“”Note: I’m reading this from the first draft, so pardon any grammatical awkwardness_
Later the next morning they were well south of the escarpment and Margo was shading her eyes looking into the distance.
“We should be coming to gully country ahead. But it doesn’t look like it.”
Vance scanned with his very sharp eyes and said. “There’s a reason for that. The place has changed.”
An hour later they were looking at the reason. A gigantic lava flow had burst out of the mountains to the west and had covered the land. Now they were facing a 10 foot wall of hardened obsidian basalt that stretched for miles to the south and east with a shattered surface of broken glass. The woman was dismayed. “Can the horses travel through this?”
Vance shook his head. “No. The shards would cut them.”
“Then let’s just leave them here and we’ll go ahead on foot.”
Vance looked at her. Definitely not as empathic with animals as he was. Had he misjudged? “They’ve become my friends and I won’t leave them. Besides, our moccasins wouldn’t last very long on that surface.” He pointed. “The lava has covered the old road but I remember that it headed toward that notch in the mountains to the west. We should be able to reach the tree line there before nightfall. We’ll go west through those mountains and then turn south until we hit a route back east to where your children are.”
“That’s going to take a lot more time!”
“You’ve been away for 12 years, so a few more weeks won’t matter. Have patience.” He was starting to notice that she could be irritating.
She followed him as they moved away from the dry lake bed. “Have you never had children?”
“Yes. Quite a few. Mostly litters.”
“Well, don’t you miss them?”
Vance let number four take him west for a few more moments before he answered.
He didn’t want to go into it. 3000 years of familial memory was just more bother than it was worth out here on this dry flat land.
He looked up. Those mountains will be nice to travel in and they’d be moving into the warmer air of the western coast after they got through them. He was looking forward to it.
Six hours later they had found the western road and were now heading up into heights adorned with tall trees interspersed with meadows and some freshwater creeks.
Travelling higher, they came to a sign on the side of the road that said in old faded letters *Government Campground. Please sign in.* Below that, a crudely hand painted sign that said. *Don’t come here unless you got permission.* Whoever had painted the sign had spelled permission as purmishon. Vance looked around and wasn’t able to see any sign of human activity. Both signs looked old. These rules likely didn’t apply any more. They moved forward and entered into an ancient public campground. Overgrown stalls cut into the trees in various spots and each one containing a fire pit with the remains of old picnic tables beside them. The one large fireplace in the centre of the compound had obviously been used sort of recently. Vance looked closer. Not for a while, though. A year at least.
“If it’s okay with you, Margo, we could stay here the night.”
She got off her horse and walked to the small creek that ran through the campsite and tasted the water. “Water’s good and it looks like those brick outhouses are probably useful. We’ll be comfortable.”
After they had set up their camp, Margo looked up from their supplies. “We could use some fresh meat.”
He nodded. “No problem. You get some water heated up and I’ll be back soon.” He had smelled rabbit in the distance and he was particularly good at catching bush bunnies. Taking off his clothes and carefully laying his swords on top of them, he quickly changed into his wolf form. Not the werewolf form, but the nice one. The one that actually looked like a proper wolf. As he loped off, Margo thought again how odd it was to have a werewolf for a boyfriend. At least he was handy to have around. Her sister had dated a vampire for the longest time and it had been a trial for her. He was a night person and she was a day person. They just were never able to work it out.
As Vance ran into the forest following the scent of rabbit, he passed by a chopped down tree and stopped to sniff. Four humans. Three males and one pregnant female. Two Caucasians. One from northern Europe and one from the British Isles another male and female of African descent. They had been here about three days ago. Which made Vance a little uncomfortable. Even though he could smell them quite readily now, he saw that two of them had the ability to cover their scent. A comparatively recent adaptation of hunters these days. Vance could do that too, but then of course, he was a werewolf. That particular talent had come with the territory.
Moving on, he finally came to the meadow where the concentrated odour of rabbit had been emanating from. And then he stopped. Oh, shit! It wasn’t bunny rabbit. It was jack-rabbit! Hard to catch and stringy meat. Fuck!
An hour later and panting heavily with his tongue unfolded onto the grass beside him, he lay gasping for oxygen. Son of a bitch! These were even harder to catch than usual! Harder than any other jackrabbit he had ever hunted before! Smart, too. He was only able to catch two of the buggers before running out of steam. It would have to do. Three would’ve been nice, but, what the hell.
Changing back to his human form, he picked up the two rabbits and started moving back to his camp. Then, as he neared, he heard voices. One was Margo’s and the other was a man. He crept closer and saw that there were about 20 men and women wearing rough-cut furs and crude leather legging standing in a group around his companion. They had many tattoos and decorative scars on their bodies with a variety of piercings throughout. Their faces were painted in garish patterns of black and white. Lots of skull themes.
Vance stepped out of the foliage. The savages looked at him and then one, a female, stepped up behind Margo and put a flint knife to her throat.
A very sharp flint knife.
The only one that wasn’t standing was a large muscular and somewhat overweight man painted a little more extravagantly than the rest. He was reclining against a woman hands on knees behind him. To Vance, he looked kind of comfortable. He looked closer. So did the woman.
The man looked up to him with a bad-toothed smile and said. “You must be Vance! Pleased to meet you. I’m Chief Cecil. Your lady here mentioned that you were out hunting!” The man’s eyes widened. “And you caught jackrabbits! We’ve given up trying that a long time ago. How did you do it?” Demeanour of excited curiosity. Vance stepped forward he was within striking distance but he noticed that the woman holding Margo had put the point of her blade a little tighter. A small trickle of blood had now appeared.
” No doubt they are hard to catch. “Do you want them?”
The big man waved his hand in a shooing motion. “Oh my goodness no, old boy. We’ll not be taking the food out of your mouth.” He had a very pronounced English accent beautifully enunciated and Vance could even precisely tell what part of England the man was from. He’d been everywhere after all. “Well then, sir. What’s our situation here?” He laid the rabbits down by the fire and stepped back.
“Terribly sorry, old boy, and I realize this must be awkward for you, but you have trespassed onto our sacred grounds. Most tragic!”
Oh, piss! More of this stupidity? Vance couldn’t remember how many times he’d ran into this situation. Just recently in fact. He started very subtly to change his voice to the man’s accent for empathic control. The faster you can become your enemy, the sooner he will trust you.
So he said.
“Well, I most certainly apologize, sir! Stupid of me of course! But the signs seemed so old, drat it all, I just assumed. Silly of me. Terribly sorry!”
The large man raised a quizzical eyebrow that was perhaps bordering on cynicism, but then he relaxed and said. “Well, quite understandable, old boy. But rules are rules and one has been broken.” He shrugged. “Again. Terribly sorry.” He motioned to one of the lumpy ax wielding warriors. “Edmund? Tea please.”
Laying down his ax, Edmund shuffled forward and produced two porcelain teacups from a pouch strapped around his waist. Though cracked, it was obvious that they had been acquired from a set of refined value and Edmund treated them with a delicate precision of mindful respect. Carefully placing the 2 cups in his one large hand, he took the boiling water off the campfire and carefully dribbled the liquid into them. Seemingly without noticing the fact that some of the boiling water had flowed over his thumb. Then, once again dipping into his bag, he pulled out a small pouch and opened it. At only a distance of 10 feet, Vance was able to bask in the aroma of fresh Orange pico! Where in hell did that come from? He looked at the reclining fat man. “Well, you know, Cecil.” He paused. “May I call you Cecil?”
“Yes of course, old boy. May I call you Vance?”
“We’ll of course, Cecil. Now, with your permission, may I say that any trespass here was quite inadvertent on our part. With all due respect, of course.”
Cecil smiled. “Well, yes, old boy.”
Vance was starting to get really tired of being called old boy.
Cecil dabbed a drop of tea from his surprisingly well-groomed moustache. “But again you see, old boy, a line has been crossed, what? And custom must be adhered to. I’m sure you understand.” He took a sip of his tea. “Now this particular crime usually demands, regrettably,” he took a sip.
“Vance closed his eyes. Why him? Why all the time? But he continued. “Well, that would be most regrettable, Cecil. Because any move toward that end would require me to kill you.” He looked around. “All of you.”
After a cold moment, Cecil’s smile returned. “Really, Vance? All of us? We have your swords. Besides, we don’t want to kill you.” He looked around to his tribe to make sure that they were observing how well he was handling the negotiation. “I mean really, old boy. If nothing else, a move on your part would ensure the death of your lady. Does that mean nothing to you?”
Vance looked at Margo for a moment before answering. Of course not.”
Cecil smiled good-naturedly. “Well good!”
“So what is it you want, Cecil?” For Vance now had the impression that these savage people required more than a customary punishment. He had the uncomfortable feeling they were expecting some kind of entertainment.
Cecil grinned. “My good man! That’s the spirit!” He looked at his pleased compatriots who were now quietly clapping in subdued appreciation. The possibly dangerous victim had now been manoeuvred into entertaining compliance. Once again they all agreed that they had the best boss in the whole world.
Vance looked around and realized that these people were starved for entertainment. Seems beating on a hollow log only went so far.
“So, Cecil. My good man. What do you wish of me?”
Cecil straightened up and, clinking Vance’s teacup with his own, said. “A poem, my friend. Lift up our souls with the prose of Kings! Let us hear the wings of the Dove of God fly amongst us! Open our hearts to the blessings of Heaven! Perhaps even the dolorous and ancient poetics of the bard Cohen!”
The group around the fire now grunting and stomping the ground in fervour. OONKADITTY! OONKADITTY!!
A bit unnerved, Vance said. “Of course, my friends. Of course! Let me think!” And he sat on the ground feeling the heat from the glowing campfire and the surrounding expectant bodies. The savages also reclining and following suit. After a few moments of nervous anticipation and a few impatient coughs from the crowd, Vance stood up.
Raising his left hand and pointing up and his other hand grasping an invisible lapel on his naked body, he looked around at the now rapt and somewhat grubby faces and said in his best early 21st century Kelsey Grammerian imitation. “Well!”………… a pause. “It’s. One!…………. another pause. “For. The. Money!” And here he spun and pointed an accusatory finger at the Chief. “And. Two. For the. Show!” Now he spun again and raised his hands to the heavens and roared in his best Shakespearean intensity. “Thddreee. To. Get. Ready!!!” Now dropping again to a tragic and embittered whisper with one hand covering his face and saying quietly.
“Now go. Feline. Go.”
There was a gasp from the crowd. A cumulative shiver went through them as they realized they were now listening to a quality of drama that only came along very rarely. If at all. They leaned forward in tremulous expectation.
But Vance was a little worried. He was terrible at lyrics. He wasn’t sure whether that was because he was so old or if it was just because he was never all that interested in that kind of thing. But given the circumstances of the moment, he forged on.
And so he said.
“Blue. Blue. Blue suede shoes.”
Now he spun around in the sand surrounding the large campfire. His naked feet kicking grit into the sitting savages.
“YOU CAN SLAP MY FACE!!”
And here the surrounding crowd flinched back reacting to the inherent violence of that act. A terrible breach of me-space.
He lowered his voice to tragic indifference, at the same time brushing a lock of hair from his eyes.
“You can steal my car.”
One woman, an attractive rough hewn beauty, fainted.
“You can…… his voice rose once again. This time in contemptuous dismissal.
“Drink. My. Liquor. From. An….” His voice now lowering in dismay at the tragic lack of honour in the human race.
He looked around and knew that he had them now. Truly a great audience. He strode over to a larger than usual warrior and bending down, grasped the mans chin and looking deep into his eyes said. “You can do anything that you want to do.” Now he rose and roared in his best Derek Jacobian loudnessness. “But NUH-UH HONEY!! STAY OFF OF THEM THERE”……… a pause. “Shoes.”
Walking casually around the campfire he raised his face to God and muttered in prayer.
“Blue. Blue. Blue suede shoes.”
Moving to his left, he pointed to a woman who was looking up at him with rapt adoration. Tears trickling from her eyes. Addressing her in a casually indifferent tone, he said. “You can knock me down.” Then he leaned close to her and put his lips to her ear and whispered. “You can slap my face.” As she fainted, he walked on and pointed his finger at the chief and said in bitterly accusatory tones. “YOU CAN SLANDER MY NAME ALL OVER THE PLACE!! Turning quickly, he once again faced the crowd and argued his position in calm and reasonable tones. “But don’t you, with all due respect, step on my blue suede shoes.” And here he once again roared in his most stentorian and somewhat overly dramatic Richard Bertonian stentorianessness. “BLUE…BLUE…BLUE SUEDE SHOES!! Then he dropped to his knees with hands clawed to the heavens and tears streaming down his cheeks to clutch at the tenuous hope that could hold, perhaps, with some mercy from a fickle God, the meaning of humanities fragile existence on this brutal place we call Earth. Just to accentuate the effect, he squeezed out a few more drops.
Just in case.
There was a stunned silence as the crowd, mouths open, looked up at him in tragic dismay. Then, to his left, a small woman started to put her hands together in a quiet reverential clap. And then another to his right. A large man attempting to clap and wipe a tear at the same time. And then more clapping! Then spears thumping on the ground in approval! And then voices! Bravo! Magnifico! Huzzah! Right on! The chief rose up and walked over to Vance. “Vance! Vance, my good man! A truly a wondrous performance! Truly wondrous” turning to his cohorts he grabbed Vance’s arm and raising it in the air, said.” Well, come on! Let’s hear it!” And the hoots and hollers of the crowd could even be heard by the fast rabbits to the west. They wondered what the hell was going on.
Stepping back from Cecil’s teary kiss on the lips, Vance turned to the crowd and said.
“Thank you, folks! Thank you! You’re too kind! Please. Thank you. Thank you.”
After things had died down for a bit and the fainted women had come to their senses, Chief Cecil addressed the crowd saying. “I think we can all agree that Vance deserves the prize! And not just the prize, but the prize of the year! I’m declaring right here and now that Vance has just won this year’s poetry award.” He raised his hands. “We all agree?”
“Great thumpings and cries of eager joy. They definitely all agreed.
And with that, the chief rummaged into his pouch and brought out a small package. Vance was actually starting to get a little excited. This must be one hell of a prize!
Opening the package, Cecil held it over Vance’s palm and out dropped six plastic buttons. One had a small crack in it but not much else was wrong with the set. “These are precious relics from the far and distant past, my friend. They are very rare and extremely hard to find.” Taking one step back he bowed and said. “They are yours.”
Vance looked down at the gift. Back home where he lived near his friend George and Georges wife Patricia, he’d seen a whole box of these things. If they were as precious as these people seemed to think, that box would be able to buy this whole tribe plus their complete territory. He didn’t say that though. Instead he said. “Cecil, I…… I don’t know what to say.” He wondered if he could squeeze out another tear. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Cecil put his meaty hand on Vance’s shoulder. “I’ll hear no more of it, my friend. You’ve earned it.” After that, it was dining and dancing with fresh possum being brought out and barbecued and accompanied by some pretty good hooch. This was followed by a generous portion of hummingbird tongues drenched in fireweed honey. All in all, a hell of a good evening.
That’s it, folks. If I get some feedback I’ll throw more of the story down later on. Have a good life and never forget the power of silly.