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Once, upon a craggy mountainside, where each and every day was distinctly gray and gloomy, there lived and thrived, the most prodigious of scientists. He was (he had overheard the villagers say), most assuredly mad. But they, being the simple and rustic commoner stock whose knowledge ranged only to the next hillock or two, possessed opinions to which he paid little heed. What did they know of the great discoveries made during his jaunts of exploration both hither and yon? He would wager they knew even less than those white flecked, furry beasts they cared for.
Take, for example, his current feat of scientific achievement. It was, just now, on the verge of fruition. If only Igor, that imbecilic cow, would hurry with those last few ingredients. He’d never born witness to such slowness of foot.
Why, the pot was already a-bubble over the coals. The lava stones from the fabled mount Drovinia were just now about to wreath themselves in ephemeral blue. The blackish-green sulfur airies were already afloat. They looked like ghost orbs upon a fitful breeze. And they were ready to pop. All they needed was the proper incantation.
But still, he waited! Drat that clubfooted, hip-dysplasiated assistant. He should have gone out himself. That was what he should have done.
The bright little rectangular of thick parchment he’d received last week once again caught his eye from where it rested atop his roll-top desk. That letter had travelled all the way from America to his very dooryard. That was what the shaky-faced postman said, anyway. America. Might as well as have said the stars. From this deep in Romania, America was but a fairyland dreamplace, a funny-sounding word.
He pushed himself up from the table, careful not to disturb his haphazard array of corked vials, and staggered his way to the open roll-top desk where the said missive lay.
There were vials upon the floor as well, so many vials, so many colors. He had as yet not had the opportunity to label them properly. Such a mundane task was so tedious, and the tedious was best left to the tedious. Blast that moronic Igor. If the slug was one tenth the slower, he would slip from time’s grasp altogether to become but one more rock on the roadside.
Bah, he was getting tired of so much elixir making. Weeks had passed and he’d had nary a wink of sleep. He’d eaten naught but the bite of bread Igor had seen fit to feed him, and he’d taken to licking the dewy, rock walls of the castle for his water. Such behavior could not be maintained, not one moment longer.
This would be his last elixir, he decided. After this one, his greatest concoction by far, he’d set Igor to the task of labeling each and every vial strewn about this monstrous hall of a laboratory.
He reached the desk with only a few clinks and clanks of vial glassware, and picked up the bright parchment. The paper felt odd in his hands, foreign. He almost believed it did come from America. It was such a fantastic thought.
The paper was thickly corrugated, layered so densely as to be unseen by the naked eye. And the pigments were brighter than anything he’d seen in life. Not to mention the gloss! It was downright magical. The little rectangle even had a coat of some chemical to prevent water damage, a chemical unlike any he’d ever seen before.
The words written upon it were of little consequence to him, for he doubted their validity. It was one thing to fiddle with the fantastical notions of America. Fantastical thoughts made the world go round. It was quite another thing, however, to believe the nonsense written upon the surface of the strange. Why, any fool could write. It took but the most basic of instruction. And, in his experience, what a fool had to say wasn’t anything he wished to pay any mind.
Still, he tended to read the words every time the bright little parchment found its way into his hands. Such strange words they were, very strange, and less likely true than America itself.
Dear Dr. Bodgen Vasile,
Our mother has passed. Her dying wish, as writ in her will, was for me to meet you. It appears we are brothers, Dr. Vasile. I look forward to meeting you very soon.
In his wilder moments, he let loose the idea that maybe he did have some lost brother out there. Why, a lost brother would know, surely, that he required some tangible proof, something beyond words. And what better proof could there be than the wonder of the strangely made letter itself?
He read the words again then heard Igor’s approach. It was downright ridiculous for a person’s incoming to be heralded by his very breath taking.
Next came the squealing of a pig. At least Igor hadn’t forgotten that ingredient. Hopefully Igor hadn’t forgotten any of the things he’d been sent out to collect, for now that his mind was made up to be done with elixir making, he found that his patience for the art was worn thin.
“Igor, hurry along. I dare say, tell me you didn’t forget anything.”
“Yess, Yess, master. I gots the feathers, I gots the rocks, I gots the tanner liniment and this demon’s own piglet. Master commands. Igor gets.”
That was good. Feathers plucked from a virgin goose on Saint MaryJoseph day were a must. As was the mercurial meteoritic rocks that landed in Farmer Dorin’s field last fall. Why, those pockmarked chunks had eviscerated one of the farmer’s milk cows. That had been a bloody business, it had. He couldn’t do without the urine of the tanner, either. There was no better binding agent than urine, not a thing. As for the pig, why, albinos were lucky, everybody knew that. Besides, he could go for a good chop once this business was done.
“Well, don’t just stand there gawping about. You see the airies. Time is of the essence.”
With Igor’s slow, labored help, which was little help indeed, he quickly rendered the ingredients into acceptable forms and added them to the bubbling cauldron. A quick guttural word or two followed by just the right number of stirs, and his masterpiece was completed. He corked off the vial and set it among the others in record time.
“I did it Igor. It is done. I’ve an apothecary worthy of the greatest hall of any king.”
“Yess master. And master,–”
“Now, Igor,” he spoke over Igor’s slow lisping drawl. “Get the labels so that you might write the identity of each of my magical spirits. Hurry now, we haven’t the night.” He was thinking of what remained of the piglet.
“Yess master. Igor obeys. Master’s brother from America will have to wait, he will. Yes, I see the light of that. Yes, I do.” And he limped away toward the desk and the labels.
Bodgen tore his eyes, as well as him mind, off of the mostly whole piglet carcass.
“What nonsense are you spewing now, Igor? I’ve no tolerance for tasteless jokes.”
Igor turned from his slow meandering and nodded his head up and down. His one good eye, which was larger than the other, was wide with wonder.
“Tis true, master. I seen him draw forth in his grumbling iron box myself. Put him in the stable, I did. Bid him wait till I fetch you to attend his detail.”
“Yes, yes, attend his detail,” Bodgen murmured. He fought hard to keep his calm. His brother from America was here! Such could not be true.
“Well, fetch him to me, then. Let’s get this done.”
“To the lab, master?”
“I can think of no more august a locale. Regality reeks from the very walls.”
“Yess master. Igor obeys.”
He didn’t see the miserable hunchback leave. Such was the state of his nerves. Surely this anxiety was caused by his lack of sleep, or the lack of a decent meal, or, most likely, it was caused by one of the various fumes wafting about. He’d made so many different types of elixirs. So many.
For the one time in the history of Igor’s existence, the crippled-up creature seemed to hurry with his task. No sooner had Bodgen smoothed out his stained and wrinkled lab coat than Igor was once again wheezing his way back into the lab, this time with Bodgen’s supposed American brother in tow.
Bodgen clasped his hands behind his back, lest they show their shakiness, as the man entered the lab.
At once, Bodgen was certain of two things. One, this man was his brother. He looked more like their father than Bodgen himself. And two, he was not from Romania. The clothes he wore bore insignias Bodgen had never before seen.
“Master,” Igor bowed. “I present Benjamin Martin.”
“Ben will do,” Ben said, nodding deferentially toward Bodgen. “Dr. Vasile, I presume.”
“Please, call me Bodgen.”
“Bodgen, yes. And your father was Razvan?”
Bodgen nodded. “You look just like him.”
Ben frowned. “And your mother? Was she named Lidia?”
“Father always said Mother died in childbirth.”
Ben shook his head. “My mother, Lidia, always told me my father was a crazed mad scientist from Romania. I’d thought she was joking.”
Bodgen smiled but said nothing. He wouldn’t dignify such a remark with further elucidation. Genius was a lonely occupation. That others thought it mad was a foregone conclusion.
Their short stint of silence was broken by a flickering of orange from outside the window.
“More visitors, master,” Igor said, stating the obvious.
“Yes,” Bodgen said. “It would appear so. Attend the door, Igor. I’m not to be disturbed.”
Igor bobbed his head and limped out, locking the door behind him.
“Igor?” Ben asked. A sardonic tint entered his tone.
“It’s a common enough name,” Bodgen said. He was having a hard time getting a read on this man who looked so much like his father. His mannerisms were odd. He presented a both bold and sloppy frontage, forceful, yet uncaring, like an intense nonchalance. He wondered if the bearing was a specific American trait.
Ben looked about the laboratory. His eyes lingered over the treasure trove of elixirs lying about.
He pointed to a few of the vials. “You deal in medicines?”
“Some of the time,” Bodgen replied.
“I only ask because I am pharmacist, by license.”
Bodgen nodded. “We’ve many that deal with farms about here. Luck be with them that licensure is not involved. I dare say we’d all starve to death.”
Ben turned his head to the side and looked at Bodgen. “A pharmacist deals with medicine. I create compounds for physicians. I mix salves used in iontophoresis and phonophoresis. It’s my specialty, actually. Hydocodone, lidocaine, basic aspirin, cortisone. There are many. It’s used in ultrasound and electrical current technologies.”
Bodgen’s spirit soared with every syllable heard from his newfound brother. Before him stood a kindred spirit, a man with a brain. He’d not heard a sensible voice like that since his father’s passing.
“Electricity,” Bodgen said, latching on to the last thing Ben mentioned. “I’ve many trials, have written many books. Why, Igor can tell you firsthand of my catching lightning, of the storage container I invented, of the various modes of delivery and their affect. He was a most useful specimen of experimentation.”
“Igor, Igor. Come here. Don’t dally,” he called.
He turned to the door to find it smoking.
“I say, Igor. What are you about?”
There was still no answer. He walked to the window and chanced a look. The entire town was outside his residence. They carried torches and pitchforks. They were burning the entire grounds.
“Igor?” he said, quieter, looking once more at the smoking door.
Ben too, looked out the window. After a quick scan, he turned his attention back to Bodgen. “Well, this is great.” He paced. “I fly all the way to Romania, drive out in the middle of the mountains for half a day in a rental car, all so I can get killed by an angry mob just like Dr. Frankenstein. Thanks, Mom.” He looked to the ceiling. “What a great idea it was, rekindling brotherhood.”
“What did you do?” he directed toward Bodgen. “Did you make a monster or something that got away and terrorized the town?”
“I’ve made several,” Bodgen said offhandedly as he began putting elixirs in a canvas bag.
“What are you doing now?” Ben asked.
“They’ve killed Igor and he’s a worthless sack of bones. I don’t plan to give them a chance at me.”
“You know a way out of here?”
Bodgen wouldn’t be able to take all the vials. There were just too many. It hurt him to leave them.
“Of course, I have an escape,” he snapped.
“Then wave your magic wand, and let’s be about it.”
Bodgen looked at his magnificent lab one final time.
“They say luck is like glass, when it shines it breaks, but this time the old saying looks to be wrong.”
“Luck?” Ben asked. “You see luck somewhere around here?”
Bodgen tore his eyes from all his wonderful things. “You,” he said. “Your coming here, on this day of all days. That is fortune beyond fortune. Perhaps it was the albino pig.” He’d sure have liked to have eaten one of its chops.
Ben shook his head. “Luck for you maybe. Not so much for me.”
Bodgen had his bag as heavy as he could make it and still carry.
“Well, let’s be about it then.” He moved one of the pictures on the wall, a picture of Razvan, his father, and a trap door opened in the floor. “I can get us to your conveyance. From there, you can get us to safety.”
“And once we’re safe,” Ben said. “What will you do?”
“Why, go to America with you, of course.” Even saying the words had a dreamlike quality. America. He couldn’t pass up the chance. It was just too good to be true.
Ben shook his head but didn’t say anything. They started down the stairs.
After a series of dark passageways that Bodgen knew by heart they came to the stables where sat Ben’s conveyance. Bodgen blinked at it and turned his head one way then another. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen. He reached a hand out, tentatively, to touch its shiny black hide. His hand shook.
A metallic slamming made him jerk his hand back. Ben had gotten inside the metal beast somehow. He saw him through the thing’s windows.
“Bodgen, think you can hurry?” Ben asked from inside. His voice was muffled.
Bogden just stared. How had Ben gotten inside?
“Bodgen, I’d hate to state the obvious and all, but this barn IS on fire.”
The outside world crashed in around him. The walls were alight with oranges and yellows.
Ben leaned over and did something that caused the far metal panel of the vehicle to open.
“Get in,” he said.
Bogden did as bid. It was becoming hard to breathe, and a little too warm for his taste. Once inside, he pulled on the metal panel and it shut with ease. He was inside
Then a roar issued from the machine and he nearly lost his skin.
“Keep it together. We’re getting out of here,” Ben said.
The conveyance jerked ahead, through the flaming stable wall, and onto the wagon road that led through town. Bodgen’s stomach churned from the jerking about. Never before had he felt anything remotely like this.
“This road isn’t quite made for a car,” Ben said as they sped along. Bodgen looked out the window to the burning castle that’d been in his family’s name for generations. The townsfolk all turned to stare open mouthed as they made their escape. Their eyes were wide in cow-eyed wonder.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Ben said once they’d cleared the town and the first hillock.
The car had settled down to a steady jostling. Its vibrations were soothing. Bodgen, who had had so little sleep of late, found the effect very relaxing.
“Friend?” he asked. He was a scientist. What need him of a friend?
“Igor,” Ben said. “I’m sorry.”
Bodgen shook his head and settled himself better in his seat. “Igor was an experiment. He’s not gone. I will get him back in due course.”
Ben said something under his breath, but Bodgen didn’t hear. His elixirs clinking from his bag in the back seat were reassuring. He had enough there to start anew.
“Luck or no,” he murmured, “I owe You my life.”
He drifted off.
And was woken in what felt like an abbreviated moment. The light of day was full upon them. But that bright orb was not what had woken him. The roaring of some great beast thrummed overhead. He rubbed his sticky eyes and witnessed a winged creature zooming away, gaining height as it flew.
“Good, you’re awake. We’re leaving. I managed to get you a temporary visa due to a death in the family. It’ll give you a few days in America. After that, we’ll have to figure something out.”
Ben might as well have been talking gobbly-goo. Had he not seen, nor even heard, that monster roar through the skies? He pointed at where the thing was still gaining elevation.
Ben glanced at it. “Yes, we are going to fly.”
Bodgen shook his head. He was lightheaded and felt sweaty all of a sudden.
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
“You don’t have to,” Ben said. “But we have to hurry. The plane leaves now.”
“I may be sick.” The thought of riding a monster through the air all the way to America was just too much to absorb, even for him.
Ben dug around in his coat and pulled out a strange looking bottle. From it, he withdrew two white tablets.
“Anxiolytics, for your sickness,” Ben said.
Bodgen liked the sound of the name and immediately popped them in his mouth. Ben gave him some water to assist in the swallowing.
“Now hurry up, or the plane will leave without us.”
The medicines took immediate effect, or so it seemed. He really probably should have eaten something before dropping drugs into his system.
At first, it was as if a great coat of form-fitting iron had been suddenly slipped from his shoulders. He basked in the freedom of it and enjoyed the ease his spirit had so quickly attained. Then Ben was at his hand and pulling him from the car. He let him lead him forth to a great, flimsy building located just up the way. He could feel his feet hitting the ground, the impact imparted with each step, but found, with every additional footfall, a lack of registered importance.
He took to weaving as they crossed into the big building. His upper body kept losing its mooring to the lower. His center of gravity became like a slippery pig at a county fair.
Ben noticed his meandering and took firmer hold of him as they waded into a literal sea of humanity. Bodgen was at a bemused loss of thought as he viewed the spectacle. Before him lay a grand socio-experiment where people were squished together in a construct and then set loose to see what happened.
“We should leave the anthills to the ants,” he said.
“Focus on your walking or they won’t let us on the plane,” Ben said. “Those meds shouldn’t have reacted so strongly. How long’s it been since you ate. I don’t know how blaw, blaw, de blaw.”
Bodgen turned his head to Ben and frowned. Ben was still talking, but Bodgen could no longer understand. He didn’t care to understand. It didn’t matter if he understood.
After a few more steps they reached a counter where a beautiful woman said a few blaw blaws. Ben said a couple blaw blaws back and handed her some paper. The woman smiled at him. He tried to speak, to tell her that her eyes looked like jade jewels, but he could not. He couldn’t summon the will to speak. It just didn’t matter enough whether he spoke or not.
They walked down a narrow corridor next, and through an oval looking aperture to an arced room where there were any number of seats. Ben led him to one and he fell into it. A seat had never felt as fine as the one he now sat upon. He’d found Plato’s ideal chair and it was wonderful. He closed his eyes to better enjoy the sensation.
When next his eyes opened, the arced room was mostly darkened. His mouth was dry. Ben sat next to him reading some sort of text. He coughed to try to get some moisture going in his mouth. Ben put his book away and handed him a clear flask of water.
“There is a meal set aside for you when you are ready,” Ben said as Bodgen drank.
“I’m ready,” Bodgen said. His jaw ached at the mere mention of food.
Ben called over a waitress and before he knew it he had a steaming plate of goodies before him.
“Sorry about the meds. I gave you too much,” Ben said.
Bodgen waved his concern away as he ate. The meds had been good. Very potent. A good indicator of Ben’s skill. Bodgen was proud.
“Tell me of your book,” he said. “What matter of study is it?”
Ben picked up the book and showed Bodgen the cover. On it was a man covered in shiny metal fighting a giant, winged lizard. A big-bosomed beauty in a revealing gown waved down from atop a stone tower.
“They have fantasy novels in Romania?” Ben asked.
Bodgen shook his head. He didn’t know what Ben was talking about.
“Well, I’ve not read many myself either,” Ben continued. He showed him the cover again. “This one was recommended by a friend of mine.”
That wasn’t the real reason. Ben was holding back. He could feel the tension radiating off him. That could mean only one thing.
“There’s a woman involved in this somewhere,” Bodgen said.
Ben tried to feign ignorance for a moment, but it was a weak show. He knew he’d been called out.
“Yes, there is,” Ben said. “Her name is Nancy. She’s my neighbor. She recommended the book.”
Bodgen pushed his empty plate away. “And?” Here was something Ben wanted. It very well could be the means by which he repaid him for saving his life.
Ben looked away. Bodgen picked food from his teeth as he waited.
“In America,” Ben said after a pause, “women like to be swept off their feet. They all want Prince Charming to come slay the dragon and save them from the tower.” He showed Bodgen the cover one more time.”Just like this.”
Bodgen nodded. “And I assume this Nancy is not in need of saving.”
“She’s not about to be lynched by a mob, if that’s what you mean.”
“I see,” he said.
Just then, he felt a deep trembling in his seat which nearly made him jump.
“Finally,” Ben said. “Home at last.”
Bodgen had been so wrapped up in his food and Ben’s story that he’d completely forgotten where he was.
“We’re in the belly of the flying beast at this moment?” he asked, his eyes ever widening.
Ben smiled at him and nodded. “Welcome to America.”
The landing was frightful, but not overly so. The others onboard showed none of the nerves he felt, which made it all the more bearable. Once the vibrations had stopped and his ears had popped a few times, they were let out of the beast and were once more awash in the human anthill experiment. Bodgen stayed close to Ben as they collected their bags and found Ben’s car.
The drive to Ben’s home was made in the dark, but still the sounds and colors of America were a wonder more amazing than his imagination could conceive. There was too much to ever process in so short a time.
Ben seemed tired the moment they entered his house. Bodgen looked around at all the odd contraptions here and there and decided Ben truly was a tinkerer just as much as he. One could not simple accrue all the things Bodgen saw lying around without being a purveyor of the scientific arts.
“Let me show you to your room,” Ben said. “Then I’m going to bed. I didn’t sleep a wink the entire flight.”
They went up a flight of stairs and Ben showed him to a room with a bed in it.
“I’ll be right down the hall if you need me. Make yourself at home. I’ll see you in the morning.”
With a yawn, Ben walked away. This left Bodgen to his own devices, which was very good for Bodgen, for he had a plan. He was going to repay his brother for saving his life. And he knew just how to do it.
The sun was just coming up as he crept into Ben’s room. He’d found, during his exploration of the house, a most useful crossbow. He had that particular item in his hands, loaded up and ready, as he eased his way to Ben’s side. As a means to wake Ben, and also to deliver a most spectacular concoction, he’d arranged one of the syringes he’d found among Ben’s things.
Without much ado, he jammed the needle into Ben’s arm and depressed the plunger.
Ben jerked himself to sitting.
“Wha!” He exclaimed. He saw Bodgen as he rubbed at his arm. “What did you do? Why do you have my crossbow?”
Bodgen backed out of the room. “Come outside and see, Brother. That potion will begin working in just a moment. And you’re going to need it. I’ve a surprise for you.”
Before Ben could say another word, he slipped out of the room and made his way to the back door of the house.
The light outside was soft and growing with the rising sun. A cool breeze was on the wind. There wasn’t a cloud in the blue sky.
Bodgen stood in the backyard facing the door as Ben came out. Beside Bodgen sat a most docile German shepherd dog.
“What are you doing with Nancy’s dog?” Ben asked as he came out fully into the back yard.
Bodgen didn’t answer. He glanced to the roof then back to Ben.
“What was in that shot you gave me?” Ben asked. There was real worry in his voice.
“It will make you strong, fast, and nearly impenetrable, for a short time. You’re going to need all the help you can get very soon.”
He glanced to the roof again. It was time.
“Ben, look!” He pointed to the roof and took a step away.
Ben’s mouth hung open, such was his shock. Bogden smiled.
“Is that Nancy? Why is she tied to my chimney?” Ben stuttered.
“Your lady in her tower, awaiting your rescue,” Bodgen announced.
Nancy wore a revealing bit of night clothes. Her mouth was tapped shut. Bodgen had not wanted her to ruin his surprise. Not that it should matter now. The potion he’d given her should have her nice and relaxed. She wasn’t going to cause any trouble.
Ben turned and stared at Bodgen. “Are you crazy?”
Bodgen nodded. “Wait, there is more.” He retreated yet farther away and pointed to the dog. It panted happily away.
“In a moment the dog with become a Balaur, a great winged lizard, just like in your book.”
Ben pointed up to Nancy. “We have to get her down.”
“Oh, I know,” Bodgen said. “You’ll have to save her. She’ll love that.”
“I’m serious, Bodgen. This isn’t Romania.”
“Look,” Bodgen said and pointed at the dog.
The moment stretched and nothing happened. Bodgen frowned. That elixir should have been working by now.
Ben shook his head and looked up at roof. “Don’t worry, Nancy, I’m coming. I’m so sorry.”
He took off at a jog that quickly turned into a sprint that would have made a horse jealous.
“Careful!” Bodgen yelled, just before Ben crashed completely through the brick wall of the house. He’d forgotten to warn Ben about how powerful that shot was he’d given him. It ramped up his system many fold.
He took a step toward the new hole in the wall, and a deep guttural grumble issued from the roof. He looked up to see that Nancy had turned a bright red. Her skin smoked. Her eyes stared down at him, trying to pin him to where he stood.
“Rahat!” he cursed. He brought the crossbow to bear, aimed it at Nancy, and fired.
His bolt didn’t even come close. He’d never been much of a shot.
He took off at a run to the house. He had more antidote dipped bolts inside. He’d not really planned on using the crossbow. It was meant to be a secondary measure only.
Nancy screamed, sounding like a mix between a person and a hissing snake. He chanced a look just before entering the house. She’d grown wings, big bat-like wings.
He grabbed the bolts and went to check on his brother.
Ben was sitting in the middle of the living room, which was littered with brick rubble. Thick dust had yet to settle. He looked up as Bodgen came before him. There was a sizeable knot forming on the right side of his forehead.
A shriek tore the air, followed by a whooshing sound.
The ceiling started to smoke.
“She’s breathed fire on the roof!” Bodgen exclaimed. “Quick, we must get outside.”
“Breathed fire?” Ben asked as Bodgen dragged him outside through the hole in the wall.
Once outside, Bodgen looked up. The Balaur was high overhead, a great black shape, circling the house.
“The house is on fire!” Ben said, as if he’d just now noticed. “What happened to Nancy? Nancy!”
Bodgen thrust the crossbow toward Ben, who ignored it. “Ben, I hope you are a better shot than me. You must shoot her. The bolts contain the antidote. They are the only thing that can save her.”
“What?” Ben asked. Bodgen pointed up. Ben looked up.
“Is that a dragon circling the house?” Ben asked. He rubbed at his eyes and touched the bump on his head.
“I mixed up my elixirs,” Bodgen said. “They weren’t yet labeled.”
Ben held up a hand. “Is that a DRAGON flying above my BURNING house?”
Bodgen nodded and let a little pride enter his voice. “My greatest elixir ever made. I created it just as you arrived and saved my life. It was as if I’d made it for just this moment.”
A strange combination of fear, awe, and shock did battle on Ben’s face.
“So, I have to shoot it with a crossbow?” Ben asked after a pause.
“Yes,” Bodgen said.
Ben shook his head but took the crossbow. He jogged off, hopefully to find a better vantage point from which to shoot.
“Master?” Bodgen heard and spun around. The dog was sitting there staring at him. “Master, what has happened?”
Bodgen would know that tone anywhere, in any creature, regardless of the strange, animal accent.
“You died, Igor, and before labeling the elixirs,” Bodgen said to the dog. “Now I’ve gone and used the wrong ones. You are to blame, as usual.”
“Ever so sorry, Master.”
A screech of pain sounded from above.
“Got it!” Ben yelled.
“Better watch out, Master,” Igor said. “There’s a winged Balaur crashing in the yard.”
“Of course there is,” Bodgen said. “Didn’t I just tell you I used the wrong elixir because of your ill timed mishap?”
The Balaur hit the ground hard enough to bounce. Once down, it commenced to snort and slobber in great sparkly showers of tears and snot as it trounced around the yard swaying this way and that.
In a matter of moments it’d converted fully back to Nancy, who fell to the grass, asleep, none the worse for wear. Even the crossbow bolt hadn’t left a mark. The bolt had entered converted flesh and had fallen free once she’d changed back to her original form.
Igor came to sit beside Bodgen as Ben walked up. Ben eyed Nancy, naked in the grass then looked to the house, which continued to burn merrily away.
“You burnt my house down,” he said. The sounds of sirens could be heard from a distance.
“Yes,” Bodgen said. “As I said, the elixirs were not yet labeled.”
“Twas my fault, it was,” Igor said.
Ben touched the bump on his head again as he looked first to the dog and then back to Bodgen.
“So, it’s Nancy’s dog’s fault that a dragon burnt my house down?” He asked.
“Don’t worry, Ben,” Bodgen said. “Nancy will wake up and not remember a thing. It will be like a dream to her.”
Ben didn’t say anything. He just looked from Nancy to the fire and then to Bodgen. His face was pale. He looked like he was going to be sick.
Bodgen sighed, pulled a needle from his pocket, and jabbed Ben in the neck with it. He fell immediately to the grass to lie next to the naked Nancy.
The sirens drew ever nearer.
“Well, that was a complete waste of effort,” Bodgen said. “It didn’t go anything like I had planned.”
“What’d you give him, Master?” Igor asked, nodding to Ben.
“A shot of forgetme, of course. You saw him. He was in complete shock. Now I’ll have to find some other way to repay him for saving my life.”
“Yes, of course, Master, of course.”
Bodgen frowned down at the inert bodies, chin in hand. The sirens were nearly upon them.
“Master, we must go.”
“Yes, I suppose,” he murmured.
Igor ran off quick as anything.
“Wait for me, you worthless cur.”
“I’m sorry Master,” Igor said, dropping back.
That moronic creature was too fast by half.
They left the scene walking side by side. America, the land of dreams, lay before them, ready and waiting for them to explore.
He glanced back once as a great, red vehicle arrived. He’d return one day, he vowed, to repay his brother for saving his life.
This story previously appeared in Under A Dark Sign Anthology 2015.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Jason Lairamore is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his wife and their three children. He is a published finalist of the 2012 SQ Mag annual contest, winner of the 2013 Planetary Stories flash fiction contest, a third place winner of the 2015 SQ Mag annual contest, and a Writers of the Future contest Semi-Finalist. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 90 publications.