The Godson Appears
“So take me away/I don’t mind/But you’d better promise me/I’ll be back in time!/Gotta get back in time!/Gotta get back in time!/Get back, get back/Get back, Marty. . . .”
It was a warm autumn day, the kind where you can believe that summer’s not quite gone, even as the leaves on the trees begin to change. Marty happily hummed to himself as he walked down the forest path. He’d been away from home for about a week and a half now, exploring the countryside on his quest. He hadn’t found much apart from a few farming families. He’d asked each in turn if they could teach him to shudder. The first had told him not to talk nonsense, the others had just given him that blank stare that he was far too used to. It was a little discouraging, but Marty was determined to not let it get him down. He hadn’t been away for even a fortnight yet, and the kingdom was a big place. He’d find someone who could explain it sooner or later. Besides, every farmer except the first had at least given him a roof over his head for the night. Much more comfortable than camping out after dark.
Don’t think I’ll be able to get around camping tonight, though, Marty thought, glancing around at the tall trees surrounding him. That last guy told me that Gale’s Town was a good day’s ride away, and I’m on foot, so. . . . He frowned. Note to self – when you reach Gale’s Town, buy a horse.
Suddenly, a branch on a nearby apple tree rustled. Marty paused and looked at it. There was no wind – hadn’t been all day. Which meant that something was up that tree. The last farmer had warned him about beasts lurking in the woods. Perhaps this was some sort of wildcat? Only one way to find out, he thought, and moved closer.
As he moved under the tree, he saw that it wasn’t a wildcat at all – or even an animal. Lying on the branch with his legs wrapped around it was a young man, not much older than Marty himself. He was reaching for a couple of apples at the end of the branch, face screwed up in concentration. “Hey!” Marty called, waving.
The young man started, then scrambled to regain his balance. He ended up hanging upside-down from the branch, staring at Marty with wide eyes. Marty winced a little – right, sometimes you could give someone the shudders if you yelled at them at the wrong time. He should have remembered. “Sorry,” he said, giving the young man an apologetic smile. “Just wondered what you were doing up there.”
“Oh, i-it’s all right,” the young man replied, smiling in a rather nervous way. “I w-was just trying to g-get at those apples. I’m r-rather hungry, you see.”
Marty nodded. “Need a hand?”
“No, I t-think I’ve g-got it.” The young man managed to pull himself back on top of the branch, then reached out for the apples again. He collected three, put them into the crook of his arm, and then swung himself back over, letting go with his legs. Unfortunately for him, his hand slipped, and he fell hard onto the ground, the apples scattering. “Oh! Oh dear. . . .”
“You all right?” Marty leaned over him, picking up one of the apples.
The young man sat up, rubbing the back of his head. “Yes, I s-suppose.” He shook his head, then got back to his feet and gathered up the other apples. “I’m sorry f-for being so s-surprised before,” he added, taking the one back from Marty. “I wasn’t expecting a-anyone else out h-here. I haven’t s-seen anyone for days.”
“It’s okay,” Marty said, studying the young man curiously. Whoever this fellow was, he was certainly not a native of the forest. He was dead pale, for one thing – in fact, he was practically colorless. White skin, black hair, brown eyes that were so dark as to be practically black themselves – the boy looked like he’d just walked out of some illustration from a book. He was also absurdly skinny – Marty half-thought he’d break if a stiff wind hit him. That coupled with his height – the young man had about a foot on Marty – made him look rather like someone had taken a normal person and just stretched him out like taffy. What had really caught Marty’s attention, though, was the young man’s clothes.
The man was wearing a suit.
It was a suit that had seen better days, granted. The black jacket was ripped in a number of places – one shoulder was threatening to come off entirely – as were the black and grey striped pants. But it was still a suit, complete with tie and waistcoat. Back in Hill Valley, only the rich people – the businessmen and the nobility – had ever worn suits regularly. Most of the men wore what he was wearing – simple, sturdy shirts and pants for working in the field. Whoever this boy was, he’d obviously come from money. “So what’s he doing in the forest?” Marty mumbled to himself.
Marty blinked – he hadn’t meant to say that aloud. “What are you doing here?” he asked, figuring he might as well go ahead. “You don’t look like the kind of guy who goes around gathering apples in the woods.”
“Oh – er – W-well--” The young man juggled his apples for a moment. “I’ve recently l-left home.”
“Left home? You on a quest like me?” Marty asked, intrigued.
“Quest? N-no, I just – there was some – unpleasantness back in m-my hometown,” the young man said, grimacing a little.
Marty matched his expression. “Oh.” Wonder if he shoved a sexton down a flight of stairs too.
The young man nodded, then tilted his head at Marty. “H-how about you? You say you’re on a q-quest?”
Marty nodded. “Yeah. I’m actually sort of getting away from some unpleasantness back home myself,” he admitted. “I’m trying to figure out how to shudder.”
“. . .What?”
“How to shudder,” Marty repeated dutifully. “You know, how to fear.”
The boy looked puzzled. “I would think that would be easy.”
“Yeah, you’d think so, but apparently I have a problem with it,” Marty sighed. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt fear in my life.”
The boy chuckled. “I wouldn’t mind trading afflictions with you,” he said, holding his apples close to his chest. “I’m far too nervous for my own good. As a child, I used to get frightened by the least little thing. I’m better now, but not by much.” He shook his head slightly. “Living out here has n-not helped my nerves.”
Marty looked up at him, feeling a surge of hope. “You get the shudders really easily? Hey, then maybe you can teach me!”
“I – t-teach you?” The young man blinked a few times, trying to process that. “I’m not entirely sure how.”
“Well, we’ll figure something out,” Marty said. “Maybe just being around you will show me what it’s supposed to be like. And I really could use somebody to talk to while I’m wandering around.” He hefted the sack slung over his shoulder. “I’ve got food.”
The young man looked thoughtfully at the sack, then at Marty. “You’re not a brigand, trying to trick me and later rob me?” he asked, one hand going to fidget with his tie.
“Swear I’m not,” Marty said, holding up his free hand. “Just a guy looking to find out what fear is.”
“Well, good, because I don’t have any money on me.” He looked around. “And it does get lonely out here. . . .” He turned to Marty with a smile. “All right, I don’t see why not.”
“Good,” Marty said. He held out his hand to shake. “I’m Marty – Marty McFly.”
“Victor,” the young man said, shaking it. “Victor Van Dort. Pleasure to meet you.”
“Same here. You know, I haven’t had my supper yet. Trade you a couple of slices of bread for an apple?”
“Sounds lovely.” They found a couple of old stumps to sit on and have lunch. Marty found his bundle of food in the sack, and passed Victor a couple of slices of bread. Victor obligingly handed over an apple, and the pair began to eat. “So, how long have you been in the woods?” Marty asked after ripping a bite out of the apple.
“I only arrived here today,” Victor admitted, chewing on a hunk of bread. “But I’ve been away from home for about a month. I’ve been hitching rides with farmers going to market. I was supposed to have gone to Gale’s Town on this last trip, but the mule got very ill, and I was additional weight.” He sighed.
“Too bad,” Marty said. “I only got here today too, but I’ve been out of town for a week and a half. Been staying with some local farmers at night.” He grinned. “I’m going to Gale’s Town, actually. Good thing we met up, huh?”
“Very good,” Victor agreed. “Where is it?”
“The guy I talked to said it was a day’s ride from his house to the town, so I’d say we’d get there sometime tomorrow,” Marty shrugged. “I’m planning on buying a horse once I get there.”
“Good plan.” Victor finished off his first piece of bread and started in on his apple. “Where do you come from?”
“Hill Valley. It’s a little mining town over that way,” Marty said, pointing. “My dad worked in the local mill, though. What about you?”
“Burtonsville,” Victor said. “It’s far off in the other direction. My family made its living off fish.”
Marty frowned and looked at Victor’s suit again. “Didn’t know fishmongers did that well,” he said.
Victor blushed a little. “Well, Father rather revolutionized the business,” he confessed. “He came up with the idea to put the fish in cans. It’s made us very rich – made them very rich,” he corrected himself.
Marty nodded. “Sounds like you had a pretty good life.”
“It was – all right,” Victor said, after a moment’s hesitation. “I never needed to worry about money or food, at any rate.” He looked down at his half-eaten apple. “I’m rather useless at taking care of myself.”
“Hey, you’ve survived a month without starving to death,” Marty said with an encouraging grin. “And now you’ve got me – I’ll make sure you don’t end up dead in a ditch or anything.”
Victor looked half amused, half mildly horrified. “That’s very kind of you. I simply appreciate you sharing your lunch with me.”
“Don’t think anything of it,” Marty said, waving a hand carelessly. “I’m just happy to have somebody else around. Gets kind of lonely out on the road.”
Victor nodded in agreement. “Oh yes.” He looked over Marty’s possessions with interest. “Are you a musician, then?”
“A – oh, the guitar,” Marty said, glancing over at it. “Not professional or anything, I’m not a bard. But yeah, I like playing. Why, you a music buff yourself?”
Victor grinned. “I’m a pianist. I’ve been playing since I was small.” His smile faltered. “I really miss it now. A month without being able to practice – it’s been driving me mad.”
“Yeah, I’d probably be going kind of crazy too if I couldn’t play my guitar,” Marty said, frowning. “Maybe we can find a piano in Gale’s Town.”
“We could hardly take one with us.”
“Yeah, but maybe somebody would let you play theirs. Hey, if we find one of those ones they keep in bars, maybe we could play for tips!”
Victor looked interested, but a bit skeptical. “I’m not particularly good p-playing in front of crowds.”
“They – they just make me n-nervous, that’s all.”
“Huh.” Marty leaned on his hand, studying Victor for a moment. “What’s it like?” he asked.
“What’s what like?”
“Being all nervous in front of a crowd. I’ve never felt it before.”
Victor frowned. “It’s – it’s really a h-horrible sensation. You feel a-all hot and c-cold at once, and you c-can’t speak properly to s-save your life. . . . You should b-be grateful you’ve never f-felt it.”
“I would, except everyone at home thinks I’m either insane or an idiot because of it,” Marty grumbled. “I’ve heard everyone say it’s a bad thing, but I really got to figure it out if I’m ever going to get anyone to take me seriously.”
Victor winced slightly. “Oh. I’m sorry.” He reached over and awkwardly patted Marty on the shoulder.
Marty gave him a grin. “It’s okay. I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. Though hopefully not for much longer.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Victor said with a laugh.
They finished their rather meager supper, then Victor helped Marty pack his sack back up and they set off down the path again. They chatted a little about themselves as they walked – Marty learned Victor liked climbing trees and studying insects – in particular, butterflies. He was also nineteen years old, two years older than Marty. Marty had jokingly asked him when his birthday was, and Victor had told him June 9th. “Holy shit, really?”
“That’s my birthday!” Marty laughed. “That’s weird!”
“It is!” Victor agreed with a giggle. “Perhaps we were fated to meet someday.”
Finally, after about two and a half hours of walking, Marty glanced up at the sky. “It’s starting to get pretty dark,” he noted. “Maybe we should stop and make a camp.”
Victor looked up too. “Perhaps,” he said. “Those clouds over there seem to be threatening rain. But I’d heard it was quite dangerous to be in this forest at night.”
“So did I, but we’re not getting out of here before nightfall. Here, let’s start gathering branches for a fire--”
Victor suddenly jumped and spun around, eyes widening. Marty blinked at him. “What?”
“Didn’t you hear that?” Victor whispered, glancing left and right.
“Uh, no. That’s why I asked you what.”
Marty listened. After a moment, he heard the sound of leaves crunching nearby, and what sounded sort of like a dog panting. Actually, more like a bunch of dogs panting. And growling a little. He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, now I hear it. You thinking wolves?”
“Yes, Marty. That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” Victor said, starting to tremble.
A few minutes later, the first of the wolves appeared before them. It was a big one, with dark gray fur and eyes that glinted yellow in the dimming light. It examined the boys, grizzled lips pulled back just slightly to reveal a mouthful of yellowish but very sharp teeth.
Victor grabbed Marty’s arm. “Come, let’s go,” he hissed, eyes fixed on the creature. “Perhaps we can outrun it.”
Victor stared at him. “Why? It’s a wolf! It might try to eat us!”
More wolves were starting to appear, slinking out of the darkness of the forest and standing beside their apparent leader. Marty noted with interest that they were all on the skinny side – he could see the ribs on the one on the far left. “Yeah, they do look pretty hungry,” he admitted, casually putting a hand on his sword. “Too bad I ate the salted meat my mom gave me.”
“You – how can you be so calm at a time like this? Come, let’s run!”
“Don’t they tell you not to run when faced with creatures like these? I think it upsets them. Granted, didn’t stop anybody from running from that rabid bear. . . .”
Victor was staring at him again, mouth opening and shutting like a fish. “You – what – aren’t you--” Something seemed to click. “You’re not afraid of them.”
“Uh, no. I told you before, I’ve never felt fear!”
“I didn’t realize – I – how have you lived this long without being afraid of anything?!”
“I don’t know how to answer that! I just have! Maybe I’m lucky!”
“You must be!” Victor peered back at the wolves, who were staring at the boys like they were fresh, meaty bones. “Y-you say it’s b-bad to run from them?”
“Yeah. I mean, they’ll just chase us, right?”
“But – but w-what are we s-supposed to do t-then?!”
“I don’t know. I mean, we don’t know for sure that they’re going to attack--”
One of the smaller wolves suddenly pounced up on them, jaws snapping. Marty quickly pulled his sword and hit the flat of it against the white star on the wolf’s snout. It yelped and pulled back, growling. The rest of the pack joined in. “Oh, come on!” Marty said, annoyed. “I was trying to defend you guys!”
“I don’t t-think they m-much care, M-Marty,” Victor said, as the pack began spreading out, moving to surround them.
“Eh, whatever,” Marty sighed. “I’ve fought much worst beasts than them.” He grinned at Victor. “This sword’s apparently one of the best, according to our local smith. And I know how to use it.” He glanced over at his friend. “Don’t you have a weapon?”
Victor looked at him for a long moment. Then he sighed and reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out – a long-handled toasting fork with three prongs. Marty stared at it a moment. “You’re wandering around the woods with just a fork?” he finally asked, a bit disbelievingly.
“I can’t help it! It’s what I was h-holding when – I had a knife, too, b-but it was just a dinner knife and I l-lost it anyway!”
“Well, you can use it to poke at them if you need to,” Marty said. He noticed a wolf moving sneakily towards them and held it at bay with the point of his sword. “Like I said, I’m really good at killing worse stuff than these guys.”
“But there’s so many of them!”
“I’ve fought more.” He moved back a step as another wolf jumped at them, and swung his sword in a neat arc. The wolf landed without the upper part of its jaw, blood and gore spraying everywhere. It thrashed wildly, tongue hanging out as it attempted and failed to howl or whine. “See?”
Victor looked rather ill. “Uh, y-y-yes. . . .”
Marty frowned at him. “It’s just blood. It can’t hurt you.” He drove his sword into the stricken wolf’s throat, twisting it and putting the pathetic animal out of its misery.
Victor shook his head. “You’re a v-very strange p-person, Marty. That said, p-please continue.” He held his fork out at a wolf inching closer to sniff at him. The wolf stared at the utensil like it really wasn’t sure what to make to it. Victor swallowed, then slashed it across the wolf’s nose. The wolf howled in pain and jumped back, shaking its head as the three parallel slashes on its nose began to bleed.
Marty grinned at him. “See, nothing to it! We can hold off these guys!”
There was a sudden howl from nearby, and the sound of more paws moving closer. Victor let his arm drop. “Perhaps – but c-can we hold off e-every wolf in the f-forest?” he whispered.
Marty grumbled to himself, smacking another wolf over the head as it attempted to get closer. “Those dogs and cats didn’t let up for the longest time either. . . .” There was a sudden rumble of thunder overhead, and out of nowhere, it began to rain. “Oh, great! Just what we need!”
“Death either by wolves or lightning,” Victor said, gripping his fork a little more tightly. “I must s-say, that’s not how I e-expected to go.” He looked around, as if searching the darkness for some familiar figure.
“We’re not going to die,” Marty said, waving his sword in a long arc in front of the wolves. They growled at it. “I didn’t die in that castle, and I’m not going to die here.”
One wolf ran forward to try and nip at their heels. Victor yelped and jabbed his fork at it. The wolf yelped in turn and danced backward, leaving Marty to slip his sword between its ribs. “T-they only h-have to get l-lucky once, Marty,” Victor said, as the other wolves snarled and began to close in.
“Yeah, which just means we don’t let them,” Marty said calmly, watching the pack and wondering which creature to take out first.
“But there’s only two of us! In this rain, yet! How are we--”
It happened so quickly that the boys almost missed it – there was a whistling sound to their left, and then a flash of lightning illuminated the cool steel of a large knife, whirling through the air towards them. It hit the lead wolf right in the throat – the wolf howled in pain, then fell as blood gushed from the wound. Both boys turned their heads to see a figure standing nearby, cloaked in red and holding a large axe. The person’s face was concealed almost entirely by the hood and the dim light. “Guess it’s the three of us,” Marty said, smiling slightly.
The wolves seemed to know this new figure. A good number of them ran back into the night. A few, however, stayed put, growling and snarling. Two attempted to attack Victor and Marty while the other three ran at the newcomer. Marty slashed the snout of one wolf while Victor jabbed the forehead of the other, making whimpering noises in the back of his throat. The wolves backed off briefly, then tried again. This time, Marty hit the larger wolf’s throat, leaving a large, gaping wound. Victor dodged around him to avoid the smaller wolf, and it got a hunk of bark from a nearby tree in its jaws instead of his leg.
They glanced back toward the cloaked figure to see it handling the wolves with shocking ease. The wolves attempted to harry the person, but he easily dodged the snapping, powerful jaws and raised his axe high. One swing later, one of the wolves was missing its head. Another swing, and the second was missing a leg. The third wolf decided that whatever this prey was, it was very much not worth it, and ran for safety. After a moment, the smaller wolf hounding Victor went after it. Marty brought his sword down and killed the wolf still in front of him, while the newcomer did the same to the three-legged wolf.
There was a moment of silence as the rain poured down on the trio, soaking them and washing away the blood from the killing scene. “Thanks,” Marty said after ascertaining there were no more wolves to be found. “Your help was much appreciated.”
“Yes, t-thank you very much,” Victor nodded, one hand reaching up to his tie and twisting it in his fingers.
The figure nodded and moved closer, retrieving the knife from the throat of the now dead lead wolf. Now that the excitement was over, Marty saw that the newcomer was in fact a she – she was wearing a dress and boots under her cloak. “What are you doing out here near nightfall?” she asked, voice cool as she wiped the blood off her blades onto the red fabric of her cloak.
“We w-were on our w-way to the next town,” Victor offered in explanation, looking at her skirts in surprise.
“We’re on a journey together,” Marty added. “We’d heard the woods were dangerous at night, but we’re on foot, so. . . .”
“Hmmm.” The girl looked at them from the depths of her hood. “Not native to this part of the countryside, are you?”
Both boys shook their head. “I’m from Hill Valley,” Marty said, jerking his thumb in the town’s general direction. “Victor’s from Burtonsville.”
“We’re b-both away from h-home for the first time,” Victor added. “T-this is all n-new to us.”
“I see. Well, you can’t stay out here, especially not in this weather. Come with me, my house is nearby.” Without waiting for an answer, she set off, boots squishing in the mud.
Marty wiped his sword off on the grass, then sheathed it and picked up his sack. “Come on, Victor,” he said, following her.
“But aren’t you – of course you’re not,” Victor mumbled. He trailed behind them both, shaking his head. “At least we didn’t meet up with my godfather. . . .”