The Virtual Red Couch is hosting a collaborative short story project. Each week, a new author will continue the story. Check back every Monday to see how the story unfolds!
Written by Fr. Adam Grelinger
“And seeing a griffin!” broke in the Cloud with a hint of excitement. Emma and Daniel looked up to behold a huge, winged body silhouetted against the bright sky. They felt the rush of wind as the mighty creature beat its wings, slowing to land on the rocks. Emma stepped back instinctively, as one does when encountering a large, foreign beast. Daniel stood still, mouth agape. Little Piggie gave a terrified squeal and dashed behind a boulder.
The Griffin towered many feet above the siblings. Emma was certainly surprised by the sudden arrival of the mythical beast, but its color really puzzled her. Never before had she seen depicted a calico griffin. The eagle-like head was arrayed in white feathers, as normal, but the wings and hind quarters were calico!
Daniel approached the Griffin and bowed low. It stared at him, cocking its head to the side. “Hello?” asked the Griffin. Daniel straightened up saying, “uh, hello, good sir Griffin.” He stepped back and leaned over to Emma, “I just thought it’d be like…”
“Greetings children.” boomed the Griffin. “It appears you have traveled far on your way to the mountains. Shall I take you the rest of the way myself? Will only take but a moment really.”
Emma hesitated but Daniel was quick to accept.
“Is James okay?” she asked. “He’s waiting there for us!” replied Daniel. The Griffin nodded, yet there was a warning in Emma’s heart. The clouded mountains were giving off a creepy vibe, so why, she wondered, was the Griffin wanting to take them there?
Daniel stepped up to the Griffin and it nuzzled its great head against his chest. Daniel could not contain his excitement with their adventure. What cooler thing will happen after a ride on a griffin? “Can I ride in front?” Daniel asked as he looked back toward Emma. She had not approached and she was clearly suspicious.
“Emma, what’s the matter? Magical quest, remember! Once in a lifetime opportunity!” Daniel implored. Now he was really getting bothered by her adult-like hesitancy. Both the Cloud and Griffin voiced their encouragement for her to take the ride.
Emma was conflicted, an adventure sounded wonderful but something just felt wrong. She debated the options quickly, with a mounting sense of urgency. Responsibility for her brothers weighed heavily on her now.
Her concentration broke when the Griffin screeched in pain and began beating its wings in rage, sending Daniel sprawling on the rocks. Emma snapped into focus and noticed an arrow had lodged itself in the beast’s shoulder.
Furious again, the darkening Cloud began to rise. “Quickly!” shouted the Griffin, “we must go now!” It had composed itself and extended its knee to Daniel for him to mount. “There you go. Now swing your leg over.”
Panicked, Emma determined she would likely be in greater danger if left behind. She started toward the animal before noticing, on the path beyond, a man scrambling over the rocks. She couldn’t make him out too well, but he was dressed like an outdoorsman and held a short bow.
“Now!” skwacked the Griffin, “you are in danger here and if that Cloud gets going I won’t be able to fly out of here!”
But the man, drawing closer now, was also shouting something, which made Emma hesitate again. She couldn’t quite make out his words for the wind had picked up and light rain began to fall. The Griffin spun to face the man, taking up a cat-like defensive stance.
Now she could make out his words. “Stop! I won’t let you take the children! Let them go!” Stepping to the side to see, Emma saw a tall, well built man, face set against the Griffin. At first glance, Emma could tell he was fearless, rugged, and, well, dashing.
Heavier rain began to beat against them all. The Griffin and man continued to shout at each other. Turning back to Emma, Daniel extended his hand and called out, “Now Emma! Come on! Let’s ride a griffin!”
Emma locked eyes with him, wanting to tell him to get off.
“Boy!” called the man, “Don’t go! It’s taking you to her fortress in the mountains.”
Adults just don’t understand adventures, thought Daniel. He was not going to miss this opportunity, even if he couldn’t convince Emma to join. I guess I’ve got to be the hero of this quest. “No.” replied Daniel “I need to save James.”
Thunder cracked nearby. The Griffin spun again toward Emma and extended its knee. “Now girl!”
Emma shot Daniel a sad farewell glance, knowing she could not convince him to stay. Then, squaring her shoulders to the Griffin she said emphatically, “I’m not going.”
The Griffin swung to grab her with its massive talons, but she ducked just in time. Another arrow smote the Griffin’s rump and it shot into the sky with a powerful stroke of its enormous wings.
Emma had hardly recovered when the man took her by the arm and led her down the path back toward the forest. The rocky path was wet, causing Emma to slip and stumble as she tried to keep up.
“Let me go! Where are you taking me?” yelled Emma after a few steps. The man let her go, but did not stop moving. He called back, “Quickly! We must get to cover in the trees before the Cloud comes back to its senses.” Emma’s mind raced with questions. Hide from the Cloud? Who is this? Was Daniel now in danger? Would he forgive her? Was she now in danger? Yet she followed the man, confident only of what happens to tall objects in lightning storms.
They had run a good distance before the path smoothed out and a few trees appeared around them. Soon they were surrounded by trees as the rain began to subside. After running a stretch further into the forest, the man broke from the path and called for her to follow him into a dense grove of trees. The man slowed and began scanning the canopy. Little light came through and this seemed to please him. He turned to her and invited her to sit on a large stone. Emma complied, keeping her eyes on him.
As he began to unstring his bow, he said, “I’m gonna guess those were your brothers?”
“You’ve seen James?” she replied, “Is he okay?”
“Yes, I saw the beast carrying him earlier. Then when I saw him come out of the mountains again I followed as fast as I could to see what more he could be up to. Is he okay? Can’t say, kid. I was banished from that castle many years ago. I don’t know what goes on in her head these days. I’m just trying to keep what’s left of this place from dying. Odd how times change,” he said with a sigh, then started rummaging in his pack.
“The Griffin works for the lady in the mountains?” Emma asked.
“Oh, it’s more of a pet. Yet it does her bidding from time to time.”
“And why are we hiding from the Cloud?”
“The clouds too have stayed loyal to her, despite her changes over the years. It was leading you to the mountains, yes?” He looked up to see Emma nod. “Same goal as the beast. Clouds are not to be trusted around here. Anyone in her service is dangerous.” He stopped rummaging and looked quisically at Emma. “You should know that,” he said almost to himself, before looking up. “Where are you from?” he asked sincerely.
“Uh, we were in the bookstore just as it was closing but we had lost James and…”
“The bookstore?!?” he interrupted. “You came from below? From the Inkwell?” He stepped forward, his face full of wonder.
“Yes.” Emma replied hesitantly, trying to gauge his reaction.
“You’re not from here? But from below?” he asked quickly, receiving a slowly nodded response. He began pacing around, talking to himself, “I can’t believe it. How can that be? What could it mean?” Then he turned back to Emma. “So you know her?”
“Alice, of course.”
“Alice?…Do you mean Mrs. Schreibel? She is as stiff as ever.”
“Oh Alice, what happened?” he mumbled to himself and began pacing again.
“How do you know Mrs. Schreibel, I mean, Alice?”
He stopped, eyes down, thinking. “Care to hear a sad story?” This time he didn’t look to see Emma’s reply, but continued on. “Many years ago there was a fiery young woman who had an insatiable hunger for stories. Books were stacked all over her room, under her bed, lining the walls, almost piled to the ceiling in one corner. More impressive yet was this place! I met her back when this place was new, a while before we went on any real adventures together. This place was wild and fantastic, and growing by the day. I could wake up to a blue sunrise, eat breakfast with a gossipy snapdragon, race a giant moth on a motorbike, get cheated at cards by pirates, evade a rancor, surf down a roaring mountain stream, dine with mermaids telling all their exciting adventures, and fall asleep on a flet high up in a Mallorn. Those were the days! You could never guess what magical thing you’d trip over at your next turn. Then Alice and I started taking real adventures. We climbed Mount Olympus to return a pterodactyl egg, narrowly escaped a wicked platypus, thwarted a plan to reanimate a dead army of chinchillas, and on and on. Alice and I were inseparable…” and he trailed off.
“What happened?” asked Emma softly.
“I can’t exactly say. She had so many dreams for the bookstore and we had countless adventures planned. But her visits became infrequent and this place began to empty out.” He stopped again, lost in memory. Emma let him have his moment. Soon he spoke again, “Now when she comes here, which is quite rare, she hides away in the fog covered castle while her minions torment the lands. They’ve been trying to drive me out for years, but I ain’t leaving.”
Emma was trying to piece it all together. Now the questions were mounting in her head. Mrs. Schreibel used to be cool? That is hard to believe. What is this place? Who is this guy? There is something very familiar about him, but I can’t put my finger on it. And James and Daniel! Are they okay?
Emma stood. “Sir, I’ve got a lot of questions, but it sounds like my brothers are in trouble. I can’t sit around all day hiding from a cloud. James and Daniel need me…but I don’t know how to help them in this place.”
The man was unmoved, still staring off into the forest.
Emma continued urgently, “Mrs. Schreibel seemed to have disappeared from the store just before we came up here, could that mean she is up here now too? Sir, we might both find the people we’re looking for in that castle. What say you?”
There was a long moment of silence before the man straightened up and turned slowly to face Emma. He spoke solemnly, “Milady, we are not prepared for what we’d find up there.”
Then his eyes lit with excitement, “But Mr. Everett Hawforn has never been one to turn down a daring adventure!”