Thursday, February 22, 2007
What she didn't expect to find was Eric and Master Lin, both awake and awaiting her.
"Gina, it is good to finally see you. Have you learned many secrets this evening?" asked the Master.
"I've learned some things," she replied.
"You were gone a long time," Eric pointed out.
"We went to a bar after dinner," she said, "Talked some more. What were you doing at the restaurant?"
Eric paused, surprised by the question. "I... I wanted to make sure you were ok is all."
"I told you I could handle it, Eric. A little trust would be nice."
"I almost lost you in Maine," Eric replied. "Maybe I'm not eager to lose you in Florida."
"Eric, in Maine I was drugged!" Gina nearly shouted, "You know this is different! And though I know you may not like it, I'm not yours to lose! So you're mad that I went on a date with Sam! And that's what it was, a date. Well, when were YOU going to ask me on a date Eric? When?"
Eric was silent, and the two glared at each other across the room for what felt like a full minute.
Finally Master Lin spoke.
"There is much of anger between you and much of love, but these are not my concern. You may not know it, but you are putting yourselves where the quest needs you to be. If we are close enough to each side, then whomever wins, we win also. Gina is doing her part with Sam, and you are doing your part with the State. But there is another player no one has seen: the other diver. Eric, I will take over with Mr. Begonia. Tomorrow, you will find James Brixon. And perhaps you will find more there then a way to the springs. Now let us all sleep, blissfully free from operatic interruption."
In this last section of the toaster story, I've introduced a number of new characters all at once, and I've done it over the course of a long time. A number of my faithful readers are doubtless confused, so before tomorrow's outline I'd like to take a minute to clear things up.
The Discoverers (One side of the legal battle, claiming rights to the springs because they found them)
Sam Stalwart - A young, attractively built lawyer. Young, successful, and charming, Sam is one of two divers who discovered the springs, the other being James Brixon. Sam is taking the case, not entirely pro-bono. Sam seems to have a romantic interest in Gina, and has not hit it off spectacularly with Eric.
James Brixon - The other discoverer. James, an electrician, is much older than Sam, pushing fifty. The two know each other from diving together for years. James makes a decent amount of money, but has a family to support:
Connie Brixon - James's supportive wife, who nonetheless questions the importance of the springs.
Lily Brixon, 17 , Teddy Brixon, 8, and Chase Brixon, 3 - James and Connie's children.
The Government (The other side, claiming ownership because the springs were on park grounds)
Mysterious figure - The mysterious man wears a trench coat and meets in secret with Melissa Hastings. His "superiors" are paying for the lawyers for the state.
Melissa Hastings - The DeLeon Springs State Park Park Director. Melissa is taking a lot of criticism for pushing what many believe to be an insignificant legal battle. She is doing it on behalf of the mysterious man.
John Begonia - Melissa's right hand man. Has no idea what's going on.
Currently, Sam is keeping the springs at a secret location.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
I guess I'm not really sure why I took the train that day. Certainly the idea had been floating around my head for weeks, but if you asked me why I picked that day of all days to board that train, I wouldn't know what to say. Was it the particular kind of fall chill that made me nostalgic for my childhood train rides to the country? Was it the particularly inspiring music of the street musician performing outside the station? Or was it just time, the time when you've had an idea brewing for so long that if you don't just get off your ass and do something about it right now you know you never will.
But for one reason or another, that day I did it. I got on the number seven train, the first train of the morning, with nothing in my pockets but my wallet and a hole. The game was this: on the number seven, I'd pick a person and get off at his or her stop. I would trail him or her as discreetly as possible and take careful note of his or her entire routine. After that, the details were sketchy.
You see, Lucky Number Seven, as the game was called, wasn't really my idea. I'd heard it from a friend who'd heard it from a friend, et cetera - an urban legend, my friend was sure. The game had been adapted, rumor had it, for mass transit systems across the country and it led to everything from job offers to unlikely romances, but always good luck.
Something was supposed to happen during the day, either some connection or commonality with my target or some event that would occur because I was hiding, but my life was supposed to change for the better.
I don't think I did it because I believed in it. I'm not a superstitious person.
Of course everyone says that, but then when someone says "Keep your fingers crossed," they do. When they see a penny they pick it up. We don't believe in this stuff - we just do it, just in case. That was me. And for some reason, Lucky Number Seven intrigued me. It had occupied my thoughts more and more for the past several weeks until one day, instead of taking my regular number twelve to work, I hopped on number seven. I could scarcely believe I'd done it.
My first task after I stepped onto the train was to find my target. The way I'd heard it was that one shouldn't think too hard during this part. I decided to do it randomly. Whomever was in the seventh seat from the front would be the one. I moved to about 11 seats back and sat down, counting up to the seventh seat. There was a person on each side of the aisle: an old woman in old and ragged clothing on my side of the aisle, and a beautiful young blond woman, easily six feet tall, in a short pink skirt and a gray denim jacket, on the opposite side.
The woman was the quintessential picture of hot. Her long and highly visible legs ended in a pair of silvery heels. Her hair fell down about her shoulders perfectly, pulled out of her face by a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses, that were balanced on her forehead just above her piercing green eyes with their lovely lengthy lashes. She carried an impossibly tiny handbag, had her legs crossed as she nervously glanced about the train.
I instantly knew which of the two I had to follow. Of course, I reasoned with myself, following this temptress would make the game a little less innocent and a little more... well, stalkerish, but I had, after all, chosen her randomly. More or less. Of course, part of the game was that I wasn't to actually talk to this person at any point if I chose her, but - well, it was only a silly game, and I didn't really believe in it anyway. It occurred to me that maybe my good luck had already hit and I should just abandon this silly game, sit next to this babe and strike up a conversation. Maybe get a number. It wouldn't really be quitting - perhaps I'd already won.
I was still pondering this thought when the train took off, starting slowly and quickly picking up to a deceptively break-neck pace.
Finally I couldn't bring myself to give up the game for a woman who would, in all likelihood, just shoot me down anyway. I picked up my newspaper and held it full in front of my face, musing at the fact that all I knew about trailing people came from T.V. Periodically I would peer at the woman, particularly when the train stopped, but only once was she looking my way. I smiled a small and, I hoped unmemorable, smile and quickly looked back at my paper, which I had no interest in reading.
We went that way a long time until finally, at a small town stop, a place I'd never been, the girl stood up and made her way to the platform. I resolved to wait a few seconds before getting up myself, but this was a mistake as the old woman got up before I made it past her and proceeded to move very slowly down the aisle. The train would only stay at the station a short time, and it seemed as if the woman were doing her best to make sure she didn't make her stop. Finally, I gave up, turned around and ran down the aisle that way, getting off in the back of the train.
I stepped onto the dusty platform and it was like stepping onto the set of a western. The wind howled by, blowing dust at the small station, and there was no one in sight.
A moment later, I saw the old woman descend the stairs from the front of the car. The young woman was nowhere to be found. Looking back at the train, I saw her sit down in her seat. But she had gotten up... She must have gone to the bathroom at the front of the car, I realized. The old woman and my anxiety had distracted me, and I hadn't actually watched to see if she was disembarking. I turned back and ran for the door, but the train was already moving again, headed for God knows where.
Friday, February 02, 2007
So I thrust and parried and shot and knitted and plucked (albeit only a little of the last two, for show) and got very cold while I waited like an idiot in a pretty pink dress with the windows open. The dress was at least fairly warm as it was getting toward late fall and I didn’t know when I might be gone for a while. I had my knife on me any time I didn’t have it out, as well as some snake jerky from the kitchens. Mother would kill me if she knew I had snake jerky (a foul peasant’s food by her reckoning) in my nice dress, but I fancied I might want a snack at some point and would want my strength if it came to a fight.
After a few days I started to wonder if the dragon was even coming. I also started to wish that the mystery man from my story were real, because he really was pretty dreamy, and given the choice I would have preferred a window visit from him to one from the dragon. Unfortunately, I reminded myself, he wasn’t real. I had invented him. Not so with the dragon.
A few times my sister came to visit me in my tower, but other than that I was mostly lonely. The last time she came, I guess I sensed somehow that the end was coming.
“Ariadne,” I said, getting her attention for sure with her full name, “I think this is it.”
“You mean…?” she asked with trepidation.
“Even if it’s not soon, you know I could disappear at any moment. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back, and everything will be back to normal but,” I choked up.
“But you’re going to do something stupid and you might not come back?” she asked.
I nodded, sure that she was going to reproach me or plead with me, but she just walked over and gave me a big hug.
“You’ll do great, sis,” she said and flashed me a big adorable smile.
After that I was bored, lonely, and increasingly apprehensive. So when, in the midst of a session of mournful luting, (or rather, luting that would have been mournful in the hands of a better artist) I spotted a form flying towards me from the hills, I was almost relieved.
As the form got closer it became clear to me that it was, in fact, a dragon. As it approached the castle walls and hovered for a second (waiting for the go-ahead from the guardsmen) I saw that it was green and not overlarge. I saw the guard wave it on, and then heard it ask a question and saw the guard point right at my tower. It was good to know my soldiers were on my side, I thought sarcastically. I checked my person for my knife, checked my hair in the mirror, and the dragon was upon me.
This one made no small talk, just grabbed me by the shoulders and took off. It was uncomfortable, and I was afraid I would fall, but the beast’s grip was at least tight. Miles above the rolling hills I realized I was still holding my lute. Evidently the dragon did too, as it spoke in a similarly gravelly but oddly feminine voice.
“You know how to play that thing?”
I swallowed nervously.
She tightened her grip as if to say “Well, show me what you got.”
So I started playing (or trying to play) a song called “The Merry Baker and his Sea-Sick Dog.”
"Aaaaaaa baker one day was baking his bread, was baking his bread with glee,/Wheeeeeeeen a wee little man came do his door, to his a door a man so wee./ Thuuuuuuuh Baker said to the -"
“Oh, stop for the love of all things holy!” the beast said after I’d butchered it for about five minutes, “It’s a good thing you don’t need to support yourself.”
We were silent for a while after that. I didn't think I'd been that bad. It seemed a very long flight. I hoped Jarrod would be able to make it in time. Then I remembered the plan, how I was to make a bid to the dragon. I wondered what ransom I would have to claim was there to beat my own price.
“So, how much are you getting for me?” I asked timidly.
“You’ll have to speak up, Sweetcheeks, the wind eats your voice.”
“What’s my price?” I said louder.
“Good question,” she replied, “How much ya got?”
“I don’t know!” I really had no idea how much our kingdom had in its treasury.
The dragon scoffed.
“We’re landing,” she snorted. And we were. We came down into her cave surprisingly fast, so much that I was afraid she’d smack me into the ground and I’d be over right then and there. However, despite the speed of the descent, the landing was surprisingly gentle.
I surveyed my surroundings. I was in a somewhat deep cave. There was a small alcove in the front – a shelf with some food and things, a rock to sit on, even a hay-stuffed cot. I assumed this was for me. Toward the back, a large pile of gold contoured to the dragon’s body shape. Nothing around that looked like a weapon.
The dragon placed herself between me and the mouth of the cave and turned around.
“Alright, your majesty, lets set out the ground rules. As long as you don’t make any trouble, don’t try to escape, and most important, don’t ever try to play that lute again, I won’t make you damaged goods for your Prince Charming or your daddy. You pull any crap though, and all bets are off. Kapeesh?”
“You never really answered my question,” I said softly.
“You know, you are more courageous than nearly any of your predecessors! Where did you get the idea that you could ask questions? The rule here is if you’re 20 ft long, covered in impenetrable scales and able to breath fire, you’re allowed to ask questions. Are you?”
“No,” I said meekly.
“No, Ma’am!” the beast corrected.
I rolled my eyes.
“O.K., have it your own damn way,” she said, “I hope your knight comes soon. Now I’m going to go get some dinner. If I come back and you’re gone, then you’re really stupid because trust me I will catch you long before you reach civilization. If you feel you need to eat, there’s stuff on that shelf behind you. But don’t go poking around my side of the cave.”
She was gone. I looked through the shelf. There was a selection of dried meat, some dried fruit, a pitcher of sketchy water and a largely unwashed cup. I wasn’t hungry.
The plan was not really taking off. I couldn’t trick her into coming along if I didn’t know how much gold to claim was hidden away, and even if I did, she seemed thoroughly unlikely to play ball with me. I felt like I’d established a little power by being so much less scared then apparently the others had been, though I suppose it was because compared to my plan the normal way didn’t seem that scary.
Even so, I didn’t think I’d be able to kill this dragon. And I hadn’t expected her to be so humanly. It was one thing to kill a beast, but a thinking creature? I didn’t know what to do. Don't get me wrong, there was no love lost between us, but killing her suddenly seemed a lot less black and white.
Night fell. The dragon returned, walked toward the back of the cave without looking at me and went to sleep. I took out my knife and spun it between my fingers. I looked at the “money shot” Art had told me about – a tiny gap in her scales on the back of her neck. It was right where it should be. Could it be this easy? Could I just do it now and get it over with?
I decided against it. I couldn’t imagine it would work, and I didn’t want to give away any of my cards yet. It occurred to me that any act of defiance I made would put my captor on edge and make my bid less likely to succeed. I resolved to behave as much like a model prisoner as the plan would allow, and then I tried to get some sleep. It didn’t go well.
Midway through the next morning, while I was eating some dried beef in a most unladylike manner, my captor spoke to me.
“What’s it to you how much you’re worth, anyway?” she asked.
I paused for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to tell her a big secret.
“I don’t want anybody to have to die,” I said sweetly, “And I’m not even ready to get married. So I thought, before any knights come and have to die [I started crying a little here for show], I could just give you the money, if I could afford it.”
“You have it on you?” she sniggered.
“No, it’s hidden in a cave, but I could take you there.”
She paused to consider this, looking me straight in the eye. I stared right back defiantly, and then realized I should be staring non-defiantly and stared back meekly. Finally she spoke.
“How much you got?”
“I’m not sure how much there is – it’s big piles of gold and some valuables. I’ve been saving it up since I was small just for this.”
“Saving up all your money to save some lives at the risk of the loss of a husband? Aren’t you Miss Compassion?”
I really laid into the crying now but managed to get out,
“My brother died, fighting a dragon. I just don’t want anyone else to die!”
“HA!” she said, “Got you! You don’t have a brother! The reason you’re worth so much is because you’re one of two female heirs to your throne. So what was the plan? Army waiting in the cave? Your daddy put you up to this? Oh, I’ve got it. He told you to pull this after two knights so he wouldn’t have to pay, but you have a love at home and you thought if you did it now you could marry him?”
“That’s amazing,” I said, giving up, “You’re right on.”
“Well, sorry, sister,” the dragon said triumphantly, “We play by my rules here. You wait for rescue, and then you wait for ransom and maybe we can get along.”
And that was the end of plan A. I had at least minimized the damage by playing along with her explanation. If Jarrod beats the first knight, I thought, we could still pull this off. I was secretly happy I wouldn’t have to lead her into a trap and blind her then impale her with spikes. Plan B could be much less gruesome at least.
The thing was, I realized Jarrod and I had never developed an “if we’re not at the cave by so and so” plan. First Jarrod would have to hear I was captured, then he’d wait several days, and then he’d come. Three knights could be through by then. Or one victorious knight could be marrying me. One way or another, it could be all over. I was certainly in no hurry to attempt plan C. There had to be a way to salvage plan A. I just had to figure it out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have unlimited time.