The story goes...
Half a dozen opium addicts could have run a better campaign—well, half a dozen Republican opium addicts. Then again, West couldn’t admit Republican opium addicts existed. If they did, they would have run his campaign without landing him on the FBI most wanted list.
The low rumble of a Model A caught West up short. Could be the Sheriff scouring the streets for liquor violations blatant enough to require enforcement. Could be one of the many enemies he had rankled during his botched campaign.
He ducked into the shadows cast by brand new incandescent street lamps. Ironic—he had based his campaign on progress such as the street lamps. Now he wished Boise’s downtown business district was pitch black. Pitch black. That gave West an idea. He exhaled with a visible puff.
Nearly Hallowe’en, the unpredictable Idaho weather had turned bitterly cold as recent as two days ago. God and nature and the voters were allied against him. But not the Chinese—his only stalwart supporters. If he could reach the Chinese laundry across from Hannifin’s Cigar Shop…
Headlights rounded the corner of Bannock and headed in his direction. He had to get off the street.
West panicked. While his mind envisioned a graceful escape into a nearby alley, his boots stumbled over a crack in the walk and spilt him into the well-lit street. “Curses.” He gripped his ankle. The gunned engine of the Model A erased the pain. “To flight!”
He skittered across the frost-slickened surface of the street as the silhouettes of dual Tommy Guns emerged from the auto. West barked in fright and doubled his efforts to sprint clear of the bristling Model A, manned no doubt by the Irish mobsters he’d accidentally fingered in a bootlegging network three days prior.
As West reached the opposite walkway, rapid pops echoed between the downtown buildings. The spark of ricochets lit the path before him. Following the path straight through a shopfront window, West crashed down in a glittering storm of glass and slid into a rack of clothes.
Before West could stand, an arm reached down to grasp him. He squeaked as the arm plucked him from the floor like a feather from a chicken. In the dim lighting, his eyes came to focus on a genteel older gentlemen with ridiculously large mutton chops. “Um, sorry for the mess…”
A slap stung West’s cheek. “Wait—”
A backhand quickly followed. “What—”
A third followed the first. “Who—”
Then another. “Stop that!”
The mysterious man with mutton chops did nothing of the sort. Instead, he continued the humiliating onslaught while dangling West at arm’s length and sprinting toward the back of the shop. “I say, my panicky friend, how might one stifle your blubbering?”
Before West could respond, thereby meriting another slap, Mutton Chops tossed him into a display of trousers. Removing a pair of Levi’s from his face, West marveled as the elderly man demolished a portion of the brick wall with a single haymaker. Two more punches produced a hole the size of a man.
“Out you go.” Mutton Chops seized West by the collar. He heaved him into the back alley as tires screeched to a stop in the street.
“Who are you?” West managed the complete sentence before Mutton Chops slapped him again and threw him over his shoulder.
He took off at a jog. “If I tell, will you cease your infernal whimpering?”
“Sir Montgomery Ryman, but those I don’t kill can call me Monty.”
A drop of water struck the scar tissue over James’ right eye. He clenched it tight. In the closeness of the tunnel’s pitch black, he focused on the sound of Ebru’s voice. Like the brush strokes of a painting, the silky undertones of her Armenian tongue transported him to an ancient Kingdom populated by beings of light.
She halted her story—the tale of an ancient tree sprung from the center of an ocean.
James felt her shudder, despite the distance between them. “What is it? Don’t stop. I want to hear more.”
“How do you fish these stories from me? Stories I haven’t heard since I was a girl listening to my father speak them as if they were true.”
“My voice is ugly. There’s good reason for me to dwell underground. Not you.”
“I’m only noticed down here, with you.”
“Most men are blind and stupid.”
Ebru drew a ragged breath.
James couldn’t tolerate her tears. He inched across the darkness.
She didn’t shy from him.
“I would love you as you deserve, if I were younger, less damaged.” He took her hand in his. “Know that I love you like a father would his only daughter.”
She leaned into him.
The heat of her tears soaked into his sleeve.
Stone grating across stone echoed in the distance. Next came the slog of wet boots stepping out of the wash trough and down the steps. Ebru sprang to her feet.
James crouched at the ready, clenching his fists. Old man Zabiri hadn’t announced the entry. That meant unwanted guests.
James threw the first punch. Eyes closed, he felt an intruder’s nose flatten beneath his knuckles. He spun to catch the second man in the gut, but his fist whiffed through thin air.
“Quick and without warning, like a soldier.”
James aimed a kick at what he figured to be the family jewels of a British-sounding gentleman. A talon-like grip clutched his leg and flung him heels over head.
“For the love of free silver! Cease your assault!” A muffled voice echoed off the walls as the man with the broken nose spoke through his fingers.
James pushed himself up from the floor of the tunnel. “Who are you and what do you want at 3am in my tunnels?”
“Your tunnels?” The man with the British accent struck a match, lit a pipe and puffed it until its glow revealed his face—framed by wild, white hair.
James started at the presence of a third man, shoulder to shoulder with the white-hair. “Three?”
“You only heard two, did you, son?” The second British gentleman’s features were identical to the first, save his flagrant mutton chops crowned by a neat bowler. “My brother and I have been known to move in sync as if one soul.”
James inched closer to Ebru, sheltering her from the strangers. “Your business?”
“Indeed. Sorry for the abrupt entrance. Due to my noisy chum, West Westerly, the one with the blood gushing between his fingers—”
James raised a fist. “Your business.”
“I’m Montgomery Ryman. This unkempt and uncouth fellow is my twin brother, Kered McLeavittson.”
The wild, white haired man puffed queer-smelling smoke from his pipe.
“Our business, if I’m not mistaken, is with you.”
James shook his head as if shaking off a bad memory. “You’re mistaken.”
“Then you’re not the curator of these tunnels? One Sergeant James Edwards?”
James jolted at the title. Before he could deny the truth, the gentle lilt of song swayed the attention of everyone in the cramped underground chamber. James focused involuntarily on the distant words.
“Take it easy, take it easy. Don’t let the sounds of your own wheels drive you crazy.”
The music echoed from deeper inside the tunnels. But James had learned to trust gut over mind when underground. Manholes, exhaust vents, shifting air currents—at times, the most intimate above ground conversation wafted through the tunnels as if whispered in James’ ear.
The air current shifted and took the music with it. West Westerly flipped open his butane lighter. The flickering flame revealed the presence of all five members of their odd party. As if gripped in a spell, everyone in the chamber snapped to attention simultaneously.
West spoke first, his nostrils pinched together to stem the bleeding. “Good sir, I’ll overlook the bludgeoning of my nose, if you’ll simply confirm your identity.”
With the urgency gone, James locked onto a question he’d been asking since he and Ebru had first been interrupted. “How did you get past Zubiri unannounced?”
“Who, old Jack Gartzia?” West scoffed. “The fool was asleep.”
James swore. “Then you left the door open!” He rushed past West toward the carved stone stairs. “Mr. Zubiri is old, but no fool.” He stopped short of referring to the smarmy local politician as the epitome of fool. With the entrance wide open, there was no time for argument, nor another round of fisticuffs.
West chased after him. “Good sir, I meant no offense. Please hear us out.”
At the top of the stairs, James climbed over the stone sill and dropped into the laundry trough—ankle high with detergent-laden water. “Zubiri?” He spotted the elderly Basque watchman asleep on his stool. He also spotted two men in suits striding across the street—Irish mobsters.
James recognized their stride. The front man would no doubt be Earl, a tempestuous individual too cunning to be considered a brute despite his outward manner. “Zubiri, wake up.”
The watchman snorted awake. “By shepherd’s watch, be not snaking a man from—”
“Company.” James clutched Zubiri’s arm and nodded toward the mobsters. “Inside, quick.”
“Fickly fiddle stones. And who be them?” Zubiri pointed northward up the street. A Model A equipped with an extra spot light rounded the corner.
“Police.” James tugged Zubiri from his wooden stool and pushed him square into a perturbed West Westerly.
“Sir, please. All we request is confirmation—”
“It’s him!” Earl the Irish mobster recognized West’s incessant plea even through pinched nostrils. Earl dashed toward the tunnel entrance cleverly disguised as a Chinese laundry. The mobster’s partner remained slower on the uptake. Or perhaps he’d been frozen in the police headlights like a bumper-slain dear.
“Inside!” West leapt into the trough. Skipping across it like a stone, he rolled over the sill and disappeared.
“But I can’t besmirch me watchman’s name by abandoning the post.” Zubiri complained.
“What do you call falling asleep?” James helped the old man into the trough, trying not to hurry him too roughly.
“Hand over Westerly, or there’ll be trouble, Moleman.” Earl leapt into the trough with them.
James couldn’t afford a fight now. “Take him. Just get inside before we’re spotted by the police.”
James lifted Zubiri out of the trough. “Get the door.”
“Hey, wait!” Earl clutched James by the collar.
James grabbed the hefty mobster by the shoulder and belt. With a single tug, he wrenched the both of them over the side of the trough and into the tunnel entrance. “Shut it.”
Zubiri dropped the lever. A thick, stone door slid shut with a reverberating thud.
Earl swore. “Get off me, Moleman, before I break your bloody neck.”
James stood and helped the mobster up. As he did, he leaned close and whispered into Earl’s ear. “Hurt anyone other than Mr. Westerly, and I’ll send you to hell personally.”
Earl laughed. “Then we’re agreed.”
“It’s best we be praying them plug-legged whimper nickels didn’t spot us hoisting Irish into the laundry.” Zubiri descended the smooth stairs, careful not to slip on the water sloshed into the entry.
“What the bloody hell is he going on about?”
“The police.” James followed the old watchman, taking each step with certainty despite the pitch black. He heard Earl shuffling blindly about in attempt to follow them.
“And if the coppers find the entrance?”
“You heard Mr. Zubiri. Pray they don’t.”
Forgetting the strangers, James cut a path toward Ebru based on her scent—olive oil and detergent. The pitch black would continue to subdue the others until he could deduce their next move. If the police drove on, James would open the door in minutes and force everyone to sort their business in the street.
“James, I was worried.” Ebru tugged him into a corner. “Who are these people? And how do they know you?”
“You’re okay? The Brits didn’t harm you?”
“They’ve done nothing but whisper to each other.”
“Gone further in.”
“You’re not responsible for him.”
James ground his teeth.
Ebru must have heard his jaw popping. “What happened up there?”
Before he could respond, the tunnel reverberated with a dull thud.
“The police.” James hadn’t wanted to contemplate the next move, but now he had to act. “We have to seal the room, quickly.”
Ebru clutched his sleeve. “All these people?”
“We take them further in.” He gripped her shoulders. “Plant the evidence, but stay away from the Brits. There’s something off with them.” James could tell Ebru was nodding by the way her body shifted slightly. “Good girl.”
He left her to her business. “Zabiri.”
James strode toward the watchman’s voice while avoiding Earl. The mobster seemed to be searching the chamber as quietly as he could manage. Good. He’d remain occupied with his hunt for Westerly until James and the others could manage their escape.
Another thud vibrated through the floor. James heard muffled shouting. Now that they knew what to look for, the police would locate the lever any minute. James located a discarded piece of copper pipe and stashed it at the small of his back before locating Zabiri. “We’ve got to seal the room.” James whispered.
“Aye. I’m feared you’re right, and at my own fault.”
“There’s half a dozen people down here to blame. I need you to open the chute and fetch us a broom without being noticed.”
Zabiri hesitated. “We’re not going flush these wool burs into the street?”
“Westerly’s already gone further in, and I can’t trust the Brits not to talk to the police.”
“By Kinderhorn’s beard.”
“The chute and the broom.”
“Pinch your cheeks. I’ll be after them.” Zabiri shuffled off.
James made directly for the secondary door. The precautionary measure had been his own idea. With a flywheel rather than a lever, it’d take him a minute to crank shut. He was counting on the delay and the noise to bring Earl and the Brits to him so they wouldn’t pester Ebru or Zabiri.
James found the wheel in seconds. It took all his strength to break it loose. With a pop, the stubborn wheel began to turn.
“Hey!” Earl forgot his attempt at stealth.
James steadily cranked the wheel, sliding the rock wall shut an inch at a time.
“Curse you, Moleman. We had an understanding. If I find you—”
“Temper temper, my Irish brother.” The well spoken Brit, Monty, interrupted Earl’s verbal assault. “If Sergeant Edwards intended to shut us in, he’d have come up with a slightly more abrupt method.”
James continued to crank the wheel, letting the others come to him.
“We’ll see about that.” Earl worked his way around the perimeter, both hands on the wall.
Monty and Kered took a direct path. The diminished glow of Kered’s pipe betrayed his exact location.
James leaned into the wheel. It was stiffer than he’d hoped. His arms were already trembling.
Ebru appeared at his elbow. “One crate of moonshine and some spare copper tubing were all I could find nearby.”
James grunted in response.
A cold iron grip seized his shoulder. “If you’re in a hurry to seal off the room, I suggest you allow your elder to assist.”
James tried to shrug Monty off.
The tall, elderly Brit pried James off the wheel and tossed him to the ground. “Step aside, lad. As for the rest of you, I suggest you find your way through the exit quickly.”
A distant shudder revealed the police had discovered the lever to the laundry entrance. No further words were necessary.
Earl suddenly found his boldness and pushed through the exit first.
Still puffing queer smoke from his pipe, Kered slipped soundlessly from the room.
James rose to his feet and guided Ebru. He left her off at the door. “Go. I’ll fetch Zabiri.”
“I’ll be fetched already.” Zabiri handed James a broom. “Chute is skyward.” With that, the old watchman disappeared further in.
The slap of wet boots echoed from the stairs.
“In you go, lad. It’s closing time.” Monty said.
James broomed the foot prints left in the dirt, leapt through the doorway and put his shoulder to the wheel next to the mysterious Monty.
Without waiting for James to adjust his grip, Monty spun the wheel round three times with a single arm. James staggered backward as the Brit carefully cranked the wheel the final few inches until the stone door clamped tight. “Well played, my young master. And not a moment too soon, I dare say.” Monty held out an arm. “I’d shake your hand if I could see it.”
James ground his teeth. He didn’t like being one-upped in his own home. But the Brit had helped save the tunnels. Besides, James was dying for a closer inspection of the Brit’s superhuman arm.
James gripped Monty’s hand with both of his own. He gasped. Now that he felt it with his own flesh, he realized the entire arm was metal. He quickly released the mechanical arm.
“It’s not as bad as all that.” Monty clapped James on the shoulder with his fleshly hand. “Besides, I hear we share the brotherhood of abnormalities. You with your uncanny ability to see without seeing. Not to mention the factory explosion you survived in Reims.”
James cratered as if under a pallet of bricks. He braced himself against the roughly cut stone wall. He’d never spoken of the incident at the German chemical weapons factory in Reims with anyone.
No one outside of his family knew he’d served in the Great War. Nightmarish memories popped in his mind like flashbulbs. Screams, men on fire, men dissolving before his eyes. Then nothing but stinging, searing pain—and the stench of burning flesh.
Ebru breathed into his ear. “Come further in.”
James slowed his breathing and nodded. “Of course.”
The party continued another fifty yards underground before Ebru stopped them with a stern command. “We must stay together.” She lit a flare and tossed it amongst them.
They stepped back from its red, chemical light.
With uncharacteristic assertiveness, Ebru continued. “There are inhumanly things alive in these tunnels. Things that feed on human souls—dark and evil. If you wish to emerge into the light of dawn then shut up and do what James and Mr. Gartzia Zabiri tell you.” After finishing her admonishment in English, she continued in her native Armenian for several seconds.
The words were unfamiliar to James. He could make out only the word for “life.”
When she finished, she nearly collapsed as if exhausted from the effort.
Bracing her, James whispered into her ear. “You don’t really believe Zabiri’s old stories, do you?”
“I know them to be true.”
West smacked his head on a low-hanging truss for the third time. “Curse this infernal darkness. Whatever his name is, the Moleman certainly can’t be well adjusted. No man in his right mind would spend all his time in such a wretched underground maze.”
A far off shuffling froze West in his tracks. He clamped his mouth shut and swiveled his neck. But the sound had stopped. He swore the shuffling increased whenever he raised his voice. “Best keep quiet from here on out.”
The shuffling returned.
West clapped a hand over his mouth.
The noise ceased.
He exhaled. “There, it’s gone again.”
Of course it returned.
“Confound it. How can a man keep quiet by his lonesome in such a queer place as this. Everyone knows I find silence vexing. It’s why I went into politics!”
This time the shuffling grew to a chatter before dissipating.
West picked up his pace, one hand above his head and the other held in front. A chill shot through him. The air underground was dry and warmer than the Norther above ground. West shivered none the less. He knew in his gut someone had been tracking him for several minutes.
The obvious suspect was the foul, double-talking Earl. “What kind of self-respecting Irish mobster goes by the likes of Earl?” West spoke out loud to keep himself company, and he kept up the guessing game to occupy his thoughts.
Shuffling and stalking—those weren’t Earl’s style. “Who else could it be?”
West felt a breeze brush the backs of his hands and guessed he’d come to a juncture. He squeezed his eyes tight, then opened them. Of course he still saw absolutely nothing. He considered flipping open his lighter again, but the paltry flame only frustrated his larger desire to see sufficiently.
“I’m starting to think the police would be a preferable option.”
“Oh yes, preferable.”
West jumped at the croaking voice and smacked his head on the tunnel ceiling.
“Always someplace preferable to this.”
“I could hardly believe my ears.” Monty lagged until he and his brother were at the end of the small underground party led by Sergeant James Edwards.
“After all these years of fruitless searching.” Kered tapped his pipe, emptying the spent bowl into the palm of his hand. “It cannot be coincidence.”
Monty kept his eyes low, not wanting to stare directly at the flare as the party ventured further in. Edwards kept the girl, Ebru, directly by his side. Monty had yet to determine the nature of their relationship, but it was closely felt by him and her alike. The old watchman followed, then Earl with the flare.
“I am not yet willing to count our chickens.” Monty whispered to his brother. “But I must admit, the presence of an Armenian is provocative.”
“Her name is Turkish.”
“Most likely a war orphan.”
“My thoughts as well.” Kered struck a match and lit his pipe afresh. “And her invocation of long life from the hand of God?”
“Of course the similarities are hopeful.”
“Hopeful? Pah. She is the very same girl. She must be.”
“Just because you wish it does not make it so, Kered.”
“Just because you refuse to believe does not make it false.” Kered puffed his pipe into a vibrant glow.
“What is it with you and that weed?”
The party stopped briefly, as Sergeant James Edwards ventured a short way down a peripheral tunnel before leading the group in the opposite direction. Monty wondered at the behavior. Surely Edwards knew the tunnel layout. If he had to scout before proceeding, what for?
“Do not change the subject. You’ve never supported my move to Idaho. Now it has payed off. Edwards was at Reims at the same time as the tree. Now the guardian blood line has sought him out half way across the globe. The girl’s presence is confirmation.”
“You smoke too much, my brother. The girl is a refugee. We have proved nothing more.”
“And her mention of inhuman and evil entities dwelling in these tunnels? Feeding on the souls of men? That doesn’t remind you of anything?”
A sharp, blood-curdling scream echoed throughout the tunnel as if emanating from all sides or from the belly of the earth. The other members of the party sprang into full alert.
Monty sighed while uncorking the brandy chamber hidden in the bicep of his mechanical arm. He raised the arm as if to smell the metal armpit. Instead he tossed back a snifter of the golden liquor. He recorked the reservoir. “You very well may be right about Sergeant Edwards and the girl. If that girlish scream is who I think it is, let us hope for Westerly’s sake, you are not three for three.”
James and Ebru sped through the pitch black passageways, many of which James had chiseled and cleared with his own hands. “This way.”
“Slow down.” Ebru tugged at his shirttail.
“We need to find him before he compromises more tunnels.”
“It’s not him I’m worried about. Stop and listen.”
James froze. A soft tittering faded quickly. He couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the echo of his own movements.
Ebru grabbed his hand and signed into his palm. She used the sign language James and his platoon had worked out in the trenches of the Great War. Soundlessly, she warned him. “The enemy are nearby. Retreat.”
The hair on James’ arms stood on end. He felt the truth of it.
Ebru repeated a single sign. “Retreat.”
James ground his teeth. These were his tunnels. He wouldn’t leave a man behind, even Westerly. He squeezed Ebru’s hand, then signed, “Get the others out.”
Ebru wiped his hand and started over. “Retreat together.”
James pinned her hands at her side and kissed the top of her head. Before she could argue, he continued toward the source of Westerly’s scream alone. He exhaled after ensuring Ebru hadn’t followed him. Good girl.
For several minutes, he prized stealth over speed, as if tiptoeing through a minefield. He knew Ebru to be a sensible young woman, not given to flights of fancy or baseless fears. That meant he faced an enemy he could’t identify.
A breeze brushed past his ankle. He froze. The proximity alarm in his head triggered. Turning, he threw up his guard. He struck out at the blackness with two sharp jabs, contacting nothing but empty air. He strained his eyes and ears. He sniffed the air. Something was there, just out of reach.
“Moleman, is that you?”
James clenched his teeth. “Westerly. In God’s name—”
“Never use God’s name unless you’re prepared for the ramifications.”
James inched closer to Westerly’s voice. A sour breeze washed across his face.
“Where are the others?”
“Where they should be.” Following a gut feeling, James searched the blackness on all sides of him.
“And the girl?”
The back of James hand struck something hairy for a split second. Before he could control his impulses, it had gone. He lunged toward its retreat without result.
“The girl!” Westerly shouted.
James charged the politician. He shoved Westerly into the wall of the tunnel with his forearm and choked him at the neck. “The girl is none of your business.” He growled, his face an inch from the tip of Westerly’s nose.
Westerly exhaled and the stench nocked James backward. “My business extends infinitely beyond your comprehension. Yet, you and the girl play critical roles.”
James’ head spun. The world lost its mooring as he grasped at gravity to anchor his feet. Westerly’s voice intensified inside his head.
“Alas, you do me no good without her. I finally have a willing vessel. You have the tree. I only need the magic of the girl.”
“I’ll kill you before you touch her.” James swung a blind fist. Suddenly, his head compressed from all sides. He covered his ears, as if to keep his brains inside. He dropped to his knees.
“So headstrong.” Westerly bent over him. “Always looking forward. You’ve never allowed yourself to wonder how you survived the explosion at Reims, or for that matter, the Bunker Hill cave-in. You’ve no idea why you’re always the sole survivor.”
James coughed and spat. He tasted the warm salt and iron of his own blood. He felt it against the palms of his hands as the throbbing in his ears increased.
“Sure, you’ve experienced guilt, even self-loathing. You hate yourself for being powerless to save those around you.” Westerly clapped his hands over James’ hands and squeezed.
James cried out.
Westerly drove his knee into James’ nose.
Lightning spidered across his vision as his head tossed backward and crashed into the stone floor of the tunnel.
“That’s not going to change this morning.”
James tried to clench a fist, but his entire body had gone limp. He used his fading strength to curse. “Go to hell.”
Westerly laughed. “Where do you think I’m from?”
The sour breeze returned as fine hairs crept over the entire surface of James’ prone body. His insides roiled. He clenched his eyes tight.
“T’vogh astvats pahpani Dzez bolorin dem ch’ar!” Ebru’s voice exploded in the confines of the tunnel.
Through James’ clenched eyelids, a brilliant red light flared. Heat and shattered rock washed over him, then all memory faded.
Monty wedged his mechanical arm into the crumbling cleft of rock over their heads and shouted. “Forward! Advance or die!” Instinctively, he removed the cork in his bicep with his teeth and spat it out. The gracefully-aged Kanyak brandy burned the back of his throat. “No time for fear!”
He shoved Earl through the shrinking gap in the tunnel, just to discover his arm had stuck.
“Brother!” Kered reached back for him.
“Don’t be daft!” Monty kicked his brother clear of the cave-in as the compromised tunnel released his arm and swallowed him whole.
“Bloody hell. Who turned out the lights?” Monty breathed in an acrid mixture of carbon dioxide and dust. He coughed, causing his tomb to contract. “Oh right, the tunnels.” He spared a short moment to bar pain from his mind. His next thoughts were of the incantation he’d heard in Armenian the moment before an earthquake had shook them. His Armenian wasn’t automatic, not like his French, Arabic or Turkish.
He drummed his brain until the translation formed. It was an imperative—something resembling, God protect us from every evil. He finally dared believe it. Kered had been correct. She was the same little girl from the last time they came this close. If it hadn’t have been for the rampaging German-led pogrom against the remaining defenders of the tree—”
Another thought chilled him. The girl must have had a reason to invoke the spell that collapsed the tunnel. The evil she’d warned them of. Monty had never given such mythology any heed. Kered had always been the mystic. But whoever their enemy, he wasn’t about to lose the tree for a second time.
He flexed his mechanical arm. It responded.
If the entire weight of the earth above the tunnel had collapsed, he’d already be dead. If any sudden movement were to collapse the rest, he’d soon be dead. Destiny belongs to the bold.
After a wistful longing for a swallow from his brandy reservoir, he swept his arm upward and out.
Unfamiliar and distant lyrics roused James from his stupor. It seemed the song had progressed for several minutes. When it ended, all he could remember were the words, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
He focused on the words until they sparked his conscious mind. “Ebru?”
James rose onto an elbow. His head throbbed and his hair had matted with blood. The wound was no longer bleeding freely, so it could wait. “Ebru.” He crawled forward on hands and knees as his mind scrambled to piece together his memory before the blackout.
Westerly had been acting strange and then Ebru had spoken something in Armenian.
“James?” Ebru breathed his name.
James located her head and lifted it into his lap. “Can you move?”
“I’m fine.” She sat up. “Westerly?”
“I don’t know.” James sniffed the air. The foul scent had faded. “What happened?”
“I think my past has followed me.”
James waited for her to explain.
“I only remember flashes of my parents. Mostly, I remember my father’s bedtime stories.”
“About the tree.”
“Yes, always the tree. I thought he had made it up to distract us from the slaughter of our people.”
“And the words you spoke?”
“My father made us repeat them every night before we slept—prayers of protection. I speak them whenever I fear.”
A memory sparked in James’ thoughts. “Westerly said something about already having the tree.” James squeezed his throbbing head. “He said he already had a host and the tree. All he needed was you.”
“I think you need to tell me the rest of the story.”
Risks and challenges
Risk #1: The story might become real... meaning...
Risk 1a: Chinese spies sneak out of the tunnels and take over Boise
Risk 1b: Wizards cast spells on innocent bystanders throughout the Treasure Valley
Risk 1c: Monty punches his way through all of Downtown Boise compromising the structural integrity of its buildings
Risk 1d: Gollums go around taking below the belt shots at anyone, anytime, anywhere. Panic ensues, mothers cry, fathers live in constant fear, and the children... oh the children! They'll be going to counselling sessions for the rest of their lives!
Risk 1e: West really gets elected
Risk 1f: *The biggest risk of all* You don't participate :0 No fun for you!
- (30 days)