The votes have been counted (or more accurately, the percentages have been looked at) and for the first time since I started the Scene-Of-The-Month, we have a tie! Dragon Stones and The Wolf each received 49% of the votes. Now we could have a runoff election, but what fun would that be? Instead, here is one scene from each.
The Wolf Dragon Stones Michelle watched as Greg moved away from the edge, staying well away from the debris field that surrounded the trailer. She checked her cell phone again, thinking maybe it would have miraculously gotten a signal. Still nothing, though.
Suddenly Mike said: “Look, look, I was right! The truck blew up!”
Robbie started crying again. “Michael!” Michelle snapped. “There were people in that truck! They’re probably hurt!”
He looked crestfallen. Of course it hadn’t occurred to him that if the truck blew up, the people inside would be dead. In his cartoons, everyone bailed out of their exploding vehicles and walked away with nothing but a few smudges on their jumpsuits.
Greg was back beside the SUV. “Stay put,” she told the kids, then slid out to join him in the road. Her legs felt wobbly and she grabbed onto the mirror, steadying herself.
Greg said: “You okay?”
“Adrenaline crash. Hows the truck?”
“Upside down and on fire.”
“Did you see any … any bodies?”
He shook his head.
“What about in the trailer?”
“I don’t want to get too close to it,” Greg said. “There are traps all over the place, and who knows what else.” He wrinkled his nose. “It’s not just the trailer that stinks, is it?”
“No, its the car, too,” Shells said. “Must be whatever was in that bottle.”
“Look at all this sh … stuff.” Greg cautiously approached the trailer, avoiding the junk in his path. He paused, then knelt down and picked up something with a dull shine, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger, eyeing it curiously. A siren intruded on the stillness. Greg straightened and came back to the SUV as a sheriff’s car approached from the direction of the freeway. It slowed, then stopped, turning partially sideways to block the road, as if the officer expected there to be a lot of traffic trying to sneak through.
Both front doors of the sheriff’s car opened at once and two men got out. Their uniforms were similar, all buttons and zippers and big round-brimmed hats, but one was dark brown and the other light brown. They were both wearing large mirrored sunglasses, even though the day was fairly overcast. The one in dark brown circled around the front of the car and headed to the broken railing, while the other one opened the back door of the vehicle so that a third man could get out. This one was dressed in a plaid shirt, blue jeans, and hiking boots, and carried what looked like a walking stick, but he had some sort of plastic badge clipped to his pocket so he had to be some sort of official.
The light brown guy went to join his counterpart in staring over the edge of the cliff, while the hiker guy approached the trailer.
“How did you guys get here so fast?” Greg said.
The official ignored him, and instead waded into the debris field. He used his walking stick to poke around in the papers and other junk.
The light brown cop came over to them. He had the unfinished look of someone just out of school. “Sir, ma’am,” he said, nodding to each of them. “Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” Michelle said. She spotted his badge among all the other shiny things on his uniform; his last name was Miller, as in Barney. The other cop had started talking into a portable radio as he watched the smoke waft into the air. She thought she heard him say something about a helicopter.
The guy who looked like a hiker joined them. “What’ve we got here, Darwin?” Miller said.
“Definitely a poacher,” he said. “He’s got urine lures, ankle traps, snares. There are furs nailed up in the trailer, look like wolf pelts. I’ll have to get them analyzed to be sure.”
“Wolf pelts?” Shells asked.
“Look, what’s going on?” Greg said. “This guy almost killed us. Look at my car.”
“Yeah, looks pretty fucked up,” the hiker said. His plastic badge had his picture on it. The picture, badly out of date, reminded Michelle of the lumberjack featured on the brand of paper towels she used to buy. “You’ll need a flatbed.”
“Well, I think it’s drivable, but—”
“You haven’t noticed your passenger side rim is bent all to hell, then.”
After a moment, Greg said: “Shit.” He disappeared around the other side of the car.
“Okay, obviously you’re not responding to the accident,” Michelle said. “What are you responding to?”
“Campground attendant up the road reported a suspicious trailer,” Miller said. “While he was on the phone with us, the vehicle departed the facility. We rolled to intercept it.”
“Except you intercepted it first,” Darwin said.
“Yeah,” Miller said. “I better call a truck to come get the trailer.” He headed back to the police car, which still blocked the nonexistent traffic.
“Mr. Shanley, there, is the county sheriff,” Darwin said, gesturing at the cop in the darker uniform, who was now sitting at the edge of the road as if he were considering sliding on his butt down to the bottom of the cliff. “Mr. Miller is a deputy. I’m a wildlife enforcement officer. They brought me in because of the nature of the call.”
He nodded. “I deal with people hunting without a license, illegal trapping, violation of camping statutes. That kind of thing.”
“So this guy was hunting illegally.”
“If he has a license for all the firearms I saw, I’ll eat Miller’s hat. And a number of these traps are simply illegal. Some of them look homemade, so obviously he takes his poaching very seriously.”
Greg came back, looking grim. “The passenger side is a mess,” he said. “You should see the gashes. I think we left all our paint on the rocks.”
“Hey, look at it this way,” Darwin said. “You made out better than the guy in the truck.”
After they’d noticed the eagles approaching, Ponn had spotted T’Sian moving toward the gates of Astilan. He’d hurried hurried after her, calling for her to stop, but she didn’t even turn to look at him. He soon lost track of her in the shadows. Figuring she must be going out of the city to transform into her dragon shape, he gave up following and hurried back to the inn. Gazes turned to him as he entered, then turned away again. Some here had seen him earlier and knew him as the strange woman’s companion; to others he would merely be a foreigner, and of little interest.
The older woman who that morning had peered out at them from the kitchen now stood behind the bar, filling tankards and bantering with obvious regulars; over the course of the day he had learned that her name was Jalla, and that she was the owner of the Sack of Sorrows. He hurried through the room and up the stairs to the hallway, where a shuttered window opened onto the roof of the dining area. He opened it and climbed out, peering off to the northwest, but was unable to see anything now that the last of the daylight had failed. Nor could he see the dragon; he assumed she had taken to the sky to engage the eagles, but she was just as invisible as they were.
Suddenly a series of explosions rocked inner Astilan. The eruption of light turned Varmot’s castle into a silhouette, flat and black against the flashes. A sound like a huge crash of thunder threatened to deafen him; moments later a wave of force, like a great hot wind, knocked him off his feet and sent him sprawling upon the thatched roof of the inn. The rumble died away in his ears as he scrambled across the dry, prickly grasses toward the window. He hauled himself back into the hallway, then turned, blinking away the angry purple flashes that marred his vision. The interior of Astilan was aflame in a half-dozen places, throwing orange light into the sky. Had T’Sian made good on her threat to burn the town? What else but a dragon or a volcano could have generated so much destruction so quickly?
He raced back downstairs. The common room had emptied of patrons and servers, leaving only Jalla, struggling to haul a massive strongbox out from behind the bar. Ponn went to her side. “Leave that,“ he said. “The city is under attack!“
“This is all the money I have in the world,“ she retorted, “and I’m not leaving it here to be looted!“
“Let me help you, then,“ he said, reaching to pick up the chest by one of the handles.
“No! It’s mine!”
“I’m not trying to rob you, you foolish woman!”
“Leave off!” She swatted his hands away.
“Fine,” Ponn said. “Burn for your coins, then, and see how much good they do you in the spirit world.” Abandoning her, he went out into the street. The sound of a nearby blast still echoed among the buildings. People ran back and forth against a backdrop of flame and smoke; hot embers wafted through the air like a torpid swarm of fat, luminous beetles. One landed on his shoulder; he smacked it out with his hand, leaving a black smudge on his new cloak.
Another explosion erupted from the direction of the southern gate. He covered his ears as the roar rumbled over him, the ground shivered beneath his feet. Not T’Sian’s doing; her breath destroyed silently, no louder than a whisper. The men on their eagles were responsible for this chaos.
Seeing no good way through the inferno, he returned to the inn. Jalla had apparently given up on taking all her money; the chest stood open and she was stuffing handfuls of coins into her apron. She did not look up as he entered.
“There’s no way out,” Ponn said. “The fire is everywhere. Do you have a large oven, as for baking bread?”
She did look up then, staring at him. “You want bread?”
“No, I don’t want bread! Listen to me. I know how you plainsmen do your baking. Do you have a brick oven or not?”
“Yes. In the back.”
Looking perplexed, Jalla closed and locked the strongbox, then led him into a tiny office behind the bar. The coins in her bulging pockets clinked and jingled as she walked. A poorly-fitting wooden door let them out into a long, narrow yard behind the inn. The yard was littered with refuse: Old bedding, tablecloths, a mound of rotting vegetables. The oven stood at the far end, a weathered, dome-shaped heap of bricks and mortar with an iron door, thick walls, and a tiny ventilation hole at its peak. It was smaller than he had hoped, little larger than a child’s tree-house, and he began to wonder if this idea he had formed was a very foolish one. But the thick walls of the oven kept in the heat, so it stood to reason they would keep it out as well.
He could see flames over the walls surrounding the yard. The fire was burning closer, racing along thatched rooftops, consuming spindly structures like so much deadwood. He hurried to the oven, felt the iron door. Cool to the touch, as he had hoped. He opened the door, revealing a black opening large enough to crawl through on hands and knees. “In here,” he said.
Jalla looked aghast. “You’re trying to cook me alive!”
Exasperated, Ponn said: “I had your bread this morning, and it was not fresh; you did not use this oven today. Perhaps you will be extremely lucky and the fire will spare your inn; if not, perhaps you will only be very lucky, and the walls of your oven will prevent us from being burned to death.”
She merely gaped at him, as if he had sprouted a forked tongue like the dragon’s. Well, it was her choice to follow him or not. He crawled through the low opening like a bee into a hive. The interior of the oven was dark as a moonless night on the ocean, except for the sliver of light that came through the vent-hole at the top; the walls still felt slightly warm from its last use, whenever that was, and exuded the odor of bread and yeast.
He heard a huffing and scratching as Jalla entered. She pulled the iron door shut behind her, sat huddled on the brick floor, and said, miserably: “We’ll roast for sure.“
She was probably right, but there was no reason to make her still more panicky by agreeing with her. “Move to the center,” he said. “It will grow hottest near the edges.”
Jalla glanced at the walls as if they might grow hands, seize her, and hold her tight while the fire roasted her. She slid away from them, joining him in the spot of light beneath the vent-hole. He wondered if they should stop it up, but maybe it would help the heat escape.
Suddenly Jalla drew a breath and said: “Your companion—what about her? Is she out there in the fire?”
“If she is,” Ponn said, “she is probably enjoying herself immensely.”
Hmm, the scenes are about the same length. At least I’m consistent!
Results have been reset, so please vote for next month’s scene!