The Kiss of Fire
In which Dodger helps destroy a monster
Dodger slipped his guns back into their holsters and took off in a breakneck run for the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Al yelled across the yard. “Get back here, you coward!”
Dodger ignored the Baron’s cries as he scrambled down the flight of stairs. Once he reached the ground floor, he doubled back into the yard, running past the pen and the ruined stage and the raging battle. He headed toward Sarah in the far north eastern corner, where she fired arrow after arrow at the monster.
“Sarah, stop firing!” Dodger shouted at her.
Sarah loosened another arrow, which of course did little to affect the beast.
“Save your ammo,” Dodger said as he approached her. “I have an idea.”
“What is it?” Sarah asked.
“I think that thing might be a hydra.”
Sarah grinned. “Like Hercules?”
Dodger grinned right back. “Just like Hercules. You know what that means?”
“We gotta burn the stumps before the heads can grow back?”
“We sure do.”
“El beso de fuego.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up at the words. “The kiss of fire.”
Dodger handed her a pistol. “You think you can handle one of these?”
“I know how, but surely you’re a much better shot than I am.”
“Yes, but this is your dream, Sarah.” He pushed the pistol into her hand. “Bring it to an end.”
Sarah’s mouth opened just a bit as the wind snatched her gasp away. She stared at him for a few heartbeats, then wrapped her hand around the gun. “I will. Thank you, sir.”
“Get ready to fire.” Dodger cupped his free hand around his mouth and shouted at the knight, “Sir Rodger! Keep swinging!”
With a look of uncertainty, the knight nodded his understanding and returned to his battle with the hydra. In moments he landed another blow, slicing one of the heads clean off its neck. Dodger seized the chance, and fired at the bloody stump just as it began to sprout another set of heads. He heard a second shot, just after his, as the young girl also fired. Two lines of fire arched across the yard, striking the beast in the open wound of its neck, sealing the stump off and stopping the new growth.
“Huzzah!” Sir Rodger cried. This new development seemed to inspire the knight, for he began swinging with a renewed vigor.
It was all Dodger and Sarah could do to keep up with the man and the monster. Sometimes they missed a shot and two new heads would appear, but for the most part they managed to hit their targets. After a few minutes of this, a third gun sounded, and Dodger looked up to find Al firing away at the stumps as well. With this extra hand in the mix, it was only a matter of moments before Sir Rodger lopped off the last head. Dodger stayed his hand, allowing Sarah the final shot. The last cauterized stump failed to produce another pair of heads, yet the beast continued to rampage. Whether by memory or random direction, it surged forward, heading right for the prince in the cage. Lelanea held her ground, growling at the oncoming monstrosity, as if she had a snowball’s chance in hell to stop it.
“Fire again, Sarah!” Dodger hollered. “Kill it! Now!”
Sarah fired her pistol, sending forth an arc of flame that knocked a fist sized hole in the beast’s breast. Green fluid gushed forth, coating the ground in front of the hydra. Once the creature met with this slick spot, it lost its footing, slipping in its own blood. Lelanea leapt to one side as the hydra slid across the yard and slammed into the cage with a loud crash. The door popped open, and the wide eyed prince scrambled from the pen. The hydra writhed on its side for a few seconds, then finally fell still.
With the beast dead, a vacuum of silence seized the yard. Everyone slowly came together at the foot of the beast, in a semi circle, staring at it as if expecting it to rise once more.
“Is it dead?” Boon asked.
“I think so,” Al said. “Good shot, girly.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said.
A soft, timid voice asked, “Uncle Al?”
“Little Rodger!” Al yelled. The Baron rushed to the child, lowering himself to one knee so he could throw his arms around the boy. “I missed you so much.”
Sarah went to her brother’s side as well, hugging the little boy from behind. Sir Rodger wrapped his arms around the three in a huge, loving embrace. Lelanea and Dodger slipped off to the side again, to watch yet another reunion. Boon joined his crew mates, sniffing back his own ethereal tears.
“It’s a beautiful sight,” the ghost said. “Isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Lelanea said softly. “It makes me want to see them reunited for real.”
“They will be,” Dodger said. He looked to the pair beside of him, and added, “Everyone will be. Soon enough.”
“I want to go home,” the little boy said in a muffled voice from inside the group hug.
“We all do,” Sir Rodger said as he let go of the others. “I think it’s high time we did. But first, Mr. Boon and his friends have a favor to ask of you, Princess.”
Sarah relinquished her hug as well, and turned to stare up at Boon. “What can I do for a bunch of grownups?”
Boon shot Dodger a worried glance.
Dodger looked to Lelanea. “I think it’s time.”
Lelanea sighed. “Sarah, when the outlaws came for us at the gulch, I told you we would be all right and I asked you to trust me. Do you remember?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah said. “I trusted you and we were all right. Just like you said.”
“Good. And when they told us that Mr. Carpenter had turned on us, I explained that he wouldn’t do so without a reason, and you said you trusted me. Remember?”
“I remember. Then he came and rescued us, just like you said he would.”
Dodger couldn’t help but grin at the wolf’s loyalty.
“Very good,” Lelanea said. “Now, do you still trust me?”
“I do,” Sarah said as she stroked the wolf’s head. “I trust you, Miss Lelanea.”
“Then you need to wake up, honey.”
Sarah furrowed her brow and took a few steps back from the wolf. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“This is a dream, Sarah. None of this is real.”
“You’re asleep,” Boon said. “You’ve been dreaming this whole time.”
“Don’t be silly,” Sarah said. She tried to laugh, but the sound of it caught in her little throat.
“Think real hard, Sarah,” Dodger said. “Think about Rex and your uncle and what happened at the ranch house. Rex came for you and your brother. He took you away from Al. Rex did something to your mind and you’ve been locked in this dream ever since.”
“No,” Sarah said, her voice hitching with sorrow.
“Sarah, I didn’t want to say this, but Rex has your brother, and if you don’t come back with us, Rex will kill him.”
“That’s not true. My brother is right there.” She pointed beyond Dodger. “Wait, where did he go?”
Dodger and the others looked to the empty spot Sarah pointed at.
Little Rodger had vanished.
“Where did he go?” Sarah asked again.
“He was never really there,” Lelanea said. “Because he’s just part of your dream. Your real brother is with Rex. Only you can help us get him back.”
“No. This ain’t a dream. This is all real. I’m really a princess and my brother is a prince and that monster is dead and Sir Rodger is my knight and one day I’m gonna marry him.”
Dodger groaned at that little nugget of information.
“Sarah,” Lelanea said. “Please, believe us. We are telling the truth.”
“No you’re not!” Sarah shouted. “Get away from me! Liars!” She ran to her knight in shining armor, hugging his waist as she buried her head into his chest.
Sir Rodger ran his hands through the young girl’s yellow hair, whispering and cooing at her to calm down. “Hush, little one. It’s all right. Everything will be all right.”
The young girl cried into the knight’s chest for a minute or two before Al kneeled beside her.
“Sarah?” Al said. “You know they are right, don’t you girly?”
Sarah raised her face to look up at her knight. “You’re real, aren’t you?”
“You know the answer to that,” Sir Rodger said.
She lowered her face and began crying again.
Al rubbed circles on her back as Sir Rodger continued to whisper to her.
“I don’t get it,” Boon said. “They know they are in a dream?”
“They knew all along,” Dodger said.
“Sure we did,” Al said.
“We’ve always known,” Sir Rodger said.
“But if you knew,” Boon said, “Then why did you just keep going on like it was real?”
“Because our job is to protect Sarah, even if that means keeping her here with us.”
“That wicked mutt scared her pretty bad,” Al said. “So bad she hid away in her own dreams.”
“We knew we couldn’t send her out there again to suffer at his hands.”
“But if you folks say it’s safe for her to go back now, then she should go back.”
“I should?” Sarah asked, lifting away from Sir Rodger and wiping at her tear streaked face.
“You should,” Sir Rodger said. He nodded to Dodger. “It is safe, isn’t it?”
“I won’t lie,” Dodger said. “It might not be safe, but we will do our best to protect her. And she really is the only one who can help us find her brother.”
He joined with Al, kneeling to the girl’s height. “In that case, you have to go. But you know you can come back any time.”
“Can I?” Sarah asked.
“Sure,” Al said. “All you gotta do is fall asleep, girly.”
“And we will be waiting right here for you, Princess,” Sir Rodger said.
Sarah hugged the knight, then her uncle. “I love you both, so much.”
The men grinned at her, but said nothing more as they both faded away.
With a sigh, the young girl hung her head as she returned to Lelanea’s side. “I’m ready now. What do I have to do?”
Before Lelanea could speak, Dodger said, “Find your center.”
Boon and Lelanea gave him a curious look.
But not Sarah. The look on the girl’s face said she knew exactly what Dodger was talking about.
“Find your center,” Dodger said again, “just like your Uncle Al taught you.”
“Find my center,” Sarah echoed.
“Close your eyes. Find your center. You know where it is. You know what to do.”
Sarah closed her eyes. “I know what to do.”
The fort wavered around the four of them, flickering and fading piece by piece. A brick here. A broken beam there. An entire wall. Then another.
“I guess I’ll see you folks on the other side,” Boon said. “It was real good to work with you again, Miss Lelanea. Even if it was just a dream.”
“It was rather nice,” Lelanea said. “We will have to do it again some time.”
“I’d like that.”
“So would I. You pick the date and I’ll make sure my kingdom’s gates are unlocked.”
Boon grinned, goofy and giddy as he faded into a puff of gray smoke.
“I know what to do,” Sarah whispered. “Find my center.”
The fort was just about gone, leaving the exposed mountainside of Poison Peak.
“I think she’s going to wake on up,” Dodger said. “I guess we should get ready to follow.”
“Thanks again, Dodger,” Lelanea said. “Boon and I appreciate everything you’ve done. For all of us.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
“I’m sure it was.” The wolf sat back on her haunches, staring wistfully at Dodger as she flickered out of existence.
“Find my center,” Sarah said again. With a sudden gasp, she opened her eyes wide and looked up at Dodger. “Will Miss Lelanea be where we’re going?”
“Yes,” Dodger said. “Only she won’t be a wolf. At least, not all of the time.”
“And Mr. Boon?”
“He will be there, too.” Dodger figured he could explain Boon’s ghostliness when the time came.
“Good, I like them a lot.”
“So do I. Now, get back to it. Find your center, girly.”
“I like you, too. You sound just like Uncle. Will you be out there?”
Dodger glanced down at his black gloves and shirt and slacks, before he looked back to the girl again. “I will. But I won’t look like this.”
“What will you look like?”
“I’ll tell you what, you wake up for me and we will talk about it then. Deal?”
Sarah smiled. “Deal.” She closed her eyes again, and whispered one more time, “Find my center.”
Dodger waited with her as her dream world continued to fade away.
Eventually, Sarah faded too, leaving Dodger alone.