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"Where are we going?'
"To Grandpa's house."
"But you told us that Grandpa Haddy was dead."
"Not your grandfather, my grandfather. He'd be your Great-Grandfather Lowell."
"Why are we going there when Mom's in the hospital? Shouldn't we be there in case she needs us?"
"As your mother's illness has progressed, it's become the center of all our lives. I just thought that this might be something that we could do to take your minds off of things for a while."
"That seems kind of cold blooded, Dad."
"Believe me, if I didn't think that this was the best thing for all involved, I wouldn't even consider doing it."
"Are we almost there? I'm tired?"
"No. We're still a long way off. That's part of why we don't visit my family very often, because they live so far out."
"Have we ever met them before? I don't remember even hearing about anyone but Grandpa Haddy."
"No. I haven't had any contact with anyone back home since before you were born."
* * * * *
"Are we close, yet? You've been driving all day."
"We're getting closer. Waxell is up ahead, it's the nearest town to Grandpa's house. We need to stop there to get gas before we continue on."
"Can we eat while we're there? We're hungry and if we don't get out of this car pretty soon, we're going to go crazy."
"I suppose that it is just about dinner time. But when we get there, I need for you two to stay in the car when I tell you to. Don't talk to anyone and whatever you do, don't wander away."
"It's not safe. Let's just get our gas, get our food, and get back on the road."
* * * * *
"Just move on and there won't be any trouble."
"We've been on the road all day and my boys are hungry. I promise, we won't be staying."
"Is there a problem here?"
"This here's one of them Brynner's. He ain't stayin."
"I was just explaining to this... lovely young lady... that my children are hungry and tired from being in the car all day. I just want to bring them in and get them a good meal before we get back on the road."
"Go ahead and feed them, Tracy. God knows we don't want to give them cause to stay."
"I'll go get the boys. Please don't treat them badly. They don't know anything about what's happened here."
"There are a lot of people round these parts who'd give their eyeteeth to be ignorant of the past, but they still have to live with the memories. Even so... just go fetch your offspring and do what you need to do before word gets out that you're here."
* * * * *
"Can we have dessert?"
"No. We don't have time. We need to get back on the road."
"Why are these people staring at us?"
"Just finish your meals. We need to be going."
* * * * *
"Who's that, there?"
"Your grandson, Ares Brynner."
"Why are you here?"
"My boys, my twins, they've just turned twelve. It's that time."
"I thought that the 'curse' passed you by."
"It did, mostly. I've been able to live in the outside world without any problems... until now, anyway. You see, my wife..."
"I'm sorry, Arie. I know you just wanted to have a normal life. I can't fault you for that, not really."
"Do you know, is there anything I can do for her?"
"You haven't told her about us, have you?"
"No. I'd never do that."
"Do you think she could accept it?"
"Truthfully, no. But isn't there anything I can do to save her? She keeps getting sicker and the doctors don't know the real reason why."
"She's been tainted by the curse. You said twin boys? It's a wonder she survived the birth. From all that I know about it, your choices are to bring her in fully or you can leave her to die as one of 'them'. It's up to you to decide what's best."
"I've already decided, I just hoped that you might know of another way. Even if I can't continue to be a part of her life, she's a wonderful person who deserves a chance to live."
"Does that mean that you're finally manifesting?"
"I think so. I've been in denial about it for a while now, trying to tell myself that the signs didn't mean what I knew they did."
"What about your boys?"
"Yes. Whatever caused me to be spared, so far, doesn't seem to be working on them. Both of them are showing the first signs."
"It stands to reason. They are your sons and it is almost Samhain."
"They don't know about any of this. I told them to stay in the car until I had a chance to talk to you."
"I wish your father was here. This should be his job."
"I know. I miss him, too."
"I tell you what. Why don't you leave the boys here with me, then head up the mountain to talk to Grandma Ima? I can't say if she'll have anything that might help with your lady, but it won't hurt to ask."
"I thought Grandma Ima was dead."
"She got better."
* * * * *
"Come on in, boys. I need to go and run an errand, so you're going to stay with Grandpa Lowell."
"Do we have to? Can't we go with you?"
"No. The place I'm going wouldn't be safe for you."
* * * * *
"Grandpa Lowell, may I introduce you to your great-grandsons, Christopher and David Brynner."
"They weren't baptized with those names, were they?"
"No. Of course not."
"Good. But still, those names aren't going to work, here. We'll need to call them something else."
"I know, but can you take care of that? I need to leave soon if I'm going to reach Grandma Ima's before it's too dark."
"Take a kerosene lantern, just in case, and watch out for the footbridge. I've been meaning to fix that for a while now, but I haven't gotten around to it."
"I remember that you were meaning to fix it when I was the twins age."
"Go on, now."
* * * * *
"Come on in and find a seat, boys. Before anything else, we're going to need to do something about your names."
"What's wrong with our names?"
"Those names will be offensive to some of the people who you'll be meeting."
"I guess it's not that big of a deal. We don't want for people to be mad at us. We can use other names for while we're visiting."
"Let's go through the famous names for brothers. Just let me know if any of them sound like something you'd like. Starting at the beginning, there's Cain and Abel, then there's Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, Phobos and Deimos..."
"I like Deimos. It starts with a 'D' like David and I like the sound of it. Can I use that?"
"I don't see why not, that's a fine name with a distinguished history. What about you, Christopher? Would you like to be called Phobos?"
"No. The one I like is Cain."
"Let me think. Cain and Deimos... Those are some fine names, boys. I think this calls for a celebration. Let's see what I have in store in the way of treats."
* * * * *
"It's getting dark out, do you think Dad's going to be alright?"
"I expect so. The hike up to Grandma Ima's place isn't an easy one, but I gave your father a lantern, so he should be able to manage."
"Do you need any help?"
"No. You two just take a seat at the table and I'm going to fix up something special to celebrate you gaining your names. Tell me, how much has your father told you about the family history?"
"He told us that Grandpa Haddy died before we were born. That's about it."
"The story starts more than a thousand years before that, back in the old country. The Brynns were a clan that lived in a valley, off to themselves. They didn't get on with strangers and kept themselves hidden from the outside world. It was their way."
"Kind of like here."
"No, Cain. Nowadays, we're more a part of the outside world than any of us wants. But I'll get to that. Back then, one of the young of the Brynn clan became restless and wanted to know about life outside the valley, so he went against the wishes of the clan and ventured out, on his own. According to the laws of the Brynn, he was to be regarded as 'dead', and left to the hands of fate."
"Yes. I suppose it was. Looking back, if they had gone after him, a lot of pain and misery might have been avoided. But, be that as it may, Connor Brynn went into the outside world and took up a trade. As much as he loved his life among the... regular folk, he always knew, deep within him, that there was something calling him back to Loch Le-al, in the Brynn Valley. Fool that he was, he gathered his wife and children, and ventured back, wanting to tell about all the wondrous things that he had discovered in the 'outside world'."
"You say it like that's something bad."
"The Brynn didn't want any outside influences. They were happy living as they had always lived, off to themselves, in seclusion. So, when Connor and his family arrived, the elder of the clan was infuriated. He and the other elders of the clan gathered and put a blood curse on Connor Brynn and his family, then cast them out."
"A curse? For real?"
"Yes, Deimos. For real. The curse was of ancient origin, and none of us knows exactly what it said, or if there were even spoken words, at all. But the curse has followed the bloodline of Connor Brynn and continues to this very day."
"Brynn, as in Brynner?"
"That's right, young Cain Brynner. You and your father and, all of us, continue to live under that ancient curse."
"But why can't we use our own names?"
"One of the... conditions of the curse is that we are forever forbidden access to the faiths of other cultures. Their gods won't hear our prayers or offer us their salvation. We're of a different tribe, so if we're to find any religious fulfillment, we have to do so in the traditions of the ancient Brynns. So, it follows that some of our people are a bit unsettled by naming our young after certain of their religious icons."
"Dad always says that religion is a bunch of crap. None of it's true."
"I suspect that your father is only voicing what he wishes were the truth. As I understand things, the people of other tribes are free to believe such things as they wish. They have the freedom to pick an choose, or not believe at all. We do not have that luxury. The curse and the religion of the Brynn is part of our blood. We cannot deny it."
"Okay. So if we're cursed, what does that mean?"
"Let me continue with the history for a bit longer, first. Connor Brynn and his family were expelled from Loch Le-al, never to return. They were afraid, but in time they found their way back to their home in the outside world and tried to return to their normal lives. However, the curse upon their blood caused them to change, to become 'monsters', who were unable to live amongst the regular folk."
"Are you talking about vampires or something like that?"
"Something like that. As a boy becomes a man, the curse awakens within him in the autumn of the year."
"Yes. I believe that's why your father brought you here."
"What's going to happen to us?"
"I don't know, yet. The curse manifests differently in every man. It didn't manifest at all in your father. That sometimes happens. For some rare few, when they manifest, it's so horrendous, that they don't survive the transformation. But most others become all manner of transformed creatures."
"So it's like being werewolves? We turn into something when there's a full moon?"
"Yes. The werewolf mythology touches on many of the aspects of our curse. It's often thought that whoever came up with that legend might have encountered one of our people. However, a full moon isn't required. The first transformation is somewhat unpredictable, but it can be managed here, in the community. After the first time or two, the transformation is at will."
"That doesn't sound too bad. If you only change when you want to, then you can just decide not to change and live in the real world."
"If only it were that simple, it wouldn't be much of a curse, at all."
"So, why is it so bad?"
"Firstly, the cursed blood is constantly calling out to you, demanding that you transform. Living amongst regular folk insures that you will eventually be caught and destroyed."
"So you're always wanting to go wild?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. For a short time you're able to let go of your humanity and become a natural being. There's no other feeling like it. It's like a combination of excitement and tranquility."
"But you can't stay that way."
"No. We're not pure blooded Brynns, so we have to return to being Human."
"The Brynns weren't Human?"
"No. At least, not in the common way of thinking. The best way I've heard it described is that the Brynns are of a different tribe."
"But if Connor Brynn was thrown out of their village over a thousand years ago, why are we cursed?"
"The curse is on his blood, the blood that we all carry. All the male descendants of Connor Brynn carry the blood curse, so that they might pass it on."
"What about the girls?"
"Their curse is worse, in some ways. They grow and live normally, with no sign of the curse on them at all, except that as they grow older, the desire to have a child increases beyond all reason. They will do anything to conceive. While they are pregnant, they are content for a time. But once they give birth, they gradually begin to obsess about conceiving their next child."
"You must have tons of kids here, then."
"No. The curse changes them in another way. They don't have the ability to transform, like the men do. Their transformation is gradual and permanent. As they age, they wither and deform. Not only do they become more bitter, but also more desperate to conceive. Any man who approaches them at that point would be... it's an unpleasant death, to say the least."
"Is Dad going to be alright?"
"Yes. Although Ima is an old hag, to be sure, she and one or two others, have been able to overcome their base instincts so that they can remain a part of our society. For the other women who did not have the strength of will to retain their humanity, there is a large... castle, of sorts. It's more of a labyrinth. We, in the town, call it the Coven. That's where the hags and crones are sent to live out their days, once they've borne their children. They're kept separate from us by a ravine and the only way across is a drawbridge, which we control."
"Why is dad going to talk to her?"
"Ima and her 'sisters' study the curse and the black arts to try and come up with answers. They not only seek an end to the curse, but also work to find ways to ease its effects on all of us."
"Yes. Here, have some apple tarts. Watch out, they're still hot."
"If Dad's going there to ask for their help, then he must think that they have something to make Mom better."
"Yes. It's very likely that the cause of your mother's illness is mystical in nature, so there is a remote possibility."
"How? I mean, why now?"
"For whatever reason, when your father was your age, his curse never activated. He never gained the ability to transform or had any of the other 'limitations'. Seeing this, his father, your grandfather, decided that your father belonged in the outside world. In facilitating his escape, your grandfather was killed."
"Escape? You mean that Dad was trapped here?"
"Yes. As are we all."
"We can't leave?"
"It's for your own safety as well as the safety of everyone you love in the outside world. Actually, why don't we save this discussion for when your father is with us? I have the feeling that some decisions will need to be made, so worrying about it now won't help anything."
"What about Mom?"
"If your father can find something that will help her, he will be allowed to leave to administer the remedy, but with the promise that he will return."
"Why does he have to come back? He's not one of you! You already said it!"
"Calm down, young Deimos. Your father's curse didn't awaken when he was your age, but it's awakening now, as yours awakens. The curse also befell your mother, as you approached your emergence."
"So all of this is happening because of us?!"
"No. All of this is happening because of a curse put on our bloodline over a thousand years ago. No one knows how or why certain things happen the way they do. I'm sure that your father has some regrets for the way things have turned out, but he was following his heart and living his dreams. Unfortunately, when a person does that, there are sometimes consequences."
"Is our mom going to become an old crone?"
"No. She's not of our bloodline. When one of our men marries an outsider and gets her pregnant, she typically dies in childbirth. However, if she were to survive that, then she would soon after endure a slow painful death from illness. Since your father's curse hadn't been activated before he met your mother, she didn't suffer that fate. It's only now that all your curses have been activated, that she's had anything other than a perfectly normal existence."
"What happens when a woman from here marries a guy from outside?"
"Typically, after she conceives, she either abandons her husband or murders him, then returns here to bear her child. Occasionally, she'll stay, but then she'll become increasingly horrid and vindictive and if the man doesn't leave her, she might even be able to conceive a second child before she kills or abandons him. But it's worth noting that the man she leaves behind, should he survive, does not have the curse bestowed upon him."
"As far as screwed up families go, I think we hit the jackpot."
"Looks like it."
"If you boys have finished, we have someplace that we need to go."
"Where are we going?"
"To visit a man. He may be your cousin or more likely, your second cousin. Our family tree is something of a challenge to keep up with. It's become our custom for you to refer to your more distant relatives by how they appear in relation to your age. Were he near to your age, you would call him 'cousin' as it is, just call him Uncle Dark."
"Uncle Dark? What kind of a name is that?"
"His name is Darcel, he goes by Dark. Don't worry about that now, he's a craftsman and has something that we need."
* * * * *
"Dark, I'd like for you to meet my great grandsons, Cain and Deimos. I was wondering if you might have something for them."
"Cain and Deimos? I like that. Let me get a light, then I'll take you around back to my workshop. I think I may have just what you need."
* * * * *
"Well boys, tell me honestly, what do you think?"
"It's probably one of the creepiest places I've ever been."
"Cain! Be nice!"
"That's alright, Lowell. Different people have different feelings about masks. And I'll admit that even though I'm the one who made them, there are times when their eyeless faces seem to be staring at me, looking into the void within me where a soul should be."
"Look through these masks and see if there are any of them that you like."
"Samhain... I mean, Halloween. There's going to be a party. Go ahead and look through the masks to find one that you like so we'll know what you're going to the party as."
"I don't know what some of these are."
"If it's something you like the look of, just ask and Dark will tell you all about it."
"What's this one? A dragon?"
"A wyvern. It's something like a dragon, but it's not full-fledged."
"Is this one a cat or a dog?"
"Somewhere in between, but technically a dog, I think. What you have there is a thylacine, also known as a Tasmanian Tiger."
"I like the color and the hair, but not the nose... it's not right."
"Really? How do you think it should be?"
"Something like this fox one, a half-mask."
"Would you like the fox half-mask, instead?"
"No. I really like this one, do you have one like it, just without the muzzle or snout or whatever you call the nose part."
"I'm not sure. Why don't you give me that one so I can look, and you can keep browsing to see if there are any others that you like?"
"How is this wyvern thing not a dragon?"
"Typically, the european depiction of a dragon has four legs and a pair of wings on it's back. The wyvern has two legs and wings where arms would typically be. There are some claws or talons on the edge of the wing, forming something like a hand, but the last few fingers of that hand are webbed and elongated to carry on the next section of the wing."
"I can almost see it in my head. It's like something that I dreamed."
"Would you like to see a real dragon mask, so that you can compare them?"
"No. I like this one."
"What about you? Have you found any that you like better than the Tasmanian Tiger?"
"Not even close. But do you have another one without the snout?"
"No. But I will in a moment. Excuse me while I go into the back of the shop."
"Is there anything else that you'd like to look at, while we're here?"
"Chris... I mean, Cain. Come here and look at this one."
"What's that you have there?"
"No. That's a raven. Do you like that better than your Tasmanian Tiger?"
"No, not for me. But if Dad's going to be here, it'd be perfect for him."
"Yeah. I wasn't even thinking of Dad, but it's just right."
"Since your father isn't here to choose for himself, and since you've spent so much more time with him than I have, recently, I'm inclined to go with your instincts on the matter."
"I can't believe that out here in the middle of nowhere that you have a Halloween shop."
"I'm sure it will make sense, in time."
"Here you go, take a look at this and see what you think."
"Wow. That's perfect! It's exactly how I wanted it to be."
"Let me bag those up for you."
"Thank you, Dark. I appreciate all your help."
"Are you going to wait for the celebration to... you know?"
"No. After what happened with Ares, we can't take that chance, not at their introduction to the entire community. We'll do it tonight, so we'll be sure."
"I suppose that's best. Let me know if you need my help."
* * * * *
"What were you talking about? Are we going to be making Halloween costumes tonight?"
"Something like that... Watch your step."
"I heard something in the trees, over there."
"Just keep moving. There's nothing here that will harm you."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes. Quite sure."
* * * * *
"Boys, I suppose it's time to do this. I want to show you something."
"Hold on... Why are you taking off your clothes?"
"Just because you bought us some Halloween masks and fed us some pie doesn't mean we're going to do stuff."
"Please, relax. I just don't want to get my clothes torn up when I do this."
"Wow! Your body doesn't look old at all!"
"Neither does your face, really. Are you sure you're our great grandfather?"
"Yes. I'm sure. All will be explained, in time. Just watch."
"What are you doing?"
"This is something that the members of our family can do. You need to see this."
"Grandpa, you're freaking me out. Can you stop doing that?"
"Please, just watch a moment longer. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you."
"You're turning into a dog!"
"A wolf, boy. A wolf."
* * * * *
"Um, nice Grandpa."
"Oh, crap! He's changing back, now."
"That looks like it's gotta hurt."
"Occasionally there is some pain, but the feeling of release makes it worth it."
"So you're a, what? Wolfman, right now?"
"That's right. This is my half-transformed state. If we're able, we're going to try to get both of you to this state before the Samhain gathering, this weekend."
"Sow-win? Is that like Halloween?"
"Yes. That's exactly what it is. We just refer to it by its proper name."
"This is something more than a Halloween party, isn't it?"
"A bit more, but it's nothing to be worried about. This will simply be your introduction to our people. If you can show that you're able to transform, then regardless of where you grew up or how you were raised, you will be accepted."
"Are we going to have to get naked in front of other people?"
"Perhaps. First, we'll have to see how your transformations go. If it's possible for you to wear something to preserve your modesty when you transform, then we'll do that. In my case, the way my body's proportioned and with the tail, there's no practical way for me to wear the same piece of clothing in both forms."
"So you have to walk around all night with your junk hanging out?"
"Only the people seeing it for the first time give it a second look. Believe me, there are much more impressive sights to be seen."
"If the women all get old and mean, then there's just going to be guys there, right?"
"No. Grandmother Ima and her sisters may choose to join us. It's one of the few times that they'll come down off their mountain. Also, some of the virgin daughters of the village may attend. If they do, they're publically stating that they have given up their struggle against the curse and are resigned to their fate. Make no mistake, they will be there for the sole purpose of selecting a mate."
"That seems wrong."
"I know, but refusing them the opportunity would be worse. When we have a public function like this, we all hope that none of the virgins will attend. But those who do, we treat with compassion and sympathy. It should be a few years before you have to worry about that. Most of the girls are able to hold out until they reach full maturity."
"I just don't want to be in a public place with my junk hanging out."
"Let me change back, then I'll help you with your transformations. Like I said, it may not be something that you have to worry about. You may be able to wear short pants or a loincloth when you transform."
"Do we have to get naked?"
"This is going to be weird."
"Yes. In many ways."
* * * * *
"Take your masks and put them on. They don't have any mystical powers or anything, at least, not that I'm aware. But for some reason it helps to make the visualization within you work more smoothly, the first time or two. Besides, you really will wear the masks when we go to the Samhain celebration."
"Okay. I've got my dog-cat mask on. Now what?"
"Deimos, put your wyvern mask on so we may begin."
"Don't look at my junk."
"I've seen more 'junk' than you can imagine. Don't concern yourself with what I'm doing. Put your mask on."
"What do we do now?"
"Close your eyes and feel the power of the world around you. Reach out with your senses and tap into the energy of nature and the energy of the world. Draw in that energy and let it connect with your blood. Let it awaken within you. Let the ecstasy flow through your body as it becomes what it was always meant to be. Go to the place where you are being drawn. Give in. There's no reason to fight. I'm right here with you. I won't let anything bad happen to you. Just let it happen."
"I feel something."
"Draw it in. Let it happen."
"Am I supposed to be shaking?"
"Yes. You're feeling your emptiness, let it be filled."
"What am I filling it with?"
"The power of nature. The energy of the sun and the moon and all the stars. You, in your limited and finite self, are tapping into a well of power greater than you can imagine. Drink. It's there for you."
"I feel it..."
"That's right, Deimos. You're doing better than I expected. Continue on. Let it finish."
"You're fine, Cain. I can see the changes. Just let it happen."
"Grrr r r."
"Don't try to talk, Deimos. You've nearly completed the transformation. Now you only have your animal voice."
"That's fine. Just take a moment to experience what it feels like to be in your animal form, then I'll talk you through changing back."
"Yes. I see, Cain. You've done very well. Do as I told your brother and make note of what you're feeling, right now."
"Yes, yes. Don't be concerned. All you have to do now is remember what it feels like to take off the mask and be yourself again. Remember what it feels like to be the person you were when you woke up this morning."
"Don't allow yourselves to become frightened or frustrated. This is no more difficult than your transformation a moment ago. Now you're just returning to your waking forms. It's the simplest thing in the world, just be yourselves."
"Did I really just become a dog?"
"Yes. A very special dog."
"That was AWESOME!"
"I'm glad you think so. That was the most difficult thing that we had to do tonight. The next bit isn't too bad."
"Can we put our clothes back on, now?"
"Not just yet. If we can get you to stop in a half-transformed state, we'll see if there will be any way to hide your... 'junk' at the Samhain celebration this Saturday."
"Okay, what do we have to do?"
"You'll do your transformation, just like you did before, but this time, you'll talk to me as you're doing it. As soon as you lose the ability to speak in Human language, back up a little and stop. You may not have the control to fully stabilize your form, just yet, but it doesn't take much practice."
"Do you want us to start?"
"Deimos, why don't you start while your brother and I watch? It will be easier to talk to just one of you as you're trying to gain control."
"Alright, you just want me to talk while I'm trying to transform at the same time, is that it?"
"Yes. Go ahead. Whenever you're ready."
"It's hard to do both at the same time. I keep losing my concentration."
"It gets easier. Soon, it will be no more challenging than pulling on a pair of socks."
"Okay, I think I've got it. I think I like my wyvern thing, but I still don't get how a fantasy creature can be real like this."
"It's a mystical curse. If it depended on only what was 'real' to function, it wouldn't work at all."
"I guess that makes sense...�Grrr."
"Now back yourself up, just a bit, and see if you can hold that state."
"It's harder than it sounds. Being a person or a wyvern is easier because they're at opposite ends. But trying to stop at one place in between... I don't know. It feels like I'm going to slip in one direction or the other."
"You may. It's not unheard of. But if you can manage to hold this state for a time, then I have no doubt that you'll do fine at the celebration."
"Is there a way I don't have to walk around with my junk hanging out for everyone to see?"
"Let me see... Yes. This works out very well. In your half-transformed state, your tail isn't manifested at all. With your wings, there's no way you can wear a shirt. And your talons would preclude you from wearing shoes. But if you wanted to wear some sort of short pants, that shouldn't be a problem."
"What about me?"
"Go ahead and try to do as Deimos has done, and we'll see what we can do for you."
"So I'm supposed to talk while I'm changing? I don't know what to talk about."
"Can you tell me how I look? I can't really see myself."
"You look wicked cool, D. I think you could scare the bejezus out of just about anyone looking like that."
"That's not helping. What do I look like?"
"You've got a dragon face, almost like your mask. Your feet are these really big, like chicken feet with sharp claws. And your arms have these bones that I guess are like your fingers going down like spines through your wings.�Yip."
"Back up, just a little bit. You're almost there."
"Okay. That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
"Do you feel in control? Or do you feel like you're slipping?"
"Um, I... think I've got it. I feel like I could hold it here all day."
"There's no way you can cover that up, is there?"
"What? Oh, man! And it's all furry, too!"
"It's sheathed. You'll have time to explore all the functions of your new equipment, later. But for now, let me take a look at you. Would you turn around?"
"Yeah. Those tiger stripes look awesome, but you got a tail. So no pants for you."
"No. Not pants. But considering the positioning of his 'junk', I think we should be able to fashion a rather nice loincloth. Let me see. I think I've got one around here somewhere. Just a moment."
* * * * *
"What's it feel like?"
"It's incredible. I feel like this is what I always should have been. What about you?"
"Are you kidding? I've always loved dragons! This is the best!"
"You look really awesome... you know, in a nightmare kind of a way."
"Yeah. You, too. I just realized that you kind of look like Grandpa when he's half-changed. I mean, not the tiger stripes, but around the face."
"Yeah. Except your jaw. That looks different."
"Whoa! It's like half your head unhinged when you did that! You've got the wildest, most wicked bite I've ever seen! You look like you could swallow a whole thanksgiving turkey in one bite."
"Well, since I like eating as much as you like dragons, I guess that works out."
* * * * *
"Here we go. Good! It looks like you've both been able to hold your transformations. You shouldn't have any problem at the celebration."
"Do you have something for me to wear?"
"Yes. Just turn around and I'll fasten it on you. We'll need to see how much it needs to be adjusted for your transformation back to fully Human."
"Just tell me what I have to do."
"There. Tell me what you think of that."
"It's a hanky on a string."
"True. But that's all you need to keep your private bits private, isn't it?"
"I guess so. How does it look?"
"Actually, I think it looks pretty cool. Maybe I'll wear something like that too."
"Are you going to want another 'hanky' to cover your backside?"
"I don't care about that. I just don't want my dick hanging out."
"If you'll give me another few minutes, I should be able to come up with another loincloth for you, then we can try them out while you're doing transformations. It's possible that we may need to use elastic if your waist size changes too drastically."
"It looks about the same to me."
"I believe you're right. I'll be right back."
* * * * *
"Grandpa Lowell is kinda cool. I wish Dad would've brought us here sooner."
"He wanted for us to grow up like regular Humans."
"But we are regular Humans, aren't we? I mean, we're just this, too."
"No. I don't think it works that way. If it did, Grandpa Lowell and Uncle Dark would be living in cities and stuff, around regular people."
"This is why the people back in town were looking at us funny, isn't it?"
"Probably, but I don't know how they knew we weren't like them."
"Maybe they recognized Dad."
"Maybe. Remember, he went into the restaurant, first, and made us wait in the car. He must have known that they'd act like that."
"They're scared of us."
"Considering that I'm looking into the face of a dragon, I think I can understand why."
"Your face isn't the stuff dreams are made of, especially when you open your mouth wide... By the way, what happened to our masks?"
"Yours is over there, on the couch. I think it came off when you did your full transformation."
"Let's find yours. We don't want them to get beat up before the Saw-wen celebration."
"I never really cared too much about going to parties and stuff. But I think I'm looking forward to this."
"Here it is!"
"Did it get banged up?"
"No. It's made mostly of wood. It's fine."
"Uncle Dark really did a good job making these."
"I like that he fixed mine so it'd be right. It's perfect."
* * * * *
"Here we go. A stitch here, a stitch there and it's done."
"Turn around and I'll fasten it for you. Then I'll have you both transform back to your fully human forms, so you can see if they need adjustment."
"Walking with my feet like this is kind of tough."
"You have wings. You don't need to walk except for when you're inside."
"Good point. Do you think I can really fly?"
"I don't know about in your half-transformed state, but in your full transformation, you should be able to. Turn around."
"How do we look?"
"Perfectly respectable. Nobody's 'junk' is on display. Now, both of you, become fully Human for me, so I can check the fit."
"That was really easy!"
"It gets easier with practice."
"So, how does it look, now?"
"Is the string around your waist too tight?"
"Yeah, a little, maybe. Not too bad."
"Let me adjust them, then you can change back to your half forms."
"So, when we go, we'll just wear our regular clothes and remember to wear these underneath?"
"Oh, no. There wouldn't be any point to that. Tomorrow, we're going to make you some good and proper costumes to go with your masks. Most likely you'll be wearing robes or loose fitting garments that you can remove easily so that you'll be able to transform at the proper point in the evening."
"Are people going to freak out on there being strangers there?"
"Those who don't know your father might be understandably curious, but there are several small family compounds throughout these woods and they all tend to stay to themselves and only venture out this one time of the year. They come into Brynnhollow to sell their crops and buy supplies for the coming winter. They might be bringing youngsters with them that no one in the area has ever seen before. The younger children are usually left at home in the family compound and only those who have reached your age are allowed to come to town."
"Can I change now?"
"Yes. I'm done. See how that works."
"Yes. Go ahead."
"It's a little looser, but it still works."
"Actually, it looks fine, hanging loose like that."
"Go ahead, Deimos, change for me."
"I see what you mean. No one should have a problem with that."
"Just to confirm, neither of you has a problem with showing your bare behind?"
"It's just a butt. Everybody's got one."
"That's right. But thanks for not wearing shorts. I'd feel funny if I was the only one going bare assed."
"Believe me, you'll see more than your share of bare everything, plus some things that I'm sure you won't be able to identify, before the celebration's over. Why don't you two change back now, and get into your regular clothes? We need to start getting ready for bed, soon."
"Shouldn't we wait until Dad gets back?"
"Oh, no. He won't be back until morning. It's far too dangerous for him to travel much after dark."
"But from what you were saying, isn't it going to be dangerous for him to stay at Grandma Ima's house?"
"She has a very nice cage where he'll be able to spend the night."
"She's going to lock him in a cage?!"
"No. She'll give him the key so that he can lock himself in the cage. It's not to keep him in, it's to keep Ima and her sisters out, should they lose control of themselves at some point during the night."
"This has been one crazy day. Magic, curses, shapeshifting, and horney witches."
"When your father gets here in the morning, we'll see if he can manage his transformation. If he can, then we're going to have a lot of work to do to prepare for the celebration."
"You mean, besides costume making?"
"I don't just sit here, making loincloths for unknown relatives who might just pop in. I have goods and wares to sell in the market in Brynnhollow, so I'll be able to buy supplies. If you two are going to be staying here, I'm going to be counting on you to help."
"But what if Dad comes back with something to help Mom? We may have to leave with him."
"We'll deal with that if and when the time comes, but for now, we have to make plans to prepare for you to stay here. Otherwise, we won't have what we need for you to survive the coming winter."
"Just tell us what we need to do, and we'll do it."
"First, quit stalling and change back to your Human forms."
* * * * *
"Are you two ready for the best night of sleep that you've ever had?"
"It's a blanket on the floor."
"Yes. That it is. But that's not what's going to make it special. When you're ready for bed, both of you do your full transformations. Being in your animal forms will allow you to sleep in a way that you never thought possible."
"Do we have to go to bed right now?"
"No. You can stay up for a bit, if you like. I'll be asleep in the next room, in my wolf form, if you should need me."
"Thanks, Grandpa Lowell. Have a good sleep."
* * * * *
"I'm worried about Mom."
"I know. Me, too. But that's the reason that Dad came here, to maybe find a way to help her."
"Do you think we'll ever be able to see her again?"
"I don't know. But considering what we just found out about, maybe it's best if we don't."
"Yeah. When Grandpa started talking about all that magic stuff, I thought he was full of it. But now, after what we just did... we're cursed."
"I know. But it's funny. Somehow, I don't feel cursed. I mean, yeah, there's stuff we can't do, now. And I'm going to miss our friends... but things like this happen all the time, to normal people. If Dad got a new job or wanted to go back home after... you know, if she doesn't get better. It'd be the same thing. Things like this happen to everyone. I can't really blame it on the curse."
"But we're going to be leaving behind everything that we ever knew."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"No more video games."
"No. But we get to transform into animals and live in a place where other people do, too."
"No more hanging out with our friends."
"We'll make new friends, the kind that can shapeshift and fly and who knows what else."
"No more... cafeteria food."
"Wait, which side are you on?"
"I don't know if it's going to be as great as you're thinking, but I see what you're saying. I'll give it a chance."
"Yeah. Now, I guess we'd better go to bed."
* * * * *
"You boys get up and get dressed. Breakfast will be ready in just a few minutes."
"You were right about sleeping in our animal forms. I don't think I've ever slept so well."
"I have to admit, seeing you in your dog form, curled up against your dragon brother, was a beautiful sight to wake to."
"Where's the bathroom?"
"Good morning to you, too, Deimos. And it depends. If you're going in your human form, there's a water closet just past the kitchen, to the right. If you're going in your animal form, you have the whole outdoors to choose from. Just keep it away from the house."
"I think I'll do it Human style, for now. I really need to go."
"Do you need any help with breakfast?"
"No, thank you, Cain. This is nearly finished. But if you'd like to help, you can put away that quilt for me."
"By the time you're done with that, the food should be on the table."
* * * * *
"Something smells good."
"How did things go, Ares?"
"Grandma Ima wasn't sure if it would work, she's never had a chance to test it before. But she thinks that since Andrea isn't blood kin, that she might be able to lift the curse on her."
"Mom's going to be alright?"
"I hope so. But this is all that I can do for her. Grandma Ima said that if I do this, that we're going to have to stay far away from your mother. Any contact with us could reawaken the curse and then there'd be no way of ever undoing it."
"Sit down, Ares, and have some breakfast."
"I don't have time. I have to get the cure to Andrea while I can still resist the transformation."
"You're going to be driving for a full day. And unless I miss my guess, you're not going to stop unless there's dire need. You need to start out with a full stomach."
"Can we go with you?"
"The boys were both able to transform last night, so it won't be possible for them to leave."
"Really? You had them transform before the ceremony?"
"Yes. It seemed best to be sure."
"Why can't we go with you? We want to see Mom."
"I'm sorry. But if you've both transformed, then it's too dangerous for you to go into the outside world. As it is, it's going to take every bit of my concentration to keep from transforming before I get back."
"But I can transform whenever I want. I can go with you and just not change myself."
"You may think that now, Deimos. But the desire to change becomes increasingly overwhelming. Even though you spent the night in your animal form, I would wager that you're already feeling the desire to change again."
"Deimos? The god of fear? That's an interesting choice."
"You don't like it?"
"No. I think it's a wonderful name. It's just going to take me some time to get used to it. For the past twelve years I've been calling you David."
"My new name is Cain."
"Somehow, I expected Phobos."
"Grandpa suggested that, but I like Cain better. Besides, it starts with a C, like Christopher, so that'll help you remember."
"I suppose it will. Thanks for the meal, Grandpa Lowell. I really need to get going if I'm going to make it back tonight."
"The boys will be fine, here with me. Do you think you'll be able to make it back before the Samhain celebration?"
"It's going to be close, but I'll do everything in my power to make it back on time. I'm almost twenty years overdue for this ceremony."
"Tell Mom that we love her."
"I will. Now come here and give me hugs. I've got to go."
* * * * *
"Boys, we have quite a bit of work ahead of us today, so I'm going to need your help."
"What do we have to do besides make costumes?"
"We'll make the costumes tonight, when our work is done. But right now we need to load up the cart with all the things we're going to be selling in town."
"I feel something funny. I feel like I'm starting to change."
"Yes. That's going to happen. Do you have your loincloth on?"
"No. I didn't put it on this morning."
"If you want to conceal your 'junk', then you'd better put it on."
"Yes. Both of you are going to feel the need to transform from time to time. When you're in a situation where it's acceptable, it's best that you go ahead and do it. If you try and fight it for too long, it's going to happen whether you want it to or not."
"Dad didn't take our suitcases out of the car! We've only got the clothes that we're wearing!"
"Your style of clothing is a bit unusual for Brynnhollow. When we get into town, I'll get both of you clothes that are more in keeping with the local style."
* * * * *
"Did you make all of this stuff?"
"No. I tend to do mostly sewing and intricate woodworking. Throughout the year, people will come to me and ask me to do special jobs for them. Some pay in cash, others pay in barter. So, while I made many of the things in the cart, there is also a good share that other people made."
"How far is it to the town?"
"We have about another hour of walking."
"Wouldn't it be easier if we rode in the cart?"
"No. This isn't a wagon for riding. It's a cart for hauling. Besides, as long as I'm able to walk, I plan on doing so."
"Is this horse a real horse?"
"Yes. Dibbin is just an average, run of the mill, horse. But before the week is over it wouldn't surprise me if you met more than one person who could shift into a horse form."
"Are we going to have to stay in our Human forms when we get into town?"
"Yes. Appearing in public in the light of day in your transformed state is considered to be a sign that you're unable to control yourself. I suppose it's akin to what people feel toward derelicts or drunkards when they encounter them."
"Oh. I thought we were going to a town of shapeshifters."
"We are. But society still has it's rules. After dark, the restrictions are relaxed, somewhat. And, of course, people can do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes."
"But we're going to have to spend all day, looking like people?"
"Yes. It will be good practice for you. And if you'll let me know when it's too overwhelming for you, we'll find a discreet place for you to change, for a bit."
"Yeah, Cain. At least you'll be able to do your full transformation and just look like a crazy little stripey dog-cat thing. There's no way I could pass for a natural creature when I'm transformed."
"Grandpa, would you mind if I transform for a few minutes? I'll stay right with you, but if all we're doing right now is walking, I think I'd be more comfortable that way."
"Yes. That's fine. Just be sure to change back when I tell you to."
"Walking is harder when I'm in my animal form."
"Yeah. But you can fly."
"Yes. It's most likely that you can fly. But I wouldn't recommend you doing so right now. The canopy of treetops would make it difficult for you, especially since you don't have any experience. And if you went above the canopy, then you'd be at risk of attracting attention. No, it's best if you confine your flying to nighttime, when we're on our own property."
"It looks like we'd better get over that thing about showing our junk. If we're going to be transforming all the time, we're going to spend a lot of time naked."
"You'll adapt... Cain, don't get too close to Dibbin. He might step on you."
* * * * *
"Wow. This place looks like something out of the history books."
"I suppose it is something like taking a step back in time. The only modern conveniences that we've adopted are those that actually make our lives significantly easier. For example, if I can still do my work with Dibbin and a cart, then I don'tneed a truck."
"Where are we going?"
"We're just going to walk along until we find a nice, open spot where we can stop and begin to sell our wares."
"This is nothing like going to the mall, back home."
"I don't know about that. It may not be inside and air conditioned, but it's still a bunch of different shops, everywhere you turn."
"That's right, Cain. Most of the differences you recognize here aren't really all that different when you stop and think about it."
"Is that a good place?"
"Yes. Thank you, Deimos. That will do quite nicely."
* * * * *
"Will you boys stay here and sell my wares while I go to make arrangements for my winter supplies?"
"There's no prices on anything. How will we know how much to sell things for?"
"I think that most of the people you'll be trading with today will be doing so for barter. Those that trade in currency will probably arrive sometime tomorrow."
"I still don't know how much something costs."
"If you have something that someone wants, they'll make you an offer. If it sounds like a fair trade, you accept. If not, then you may decide to haggle. Honestly, it's unlikely that anyone will stop to do more than look at what you're selling, this early in the day. Most people are just going around, seeing what's on offer so that they can come back later to trade for the things they decided that they want."
"Okay. We can try."
"Thank you. Just now, I'm going to take Dibbin to the stable where he can be tended, then I'll start arranging supplies for the winter."
* * * * *
"That one looks like it took a really long time to make. Did you make it?"
"No. Our grandfather did."
"You two are twins! I don't think there's ever been twins here before."
"There are other twins, here, just none close to our age. By the way, my name is Jim, this is my little brother, Tannis. You'll have to excuse him, he's excited. This is the first time he's been allowed to come into town."
"It's alright. It's our first time here, too. I'm Deimos and this is my brother, Cain."
"But you're not from one of the family compounds, are you? From the look of your clothes, you're from outside."
"Yeah. That's right."
"I didn't know anyone came here from outside, ever."
"We don't really know much about it, but from what Grandpa's been saying, it sounds like it doesn't happen very often."
"What's it like out there?"
"Different in some ways. A lot louder. A lot busier."
"A lot less friendly."
"So, it's not better?"
"It's what we grew up with. It's all we know. So, it's hard for us to be able to say if it's better or not. We're still trying to figure things out about this place."
"Boys, have you found something?"
"We were just looking at this carved box. It looks like it took a long time to make."
"Yes. It's very nice. That looks like Lowell Brynner's work."
"Yes, Sir. Lowell Brynner is our great grandpa. We're Cain and Deimos Brynner."
"It's nice to meet you, boys. I'm Drake Brynnynn. Are you Ares' sons?"
"I haven't seen him in years. Is he here?"
"No, he had to take care of something. He's going to try to be back before the Samhain celebration."
"I always wondered what happened to him. I'm glad that he's back."
"We'll be sure to let him know that you asked about him."
"Boys, we need to go look at some cold weather clothes for you."
"Can I stay here? I'm just going to end up wearing Jim's castoffs from last year, anyway."
"Will you stay right here until we get back?"
"Is that alright with you boys?"
"Yes. That's fine."
"We'll be back before very long."
* * * * *
"Did you want to stay so you could find out about the outside world?"
"No. Jim's the one who cares about that. I know that the people there are different from us and that if they knew we was here, that they'd hate us. I don't think I want to know more than that about them."
"We didn't even know about this place before yesterday, so I can't be sure about all of it, but you're probably right."
"Are you going to live here, now?"
"Yeah. It's looking that way."
"Are you... I mean, can you..."
"Can I what?"
"You know about how the people here are different from the people outside, right?"
"Yeah. We just found out about that last night."
"So... I mean, if they told you. Does that mean that you're... like us?"
"Yes. That's why we're staying."
"Jim says that I may still be too young and that I'll probably have to wait for next year, but Dad says that it's time for me. I'm going to find out for sure this Saturday."
"So you haven't changed, yet?"
"No. I can feel it and I want to do it. But Dad says that I'm supposed to wait. It's supposed to be good luck for your family if you can do it for your first time out in front of everyone at the celebration."
"I hadn't heard that."
"How old are you?"
"I'll be twelve in a few weeks. That's why Jim says that I'm still too young."
"If you're feeling it, then you're probably old enough."
"That's what I said, but Jim says that I'm only feeling what I want to feel. And that it's not real."
"How old is Jim?"
"He's fourteen. Some people treat him funny because they think his real name is James, but it's really Jimson. I don't know why he still wants us to call him Jim. Anyway, our family's all herbalists for as far back as anyone remembers. If you ever need some herbal remedies or anything like that, our dad has everything."
"That's good to know. The only people we've met since we've been here are our great grandfather and Uncle Dark."
"My brother told me about Dark, but we just got here this morning. We haven't seen his stand, yet, but they said that he always has a bunch of masks for the ceremony. I can't wait to pick mine out!"
"How are you boys doing? It looks like you've made a new friend."
"Yeah. This is Tannis Brynnynn. It's his first time here, too."
"Brynnynn, you say? You wouldn't happen to be Mandrake's son, would you?"
"Yes. Do you know my Dad?"
"Oh, yes. I've dealt with your father many times. He's a good man."
"Tannis is waiting here while his father and brother buy new winter clothes. That's okay, isn't it?"
"Yes. That's fine. It turns out that the people I need to speak with haven't opened their shop, yet. So I'll try again later."
"Do you want to come to Dark's shop with me when my dad gets back?"
"Sure, if Grandpa doesn't need us to stay."
"No, no. I've got all day to get my things arranged. You may go with your friend, if you like."
"Actually, his dad's going to come back here for him, but did you happen to notice where Uncle Dark set up his stuff? That's where Tannis and his family wanted to go next."
"I seem to recall Dark mentioning that he had made arrangements with Mason to set up a display in his front room. I don't know if Dark's arrived yet, but that would be the best place to look for him. It's up this street, three houses past the stable on your left."
"Thanks Mr... Um, if you told me your name, I forgot it."
"Lowell Brynner. But just call me Grandpa Lowell."
* * * * *
"It looks like we're all set for winter clothes."
"Dad, this is Grandpa Lowell. He said I could call him that. He knows where Dark set up his shop. Can we go there now?"
"Hello, Lowell. It's good to see you again. Please excuse Tannis. This is his first time in town and he's a little excited about it."
"That's fine. Have you met my great grandsons?"
"Yes. Cain and Deimos. We spoke earlier."
"Grandpa Lowell told us where Dark's shop is. Can we go now?"
"It's not assured that Dark has had time to set up shop, it's still early. But I recall where he was planning to show his wares this year."
"Well, since the other place I wanted to visit hasn't opened yet, I suppose that we might as well go and check it out."
"Can Cain and Deimos go, too?"
"Yes. That would be fine."
* * * * *
"How are you two liking it here so far?"
"It's still too new, too different, for us to really be able to compare it to what we're used to."
"I don't know if you know about this, but some of the adults, you know, once they've mastered their self-control, sometimes go to visit the 'outer world'. Some do it to satisfy their curiosity and others do it to get a sense of how the world's progressing and how close they are to discovering us."
"We thought from the way our grandfather talked about it, that we weren't ever going to get to go back."
"You may not. If you can't master your self control, then you certainly can't go out. And many of us, myself included, have made the trip, but don't have any desire to see it more than once."
"Do people ever come here from the outside? I mean, like strangers just exploring, or something?"
"Yes. Very rarely, but it happens. Most of them are easy enough to discourage, but occasionally there are teens or young adults from town who 'dare' each other to go into the Brynnhollow Woods for some sort of a thrill... and occasionally, they get more than they bargained for."
"Grandpa said three houses past the stable on the left, that should be it, right up there."
"That's Mason's. He's one of our runners."
"Runner? What's that?"
"Although we try to be as self sufficient as possible here, there are some things we just can't produce ourselves. The runners make 'runs' into the outside world to gather the things we need as quickly and discreetly as possible."
"Like what? I haven't seen anything from the outside world, here."
"I don't know too much of it, but mostly textiles and foodstuffs, as far as I know. There are things we simply can't grow or manufacture for ourselves."
"If you're buying things, you must be selling things, too."
"Yes. Again, I don't know too much about it, but as I understand it, some of our goods are sold to the outside. I even contribute some of my herbs to the cause, when there's a call for them."
* * * * *
"I'm back here, I'll be out in just a minute. Go ahead and look around."
"Go ahead, Tannis. The masks are right over there. See if there are any that you like."
"He's got chewing gum!"
"Yes. When Mason's out, he picks up a few odd and end things that people might like and sells them here. I know it seems like he's breaking the rules by doing it, but I think everyone realizes that it would be impossible to keep us completely separated from the outside. Allowing a few simple things like this to be brought in helps to ease the sense of confinement that some of our people feel."
"Have you found anything that you like?"
"Hello, boys. I didn't expect to see you in here. Did everything go alright last night?"
"Yeah. Everything went great!"
"Good. Drake, it's good to see you. What can I get for you today?"
"There are a few things that I asked Mason to pick up for me, do you know anything about that?"
"No. He's out on a run, right now. But he should be back before nightfall. Check back and you can ask him about it."
"That's fine. We'll be here until after the celebration. Speaking of that, Tannis is going to need a mask."
"It looks to me like he's already found them. Just let me know when he's picked one out."
"Thanks, Dark. He hasn't been able to talk about anything else for months."
"Jimson, was it? I haven't seen you for a while. How are you doing?"
"I'm doing fine... Is it okay for us to buy these things?"
"That's what Mason gets them for. What were you interested in?"
"I don't know... there's so much to choose from and we usually only come into town once a year. So I want something that will last."
"Take your time."
"You guys are from outside. What do you think would be good for me to choose?"
"I know it's probably not what you're looking for, but there's only one thing I see here that I think I'd like to have."
"That book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; I think that if I was going to be in a place for a long time, that I'd want a good book that I could enjoy and read over and over again."
"It looks like a little kid's book."
"Yeah. I don't know why they chose that cover art, but the book is really good... at least, that's what I've heard. I haven't read it, yet."
"If I get it, maybe you could borrow it when I'm done."
"Don't you only come to town once a year?"
"Dad does. But I'm old enough that I can go to town whenever I want... I just haven't had any reason to, so far."
"What about Tannis?"
"We'll know on Saturday."
"I want this one!"
"What did you pick out?"
"I like it because it already looks like me... well, except for the horns."
"So you weren't trying to get one like your dad's?"
"No! I don't think I ever saw Dad's mask. And this doesn't look anything like his other face."
"I suppose not. Well, what do you say, Drake? Are you ready to have a faun in the family?"
"I can't think of anything that would please me more."
"Is that everything for you, then?"
"Do you want that book, Jim?"
"Can I have it?"
"Yes. As long as you'll let your brother read it when you're finished, that is, if he wants to."
"Yes. Thank you."
"I think you'll enjoy it."
"Thank you, Deimos. As soon as Tannis and I are done reading it, I'll bring it to your house so that you can read it, too."
"Yeah. Thanks. I'd like that."
* * * * *
"What kind of mask did you get, Cain?"
"You'll just have to wait until Saturday to see it."
"That's no fair! You saw mine! I want to see yours!"
"Tannis, we're in town. I don't think that's the sort of thing that you want to be yelling at the top of your lungs as you walk down the street."
"I'm sorry, Tannis. You're right, that wouldn't be fair. My mask is of a thylacine."
"I don't know what that is."
"That's okay. I didn't know either. A thylacine is also known as a Tasmanian Tiger. That's all I can really tell you about it. You'll have to wait until Saturday to see it for yourself."
"Thanks for telling me, Cain. Usually, when Jim's around, people just talk to him and act like I'm not even there."
"Well, if I'm understanding how things work, all that's going to change in just a few days."
"Maybe, if Jim will let me, I can come to visit when he brings your brother his book."
"That'd be great."
* * * * *
"Wow! That was a long day!"
"But did you boys have a good time?"
"Yeah. It sure was busier in the afternoon than it was in the morning."
"Many people have to travel a long distance and carry their goods with them, so they don't arrive until later in the day. Also, those who arrive early tend to see what the sellers have to offer before making any purchases. Tomorrow will be far busier. I'm sure that I'm going to need both your help."
"Isn't someone going to steal your stuff, leaving it there, like that?"
"If someone happens along and finds something that they want, they'll leave something of equal value in its place. And if, by some odd chance, a person happens along who is in dire need and takes something without payment, then I want for him to have it, to ease his burden."
"It's a whole lot different from where we lived. We couldn't even leave our bikes outside in our own driveway."
"We encourage people to be their best selves."
"But what happens if they're not?"
"Corrective actions are taken."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I suggest that you don't misbehave so that you won't have to find out."
* * * * *
"I thought you'd bring the horse home with us, instead of leaving him in the stable in town."
"No. I see no reason for him to make the trip both ways without anything to carry."
"It just seems weird... walking to get home."
"From what little I know of the outside world, it has become an unfamiliar concept."
"I don't know about anyone else, but I feel like I'm about to lose control of my transformation."
"Yeah. I've been itching to change for the last few hours. I almost lost it a couple times."
"You've both done very well today. Since it's getting dark, I don't think there would be any harm if we were to shift and make our way home in animal form."
"What about our clothes?"
"One of us will have to carry them."
"Why are you looking at me?"
"Because, Deimos, you have taloned feet that would be excellent for carrying bundles of cloth."
"Okay. But you guys stick around until I'm sure that I can fly. I don't want to have to walk all the way to the house, carrying your clothes."
"We will wait."
* * * * *
"So, how was the flying?"
"Better than in my dreams."
"I like my animal form, but... well, flying would be nice, too."
"If you want, I can take you for a quick flight before it gets too dark."
"Is that okay, Grandpa?"
"Yes. That sounds like a very good idea. Just don't go too high. The higher you go, the more visible you become."
"I'll just circle the house a few times, so Cain can feel what it's like."
"What do I have to do?"
"Go ahead and change all the way. That way you'll be easy to carry."
"You're not going to scratch me with those big dragony claws of yours, are you?"
"No promises. But I'll try to be careful."
"Don't stay out too long. We still have things to do before we retire for the evening."
* * * * *
"Grandpa? Did you pick up my clothes?"
"Yes. They're in the living room."
"What did you need for us to do next?"
"We need to work on your costumes. We're going to have other things to do tomorrow night, so this will be your last chance."
"While we're doing this, can we make one for Dad, too?"
"Since you've already picked out his mask, I think that might be a very good idea."
"I wish I knew how Mom was doing."
"Try to be assured that your father is doing absolutely everything in his power to see that she will recover."
"I know. But I still wish I knew."
* * * * *
"Before we begin, you need to decide what you want your finished costume to look like. That doesn't mean that it will end up looking that way, but it's a good place to start."
"Since I've never seen anyone else's costumes, I don't know where to begin."
"I can show you mine, but you'll have to keep in mind that I've added embellishments to it most years since I first created it. So mine is the product of over a century of work."
"How old are you?"
"One hundred sixteen... no, seventeen... what year is it?"
"Right, then I'm one hundred seventeen years old."
"But you don't look like you're older than fifty or sixty."
"Yes. Well, we're a long lived people. I don't know if it's the curse or a side effect of the shape changing ability, but we tend to live quite a long time."
"Does that mean we're going to look like we're twelve years old for the next twenty years?"
"No. You should continue to age normally until you enter adulthood. Then your aging should slow. However, that being said, not everyone ages the same way. Some age normally, some age too quickly, there really isn't any way to determine which way things will go."
"Okay. But can we see your costume? I really don't have a clue of where to start."
"This may take me a minute. While I'm gone, why don't you go through that chest in the living room and take a look at the fabrics that are available for you to work with."
* * * * *
"Grandpa! That's amazing!"
"That's nothing like I thought it was going to be. I thought you were going to just try to make a wolf costume."
"What point would there be to that? My costume emphasizes some of the most terrifying aspects of the wolf... and the wolfman, I suppose."
"Is that barbed wire wrapped around your fists?"
"It's just made to look that way. I did that in the 1960's. I was feeling a bit rebellious back then."
"Your costume is AWESOME!"
"There is one other feature of the costume that you have to keep in mind. You need to be able to slip out of it easily and do your transformation."
"What?! I didn't even see you change. It's like when you took off that cape thing, your Human form just fell away with it."
"That's the effect I was trying for. Although what we'll be attending is essentially a costume contest, there's more than a little theater involved."
"If it's a costume contest, what's the prize?"
"The respect and admiration of the entire community."
"Yeah. I guess that kinda beats a twenty dollar gift card to Game Stop."
"Remember, you've only got this one night. Do what you're going to do. There won't be another chance."
"Do you have anything like paint or fabric dye? I'm going to need tiger stripes."
"I believe that we'll be able to come up with something."
"I need something sparkly, for trim."
"Don't forget, you were also wanting to make something for your father."
* * * * *
"Are you two planning to sleep all day?"
"Don't take that tone with me, young man. You either get up or you'll go without breakfast."
"Sorry, Grandpa. I was sleeping so good. I didn't want to get up."
"Wake your brother. We have much to do."
"It's not even light out."
"We can't afford to loll around, waiting for the sun to rise. Today is going to be a busy day."
"Come on, Cain. It's time to wake up."
"Yeah. It sucks. But Grandpa says that if we don't get up, we don't get to eat."
"I'm right there with you, Bro."
"Remind me when we get to town that we still need to pick you two up some clothes. I forgot yesterday."
"Yeah. Ours are going to start getting ripe before very long."
"We should have washed them last night, but we became so involved in making your costumes that it didn't occur to me."
"Do they look alright?"
"I'm sure they'll be the envy of all the other new celebrants."
"Good morning, Cain. Get dressed and get in here to the table. We mustn't dawdle."
"You're over a hundred years old. You shouldn't have this much energy."
"Perhaps that's why they call it a curse."
* * * * *
"I could fly there faster."
"Yes. I suppose you could. But then, where would that get us? We'd be in town before most people were out and about, with nothing to do. Just enjoy the walk."
"That's a sign that you need to pick up your pace."
"No. That's a sign that I should have worn a jacket."
"Nonsense. It's a beautiful, brisk morning. All you have to do is open your eyes and enjoy it."
"It's too early for my eyes to be open."
"Yeah. The sun's barely woken up."
* * * * *
"Well, you were right, Grandpa. We're a lot busier than we were yesterday."
"When you've done this a few times, you'll get used to the pattern."
"I guess you've done this enough to know what to expect."
"Yes. However, no matter how much I see, there are still surprises from time to time."
"Is it okay if we go and talk to Tannis and Jim for a little bit?"
"You've both been working hard. Why don't you go and spend some time with your friends?"
"Really? Thanks Grandpa!"
"Go on, now. Just remember that as the day continues on, I'm going to need more and more of your help."
"Okay. We'll be back in a little bit."
* * * * *
"Where's your dad?"
"He's got some stuff to do, getting us ready for winter. What are you guys doing?"
"We're helping Grandpa sell stuff. He said that we could hang out with you for a little bit, but we're going to have to get back to him pretty soon. He says it's just going to get busier and busier."
"Last night, Dad and Jim helped me with my costume for tomorrow."
"We worked on our costumes, too. We stayed up so late that it was hard for us to get up this morning."
"Dad says that we can work on mine some more tonight."
"From what Grandpa was saying, we're going to have something else to do. He said that we had to get ours completely finished last night because we wouldn't get another chance."
"Are you ready for tomorrow?"
"This is all new to us. I guess we're as ready as we're going to get."
"All you've got to do is get up there and do it. Getting your costume ready is nice, and I guess it helps, some, since it helps you to picture what you're trying to do. But really, the only thing you need is to get up there and change."
"Thanks, Jim. That makes me feel better. Being raised outside, I didn't know if we'd know everything that we needed to about what was going on."
"Tannis is going into this not knowing much more about it than you do. I don't think you can really understand until you've been through it."
"It looks like there's even more people showing up. We'd probably better get back to the cart to help Grandpa."
"I think that once Dad's got everything arranged, that we're probably going to be busy, too. We've got to load up supplies so that we'll be ready to haul them back home after the celebration."
"We'll see you later, then."
"Yeah. And try not to worry too much about tomorrow, Tannis. We're going to be right there with you, so you're not going to be alone."
* * * * *
"That was weird. It was almost like shopping for Christmas at the mall."
"As the Samhain celebration approaches, the excitement is building."
"Yesterday you said that there wasn't any point in bringing Dibbin and the cart back home with us. What's different today?"
"We're done selling our wares. Tomorrow will be dedicated to enjoying the celebration."
"We're done selling things?"
"Yes. And might I add, that your help was greatly appreciated. Our little community has gotten bigger over the years and it was good to have some help."
"People love your stuff, Grandpa. Everyone was talking about how beautiful your woodwork and your patchwork fabric were."
"Yeah. Speaking of fabric. Thanks for getting us new clothes. People don't look at us quite as funny when we're dressed like everyone else."
"Had it been another time of year, I simply would have made your clothes myself. But there are too many things that need to be done for me to take on another project."
"Are we far enough away from town that I can change? I've been Human all day and I'm needing to."
"I'm afraid not. There are too many people travelling today and if they happened upon us when you were transformed, they might look upon it as something vulgar."
"If everyone does it, why would they think that?"
"There are many things that everyone does that they don't want to be reminded of. There are many strong emotions associated with our abilities. Some look upon it with shame or fear. Others with pride. The way our society has developed, we've established the 'proper' time and place where it's acceptable to display our gifts. In those settings, just by virtue of being there, one has given consent and accepted that things might occur that he would normally shy away from."
"Do some people really get that bent out of shape because other people shapeshift?"
"It's not just that. At the celebration, there will also be other... indulgences."
"Grandpa, we're not from here. So when you say something like that, without really saying it, we don't get it. We can't read between the lines."
"Yeah. Can you just tell us?"
"Forgive me, boys. There are certain subjects that should be spoken of delicately, so as not to offend. But you are correct. I should refrain from using such vagaries since you don't have the cultural context to facilitate your understanding."
"Right. That makes everything all clear, now."
"What he said."
"What I was speaking of before is the fact that during the festival, all manner of behavior that is otherwise looked upon as immoral or indulgent is seen as an acceptable expression of celebration."
"So... what? Do they get drunk or something?"
"Forgive me, speaking frankly about such things is difficult for me. Habit, I suppose. And, to answer your question, yes. There will be an abundance of wine. The Samhain celebration has sometimes been referred to as a Bacchanalia, although only in the metaphorical sense."
"Wow. You're really good at saying stuff without really saying it, aren't you?"
"Yeah. You'll have to teach us how to do that."
"To put it bluntly, as the night progresses and people have enjoyed some wine, their inhibitions will lower and things will most likely turn sexual."
"But isn't it going to be all guys?"
"So what are they going to do? Jerk off together?"
"Some will. But there are other things that a group of men can do to entertain each other, especially when they've had enough wine to give themselves permission."
"Are you saying that you're expecting us to have sex with guys?"
"No! Not at all. I just wanted you to be aware of what might be going on following the ceremony. It's possible you might stumble into an orgy or two as you enjoy the festivities. All I'm saying is that, it's normal. It happens. Be happy that they're having a good time and go back to enjoying yourselves."
"I don't know what guys... do... together."
"I'm sure you'll have a better idea after tomorrow night."
"So they're going to get drunk and have sex. Is that it?"
"Once the ceremony is finished, that marks the beginning of the celebration proper. From that point on, everyone is free to transform. Since it is so restrained the rest of the year, some people choose to embrace the chance to transform publically and make quite a production of it."
"So everyone changes into animals and has sex? That sounds way creepy!"
"No. At least, not usually. The fact of the matter is, many of the transformed creatures would be sexually incompatible. Although there are a few exceptions, most people tend to enjoy their sexual exploits while in their human forms. They change into their animal forms just for the joy of it, and sometimes to show off."
"Couldn't they kind of do both when their half-transformed?"
"One would think, but then it becomes an issue of safety and self-control. It's too easy to lose one's focus and fully transform while... in congress. The possibility of causing irreparable harm is too great. Most don't want to take that chance."
"Can we not talk about this anymore. It feels weird."
"Yes, Deimos. I think we've had more than enough discussion on the matter. Just know, that if you have any questions, that I will do my best to answer them."
* * * * *
"I'm going to unhitch the cart and tend to Dibbin. Why don't you boys go ahead and transform while I take care of that. I'll come and get you when I need your help."
"Yeah! I've been wanting to transform so bad that it almost hurt!"
"Don't shed your clothes out here. Go inside. You wouldn't want for me to see your 'junk' would you?"
"I'm not as worried about that as I was yesterday. Come on, Cain."
* * * * *
"Boys. I'm going to need your help, now."
"Do we need to be Human for this?"
"The first thing I'm going to need is for the cart to be unloaded. If you can manage that in your half-transformed state, that's up to you. But once you've finished that, I'll need you in here, in your Human forms, to help me with cooking."
"Good! I'm hungry!"
"You're always hungry, Cain."
"We'll be preparing dinner, but we're also going to be preparing several desserts for the feast tomorrow. This is why I was so insistent that you finish your costumes last night. The amount of cooking we have to do is probably going to keep us up well past our usual bedtime."
"If we're half-transformed, here at the house, do we have to wear our loincloths?"
"That's entirely up to you. But, just to be clear, I expect you to have your 'junk' covered before you walk into my kitchen."
"You got it, Grandpa."
* * * * *
"That's a lot of apples."
"Yes. We were very fortunate this year. We had quite an abundance."
"Did you go out and pick all these apples yourself?"
"Oh, no. I simply told Dark when the apples were ready to harvest and he arranged for some people to come and gather them for me."
"Uncle Dark's really nice. I like him."
"Even though he has a creepy shop."
"Yes. He is very nice. And due to his artistic talent, he has been given the honor of making the masks for the entire community. There was a time when everyone fashioned their own masks, and some still do. But with Dark making masks, it has taken some of the pressure off of those who are preparing to transform for the first time."
"Yeah. I don't think I would've known how to make a mask."
"I'm curious to know, if you had made the mask for yourself, do you think you would have chosen to make a dragon?"
"Yeah. I think so. I think about dragons a lot. I even dream about them."
"What about you, Cain?"
"I don't know if I could have made a mask that was as good as Uncle Dark's, but I think I probably would've tried to make just about the same thing. The mask is just about like the picture in my head."
"Did either of you ever tell your father about these visions you've been having?"
"Yeah. Since Mom went into the hospital, Dad would come in to wake us up every morning and he'd always ask if we slept well and what kind of dreams that we'd had."
"That explains how he knew that you were emerging."
"Just because we dreamed about animals?"
"I don't think a dream about animals would necessarily mean anything, but consistently having dreams about the same animals would indicate some sort of bond developing with that spirit form."
"It sounds like a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo to me."
"I suppose it is. But just consider that our blood is infused with that spiritual mumbo-jumbo. What might be seen as outrageous folly to the outside world is reality for us... Deimos, peel a little more carefully or you won't have anything left once you've removed the core."
"Why are you making that little pie different from all the others?"
"Oh, I forgot to tell you about that. It's something of a tradition that when we're preparing for the celebration, that we take care to make one special thing. Then, after the ceremony, we give it away. The gift is supposed to impart the bond of friendship for the coming year."
"Is that true? I mean, does it really work?"
"Who's to say? I've always thought it to be more of a tradition than a magical enchantment, but either way, it's nice to be able to give someone something to show that you care."
"Who are you making your little pie for?"
"I don't know. I'm just making it to have it handy, in case it's needed. And if I don't encounter anyone that I feel like giving it to, I'll eat it myself."
"Is it just like making the big pies, but littler?"
"Basically, but to make it special, you take the time and care to layer the apple slices in, very precisely and extra care when you make the lattice, so that the person who receives it will know that it was made with patience and care."
"I want to make one, too."
"We have no shortage of apples. Go ahead."
* * * * *
"Tomorrow, when we go to the celebration and transform in front of everyone, is there anything, like a ceremony or words we have to know or anything like that?"
"No. Although there is some mystical significance to the celebration being held at this particular time of year, there isn't any magical ritual to be performed. Or, perhaps the celebration itself is the ritual. But there are no words to memorize or grand choreography to learn. You simply step forward when asked, and transform when it's your turn. That really is all there is to it."
"You said before that no one's going to care if they see our junk. Is that right?"
"Yes. Everyone else, having grown up here, won't have any inhibitions about such things."
"So, are we going to look weird if we're trying to hide our junk?"
"Honestly, I doubt that anyone will notice if you're wearing your loincloth or not. What they'll be watching is your level of control as you transform."
"Are we going to have to transform all the way or just half-transform?"
"Those that are transforming for the first time will transform all the way. There's no shame in that. Sharing your first transformation with the whole community is looked upon favorably. But those who have had their first transformation prior to the celebration are encouraged to half-transform to show that they have control."
"If it's supposed to be good luck for us to transform for our first time at the celebration, why did you have us do it already. I think we could've waited."
"Because of your father. At the Samhain celebration following his twelfth birthday, he stood naked before the entire community and couldn't change. He was devastated. In a way, gaining your transformation is looked upon like gaining your adulthood. All those around him had achieved something that he wasn't able to. To make matters worse, the following year, he stood before the community again, and once again failed. After that, he never attended another Samhain celebration."
"Wow! That sucks!"
"I wish there were more that I could have done for him, but alas, there were no words of consolation that I could offer. What had happened was completely outside my control and I had no method for resolving the matter."
"So, after that, he left?"
"It was some years later. He tried his best to live here, in the community. But he didn't feel as though he fit in. He felt like less of a person, less of a man, than all those around him. Eventually, my son, Hades, could bear it no longer, he arranged for your father to move into Waxell, so that he could live in the outside world, but also be close by."
"I thought that Grandpa Haddy died trying to get Dad out."
"Your father lived in Waxell for a time, but also continued to have contact with people in the community, mostly me and his father. I believe that the elders were aware of all of this from the beginning, but chose to remain silent to see how things played out. Finally, they decided that Ares forming a bridge to the outside world was too dangerous to allow. It was their intention to bring him back here, by force, if necessary..."
"When Hades found out, he went after them, to stop them. I wasn't there personally, but from what I heard, he fought valiantly. He transformed, in front of the townspeople, and bought time for his son to escape."
"And he was killed."
"Yes. But even if he had survived that battle, choosing to transform in front of the townspeople would have been enough to earn him a death sentence."
"They'll kill you if you change in front of outsiders?"
"It's what's necessary to keep the outsiders from discovering us. Anyone who reveals himself to an outsider can't ever be trusted and will always have the potential to destroy us."
"So, are people going to think that Dad should be killed, since he left?"
"No. I don't think so. Your dad's situation was a bit different because he never transformed. I'm sure they would have killed him if they'd been able to catch him, at the time. But as time went on, it became more and more evident that he hadn't told anyone about us. And, as far as we knew, he didn't carry the curse at all. It was even suggested that Hades wasn't Ares' father and that Ares was the offspring of an outsider."
"Um, I know this is a little bit off the subject, but why did you call your son 'Hades'?"
"His mother picked out that name. I always hated it, but it was the least I could do to honor her sacrifice."
"That's alright, young Deimos. But now we'd best turn our attention back to making these pies, or we'll still be up waiting for the last of them to come out of the oven when the sun rises in the morning."
* * * * *
"Boys! We've slept too late! We need to hurry!"
"We don't have time for your complaints. Hurry and get dressed, then help me load the pies. We need to be on our way!"
"Don't we have time for breakfast?"
"There will be an abundance of food when we arrive. And, if you like, I suppose that you can split a pie along the way."
"After last night, I probably won't want to see another apple again until next fall."
"Do you think Dad's going to make it back in time?"
"I hope so, Cain. For him to be able to stand before the community and transform would be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for him."
"Yeah. We've got to be sure to bring his costume."
"Yes. Don't dally. Gather your costumes and let's be on our way. It's already daylight!"
* * * * *
"For not wanting to see another apple before next fall, you seem to be making short work of that pie."
"I'm used to hearing Cain say that."
"His mouth is too busy."
* * * * *
"All the carts are gone! Did everyone take their stuff home last night?"
"No. Only those who live reasonably close, like us. The rest have moved their carts out of town to prepare for the celebration. Let's find a place to offload our pies, then we'll do the same."
"You weren't kidding about there being a lot of food here!"
"Yes. And the local townspeople will be adding more and more food throughout the day."
"If we don't have anything to sell, what are we going to be doing when we get back?"
"We're going to be enjoying the celebration."
"Yes. This is what the hard work of the last few days has been leading to."
"Okay! Then let's get these pies unloaded!"
"Remember to set your 'special' pies out of the way, so that you'll have them for later."
* * * * *
"So, we just have to take Dibbin back to the stable, then we'll be able to enjoy the party?"
"First, we need to put on our costumes."
"Where can we go to change?"
"We're standing in the middle of a field of carts and wagons. Who's going to see?"
"It's going to feel funny, walking around naked under this costume."
"We're all naked beneath our clothes."
"You know what I mean, Grandpa. I'm used to wearing underwear."
"Yes, Cain. I know what you mean. But may I suggest that you just try it for a while and enjoy the 'freedom'."
"And the cold draft."
* * * * *
"Although we don't need to stay in attendance, as we did when selling my wares, it's still a good idea for us to occasionally stop by to check on the pies and clear away the empty tins."
"Oh, I didn't think about that."
"Can we leave Dad's costume there? I don't want to carry it around all day."
"Yes. That sounds like a good idea."
"I'm glad I asked Uncle Dark to make this a half-mask. That way I don't have to take it off when I eat."
"Can we stop and eat something when we're done checking on the pies?"
"Yes. In fact, we have no other commitments for the remainder of the day."
* * * * *
"Hey! That's Tannis! Let's see how he's doing."
"Are you sure? I can't tell, he's wearing a costume."
"Yeah. That's him. That's his mask."
* * * * *
"Hey, Tannis! How are you doing today?"
"Wow. Your costume is great! So you're a tiger... dog?"
"Yeah. Pretty much. I love your costume. You did a really good job considering that you're away from home."
"Dad and Jim helped me. Can you tell what it is?"
"Sure! You're a faun. It's awesome."
"Your costume is great, Jim. I never would have thought of a fiery red horse."
"Thanks, Deimos. I like yours, too. The shimmering scales look good. Is it a lizard?"
"A wyvern, that's a kind of dragon."
"Mine's a firehorse. So, what are you guys doing, now?"
"We just had something to eat, and now we're looking around."
"We were just about to eat something."
"We'll go with you. We could eat more."
* * * * *
"Back home, I never would have thought that I'd enjoy listening to people playing this kind of music. But being here, watching them do it, it makes it different. I like it."
"What kind of music did you listen to in the outside?"
"I don't know. Whatever was on, I guess. I didn't really have a favorite kind of music."
"I think it'd be easier to say what we don't like than to say what we do."
"Why is that?"
"There's a lot of music that sounds really... angry or mean. I don't like that. Of course, I don't like the really super syrupy, lovey-dovey music either."
"I don't know what kind of music I like, I just like what I like."
"I think what Tannis is trying to say is that he plays what he's feeling, right in that moment."
"You play music?"
"Yes. But I didn't bring my pipes with me."
"No! It's like a series of flutes, all strapped together. My dad made it for me."
"Oh, that would work great with your costume, too. I wonder if maybe they have some around here that we can buy or borrow."
"What is it that you're looking for?"
"Oh. Hi Dad. Cain was just saying that it would be good if I had my pipes. It would look really good with my costume."
"Actually, I had thought of that. I was just checking with a few people to see if anyone had a set of pipes that I could borrow for you."
"Did you find any?"
"No. But Mason gave me everything that I'll need to make you a new set. If you don't mind waiting, I'll sit down here and make it right now."
"Are you hungry? We could get you something to eat while you're working on that."
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I am. Thank you."
"That's a great costume, by the way. Is that some kind of goat?"
"It's an addax, that's a sort of antelope. But the horns sometimes remind people of a goat."
"Come on, Jim. Let's get your dad some food."
* * * * *
"Is it really hard to make one of these?"
"The structure isn't a problem, but getting the pipes to the right pitch can be a challenge."
"How do you do that?"
"It takes some skill, some experience, some blind luck and a little trial and error."
"You must have done this a lot from the way you're working while you're talking."
"I made quite a few sets when I was younger. When the demand for them lessened, I moved on to other things."
"Will you show me how to make them, someday?"
"This winter, when the snow settles in, remind me and we'll sit down and I'll teach you."
* * * * *
"I don't know. I haven't seen him for a while."
"I'm sure he's probably already at the gathering. If not, he'll be on his way there, soon."
"Thanks, Jim. I know you're probably right. But he's been trying to get us ready for this since the minute that we met him, so it feels like he should be here."
"The sun is setting. As soon as we clear this rise, just go all the way down to the level field and wait there. I'm going to find a seat close to the front. I think you'll all be fine, but if I see that any of you are having any trouble, I'll do what I can to talk you through it."
* * * * *
"Although the celebration has been going on all day, this is when the true celebration begins. It is both awakening and resignation. It is our glory and our shame. But most of all, it is who we are as a people. Come forward."
The crowd watched as a boy in a simple smooth gray mask and unadorned gray cloak stepped forward, then turned to face the entire community.
As Deimos looked curiously at him, he had no clue of what animal the boy might be trying to represent with his costume.
The boy slowly reached up to his throat with one hand as he took hold of his mask with the other. With dramatic flair, similar to that of Grandpa Lowell's transformation, the boy removed the mask and unbuttoned the cape in one move, allowing the cape to fall to the ground.
The boy stood naked before them, and from his anxious expression, he was scared half to death, but the boy's anxiety gave way to a smile as his body began to reform itself. Deimos watched with surprise as the boy transformed into a small whale, lying in the middle of a grassy field.
However, the whale was only a whale for a moment. Deimos' surprise was compounded when the whale started changing back into a human and stopped halfway, essentially becoming a young, almost teenage merman.
The applause from the crowd was deafening. And Deimos added his own applause to express his sincere admiration of the unknown boy's achievement.
The next boy to step forward appeared to be a little older and he was a bit on the husky side. Cain noticed the strange mask the boy was wearing. It didn't look like any of the masks that were in Uncle Dark's shop and Cain suspected that the boy must have made it himself.
Before Cain could speculate further, the boy pulled a drawstring on his pants and allowed them to fall around his ankles. He stepped out of the pants, then removed his mask. Just as he did, he began to transform into what appeared to be a snake, except that it was bigger than any snake that Cain had ever seen, or even heard of.
As the snake continued to grow, Cain suddenly realized what he was actually seeing. The boy had become a Chinese dragon. The body of the dragon wasn't exactly that of a snake. It did, in fact, have four tiny little legs, but the body of the dragon was absolutely enormous.
Cain was surprised when applause began to rise up. He had been expecting the boy to continue on to half-transform. Cain then realized that that probably meant that what he had just witnessed had been the boy's very first transformation.
He added his applause to that of everyone else in attendance. He could honestly appreciate the pressure the boy must have been under, wondering if he would really be able to transform and make his family proud.
Deimos looked at Cain with question, silently asking if he wanted to go first. But before Cain could decide on an answer, much less respond, Tannis stepped forward, then turned to face the audience.
Cain held his breath, fervently wishing for Tannis' transformation to go well.
Fortunately, Tannis was able to keep his cool. He turned himself, as if to greet all the people in attendance, then he shrugged off his shirt and released the drawstring on his pants, allowing them to fall. He stepped out of the pants, very casually, as though undressing in front of an audience were an everyday occurrence for him.
Then, as Tannis removed his mask and tossed it gently aside, he began to transform. To Cain, the transformation looked effortless. Just as Tannis was losing his Human form, he glanced at Cain and smiled serenely.
There was a momentary pause, as everyone looked at the small goat with the first buds of horns on his tiny head. Then a swell of applause started.
Cain's applause was so enthusiastic and heartfelt, that he felt like he was leading the audience in their appreciation of Tannis' accomplishment.
As the applause was dying down, Cain felt a hand on his arm.
He turned to look at Deimos with question.
Deimos smiled, then tilted his head toward where Tannis was gathering his mask and clothes.
It took a moment for Cain to realize what Deimos was asking, but once he did, he thought it was a wonderful idea and was surprised that they hadn't thought of it before.
Cain and Deimos stepped forward together and took their place before the assembled crowd.
At the same time that Deimos was dropping his dragonscale cloak, Cain was shrugging out of his tiger striped one.
Then, as one, they removed their masks, revealing to all of those who didn't know them that they were identical twins.
Standing there, dressed only in their loincloths, both Cain and Deimos began their transformations.
Being careful not to go too far, both of them stopped in their half-transformed states, then turned in opposite directions to show off their transformations to the entire audience.
Deimos spread his wings dramatically and arched his back to demonstrate his ferocious adgility. At the same time, Cain held up his claws to show them off, then opened his mouth wide, knowing that it was one of the most distinctive features of his transformed state.
As it had been with Tannis, there was a moment of silence before the applause sounded.
Although it felt like a lifetime to Deimos and Cain, they actually only stood there a moment before they quickly gathered their things and rejoined Tannis.
Both boys were nearly overcome with a feeling of overwhelming joy and accomplishment, when a dark figure walked out of the crowd and turned to stand before them.
The steel blue eyes of the mask were arresting and a hush fell over the crowd.
Deimos and Cain both felt a sudden surge of excitement when they recognized the mask and the cloak covered with blue-black feathers.
The night was silent as everyone waited for what the large dark figure was going to do next.
With the slightest movement of one hand, beneath the cloak, the string on the neck that was holding the cloak in place was released.
The cloak fell to the ground, revealing a man's naked body, generously covered in dark hair.
Slowly, with dramatic flourish, the man reached up and removed the mask.
Ares glanced toward his sons with a smile of boundless pride, then his transformation began.
As quickly and smoothly as if he had been doing it all his life, Ares transformed into the majestic form of a raven. The bird that he had become was, perhaps, bigger than any raven found in the realm of nature. But the transformation was flawless.
The boys had to fight the urge to run to their father as the applause rang out.
The standing ovation of all in attendance gave evidence that everyone was truly happy that Ares had finally been able to achieve his transformation.
* * * * *
"Dad! When did you get back?"
"Just before sunset."
"Everyone! Please, if I may have your attention for just a moment!"
"On behalf of the Brynnhollow elders, I would like to ask that all of you join us in welcoming back Ares Brynner. After careful consideration, we've decided to let the past remain in the past."
"In the spirit of ushering in a new day, please join us in also extending a warm welcome to Ares' twin sons, Cain and Deimos. From what we've just seen, I believe that we can expect great things from them... Now, I think Festus has something to say."
"Thanks, Carn. Ares and the boys are currently staying at Lowell Brynner's place and that just don't seem right. So, anyone who wants to chip in their time or materials to help make Ares and the boys a place of their own, show up at Lowell's place in the morning and we're going to have us an old fashioned 'Raising Bee'."
* * * * *
"What's a 'Raising Bee'?"
"It's when the whole community gets together and builds a house or a barn for someone, all in one day."
"They're going to build us a house?"
"Most likely, it will be more like a barn to begin with. But over time we'll be able to fix it up however we want and make it our home."
"I don't know. I took her the remedy, and hopefully it will work. But one of the conditions of the cure was that I couldn't stay around to find out. If I were there, the curse would have nullified it."
"Is this your dad?"
"Yes. Tannis, I'd like for you to meet my father, Ares Brynner. Dad, this is my friend, Tannis."
"And this is Jim, he's Tannis' brother."
"It's nice to meet you, Sir."
"It's nice to meet you, too, Jim. But please, call me Ares."
"What's everyone doing?"
"Now that the ceremony is over, it's time for the celebration to officially begin. That means that anyone can change into whatever form they're most comfortable in and just have a good time."
"Do you mind if I change?"
"Go ahead, Jim. I've been wanting to see your transformation."
"I thought from your costume that you'd just be a red colored horse! You actually have flames."
"He has a little trouble with his half-form. Give him a minute."
"That's incredible! You have the most awesome half-form of anyone!"
"I'm just your typical everyday flamethrowing centaur. Nothing special."
* * * * *
"What about you, Tannis? Do you want to try your half-form?"
"I don't know how."
"It's easy. Come over here, so we don't disturb the others and I'll talk you through it."
* * * * *
"Ares, I can't believe you were finally able to do it."
"Dark? Oh, man! It's good to see you. How have you been?"
"Keeping busy, but to tell you the truth, it's been a little lonely. I've been missing my best friend."
"Yeah. I've missed you, too."
"Ares, you did very well. I'm incredibly proud of you."
"Dark, I'm glad that you were here, tonight. It somehow seems fitting."
"Where else would I be? I look forward to this all year."
"Jim and I are hungry, is it okay if we go on ahead?"
"Check to see if your brother wants to go, too."
"Look at that!"
"Way to go, Tannis! You're a real full-fledged faun, now. Wait! I've got your pipes in my pocket! Just a second."
* * * * *
"What are we going to do about our stuff, back home? Since we've all transformed, are we going to be able to go back and get it?"
"Tonight's not the time to worry about it. But I'll talk to whoever's doing running these days and we'll see what we can do. Even if we can't arrange it, we'll be alright."
"That's right, Deimos. I'm sure that every effort will be made to retrieve your belongings, but regardless, the community will see to it that you have everything that you need."
* * * * *
"Tannis, hang on! I made something special for you!"
"Oh yeah. Me, too! I'll be right back, Jim."
"What do you suppose that's all about?"
"The boys made some 'special' treats to give to their new friends."
"Oh, yeah. I remember doing that."
"If you'll go over to that table where your sons are, there should be one more there, that I made on your behalf."
Ares looked at his grandfather curiously, then glanced at Dark with a smile.