Chapter 39: In the Grasp of Giants
Molek gazed on as the dark horde of Amorites broke through the doors of homes and shops throughout the Ambassador’s Square, setting fires with their torches. Curtains, beds, tables, everything burned. The few people still hiding within their homes were pulled out by their necks and slaughtered in the street. With every new victim cut open, the warriors became more violent, frenzied, and crazed.
Molek surveyed the carnage and laughed as he watched his little men have their fun. Why master Dagon was so anxious about the resistance was beyond him. Clearly these sheep were no threat. He would soon start collecting his usual trophies. Every city they had toppled along the way had added to his collection. From every empire he crushed, he’d taken a necklace of heads. Tonight’s strand would be the greatest one yet, and he knew whose head would adorn its center. The cowering officer who had run from him at the docks. Yes, his would do nicely.
* * * * * * * *
The forest floor was sprinkled with pine needles, bark fragments, ferns, and stones. In the sparse moonlight, Colin collected twigs and pine needles. He soon carried an armload of the kindling to a clear spot near a large stone outcropping. The massive jagged rock formed the likeness of an arrowhead angled towards the sky, and he welcomed its meager shelter from the persistent rain. His hands shook as he tried to form a reasonable fire pit. The chill and damp had worked their way from his fingers to his arms and legs. He stopped every few seconds to wrap his arms around himself for warmth.
Sticks should be angled like a teepee. Gotta get air to the bottom. But his hands ached with the chill, forcing him to stop and breathe into his cupped palms. He finally steadied the kindling onto each other and paused to study his handiwork. It’s unsteady but it should hold . . .
A strong wind blew in from above the upper branches and sent his kindling flying across the forest floor.
“Damnit!” Colin exploded and kicked the stone outcropping with his foot. “Ouch!” He knelt down and fingered his stubbed toe within his sneaker. The cold crept to his core.
Heat. Need heat. Screw the pyre. Just a stick. Just one little flame.
He got up and searched frantically for any piece of wood that might hold a flame longer than a second or two. Colin’s neck tingled as if some presence was nearby, watching him. He turned to see the shadows behind him but no trace of a living thing stirred.
He finally found a large chunk of bark and went back to the outcropping. He backed up against the massive rock and knelt beside it.
“Ok, I rub some sticks together and I’m good.” But he knew it wasn’t that easy. He grabbed a nearby twig and started rubbing it furiously against the bark.
The twig snapped. Colin clenched his fists again and shook the sting from his fingers.
“Ok something harder, something . . . ”
Again Colin felt eyes studying his moves. He spun around, “Hello?”
Only silence answered. He clenched his fists and slowly turned back. He remembered the stone. The stone he’d found inside Potter’s box, that he still carried in his jeans. Since his time in the dungeon, he’d forgotten all about it. He searched his pant legs and felt it still nestled in the bottom of his pocket. He pulled out the smooth river stone and the now crumpled photo of him and his father camping. His body shivered as he peered at it.
“Slow and steady wins the race, son,” his father had said and smiled as Colin had worked to start their cooking fire that day. “It doesn’t always come easy, but if you keeping trying it will eventually come.”
“Why’s it gotta be so hard? Can’t we just get a burger or something?” Colin had whined as he struggled to get a spark. “I suck at this. I’m just gonna fail.”
He remembered how his father had knelt down and tousled his hair.
“I guess that’s why persistence is failing 19 times and getting it to work the 20th, buddy. So, if you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Another shiver rippled across Colin’s body and brought him back to the present. The thought of his mother returned him. Was she still comatose in a hospital bed, alone? What hell was she facing? What dark corners between life and death was she trapped in? I don’t have time to freeze to death. He took a breath and steadied his hand as he gripped the stone.
He ran it up and down the bark, and for a second he saw a trace of smoke.
The rock broke through the rotten piece of timber. Colin waded the photo in his fist, he wanted to scream. It was just another lie, just another way to fail.
“You’re doing it wrong,” a deep gravelly voice said from behind him.
Colin spun around, but no one was there. He looked to the shadows but saw nothing. He pulled himself up to the top of the outcropping and peered into the darkness of the forest.
“Come out! Whoever you are!” he yelled.
“Would you mind not standing on my head?” the voice grunted. Colin felt the stone shift underneath his feet, and he fell backward off the rock and onto the ground. There before him was the largest face he’d ever seen.