Short Story: Once Upon a Jackson

“Fucking humans,” Jackson said, running his hand through his hair as his heart beat rapidly in his chest. He took a deep breath, trying to call down from the close call, but even he just didn’t have that much control over his body yet.

“That was so stupid,” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head at his own youthful arrogance. He’d been warned.  He knew better.  Hell, hadn’t his mother told him a thousand times?  

Don’t go near humans.

But did his fool self listen?  Of course not!  No, he had to see for himself.  He peeked around the tree he stood against, but the red glow of flames still flickered through silhouetted trees.  Once he got himself under control, the sound of an angry mob rose around him.


What had he been thinking? Humans were superstitious and insular, fearing outsiders, but how could he resist?

An image popped into his head of a girl with flaming red hair and a ready smile.  She’d been friendly enough when he’d first approached her. He’d been obsessed with her for months, ever since their leader dragged them to this spot.  He still remembered storming off after having a fight with his mother.  He’d been angry, yelling at her because they’d moved the caravan.  That’s when he’d met the girl.

“Are you all right?” she said, reaching out a hand in comfort.

He sat against a tree feeling sorry for himself, already regretting the words he’d unleashed in anger.  “No,” he barked, not even looking at her.

She crouched down in front of him until she caught his gaze.

He had no words, just staring at her as his mind went blank. Who was she?  Where did she come from?  She certainly wasn’t one of the caravan.  Her low cut blouse had his mouth running dry even.

“I see,” she said, a half-smile tilting her face.  “What can I do to help?”

Anything.  The thought came unbidden, a product of his youthful ardor.  But the anger was gone, replaced with a lust he tried desperately to contain.  

Think of something disgusting.

But nothing came to him and he continued to stare.

This must be love.

He should have known it was too good to be true.  Jackson had continued to see her, meeting in that same spot time and again.  They never asked about their families or where they came from.  It never even occurred to him to consider the significance of her presence.  

Stupid, stupid.

Could he get back to the caravan?  What if he drew the villagers to them?  He shuddered. No, he couldn’t do that.  Better he never return than put his family, his people, in danger.

He’d been lucky enough when Effie’s father came at him with a flaming torch.  The man had tripped as Effie screamed in the background, telling him to stop.  It sent the torch on a wide arch that just barely missed Jackson, but connected with the wood frame of the wattle and daub home beside him.  It immediately caught, fire licking up the dry beam until the thatched roof caught as well.

With a whoosh, the night turned to day and people poured out of their homes.  Cries filled the air, though he had no idea what they said, and he ran.

Pushing off from the tree, he ran in the only direction that would lead him away from both the human village and his caravan.  Jackson pushed himself hard, kicking rocks and stepped on roots that hurt the soles of his poorly shod feet.

He didn’t stop, didn’t think to even partially shift to make things easier.  He slammed a shoulder into a tree, pain searing down the limb, then nearly fell on his face when his foot caught a high root he couldn’t see.

On his hands and knees, he turned back.  Were they getting closer?  Was the sound louder or was it just his imagination?  He picked himself up and ran, barely registering his surroundings.

All he noticed was the sound.  The mob’s yells, stomping feet, and clashing weapons rang through his ears, growing louder with each moment.

I’m dead.  

I’m sorry, mother.

Then he slammed into hard rock and fell to the ground.  He looked up. A sheer cliff of black rock blended into the night, impossible to see until he’d run straight into it.  He rubbed his nose and lip where it throbbed from the abuse.

“This wouldn’t have happened at the last site.”  He’d known the last caravan site like the back of his hand, able to maneuver every wood, stream and meadow almost blindfolded.  He didn’t know this place like that, though.  

Pulling himself up using a tree branch, which felt like it cut into his hand, he turned, facing down the enemy.  The red and orange glow filled his vision.  It looked like an army driving forward to end him.

Shuddered breaths left him as his mind fled, useless from fear.  He looked left and right, but where could he go?  He couldn’t think, couldn’t function.  

Jackson pulled at his hair in frustration, a habit he’d been trying to break because it was childish, but he barely gave it a moment’s thought as he spun in a circle, trying desperately to free himself.

Think, think, think.

He slapped his palms against the cold stone wall, fingers finding no purchase.  He slapped it hard.  “Damn it!”  His fingers kept sliding off the stone.  He looked to the sides running along the wall, but one way would lead him to the caravan and the other to the enemy.

Looking up, he saw his salvation, but not if he couldn’t get himself under control.  He closed his eyes, bumping his forehead against the rock. “Focus.  See it.”  Calm.  His heart rate finally calmed, breathing becoming more manageable.  He blocked out the mob behind him, focusing on his breathing.

Opening his eyes, he looked up at the wall, spotting tiny handholds too far apart and too narrow to reach and grab hold of.  Jackson kicked off his shoes and shifted, increasing his height, making his already lanky frame even worse, and changing his short, flexible fingernails into long talons.  He reached out, sticking the talons of his right hand into the first hold.  It held, pulling him up easily.  He repeated the process with his other hand, then each of his feet.

By the time the mob had reached him, he was halfway up the wall.  He looked down, his head spinning at the height, but he sighed, resting his head against the cold surface he clung to.  They couldn’t reach him.  None he could see carried bows, but that didn’t mean he was safe.

He pushed himself again, continuing until wet grass touched his fingertips.  Digging into the soft soil, he pulled himself up, sprawling on the flat land as the dew seeped into his clothes.

He was safe.

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1 comment

  • Dave Forrest

    Very good visuals and “gripping ending” as Jackson finds a reprieve from the humans. In the first paragraph it reads “trying to call down from the close call” and it should say calm down.

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