“Wait! Don’t go!” I call out, but she keeps running.
She drops the purple light into the pouch flung across her shoulder. Her curls bounce across her tunic as she quickly disappears around the corner.
The sudden darkness nearly swallows me.
I’m forced to slow down until my eyes can adjust. The light from the scattered torches are barely enough to tell me what I can already smell—it’s damp and dusty down here, and it’s making the stone floor slippery.
I need to hurry.
The cellar is a veritable maze.
She’ll loose me if I’m not careful…so I sprint after her.
We’re taking a beating in the battle outside. The impacts of boulders smashing into the castle proves it. The foundation shudders under the soles of my feet.
The enemy’s trebuchet are relentless, the bombardment echoing through the corridors. Dust, dirt and pebbles fall from the mortar onto my head and shoulders, getting into my eyes, and I have to blink through the coughs.
Rounding the corner, I call out again, “Please! Let me help you!”
Where are you?
Come on, Wendell, run…RUN!
When I finally catch up, she’s cowering at a juncture in the tunnels.
What’s wrong with…
Her wild eyes widen like a cornered rabbit and she screams.
I mean, I may not be the most handsome guy around, sure, but it’s a bit much to scream in terror…
It’s then that I notice she’s not looking at me.
The robed figure emerges from the blackness, hunched over—the tattered cloth hanging from the boney figure beneath. The air is swallowed up by a pungent smell of rotting flesh so strong, I gag.
A flash of movement catches my attention and I’m taken back.
Hundreds of insects—cockroaches, flies, earwigs and things I can’t identify, scatter across the tiles—left behind with each step the figure takes.
Footsteps of decay.
The figure hisses, arms outstretched towards the girl, completely ignoring me.
She recoils, screaming.
My reaction is instantaneous.
Reaching out with my hands to grip the air in front of me, I look to the torches on either side of the hallway.
White light flares from my chest, the Ithari glowing beneath my tunic and I can suddenly feel the flames. Warmth ripples under my skin, traveling from my chest out to my limbs. We become one…and the fire leaps from the wall sconces at my command.
The flame expands and swirls, splitting into two forms, creating giant fingers…and then hands.
Clapping my own together, the burning extensions of my will snatch the robe, yanking it back from the girl, holding it fast. The robe instantly bursts into flame.
Shrieks scrape at my ears and spine as the creature shakes violently, trying to escape my grasp.
I hold it fast, squeezing my palms together, ever tighter.
Smoke rolls out from between my fingers of flame, up along the ceiling in all directions…until there’s nothing left of my captive but falling ash.
The Wendellizer has saved the day!
Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.
With self-assured bravado, I roll my shoulders back as I stand upright.
Pleased with myself, I prepare my ‘Prince Charming Smile’ (which I have diligently practiced), turning to the girl.
…and just about lose it.
Why do girls have to be so pretty!?! Not…that I mind, but…it always throws off my cool groove.
And I don’t get those too often.
Her features are finally revealed to me in the torch light and my heart skips a beat.
Make that two.
A rumpled mane of long, dark curls frame the gentle curves of her face, her dark eyes locked onto mine.
“You saved me!” she coos, batting her doe-eyes at me.
Jumping to her feet, she avoids the pile of ash upon the ground and draws close. Her full lips part in an intoxicating smile and I, um, can’t remember…. What am I doing?
Oh. Right. Being cool.
I smile back, “Yeah,…” but that doesn’t sound right… “I mean, ‘Why yes, I did.’”
That’s better. I sound confident.
She reaches over and squeezes my hand, her finger intermingling with my own. Without warning, my knees go weak—wanting to buckle under me, but I keep it together.
Her touch is so soft, her skin warm—even in this dank cellar.
I just smile…because, well…I have absolutely no idea what to do next.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
Those full lips could utter complete nonsense and I’d turn to butter and agree with her anyway…
An old apple shoots pineapples with a machinegun.
Ooooo, say it again….
She steps closer and wraps her arms around me.
Wow, ohhhhHHHH WOW!
She lays her head on my chest.
I bite my lip.
She’s so close I can feel her breathing and I’m all too aware of her against me.
It takes all the willpower I have not to panic. My body can’t decide whether to collapse…or melt under her warm touch.
Luckily, the decision is made for me.
She looks up into my eyes, reaches her hand around my neck and firmly pulls me closer.
Leaning in, she closes her eyes and gently presses her soft lips to mine.
It only takes me a fraction of a millisecond to decide how to respond.
I wrap my arms around her waist.
My whole world starts spinning and I can feel my heart pounding out a new rhythm.
Oh, please let this moment last forever!
Just as my own foot starts tapping the ground like Thumper the rabbit, a hiss from behind tears us apart.
She pushes away quickly, her face contorted with terror.
Luckily it’s not because of my kiss.
At least I hope not.
I can still taste the salt on my lips as she stumbles back against the wall.
“No!” she cries, “Don’t let them get me! PLEASE!!”
Oh good…it’s not because of my kiss.
The hair slowly rises on the back of my neck.
Maybe it’s her expression…but the scraping sound, echoing behind me like claws against stone, sends a shudder through the whole of my body. Turning, I see two more of the ghastly robes and I almost fall over in retreat.
The hoods are empty!
Hollow, vacant holes where faces should be…but they’re not. The things have shredded sleeves in place of hands of flesh, which reach out towards us. Like specters, they move slowly closer, crawling on all four limbs, prowling along the walls!
“Jussst a boy. Jussst a CHILD.”
They pause as if considering, swaying in the shadows.
The tops of the hoods roll forward, bending at the center of the arch—skinless brows frowning at me. Arching their backs, the robes change positions, like beasts ready to pounce upon their prey.
“Go home or ssshe will SSSUFFER!”
The shout echoes in my mind and I stumble back. My hand reaches out to the wall to steady myself, legs feeling weak.
She’ll suffer?….I am…..Wait. How can they be talking to me?
I look deeply into the gaping black holes. They’re still crouched, swaying.
Get out of my mind!!
Shaking off unsettled doubt, I jump to her side and quickly look around me. There has to be a way out.
The hallway is blocked by the vile specters. We’re cornered.
Wait—we were at a juncture a moment ago…weren’t we?
Useless shelf to my right, two wood crates and three full gunny sacks—probably grain, a pile of someones forgotten laundry.
No help there.
To my left, a stained glass window.
Window? What’s a window doing in a cellar??
Taking hold of the girl around her waist with one arm, I hold her head against my shoulder with the other, to protect her face and neck.
The creatures launch themselves, claws outstretched.
“Hold tight!” I yell, but she can’t hear me as I plunge through the glass.
The cold wind stings my flesh, the glass shards tear my cheek and forearm.
I’m all alone.
…and plummeting to my death.
The waves of the sea beckon as the rocky shore rushes up to meet me.
….and I didn’t even get her name.