I found myself on the window seat the next morning, staring out into the garden once more. James had reminded Colm that morning of a monthly meeting with the city’s Merchant Guild. Though I was invited to tag along, to see more of the city and see how he worked, I chose to stay behind. The plan had been to go back to sleep, and maybe do some more recon disguised as exploring. Unfortunately, the moment Colm left, I found the desire to do much of anything disappeared.
Loneliness began to settle in.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I can handle being alone. Years of being teased, of not being invited to places when others were, of just being forgotten, taught me that being alone wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. At times, I even preferred it. What need had I to be with others when I could have as much fun doing what I liked all on my own?
But this was a different loneliness, a different pain. This was something I have never before felt. No amount of schoolyard jeers or nights spent waiting for someone to call could equal the ache that resonated within me. I wasn’t just the only human being in a Giant household. For all I knew, I was the only human within a Giant city. What few times I might have to interact with another human would be far and few between while I was here. Something as simple as passing another person on the street would be a rare occurrence. Mankind “crossed over” to this world for centuries, yet we were considered less than street rats. Invaders from another world, a plague that couldn’t be stopped…that’s what we were to these Giants. It wasn’t said aloud, but the impression couldn’t be far from the truth.
Perhaps “loneliness” was the wrong word after all.
This felt more like sorrow.
Grief, for friends and family. For complete strangers. For everyone who was stuck here before me, for those stuck now. And worse, for those who might be stuck here in the future.
“There’s a way back for me. For all of us. I know there is.” I told myself. “It just hasn’t been found yet.”
Most of the morning flew by without me noticing it. I slipped in and out of dozes as the hours passed, nearly falling out of my seat when a knock came at the door. Someone entered before I had a chance to do anything, though the idea to run behind a curtain sprang to mind.
“Oi, Runt, I’m home! Are ye in here?” Colm asked as he stepped into the room, scanning the floor for any sight of me.
“Name’s not ‘Runt’, Scruffy.” I replied in an instant, catching his attention.
“Name’s not ‘Scruffy’, Runt.” he countered automatically.
This is going to be a “thing” with us, isn’t it? I thought to myself as he sat on the empty cushion beside me. He took great care trying not to disturb me. Though he was cautious in his movements, he still caused a slight tremor.
“Werne tuh bored while I was out, were ye?” he asked when he was settled.
“Course not! Barely even noticed you were gone, Scruffy.” I lied, keeping my attention on the window and everything outside.
“Oh, I see. Tuh busy havin’ fun without me?” he supposed, sounding slightly amused.
“Hey, it’s not like I need you around to occupy my time, you know.” I tried to convince him. There was something about finally having a conversation that made me feel reluctant to participate.
“So what did ye do?”
“While I was gone, what’d ye end up doin’? Sleepin’? Go explorin’ ‘gain? Find anythin’ interestin’?”
“Um…well…uh, I watched the grass grow, saw some paint dry, and…and…” I tried to joke, but found I wasn’t in the mood to be funny. “Okay, fine, you got me. I was bored out of my Goddamn mind. There isn’t even a pad and pencil around to scribble in. And…and I miss my home. My family, my friends…Hell, I’m missing my stupid, dead-end job at this point.”
The smirk on Colm’s face faded with each word I said. If he showed any sign of discomfort or remorse as I spoke, I couldn’t tell. Or maybe I didn’t want to know. I wasn’t about to stop either way.
“I’d kill just to know there’s another person around here. Somewhere, anywhere! And I mean a person my size, not a damn Giant like you or anyone else in this damn house.”
“I know it’s gonna be hard fer ye-!” he started, his voice rife with sympathy.
“Do you? Do you really even know what it’s like to lose-!” I began to yell, only to stop myself. My next words were going to be harsh, I knew that. Colm was already bracing himself for what I might say next. As much as I would’ve loved to tear him a new one, a part of me knew it would do more harm than good. I turned away instead. “…Never mind. That’s what I was doing while you were gone. Being homesick. Happy now, Scruffy?”
“…No. No, I’m not.” Colm said after a moment of contemplation. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was truly disappointed when he said it. The room was still and quiet as we gazed out the window. He eventually broke the silence with a soft voice. “It wasne s’posed tuh be like this, ye know.”
I think a lot of things weren’t supposed to be like this I was tempted to quip, but suppressed the urge.
“What wasn’t?” I asked instead.
“Ye werne s’posed tuh be…tuh be left on yer own yet. Or me, back tuh work right ‘way. I dinna…dinna think this’d be happenin’ so fast…” he said, leaning his head against the window. It took him a few minutes to realize I was watching him now, and he turned to make eye contact. “I wanted tuh get ye settled in, show ye ‘round, introduce ye tuh e’eryone, have some more questions an’ talks an’ jokes’ an arguments…I just…I thought we had more time befer…befer e’erythin’ caught up with us.”
“You really think I’m gonna run out of questions to ask, or stop insulting and yelling at you any time soon?”
“No, I doona think ye will. An’ that I’m happy ‘bout.” Colm said, a smile creeping back onto his face at the thought. “I really am sorry if ye were bored. I wasna thinkin’, was I?”
“You? Think? It’d be a miracle.”
“Heh. That’s the spirit.”
“Seriously though, you asked if I wanted to come, and I chose to stay behind. I’d rather be bored to tears because I had the choice than angry because I was forced to do something I didn’t want to.” I informed him as I got up to stretch. The words I thought were most important were emphasized, hoping that he’d get the message. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me, just to be clear. “Besides, I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about leaving a squeaky toy behind next time, but I’m not clever enough to make it.”
“Oh, I’m sure ye’ll think a’ somethin’. Doona s’pose ye’d wanna head out there, do ye?”
“Hm? Out where?”
“The back garden, a’ course!”
“…I don’t think I can say ‘yes’ hard enough, Scruffy.”
Calling it a “back garden” wasn’t just an understatement, it qualified as an insult. We weren’t even past the veranda yet and I could tell this yard was even larger at ground level. The view from Colm’s room simply didn’t do it justice. Servants prepared the patio table, setting up place mats and utensils underneath decorated parasols. It wasn’t hard to see which seat would be Colm’s when the time came: beside the plate at the head of the table was my picnic table, a cloth napkin acting as a matching tablecloth. Liam was to return at any moment, with the visiting king and princess staying for lunch. The gardeners from the day before had their tools laid neatly on a tarp, making last minute adjustments to the grounds surrounding the stairs and porch.
“Um, do you think it’s a good idea to have a ‘pet’ at the same table as a king, Scruffy?” I asked from his shoulder, holding on tight as he descended the veranda’s steps.
“‘Tween ye an’ me, King Gerwulf dinna seem like the type tuh mind that sorta thing.” Colm stated low, to make sure no one nearby heard him. “But ye doona have tuh be there, if it makes ye uncomf’table.”
“I…need to think about it, Scruffy. I may just duck out at the last minute.”
The garden seemed to engulf a great deal of land, with a tree line that encircled the estate. We came upon a large fountain within a few hundred feet -to me, at least- of the veranda, but it was by no means the middle or even end of the yard. Hell, I’d say it marked the entrance to all sorts of plants and flowers I barely recognized growing all over the place. We walked along a winding and twisting cobbled path, with smaller paths leading on either side to be seen as we went. If I had to compare it to something in Giant proportions, it was like the Arcadi family had their own private park sitting in the back of the house.
Colm set me down so I could walk, keeping pace as I made my way through the towering flowers. He kept a close eye the entire time, but it was my opportunity to explore the plots. Whenever I passed through some plant or flower I didn’t know, Colm would kneel down beside the specimen and tell me everything he knew about it.
“How’d ye think I earned me Faol Scout Nature badge, huh?” he said when he noticed the look of disbelief on my face. “Had a whole back garden tuh study an’ practice with!”
Ambling through the colossal stems was the most amazing experience here thus far. The thrill and wonder of seeing petals above me was one I couldn’t describe properly. It was the first time I was actually glad to be so small here, if it meant I could enjoy an encounter like this. I recognized most of the flowers, like azaleas, roses, tulips, daisies, heather, lilies, violets, aidelwiess, and chrysthanemums, but many were native to this Giant world. To “Tergaia”, I had to remind myself. It was a bit confusing, but interesting to learn about them all. Many of them looked like crossbreeds of established plants, some with colors neither of the original plants possessed. It was a fascinating sight to behold, to say nothing of the overwhelming fragrance of it all. I was getting the most wonderful headache from all the scents wafting through the air. Colm eventually stopped to rest, sitting underneath a tree while I gazed at a patch of sunflowers growing nearby.
“How’re ye enjoyin’ yerself so far, Bridget?” he asked, wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“There aren’t enough words, Scruffy. Don’t think the botanical gardens back home have anything on your place! Are we even half-way through your backyard yet?” I asked him with one hand shielding my eyes from the sun. It was hard going to get a better look at the sunflowers. Good God, they were always pretty tall back home but here they were just awe-inspiringly colossal. I was certain they had a foot on Colm, at the very least. “I’m pretty sure you could fit all of Bayonne in here. There might be room left over for half of Jersey City!”
“What’re ‘Bayonne’ an’ ‘Jersey City’?” Colm asked.
“Towns from back home, in New Jersey. Jersey City is where I’m from and Bayonne is right next to it. It’s not that far from where I live actually.”
“…What’s it like there?”
“Oh, pot holes and car alarms, cracked sidewalks and neighbors fighting at all hours of the night. It’s fantastic. I always thought I’d like the countryside better, and there’s a part of me that still does, but…well, ye can take the gal out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the gal, you know?” I explained. “There’s no place like Jersey, Scruffy. And you can quote me on that. Though this is nothing to scoff at. It’s almost too impressive for words.”
“Oh aye, that it is. Great place tuh come when ye wanna just need tuh relax an’ hear ye own thoughts.” he said, taking a pocket watch from his waistcoat and checking the time. “Oi, we better be headin’ back. Lunch’ll be ready soon. Sure e’eryone’s waitin’ fer us.”
“Just let me look through this last patch, alright?” I yelled out, not waiting for an answer before I stepped between the sunflower stems. The flower heads were so wide and bunched together that I almost giggled at the irony. Sunflowers creating shade was too funny to me. I noticed something catch a shaft of sunlight and twinkle nearby. A long, thin piece of metal lay at my feet. It had a weight to it, but wasn’t too heavy to handle. About three feet long with a jagged edge, it could have made a suitable walking stick in a pinch. “Hey, Scruffy! Look what I found!”
“UNCLE COLM, UNCLE COLM!” voices shouted before he could ask, and within an instant the twin girls had appeared. “Daddy’s back! And the king is here!”
“We saw the little table at the big table, is your human eating with us too?” Ellie asked, a wide smile on her face. I could see her looking everywhere for any sign of me. Hiding near the entrance to the sunflower patch seemed sensible at that moment.
“She has a name, Ellie!” her sister scolded. “…Is she, Uncle Colm?”
“Bridget hasne decided yet, but she’s welcome tuh join us if she really wants tuh.”
“Mum won’t like that, I’m sure…” Elias stated as he came up the path. “Uncle Colm, would it be alright if I picked some flowers for…the table?”
“For Errrrrrrmentraude!” the girls teased, giggling when their brother’s cheeks flushed a bright red.
“It’s fine by me, Elias. I just feel sorry fer ye…‘cuz LAST ONE BACK IS A ROTTEN EGG!” Colm exclaimed before running full pelt down the path towards the house. The girls followed close behind, but Elias only shook his head and continued to pick his flowers.
I, on the other hand, was just about livid. All I could do was gape at their backs in disbelief as they ran out of sight. Did Colm just seriously forget about me? Was he expecting me to wait here for him? Or to follow him back to the house? If he thought the latter, he would probably be waiting for days. There was no way I’d be able to make it back before nightfall, if I was lucky.
But then again, this would be a good time to escape… I thought to myself, inspecting the metal shard closer. Plenty of places to hide at my size, some of these plants and flowers are edible so I wouldn’t be short on food.
A look in the opposite direction, down the path we hadn’t explored yet, pretty much destroyed whatever plans came to mind.
But there’s too much land to cover, and I don’t know where the end is…if there’s an end. Colm would spend days looking for me if he had to, that’s for sure. Hell, he’d probably have the whole house looking for me. I told myself. Probably a better idea to slip out in the middle of the night anyway. An escape can wait for the right moment. Maybe I can convince this kid to give me a lift back… When I turned to ask him, he was standing in the middle of the path.
“Elias, what’s-?” I began to ask, stepping out from the sunflower patch. He was pale and had a tight grip around the stems of freshly picked flowers. I shared his fear when a sound, low and sinister, made my blood run cold. My heart pounded like a jackhammer and a shiver went down my spine when it repeated itself.
A massive snake sat in front of Elias. If it saw me, standing yards away from it, it didn’t show it. The snake was waiting for the slightest movement from him, ready to strike in an instant. Crying out or running for help would be useless: my voice and legs were too small to be useful. Elias had the better odds of finding help. He could get Colm or somebody faster than I ever could. Hell, he’d be safe if there was a way to…to…
“Elias, don’t move! Don’t make a sound, alright?” I shouted, an idea slowly forming. The snake didn’t seem to notice the sound of my voice. That or it was so intent on attacking Elias that nothing else mattered.
Do snakes have peripheral vision? Did it see me? I know they can sense movement…maybe I can throw a pebble in the bushes and wait for it to leave the area. Was there a way to tell if a snake was venomous or not? Why am I doing this, I don’t have monster fighting experience! But…I can’t just stand here either. I have to do something! Who the Hell did I think I was, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?
The snake still had its gaze on Elias as I slowly walked towards it. I took in every detail of it. Maybe finding something in common with an Earth snake would help. Its hood was spread open like a King Cobra, and a forked tongue flicked out of its mouth. The hood was odd, almost transparent and torn in places as it flapped against its neck. I was in luck: I was in a blindspot. Or so I figured. Looking around for a stone my size to throw, I could only pray it wouldn’t see me. To my dismay, I found the only chunks of rock nearby were the size of soccer balls. One would never make it far enough if I threw it. Another idea sprang to mind, but I was afraid to try it. My aim was never that accurate and I didn’t want to risk the kid’s life attempting it. By instinct, my shard was raised the second I saw the snake slither closer to Elijah. That only helped to cement the idea and discard whatever fears I had.
God, if you can hear me, please… I prayed, picking my target carefully. I’d never thrown a spear before. I’d never had to take on something so big before. I wasn’t a Spartan or Amazon, that’s for sure. Would I be strong enough to make this shard reach? Just this once, don’t let me mess up. Don’t let this kid die because of me.
With a strained HUFF I threw the spear towards the snake, hoping it would hit the-!
The snake spat out a pained hiss when the spear landed in its eye. It thrashed about, attempting to get the shard out.
“RUN ELIAS, RUN!” I screamed, dodging the snake’s whip-like tail as it battered the ground around me. Elias wasted no time and lept over the creature, running as fast as his legs could. He sped off towards the house like a bat out of Hell, dropping most of his flowers and yelling for help along the way.
What was my escape plan again?
“Oh, crap.” I said when the snake freed the jagged piece from its eye…and turned around towards me.
Staying as still as possible, the thought came that maybe it wouldn’t notice me. Maybe it’d just go away. I gulped hard, however, when it started slithering closer instead. I was the same size as a fat mouse or other small creature it probably preyed on. Today would be like any other day as far as it was concerned, and a meal was a meal. Its head swerved from side to side and up and down as it approached. Of course! With its injury it probably couldn’t get an exact lock on me, which would explain why it hadn’t tried to strike. Yet. The spear lay on the ground, by the snake but within reaching distance, if I estimated correctly.
I can make it, I know I can I convinced myself, glancing back between the snake and the shard. It opened its mouth wide, baring its fangs. Just have to wait for the right…MOMENT!
With an unknown burst of spryness, I jumped clear of the fangs and tumbled hard across the ground. A shooting pain ran through my leg, but I managed to reach the shard-spear. Looking down, I saw my jeans ripped apart and blood gushing from my right knee. An excruciating numbness radiated through my leg. The snake had been veonomous after all, and I was already feeling the effects.
Oh God I don’t wanna die I don’t wanna die I DON’T WANNA FUCKING DIE! I screamed to myself. Tightening my grip around the shard, I made ready to attack the snake. I was resolved to take it down with me if I could, or give it a fight worthy of remembrance if I couldn’t. The venom seemed to drip as it bared its fangs, ready to strike at any second. I lifted my weapon before my hands started to quake from the venom’s pain. Anticipating the snake’s movements, I pointed the shard’s tip towards its head. For a split-second I was distracted by the sound of rolling thunder coming down the way.
It was all the time the snake needed.
With a loud hiss it struck, fangs exposed and venom oozing. Just as it came within a few feet of me, I thrust my spear with all my strength into its mouth. At least, what I thought was its mouth. My own vision was going hazy at that point. With a disgusting, agonizing SQUELCH, the shard pierced the mouth but wasn’t enough to stop the attack.
Shit…this is it… I closed my eyes tight, repenting all of the sins in this life and those in past lives, just in case.
Then the world quaked beneath me.
An ear-shattering THUNK and the sounds of tearing flesh filled the air as I fell to the ground. With blurry eyes I discovered a large wall of shining metal before me, exactly where the snake had been. On my right lay the snake’s head. Its mouth was still open, the shard stuck inside, but otherwise still ready to strike. The exception being, of course, that it was now detached from its body. Blood oozed from the base of its neck where it was once attached. The torn eye stared menacingly back at me. With venom coursing through my veins and my own blood loss, the sight was too much to bear. I fell to my knees and vomited.
A sudden weakness came upon me, and with the last of my strength I rolled onto my side. Every limb went numb and feeble. The venom was fulfilling its natural duties. At least…I went down…fighting… I thought, my vision starting to fade.
An enormous shadow blocking the sun was the last thing I saw before everything faded to black. Sounds and sensations pierced the darkness. I could hear voices but only caught snatches of conversation.
“-think she’s breathin’! Bridget, if ye can hear me, move! Or say somethin’! Anythin’!”
I groaned in response, but it was enough for the voice. The pit of my stomach fell as my body was lifted high off the ground. My fingers refused to act when I tried to hold on.
“Finn, grab as much Rodelia as ye can. Sheldon, a mortar an’ pestle! Bring’em tuh the fountain, quick!”
“Do ye think she’s gonna-”
Waves of seething nausea rippled through my body. There was an urge to throw up but I had neither the strength nor will to move my body. My eyes, much as I tried, refused to open even a little bit. Everything was a haze to me, and I was growing more and more confused and scared. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was moving, and fast, high off the ground.
Panic increased when I felt myself lowered onto a cold, hard surface. Something even colder ran along my leg, tearing through my tattered jeans. My stomach turned when I tried to jerk my leg away, only to find it wouldn’t move. Something was holding my foot, keeping me still. Whatever cut through my jeans finally stopped above the knee. My leg was exposed to the elements and blood dripped more freely than before. The efforts to release my leg didn’t go unnoticed. A gentle voice called out to me, attempting to calm me down.
“Easy there, Pipsqueak…we’re tryin’ tuh help…” it cooed as a warm weight stroked my arm. It shouldn’t have been relaxing, but a part of me was relieved to know someone was there. But why did it sound so familiar? It sounded like a, gruff voice but…softer, I think. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, let alone how I recognized it. Nothing was making sense at the moment. More importantly though, just who did it think it was calling “Pipsqueak”?!
“Can ye get’er tuh sit up?” the voice asked, its tone now more concerned than soothing. Something lifted me up into position, and a warm wall now supported my back. My arms hung over another object, one that was holding me tight around my stomach. I flinched as cold water washed onto my injured leg. Buckets of water were falling onto the open wound. Trying to breathe kept me from screaming bloody murder from the pain and chill. The voice called out when the last of it was poured. “This is gonna be the hardest part. Are ye ready?”
A moan escaped my lips as confirmation.
Breathing no longer felt like a priority the moment a thicker liquid poured onto my wound. Flames spread through my body with such intensity that I was certain I was dying all over again. A river of tears streamed from my face as I struggled to get free, to get away from the pain. My limbs betrayed me, however: even if my leg and upper body weren’t held firmly in place, I still couldn’t make them move. The fire died down in time, and the pain lessened. The numbness was disappearing. It was a joy to feel my fingers grasp at the warm thing holding me, even if I barely had the strength to do much. My eyelids felt like they weighed a ton, so I leaned back against the warm wall instead.
“One last thing, then ye should be fine. Fer now.” the voice reassured me as my leg was slowly lifted. I gasped at the pain, but didn’t mind it. Compared to what I had experienced moments ago, it may as well have been a mosquito bite. Something was wrapped around my knee, soft as silk but solid at the same time. It covered the wound and held the thick liquid in place. “Atta girl. How’re ye holdin’ up?”
“Like…crap…” I managed to reply, my throat hoarse from all the screaming and crying.
“I doona think we can move’er just yet. Wait here, I gotta call the doc.”
“W-wait! What do I do?”
“What yer doin’ right now! Keep’er still, keep’er calm. Let’er know e’erythin’s alright. I’ll be right back.”
“But what if she…” the voice called out, only to trail off. There was an awkward moment of silence before the voice started to nervously ramble. I tuned out some of it, mostly because the voice was talking too fast in an accent I couldn’t make it out. He, so I figured, was mostly making idle chit-chat about the weather and stuff anyway. “Oh, an’, a’ course, yer gonna be just fine. I think. I mean, I’m no expert. Just sayin’ it doesne look that bad now. Not that it looked good befer, just, ye know, it’s better. Kinda.”
“Calm down, Scruffy. You’re making me nervous.” I told him, patting his thumb.
Now that I wasn’t in horrendous pain, everything was starting to make sense again. Colm was at my side, his accent a dead give away. That jumbled mess couldn’t have been anyone else. The warm wall at my back had to be his hand with a thumb holding me at the waist.
“Um…who’s ‘Scruffy’?” he asked.
“Big guy, hair all over the place, silly accent? You may have seen him once or twice in the mirror.” I quipped with a dry laugh. The urge to sleep was becoming harder to resist. There were still questions that needed answering though and I wanted to be conscious to hear them. “Where am I now, anyway? Is the kid okay? What happened to the snake?”
“Yer safe an’ sound, we got tuh ye just in time. Ye can worry ‘bout the details later. Just be a good lil’ human an’ relax fer now, okay Pipsqueak?”
“What’s with the ‘Pipsqueak’ all of a sudden, Scruffy?” I asked, irritated by the new nickname. This was a habit I would have to break out of him, wasn’t it?
“Why do ye keep callin’ me ‘Scruffy’?”
“Uh, because that’s my nickname for you? Duh?”
“No, that’s yer nickname fer me, Runt.”
“Name’s not ‘Runt’, Scruffy.” I replied, oddly glad to hear my “original” moniker again.
“Name’s not ‘Scruffy’, Runt.” he chuckled. “Guess ye havne opened yer eyes yet?”
“Well, I guess I have to now, if you insist.” I joked, doing as he asked. My vision was blurry so it took a few blinks before everything came into focus. At first, I thought I saw at least a dozen people in front of me, but they all receeded into each other until only two remained. I blinked some more, but the pair of similar looking faces remained.
I looked to the person kneeling on the left. It was Colm.
I looked to the person kneeling on the right. It was still Colm.
I looked again.
And again, just to make sure.
Only one thought came to mind.
“Oh dear God, he’s multiplying.”
The two Colms looked at each other before broad smiles appeared on their faces. They laughed when they realized what I meant.
“Liam, ‘llow me tuh introduce Bridget, the conquerin’ hero a’ the day.” the Colm on my left said, looking extremely amused as he gestured to me. “Bridget, may I present me lil’ brother, diplomat, foreign liason, an’ Deputy Magistrate uv’Arcadia, Lord Liam Daniel Joseph Frederick Arcadi.”
“I prefer just ‘Liam’.” the Colm on my right stated with a nod. “Nice tuh meet ye, Bridget.”
“Y-you too…” I said, now a bit embarrassed. Like most twins, the brothers shared identical faces, but the differences were clear on closer inspection. Liam’s hair was a lighter shade, and all of it was pulled back neatly into his ponytail. His eyebrows were the same shape, but they were not nearly as thick as Colm’s own caterpillar brows. The eyes were different as well, Liam sporting a pair of green eyes instead of blue. “Sorry about the, uh, ‘Scruffy’ thing…”
“Bridget, ye may have very well saved me son’s life. Ye coodne insult me right now if ye tried.”
“So…what happened to the snake? I really want to know.”
“Well, soon as Elias came tuh the house an’ told us what happened, someone ran out intuh the garden with a shovel tuh help.” Liam said, giving Colm an incredulous look all the while.
“I got its head off just as it was ‘bout tuh…’bout tuh…” Colm stated, trailing off at the thought. My stomach churned at the memory as well. “…I thought ye were a goner fer a second there.”
“That makes two of us, Scruffy. What happened to the shard I attacked it with?”
“Um, it’s prob’ly still in the snake. Turns out it was a King Kobrek, not from ‘round here. I was more worried ‘bout gettin’ ye help than anythin’ else.”
“Think I can get it back?”
“What in the world fer?” Liam asked, almost appalled at the suggestion.
“Dude, I stabbed a snake. In the face. With a metal shard. TWICE. Pretty sure I need a damn trophy for the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“I’ll see what I can do, Pipsqueak. It’s the least I can do fer ye.” Liam replied with a smile. “I doona think I can e’er thank ye ‘nuff fer what ye did tuhday.”
“…Neither can I.” a softer voice called out.
We all turned to see Gloriana standing a few feet away from the fountain. Pale and uncomfortable, she stepped closer. It was hard to miss her red and puffy eyes. She was ready to say something at first, staring at me the whole time, but turned to Colm instead.
“Don’t you dare misunderstand me. I still don’t like that you have a human, least of all a feral one. You said yourself you haven’t brought her to see a veterinarian or a doctor or…or whatever it is that takes care of them. She could be infected with something that we could all catch, for all you know. That’s irresponsible even for you.” Gloriana stated firmly, not backing down even when an angry flush rose in Colm’s face.
I thought for sure there’d be a repeat of her reaction in the library, and half expected Gloriana to try drowning me in the fountain. Instead, she took a deep breath and turned her attention to me.
“But…I’m grateful she was there and…and did what she did. If Elias had been hurt, I…I don’t…I don’t know what…what I…I would have…”
She turned away before she could finish, but it was clear Gloriana was crying again. I wasn’t the only one to be taken by surprise. All the color had drained from Colm’s face. Liam was conflicted on whether he should stay where he was or go comfort his wife. Colm urged him to go to Gloriana, using his own hand to hold me now.
“She should be thanking you, Scruffy.” I said, low enough so that only he could hear me.
“What do ye mean?” he whispered.
“You left me behind back there. Or did you forget?”
“Oi! I was gonna come back fer ye!”
“Of course you were, Scruffy. Listen, it’s getting hard to stay awake so I’m…I’m just…just gonna…pass out…okay? Oooooookay…” I said, not bothering to wait for Colm’s answer.
It was not a peaceful rest.
Dreams of serpents and monsters, echos of roaring thunder and aches that burned like fire, plagued my slumber. I woke before a pair of dripping fangs descended on me, a scream barely held back in time.
Drenched in sweat and shivering all over, I started to rise but had to lie back down again. The world had to stop spinning first, so I dozed off instead. I found everything stayed where it was when I moved a second time. Nothing seemed recognizable at first. Moonlight from the windowseat was the only source of illumination in the room. A great lump of a shadow lay near my catbed, greatly confusing me at first. It looked like a pile of laundry at first.
After a moment, I realized that among the pile of blankets and pillows, Colm was sound asleep. I smiled at the gesture, somewhat humbled that he stayed by my side the whole time.
With my head clear and my aches gone, I felt fresh as a daisy. Well, a battered daisy, maybe. I sat up to stretch my limbs, shaking the sleep from them. There wasn’t a clock in sight, so I wasn’t sure exactly how long I was asleep. I chuckled when I recognized the blanket I had been using: it was the silk handkerchief from Colm’s suit pocket. His cologne still clung to it. How unoriginally sweet I thought as I set it aside. A cool breeze on my leg reminded me why I was unconscious in the first place.
My jeans were in the worst condition I’d ever seen them. They were stained with dried blood and venom. The fang had slashed across my knee, and there was now a long, straight tear from the knee to the cuff. It was like a slanted “T” cut into my pants. A stiff, tight bandage wrapped around my wound, but when I touched the material it felt like velvet. I stood up and moved my leg to test the rip. You could only imagine my dismay when I learned that my knee faltered as I walked, but that the cloth below my knee trailed behind me with each step.
“…And these were my favorite pair, too…” I grumbled. Nature’s Call needed answering and walking the limp out of my leg would do me good. When I got out of my bathroom, there was a moment of indecision: did I want to go right back to sleep, or try to wake up Colm to let him know I was alright first? A low gurgle from the pit of my stomach made my decision for me.
As I limped over to him, ideas for the best way to wake Colm up raced in my mind. But as I got closer, I was reminded what was so special but terrifying about this place: everything was bigger here. Something as normal as sleeping seemed downright fascinating when magnified to such a degree. Watching skin and muscle move in the most subtle ways was almost hypnotic. Another rumble from below reminded me why I was here, and I stretched for the closest part of Colm I could safely reach.
“Colm? Cooooooolm…” I said, pushing against his forehead. I was gentle at first, but realized he probably couldn’t feel my touch. He tried to shake his head away when I shoved harder. A sudden thought had me rubbing his head more vigorously. “Who’s a good Scruffy? Are you a good Scruffy?”
“Ayeum…” he mumbled in his sleep, shaking his head again.
“You’re a ‘what’? Are you a good Scruffy?”
“Ayemma…Scruffy…” he murmured one last time, finally stirring from his sleep. Colm spotted me after he let loose a long yawn, barely moving to look at me. “Hoi, yer ‘wake!”
“Can’t get anything past you, can I?”
“Doc said it’d be a surprise tuh see ye up an’ movin’ tuhmorrow …”
“I think it is ‘tomorrow’ at this point, so…surprise!”
“How’re ye holdin’ up?”
“Leg hurts like a son of a bitch when I move. Don’t think more sleep would hurt right now.” I said, trying to rub my leg through the bandage. It was a dull ache, truth be told, but that only made it more annoying. My protesting stomach was a more urgent matter, however. “Look, I know it’s late, but do you think I can get something to eat or drink first? Breakfast feels like a century ago and I don’t think I can hold out ‘til morning.”
“Ye doona e’en have tuh ask. I’ll cook ye a feast fit fer a king if yer lil’ heart desires.” he said, stretching his own limbs now. I saw he hadn’t bothered to change out of the suit he wore that day. “Just lemme change yer petal befer we go.”
The velvet bandage, it turned out, were Rodelia petals, same as the ones Colm used for his own injury. The old one crumbled when touched in the right places, revealing the wound. I turned away while Colm covered it up again. My stomach wasn’t ready to see the end result of the garden incident.
“I doona think that scar will e’er go ‘way, e’en with a Healin’ spell…” Colm commented in a quiet voice when he applied the last petal.
“Just another to add to the collection, Scruffy.” I told him. My knees already had reminders of previous injuries scratched on them, mostly from sports fumbles. “More worried about my only pair of pants, honestly.”
“Heh. That I can help ye with, at least. Mend.” Before I knew it, my jeans sewed themselves back together in front of my eyes. The slanted “T” could still be made out in the fabric, but the stitiching was noticeable only to me. Colm offered an open palm and a hand as a rail. “Ready? Hold on tight now.”
Colm kept me in his hand during the trip to the kitchen, pressed up against his chest to keep me stable. The shoulder would have been too risky, and I wasn’t in the mood to test it out. Whether he was tiptoeing through the quiet house so he wouldn’t disturb anyone, or to keep me from bouncing too much, I couldn’t tell. I was grateful for the softer ride, nonetheless. When we walked through the double doors that led to the kitchen, we were surprised by the glow of an open refrigerator and the clinking of jars being moved around. I stifled a laugh as Liam peeked over the door, a fried chicken leg in his mouth.
“Oi! What brings ye down this time a’ night?” Liam asked, after closing the door and taking the drumstick from his lips. A full plate was in his hands when he took a seat at the kitchen table. “How’s yer human doin’?”
“Midnight snacks a’ course.” Colm replied. He set his hand down on the table and waited for me to climb out, taking the seat across from Liam. I sat as delicately as I could, not wanting to make my knee any worse than it already was. “An’ Bridget’s doin’ fine, ye can ask’er yerself.”
“How’re ye feelin’?” Liam asked softly with a small wave and a smile, setting his drumstick down for a moment. Just like Colm, his hair was loose and unkempt, flowing down his shoulders. Unlike him, however, Liam wore green-striped pajamas.
“The knee’s still a bit sore but I’m feeling much better now, t-thanks.” I said, returning the wave. A part of me was nervous around him, though it probably had more to do with his wife than anything else. He seemed amiable enough, but he was still a stranger at the same time. Liam pushed his plate aside and rested his head on crossed arms upon the table. A curious look was in his eyes while he stared at me. I tried to ignore it. “H-how’s Elias doing?”
“He’s alright now, thanks fer askin’. He really wants tuh thank ye fer helpin’ him, ye know. Wants tuh use his ‘llowance tuh buy ye somethin’ when we go tuh Rosecrest tuhmorrow.” Liam said, his attention still locked on me. Colm poked his head over the fridge door at the name. “Yer comin’ tuh Rosecrest with us, arne ye?”
“A’ course she is, doona be daft!” Colm answered with his own plate full of food. He sat down, nudging the plate towards me for first dibs. I was satisfied with a slice of apple. “Rosecrest is the closest town with a human doctor an’ there’s loads a’ stuff I still need tuh buy fer’er tuh.”
“Hope ye doona mind a full carriage ‘cuz…well…” Liam began, nervously twiddling a groove in the table. He avoided eye contact with either of us. “Elias heard we were goin’…then the girls heard he was goin’…befer I knew it, Glori an’ I decided tuh make a’ family day uv’it.”
“…It’s fine, Liam. Just so long as Glori doesne have a repeat perfermance a’ the study, that’s all.”
“Why, what happened?” he asked. Colm and I looked at each other, not sure who should explain. With a deep breath, Colm recounted the tale, including what he said to her afterwards. I was easy to tell Liam couldn’t believe what he heard by the expression on his face alone. He was quiet for a moment before he turned back to me. “I promise, that woona happen ‘gain. That’s not like Glori at all.”
“Well, maybe a lil’…” Colm mumbled, shoving a piece of food into his mouth to keep from saying anything more. Liam gave him a dark look nonetheless.
“I’m really not seein’ what there is tuh hate ‘bout ye, Bridget.” Liam commented, picking at his own plate again. “Ye seem nice ‘nuff tuh me, at least.”
“Thanks for that. Colm already told me that some people don’t like humans because you guys used to think we were demons or something? Maybe it’s that?” I offered, the sight of a crying Gloriana keeping me from saying any…impolite theories. Of course, I wasn’t about to insult her in front of her own husband, after all. “I know it wasn’t my amazing personality, that’s for sure.”
“Oh aye, it’s somethin’ alright…” Colm grumbled between bites. He turned away before I could catch his eye.
“If I may ask…” Liam said, in a serious tone. “…what made ye fight that Kobrek? That thing could’ve eaten ye!”
“Trust me, the thought crossed my mind once or twice.” I joked, rubbing my bandaged knee. “Hell, I was more scared when I thought Colm was going to!”
“WHAT?!” the brothers cried out, simultaneously dropping their food back onto their plates. There was a moment of silence as their jaws dropped and stared at me like I suddenly grew an extra head. It was my turn to look away in embarrassment, instantly regretting my words.
“Ye…ye thought I was gonna eat ye?” Colm finally asked. “When did…why in the world did ye think that?”
“Golly gee, I wonder if it’s because a freaking Giant grabbed me from out of nowhere!” I explained in a huff. “I didn’t even know what the Hell you were doing there, forget about what the Hell you were gonna do to me!”
“Who would e’er do somethin’ as horrible as that?” Colm said, twisting his face in disgust at the thought. The very idea seemed to leave a bad taste in his mouth. “I wasne gonna…yuck… eat ye, that’s fer sure!”
“You think I knew that at the time? Giants aren’t even supposed to be real where I come from! Just the stuff of myths and fairytales!”
I summarized a few of the more popular stories that came to mind. Liam and Colm seemed interested enough, but I saw their faces turn a shade of green when I told them about “Jack and the Beanstalk”. We left the kitchen shortly afterwards, the brothers returning their still full plates to the refrigerator before heading for bed.