Note about December Happy Hour. Writers: When we meet for Open Mic/Happy Hour on December 4, let’s read from School for Scoundrels. Jump on our zoom meeting at 4pm Pacific Time, Saturday, December 4 https://us06web.zoom.us/j/96132548447). Prepare to read 500 words from your chapter (choose the most vibrant/funniest/most profound 500 words from your perspective and feel free to splice and edit), and get ready to have some fun. Here’s your chapter for today!
“There is nothing to fear, child.” Hannah said to the back of the young woman running away from her and into the forest. “Everything is as it should be,” she said in a soft, knowing voice that was not her own. The cacophony of noise crowding the air around Hannah suddenly died and she heard only the whoomp, whoomp of the large owl’s wings as it came down gingerly to rest on her left shoulder, Vlad’s blood and matted hair still on its sharp talons. She is ready, they wordlessly communicated to each other.
Annabelle had stumbled backward, confused by Hannah’s crazy talk. Without realizing she was doing it, or understanding why, Annabelle had turned and was running back into the woods. Running so fast, she was acutely aware of the sting of the cold air on the dampness left behind on her stylishly-ripped jeans and lightweight hoodie by the mud and wet leaves of the forest floor. Thoughts were flying into her head like race cars zooming around corners, noisy and so fast they were gone before she really understood them. Kidnapping? Russians? Zzzoom! Giant cats? Witches? ZZZoom! What the fu- “Annabelle! Annabelle, where are you?” The desperation in her father’s terrified cries grabbed Annabelle from behind and snapped her back to the moment. “Daddy!” the word barely more than a moan, muddled by the tears, dirt and snot caking her face. I’ve got to help him! She kept running further into the forest away from her father, following a path she’d become familiar with during her time with Sybil and Hannah exploring the beauty and wonder of nature.
Out of nowhere, the giant cat was once again by her side, matching her stride for stride as if she knew Annabelle’s plan. “Sorry, cat, I have no plan!” she called out breathlessly, making eye contact with this oddly familiar animal. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she sobbed, “but I’ve got to help Daddy!”
Oh, but you do know what you’re doing. You’ve always known. Annabelle stopped abruptly. Her eyes darted quickly from tree to bush to tree, followed closely by her head causing her dark hair to swing around and momentarily stick to her dirty face, looking for the source of the words. She felt two eyes trained on her and she somehow knew, even before she turned back around again and resumed eye contact, that the voice had come from the cat. Seeing the nearly imperceptible nod of the cat’s head, Annabelle also just knew that this majestic animal’s name was Marie and they now belonged to each other. Calm settled over her like a mother’s embrace.
Jack wouldn’t realize until days later, safe in his private hospital room after hours of touch and go surgery, that it was none other than Doug the Fir, Westminster Academy’s mascot, that had fallen on him. In an out-of-character act of kindness, Emerald had stopped by Jack’s house and picked up a few things for him to have at the hospital: the electric toothbrush he couldn’t live without, dental floss, and his non-mercury deodorant. She suspected the cute, red-headed surgeon may have influenced the request. The one thing she wouldn’t bring for him, in an even bigger act of kindness, was his laptop. “Thanks?” he said jokingly, knowing that it was probably the most thoughtful gesture she’d made toward him in five years.
Before leaving his room, Emerald rummaged around in her oversized leather handbag, pulled out a thin, crumpled-up newspaper and tossed it on his bed. “You’re famous,” she said as she slid on her entirely unnecessary Gucci sunglasses and walked out the door. There she is, Jack thought to himself with a smirk.
The smell of newsprint overpowered the smell of hand sanitizer and it made Jack bit nauseous. He hadn’t been entirely convinced that he was emotionally ready to revisit the events of that day at Westminster Academy, but his curiosity won out. He reached for the Fort Landers Daily News and read the headline, “Biblical Wrath brought down upon the School of Scoundrels” by Alex Porter. The prominent photo was a shot of Doug the Fir, all 273 feet of him, on his side, enormous roots ripped from the Earth. He couldn’t make out himself in the grainy photo, but he didn’t have to. He dropped the paper and reached for the puke bucket.
Annabelle closed her eyes, drew in a deep breath and said, “Ask the animals, they will teach you.” From that point on, she and Marie spoke to each other without words.
Yes! Yes! Marie said with a sense of urgency that Annabelle felt. They both looked up at the dark, roiling sky and knew time was running out. Mother Nature had more in store for them all. Together, Annabelle and Marie called out, Large animals of the forest, we need your help! In less time than a breath, the ground rumbled as seven awesome beasts emerged from the shadows of the forest and knelt before the pair.
Katahdin, the largest of the group of three black bears and four full-grown bucks, spoke as he rose to his full height of nearly six feet. We are sorry. Even with all our mighty strength, we cannot move the tall tree from the man. We must call on our small friends to help us. They can help in ways we cannot.
Hannah and her owl walked together in quiet contemplation along the jagged chasm of destruction that now separated the forest from the school grounds, an oddly serene sight for those panicking on the other side. Behind Hannah, an other-worldly bolt of lightning crackled across the sky above Annabelle and Marie as they appeared at the edge of the forest flanked by a powerful enclave of bears and bucks. Hannah turned to watch the procession and noticed movement along the ground, surrounding the group’s feet as they strode quickly toward the spot where the life of Annabelle’s father was slowly being crushed out of him by the fallen tree. In an instant, Hannah understood the plan. Her lips lifted just slightly at the corners of her mouth as she closed her eyes again to visualize it in her head.
The large animals were strong, but they would not be able to move the tree without completely crushing the man. As Katahdin had instructed, Annabelle and Marie called upon the smaller animals next, and were now surrounded by thousands of tiny voles. Annabelle had listened and learned from the animals. She understood that while these little creatures may barely be an ounce in size, together they could burrow and tunnel and remove enough earth from beneath her trapped father to create space for the first responders to save him. Such a beautiful plan Hannah thought as she sat cross-legged on the ground to watch, her owl ever-present on her left shoulder.
Netta was out of breath and still shaking as she reached her old Subaru, fumbling with the keys to unlock the door. Violently slapping at the back of her neck, she swore she could still feel spiders skittering over her skin. “Get me outta here!” she yelled as she shoved the key into the ignition. Revving the engine, she looked up and paused. From her vantage point in the parking lot, Netta could see Annabelle and her group of animals making their way toward Annabelle’s trapped father, Jack Watson. At this point in the day, she was non-plussed by the fact that this rescue crew was a group of bears, deer, a giant cat, and thousands of creatures too small and far away to identify, all presumably being led by Annabelle, a fifteen-year-old rich kid who had been kidnapped only hours ago. None of it made any sense. The only thing Netta knew for sure was that they better pick up the pace of this rescue. She was out of her environmental sciences league when it came to heliophysics, but she knew enough to know that she shouldn’t be able to see the Aurora Borealis in the daytime. And those green and yellow clouds should not be so low that the tops of the fir trees are disappearing into them! Something bad was about to happen and Netta had no intention of sticking around to be a part of it!