© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Six: Barbarians and Bumblebees
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Joss stood in the observation room of Crash House, peering through his Rand digital binoculars. From the outside of the house, the big windows were reflectorized and screened, but looked just like normal, everyday windows. Joss was up here on the third floor of Crash House scanning the skies because all the security sensors were going crazy. But Joss had not seen anything, not yet. For an instant, he thought he might have spotted something, but when he checked with his binoculars, scanning the location high in the sky, there was nothing there. He stood very still, calmly breathing, watching through the binoculars—sensors in his high-tech viewing device would highlight and isolate any movement, or aberrant shape. After thirty seconds of vigilant observation, there was nothing, but still, Joss did not move. He clicked the timer on the side of the binoculars, again setting off a thirty-second countdown. He would do this two more times, and if he saw nothing, he would employ his phone to dismiss the alarms silently whining in all the systems and head back downstairs. He had things to do, and wouldn’t waste much more time scanning the heavens for imagined threats.
He relaxed his muscles, ignoring the tremblors of stress that wanted to kick off in his forearms. He maintained regular breathing, keeping his eyelids at half mast, hardly blinking. When the thirty-second timer finished he was about to activate it once more, when he saw the thing. It coalesced right there, in the center of his field of vision. He checked to ensure the camera in the binoculars was running, and it was. He could disseminate everything more powerfully, later—right now, he needed to accumulate as much good data as possible.
The thing came together, or gradually decloaked, or something. One moment there was nothing there, and then suddenly it was building, growing, piece by piece. He zoomed in and enhanced the focus. What was he looking at?
This certainly was not what he was expecting to see. It looked like someone playing Minecraft in the sky, building something pixel by pixel. Or no, it more looked like a swarm of insects—bees—gathering in a ball, for there were spaces between the pieces—the thing he was looking at, he could see through it, the thing really seemed insubstantial, if he were looking at it with naked eyes there would probably not be a whole lot to see. In fact, you wouldn’t see it—Joss was surprised that he had even caught sight of anything in the first place, and knew where to look—it seemed more like luck, now—and here he was, centered on the thing as it took on shape, right there in the center of his vision.
Was it possible that the thing was watching him—had been watching him all this time, and was now choosing to appear right where he was watching? Was it actually revealing itself to him?
Sweat ran down under his arms. Sweat beaded on his forehead and threatened to roll into his eyes. But Joss did not move. Because he was seeing something, it was awesome, he was watching something intensely strange, and there was no other place in the world he would rather be, than right here. Oh yes, this was the ticket, the golden ticket, right here, ladies and gentlemen, step right up, everyone wins in Atlantic City.
Whatever this was, it was exactly one hundred feet up in the sky, and about one hundred feet out from the house—the tracking data scrolled translucently across his field of vision inside the binocular view. The strange see-through ball was hanging there, either riding the wind, or impervious to the wind, so this did not seem to be any kind of drone with cloaking ability, but something else, such as...molecular nanotechnology, which could clump together or break apart—but was such a thing even possible? Did it exist? Joss had heard rumors in the security community, but all of that seemed like conspiracy theory, Big Brother watching from a mythical eye in the sky. Joss had never given such notions much credence, but right now, he was witnessing something beyond drone technology, or any kind of nano hint. This seemed more supernatural, like a ghost, or some kind of living creature—sentient bees? He zoomed in closer. Enhanced the view. No, whatever this was, the individual bits were smaller than bumblebees.
Suddenly it was bigger in his view. He ran the scan again, and it was definitely closer, now only eighty feet removed from the house, but still one hundred feet in elevation. That didn’t seem possible, despite witnessing the almost...teleportation of the object. He had watched it with his own eyes. No, it had not exactly teleported, as it had never vanished from his vision or from the sensors, but it had moved forward twenty feet unimaginably fast, like jumping. Or physical zooming—nothing in nature moved like that.
Then the thing came apart as he watched, expanding, the spaces between each piece surging simultaneously, moving apart instantly, like a school of fish acting with one mind.
It blew Joss’ mind. It seemed completely mechanical, only much slicker than any machine he had ever seen. Again, he told himself, this isn’t possible. It had expanded from about three feet in diameter to about nine feet across—Joss had to decrease his zoom and refocus. It seemed more like computer animation than anything moving in the physical world did. His own...UFO, was impossibly unmoving, sitting one hundred feet up in the sky. The thing had reshaped, going from an orb to an oblong cigar shape, reforming in an instant, staying impossibly still.
Could he be observing a hologram? But what would be the point of that? Sure, whoever was running the thing was certainly freaking out at least one observer, chiefly, Joss Chen. And yes, Joss was freaked out, very big freaked, that’s what he was. But you couldn’t observe with a hologram, could you? It couldn’t see, but only be seen. Or maybe that wasn’t true, not any longer. If molecular nanotechnology was real and operational, then perhaps sentient holograms were as well.
He held the binoculars steady, and moved his eyes slowly away and peered cautiously above the binoculars. He searched with his eyes, but he could not spot anything right up there, his naked eyes could see nothing up there, even when he blinked and relaxed his eyes. He slowly returned his gaze to the view through the binoculars. The cigar shape was still there, unchanged.
It changed again, right then. The object in the sky seemed to take on double the volume, inexplicably. How could it suddenly have...more to it? Unless bits were piggybacking on bits, and then separating, but still, the individual bits were just too small, maybe the size of common houseflies. Whatever it was, it certainly was a surreal and engrossing phenomenon. It had gone from a cigar shape to a large rectangle, much larger than nine feet across, now it was like twenty feet across, and possibly eight feet tall.
At first he did not understand what he was observing, even as it happened in the very center of his enhanced vision. And then Joss began to read as letters formed and scrolled across the rectangle. It had become some sort of ticker tape message.
THEY, Joss read as each letter formed at the right of the rectangle and then scrolled to the left: A...R...E.
They are, Joss murmured, a trembling forming throughout his body.
Joss Chen blinked. They are watching. The message had scrolled across the rectangle with appropriate spaces between the words.
The message continued. The thing in the sky was communicating with him. Warning him.
Time is short.
Joss blinked and again peered over the binoculars. He couldn’t see a thing up there. Whoever or whatever was producing this message, it was occurring in such a manner that only he could see it, from this room, at this window, with these binoculars. He swallowed hard, and shuffled his feet to get his circulation going. He kept his hands as steady as humanly possible, breathing shallowly.
He returned his eyes even as the next series of letters began. That was something to make you think. When he looked away from the binoculars, the letters did not scroll, but only while he was watching. It was reacting to his observation, participating with his observation. How could that even be possible, unless someone were observing his physical actions as closely as he was observing the phenomenon? Was someone observing him...observe?
They only guess, the message continued.
But soon they will know.
Then they will act.
Prepare to depart.
“Is this happening?” Joss Chen whispered, overwhelmed by a sense of unreality.
As he watched the message continued.
Yes, this is definitely happening.
It is real, Joss.
Red Door. Rood Der.
“Come on!” Joss murmured, frowning.
You are chosen.
“What the hell?” Joss breathed.
Yes, what the hell.
There was one last word that flashed, but only for a moment. Joss puzzled over the strange word, figuring it must be a code or an acronym.
Then the rectangle in the sky exploded—it seriously looked like some kind of explosion, except that it was a flash toward the binocular vision, blurry in streaks of movement. Joss jerked his head back and drew close to the window—he could see them coming, swiftly, dark streaks heading straight toward him. He leapt backward as they hit the glass, cracking it in many places, as the dark specks struck like hail, rattling off the glass.
And then, Joss was drawing close again, setting aside his binoculars and whipping his phone from the holster at his hip (the phone was nestled in an inner holster just inside his gun holster, and while he instinctively almost went for the gun, it was the phone he quick-drew). He got up close against the glass and filmed the specks, zooming in close for macroview.
He sighed. Wow. They were little bees, distinctively bees, but smaller than common houseflies, they were the size of ladybugs, but looked just like miniature bumblebees, with yellow and black markings on their furry little bodies. But these were not creatures of nature. These were little machines, constructed to look like bees, but they were just a little too shiny, and they moved far too quickly, trekking all over the glass, making little circles and shapes. They didn’t appear to be trying to gain access, but were still performing, for his eyes, and he filmed them.
Suddenly they moved into a flowing shape, streaking along the glass like ice skaters, all of the miniature machines forming into an infinity symbol, like the number eight on its side, ever flowing. Joss Chen observed that it was one continuous line of movement, a Moebius strip, crossing over itself, but still making the sign of infinity.
And then the nanobees seemed to double before his eyes and while the Moebius strip continued to flow, it shrunk in on itself as a rectangle formed around the sign of infinity, and then it looked like a door formed on the window, with the infinity symbol inside, and then the Moebius strip changed with a circle forming about it, and then weirdly, it took on the shape of the Planet Saturn with its big ring—
—except that the ring was still the infinity symbol.
A door that leads to infinity, and the Planet Saturn, and then upon the glass the door turned red—Joss blinked, but his eyes were not deceiving him, it was a red door with that symbol, and it was all moving, shimmering, and then the door began to open and Joss gasped, trembling where he stood—it was all like a show, or a hologram, but it was there, on the glass, and then it seemed that the glass was gone, and there was a real, physical door, red, with that Moebius strip ever flowing inside it, and then as the door opened more Joss could see into that other world he had only seen once, it seemed an actual portal was opening before him, and if he chose, he could leap through it.
Breathing hard he turned and fled the room, trampling down the stairs, winding down and down in Crash House, fleeing that vision above him. Because he never wanted to cross into that land again—the one time he had crossed into that world it had seemed to turn him inside-out, like the baboon in the Goldblum movie The Fly.
As he blasted down the winding stairway he silenced the alarms of the security system, tapping on his phone. He heard glass shatter above him, but he kept running, half-falling down the stairs, he was moving so fast.
He might have just pissed off those nanobees by rejecting their invitation, and his heart shrieked in his chest, because he was never going back, never going back, let them pursue and strip the skin off his bones, but he was never going back through the Red Door.
He should have grabbed the binoculars as the whole recording was in there, except for what he had filmed at the last with his phone. And there was that strange word, he had to retain that while it was fresh in his mind, elsewise he might forget it.
He typed a text message to himself, as he often did, doing his best as he dashed down the steps to get the letters right, just that one word or series of letters.
It sounded familiar, but he would have to Google it.
Dripping with greasy sweat, the massive barbarian sat still in the lotus position, between two raging open fires, his battle ax across his thighs, staying as still as possible as the Wee Folk worked on his portrait on the other side of the cave. He enjoyed watching them work by firelight, although it was getting a tad smoky in this extended cavern. Along with being incredibly polite, good-natured, and very sweet, the Wee Folk were amazing artists. The image across from him seemed to have depth, and one-to-one, it was like looking in a mirror. The barbarian almost burst into laughter, looking at himself, for he truly was a sight. What would his mother say? No, better, what would Ayn say?
A bumblebee the size of a basketball buzzed in and alighted upon his head. He rolled his eyes. It didn’t even surprise him any longer, and in fact he rather enjoyed the way their feet prodded at his scalp, it was quite a nice massage that usually only lasted about a minute, but often another bumblebee was lined up in cue and you often could get about ten minutes of massage that way, bee after bee, and he still wondered if the bees and the regular head massages had anything to do with his bizarre hair growth.
The bumblebee was sucking his sweat as well as dried skin flakes, and was obviously transferring something as well, and he often caught faint visions of things far away from the pollen share-linking. There was something more than the physical realm happening here. In one sense, the bumblebees were gathering his thoughts, what he was seeing, and transferring that out to the many hives, and to the many Wee Folk. It was pollen share-linking, but not the way or to the magnitude to which the Wee Folk did, of course, because they were constantly connected to each other and even distant tribes of other Wee Folk peoples. The bumblebee departed from him after only about twenty seconds and there was no second bee lined up to prod his skull.
He looked like a clown, some violent, barbarian clown. Still, if he were to be honest with himself, he was terribly, terribly pleased with what this world had done to him. Hey, if you are going to stick your toes in, you might as well fully take the plunge, go deep, full immersion, and that’s just what Hank had done, he had gone all in, laying all his cards on the table, in for a penny, in for a pound, balls to the wall, he was screamingly gone native, scooting all his chips to red, and he loved it! He would mix as many metaphors as he could, many times a day, and he was bubbling over with joy. He was a happy camper, and he just wanted to scream and howl. He wanted, desperately, to do a few other things, as well, except that there was no one about his size to do them with. Oh but that would make things perfect, a woman, oh a woman, my crown for a woman!
Still, he looked like a clown. And what woman would enjoy a sight like him?
He had mostly been bald, in his world, and had gone completely gray in what remained of his sad hair, hardly enough there to gather for a decent comb-over (and Hank could never stand the thought of combing strands of thin white hairs across his pate).
Now, he had a luxurious tuft of glaringly red hair standing up like a Mohawk, or no, more like that horsehair plume or brush on the top of a Trojan or Spartan helmet. Yes, his hair had grown in like this, too thick and porcine to do anything with, so Hank just let it wave up there, looking preposterous, probably ten inches high, but hey, he had to admit it, he thought it was completely badass, as well. He loved it. Oh he loved it, but still, a woman, please Sky Valley, a woman, please, send me a woman!
The hair on the sides of his head had grown in full and thick and all white, no color whatsoever, but it swept back on the sides of his head like wings, and the red hair and the white hair met in a truly gnarly mullet. Even his facial hair had gone to a place and then just stayed there—he didn’t even need to shave. He had a little goatee, which was garishly red, and very sculpted, and the tips of the thick hairs were white, as if with hoarfrost. It kind of looked...sweet.
And look at what had happened to his body, in just six weeks of running about (he wasn’t sure how long he had been here, it could be three months, or possibly as short a time as four weeks—time was kind of wonky here), his body had slimmed down and then plumped out, like Ballpark Franks. He now had muscles where muscles should never be. And he was vigorous, and scintillated with vitality, he positively glowed with excellent health, it practically squirted out of all his pores. Half the time he wanted to run around screaming and laughing, and the other half of the time even knotholes in trees were starting to look...highly attractive, to poor, horny Hank.
He hadn’t been with a woman since Ayn had left him—yes, as embarrassing as it seemed to him now, he had actually been married to a woman named Ayn (although she had not had the beauty of the famous author and President, but Ayn had been the number one baby name for the past sixty-five years, for baby girls and boys). But he had to remind himself, carefully, carefully, that none of that was real—where he was now, this was real. In that other world he had wanted to find someone else when his wife left him, but he had gone rather soft and dumpy through the years, and in the middle of his fifties, he just could not imagine any woman finding him attractive.
But over here, he had the body of a twenty-five-year-old Olympic athlete, and though it seemed highly improbable, Hank felt he must be one or two inches taller than his usual six-foot two inches. And damn, with all these muscles—he could probably star in a reboot of the Conan movies—and his endless energy, he could run for miles and miles with no twinges of arthritis or gout, he was just a whole new man, and wouldn’t mind meeting a whole new woman.
There were the tattoos to consider, which had sort of formed over the nights while he was sleeping, first on his arms, which were kind of cool, like metal thorns wrapping his big biceps, Hank didn’t mind, but then the facial tattoos started forming, and these were...well, odd. It’s like the tattoo elves had crept in and painlessly added eye make-up to his face, the kind you couldn’t scrub off. His eyelids were black now, as well as the area between his eyelids and his eyebrows, and long, wicked lines extended from the corners of his eyes down alongside his much more prominent beak of a nose, where they flared out on either side of his mouth like inverted black flames. He looked like Gene Simmons from KISS, except, now that he thought about it, Simmons had all the face paint firing upward, while Hank’s was all directed down, in fact, it kind of looked like his mascara was running like a waterfall down all over his face! It was embarrassing, but there didn’t seem to be much he could do about it. In his world, he had not been a tattoo guy—he had considered it, during his years on the police force, just to fit in with the guys, but could never bring himself to face the needle. At least here, there didn’t seem to be any needles involved.
Hey, the truth was, he didn’t mind. If this was the way this world wanted him to be, heck, he’d play the part, and with all his strength. And he had already done quite a lot of playing the part, ever since he met the Wee Folk, and become their champion. He had successfully defended them from a great cave bear that wished to invade and claim their cave domain, and then he had fought and chased off some guys that were later identified as Dragon Warriors—how cool was that?
He had even taken this ax off a would-be thief, a little runt of a guy with colorful feathers for hair. The guy came to regularly plunder the Wee Folk’s honey storage, for the Wee Folk lived symbiotically with the great buffalo bumblebees that pollinated all the plants of this world, and housed titanic vats of honey underground, which they stored like a bank for both their use, and providing access to the bumblebees whenever they required the stuff. When Hank had seized the little fellow and brought him kicking and screaming up to the light of day, the thief had offered the ax for his life—like a leprechaun offering his pot of gold—and Hank had accepted.
The battle ax just felt plain old good in his now-beefy fists, like it had sought him out and wanted to be used and abused by him, he just seemed to know how to use it, and he just seemed to have...skills, man, crazy skills, and while the shiny steel weapon must weigh easily forty pounds, it seemed as light as a plastic movie prop.
Hank felt that he finally understood what it must have been like to be the Pugilist, Stacey Colton, when he had gone head to head, hand to hand with more than a hundred Vikings, armed with nothing more than a stick! Hank felt that he wouldn’t mind trying something like that.
Yes, it was a good life. The Wee Folk ensured that he had plenty of the dark honey, supplying him with a glass tube of the stuff with a big cork that stoppered the vial. They always checked on him, demanding to know if he was eating all of his daily supply of honey, and he always swore he was, displaying the empty bottle, which they promptly seized to refill again, and return to him. He had been living off of honey, grasses, various fruits, nuts—there were nuts like pistachios here, that were the size of your fist, and they were delicious—and berries, all kinds of berries, and he had to admit it, he liked the vegetarian diet, it certainly agreed with his muscular new body.
The Week Folk were foraging vegetarians, eating mostly mosses and grasses and various lichens, all of which they showed to him and carefully explained, detailing where to find the major sources of all the foods that he should eat, and those plants and various mushrooms that he should never touch, let alone consume. They showed him tend kinds of good mushroom, three kinds of deadly mushrooms, and something they called a Shroomboom, which provided mystical visions, but should not be taken more than once or twice in a lifetime.
They were incredible little beings, these friends of the bumblebees, the Wee Folk. Standing an average of twenty-one inches or so, give or take a half inch—the very few tallest of them did not quite reach Hank’s kneecap when he was standing, and the very shortest of them, the children, they barely reached the bottom of Hank’s meaty calf—and they were beautiful, with enormously large almond eyes that glowed amber in the dark, and in the light of day looked like irises made of honey, darkest honey. Their features were chiseled and defined, with long, perfect noses, and little dimples in their chins, high cheekbones, and the sweetest dimples that glistened when they smiled, and the Wee Folk were always smiling.
They sported manes of flowing hair, either silvery or pure white. Facially, and for the most part their whole bodies, there was not a lot to distinguish between the males and females, although the womenfolk proudly jutted their large breasts, and generally had tiny waists save for when they were pregnant, and the males were flat chested and stout of waist, although both the males and females became pregnant and bore children.
The males usually produced the slighter children that became artists, singers and painters and storytellers, as well as the nurturers, as large groups of the males watched over the children, and reared them as part of a vast extended family. Whereas the females produced much larger babies, and these were reared to become warriors, bumblebee riders, and tenders and distributors of the honey troves, their most prized treasure, the glistening dark honey.
The Wee Folk also befriended the great spiders of the Tombwood Tangles, a vast ocean of forest that the Wee Folk believed covered most of the world, harvesting spider silk, which they treated and wove into beautiful, shimmering garments. The females wore tight, shimmering leggings and beautiful poet shirts made of the spider silk, with capes upon their slim shoulders, and spidersilk boots that extended high on their thighs, whereas the men wore kilts made of various furs, with knee-high fur boots and went about exposing their chests in masculine pride—Hank suspected they hunted squirrels and other rodents for the fur, the meat of which they fed to the spiders to distract them when they milked the silk (that’s what the Wee Folk proudly called it, milking the silk).
The males wore their hair in extravagant pompadors, and Hank had caught sight of many of them teasing their hair into tall Mohawks in imitation of their giant protector’s hair. Apparently the women found the elaborate male hairstyles attractive, and the more flamboyant, the more aggressively attractive, whereas the women wore their hair loose and down and beautifully windblown.
He had come to know them well, and had begun to discern, slowly, the differences in their faces, for they were as unique and diverse as any people—although for the most part, Hank supposed the women looked Swedish, while the men looked Finnish, with the odd Dane and Norwegian of both sexes thrown in to keep things lively. They were not blond or blonde, but truly white-headed, and in the rarer cases, platinum-blonde, which looked almost like a metallic silver, shiny and lovely, and these were considered the most beautiful among the men and women. The children had red hair, as garish as the plume on Hank’s head, but the more they aged, their hair went swiftly gray, and then slowly white, and then only in the chosen few, platinum.
The Wee Folk did not seem to practice monogamy, not even in the minority, but paired off as both their hormones and the bee pollen demanded, with some practicing sexual profligacy to such extent that Hank wondered that they ever did anything else, while others seemed downright asexual, and would have nothing to do of an intimate nature with any other of the Wee Folk.
Hank had trained himself not to notice their amorous antics, because it would drive him crazy if he allowed himself to watch them. They were like little pornographic actors, beautiful, lovely creatures, going through an encyclopedia of sexual positions and styles, but at least after they noticed how they affected Hank, they had finally begun to practice their lustful deeds out of his line of sight, in an effort to respect his sensibilities. Still, occasionally, he caught flashes of acrobatics that could drive him staggering out into the forest, to howl at the moon in his torment.
Their beauty and their lustful naturalness made certain there were always lots and lots of Wee Folk, with female pregnancies lasting less than a week, and male pregnancies lasting two weeks. The male pregnancies obviously had something to do with the bumblebees, something to do with the pollination. Whereas the female pregnancies were the same as most in nature.
The Wee Folk were making Hank a spider silk blouse that they swore would keep him warm during the snowy seasons, as well as discourage the attack of any arachnid, for if you were wearing their silk they saw you as already bound and set away for future feeding, and thus would not touch you, deeming you the property of another spider. The spider silk also acted as repellant to the giant angry wasps that would attack any person, tall folk or Wee Folk, without provocation, as the angry wasps were voracious carnivores, and their sting was deadly, but as they were at war with every manner of creature, they were terrified of spiders, or more accurately, the spider’s silk, which could catch and clasp the, and leave them negated and weak before all their enemies. So such a garment as they were making Hank was considered priceless.
Despite their great numbers, the Wee Folk also died just as often, as the angry wasps swooped in and carried off a child here, and sometimes a male artist, but rarely the male and female warriors. Plus there were all manner of other predators in the Tombwood Tangles that especially enjoyed the meat of the Wee Folk. The Panther people enjoyed a Wee Folk, once or twice a week, and great birds favored the little people.
One on one, the Wee Folk were no match for the angry wasps, as was the case with the great bumblebees. One angry wasp could easily kill ten bumblebees. But paired together, Wee Folk and bumblebee, and they were far more than a match for even ten angry wasps. A bumblebee mounted by a Wee Folk was truly formidable, with both steed and rider exponentially fiercer, more savage, and highly mobile. Hank thought it was like watching a dogfight between Sopwith Camels and Fokkers. The Wee Folk were incredible archers, carrying packs of thirty poisoned darts, which brought down angry wasp after angry wasp, the bumblebees darting and looping, and the mounted bumblebee had the ability to butt and slam into wasps, knocking them from the air, while the unmounted bumblebee seemed to lose any sense of defense or offense.
“It is impossible for a great bumblebee to fly while mounted by a Wee Folk, but somehow they do!” the Wee Folk loved to sing, laughing uproariously as if this constant thing they said were the most humorous thing a body had ever heard. Hank thought it was somewhat funny the first time he had heard it, but now after the thousandth hearing, it just sounded plain stupid. Of course he was used to hearing about the impossibility of the basic flight of the bumblebee, and the generic way it was woven into one Randism or another.
He glanced at the portrait opposite him. These little buggers were fantastic, he thought, watching the Wee Folk as they mounted scaffolding to work at his likeness, with more than ten of the Wee Folk artists laboring simultaneously. They painted with honey-based paints, mixed with blood, and berries, and charcoal, and who knew what else, but their results were amazing. If he glanced quickly, it really did look like an absurd warrior made of muscle and gristle sat there glowering at him.
“Please, Mighty Red Cock, do not smile so much, we need to bring out your ferocity in our work, if we are to do you justice, oh great one,” Reethrook said, the chief artist, striding forward and shaking his paintbrush at Hank.
Oh, that name, he had argued with them about it. He had begged them to call him something else, anything else. But no, their wise women had declared him to be their prophesied savior, the Mighty Red Cock.
“How about Rooster, Mighty Red Rooster?” Hank had pled.
But they had no idea what a rooster was, and when Hank explained they had just laughed, because he was further proving to them that he was the incarnation of their god, the laughing god, the Mighty Red Cock, who always jested with his followers, prior to slaying their foes.
“I will promise to sit very still indeed, and look very, very fierce, if you will just call me the Motherless Hen, or the Chortling Chicken, anything other than what you keep calling me,” Hank swore, grinning at the little man, who was all a mop of piled-up white hair, with tips of platinum. “How about Rubber Chicken, or El Pollo Loco?”
“You are truly humorous, oh Mighty Red Cock,” Reethrock said, bowing, and giving Hank such a sweet smile, you just knew the guy wasn’t kidding around. By calling Hank such a name, he was honoring him.
Hank rolled his eyes, knowing how the guys would react to such a name when he introduced his Sky Valley Group to the Wee Folk, he knew exactly what Barney would say, the kind of dry jokes both Ron and John would make. It was almost enough to keep the Wee Folk a secret, and hope the two groups never met. He sighed, knowing the two sides of his family were going to meet sometime. Probably sooner than later.
The beautiful little woman that had taken on Hank as her own project of mothering, one of the elders of the Wee Folk, but still a knockout in any world, she came now with a vial of honey almost as big as herself.
“Have you had your honey today, Mighty Red Cock?” she asked, giving him such a smile.
Hank winced. He wouldn’t even try to argue with her, but it made it his heart surge in his breast, hearing her say such words, even though he knew they were said in complete innocence. Sheesh, who would have thought he would have a woman that looked like this—talk dirty to him, however unknowingly?
“Thank you, Ivygarten,” Hank said, reaching for the vial of honey.
All the artists groaned, as if Hank’s movement had ruined their masterpiece. Hank sighed. They could be such little boobs, these Wee Folk, as if his position was such a hard pose to get back into—he supposed most artists were just as finicky and flaky, regardless of their size, or world of origin.
Hank accepted the vial and upended it, pouring the warm honey into his mouth. It was delicious, more vibrant than perhaps any other taste in his life. If the stuff he ate in his own world was honey, then this stuff was the very nectar of the gods. He thought it must be about the equivalent of a tablespoon he had just quaffed.
“Delicious, thank you,” he said, handing back the vial to the Wee Folk woman.
She came forward and deftly climbed up between his crossed ankles, and stood there with one foot upon his crotch.
“Mighty Red—” she began, but Hank rudely cut her off.
“—please!” he begged, “just call me Hank, Ivygarten, I would consider it a great favor.”
She looked a little hurt, just for a second, drawing back to stand upon his ankles, and then she smiled again, and stepped fully again upon his crotch, standing there upon both her spidersilk boots, her hands reaching up and placed upon his collar bones. And she was one of the tallest of the Wee Folk, and her hair was bright platinum, and despite her great age—comparatively to the others—she was perhaps the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“We all know your torment, Mighty—um, Hank, as the bumblebees visit you as much as our greatest profligates, and we all understand that this can be dangerous, even a mighty one can lose his mind to the demands of the pollen,” Ivygarten said, smiling so generously, and genuinely, that Hank felt his poor heart was breaking.
“I am fine, in time I will probably find a way, but really, you don’t need to worry about it, thank you Ivygarten, I appreciate your concern,” Hank said, and he couldn’t help it, he gritted his teeth, as he couldn’t exactly demand that she not stand where she was standing, but it was growing rather uncomfortable, and he would really need to shift his body one way or the other, and soon, so he sat very still and gritted his teeth, and tried to focus his mind on other things, such as wasps, yes, he should think about wasps, and not the way her spidersilk fit her like a second skin, or all that platinum mane of lovely hair.
“But I can help you with that, it is not a problem, Mighty Red—uh, Hank. We Wee Folk have had interactions with the tall folk, and we can soothe you, and ease your burden.
“Wee Wee Folk?” Hank said, flummoxed. Is that what she said?
She laughed in her musical voice, tossing her mass of platinum Farah Fawcett mane, and said, slowly: “We, us, Wee Folk. We Wee Folk can help you, Hank, please let me help you. Of if you would not prefer me, if I am too old for your pollen-demands, there are at least a dozen youths that would consider it the greatest honor to aid you. If you would prefer males, they will gladly comply.”
When she explained the we Wee Folk misunderstanding on his part, he had inadvertently laughed, deeply, causing her to bounce upon him, and his laugh transformed into a mighty groan. This was too much. He couldn’t stand this.
“No, really, oh, but no, no males, perhaps...Ivygarten, perhaps if I was careful, and if you were careful so that I did not hurt you, um, I can’t think of anyone in the world I would rather help me, with this...massive...um, pollen...demand,” Hank groaned, keeping his voice as low as possible, but glancing to the artists, he saw that they were all standing and gaping, all paused mid-actions, all smiling.
“Oh thank you, Mighty Red—um, Hank, thank you, I assure you there is no danger, and this will be the highlight of my entire life, I promise you, if you will allow me to help you, this will be the reason I was born,” she said. “I can help you right here, right now,” she said, and began to do just that.
“No, no please,” Hank moaned, about to have a heart attack. “Is there a safe place where we can go, as I am—kind of a private person?”
But just then one of the larger bumblebees came in, all black, with a somewhat insidious appearance—the truth was, these messenger bumblebees were the most gentle of all, and had no stinger, and generally three great bumblebees would accompany any messenger bumblebee, ensuring that their direct message was delivered.
“It is for you, Great Red Cock,” Ivygarten said, leaping away as the bee buzzed in and hovered like a helicopter over Hank’s head.
“Are you sure, right...now?” Hank said, in near agony.
“Yes, it is always best to receive divine messages, as soon as possible,” Ivygarten said.
Hank sighed, closing his eyes and bowing his head. The bumblebee messenger descended, and roamed in circles upon his head—this thing was much larger and heavier than the basketball-sized bumblebees, and much longer, it looked more like a cricket and was about the size and dimensions of a child’s kite, a very puffy child’s kite.
Hank sighed, receiving his massage.
A loud buzzing filled his head. He caught images of something, the sky, the intense blueness, a stream washing down, the river, another view of the river, the buzzing grew louder, his body vibrating with it, and he felt a sense of surreal unreality wash over him, he felt that he was a bumblebee, a messenger bumblebee and he was flying, zeroing in, rocking back and forth as he flew down and then everything is in slow motion, they have slowed the message, he sees far below two figures on a flat rock, and he knows with the knowledge of knowing so much, so much, that this is not far away, no, this is close to the portal, only about two miles away, just on the outskirts of the great Tombwood Tangles, there is a woman, he is zooming closer, and closer, she is standing, and she is carrying a man, and Hank recognizes him, the man, and he recognizes the woman, oh but a woman, such a beautiful woman, with all that dark hair, those eyes, oh Hank those eyes, it is Frances, from the other world, with Frederic, she is actually carrying Frederic, and he is pale, yes everyone knows Frederic is sick, but what is this, they are being pursued by something slithering close behind Frances, something otherworldly, something horrendous and filthy.
Hank came to his feet and just at the last instant he ducked his head, and only bashed his noggin a little upon the low-lying roof, his ax in his hands, and he was already moving through the cave, making sure to shuffle his feet so that he did not squash any of the Wee Folk, he goes, and he caught an impression of Ivygarten coming after him. But he has to go, now.
“What is it, Great Red Cock?” she cried, leaping and catching hold of his frayed shirt, clinging to him.
“I will return, Ivygarten, but another two from my world have crossed the Red Door, and I must go to them, as they are in danger,” Hank said. He gently removed her from his shirt and placed her upon the ground, just outside the cave.
A wasp came down diving at Ivygarten, and Hank reflexively batted it aside with a broadside of his ax, flicking it as easily as if he were playing a game of ping pong, crushing the little monster before it could sting and carry off his would-be sure thing.
“You must stay here,” he told her, “I promise I will return as soon as possible.”
“No,” she stated with command in her voice. She was an elder, after all, probably two years old, or a little more, which Hank figured was about eighty-five to a hundred years in his own years of a lifetime. It was like dog years, only much shorter. Possibly hamster years. The Wee Folk rarely lived beyond a year of age, due to dangers and threats and their own wildly-beating hearts, and by the age of thirteen months they might have already had ten or more children. At fourteen months they had reached the impossible twilight of their existence.
A child of the Wee Folk was two to three months old, and a youth was three to four months old, and a fully adult Wee Folk was five months to a year old, and the elders surpassed thirteen or fourteen months, but rarely lived beyond that, so in their time of living Ivygarten was a very old woman, one of the oldest. The oldest living Wee Folk was part of a separate tribe, deep in the Tombwood Tangles, and was rumored to be more than seven years of age, and could no longer walk, but was transported everywhere by an equally ancient bumblebee.
“Stay, and listen, god in the flesh,” she commanded him.
“Ivygarten, I’ve told you, I am not a god, I have never claimed to be a god, I don’t want to be a god, and damn it, I’ll say it again: I am just a man from another world,” he said, with a little anger showing through, because he had patiently explained this time and again, and they nodded their heads and smiled, and then looked at each other as if to communicate that yes, although he was a god, they must all agree he was a somewhat dimwitted god, and should be treated as a child, and it was all starting to piss him off, but good.
“I do not claim that you are immortal, or that you are divine in purity, Mighty Red Cock, but that in comparison to me and my people, you live forever, and you are mighty and while we consider ourselves to be the Wee Folk, you are the mighty tall folk above us, which we view as gods, that is all we mean to say, Mighty Red Cock, Great Hank, and you have protected us, and so do not be surprised when we worship you, and adore you.”
She sure could speak sternly. Hank felt sufficiently chastised.
“Do not worship me,” he said, “you may love me, but do not worship me.”
“You have made a promise to me,” Ivygarten stated, “and I have accepted you beyond the time of my lifespan. I will love you, Hank, and no other, but mark my words, I do know how to love you, and I shall do so. But we are bonded by our mutual promise, and thus you shall not leave me behind. Wherever you go, I shall go.”
He felt touched. He had agreed to take her as a lover—however in the world that was going to happen, or how it could happen, because the mechanics of the idea were so far beyond his understanding—but he felt he had given in, on a whim, due to the pressure of her otherworldly temptation; but now, hey, he admitted it, he really felt something for her, as if promises here in this world were much more potent than promises made in his own Rand world, where people ran rampant upon their own words, as if they dragged their tongues wherever they went. And it was expected that everyone stepped on everyone else’s words and intentions. In his world, you couldn’t trust anybody, but here, he trusted this small, ancient being of a woman.
“So how are you going to come along, by bumblebee?” he asked.
“No,” she laughed, “I am too wizened to ride the bumblebee, but you shall be my steed, and I shall be the arrow in thy quiver, oh Mighty Hank.”
He kind of liked that—Mighty Hank—because for the first time in all his years, he did, he felt it, mighty-mighty, and mighty good.
“How are you going to be an arrow in my quiver?” he inquired.
She whistled, sounding just like a songbird, and three craftsmen of the Wee Folk bustled out of the cave, bearing what looked to be a beautiful, shimmering purse made of spidersilk, and Hank recognized it as a quiver, the thing you wore crosswise from left shoulder to the right side of your waist (or the opposite, depending upon your hand dominance). He was right-handed, so he donned the accessory as he assumed it should go.
“Very good,” she said, “and always remember, Mighty Hank, offer me your hand, but do not grab me. It is best if I grab you, as I can hold on better to you than you can to me.”
They had drummed this in, many times, and he assumed they would keep reminding him, because really, it was a very good thing to remember, because these Wee Folk were tiny and fragile in comparison to Hank’s big, muscular hands. His thumb and index finger together were stronger than the strongest Wee Folk’s entire body.
He extended his hand in invitation, and she took a running leap, vaulting through the hair, and landed feet first upon his palm, and her feet and gait were so light that it felt more like an insect landing upon him and scrambling up his arm. She vaulted and flipped and came down in the pocket of the quiver, which was braced with something flexible, like wood, and had a platform for her to stand upon, and handles for her to grasp, as well as a soft loop she could affix about her waist, and there was a small bundle of supplies at the very foot of the quiver.
And Hank was running, flipping his ax in his hand as he dashed faster than he would do in the normal world even if he were running a one-hundred-yard dash. He was running pell mell, all out, and he figured he only had about two or three miles to go, and he could do this without slowing, so souped-up was he on dark liquid honey, he could easily run ten miles without slowing!
Ivygarten rode high enough to just peer over his shoulder, and she was low enough down that his hair streaming behind him did not blow into her face. Two bumblebees with riders flew easily above them in escort
Hank’s boots were wearing thin, even though they were considered very expensive and quality footwear in his world. Things from that lesser world did not do well here in this denser reality. He would eventually need to obtain his clothes here, in this world, or he would find himself running naked, and very soon.
He ran through the woods toward the foothills that led up into the tall hills below the mountains. This was a lighter part of the forest and not as many dangers condensed here, but still, you never knew when an angry wasp would come at you like a kamikaze from above, or when a scorpion might come clack-wandering up from the rivers.
As Hank came over the top of a tall ridge that climbed through the tops of the foothills, he thought he caught sight of her—Frances, at least a mile away. He shouted as he ran, wanting her to know that help was on the way. He felt a little stupid, rushing to her rescue, because everyone knew that Hank had always had a small crush on Frances, I mean come on, she was the bravest thing in the world, calmly facing down muggers, and not batting an eyelid at Frederic’s obvious illness. She was the kind of woman of substance that stood by you, no matter what, and Hank wished he had met a woman like that, at some point in his life. But Ayn had left him for a younger, better-looking man that made more money, opting for the better all-around deal. Promises were empty in that world, unless you were a woman such as Frances.
Hank increased his speed on the uphills, and decreased somewhat on the downhills, conserving his strength and catching his breath when he could coast somewhat. He was getting close. He could see her now, beautiful Frances, standing on the very flat rock that Stacey Colton had stood and fought the Vikings. She was watching his approach and she stood with some challenge in her posture, and it appeared she was pointing something at him.
He picked up his pace. He would ease the tension when he got closer, call out to her and reassure her. Lucky Frederic, even ill, to have such a woman as Frances standing over him.
And Hank mounted the last climb up to the ridge on which stood the flat rock, and he grinned and spun his ax, excited to see Frances again, and there she was, he saw her as he mounted the last part of the climb, and then when he was only about fifty feet away—her pointing hand exploded and Hank stumbled in his charge, staggering backward, but he knew not to fall down, not with Ivygarten upon his back, because he would crush her, so even as he fell he offered his hand and felt her seize and climb upon his arm, and then run and leap as his back crashed into the rocky soil, and he tumbled end over end, picking up speed as he fell into a crevasse, one of the great rents in the ground that the giant serpent had created, many months ago when all of this had begun.
Hank felt warmth upon his face as he fell, and he wondered why the world was spinning in such a hectic manner, as he tumbled and fell, crashed and tumbled, rolling and falling, tumbling and falling, seemingly forever falling.
© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Six: Barbarians and Bumblebees
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© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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