Nora Weston is a Michigan based writer/artist. Her publishing credits include novels, anthologies, plus fiction and poetry in various magazines, including; Hoboeye, The Harrow, Eye to the Telescope, Calliope on the Web, Bete Noire, and NewMyths.com. Recent work has been published by The Drabble, Star*Line, Ramingo’s Porch, and Bull & Cross. Drabbledark Anthology and Ad Astra have accepted work as well.
FANTASTIC TALES OF MERRICK
Josaya’s heart throbbed, while his lungs ached for more oxygen. “Not more rebels!” he yelled. His scratched up and bleeding legs betrayed him. Josaya fell down a muddy hillside to land fairly close to the Atlantic shoreline of his home, Freetown. Wiping sweat from his eyes, he picked himself up and bolted like a wild animal toward the sandy beach.
“It’s no use. Things will never change. Isn’t it enough those brutes recruited my brother last year?” Thunder rolled across an almost black sky; lightning shattered Josaya’s memories of his older brother, Solomon. “I’ll never see him again. It’s not…” Abruptly, he stopped speaking to look up. Rain smashed upon his face forcing him to close his eyes.
Filled to the hilt with grief for his brother and his homeland, Sierra Leone, Josaya felt hopelessness swell. The storm raged on soaking him from head to toe. “I’ve nothing left to live for,” he said knowing the rebels were about to find him. Opening his eyes, Josaya dropped to his knees. “Solomon. You were always there for me after Father left.” He struggled to remain calm; for in truth, Josaya feared the rebels. “No. They won’t own my last minutes.”
Gunshots and the frantic screams of the rebels grew nearer. The loud roar of their militant vehicles threatened all sensibilities. “Where is that kid? ” More gunshots were fired. “He stole from us, so he’s done!”
“I stole from them? Never would I be such a fool.” Josaya stood up. “I’ll die for something I did not do,” he said walking toward the ocean, “but I know who I am.” A sigh, filled with much sadness for a life not yet lived, caused his chest to tighten. “Nothing else I can do, so I’ll look at the beauty in front of me until they come. I’ll see what is good in Freetown.” Standing with his bare feet in the sand, Josaya felt ocean waves crash against him. He felt every single raindrop prick his skin. A peculiar smile smothered Josaya’s face. “Strange. With only a minute or so to live, I’m finally not afraid. I’m a waterside stone, at last.”
“There he is!” The rebels zoomed faster toward Josaya. “He’s ours now.” Gunshots echoed in the air with animosity.
That second, the great storm vanished. Welcomed sunlight shone down on a calm, blue ocean as a flowery scent floated upon the air. No whacked out rebels could be seen or heard.
Josaya looked all around thinking, What’s going on? A rush of adrenaline burned his insides. “Where’d they go?” Clutching at his chest, he said, “I’m still alive?” A few chuckles escaped. “Very good! Very good, indeed.”
And then, to his surprise, he felt something bumping against his feet. Josaya looked down to see an extraordinary, black leather-bound book. The title, Fantastic Tales of Merrick, was written in the most beautiful, blue script he’d ever seen. “What’s this?” Leaning over, he picked up the book holding on to it for dear life. Moving away from the ocean, Josaya wiped his face saying, “Got to get out of sight.” He dashed back into the menacing woods. “It’s either outwitting those rebels, or I’ll have more than cut up legs to worry about.”
Thrilled about his new discovery, Josaya found a quiet spot in the woods. He stared at the black book while his thoughts raced. Hmm, not wet. Whose is it? Still perplexed, but curious too, he bit his bottom lip looking around for imminent danger. “Dare I open it?” Taking a deep breath, he ran his fingers over the blue script. “Fantastic Tales of Merrick,” he said with a tone of special mischief—the kind only a young mind owns.
Suddenly, cool wind brushed up against him. It whispered in his ear, “In the dreams of children lies all hope.”
“What!” Josaya about jumped out of his skin. “Hope? Here in Freetown and brought to me by the wind? I’m losing my mind.” Swallowing hard, he settled himself and looked down at the first page, which was blurry. “This is not at all what I expected.” He attempted to read the first page, again.
Page 1: Life is never what one expects, is it Josaya? Escape your doldrums, ring the bell, go berserk…anything, but speaking such balderdash. Life is an adventure! Are you ready to take one?
Most profoundly shocked, Josaya tossed the book in front of him. “No…can’t be. How could this book be written to me?” Rubbing the back of his head, he sighed feeling eager and horrible at the same time. “And, yet, it is. It chose me.” He leaned over, and with trembling hands, he grabbed the book. “Okay. Let’s do this.” He opened it.
It read: Thank you for your full attention, Josaya Cole. And do not look at me with those wide-open eyes of disbelief. What? You do believe in magic, don’t you?
As if the book were a person, Josaya answered it. “Uh…well, I used to believe in magic. But, I used to believe in many things. And, now, look at me. I’m talking to a book I pulled out of the ocean, that is not wet. I must have a monkey’s brain!”
Hogwash! Don’t be so sure I’m just a book. I beg to differ. What you have found is hope. Within my words of wisdom and fantastic tales are dreams dipped into magic. Josaya, are you ready to go on a quest?
Squirming in his own skin, his throat became dry like the Sahara Desert. “A quest? For years, that’s all I’ve dreamed about.” He sat. “Yes, I can do this.” With eyes dancing with delight and a heart on fire, he turned the page.
Page 2: Well, done…lad! Slowly, I’ll bring you into my world of wizardry. However, for today, our journey is over. About a half mile behind you, is a small cave. Branches and thorns cover the opening of the cave. Do not fear your skin will be shredded to the bone…leave me there. You’ll know when to return. Speak of this to no one! If you do, I’ll be gone, forever.
Josaya tapped on page two and thought hard about turning to page three. “I could sneak a little peak, right?” A sly smile showed as his brown eyes darted all around to see if anyone had suddenly emerged from the woods.
“Don’t even think about it,” demanded the ruthless wind as it blasted into Josaya’s ears. “No more reading today, and what your eyes behold shall not cross through your lips. Integrity, boy!”
Shrugging his shoulders, Josaya stood up saying, “So be it, black book. To the cave I’ll take you, and then home. I don’t need to make a wizard angry. I’ve had enough misery in my life.”
Swooshing about him like a sentinel of sorts, the wind blew through his long hair to remind him he was not alone anymore. “Good decision, Josaya. Merrick will be pleased,” said the wind.
Josaya grinned. He climbed up a rocky hill and instinctively knew where to find the small cave. He knelt down, and without any thought of danger, stuck his hand right through the numerous sticks and thorn branches; he placed the black book in the cave. “Stay put.”
Nightfall invaded Freetown bringing eerie sounds and movements to the woods. Moonlight flickered about with ghostly intentions while Josaya stayed alert for danger. His nerves were on edge as he said, “Merrick, who…or what are you? I still can’t believe you sent the black book to me.” For once, he made it home without any mishaps along the way.
Josaya looked at the shack that was his home saying, “Well, another day in the trenches.” He stopped for a moment and studied his neighbors tending to their lives in the glow of moonlight. Despite wearing colorful clothes, their situation was anything but that. “Mama always tells me that when a chicken is white…it’s white. Sorrow lives here, and that’s plain to see.”
The dirt streets and mud shacks, surrounded by people starving and anxious for hope, saddened him. Folding his arms and with raised eyebrows, he said, “I feel sick. When will things change?” He entered his home feeling aged, as though childhood had been devoured by the continual violence.
“Josaya! Mama is not well.” Aisha pulled him to their mother.
Looking pencil thin and as frail as a butterfly’s wings, Mama stared at Josaya devoid of much emotion. Her breathing was shallow.
“Oh, Mama, have you been feeding us only to starve yourself?” Josaya kissed her forehead.
“My son, you and Aisha need whatever scraps we have. I’m an old woman. Leave me be.” She tried to roll over atop a bed needing mended.
Josaya stopped her. “We’ll all eat. We don’t have much, but we need you. Come, and eat with us.” He held her fragile hands.
“No, I won’t take food away from my children.” Tears ran down her cheeks.
Aisha turned away from her mother and began to sob. “Where have you been, Josaya? I’ve been yelling for you!” She threw a wooden spoon at him in anger.
“Jeez, I’m sorry. I lost track of time.” Kicking a few blankets out of his way, he grabbed his pounding head, totally stressed out. “If I could change things, I would,” he said.
“Josaya!” said Aisha as she turned around to view bags of fresh food by the door. Aisha hugged her older brother and rushed to prepare food for her family. “Why didn’t you say something? Sheesh!” Pulling her lengthy, coffee colored hair back and securing it with a multi-colored, straggly string, Aisha giggled.
“My son, you’ve brought food for us?” Mama smiled and sat up. “What have you been up to? Nothing I would disapprove of, I’m sure.” Her gray eyes always had a way of seeing truth.
“Well, Mama, um, it appears as though my luck has changed. No worries, let’s eat.” But before Josaya ate a spec of food, he wondered, Merrick, how did you do this? He grabbed a plump plum and tossed it into the air. Catching it, he uttered softly, “Yes, magic, of course.”
Not a word was spoken as Mama, Aisha, and Josaya ate a fine dinner of fish, rice, plums, and mangos. All too often, their stomachs rumbled louder than their voices.
“Aisha, take some food to our neighbors,” said Mama. Then, she held Josaya’s hand. “Boy, I believe you. That this food is ours, and you worked hard for it.” She stared into his dark eyes. “For all of your fifteen years, I’ve raised you right, and now, look. You’ve not just helped us, but our neighbors. Thank you…” She hugged her son.
“Things are going to get better around here…promise.” He excused himself to go for a walk along the streets of Freetown. Although this time, Josaya looked into the eyes of his people. Agony, as boundless as the universe, infected his mind. In spite of eating a delicious meal, Josaya grew ill. He headed home and fell upon his mound of old blankets. Nightmares attacked him until morning.
Not soon enough, rays of sunlight warmed Josaya’s face. He opened his weary eyes. He rested on his sorry excuse for a bed, rubbed his eyes, and wondered if the Fantastic Tales of Merrick was part of his dreams. “I must find that cave.” Still dressed in his torn and faded beige shorts and a red tee shirt, Josaya left home never minding the fact he’d worn those clothes for almost a week. Traipsing through the woods, wearing Solomon’s scruffy, timeworn shoes, his eyes shimmered with glee. “What’s going to happen when I find you, black book?”
Locating the cave with the mapping skills of a young adventurer, Josaya collected his nerve. He knelt down and stuck his hand into the tiny cave. It slipped through the many sticks and thorn bushes as though they were a hologram. “Yes! So cool.” Josaya grasped onto the Fantastic Tales of Merrick and pulled his hand out. “Ah, here you are. Page three?” he asked while walking down the hillside.
Once again, the wind spoke to him, making contact with his skin. “In the dreams of children lies all hope.” It chilled him to his bones.
“Man, I hate that! Knock it off.” Josaya shook his head attempting to shake off the weird sensation caused by the supernatural wind. “What is up with you?”
Laughter echoed throughout the woods. “Open the book, boy!” ordered the wind.
“Okay, okay.” said Josaya. He sat down on soft grass. Plucking a few slender pieces of it, he weaved the grass into a bookmark. “This will do,” he said. Page three was ready to reveal itself. As Josaya’s eyes dropped to read it, words appeared. “Wow, remarkable. It’s like an unseen hand is writing the entire page.” Ready to dive into Merrick’s world of magic, he read page three.
Page 3: Josaya Cole, have no fear. I’m not a darkling; rather, I shine with armor forged from knowledge. My name is Merrick. I’ve lived for thousands of years. I’m a wizard of ceaseless power, and I’ve worked with many people including Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, and even Abraham Lincoln. Are you aware of these people?
“Yep. Heard of them. All fascinating people, for sure. But wait, how have you existed so long? What are you, now?”
The answers to his ponderings were already written on the page before him.
Page 3: I am what I choose to be, as we all are. I should’ve met with death thousands of years ago. Let’s just say…I’ve been blessed with a higher mission. Marvel at the men and women who’ve changed the world. Now, what excites you?
Josaya placed the black book in his lap. “I’d like to read a story about flying high in the sky. Is that possible?”
Page 4: Excellent choice, my boy! Your wish has been granted. If speed is your desire, then soar into the heavens with Charles “Chuck” Yeager. He took time to dream big and made history. Chuck knew the meaning of freedom, for he escaped a difficult life along the Mud River in West Virginia, USA.
Myra, West Virginia: 1934
Running barefoot, along the banks of the Mud River, Chuck was determined to win the race. He looked over his right shoulder and smiled. “No one in sight. Billie and Justin are far behind me. Fools, they are.” He pressed onward, until he ran right into a tall, strange looking man who seemed to appear from nowhere.
“My…my, we are in such a hurry, today, aren’t we, lad?” The tall stranger looked down upon the startled boy. He slammed his golden-tipped rod upon the ground saying, “Cat got your tongue?”
“No sir! And you need to be getting out of my way. I’m aiming to win this race, and you’ve stopped me dead in my tracks,” said Chuck. “You going to move it, or not?” asked Chuck sizing up this stranger.
“By the way...my name is Merrick. And I don’t believe I will be moving.” Merrick stared into Chuck’s eyes.
Chuck felt odd. He grabbed his head and tried not to look into Merrick’s greenish-blue eyes, but the trance was too great. “Business? You have some business with me, sir?”
“Yes, lad, you’re going to make history.” Merrick waved his hand in front of Chuck’s face. “Follow me, for we must speak of things to come.” Using his golden-tipped rod, he pointed to a huge boulder positioned along the bank of the river.
The two strangers sat.
“Sir…Merrick, who are you? Your long, black coat and fancy boots tell me you’re not from around these parts. Well, not unless you’re going to a costume party, that is.” Chuck snickered just a bit. “We need to hurry this up. The boys will rip me up if they see me swiping words with a guy like you.” Chuck threw a few stones into the river. They skipped across the water, but the water didn’t make any ripples. The stones had moved like they were in slow motion. Bewildered, but also quite curious, he said, “Mister, what have you done? I’ve a feeling you mean me no harm, yet you’re up to some nonsense, aren’t you?” Chuck stood up saying, “Incredible…”
Merrick arose and whispered, “Nonsense? No, I forbid it. I’m a bona fide dream weaver. Look around. Nothing is as it seems on this day of spells and shenanigans.” He encouraged Chuck to observe the wonder of his powers. “Don’t footle about, look!”
Chuck turned about and got the shock of his life. The woods no longer resembled the rolling hills of West Virginia, rather they had transformed into emerald valleys, which soon stretched out to become a sparkling white beach. The ocean waves splattered upon massive, black rocks and seagulls flew high above him. “Oh, wow. This has to be a dream,” he said.
“Yes, it’s a dream, your dream, Chuck. Don’t you recognize it?” asked Merrick. “Your dreams are always filled with faraway places.”
Just then, a fast moving plane swept through the blue heavens. It soared through the air faster than anything Chuck had ever witnessed. It flew upwards, faster and faster…
Then, it happened. Through the eyes of the pilot, Chuck experienced flying the plane. No fear was present in this boy, only immense joy. Determination laced with a longing to exceed all expectations he once had for himself exploded as his view of the world returned to that of Merrick’s.
“Awesome! Did you see that? I was in that plane, well, sort of…I think.” Chuck smiled ear to ear, happy to have run into Merrick.
“That’s a Bell X-1…and you’re flying it, Chuck Yeager. However, the date is October 14, 1947.” Once again, Merrick stared directly at the boy.
“What?” Chuck stepped back a few steps. He sat on the boulder. His West Virginia hills surrounded him once more. “Surely, you must be as nuts as a person can get, old man. You’d best be leaving these parts.” Chuck stared back at Merrick now wanting nothing else to do with him.
Quite amused with the entire situation, Merrick sat next to Chuck. “Oh, don’t get your dander up, lad. You desire to change your life. And you know how to dream. The key to your future is flight. Believe me when I say, you’re going to break the sound barrier in that Bell X-1…in 1947.
Chuck got up and brushed off his pants. “Yeah, that sounds like a good dream to me.” He was no longer angry with Merrick, because for a split-second, he wanted that vision to come true.
“There he is!” yelled Billie. “No way to beat me, now!” He hustled like crazy to try and pass up Chuck.
Swiftly, Chuck turned around to see Billie running toward him. He then noticed Merrick had vanished. “Was he for real?” he said. “Doesn’t matter….”
On October 14, 1947–with two broken ribs to boot, Chuck Yeager ascended into a dark purple sky to make history and became the first man to break the sound barrier exceeding 660 miles per hour.
Josaya was intrigued with this magical tale of Merrick’s. “I have dreams, too.” He closed his eyes. “And, my people…do they dream of better times?” He opened his eyes and placed the grass bookmark on page eleven. “Dare I look onto another page?” he whispered. “Yes! I want to know more.”
Completely lost in time with Merrick’s real life characters, Josaya had not heard the snapping of sticks and weeds, nor did he realize for the past five minutes, Okoro had watched the ancient magic dance in his eyes.
Unable to grasp the importance of friendship, always a slave to greed…Okoro caught Josaya by surprise. “Hand it over! That’s a prize if I’ve ever seen one. Now, Josaya, I mean it.”
Josaya stood leaving the one-of-a-kind book on the ground. As his dark brown eyes caught the gleam of a blade in Okoro’s right hand, Josaya understood perfectly well the wickedness present in Okoro had deepened, especially since his days and nights were spent as a scout for the rebels. Josaya stared at a seventeen year old threat desperate to prove himself. Careful, think…what to do? So, he smiled.
“Idiot! You think this is funny?” Okoro lunged toward Josaya attempting to inflict pain…or worse. “I’m taking that book!”
With newfound strength, Josaya blocked the attempt on his life, and then shoved Okoro to the ground. “Nah, you’re not. You’re not taking anything from me ever again.”
Okoro stood up. He was unaware Josaya was not alone. Big mistake.
The wind howled with vengeance as it rushed to engulf Okoro. His body spun around and around, until the knife flew from his hand. Filled to the hilt with terror, Okoro’s eyes about popped from their sockets. He couldn’t breathe. Gasping for air, he said, “P-please…Josaya! S-stop!”
Watching the supernatural show, Josaya knew he had a choice. Let him suffer, or show mercy. “Ah, let him go. I believe Okoro will keep this between us. He will change. Am I correct?” asked Josaya looking at the frightened boy. “Well?”
Presently screaming, Okoro belted out, “Yes! Okay…O-kaaay!”
Okoro ascended a bit higher. The wind, taking full advantage of this situation, whispered into Okoro’s ears. Future revelations were gifted to him that would surely transpire if he refused to change.
A minute later, Okoro’s body fell. It smashed upon Mother Earth. Moaning, he mumbled, “I’m not dead? And you could have killed me.” He held his head saying, “Whoa, whoa…”
Josaya stood over Okoro. “Well, it’s your lucky day, I suppose.”
“Uh-huh, yes…I know,” said Okoro getting up and feeling embarrassed.
With the situation under control, the wind left the rest of this conversation to Josaya.
“So don’t make me regret this. Take a chance. Be the difference, instead of the pain,” said Josaya.
“You kidding me?” he asked swiping a smidge of blood away from his hazel eyes. “Nightmares are all I have. I’m behind in school, my mother gone…my brother has turned his back on us, and my father is working himself to death.”
“Then change things. Think,” said Josaya with much compassion. “Now, go home. In ten days, meet me here. Bring new ideas, your goals for tomorrow, next week…next year. I will help.” He shook Okoro’s hand like a young diplomat.
Okoro smiled. “Yeah, why not? I’ll be no worse off. See ya in ten.” He walked over the hillside, and for the first time in four years, possessed hope.
Josaya watched Okoro until he was out of sight. His heart pounded with a fierceness he had never known. “Alright, so back to my adventure.” He sat, put The Fantastic Tales of Merrick on this lap, and then opened it.
Page 21: Unpleasant as that was, you handled yourself admirably. Okoro has potential, as we all do, but he needs a friend. You’ll see the importance of his friendship in eighteen years. Enough! Read…
“Oh, okay…like that doesn’t just make me nuts! Wait eighteen years?” Josaya laughed hard. The book shook.
“Fine! I’ll read…”
Page 22: Josaya, time has stopped. You will not leave this place until you’ve read this entire book. My tales will teach you the wisdom needed to make your dreams come true. Every word will be lodged in your brain, ready to access when necessary. Days will pass, but you will never be aware of it, nor will your family. You will not eat or sleep until this task is done. My magic will nourish you. I shall be on guard this time. Read, Josaya…read.
Josaya began reading all of the extraordinary tales of Merrick. The next fifty pages took him back in time with Cleopatra, who was born in 69 B.C. She ascended the Egyptian throne at the age of seventeen and died at the age of thirty-nine. Josaya learned of her strong determination and intelligence, but he also learned of how her alliances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony angered Rome and caused her collapse. Cleopatra was the last Egyptian Pharaoh.
Hungry for still more knowledge, Josaya read about the Vikings, Napoleon, the Aztecs, and all knowledge concerning World War I and World War II. Josaya, for better or worse, had consumed the many pages concerning the causes for World War III, but on the bright side…knew what to do to help prevent it. “Knowledge is, indeed, power. Power should be used for virtuous endeavors, though.”
Another two days passed before Josaya slid the book off of his lap. He lay back on the chilly grass and watched the stars as they took command of the sky. “Ah, my mind aches from the knowledge crammed into it. Although, the world does not appear so grim. I’ve changed.” He sat back up and proceeded to stretch, grasping that he is responsible for his life. The black book was sitting in front of him. “One last page to read, huh?”
Page 2545: Josaya, congratulations on the completion of this most important and difficult task; you’ve done well, boy. Use your unique talents and gift of compassion to help your people.”
Josaya picked up the heavy, black book. It had grown with every new tale Merrick had magically added to it. “Of course, I will help them.” He swallowed hard realizing why Merrick had chosen him. “Uh, I get it. I start by helping my family, my friends. I must make a difference, because I’m going to be a leader, aren’t I?” He finished reading the message from Merrick.
Page 2546: “Oh, Josaya…you won’t be just a leader. Your dedication to your country and sense of compassion for those around you will not only change Sierra Leone…it will change the world.”
With that, the Fantastic Tales of Merrick slammed shut. Josaya carried it through the foreboding woods and out onto the cool sand. Gently, he placed it in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
As it drifted out to sea, Josaya grinned. “Someday, a child is going to find the Fantastic Tales of Merrick and read about me.”