It takes a minute for me to register the pain between my legs, but once my body processes it, it’s like a small fire erupting through my groin and up my back. I cup my hands over myself as I crumple to the ground, making strange mewling sounds that leave everyone—myself included—uncomfortable. As I fall in a heap the rat thing—when did Ben adopt a rat thing?—smacks me hard over the head with the dull end of his spear. I try to cover my bits and my skull with my hands at the same time as the thing lifts his stick to smack me again.
“That’s enough,” Ben says sternly. The rat-man looks at him, debating whether or not to listen, before tapping me lightly on the head again and moving to stand next to him.
“What in hell’s name are you doing, boy?” Ben asks, extending a hand out to help me up, while keeping the shotgun out of my grasp.
I breathe heavily until the pain dulls from a sharp ache to a low throbbing, before accepting his help and getting to my feet.
“I was trying to kill Rosaline.”
“Well I know she can be a bit, uh, persistent, but there’s no reason to try and—”
“I didn’t want to kill her,” I clarify, “but the fucking siren forced me to.”
“Too weak to resist her charms, eh?”
“It was shoot at Rose or tell him where Fred’s location is, and I only had the strength to do one.”
“Ah, well, in that case I don’t really blame you,” he admits.
“Yeah, I didn’t think you would. Look, Rose, I’m really sorry for—”
Before the words can leave my mouth I’m being pulled into a surprisingly strong hug by the young piaffhomme, her long blonde hair covering my face and near suffocating me, as she plants small kisses on the top of my head.
“Oh! T’es si courageux! So brave! You ‘ave fought the siren and come out victorieux! I knew you would never try to ‘urt me willingly!” Rose half sobs into my hair with relief.
“Uh, thank you. And no, I’m not a murderer. I’d never kill anyone,” I try to say, getting a mouthful of her hair in the process. “I would never—OW!” I shout. Pushing away from her I notice the angry rat-man with his spear in hand waiting to smack me again. “What the hell?”
“Ben, what the hell are these things?” I ask, pointing to the spear-happy rat and the one watching everything from a distance.
“Quantlings. You know, rat-people who live underground.”
I blink a few times as I process this information, before filing it under “Shit I Never Wanted To Know But Now Sadly Do” and brushing the leaves and dirt off me. I shiver at the morning cold and look over my shoulder at the trail leading back to my house. “Yeeeaaah, well okay then… wait, why are you guys in the woods this early anyways?”
“Priiincesssss Nooooodllllesssss iiisssss sssssick,” the rat standing near Ben says.
Oh, right, her. Wait, who?
“I was taking them to speak to Rose’s father, see if there’s anything they might be able to do to help her out.”
“Oh, bien sure! We ‘ave some of the best natural medicine in the land,” she quips. “Vien! Follow me!”
Rose begins leading us through the forest back to her home and silently we fall in line and begin walking after her. Ben keeps my shotgun with him and I can’t help but hate the way my fingers reflexively twitch when I look at the young piaffhomme leading the way, the spell of the siren not entirely broken. I try not to shiver as the brisk air and cold water from washing her car chill me to my core. I wish more than ever I was home cuddling Macie on the couch.
My eyes widen, I stop dead in my tracks, and my heart beats fast as it dawns on me that Macie is at home with Nancy. Blood thirsty, power hungry, psychotic siren Nancy. I need to go back, I need to save her. There’s no telling what that blue-eyed bitch is doing to my dog and I’m not inclined to find out. I open my mouth to warn them that I need to go back but stop myself. There’s no universe where Ben will let me go back to my house alone (or at all), and I expect the quantlings will smack me into submission with their spears if I object to sound reasoning.
The quartet is a few meters ahead of me and, without warning, I turn tail and creep back home.
I look like a thief in the night as I stand on the edge of my property, staring at my house. Nancy’s car is no longer in the driveway and there’s no signs of life from the windows. Hope flickers in my chest as I creep up the driveway and to the front door. I move slowly across the porch, trying to keep the wood from groaning loudly, before peeking through the large windows. No one’s there.
I test the door to find it blessedly unlocked. I open it slowly, expecting Nancy to jump out at me at any moment, but the house is empty.
“Macie,” I whisper. “Maciiiieeee,” I try a few seconds later, a little louder now, but she’s nowhere to be found. I creep through the house, but neither Nancy not Macie are inside and my heart hurts as I think of where she might be keeping my dog. I head upstairs and change into something warmer, and dryer, before going back to the entranceway and lacing up some warm boots. I throw on my jacket and head back outside, deciding to check the garage for my missing pet/best friend.
I lift the door quickly, knowing it’s going to make noise no matter what, and try not to shout when I find Nancy sitting on the hood of her car, smiling at me. In the corner, Macie is leashed to the leg of a small worktable and whines miserably when she sees me.
“Surprise! Now don’t move,” she commands.
“Did you kill the centaur?”
“She’s not a centaur.”
“Did you kill her?”
She smiles at me. “So then you’re ready to tell me where the wizard is?”
She hisses under her breath and jumps down from her seat on the car. She walks to the other end of the large garage and I watch with horror as she starts the woodchipper.
“Come here,” she orders.
I walk stiffly to Nancy—beautiful, kind, going to murder me, Nancy—and stand beside her. I can’t help but sweat as I hear the metal blades swirl and spin angrily from within. Nancy turns towards me and gives me a wide, toothy smile. If she wasn’t so beautiful it would be terrifying… actually, maybe it’s even scarier and somehow more predatory because she’s so attractive. She leans against the machine and closes her eyes.
Macie begins to bark from her spot in the corner. She pulls at the leash, straining the fabric, as she gets worked up over something I can’t see.
“Do you hear that?” she asks, before looking at me.
“Do you know that that is?”
I don’t answer.
“That’s the sound of me giving you one last chance to tell me where the wizard is before I make you feed yourself to this woodchipper piece by fucking piece. I’m not kidding, baby.”
I can feel my clothes dampening from sweat, my heart beating so fast that I’m sure it’s going to explode and kill me before the siren can, but I don’t say anything to the woman who tried to make me murder my friend (if you can call Rose that). I might be scared, but I’m no coward.
Macie barks even harder, panting between shouts as she struggles to get free.
“Hold out your index finger.”
I do as she says.
“Start putting it into the woodchipper.”
Slowly, as snail-like as my body will go, I move closer to the big metal machine. As I’m re-evaluating both my stance on cowardice and my personal moral compass, there’s a thunderous bang from the corner of the garage.
Macie, unable to snap her leash, has managed to drag the workbench from its spot in the corner. The table has fallen over in her excitement and she runs at the driveway with reckless abandon. She soars past Nancy and I, as does the table dragging on the ground behind her.
It crashes into the back of Nancy’s leg and sends her flying backwards… right into the woodchipper. The table hits me next, but thankfully I’m ready for it and brace myself for impact as it slams into my legs and throws me forward, my knees and chin crashing hard against the cement floor.
Nancy screams, and so do I as both myself and half the garage are covered in a coat of her blood. The blades of the machine crush her into a fine mulch and spray her on the back wall of my workspace and I throw up at the sight of it. I shakily push myself to my feet, shut off the machine, and turn to look back at Macie who’s happily jumping between Ben and Rosaline as they stare at me in horror.
“On the plus side,” I say, my voice quivering and a little too high pitched, “we don’t have to worry about Nancy anymore.”
I laugh as my garage spins around me, my legs give out, and I don’t feel the floor as I hit it while everything fades to black.
Photo Credit: Flickr