Gray Area

June 5, 2012
“Azule Manhan Libraia!” he slammed his staff into the ground. A thunderous crack echoed, splitting the ground from where the wizard stood out into the horizon..

“So it begins,” the man whispered. He smiled with hope in his eyes.
*****

Just another day, just the way Zeek liked it. On his way to work, he thought about how he loved his job. It wasn’t anything noble or exciting, but it was a job that every one needed, and pay was pretty good, too. Zeek stepped out the door of his small home. He looked to the sky. Another sunny day in the small village of Florinka. Zeek pictured his small shop. A quaint little shop, painted brown with a little sign in the window, ‘Zeek’s shoe strings.’ He sold everything form black shoe laces to replacement aglets, to clip on bows for the Velcro fan, we sell everything but shoes. On his walk to work he continued to think about what he would do with the rest of his day after he closed up shop. I think I will stop at Lib’s Library and pick up another novel. Maybe this one will be about the goblin king again! Zeek said getting excited now he picked up his pace and put a little skip into it. He loved the legends of the world outside his small village, but he would never leave this quaint village. I love it here, he though. I could never go beyond the walls and into the gray area. I couldn’t imagine anything more frightening.

Zeek arrived at his shop, he smiled and placed the key into the lock. Today is going to be a great day. Zeek looked up and noticed a note taped to his door. It read:
‘Emergency Village Meeting!
Anyone twenty and older must attend
Today at ten o’clock sharp!
At the village hall’

Oh man, it has got to be something big if the mayor is calling an emergency meeting. Zeek, being twenty-two, had to go to this meeting. He looked at his watch. Oh gee, it is almost ten. I better hurry! He locked up the door and hurried off to the village hall. Careful not to trip on sticks or rocks in his haste, Zeek made it all the way to the village hall and only tripped once.

Once inside, Zeek saw an open seat in the back. He sat down right when Mayor Johnson started to speak. “Ok everyone. Settle down.” His hands were raised to try and hush the crowd of about sixty five. The crowd hushed when he raised his voice. “Right, well, thank you hmmm.” He cleared his throat. “Well, thank you all for coming. I must say this quickly so we can get started. I’m afraid that I have not brought you all here under good circumstances.” The crowd started to whisper. “I don’t know if you all heard or not, but our well has run out of water.” The crowd grew louder; there was a simultaneous gasp around the room. Zeek was sitting on the edge of his seat. Raising his voice he proclaimed, “don’t worry we have a plan to fix the well.” The crowd roared now. Shouts flew to the podium.
“That was our only water source! What will we do now?” Mr. Jones yelled from the back.

“How could we fix it? We don’t even know where the water comes from!” a voiced yelled from the middle of the crowd.
“What is going to happen now? Has anyone has ever gone out of the village walls before?” a younger woman, Mrs. Emily, in the front row cried.
The mayor held up his hands again, and yelled, “I know you are all worried. I’m worried too, but we must remain calm for our children and for ourselves.”
Remain calm? Our one water source, the only one we have is dry.
“There was one person who went out into the gray area.” An elderly woman yelled. This was a woman Zeek had never seen before. “His name was Ezekiel, he was just a boy. He couldn’t have been older than seven or eight.” Everyone in the room was silent, Zeek could hear a man on the other side of the room scratching his nose. “He was an awful boy, he did not listen he was always making fun of other kids and getting in trouble.” She drew in a large creaky breath. “One day, many years ago, his mother yelled at him for cutting off a chunk of little Jillian’s hair. That night he ran away, he scaled the village wall and went out into the gray area.” The villagers were looking around the room at each other. The mayor was pale; he must have known the story. “We all thought he would come back, who could live out there?” She paused wondering. “Then days and months past and he never came back. That poor boy must have died out there.” she gravely gave her attention back to the mayor.
Looking grave and confused the mayor continued. “We believe that the water comes from a lake in the gray area.” Zeek looked around everyone was talking now, throwing their fits in the air, yelling at each other. “People, people, please! We need to talk about what we are going to do!” Mayor Johnson’s’ voice echoed above everyone. Silence consumed the room. Angry now the mayor continued. “Thank you, now we need to send someone out into the gray area. Now I know this has never happened before so we don’t really have a way of deciding who wil go out there…” He pulled at his shirt nervously. “But before you all start yelling again we have a system. Luke if you please,” a man walked out of the door behind the mayor carrying a big bowl full of sticks. “First are there any volunteers for this noble task?” Every single person in the room put their heads down as if that would make them invisible. “No none at all? Ok well then I will need every one to pick a stick and write your name on it.” The crowed went from silent to frantic, everyone was pulling sticks and yelling, a few people got to the door to leave, but then Luke stopped them. Zeek grabbed a stick and wrote his name in little letters off to the left side, and place it back in the bowl.

“Now that I have everyone’s sticks I am going to see whose stick is the shortest.” He lined up all of the sixty some sticks and took out the biggest ones. The mayor held one stick. “We have our champion, we will give him the best we have to offer. All our help we can provide. This noble man is Zeek!” everyone in the room turned to look at him, their faces full of relief. Zeek looked back at them, they were clapping, patting him on the shoulder. Zeek felt the color drain from his face. His knees buckled.

“I-I…” was all he could muster, then he fell to the ground.
******

Zeek woke up on the ground in a place he had never seen before. He was sitting up agent a wall and he looked out ahead all he could see was fog. How did this happen? Where am I? Zeek began to remember the past. He froze, and slowly began to back up into the wall. The wall that he had never been outside of, the one he never wanted to leave. Yet here he was on the other side, staring face to face with the gray area.

There was a note taped to his shirt, it read;
‘Zeek,
Sorry we had to dump you but we need to get this done.
The village has enough water stock piled for a month.
Please hurry we are all counting on you!
Love
The people of Florinka
P.S. I know I said we would give you our best, so I put a pocketknife in your pocket.’

Zeek felt in side his pocket there he felt a cold metal thing. I can’t do this, I can’t. why did the fates pick me? I don’t look like or act like any kind of hero. I have read enough to know when I am beat and I don’t want to start this quest. Zeek rubbed his dark matted hair, straightened out his sweater vest, pushed his glasses up, and bushed some dirt off his pants. My gangly arms couldn’t pick up a sword and I don’t know the first thing about plumbing? How am I ever going to do this? I’ll just find the gate back to the village and tell them this is a mistake. Zeek began to sneak around the wall when a rumbling roar boomed behind him. Horrified Zeek ripped away from the wall and ran straight into the dense fog.

He couldn’t see a thing. He ran as fast as he could, until he tripped over something. His face hit the dirt, he did a summer salt and laid there on his back. He looked up into the endless gray smog and there above him was a human like figure with giant gray hair block its face and a cloak wrapped around itself. Zeek saw it pull down its hood right before he passed out.
******

When he awoke there was no more gray fog, he was in a small hut. Books and jars lined the walls there was a small fireplace with a big black pot in it. Next to the fire place there was a sink with the same dark figure in front of it but now Zeek could see it was a woman. Big gray hair, she must have been in her 90s at least. Her clothes were tattered and worn, she turned and looked at him. She had two big moles one on her nose and the other on her cheek. “Good you’re up.”

Zeek jumped up from the make shift bed. “W-who are you?”

“Sit down, rest. You have a big journey ahead of you,” the creaky old voice answered back. Zeek sat down.

“What do you mean?”

“I am Cecilia, knower of the future, keeper of the past, and I dabble in the magical and mysterious. You Zeek have a big task in front of you, and I want to help.”

“W-hy?”

“They picked the boy of many questions I see. Well, Zeek, I have run out of water just like your small village.”

“I- I don’t think I can do this, this is not for me they pick the wrong guy. I need to go back to the village and ex….”

She cut him off. “You are the man for the job!” she hissed.

Zeek pushed his lips together to make sure no sound got out. She walked back to the sink and look out the window that was over the top of it.
“We will start tomorrow, now rest.” She walked back to a door around the corner. Carefully Zeek got up and whispered, “How do you know?” Cecilia smiled and went through the doorway, ignoring Zeek’s question.
The next morning the two of them were out in Cecilia’s yard. She had him doing pushups and sit-ups things he didn’t even know he could do. She trained him like this for two weeks. They would stop every hour and she would have him drink something she said “will increase his chances and help him.” whatever that means. Zeek thought. I just want to be done, I’m not the right man for this I feel bad that we are doing all this work just so I can go back to my village and tell them that I can’t do it.
“Zeek!” Cecilia hissed. “Drink, drink.” Zeek gulped down the foul smelling purple liquid. “Good,” she whispered. She walked over to a book shelf and pulled on a book titled “Secrets.” “Zeek I need to tell you that all of the legends you have read about are true.” The book slid off the shelf, and the shelf swung off the wall.
“What?” Zeek asked astonished.
“The legends you told me of, the Goblin king, the lake that smells of flowers. The ones you read about back in the village? They are not legends, this they are stories of travelers past.” Behind the book shelf was a hole. In the hole there was a thin, gold, palm sized disk on a sting. Cecile pulled it out and closed the book shelf.
Curiously staring at the disk Zeek asked, “What do you mean?”
“It is real, All of it.” She handed Zeek the disk. “Put this on.” Zeek did as he was told.
“What is this?”
“This is a medallion which will help you on your quest.”
“What does it do?” Zeek looked at it, rubbing the engravings on the top with his thumb.
“You will know in time, but it will only work when you need it the most. You have to believe it and you and it will work to help you.”
“Look Cecile I appreciate everything you did for me but I’m just not cut out for…” Zeek stopped looking at Cecile disapproving face.
“What did I tell you!? How many times did I say it? You are the only one.” She shrieked. “This is extremely important. Only use this if it is necessary, for magic comes at a price.” She looked at Zeek with tired eyes, she can’t be serious. “Now go to bed you have a big day tomorrow. All of a sudden Zeek’s body was tired, his mind was racing, but he could barely move his arms. He crawled into bed and drifted off to sleep.
Zeek awoke the next morning, not in his bed but under a dark gray sky. He was laying in the dirt, the clouds were moving fast, like they were running from something. Lightning crashed in the distance, Zeek stood up, and rubbed his dark matted hair. He straightened out his sweater vest, and went to push his glasses up his face. He touched the bridge of his nose. Where are my glasses? How can I see right now?
“Cecile!” he called out. “Is this a test?” Zeek felt around his neck the medallion was still there. “Cecile!” The thunder was getting louder and the lightning closer, Zeek ran off, away from the thunder and lighting. He ran as fast as he could, on the horizon he saw a drop off. He got close and looked over the edge. He could not see the bottom of this giant chasm. Slowly he backed up.

I can’t do this, this is too much. Zeek thought. He looked up at the clouds which had now turned a blackish purple color. His vision started to blur, what is going on? Now I can’t see? The clouds thundered again, this time it sounded like a hum. The thunder continued in various tones. Now the clouds were creating a song. Zeek listened intently, closed his eyes and remembered. This was that song his mother used to sing to him to go to sleep. It was soothing and told a story of a little girl who was afraid she was too small to so anything. Then in the end of the story she ended up conquering her fears and everything turned out for the better. Zeek released tension in his shoulders, took a deep breath and the he opened up his eyes and he could see again. With the thunder still humming away, Zeek approached the chasm.

He looked out to the other side and saw a giant water fall. That must be why we don’t have water! Zeek understood, the land has split in half and now we are cut off from the water supply. Now how to get to the other side? Zeek felt he medallion on his neck grow warm, as a small blue light shot out across the chasm.
Zeek looked across the chasm and where the light had been there was now a rope stretched to the other side of the split. With a large sigh and much hesitation, Zeek squatted down and grabbed the rope. He got both hands on it; he closed his eyes and listened to the clouds’ song. He dropped his feet down and was dangling off the rope over the gaping hole. He pulled his feet up and began to slid himself across the rope.


Once on the other side, he pulled himself up and laid on the ground. He put his hands to his face to wipe the sweat off his brow. He felt something on his face on his chin. What is this? He pulled on it, a beard had grown. How long was I stuck over there? He looked up and looked around it was grassy and green, dew covered the top, breathing heavy he rolled over to his back and looked into the sky there was the sun shining bright. He stood up and looked around. in front of him there was a colossal tree. With all kinds of things in the branches: He saw a couch, books, games, musical instruments and in the corner he saw one lone apple. This must be the giving tree. If Cecile was right then this is the tree that will give me something from its braches if I give it something in return. Zeek walked up to the tree and touched its trunk, I can’t believe this is real, so many stories and adventures I’ve read about with this tree.

He looked up, directly above him there was a mirror, he let out a large gasp, he had wrinkles and his hair had started to turn gray. How could this happen? This must be the price that Cecile was talking about. This is not a bad price, I need to be older and then maybe I can do this.

Zeek looked beyond the tree and saw a lake, a beautiful gleaming lake, clear and clean. He ran to the banks and looked into the shining water. He took a deep breath it smelled fresh and soothing like lavender. This is the perfume lake, the one that smells like flowers. Zeek was in shock that all the stories he had herd as a child were true. He stuck his hand in the water gazing with wonder at the magical purple water flowing through his fingers. He spotted a large shadow coming up from the deep, as he jumped back something grabbed his hand, pulling him into the lake. Zeek opend his moth and a scream poured out, just as his head hit the water.
Zeek swam back to the top of the lake once he broke through the surface he gulped air in to his lungs. He opened his eyes and there in front of him was a giant squid. A huge cephalopod in the flesh, how could I forget she senses people in the lake. Realizing how bad his situation was Zeek swam as fast as he could to the bank behind him. The squid lifted up it long tentacle and slapped the water in front of Zeek. He stopped just in time to see the tentacle lift back in to the air, blocking out the sun. Oh goodness this is it. This is the end. Zeek thought, the tentacle consuming the sun entirely. Zeek was in complete darkness.
Zeek felt his chest tighten. The tentacle dropped from the sky, Zeek could feel the sun on his face. A large tidal wave created by the squid’s tentacle launched Zeek over the banks of the lake. The lavender water shoved him back to the base of the giving tree. The lavender scent filled his nostrils as he tried to catch his breath.

Zeek stood up coughing water out of his lung, looking across the lake. He saw the giant squid slump its pinkish body back into the perfume water. Behind where the squid was he saw it, the one thing that could help him, the Goblin King. There on the other bank was his castle, standing tall and dark. Pointed roof and jagged entrances and all just how it was described in the books. Now how do I cross the lake? Zeek pondered.

Feeling defeated, Zeek leaned up ageist the giving tree, putting his head back on the trunk, he sighed. Then up in braches he saw a canoe. He jumped up, perfect! Now what can I trade? He felt around in his pockets and then he found it. The pocket knife, the one thing his village had given him. Zeek looked around the tree; he reached for the lowest laying branch he could find. His long arms grabbed the branch and placed the knife on the branch.

He spoke softly and clearly, “I give you this pocket knife and would like the canoe in exchange please.” Nothing happened, Zeek backed away from the tree in astonishment. He closed his eyes and tried to hold back the tears. I just don’t know what to do. I failed my village how could they have sent me to … his thought was cut off by a loud wallop that came from behind him. The tree had bent down and there on top of the branches sat the canoe. Zeek ran up to the tree and grasped the canoe and pulled it off the branches.

“Thank you!” he yelled to the tree. It pulled its long braches back up to their rightful spot in the sky.

Zeek stared at the canoe. How am I going to get it into the lake? Again the medallion grew hot and released a small blue light. It consumed the canoe and lifted it into the water. Zeek grasped the medallion and looked at the engravings. So odd. He shook his head in disbelief. Except something felt odd, he reached up and rubbed the top of his head. There was nothing. His hair was gone, I need to go home he thought. How I could have ever thought I could do this.
Zeek dremed of his small shop and the people of Florinka, I have to do this. He felt the strength of his town behind him, and he thought, Please let this work He took a large breath and jumped into the canoe. Zeek tensed up his body and tried not to move. Nothing happened. The squid only senses flesh. Glad that worked. Zeek smiled at his intelligence and then looked at his destination and canoed to the other side.

Once on the shore Zeek spotted a small man, that couldn’t have come up higher than Zeek’s waist. The man had on a pointy hat, he looked as if he could be a small child playing games, if it weren’t for his long white beard. A gnome, awful creatures, what are they doing by the Goblin Kings castle? The gnomes and the goblins hate each other. Zeek started to sneak closer to the gnome being as quiet as he could. I know that the goblin king will help me, he is always kind in the stories. Hopefully, that is still true. The gnome turned the corner around the castle, and Zeek ran up to the side of the castle and pushed himself up agent the wall.

I’m never going to get in here, Zeek thought. He slid along the wall until he came to a lip in the wall. He would have to go around and try to find the door. Zeek stepped out from the wall and a small man round the corner.

“Hey! You! Old man! What do you think you’re doing?” A surprisingly low voice came out of the tiny man. “You are not supposed to be here!” Zeek turned to run, “Stop!” Zeek didn’t move. “Boss!” The little man yelled as he grabbed Zeek’s arms.

“What now?” a gnome with an orange hat on said, rounding the corner. “What do we have here?” He asked looking up at Zeek, who was scared stiff. “Take’em to Ezekiel.” The gnome in the red hat pushed Zeek into the castle and past the dungeon filled with goblins, and into the main hall. The ceiling went so high up that Zeek could not see the top. The room was decorated in purple and green garments and many flags, in the center of the room there was a giant thrown, the goblin kings throne. But there was a man sitting in it, a human.

“Sir, I bring you an outsider,” the gnome bowed.

“Thank you, just leave him.” The man in the throne got up, and walked towards Zeek, who was rubbing his wrist where the goblin had been holding.

“So you are the champion that village sent out.” The man looked at Zeek. “This is really the best they have to offer. Wow!” He laughed. “It must have gone down hill since I left.” He was circling around Zeek now like a vulture.

“You are from my village? The village of Florinka?” Zeek looked at the man trying to place his face. He had smooth blond hair, pale skin, and muscles like an ox. He looked to be around Zeek’s age, or Zeek’s mental age, he thought. They would have gone to school together. “Why don’t I recognize you?” Zeek asked confused.
“Too many questions, I suppose you are here to ask about the water?” He said
“Yes, how did you know?”
“It was all so simple. One water supply, that’s it; just one. All I had to do was cut you off and the village would perish. No one would leave that place not with the gray area surrounding it. And even if they did they wouldn’t have lasted more than a few days wandering around thirsty and lost. The gray area is not that bad once you get used to it, but that village of cowards would never go willing into it.”
“You’re Ezekiel! The one who went out into the gray area, who ran away form Florinka. We all thought you were dead.” Zeek exclaimed. Breathing heavy, man all this craziness is making me tired.
“Not dead, just biding my time to seek my revenge on that place, but now there is you getting in the way.”
“Why do you want to kill us all, you where the one that ran away from us.”
“They didn’t even go looking for me! I was seven years old! Instead they let fear rule their lives and they let my mother go out looking for me alone. Did they tell you that?” Zeek just stared at him, his feet unwilling to move. Ezekiel was staring directly at him now, his gaze staring deep into Zeek’s soul. “I had been out there for three months living off roots and puddles of water passed. I must have been wandering in the same circle for days because that is when I found her, my mother, dead.” Zeek saw the fire ignite in Ezekiel’s eyes. “She had tripped and broken her ankle to the point the bone was sticking out of it, that gray smoke just smoke up sound she could have been screaming for days and I didn’t hear her.”
Zeek mumbled out a response breaking eye contact. “I am sorry for the pain that this has caused you but that doesn’t mean that…” Ezekiel cut him off.
“It means that, that godforsaken place threw me out and killed my mother. I found my way out of the gray area and made a promise to seek revenge on the people who…..” Ezekiel paused and looked at the medallion hanging around Zeek’s neck. “Where did you get that?” he asked angrily.
“A friend,” Zeek responded with confidence and a little out of breath.
“Give it here.” Zeek reached for the medallion and paused.
“No! I must save my village and this is supposed to help me.”
“Give it to me or I will take it myself!”
“Come and get it.” The worlds slipped out before Zeek could sip them back in.
Anger was in Ezekiel’s eyes a fire in his soul. He took out his staff and charged at Zeek. Zeek ducked out of the staff’s path falling to the ground. I can’t do this, this guy is huge and I am just Zeek. Zeek’s vision started to blur. He was so tired. Oh not again, he sighed and closed his eyes. Breath, breath you can do this. Zeek opened his eyes to see Ezekiel pointing his staff at him. The blood red gem, enflamed shot out a glowing light. Zeek rolled out of its path just in time to see the light hit the wall, causing it to turn a dark charcoal color the stone crumbling to ash.
Wheezing Zeek jumped up and hid behind a pillar. “I want that medallion!” Ezekiel shouted. Zeek held the medallion in his hands it was getting warmer. It too glowed with a bright white light; it was the most beautiful thing Zeek had ever seen. He looked in to light and felt warm and at peace.
Zeek came out from behind the pillar the medallion still glowing the white light was now blinding. With his eyes closed Zeek focused all his energy on the medallion. Ezekiel stared in amazement, he picked his staff up and aimed it at Zeek. “Quled hstag zrat” Ezekiel yelled a dark shadow shot from his staff. It zoomed through the air and was inches from Zeek’s chest when the shimmering light coming out of the medallion immersed the shadow. The light was so bright Zeek looked away afraid he would go blind. A crack thundered across the castle as the light surrounded the entire island. When Zeek turned his head back all that was left of Ezekiel was his staff that lay in the cold hard ground.

The ground began to shake Zeek picked up the staff and ran outside to see what was happening. The chasm was closing; the lake continued its rightful path to the village. The goblin king and all his followers where released from their cells and were rejoicing that Zeek had saved them. Zeek gave the staff to its right full owner. The King thanked the old man, and Zeek started his journey back home.

Once inside the gates Zeek was greeted by the mayor, and all of the other people of his village. They cheered and pick him up on their shoulders. They marched him to the well to show him all the water inside. He looked inside it, into the glassy water. His hair was back his beard was gone, and his face was tight and wrinkle free. Zeek took in a deep breath with his new found confidence, it was him the whole time. Old or young it was him, Zeek looked back and the crowd and smiled, he had finally made it home.





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