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Fire Princess and the Outcasts chapter 4

      Hudson pressed on the heavy plough bars to ensure the share part dug well enough in the soil. Adil, the neighbor from across the street, lead the oxen at the front to help cover the last few feet of his two acre farmland. In this last push, Hudson laid every ounce of strength from his calves and back so he could hop onto the next chores.

      He let go and doubled over, catching his breath. Though drained, he wasn’t overworked. Hudson sought to fill his free time in the day with the monotonous chores he so loathed, unlike yesterday. Thankfully, this simple tactic would transition the hours faster for him this way. His encounter with the glasses girl had given him the extra push to look for answers. Answers for why he was here. Thrust into the past, future, or whatever this place was, he had to learn how the falling star and his arrival were connected. That was imperative. He juggled absurd theories, ideas; expanding the limits of his imagination in hopes of discovering a possible connection that brought him here. Too many details tied in nicely to be a mere coincidence.

      It shouldn’t be too late to meet them again. They had arrived in town just yesterday according to the glasses girl, unless that was part of her ploy to get the ruffian off Hudson before getting wrecked. The problem would be finding them in this city of twenty thousand, which was a sea of people and a near impossible task. Luckily for Hudson, the girl’s inn was but a stone’s throw from the tavern. The stalking episode proved worthwhile in that regard, though he prefered the term “investigation”.

      “Good job today, boy! I gotta say, you done helped me plough the field quick.” Adil fondly slapped a hand one of the ox’s hump and the large beast swayed its tail like a whip in discernible glee. Hudson straightened to be at eye level.

      “Don’t mention it,” he said, combing back a lock of sweaty hair. “What’s a neighbor if we don’t lend each other our backs? Am I right?”

      Adil chuckled. “I have to admit. You’re setting an example even for us older folks. Not many people these days care for one another like they use to. It’s harder to find that trait in young’uns like you.” Hudson could half agree with that statement. His thirtieth milestone was no more than a few years off. Some considered it young, while others didn’t, like him, but sometimes he’d find comfort in believing so.

      “It’s my parents who deserve the praise. Not me,” he humbled.

      “I disagree. The individual must also have discipline to uphold those values.” Adil strode to his side and patted him on the shoulder, the barley stock in his teeth dangling as he prattled. “Leave yourself some credit. When it's your turn to be a parent, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s one thing to teach kids how to behave and different to have it stick in their little heads. Trust me.” Adil’s expression balanced as he held a soft smile. “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll pour us a drink? My wife’s making pot pie today if you wanna stay for lunch.”

      Hudson’s face cleared of exhaustion and was about to accept the invitation but remembered there were still other matters to tend. “I’d love to… but unfortunately, I’m gonna have to decline.”

      “Is that so?,” Adil asked.

      “Yeah,” he said with a tinge of embarrassment. “My schedule’s full for the day. Had it not been for my chores, I’d gladly take you up on the offer.”

      Adil rested his palms on his hips, not showing offense at the rejection. “Well. If you got stuff to do then you gotta do them. No way around it.”

      “Thank you for understanding.”

      “No problem. Maybe next time we can get together and have some pot pie. Let’s say we’re postponing it for a later date. Whaddya say? Better, huh?” Hudson agreed with a nod. “Go on ahead, then. Leave everything here to me for cleanup.”

      “Oh… r-really? The least I can do is help put tools away--”

      “Are you kidding me?” Adil smacked Hudson’s buttocks, causing him to flinch in surprise. “What do I look like? An old man? Don’t let the gray hairs on these mutton chops fool you. Now go on to your chores. I’ll handle things here.” Not knowing how to respond, Hudson chuckled awkwardly and headed for the gate, but halted midway as he heard his name. “Keir!,” Adil called, a smirk curved the edge of his mouth. “No one here lives by that name anymore. Not with the Foridani’s.”

      Hudson controlled his appearance. Showing signs of astonishment meant insulting Adil’s intelligence; the neighborhood’s included. This was no secret by any means, and playing the fool would only further tarnish Lodam and Idla’s reputation more than it already had been.

      “I'm no one to lecture others,” he continued. “Actually, I'd go so far as to say I haven't done my part as well. We’ve been avoiding the subject, afraid it’ll reopen emotional wounds. Just tell me your name. You know, the one your real parents gave you.”

      “My real parents, huh?” He couldn't help but copy Adil’s gentle smirk. Images of his mother, father, and younger brother came to mind, each exactly the way he last saw them. Oh, how it pained him to not be at their side when he had at last crawled out of the darkness that had devoured chunks of his life. Fate was ironic, and it taught him it was never too late for change, which was why he shed no tears and chose to undergo this scheme of returning. Hudson turned on his heel and answered proudly over his shoulder, “I’m Hudson! Have a nice day, Mr. Adil.” He marched toward the gate.

      Adil kept his good humor, sensing bravery in Hudson’s goodbye and unloaded the oxen, unaware of his intentions for tomorrow.

      The scent of freshly tumbled earth drifted in the air, and trees clapped their leaves in unison to create a chorus as a breeze rushed down to cool the countryside. The neighborhood was located at the city’s end where the gravel street eventually met with untouched grassy meadows that fed out of the Roheisia Mountain chain. Every cottage had thatched roofs with white stone exteriors and green lawns. Hudson followed the carved dirt path to the front door of the Foridani household, and walked in to an empty kitchen and living space. Normally, the old couple would be cooking, washing dishes, or relaxing near the fireplace, but Lodam’s accident limited them to their bedroom where he needed nursing.

      Idla had to be in there right now with him, maybe replacing the bandages. The smell of herbs was pleasant as ever. Never a better time to get chores done. With Idla occupied, he could clean undisturbed from her saying otherwise. Her babying never ceased.

      Hudson pulled his sleeves up. “Let’s get to work,” he said.

      Starting at the top would be wisest. He headed for a shelf under the washbasin for the feather duster and a rag. Chair legs, tables, counters, the stool, window ridges, shelves… flat surfaces or anything he believed could build up dust got the feather duster treatment. Once that was done, he remove the furniture to whisk the dust that had fallen off onto the floor with a birch broom, tossing it outside.

      Finishing things off, Hudson dampened the rag and wipe everything clean. The kitchen and living space were done sooner than predicted. Temptation to reach into his pocket for the black brick started to liven his arm, but he fought against it.

      Instead, he rubbed a finger along the smooth edges beneath the cover of his loose fitted pants. He knew he'd be disappointed if he checked now. His room was next, then the hallway.

      Thirty minutes in, Idla came out of the bedroom to find Hudson swiping the hallway. She didn’t scold him for working alone behind her back, but made him stop so they could eat lunch. As they ate, Idla told him Lodam still needed rest. Apparently he had gotten an infection while burrowing through the bandage to scratch an itch. Pus started building up at the site, she said. The bad news was that she had a limited amount of ointment for it in store, and needed Hudson to buy more later. The good news was that it was contained and highly unlikely of spreading. That she was sure of. With that said, she repeated there was no urgency because it was mild. Hudson took it as her way of not rushing him, and promised to stop at a drugstore in the evening.

 

      The bath worked wonders to revive his confidence. Six months seemed like an eternity the last time he felt this refreshed. It could be due to what the future held in store for him, or the fact he was on his way to meet up with a group of girls --an elf included. But no, his heart belonged to someone else, his fiance back home. The day he’d see her again was closer than ever. His heart skipped with joy thinking about her.

      Still, he couldn't lie and say they weren't at least a bit attractive.

      Hudson stationed himself outside the inn where the girls lodged. He hunkered down on a bench guarded by a bronze statue monument of what seemed an important figure to the nation.

      Things went well up until that point. Until he pulled out his black brick and after a few seconds of checking it, left the bench in haste, sweating like a pig.

      Nearly two hours had passed and not a single trace of the glasses girl or the elf. Had they left the city? When? This morning, or did he just miss them? They were probably on their way out the minute Hudson left the bench. Something that absurd was bound to happen to a guy with his luck. He checked over his shoulder just in case. The view was unchanged. His pace sped into a power walk.

      Scouring the city on the verge of dehydration, Hudson was on his last inch of hope to find the mystery trio. “Where are you… glasses girl?” The cathedral wall offered him a plane to recline on, so he gave in to the exhaustion shaking his knees and slid down to a squat.

      Hudson huffed for an extended period as his head cocked back, wishing he’d be conditioned like in his athletic years. He took out the black brick again, pressing its side so the light would come on.

      “Seven thirty already,” he grumbled, defeated. “Not a sign of glasses girl or elf girl anywhere.” Despite wanting to bang his head on the wall for not speaking out when the chance was present, Hudson never thought he’d be searching for an elf among other things. It’s as if he’d realized he was in a dream and turned it lucid to stick any wild ideas to make the experience more exciting. Even then, to have a wider diversity in this world was awesome in its own right.

      What else could lie beyond the borders of this city? Dragons? Giant talking trees? Fairies? Dungeons full of treasure? The possibilities were endless! Hudson balanced his temperament and clasped his hands on his cheeks. His mind slowly cleared of negativity as he gazed at the cluster of clouds absorbing the red of the sunset.

      “Guess I’ll go buy the Achinaeshia, Echinae… whatever it’s called, and pray I’ll bump into them.” Hudson was ready to get on his feet but stopped short when he felt a tap on his right shoulder, followed by a wretched stench of body odor. When he faced in that direction, a beggar clothed in tattered, mismatching rags motioned at his cupped hand for a donation. He was old. Folds of skin drooped like melting cheese, his eyelids almost blocking his vision. The beggar had an abundance of decayed teeth that stuck out like dilapidated grave markers.

      As for his extended arm, it could pass for a twig as the dry skin wrapped so tight on the bones. Hudson flung back on impulse, he had never seen anyone so sickeningly thin. The beggar could be hung on a skewer or meat hook at a butcher shop as a jerky sample. He blabbered strings of inaudible sentences, voice wheezy as if he’d eaten sand and clogged his windpipe, lips cracked.

      Even though he understood zilch, Hudson knew what he wanted, but unfortunately, that luxury had to be spared for Lodam’s medicine.

      It’d be best to ignore him and leave soon. Panicky, he shot upwards while fighting the beggar’s tugging and fled the scene.

      He retreated towards the safety of the crowds, attempting to whisk off whatever skin flakes may have lingered on his vest. Their proximity, the beggar’s stench then made Hudson  question if it had rubbed off on him. He panicked again as he sniffed for foreign odors around his underarms, but the lavender bubble bath from that afternoon extinguished those fears. Getting back on track to the drug store, he did a double take at what was about fifty feet from where he stood. Three cloaked figures huddled together in the middle of the street stole his attention. The tallest was fully shrouded with their hood, obscuring the eyes. Next to them was a girl with ears that poked out of silky black hair, and carried a long object encased in fabric strapped to their back. Lastly, a woman of lower stature with brown hair that fell short of her shoulders with round glasses.

      He sucked in a sharp gasp. No way. It couldn’t be. “Glasses girl?,” he asked as if she could hear. “And elf girl?” Just when things were looking downhill, they appeared like magic before him.

      To eliminate any doubts that it was them, Hudson changed course and beelined through streams of people. His focus hardened like cement to not lose sight, going so far as to hold off blinking in case they vanished.

      Gradually, the crowd density lessened and he stopped a dozen feet away. Judging by the Glasses Girl’s reliant posture, Hudson went out on a limb and assumed she was leader of the group, and it wasn't because he wanted to bestow that title on her for saving him, either. She was deep in conversation with the elf girl who would equally have a chance for her own input. The tall silent one only nodded when addressed. Mystery hovered above her, or him.

      Warm hues dyed the fabrics of their cloaks as they hung loose from their bodies. The girls’ huddled silhouettes contrasted against open shops glowing with light in the backdrop.

      Businesses and posts lining the streets had candles and a specific rock doused with illumination magic to do the job.

      Hudson approached them with reluctance, strangely enough. Caution, even. Fate was giving him another chance, and here he was: so close to a potential way out that may not show itself a second time. But what would be the best way to begin? A simple question might be a good starter, then pretend to notice something exotic about them and drive the conversation from there. Like the fact that one of them is an elf, for instance... Or would that be taken offensively?

      Bringing up the falling star topic should be enough. But to touch on it out of the blue seemed too awkward. What if he pulled out the black brick? That should be easiest, right? But Hudson risked becoming a streetside attraction for the townsfolk. He chewed his lip and groaned in frustration. This wasn’t an attempt to pick up girls on a night out, so why did it feel like his manhood was forced to tread a strip of fiery coal?

      “Excuse me?” Hudson brought his eyes to a voice he’d heard before. “Is there something we can help with?”

      He gasped again. It was the Glasses Girl! She had her head tilted and arms behind her back as she scoped him in full. Her sudden appearance had him recoiling to regain balance. An eyebrow climbed her forehead, expecting an answer when none came.

      “Hello?,” she reiterated, stretching the “o”.

      “Hello…” Hudson managed. His spine erected.

      “Hey. Are you not the person from yesterday? The one in trouble back at the tavern?” Hudson shrunk a little and winced.

      I could’ve done without that last part just fine. “Yup. That’s me.”

      “I see. What a coincidence to run into you the next day. That explains how I recognized you.” She seemed elated for some reason. “Truth be told, I was a little worried when you suddenly dashed out yesterday. Might I have been a nuisance, perhaps?”

      “No. Nothing like that.” Alright! Glasses Girl had broken the ice first. All that’s left to do was introduce the topic. “Actually, I came--”

      “Who's that you're talking to?” The elf girl neared as she held hands with the robed individual. Her voice rung effeminate with a hint of toughness. Glasses Girl faced her.

      “Oh, pardon. We met for a short period yesterday at that tavern. Remember?”

      Her long ears twitched as she regarded Hudson, eyes narrowed. “Hey... You’re the guy who bumped into me!”

      “So it’s true,” the Glasses Girl said. She turned back to Hudson. “My apologies if we’ve caused you any trouble. We are but outsiders to this wonderful city. I hear it has had quite the growth over the last years, so it must be tricky interacting with foreigners who are ignorant of the local customs.” The ultra politeness in her voice rang so sweet, Hudson believed he could taste honey on his tongue.

      “It’s my fault for doing so. I don’t know what made me act that way.” He did, though, but explaining it here wasn’t the most ideal spot.

      “So you can talk after all,” said the elf in a bit of surprise.

      “Wha--”

      “When you bumped into me and said nothing, I thought you were tongueless.”

      Tongueless? Did she mean mute? “S-sorry about that.” Hudson knew she meant no ill will in her assumption. By far, she had to be youngest in the group considering the pitch in her voice and her more juvenile features. He estimated her age range in the late teens, nothing older than that.

      She nodded and grinned. “Don’t worry, mister. I was a little rude, too.” The way she addressed him as someone older gave him relief. The cloaked person on the other hand, gave no reaction. Hudson blew a sigh from his nose to release the pent up tension. He had a good footing now. Things could go well if he played his cards right. If all else failed, the brick in his pocket should be a good trump card. That’s right. This piece of technology that belonged solely to him.

      The Glasses Girl and elf shot each other a look and nodded. “We will be on our way now,” she said adjusting her frames. Hudson flinched. Was that it? Did they expect a measly exchange of pleasantries with no substance? He swallowed deep. The hard part hadn’t begun yet. “It was really nice to see you again. Oh! By the way, my name is--”

      “I’m Hudson! Hudson Landon! And please,” he lunged to grab her by the shoulders so she wouldn’t leave, but stopped himself, realizing it could hinder his future. “Hear me out on this. I’ve… been looking for you girls like crazy. You can’t even imagine.”

      “What do you mean you’ve been looking for us? Are you with them?” The elf took a step, and then another as she clutched the object strapped to her back. Her effeminate tone took a sharp dive and her friendly demeanor roughened. Yesterday’s primeval instincts returned screaming danger.

      “Wha- what are you talking about? Who’s ‘them’?” The glasses girl blocked her companion from advancing any closer.

      “Hold it right there, Gertrude! Let us not instigate a scene in the middle of the city.”

      “But he’s been looking for us!,” she argued.

      “I heard him, too. But I believe it is not what you think.”

      “What do you mean it isn’t? Did you forget what happened two weeks ago?”

      “Of course not. How could I?”

      Before he’d noticed, the cloaked person was behind Gertrude as if taking refuge. A tug of war of what to do or say ensued in Hudson’s mind. The slightest gaffe could undermine all his efforts. Heat baked his skin and sweat manifested on several parts of his body. Many civilians casted their attention to the street’s center where the action transpired, waiting for it to escalate, like a side spectacle. He crumbled under their heavy stares. Hudson somehow felt it mostly directed at him.

      Glasses girl sensed the crowd, too, as did Gertrude. “My apologies,” she said over her shoulder. “We were discussing where to go next, and I suggested we try the local delicacy before we left town the next day.” Hudson met a pair of tawny eyes beneath her bifocals as the metallic rims caught glints of light. “Since you live here and are with us already, why not join us for dinner? We can discuss matters with more privacy in a restaurant than out here for the world to hear.” She gave him a reassuring smile. And that was how Hudson lead them to a small family restaurant his adoptive parents fancied since their honeymoon.

      Through the decades came remodeling and Lodam and Idla could attest to that whenever they patroned their favorite place to eat. But one aspect that stayed unchanged was the family atmosphere in the restaurant.

      Hudson and the girls were nestled in a table near a window that offered an attractive view of the alleyway and closely packed shops that made it up. Unlike his former favorite tavern, free-spirited and rowdy, this one attracted a more conservative crowd. The brightness inside shone with the intensity of a sinking sun, vines sprouting leaves and pots growing forests flourished on one of the four walls. Less smoke and more natural scents like flowers came easier on the nose here. It’d be one hundred percent perfect if not for the woman on the opposite end with a cringey laugh.

      Gertrude got the window seat and she seemed a little too delighted watching people go about their lives, but Hudson found it amusing and had no objection in letting her have the honor. Across from the elf sat the cloaked person and Hudson the glasses girl, respectively, who were better mannered. The gap separating their chairs was almost nonexistent as the cloaked person had scooted hers the minute they were seated by the waitress attending the entrance. Glasses Girl seemed tolerant of it, like a mother with a child.

      In contrast, another person could sit between Hudson and Gertrude.

      The glasses girl surveyed the entirety of the room without moving her neck. She did so for several seconds after they’d placed orders down. There were no traces of friendliness on her face anymore, not even a crumb of it, only solemnity.

      The secretive behavior put Hudson off a bit, but not to the point where running out the door was the best option. Patience had rewarded him for the last couple years. He attributed that aspect akin to a best friend. He wouldn’t be here if he’d never adopted it. Both parties had something to say and he was willing to go the extra mile to yield results. He mimicked her expression.

      “Once more Mr. Landon, forgive that I have dragged you along. Allow me to cover the bill as an apology.”

      “--.”

      “And I won’t take no for an answer.” She put her foot down swiftly and Hudson submitted as she steadied a pair of bold eyes on him. Not only did those chocolate irises offer delight to stare back at, they possessed a time-tested power that only boostered her already graceful looks. Hudson swallowed but it wasn’t angst. Sensing that hardened resolve, the glasses girl eased her body language with a sigh.

      “If I keep apologizing for my behavior we will get nowhere. My name is Anneth Lisbon.” She lowered her head in respect.

      Hudson did likewise. “And I’m fine with just ‘Hudson’. Calling me ‘Mr. Landon’ makes me feel older.” Anneth accepted. The person next to her didn’t get an introduction. What was that about? Now that he was closer, he examined how the chin and jaw showed the same smooth edges as Anneth’s, not to mention the lip’s delicate curvature. A lock of hair, red as blood, extended past the hood which concealed the upper half of the face below a sheet of shadow. So they were all girls… He guessed.

      She cleared her throat. “Very well, Hudson. You have my undivided attention.”

      “Right. Anyway. About what you asked yesterday. I may have a clue you might find interesting. It wasn't until I ran away that I started to connect the dots. That night, too. There were so many things going on inside my mind. I couldn't believe what I saw. Or more like, what I remembered. Everything hit me in an instant, you see? So I just needed some time to process all the flashbacks, the sounds. Sure, it might seem really tacky or overused that I used the word flashback. I'm aware of it. But if you could've been in my shoes, I'm sure you would feel the same way.”

      Anneth tilted her head forward as Gertrude stayed stuck to the window, ogling the passersby.

      “I guess you can say it was an out of body experience, except I was never unconscious and I didn't really see myself from a third person perspective. What do you call that, then? An inner body experience? Then, wouldn’t we be doing it right now?” Hudson brought his forefinger to his chin, voice reducing to a whisper as he zoned out. “Actually, in order to classify it we’d need to be in some sort of hypnotic state. Because I remember seeing everything like it was on that day. I swear. It literally felt like I left my body and traveled to the past when I made sense of those words. The snow and stars…” He minded Anneth once more. “Tell me, and I’ll try my hardest to describe it as best I can.”

      “Hudson…,” Anneth’s brow twitched.

      “Yeah?”

      “Our orders are here. Please tell us why you were looking for us already,” she demanded.

      Hudson realized the story had progressed at a snail's pace when hot moisture from his plate tickled his nose hairs. Before him sat a girthy pot pie like a dome, its bread surface perfectly crisped to a bronze tone and topped with seasoning. The accompanied side was a plum soup with white cream swirls and an edible leaf for decoration. He gave the pot pie an unfair frown. Hudson had met these girls a second time and still left a bad impression. Shaking off the gloom, he picked up his morale.

      “I might have a tip on the falling star from six months ago,” he stated flat. “I… I think it was me… I’m the falling star.” No later did the cloaked girl stand, knocking the chair with the backs of her legs, and launch herself diagonally at Hudson to grab him by the collar. Her hood blew off to reveal a full head of cardinal hair as it fanned in the air like a wild flame, stealing his attention. Locks drumbed on her bright cheeks when they lost to gravity, the longer ends brushed her shoulders, swayed dangerously close for Hudson to catch a whiff of fruit. And their eyes met, finally.

      Hudson stared into a labyrinth made of emeralds, and it stared back in awe. Her lips were curved into a childlike smile, full of raw excitement and enthusiasm.

      “The story teller was right! Miracles do exist!,” she exclaimed. Much like Anneth, Gertrude, and the whole restaurant, Hudson froze unable to assess her reaction.

 

      Hudson’s left arm was still there but the nerve signals were dying out.

      Gertrude switched places with the cloaked girl when she yayed at the existence of miracles. She coiled his arm firmly with both of hers that even her scent must have rubbed off on it. Hudson was less than thrilled about his current situation, though worse outcomes were out there and this seemed the least deserving of a complaint. With her features finally revealed, the previous secretive aura that shrouded her was lost in an instant. She was still shy, however, as if regretful, head hanging. Nonetheless, he beared it. Anneth apologised tremendously for the unexpected change and admitted they were equally stunned. Supposedly she’d gotten traumatized for something that had happened recently, though they left out the specifics, and Hudson didn’t intend on asking.

      “As I was saying,” Hudson started, voice low so only their table could hear. “I have sufficient reason to believe I'm the falling star you’re seeking. I remembered that night six months and two weeks ago. Now, I don’t know how I got there, but there was snow, a lot of it, and trees too, everywhere. It was night time and… and…” Feeling like something important was amiss, he dropped his gaze to his legs and allowed himself to dig among a half year’s worth of memories. “Oh yeah! Some strange lady was right next to me when I woke up. It was dark, and the stars were pretty flashy and all... but I didn’t get to see her face that well. She smiled at me, though, and walked off into the forest.”

      “Rosella.” Before she put fork to mouth, Anneth buzzed at her clingy companion. “Unless you want it cold, eat your pot pie now.”

      “Oh… yes.” The strength coiling Hudson’s arm disappeared as Rosella returned to her plate. Hudson watched her from the corner of his eye. On the other side of the table, the elf girl had a few bites left on her end.

      “Yeah… surprisingly, none of my bones were broken or anything like you’d expect. But I felt sore, like the day after a workout. Umm. The ground around me was hot. I think that would explain the smoke, too.”

      Anneth snagged her napkin. “Gertrude, you have some leftovers on your cheek. Here, let me get that for you.” The elf girl lended her cheek.

      “... Then I passed out. Don’t know how much it was, but when Lodam found me,” Hudson back tracked to introduce Lodam. “He’s the old guy who took me in, in case you’re wondering.” Anneth folded the napkin she used to wipe Gertrude clean into a neat square. Her mannerism flowed with peerless sophistication, and almost choreographed like she’d practiced to be a maid. Not only that, but her formal speech matched her elegancy. What could she be thinking right now? Resuming his dialogue “It was still dark out. He carried me to his house from the mountain side where I was, and I remember snippets of it, too.”

      Raising a finger to the air, Anneth signaled the waitress. She requested a refill for their water pitcher and a replacement spoon for the one that slipped under the table. Whatever words ready to jump out of his tongue, plunged back as Hudson cut a slice out of his pot pie, scooping it in his fork. Fortunately, it retained its heat. The soft chicken and vegetable filling mushed wonderfully together with the pie’s crispy surface. The blend of opposites helped dry the accumulating tears. “Wow… this is great,” he whimpered in between bites, forcing a smile.

      Clinks and clatter of silverware resounded against white porcelain plates. The same could be heard on other tables, save for the fact the other customers who were engrossed in chatter.

      “I came from another world,” Hudson blurted, riled at being ignored. Both Gertrude and Rosella snapped their necks to him, and Anneth laid her fork down with a thud.

      “You intend on spouting nonsense? Then I'm afraid to say you have the wrong audience as we are not children!,” she growled, tightening a sharp glare.

      Hudson went wide-eyed. “Nonsense?… this is the truth. I've got nothing to gain by lying.”

      She crossed her arms and threw her back on the chair’s lumbar support. Then Gertrude butted in. “That's because you are. You can't use magic unless you have a magic seal on your neck,” she challenged. “It's completely exposed. Anyone can see you don't have one. Unlike me.”

      Magic seals? She pivoted on the chair and pulled away her black hair that fell over the seal like a curtain. Emblazoned on the skin was a black pattern with angular edges that brought to mind wings and swords. Hudson was left speechless. Magic exists in this world.

      “Wait you two.” Rosella, who had been quiet for awhile, voiced an idea. She latched on to Hudson’s left hand with her right, making him glance. “He never specified using magic as a means of travel. Only that he arrived from a different world.”

      “Furthermore,” Anneth drove the word down like a wedge. “What basis does a recollection of vague imagery provide as evidence? Hudson. Perchance, are you not a traveling peddler who lost his way in the mountains and hit your head on a rock? That might explain why you were there in the first place.” Her face turned sympathetic and skeptic simultaneously as if conveying she wasn’t upset in full. Regardless, the attitude change didn’t sit well with him and he pursed his lips.

      He dug into his right pocket. They’d cornered him. Forced Hudson to flash his trump card, and he would have none of their sympathy. “I do have proof. Proof that’ll let blow you, and everyone on this planet, away.” The black brick came into his hand and he flashed it around the table in a posh manner. It mirrored the girls’ reflections back at them, and he pressed the side to shine a light. “This is what you call: a cell phone.” It made a quick shuffle sound to which they jolted. “You see that? I just took your picture. No canvas. No utensils. This brick can put any portrait painter in the city, no… the world, out of commission for good. It can record your voice, send messages, tell time, day, month, year, you can talk to people that are far away, buy and sell goods, and many more uses to make your life easier. Heck, it even puts libraries and archives to shame when it comes to doing research. They’re endless hubs of knowledge”.

      As expected. His doubters hushed. He felt Rosella’s grip tighten as she repressed a smile. Gertrude’s mouth nearly dropped, enticed by the foreign object’s sleek, rectangular design.

      “Take it in while you still can. I’d show you more, but I wanna conserve the battery.”

      Having done so, Anneth had no counter arguments. This “cell phone” apparatus was unlike anything she’d ever laid eyes on. The closest thing she could attribute it to was a brick, as Hudson had said, and she did see it capture her likeness down to the minute hairs on her lashes. She pushed her glasses up, fixing them on her nasal bridge. “Certainly. This ‘cell phone’ is quite the object. Revolutionary, I might add. Then, if what you say is true…” Sweat trickled down Hudson’s back. “... would you mind taking us directly to the site where you profess to have landed?”

      He grinned. It worked like a charm. “Of course. But on one condition.” Anneth lifted her chin slowly. “That you take me with you on your travels afterwards.”

      “Wait! How do you know we’re traveling?,” asked Gertrude.

      “I gave him the impression when we first met,” Anneth answered for him.

      They stared at each other for a moment, unflinching in their stance. “What do you say? Do we have a deal?”

      “Why are you so bent on coming along? What do you gain?,” Anneth asked.

      Hudson paused briefly to gather his thoughts. “When I was found and brought here to Livony, Lodam and his wife casually adopted me.They took me in and gave me a roof, clothes, food, love. No questions asked. The old couple are good people, I'm not gonna deny that. But there's something wrong that won’t allow them to let go of the past. And having me fill that hole won't make things better for them. It's sorta obsessive… haunting if you think about it, because they act like everything’s alright in their lives when it’s the exact opposite. Everyday when I wake up, I play someone else so they can feed their denial and hopefully make it come true. I feel my presence is only driving them deeper down that delusional hole. It’s my fault, too, like it or not.” Hudson would've added he was almost thirty and didn't want to live with parental figures at that age, but he’d rather not…

      Also, he sought this opportunity to learn more about this world, it's secrets and why he was brought here. That woman, the one he saw on the mountain, hair darker than black sporting a wicked smile, definitely knew something. What was she? And if she had a role in this, he had to find her, grill her for an answer in hopes she would cooperate. But what he desired most was getting back home with his loved ones. They were mortified, and so was he. Hudson would go on until his last breath. Everything he had fought for was waiting for him; or else his efforts into rebuilding his life would be wasted.

      Anneth studied him, digesting his reasons and character whilst he spoke. “Well, what can I say? Your head is in the right place.” Her shoulders relaxed. “It will be dangerous to be with us. Traveling is not a happy joyride in the woods. Are you sure you want that?” Hudson nodded, letting his ambitions pour. “And if you are to depart with us, you should inform your adoptive family. They might not agree, but it is better than to vanish overnight without a proper farewell. Understand?” She admonished as she bobbed her left index finger at him.

      “I promise,” he vowed.

      The girls agreed amongst themselves, and Anneth exhaled a prolonged breath after she surveyed the room for potential eavesdroppers.

      “We depart for the Roheisia Mountains tomorrow. We meet here before sunrise. Bring heavy clothes and anything you think might be useful,” she touted.

 

      When the dinner meeting came to a close, both parties went their separate ways with a simple plan laid out for the next day: Hudson would escort them to the crash site as the last proof needed to affirm his claims. There was no official path one could take into the mountains, but since he was lucky to live so close, Hudson could retrace the trail using scraps of memory on landmarks. The plan was easier said than done, but he had faith in his ability. Once he proved it, he’d be a part of the group and independent again.

      On his way back home, he stopped at a medicine shop that sold the ointment needed to treat Lodam’s injury. It came in a yellowish color and had the viscosity of jelly. The acute smell it fumed reminded him of peppermint. He kept the ointment in one of his pockets on the way home, afraid if he had it out and tripped, the bottle would shatter on the ground. When he arrived, light shone from the windows at the front of the house but he couldn’t see through the curtains. He thought little of it and walked inside, knocking before entering.

      Idla sat in the table with Lodam right across, like they always were everytime Hudson walked into the kitchen. In the table’s center was a bundle of crackers on a plate and the old couple had hot cups of tea of their own. To see Lodam up and out of his bedroom was one of the many breaks he needed. The man was himself again, smiles and high spirits to spare, save for the bandages encasing his injured hand. The old couple couldn’t look any sweeter than this. They welcomed Hudson back as if he’d been away a year.

      He joined them late into the night as they binged on crackers and tea, engrossed in topics that involved the most mundane to important subjects. Hudson found himself erupting in genuine laughter with people he shared little in common in terms of taste. Might as well grant this as a parting gift.

      After that, Idla applied the newly bought ointment on her husband’s thumb before they called it a day. Hudson withdrew to his bedroom under the guise of fatigue.

      The lights were snuffed and he waited in silence for an hour to make sure the couple had fallen asleep. He daydreamed about random scenarios during that empty period, most of it had to do with what lied ahead these next few days. Confident they were fast asleep, Hudson took to his black brick, pressed the side, and it blasted phosphorescent light on his face. “Daybreak isn’t in another seven hours.” he said, deadpan. As if that was going to stop him. He spread apart the doors of his dresser and picked out a coat, extra pair of pants, tunics, underwear, and a satchel. The coat was charcoal in color with metal buttons, and the hems ran below his knees to graze the boots he wore for yard work. He needn’t a scarf as the coat had a tubed neckline.

      There was a utility belt way in the back he’d never used with only a pouch of storage space. He nabbed that, too. It could come in handy.

      Hudson tugged on the coat breaks, rolled his shoulders to make certain it was fitted correctly. Satisfied, he headed for the door and walked out, but came to a halt to analyze the room he’d occupied one last time. “You have an awesome family. Too good to be wasted on me. That’s why I can’t keep playing your role.” He took a breath and released it. “It’s been good... Keir.” The door closed with a final clack as it squeaked at the dry hinges.

Discussion (5)

  1. The A.C.

    There is some great stuff in this chapter. I knew where this was going with the reveal of the cellphone and Hudson being from another world, because you did a terrific jobs with descriptions and hints. This different take for the “in another world” genre is nice, too. Also, I really liked how you described the beggar. The end though (especially the last paragraph) was my favorite, and had such a good build to it.

    There were a few lines I thought sounded weird to me (and maybe only) or typos, but I want to point them out just in case (and there is not really anything else that needs any corrections):
    (Paragraph 6) Some considered it young, while others didn’t, like him, but sometimes he’d find comfort in believing so.
    (Paragraph 8) It’s one thing to teach kids how to behave and different to have it stick in their little heads.
    (P 14) Leave everything here to me for cleanup.
    (P 24) Once that was done, he remove the furniture to whisk the dust that had fallen off onto the floor with a birch broom, tossing it outside.
    (P 35) It’s as if he’d realized he was in a dream and turned it lucid to stick any wild ideas to make the experience more exciting.
    (P 107) Don’t know how much it was, but when Lodam found me,
    (P 3 from the end) Daybreak isn’t in another seven hours.
    There is one other things that caught my attention. Gertrude seems a bit more ditsy than usual. Maybe it is because she is excited being in this new place, but there was nothing to confirm this difference in personality.

    Besides they very small things, just great job all around. I am really looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. The A.C.

    This was great chapter, with a lot of stuff I really enjoyed. The reveal of the cellphone and Hudson being from another world was done great, and you did a good with hinting at it. I really liked the description for the beggar. The ending though was definitely my favorite, and the build to was marvelous.

    There was a weird thing I noticed. Gertrude seems a bit more ditsy than usual, and I guess it is because she is excited to be in this new place. However, there was nothing that really confirmed this slight change in personality.

    Overall this was great, and my favorite chapter so far. I originally had a longer comment with some typos and weird wordings pointed out, but for some reason it disappeared when I posted it. Anyways, hopefully that comment will magically appear to help you out, but I repeated my main thoughts in this one.

  3. Justice

    I should have known right away what that brick was. As soon as that ‘going to school’ bit was mentioned at the beginning of the last chapter I had suspensions on what Hudson was. For some reason, with the flow of the story I didn’t think it was going to go in that direction. Well done. A fine addition.

    Lots of plot buildup in this chapter.

    Kind of feel sorry for the older couple on his manner of departure but that seems to be consistent with Hudson’s established personality.

    One note worth mentioning, although I never found it to be problem myself, there is a stigma about stories using the ‘diner scene’ as the means of information downloads for the reader. What you have here is great but others might take a more negative shine to. You mixed it up with them having some physical interactions instead of trading words back and forth. I didn’t see a problem but you might want to watch out for that.

    1. Luis Aleman Post author

      Thanks for sticking by! I’m glad Hudson has stayed consistent and that you’ve received the narrative well. I know all about the diner scene stigma and all, and forgot I had committed a writing sin until after revising it. That’s not to say I didn’t try my best at making it more interesting, lol, and I hope anyone else who reads it feels the same way as you. I will watch out for it in the future though.

  4. Luis Aleman Post author

    Thanks for sticking by! I’m glad Hudson has stayed consistent and that you’ve received the narrative well. I know all about the diner scene stigma and all, and forgot I had committed a writing sin until after revising it. That’s not to say I didn’t try my best at making it more interesting, lol, and I hope anyone else who reads it feels the same way as you. I will watch out for it in the future though.

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