May the Hyperborean


Chapter Six

It was pouring rain when May returned to the tangled forest. Soon the sky was chaos, but she enjoyed every paroxysm of lightning and thunder. Digger with his droopy ears looked wetter than he was. The rain fell on May and ran down her body in rivulets. Puddles formed. Digger suddenly stopped in his tracks and growled.

"What is it, dog?" May muttered. She crouched low, kneeling beside Digger, eyes straining to see through the downpour. She heard a crunching up ahead, and in the distance she could vaguely see a gigantic tyrannosaurus prowling about. May was petrified! This thing was all mouth, with teeth like rows of daggers. It seemed to be picking up their scent. May turned and ran like mad, crashing recklessly through the branches. She didn't look back, but imagined that the monster was pursuing her and she ran a long time before resting. She was exhausted. The rain splashed and the thunder crashed and lightning smashed the trees.

After a while, May continued along the trail, splashing through puddles. She came to the house belonging to the witches, and realized she had taken a wrong turn somewhere. May shushed her dog and he followed along as she crept up to the house to spy. She went to an open window and took a furtive look inside. The room was a mess: flasks and vials cluttered the counters, and there were jars of exotic ingredients, some eerie and unfathomable. May stuck her head in further and looked around, impressed by all the books. The witches were nowhere in sight. She noticed that the window was propped open by a black book standing upright in one corner. Inscribed on the cover was the word SPELLS. She yanked out the volume and the window dropped down heavily. Then May ran away with the book.

A short time later she and Digger arrived at Buckler's tree house. By this time the rain had stopped falling and a fantastic fog was rolling in.

"Wait here," said May. She went up the rope ladder and into the tree house but there was no sign of Buckler. May called down to Digger: "Hurry, boy! Go find Buckler!" The dog went searching through the fog with his nose snuffling along the ground.

May returned to the tree house. She sat at the table, her back to the wall, then opened the terrible tome and examined the contents. May was hoping the stolen book would reveal powerful voodoo and magic, but the writing was ancient and strange. She couldn't decipher the words, and even the pictures and designs puzzled her. Suddenly, two figures appeared in the doorway. She looked up across the table. There stood the two witches in their black dresses, their faces each a half-moon of metal.

Fee cursed May in multiple tongues, but most of the gods and devils mentioned were unfamiliar to the barbarian. "I knew you'd come back, my saturnine friend. And you stole my book! But don't bother giving it back. We'll just take it!"

May ignored the witches and thumbed through the crumbling pages.

Said Fie to her foe, "What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?"

"Dog-ear my book?" said Fee.

May said nothing and her cool indifference annoyed the witches.

Fie swore and hissed, "I think it's time we started haunting her."

Fee spoke: "Wake up, May, it's Hallowe'en!" The two witches rose up in the air and floated toward May like spectres, and Fee said, "Trick...or treat?" just as they were passing over the table.

May said "Trick!" and a horrific thing happened: both witches shot downward head first, their iron faces smashing into the magnetic table and spattering blood.

The loathsome twins were dead, their bodies sprawled across the table and held fast by their mangled metal faces. May stood up and backed away from the ghastly mess, her stoic gaze fixed upon the witches, for she wasn't too sure they could be killed so easily.

Suddenly, the door in the floor behind May burst apart and splinters of wood flew. It was Gore! He had apparently climbed the rope leading up from the well. His left arm was wrapped around the beam beneath the tree house, and his right arm shot upward and clutched May's ankle as she sprang away. She fell flat on the floor, locked in a grip of iron.

"Hyperboreans are heartless," growled Gore. "Why didn't you send me a 'get well' card?"

"Because I wanted you to get dead!" May retorted, struggling desperately to free herself from that terrible grip.

"You're dangerous!" said Gore. "Plummeting from a tree really woke me up!" Then he noticed the dead witches: "I see you've met the twins. They don't look too happy to see you."

May grabbed a chair by the leg and tipped it over; then, gripping it by the backrest, she twisted around and swung it down on the werewolf's head. Something cracked! The werewolf was stunned, but he kept his hold on May. With her other leg, May gave Gore's snout an almost superhuman kick. There was an audible snap -- Gore's nose broke -- and the werewolf lost his grip on both May and the beam and he fell from the tree house. He landed by the opening of the well, as far as May could discern. It was too foggy to see the ground.

Then May figured if she went down she might escape, shrouded by the fog. She descended the rope ladder and vanished, gliding through the forest like a phantom in the same direction Digger had wandered off. In the distance behind her, obscured by the mist, Gore howled.

May slunk through the forest like a panther. The fog was dense, obliterating the trees, blotting out the forest floor. May couldn't see her own feet. She ran through white space, colliding with trees and tearing her flesh on branches. After a final burst of speed, May came to a halt. She sat down, leaning against a tree, gasping, dagger drawn. She caught her breath, then heard a call: "Barbarian!" It was Gore, not too distant, and May heard his footfalls and the snapping of dead twigs. She was silent and still and saw a dim form lurking in the haze. It was Gore and he seemed wounded.

"You broke my nose!" With his wild senses he knew she was nearby, hiding. "I'm bleeding, barbarian. I can't smell a thing. You're not scared of little ol' me, are you?"

Gore walked in May's direction and she crawled around the tree accordingly, keeping herself out of sight as he walked on by. When he was gone, May stood up and hit her head on a branch. She sawed off the branch with her dagger and quickly constructed a crude bow, making the string by twisting fibres from the stem of a plant. Next, she went to a sapling and cut from it the straightest twig she could find to make an arrow, and stripped off the bark. Lastly, she retrieved the silver fang from her top and hammered it flat between two rocks to make an arrowhead.

She stole through the mist. The fog was a labyrinth and May had no idea where she was going. She blew into her silent dog-whistle hoping Digger would hear it. Then it occurred to her: won't a werewolf hear it, too? She bit her lip and made a blind, desperate run through the woods. She ran straight into Gore and recoiled from the impact.

Gore roared in victory: "Ha, ha, har! Thar she blows! That silent werewolf whistle really works! That'll teach you for not learning your dog some secret bird calls!"

One of the moons was passing in front of the sun and it rapidly grew dark. May slowly backed away from the werewolf until her feet became stuck. She was standing in the uncanny growing grass and the blades were wrapping themselves around her feet and ankles. She frantically tried to pull herself away, but in vain.

Gore's feet were also trapped, and when he tried to tear himself free with his terrible claws the grass coiled around his wrists and all four limbs were held fast to the ground. He howled his rage in the gloom and waited for the black moon to move away from the sun.

The eclipse was passing and May dropped down on one knee. She raised the bow and drew back the shaft. Daylight returned and Gore could see that May had an arrow aimed at him. The werewolf took one step forward and May shot the missile into his heart. He reeled and fell. May crept over to him out of morbid curiosity. The beast was staring skyward through opaque eyes and his last gasp was barely audible: "...should've... got a... gold tooth..."

Buckler and Digger meandered through the misty maze and found May wandering around, lost. She was glad to see them, and they managed to make it back to the tree house. May was battered by her misadventures and bleeding, but took no account of her wounds. She sat by the bole of the tree as Buckler drew her a map. Digger curled up on the ground beside her, one eye open for monsters.

Buckler finished the map and May tucked it in her belt. The sailor grunted. Much of his house was destroyed by Gore when he went on a rampage looking for May, and there was little left of the flying machine. Only hours ago Buckler had salvaged mechanical parts from a robot found in the woods, and those pieces were ruined too. It made no difference to May. She'd had enough of this country haunted by demons and cursed by warlocks. Besides, the skull and crossbones beckoned, and she longed to be on the deck of a ship with her fellow buccaneers, in search of adventure and plunder on the high seas. And so May rose from the ground, bid farewell to Buckler, and continued her journey southward to join the pirates in the Bay of Wolves.

 ~ End Part 1 ~

(Story continues in The Gruesome)

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