This Old Image Erased
Hell was my life now. I had thought the war was bad. But I’ve found a new kind to suffer in with this dammed body my spirit resides within. Every movement I could hear from the rustling of my feathers. Each flap of my wings sent trembles through me, the sounds reminding me that I was merely a teacher and spectator now.
I haven’t felt like this in decades, not since the second war. I was there for the battle of Midway, part of the allied fleets in the Pacific, I was a gunner on one of the small destroyers of the Royal Navy. Taking shrapnel from a Kamikaze pilot I had been seriously injured and pulled off active duty before I could see the war to its conclusion. My leg had been shredded to the point they weren’t sure I would ever walk again.
I wasn’t ready to stop fighting yet. They chained me down to my hospital bed for a week to keep me from moving. Bringing everything I demanded just to keep me still. Books upon books, every available newspaper and report they could bring to me. Watching my friends carry on the fight all the way to the end of the war.
But I couldn’t settle down. Something inside me wasn’t ready to stop. There were no enemies to fight anymore, not visible ones at any rate. That was when she came to me, the offer that would change my life and turn the next dozen years into a blur that, when it was said and done, I had found myself in a world I no longer recognized.
She had offered me a way to restore my leg and help fight in a secret war. A dame who looked like she came from a noir or spy novel instead of reality. I was pretty damn close to the mark. A battle to end all in a place that couldn’t be reached by mortal men, only the greatest heroes would be allowed to fight. A fight for the end of time itself.
I don’t know why I thought she wasn’t crazy, or why I accepted with a bold and courageous, foolish heart. I went and I fought, and again I was denied seeing the fight to its conclusion. Offered as compensation the job of guarding the most valuable of treasures of the known and unknown worlds, brought back to the real world, and yet left out of place and time, all my old friends now moved on with their lives while I was still the man they had left behind in that terrible war.
And so I spent the last thirty years waiting and preparing for the next group of young heroes to take my place. Meeting those five on the night of the storm I wondered which one would be the one I was waiting for. Perhaps I should have been watching the boy much more closely than I was.
I have to admit to myself that the boy was doing alright, even with the unforeseen complications. Long as he had time to think he seemed to be quite capable of performing tasks that I had battled for days before grasping the concept well enough. Perhaps there is some hope for this new generation after all.
Flying through the forest I was trying to keep my eyes peeled for any sign of a fox. My old days hunting back in the Appalachian Mountains offering some help in tracking. But the view from my flight was a bit disorienting. I had spent some odd times as other animals in my Pagemaster days but this body was not quite suited for this land, nor weather. Even in the heat of summer, I was feeling a bit chilled, deciding to land for a moment to take a look at my surroundings.
I had no worries of getting lost, I could fly high enough to find the river. And any beast or monster that thought of having me for a snack would quickly discover how inedible I was. As I had told the boy, I could still use a good bit of my powers, though only for my protection and needs. Though there was the danger of accidentally unlocking skills for him that he couldn’t be allowed until the time was right if I used them too close to his location. And one reason when my search proved fruitless closeby I had flown out this deep into the forest.
I closed my eyes and focused. There! Four foxes all within a few kilometers from here. Two of them looked like they were together in a den, most likely kits, and too young to be of use. The other two were on separate sides of the den, making them the parents. A nice little family here, and a sign I’d have to travel even further if I couldn’t get either of the couple to agree to help.
Honing in on one closest to me I opened my eyes again and took off toward them. I couldn’t feel any influence from the Story Magic pushing on either of the Foxes here, though that might simply just be a sign that the Magic is working harder at pushing the Gingerbread man to his fate at the river.
The flight was fortunately fast, circling above the Fox I saw he was still prowling for prey and sniffing about. Good, that meant I could get his attention without spoiling his hunt. Landing on a branch low enough I could catch his attention without him attempting to make me his dinner.
“Oy, ye there! Wondering if ye can help me.”
The fox glanced over, tilting his head curiously as he prowled his way over. “Good day to you, feathered friend. Never seen your kind around here. Did you get lost?”
“Nay, My boy is down by the river working on a little something. I was wondering if ye could help us with a small problem.”
“And just what kind of problem would that be?”
I could see his tail wagging a little, he was probably scheming something to try and eat me. I’ll let him have that kind of delusion for a little while. I cleared my throat and looked down at the fox.
“We have a friend coming to the river and he will need a ride across the way. I was hoping ye could offer to let him ride on yer back.”
“Oh really? Small enough to ride on me back is it? What kind of small little morsel, I mean, the blessed little creature would need such a ride and why are you and your boy unable to take him?”
The problem with a hungry fox is even for their cleverness and brains they still lose some of that to their stomachs. It can make them a little unreliable, especially if you are dangling something in front of them that could be turned into food. Though in other ways it makes them so much easier to manipulate if you know how to work with foxes.
“We need to cross the river and move on before he gets to the river, he fell too far behind but promised he’ll meet us in the next village. We can’t wait for him at all. I’m sure ye would be quite reliable to help him. He’s a Gingerbread Man.”
“A what now?”
“A man made of gingerbread.”
The fox’s tail dropped to my surprise, as he looked up at me questioningly as he half accusingly spoke to me, his eyes half narrowing.
“Are you thinking I would try to eat him for you? I am allergic to Gingerbread!”
My mind stopped in its tracks for a split second. That was a staple of the tale, the Fox eating the Gingerbread Man halfway across the river. And yet here was the Fox and he has allergies?
“Umm.. how allergic exactly are ye?”
He tells me and I shudder in horror at the idea. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain and suffering on anyone, not to mention the smells.
“I wouldn’t expect you to eat him at all. Just carry him across, and if ye can do that My boy and I will help ye catch some prey for ye family, that way ye don’t have to worry about anything.”
The fox gnawed on the air while he mulled over my offer. I could see him trying to work out something to get himself out of the deal without losing the food. Got ye, Fox.
“Alright. I can help you out. Come down here to shake on it?”
I nod and flap down to the ground in front of him, watching his eyes for any kind of trick as I extended a winged feather out. He reaches forward a paw for an awkward shake between creatures.
He looked at me with a smile. “And if you don’t mind I’ll take my payment in advance…”
Suddenly lunging toward me with his maw wide open, probably expecting to catch me by surprise. It was no doubt to his amazement and shock when I smacked him square between the eyes with my beak and knocked him flat out.
“Bleeding idjuts…” I muttered under my breath, flapping over to sit on the unconscious fox’s head to wait for him to wake up. Thieves and tricksters they may be, but a fox will hold his honor-bound shakes if he can’t find a way out. And I was going to sit here and make sure that was exactly what happened.