Something wicked this way comes

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Juju
It was around 8:00 when the innocent light-green apple fell from the sky.
Christopher Crumb was lumbering outside to retrieve the morning paper. One of the most important moments of his life was about to thump him square on the head, but he wasn’t even remotely prepared. Armed with bunny slippers, a terrycloth robe and a bemused “it’s too early” expression, Mr. Crumb was an easy target for one of fate’s little games. And that’s when it hit him - literally. There was a loud “PLONK” as the fruit made contact with his head. Christopher swore loudly, attracting dirty looks from nearby neighbors. Dizzily he searched for the cause of the now-rising bump on his head. It took him a few seconds but soon he found the culprit.
The apple was nestled in a tuft of sweet, green grass, camouflaging perfectly. He picked it up, noticing its smooth lively texture, perfect leaves and unusual warmth. “Where did you come from little buddy?” he thought aloud. Christopher knew there weren’t any apple trees nearby; probably some lowlife had thrown it at him. However, that didn’t make sense either. First of all, thought Chris, this was Celebration, the Disney dream town, Florida, and people just didn’t do that type of thing. Secondly, why would someone throw an apple at him, what did he, Christopher Crumb, do to deserve this kind of abuse? He sighed and ran his hands over his chin. Its bristliness felt almost alien to his touch. Alice had made him shave it last night, complaining that it made him look too much like a hobo. She had never had a problem with his beard before, but lately things had been hard and Alice was on tenterhooks. After last week’s news, his beard had been the first thing to go.
He went inside, tucking the apple into his pocket. Chris closed the door quietly and walked into the kitchen, setting the fruit down on the table. They had a moderately sized house, with high ceilings and big comfortable couches. The only thing that looked out of place was the strange miserable excuse for a human being slumped at the counter. A Venti Starbucks Double Shot was clutched in Alice’s right hand and her eyes were wide and red from crying and caffeine-induced alertness. The couple had had their suspicions a week before, when Alice had lost her pregnancy 4 months along. As if things weren’t bad enough, Alice’s infertility test had come back positive the night before, leaving her utterly devastated, a baby shaped hole in her heart. She couldn’t have any children, not ever. Chris went over to her and put his arm around her, seemingly without effect. He sighed, not for the first time that day, and took the coffee from her hands, planting a soft kiss on her cheek.
Just then they heard a low rhythmic thumping emanating from, the apple? Alice, suddenly back from the dead, walked with newfound purpose towards the source of the beating. About a foot away from the table, she froze as the apple split in two, seemingly of its own accord and as a little boy jumped out and stood there for all to see. Stormy grey eyes dominated his face; he had striking brown hair and lightly tanned skin. He looked to be about 8 years old. Chris and Alice stood for an awkward 30 seconds mouths gaping open, in between sputtering sounds, pinching and gentle eye rubbing. The little boy watched them in turn, innocent eyes searching for some hint of recognition. Alice was the first to react, taking the boy into her hands and singing to him softly. Tired from his dramatic entrance, the boy fell asleep to the sound of Alice cooing. Chris came over gazed wonderingly at the small child and didn’t even consider that it wasn’t meant for them. After fashioning a makeshift bed from a matchbox and various knitting failures they set the miniscule kid down to sleep, like they had learned in birthing classes only with infinitely more delicacy.
Chris put on the kettle and when the tea was ready they sat down for a good long talk. There was no discussion about not keeping the child, no confusion about whether it was the right decision. For Alice it was a sign from God, a miracle, something not to be taken for granted. For Chris it just seemed right and it wasn’t like they could just abandon him. They decided to call him Juju because he was one of the luckiest things that had ever happened to him.
Now, Alice and Chris weren’t stupid, they knew that if anyone else caught wind of their little boy, terrible things could happen. They feared that scientists would want to examine him, take him away, or dissect him. They knew that they couldn’t allow that to happen. Perhaps they had seen too many late-Saturday-night science fiction specials, or maybe they were just extremely paranoid about their new son, but the very next day Chris set up a cedar fence all around the house. When neighbors asked why, he told them that he and his wife just needed a little peace and quiet because of “here he would close his eyes in mock sadness” recent events; this generally shut them up. Inside they created the perfect sanctuary for Juju, from miniature swings, zip lines and trampolines to a special course so he could get around the house easier. In time they thought he could be accepted by general society but for now he was just too vulnerable.
A year passed quickly for the family, but Juju had many adventures. During this time the only people who saw him were his mom and his dad, or so he thought. One day he was walking along the fence, breathing the fresh air in and watching the neighbors go about their daily business when he saw a girl staring right at him from the next door lawn. Shocked at being seen Juju slipped from the fence and fell into the neighbors grass. The girl, who was around 13 years old, ran over to help him up. “Are you all right” she said, a guilty tone in her voice. “Umm, yes?” said Juju, clearly embarrassed at having made such a fool of himself, his cheeks reddening. “I’ve been watching you for some time now” the girl sputtered. She had long blonde hair, pale skin and jeans which complimented her brilliant green eyes. “That sounds weird doesn’t it?” asked the girl. Juju nodded “What’s your name?” he asked “Mines Juju”. “Mines Gemma” Gemma answered and reached out to shake Juju’s hand. Juju reached out both of his hands to grab her index finger and shook as hard as he could. Gemma laughed a laugh like thousands of golden bells tinkling and Juju thought it was one of the most beautiful noises he would ever hear. And that was the start of their secret friendship.
Alice and Chris taught Juju math, science and world history and Gemma taught him about the world around him. On her 14th birthday she got a digital camera, which she used to show Juju things outside the house. Juju and Gemma became best friends and they visited each other almost every other day.
Until one day she didn’t come. Juju wondered what had happened to her. The same day he saw Gemma’s parents in tears talking to a policeman about the possibility of kidnap. Juju conducted his own investigation, sweeping every blade of grass in Gemma’s lawn and his, for some piece of evidence, some indication that she hadn’t just disappeared into thin air.
And that’s when he noticed something no one else had. Someone had pressed down a little trail into the grass. It was almost as if they had tried to spell something. He walked along the little path and found the start, memorizing the turns he made in his head. Down, upwards curve, up. That was the first letter. Aha, Juju thought, it’s a U. He continued wading around in the grass until he found the second part and then traced its course. Up and then circle. It had to be a P, thought Juju excitedly. But that would mean that the word was… up? He looked up. There was a dark cloud obscuring his view, a small but evil looking cloud. Up he said out loud, looking straight at the cloud. The cloud flashed, as if illuminated by a bolt of lightning and for a moment he thought he saw some sort of castle. Whatever it was, he was sure Gemma had left the grass imprint for him; she must have known that only he would notice it. He knew that somehow, someway he had to go there, to go up and that he was Gemma’s last hope, but how?
Later that night he decided to confess to his parents, he needed their help if he was going to pull this off. Chris and Alice listened in near silence, only nudging each other each time Juju mentioned Gemma’s tinkling laugh. When Juju told them about the word he found on the grass and the floating palace, Alice and Chris went alternative shades of deathly white. They didn’t know what it was, and they didn’t care to find out if whatever it was that was living up there had snatched a teenage girl. They locked Juju in his miniature sized room; for the first time in his life he was grounded. Alice and Chris were loving parents but they constantly underestimated Juju because of his size; he wasn’t a baby.
At 12:00, just because it seemed right, Juju set out to save Gemma. His parents were sleeping. He had prepared everything he needed, in the event that his parents didn’t let him go. He had a needle to use as a weapon and a long fuzzy black cloak to stay warm; wherever he was going he was pretty sure they wouldn’t have central heating. He climbed out the window and into the night. Standing on the ledge he reflected; “This is my last chance to turn back.” He shook his head, now was not the time to be a scaredy cat or in his case, a scaredy mouse. Right under him was a murder of crows. He took a deep breath and smiled, he was gonna get into so much trouble for this. And he jumped. The world plummeted around him, the wind whistling in his ears. And then he spread his arms. The wind caught his cloak and he felt himself yank against the wind. Suddenly he wasn’t falling but gliding. He soared around and then dropped his arms to his side to land lightly on a crow’s back. He exhaled, that was fun.
Juju took a small piece of meat out of his pocket and attached it to the needle with string forming a sort of fishing rod. He took one last look at his house and dangled the meat in front of the crows face. Immediately the crow walked forward, following the eluding treat. Juju pointed the meat upwards and the crow took flight. He clutched against the crows dirty black feathers, and hung on for dear life. A feeling of weightlessness spread through his body. As he looked down he could see the whole village, so small, so delicate, his home looked like a doll’s house, the grass and valleys like a green carpet rolling on and on. Using the needle and string as a makeshift steering wheel he guided the bird upwards to the palace. They went through cloud, mist and shadow finally emerging into the purplish black night sky.
In the middle of the cloud was a temple. As he neared he could see that Gemma was locked in a giant wooden cage near the middle of the shrine, she was gagged, her hands and feet tied up. A bonfire was burning next to her, a rusty metal rod was turning slowly over the heat, wood and bones scattered throughout the flames. The fire cast a sinister light on the whole place, and Juju didn’t like it one bit. The sooner they got out of here, the better. He looked around but he couldn’t see the kidnapper anywhere. That was his chance. Shaking the meat violently in front of the crow’s beak they zoomed towards Gemma. Closer, closer and then he could almost reach her, just a little closer; he urged the bird to go faster. A second later, Gemma noticed him and shook her head violently straining against her bonds.
Out of the corner of his eye Juju saw five giant fingers closing in. Months of experience had given him quick reflexes. He vaulted off the crows back as a sickening crunch resounded throughout the temple. A horrible grimy hand dropped the dead bird’s body on the ground, its bones all twisted and sticking out at odd angles. What scared Juju more; however, was the owner of the hand. He looked up.10 feet of scary looked right back at him. He gulped. The giant was near 120 times his size with green papery skin, lanky arms, long legs and a cruel gaping mouth. Evil green eyes hung onto his face like crabs adorned by eyebrows that looked more like big grey sewer rats. The monster’s long and scarred fingers gave Juju the impression that they had clawed more than a few eyes out. He wore a ratty old black tail suit which wrapped around his lethal frame; part of the previous owner could still be seen peeking out of the breast pocket. A hammer was clutched loosely in his left hand with mystic runes covering its helm. Juju could guess that more than one creature had met his end after a single meeting with that thing. He gulped again.
Juju took the piece of meat of his needle, laying it next to the faithful crow’s crumpled body. The trollish giant laughed a deep terrible laugh that shook the walls and echoed evilly. Then the giant spoke. “Isn’t it a little bit after your bedtime” he said in a deep disdainful voice. After Juju stayed silent, he added. “Didn’t mommy ever tell you not to talk to strangers?” Juju had had enough “You’re not a stranger; you’re a green asshole who kidnapped my girlfriend.” The giant narrowed his eyes and raised his mammoth hammer. He wasn’t laughing anymore. The giant crashed the hammer down right where Juju had been standing a moment before. But Juju had thought ahead. He ducked under the hammer and ran straight towards one of the giants legs. Climbing up a big hairy limb Juju stabbed one of the giant’s hamstrings with the needle and then somersaulted over to the left leg and needled the other one. The giant howled in pain and swirled about smashing temple tiles like crackers. Juju narrowly dodged a blow from the hammer and the broken tiles sent him flying into a wall. He stood up and brandished his needle which the giant now recognized as a lethal weapon. He ran towards the giant and screamed a battle-cry as the giant did the same. The giant swung the hammer at Juju’s head missing by an inch and sending the hammer flying into Gemma’s cage, splintering the wood into a million pieces and almost killing Gemma. She screamed although it came out as a mumble through the gag. The giant paid no attention, the only thing he cared about was killing Juju. Juju stood opposite from Gemma with the giant smack in the middle. The giant swore loudly in an outlandish language. Then in a pained but vengeful voice the giant spoke “You wanna play games kid, we’ll play games.” From the folds of his tail suit the giant pulled out a Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum. An evil smile spread across the giants face, threatening to split his head in too. Juju started panicking, that was a big gun. But he was small, hard to hit and more agile than the giant. The first round came fast slamming into the column and sending shattered stone just above Juju’s head.
Behind the giant Gemma had escaped from the wreckage of the cage and was attempting to release the ropes tying her hands and legs.
She raised her fingers to her lips, miming “Shhhhhh!” Juju understood the message; he had to distract the giant. The giant, however, didn’t need any more motivation to kill Juju; so he had a pretty easy job. The harder part was trying not to get blown to smithereens. The giant took a step closer and released another bullet; Juju jumped out of the way, and felt the wind from the bullets path swoosh by. The bullets, he realized, were as big as he was.
Gemma now had her hands undone.
The giant let loose a snarl of fury along with another bullet which Juju had to somersault out of the way to avoid.
Gemma was halfway to freedom.
The giant, taking Juju by surprise, leaped towards him, letting loose two bullets in quick succession, one of which ripped his cloak off and the other gave him a modern haircut. The bullets smashed into the blocks behind him, embedding themselves in the emotionless stone. He fired again, but the cartridge clicked, no more bullets. The giant decided that this was going to end now, and he was right although not in the way he would’ve wanted.
Gemma, fully free except for the gag, crept towards the giant as the empty gun clattered to the floor, with the hammer gripped tightly in both her hands.
“This ends now” screamed the giant with undisguised fury. By the way that the monster cracked his knuckles, Juju knew that the giant now intended to squash him with his bare hands. Instead of running Juju stood still, his determined little face scrunched up with purpose he spoke, like his mother had taught him “In Nomine Patris et Fillis et Spiritus Sancti” and he crossed himself forehead to breastbone, shoulder to shoulder. The giant looked puzzled, but following Juju’s eyes, he turned around, too late.
Gemma swung the hammer with all her might, it whistled through the air and smashed right into its master’s stomach, crushing his ribs and throwing him across the flagstones into the bonfire. The giant screamed and screamed a thunderous inhuman howl, a voice of pure pain. The giant could not get up, he was skewered on the bones of his previous victims, and he was there to burn. The giants eyes widened with terror, like a rabbit caught by car headlights and he yelled some more. His skin curled off his bones like burnt paper, blackening and peeling off. A terrible smell filled the temple - a scent of something that should have died long ago. Gemma and Juju stood by the fire solemnly and witnessed the creature’s death. In five minutes there was nothing left of the monstrous kidnapper but scorched bones.
Gemma and Juju turned to go, and as he walked out Juju grew. Foot by foot, inch by inch, he grew to his regular size. By the time they had reached the edge of the floating palace he was a little taller than Gemma. They looked at each other and then Gemma hugged Juju. “Thank you!” she whispered, half crying. After a few minutes silence, where Juju marveled at his bigger self and Gemma quietly thought, Gemma looked down at the world, so far below them. Juju followed her gaze. And then reality kicked in. “Juju, umm how the hell are we going to get down?”





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