Chapter IX: The Aftermath

by Jason Alan

Chapter IX of For Want of a Stone. If you need to catch up, the first eight chapters are here.

***

They walked back to their town, slowly. Logan, because he was afraid of what he would see and Marten because he was, for the first time he could remember, ashamed of his own son. Even though until today he didn’t fully believe in the stories he had been told, he was not one for taking chances. He had warned the boy, and as those his age are apt to do, the warnings were ignored. This was no triviality, though. It’s not as if he had left out a tub of vegetables to rot or dropped a possession in a well. A town possibly being destroyed by a gigantic dragon encased in a cloud of darkness isn’t exactly the type of thing a boy or even a man usually has a hand in. It’s not like this sort of thing happens every day.

The thought occurred to Marten that it may happen again. The beast may very well come back tomorrow and incinerate everyone with its fiery throat. He quickly dismissed it, though. The morbid thoughts were not helping, and he knew the story. It happened exactly as was expected.

According to legend, which now wasn’t legend anymore but grim truth, the beast had some kind of grudge against large buildings. Buildings with a fair amount of height to them. Castles in particular. Nobody for a hundred and another hundred years before that had ever seen the dragon, and consequently no one knew why. He prayed that he would never find out.

They could see smoke rising as they approached. The situation wasn’t looking good. Neither of them spoke. Both of them knew what the other was thinking, for the most part. And they knew there wasn’t much that could be said, given the circumstance. The repercussions of this event would expand outward over time, like waves after a rock has been dropped in still water.

As they approached the town, they saw that it was as bad as they had feared. A few houses were still smoldering but it appeared that most of the fires were out. The majority of the buildings were stone, so they didn’t burn. But they could crumble and break, and they did. It looked like people would be living in their basements for quite some time. They could be thankful at least that it was not cold. People didn’t generally think to have a fireplace built under their homes.

The most important detail was that the beast was gone. They could focus on helping the people that needed it.

They reached the first house at the edge of town and it was smashed to bits. The entrance to the basement was covered in rubble. They would have to dig through a lot of it just to see if the people had made it to safety in time.

“I’ll start on this side of the road, you take the other,” Marten said as he began to climb upon the broken stone, already throwing pieces aside. “Help the people in the first three houses get out of the cellars. That is, if they made it in time. Start with the third house. Your sister is in there. Send her to me.”

Marten paused for a moment, unable to hide the pain in his face. It looked as if he was trying his hardest not to cry as he pictured people crushed under the weight of their own homes and the foot of that awful beast. The possibility of his friends being dead, and maybe even his own daughter.

“After you’ve done that, take a few men that you’ve let out with you into town to put out fires. Direct everyone else to keep up what you’ve begun so we can keep digging people out.”

“Yes, father.”

Logan began to walk across the road.

“Son.”

The boy stopped and turned around.

“Yes?”

Marten tried to speak but couldn’t say anything, and waved the boy off. Logan could see the love and the anger crashed together on his father’s face. The pain of possible loss of loved ones. He understood completely. He turned back around and started across the road again.

“I shall make up for this, father,” he said in a raised voice, loud but not quite yelling. “If it takes a thousand and then another ten thousand lifetimes.”

The anger was still there, but he felt a deep sense of pride in his boy as he watched his walk turn into a jog. He began digging through the broken stone and truly believed that if Logan had to work every day for the rest of his life to make up for what he had inadvertently brought upon the town, he would do it.

Marten returned to removing the debris. He could already see part of the door to the cellar. This particular house was owned by a young married couple, Petre and Aida Lyon. They had no children but she was, as far as he could remember, about six months into her first pregnancy. He prayed to the gods that he was not opening a fresh grave. The grave of a new family and an unborn child. Just the thought of it gave his body tremors.

Once everything was cleared out of the way, he opened the cellar door.

“Petre!”

Silence.

“Aida? Petre? Anyone there?”

Another bit of silence, then a man’s voice. “Marten?”

“Yes, it is me. Is your wife down there with you? Are you well? How fare thee?”

“Yes, we are fine.” He could hear Petre walk up the creaky wooden stairs. “What in the name of the gods was that thing? Did you see it?”

Marten stayed silent. He merely sighed and looked around at the wreckage.

Petre came up the steps just enough so his head and shoulders were above ground and looked around, mouth and eyes getting wider by the second. “By the- is everyone alright?”

“We don’t know yet. You’re the first I have dug out. We need your help. Is your wife down there?”

He didn’t answer, just looked around some more. He didn’t seem to even hear Marten at all.

“Petre!” Marten said sternly.

He looked like he was awoken suddenly. “Sorry… sorry. It’s a bit of a shock, all of this.”

“I am well aware. Who is down there?”

“Just my wife, sir, and the Finn boy. We could not find his mother. We had to react quickly so we took him with us.”

Marten winced a bit at being called sir. Was he that old already, to be called sir by a grown man? More importantly, why he was even thinking of such a trivial thing at a time like this, he did not know. But no matter. He had to focus at the task at hand.

“The Finn boy?” Marten thought for a moment. “Thomas?”

“Is everyone alright up there?”

It was Aida.

Petre looked down into the semi-darkness, the only light the flickering of a small lantern. “We don’t know yet. Stay here with the boy. Marten needs my help.”

“We are fine! We want to help as well!”

“My love, you are in no condition for such things. You are with child. Besides, someone needs to watch the boy while we find his mother.”

“Damn your eyes! We can help! How bad is it up there?”

“Do not curse me, woman. It is bad. Stay here and watch the boy and that’s final.”

“He has a name, you know!”

Petre’s loud footsteps up the stairs followed.

“I am aware. His name is Thomas Finn,” he said with a scowl. “And this conversation,” he grabbed the door, “is over!”

Petre slammed the door shut.

Still scowling, he looked at Marten. “Let’s go.”

Marten followed him to the next house. “Headstrong woman, isn’t she?”

He immediately realized that maybe it would have been better to hold his tongue, but Petre looked around with a smile and said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

When they got to the next house, Petre kept going. He looked around at Marten and said, “I’ll be back. The boy’s mother is up the road a bit. She is first priority.”

“I understand. Work your way back here and we shall meet in the middle. I think it best we work together.”

“Thy will be done, good man,” Petre said, tipping his hat and continuing down the road.

***

Logan only had to move a small amount of debris to open the first cellar door. His sister was there, along with his father’s friend. He hugged her and sent her to their father as instructed, then asked the man to come help him.

They worked together to see to the occupants of the next house. It was a man, his wife and two teenage sons, who were all fine and accounted for. They in turn all helped one another with the house next door. It was dark, and upon closer inspection they found that it was empty. The husband, Alexander, explained that he had not seen them today, and they moved on to the next, hoping for the best.

He looked at his father across the road, throwing stone out of the way, and sighed. He felt the weight of his disappointment, as well as his own, upon his heart. All of that must be put aside, he thought. There were people that needed his help. Some of them were no doubt hurt, more than likely some even dead. It was not the time to think of himself.

They started to split up. One of the sons, after gaining approval from his father, went to help Marten. The other went ahead, moving the debris to get to the next trapped family, and then the next. Soon, there were better than two dozen people digging through the rubble, and the number continued to grow as they spread out to help the other neighbors. It looked to many that everyone would be out by nightfall.

An hour went by and there had been no one found dead. So far, two people had been hurt, both minor scrapes and bruises from tripping or falling down the cellar steps as they hurried to safety. This was, after all, the first part of town to get hit. Considering that, it was a good sign. Those on the other side of town had at least a little more time. Precious few moments, but more time nonetheless. A number of people were missing, but as they searched, some of them were found already. Logan was never very far from his father, and every now and then he looked across the road at him, but he was never looking back.

As the day progressed, Logan thought it best to keep ahead, making sure as many people as possible saw him helping. No one had said anything to him as far as assigning him blame, but he could tell a lot of them were thinking about it. He saw the way that some of them looked at him. They made it quite clear that homes and shops were not all that needed mending.

They had found one home that was fully intact and a few that were still partially together. One house had just one wall torn off, cleanly, as if they had done it themselves and had planned to make an addition. Those people were, of course, able to get out on their own. Most of them stayed inside, however, until someone came by and opened the door or knocked to see if anyone was there.

As they began to reach the center, they could see people from the other side of town helping their neighbors as well. A few of them walked and met in the middle to exchange information. Who was hurt, how many, if any, were dead, damage reports and the like. The reports were almost the same. A couple of people were hurt from similar injuries, but there was, however, one found dead.

Syrus Gobles, an elderly man, was found on the side of the road near his home. It was a violent and surely painful yet quick death. There was a hole in his chest, and his heart was completely gone. Those who saw the man thought it not only gruesome but very odd as well. The wound was too small to have been caused by the giant creature that had ripped through the town like it was paper. The only thing they could think might have happened was that a claw from one of its toes caught him, but even that was a stretch. It looked like it had happened from the inside, as if his heart had somehow exploded.

The people of Hofmann, the closest town to Kingdom, started showing up as well. A few of them said that they would have arrived sooner, but they wanted to make sure that the thing they saw in the sky was gone first. That statement was met with nods of approval by all who heard it. Many of them brought water, food and various supplies and were thanked profusely for the help they provided.

Aside from eight houses and two barns, only one building was still left standing. It was the grocer’s market, and most people agreed that it was probably the one they would have picked to survive the attack, had they been given the choice. Only one part of it was gone. The grocer had added a section a few years back that was just for potted plants and flowers. It was mostly constructed of wood, and when it caught some errant flames, it burned to the ground.

Soon, the word began to spread of the townspeople holding a meeting at the market. No one was sure where the idea came from, but it made sense. Not only because it was the only business still left standing, but even before the town was demolished, it was the only one in which all the people of the town could fit. A tight squeeze, but it could be done. It was agreed that it was necessary to get the town together. Not everyone had a basement, so there were people who needed a place to sleep, and more importantly, a lot of food had to be distributed. Many had lost everything they had.

The town was a bustle of activity. Logan had never seen so many people all at once. Not even at a major event were there this many people in attendance. The majority of the town had met in the middle, still pulling residents from below their homes. Some were sitting along the road, taking a break from removing debris, drinking from canteens and eating. Others were crying, holding their loved ones. Orders were being barked left and right. Pull this, push that, grab this, grab that, hold it, hold it right there. The town of Kingdom had become a pulsating, living thing. An anthill that had weathered a major storm. Or more appropriately, an anthill that survived an attack from a boy who decided it would be fun to stomp it flat.

Logan sat for a moment, thinking. Everything was fine for him so far, but people may soon turn on him as they got together. A few times he had seen people talking, looking over at him. They knew who was responsible for bringing their homes to ruin, their entire town to utter destruction. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to step up and do something about it. Things could get ugly at any moment. But Logan had an idea.

***

It took him a while, searching faces in the crowd that was only getting larger, but Logan found Grinder. It actually proved to be quite easy. The man was virtually a giant.

“I need your help,” Logan said. “Can you find a couple of able bodied men to come with us to help get supplies?”

“Sure thing, boy.”

He hadn’t called him boy in years, but Logan said nothing. It was good enough that Grinder wasn’t pounding his head into paste, considering the circumstance. Logan supposed calling him kid was the man’s passive aggressive way of telling him he was not too pleased with him.

“Preferably men that don’t want me hung from the nearest tree, if that is at all possible.”

Grinder understood. There was no need for words. He could see in Logan’s eyes how scared and guilty he felt. He merely nodded and started walking in the other direction.

“Meet me at the south end of town!” he hollered.

Grinder didn’t look around, he merely kept walking and put his hand up to show that he had heard him. Logan could almost feel his old friend’s judgment.

It’s all your fault.

“I know,” he said quietly to no one, and started walking toward what remained of his crushed castle. The dark beast had fled, but the monster of guilt remained.

He walked through town looking either straight ahead or at the ground. He didn’t return the heated stares he got from some of the people, though he knew very well they were there. What was he supposed to say? I’m sorry? Obviously a simple and humble apology would not do for such an event. Reason with them? No. That would not do either. The fact that most everyone had thought the creature a myth until today made no difference at all. They still blamed him. In fact, Logan mused that if he asked them all as a crowd who did not believe in it before today, not a single hand would go up. He believed that not even one person would own up to their former disbelief. And he would be right. As he was most of the time. It just so happened that the vast majority of the town’s property was laid to waste because he was wrong this one time.

It’s all your fault.

“I know!” he said loudly.

As he approached the edge of town there were fewer people, and the people that weren’t already looking at him turned to do so. He stopped and looked around for a quick moment, then kept walking, increasing his pace.

It’s alright, everyone. I have just gone insane. Nothing to see here. Go on about your business.

***

Logan sat on the side of the road at the edge of town just past the last house, waiting. The same house he and his father had came to first after tragedy had struck. He couldn’t see anyone, but he could hear the occasional faint voice shouting in the distance. It was possible that the trip back to the remnants of his castle just might be taken alone. His friendship with Grinder might not be broken, but surely today it must be cracked and in need of repair. His mind was heavy with bleak thoughts, and guilt continued to consume him.

He heard creaking behind him. The sound of it startled him a bit and he turned around to look. The basement door was slowly opening. He could see a hand and the top of someone’s head, the fair blonde hair of a lady. Before he could see her face he knew it was Aida, Petre’s wife. They had been there for hours, no doubt worried and probably hungry. He stood up and walked that way.

“It is alright,” he said to her. “You may come out now. There is no danger anymore.”

She nodded and opened the door all the way, letting it fall to the debris that used to be her home and looked around tentatively. Looking down, she took Thomas’ hand and they both came up.

“Be cautious where you walk,” she told him, still holding his hand as they stepped over the broken stone and various objects of value that they used to own.

“Hello, Tom,” Logan said, as cheerfully as he could.

He raised his hand and said hi, but wasn’t even looking at Logan. He was staring at the rubble.

“Mrs. Lyon, it is good to see you are well. Your husband is near the center of town with everyone else. There will be a meeting soon at the Ketner market.”

“Alright, thank you,” she replied. “Has Thomas’ mother been found as of yet?”

She couldn’t get it out of her mind, the image of the child’s mother being crushed by the foot of that awful thing. Or even worse, gods forbid, burned alive. The thought of it sent chills down her dainty spine. She didn’t see the monstrosity close up, or for very long (not that she would want to), but she saw enough. Enough to last her a thousand lifetimes and then some.

“Sorry, I haven’t seen her or heard word of her turning up, but I’m sure she will. They haven’t found her-” he was about to say that they hadn’t found her body either, but decided with the boy listening it would be best to not speak of such things.

“Her what?” she said.

He realized he should probably change the subject. He explained the purpose of the meeting, mainly to discuss who needed food and shelter. He also mentioned the fact that they could decide to form a mob at any moment to hang the responsible party from the nearest tree. That is, if they could find a tree that was still standing.

“They wouldn’t do that, Logan.” She wasn’t so sure, but she had to say something. “You’re a fine young man. How could you have known that the thing was real?”

“I don’t know, but I hope you are right.”

He looked to his left and saw people coming. He couldn’t quite make out who it was, but one of them towered over the others, so he assumed it was Grinder and the help he had asked for. That, or it could be a smaller version of the mob he had spoken of. After all, it didn’t take a whole town to lynch one teenage boy. Better to select a few to take care of him rather than waste everyone’s time. After all, they had other, more pressing matters to attend to.

“I suppose we better go on ahead and find Petre. My apologies for prying into your business, Logan, but may I ask what are you doing out here?”

“I felt it necessary to get away for a bit, so I requested a few gentlemen help me get supplies.” He looked over again, and they were now close enough so that he could tell it was Grinder in the lead. “We shall meet with the group again shortly.”

Tom, as he preferred to be called, not Thomas, was lightly tugging on her dress. “Miss Aida, may I go with them?”

“Thomas,” she said, ignoring his shortened name preference just as most adults did. “We must find your mother. She is worried about you, no doubt.”

“Mother is gone. I’ve made peace with that.”

While they had been waiting nervously in the basement, Tom began crying. He went on for a good ten minutes while she held him, and neither of them spoke. She assumed that he only missed his mother, not that he had thought her dead. Speechless, she looked uneasily at the men coming toward them, and then at Logan. He noted her unease and took the initiative.

“If it is alright with you, he may come with us. Grinder and I will see that he is safe.”

She glanced at the men again, then at Logan. She sighed heavily.

“I suppose Petre will have a few choice words for me.” She looked down at Tom. “Not to mention your mother, who I’m sure is alive and well. But I suppose you can go. I shall let her know you are well when I find her.”

Tom smiled and ran the few steps to Logan, hugging his waist. “I shall not be in your way, Logan. I promise. I can help, just tell me what to do.”

“It is not necessary to convince me, Tom. It has already been decided, and your help is appreciated.”

Tom smiled again and looked at Aida. “Thank you.”

Smiling back, she tried as hard as she could to hide the anxiety she felt about this whole situation. The town being ripped apart, and the boy’s peculiar behavior. He was so sure his mother had passed, yet other than those few moments of grieving it didn’t seem to bring him down. She supposed he was either masking his pain or a very cold young man. She hoped for the former.

“Just have him back before dark.”

Logan nodded. “Of course. It will not take long. He is in good hands, rest assured.

“Logan.”

The men were approaching.

Grinder walked closer and the other men waited, standing behind him in the road.

“The sun is burning away, we do not have much time. The meeting is at sundown.” He tipped his hat and bowed slightly to Aida. “Lovely as always, Mrs. Lyon. Lovely as always. Hope you are doing well. You know, considering.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” she smiled, “you look quite smashing yourself.”

Grinder chuckled a bit and smiled, returning his hat to his massive head. “You are too kind. Now come, Logan, before we catch the nice young lady in another lie.”

“The young man is coming with us,” Logan told Grinder, though he had already started walking.

“Hey there!” he yelled at the men. “One of you escort the lady back to town, please. The rest of us will get supplies.”

Logan started following Grinder and in turn the boy followed him. He looked back at Aida, waving.

“No worries, madam,” Logan said without looking back. “We shall take care of him. See you soon.”

She watched them for a moment as they walked away. Her mind was reeling from all that had happened and the events that were still yet to come. She looked around and walked gracefully to the two men standing in the road. She was a touch uncomfortable, but she knew Grinder well enough to know that he would not leave her with anyone that meant her harm.

Before she even made it to them, they were already arguing about which one of them would take her to town. The fact that she was young, beautiful and they weren’t aware that she was married had something to do with it. In fact, it had absolutely everything to do with it.

Logan stopped and turned around, and the boy followed suit. Grinder kept walking. He knew what was happening and did not care. He just wanted this day to be over with, to spend the night in the basement of his home with his wife.

“Hey!” Logan yelled again, louder this time.

They both stopped and looked at him. Aida stood near them with her arms folded, rolling her eyes.

“What are you waiting for?” he asked.

Logan was ready to fight them if necessary. He was in that kind of mood for sure. He did not know them very well, so he wasn’t sure of the reaction he would get from him barking orders at them. But he did not care. This was not the time for childish games, especially coming from adults at least a decade past the age of knowing better.

They men looked at each other for a long moment. Logan remembered just then that they were brothers, one not much older than the other. They were always fighting about something. If the sky was blue to one, it most certainly was red in the eyes of the other. Eventually the staring contest ended, and they nodded and started walking back to town. Aida merely shook her head, waving again at Logan and the boy, and followed.

“We do not require those idiots, anyhow,” Logan said, and they continued.

They walked fast. Grinder had gained a bit of ground in front of them, and Tom was right on Logan’s heels.

***

They could see the remnants of the castle as they approached. This pushed Logan away from the shallow and back to the deep end of the hole that despair had so graciously dug for him.

“I saw it a few times, before it was destroyed,” Tom said. “It was very well done.”

“Thank you.” Logan didn’t really have anything to add.

It’s all your fault.

He almost didn’t stop himself from responding to that judgmental inner voice again. All he needed right now was for them to think him mad. They reached the road next to the land and stood there for a moment, although it seemed much longer than that. Logan felt like he might break down and cry. He had not done that in so long he could not remember the last time it had happened. Grinder broke the silence.

“What are we supposed to be getting? There looks to be nothing of worth left.”

His words broke Logan’s semi-trance.

“Follow me.”

They did just that as he walked to the cart, which had turned to its side but made it through the ordeal without so much as a scratch. Tom and Grinder looked at each other quizzically as Logan put it on its wheels and pulled it toward the spot where the small wooded area used to be. Now there were only a few trees left standing, but at least all the fires had ceased. Smoke was still rising from a few spots, but that was all.

Logan wasn’t looking at them, but guessed that they were probably wondering where they were going, what they were doing. He began to doubt if he even knew that himself. He stopped at a fallen tree and looked at Grinder.

“There is quite a large basement. It was there before I began building. What we need is in there.”

He rested one foot on the cart. “We should probably carry it over these trees. I think it would be easier that way.”

“Not for me, it wouldn’t,” Grinder said, and Logan was glad to see a bit of a smile on the man’s face. It prompted a small one of his own.

“I see you have not lost your rapier wit in the face of tragedy, my good friend.”

“Yes,” Grinder said, and his smile was gone as quickly as it had appeared. “Now let us begin our task, so that it may see an end. The day is short.”

Logan looked at the location of the sun and saw that they had less than two hours of daylight left.

“Yes. Yes, indeed.”

They picked the cart up and carried it over the burnt trees and Tom followed close behind. He hopped over them, eager for the first opportunity to be of service. When they got there they saw that the door to the basement was still open. Logan thought he should have closed it, then realized that was the last thing on his mind at that moment. Rather, not on his mind at all.

They walked down the stairs, and into the darkness below.

***

As soon as they had acquired what they came for, they headed back to town. A little more than halfway back, the sun was beginning to bid them goodbye for the day. Although they would miss the start of the meeting, it would mostly be the judge or the sheriff, or both, attempting to quiet everyone down and get the crowd situated before they began. There would be a lot of talking, Logan imagined. Talking about the old man that had died, heart exploded outward from his chest. Talking about how they would procure the resources to rebuild, who needed food and shelter, and no doubt a bit of discussion about Logan himself. He felt half a thousand cold, piercing eyes staring straight into his heart already. His stomach was a ball of twisted knots.

It was Grinder’s turn to pull the cart. They decided to take turns, but just him and Logan. Tom wanted to help, and they let him try to pull it just to humor him, but it proved to be too heavy. Logan looked down at him as they walked. The boy seemed almost happy. His mother was missing and possibly dead, and the boy was content. Confusing, considering he was so close to his mother, at least as outward appearances had previously suggested.

The trip back was mostly silent, the only sounds their feet and the old cart wheels grudgingly maneuvering the rough earth. The broken town of their birth and rearing fared desolate as the dark ascended, the absence of its inhabitants only making it even more so.

They arrived at the grocer’s store, only a handful of people, all men, outside sitting and standing, talking a bit. The conversation ceased when the three of them drew near. Grinder took the initiative to break the silence. He was never one for long silences for a party containing more than two.

“I trust the moon has greeted you well this eve, gentlemen.”

“Aye, and finer still, since you arrived,” said one of the men, smiling at the cargo they had brought.

Grinder chuckled a bit. “Aye, indeed. You can thank the Montfort lad for that.”

The men scowled and a couple grunted harshly. One of them looked right at Logan and spit in his direction. He was pinned up against the wall almost before the spit had chance to reach the ground. A fistful of his shirt was in Grinder’s meaty hand and his feet were almost a foot off the ground. The man’s eyes glazed over. His head had hit the oak wall pretty hard. He wasn’t even sure of what was happening yet.

But Logan was.

“Grinder! What the devil are you doing? Let the man be, for your father’s sake!”

Grinder paid no mind. He just looked at the man, showing him what a scowl really looked like. Logan came behind him and hit him once on the back with the side of his fist and yelled his name again. Tom stood there uncomfortably.

“Let him go!” Logan shouted.

After a few long seconds, he let go and the man fell to the ground in a heap. His chest had been constricted against Grinder’s hand. He gasped for breath.

The mason bent over the man, scowl still pasted on his gruff face. His words were soft, gentle, in stark contrast to his mood. “Are you not a man? Think like one, not like a child. He had no way of knowing such a beast existed, nor did we.”

He then stood up straight and walked toward the door, without looking back. “Now dust yourself off, Walter. We have a meeting to attend.”

Logan and the boy stood there and watched him walk away. As he opened the door, Logan knelt down next to Walter.

“Are you alright?”

He looked up at Logan, a bit bewildered. He half expected to be kicked and spat upon.

“I’m…” he began in a raspy voice. He could barely speak.

“I’m… sor-” he began again, but Logan interrupted.

“Nonsense. Save your breath. Come now, get up. We have obligations, do we not?”

Logan took Walter’s hand and helped him up, putting his arm around his shoulder. They walked inside together. When the door closed, Tom was still standing there, eyes as wide open as summer skies. Then the moment subsided, and he ran in after them.