A boot whizzed across the room of a small, rather beaten down looking cottage and hit the wall. As it bounced off the wood, Montague was pleased to find that his angst-riddled exhibition had managed to leave a sizeable dent in the wall this time. He decidedly ignored the fact that the cottage's walls were rank and decaying, allowing for much more damage than had his own house's polished oak interior.
Roughly twenty-fours had passed since Montague Witten had stormed off Witten Manor, declaring Mr. Witten to be an insufferable bag of bleeding goat feces in the middle of his mother's funeral procession.
Another boot soared through the air in an admirable arc. It broke through the cottage's ceiling, causing bits of straw to precipitate dustily to the dirt floor. The goshawks outside twittered indignantly.
"SHUT UP!" Montague screamed savagely at them through a window that looked as though someone had gnawed through the wall to create it. Alarmed, the birds took flight.
Montague whipped around in search of something else to channel his rage through. His manic gaze landed on a chair, which all but quivered in fright as Montague advanced toward it. He sent an ill-aimed kick at one of its legs, causing him excruciating pain in the shin as it connected with the underside of the seat.
The details were still hazy in Montague's mind, but he remembered having been restrained by an elderly priest and three relatives from his mother's side as he launched himself at Mr. Witten. You'll never amount to any more than your mother did—wasn't that what that bastard had said?
Montague let out a piercing wail that sounded as though it belonged to an elephant in labor rather than a well-bred, seventeen year old young man.
"Whoring pillock!" he roared. He grabbed the chair and began to beat the small cabinet in the corner with it.
"I want that essay," Mr. Witten had whispered off-handedly, as the casket was being lowered into the ground. "Before you pack for Guildford's."
Montague cried out in pain as he realized that the chair he had been beating the cabinet with had been reduced to a pile of splintered wood on the ground and he was now punching the cabinet with his bare knuckles.
Mr. Witten's audacity had left Montague speechless for a couple of moments. Guildford's Boarding Academy in South Australia? He was being sent away?
"What?!" Montague had said aloud, startled. "You can't do that!" he had cried out, ignoring the priest's withering look and the reproving murmur that ran through his crowd of relatives.
"Don't cause a fiasco," Mr. Witten had hissed through gritted teeth.
Montague could not think of a better word to describe the events that had followed.
In a blur of well-aimed accusations from both parties and some overturned tables, pandemonium had broken out before anyone even knew what was going on. In minutes, the somber grave-digging had turned into an awkward scuffle which half the relatives had joined.
Amid the chaos, Montague had broken free and run off the property screaming obscene phrases that made no sense. He'd run a few miles, past the manor, past the lake, and eventually, past his mother's childhood home, the Hildock Estate. This barely registered as he had rushed across the expansive lawn and into the woods behind the mansion.
He kept running until he had reached this rundown old shack that smelled of moldy cheese, and collapsed in the corner on a pile of wet hay. He had laid there, sobbing like a five year old child, snot running all over the place. After an hour or so, he had gotten up abruptly and begun his violent tantrum.
Hot tears still seeped from Montague's eyes every so often as he progressed through his steady demolition of the cottage's furnishings. There seemed to be no end to his source of adrenaline.
"Dirty," Montague grunted as he struggled to lift the cabinet. "Fucking… Sod…" He let out a anguished cry as he launched the cabinet at the wall. It ripped right through without slowing, as though the wall were made of mere paper.
Montague froze as the structure around him creaked threateningly. Straw and splinters began to fall onto his head as the shack trembled. Montague barely made out the door in time before the hut gave a tremendous, agonized groan and collapsed into itself.
He calmly watched the dust settle, feeling very drained. His mind felt very blank and dull. As if just to mock the situation Montague had brought upon himself in, the clouds above cackled with thunder.
It wasn't long before Montague regretted his fit of passionate wrath upon the tiny hut he had just demolished single-handedly. Beginning as a light drizzle, the rain quickly transformed into a bombardment of obese water droplets.
Montague managed to find semi-adequate refuge under a thick, berry bush, but the seating was cramped. He lay miserably on the damp ground, hunched in a very awkward position, with his elbows resting on the ground and his hindquarters protruding into the prickly leaves of the plant he was stationed beneath.
He miserably watched the rain splatter across the ground barely inches from his nose. The beads of water were roughly the size of large marbles, and Montague was forced to grow accustomed to their spray.
He thought back to his mother's letter. He realized that he wasn't angry at her for having never told him the truth. He wasn't sure why, but he liked it this way. He didn't know what he could have said to her or done to hurt her had she been alive when she revealed her story, but judging by his perpetually rash behavior, the scene would not have been pleasant.
Besides, he felt more confident doing this with her… gone. It felt as though now, he had a driving force, something to keep him going. Montague was in no way an underachiever nor a procrastinator, but whatever anger he had felt to her when he had first read that letter had since dissipated. And he had the feeling that had she been alive now, he would have returned to Witten Manor to face, well, whatever it was that he would have to face.
This wasn't the case now. He had no one left—literally no one. That is, except this man he had never met, one whom Mrs. Witten had claimed is Montague's true father. Come to think of it, Montague didn't even know his father's name. Had she even mentioned one?
Montague reached under his suit jacket—he was still wearing his funeral clothing—for the envelope and the book that he had hastily stuffed in his waistband. He had done this at first so that the servants, in event that they cleaned his bedroom while he was gone, would not come across the letter.
Montague reread the letter three times, but could still find no hint of his father's name. He unfolded the papers that came with the letter and found extensive notes and a few diagrams, but still no name.
He picked up The Alchemist's Journal and opened the cover. A slip of folded paper slid out from it. Instinctively, Montague's hand darted forth to catch it. He put the book aside next to him and unfolded the paper. Inside was a medallion, gleaming red in color, and a brief note that read From August to May, I wish you the best.
Montague stared at the peculiar object in his palm. It was expertly crafted, with the depiction of a fiery looking bird in the center, surrounded by an inscription that went around the entire circumference of the medallion. He had to squint to see it properly, but found that he couldn't read it anyway, as it was in another language. He noted the similarities of the characters to those of the Greek language, but their arrangement was not logical enough for him to make out. He turned it over to find the same bird, but smaller, with a tiny caption below it was written, he was surprised to find, in Greek. It read Φοίνικας, or phoenix.
Well that explained the bird, Montague thought. He stared at the medallion for a moment longer before realizing what it reminded him of, causing him to shiver. It shined like freshly spilled human blood.
Montague placed it in his shirt pocket quickly, wishing to rid himself of the deeply unsettled feeling it left behind. He turned back to the note. From August to May, I wish you the best.
He assumed that this note was for his mother, but why his nameless father had chosen to only wish her the best from August to May and not the whole year was beyond him. He placed it in his pocket with the medallion.
Montague peered out through the gap between the floor and his protective shrubbery. It was pouring as heavily as ever. He returned to the papers.
On the first sheet, he could make out some complicated mathematics and very neatly drawn diagrams, each labeled by a number. Montague unfolded the second piece of paper and found something like a diary. Parts of it was written in a language similar to the one on the front of the medallion, but most was in English.
cow udder, third knot from bottom. use knife when carving. keep writing hand on graph during operation
Montague stared at the first sentence incredulously. What was this rubbish? Since when did cow udders have knots?
The rest of the page followed in a similar, disjointed fashion. Montague sighed irritably and put the paper aside. He unfolded another page.
Go west from the entrance until you find a patch of dandelions (yellow, furry looking flowers). Head south and turn west at a row of hedges. Take the left path of the fork you encounter. After eighteen medium steps, stop at a large oak tree. It has a rock in the shape of a cow udder at its base. The channel can be activated on the third knot from the bottom.
The cow udder again! Montague thought, but this time, with excitement. And the third knot had not been referring to the udder, but to a tree. That certainly made more sense. Slowly, Montague worked his way through the instructions—which were remarkably straightforward—and moved on to the diagrams, which were equally as simple.
A half an hour later, however, Montague's musings were interrupted by the thundering of footsteps and human voices.
"Yeeeup, this's the one, Bill." Montague froze as large leather boot stepped right in front of his refuge.
"Aw shiot, lookit that, Rick," said another voice. "Ain't no one in there, that's fer sure." They were standing in front of the remnants of the cottage Montague had annihilated.
"Ay," said Rick. He paused for a second. "Them dogs's a-comin' too, ya hear?"
"Ay," replied Bill. Montague could hear yelping in the far off distance. "But they ain't no use, nawt in this weather, no way." Montague almost cried out in alarm when he heard Bill next statement. "Hell, they ain't gunn' be able to fin'a dead skunk, let alone Witten's boy, eh."
Rick grunted in agreement. "Ay, person'ly, I'd let the runt go off. Wou'n't wan' a kid like that bugg'rin' up my livin'." Montague watched the boot stomp away with dread.
Mr. Witten was searching for him? The thought hit him like a brick of lead, and was followed immediately by another: he had to get out of here.
Montague waited a few minutes until he was certain that Rick and Bill had left with their dogs. Montague stepped out from under his shelter, grateful for the rain despite its frigidness. He followed the instructions on the paper with little delay and a constant ear open for footsteps or barking.
Soon, he found himself at the aforementioned cow udder of a rock, in front of a looming oak tree. Third knot, he thought, looking up at the tree uncertainly, the rain beating ruthlessly at his face.
It took Montague a few rotations around the tree, but eventually, he found what he was sure was the third knot from the bottom. Unfortunately, he realized, it was not that close to the ground. In fact, he would have to climb up three yards in order to reach it.
Montague stuffed the directions in his pocket. He was drenched from head to foot and was practically vibrating from the cold. He placed a tentative foot on a lump on the tree about a foot above the ground. It appeared to be sturdy enough to hold him. He reached out and grabbed a branch above his head with both hands and pulled himself up. Quickly, Montague threw his left arm out to grab a higher branch.
The process was slow and slippery, but finally, Montague managed to bring himself up to the third knot of the tree. He peered at it with surprise and noticed that it was etched rather deeply with a diagram identical to the one on his paper. He wasn't sure why should have been surprised. Hadn't his father taken this path seventeen years ago? It wasn't impossible that the carving would remain.
Montague consulted the paper for further commands.
hold the pendant
Montague had assumed this was referring to the red medallion. He took it out and continued reading.
in the middle, a drop of blood should do
This was the part that Montague was slightly wary about. He took a deep breath and brought his finger to his teeth. He hesitated, his heart beating wildly. Get this over with, you pansy, he scolded himself, and bit down quickly on a flap of skin.
Montague almost tumbled out of the tree from the pain this act had caused. Feeling nauseous and dizzy, he pressed his bleeding forefinger onto the medallion. He gasped as he felt it heat up. It gleamed in the imaginary sunlight, emitting an ominous sort of energy.
Wincing, Montague looked at the sheet of instructions one last time.
press into the center of the graph
Montague took a deep breath, and, feeling rather stupid, pressed the medallion into the center of the diagram.
The effect was immediate. Montague felt himself lurch sideways and the scene around him began to swirl rapidly. Montague reached out, wishing to grab onto something, but found that he couldn't move a muscle in his body, not even to close his eyes.
The spinning continued until he could no longer make out distinct shapes. Everything became a blur that was slowly fading into a black and white whirlwind. Without warning, Montague felt his body being launched upwards, through the whirlwind. Vague shapes flew past him as he hurtled through this cyclone of space and time.
Quite abruptly, almost as quickly as it had all begun, it ended. Montague felt his face collide painfully with a tiled floor. "Uhgod…" he mumbled. He felt as though his whole body had shattered upon impact.
"Who the hell are you?" a perplexed voice demanded from somewhere above him.
Montague lifted one bleary eye in the direction of the sound. He gasped.
He was no longer surrounded by a thick expanse of trees. There was a very startled looking young girl standing above him, holding a spatula as one would a sword. Behind her, he could make out what appeared to be a very large kitchen.
It had worked.
a.n. Hoo boy, this chapter was brutal to write.