Friday, February 11, 2005

 

the child, thirty-four


Starr's mouth opened to report to Forest what she was seeing inside the house. But it was already too late.

In a flash, in a twinkling, she had seen Jessie. The woman was crouched in the middle of the room, her glaring eyes somehow at the same time both red with fury, and coldly dead. Her mouth was twisted into a vicious snarl, looking more feral than human. A low hiss escaped her throat.

And Starr's mouth opened, her lips forming the start of the words she had in mind to give to Forest. But she was nowhere near fast enough.

For Jessie sprang.

Her leap was phenomenal. In that single jump, she closed the distance between herself and the boy Forest, who was still framed in the doorway. On reflex, the boy brought his sword up to defend himself, his other arm also rising to ward off that blow. And from the corner of her eye, Starr saw on the boy's other arm, like a shadow of light, a shining shield - one that was not physically there.

Forest's sword came up on reflex. And that was good for his sake, for in Jessie's hands, Starr now saw, there was a sword coming down against the boy. An evil sword, curved, with a row of glittering barbs all along its leading edge, like the teeth on a saw. A sword to rip with. A destroying weapon.

And now there was a loud clash as sword met sword. Forest moved instinctively to his right, partly to deflect the power of the blow, partly to turn the sudden battle away from the door - away from where Starr was still standing.

She half-turned for a moment, glancing back at the small group outside. Her eyes took them in in a flash - most of them huddled together, watching the house with puzzled faces - Stone looking ready to explode, ready to charge over and get her out of here.

And the Master. Standing calmly, he nodded towards her, the gesture plainly saying to her to get back to the task he had set for her.

She turned back. Forest was being pressed backwards, straining to hold his ground against the ferocity of Jessie's attack. Her words were spitting at him, at them: 'How dare you? Invading my house. Mine! My husband... I have a right... How dare you...!'

Strange. Starr frowned. The voice, the words, didn't match with what she was seeing. The battle was here... but the voice was coming from...

She turned. Looked. Stared.

Jessie? But how?

For Jessie was huddled over there, in the far corner of the room, her arms thrown over her head, screaming and spluttering out her protests. Even as Jessie was fully engaged in raging battle against the boy Forest over here...

Starr looked again at the fighting Jessie. Blinked. Stared hard. Saw...

Forest was being driven backwards, step by grudging step. The cruel evil blade was pressing him hard, even as the boy whispered, 'I don't... want... to hurt you...'

Bless his heart! The boy had taken the Master's instructions deeply to heart, doing his best to avoid harm to a fellow human.

But that was not what he was fighting now.

'Forest!' Starr called out. 'Don't be afraid; that's not Jessie. You can fight it with all your might. See Jessie there in the corner?'

The lad spared a glance in the direction Starr was pointing. His eyes went wide, and he nodded.

'Fight for all you're worth, Forest!' Starr called, encouraging him. 'That thing...' Ugh! What other word was there for it?

'Forest, that thing's a demon!'

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