JohnT: Rough Draft Chapter 1

JohnT: Rough Draft Chapter 1

A Story by ElfGrove Studio
"

This is a story I stared for NaNoWriMo in 2005. It's till incomplete, but I'm in the mood to share. 'Cause I love John, and it's a precursor to the events of Overhill, Asatira and my's webcomic.

"
Untitled
CHAPTER 1

My left leg slipped out from under me, and I went sliding down, onto the bed of acorns beneath the tree. Hard. It was like falling onto a bed of rocks. And it was going to bruise; I just knew it. And that was going to be embarrassing, bruises like leopard spots up my entire leg, because I fell on acorns. Bloody figures.

“I have gotta find a better way to spend my free time,” I grumbled at a nearby squirrel.

The squirrel chattered at me unintelligibly. Laughing. Damned thing was probably laughing. Well, ha to you to buddy, I just rubbed my butt on your dinner! Not that you care.

It is the truth though; I need a hobby, or something. Traipsing through the woods in the same dress shoes I wear for my 9 to 5, this is not the activity of a sane man.

I stomped down hard on the top of the next rotting log I came across. Not the smartest activity, but I was getting ticked. Something white and furry, vaguely resembling a ferret reared its head up to look at me curiously with long and thin golden eyes. It resembled a ferret in general body type, but it had long slit-like eyes and long ears that were more like a lop-eared rabbit’s, the fur covering it’s body was rabbit-soft, and long, at least three inches.

I walked towards it, clicking my tongue softly, and pulling a plush cat made with metallic gold cloth. I wiggled the stuffed animal enticingly, making sure it caught and reflected the dappled sunlight.

“Here pretty, pretty,” I baby-talked at the Thing. “Here pretty, whatever you are.”

There are plenty of things in the world we humans don’t have names for, and there are plenty of things that do have names, but I just don’t know them. This is most likely a case of the latter, I’ve seen them before, but I have no idea what the proper name for these things are. Glorified bunny-rats as far as I’m concerned. Actually, I think they might be a distant relative of the Kitsune, Japanese fox spirits.

The bunny-rat was pretty close now, maybe five feet away. It sniffed the air delicately, eyes focused on the reflective stuffed cat.

“Come on you stupid rat,” I oozed in a honeyed voice. “Get the pretty kitty. Come on stupid bunny-rat, here stupid.”

It reared up suddenly, snake-like; slitted gold eyes focused on me. Did I mention the bunny-rat is at least five feet long? Stupid, stupid bunny-rats. And stupid me too, this one, apparently, had a grasp of English. It opened its mouth and hissed at me, baring pencil-width, needle-like teeth. I’m not a short guy, but I’ve only got about a foot and a half on this critter when it rears up.

Ah ha ha, crap.

“Pretty kitty?” I wiggled the stuffed cat directly between myself and the bunny-rat.

It lurched forward, giant needle teeth snapping closed on the stuffed cat. Thank the gods. Unfortunately, my choice of moving the stuffed animal in front of me meant the bunny-rat’s pounce sent it barreling straight into me.

I cursed as it knocked into my chest sending both of us into a heap on top of, more acorns, yay. It wriggled around happily, playing with the shiny stuffed animal, most of its weight on my chest and stomach. Stupid bunny-rats. Stupid acorns.

It took a lot of rolling about and careful pushing to extract myself from beneath the bunny-rat. Once on my feet again, I rustled in my messenger bag again, where the stuffed cat had come from, for the collar. Finding it, I checked to make sure I still knew how to work the clasp one-handed; it was simple enough, which was the entire reason for this problem in the first place. I moved over to a half-kneel next to the creature that was now curling up happily, posed rather like a coiled snake, the stuffed cat still in it’s mouth, towards the outside of the coils. I reached out quickly, firmly grabbing the cat with one hand, and holding the collar at the ready behind my back. As I grabbed the cat, I shook it slightly, letting bunny-rat know I was trying to play, not to steal the toy. It uncoiled away from me, making an effort to not knock me over, and shook its head back and forth, growling softly. Playful.

I smiled and continued distracting it until I could reach around and snap the collar on. It did not react to the collar at first. Then it dropped the toy, leaving me still holding onto the stuffed cat’s head. It started to move away, and I clicked the button of the remote in my pocket, bringing it out as I did so. A softly glowing chain appeared, stretching from the remote to the collar.

“Good bunny-rat,” I smiled as it tugged against the leash. I ought to get a leash like this. The critter can pull all it wants, but the chain will not break. A spell on it disperses all the kinetic energy, so I did not even feel it pulling at the leash. The situation thusly in my favor, I started on the hike out of the forest, pulling the bunny-rat along.

---

Despite the Thing, emphasis on the capital “T”, tugging on the ah-hem, “special leash”, this is not some bizarre medieval, futuristic, or supernatural universe. Nor am I some crazy guy making up stories. This is early 2000’s, post 9/11, Earth, the United States of America. I figure most of you are familiar.

The big difference between the world as you know it, and the world as I know it, is that I know about and accept the existence of “Things”. In fact, I deal with Things, Touched, Gifted, and the related events of the “back side of the pub”. I didn’t coin the term, but it works well enough.

Magic, as far as the majority of the world is concerned, does not exist. This is the age of technology and science. Humans shine light into the dark shadows, we experiment, we break things down into their base parts, we examine, we explain. Basically, we try our damned hardest to take the mystery out of life. But there are still things out there that science cannot quite explain. Not that those things aren’t explainable, to some degree, they just do not fit into the currently accepted laws of the universe. But I am not a scientist, and I don’t really care all that much to explain everything. There is more in heaven and earth Horatio, and most of that does have names and certain laws of nature that they follow. But hey, I fell asleep in my science classes, even in college. There’s a lot of Things out there with perfectly categorized names and such, but I can’t name every human nationality on the planet, I can’t even properly identify the names of all the bugs or the birds I see on a daily basis. If I’m not going to learn that kind of basic and mundane thing, it’s a safe bet that I will not be learning the names and custom of every Thing I might run across, much less all of them in the world. I leave that to the shady dorks hanging out in their labs or musty libraries with cheap notebooks or research grants. I have more productive ways to spend my life personally.

Basically though, I do not use the accepted proper names for things, I use terms that are good enough. My terms get the point across with a bit less confusion, and, unlike most people who deal with the back side of the pub, I can hold a conversation about it in public without drawing much attention. I like that. I like not looking over my shoulder to make sure no one is listening in.

My name is Jonathan Terry Smith. Proper terms would have you call me a wizard; just don’t try it to my face. I don’t like it. Wizard has too many preconceptions and fantasy novel perpetuated baggage attached. As far as I’m concerned, in the group of humans that deal with the back side of the pub, there are three types, Gifted, Touched, and Of The Blood. Gifted are the guys like me, we can see Things for what they really are and we use magic. It’s a natural talent, I don’t know if it’s genetic or not, but it’s just there, you can’t get it by hard work. People who are Touched usually just see the Things, they don’t use magic. And Touched people are the ones that get the Sight, the ability to see the future or the past. Anyone who claims to be both a magic user and someone with the Sight is lying; you don’t get both. Of The Blood, well, I reserve that for the ones that are not exactly humans, at least not completely. They vary a lot, and I generally avoid them. Trouble.

I live in a city that’s just on the edge of getting big, right on that line between the Southern and Northern United States. I can’t get sweet tea or decent grits in a restaurant, but it’s not entirely uncommon to run across someone with that thick down home accent that was raised on what was once upon a time a plantation home. No, you wouldn’t have heard of it. I have got to move before the boredom of this place drives me insane.

I’m 24 years old, and about two inches shy of six feet tall. I used to do Karate and Taekwondo (I quit during the era of my last girlfriend, she disapproved of any violence), but I’m still in fairly good shape. I have thick mouse brown hair with a slight wave to it that hangs just past my shoulders and hazel eyes. I only finished college a couple of years ago; I’m still in my first real job. I work as a Business Analyst for a local branch of a large technology firm. Government contracts mostly. And I bet you were expecting me to be a novelist, a psychic consultant to some weird section of the police department, or some sort or private detective. That’s why I hate the term Wizard, all the fantasy novel baggage that comes with it. Guess what, you can’t live comfortably on that kind of work unless you get really lucky. I refuse to build my retirement fund on luck.

However, being one of those Gifted people of the world, I see things in a way that most people simply do not, and I cannot just ignore it. At least not all of the time. That’s where the pub, Ash Moon, comes in.

Ash Moon is divided into three areas, when you come in the front door there’s a friendly enough area of somewhat abused wooden chairs and tables, and a reasonably modern bar set up at one end. A wide arched doorway leads into a sort of hallway, directly to your right is the kitchen, and if you walk straight forward the about six feet to the back wall, there is a heavy wood and iron door leading to a stone-floored patio seating area, half-covered by the pub’s extended roofline. Around the edges of the patio containing a collection of concrete and wooden tables, chairs and benches, various trees and herbs grow over the edges of a low fence. Morgan uses most of the herbs in the pub’s kitchen. Ash Moon attracts a certain kind of customer. There are plenty of normal customers, but Ash Moon also caters to the local Gifted, Touched, and Things that are human-looking enough or skilled enough to pass through a crowd of humans without causing trouble. These special customers tend to stay in the back section of the pub, out in the garden patio. And if anyone needs something non-mundane handled, they go and hang around the back area of Ash Moon to find help, or they go and talk to the pub owner herself. She’ll set people up with someone capable of handling it. Even people encountering the kind of things related to the back side of the pub for the first time tend to eventually find themselves in one of Ash Moon’s bar stools pouring their story out to the patient bartender/owner.

---

A short hike later, I arrived at the back side of Ash Moon itself. It sits just on the edge of the forest where bunny-rat was hanging out. Sounds too convenient? There is a reason for that.

Basically, one of the “Special Customers” brought their new pet along last week. The new pet slipped out of its leash, which was not nearly as nice of a leash and collar set as this new one. The pet then escaped into the woods. Thus, owner buys the new leash, and asks the Ash Moon’s owner to connect her with someone who can track down the lost pet. Enter moi.

I have been taking odd jobs via Ash Moon after work to earn some extra cash. I want a new laptop, and someone ought to be handling this stuff anyways. There’s not that many Gifted in the area, and we can handle a wider array of Things than someone who’s Touched. It kills two birds with one stone. One more thing off the Ash Moon’s proverbial bulletin board, and I get my new laptop that much faster.

Usually the jobs are a bit more serious than a lost pet, but you can’t exactly leave a Thing wandering around where it might run into someone normal. Bunny-rat, as you may have noticed, was not exactly bright enough to realize not to play with normal humans.

I took a seat at a stone table in a corner by the massive Ash tree that gave the pub it’s name. The bunny-rat, which was being fairly cooperative now, coiled itself around the base of my chair, giving me a bit of a footrest. I returned the gold stuffed animal cat to it; I had no more need for the toy. Besides, bunny-rat had slobbered all over it.

Ash Moon’s owner, Morgan Hale, appeared in the pub doorway. She’s a medium height woman in her forties or fifties with sharp green eyes and curly dark brown hair that was already starting to go grey, and the ruddy complexion of someone who spends a lot of time on her garden. She looked bit bulky and overweight, especially for a woman. However, I knew from a couple of bad nights, usually involving too much drink on someone’s part (not always mine) and my smart mouth, that Morgan’s bulk was all muscle. She was stronger than a lot of guys these days. Given, in this computer age, that’s only saying so much, but still. She was a forceful and motherly presence in her pub, with a fading Southern accent. She walked out the pub door and over to bunny-rat and me. Bunny-rat stopped gnawing on the stuffed kitty long enough to look up at Morgan for a moment and wag its tail.

Morgan was the one to coin the term “back side of the pub” in reference to any non-mundane goings on. She prefers to discuss matters of magical sort without using much in the way of exact terms, but for slightly different reasons from me. I’m partially too lazy to learn the right terminology. Morgan knows the terminology, but she runs a pub, and sometimes she has to discuss things concerning the back side of the pub less than a foot away from normal customers. The normal customers deal quite fine knowing nothing about the back side of the pub, and she has no intentions of bursting anyone’s bubble about how the world works if she doesn’t have to.

As far as how Morgan knows how to pick out which humans are okay to go out back and which ones are not human at all and should definitely be dining out back? Morgan Hale is Touched. Even the humans who are only Gifted or Touched give off something that other Touched and Gifted can sense. Besides, Morgan is the strongest diviner I’ve ever met. I frequently accuse her of using her fortunetelling gift to pick out whom to give what jobs to. She doesn’t actually; divining takes more energy than that would be worth. She just keeps close tabs on who’s willing to do what, and networks for us. She doesn’t charge for the networking, but she has no problem asking us to leave the pub if were not buying anything.

“Hey-yah kiddo, I take it thangs went well?” Her accent was a little thicker tonight than normal.

“I think I’m nursing the beginning of a deep seeded hate for acorns.”

“Ah-huh.”

“Don’t ask.”

“Right then. Ms. Durst is going to be a bit longer ‘fore she arrives to pick up Fluffy there, but she knows ya’ here.”

“Talk to some people from back home today Morgan?”

“Accent’s tha’ bad huh?”

“It’s noticeable.”

“Mmm yea’ I talked to an old friend today. She thinks somethan’ might be brewin’. Keep yer head down.”

“Don’t I always?”

“True ‘nough. Yer such a smart a*s, I forget yer a coward sometimes.”

“Hey now, I resent that!”

“Sorry, yer an a*s, not a smart a*s.”

“Learning from the best Morgan.”

“Hah. So I guess yer not up for trying the new brew tonight; what do ya want?”

“Wait! Why wouldn’t I try the new stuff?”

“Acorns.”

“Damn you Morgan.”

“Love ya too kiddo.”

“Usual then.”

“Got it.” Morgan smiled and headed back inside. She rarely let the hired help handle the customers that sat out back; she dealt with us herself. Good policy, we’re weirdoes.

“Hola John!” a friendly male voice called out in greeting as they came into the stone patio.

I looked up to see Morgan’s husband coming in. Alain Hale is a very tall and thin whip of a man with delicate triangular features and white blond hair without the slightest hint of grey or a receding hairline. I wouldn’t dare to try to guess his age. Where Morgan is very definitely human, Alain is not. He is part human, but whatever else is mixed in, I can’t pick it out. I just know he’s no more than half human. But he has friendly grey eyes, and it’s very obvious he dotes on Morgan. I don’t pry into their personal affairs.

“Hey Alain, you’re helping out tonight?”

“Yep. Don’t tell me you lost track of the date?”

“Huh? Wait? Is something going on tonight?” Crap. I hate being in gathering spots when a big back side of the pub event is going on. And that’s usually why Alain will show up to help, so Morgan has more help handling the stone patio customers.

“Not tonight.” He laughed at me. He can have a very deep and hardy laugh for a guy that makes you think of a willow tree. “Winter Solstice is coming up in a week though. They’re going to start building up for a big party soon, and Ash Moon is usually a popular spot.”

I had forgotten that was coming up. I was locking myself in my apartment that night. All the Things would be coming out to make merry that night and anyone who knows them for what they really are is considered an extra entertaining guest to drag to the parties they held. There was no way I would be out that night. That would be asking for trouble. “Thanks for the warning Alain.”

“You know, you might actually have fun if you came to Ash Moon’s set up.” He smiled gentle encouragement. “Morgan and I can make sure you don’t leave the party with anyone weird.”

“Borrowing trouble? No thanks Alain. I can handle a movie night with my cat just fine.”

“Right. Right. I’ll bring your dinner out soon as Morgan has it ready John.”

“See ya soon then Alain.”


People started filtering into the Ash Moon back area. A couple came in from the back, walking out from the shadowy areas of the forest’s edge, the same way I had. Most came in by walking in through the front entrance and straight back through the heavy wooden door. Most of us know each other, if not by name, then by sight. It’s not that large of a town, and this kind of place, especially on the stone patio, you see a lot of the same people over and over again.

A man with salt and pepper hair, wearing one of those thousand dollar suits came out from the pub door. His gaze shifted over the entire patio as he moved, not pausing over any one person. Despite the age indicated by his hair color, his movements were frighteningly fluid, almost animalistic. I knew him by sight, though not name; he sat at the same table as always. After a few moments, another man came in from the forest side of the patio. He walked slightly hunched over; leaning heavily on a plain wooden short staff. You could almost hear joints creaking even from where I sat. While his movements were of a very aged person, but physically, he looked no older than I am. Dark as midnight hair without so much as a twinge of silver was parted down the center, and cut short, probably buzzed towards the nape of his neck. He smiled genially at me as he passed my table, and sat on the stone bench across from the guy in the thousand-dollar suit. The other man was setting up an Igo board, as he always did. I don’t know much about the game, but I have been told that these two are exceptionally remarkable to watch.

A young woman, probably just barely eighteen with dyed electric blue hair and pale green eyes, walked out through the pub doorway. She didn’t look at anyone as she weaved a practiced path through the tables, to her regular spot by the mint plants. Her focus was in a book, presumably new, as it didn’t have the cracked spine and tattered edges most of her books seemed to sport. Despite the hair, she’s a pretty introverted girl, but friendly and quick thinking once you get her out of her shell. Like me, Lindsey tends to take on several of the odd jobs that Morgan collects for the Gifted and Touched around here. Lindsey is another Gifted herself. I ought to say hi before I leave, I have not seen her around for at least two weeks.

I exchanged nods with a woman who could’ve been Alain’s sister. She was tall and willow thin, with barely any curve to the long lines of her body. She has a delicate triangular face with the same platinum blonde hair as Alain’s, but cropped short, just barely brushing the bottom of her earlobes. She’s a regular here, and I’ve found the odd herb or three for her more than a few times. She doesn’t actually talk to anyone here but Morgan and Alain. The fact that she nods at me when she comes though is amazing. Even more so when you consider that I punched her after my last consultant job with her. She paid me three times my normal fee, even though I ended up giving her herb away. I got pissed off when her “no talking” rule extended to refuse giving me an explanation. I have a short temper, especially with Things, and she is most definitely a Thing. There’s probably some weird Thing’s code of conduct that got me the nod. Makes me nervous.

More people I recognized by sight filtered slowly in, not too many that I know by name are in the pub tonight. I reached down and scratched the top of bunny-rat’s head absentmindedly, watching the growing crowd around the Igo pair. There are about seven people gathered now, making whispered commentary on the plays back and forth.

---

A familiar olive-colored coat appeared as a small guy, somewhere around three and a half feet tall, rounded the corner of a particularly large bush. His hair was a thick, disheveled mass the color of a red setter, with thick sideburns running down past his ears. His eyes were dark and slanted upwards slightly in is somewhat flat and fair-skinned face. He carried a marble chess set under one arm, and gave me a friendly wave as he glanced my way.

“Now that’s a fine and expensive animal you have with you there boy.” He called across the patio to me as he came in from the forest-side. “When did you take a liking to furry critters?”

“I didn’t. It’s a job Ken.” He wears that green coat every time I see him. He claims there are times he doesn’t, but I can’t believe it.

“You’d make more selling it on the black market.” He shot me a wink and a teasing smile.

“Right, the huge black market that there is in this dinky town, it’s right there next to Ma’s Corner Store.”

“Ha! I knew you knew where it was! Now where’s that corner store? My manga store went out of business, I need a fix.”

Of course, there is no corner store; Ken just loves to ignore my sarcasm like that. “Go to Books-A-Million you dork.”

“But they don’t have imports.”

“Because no one here reads Japanese.”

“I do!”

“No you don’t Ken.”

Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably wrong. Ken, despite the description, is not a leprechaun or anything of the similar sort. Ken is a human. He just happens to be a half-Chinese, half-American midget. Ken is seventeen and a junior at the local high school. And no, he really does not read or speak Japanese. Like anyone else you might meet on the back side of the pub, Ken is special. Not in the “special” meaning mentally retarded way either, regardless of whatever teasing I give him to the contrary. Ken falls under the Touched category. He can see Things, and then there’s his Talent. Morgan says it’s a variation of the Sight for looking at the past. Anything that is written or drawn, he understands the meaning of it when he touches it. He apparently had to go through a lot of training with Morgan to push out the emotions of the authors. I can’t imagine it. I mean, he probably has to read Sylvia Plath in school, that woman stuck her head in an oven to commit suicide. I understand he’s at the top of his English and Literature classes, but I cannot imagine not only understanding what the poem meant but also knowing the feelings that drove her to stick her head in an oven? No thank you.

I manage to end up with the weirdest friends.

“You up for a game tonight?”

“No thanks. I’m going to get out of here before stuff gets active.”

“You always avoid the Solstice celebrations don’t you?”

“Religiously,” I said in a faux pious tone.

“Did you do that before you moved here?”

“Don’t ask dumb questions Ken.”

“It’s not a dumb question.”

“Why does it matter? You’re too young to be attending that stuff.”

“No I’m not. I know more about life than you do. Just because I’m seventeen, Geeze John! Think about it! I read a lot of stuff, I feel what the authors feel when they write. I’ve got loads more life experience than you.”

“Ken.” I extended the single syllable of his name through gritted teeth.

“It’s not quite the same Ken.” Alain interrupted as he sat my food and drink on the table. “Second hand life experience is a bit different than actually experiencing it. You’re mature and very knowledgeable for your age, but those experiences can be set aside and put away as information for you. When you really experience something, it’s with you; you can’t set it aside when it’s convenient.”

“Why do I keep getting the impression you guys know some story about John you’re not telling me?” Ken said in a whiny voice and plopped down on the bench on the opposite side of the table from me.

“I don’t,” Alain assured him. “Mind if I sit for a while John?”

“Don’t you have to worry about the customers?”

“Not yet,” Alain smiled gently as he took a chair on my side of the rectangular table. “Morgan prefers to handle them herself, she doesn’t want me working until stuff picks up.”

“That and she doesn’t like all the cute young girls and ancient beauties hitting on you,” Ken piped in.

“Ever the insightful squirt, aren’t you Ken?”

“It’s a Gift John.” He smiled sardonically.

“Nah, just your special Touch,” I snorted back at him.

Alain started giggling. Grown men should not giggle. I don’t care if most people would argue Alain’s effeminate enough to get away with it. They’re wrong. It’s disturbing. Laugh man; you have a perfectly normal laugh. Do not giggle like some kind of schoolgirl.


“Lancelot!” A high-pitched squeal broke out from the vicinity of the pub door.

Alain and Ken were immediately silenced as they turned towards the doorway. I, unfortunately, had more pressing matters to deal with. At the sound of the screeching voice from the doorway, the bunny-rat had tried to jump up, despite being coiled around and under my chair. My chair went tottering backwards suddenly, then forward again as the bunny-rat struggled with the chair, the forward motion pitching me headfirst towards the stone table and my dinner. I caught the table edge in my hands, scraping them, And shoved myself backwards, away from the table. With the bunny-rat still contending with the chair as a restraining device, the chair toppled to one side, spilling me onto the ground, and freeing bunny-rat to make it’s way in a hopping run towards whoever was in the doorway. I skidded across the uneven stone patio, my arms taking the brunt of the fall. My face landed in the dubious safety of a slobbery abandoned gold plush cat.

Everything was silent for a long few moments, before the other patrons started applauding my fall, and Ken toppled over in a deliberate fall to have his face even with mine, laughing until his entire face was tomato red.

I could hear Alain calmly righting my chair just out of sight.

Yes, I’m forming deep seeded loathing tonight. Acorns and bunny-rats. So much righteous hate. I started to get up and found my face dripping from the contact the stuffed animal. Oh yes, gold cats. We cannot possibly forget to add the loathing for gold plush cats.

© 2010 ElfGrove Studio


Author's Note

ElfGrove Studio
This is a rough draft from a failed NaNo attempt a few years ago. I need to try tackling it again. I think it suffers badly from too much exposition. Other thoughts and suggestions are more than welcome.

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Added on December 17, 2010
Last Updated on December 17, 2010
Tags: magic, fantasy, wizards, detective

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ElfGrove Studio
ElfGrove Studio

San Diego, CA



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Software Engineer, Lady Knight, amateur artist, mythology buff, cosplayer, and a general purpose geek fangirl. more..

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