The Goat Story
June 20th 1855-Greenville Market, Ruby Harbor, Ferdern
“What about this?” asked a young and tall piece of red haired spaghetti looking at an ornate dresser.
“You want to get Eric a dresser?” said Hermes looking at his youngest brother incredulously.
“I don’t know…maybe it’d help him stay organize,” James weakly argued.
Hermes started at his brother.
“Fine,” sighed James, walking down the busy street and through the large crowd of customers, “Let’s keep looking.”
James and Hermes were in Greenville Market-one of the biggest street markets in Ferdern, searching, rather vainly, for the ‘perfect’ gift for Eric. The vendors were lined on either side of the road, shouting and laughing as customers walked up and examined their wares. There was everything from furniture to fruit to freshly caught fish to the odd Gargoyle offering to read their future, and exotic jewelry and pottery from the Ignis. A lone Lupus was trying to sell his collection of poetry and Shivians were close to convincing a woman to buy a dress that resembled a towel more than anything any respectable woman would wear outside.
“A this point I think you should buy Eric a coconut and call it a day,” sighed Hermes eying the exotic fruit a Minotaur had brought from his home island.
“A coconut won’t last!” said James exasperated, “I want something that will last forever and be meaningful.”
Hermes resisted the urge to roll his hawklike eyes. Hermes and James were both incredibly tall and lanky although Hermes was half an inch taller than James-which he used to his advantage during the few fights they had. They both had frightening bright eyes, except Hermes’ eyes were brown and framed by wire glasses while James’ eyes were blue, but had both inherited their mother’s thin lips and their father’s thick eyebrows. James’ brilliant red hair had been successfully tamed by gel while Hermes had programed all but a single strand of golden brown hair to part to the side. They both had thin and delicate faces and the other two Banks boys often teased them about their feminine features, although it also attracted a surprising number of women of various ages.
“Do you think he’d like a parrot?” asked James as they passed an Indarium selling exotic animals.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure he’d love it.”
James halted, put his hands on his hips, turned around and glared at Hermes, “You know, you could be a bit more helpful!”
“Don’t get snappy with me just because I didn’t like your parrot idea,” frowned Hermes.
“Well I don’t know what to get him,” snapped James, throwing his hands in the air, “He’s such a…spoot head!”
“Spoot head?” asked Hermes, raising an eyebrow as they resumed walking.
“Well, I’m trying not to curse and that’s what came to mind.”
“What is it supposed to mean?”
“Someone who is very hard to buy presents for and who is very grumpy,” grumbled James.
“I’m more worried about his reaction to your birthday party,” smirked Hermes.
“Oh, he’ll enjoy it besides it’s celebrating a multiple of things, you graduating from Olbricht University, Mercury going into GMA in a few months, and Sam and Eric’s birthday since they’re so close….but just in case he doesn’t like it, you will protect me right?”
“Sure,” shrugged Hermes, “I’ll just throw Mercury in the way.”
“I hope he survives today.”
“I hope Eric and Farmer Johnson survive the Mercury factor,” sighed Hermes, rolling his eyes at his brother’s ability to cause trouble wherever he went.
“That’s why we sent Alex with them,” chirped James looking at an elaborate chest of drawers, “To make sure Eric is distracted, but doesn’t end up in a hospital.”
“I still wish I had gone with them,” sighed Hermes, “And I don’t think furniture is what Eric wants for his birthday.”
James pouted and they moved on.
“It’s just, his clothes are all over the floor and it drives me crazy!”
“Then don’t look into his room.”
“Well I have to check to make sure he’s still a. breathing and b. hasn’t run away from home.”
“Well if we ever did, we’d know where to find him.”
James furrowed his eyebrows.
“With Strata. We both know he wants to sail with him.”
James’ blue eyes widened and he bit his lip as he thought about life without his older brother.
“And Strata would say yes if Eric ever asked,” sighed the youngest Banks boy.
“It could be good for Eric,” said Hermes, watching James, “Might help him calm down a little.”
“I know, but I’d miss him so much,” whimpered James, “And he would never take me with him. He’d worry that I’d cause the boat to sink or something.”
“No, he would think Mercury would cause the boat to sink,” corrected Hermes, secretly convinced that his brother would do just that, “But you should ask him.”
James laughed bitterly.
“Yeah, right. He’s still thinks I’m made out of glass.”
He glanced over a brightly colored shirt and couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of Eric wearing it.
“Oh, yes, he’d love that,” said Hermes, also glancing at the shirt.
“I should buy it and say it’s from Mercury,” grinned James.
“He would buy a shirt like that,” sighed Hermes.
James shrugged as they pushed their way through a large family of visiting Lupus.
“Do you really think sailing would make Eric happy?” asked James.
Hermes sighed and scratched the back of his head as he thought of the best way to phrase his statement.
“Eric has a wandering soul as does Father. They don’t like being stuck in one place for long, it’s partially why the army is perfect for Father. I don’t think Eric would ever leave us forever, but I think he would be happier if he could disappear for a couple months now and then.”
James looked down.
“Now, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to go with him, it just means you should pray that you don’t get seasick.”
James smiled faintly.
“Well in that case,” he said, trying to act strong, “Maybe I should buy him a boat.”
Hermes stared at his younger brother skeptically.
“I’m not sure if we can afford a boat.”
“Why is everything so difficult?!”
“Be careful, Sara,” said Jessica checking on the chicken in the newly installed oven, “We don’t want that cake to be too dry.”
“Don’t worry,” beamed Sara covering in flour, chocolate, and vanilla, “I know what I’m doing.”
Jessica looked up and grinned at Sara’s milk covered strands of hair.
“And we don’t want any hair in the batter either,” she said, pulling Sara’s long, brunette hair back.
Sara was short and thin, but knew how to get her way. Her long eyelashes fluttered over green eyes and her cute button nose was designed for poking. She was the youngest Phillips child, but she ran the house.
“But that’s the secret ingredient!”
Jessica chuckled and kissed her daughter on top of the head before looking through the window at her son, Michael, and two friends setting up the decorations.
“I’m still not a hundred percent sure it was a good idea to make Michael in charge of the decorations,” she frowned as her son make a rather excited gesture that could only mean trouble.
“Yeah, but did you really want him in here?” asked Sara skeptically.
“No, not really,” admitted Jessica, “Maybe we should have sent him to Farmer Johnson’s as well.”
“Oh, that would have been terrible,” said Sara, her eyes widening at the potential disaster, “Can you imagine what Alex and Eric would have had to have put up with if the Mercury factor and the Michael factor combined?!”
“Oh, you’re right,” said Jessica, shaking at the mere thought, “Still…”
“Don’t worry,” grinned Sara, “Mr. Longstreet is out there helping.”
“That doesn’t comfort me in the slightest,” sighed Jessica, still staring out the window.
Sara rolled her eyes.
“I’m done with the batter!”
She hopped off her stool and Jessica leant over to looked and frowned.
“Sara, why are there egg shells mixed into the batter?”
“Because you say separate the yolks from the whites and pour them both into the batter.”
Jessica looked at her daughter with furrowed eyebrows.
“But what does that have to do with the eggshells.”
“Well, the eggshells are white and the yolk is yellow, so I figured whites meant eggshells,” shrugged Sara.
“Oh, god, no! The whites are the gunk around the eggshells!”
Sara’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.
“Oh no! Oh, no! What are we going to do!” she said, hopping on her tiptoes and pulling on her hair.
“It’s ok. This could be salvageable,” said Jessica, trying to pull the eggshells from the batter.
They both looked up as the backdoor slammed shut.
“Sorry,” grinned a nervous Terry, “There’s a really big bird outside.”
They stared at the dark haired boy and Jessica could not help but feel that Eric needed to be more selective with his friends.
“Mom!” moaned Sara, poking her mother in the side, “The eggshells!”
Terry peered out the back window and pulled back when he saw the bird. It was huge! He didn’t know how Michael and Mr. Longstreet could ignore it like that. Terry was a tall boy and painfully thin and was overcoming a nasty cough. There was dirty underneath his fingernails and holes in the knees of his pants, but he would someday be a handsome boy if he ever cleaned up his appearance-something Sara had noticed, even though her heart belonged to the one and only Major Nathaniel McPherson. Still, sometimes the only way to get a male to notice you was to make him jealous.
“Oh, this is not working,” sighed Jessica, “We need to start over.”
“There’s not enough tiiiiiiiime!” over annunciated Sara, pulling on her hair again, “They’ll be here in a half hour.”
Jessica frowned before running into the foyer to grab her coat.
“I’ll have to rush, but I think I can still grab a cake from Margaret’s bakery. You two stay here and don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be right back.”
Before they could say anything in response, Jessica was out the door. Sara played with the batter dejectedly while Terry, momentarily confused, shrugged and went back to his bird patrol.
“What are you doing?” asked Sara, raising an eyebrow.
“Looking for that bird.”
“Because I want to know if it’s safe to go outside or not.”
“Birds aren’t dangerous,” laughed Sara.
“They can be. I’ve seen a bird peck at a dead man’s corpse one time.”
“Really?” asked Sara, scrunching up her nose.
“Yeah, part of the job,” shrugged Terry.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a mortician for the police department. We help take care of all the murder victims, which means the bodies are usually in terrible conditions.”
“That’s horrible!” gasped Sara, accidently smacking the dough too hard and sending pieces flying all over the place.
“It’s life,” shrugged Terry, flinching when he thought he saw the bird again.
Sara knitted her eyebrows as she tried to think of a counterargument and threw her spoon into the batter dejectedly (spraying more batter all over the place) when she couldn’t. She hopped off her stool and stood next to Terry by the window.
“What kind of bird was it?”
“A big, big bird.”
“That’s very specific.”
Terry glared at her.
“I’m don’t know! I ain’t no bird expert!”
“I’m not a bird expert.”
“What?” asked Terry, staring at her confounded.
“You said it wrong. It’s supposed to be I’m not a bird expert. Didn’t you go to school?” huffed Sara, her hands on her hips.
“No, in fact I didn’t. Too busy working.”
Sara frowned and her face fell despite herself.
Terry shrugged and looked outside the window once more.
Sara wiggled her nose as she thought it over and leant against the windowsill to get a better look at Terry.
“How do you know Eric?”
“We met on the street a while back and he convinced his folks to take my family in for a winter. Celebrated Barismas with them too a few times. They’re nice…well his mom is, his dad…eh, just typical army.”
“His dad is rather mean,” acknowledged Sara, “I don’t really like him.”
“He’s not a bad guy, he’s just busy and he’s been through some stuff, ya know. I met a bunch of guys who returned from the Black Forest and they’re a lot worse off than General Banks.”
“But he hurts my friends,” said Sara, looking down, “especially Eric.”
Terry frowned and rubbed the back of his neck.
“I’m sure he don’t mean too.”
“That doesn’t make it better.”
“Ah, they’re tough. They’ll be ok,” said Terry, furrowing his eyebrows as Michael showed off a strange looking contraption, “Is that a good sign?”
Sara turned around and her eyes widened.
“No, definitely not!”
She was about to run outside, when Terry grabbed her arm and pointed towards the kitchen.
“Is that a good sign!”
Sara whirled around and her eyes nearly popped out of her head again when she saw the thick, black cloud of smoke, emitting from the stove.
“Michael, I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Mr. Longstreet as Michael pulled out the décor-a-matic, which amounted up to being a long stick with a pinching, hand like thing at the end of it and a pulley system that allowed the user to ‘control’ it.
“This is genius!” scoffed Michael, “I invented it. Now attach the banner to the mouth and I’ll have it up and on the poles in no time!”
“Why can’t we just use the ladder?” sighed Mr. Longstreet.
Michael stared at him as if he was an unknown creature dredged from the sea.
“Now why would we do that when we have this amazing tool?!”
Michael was tall and thin, not quite as spaeghetty as James, but close. His wild brunette hair gave him the look of a mad man and his large blue eyes, his brightly colored bowties, and decorative suspenders only added to that persona.
“Why would we use an amazing new tool when we have a sturdy dependable tool right there?” argued Mr. Longstreet, pointing at the ladder.
Mr. Longstreet was big, lumberjack big and just as sturdy. He had a long brown beard and the scars and burns of a man who had been through a lot of trouble and always came out on top. Even though he had successfully made the transition from wandering lumberjack for hire to the owner of a multi-million dollar train company, he still wore his plaid shirt and suspenders from his lumberjack days.
“Mr. Longstreet, you have no sense of adventure,” snapped Michael, “Now attach the banner to the mouth.”
Mr. Longstreet glared at the Phillips boy before rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath as he attached the banner to the device.
“Now watch and be amazed!” said Michael whirling his contraption around, towards the newly installed pole.
On the way to said pole, the banner caught a tree branch and became stuck. Michael frowned and jerked and pulled, but no luck.
“You know what? That was impressive,” said Mr. Longstreet, his words oozing with sarcasm.
Michael glared at him.
“All right, all right, so we’ve encounter a snag. Nothing that can’t be fixed. Here, hold this.”
Mr. Longstreet took the contraption skeptically as Michael ran into the toolshed.
“It’s like working with a god damn Koren,” muttered Mr. Longstreet, as he waited, “They’re always looking for some newfangled way to get you killed.”
He sighed and furrowed his eyebrows when he saw the bird that scared the other kid away. It was a simple sparrow, nothing to worry about at all. Kids these days, they were pansies. Back in his day that sparrow would have been dinner. Ah, everything was going to Hell.
“This will solve all our problems,” shouted Michael, running from the shed with another long stick and a tool attached to the end-except this time the tool was a knife.
“Michael!” snapped Mr. Longstreet whirling around and ripping some of the banner.
“Now look at what you did!” snapped Michael.
“What I did! That won’t have happened if you hadn’t been running with a knife!”
“Oh, it’s fine,” pffted Michael, “Now stand still and don’t rip the banner any more than you already have! I’m going to cut the branch it is attached to.”
“Why can’t we just use the ladder?” moaned Mr. Longstreet.
Michael stomped his foot and glared at him.
“Do you know how life gets easier?! By intelligent, but lazy, people findings ways to do things with less hassle! Now, using the ladder is the proven way of doing this, but imagine what it would be like to get things without having to climb up ladders?! Imagine the time we’ll save. Now stand still while I cut this branch.”
Mr. Longstreet rolled his eyes as Michael awkwardly tried to aim the knife towards the offending branch. It was obvious Michael had little control over the large stick. It weaved this way and that way and the few times he managed to touch the branch, it barely left a mark.
“What?!” snapped Michael, whirling around to face Mr. Longstreet and losing control of the contraption entirely.
They both flinched as they heard a heart stopping riiiiiiip!
“How bad is it?” squeaked Michael not daring to turn around.
“Well, you cut it in half,” sighed Mr. Longstreet.
“I cut it in half?! Don’t you mean we cut it in half.”
“Oh, no, we stopped being a ‘we’ the moment you pulled out that contraption.”
Michael glared at him before turning around to look at the banner. One half said Happy birth and the other half said day Eric and Sam.
“Well…instead of calling it happy birthday we could all it Eric and Sam day,” said Michael.
“Except the words are out of order and day Eric and Sam don’t make sense.”
“We’ll just say it’s written in phoenix. They write things backwards don’t they?”
Mr. Longstreet stared at Michael.
“You don’t get out much do you?”
Michael glared at him before smacking his forehead and gasping.
“We can glue it together! I’m sure Sara has glue! Come on!”
“What do we tell your mother if she asks?” asked Mr. Longstreet chasing after Michael.
“Let’s pray Sara is distracting her with cookies or something!”
They ran across the green and grassy yard and into a smoke filled room.
“Sara *cough cough* what did you do?” gasped Michael, hardly able to see through the smoke.
“Michael?! Where’s *cough cough* Mr. Longstreet? I need his help!”
“I’m here,” barked Mr. Longstreet, fighting his way through the smoke, “Where’s your mother?”
“Gone to get *cough cough* cake!”
Mr. Longstreet lumbered towards the kitchen as Michael opened the backdoor to let the smoke out. He flinched as he heard a sharp crash.
“What *cough cough* did you do?!” shouted Sara.
“I broke the window to *cough cough* let the smoke out!” snapped Terry.
“Why didn’t you just open it!”
Terry stared at Sara as Mr. Longstreet pulled out the black chicken and turned off the stove.
After weeding out the strawberry patch, tilling a new plot of ground for next year’s corn, repairing the pig pens, and cleaning both the horses and the horse’s stables, Eric, Mercury, and Alex were sitting on Farmer Johnson’s rickety back porch and enjoying well-earned glasses of lemonade.
“Do you ever get the feeling that Farmer Johnson is trying to kill us?” gasped a sweating Mercury, lying on the porch, with his arm over his eyes.
Mercury was shorter than everyone except Eric, by an inch, and had wild, bright red hair and hawklike blue eyes that twinkled with disaster. He was very handsome and had mastered the charming smile, the gentle touch, and a series of pickup lines that ensured he never went to bed alone.
“Hard work builds character,” Eric impersonated.
“I don’t want character,” moaned Mercury, “I’ve got enough.”
“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character,” smirked Alex.
Alex was taller than his two friends and had incredibly curly blonde hair and large ears. His sharp blue eyes were constantly glancing at Mercury as Alex tried to ensure that his friend did not set Farmer Johnson’s house on fire or send anyone to the hospital. He was going to kill Hermes for sticking him with the Mercury factor.
“Eh, go clean the horse stalls again,” grumbled Mercury.
Eric smirked and took a sip from his lemonade as Alex rolled his eyes. Eric was shorter than any of his brothers or friends, but was the most intimidating. He had the build of a professional boxer, the frown of a severe judge, and the bright blue eyes of a trained assassin. His wild golden brown hair did as it wanted and often fell into his face.
“All right, ladies, break’s over,” grinned a sunburnt Farmer Johnson.
“Not me. I’m dead,” said Mercury.
“Well, we’ll just use you for fertilizer than,” smirked Farmer Johnson.
Mercury looked up at the old farmer alarmed.
“You have problems, Farmer Johnson.”
“I never said I didn’t.”
Farmer Johnson was slightly hunched over but very spry, despite his old age. His limbs had managed to maintain some of their youth and vigor, while his callused hands were racked with arthritis and were beginning to curl on him. His wiry, brown hair was graying and was often covered by a cap. His wrinkled and weathered face hid behind by a short graying beard and his brown eyes twinkled with youth. He wore a red flannel shirt and pants held up by suspenders.
“What do you need us to do now, Farmer Johnson?” asked Eric, slowly rising from the porch, not wanting to admit how tired he was.
“Well I need two of you to separate the goats. The older ones are too aggressive for the younger males, they’re going to start hurting each other. I need another one of you to help me repair some of the grape trellises. That storm last week broke some of the rungs and we need to fix them before the grapes start maturing.”
“Why don’t you hire workers?” groaned Mercury.
“I do,” said Farmer Johnson, surprised.
“I think a better question is why don’t we get paid for this kind of work,” smiled Alex as he rose.
“Oh, no, I don’t believe in giving money to friends,” said Farmer Johnson, “It complicates the relationship.”
“But you believe in working friends to death?” asked Mercury skeptically.
“If they volunteer their services,” shrugged Farmer Johnson, “Now let’s get to work. Alex, you come with me and Eric and Mercury can separate the goats. You need to lead the younger goats into the smaller pen, but the older goats have already claimed the bigger pen as their own.”
“Oh, yeah, this is going to be fun,” grumbled Mercury slowly sitting up.
He and Eric walked across the vast farm until they came up to twelve separate pens. Six of the pens were full of bleating and fight goats and six of the pens were empty.
“I’ll take three and you’ll take three?” asked Eric.
“Sure,” said Mercury, “Although I have to say, this is a hell of a way to spend your birthday.”
Eric shrugged and walked towards his pen of goats while Mercury turned to face the first pen. The goats were cramped into the pen and were jumping over and onto each other and one older goat was butting heads with another goat.
“Hey, hey, hey!” snapped Mercury opening the gate and running in, “Stop that!”
He grabbed the older goat but the horns and a scuff of hair near the goat’s butt and pulled him away from the younger goat.
“Bad, bad goat!” said Mercury, bringing him to the other side of the pen, “Don’t fight with your younger brother.”
Mercury turned around and raised an eyebrow when he saw that the pen was empty.
“Hey, where are the other goats? Ow!”
He fell on his ass as the goat rammed into the back of his leg and ran out of the pen through the open gate-the gate he had left open.
“Crap, no! Come back here!” he snapped, wincing as he limped across the pen, “God damn it!”
He limped to the outside of the pen and watched as goats wandered throughout the farm, chewing on grass, and chasing after each other.
“Shit! Uh, Eric!”
He hobbled towards his brother-whose pen was at the end of the goat area of the farm-and grumbled as Eric effectively and efficiently led one goat out of the pen at a time. The goats were well behaved for him and almost seemed happy to go into the roomer pen.
“Oh, sure! They behave for you.”
Eric looked up as he closed the gate behind the young goat and furrowed his eyebrows.
“There’s no way you’re already done.”
“No, I uh….I have a problem.”
Eric sighed and rolled his eyes.
“I knew today had been going too well. What did the Mercury Factor do this time?”
Mercury frowned at the family term before rubbing the back of his neck.
“I may have lost a whole pen of goats.”
Eric’s eyes widened.
“A whole pen?! How do you lose a whole pen of goats?”
“Well….one goat was fighting with another goat and I ran in to stop them and I guess I left the gate open,” he mumbled, looking down sheepishly, “Ow!”
Eric smacked him across the back of the head, nearly sending him face first to the ground, before stomping towards Mercury’s pen.
“Hey! Where are you going?” called Mercury, rubbing the back of his head.
“To find your damn goats!”
“Come here, goatie, goatie,” pleaded Mercury as he and Eric slowly pinned the aggressive goat into a corner-between a barn and a number of blocks of hay. After chasing after a number of goats, bribing some of them with carrots and hay, wrestling with others, simply chasing/dragging the stubborn ones back to the pens, and enduring many sore backs and butts, they were done to the last goat-a rather big black goat with intimidating horns. The only good news they had was that one goat-a tubby goat Mercury had named Lucky-had taken a liking to Mercury and had followed him everywhere (Lucky was currently nibbling on the hay as Eric and Mercury dealt with his angrier older brother.
“You go left, I’ll go right,” Mercury whispered, tentatively taking a step forward.
Eric slid right, the black goat contemptuously watching every step they made, and Mercury whispered, “One three….one, two…THREE!”
Eric and Mercury attempted to jump the goat and clunked heads together instead while the black goat bounced over Mercury’s back and ran towards the house.
“Argh, god damn, Eric! Your head is like iron,” groaned Mercury, rubbing the top of his head.
“Oh and yours is soft like a pillow!” growled Eric, rising, “Now where the hell did that thing go?!”
Mercury, after being sniffed by a worried Lucky, rose and looked across the farm.
“I think he went towards the house. Probably smells Farmer Johnson’s dinner. Come on!”
The three goat hunters ran towards the house and saw the black goat chewing on Farmer Johnson’s daisys. Mercury threw himself on the goat and pinned it to the ground.
“I got it! Haha, I got the son of a bitch.”
They looked up as the backdoor opened and Alex started at them more than a little alarmed.
“Mercury let the goats escape,” Eric explained as Lucky hopped onto the porch.
“Ah,” said Alex, nodding his head, “Well, good luck finding all of them.”
“Thanks,” growled Mercury, still on the ground, wrestling with the black goat, who was trying to head butt him.
“Is Farmer Johnson still with the grapes?” asked Eric.
“Yeah, actually he sent me instead to get his trusty hammer,” said Alex, showing them the rusted and wobbly hammer, “This thing is only good for putting holes through bread. It’s going to be useless against those nails.”
“Listen this is fascinating, Eric, but can you help please!” snapped Mercury, eating dirt as the goat struggled in his arms.
Alex turned around to close the back door and Eric helped secure the black goat-no one noticed that Lucky was nowhere to be seen.
“All right, last one,” grunted Mercury as he and Eric threw the last goat into the pen, “I hope he makes a stew out of you, you pain in the ass.”
The goat threw Mercury a dirty look at Eric rolled his eyes.
“Now can I trust you with the other three pens or am I going to have to do your work for you.”
“I can do it,” snapped Mercury, making a face.
Eric stared at him skeptically before rolling eyes and walking towards his pens. Mercury was about to work on the next pen when he realized something.
“What now?!” moaned his younger brother.
“I’ve lost Lucky!”
“How do you keep losing these goats?!”
“I don’t know! He was right there and now he’s gone.”
Eric pinched the bridge of his nose and asked for patience from a god he didn’t believe in.
“Why, why didn’t our parents put you up for adoption when they had the chance?”
Mercury glared at him.
“Are you going to help me or not?!”
“All right, let’s think,” said Eric, “When did we last see Lucky?”
Mercury thought it over and shrugged.
“I’m not sure. He was just always there.”
“Helpful as always, Merc.”
“Oh, shut up! When did you last see Lucky?”
“The back porch.”
They ran back to the house, praying that Farmer Johnson didn’t notice, and sighed when they saw that Lucky wasn’t there.
“All right, let’s think,” said Mercury, sitting down on the porch and resting his head in his hands, “I was on the ground wrestling with the asshole goat and you were standing there, chatting with Alex, and Lucky was….”
“He was here,” said Eric, pointing at a spot on the porch.
“Then Alex left and you and I trapped the asshole goat and brought it back to the pen...but Lucky wasn’t with us, was he?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“God damn it! Where did he go?”
Eric sighed as he tried to figure out where a goat could go.
“Maybe he wandered off. He is a goat. Maybe we should check the rest of the farm.”
“No, Lucky was a good goat. He would have stayed close to me.”
Eric stared at Mercury.
“I got it!” said Mercury jumping off the porch and grabbing Eric’s shoulders, “He turned invisible!”
Eric stared at him-obviously torn between hitting him and just walking-and eventually deciding to smacking his older brother across the head and snapping, “Are you a fucking moron!”
Mercury glared at him while rubbing the back of his head.
“Listen, who knows this goat better, you or me?”
Eric looked up at the sky as if he was asking God why he had to be stuck with such an idiotic brother.
“Mercury, it’s a goat. There is nothing to know except that it likes to eat, sleep, and make little baby goats.”
“Oh, hey, Merc, Eric,” said Farmer Johnson as he and Alex walked towards the porch, “Are you guys done?”
Mercury and Eric shared glances.
“Suuuure,” said Mercury as Eric mentally argued with him.
“Good, well come inside and I’ll get you some more lemonade and then you can head home.”
They nervously followed Farmer Johnson into the old, one floor house that was currently leaning to the right. The inside was a disaster. There was a slouchy couch pushed against the dark walls, and a coffee table covered in chipped cups and plates. The warming sun pierced through the small windows, highlighting the mess. There was a makeshift bed in the corner and a discarded bag was dumped on the floor. To the right was a small hole of a kitchen with one cabinet, a charred stove, and a mantelpiece full of odd knick knacks. Farmer Johnson had one black pot and one black pan. To the left was Farmer Johnson’s cramp and dirty room. While Farmer Johnson poured lemonade for the three boys, they sat down on the couch and smirked at the state of the living room.
“He should get James in here to clean,” muttered Alex.
“He would never be able to find anything if he did,” smirked Eric.
Mercury chuckled and slowly furrowed his eyebrows as he heard a strange bleating noise coming from Farmer Johnson’s bedroom. At first he thought he was imagining it, but there was no mistaking that sound. He elbowed Eric and his brother shared an alarmed look with him. Was that Lucky? How the hell had he gotten in?
“Alex, distract Farmer Johnson for a second, ok?”
“It’s a long story.”
Alex shared a concerned look with Mercury before nodding his head and walking into the kitchen.
“So, Farmer, Johnson, what goes into making lemonade?”
Eric and Mercury quietly snuck into Farmer Johnson’s room and saw lucky lying on his bed, lazily chewing on his pillow.
“Lucky!” hissed Mercury, “Get out of there.”
Lucky weakly looked at him and bleated. They crept around the bed and Mercury gasped when he saw blood all over Farmer Johnson’s sheets.
“Oh my god!” he shouted, “He’s dying!”
They heard a commotion as Farmer Johnson and Alex ran into the bedroom.
“Who’s dying?” thundered Farmer Johnson.
“Lucky!” cried Mercury, close to tears.
“Who?” asked Alex.
“The goat,” said Eric, rolling his eyes as he pulled back the sheets, “And Lucky’s not dying!”
“What are you talking about? Of course he is,” sniffed Mercury.
“No, she’s not,” said Eric, stepping aside and revealing six newly born goats.
Farmer Johnson lumbered around the bed and sighed.
“Lucky’s a girl!”
“Of course she’s a girl!” snapped Farmer Johnson, “Alex get a bucket of water. We need to clean these guys off.”
Alex nodded his head as Farmer Johnson bent down and looked at his new goats before craning his neck to face the two Banks boys.
“Now I just have one question for you two. How the hell did she get into my bed?”
“I hope this is what your mother wanted,” said Robert, as they rode a carriage towards Paralli, “I really don’t want to explain to her what happened to the list.”
“Especially since you don’t know what actually happened to it,” grinned his daughter, Samantha.
“Yes, that certainly doesn’t help my case in the slightest.”
Robert tall and thin, even though he was gaining a stomach because of Jessica’s cooking. He had lush brown hair that often fell into his thin and slightly scarred face and a strong nose and his kind, yet sharp, blue eyes were lovingly looking over his daughter.
“Although if she can forgive Sara for telling me about the birthday party than I think she can forgive you for losing her list.”
“Not if this isn’t the pie she wanted,” said Robert, “If it isn’t, I’ll be sleeping in one of Farmer Johnson’s barns.”
Samantha laughed and shook her head. Samantha was short and stocky, like her brother Alex, and also had his wild, curly blonde hair-something they both inherited from their mother, however she had her father’s green eyes, identical in their kindness and in their sharpness.
“Well I like cherry pie and since I’m the birthday girl, that’s all that matters.”
“I’m sure your mother would agree,” chuckled Robert.
Samantha wrinkled her nose as she thought about her mother’s reaction.
“I’ll tell Eric to say it’s his favorite too that way she can’t be angry. Do you think he’ll appreciate the birthday party?”
“I think so, in his own way.”
Samantha frowned and nodded her head.
“What’s wrong?” asked Robert, catching the shadow in her eyes.
“I’m just worried about him.”
“I am too, but we have to have faith. He’ll come around. He’s just hurting, that’s all.”
“I know, but I don’t want him to hurt.”
“Me either, but we can’t force him to heal. We simply need to be patient.”
“I hate being patient,” muttered Samantha looking down.
Robert smiled and let out an ah ha as the carriage came to a halt in front of the Paralli.
“Dad, are you sure this is a good idea?” frowned Samantha as the Minotaur driver pulled open the door.
“Yes, this is Eric’s sixteenth birthday, his father should be there.”
They climbed out of the carriage and walked into the center of Ferdarian government, down the magnificent marble halls, towards the corner of the left wing, the office of General-in-Chief Henry Banks. Outside of his oak doors, stood his Chief of Staff, Nathaniel McPherson, chewing out a helpless aide.
“Now get it right otherwise I’m using your guts for bootlaces!”
Nathaniel was the epitome of the perfect soldier. He was stern but lenient, disciplined, but human, trim, but practical, scarred, but handsome. His uniform was tailored to perfectly fit his sculpted body, his tuck was pristine, his brass and shoes were spotless, and his short black hair was trained to stay out of his face. He carried a scar on his chin from his boxing class, the rest came from his time in the Black Forrest. The aide yelped and literally ran away as Nathaniel turned around, fuming at the aide’s gross incompetence. His demeanor changed, however, when he saw Robert and Samantha.
“Hello, Senator, Miss Phillips.”
Samantha blushed and hid behind her father as the dashing Nathaniel nodded towards her. He knew her name!
“Hello, Major, how are you?” asked Robert, shaking his hand.
“Contemplating homicide for the fifth time today,” he said, rolling his droopy blue eyes, “but, other than that, I can’t complain. I hope all is well with you.”
“Yes, actually we’re on our way to Eric’s and Sam’s birthday party. Sara and James pulled it together.”
“Ah, well happy birthday then, Miss Phillips,” Nathaniel grinned, “How old are you now?”
Samantha gulped and ducked behind her confused father.
“She’s usually not this quiet,” said Robert, “Sam, what are you doing? Come out here.”
Samantha slowly emerged from behind Robert, her cheeks a flaming red,
“Now answer his question.”
“I promise I won’t bite,” said Nathaniel, feeling bad for the nervous young girl.
Samantha’s blushed grew as she caught Nathaniel’s gaze and she looked down and muttered, “Thirteen, sir.”
“That’s a good age,” said Nathaniel, “My favorite age anyway.”
Samantha’s eyes widened and looked up at her crush.
“Oh, yeah, you’re finally old enough so that adults trust and give you more freedom to do what you want, which basically means you can cause more trouble with les chances of getting caught.”
“Oh, please, Major, don’t give her any ideas. It’s bad enough she has Mercury as a teacher, she doesn’t need more encouragement to cause trouble,” chuckled Robert, vaguely troubled by what a Samantha even more determined to instigate trouble would be like.
“I am sorry, Senator,” said Nathaniel, giving Samantha a wink, “Now, how may I help you?”
“Well, I was hoping Henry would be able to attend the party, only for an hour or so. I know it would mean a lot to Eric.”
Nathaniel’s face fell and he looked down.
“I tried, Senator, but General Banks…I am afraid he is indisposed at the moment and will not be free until later tonight.”
Robert frowned and Samantha couldn’t help but hate General Banks a little more.
“However, he asked that this be delivered to Eric,” said Nathaniel, grabbing a wrapped present off the desk and handing it to Robert, “Oh! And Rosemary baked a pie.”
“Oh, she didn’t have to.”
“I know, but we both felt bad, besides she’s in a baking fit right now,” sighed Nathaniel, handing the pie to Samantha since Robert was already holding a pie, “If I don’t start sharing these things with other people my uniform is going to burst at the seams.”
Samantha held her breath as he bent down to hand her the pie and their fingers touched for a split second. A warmth emit from their brief moment of contact and she felt like she was flying. Oh, she couldn’t wait to brag to Sara.
“I think it’s peach pie.”
“Oh, that’s what Jessica wanted, not cherry,” said Robert, blinking as he suddenly remembered.
Nathaniel furrowed his eyebrows for a split second before chalking it up to be another Senator Phillips’ moment-the frequent bouts of absentmindedness which made Senator Phillips an agreeable fellow, but drove General Banks crazy.
“You know, Major, you should attend the party.”
Nathaniel’s eyes widened and Samantha squeaked. Major McPherson, her wonderful Nate, was coming to her birthday party?! She must have been dreaming.
“Oh, I don’t know, Senator.”
“The boys would appreciate it, especially Eric, and it would be nice if something related to Henry was there.”
“I do not know if it is my place to be General Banks’ stand in.”
“Then attend as their friend, something they desperately need right now, especially Eric.”
Nathaniel frowned and thought if over before nodding his head.
Robert lead Nathaniel, who was trying to engage a stunned Samantha in conversation, to their carriage and rode it home.
“Are you excited for your party?” Nathaniel asked as the carriage bounced its way towards the Meadowlane.
She nodded her head, her eyes the size of saucers and her hands tumbling in her lap.
“I swear she’s normally not this quiet,” said Robert, bewildered by his daughter’s extreme behavior.
“I know I have a bad reputation, but I swear I’m nicer than people think,” he told a shaking Samantha.
Robert shook his head as they pulled into the driveway and the Minotaur driver opened the door. Nathaniel climbed out first and helped Robert down before offering his hand to Samantha-who almost fainted at the prospect of holding his hand, even for a second. She hid a grin as she felt a rush of boldness and grabbed his hand. Nathaniel helped her down and quickly discovered that she was not going to let go anytime soon. Instead, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze and looked up at him with a dreamy grin, nearly walking into a rosebush as they walked towards the front porch.
“Be careful,” he told her as he tried to steer her from all obstacles.
When they opened the door they were hit in the face with the smell of smoke and shouting.
“What the hell did you do to my chicken!” shouted Jessica from the kitchen.
“It wasn’t my fault! Terry distracted me with the bird!” Sara retorted.
“I did no such thing. Nobody told you to come over!”
“What the hell am I supposed to feed everyone now?!”
Robert and Nathaniel shared bewildered glances and slowly mad their way to the kitchen, Samantha still clasping Nathaniel’s hand.
“Uh, honey, is everything all right?”
Jessica, her hair all over the place, covering in soot and flour, whirled around and nearly stabbed her hand with a knife.
“No, not everything is all right! Your son and daughter burnt the chicken! Dinner is ruined!”
“But the banner and all the outside decorations are ok,” said Michael as Mr. Longstreet rolled his eyes, “I did not mess up, it was Sara’s.”
“No! It was Terry’s fault!”
Robert furrowed his eyebrows as he stared at the dark haired boy.
“Who are you?”
“Not the one who burnt the chicken.”
“When did we adopt this one?” asked Robert as Nathaniel wondered if he had made the right decision in coming over.
“That is not important right now! We need another bird and fast. Eric and the others should be here any minute.”
“Well…we have pie,” Robert offered, “Peach and cherry.”
Jessica glared at him. As Robert, Nathaniel, and Mr. Longstreet tried to calm Jessica down, Sara huffed and puffed over the fact that Samantha was holding Nathaniel’s hand.
“Oh, how dare she?!” stomped Sara.
“What?” asked Terry bewildered.
“Quick, kiss me!”
“Well I can’t kiss Michael, he’s my brother, that would just be weird.”
“Why do you need to kiss anyone at all?”
“Just kissed me and I’ll give you twenty derrryls for it.”
Terry thought about it for a split second before shrugging.
Sara wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into an awkward kiss before breaking away and scowling.
“Oh, he didn’t even notice! You are useless!”
“But I still get twenty derryls, right?”
“Ok, ok, we’re homing,” called James from the front, dragging something that was heavy into the house, “And we found the perfect present.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” grunted Hermes.
Everyone ran into the living room and their eyes widened as they watched James and Hermes carry what appeared to be a mini sailing ship with drawers.
“James, darling, what is that?” asked Jessica, almost afraid to find out.
“It’s a sailing desk of drawers,” grinned James as he and Hermes gently placed it down, “Isn’t it just perfect?”
“Yeah, for someone who belongs in the nuthouse,” said Michael.
James glared at him.
“That’s not for Eric, is it?” asked Robert.
“Well they’re not for you,” chuckled James.
“Thank God,” muttered Sara.
“Attention everyone!” shouted Mercury as he burst through the front door and charged into the kitchen, “Farmer Johnson is officially a father.”
The fighting came to an abrupt stop as everyone turned around to face Mercury.
“Wh-Wh-What?” sputtered Robert.
“Who was he seeing, one of his horses?” asked Mr. Longstreet.
“One of his goats had babies,” explained Eric rolling his eyes.
“And he’s naming one after me,” grinned Mercury, like a proud father.
“Oh,” said everyone dismissively, before returning to arguing.
“Wait, weren’t we waiting for Eric?” said Terry.
“Yes,” said Sara, still huffy over the failed kiss.
“Well…he’s here. Shouldn’t we start the party?”
“What? Oh! Oh! OH!” she shouted, hopping up and down and pointing at Eric.
Eventually everyone caught on and whirled around.
“And look, Eric, look at this awesome dresser!” beamed James.
Eric’s eyes widened as he saw what James had bought him and he slowly looked at him, begging him for help.
“Don’t look at me. I already got my crazy, he’s your crazy.”