Pain of Love 5

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“Look at the teeth, boy,” Grayne’s father said with awe ringing in his voice. From their concealed location on a rocky overhang, the boy and his father had an excellent view of the slaughter. Even though they had a higher position and were upwind of the dire wolf, Grayne wondered if they should move away before beast finished her meal.

The ten-year-old boy and his father had been on the trail of the pair of cows that had wandered from the herd. This was an unspoken lesson to the boy that although there was strength in numbers there wasn’t much in the seven kingdoms that could stop a dire wolf.

“What do we do?” he whispered. The boy had learned much from his father in ten years. The man was cautious, but never afraid. The strength and wisdom of the gigantic man was enough to banish any trepidation from the boy’s heart and mind.

“Nothing we can do. That cow is dead and I’m not gonna risk our lives to avenge its death,” his father said through a forest of red whiskers. “Though, a dire wolf pelt would fetch many coins.” He seemed to consider the idea for a few seconds and shook his head vigorously to clear the notion from his skull. “We’ll go back and tell old man Rynyn that his cows are dire wolf food, and I’ll begin work on a stronger fence.”

Grayne could not take his eyes of the monster feasting on the not-quite-dead cow. Its powerful jaws took great bites out of the wounded animal. The boy blanched as the salty fetid aroma of the poor beast’s blood and entrails wafted into his nose. He turned away trying to hide his reaction from his father. He tried not to feel sorry for the poor creature as he heard the wolf’s jaws rip the juicy flesh from its bones.

“C’mon, boy. Let’s go before she decides to make us dessert.” Grayne’s father pulled him to his feet and the two moved hurriedly away from the grisly feast.

They ran through the forest for many minutes until Grayne’s father slowed and Grayne was more easily able to match his speed. “Let that be a lesson to you, son.”

“Sir?” Grayne looked up questioningly at his father.

“You’re never too young to learn this knowledge.” His father looked down at him and said, “Though she may be beautiful, never forget that the female of the species is alway more dangerous.”

“Yes, sir,” Grayne agreed as his father tousled his hair.

With the mystery of the missing cows solved, father and son walked quickly and quietly through the leafless late-autumn forest. Grayne soon forgot the scene of death behind them and became entranced by the sights and smells of the wilderness. He was wondering silently where all the animals were when a “Wssst” from his father stopped him mid-stride. He turned slowly to see the big man a few dozen meters behind him. The man seemed paralyzed, frozen in place scanning the forest for something unseen and deadly.

“Grayne. Run!”

The boy didn’t hesitate. He spun and sprinted as fast as his legs woud carry him. Dry branches and leaves cracked and snapped furiously as Grayne trampled over them in a tremendous flurry. He didn’t dare turn to check if his father was behind him, but the man made enough noise stomping through the forest that Grayne knew he was catching up.

As he traversed a small hill, Grayne lost his footing and slid painfully face-first into a steep wet valley. Branches and stones slowed his decent as he came to an undignified halt. Slowing only slightly, his gigantic father scooped him up with one arm and continued his rapid downward decent. Jumping over downed branches and stumps, the man barreled the forsest down. Although the two were in incredible danger, Grayne was never afraid for he knew there was nothing alive, man nor beast, his father couldn’t handle.

From his perch on his father’s shoulder, Grayne craned his neck upward and looked at their path of destruction into the ravine. Deep cuts in the earth where his father slid and jumped were alongside his own smaller openings. There were no signs of pursuit.

Suddenly he saw her and his heart stopped.

At the top of the hill stood a magnificent beast. The monstrous she-wolf that had killed the cow hours ago stood sniffing the air, seeming to see their trail with her nose. Then she lowered her head and looked directly at him.

His father lifted him from his shoulder and suddenly Grayne was face to face with a tree limb. His father commanded, “Grab it, boy. Climb! As far as you can! Climb!” Grayne grappled the jutting tree limb with his arms and legs frantically.

By the time he swung around and looked down at his father, the big man had unslung his axe from his back and stood ready. The mighty two-handed chopping axe looked small compared to his giant of a father and pathetic compared to the female dire wolf that was just beginning her rampaging descent toward the two.

The big man did not look away from the she-beast. “Grayne, climb as far as you can. Do not look down! Do not stop climbing!”

Grayne scrambled to find branches to raise himself up, desperate to follow his father’s orders. He panicked when a branch snapped under his weight, but he lashed out and grabbed hold of another stronger branch, narrowly avoiding crashing to the ground.

He risked a glance and saw the she-beast leaping catlike from stone to open ground and to a rocky outcropping as she combined her jumps with coordinated running to speedily and safely make her way toward her prey. She was grace and power incarnate. Grayne swallowed hard and kept climbing.

In a moment in which time stood still and the forest was silent, Grayne heard his father’s final words. The forest was quiet, and even the monster seemed to slow and hold her breath.

The forsest was hushed as Grayne heard his father say, “I love you, son.”

The monstrous juggernaut slammed snarling into the man with the force of a runaway boulder. The two rolled along the forest floor in a chaotic pile of snarling teeth and violent curses. In moments, the fight was over. The outcome was never in doubt for any concerned as Grayne heard his father’s final moan seep from his already-dead lips. The crunching of bone was mixed with the boy’s flood of emotion as the creature shook the last bit of life from his father with her blood-filled jaws. He wept uncontrollably from his perch.

The dire wolf released her kill and looked up at Grayne with cold blue eyes. Grayne stopped sobbing as her gaze calmed him with its piercing fury. Fresh from the hunt and the kill, her eyes were alive with joy. She left the dead man as she moved toward the tree, but let out a shrieking whimper as she took her first step. Grayne could see her right front leg was crippled, smashed apart with his father’s axe. Now with the energy of battle gone, the reality of her wounds hit her.

Confused and hurt, the beast dragged herself a few paces away from the dead man and the treed boy. Blood still dripping from her jaws, she paused on the snowy ground and licked her wound. The man’s blood mingled with her own as she began the fruitless task of caring for her mangled leg.

His father lay there, looking like a bag of meat, no longer the man of power and wisdom Grayne had idolized for all of his short life. Anger filled his stomach giving fuel to his emotion. The embers of sadness and grief turned to a firestorm of rage in his gut as Grayne began to climb down the tree. He moved quickly and heedless of his own safety or the scrapes and bruises he sustained as he clambored down. He dropped the last few feet and landed on all fours next to his father. Blood was still pouring from the man’s open neck.

The boy’s face was blank and did not show the sickening heat in his stomach as he picked up his father’s bloody axe. The axe was only meant for chopping wood and not intended for battle, yet it looked enormous in the hands of the boy barely more than four feet tall. He found the strength to lift it, however. Unwavering, he carried the axe over to the wounded wolf. Her eyes looked at him and their power was gone. Once a mighty killing instrument, she was now weak and feeble.

The boy’s grey eyes returned her stare with cold determination. Grayne raised the axe, and with strength that belied his size and age brought it down on the once-ferocious wolf. With a single blow he split her skull in two and ended her suffering.

He turned away from the dead creature and toward his own dead father. He dragged the axe, which was suddenly made of lead, to his father’s body and set about the task of burying the man deep enough in the cold ground as not to be unearthed by anything or anyone.

The ten-year-old boy had ended the suffering of the wounded dire wolf, but his had only just begun.

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Pain of Love 4

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“By the Seven, what in the bloody hell are you smiling at?!” exclaimed Farzan as he dragged the wickedly curved blade along Grayne’s bare chest. The eighteen-year-old northerner simply smiled in response to his stomach and chest being slowly sliced open. Farzan grimaced in frustration as Grayne seemed to stare through him with a stupid grin. Farzan resisted the urge to plunge the knife into the young man’s heart and be done with it.

Farzan shouted an unintelligible, guttural sound and stormed away from the stone table. He flung the bloody knife to the floor with a hollow clang.

A cloaked and hooded figure scurried to the door behind the dour-faced torturer. A gentle pale hand reached out from the dark robes and kept the door from swinging closed.

Farzan ran his hand aggressively up his own pale face and pulled his black hair in frustration. “It has been almost a fortnight and still he does not break! Two weeks of painful torture and he continues to test me!” the hook-nosed Dorn said to the robed minion who followed him through the stone passageways. “How does he resist?”

“Master Farzan, may I suggest changing tactics?” said the feminine voice from deep within the robes that lapped at his heels.

“What are you going on about?” he said as he halted suddenly, causing the robed woman to step aside to avoid colliding with him.

“When a man becomes accustomed to pain, he becomes immune to it,” she said, avoiding his furious eyes. “Grayne’s body will give out before he yields.”

Farzan grabbed her wrists suddenly and pulled them painfully towards him. She gasped with pain as he demanded, “Never say his name! He will not say Croget’s name; he does not deserve a name of his own!”

“Master, he will die if you continue like this,” she pleaded. Her hood fell away as she struggled to pull her hands away. Curly black locks fell chaotically around her porcelain skin. “You have to give him time to heal.”

Farzan stared at her suspiciously and after a lifetime of his penetrating gaze said, “Yes, perhaps you’re right,” He cast her away and said, “If he will not be broken by physical torture…” Farzan murmured to himself as he walked away, leaving the cloaked assistant behind him. She pulled her hood up over her black curls, and her pale face sunk into the shadowy recesses of the cloak.

The torturer’s assistant returned to the room that contained the bloodied and beaten Grayne. The northern man was naked and lashed to a flat rack that leaned up against the far wall. His eyes were closed, but he breathed shallowly, letting her know that he yet lived.

She pulled a bucket of soapy water next to the rack and dipped a rag into the tepid water. She began to clean his wounds on his chest and face with great care. She took time to not only clean every horrible wound, but to also clean the dirt and sweat from his entire well-muscled body. Although he slept, he had a silly grin on his face. The woman tilted her head questioningly at the man and continued washing. As she cleaned his thighs he seemed to smile more, but when she reached his genitals his eyes shot open and his smile became a hard, stern line. Their eyes met and her hood fell away revealing her fair skin. Her curly black hair fell over her face and her dark eyes closed as her face flushed in embarrassment. She stood and dropped the cloth into the bucket.

Without looking at Grayne, she suggested, “If you do what he wishes…if you say what he wishes, I can convince him to spare your life.” She pulled her hood up, again and busied herself cleaning the torture equipment. “He will listen to me.”

Grayne spoke for the first time in a week. His voice was low and raspy as he said, “I don’t think he listens much to you. In fact, I know he has no respect for you.”

“You know nothing about him. He is a very powerful man, with many responsibilities!” she said as she wiped a long blade clean of Grayne’s skin and blood.

“I know you want him to notice you. You desperately want him to notice you,” Grayne said, finding sick amusement in the reversal of torturers. “However, his heart belongs to another. It belongs to a young man with a limp wrist and a poor sword arm, whom I killed,” he said with a smirk. “It’s impossible to compete with a corpse, isn’t it, my dear?”

“Shut up! Croget was a respected companion! You don’t know anything!” She screamed as she advanced upon the naked and injured form of Grayne.

“I’m sorry, m’lady,” said Grayne with a genuine smile. “I’d bow, if I could…” With a suggestive downward glance he concluded his emotional assault by saying, “Now, where were we?”

The Greyhound and the Cheetah

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The greyhound with her smooth coat and long legs gazed down upon the humans from up on high. They constructed many statues to honor her and her brood. They even buried their dead in their stone pyramids, an honor not given to any other animal.

“See how the humans worship me and my kind, Cheetah?” she said, her long nose pointing down at the wild cat.

Cheetah lay on the ground beside Greyhound and stopped licking her coat for a moment to also look down upon the people. ‘Yes, they do seem enamored,” she said as she resumed cleaning her stripped coat.

“They love my speed and my grace. My beauty is without compare,” said Greyhound with her nose in the air. “Do humans worship you, Cheetah?”

Cheetah stopped preening and stood up to her full height, a few inches shorter than Greyhound. With a false frown she said, “No, Greyhound. I am not worshipped by the two-legged men.”

“Why not?” asked Greyhound.

Cheetah seemed to consider Greyhound’s question for long moments. Then she replied, “For I am not as beautiful as you. My neck is not as long, nor are my legs. My fur is a mismatch of colors, not as pleasing to the eye as your magnificent coat. I lack your grace of movement,” said Cheetah with a humble look.

“What else?” said Greyhound.

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“Hmmm?’ asked Cheetah, coyly.

“What about my speed?” asked the vain Greyhound.

“You are very fast,” said Cheetah.

“Perhaps,” murmured Cheetah walking away.

Greyhound pranced alongside Cheetah and asked, “Who on four legs is faster than I? The clumsy elephant? The large-jawed alligator? The brutish lion? The foolish tiger?”

Cheetah turned back and looked Greyhound in the eyes, “The cheetah is as fast as any greyhound.” Cheetah then turned and walked away from Greyhound.

The proud dog sputtered with rage as she ran past the cat and blocked her path. “You think that you are faster than I?!”

“It would be a grand contest, but I believe I could keep up.”

“Let us race and let the world and Gods know which animal is the fastest alive!” declared the proud Greyhound.

“Who would decide such a contest? What would the winner receive?” asked Cheetah.

Greyhound thought on this. “I will ask the beautiful and wise Athena to judge the race and I will ask her for a boon for me,…I mean the winner.”

“You are confident, my lady. May the fastest animal win.”

Later, Cheetah approached Rabbit. Rabbit was hopping happily in the grass. “Rabbit, I need your help,” said Cheetah.

“I am very busy, Cheetah. What do you want?” asked Rabbit hopping this way and that.

“I need help winning a race. I need you to distract Greyhound,” said Cheetah.

“Why should I help you?” questioned Rabbit still hopping.

Cheetah answered Rabbit “The winner receives a boon of Athena. I will give you the boon. I simply want to put Greyhound in her place.”

“Will Greyhound hurt me?”

“Oh no, Greyhound is a peaceful and benevolent creature. She will chase you, but not hurt you,” said Cheetah.

Rabbit agreed, wondering what boon he would ask of Athena. What would a rabbit need of a god?

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The day of the race, all the gods were present and Athena stood at the starting line. With a wave of her hand, Cheetah and Greyhound started running. They raced side by side in a slow circle for many miles until Greyhound spotted Rabbit running ahead. Her eyes fell upon the Rabbit and she followed his movement even as it diverted from the race track. Greyhound overtook Rabbit and snatched him up in her mouth and snapped his neck in her jaws. However, Cheetah crossed the finish line and strode proudly up to Athena. Greyhound hung her head as she later crossed the finish line, her mouth still covered in blood.

Athena looked at the two racers and said. “I proclaim Cheetah the fastest animal on four legs.” Cheetah simply smiled for she was proud of her cunning. “However, I know that she cheated. Her boon will come with a curse. I ask, what boon shall you ask of the Gods?”

Cheetah looked up at the beautiful Athena and said, “I wish to be forever the fastest animal alive. I ask from Athena that all cheetahs forever more will be the fastest creature on land by a factor of two.” She shot the humiliated greyhound a sneer. Greyhound hung her head.

Athena looked upon the two and said, “I will grant this boon to you, Cheetah. However, your boon comes with this judgment to you and your kind. Though the fastest you may be, forever will you use your speed only to catch food. You will never know glory and admiration of human kind. You will not be worshipped and buried along with man. You will only know the meat of a fresh kill and never the kind hand of a loving person.”

Though Greyhound had lost the race and would never be as fast as Cheetah, she was content with Athena’s judgment. Cheetah returned to the plains, forever a huntress and never a treasured companion.

Pain of Love part 3

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Her naked hips and lips were a wild toboggan ride for the young man. Grayne started at her mouth. Her plump lips always seemed to be pouting and she gave his fingertip a soft kiss as it passed. With a single digit, he traced a wiggling meandering line from her chin and down her neck.

From there his finger’s path began an uphill journey. Grayne took his time as his finger slowly traversed the fullness of her right breast. He pretended his index and middle finger were a tired traveler attempting to reach the summit of some dangerous mountain. Once the digits reached the summit, it has a quick ride to the bottom of the other side. He was quick not to forget the other hillscape as his fingers made a quicker ascent and descent of her perfect left breast. The fall of his finger was followed by a trip across her rib cage and then it took a gentle creamy downward turn and then a sudden dip and a drastic rise as the slope crested to the beautiful pinnacle that was her ample hip. Summer giggled and grabbed his hand. “Stop it,” she begged with a pout of her plump pink lips. “You know I’m ticklish!”

The pungent fragrance of sweaty love-making mixed with the aroma of burning wood filled the small cottage. A single bed took up a large portion of the one-room chalet, and two young lovers’ naked bodies were splayed across the bed in the aftermath of passion. The fireplace added to the heat of their lovemaking.

Grayne tried to hide his grin. He pursed his lips tight to avoid showing his teeth. “I remember my father and I built a wheel sled, when I was a kid”, Grayne said, quickly changing the subject and staring into Summer’s deep green eyes that squinted back at him with a hint of confusion. “You know, you put small wagon wheels on a sheet of wood and race down a hill?” he said as his finger sped off her hip and down her thighs like an imaginary wheel sled.

Summer brushed her curly red hair out of her face and smiled at her lover. He smiled at her and said, “I think I love you, Summer.”

“You know what I think, Grayne?” she said swinging her bare leg over him and climbing on top of him as if he were a stallion in need of breaking. “I think I want you again.” She plunged her fingers into his thick curly brown hair and pushed his face into her chest. Before Grayne took her breasts in his mouth he paused to say, “The Starks have it all wrong. It’s Summer that’s coming, not Winter.”

She groaned as she enjoyed the sensation of his mouth on her breast and she took him in. She gasped as pleasure filled her and radiated upwards to every part of her body. Tingling with exctasy she managed to breathe the words, “Shut up, Grayne. You talk too much.”

Pain of Love part 2

                    marbrand

                                                                 II

“What is your name?” bellowed an angry voice behind the darkened veil that were Grayne’s eyelids. The words pierced the darkness of the young man’s mind like a jagged-edge sword. The angry voice cracked his skull and forced him back to consciousness. One eye opened slowly letting in the flickering light of a dying lantern that danced in a breeze he could not feel. The wounded soldier’s hands were shackled by cold metal cuffs to the wall behind him, as were his feet. His battered form was suspended helplessly from a stone wall like a flayed pig in a storefront window.

Only  eighteen years old, Grayne was a man in the prime of his life and at the peak of physical condition. His short chestnut hair was cut in an effective military style, but today it was chaotically disheveled and soaked with dried blood. His well-muscled body, lean and without any signs of fat was now covered with open wounds. His larger than average nose was broken and bloody as was his weather-beaten face, covered in three days growth of brown facial hair. The scent of his own blood was all he could smell.

Ordinarily, the young man was not what one would call a pretty-boy. However, the girls who enjoyed a more rugged man often would give him an extra smile.

No one would smile at his bedraggled form now.

He struggled to remember the details of the past day. He knew he was a soldier. He knew his name was Grayne. He knew he was injured badly, but he didn’t need memory to realize that fact. The constant stream of pain that was pulsating, throbbing, and slicing from different parts of his body was a constant reminder of the frailty of his form.

“Where am I?” he asked as he took in his surroundings with a single eye that was almost swollen shut. The other eye was not sending any information to his bleary mind, and it hurt whether it was opened or closed. The pain mixed into a confusing stew of open wounds that was his broken body. There was a man before him asking him questions, but Grayne ignored him, instead scanning instead his surroundings. He saw he was in a circular stone room and immediately he assumed he was in a tower in a keep or castle. Light illuminated the room only by lanterns. There were no windows in the tower and Grayne had no idea if it was night or day.

A booted foot slammed into his stomach returning his attention to his captor. Blood and spit dribbled from his mouth. “I ask the questions! What is your name?” demanded his hook-nosed captor. Grayne closed his eyes as he grimaced against the pain. When he opened them again, the dancing light of the waning lantern showed the darkened stone room and dimly revealed the shadowy form of his abuser. The man wore the plate armor of a knight, but with no helm. Grayne could see a sharp hook nose leaning above his mustache and he made note of the man’s thick unruly growth of black facial hair. His captor’s hair was black as coal and his skin was freckled from the sun, but had a paleness that indicated he had not felt extended periods of sunlight in many years.

Any trace of defiance slipped from him along with the saliva and blood that trickled from his mouth. “My name is…,” he said struggling. “My name is Grayne,” he moaned. He had not the sense of mind to remember his training or he would have recalled the first rule of being a captive. Never give your name.

“Good,” the hook-nosed knight said. “What is your rank?

“I…I’m just a soldier.”

A fist slammed into his already bloody face. Pain exploded from his nose and Grayne’s consciousness faded for a moment. He awoke before his torturer spoke. “You expect me to believe that a simple soldier was sent behind enemy lines and managed to kill a high ranking officer?”

“I’m…” he struggled to speak as he swallowed some of his own blood. “I’m sneaky.”

His torturer seethed. “You’re trying my patience. I know what you want. You want me to kill you. By the Seven, I’m not going to do that!” He caught his breath and turned away. In a whisper he said, “Not yet.”

“You’re smarter than you look,” Grayne groaned matter-of-factly without the hint of a smile. His eye scanned the room, looking for something he could use to escape, or with which to kill himself.

“Do you know whom you killed?” asked his captor turning back to him.

“No,” answered Grayne honestly. He couldn’t remember much of the man. He knew he was a dandy, a weaker, womanish man, but could not recall his name.

“His name is Croget,” said the torturer, turning away.

“Was,” corrected the victim.

Crack! A forceful blast to his skull forced the young man into blessed darkness.

The cruel knight grabbed Grayne’s short blood-caked brown hair and whispered into the young man’s unconscious ear. “Croget was a beautiful man, and you will say his name. By the end, you will say his name. Only then will I grant you death.”

Choose Your Own Adventure

You are a heroic knight, armed only with sword and shield you stand against a rampaging fire-breathing dragon that threatens to destroy your home and family. What do you do?

I am a firm believer in personal choice. Although many events in life happen to us and are beyond our individual control, there are frequent options that we can pick from that dictate the path our lives will take. The choice can be as seemingly inconsequential as which road to take on the way to work, or as important as the choice to fight or run, but those choices can have life-or-death unforeseen consequences. I am often reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read when I was twelve years old. The books placed the reader in the role of a variety of characters such as spy, race car driver, or dragon slayer. Never did any of those stories place me in the role of a thirty-seven year old, out-of-shape man trying to protect his girlfriend and her toddler son from her own brother hopped up on pain killers and looking for a fight.

I am dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of leather gloves and I am standing in the parking lot of my girlfriend’s condo in mid-January, unprepared for the weather and not expecting to be involved in a fistfight. It hasn’t snowed in a while and the previous snowfalls have been plowed into neat but dirty piles out of the way of traffic and parking spaces.

My girlfriend’s younger brother, Rex steps out of the passenger’s side of a pickup truck and finds me standing there in the way of his destination. Tim, a tall but portly man of approximately my age gets out of the driver’s side and makes his way slowly but determinedly over to Meryl. I understand why Tim is attracted to Meryl. She is a year older than me, but she is stunning. Tall and blonde with a perfect shape, and a confused and helpless demeanor; she has all the ingredients that even a smart guy like me fell for.

I am a roadblock with crossed arms in Rex’s way. I say, “Get back in the truck and go somewhere else,” but all with my eyes. Rex looks at me slack-jawed, hardly believing I would obstruct him. He is not as tall as I am, but what he lacks in size, he makes up in other areas; overall physical fitness, youth, and a circulatory system laced with pain-reducing prescription medications. These facts give him the edge that any Las Vegas bookie would call a ‘lock’.

What my adversary doesn’t anticipate is my proven record of being able to take a beating and survive.

Meryl, has informed me that Rex had stolen money and prescription medications from her when he has stayed with her, in the past. She received a call from her friend Tim, indicating that he had just been released from jail for a crime he committed earlier that night and was looking to stay with her.

“Turn around and go home,” I say, standing my ground. “You can’t stay here.”

“What the…fuck you!” comes the clever response from the thug. “Why not?” he says, laughing dismissively at me.

“Why?! Why?! Because you just got arrested for stealing from Hannaford’s and Tim said you’re high on oxy,” I reply full of condemnation and judgment. Meryl’s friend Tim, a soft-spoken, weak-willed man who was continuously hanging-on, waiting for our relationship to end, waits in the shadows. The symbolism is lost on me.

-If you want to stand your ground and possibly fight a 22 year old drug-addict, turn to page 15

-If you decide to let your girlfriend decide for herself go to page 16

I frantically turn to page 16 and am alarmed at the result of my decision.

16) You decide that it would be best to back away and ask Meryl what she would like to do knowing damn well she will let her druggie brother stay with her and steal money from her wallet and prescription pills from her medicine cabinet and endanger little Luke, whom you love more than anyone you have ever loved. However, you were in a car accident over ten years ago in which your brain suffered damage to your frontal lobe preventing you from feeling the emotion of fear. Due to the fact that you lack the flight part of the fight or flight instinct turn to page 15 and face the guy high on pain reducing drugs who is fifteen years younger than you. Good luck!

In a flash, he is on me. I am unprepared for his sudden attack and he pulls me to the ground and starts to punch me in the body and head. I decide not to fight back, because even though the punches are raining in on me I feel that my girlfriend, or her friend Tim, will pull my attacker off me any second now and talk some sense into him. I wait as he grips my head in his very strong hands and slams it against the cold pavement of the parking lot that has been chilled by the January air.

I did not anticipate the situation being resolved in this manner. I thought he would back down when faced with my stern and heroically unwavering demeanor.

The beating continues. Help does not seem to be coming.

-If you want to survive you had better start fighting back! Grow a pair and turn to page 21.

-To beg for mercy or lay down and die, go back to page 1 and start again.

I do not wish to die here.

21) From the ground, you push Rex off and get into a position where you can land some punches of your own. Wham! Wham! You punch him twice in the ribs. He continues to struggle and attempts to get you back in a vulnerable position. You decide that punching him in the balls, an effective, if not manly attack, will take the fight out of him. BAM! BAM! BAM! Three solid strikes to his softest part and you roll out of the melee and to your feet.

Rex and I rise rapidly and he stomps away from me. I am amazed that he is still functioning, much less on his feet, considering the punishment I have unleashed upon him. I stumble bloody over to Meryl who stands confused in front of a crowd of people who have ventured out of their condos and into the parking lot where our battle is taking place. The crowd resembles spectators in a gladiatorial arena in ancient Rome. They laugh and carry on as if this were an event staged for their amusement. Meryl is just as useless.

I turn to face Rex who is advancing on me again. This time he has a set of keys spaced between the fingers of his clenched fist creating a more deadly attack. I hear Meryl scream as I back-peddle away from his repeated wide swings at my face. Like some paraplegic ninja, I throw a half-hearted kick that does not find its mark nor does it force him back.

-Seriously, dude. No one is helping you! Turn to page 35 to get in your friggin’ car and drive away.

Surrender and retreat are options, but they do not occur to me.

Rex is pacing back and forth on the other side of the parking lot. I imagine steam rising off his body as he punches his fists in rage. I yell out to the crowd, “Did anyone call 911?!” Someone mumbles an unconvincing positive reply.

“You better hope they come soon, because I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!” Rex yells at me from across the lot.

-If you want to wait for the police, go to page 32

-If you want to respond to his threats, go to page 33

I have taken a beating. Now it’s time to give one.

33) You stride determinedly toward the injured man as he raises his right arm to attack you. With your left hand you bat aside his fist and land a solid blow of your own on his unprotected nose. It collapses in a spurt of blood and crunch of cartilage.

He does not fall.

Instead he comes at me with fists flying. Only the swirling blue lights that are the harbingers of help put an end to the fight. A disappointed sigh escapes from the crowd like the last gasp of a dying animal and they return to their homes.

There are many choices I could have made after the police questioned all those involved in the fight and the witnesses. As the cops try to work out whom they should arrest they jokingly say they should arrest whoever is least beaten-up, because that person is likely the instigator of the fight. We both look beat up. I am covered in blood that is all my own. My skull and face are lacerated and bleeding. Rex’s nose is broken and his face and shirt are soaked in his own blood. His internal injuries are invisible and he cannot feel them.

I hold my breath, not sure whom Meryl and Tim will accuse or whom the police will think has taken less damage.

My luck holds and the police take Rex into custody. Later, they take him to the emergency room for internal bleeding. Had those less-visible injuries been more evident perhaps I would have been the one incarcerated.

The one life lesson I learned from those Choose Your Own Adventure books was that it is possible to make all the right choices and still lose and often the unexpected option leads to defeating the proverbial or literal dragon and getting the treasure.

There was no treasure in this particular story and I didn’t feel like I had defeated any dragons. For the months that followed, the princess I was trying to save instead blamed me for fighting and injuring the dragon. I was trying to be the hero, but instead I was the villain.

Often, as in real life, there is no way of winning and the right choices are not always the correct ones. The great thing about the books was the ability to take a different path if you didn’t like the ending you got the first time.

I wish real-life had the same option.

                               THE END

Pain of Love part 1

 A Game of Thrones story

marbrand2

“Can we stop? I want to hear the story,” the boy said, looking up expectantly at his father. The six-year old child looked minuscule compared to the gigantic bear of a man. The boy turned and he saw the look on the man’s face, hidden as it was under a scraggly red beard. It was a look that said that they were in a hurry. He was ready, though, and the happy ear-to-ear smile on his face was enough to shatter his father’s grim demeanor. The big man let out a grunt and with his giant paw tousled the boy’s already messy brown curly hair. “Okay, Grayne, but let’s not diddle-doddle. Your mother is waiting.”

Grayne let out a shriek of happiness, his troubles temporarily forgotten. He ran to sit in the crowd of boys and girls whose mothers stood around the perimeter. He found an open space and before he sat down he took a moment to find his father in the crowd so he could give him another toothy smile. His mother had told him many times, “Let him see all your teeth. He will never tell you no when he can see the back teeth.” Grayne saw the big man waiting. He stood at least a foot taller than the tallest woman in the crowd. With his arms crossed, and a grim countenance on his face, the women gave him extra space. Grayne looked past his father with dread at the horizon, for the grey clouds indicated a storm was coming. The boy was long ago weary of the many storms of a summer that was in its death throes, but had not accepted its own demise. The smell of dampness filled his nose.

Grayne smiled and made himself as comfortable as possible on the hard ground. A tall figure in tattered black robes stood on the flimsy stage. The boy could not determine the shadowy figure’s gender under its dark billowing robes. Even when it spoke, the voice was a whisper that carried on the wind and gave no indication of the gender of the speaker. A blast of cold wind suddenly stormed through the crowd stirring up dirt, dust and dead leaves on the ground and those not strong enough to hold onto the trees. The people collectively pulled their clothing closer against the storm’s windy harbinger that swept through them. The children gasped and shivered in response to the piercing gust. Only the black-robed performer seemed unaffected by the icy chill of the coming storm.

“Who can tell me of The Seven?” the robed, seemingly genderless storyteller asked the gathered throng of youngsters with only a whisper. “Can any of you name even one of the seven new gods who hold our destinies in their merciless hands?” the hooded storyteller asked as it pointed a long bony finger at a boy with blonde hair and a dirt- stained face. The boy let out a gasp and was silent.

Grayne’s father had many times told him of the new gods, and the boy was eager to show off his knowledge. The robed actor continued pointing at various children in the crowd until Grayne shouted, “The Maiden!” His voice wavered and cracked, but he made himself heard over the wind.

“Correct,” whispered the shadowy person. “What are the others?”

Grayne looked back at his father, hoping for some recognition for his correct answer, but instead saw the giant shifting uneasily from foot to foot. Grayne returned his attention to the performer. He listened as the children named each of the gods that made up The Seven. They named them all as the hooded storyteller coaxed the names from them; the Maiden, the Father, the Smith, the Warrior, the Crone, the Stranger, and the Mother. The mention of the Mother-Above caused the boy to think of his own mother. She had fallen ill and had lingered in a state of confusion for almost two weeks. Her body wasted while she seemed to have no concept of her surroundings. A medicine-man had taken her in, but each day she showed no signs of recovering from her mysterious languishing malady. Grayne felt helpless and wished the gods were real and that prayer could save his mother. “The Gods are cruel,” his father had always told him.

Grayne watched with nervous anticipation as the storyteller moved though the field of seated children, telling a story of the Seven. He half-listened, his thoughts were not where he was, but where he was going. Only when the storyteller neared Grayne did he return his attention to the performance. The grim entertainer strode over and around the seated children determinedly until he stood above Grayne. For an instant the cold wind seemed to die. He looked up, but all he saw were black robes of the tall storyteller. Suddenly, the boy was staring into the shadow-filled hood of the figure as it bent down before him. He let out a little squeak like an injured mouse as the hooded figure spoke to him with words that felt like sticky cobwebs, and breath the smelled like wet earth.

Grayne dizzily listened to the grim figure’s words for what seemed like hours, barely hearing the shrieks and screams that erupted from behind him. In a blur of motion and with a crack of bones, the cloaked figure was cast aside as if he had been smashed by a charging bull. His father was beside him and before Grayne could react he was thrown over the man’s massive shoulder. The big man crashed and stomped his way out of the crowd.

Only when they were safely from the crowd and what seemed like miles away did his father gently remove Grayne from his shoulder and set upon his feet. “Are you okay?” his father asked the pale and shaken child as cold raindrops began to fall.

Grayne nodded without a word. The wind had stopped, replaced with a hard rain that chilled them both to the core.

“What happened? What did he say to you!?” his father asked the shaken boy more demandingly than he intended. He closed his eyes and tried to console Grayne by saying, “It’s okay, son. Whenever you’re ready.”

Grayne licked his lips and looked silently at his feet.

“Boy, it’s okay,” his father said calmly. “You don’t have to say anything.”

The two walked in silence, hand in hand for several miles making their way from the small village to the darkening woods, before the boy spoke. “Father, the storyteller…said I was cursed.” Grayne paused to lick his dry lips and he continued. “My curse is my strength. I will outlive everyone I care for, and my true suffering will come not from the pain of my injuries but from my ability to endure them.” The sound of the rain pounding furiously through the trees was the only sound until Grayne asked, “What does that mean?”

His father’s grip tightened on his son’s hand. The man closed his eyes then sucked his lips in over his teeth as he took a deep breath. Quietly, the gargantuan man stopped at a hollow log. He pointed at the log and nodded at it, and the boy crawled inside without further questions.

His father stood outside as the torrent soaked him for many hours. Grayne fell asleep listening to the rain tapping against the bark of the log and dreamed of his mother.