Jonathan L. Rutan
Her stomach didn’t hurt anymore. Maybe her head was even beginning to clear. She blinked, tried to focus on anything nearby. Was that a fluttering of wings she was hearing, perhaps an owl was swooping down to say hello—like the ones so often seen in the barn they would meet in after school…why wasn’t she in school—but it hurt too much to focus, and the fluttering was gone anyway. She closed her eyes back tight, and hoped that might make things better.
Stealing Second: Miles Norton had a hurt hand. He wasn’t too concerned. Sure, something was broken but it was only making his fist a tad more pudgy, and his fingers a little stiff. It wasn’t anything obvious—like a large amount of free-flowing red—and that was important. Nicky didn’t like to be reminded of what Miles did for a living, and tonight Miles was in no mood to make things worse.
The Green Side
The Green Side Scene 01: Int. Apartment of Jade, James, and Kevin (A soft hint of yellow pours through a window of a tiny apartment. It is a sparse place. Only a ragged couch sits in front of a small television. Upon that couch is James, a man whose age could be late twenties, or early thirties. He is playing a video game; a controller is in his hands as he hits buttons and stares at the TV. There is no passion on his face. Across from him is the only other piece of furniture that we can see, a recliner. Jade—a girl we can at least say looks younger than James—sits upon it with a book in her hands. She is reading with as much passion as James has for his game.)
Worlds of Ash: A Fantasy Tale
Chapter One Ash scurried past laced iron, thick oak, and metal screws. The underside of the gym’s bleachers was always such a labyrinth of dread. She just knew dangerous beams of death had to be waiting to bring violence upon her. The floor was horrible too. Dirt and dust created a slippery film that clung to her feet and made her certain she was about to fall. This was never a place she looked forward to visiting. But today, such a labyrinth was—for some reason—reminding her of her grandfather. Or, to be more specific, it was reminding her of why she loved him so. The afternoon sun, a kind of gentle white, was catching specks of dust that had decided not to remain on the floor. They floated, sometimes hitting her arms or sticking to her pants, but Ash didn’t care. Since she’d never once joined in on any after-school activity she could keep her school clothes on, a nice short-sleeved yellow shirt, dark black jeans, and white sneaker combination that always felt a comfort. It was one of her most favorite outfits. Of course, at the moment, one of her most favorites was getting as filthy as she, but, again, Ash didn’t care. She was enjoying the dust too much to be bothered. Each speck—it diffused the light—made the laced iron shadowy, the thick oak somber. It was so different from what was above—as if a hidden magic had allowed her to step into another world. And that was exactly what was reminding her of her grandfather. The man didn’t swing by all that often. Her grandfather—or, really, Poppa Henry, that was what he did love to be called—didn’t have a concrete job, or a concrete home, that Ash knew of. Such things always kept him busy and away. Better put, her Poppa Henry gallivanted about—not her words, just what she would overhear whenever her father mumbled a few complaints. One time, she’d even heard her father yell at Poppa Henry about why, exactly, he’d taken a job way up in Alaska and then, another time, just why Poppa Henry had been investigating an opportunity to sell something all the way over in France. None of that mattered. When everything her father had to say finally finished up, her Poppa Henry would never forget to stop by her room, Ash’s heart held in thrall as he slowly—and after a detour to see her little brother Peter—made his way to her bedside. Poppa Henry would whisper if his “Little Ash” was awake, and when Ash would smile a “yes,” his stories would begin. Epic tales of a land called Penthya—a land surrounded by the Cliffs of Random and the Marsh of Lumbrica, a land of magic and adventure, of Light Benders and Dwarves, Wind Weavers and Giants, it would all spill like honey past his lips. As Ash would slowly fall back into sleep, he would weave golden spun dreams, his voice the sweetest lullaby filled with Elves and Fawns, who would dance with her as lute-filled music echoed deep within her mind. It was the main reason why she’d chosen Ash as her preferred name. In all fullness, she was Amanda Jane Ash—her brother, Peter David Ash, her father, Steven Clay Ash, and her mother, Rachel Morgan Ash. Going by Amanda or Jane probably would have made much more sense—who chose to be called only by what was their last name, something anyone in her family could have chosen as well—but Ash adored her preference. Let Peter go with Peter, let her mother stick with Rachel, Ash was hers because it was linked to Little Ash which was only, really, important because of how it was tied into her Poppa Henry and his stories about Penthya. What other name could be better? Sure, a few stories—like poor Princess Isabella and her savage murder—went far into scary and dark, but it was a scary Ash was never bothered by. Even the way a Thorish could slip while walking up a Swinging Spire, or how an Errun could steal away children for nightmare work in the Western Wilds—Penthya was a land that could turn wrong, yet that wrong always led back to heroes and bravery and many a perfect moment where there was never any fear or doubt. If Ash could just escape her own world to slip inside such a place, she knew she too could face something horrid—maybe even an Errun—only to rise above and shine. And today, while there were no Fawns she could see—and lutes weren’t being played either—Ash really did feel a sudden connection to her bedtime stories. She could just about smell the salty waters of the Infya Sea and feel the burn along her skin that was common in the depths of the Ferrousai Desert—so many things were bringing Penthya to mind. Why was that happening? Ash had been underneath the bleachers before, and those days hadn’t made her obsess over other worlds or bedtime stories. Perhaps she’d never been down here this early when the light was this gentle? Or, maybe, it was that dust? Had it ever danced in the air like this? It made her feel as if, at any moment, something new could step out from anywhere. Ash shook her head. It was silly to indulge such fantasy. Light Benders and Wind Weavers, escaping her life and slipping into magic, even having a perfect moment so she could shine, that all existed only in Poppa Henry’s stories, none of it was about to make an appearance in the real. But, still, she’d found a touch of happy. Penthya had that effect. Hearing about it or thinking about it always brought a magic that made her better. Ash scooped up the ball she’d been sent to find and turned in a hurry. The beams attacked. They’d been so patient, the gentle light helping them for sure. She hadn’t seen one last bit of iron that greeted her with a heavy thud. School was just this way. Whenever she tried to feel better within its walls, she failed. The same usually finding its way into her home. Ash rubbed at where she’d been hit. She felt a knot, something tender that peaked from beneath the confines of her hair. It made her think even more about her house. Of the many problems she had there, most did revolve around the length of her hair or how she feared her mother’s disapproval or even some issues with her father, but the moment she was thinking of now was all about her little brother Peter. Her mother had created a game for him, a weird little waste of time that involved reading the newspaper from front to back so that, later, Peter could be quizzed about the events of the day. The idea was for Peter to be rewarded with the comics if he got everything right, their mother holding the paper inches from her nose as she asked what was happening in the Middle East or what large and wealthy company had just donated tons to the Democratic party. The thing that frustrated Ash to no end, however, was that Peter didn’t care if he won or not. His definition of reward involved being given a slide rule or enough wire to create a computer from scratch. He didn’t have anything against comics, but he didn’t have any great love for them either. He just happened to find them interesting only if he had to work before they were handed his way. To Ash, the whole purpose of the game made no sense—and shouldn’t that mean it should be stopped—yet, when her mother one day decided that Ash should play too, Ash didn’t even bother to hope that she might somehow create a Penthyan moment—just speak her mind, be brave, and shine. She only sighed and silently took what was offered. Immediately things were sent into change, and she wasn’t someone who liked change. Instead of waking early and doing familiar—perhaps kissing her father hello and pulling the comics from him as he huffed, yet smiled bright—she had to do different. She couldn’t get quizzed until sometime in the evening, her brother going first as she waited in the living room. There were so many questions too, so many nights of her mother’s crestfallen face as Ash mumbled mistake after mistake. It got to the point where Ash gave up. She told her mother she didn’t want to read the comics anymore, and her mother agreed. If she wasn’t going to play, she wouldn’t be enjoying anything. Ash had endured for maybe a month. She’d taken a higher road of trying not to care, but soon, such ground felt like regret. She had to do something. However, she had no idea what that something should be. She couldn’t go to her father. Though he did, often, smile, he could also use that same smile to brush aside everything his family was going through. In fact, the only thing he’d ever said about the comics was that Ash should never have agreed to play if she wasn’t going to abide by the rules. It had been so infuriating to have him stick with a familiar distance but, then, his words had made Ash realize. There was something, quite a big something, she could do. Back at the start, Ash had never agreed to anything—there had just been that sigh. All she had to do was make her mother understand this. But when the day came that she decided to take her stand, she couldn’t even whisper. Oh, she had formed some word, but the sort of “no” that she’d succeeded in saying had fallen past her lips like a pitiful sneeze. Her mother had only thought she’d had a cold. Ash again rubbed at her head. It seemed no matter where she was, pain was all she had to look forward to. She sighed once more—and why not, she was so good at it—and ducked. She froze. She was almost out—just a few more feet and she would have passed every bit of laced iron to reach a space where only empty, and then a pale blue wall with an emergency exit, waited. But there was something on the other side of that emergency exit. Ash got a fleeting glimpse of a man in a dark green cloak with a large green cowl covering his head. He looked like he belonged somewhere else. Ash couldn’t explain it, but the edges of him, how he stood with the light accentuating the crisp lines of his shoulders and arms, was wrong. It was like the air around him just couldn’t decide if he was familiar. Was she still thinking about Penthya? The man was leaning with hands splayed out on either side of the exit, as if he was trying to get a quick glimpse inside. He was staring through glass slats that normally sat ignored and at the center of the door. But now, that glass couldn’t be ignored. The man was using it to stare at Ash, his cowl not letting Ash see his eyes or his face, but she was certain of that one thing. He was looking only at her. Ash was scared. This was another touch of change—quite a large change—and she couldn’t help herself. But, quickly, that faded as an odd return of happy pumped through her veins. However, Ash blinked, and the man was gone. The happy going with him. She ran to the exit. Ash stared wildly at the bits of school grounds she could see. It was just a parking lot, a playground, and a soccer field beyond, but no one was there. No man at least. There was a large white dog over at the other end of the soccer field, but other than that and some kids kicking a checkered black and white ball, there was nothing. Ash cast her eyes all about and craned her neck as far as it would go. She looked from every possible angle, but no man—no tall, thin, and green—was around. But…that couldn’t be. Outside of the emergency exit, there was only more open space. Ash had been going to the same middle school for long enough to be certain. The walls on the other side of the gym stretched a long way to her left and right before ending in sharp corners. There was nothing out there for anyone to hide behind. It wasn’t possible that someone could have run off before she’d reached the slats. “I want that with me,” her coach—Coach Littleton, the man who kept watch over all the kids who’d stayed for after-school fun—said. He was behind Ash. She barely paid him any mind. “Hand it over.” Ash still had the ball. She felt its rough skin and was about to turn and throw it, when something, that wasn’t at all related to a strange man, made her stay right where she was. Ash saw her father’s car pull into the lot outside. But if he was there to pick her up, then not only was he early, something was going on. For a second, Ash thought that perhaps something bad had happened, that maybe her mom had gotten into an accident, or maybe Peter had been hurt even though she knew she would have heard about that long before her father showed up. Ash had no idea why her father would be at her school. But just as she was about to turn and give the ball to Coach Littleton, she had an answer. Poppa Henry, looking a lot worse than last she’d seen him, got out of the passenger side of her father’s car. He hadn’t visited in months, but he was there, and suddenly, no stranger and no ball mattered.