The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 14

Katy Abbe, Columnist

Jason took the lead. He was like an eager puppy on a walk; he never let anyone walk in front of him, and he would either match the pace or quicken it should Arthur or I reach him. Usually he matched my pace and would even have a long conversation about a past homecoming dance I didn’t recall or about the time he got his first goldfish. He wouldn’t talk to Arthur though, and when he did, it was only to tease or question about me. I could tell Arthur was a little irked with Jason’s critical attitude.

“Just what is with that arm of yours?” Jason smirked as he eyed Arthur’s bandaged and bloody arm. “Did you two run into a pack of rabid bunnies?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.” Arthur retorted with a glare. “But they were after the wolves, nasty little things, trapping innocent travelers to pillage.”

“Hmm, but they still trapped you.” Jason winked at me. I frowned, and looked away. Jason’s voice grew harsh. “Wolves? You know they’ve been a problem lately. Akonito is filled with them and they just seem to multiply.”

“Maybe I should check things out when we get there.” Arthur muttered, bringing his hand to his chin. “If they need help-”

“Oh, leave them alone, buddy.” Jason frowned, startling me with the bitterness in his voice. “It doesn’t matter, the townsfolk have got the hang of keeping them at bay. You don’t have to act like a big tough knight who can handle anything.”

“Jason!” I exclaimed before Arthur could counter. I shot the grey-eyed boy a glare and he met my gaze with surprise. His lips curled into a frown and his eyebrows furrowed.

“Fine, Diane. I’ll play nice.” He forced out under his breath before quickening his pace, leaving me to trail behind.

Soon, we reached the end of the forest, and harsh sunlight burned against my skin. I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the light, and held my hand over them to block out the majority of the stinging light.

The landscape in front of me was dead. The grass was dry and brown, and patches of dirt were dotted around the earth. The sun sent waves of heat down, that made everything blur together in a murky mess, giving off a sense of an eternity that trapped all who entered. It was like we had walked into an eternity of a world that had long passed.

“Chorathaymaton is over there,” Arthur commented, leaning in from behind and pointing. I followed his finger and squinted as my gaze fell onto a what appeared to be a ghost town. There was a cluster of buildings near the horizon, all looked like they were crumbling into grey ash.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked, glancing around again, concerned with the lack of living organisms. Everything looked like a black and white film; there was no color and only faded hints of what was once life. It was dry and empty, a desert frozen in time.

“Yes, Diane,” Jason called as he started for the ghost town. “Lots of people live here, they’re a bit strange.”

“Chorathaymaton is the only supplier of pomegranates for many towns.” Arthur mentioned, following Jason. I stood my ground for a moment, eyeing the town wearily.

“Why don’t I see any trees? How can anything grow here?” I questioned, glancing at their backs as they continued walking through the dead grass, which crunched beneath their feet.

“You’ll see them soon.” Jason waved his hand, gesturing me to follow. I bit my lip and sprinted to catch up to them.

As we neared the town, the scent of fresh water filled my nostrils. I glanced around curiously, but I could hear no trickle of a babbling brook, nor could I see any stream of crystal blue water.

The town was large, and had a simple gate surrounding it. The gate was pale and pasty, as if the slightest touch would cause the bars to crumble. Around the gate doors, a small golden bell hung from a scarlet thread. Jason gave the string a tug and a soft twinkle rang from the bell. A shiver ran down my spine as the gate creaked open without the help of any other person. I took a step closer to Arthur, who gave me a gentle nudge.

“It’ll be alright.” He grinned gently when I glanced up, meeting his cool blue irises. “If you can fight off wolves, you can make it through a town.” I nodded, offering a small smile.

“Sure,” I muttered lightly, feeling my heart flutter with fear as I looked back towards the town. I wasn’t convinced though. I would have rather faced a pack of rabid werewolves than enter through that dead town.

“It’ll be fine.” Arthur gave me another nudge before taking a step forward. He waited for me to follow him before taking another step. My heart pounded as I glanced towards the fading rectangular structures, but I forced myself to continue into this dead, disturbing world.

With Arthur by my side and Jason leading, we slowly ambled into the town. The road was dusty and the buildings were worn with gaping square holes for doors and windows. There was no wind, and no sound to be heard. The sun shone, but there was no brightness, it was only this hazy, grey town. As we walked, our footsteps silenced by the sand at our feet, I wondered where the villagers were. However, I found, with a scream caught in my throat, that they were everywhere.

The villagers blended into the walls, into the road. They lay around in strange positions, their mouths agape and there eyes were distant and glazed. My heart pounded as I looked around at the dry, faded bodies, whose skin was cracked and peeling, and bones were jagged and all too visible.

“What happened?” I breathed out, inching closer to Arthur and wrapping my arms around his, my heart beating violently.

“They ate pomegranate seeds.” Jason shrugged, his voice sounding loud and grating in the still desert air.

“You, um,” Arthur’s voice came out in a husky mumble. I glanced up, meeting his wide eyes, drinking in his calming water blue gaze. “It’s fine, they won’t hurt you.” He patted my hand awkwardly. I glanced down, realizing that I had latched onto him, and quickly slipped away, feeling my cheeks heat up as I put some distance between us. We continued down the street in silence, glancing around.

Deeper into town, more of the living corpses, as Jason called them, were walking around. They were all doing normal day to day activities, one woman was fetching water, a child was tugging on her mother’s dress, and a few men were walking down the street. Yet, something was wrong, they were all slumped, all in a trance, with thin bodies, and thin eyes that were as black as the night. For the most part, the villagers stayed away from us, not even acknowledging our presence unless we were in their immediate path, but even then, they simply changed their course.

There were a few pomegranate trees scattered about the street, but Jason said there was an orchard just a little bit away from where we were going. The trees were as dead looking as the rest of the miserable town, with dry leaves the were the same sickly brown color of the dust. However, the pomegranates were as vibrant as ever, becoming the only source of color in this bleak world. I should have been happy, but as the round fruits were the color of scarlet blood I found them a bit off-putting in a dead looking world.

“Pomegranates!” An old voice echoed through the streets. I jumped, and looked down the pathway. We had come to a plaza, where a fountain with no running water stood in the center, and an aged, crouched over man was guarding a cart filled with round red fruits. “Pomegranates for sale!” He cried, his white, stringy beard swaying as he moved.

I watched him curiously, feeling calmed by his presence. He seemed to be the only normal one in town, with white hair, and a pale blue pair of overalls. He held a staff in one hand, and was waving it in the air, trying to attract attention.

“Diane-” Jason turned, a few feet away. I glanced his way for a moment, noticing that he was about to turn onto a new street, with Arthur right behind him, watching the old man carefully. I returned my attention to the man, who caught my gaze.

“Would you like a pomegranate, miss?” He called, waving me over with his staff. “They’re free! I reaped too much to sell this year. Come! They are as fresh as morning dew! And they taste as sweet as strawberry milk!” My mouth began to water and my stomach began to grumble. I frowned, wondering what had come over me. I didn’t realize I was so hungry until he had spoke.

“Yes, that’s it, dearie!” The man smiled gently, his old voice soothing and gentle. “They’re sure to refresh you, like a crisp river on a fall day!”

“Diane!” Jason called frantically, his voice sounding distant. I felt movement next to me, and barely registered that Arthur had come up beside me.

“Arthur!” Jason cried helplessly from behind. “Guys! Don’t! Arthur! Get back here!” I turned, feeling confused. Why was Jason so distressed? As Arthur continued to make his way towards the man, Jason started after him.

“But, the pomegranates look so good.” I mumbled towards Jason’s back, my words slurring a bit. I felt like something was wrong, something was clouding my head…

“Diane, stop thinking about the pomegranates!” Jason yelled, sprinting past me and towards Arthur, who had reached the man and was accepting a large pomegranate. “Remember the corpses? The people who were like zombies!?” Jason yelled back to me once he reached Arthur, who was slicing open the pomegranate with a knife, crimson fluid dripped everywhere.

“The corpses…” I muttered, thinking back. The image of the hunched over beings, the dead looks, the bodies that were skin and bones, it all flooded into my head. A beat of fear pulsed in my heart as everything cleared. The pale brown town loomed us as I began seeing the corpses of the villagers wander around.

They ate pomegranate seeds. Jason’s comment came back to me, causing my heart to flutter rapidly with fear. I looked to Arthur and Jason and I lifted my hands to my lips as I watched Jason fight to knock the pomegranate from Arthur’s hands, but it was too late, Arthur had already slipped a seed into his mouth, with crimson juice staining his fingers.

“Arthur!” I cried, running, my feet pounding silently against the dead earth. Jason was swearing by the time I reached them, holding up Arthur’s swaying body as the pomegranate fell to the ground, splattering scarlet across the dirt.

Arthur was as pale as the rest of the town, the color draining from his cheeks quickly as he slumped in Jason’s arms. I glanced around frantically, looking for the old man, thinking he could do something, but he was gone. The man had disappeared and so had the cart of pomegranates.

“Wha-” I whined, my voice cracking.

“Diane, come on, we need to get him out of here.” Jason grunted as he shifted Arthur’s weight.

“Will he be alright?” I asked. I rushed to Arthur’s other side, and carefully propped his injured arm around my shoulder. Jason ignored me for a second and reached down to pick up the leaking pomegranate.

“Yes, but we need to get him out of here.” He mumbled, inspecting the fruit with his free hand. “He can’t be in this village when he wakes up or he’ll never leave.”

“What does that even mean?” I frowned as Jason started moving forward, dragging Arthur behind. I quickly matched his pace, and did my best to make sure that Arthur wouldn’t be in too much pain if he wasn’t so out of it. My stomach churned as I watched his beautiful blue eyes glaze over and darken into a solid black, just like the rest of the corpses.

“Exactly what I said.” Jason said irritably. “Damn. I’d think someone who lived here would at least know to keep his head.”

“I was going to take one too.” I countered, defending Arthur as best I could. I, luckily, didn’t even make it to the stand, thanks to Jason, but I was close. The man had seemed so inviting, and gentle and the pomegranates had sounded so good, I could feel the refreshing juice sliding down my throat and cooling me down. I wondered if that was what Arthur had expected too.

“I know, but you couldn’t have expected the town to be full of voodoo.” Jason scowled. We reached the street Jason was trying to get us down earlier and quickened our pace.

“Voodoo?” I crinkled my nose. “and I should know because of my memory?”

“Oh.” Jason glanced at me with wide eyes before returning his focus to the practically empty street. “That’s right, I keep forgetting you forgot everything. And yes, voodoo, there’s some kind of enchantment on the town. I have no idea where it came from or why, but I just know that eating the pomegranate seeds here will turn you into that.” He gave Arthur a push and I struggled to righten him again.

“But is there a way to save him?” I pleaded.

“Yes, we just need to wait for the pomegranate seed to wear off. We also need to keep him away from the town, or he’ll be tempted to eat more. It becomes a vicious cycle, really, where you only eat pomegranate seeds and nothing else. That’s why everyone is so thin.”

“Oh-kaaaay.” I furrowed my eyebrows. I looked down the street, pass the limp corpses and disheveled buildings, and felt relief wash over me as I saw the gate leading out of the town just a little bit aways.

“So what’s wrong with Arthur?” I wondered. “Is he sleeping?”

“No,” Jason shook his head. “I don’t understand it but I think he’s in this weird place, probably wandering out cluelessly with the rest of the townsfolk.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, almost dropping Arthur. “Oh gosh, is he okay? Will he be alright?”

“He’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t do anything stupid.” Jason shot me a look. “It is possible to die where he is, I just don’t know how great the risk is.”

“JASON!” I yelled as we reached the gate. Jason nonchalantly rang a similar golden bell to the one we first came to and the gates opened with a screech. He didn’t answer me, and only continued to amble forward. With a huff, I gave Arthur a tug, jogging over to a large rock, making Jason have to run to keep up with me.

“Whoa, calm down,” He panted when we got to the rock. We both carefully laid Arthur against the flattest side of the jagged grey rock before facing each other. Before Jason could tell what I was doing, I snatched the pomegranate from his hand,. The sticky wet juice dribbled down my fingers.

“Diane!” he cried, trying to retrieve it. I held it out of his reach and moved over to the rock.

“If I eat a seed will I go where Arthur is?” I asked with a glare.

“What? Diane, stop, he’ll be fine!” Jason reached for the fruit again, but I dodged.

“Do you know that for sure? Jason, I don’t care who you are, but it’s my fault that Arthur got into this mess, and I won’t let him die because of me. Will this seed-” I plucked a seed covered in goo out of the gash in the fruit’s shell and held it up. “-take me to where Arthur is.”

Jason pulled his hand back, hesitating as he watched me carefully. I waited patiently, keeping my focus on his movements, ready to dodge another attempt to take the fruit. Finally, he let his hand fall and crossed his arms as he scowled.

“Yes, that seed will take you to him. But I’m coming too. There’s no way I’ll let you go off by yourself.”

“Fine.” I tossed the pomegranate to him and slid down the rock, plopping down next to Arthur. Jason caught the fruit and took out a seed. I lifted my own seed to my lips and he did the same. We both slipped the crimson-dyed seed into our mouths and swallowed.