Edward Owen – Author

Monthly Archives: May 2014

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Ray Bradbury Challenge #33 – The Heretic

Been busy getting a submission ready for possible inclusion in anthology and had to put the challenge on hold for  a few weeks. For those who have been reading these stories regularly, thank you. I hope you enjoy this one.

 

Ray Bradbury Challenge #33 – The Heretic

 ancient book

“Oh for the love of Bast! Will you stop already?” said Jericho as he stretched out on the floor.

“Leave me alone,” Barney retorted as the door closed. “I honor the Providers. It is from them that all our blessings flow.”

“They live to serve us. There was a time when they worshiped my kind.”

“You were also burned at the stake as demons along with other heretics. Even today, you are hunted by those less tolerant.”

Barney dribbled water on the floor as he drank.

“Could you be any more disgusting?” said Jericho. “Yes, tolerance is slow in coming to your kind. As are manners, refinement and class. I cannot fathom why you are allowed to sully the temple. You should sleep in the dirt, not in here.”

Barney lumbered onto the carpet and scratched his head before lying down.

“I protect the temple from those who would harm the Providers. My love for them is unconditional. Do you not feel the joy of their return?”

Jericho strolled into the room and leaped onto the couch.

“I feel joy when my meals appear and they clean up my quarters. They are servants, nothing more.”

Barney sighed.

“They show us affection. I’ve seen how you act when they touch you. It is a great blessing and you beg for it.”

Jericho rubbed his ears and rolled on his back.

“I am simply allowing them to pay me homage. My station demands it. One need only look at where we are at this moment. I am given my choice of furnishings on which to recline while you must stay on the rug. I am even allowed in the bedchambers.”

Barney scratched another itch but refused to look at Jericho.

“I do so out of respect,” he said. “I am ten times your size. The furnishings are not made to hold me and I do not wish to do them any damage. And, when you are my age, you will not find the stairs so easy to navigate.”

“Keep telling yourself that, beggar.”

Barney laid his head on the floor and closed his eyes.

“I no longer hear you, heretic. It is time for me to seek inner peace.”

Jericho leaped to the floor, missing Barney’s head by a few inches.

“What a load of droppings. You don’t fool me for a minute. You’re taking a nap. Some great protector you are.”

“If you disturb me, I will bite you.”

Jericho walked back and forth over Barney to further torment him.

“Last warning, heretic. Is there not some poor creature that needs chasing? You are easily amused, go away and leave me alone.”

“Very well, beggar, I am going to their chambers and lie on the bed. Enjoy your rug nap.”

Jericho darted across the room and up the stairs. He took a leisurely stroll down the hall, sauntered into the room and jumped onto the center of the bed.

Barney and his kind are idiots, he thought. The bed is more than accommodating, they are simply unworthy.

Jericho closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

 *****

Jericho awoke with a start. Barney was yelling as smoke wafted through the room.

“Jericho! Let’s go. The fire is coming.”

Instinct told him Barney was right and he slipped to the floor. The air was clear and he made a beeline for the stairs. Barney sat at the bottom waiting.

“Something has caused the temple to burn,” said Barney. “We must leave now.”

The pair headed for the exit in the kitchen and nearly ran into a bright pink backpack lying on the floor.

“Wait!” Barney said. “That belongs to the Daughter. Did you see her upstairs?”

“I did not go into her chambers but it is time for her return.”

“We cannot leave her in danger. Help me find her.”

Jericho looked at the exit and back at the smoke pouring through the doorway.

“I think it is too late. If we do not go, the fire will consume us.”

Barney glared at him. “Do as you will. As for me, I will serve the Provider.”

He loped into the room crouching beneath the smoke. Tears filled his eyes, impeding his vision, but not even the smoke could hide the scent of the Daughter from him. He paused at the bottom of the stairs. He had not used them in quite some time. The first few steps were fine but as he climbed, his joints and muscles protested. By the time he reached the top, his body screamed in agony. He barely made it to the Daughter’s chamber. He found her on the bed, her eyes closed.

“Daughter, you must wake. There is much danger.”

She stirred but did not wake. Barney tugged on her sleeve and pulled her toward the edge of the bed. She tumbled off, her eyes popping open as she threw her arms around his neck. Every sinew and muscle burned with her added weight but he pushed on until he reached the stairs. A small black and white head bobbed at the top.

“Jericho, I thought you left to save yourself.”

“And let you have all the glory? I think not. Now get moving.”

Barney stumbled and fell to the floor.

“I cannot. The stairs are too much. Get help. There will be other Providers here.”

Jericho spun around and darted down the stairs as smoke filled the hallway.

 *****

“Mr. Jessup, we have your daughter in the ambulance. She inhaled some smoke but she should be just fine.”

Frank Jessup sprinted across the front yard of his gutted home, scooped his daughter up in his arms and held her against his chest.

“Thank you for saving her,” he said to the firefighter.

“I’m afraid we can’t take all the credit. It was the damnedest thing. Your dog managed to get her to the top of the stairs and your cat showed us where they were. I’ve never seen animals work together like that.”