrance and from it protruded Marcus Roy’s head and torso. His legs disappeared into the mass of rock.

“I heard people down there,” he said, “but the charges blew before I made it to them. The soldiers knew about this tunnel. How could they…” He rambled on, pushing feebly at the rocks on top of him.

Lila Dean didn’t answer. She let him ramble as she pulled rocks away from him.

The other people couldn’t have survived. But Marcus Roy had tried to help even after he’d argued with his son. Lila Dean’s mind rolled almost as much as her stomach.

“Mr. Roy, I need you to push up on this one,” she interrupted him.

His words stopped and he really looked at her.

“Why are you helping?”

Lila Dean frowned. “Push up.” She repeated instead of answering. Did he really think she’d leave him half buried? Did scars somehow make her a monster inside too?

He pushed as she levered under the rock with a stick. It finally rolled free, revealing a broken leg but miraculously nothing worse.

“I think Doc made it,” she said. “Let’s get you to camp.”

Lila Dean settled his arm over her shoulders and groaned as she took his weight to help him stand. He screamed when his broken leg dragged across the ground.

“Why are you helping me?” he repeated through gritted teeth.

It was going to be a long walk back to camp but Lila Dean didn’t know how to answer. She was saved from having to by several men who found them.

“Heard your scream,” one explained as they took over carrying Marcus Roy. He kept his eyes on Lila Dean like he was demanding an answer. When he passed out from pain a few minutes later, she felt a sense of relief she never thought possible when she’d always wanted to be seen.

Lila Dean followed them back to camp where everyone was following Sheldon Lea’s direction. They were moving farther from the town to avoid the soldiers.

She couldn’t place her father among the chaos. Roy passed with the Doc close at his heels. His eyes slid past her like she wasn’t there. She snapped her mouth closed on her question. She’d been about to ask if he’d seen her father.

He’s just worried about his own.

Her heart didn’t believe it.

***

Moving camp took most of the day with so many people.

Lila Dean huddled against a tree in the dark, listening to people settle behind her.

“How’d they get the ruby?”

Lila Dean cringed, not for the first time. Someone saw the soldiers with the ruby and now the question was going around. The soldiers had been intending to work the mine but with the appearance of the ruby, they’d had enough to buy whatever it was they needed so they changed tactics and buried it instead.

A total of thirteen people were caught in the escape tunnel when it blew. Thirteen dead because of her. Why Billy Roy kept quiet she couldn’t say. She was the monster Marcus Roy expected.

“What now?”

Lila Dean shifted. It was Andre Mel sitting with Billy Roy and Mary Mae. They’d set up their sleeping pads, a collection of long grass collected from the area, off to her left. They hadn’t noticed she sat so close but it wouldn’t have mattered if they had. They’d pointedly ignored her all day, even Billy Roy.

Never acceptable.

“Don’t know,” Billy Roy admitted.

“Was saving us really her idea?” Mary Mae’s soft voice asked a moment later.

Lila Dean’s chest ached. Why would she care.

“She would’ve tried even if I didn’t help her,” Billy Roy answered.

“Perhaps we’re wrong about her.”

Andre Mel snorted. “Right, because her father would lie.”

No one responded and Lila Dean huddled closer to the tree, glad they couldn’t see her.

What now indeed. What did Andre Mel mean? None of it made sense but after being seen, after interacting normally with Roy, she wasn’t sure she could go back to how it was before.

Something touched her cheek and Lila Dean brushed it away. Her fingers came away smudged black. Ash. The wind had changed. Tilting her head back, Lila Dean watched it rain ash in fine flakes. She never could get away from the fire, it seemed.

The End

Blessings,

Jennifer

Beauty Chapter Three

Some stories have a will of their own and continue to write themselves in your head even when you’re trying to move onto something else. Well, at least that happens to me sometimes=)

That’s what happened with this story. Although I meant to let it sit for a bit, it continued to run through my head, so hopefully readers don’t mind a new installment with Lila Dean.

For those who may not have read the first two chapters, here’s a brief summary:

Cliff Notes Ch. 1: Lila Dean’s a young girl who lost her mother in a fire and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally, as a result. Now people just don’t look at her, so when a stranger approaches and asks her to steal the Roy’s ruby to help him save his daughter, she takes the chance to do something good.

But Billy Roy catches her in the theft. To her surprise, he doesn’t stop her, instead he trusts she’s doing it for a good reason. So when Lila Dean goes to give the ruby to the stranger, Michael, she questions his story and it falls apart. She realizes she’s been taken for a fool and runs away. Now she’s determined to return the ruby and make things right.

Cliff Notes Ch. 2: When Lila Dean tries to return the ruby, she arrives to find the town burning and the people taken captive. With the help of her father’s friend, Sheldon Lea, she helps her father and the Roy’s escape but must give up the ruby to the soldiers in the process. (If you’d like to read these in full, they can be found here: Chapter One and Chapter Two.)

Now on to Chapter Three. I hope you enjoy=)

Chapter Three

The soldiers started the fire but couldn’t contain it. They didn’t care as long as the flames moved eastward with the wind.

Lila Dean’s eyes burned with unshed tears. She wanted to yell, scream a warning to the villages in the fire’s path but she could do nothing but watch the orange glow from the ridgeline above town.

Over the angry orange and red hung a black so thick it blotted out any definition of the horizon, which should be glowing with the sunrise but wasn’t. Lila Dean shuddered and looked away from the mass of smoke.

Below her in the town, the soldiers were moving the town’s folk toward the mine in a single file line.

Sheldon Lea had been right, the soldiers were going to use the miners to keep the mine running and would take anything of worth that came from it. What they needed the wealth for she couldn’t guess. Didn’t want to guess.

Michael’s mention of war turned her insides like she needed to hurl.

“What’s happening?”

Lila Dean jerked. She hadn’t heard Billy Roy’s approach.

He settled on his stomach beside her and lifted Sheldon Lea’s looking glass to his eye.

Lila Dean looked away. She hadn’t been bold enough to ask to borrow the glass. Especially since the old spinster refused to look at her again.

But Billy Roy was the golden child. He probably didn’t even hesitate.

She stole a glance at him while he still looked below. His brown hair moved with the wind but everything else about him was still.

As he lowered the glass, she turned away, he’d settled on her right, her scarred side.

“They don’t have tools,” he muttered.

Lila Dean lifted her head. Without the glass, she hadn’t picked up on that small detail. She held out her hand and Billy Roy passed it over.

He was right. The tools lay lined up next to the mine’s entrance but the miners were not picking them up as they entered.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

“Why take everyone below without tools?” she asked.

Billy Roy shook his head.

Lila Dean panned out to view not just the mine but the camp and it’s cages below. There seemed to be fewer soldiers than the night before.

Those that were present carried boxes up toward the mine. Focusing in on the open boxes, Lila Dean’s stomach clenched so hard he fought bile in her throat.

“Explosives,” she backed away form the ridge, tearing into her arms.

“Dean?” Billy Roy followed, confusion pulling his dark brows together.

“Explosives, Roy!” she called over her shoulder, “they aren’t going to work the mine, they’re going to bury it.”

Billy Roy caught up to her and grasped her hand to pull her along faster. Lila Dean stretched her legs as far as she could to keep up but the burn in her scars made her stumble. She pulled her hand away.

“Go, I’ll catch up at camp.”

He nodded and soon disappeared between the trees. Lila Dean braced against her knees, gasping air.

What could they do?

Her heart beat against her ribs, both in fright and from exertion. She was coming to think more exercise would do her well even if the other kids never let her play.

If they ever played again.

Lila Dean fought to control her breath. When it was bearable, she took off at a run again and found herself heaving within seconds. When she finally reached the camp, she was puffing like a black smith’s billows.

“They won’t bury the mine.”

She sucked in air and held it. Had Sheldon Lea just contradicted them?

“They need the wealth from it. It’s basic strategy,” Sheldon Lea continued, not even acknowledging Lila Dean’s arrival. She let out her breath. It was supposed to be quiet but the air whistled through her throat. It prevented her from voicing her objection before Billy Roy spoke up.

“They’ve got explosives and they aren’t taking tools in!”

“I’ll take a look.” Her father held out his hand for the glass Billy Roy borrowed.

Lila Dean pulled it from her pocket.

“Here,” she said.

Her father took the glass as he passed her. No eye contact, no touch.

Lila Dean grabbed his arm. “It’ll take too long,” she said.

He still refused to turn his head. A muscle twitched in the corner of his jaw.

Lila Dean let go feeling as if her fingers burned. Tears threatened as Sheldon Lea followed her father into the trees.

She couldn’t let them see. Turning away from the Roys, Lila Dean blinked furiously. Now was not the time. Swiping the back of her hands across her eyes, she felt childish for still caring.

“She’s right,” Billy Roy said behind her, “we don’t have much time.”

Lila Dean gathered her skinning knife while she listened to them.

“They won’t bury the mine,” Marcus Roy repeated Sheldon Lea like a puppet.

“They will,” Billy Roy insisted. “They don’t need the money now.”

“Why not?”

“Doesn’t matter. They don’t need the mine.”

Billy Roy stood close to his father in height and with them toe to toe at the moment, Lila Dean couldn’t help but feel they were mirror images.

Lila Dean started from the clearing. There was no time for this debate either.

“Miss Dean.”

Her heart stuttered. Why did her father’s friends find it okay to acknowledge her when he wasn’t around? She considered walking away but the part of her mother she remembered wouldn’t allow it.

“Mr. Roy,” she responded and looked back at him over her shoulder, giving him full view of her scars if he chose to make eye contact.

He did. He had eyes like Billy’s but fringed with more lines and a shade lighter.

“Your father would never forgive me for letting you get captured. “

He was serious.

“My father doesn’t even know the color of my eyes.” She responded before walking away. The feeling of their eyes on her back made her skin itch.

“Billy!”

He caught up to her with his own knife hanging from his belt. It was all they had in way of weapons.

“We better hurry,” Billy Roy grasped her hand to pull her along but this time he didn’t push her to falling.

Behind them his father’s shouting still echoed in the trees.

“Why didn’t he stop you?” she asked. She’d never known Marcus Roy to be docile.

“Can’t catch me,” Billy Roy shrugged. “Old mine injury left him with a bad knee.”

Lila Dean didn’t ask more. She was puffing again and couldn’t get words past her dry throat.

“All right,” Billy Roy dropped her hand and turned to face her, “what’s your plan?”

“Back entrance—“

He twitched.

“I know it’s unstable but the soldiers won’t know—“

“The escape tunnel’s safer.”

Lila Dean was already shaking her head.

“Michael knows about it.”

“Michael?”

She glanced at Billy Roy’s throat where the knife had cut his skin. The wound was covered by his collar now but Billy Roy caught the hint. He touched his neck.

“Back entrance then.”

Unlike the escape tunnel, Lila Dean had never been to the back entrance. It was the mine’s original opening but when it became obvious the tunnel couldn’t be made stable, it’d been abandoned for another way.

Billy Roy didn’t hesitate in heading straight to it, though. Lila Dean thought about asking him about it but let it go.

“It’s a ways down before this meets up with the main shaft,” Billy Roy said.

Just inside the entrance they found several lanterns. It was the miners way to leave things behind but even still, the existence of the lanterns make Lila Dean glance around every so often just in case someone was following.

“An explosion might collapse this entire tunnel,” Billy Roy said ahead of her.

“We’ll have to move fast,” Lila Dean shrugged. She couldn’t think of another way and apparently neither could he because he didn’t voice any other options.

“Shutter your lantern.”

Lila Dean complied and they were plunged into darkness. With the lack of sight came the hyper aware hearing she always associated with miners.

The walls echoed with the scrape of hard boot soles on stone. Words like whispers mixed in, too faint to understand.

Lila Dean jerked as Billy Roy found her arm. Thankfully it didn’t make any noise.

“Soldiers,” he whispered. The word fanned his breath across her ear.

“You’re sure?”

“Different boots.”

Lila Dean accepted that. Billy Roy had been down here with his father a few times. He’d know better than she.

They waited. Lila Dean’s body hummed like a bowstring pulled tight. Billy Roy kept his hand on her arm and she clung to the contact to stay still. Her skin barely registered the touch. It was just pressure on her scars, but it was contact and he wasn’t shying away from what must feel very warped to his fingers.

She could hug him for not noticing, not pulling away.

“There they go,” Billy Roy released her arm.

Lila Dean strained to hear what he did and then she caught it, the movement ahead was fading.

“This way,” Roy’s voice drifted to her, pulling her back to their need to hurry.

She un-shuttered her lantern and rushed to catch up and had to side step to keep from running into him when he stopped suddenly.

“Fuse line,” he said, holding his lantern higher to show the lines bundled together at his feet.

“They are buying the mine.” Up till that point Lila Dean hoped Sheldon Lea was right.

“The ruby bought their deaths,” Roy sounded sick.

“Maybe not,” Lila Dean crouched and cut the lines, throwing the first half back up the tunnel to keep sparks from catching the second half.

She headed forward only to look back to find Roy not moving.

“Roy!”

He started. “Right.”

They kept going…

To Be Finished on Thursday

Blessings,

Jennifer