AUTHOR: Jason B. Reed
TITLE: “Opposable Thumb” (novel parital)
GENRE: adult fantasy
SYNOPSIS/ISSUES: Synopsis: A young stallion seeks the help of an ancient beast in order to get revenge on the humans that killed his parents. I aimed for this to be an adventure story, with magic and monsters and maybe just a bit of mystery. What I hope to achieve by submitting these scenes here on Peer Review is to find out if my writing has any chance of being published. Also, I am currently living in Romania, so English is not my native tongue. I would very much like to find out if I’m expressing myself correctly. I’m sure there are grammar issues and I’m sure I’ve missed some and i would like to know what they are. Any help is very appreciated, thank you.
a novel by Jason B. Reed
Acer’s eyes lit up every time he looked at her, or so it seemed to him.
She was splashing around in the moonlit lake. Her mane shone like pale ivory fire whenever the moon emerged from behind the dark heavens. She pranced around in the shallows like a young mare and he found it difficult to think clearly when looking at her. Moving his gaze away was not an option either.
“Scarlet?” his big lips flopped as he called her, but it seemed more like a whimper.
She did not notice him.
He cleared his throat and tried again.
“Scarlet?” he called, louder this time.
She stopped prancing around and turned toward him. Her eyes met his and his knees wobbled. This always seemed to happen to him, but he did his best to hide it from her nonetheless.
“Don’t tell me it’s time to go, Acer.” she whined and his heart softened. “It feels like we just got here.”
“I know, but it’s almost dawn and we have to be home before the humans wake up.” he said in the gentlest voice he could muster. “And you know they get up pretty damn early.” he added and winked at her. He clenched his teeth. Was that too much? Cool, suave, attractive stallions did not wink, did they?
“Yeah,” she agreed and her voice held nothing unusual. “They really need to get a hobby.” she smiled at him and strutted out of the water. “Where are the others?”
He turned his massive neck and head toward the dark forest behind him. Where were the others? They knew the deadline. They were supposed to meet here, near the lake, a few hours before dawn. He sighed then turned back and glared at Scarlet, these late nights out always meant trouble, always. “I don’t know. They’ll be here in time, I hope.”
Scarlet trotted toward him shaking the water off of her fur, mane and tail. She was very close to him now and his stomach and face burned.
“Oh, don’t worry, my brother will find and rally those stragglers. He is always on time.”
Nero, her brother, champion of the racing track, prize stallion, and so on … he was a good guy, but his sister just would not shut up about him already.
“Hey, I’m always on time too.” he toyed.
“That’s different!” she giggled. “You’re always early, at least ten minutes! Don’t you ever forget anything? Do you always have a plan and organize your time like this?”
Acer looked away from her for a moment. He was always on time when it involved meeting her. “You’re exaggerating!”
“Oh, don’t blush now.” she teased. “I like that about you.”
His heart started beating faster. “Really?” he looked at her with wide eyes. This was it. If there would ever be a time to tell her how he felt, this was it!
She looked into his eyes and smiled.
He smiled back and took a step toward her. Her warm breath brushed against his snout and sent hot chills down the length of his entire spine.
Finally, he forced the words through the knot in his throat.
“Scarlet, I have always l—”
“ACER! Aceeeeeer!” a wild cry came from the forest and he turned his frowning eyes toward the sound.
What the hell? How bad can someone’s timing be? He turned his head back to where Scarlet had been, but she was already moving alongside him. She faced the forest with a concerned look on her face.
Acer’s ears twitched in annoyance as he resigned and turned to face the forest.
“Over here, by the lake!” Scarlet shouted towards the forest.
“Scarlet?” the wimpy voice came through the thick underbrush again. “Is Acer there? I really need to find him, you see.”
“Yeah Fidler, I’m here!” Acer acknowledged. “Where the hell are you?”
A few seconds passed and the sound of stomping hooves grew louder until out of the underbrush of the forest appeared a skinny, brown horse with twitchy eyes and a ruffled mane.
“I’m so glad I found you in time! What the devil were you two doing here all by yourselves?” he asked with a sly grin.
Fidler looked at Scarlet and then at Acer’s annoyed face as they both said nothing.
“Well, whatever. We need your help to look for Dalton.” Fidler continued. “Nobody’s seen him since we first split up.”
“What? What do you mean? I thought he left towards the Old Forest with Ivan.” Acer said.
“Yeah, Ivan returned hours ago. He said Dalton and him were playing hide and seek in the Old Forest. After a while, Dalton was nowhere to be found so he just presumed he had returned to the group. No one’s seen him since.” Fidler ranted on. “I got lost in the old part of the forest once, it was awful. If I had pants, I would have been scared right out of them.”
Acer looked at Scarlet and they both rolled their eyes.
“And it is especially creepy with this strange full moon.”
“I think the moon is quite romantic.” Scarlet stated and looked toward Acer with her large, beautiful eyes.
Acer’s throat tightened again when he noticed her looking and nothing witty came to mind for him to say.
“What, romantic? Are you crazy?” Fidler continued. “You should see the way the moonlight bounces off the old trees over there. Those trees are said to be thousands of years old, and you can tell it’s true. Their bark is knotty and thick and their bare branches are like the talons of ancient horse eating monsters.”
“All right, that’s enough!” Acer stopped him. “You’re having too much fun.” It was getting pretty annoying.
“What?” Fidler said and looked at Acer with innocent eyes.
Acer sighed. There really was no ignoring Fidler and his news. He peeked at Scarlet and her streamlined, perfect jaw. The moonlight really brought out something special in her. She looked even more beautiful than usual, but she seemed concerned by what Fidler told them. He had waited too long for the opportune moment to tell her how he felt … again.
“Alright Fidler, lead the way. Take us to the others and we will find Dalton.” Acer said in a defeated tone.
* * *
They had been trotting on for at least twenty minutes now. The ground was getting moist and that made it difficult for them to gallop. Fidler had taken the lead with Scarlet behind him and Acer bringing up the rear. He never took the lead in any of their ventures away from the farm, it was too much responsibility and that was not what he looked in their adventures. No, when they fled the farm during the night, he just wanted to roam through the woods and to splash around in the lake, not thinking about anything in particular, except for Scarlet of course.
Scarlet’s tail playfully whipped his nose as if she knew he was thinking about her.
Acer was pulled out of his reverie and snorted back at her. She looked back at him, then turned her head and ran faster.
So she wanted to play? Acer smiled and snapped his jaw near where her tail had been a second ago. He ran after her, just fast enough so she would still lead and they both laughed.
“What the–?” Fidler screeched as they both darted past him. “Hey, you guys don’t know where you’re going!”
“Come on party pooper,” Scarlet yelled back at him. “Have some fun with us!”
Acer did not mind Fidler joining in on their little game of snap your teeth at the other horse’s tail, he was too happy. Both Scarlet and Fidler were having a lot of fun capering around the trees biting at each other’s tails. And when his friends were happy, he was happy.
They horsed around for another almost twenty minutes before they continued their journey. Fidler had said that the others were meeting close to the entrance to the Old Forest. Every step taken toward the Old Forest shifted their moods from playful to normal, and as they approached the edges of the Old Forest, even a bit scared.
It was the middle of summer, yet the trees here had yellow leaves as if preparing for winter. Acer felt a tingle in his nostrils and lingering warmth in his lungs every time he went anywhere near the Old Forest. He had not ever set one foot inside of it though.
His parents always cautioned him that it was a place of monsters that only came out at night. He remembered and looked around cautiously, it was definitely night time. His parents had actually managed to scare him into steering clear of this place with that half baked old tale. Now that he thought about it, why the hell were those monsters only able to come out at night? What, were they incapable of eating little, unruly horses during the day?
Five more minutes passed and they approached the crossroads in the middle of the valley. One road led to the outskirts of the valley and a small town, brimming with humans, and the other led to the Old Forest. It was odd how the humans did not investigate this part of the forest more keenly. If it seemed a bit shilly-shally to him, why the hell did it not seem worthy of investigating to them? Sometimes he had the feeling humans were really retarded.
They could see the dark silhouettes of the others, waiting by the crossroads. All four of them were standing by the road to the Old Forest and none of them seemed to be very happy about it.
Nero and Ivan were standing next to an old tree by the side of the road, ignoring each other and Rain and Robin, the hot twins, where huddled up a few paces to their left.
They walked the last hundred feet and Scarlet walked alongside him.
“Acer, I’m scared.” she said. “I don’t want to go inside the Old Forest, it spooks me.”
Acer looked at her wanting to say something to soothe her nerves, but nothing seemed good enough so he just swallowed hard.
He remembered the kind words that she always told him before every contest at the track. Her words guided him and gave him strength through each trial. If it were not for her, he would not have even thought about joining the track team. Now, because of her encouragement, he was ranked in the top five contenders for the track. Nero was still the absolute champion, like always, but no one expected a stallion of Acer’s size, he was a horse snout smaller than the others, to do this good. Now he felt ashamed that he could not even soothe her nerves. The right words eluded him as always.
“I know it seems silly and childish of me, but it’s true.” She continued. “I have never been inside the Old Forest.”
Nero was the first one to see them approaching. He was a large stallion, taller than Acer by more than two horse snouts, a mountain of muscles, and he was all black with a white streak of fur down his left cheek.
“It’s about time!” he said. “Where have the three of you been?”
“Well, we took a slight detour from the lake–” Fidler mumbled.
“So,” Nero turned his head to Acer. “You found them at the lake, eh?”
“Stop your fussing, big brother!” Scarlet said and pushed Fidler aside with her bottom. “We got here as fast as we could.”
Fidler giggled briefly, and then stopped when he saw Nero frowning at him.
“No matter, we were just about to head out without you anyway. We cannot waste anymore time here if we are to find Dalton and make it back to the farm in time.” Nero said.
“But we don’t want to go inside the old forest!” Rain and Robin said in unison. “It scares the fur right off of us.”
Both of them were built the same, had the same mud red color and both were lovely. The only real difference between the two was that Rain had white speckles on her forehead, and Robin had a dark spot that resembled a bird with its wings spread, on her chest.
Acer snapped his face back toward Nero and hoped Scarlet did not notice the way he looked at the twins.
“We are all going!” Nero cut in. “End of discussion.”
“But big brother … I’m scared of the forest too.” Scarlet’s voice, when pleading with her brother, was sweeter than the cubes of sugar humans had the habit of giving them once in a while. “Mother’s horror stories are still so very alive in my mind. My hooves at the mere thought of entering that dark, scary, smelly forest.” She twitched her snout as if the she could smell it now. “Perhaps we mares should wait here by the entrance, just in case Dalton finds his way out on his own. Besides, I’m sure that four big, strong stallions will be able to find him and bring him back in no time.”
She was good. Acer could practically see Nero’s determination melt away.
“No, Dalton is our friend and we should all search for him.” Acer found himself spewing out the words. He held his breath when he realized what he had just said. What was he thinking?
Scarlet threw him a dirty look and his heart shrank to the size of an ant. Why did he say that exactly when Nero was ready to let the mares stay? After all, he did not want Scarlet to enter the forest anymore than she did. It might actually be dangerous, who knew? Perhaps he did not like Scarlet weaseling out of her responsibility to one of her friends, still…
“Good point, Acer!” Nero nodded toward him. “No point in discussing this any further, let’s head out!” Nero ordered and walked toward the creepy, old forest.
Scarlet followed him closely and whipped Acer’s nose with her tail as she walked past him. “Thanks a lot.”
“Sorry.” he whispered.
She had no reaction. What a stupid thing to do. Now she was mad at him.
* * *
Fidler had been right this time. The old forest was far creepier than he had imagined. It was even creepier than the horse graveyard west of the farm on a dark, stormy night. They had been walking through the forest for fifteen minutes now. The dirt road that led them here had gradually turned into a dirt path, then a dirt trail and now all that was left was dirt. The trees around them looked sick. They were old and leafless, and every time the wind blew through their branches the trees creaked and moaned as if in pain.
“I don’t like this at all, Acer.” Fidler said from next to him, his voice shaking.
They were walking in a double line. Nero and Scarlet were in the lead, side by side, she was still upset with him and his big mouth. Then followed the twins, close behind Nero, next were him and Fidler, and finally behind them was Ivan, who had been curiously quiet ever since they began their search.
“So what happened, Ivan?” Acer turned his head back and whispered. “How did you lose Dalton?”
“What do you mean I lost him? Just what are you implying?” Ivan snapped at him.
“Hey, easy there, I’m just trying to figure out what happened.” Acer tried to calm him down. “I just don’t see you playing hide and seek, like Fidler here said you were, that’s all.”
And it was true. Ivan really did not seem like the playful type. Acer knew Ivan since they were mere colts and he was more of a loner, sure he joined the occasional society games, but anyone could see that he did not put much heart into it. He had gotten worse though, ever since his parents got sick and were sent away from the farm a few months ago. Despite all that, the big, grey, lonely stallion was a good friend who always helped out when someone needed him.
“Well of course we weren’t playing hide and seek!” Ivan snarled at Fidler.
“What? It took less time to explain.” Fidler looked to Acer and defended his actions.
“We wanted … adventure.” Ivan explained. “That’s why we do this, isn’t it? That’s why we break out of the farm at night and roam around. Because we’re tired of the same old hills in the background, because we’re tired of the same ground under our feet,” Ivan gathered momentum with every extra word. “Because we’re tired of having little human progeny ride us all day long for amusement, because we’re tired of competing in their races and championships, and we are tired of their wretched stench!” His last words burned with malice and Acer could not help but recoil.
The others also heard Ivan’s semi-curse and stopped to look back at him.
“Is there a problem back there?” Nero asked with his usual imposing tone.
Acer kept a close eye on Ivan as the fire vanished from his eyes.
“No problems here.” Ivan said and lowered his head. “Let’s move on.”
Nero frowned, then turned around and walked forward.
Acer turned his attention back to Ivan. “Are you okay, buddy?” he asked with genuine concern in his voice.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Sorry about that.” Ivan shrugged and kept his head low.
“Hey, look, if you ever need to talk about anything, you can alway–”
“Yeah, I know.” he cut Acer short. “I’m alright, okay? Let’s just find Dalton…”
Acer looked at him a few moments longer, nodded his head slightly and then turned his attention elsewhere. The crooked trees were packed tighter now and strange weeds grew everywhere. At least there was something that had leaves in this desolate, arid forest. It was a comforting thought to know that these twisted, empty, knotty old trees were not the only things here. But even that small comfort was tainted by the color of the leaves and weeds and underbrush. Instead of a lush green, like one would expect in the middle of summer, these weeds had a dark and ill green color about them. And their smell was not too enticing either. He knew what green things smelled like, all horses did, but these things, it was like the usual smell of green was just a background for a more putrid scent that stung Acer’s nose and made his stomach protest.
“I think this is where we got split up.” Ivan announced.
Acer and the others stopped and looked around for a while.
“You’re joking, right?” Scarlet looked at him quizzically. “This looks just like any other part of the forest. It is just as dirty and dingy and dead as the rest of it, how could you possibly know?”
“Alright, if Ivan is sure this is where he got separated from Dalton, then this is where we start our search.” Nero took command again. “We will separate into four groups and search to the four corners of the valley. Scarlet you’re with me toward the Sea of Stars, Rain and Robin with Fidler toward sunrise and Ivan and Acer on their own towards the sunset and the human town.”
Fidler’s attention jumped from smelling a disgusting dark green plant to the actual conversation. “Where did he say I should go?” He whispered to Acer as inconspicuous as the croak of a toad.
“Shush!” Scarlet shushed him.
Nero ignored Fidler’s interruption. “No matter what happens, if we find Dalton or not, we all meet back at the crossroads in one hour. We cannot afford to be late, all right?”
They all mumbled their approval and went their assigned ways. Great, he had to go alone. He could protect Scarlet just as well as Nero could, if not better … But in a way, though, he was glad that she had Nero along to protect her. This way he could focus on finding Dalton faster and getting the hell back to the farm before the humans woke up.
He had bickered with Ivan for a while so that he went toward sunset on a whim. He had seen something over in that direction, or at least he thought he did, when they came through earlier. Nothing significant, a few broken branches and such, but in a forest this old and the way the trees looked, even the wind could break of these crispy branches. Ivan had argued a little with him, but had no real good argument so he gave up.
A sneeze interrupted his trail of thoughts. Damn it! He had to be allergic to something in this horse forsaken forest. His nose itched now and the burning sensation in his lungs had gotten worse. He had to endure a little discomfort for his friend and he only hoped the others would do the same for him if it were ever necessary.
He spotted more and more broken branches as he slid between the trees and the ground he was treading on was rustled up as well. Those almost looked like hoof prints. Dalton must have gone this way. Excitement built up inside of him as he followed the messy and hard to distinguish trail of hoof prints on the ground.
“This was easier than I thought.” Acer said to himself.
It was a constant battle, galloping through the peaky, seared trees and he almost lost the trail of prints he was following. There was always some old pointy branch sticking out and grazing his skin, but he could not stop now. He was getting closer, he could feel it. A small clearing came into view up ahead and the trail led him straight to it. That had to be it! The prints were getting clearer and clearer, they had to be fresh.
A few more feet of running and scraping against the old branches and he came out in the small clearing. Acer looked around. The clearing was no bigger than an ordinary stable. A couple of rocks lay by the side of a small puddle and a fallen old tree stump was rotting in the middle. Surrounded by all those dead trees, it had an even stranger look about it in the moonlight.
Acer slowly followed the hoof prints until he reached the decaying tree stump. What the hell, where were the prints? They suddenly waned and disappeared. There were no more. He looked around the tree stump hoping to pick up the trail again, but to no avail. Acer twirled around on the spot looking through the entire clearing again.
“Dalton!” he yelled. “Dalton, are you around? Stop playing games, we have to go!” He waited for a few seconds and then decided to yell a little more, perhaps Dalton had fallen asleep somewhere.
A loud and familiar yell pierced the clear night and Acer froze in his tracks.
* * *
Acer backtracked through the old trees as fast as he could. The branches that scraped his skin when he first came this way broke off now when he flew past them. Some thicker ones snagged and scratched his skin and he winced at the streaking pain. Why the hell was she screaming? Did Nero abandon her? Acer ran faster and faster toward where Scarlet’s yell for help came from. He had to get to Scarlet as fast as he could. Nero would not have abandoned her, something must have happened!
Acer had almost reached the point where they had split up and sounds of commotion came from up ahead. Although he already began to tire, he continued his frenzied sprint. He just hoped he remembered correctly where the yell came from. Light fog had begun to rise from the ground up and it showed no sign of relenting. If he did not find Scarlet soon, the fog was going to have them running around each other in circles.
A blurred, silvery shape sprang out in front of him from a cluster of brambles and broken branches and Acer smacked straight into it. His face buried inside soft, white fur as his body tangled with the other and they both fell to the ground twirling. Acer lay there with a slight moan in his throat, his snout still buried in the short, soft fur. He could recognize that wonderful scent out of a million.
“What the hell are you doing?” Scarlet screeched as she worked to untangle herself from Acer’s limbs.
“Um, I– ” his heart was already beating like crazy.
“Oh, never mind, you clumsy donkey, I’m just glad to see you!” she said as she got up on all four legs. “I was so scared!”
Acer got up and regained his composure. He rather enjoyed their little sprawling session on the ground and it showed by the wide grin on his face.
“What happened?” he asked. ”Why did you yell?”
She came closer and put her snout over Acer’s left shoulder pressing up against him.
His throat tightened and his stomach started dancing.
“It was horrible, Acer! I asked my brother to split up so we would cover more ground and you know him … He just can’t say no to me.” Her snout was stuck to his neck now and Acer felt her breath as she spoke. “Anyway, after about five minutes I started to feel like I was being watched. At first I thought it was my imagination and I cursed mother’s stories about this place.” she paused and sobbed. “Then I heard it.”
“What did you hear?”
“It was like a … a gurgling sound. It chilled every bone in my body.”
“What was it?”
Scarlet pulled away from their embrace and looked Acer in the eyes.
“I don’t know what it was. I turned around several times, whenever I heard noise, trying to catch a glimpse of it. I never got a proper look though.” A shiver ran across her fur. “At first I thought it was you or Fidler trying to pull a prank, but then I started to spot … some of it.”
“What did you see, Scarlet?”
“I only spotted some movement between the branches the first few times. Then a paw, then a snout, then an ear … a strange ear it was, and it did not look like any ear I’ve seen before. It was as black as the night!”
“Nero?” Acer asked incredulously.
“No … It wasn’t.” she answered without any hint of amusement. “The fog had already shrouded everything around me and I was tired of that hide and seek game.” She swallowed hard. “I spoke my challenge to whoever it was, then turned around and saw its two gleaming blood red eyes staring right at me from the foggy blackness of the woods.” She sighed. “I couldn’t control myself anymore. I screamed as loud as I could and I ran back here.”
“Red eyes, are you serious?”
“You don’t believe me?” she looked at him with her bright, humid eyes and he softened although it still sounded like complete nonsense.
“Of course I believe you.” he said. She was shaking. Something had really scared the wits right out of her.
“I’m glad you’re the one who found me, Acer.” her tone softened and her snout approached his.
Acer’s upper lip trembled slightly and his face grew hotter. This was the second chance he was praying for! The night was not a complete bust after all. Acer pursed his lips and drew closer to hers.
“Finally!” a heavy voice came from behind him.
Acer stopped a mere inch from Scarlet’s sensual snout and gritted his teeth. He was going to kill Fidler one day.