Felix, Part 7: The Gentlest Drunk

Felix is back! Not only that, but I finally figured out what was going on with Elements and will probably finish the second draft by the end of the month! Progress is always nice, isn’t it?

Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else. 

After Filion makes a significant announcement, Felix and Zia hatch a plan to get some answers about Felix’s vision and Zia’s family.

 

My stomach gurgles. I hug my knees to my chest, glancing at Fil. His head rocks to the rhythm of the wagon, eyes closed. I’m glad he chose the night watch. People get robbed on the caravans all the time. We don’t want to take any chances.

Zia nudges my shoulder. She wipes her brow, nodding to the end of the wagon. “Look at him. He’s been hoarding food for a week.” Her stomach growls. “Do you think he’ll share any?”

I look the man over. His hair and beard are matted together, and he’s rocking back and forth, talking to himself. “He looks scary,” I say. No one sits near him. He reaches into his bag and puts something to his lips.

“Let’s wake Fil up. He can watch our bags.” Zia nudges him.

“Let him sleep. I’ll go talk to him.”

“But I thought you were scared of him.”

“He just looks scary.” I take a deep breath. The man sways to the right before jerking back up. “Besides, we’re starving.” I stand up, swaying a bit with a lurch of the wagon. Zia looks at me, eyes wide in trepidation. I flash her a brief smile before turning my attention to the end of the wagon. Frustrated passengers crowd every square inch of the floor. With even a single misstep, I risk upsetting someone to the point of violence. Already a few heads turn my way, eyes curious.

With a deft step, I barely avoid a lady’s hand and someone’s bag. “Sorry,” I mutter, as I steady myself on a man’s head. He twists around and glares at me. I return the glare, but to no effect. Several quick steps later, I crouch next to the ragged man.

He reeks of booze. Mom and Dad rarely drink, but I recognize the smell well enough. Up close, he looks even worse than the paupers in Haven. Every crease on his face is lined with dirt, but beneath it there’s a faint redness.

A hunk of bread hangs from one of the overstuffed pockets of his jacket. My stomach growls at the sight of it. I swallow the saliva forming in my mouth.

“Huh!” The drunk jerks his head up, eyes wide open. “Who’s there?” My eyes go wide. His guttural voice paralyzes me. I glance around. A few people stare at us. If they realize how much food he has…

“What’re you doin’ here, boy?” the drunk asks. I wrinkle my nose. His breath smells worse than the rest of him. Lies race through my mind, but none of them sound right. He hiccups. “You just gon’ sit there?”

“Sorry!” I stammer. I take a deep breath, going with my gut. “I’m going to Baress.”

The drunk bores into me with his eyes. “One of them boys looking to go to the school, eh?” he asks.

“No, sir,” I say. Why am I telling him this? “I’m looking for a village in the mountains.”

The drunk chucked. “Not many o’ those, I’ll tell you that. I seen ‘em all.” He sways back and forth, reaching inside his jacket. The bread’s exposed. I reach for it with one hand as he rummages inside his coat. “There’s the one near the old mine that got blown in, the one by the lake, the other one near the old mine…hmmm, then there’s the one that folks say don’t exist past the Withering Forest.”

I’m a hair’s width away from the roll, when I pause. “Which village doesn’t exist?” My fingers tease the roll from his pocket. It’s in my hand! But it’s not enough. Zia needs some, too.

“Strange things come out of that village.” He looks me in the eyes, more alert than ever. “Kids who can lift a grown man with one arm. They could disappear into thin air before my eyes. All wearin’ the same thing, more or less.” I sit, eyes wide, as he leans in close. “I swear, this one woman knew everything about me with just a glance. Beautiful woman, but she sent shivers down my spine. Too young to have white hair.”

I gasp. That woman again! A few people stare at us, whispering to each other.

A hand clamps down on my shoulder. “Is he bothering you?” a bald man around Dad’s age asks.

I shake my head. “No, no, I’m just-”

“You can be honest with me. People like him shouldn’t be anywhere near children.” He glares at the drunk, then shouts, “Watchman!”

“No, sir, please-” the watchwoman from before climbs into the wagon. “Not her,” I whisper. Leaning towards the drunk, I ask him “Where’s the village with the strange kids?”

The watchwoman shoves people out of the way as she approaches us. The drunk leans in and grabs my arm. “The only road through the white trees. That’s-”

“Hands off!” the watchwoman says. The drunk recoils, releasing me in a hurry.

“I wasn’t doing – hic – anything, ma’am. I’m just tryin’ to get away from the colonies. Honest!”

“He was all over this kid, ma’am,” the bald man says.

I shake my head. “He wasn’t doing anything, he just-”

“You’re confused, kid,” the man says, “that’s how they lure you in. Ma’am, do you want help with him?” He grabs the drunk by the arm.

The watchwoman pushes the bald man away. “Sir, you need to step back. I can handle him.”

He glares at her, then back at the drunk, spitting in his face. “Pervert,” he mutters. He pats me on the shoulder before walking away. Every eye is on us now. The watchwoman pulls the drunk to his feet, wrinkling her nose. The crowd parts as she drags him towards the back of the wagon.

“No, no, I’m just trying to get north,” the drunk pleads, struggling against the watchwoman’s vice grip. “He started talkin’ to me. Please!” The watchwoman shoves him through the back flaps. “Please, I-” With a crack, his voice goes silent.

The watchwoman scans the wagon, all eyes on her. She lingers on me for a moment, and I shy away from her gaze. She returns to her post sitting at the back of the wagon, closing the flap.

I take my time back to Zia, and everyone moves aside now. Zia looks around as I sit down. She’s shaking a bit. “Felix,” she whispers, “what happened there?”

I shake my head and open my fists. When did I clench my hands so hard? The single hunk of bread is squished into a ball now. I hold it up towards her. “Still hungry?”

 

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Felix, Part 6: On the Road

This will the last installment of Felix for some time. I need to take time to edit Elements, work on some other projects, and plan out Felix a bit more before continuing with it. Keep an eye out for it in the next few months, however.

Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else. 

After Filion makes a significant announcement, Felix and Zia hatch a plan to get some answers about Felix’s vision and Zia’s family.

 

One of the crates bounces as the wagon shakes. The road has only grown rougher since we left Haven hours ago. Beads of sweat roll down my face as fast as I can wipe them off. I struggle to discern the smell of the cargo from my own body.

“It’s too hot inside here,” Zia says, sweating through her tunic, “I’ll open a flap.”

I shake my head. “You know we can’t let them catch us!” I whisper, wiping my forehead with my sleeve. I reach for the leather skin in my bag and shake the last few drops of water out of it. “Do you have any water?” I ask Zia.

Zia reaches into her bag, her face flush. She tosses me her canteen, but at the last minute it slips out of her fingers. I grasp as it arcs towards the back of the caravan, but it flies just out of reach and bounces off the flap at the back of the caravan. It clatters on the floor of the wagon, and the wooden cap breaks. Water sloshes out with the rocking of the wagon, a puddle spreading with every bump. I gasp, and Zia’s eyes grow wide. She scrambles over a pile of sacks, knocking one over. Dark green powder erupts from it, and my eyes are on fire. My tongue burns, and I’m coughing and shaking. I hear Zia coughing and cursing.

“Stop!” someone outside shouts. With a jolt I tumble over, rubbing my eyes as the tears begin to form. I hear a rustle, then the same voice says, “Put your masks on. One of the spices spilled.” I feel the wagon shake with a thud, and Zia screams. I’m forced to my feet and tossed away. Blind, I stumble forward, but on the next step I plummet into the air and hit the ground hard.

Pain lances through my bruised shoulder. Zia’s tearful cries next to me and the commanding voices above blend together. “Grab a bucket!” the same voice shouts. My heart pounds in my chest, and I’m rubbing my eyes. With a crash, my face and chest are soaked, and I blink twice. My eyes feel fine, though my mouth still burns. My heart beats in my ears. Zia lays in the dirt, equally wet. Her mouth hangs open.

“They’re just kids,” a man says. Two watchmen in full leather armor stand over us, spears drawn. The big one is holding an empty bucket, and he says in a deep voice, “Zeke should know about this.” He takes off, leaving us alone with the other watchman.

“Take this,” she says, tossing a waterskin on the ground between us. “It’ll help with your throats.” She takes off her helmet, shaking out her matted brown hair. I grab the skin, eyes on her spearpoint, and begin to drink. The burning in my throat instantly vanishes. I toss it to Zia, nodding my thanks to the watchman, who’s brushing her prominent cheekbones with the back of her hand. Should I call her a watchwoman? “I’ve never seen anything like this before. How did you sneak in the caravan?”

I stare at her. Between her cheekbones and her glimmering eyes, she looked even more beautiful than the woman with the white hair. “Are you a watchwoman?” I ask. I hear Zia sigh next to me.

The woman’s eyes narrow, and the corner of her lip turns up. “Yes. People don’t usually call me that, though. Do you know what we do with stowaways?” I nod, glancing at her hands. She grips her spear firmer, eyes fixed on us.

Footsteps and voices rise on the other side of the caravan, and a skinny man with a red face comes bustling around the corner followed by the big watchman. “What should we do with them, Zeke?” the watchwoman asks.

“Dammit.” The man shakes his head, running his hands through his thinning hair. “Did we lose any of the shipment?” He climbs into the wagon.

“Just a bag of spices, but I don’t think it’s anything substantial,” the Watchwoman says. I share a look with Zia, whose eyes dart between the two watchmen. A bead of sweat rolls down her forehead. I can only imagine the thoughts running through her head, if her Dad’s stories are all true.

Zeke clamors out of the wagon. “We didn’t lose much. The school won’t notice, at least.” My pulse races. Did he say school, as in the Baress School? “You,” he says, pointing at me, “do you have a brother?”

I blink. “Yeah. Why?” Zeke nods to the larger watchman, who runs back the way they came. Zeke starts muttering to himself. The Watchwoman stares at us with narrowed eyes. I finally take a look around.

Yellowed grasses sway gently in the breeze. I stand stand to see better. My shoulder throbs, and I massage it despite the sting. Two massive trees stand stout in the distance. A thin column of smoke coils upwards back the way we came. “Where are we?”

“Outside of Haven,” the Watchwoman says.

I point to the smoke. “Are those witches?”

“Sure, if they haven’t been eaten by wildcats or hyenas.” My throat catches. I look to Zia, who shakes her head, eyes wide. The woman chuckles. “Have you heard of hyenas? Have you seen them rip the flesh off-”

“Felix?” I recognize that voice. Zia and I turn around. Filion stands next to the big watchman, brow raised.

Zeke claps, grinning. “I knew it! You two had to be related. No one else in Haven has red hair.”

Fil’s brow furrows. “What? That’s ridiculous. Plenty of people have red hair!”

“Not in Haven, they don’t. Besides, you reek of the Floral District.” Zeke strides over to us and sniffs. “You all stink.”

“Sir, what should we do with the stowaways? We need to get moving.” the Watchwoman says.

“I know that!” Zeke breathes in through his nose, glaring at us. I can smell something raw emanating from him. “It’s not far from Haven. They can walk.”

“No!” Zia and I shout. My heart races. How far is it to Haven from here? What if those hyenas catch us? What about the witches?

“Would you rather they take care of you?” Zeke slaps the big watchman on the back. “I’ve seen them do it before.” The Watchwoman glances at him, and her eyes soften.

“No!” Fil wrenches himself from the big watchman’s grasp. “They’re just kids, you can’t-”

“I can’t?” Zeke glowers at Fil, towering over him. “My job is to take care of whoever pays to use my caravan. Your parents paid for your passage. They didn’t pay for two stowaways!”

Fil glares back at Zeke. “He’s my brother. Zia probably talked him into this. You know they won’t last a day out here.”

My heart races as they stare each other down. Zia’s hand wraps around mine, and I squeeze it. Zeke takes a deep breath, never breaking eye contact with Fil, and sighs. “Their food is coming from your portion, and they’re your responsibility.” He leans in close to Fil. “Don’t make me regret this.” Zeke glares at us, then turns to the Watchwoman. “Get their things out of the wagon. We leave in five minutes.” He marches off in a huff.

I look at Filion, his face twisted in disbelief. I pick up the waterskin and take another sip. I wave to him, saying, “Hey, Fil.”

On the Ropes

The second story in my Out of Place Series. Enjoy!

“This is gonna hurt. I have to make sure the harness is secure, which means-”

“I get it.” I reply, bracing for the pain as I stand on the washed out trail. The overcast sky creates a dull backdrop behind the ponderosa pines.

Darren, the bear of a man who tied the rope around my legs, grabs the loop where I would later clip in and yanks up hard. I cough and let out a short “ow!” I had completely forgotten how much that hurt.”Oh, man…”

“Told you it would hurt.” Darren chuckles. “These things aren’t made to be comfortable. You alright?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“Great.” Darren hands me a locking carabiner with a rope tied in a figure-eight knot around it. “Go ahead and clip yourself in. You’ll anchor Robbie so if he falls your weight will stop him from swinging too far down.” I nod in compliance, clipping the carabiner to the loop Darren had just pullled and screw the locking mechanism tight.

“Tom, are we clipped in there?” Darren calls over his shoulder.

“Yep! He’s all set.” Tom replies. I glance over at my friend and coworker Robbie, who’s working with Tom, as he adjusts his white helmet. “Gary, we secure?”

Upslope Gary tugs on a rope fed through a contraption that’s supposed to stop the rope should we fall. “We’re good. Send them down.”

“Okay,” Darren says to me and Tom, “Step back, guys.”

I look to Robbie, who walks off what remained of the trail, never looking up lest his footing fail him. The rope between us goes taut, and I start back down the treacherous slope. I hold the rope, little faith in my footing. The soft, dry dirt shifts beneath my feet.

“Lean into it, Adam! It’ll take your weight!” Gary shouts to me. I try, but I feel myself falling and grab the rope even tighter. “Sit into it!” He shouts again. I obey, and the makeshift harness take my weight and press into my groin uncomfortably. The rope holding me into the tree vibrates as it goes taught.

As I adjust my harness to try and make it even a little more comfortable I look to Robbie, who’s talking to our team leader up the trail. The rest of our team waits several yards behind him. Two of them assemble the yellow, plastic litter to transport the patient; the rest stand on the trail, fiddling with their pack straps and exchanging anxious glances.

In front of me and Robbie our patient lies on his back, broken ankle braced, two team members supporting him on his left side so he doesn’t fall down the slope. The medic at his head has made it perfectly clear that if the patient’s ankle was moved even a little bit it would lead to serious complications. Two groups of hikers have been delayed for several hours on either side of the patient, and they’ve been getting restless. In the dying light of the setting sun, we don’t need to say anything to recognize the urgency of our situation.

“Okay,” Robbie says to me, “I’m gonna start handing you packs, just keep passing them to the other side.” He hands me a blue pack with poles and a tent strapped to the outside, and I grab it and hoist it up to Darren. This goes on for several minutes until one of the packs slips from Darren’s grasp. I don’t think; I leap to catch it, grabbing it with one hand and catching myself on the ground with the other. My heart races; my feet begin to slide out from under me, and I quickly scramble back upright.

“You okay?” Gary asks.

“Yep.” I say.

“You alright?” someone else asks.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Take this.” I say hurriedly, handing the pack off to an outstretched hand (I think it’s Darren’s). I adjust my harness again, grimacing.

“Adam, grab that shovel.” Robbie directs. “Start digging out footholds, we’re gonna send people across. Darren, sit there-” (he points to the trail near me) “-and act as a handhold so they don’t fall. Adam and I will spot them as they move across.” Darren hands me the small spade, and I attack the dirt across the slope in equal spaces apart. Before too long people are crouched down as they navigate the holds we’ve dug out for them so they can continue on their way. Fortunately no one slips like the pack did.

“Thank you guys!” One of the adults shouts back as he waves goodbye to us. I wave back, hoping they get to camp before dark.

“Adam, I need you to move up a little bit.” Our team leader commands. “You and Robbie are going to spot the rest of us on your side while we move the patient onto the litter.”

“Don’t let his leg move too much.” The medic reminds us. She looks down at the patient and says gently “We’re going to move you on to the litter now, this shouldn’t take long.” I scramble up the hill as more of the team sets themselves in the footholds we dug out. I put my hands up close to the backs of my teammates, fingers together. Different voices begin talking over one another.

“Get that vacu-splint!”

“Where’s the other blue strap?”

“Bring the litter over here, now!”

“They should cross over.”

“Can someone get me that pump?”

“Adam, can you get up here?” Amidst the confusion, I obey and get a hand on the patient.

“Alright, we’re ready to move him.” The team leader’s voice cuts through the rest, and the team falls silent.. “On three, roll him to his left and we’ll put the vacu-splint under him. One, two, three!” The people on the other side roll him over and shove the pad under him. When it’s completely under him, someone pumps the air out of the splint, conforming to the patient’s body and stabilizing him. “Good. On three, we’ll lift him and set him in the litter. Hand on. One, two, three!” The rest of them are lifting as I spot them. My friends and coworkers gingerly lower the patient into the litter.

“Adam, Robbie, unclip.” The team leader commands. “I need you to spot on your side so the people on the litter don’t fall. If you’re on the litter, secure the patient get your straps on. We’re going to lift the patient and start moving forward.”

Darren, Gary, and Tom begin to undo the rigging they had set up around the trees. As I unclip myself from my harness I massage my legs where the rope dug into my flesh.

I notice the ground in front of me was illuminated, but none of the surrounding earth was lit. I had turned on my headlamp at some point. Where did the time go? I look at my watch: nine-fifteen. I don’t remember how much trail we had to cover before the vehicle, but I remember hiking this trail years ago in the daylight. It keeps going up and doesn’t stop for what feels like forever. Massive rocks will create some serious obstacles.

At least I’m not clipped in to that harness anymore.

The Crazies

This is a short descriptive piece as part of a writing exercise. Enjoy!

They were the crazy ones, the animals. The snow was starting to melt, and that meant the short shorts could come out and soon the shirts would come off.

That’s what happened at the end of the indoor season. For distance guys, at least. The community trails would be slippery and wet with puddles galore. The smart ones would stick to the roads when given the chance. The adventurous ones would take that chance to find the less beaten path through the forest preserve and tromp through the woods and brush, coming back caked in mud and brambles up to their knees.

For the most part, each week went about the same way. Hard workouts happened three days a week, recovery runs twice, a JV meet for those below, and a weekend meet for the stars. By the end of the day, long after the rest of the athletes had gone home, they would start their cooldown and core routines. Then it was homework (or not) and bed. School days started early, and student athletes needed rest.

Don’t think Spring Break was a vacation. Coach would hand out a schedule the week before Break started, and anyone serious about it would be there at 8 AM, bright and early. These workouts were even more intense, since we had the whole day to recover before the next workout. Naps were frequent, and homework was rushed the Sunday before school started again.

Their other friends never understood. How could they? To them, it was punishment. To those insane few it was a way of life, etched in their bones even if they weren’t the most devout practitioners.