Becky’s heart pounded heavily in her chest as she watched the neat suburban house across the street from her car. Was it from fear or excitement, she wondered. For ten years she had thought about and planned for this moment; it had taken her that long to find him. He had moved around so much, hiding the monster within behind a mask of normality. Only Becky it seemed knew him for what he truly was, human filth.
He lay beyond the so-called justice system of the courts. The woman he had so brutally raped, Becky’s mother, had chosen to end her own life rather than live with what he had done to her. Then Becky’s sister, her twin, had made the same choice; unable to live with the knowledge of what they were, products of incest. For those sins alone Becky had felt that her father, her uncle, the sperm donor whose lusts had given her life, should die as a fitting punishment. Yet that had not been the trigger for her actions today.
Becky had tried to live a normal life, tried to overcome the feelings of guilt over sins that were not her burden to carry. It had not been easy. She had married, he was probably a good man, yet she had always found it difficult to fully trust him or fully commit to their marriage. Her now ex-husband had been, for many years, surprisingly tolerant and understanding. Until her son Tim's suicide. A stupid class project tracing their family tree had been given to Tim's class; eventually the truth had come out. Tim had been thirteen, he had not been able to cope, could not even begin to see past the sins of his beginnings.
That had destroyed Becky’s marriage and formed the seed of her plan. It was then she had begun looking for the man that fate had decreed would be her father. Strangely she had given no thought in all these years to the consequences of her actions, she still did not care about the consequences. This man, this monster, had caused three deaths and he would pay for them. Beyond that Becky really did not care about what might happen to her; she had already lost everyone of value to her because of his actions. She was only forty-five but she could no longer see any future for her, there was no point.
Taking a deep breath Becky exited the car and carefully crossed the street. She knew he was home, his near new car stood proudly in the driveway. She also knew he was married but that knowledge did not cause her to falter in her intentions; her only hope was that it would be he who answered her knock and not his wife. Becky was not prepared to deal with anyone but him. Fortunately it was he who answered the door, his face changing subtly from one of gentle welcoming to one of the first flickering of fear. Not fear of Becky, they had not seen each other in so long she doubted he would even recognize her, but fear of the gun she held steadily in her hand.
When planning this Becky had imagined the speech she would give before she pulled the trigger and exacted the justice that had been denied. At the sight of him, however, her prepared speech flew out of her mind. In his early fifties he looked strong, healthy, at the peak of his life. He even looked handsome, was obviously successful; life had not punished his sins, now it was only Becky who could make him pay once and for all.
Not a trace of guilt, not a hint of remorse; perhaps he did not and never had even thought of those things that had haunted Becky’s existence. Mere seconds passed as these thoughts flashed through her mind. Without a word she pulled the trigger, again and again, emptying the gun until she was certain he was dead. Calmly, ignoring the screams she could hear coming from within the house, Becky walked back to her car and drove away. The police would almost certainly catch up with her but in the meantime she intended to put the flowers she had already purchased on her son’s grave.
For almost a year he had stalked her. Terrorized her with phone calls, notes, threats of incredible, extreme violence all interspersed with his declarations of undying love. She didn’t know who he was but it seemed he knew everything about her. She’d changed her phone number countless times, he always somehow found out the new one. She had even moved apartments but nothing, nothing she had done had stopped his continual harassment.
She had called the police only to be told that without a suspect there was nothing she or they could do; it was maddening, terrifying and driving her to the brink of insanity.
Now, in spite of all her precautions, in spite of everything she had done to try and keep herself safe, now he had her in his clutches. Under the cover of a violent thunderstorm on her very own doorstep he had taken her from behind; she’d been gagged, blindfolded and shoved into the back of a van and driven somewhere. Now he could do what he liked with her. From what little she could tell from her own body she seemed to be in a cabin, somewhere, tied to a bed that smelt filthy with body odour and other nameless smells. She could hear him moving around but he hadn’t spoken a word since he had captured her and she was utterly sightless from the blindfold.
Outside the thunderstorm still raged; the thunder louder than any sound she had ever heard in her life and the brilliant flashes of lightning doing nothing more than leaving spots before her eyes. Her heart was pounding and her thoughts racing. In TV shows they always told you to remain calm but how could she possibly remain calm with this man, this monster in the very same room. She could hear his ragged breathing whenever he came close to her; usually to run the razor sharp knife along some part of her body. The same knife he had used to cut her clothes from her, leaving her naked and vulnerable.
Then his foul body was on top of her, violating her, his disgustingly bad breath so close to her face she thought she would vomit. Thankfully it was over quickly but she knew this was only the beginning of her torment. He would not stop; nothing would stop him from abusing her in every possible way until he eventually decided to kill her. She knew this to be true, knew it in her very soul. Somehow she would have to find the strength to break his hold on her but how? She could not talk, could not try to make him see her as a human being, she could barely even move.
The rape and abuse went on for seemed to be a lifetime and then he decided she needed a bath. The irony of it almost made her laugh aloud, even if she could have gagged as she was, he so disgusting yet deciding that she needed a bath. It was the first time she had heard his voice and something about it seemed frighteningly recognizable but in her terror she could not identify what it was that struck her as familiar. Then she heard the sounds of the running water. When the bath was full he came back, untied her and guided her into the warm water.
His hands were everywhere as he washed her body clean, gentle hands that felt almost like a lover’s touch instead of the violent rapist of the past few hours. As he washed her he talked to her, telling her how beautiful she was, how much he loved her, how he only wanted to care for her. The abrupt change of persona was chilling but the more he talked the more convinced she became that she knew this man, knew him well. Fighting down her terror and the near overwhelming rage that was growing within her she tried to concentrate. Concentrate on his voice, tried to think of a way out of this nightmare.
Suddenly it came to her; it was her supervisor at work. He had been promoted to their department a little over a year ago and very quickly asked her on a date. She’d politely refused. This small man with the perpetually bad breath and glasses held absolutely no appeal to her; he had seemed to take her rejection with good grace but now she knew better. She also knew that she could overcome this man; he stood only a little taller than she was and was a skinny, ineffectual man. He had obviously relied on her not recognizing him and using her terror to prevent her fighting back.
She stood so abruptly she almost slipped in the soapy water but within seconds she had torn off the blindfold and removed the gag. Her actions had been so unexpected that he had simply sat there for a few seconds staring at her, his face a comic mixture of anger and dismay. Those few seconds though were more than enough. She ran to the bedroom and grabbed the long, sharp hunting knife. Now he was in her clutches. He came running to her to attempt to regain control. Her terror, her horrible feelings of violation, even her nakedness and shame drove her to a blinding rage. As he raced toward her she brought up the knife and thrust it deep into his chest; a feeling of almost intense satisfaction running through her as she felt his still warm blood from his dying heart flooding over her hand. As he lay dead at her feet she felt no guilt. It was payback for what he had done to her and he would now never be able to do it to anyone ever again.
I stood helplessly in the corner of the room; there was nothing else I could do. Everywhere around me was activity. Doctor’s, nurses, machines making their infernal racket and tubes, lots and lots of tubes. The woman in the bed was dying; I could almost see the life draining from her. They were pumping her full of blood, the bags draining slowly as the life fluid entered her veins. There were other bags filled with fluids attached to the woman at her arm, feeding her perhaps or perhaps just there for effect. There was no hope for the woman, how could there be?
I moved closer, staying out of the way of the medical personnel but I wanted to see the woman. Wanted to look at her face. She was so pale, deathly pale. There was not an ounce of color to be seen in her face. Her lips were bloodless, a sickly milk color and the dark circles under her eyes were so black against her white skin they looked like someone had painted them on. She had freckles and their dark color was a stark contrast to her so pale skin. She was breathing but it seemed to me to be very shallow, as though she were a shadow of her former self. Even her breath had no vitality.
The sterility of the pristine room of the Intensive Care Unit seemed a sad place for this woman’s life to end. She who had been so full of promise. I knew her well, knew her dreams, her fantasies, her dark secrets but most of all I knew her love of life. This would not be the way she would wish to go and yet there seemed to be nothing that could be done. The doctor’s spoke back and forth frantically. Her body was going into shut down, toxins were building up and her life blood was draining away. Their confusion was evident in the tones of their voices. The woman was not bleeding anywhere, at least, not obviously, yet the blood entered her veins and disappeared as though it had never been.
Buzzers were sounding, loud and insistent. The machines kept on with their constant barrage of noise. I felt a strange pulling sensation, as though I were being drawn to this dying woman. I did not want to go to her; she was an empty vessel, what good could I possibly do and yet I could not stop the desperate pull from the woman in the narrow bed.
“I think she’s coming round doctor,” a voice said from above me and I realized that I was the woman in the bed, I was the woman who had almost died. I opened my eyes slowly, everything was exactly as I had seen it from a distance but here now inside this body it felt so much more real. It felt more real than any moment of my life had ever felt.
I knew the truth then, I had almost died. I had experienced what they called a ‘near death experience’ and yet somehow I had lived. Suddenly all the noise of machines and doctor’s and nurses was grating on my consciousness as I struggled back to life. I would not die here on this narrow bed in this sterile room. I had far too many things left to do in my life. For now though I was tired, so very, very tired. I felt myself slipping away but into a normal sleep, not the unconscious existence I had endured.
Dawn at Senumut
The room was stark; television on a stand in the corner, table and four chairs and nothing else. Like ‘interview’ rooms in police stations all around the world, old George figured it was meant to be intimidating. Thing was, at sixty-two going on for sixty-three, there wasn’t much left in the world that George found intimidating and he had nothing to hide. He knew what had happened; knew what he’d seen and heard and if they didn’t believe him that was just their bad luck. He was only there doing his civic duty, after that it had nothing to do with him. Although, truth to tell he was a little bit frightened down deep but there wasn’t anything to be done about that by him. It was up to the proper authorities.
Two officers had been sent to interview him, George thought were almost an insult. One of them looked barely old enough to shave and the other not much older than that. Kids. George just shook his head. In the black screen of the television he could see a shadowy reflection of himself. Hat off, showing his almost completely bald head with his piercing blue eyes which weren’t really clear in the black screen. Nor did it show up the many wrinkles in his deeply tanned leathery skin or all the spots the doctor said was some type of sun cancer that would have to be removed. That didn’t bother George; he’d worked in the sun his whole life and if now, coming to the end of things, he had a few spots to show for it then so what.
They’d gone to fetch him coffee, said they wanted to hear what he had to say again. Old George knew they didn’t believe him, thought he was a crazy person. Well that was fine. He’d tell his tale again while he drank their coffee but then he was going back to work. The cattle wouldn’t herd themselves and the fences still needed fixing. Life didn’t stop just because two young policemen wanted to hear the same tale again and again. They wouldn’t believe it any more this time than the first and George didn’t have the patience to sit around with them all the day long; he’d give them one last telling and then he was leaving.
They returned with Styrofoam cups of coffee and sandwiches in those plastic triangle things that you got out of vending machines. The younger officer handed him a selection of the sandwiches, which George knew would be awful but it was getting on for half past one and he hadn’t eaten at all that day. He selected an egg and lettuce and a ham, cheese and tomato and the cup of coffee handed to him. He nodded his thanks to the young constable and set to with some gusto despite their bland and dry taste.
“Is that all right Mr. Hendry?” the younger one, called Anderson asked him. Old George was slightly pleased; it showed at least some respect. He didn’t know this dark haired boy so assumed he must have come to their little town from one of the bigger cities or maybe a neighbouring town. Childers wasn’t a very big town and Senumut was the closest of the homesteads in these parts. The other constable was young Ralph Patch’s boy, Eddie. Truth to tell George had never been much impressed by Ralph Patch and couldn’t help but wonder if his boy was as spineless as his father.
“Now George,” Eddie began, “do you mind if I call you George?”
George shrugged his shoulders, his mouth still full of sandwich but he couldn’t help but recall a time when you’d never ask that question of your elders, you just knew to call them Mr. or Mrs, it was just a matter of respect. Gone now, like so many other things George had known in his lifetime.
“O.K. George, we’re going to ask you to tell us what happened this morning, in your own words but this time we’re going to make a recording of it,” Eddie continued, “is that all right with you?”
Once again George nodded but he could feel a tiny knot of anger along with his fear deep in his gut; they were treating him like some loony, being patronising and he didn’t like that one little bit.
When he’d finished both his sandwiches George took a sip of the coffee, which was surprisingly good, although he could’ve done with a touch more milk, but you couldn’t have everything, he reasoned. The constable started the tape and made notes as to the time of day and who was there and then told George to tell his story once again in his own words.
“I was riding the fences out at Senumut, looking for breaks and making repairs. I was on my third day and nearly back to the homestead when I camped that night. It was well before dawn when it happened but I don’t know for sure what time. All of a sudden the horse near to went mad. He starts bucking and pulling at his tether, neighing and crying out. I got up to see what had spooked him so bad; I had my torch with me of course. That’s when I saw it in the sky. Like a plane or a helicopter but it was hard to see the shape in the dark but I could see pretty clear that it was in trouble and it was getting on ready to crash. The thing had like a tail of fire coming from the back of it and it was making this high pitched whining kind of noise. It’s a wonder that hadn’t woke me up itself.
As it got closer I could see that it weren’t no plane nor helicopter neither. It was sort of long, like a kind of football shape, pointy at both ends and fatter in the middle. Whatever was causing its’ trouble was coming from the back, far as I could tell, as there was sparks and fire and the thing seemed to be tearing apart. I watched it for maybe a minute or two before it finally hit the ground then I went off running to see if I could help. I didn’t know what it was but the government’s always experimenting so I just figured maybe it was some new type of plane we hadn’t seen yet.”
George paused for a long time before he spoke again, “once I got close up though I knew it weren’t nothing from this planet.”
“How did you know that George?” Eddie interrupted.
“Well it had all this writing on it and it weren’t no language we got here, none of the letters looked right but I could tell right off by the way they was laid out they were meant to say some-thing. Underneath the writing was this symbol thing, a circle in dark blue with a funny looking shape in the middle, not like a square or anything like that but a weird kind of shape.”
George paused for a while, thinking over the shape he had seen in case it might be important later.
“I guess it kinda looked like a skull and crossbones kind of shape but it wasn’t a skull, just a similar shaped figure and there weren’t just two bones crossed there were four and they looked sorta like insects legs, like a cricket maybe. Either way, soon as I saw that symbol, I knew straight off I was dealing with something from outer space. As I said the crash site weren’t too far from where I’d camped so I was just thinking to see if I could help. I didn’t think about cameras or such, not that I had any with me; I was just thinking there might be people in there that were hurt. When I got there were these strange looking creatures already dragging out the dead and wounded.”
“Can you describe these creatures George?”
“Well you know you hear these stories about these grey aliens with big black eyes, well they were sorta like that. Except what they really looked like I couldn’t tell you because I could see straight off they were all wearing some kind of space suit, all grey with a built in helmet with only these black eye holes. I knew it was a suit cause a couple of the aliens had theirs ripped and underneath I could see a scaly kind of skin, a dark browny kind of colour and they were bleeding but it was blue not red. They were talking but it was a kind of high pitched chittering sound that I couldn’t understand. Didn’t sound like any language I’d ever heard before. So I tried to get their attention, to sort of get them to understand I wanted to help and that’s when I heard this kind of boom sound high up in the air.”
“What exactly do you mean by a boom sound?”
“Well it was loud but sorta quiet at the same time, a sound you felt as much as heard with your ears. I looked up and saw another one of the ships, this one was ok though and it was coming in to land.”
“So there was more than one ship?”
“Yes, like I told you before there was the crashed ship then this other one that came to help out or something. It was mostly the aliens from the second ship that took up the dead and wounded and got rid of all the debris and stuff, except the piece I’d stuffed in my pocket.”
George pulled out the piece of metal, a dull, deep grey colour about the size of a matchbox. As they watched him George crumpled it up and then put it back on the table where it immediately resumed its original flat appearance. To George it felt almost greasy and reminded him of the cook’s Teflon pans. He scratched at it with his fingernail but it didn’t even leave the tiniest mark. As far as old George was concerned that shoulda been all the proof they needed that his story was true. Still, they were going to force him to tell the whole tale again from start to finish.
“Do you mind if we keep this George?” Constable Eddie asked as he was already reaching for it. George knew he had no choice in the matter, but he didn’t make a fuss, he had another small piece stuffed in his other pocket he hadn’t told them about. That was his own souvenir of the whole experience.
“So you heard a boom, Mr. Hendry,” young Anderson said, “What happened next?”
“Well the second ship seemed to float down, just like a helicopter landing rather than a plane if you know what I mean. I hadn’t been able to catch any of the other aliens’ attention, which I figured made sense, there were at least two dead aliens and three wounded. Only two of them were on their feet and they were busy doing what I guessed was some kind of first aid on the wounded ones.” George paused for a second; he had been a medic in the Vietnam War, the scene with the crashed ship was eerily familiar to him in the way they had all moved and worked together.
“When the second ship landed I could see that it looked more like a shark than a football, there was still a pointy end at one end and the other had two points, like a shark’s tail. I figured that was obviously what the problem had been with the first ship, that one of its’ pointy bits had broken off or caught fire or something. Anyway a whole bunch of the same kind of aliens came out of the second ship. Some of them started immediately cleaning up the debris. Well, not exactly cleaning it up they were sort of destroying it I think. They had these things like remote controls and when they pointed it at the metal it just melted away to nothing. Some of the others came to help with the wounded and there was this one alien, he looked like he was in charge because he had the symbol thing on his chest like a badge or something. He came up to me and started chittering away in their funny language. So I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying and that I only wanted to help.”
“So you spoke to the alien and you said earlier that you felt certain that it understood you,” Eddie interrupted.
“That’s right. After I said my piece it started repeating what I’d said, in sentences and then just words and sort of mixing them up. He sounded like he was working out the language just from the words I’d used but he had this clicky kind of accent. After a bit though he seemed to get it and he spoke to me.”
“You mentioned that earlier George,” Eddie once again interjected, “but you didn’t specify what was said. I need you to be absolutely specific about every word that passed between the two of you.”
George paused again to make sure that he got the exchange exactly right. He knew, even if these youngsters didn’t believe him, that it was important. The final words they’d spoken had left him with a chill, the kind of fear he’d only experienced back in ‘Nam.
“Like I said, I told him I wanted to help,” George started but was interrupted.
“We need your exact words for the record George,” the constable said.
“Fine. I walks up to him and said, I’m George, is there anything I can do to help you fellas?”
“Thank you, George, now what did he reply?”
“Well he didn’t at first, just kinda repeated what I’d said, mixing the words up and saying them again. Seemed to me it was like he was trying to figure out how to speak our language. Then he says, “Thank you George,” all in this clicky kinda accent, “We have sufficient help for our needs. We appreciate your concern for our fellows though.”
“Then I said, ‘some of them look pretty banged up, I used to be a medic in the army, I might be able to help with the wounded.’ So then he says, ‘our physiology is far more complex than your own although your concern is noted.’ So I says to him, ‘how far away do your people come from?’ Mind you all the time we was talkin’ these other aliens are clearing away all the evidence and workin’ quick too cause there were barely nothing left by the time we’d had our little talk.”
George sipped his coffee for a bit and watched the two young constables as they were watching him. He’d been around for a while and he knew, he could tell by the look in their eyes that they didn’t believe a word he was saying. They had already written him off as a nut and that bothered George. Not for himself, he was old and had not much life left to live anyhow. It bothered him for them. When the time had passed and they had found his story to be true old George was worried that it might just be far too late. Still there was nothing he could do to convince them of the truth of his story; all he could do was tell it and hope that someone, somewhere took it a little bit serious.
“Anyway,” George continued, “by now the area’s pretty much all cleared up, they did something to the crashed ship and it sorta disintegrated, like it’d never even been there. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I wouldn’a believed it had even happened at all. So the chief alien guy he’s directing all the others back to his own ship and he says the funniest thing to me.”
“What was that George?”
“Well first I says to him, ‘I gotta compliment you on the way you and your folk work. Quick as a flash and like no-one had even been there. Very impressive,’ I says to him. He looks at me for a long time then he says, ‘we are not yet ready to make contact George. We have been watching your planet for some time now and soon we will be ready. If you are still present on this land when we return your kindness will not be forgotten.’
“So I says to him then, ‘so you’ll be coming back some time?’ and he looked at me and even through the eye-holes, which was all I could see, I got this chill when he says back, ‘oh yes George, we will return.’ I didn’t really like the way he said that I can tell you that right now. And another thing, I been in ‘Nam, I’ve seen war and there ain’t much on this planet that can scare me but his tone or somethin’ scared me. When them aliens come back I don’t think it’s gonna be a friendly visit and even though it’s none of my business I reckon someone should start preparing. Study that metal, let people higher up know what happened cause one day we might just need every bit of wits we got. Any ways that’s all I got to tell you. I told you twice now and you got it on your tape recorder thingy. I’m heading back to Senumut now cause there’s still work to do.”
George stood and put on his hat and briefly shook his head.
“I know neither one of you believe a word I just said but I’m telling you this, they’re coming back. I don’t know when but they’ll be back and I don’t think they mean to just say hello. Now, I’ve done my duty, time now I reckon for you to do yours.” Without another word and with his head held high George walked out of the station. They’d learn, he just hoped he wasn’t around to see it.
The rapidly setting sun cast a chequer-board pattern across the wooden floor. Half-seated and half hanging from the ceiling by the stout cords around her wrists that were attached to a heavy bar that ran across the ceiling she panted heavily, head down. It seemed to her that she could pick out every knot in the wood of the floor, see every tiny crack and the dust motes were made almost glorious by the sun’s dying rays. Then the pain came again, rippling through her body, causing her to cry out against the agony. The pain was sharp and deep, combined with a heavy pressure that was totally beyond her control. The pain filled and consumed her, erasing all thought except to concentrate on the pain.
Eventually the pain lessened again and she could think. She had been here for three months now. When she had first left the Palace in Noorvix Ming had not had any true idea of where she could go, where she could hide. All she had known was that she could not stay a moment longer, that she would have to cease her barely started studies with the monks of the Black Lotus. Her shame was becoming more obvious daily and soon enough they would have expelled her from the school anyway. This way, or at least so she had thought at the time, there was a chance, however slim, that she would be able to go back. Go back to the warm embrace of those who had adopted her as family, High King Erich and Queen Urda. Go back and finish the studies she had started and eventually become a monk of the Black Lotus, a goal she had lusted after for a long time.
Now, tied like this with her legs splayed apart, sweat dripping off her tawny skin, Ming wondered how she could have been so stupid. If she had told the truth from the beginning she might not now be in this position. Yet stubborn pride had led her to lie and send Slade, the Crown Prince and her one true, great love far away, coldly casting him off as if she did not want him. Even as she had rejected him, her own heart had been breaking to see the pain on his handsome face. When she had determined on her plan she had not once given thought to the consequences.
Regardless of the emotional pain she had sometimes known as an orphaned child, in spite of her privileged adoption into the royal lineage, and the many times she had experienced pain from wounds taken in battle nothing could have prepared her for that day. She had torn his heart to shreds as much as her own, something she would have to live with till her last breath. And now she must pay another price as her body was slowly being torn to pieces from inside. She had been so young, so naive and so full of love for him and pride and confidence in herself that she had never once looked beyond the moment, never thought that this day would come.
The pain struck again, deeper and harder, as tears poured down her face mixing with the sweat dripping from her long black hair. Suddenly she was certain the pain would kill her, perhaps not now but soon. Ming became utterly convinced that she would die here in this barren room with its’ slatted wooden walls and cold wooden floor. Around her she could hear people moving, murmuring soft and even gentle words but they meant nothing to her. The relentless, bitter pain filled everything, consuming her in mind, body and soul.
Ming tried to breathe deeply as she looked down at the floor through the curtain of her sweaty black hair. A pile of plain white blankets lay directly beneath her; thin, soft blankets, their white purity spoiled as it was spotted now with blood, her blood. Soon the blood would become a tidal wave, sweeping her life away. In some small part of her mind she knew her thoughts were irrational but she could not shake the dreadful fear that was consuming her. Not just a fear for her own life, but for that of the still unborn child within her fighting to enter the world.
Someone brushed her hair back from her face with a damp, cool cloth and offered her a wet rag to suck on for the moisture. The priestesses of the moon goddess Lamia had taken her in after she left the Black Lotus monastery; telling her mentor Solomon only that she needed some time to reflect before she continued with her studies. If her mentor, who had become like a father figure to her after she had left the palace, had known or even suspected of her pregnancy he had given no sign. Ming had often wondered how much not only Solomon, but High King Erich and Queen Urda had known or suspected when she had first left the palace in order to join the monastery and then her lover, Slade, King Erich’s designated heir apparent, also leaving court so quickly after her departure.
No one, not even her very best friend Ursula, Slade’s younger sister, or Wulfstan, an orphan raised in the Palace as she was and her lovers’ dearest friend, had ever asked her why. Not a single person had demanded an explanation from her regarding why she had left Slade, why she had refused his proposal. Nor had anyone ever questioned her decision to leave her lush, comfortable life in the Palace to train as a monk for the Black Lotus. A career that was harsh and demanding. Monks were expected to swear vows of chastity, honor, loyalty, poverty and charity; something she had been unable to do yet. She had been forced to wait until the birth of her child.
Now she was alone, with only the comfort of the priestesses, instead of with Slade by her side giving birth to possibly a future Crown Prince who might one day High King of all Vestland. Pride, her stupid, stubborn pride had kept her from accepting Slade’s proposal; in her own mind she could never forget that she was nothing more than a bastard off-cast given the charity of the royal family. And now she would condemn her son, their son, to the same fate. The priestesses would raise him but Ming knew that when the birth was over she would return to the monastery, take her final vows and put her love affair with Slade behind her; even if that meant leaving her son behind forever.
“Bear down now my lady,” the priestess at her feet said, “the baby’s head is crowning. Now, push with all your strength.”
With a last agonizing flash of pain Ming suddenly felt the small body slip free from her body. The precious baby was covered in blood and slime as the priestess cut the umbilical cord and then, after washing his little body clean, wrapped the beautiful boy in another of the soft blankets. Holding him close Ming smiled down at her crying new and only son. Pulling down her tunic she turned him to face her and as she finally got him to suckle from her breast, she prayed that one day he would be able to forgive her for the decisions she was making this day. She prayed with all her heart that her son would forever be safe and protected by her totem god, Ilmater.
The priestesses worked quickly after the baby had been fed. The women gave Ming a warm, cleansing, herbal bath before settling her and her newborn son in the large soft bed that had been prepared. Holding her precious baby Ming felt a brief moment of doubt but she quickly brushed it aside. He would be an outcast in Vestland if his true identity was known; she had no choice but to leave him to the care of the priestesses. She gave the precious ring that Slade had given to her and insisted she keep, despite their break up, to the head priestess with instructions for him to be given it when he attained his manhood; perhaps one day he might even come looking for her. The distinctive ring was a wide band of gold bearing a large, square cut emerald etched with the image of a tiny dragon. Even now she smiled as she remembered the day she and Slade and fought a dragon together; back in a time when she had still believed that their future could be together.
“And what shall be his name, my lady?” The head priestess asked, smiling at the new young mother.
“Sloane, he shall be called Sloane, after his father. Tell him that when he grows to manhood. Give him the ring and tell him that he was loved, dearly loved, but please, I beg of you, explain that I had no choice.”
“Of course, my lady,” the priestess replied before settling on her knees beside the bed to pray for the boy’s life to come, and that his mother might some day find peace.
The little brown mouse made his home in a burrow at the foot of a great tree in the corner of the garden. The garden belonged to a family that lived in a great house made of brick. For many years the little brown mouse and the family had lived together happily. Perhaps it was because the family did not know about the little brown mouse.
One night as the little brown mouse was standing outside the burrow cleaning his whiskers he heard an unusual sound coming from a nearby garden. Cocking his tiny head to one side the little brown mouse listened intently to the noise. Someone was crying. Creeping out carefully the little brown mouse crossed the corner of his own familiar garden and followed the sound of crying. A bright full moon helped the little brown mouse find his way across the strange gardens. In a large green cage near a fence the little brown mouse found out who was crying. Inside the cage, shivering from the light rain was a pretty white cat.
The cat had a long white tail, bright white fur and wore a big shiny collar around its neck. Huddled at the back of the cage the white cat was crying and crying. The little brown mouse knew that cats did not like mice, he knew the cat would probably eat him if it could, but still he could not help but feel sorry for the white cat.
“Pretty white cat,” squeaked the little brown mouse, “why are you crying?”
The pretty white cat looked up at the little brown mouse with a snarl.
“Go away mouse, before I choose you to fill my belly,” growled the pretty white cat.
At any other time the little brown mouse would have been afraid but he knew the white cat was very upset and wanted to help if he could.
“I know you would eat me if you could but I heard you crying pretty white cat. Please tell me why you are crying, perhaps I can help you,” the little brown mouse squeaked again.
“I wasn’t crying,” the pretty white cat tried to put on a brave face but the little brown mouse could see that the cat was cold and scared.
After a while the pretty white cat told her story to the little brown mouse.
“I was given to the little girl who lives in this house, her name is Lucy. At first Lucy seemed to love me and played with me all the time,” the white cat said sadly, “but then, I don’t know. I got bigger and Lucy, once so sweet and loving, got mean and nasty. She would often kick me if I was in her way or pull on my long white tail. Lucy often forgot to give me food, water or milk and never, ever played with me anymore. Then this very morning Lucy pulled on my long white tail again. She pulled it so hard it and it hurt me so much that I didn’t think, I,” the pretty white cat looked ashamed, “I scratched Lucy with my long, sharp claws.”
The little brown mouse gave a big squeak; he knew that people did not like it when animals used teeth or claws. The white cat nodded sadly at the little brown mouse.
“What happened then?” asked the little brown mouse
“They put me in this cage,” the pretty white cat said sobbing again, “and said they would dump me later tonight.”
“What does that mean?” asked the little brown mouse worriedly.
“I don’t know but I don’t think it will be good. That is why I am crying. I don’t know what will become of me,” said the pretty white cat through her tears. Her tears and sadness was enough to make the little brown mouse cry as well.
“I know,” squeaked the little brown mouse excitedly after thinking for a time, “I can set you free from that cage and then you won’t have to be dumped, whatever that means.”
“But where would I go? I cannot live alone, I need a family to take care of me,” said the white cat.
The little brown mouse thought and thought. He knew that the pretty white cat was right, she would need a family to take care of her. Suddenly the little brown mouse looked up with a big smile on his tiny face.
“I know,” he squeaked, “I will take you back to my family. They have a little boy and a little girl, their names are Tommy and Jenny and they are both very kind.”
“They wouldn’t pull my tail or kick me hard?” asked the pretty white cat.
“No, my family would never allow that but you must never bite or scratch,” warned the little brown mouse.
“Oh I wouldn’t, I didn’t mean to hurt Lucy it was only she pulled my tail so hard I thought she would pull it right off,” said the pretty white cat.
“Then it’s settled,” said the little brown mouse.
Straight away the little brown mouse ran to the side of the cage where he could see the door. Even though he had to stretch to his fullest height to reach it, the little brown mouse was able to push the pin out of the lock and the door opened wide. The pretty white cat was free thanks to the efforts of the little brown mouse.
“Now mouse, I am going to do what I should have done from the very beginning,” said the pretty white cat as she crept toward the mouse with a bad look on her face. Suddenly the little brown mouse was afraid, would the white cat still eat him after all that he had done for her?
The pretty white cat crept closer and closer as the little brown mouse stood frozen in terror. When the cat was almost whisker to whisker with the little brown mouse she gave him a cheeky wink and a kiss on his small cheek.
“Thank you mouse. Thank you so much for caring about me even though I am normally your enemy,” said the pretty white cat as she curled her long white tail around the little brown mouse.
“Well,” squeaked the little brown mouse with a small laugh, “thank you cat for not eating me.”
“Scared you but, didn’t I?,” asked the pretty white cat.
“Just a little,” said the little brown mouse bravely, “now follow me and I’ll take you to my family.”
And true to his word the little brown mouse led the pretty white cat back to his burrow at the foot of the great tree. In the morning when the family woke up they found the pretty white cat lying curled up on a doormat at their back door. Tommy and Jenny were both excited to see the pretty white cat.
“Mum, Dad, look at this pretty white cat, can we keep her,” Tommy and Jenny cried excitedly.
“Well,” said Mum, “you must promise to take care of her, to feed her and look after her and love her forever. Can you do that?”
“Oh yes Mum, thanks Mum, thanks Dad,” Tommy and Jenny said happily as they ran inside to get a saucer of milk for the pretty white cat.
From his corner in the garden the little brown mouse could see that the pretty white cat had found a new home where she would be loved and he had found a new friend.