An old man stood lurched near two shoulder-high torches. Sunken green eyes darted up and down, analyzing Elijah’s every move. A ragged brown tunic covered the old man’s withering body, and bony hands clutched at a dragon attached to the top of a cane.
The old man asked, “Are you okay, dear boy?”
Elijah nodded and replied, “Yeah.”
“You are hurt. You are hurt all over.”
Elijah reviewed the cuts scattered over his exposed limbs. “Nah, I’m ok. Promise.”
The old man’s pursed lips formed a wry smile. “You handle pain well. I expected as much. Your lineage is strong, the strongest I’ve ever seen. But strength without reason can be a terrible thing.” He bent over, looked into Elijah’s eyes, and continued: “Do you know why you’re here?”
Stepping back, Elijah said, “No. I don’t know anything.”
With a smile, the old man said, “That’s fine. Until now, instinct alone guided you. The blind path strengthened your spirit. And soon, you will be guided by understanding.” The old man closed his eyes; wrinkles covered his eyelids.
“You are here because, for more years than I even know, I have been protecting this world against the Monster.”
“Monster? What monster?” Elijah asked.
“That you do not know means I have done my job well. But…” The old man’s voice trembled as he said, “I could have done more. I was able to fend off the Monster, but never could defeat him.” Pointing the cane at Elijah, the old man said, “That’s now your job.”
Elijah heard the words, but they did not register at first; when they did, he surveyed his meek and tattered body. He reviewed his shapeless biceps and small hands. He rubbed his tired shoulders and injured neck. There was no possible way he could defeat any “Monster” in ideal shape, let alone in his ragged state.
“How?” Elijah muttered. “I’m too little.”
The old man leaned down and said, “To defeat the Monster, you will need much more than size and brute strength.” Patting Elijah’s arm, the old man said, “But I see your point. Follow me.”
The old man stood and walked towards the fire; following, Elijah watched the old man walk—his was gait smooth and even rhythmic.
After a few yards, the old man stopped before a circular barrier cobbled together by brown and black stones. The barrier rose to Elijah’s shoulders, so he could not see what it held within its walls. Carved in the stone was an image of a sundial, but with the roman numerals organized in a random order.
“This,” the old man said, “is the Well of Time.”
“What does it do?”
“Why don’t you find out?” The old man stepped away and rested his weight on the cane.
Cautiously, Elijah approached the Well; when he was next to it, he looked down over its walls. The water it contained was clearer than any he had ever seen. If not for its gentle trembles and the glittery reflections of his face and the torches, the water would have been translucent. The Well also discharged an odor, but he could not place it. Sweet like honey, but also rough like alcohol, the smell produced by the water was both inviting and revolting.
“If you take a sip,” the old man said, “everything will change.”
Elijah asked, “What do you mean?”
“Words alone cannot do the changing justice. All I can say is that you will gain as much as you lose.” The old man’s gaze shifted downward as he said, “But there is no other way. I wish there was, but there isn’t. If you mean to meet your fate, you must go through the Well.”
With a soft voice, Elijah asked, “Will it hurt?”
Flatly, the old man replied, “Yes. Very much.”
Fear shot through Elijah, but he fought against it. After taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and stuck his hands into the water; the liquid was too gelatinous, too coagulated. Whatever he held in his palms was not water.
When he gathered the necessary strength, he drank; the liquid was tasteless, though he felt it flow through his trachea. For a few seconds, nothing happened; but then the changing began.
Agony seeped through his nerves, crippling him; he fell to the cave floor and curled into the fetal position. His skin ripped and bones splintered. Every part of his body—internally and externally—elongated, growing in length and girth. Throwing back his head, Elijah screamed for several seconds; the shriek was high-pitched at first, but deepened in resonance until it was unrecognizable.
The changing took less than a minute, but when it was over, Elijah lay trembling as if a captor had released him after many years of torture. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and evaluated his new body.
Everything about Elijah was different. Newly formed muscles bulged under the skin of his biceps, triceps, chest, and legs. After pressing himself to his feet, he realized he stood at least ten inches taller, and now was eye-level with the old man.
“Good,” the old man said. “How do you feel?”
In a deep, booming voice, Elijah replied, “Strong.” He turned from the old man and walked to the Well. Elijah gazed at the reflection of his new being, which retained one striking trait from his old self: his face had not changed; his smooth cheeks, wrinkle-free forehead, and innocent eyes remained. He was a man with a child’s face.
Turning from the Well, Elijah asked, “Am I ready now?”
“No,” the old man replied. “Not quite.” Swiftly, he twisted the dragon atop the cane ninety-degrees to the right; as he pulled the dragon away from the cane, bright light bled out.
When the sword was completely unsheathed, it was as if the old man was holding a beam of pure energy. The sword illuminated the cave, but the light did not blind Elijah; if anything, his vision cleared.
“This,” the old man said, “is the Sunblade.”
The old man handed the blade to Elijah; warmth tickled his hand as he took the sword, and energy pulsated through his essence, washing away any residual pain.
The old man said, “Now, you are ready.” He pointed towards a seemingly endless dark path and continued, “Just keep going in that direction. You will know when you’ve reached your destination.”
“Thanks,” Elijah whispered.
“It is my duty, dear boy. Now go, for there is little time. The Monster awaits your arrival.”
After trekking a mile through the pathway, Elijah heard a roar in the distance; the rock formations trembled, causing him to worry about a possible cave-in. But the cavern withstood the noise, and he continued.
Soon, he heard the roar again; as he was closer this time, he could better decipher the sound, and he realized it was more than a roar. Someone, or something, was screaming, “No!” In the distance, there was light that shone not from the Sunblade, but rather the sun. Elijah sighed, realizing he had arrived.
After stepping into the light, he took a moment to appreciate the warmth of the sun beating against his skin. He saw the Monster’s enormous shadow first; blackness scorched the dirt. On both sides, mountains shot out from the earth and touched the heavens.
Elijah faced the Monster’s back, which towered at least thirty feet into the air. When he got closer, he saw not one, but two heads upon the shoulders of the Monster. The left head was human and bowed like a scolded puppy. The right head was thin and scaly.
Now only a few meters from the Monster, Elijah noticed a red blur at its feet; squinting his eyes, the blur came into focus, and he realized a woman in a red dress lay at the Monster’s feet, her panicked eyes surveying the surroundings.
“No!” the Monster screamed so loudly that the earth again shook.
“Yes,” Elijah replied.
The giant clumps of muscle along the Monster’s back clenched, and he noticed that it held a cylindrical, shiny object in its right hand.
“Who dare ttthhsspeak before me?” the Monster asked. The voice was different than the one that had cried “no.” The voice that now spoke was intellectual and confident, but also slurred with a lisp.
Lumbering, the body of the Monster rotated, and its full horror came into focus. A human head hung low and sad eyes reviewed him. The other head was snakelike—green, triangular scales formed diamond patterns around a deep mouth, and foot-long spikes ridged along the Monster’s crown.
“Aw, yessth,” the snakehead said. “Sssstho, you are replasssment, yessth? Good.”
The distant eyes of the human head grew wide as it yelled, “No!”
The Monster raised the object in its right hand to its reptilian lips and tilted upwards; it guzzled, and drops from the liquid seeped out and fell. When the drops hit the earth, there was a fizzle, and the acidity of the substance seared the dirt.
The snakehead asked, “You sssthure youssth ready, boy?”
“Yes,” Elijah replied without hesitation. “I am ready.”
The thin lips of the snakehead slid into a smile before its mouth opened; a blur of a thin tongue darted towards him, striking the hand holding the Sunblade, and he dropped his only defense.
He tried to reach for the sword, but the saliva paralyzed him; staring at his right hand, he witnessed the skin around his fingers peel away like tiny banana peels.
Elijah sensed pressure around his waist; a few moments later, he was airborne in the clutches of the Monster. With each squeeze of the Monster’s rock-like fingers, his life slipped away.
Breathing became difficult, and then impossible. Stars and black dots danced in his vision, and the acidic smell of the Monster’s breath overwhelmed his spirit.
In the remaining light, he saw something in his periphery: a dash of red. With his little remaining strength, he turned his head and squinted his eyes.
The woman below held the Sunblade in her hand. After a slight nod, she reared back her arm and tossed the sword towards Elijah.
The light of the Sunblade twirling in the air distracted the Monster, and it loosened its grip enough for him to slip out his uninjured hand; stretching as far as he could, he caught the Sunblade with the tips of his remaining fingers.
The man’s head opened its mouth and began to again scream, “No!” Without a second thought, Elijah cast the Sunblade into the open mouth. For a moment, the Monster maintained its grip; but then all force disappeared, and Elijah fell.
After hitting the earth, Elijah lay face-down with closed eyes and a slowing heart. He looked up and saw the Monster fall to its knees as light radiated all around it like a halo; the Monster’s body stiffened and slowly greyed before it was motionless.
When his safety was certain, Elijah stood and walked towards the Monster—from a couple feet away, he saw it was now stone. He reached out and touched the smooth, petrified figure, which emanated warmth that eased his pain.
Something touched his shoulder; he turned and saw the lady in the red dress standing near him. She was staring intently at the remains of the Monster, her disposition seemingly a mix of relief and longing.
“Are you okay?” Elijah asked.
“I am fine,” the woman said, her eyes welling with tears. “Fine. Fine, I promise.” A sense of déjà vu filled his mind as she said this. She embraced him while whispering, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you…”
He accepted her embrace, but did not return the hug. Instead, he asked, “Are you sad about the Monster?”
With her arms still around him, she said, “Yes. Yes and no. It’s complicated.” She let go and pointed to a pool of liquid that had poured from the Monster’s cylindrical object; the substance was so corrosive that a cloud of steam rose above the spill.
In a soft voice, she said, “What you call the Monster, I once called my love. He was a wonderful man until he discovered that filth deformed him. Part of me thought he could come back, fight against it. I was wrong.”
The woman’s eyes transfixed Elijah. It was as if he was looking into his own eyes.
A loud slam startled Elijah. It was a slam he had heard many times before, and one that caused him to shudder as a Pavlovian response.
Under the sheets, with a crayon in one hand and a flashlight in the other, he reviewed the picture he had just finished: an enormous beast with two heads—one of which was a serpent—lorded over a lady in red.
He braced himself for the events ahead. What happened next was like clockwork; but the routine nature of the torture did not lessen its terribleness.
He tossed away the covers and ran to his bed. Bending down, he pulled out his plastic Narnia sword; its batteries died long ago, so it no longer wooshed when swung, but it would have to do. It was his only defense.
The hand clutching the sword ached as, two days prior, it was on the receiving end of several belt lashes—Elijah had made the dire mistake of trying to sneak an extra cookie from the pantry, and welts from the punishment had not yet healed.
He ran to the door and listened. Faintly, he heard his mom’s voice: “John, please. Just go to bed. Sleep it off.”
“Back off,” a slurred voice replied. “I want to talk to my tthhsson.”
“Please,” his mom pleaded. “Please go to bed. Just once. For me?” “For you?” the man asked. “And what in the hell have you done for me? Nuthin’. Tthhsso leave me alone or else.”
“No!” Elijah’s mother yelled. “Not this time! I won’t let you put another finger on him!”
There were sounds of struggling, but only for a few moments before a loud bang. Then silence.
“Sssee!” The man yelled. “Looka what you made me do.”
Silence. Then footsteps towards Elijah’s room.
“My God, John, what have you done?” an older voice asked with a tremble. It was the voice of Elijah’s maternal grandfather. It was a voice Elijah cared for very deeply, one upon which he could always rely. But a recent fall had weakened his grandfather, limping his stride and forcing him to use a cane.
“Aint none of your concern, old man!”
“I’m not letting you in there, John. You better stay away from Elijah.”
“Yeah? And how’re ya gonna ssstop me, huh?”
Silence. Then footsteps towards Elijah’s room.
The footsteps stopped right outside of his room. He could hear breathing on the other side of the door—heavy, wheezy breathing. Malicious, purposeful breathing.
Elijah gripped his plastic sword and prepared himself, for beyond the door, the Monster awaits.