The Junk Collector {Part 7}

The Junk Collector {Part 7}

Guy panted as he ducked underneath the dining room table for the third time, rolling and dodging as if he were a professional stuntman in The Matrix or something. If only coach Gonzalez could see me now. 

Shortly after he’d woken up, disoriented, he’d heard a stirring within some drawers in the kitchenette next door, and out shot long, deadly knives. The kind you’d chop meat or onions up with. They’d just barely missed him, by inches. He’d been dodging ever since.

I don’t care WHAT Wren says– as far as I’M concerned, this stupid house thinks for itself!  He lifted the skillet a second time, as a shield, when the fifth round came at him, feeling ridiculously Jedi-ish as he blocked them. The supply of knives and other pointy utensils seemed to be endless. He doubted he would eat with any of them again after this was over. If he survived without getting stabbed to death.

“Hey, Guy!”

Guy narrowly evaded a pair of twin butter knives, crossed scissor-like, grazing his right cheek lightly. He held the one pan higher, grasping for a second to protect his midsection. “Who’s there?”

“Me!” Great, now I’m hearing things. Although, if I didn’t know better I’d say that was…

“Kodi?” A sudden gush of red burst in front of him, and for a terrible minute he thought Kodi, bright boy though he was, had hurled himself in front of Guy as a human shield and gotten the full brunt of the attacks. But then he heard chuckling, not moaning, behind him. He risked a quick glance. Kodi had crept through a hole in the wall, he realized with a start, behind a painting of a fat lady indulging herself ravenously, and was sitting a couple feet away, paper and paintbrush in hand. Both brush and paper were splattered in bright red. “How did…?” Kodi grinned. “I figured it out.”

He started sketching then painting at an almost unbelievable pace, hands blurry as they flew headlong across the paper. Guy blinked, then realized he’d been distracted too long; another cleaver knife swished by him, nixing his brow and slicing off a lock of black-brown hair. The pain jolted him to attention. “Get out of here, Kodi,” he said, “it’s too dangerous for you.”

“Not a chance,” Kodi answered, and as soon as he spoke, more red splattered Guy from the front. “What the–?” He risked another glance, this time at himself, only to see that he was ripping almost head to toe in… tomato juice?

Kodi was painting furiously now, and with almost each stroke a new tomato flew out in front of Guy, taking a hit from a utensil. If Guy’s life weren’t on the line, had he been told this story in school, he would have laughed out loud at its ludicrousness. But now he could only gap in amazement.

“No time to explain,” said Kodi, shooting out a skinny, cocoa hand and grabbing Guy’s wrist. “We need to meet up with Wren ASAP. C’mon!”

“But… wait,” Guy half-sputtered as Kodi dragged him along toward the open painting, “Where IS Wren? Where’d you find her? What’s going on with this house, and–”

“Later.” Kodi gave him a shove through the opening, and Guy stumbled in. Kodi slammed the painting-door shut, just in time– two razor-blade knives sliced through and stuck halfway through the painting. “We need to hurry if we’re gonna catch the dude,” Kodi panted, already racing up the staircase. Guy had to sprint to catch up.

“She’s found him already?”

“Thinks she has. And if I read her and our situation right, there’s only place she’d go to look for him.”

“The attic?” A little TOO obvious, don’t you think? 

“Yep.” Kodi was taking two steps at a time. “And the sooner we find him, the sooner we can rescue her friends and get out of this crazy place.”

&&&&&&&

Wren was lurking behind another painting door, tensed and ready. The staircase ended here; she’d followed the stalker’s footsteps up this way; certainty laced every breath she took, every muscle that quivered, every cell in her body. This was it. No… this HAD to be it. Should she burst in suddenly, since she had likely lost the element of surprise due to the spy? Or should she wait and…

The painting-door cracked open in front of her. A young, blond-haired boy, probably no older than eleven or twelve, peered in at her. “Go away,” he said in a polite tone. Wren scowled, almost ready to give him a piece of her mind, when a new voice spoke, saying, “It’s alright, Mikey. She isn’t one of them, I can tell. Let her in.” The boy hesitated, then did as told. Wren jumped out onto solid wood floor, shooting an accusing look at the figure hunched over at the antique desk. Despite the tension and the situation, she noticed a variety of things around it: scrap metal. Screws and bolts. Random pieces of wood and material. If she hadn’t been so focused, she would have wondered what nefarious things he was shaping. She couldn’t get a good view of him due to the dim lighting, but it hardly mattered.”You,” she rasped. “Are you the one? The one they call the Junk Collector?”

“We are all collectors. Not just me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“We all collect junk. What we do with it is what matters.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Look, I haven’t time to discuss philosophy with you. You tell me where my friends are and give them back THIS INSTANT, or I’m turning you in to the authorities.”

He didn’t bother looking up. The silence in the little attic room was next to deafening. Finally, he spoke. “I am sorry for what happened to them. I am, truly.”

Her fear and anger both spiked. “WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?”

He at last gazed up from his work at his desk. She jolted.

The Junk Collector was wrinkled, age-spot covered. The only hair covering his entire head was a fairly long, white bushy beard, a whiskery mustache, and thick, wild eyebrows. He had rosy, Santa Claus cheeks, and watery, pure blue eyes that might make even the most hard of hearts start to melt. He looked at her with these very eyes for a long time before his old man lips gave way to words.

“You were not brought here solely because of your friends, even though that is what you may only think of at this time. You were brought here because you were destined to. Most dismiss me as some crazy old hermit and move on with life. The ones that do bother with me either want something I have for selfish purposes, or seek me for selfless purposes. Yours is the latter, something I may commend you for.”

“I don’t want your praise, old man, just answers. Now tell me–”

“Patience, child. They are not here, nor will you find them anywhere among my domain.”

“What?” Her throat immediately grew dry. “Then where…?”

His watery gaze shifted from the ground back to her. “I have my ideas of where your friends– Charlotte and Phoebe, were they?– are but I won’t jump to any conclusions–”

“Did you meet with them? Did they tell you where they were going? Don’t you know people have been looking for them for years now?” She marched up to him, steadily staring him down.

Much to her surprise, he looked up and met her stare with equal sharpness. “Yes to the first and third,” he said softly. “Unfortunately, they only hinted where they might be headed. They only hoped you could perhaps follow, but I was determined to discourage you as much as possible. Where they went, as I think they did, I do not think you should follow.”

Wren scowled at him. “And why’s that? And don’t tell me something stupid and stereotypical of worried adults, that it’s too dangerous or whatnot. I’m through with being the scared little girl I used to be. I’ve grown up long since then.”

He shook his head. “Perhaps I ought to have rephrased myself… Where they probably went, or more specifically, the path they chose to take, is one you CANNOT follow. You cannot follow it because you were not destined to… you were destined to become a very special Junk Collector, along with the other two who accompanied you.”

“But what IS your definition of a Junk Collector?” Wren whirled about; Guy and Kodi had just entered through, and, by the looks of it, they’d heard most of the conversation. “Stay out of this– this is between the Junk Collector and I,” she hissed.

The Junk Collector ignored her. “Finally, an appropriate question,” he chortled softly. “Junk Collecting is an ancient art, a special art. But junk collecting doesn’t make you a pack rat, oh no.” He fingered a screw carefully. “Junk Collector requirements are few but highly important. You already guessed one of them, boy,” he said, nodding at Kodi.

“Imagination?” piped in Kodi.

“That’s right,” he said smilingly. “A Junk Collector must control and manipulate their imagination to the greatest degree possible, and have faith; when they do so, magnificent things will happen. But that’s not all. Junk Collectors work with solid, physical materials, true… We are resourceful and use what we have around us, even the crudest things are treasured resources to us. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. That’s part of the reason we are called, “Junk Collectors”.”

“Wait, there are more of you?” interrupted Kodi. “What are the other requirements?” added Guy, seeming curious now. Wren felt her annoyance build. They didn’t come here to find out how to become like a possible enemy. They had come on a find-and-rescue mission. She opened her mouth to object angrily, but the Junk Collector cut her off before she even started: “I will tell you where I think they may have went when you are ready, child. Not before.” For some reason, Wren’s mouth closed as if some invisible power shut it for her.

Turning back to the other two, he said, “The other reason, the main reason rather, is that we are not simply tool-makers, people who splurge on making and fixing things for our entertainment, for a hobby. We specialize in fixing and making other people, people who society openly deems as unworthy “junk”. And it is also these kinds of “unworthy ones” who are deemed the best kinds of Junk Collectors; the ONLY kinds of Junk Collectors, in fact. They take after their humble Maker, the very first Junk Collector there ever was.” He suddenly looked mournful. Wren felt her cheeks redden as she thought of how she’d been bullied for years, been called and thought of as a witch; it was as if he’d known all along. “I don’t think you whippersnappers knew this, but there are only two kinds of people who my home, which I myself have built from scratch, will permit inside its perimeters: Those who have been chosen, and those who force their way in for more ominous purposes.”

“You mentioned that some selfish people wanted something of yours, something possibly very important,” said Guy. “Who are they? What is it they want, and what do they plan to do with it?” The elderly man closed his eyes. “I- I may not have much time left,” he whispered, “so I cannot, sadly, answer your questions. But before I go, I must elect you as the new Junk Collectors.” He started to raise his withered old hand, as if to pronounce a blessing on them all, but Kodi interjected once more. “If we’re chosen Junk Collectors, then why did your house and things in it attack us like that? Was it some kind of test?”

The old man stopped, eyes widening in surprise, then brow furrowing. “Quite impossible, m’boy…The only way the house’s defense mechanisms could have been triggered would be if one of them–

THWAP.

The sound of a tiny structure pelting clothing and skin just barely hung upon the air, and the old man doubled over, gasping. “Mikey…” The boy rushed to his aid, eyes wide. “Get… them… out… and… make sure… they…” Mikey nodded, as if understanding all at once. The old man closed his eyes, exhaling gently, then stilled entirely. Wren stared, shock coursing through her body. No… no… 

She forsook all etiquette within her, grabbing the corpse by the collar and began to shake him. “Old man!” she cried, “You promised! You promised to tell me! You said that when the time came…”

“Wren,” said Guy, gently laying a hand on her shoulder, “that’s enough; he’s gone.” She pulled away from him angrily. “You don’t understand! He was my one chance! My ONE chance!” Sobs broke free and she couldn’t, no wouldn’t, stop them, no matter how hard she tried. Because, in a way, the Junk Collector had been right. She WAS broken junk. She DID need fixing. But the only thing that would fix her broken heart now was the knowledge of her friends’ whereabouts, if they were alright, if they could come home and…

She broke down.

“We need to leave,” she heard Mikey say quietly. “Quickly, quickly… this way.”

********

As they followed Mikey through a secret, underground tunnel, Guy felt a kaleidoscope of feelings: sympathy for Wren, who had long since given up on shunning his arm’s presence around her shoulders, horror and shock for the sudden death they’d witnessed, and curiosity in general for all that had happened.

When they left, Mikey had given several longing glances in the direction of the corpse, and Guy realized he’d wanted to take it to bury, but there had been no time in the young boy’s mind, and he had quickly ushered them through a maze of secret passages through the house, ones that were quite different from the ones with the secret door paintings. He now led them by candlelight through what Guy assumed to be earth under the backyard or front yard, he didn’t know which. It seemed as if they had been walking for miles, when Mikey suddenly halted in front of what looked to be a large wooden door. An underground door? Guy had seen a lot of strange things in one day.

“We’re almost there, but I might as well do it now. I know my master wouldn’t have approved of doing it in such an informal setting, though.” The boy blanched, as if the very idea of retribution was painful. “Anyways… you three had better kneel.”

“Why?” said Kodi. “Why should we trust you after your home attacked us? And who are you anyway?”

Mikey took a deep breath, then shakily exhaled. “I am Micheal Bullser, former aid to the Junk Collector. I was meant to be one of the next group of Junk Collectors my master was waiting for, but… ” he bit his lip, “complications arose. I cannot tell you why you were attacked, only that it was not necessarily you the house was after.” As soon as he finished, his small green eyes darted around nervously, as if he had been the one attacked. “My master entrusted me to anoint you the new group of Junk Collectors before something else happens. We are not completely out of the woods, yet.” He took out a small vial of what looked like oil, then repeated, “Please kneel. We may not have much time.”

Kodi was the first to kneel, obediently. With some coaxing, Guy also managed to get a numbed-with-shock Wren to kneel next to himself. Mikey went over to Kodi first, unplugging the minuscule cork from the tiny vial. With shaking fingers, he tipped a single drop onto Kodi’s lowered brow. “Kodi Rithers,” he started, and for once Kodi didn’t interrupt and correct him, saying he was just, “Kodi,” “I, Micheal Bullser, anoint you as your Junk Collecting group’s adviser. The task of advising your group’s secondary leader, as well as your usual junk collecting duties, falls to you. Do you hereby accept the challenge laid before you?”

“Yes.” Guy saw him tremble ever so slightly.

“Then henceforth you will be known as, “Kodi the Sagacious.” You may rise.” As Kodi rose slowly, Mikey handed him a parcel. “From my master to you.”

Before Kodi could so much as thank him, Mikey had already moved on to glassy-eyed Wren, whose arms were still snugly wrapped around herself. “Wren Brown, I, Micheal Bullser, anoint you as your group’s Researcher. It’ll be your task to look up and learn as much as you can about places where you can find and fix junk of all kinds, both material goods and people. You’ll also be responsible for plotting mission strategies, should you run into any trouble.” He hesitated, seeing her state of mind, and before tipping the oil, asked, “Do you accept this adventure with everything your life holds?”

Initially, Guy thought she hadn’t heard, or worse still, that she’d refuse. What would they do, then? But to his great surprise and relief, she spoke, “I do.” Her voice was quiet but flat. Almost… unemotional.

Mikey didn’t wait for any other response, and the drop of oil fell, lightly splashing her hair, running down into her roots. “Then I am pleased to announce you will be henceforth known as, “Wren the Resourceful.” You may rise.” Kodi helped her to her feet, seeing as she couldn’t without stumbling.

“And lastly…” Mikey turned to Guy, the lone kneeler. “Guy Rithers, I anoint you as the secondary leader of your Junk Collecting group, as your Primary Leader will be the Maker Himself.” He paused, then continued, “You will be responsible for heading missions, and deciding on your group’s next route, as well as confronting any inner conflict within yourself or between you and your teammates–” “Wait,” Guy interrupted quickly, “Me? A leader? Is that really a good idea?”

“Are you questioning my master’s authority on his decision?” said Mikey. “He already knew about you and Kodi even before you came to Blank County. I would think that he knows enough about you to select you as a capable secondary leader. Besides, your first order of commands will always come from the Maker, not from you, so don’t worry.”

Guy drew an uneasy breath. “Well… Okay, if you say so…” He felt the tap of oil as Mikey finished, ” in addition to your usual duties as a Junk Collector. Do you accept?”

It seems like I don’t have much of a choice. “Yes.”

“Great.” Out of the corner of his eye, Guy saw Mikey recapping the vial, then gesture. “You may rise.” He rose.

Mikey led them through the doorway and out into the sunlight, much to Guy’s astonishment. We’re back on the surface already?  “We should be far enough from the danger already that you shouldn’t need to fear what the same fate the Junk Collector has received,” Mikey told them. “If you take the west route from here, go north two miles, then east three miles, it should take you home.”

“What about you?” asked Kodi. “Will those guys who were after the Junk Collector go after you, too?” Guy thought he saw the poor kid swallow, but he managed a small, brave little smile, ” Well, I guess that’s a risk I’ll have to take. You’ll be able to find me if you ever need me, though.” He pulled something out of his pocket, and threw it down. What looked like a large hoola hoop formed on the ground. “And now, I bid you all, adieu.” He jumped into the hoop, but he couldn’t have gone THROUGH it, because logic defied that possibility. And yet, he was no longer in the hoop, but had instantly melted through the ground the moment his feet had touched the small area within the hoop’s boundaries. Shortly after, the hoop too up and vanished into thin air. There was no trace of either the hoop or the boy.

The three of them stared at the place where Mikey and the hoop had been. Kodi was the first to break the silence.

“Now THAT I want to learn how to do.”

######

It had been a couple days since they had received their anointment from Mikey and returned to their new, sleepy little hometown, where seemingly nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But that was just it, something completely OUT of the ordinary HAD happened. At school, Kodi could barely contain his excitement. He still remembered the incredible moment when his drawings had sprung to life right off the paper, and all the amazing gadgets they could make.

The package Mikey had handed him contained both a letter and gifts for each group member to use; since there were four gifts, Kodi assumed that there should be a fourth person to their party. He almost wished Mikey could’ve stayed to be the person, that way they could have gotten good advice from him along the way. But from the way the letter sounded, the four-member team was supposedly made up of a Secondary Leader, an Adviser, a Researcher, and a Scouter. And Kodi was the official Adviser. A lot good that would do him, if his knowledge on things was already limited.

But still, the Junk Collector had given them a few pieces of advice within his letter, such as what their general responsibilities as Junk Collectors were, also explaining about a mysterious group known only as the Shadow Six. Kodi’s whole body swelled with shivers as he recalled that part; he was almost certain that they were the ones behind the assassination, as well as the ones who tried to break into the Collector’s house to get something– but what? And why did they try and murder the Junk Collector? As far as even the Junk Collector himself knew, their motives and goals yet remained a complete and total ominous mystery, but it still gave him chills to think of such an organization. The Shadow Six. Even the name had a cold, callous ring to it.

The letter also explained what the trinkets were, and who they were for: A code analyzer for Wren, something that could not translate codes but analyze possible meanings; a new set of special watercolor paints and special parchment for Kodi, so that wherever he went, he would always have something in his arsenal, not just at the Collector’s house; a “scouting hairclip” for their future Scouter, which, Kodi assumed, was presumed to be female, as the plastic butterflies atop the clip could come to life (according to the letter, that is– they couldn’t be activated by any other member) and do a scanning search for anyone or anything; lastly, a book on leadership for Guy.

Guy naturally had not been thrilled with his new position, but, as per usual, decided to at least give it his best shot. As for Wren, she had barely come around in a couple days, and for the most part locked herself in her room, muttering about getting her friends back no matter what. She worried Kodi the most; he knew all too well what losing something or someone that meant a lot to you was like.

He’d just slammed his locker door shut when a young woman’s voice, soft, delicate, and frightened, whispered behind him, “Why is it you have returned?”

 

____________

Author’s Note: I genuinely hope you enjoyed reading this mini-story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I want all who are/were interested in it to know that I plan to continue the story in the next “blog book,” “Deceiver,” starting in May 2017. I will do my best to limit spoilers here, but I will share a couple things with you:

  1. You will learn more about Kodi’s past.
  2. You will see more of the Shadows.
  3. Not everything is as it may seem. 

As the Junk Collector pointed out, we are all Junk Collectors, but Christians especially fall under this category. We recognize that we are broken human beings, essentially “junk,” but it is our job to fix and BE fixed, into something wonderful, new, and whole. I want my readers, especially fellow believers, to all reflect on this as they head into a new season of their lives.

___________

Image Credit: http://drjerrybrown.typepad.com/quotes/

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Semester

A New Semester

Bells ring,

Feet smack the ground,

Leaves crunching

Underneath.

The Genevans sing.

 

Pupils hustle,

Classes fill,

Learning spills

Out into empty cups

Of student minds.

 

People squeeze and shove

To get to Old Main above,

Or crouch down low

To make their way down

Below.

People chatter

And talk

About ways to improve their Walk.

Books clatter

On top of desks everywhere

A new class, a new start,

Is about to

Begin.

 

__________

Image Credit: http://www.adfmedia.org/news/prdetail/5342

The Grisha Trilogy– A Review

The Grisha Trilogy– A Review

Having a frequent craving for fantasy, action and adventure stories (with just a TOUCH of romance), I was looking forward to reading something new and gripping this summer, and consulted my one dear college friend, regular book reviewer, extremely avid reader, fellow fangirl, vlogger and overall wonderful person, Macy, on which series I should tackle next; she suggested the Grisha Trilogy, which is filled with climatic scenes, fantasy, nearly-magical, matter-manipulating Grisha, and of course more frequent– cough– “shippers’ scenes” (as I so affectionately call them.).

While the series had more romance-y bits than I had anticipated, I still for the most part enjoyed the series, with a few personal annoyance hitches once every so often, and even got two of my besties back home hooked. While I had serious doubts about the series initially (WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER ZONE UP AHEAD!!!!), it mostly evened out towards the end, and gave at least a partially satisfactory conclusion.

When I first started the series, unlike most (average) readers, I could not sit still. I was genuinely anxious, because I felt like I was constantly comparing her works, published and popular and usually GOOD, to my own, which are still a work in progress. But once I was able to sit back and relax a bit, I found myself enjoying the actual story, while not liking other parts as much. Here’s what I thought, overall, about the Trilogy:

Cons (I make it always a habit to get these outta the way, so they don’t ruin the good):

  1. Portrayal of faith.  Ms. Bardugo, the author, has a curious way of superstitiously objectifying faith, hope, and even love in ways I find to be at least fairly despicable. God is not mentioned at all, only people praying to/idolizing “Saints,” people who may not have even been believers in Him at all but simply miracle-workers who were killed in some gory manner JUST because they performed miracles– and some of those miracles may have even been considered “abominations” (cough… Morozova… cough…), even by the book’s standards. Faith, especially in book 3, “Ruin and Rising,” is often displayed in cult-like fanaticism, which isn’t true to ACTUAL faith at ALL. Bardugo herself stated that although she was born in Jerusalem, she considers herself superstitious in some ways; this makes me wonder what her religious beliefs are (if she has any at all), and if these beliefs could very possibly be affecting her writing. We shall see what she says, if I ever get the chance to ask her that….
  2. Acceptance of immoral lifestyles. Although there’s nothing TOO explicit (I’d wring her sorry neck if it was otherwise), there are many, many references to sleeping around (i.e., the Darkling and female Grisha, Mal and several pretty young women), homosexuality (in “Ruin and Rising” only), blending some good and some bad together and calling it fine (granted, I both agree and disagree with her decision to avidly write good and bad in her protags; she states that no one is wholly good or wholly evil, which is something I’ve obvious mixed feelings on…), etc. What gets my goat is that both Mal and the Darkling get annoyed/ angry with Alina, the protag, for falling for the other or Nikolai, but still see absolutely NOTHING wrong with sleeping around like prostitutes themselves…. and then Alina proceeds to be the only one who seemingly feels guilty about having even remote feels for the other guy. Ugh, MEN. *heaves big, frustrated sigh* ( OK, minor rant over, LOL.) The homosexuality and her sneaking in highly leftist propagandistic themes (most LGBT ones) are the primary reason I will NOT be reading one of her more recent books, “The Six of Crows”, which is said to have even more of “sexual orientations” in it.
  3. The bad guy being SUPER obvious at the beginning of the story.  Really, Ms. Bardugo? You expect us NOT to believe, at the very beginning, that a character legitimately titled, “the Darkling,” who can summon darkness, can slice a live man in two without batting an eyelash, and kidnaps a young woman seemingly for “the good of the country,” ISN’T up to something?? Up your game, girl.
  4. Often gets you to root for the LAST said guy you SHOULD be rooting for… ^ I actually kinda wrote an entire article sort of about this, a while back. While I give Ms. Bardugo kudos for making him detailed, multi-layered (in a way), with an enigmatic personality that keeps you guessing at times, it makes you really think, “Does she actually WANT me rooting for the bad guy? I mean, we see all the horrible things the Darkling’s done, all the people he’s brutally murdered, tortured, etc, and we STILL want him to basically take over Ravka and win over Alina?” We’re aware that she confessed in an interview with her editor that in fact she wanted to make him a cold, ruthless dictator that simply oozed charisma and seduction, stating that she wished to make a villain you couldn’t just dismiss; however, she admitted she was genuinely surprised to hear even one person say that all the Darkling’s actions were perfectly defensive, despite all he’d done, because his motives were at least somewhat good and he loved Ravka. Bardugo confessed that even with those as semi-motives (power-hungry motives aside), he shouldn’t get a free pass on murder and torture because of it. And yet, looking back on her creation, and how/why she created him, I can’t help shaking my head and thinking, “You brought this on yourself, sista.” 

Pros:

  1. The DETAIL. The biggest thing that impressed me was the detail in her books; the descriptions were all so deep and VIVID– especially physical descriptions, character descriptions, and even animal descriptions, but emotional ones, too. She set the scene in a land similar to tsarist Russia, and, for the most part, I think she out-did herself describing it all.
  2. Detailed, often multi-layered, unforgettable characters. Speaking mostly protags and antags, Bardugo’s got the gift for this too, I’ll admit. The Darkling has easily become one of my favorite-of-all-time antags, having an obvious love-hate thing for him (it got to the point where I caved in to buying a body soap that smells like him and a poster with his symbol on it off of Etsy. I think I’ve gone off the deep end. Officially.). I can really, really relate to Alina a good bit, despite belief differences, especially the parts where she feels insecure about herself and her powers, when she feels different from others, and how she feels towards the Darkling is similar to my own feelings, on some different levels (although I wanted to crack her across her head for naively falling for his game so soon, so early in the very first book. You do not get into big, black carriage and go with Mr. Creepy to the Little Palace. You do not become his little political pawn of a princess that he can dress up, parade, and use to whatever his liking. You do not– Oh, why am I bothering when she does it anyways? 😛 ), namely in “Siege and Storm” (book 2). I like Genya a lot, too (she and David are so cute, being potential opposites:3 ). I also am a big fan of Nikolai; I positively ADORE his charmingly scheming demeanor, his bantering with Alina and/or Mal, and all of his wonderfully quotable moments. I love his two powerful, yet moving personas: Pirate (or, as he prefers to be known as, “privateer” 😉 ) and prince, as well as the sporadic and oh-so-charming way he proposed to Alina in “Siege and Storm” and the comical conversation that follows shortly afterwards. I think he’s my other, secondary G.T. crush. Ms. Bardugo herself called him one of her favorite characters to write, along with the ever-bratty, stuck-up Zoya. A well-picked favorite, if I do say so myself.
  3. Plenty of action, adventure, and climatic scenes. The ones that got me are when (more spoilers!) Alina protected the stag in “Shadow and Bone;” the scene and confrontation in the chapel at the end of “Siege and Storm,” and the hunt for the firebird/realization what/who the real third amplifier is. The series is also not lacking in comical scenes, from Nikolai to Alina and Mal’s bantering.
  4. THE GRISHA. Think similar concept to ATLA benders, only… different. The Grisha are magicians of sorts; they can manipulate matter that’s already there whilst making it LOOK like magic (It’s called, “The Small Science”.). For instance, an Inferni can’t be like a firebender and summon a flame, they need combustible gases in the air, along with a flint to strike a spark. There are three orders: Corporalki (Healers and Heartrenders, who normally wear red kefta– special coats only Grisha are permitted to wear), Etherealki (Summoners– Tidemakers, Squallers, and Inferni. They all wear blue kefta. The Darkling and the Sun Summoner, Alina, also fall under this category because they can summon darkness or light, but are also in a different category all their own; the Darkling of course wears a black kefta, whereas Alina’s kefta color varies.), and Materialki (aka Fabrikators, separated into two groups: Durasts and Alkemis. Purple kefta.). Healers can heal wounds together almost seamlessly, Heartrenders can mess with people’s hearts– literally– and slow their heartbeats to put them to sleep or squeeze until it stops beating altogether (scary, I know.). Tidemakers, Squallers, and Inferni can all summon and manipulate the elements around them to their advantage, respectively ( water, wind, and fire). Durasts can manipulate solids, such as steel, rock, etc, while Alkemi specialize in poisons and liquids. Genya is a Tailor, a special type of Grisha who’s a cross between a Corporalki and a Fabrikator, but instead of making clothes, she can literally REMAKE your face (nifty for disguises), such as erasing freckles/acne/wrinkles, making your eyes a brighter/darker color, or changing your hair color. (Hence the reason she’s kind of vain.) Me? I’d love to be a Squaller… give myself “air boosts” when I run, to make myself feel like flying… air cushions beneath me in case I fall or something… blow-dry my hair quicker…. :3 #perksofbeingaSqualler

 

Welp, those are my thoughts overall on the series. 🙂 Feel free to comment and discuss if you’re a fan or if you’ve read the G.T. too, and let me know what you think! 😉

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Image Credit: http://lifeofabookwormbyninaeudora.blogspot.com/2015/09/review-grisha-trilogy-leigh-bardugo.html

The Junk Collector {Part 6}

The Junk Collector {Part 6}

Wren.

A soft voice was calling out to her, speaking her name like a verbal caress. Wren stirred, then slowly opened her eyes. She was no longer in the basement, having her skin practically grafted off by stone walls.

She was in a bedroom, lying on her side on a shaggy, but oh so soft, fur rug.

She immediately sat up, drinking in her surroundings, expecting some kind of attack or trick. Nothing.

Standing up slowly, she noticed with shock how nice the room was, how detailed, and comfortable it seemed. There was an overstuffed love seat in the far right corner, next to an open-door balcony which poured forth moonlight, a large wardrobe, a dressing table and chair in front of her, and a beautiful, queen-sized bed with lilac canopy curtains drifting overhead. It was the kind of bedroom you’d find in a older noble’s home, yet it seemed so… new. It was like she had stepped into an earlier century, when the owners had just finished furnishing the place, and she was the very first to see it all done up. It was a rather shocking contrast to the rest of the place, especially the outside.

Wren decided to test something about the place. Maybe it’s not real. It could be a psychological trap, or that I’m simply hallucinating. She stood and walked over to the dressing table, and let her fingertips brush the edges of it. Solid. No dust.

Wren.

That voice again.

She swung around, arms raised in a defensive position, fully expecting a fight from something horrible, something hideous, perhaps even the Junk Collector himself. No one. The room was as good as empty. Yet the word seemed to faintly echo, softly breathing her name over and over, bouncing it from wall to wall. She closed her eyes, and gripped her hands tightly, to try to undo all this, but when met with no success, she decided the best course of action was to learn where, exactly, the voice came from. She honed her ears, her very being, on trying to locate the sound’s source. It was a bit like playing Marco Polo, in a way. A terrifyingly unpredictable Marco Polo.

This time, a new word softly resounded:

Wren… Look.

She cracked her eyelids, still facing the dressing table. She found herself peeking at the large vanity mirror. Ironically, she had never been one for vanity, for makeup, or any of those things her old friend Phoebe the fashionista had been into. She’d grown rather accustomed and almost content with her plain, mousy, almost scrawny appearance. But still, every now and then she’d feel a slight shiver of insecurity about it, before hastily brushing it away. What good would that do, after–

The image in the mirror flickered, then suddenly changed. Wren nearly jumped in alarm and surprise, eyes now wide open. In the place of a scrawny teenaged girl with plain, mousy brown hair, an oversized hoodie and jeans stood a girl she nearly didn’t recognize. The girl had pretty, shiny brown hair piled atop her head in a luxurious style, decorated with gleaming pearls, and a small tiara to match. The girl had on not scrap clothes for adventuring in, but a regal, off-the-shoulder silk emerald gown– Wren’s favorite color– accompanied by what looked to be a genuine diamond necklace. Wren found herself drawing shallow, shaking breaths. Th-That’s not me… that’s not me…

She gave a relieved smile, trying to shoo the image away. The figure in the mirror did the same. Wren tilted her head to the side. So did the figure. The background in the mirror was identical to the room behind Wren, but the figure…

The figure… looks like a prettied-up me. But…it can’t be. It can’t be. She cautiously reached out, the figure doing the same, pressing her fingertips up against the cold, smooth surface. They met, without any fleshly contact at all.

It was what caught her eye next that made her breath contract even more sharply.

Out of the corner of the room, in the mirror image, a newer, black-hooded, black-cloaked figure came into view, behind the fake Wren. Wren froze.

The eerie figure drifted close, closer, closer still. The figure slowly reached out, gently placing a hand on fake Wren’s bare left shoulder.

Wren jumped, feeling a light touch on her own shoulder, and spun around.

Nothing.

Wren spun back. They were both still there, both gazing out at her. The darkened, hooded figure’s face was half hidden from view, but she saw a smile graze his lips as they parted slightly to form, “Wren.” 

The room spun before her eyes, tilting upwards, and then everything went black once again.

&&&&&&&&&

When she came to for perhaps the second time, Wren was lying flat on her back, tucked comfortably under cool, silky sheets. Although she didn’t want to stir, she made herself. She sat up again, rubbing her brow. Was it all just a dream?  If so, the bedroom was the exact same one that had appeared in it– and it made her instinctively pull the covers around her body, quaking like a leaf in a bad windstorm. The voice still echoed in her mind, so loud it might as well have been audible.

She slipped out onto the glossy wooden floor, onto quivering legs. Deep breaths. That’s it, girl, only a dream. Not real.  A dream or a trick.  

She had to get out and find a way to the Junk Collector before she was driven out of her mind– perhaps literally. Resolve somewhat renewed, she circled around the room carefully, just as she had the basement, half-expecting it to drink her in the way the previous one had. No response. She looked around the walls, the wooden floor panels, even the delicate, small lamps that hung around the ceiling, waving ever so slightly at every breeze and giving off a faint, eerie glow.

Upon further investigation, she spied something atop the dressing. Taking a shaky breath, and keeping her eyes off the mirror, she reached out and snatched up a note.

“If you want to find your friends, search for the picture that has no end.” 

Has no end? Her hand clutched the paper into a ball. What kind of riddle is THAT? Still, it was a clue, though she had no idea if it came from the geezer himself, or from kind of outside hel–

She stopped. Wait a minute… She uncrumpled the paper and looked over the handwriting carefully. It was the same graceful style as the note before’s. This person WANTS to help me… But why?  “Why?” Wren asked aloud. “Who are you? What do you want with the likes of me? Why are you so intent on aiding me?” Again, no response.

Wren threw her arms in the air, exasperated. I might as well take advantage of the hint… I need all the help I can get. She slunk off to the nearest wall, investigating the painting there, of a simple vased bouquet. Nothing. She repeated the process several times along each of the walls, halting at the last one, on the left side of the bed, partly concealed by the long, silky curtains. This HAS to be it. It was an unusual painting, to be certain; it was of a young girl holding what initially appeared to be a blank frame. No, wait… 

She squinted. It was no ordinary picture, it was a picture within a picture. The seemingly blank frame held an identical picture of the one before it, and the one before that, the same, and… Wren’s head almost spun. It didn’t help that the smallest of them all was a very, very tiny mirror. She took deep breaths to calm herself. OK. This is it. 

Curving her fingertips around the frame’s edges, she gave out a simultaneous yank and loud grunt; the painting unexpectedly tore loose easily, and the shock of its easiness caused her to loosen her grip. It thudded loudly on the floor, echoing faintly around the room.

She turned her attention to what the painting had been concealing all along: a hidden dumbwaiter. Obviously long since out of use, but she found she didn’t care. All she wanted was to get out of her, put the man in his place, rescue her friends, and leave. That was all that mattered.

Clambering inside initially proved a challenge, even for someone as petite as her, but she managed to just barely crowd in, clutching the role and pulley device above her head, used to move it up or down. It appeared that it went further down than it already was currently, but Wren thought she heard faint, ghostly moans from below. She needed no further motivation to get going, and started tugging at the ropes as fast as her small, skinny little hands could move.

&&&&&&&&&

What seemed like hours later, she halted at one particular station to give her rope-burned palms a short break. She felt like she’d out-sped the distant moans, but couldn’t be too sure. Couldn’t be certain of anything in this crazy  fun house.

On the other side of the wall, she thought she heard something. Pressing her ear to it, she heard a young boy’s voice crying out. Kodi…? Her eyes widened.

Before she could stop herself, she slammed the full force of her small body against her side, crashing through and splintering wood everywhere. She tumbled out into a new room, and nearly regretted it; the dumbwaiter ropes, no longer controlled by her grasp, flew the mechanism the whole way down to the bottom, landing with a very noisy CRASH. She could hear the moans start up again. Terrific. 

Behind her, Kodi seemed to be moaning softly. “Wren… please…”

She chose the only logical option: Deal with one issue at a time.

She gave a quick, cursory glance of the room she was in– a library– and decided that it’d be best if she plugged the gaping wall hole ASAP, before the creepers that the moans belonged to decided to come up for a little meet and greet. Hurriedly grabbing a smaller sitting chair, she shoved it roughly into the hole; it just barely fit. She jammed several large encyclopedias into leftover, unguarded gaps. Panting, she straightened, looking over at Kodi, who sat behind a large antique desk, clutching at his temples. “You OK? What happened?”

“Wren… please… make it stop…”

She rushed to his side. “What’s the matter?”

“I- I don’t know… I woke up in here, at this desk…Several books were placed in front of me. Some voice called within and around me to pick one and read one of them, but…” he yowled again, clearly in pain. “I-I started reading this one book about traps and tricks, hoping it’d yield something that we could use to resist this–” he threw his head back like an animal, mini dreads thrashing everywhere, and let out a heart-pounding, blood curdling scream, tears streaming down his cheeks.

She slammed the book shut, hoping the pain and his reaction was directly connected to it; the screaming didn’t cease, however, but did lessen to a few lower decibels, somewhat. Her eyes skimmed the title, “Mind and Manipulation: A Profound Study On Psychological Warfare”. She shook Kodi by the shoulders. “C’mon, snap out of it,” she urged, “it’s just like what happened to me in that other room… voices oozing outta nowhere and ordering you to do stuff that only makes you suffer or think you’re losing it. IGNORE it! FIGHT it!”

“I can’t,” he half moaned, half-whispered, “the voices already left. I think they left all this pain in their stead. When I first started to read, the voices receded, and I just let the words on the pages sink in, then I got paranoid when I thought I realized what was happening to us, and–” he was starting to hyperventilate. She shook him a second time, then, seeing a bucket of water near the desk ( Why would there be a bucket of water in here? she briefly wondered),  grabbed it and hurled its icy contents over him.

He quivered several times, pulling his jacket around him as useless protection against the cold dampness, but the moaning and rocking stopped. She exhaled in relief. “Better?”

“M-much.”

“Alright, then. Let’s stick together and see if we can find Guy, or the mastermind behind it all.”

“Wren?”

“Hmm?”

“What kind of psychological torture is this place housing, exactly?” he asked through chattering teeth.

Wren shook her head, trying to clear and reassemble her thoughts. “From what I’ve seen, some might be hallucinogenic. Others are random voices spread throughout the house, probably intended to intimidate us, and if we can find the main source from where they’re coming from, we can probably fin– OH NO YOU DON’T!” she suddenly shouted, sprinting at a close-range painting; its eyes had moved. Just like in the classically spooky movies. The eyes seemed to draw back, as if spooked themselves, and vanished, leaving two black, empty holes. Wren stretched out her hand and looped her fingers through, yanking hard as she’d done before.

When the dust had settled, and Kodi had quit coughing, there was another gaping entrance– this one hid a small, rickety set of stairs. Wren turned to Kodi, other hand outstretched to help him up onto the rubble and through the hole: “C’mon– it’s time to put an end to this, once and for all.”

He gazed up at her. “You go on ahead,” he said. “I need to go snag Guy before something worse snags him.”

“You’re sure you’re well enough?”

“Well, now I know what to expect, at least.” He threw an anxious glance towards the desk and stack of books behind them. “We’ll meet back up with you in a few minutes, depending on how low the stairs go and what floor he’s on. But save the fireworks for us to help and watch too, OK?”

“Sounds like a plan.” He grasped her forearm, and nimbly jumped up like an acrobat. “See you in less than a half-hour?”

“Done.”

With that, both parted in differing directions on the stairwell; one up, the other down. Wren prayed with all her might that she had made the right decision, to involve them to begin with.

To Be Continued…

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Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/jbrinkmeyer/ideas-for-my-light-lilac-bedroom/

 

 

 

 

 

The Junk Collector {Part 5}

The Junk Collector {Part 5}

“Last chance to turn back,” Kodi said to Guy as he finished his porridge the next morning. “I know you, and I know very well you don’t like conflict. You’re still absolutely sure you want to remain involved?”

Guy sighed, biting into another piece of egg. Even if he wanted to still remain uninvolved, it was too late for that now– his altruism and drive to help her and Kodi had overridden that. He was already in too deep, anyways. She trusted him with this vital task, he knew very well she didn’t let down her guard for just anyone, let alone him. He ought to be grateful enough not to take advantage of that. “You still going?” he said casually, instead. “Maybe you can take some mug shots of the guy before we even catch him.”

“Very funny. But where I’m concerned, my mind’s been made up long ago.” Kodi rinsed his dish out before placing it in the drying rack. “I’ll be upstairs; I need to run and grab a few things before we head out.”

“OK.”

As Kodi sprinted up the wooden stairwell, taking two at a time, Guy couldn’t still yet help to marvel at the sudden and very large change in Kodi’s attitude–from sulking and moody to optimistic and more determined. He wondered briefly what the real cause could be, then shrugged it off. All that mattered was that Kodi was back to himself again: clever, calm, mature, artistic, and raring to go if truly necessary. He had been initially confused and very much disoriented when they’d first found him, poor fellow, with no memory of his past whatsoever. The only things he had with him were the clothes on his back, and a small backpack filled with a strange mixture of letters in what appeared to be a foreign language, a drawing tablet, and an assortment of paintbrushes and pens. No other clues could detail who he’d been back then. Kodi hadn’t even seemed to recognize any of the letters, although for all Guy knew, he still kept them hidden away someplace safe.

For someone without memories, Kodi naturally remained a bit guarded upon meeting his new “family,” but eventually started to warm up to them– especially Guy, who had personally carried him home on his back, after discovered Kodi had broken his left ankle. To this day he still retained a slight limp from the incident, although he could never recall exactly what had occurred. Or who his real family was. It seemed as though it would always remain a mystery.

Guy looked up from his half-devoured breakfast as Kodi thumped downstairs at an almost worrisome pace. “Careful,” he warned, “don’t want you to break your other ankle. One’s bad enough.”

“Ya think?” Kodi dropped his bag on the kitchen table, rummaging quickly. “I did some digging last night, about the Junk Collector, his whereabouts, and so on. I’ve read up on all her research on him. Gotta hand it to her; girl’s pretty thorough.” After sorting papers, he rezippered and slung it on again. “We can go over more details when we reach her place, since she’s obviously the head of this whole expedition.”

“Obviously.”

“You’d better write a note for the old man. I don’t know if we’ll be back late or not, but better safe than sorry.” The old man. Kodi’s favorite title for Dad; he’d always refused to refer to him respectfully as “Dad,” unless he was feeling sarcastic or was furious with him– or both. Kodi had never seemed to see the point in addressing someone as a parent unless he knew they WERE his parent. Guy knew it had taken him a lot to just think of Guy as an elder brother FIGURE in his life.

“How should I write it?” Guy said, picking up a pen and scooting over to a notepad. ” “Dear Old Man, sorry to tell you this, but we just decided to up and run off with some random girl who needs our help with something that is very likely to be illegal. See you down at the county prison soon. I’ll make sure Kodi also makes out his will to you. Sincerely, your brave and possibly very dense So–” ” Kodi punched him in the arm. “Don’t you say that,” he said, giving Guy, “The Look.” “I’M not his son. And quit goofing off about it and just WRITE the stupid thing, already! We need to skedaddle!”

“OK, OK…Don’t have to be a stick-in-the-mud.” Guy quickly scribbled down a short and hopefully convincing note for Dad, tacked it to the fridge, and set off with Kodi.

*******

It was still a bit early out as the two neared Wren’s place, trekking through the woods. Guy suppressed a groan; he’d already forgotten that she lived near what was practically Sherwood forest, probably sprawling with creatures and poison ivy. He tried not to think about all that… Much.

Instead, he tried turning his thoughts over to Wren. Wren, and the infamous Junk Collector. Why is he called that? Is he merely a pack rat, or in charge of a great big junkyard? Scrap metal and stuff, maybe? What would someone like that want with two young girls?  Then he stopped. Maybe it was a misnomer, to make him seem more harmless than he actually was. Maybe he had some sinister plot going on behind the scenes, something the police were somehow kept in the dark about, and–

He nearly tripped over a giant log.

Kodi chuckled. “Watch where you’re going.” He leaped spritely onto the same log, and jumped down rather gracefully. Guy snorted. For someone with a limp, Kodi had always still yet been quite agile. He, himself, on the other hand… He looked down almost self-consciously at his feet; they’d always seemed too big to NOT trip over.

His self-degrading thoughts were interrupted a second time by the sound of birds, singing, whistling, chirping, cooing, cawing, even screeching. He’d never heard so many different birds in one area. Above it all, he thought he heard something else. Something that sounded like… human singing?

He halted to listen. It sounded close by.

Oh, if only I could be

As those that chirp

In the majestic tree;

One day I know, one day I’ll see

My friends, and I, will all be free.

We’ll scope the hills, the valleys and

Spy the ocean blue, so grand

But I will not, no, cannot 

Understand, why my dear friends

Have left me all alone. 

Hungering for acceptance, and love, it’s true,

I’ll always have a want, a need for you. 

The song was unlike anything Guy had ever heard before, so sweet and yet downcast he’d almost mistaken it for a sweet but sorrowful mourning dove. He rounded the corner to follow the music, seduced by the melody– and almost ran smack-dab into a flower trellis up-scaling Wren’s house’s wall, right beneath her bedroom window seat. Wren was seated by the edge, looking out as though in a daze, not seeing them. Guy decided the more dramatic approach would have to do.

“Oi, there, fair maiden,” he called up with dramatic flourish of hand, “would thee care to let down thy glorious, luscious locks of hair so that I may yet climb to thee’s rescue? Well? What say thee?”

She started, then quickly assumed an air of casual confidence. “Cool your little male hormones, Romeo, I’m coming,” she replied with what seemed to be an eye roll. “Nay, not Juliet, though thou art fairer than she,” he said again, “thou art– OW!” he said, rubbing his shoulder where Kodi had again punched him. “Give the girl a break; we’re here on a rescue-and-detain mission, not to ensure your courtship.”

“Hey, I was just kidding,” Guy protested, “besides, I figured she needed a little pick-me-up to start her day off right.”

“How VERY kind of you.” Wren stood at the summit of the rickety porch steps, arms folded, eyeing him warily and somewhat suspiciously.

He smiled. “Thou singest sweeter than a nightingale.”

“That was NOT for your ears,” she returned, but he could easily see how red the tips of her ears got. “But that’s besides the point.” She turned to Kodi. “I’m assuming you guys both have cell phones? And the papers I gave you?”

“Guy does,” Kodi said hurriedly, “and I brought them with me.”

“Tip for ya: Leave them at home. Or at least here.” She impatiently blew a strand of hair out of her way.

“Why?” said Guy, surprised. “Won’t we need them?”

“No, but that’s not the point. I’ve memorized the general layout of the area and his whereabouts, I’m pretty sure I know where to get in, and we all know about the Junk Collector in general. From other intel I’ve gathered, his place could very well be rigged, booby-trapped. If we end up getting separated, or worse, the papers fall into his hands, he’ll know we’re there, and onto him. He’d probably demolish us before we’d have the chance to confront him. We’d be playing right into his hands like action figures. It’s always safer to lock up stuff like that and hide it away.” She held out a hand, and Kodi hesitatingly handed her the documents.

“One question,” Guy knelt on the steps near her. “Why do you need us, then, if you’ve already got everything figured out?”

She snorted, tossing her ponytail. “Originally, that WAS my plan. However, I remembered one of our age-old Adventure Mantras of my younger years with Phoebe and Charlotte: “One pair of eyes is good. Two is even better. Three and you have the ideal team for splitting up, covering more ground. But four or more can easily become a hindrance.”  Besides, you insisted on helping me, so here we are.”

“Wait a minute,” Guy objected, “You never said we were splitting up once we got inside!”

“Never said we weren’t, either. Why? You having second thoughts?… Don’t worry; I’m a big girl. I take care of myself all the time. How else do you think those playground knuckleheads end up with black eyes and even bloodied noses?”

“I didn’t say I was. Just thought there’d be safety in numbers, is all.”

“Depends on the situation. But let’s not make waste to the entire solar cycle by standing around yammering about it.” She tugged her ponytail snugly into place. “Let’s be off, shall we, gents?”

**********

Guy stared up at the place. It was eerier than the newspaper photo. It almost looked like the definition of a haunted house in storybooks: Ancient, mostly decrepit, a few broken windows, a dilapidated brick chimney that looked like it had caved in on itself, all surrounded by a rusty but ornate, iron-wrought fence and gate. All that was missing was the for it to be nighttime instead of day, and the perfect thunderstorm, and they’d be set for a ghost-hunt. Not that it necessarily needed to be night– the thick, creepy fog that half-immersed the property was as sight-limiting as any darkness. Guy fought a shiver. “You SURE this is the place? Doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”

Wren rolled her eyes as she slung her bag over the fence. “Of course he’s home, you big chicken. Gimme a boost.” Guy sighed heavily. He couldn’t believe he was actually going through with this. He squatted down to let her climb onto his back, then helped to hoist her. He was suddenly glad the fence didn’t have spikes protruding from the top, like many old iron wrought fences often did. She quietly eased down the other side, landing softly in a large bush. “Good,” she said. “Now toss up Kodi. Make as little noise as possible.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier for you to just the pick the gate’s lock on the inside to let us in?”

This time, Kodi answered. “No, because it’s too old and creaky. It’d make too much noise to open, and anyways, the guy has a big view of the gate.” He gestured to all the windows in the front of the house. “If someone was in there, they’d see us immediately.”

“Well, give that kid a cookie. It’s comforting to know you aren’t both stooges.Still, we need to be careful; if someone catches us on top of the apex part of the fence, it’s all over.” Wren helped lower Kodi to the ground on the other side. That’s it… nice and easy… 

Now it was Guy’s turn. If he was a bit taller than he already was– five-foot-ten– then he might’ve been tempted to just vault the thing. But he couldn’t afford carelessness in a situation like this. Not that he’d ever attempted an actual break-in before.Unless you counted the incident at Wren’s.

Taking a deep breath, he gave himself a boost, clinging to the bars, inching his way up. When he got to the apex, he swung one long, lanky leg over the opposite side– too hard. He froze and cringed at the small, “Clang!” it made. “Quiet up there!” hissed Wren. “We can’t risk blowing our cover!”

“I know, I know,” he whispered back, frantically trying to calm his horse- galloping heart.

He slowly twisted, bring his other leg with him, then eased down the fence. Wren snorted. “Try not to make this the noisiest break-in ever, OK?”

“Hey, I did fine. It was just that one time–”

“That one time could’ve made this your last, as well. Sit tight for a few minutes. We need to wait and see if anyone actually heard you.” They waited around for what seemed to Guy like hours, but he was shocked when he checked his watch– it had stopped altogether. And he’d only bought it, brand new, a few days ago. A chill rose over his skin, and it wasn’t just the morning mist. What is this place? 

When Wren gave an all-clear signal– a special bird whistle she’d taught them on the way there, in case they had to separate or something– they cautiously crawled out of the brush, on all fours. Wren was in the lead, Kodi took the middle, and Guy was last. Guy wondered if it was a purposeful formation by Wren as the crept to the house, inch by inch. “I thought you said this whole place was rigged?” Guy kept his voice as low as possible.

“It is. We just haven’t had the misfortune to have any of our limbs blasted off yet.”

“What?”

“Not all traps are booby traps. Some of them could very well be psychological. My guess is those were saved for inside the house, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”

“Swell.”

“By the way, you might want to hold your breath in the next thirty seconds.”

“Why?” whispered Kodi.

“The fog surrounding the house is a special barrier designed to keep unwanted “visitors” out. My guess is, it’s either poisonous or designed to rig hallucinations, or something.”

Guy blinked. “Just how much experience have you HAD with this guy, again?”

“One-on-one? None. But I’ve done plenty of digging, research, fieldwork. I’ve observed and scrutinized everything about this place every time I’ve had the chance to non-suspiciously pass it by, even when I was with–” He couldn’t see her up front, but heard her voice catch. With her friends, he silently finished. “I thought you were supposed to be the quieter, more “nerdy” one of your friend group?”

“Times change. Circumstances change. And often, the classic combination of both changes people.”

Suddenly, their parade came to a very sharp and abrupt halt. He spied Wren craning her neck around their party, likely so they could see her. “Hold your breath and get ready to run for that basement window.” He just barely made out a small, half-opened window out past her pointed finger. “Ready? GO!” He heard her take a deep breath as if diving underwater, then  press off the ground in a sprint. Kodi quickly followed suit. He heard a loud smash of glass, but he couldn’t see where they were, and found himself running almost blindly. The fog seemed to change before his eyes, its thickness and texture becoming denser and feeling almost mud-like. It was like swimming in a thick pool of mud with your eyes gouged out. Guy’s chest felt on the verge of exploding, and, without thinking, his body thought for him–Just one quick breath. 

The instant he caved he regretted it.

The air and fog had seemingly become one in thickness, the moment he let out a breath, the fog and all its thickness was sucked into his airway. It felt like his lungs had all but clogged completely, and hardened. He hacked, on the ground, frantically trying to feel his way to the house, to the broken glass window. He felt a hand reach out and snake around his wrist, hauling him. He looked up, just able to make out Wren’s shape through the translucent-ness. His vision swam, head awash with excruciating pain.

Then everything went black.

*******

“You OK?” Wren’s voice, her face, were faintly coming into his line of view. She actually looked mildly worried for him. “Wren?” His voice sounded like it’d been through a meat-grinder.

She smiled grimly at him. “Well, at least you seem to be breathing alright now. I told you to be careful, didn’t I?” She gazed out the window.

“Wait a minute… that window… didn’t you just–”

“Break it?” she finished. She shook her head. “I did, because it wouldn’t budge any other way. Probably a mistake though– it looks like the glass is self-repairing.” Sure enough, when he squinted, Guy saw with shock and horror that the glass was building itself up, inch by inch.

He almost felt breathless again. And this time there was no fog. “You mean the house can think or act by itself?” He remembered watching a movie as a kid, where the spirit of a deceased woman had taken over a house, and three kids became trapped inside, and tried to figure out how to destroy it without killing themselves. He was starting to feel sick.

“What?” said Wren in tones of annoyance. “You weren’t expecting as much?”

“They don’t have magic or haunted houses where we’re from.”

“Well, I’m betting they don’t have Junk Collectors around where you’re from, either. And I’m only going to tell you once– it’s not the house. It’s the Junk Collector. The house is just his plaything, his puppet that he uses to keep people at bay. Probably to hide what he’s really up to,” this she said with venom, “and also probably why the authorities haven’t really looked into any of this.”

Guy stared at her. “You’d think they’d call the CIA or FBI or something…”

“No proof. No one’s lived in here long enough to tell the tale, apparently, except him, and like I said– pure mystery. No bodies, no tales, no evidence. Although, for all the crazy traps, I wasn’t expecting that from the fog, though. Maybe the old geezer’s upped the ante…” She skirted the basement cautiously, as if any floor stone could be rigged. Guy realized she was looking for an entrance to another room.

“Carbon monoxide hidden in the fog?” guessed Kodi, eyes wide now.

“Clever boy that you are, no. It was some kind of specialized gas, designed specifically for suffocation, not to poison or to cause the victim to hallucinate. Acts to clog up and shut off all airways by swelling all that shut. Subtle, but very effective, I’d say. This only confirms what I’ve feared. And all the more reason we had to get out of there quickly.”

“How do you KNOW all this stuff?”

“When you go on enough adventures in these parts, you learn fast.” She waved them over. “C’mere, but be careful. The sooner we find an entrance to an upper-level room, we can make our move to the very top. I know that that’s where that snake is hiding.” With extra care, Guy and Kodi tip-toed over to her side. They all knelt near her. “OK, so what’s the plan?” Kodi said.

“I know it seems amateur, but since there’re no doors in this room, I would wager that there’s some kind of trap, hidden panel, or movable stone in the walls.”

“So you want us to go around testing each and every brick and floor stone until we find something?” Kodi twisted a small dread around his pointer, a habit Guy knew he practiced when he was thinking.

“What if there’s nothing, though?” Guy said. ” What if he just wanted to trap his enemies and seal off any chance of escape so they’d be forced to starve to death in the end?” He nodded at the window behind them.

“We won’t know that until we at least try to escape from this specific room, will we, Mr. Smart Guy?” Wren calmly retorted. “And d’ya really think I’d drag you along so we could just all sit in here and starve to death eventually? Nope.” She knelt again, fumbling around the edges of each stone carefully. “Now, unless you two want to stay stuck here the rest of your lives…”

Guy snorted. “Women. You always talk too much.” He started walking away from her, Kodi in another direction, but a sound in her direction suddenly halted their steps. It was a cross noise between someone slurping on a slushie, and surprised grunting. Guy spun, but found he was only able to half-turn around. The other half of him, namely his feet, seemed to be cemented to the ground.

Wren was crying out, her arms and and half her body partially submerged within the wall. It’s sucking her in. 

“Wren!” yelled Kodi, trying to tug himself free. “WREN!”

Only her head and neck remained now. “You guys,” she gasped, “It looks like we’re splitting up after all, regardless of whether we want to or not. Try to find him, try to get to the–” She was gone.

“WREN!” Kodi screamed before getting absorbed into the floor himself. He hadn’t seemed to even notice he was that far in until too late. Guy felt the stone and cement floor swallowing him too, drinking him in like soda, rough, cold edges pressing down hard on his skin. He prayed he would be crushed to death quickly, before he too vanished.

******

When Guy awoke, he was shocked. He wasn’t dead; his heart was pounding, he was gasping for air like a fish out of water (for the second time now), and the floor beneath him felt solid (for now). But that wasn’t what stunned him the most. Instead of the inside matching the outside, decrepit for decrepit, it was like brand new. A brand new… his eyes crossed the novel scenery, trying to decipher it in the dark (was it really night already?), and knew it was a dining room when a glimpse of moonlight flashed across a table surface.

All alone. And in the dark.

To Be Continued…. 

___________________

Image Credit: http://www.ameristarfence.com/residential-ornamental-wrought-iron-steel-fence-montage

 

Is It Bad to Wear Short Shorts? — Project Inspired

Every week, I go through the “Girl Talk” section of Project Inspired and look for those seeking advice and counsel. I want to help answer some questions you may have about living out your Christian life and walk of faith! We want PI to be a safe place where you can ask questions. Contact me…

via Is It Bad to Wear Short Shorts? — Project Inspired

A Unique Perspective On Death

A Unique Perspective On Death

When I was younger, death seemed so far away, yet it frightened me just like it does nearly everyone else. And in this day and age, no wonder: accidents happen, natural disasters occur, and terrorists wreck havoc on others’ lives. People fear pain, fear torture, fear leaving their loved ones behind to face the world– and perhaps most of all, they fear what’s beyond the curtain.

…. I know what you’re thinking already: “It’s the usual talk of not needing to be frightened of death because you’re a Christian and already know where you’re going after you die.” Well, yes, that IS a part of it. But that’s not ALL this article is about.

This article is about how not only is this current, fallen, temporary world NOT our true home, but it is also about how our bodies aren’t even US.

*mic drop*

Some of you *might* be staring at me like you think I’ve a few screws loose or something, but that’s besides the point. And I can personally reassure you, I am perfectly sane (unless you count that real-life Pokemon I’m hiding in my closet… But that’s another story 😉 ).

My reasoning is fairly simple, actually: Since the Garden Incident (as I’ve taken to calling it), our bodies have become as temporary, as vulnerable to sin as this world itself. Disease and grave robbers have proven it time and time again. Our bodies aren’t even ours, in actuality; they belong to God and He is gracious enough to permit us to USE them, for a period of time (think of it as housing rent, really.). Our bodies are actually temporary housing units, our “shells”.

Think about it in this light: A turtle’s shell isn’t actually the turtle ITSELF. The turtle itself is INSIDE the shell, and uses the shell for housing and protection. Of course, if you were to rip the poor turtle from its shell, the turtle would likely perish, and its shell would remain empty of its previous contents. Now, I’m not saying souls can die like the actual turtle (unless they possibly went to “the other place” instead of heaven… then they would be unfortunate enough to die a million eternal, excruciating deaths over, and over, and over… 😥 ); I’m saying our bodies are the shells we carry our souls in. They never were the “real us”. It’s true what they say about external beauty; it’s only skin-deep. Eternal beauty lasts, and is hidden deep within our souls. Our souls are the real us; our personalities, our hopes, beliefs, dreams, and so forth. Without our souls to animate them, our bodies, our shells, are nothing more than simply discarded puppets.

In Ted Dekker’s book “Outlaw,” Mr. Dekker openly supports this way of thinking, in fact, it is one of the major themes later on in the story and is also the reason one of the protagonists does not fear death. The only difference is,  Dekker refers to our rented-out bodies as our “costumes” instead of “shells,” like I do, but essentially it means the same thing.  Our bodies are just that– a disguise, a cover-up, masks, make-up, fancy clothes– the whole nine yards. When I read about that particular theme, I wanted to leap with joy. Here is a person, I thought, who gets it. Just like me. 

Do you see why I no longer fear death, now? 🙂 Physical death is not something we should fear, especially if we know where we’re headed. What happens is that your soul, your entire being, just basically leaves house and goes to a permanent residence. It may seem painful or scary at the time, but it’s not something you should need to fear. When it happens, it happens (and it could literally happen any day, because hey, you never know…).

I hope this article helped change the way you see death and dying in general; God never wants us to be afraid of physical death, but spiritual death (one of the main reasons He gave us Jesus.). So as long as you have that downpat, you’re all set and ready for your new home someday! (And with God’s blessing, you and I will able to meet there in person!)

 

___________

Image Credit: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/33180/20150216/italian-cemetery-gives-details-evolution-cholera.htm , Google Images