Wednesday, July 6, 2011


"For a long time they said we didn't need one, but then something changed and they said that we did."

"What are you talking about?" Adraen asked, shaking his head. Sometimes Vaery, his younger-by-seventeen-and-a-half-minutes twin brother, could come out of the middle of nowhere with what he said. All too often, Vaery had conversations going on in his head, and when he suddenly broke a silence, he was in the middle of one of those conversations and expected everyone to know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes, Adraen couldn't help but wonder if Vaery was a little bit mental.

"A guardpost at the gate," Vaery explained, looking a little irritated-- as he always did-- at the lack of immediate understanding from those around him. He shook his head, taking in all the others around him; every one of them looked as confused as Adraen felt. "For as long as I can remember-- as long as many of the Elders remember, they say-- we've been told that we don't need a guardpost at the gates to the city. But now, something's happened. I know it. Why else would we suddenly need a gate?"

"You don't think it might be... one of those... things, do you?" Rual was two years younger than the rest of those that were gathered, and he was still fervent in his beliefs that all the stories his mother told him were true. But the older boys: Adraen and Vaery, Tory and Gat and Faybrick, knew the stories to be nothing more than tales to frighten the young into behaving. But Rual seemed to cling to those stories, all about how the Otirah were hideous monsters and stole bad little boys from their beds and ate them. Even as much as the younger boy held onto his belief that Otirah were real, he refused to say the name aloud. Maybe he really did believe in them.

Adraen glanced to where the guard tower was being built. Already, the construction was higher than the city wall. Once it was finished, it would be easily visible from anywhere in the city. "It's probably for something else," he said. "Everyone knows the Otirah are just stories." The others chimed in, Tory and Gat even tossing in a few teasing words to embarrass Rual.

"I was just saying," the younger boy blushed. "I saw one once..."

That was enough for Faybrick. "If I have to listen to him insist on that story of his again, I swear..." He strode off, Tory and Gat close on his heels. Adraen looked after them, part of him wanting to join them in whatever time-wasting endeavor they would find, the other part of him not wanting to just leave Rual looking as abashed as their departure had made him look. Vaery gave him a shrug. "I'll stay with him. You go on."
Without another glance, he dashed off after the other three, grateful for the reprieve. Vaery would stay with Rual and listen to the story again. Fine.

The rest of the day found the four of them causing the general trouble expected of boys their age. It was enough to make younger sisters tattle and then spy and giggle when they were scolded by their mothers, and there was plenty of cause for older sisters to pick up right where mothers left off, adding scoldings of their own. Adraen really didn't see the draw of deliberately causing trouble-- not the way Gat in particular did-- or even the draw of filching pastries-- the way Tory did-- when he would get them just as easily after dinner from his mother and without the scolding or the fear of getting caught. More than once, they skirted wide when they saw Vaery and Rual wandering the streets nearby; neither Faybrick nor the others wanted to deal with Rual any more than necessary, and even though none of them said it-- not with Adraen around-- they didn't want to deal with Vaery either.

Evening came, and dinner, and the dessert pastries he really didn't deserve but ate anyway. Vaery didn't say a word about being left behind with Rual, and he even seemed less distracted than usual. He didn't make any of his out-of-the-blue comments at dinner or afterward. He hardly spoke at all, as a matter of fact. Adraen was content not to say anything.

After the lights had all gone out and Adraen was halfway to being asleep, a low growl broke the silence. Adraen's eyes shot open. In the moonlight filtering in through the unshuttered window, he could just make out his brother, sitting up in bed and staring out into the night. Vaery's face looked pale and strange in the shadowy night light, his eyes glowing strangely with the reflected moon.

"Something moved out there," he said simply, not even looking to see if Adraen was awake. "Shaped like a man, I thought, but it didn't move like one."

Adraen strained to look out the window.

"It didn't sound like one, either."

He dared to climb out of bed and creep to the window. Vaery's eyes followed him, shooting warning looks at him while at the same time daring him to keep going. He peered out into the street. There was nothing. No sign of any man or dog or anything that could have explained the growl. it had certainly been too big, too rumbling for it to have been even a large dog. Wind tossed a few stray leaves and a clump of dead grass down the cobbled road. There was nothing else outside.

Adraen suddenly realized how foolish he was being. It had to have been a dog. There was nothing else it could be. Wolves didn't come into the city, nor did any other wild animal, and if it wasn't a dog, well... Otirah were just stories. "Let's go back to sleep, Vaery. It was nothing." Even with his bravado, it took effort not to creep back to his bed, to just walk normally. He crawled under the covers and slept.

When he woke, the sun was still not up, and Vaery was gone. Rumors were flying around the town, about intruders that had gotten in and skulked about, growling like animals, or maybe they were animals, and maybe... the word Otirah was floating around like a leaf on the breeze; Adraen couldn't turn a corner without hearing someone whisper it. Once, as he walked past an lot between a shoe repair shop and an herbalist's-- there had once been an inn there, but it had burned down and no one had rebuilt there-- he almost swore he saw a big black shape moving in the rubble. He attributed it to his nervousness over last night and his uncertainty about where his brother was.

It was Tory who confirmed in his mind that Otirah had come. He went looking for his friends to talk to them, and Tory and Gat were huddled in Tory's house, both looking terrified. They had snuck out of their houses last night-- as they often did-- and had actually seen the Otirah with their own eyes, a hulking figure more animal than man, wearing a tattered cloak and nothing else but fur, growling low and deep and sometimes walking on all fours instead of two feet. They refused to leave the house. "Tell Rual we're sorry," Gat called after Adraen as he left, trying to hide his shaking. With them in that state, he hadn't had the heart to scare them further by telling them Vaery was missing.

After nearly an hour of looking, he realized Rual was missing, too. Fear ate at him, making him nauseous.

Night fell onto the town quickly, and neither Adraen nor anyone else had seen any sign of Vaery or Rual. The two of them seemed to be the only ones missing. Part of him was relieved that there was no sign of them. The more time that passed without seeing either of them, the more he began believing that he wouldn't find his brother alive. If there was no sign of him at all, it meant he might still be living... somewhere.
It was long after dark that he was finally forced to give up his search, when his father came and found him. His father's eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, as if he had been crying. When he got home, his mother looked even worse. Adraen gladly accepted their hugs, assuring them he was fine. He went to bed without supper; none of them were in any state to cook, and he wasn't hungry anyway. He slept in Vaery's bed, next to the window, fighting sleep in hope that his brother would return. But sleep took him against his will.

A low growl woke him, and he jumped to look out the window, his eyes straining to see in the darkness. Nothing was outside, just as it had been the night before. But he knew he had heard it.

There! He squinted. Clambering on the side of the street, heading in his direction, was a hunched-over figure that looked to be wearing a cloak. His blood ran cold. He wanted to pull his head back in the window, to hide, but he was frozen, staring as the figure awkwardly approached.

It was another movement and a short shout that made Adraen topple backwards onto Vaery's bed. He kept tumbling in a backwards somersault, finally winding up on his back on the cold floor. His heart pounding, he scrambled back to look at the window. Vaery's head was peering over the windowsill, a big grin on his face.


His brother chuckled, but then the smile disappeared.

"Vaery, there's something out there! I saw it! Get in here!"

His twin shook his head. "It's okay. Look, I can't stay."

"What's going on?"

"I'm going with them. Rual, too. Tell Mom and Dad I love them. And tell Rual's parents I'll take care of him."

"What are you talking about? Going with them? Who? Where?"

"The Otirah. I'm going to..." he licked his lips. "I'm going to be one of them."


Vaery shook his head and then looked to his left. The hood of the cloak appeared next to him. He cocked his head to the side, as if listening. "She said I can tell you a little, but that's all."


Vaery shook his head dismissively, as if to say there was no time. "They're not monsters. They... they're people. Sort of. they used to be. Anyway, Rual and I both have the gift. There's worse out there, Adraen. Real monsters. Not Otirah." The cloaked figure gave a little start and what almost sounded like an abrupt purr. Vaery nodded at it-- at her. "It's a power. Magic, I guess you could call it. But not. When I learn, I'll protect you, like she does."


"I can't stay, Adraen. Please, trust me. Tell Mom and Dad I love them." He paused, a sad look creeping into his eyes. "I'll be different, then, but... I will protect you. I promise."

Adraen stood shocked for a moment after his twin and the hooded-- woman?-- disappeared from his window. Finally, he leaped onto the bed and stuck his head back out into the night.

Seven years passed, but Adraen never forgot his twin brother even when most of the townspeople had. As a hardy man, he took his turns at the guardhouse that stood at the wall. He always took night watches, and alone. Should something happen, he would raise a cry. Others rang the alarm bell for any of the normal night shadows that were out there, but not Adraen. There were more false alarms than anything else, but even when he did see a definite man-shape moving out in the wilderness that lay outside the city walls, he did nothing. Most often, he thought he knew who it was.


"Sometimes the price is too high for most people, but there's always someone willing to pay."

"What are you talking about?" Michelle asked, shaking her head. Sometimes Paul, her older brother, could come out of the middle of nowhere with what he said. All too often, Paul had conversations and ideas going on in his head, and when he suddenly broke a silence, he was in the middle of one of those conversations and expected everyone to know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes Michelle couldn't help but wonder if Paul was a little bit mental.

1 comment:

  1. ...this is another one of those stories you write that will always stick in my mind. Well done!