Like any good tactician preparing for war, I surveyed my surroundings and took stock of my enemies.
Above – An overcast sky churning deliberately with darkened grey. Nothing else of note.
Below- A rain slicked, intimidatingly steep hill of May morning grass. At the bottom, a collection of rowdy revelers, likely hungover from the prior day’s festivities. They were a bleary eyed lot, not quite bushy tailed but ready for more action. They wouldn’t have to wait for long. Ahead of them, a thin cord stretched the perimeter of the summit’s termination to either side of the sparse grove flanking the hill.
To the Left – A series of fellow runners decked in everything from hazard pads and helmets to garish costumes to bum-fuck nothing (a fanny pack doesn’t quite constitute for a clothing article, now does it?). One particular runner stood out: Christopher Gyde, multiple time champion, local hero and athlete extraordinaire. There he was, clad in a simple white shirt and trousers; an equally pristine white sweatband securing his too-long blond locks. The man was stretching, exhaling, bending in ungodly positions; all in preparation for another year of exultation in the small village of Cairnsborough.
To the Right – Another group of would-be athletes and daredevils, all of us poised on the precipice of Barker’s Hill. Amidst the collection of light hearted revelry and stone-serious competitors stood HER. I ran my hand through my hair, remembered I had shaved it all off (aerodynamics, you know?) and met her violet eyes. She tied her hair back into a ponytail, stretched her muscular shoulders and smiled. I didn’t reciprocate because I remembered how we first met. It wasn’t a joyous occasion.
Everything that was about to go down… there was so much at stake. The fate of the British Isles. The fate of humanity. My very soul. And a wheel of cheese.
Mustn’t forget that.
Hmmm…there’s a few minutes left before the race begins. Ample time to stretch, recall and reflect on how I royally fucked things up.
I haven’t even told you my name yet. My name is Obsidian Crow and I grew up here in Cairnsborough. Oh, now don’t give me that bloody look, that really is my name. At least it is now. Could have been worse though, yeah? Could have spelled Crow with a bloody “K”. Call me Sid if it please you, don’t care one way or another.
Life was aggressively average on this little fishing village overlooking the North Sea and I hated being average. My Dad earned his living the way most men around these parts did: from the sea herself. My Mum and I would go to the pier and watch him set off for the day. After his departure, we would go down to the beach and Mum would busy herself looking for seaglass. She was a crafty one, always building trinkets and jewelry out of this and that, floatsam and jetsam. Beautiful little baubles that would fetch a decent sum at the town square market. While she collected her wares, I would watch Dad’s trawler vanish into the mist swept horizon, past Cairnrook Isle and out of view. I often fantasized about exploring that wee patch of land to see what treasures a young lad might uncover. I never did get the chance but (un)luckily, the Isle would send its wonders straight to me. Mum, she knew of my wants and wishes. That’s why she fashioned a nice, smooth gem of a teal glass stone inlaid in a loop of rope for me. She left the pendant on my pillow one night and told me the spirits of the land had decided to bestow their gift upon me. So yeah, I love my Mum in case you couldn’t tell.
I was a lonely boy. All the other children in the village would spend their free hours rolling down Barker’s Hill like a bunch of brainless hooligans. Me, I preferred the more studious pursuits. Our library wasn’t very big but it suited its purpose for a curious lad such as myself. As I got older, the other young ones would view me as something of an outcast. “There goes [name not important]”, they’d crow. “Always reading and spending time with his mum. What a wanker.” No matter. The books were my friends. Poe, Twain, Melville and Verne. These masters of the craft were the ones that provided me with all the adventures I could ever want! And yet… eventually the thrill wore off as it’s wont to do.
Mr. Deever, the kindly old man who worked at the library pointed me to something that might suit my budding interests in the unusual and decidedly un-average. The books he showed me were…interesting. No, not the dusty old porn collection he kept hidden in his bottom drawer. I already read that. No, he showed me tales of ancient beings and things beyond this world. Things that my teenage mind could scarcely comprehend. Things that my Dad and Mum would have burned had they found the texts. yet I continued to read them for want of something different. And then, my days became a lot more interesting.
Even into my teen years, our traditions persisted. It was a particularly rough day at sea and she tried to make Dad promise he wouldn’t go out that day. But he was a stubborn old goat, a real salt of the earth fellow. Interest in Mum’s wares had begun to wane and I had yet to learn any real pliable trade (much to Dad’s consternation) so there wasn’t many other money making opportunities in our household. He set out on the waves, she picked amongst the sand and I joined her. And then I found it: that nondescript piece of sodden driftwood, floating amidst the kelp and crushed shells. I kicked it over and saw the writing. I picked it up, inspected it and knew instantly that I would be taking this home.
Now, there obviously wasn’t a lot to do in our town as far as recreation. If we really wanted to do anything that didn’t involve raiding Deever’s porn stash or combing the beach, we had two choices: head on up to Edinburgh to drink or watch the idiots roll down the great hill. I’m still not sure how the Cheese Run started and I don’t think anyone else does either. Deever, of course would tell you that it had something to do with pagan tradition but I think someone was a right idiot, dropped a wheel of cheese down the hill and then dove after it. Now, we do it every year to increasingly large crowds and media coverage. Dozens of individuals diving down the hillside in pursuit of an errant cheese wheel. Winner gets the cheese, the glory, the fame! That and probably a concussion. Maybe a few broken bones. Real badges of traditional honor! Mum is fine with it, she thinks the increased tourism will bring in fresh faces, ripe to be mesmerized by her handcrafted wares. Dad thinks they’re all fucking dumb. Me, I’m somewhere uncomfortably in the middle. Seemed like a good waste of cheese to me.
It was but a few weeks prior to our next race when I found the plank of wood. After we returned home, I secreted away to the small grove on the outskirts of the village. Several youths were pitching themselves down the hill at that time, daring one another to roll faster and faster. One of them had brought their own cheese wheel for which to practice. He seemed to take it far more serious than the others. Christopher Gyde had always been a nice fellow, apple of the eye of most of the girls in town. He gave me a friendly wave as I passed by and then hurled his cheese down the hill. He made a swift, precise dash after it even as dumb-as-a-box-of-sheep-shit Clive Yates tumbled after him, carving furrows of earth behind him. I heard him yelp in pain and smirked with good natured malice. I paid them no heed beyond that. I made my way beyond the hill and further into the woods where none could see.
It was here, amidst a cluster of wych elms that I laid the plank down on the foliage strewn ground. I inspected the writing that I had seen burnt into the underside. Shapes more like. A spiral, long and erratic. Writing scarred in the wood along the exterior of the shape. One would assume this to be the rambling of a diseased mind, but I recognized the shapes. I had seen it all before in that small, dusty nook in the village library. I knew where this shard of wood had come from and knew exactly what it asked of me. So what else is a bored teenager to do? Raid their parent’s liquor cabinet, hurl themselves headlong down a hill, joy ride to Edinburgh or conjure forth something from a dimensional hellscape. An obvious answer, I should think.
I picked up the plank and walked further into the grove until I located exactly what I was looking for. Our village’s namesake, the cairns were located just beyond in a small clearing. Piles of rocks, precariously positioned with pristine precision (how alliterate. Let’s do one more…. Piss off!). These rock piles were (un)natural oddities in and of themselves and nobody, not even horny ol’ Mr. Deever could tell us why they were here. This particular quintet seemed like the perfect locale for me to invoke whatever the plank instructed. And so I walked there, in the woods, alone, in between piles of stone. I walked in a spiral, as was instructed upon whomever should find the shard, sent adrift from that hazy island off our own coast. I said the words inscribed along the shard, speaking in a tongue that I didn’t recognize. I stopped at the central pinpoint of my own imagined circular shape and watched. Watched and waited and finally surrounded with a sigh of inevitable defeat.
What a crock of shit.
The snap of a twig caught my attention. A girl I had never seen before stepped out of the grove and into the clearing. She brushed her dark hair away from luminous purple eyes and pale skin. She looked around with all the curiosity of a newborn babe and I was damned confused. Confused and a little turned on, yes. Don’t judge me. She was hot. And I had a thing for the whole “mysterious girl wanders out of the woods into my makeshift spell circle” scenario. She was dressed in a simple, brown silk robe tied off with a cord made out of a length of tree and sported an athletic, well toned figure. I still remember how the conversation went.
“Where is here?” she asked in a thick brogue.
“Uh, here is my place,” I spoke. Intrigued as I was, I wasn’t yet inviting to this intrusion.
She nodded and continued to glance around. Finally, her eyes caught mine. “Ah, it’s you,” she said
“Aye, it’s me,” I answered back.
An awkward silence. She patted her own chest. “Carmen.”
I decided my name was embarrassing so I made one up on the spot. The bastards in primary school always teased me about my hooked nose, so I figured that would suffice. I patted my own chest. “Crow.”
She smirked. “Not really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why am I here?” she asked, ignoring my question. Her eyes burned into mine and I turn away, blushing in spite of myself. “I cannae save him if that’s what you intend.”
I noted her dialect and noticed as she cast her eyes to the plank. I noticed when she smiled at the wooden shard and then turned to face me again. “Who?” I asked.
“My Dad’s fine. He’s out on the sea right now.”
She shook her head. Her violet eyes reflected what almost looked like pity. “He is, and he always will be.”
“What do you mean? Who are you…exactly?”
“You summoned me, lad. I came.”
“Oh shit,” I exclaimed.
“Oh shit indeed”, she responded.
I paused and clutched the pendant around my neck. Part of me hadn’t expected the spell to actually work. “So what happens now?”
Carmen took a step closer. “Now you bend your knee and beg me to save your Da. But I won’t. I come here, today child, fleet of foot and itching for a challenge.”
“The fuck you going on about?” I was beginning to grow hostile. This whole excursion had lost its novelty.
“It’s that time of year, dinnae you know? We were all down there, wonderin’ and wanderin’, placin’ bets on who would be called forth. We set plenty o’ portals into the world, wonderin’ who would be called first. I’m glad to see I claimed the honor.” She stepped another foot closer. I noticed her feet were bare and bleeding.
“Up there, down there, all around. Doesn’t matter,” she replied cryptically. She cricked her alabaster neck and glanced around. “So, shall we begin? I’m gettin’ a wee impatient.”
“Do ye ask anythin’ other than stupid questions?” she asked.
Right, that does it. “Sod off,” I spat. I didn’t care how attractive she was, she was weird as hell and was insulting my family. I was done. I stalked forward from the grove and an entire tree lit aflame. I stood transfixed, stepping backwards from the heat but not taking my eyes off the burning elm.
“I have your attention now, aye?” she said. She sidled up behind me. “Your Da, he belongs to the waters and the kelpies now. Your Mum, she’s a fine woman, aye. We hope to keep her that way. When we win, maybe we’ll keep her around to build more of those lovely little toys she’s so fond
“Who the fuck are you?” I asked, still gazing at the burn.
“It’s more of what I represent,” she spoke softly into my ear. “There’s a race to be run. There are stakes to be had. Your realm against mine. Winner takes all, boyo.”
“I didn’t agree to this.”
“No, ye didn’t have to. I came because ye called. That’s all there is to it. Tell me lad, why did ye do it?’
“Boredom,” I answered swiftly and simply.
She chuckled. “So this realm is going to be ours, all because a wee lad got a case of the blues. I love it!’
I waved her off, scowled and walked past the blazing tree. It didn’t faze me. Little did. She gathered up her low hanging robe and followed after me.
“Oh, now that’s not nice! A girl could get offended. Tell me lad, where’s a nice place to get a meal? I need me strength before our run.”
“I’m not racing you,” I snarled back. Behind us, the embers of the smoldering elm had begun to waft on the wind but if anyone noticed or cared, we didn’t show it. I suspected the good citizens of Cairnsborough would notice soon enough. “Now leave me alone,” I finished.
We emerged from the thicket at the foot of Barker’s Hill, the odd girl holding up her trailing robe to keep pace. I glanced up at the grey sky, catching the faint scent of an impending storm on the salt laden air. Christopher just so happened to hurtle down at that moment, leaping with grace and snatching the whirling wheel of cheese. He wiped sweat from his brow, caught his breath and smiled his flawless smile. “Hello there. All right, [name not important]?”
I smirked and nodded in acknowledgment. He breathlessly tossed the cheese in the air and caught it with a flourish. Carmen’s unusual eyes lit up at the display of showmanship.
“What… exactly is this?” She asked. She turned to look up the hill where Clive, Gabrielle (we don’t talk about her anymore, not since last summer) and a host of others were practicing their downward descent, often with predictably painful results, but nothing as bad as the bloodshed upon the explosion of competitive drive come race day itself.
“This your new girlfriend?” Christopher said with a wink. “Aye, my dear, you must be from out of town if you don’t know about the Cheese Rolling Championship.”
“Oh my, tell me more,” she said with a smile. I noticed her teeth had a purple tint as well and, truth be told, I was not in the least bit surprised. Seeing as she was my first conjuration, I knew there were going to be surprises but I wasn’t horribly fazed.
“May I have this dance?” he said cheekily, offering the girl (?) a gallant arm. He glanced at me expectantly but I answered with an indifferent shrug.
Carmen took his arm and allowed herself to be lead towards the hill. “Looks like I found someone who appreciates me, Crow,” she said. “But rest assured, boyo, I’ll be seeing ye later, yeah?”
The two began the ascent back up the hill even as Clive Yates took a particularly nasty tumble and smacked his head on the way down. What a tosser.
I returned home after a rainy and wet bit of a walk and discovered that the witch (as I came to know her as) was horribly accurate in her taunts. My Dad hadn’t returned from his day on the seas. We waited all night. Then another. Another. After all this time, I never heard from Carmen. The police were of no use. They surmised he had been swallowed by the sea like so many others. Mum became forlorn, gazing out onto the waters like the beleaguered widow she was slowly accepting she had become. I began to think it was about time I pick up a trade. Maybe not on the sea, she would never allow that. But I could…I don’t know… I could learn to gut and clean at the fishmonger’s shop. Keep it in the family business, so to speak.
But that would take time. Apprenticeships are not overnight money makers and we couldn’t simply live off of the uncertainty of her little jewelry stand. Add to our woes the fact that the seaglass we had collected was beginning to change. Maybe it was a result of less concentrated sea and salted air, but the lightly opalescent greens, teals and blues were beginning to…blacken. We had never seen this before. The one on my pendent was the first to go. A deep, dark obsidian. It had a ring to it and that was when I decided to adopt my goth approved chosen name.
One week to go to the race and, by pure happenstance and for the first time in the history of the game, it was announced that a cash prize would accompany the winner. If nothing, it would subside our dwindling income for a while, at least until one or both of us could pick up work. We were both getting tired of these irony laced dinners of plain cheese sandwiches. So it was decided that I would race this year. Solely for the money, understand, I could believe that a witch could be conjured from the depths of Hell but not that she intended to wager the world on a bloody footrace.
The competition surrounding the race intensified as was expected. More and more would-be winners emerged from the veritable woodwork, some coming as far as London. I knew there was no time to train or practice, but I figured that would put me at even standing with the rest of the last minute lot.
I came home that night, two weeks after Dad’s disappearance on the eve of the Run, stinking of fish guts and slathered in scales and grime. I informed Mum that things were going well and that Mr. O’Connell at the fish mart would likely be awarding me a position at his market within a month’s time. We sat by the fire for a little bit, eating the last of out bread, some jam and lukewarm cups of honey tea. She told me stories about Dad, tales I had never heard told before. I went to bed that night with my cynical little heart full of respect for both of my parents and all they had done to try and support both myself and our community.
Mum retired to her now lonely bed and I went to mine after snuffing out the fire. I placed my obsidian pendant on the nightstand, mentally prepared for the next day, closed my eyes and dreamt. In my dream, the pendant began to glow. It glowed black, light from nowhere and everywhere at once and then coalesced into a brilliant purple. The shining light filled the dreamscape of wherever our minds go when they enter this state. I heard her voice, that familiar lilt. Two weeks. Dammit, I thought I had seen the last of her.
The witch spoke to me through the violet haze: “Boyo, there you are. I’ve been spendin’ some time flitting about this realm looking for ye. You’re not easy to find you know.”
I remained silent, for how can I talk in a damn dream? I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could find a way but…I’m not sure that I really cared to do so.
“The folks back home are getting’ a touch impatient so I think we need to uh, speed things along, yeah?” She said through the haze. “I’ve been waitin’ for that neat little downhill race of your to begin. I told them all that this would be worth it. I’ve ben practicin’ with that nice young man on the hillside. I think, maybe there will be death. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? A few broken bones, a shattered skull on a rock. A nice, sharp, CRACK. What say you, lad?”
No, I won’t give her the satisfaction. I had made a mistake reading from that arcane piece of wood and wish I could will it out of existence. Maybe she could read my apprehension.
“Ya want me to go away, do ya? That’s a right shame, I thought we were getting on quite well. But I’ll tell ye wot, you agree to this run and it will all be settled. Oh aye, there will be others. Many more now, such is the greed of your kind. But you, lad, are the only one I care about.
It’s real simple. We run. First to the bottom of the hill wins. You win, you get the glory, the money, the…cheese…? Is that right? So odd. I win, I unleash Hell. Literally, I think that quite obvious, yeah? We come up to rule and reclaim our birthrights. We’ve done this every three years, y’know. One of my own against one of yours. The last to get any sort of documentation was a footrace in London; maybe you read about in the papers? It was about ten years ago, I think. Damn, that was a bloody nice run but alas it was not our time.”
OK, so I decided to speak: “Those are the stakes? I win and you go away?”
She answered: “Ah, so it does have a tongue! Lovely. And technically, I have to WIN. Should any other arsehole cross the finish line first, it counts for your lot. Lucky you. But that won’t happen. And yes, dear, those are the stakes. I go away…at least for another few years until one of ours is called upon again for race day.”
“You guys must be shit at this if you’ve never won,” I said. “Why does this happen? Why have I never heard of it?”
“Well now, it’s a great and secret event, don’tcha think?” I could hear the smirk on her pristine face even if she remained obscured in the fog. “Here’s the quick version: after the great rebellion in Heaven, our forces and theirs came to a pact; the violence would cease and man would hold reign over yer God-given realm for 1900 years (such an odd number, I know). After that, the ownership of the world would be decided via a contest to be held every three years (being the Earthly hour upon which Christ succumbed to his wounds.) At some point, it was decided that a damn footrace would be the best course of action. I believe it because devils seems to have some fascination with running people down. Personally, I prefer chess but wot can ye do. However, this being the 33rd such race, I’m feeling lucky and so very honored that it’s me to be the first victor.”
“If I refuse to race?” I said hesitantly.
“Forfeit.” I felt her smirk again. Fuck, it was annoying. “I run unopposed. You fail in shame and poverty. And then, eventually, you burn. Simple, yeah? That’s the easy way out. I suggest ya take it.”
With that, the purple haze faded to a peaceful, silent black. Then, I awoke to grey skies and stone resolution. I got up, clutched the pendant, shaved my head, kissed my startled mum good morning and farewell and set out for the hillside.
I was ready for a few practice runs before the actual race.
I was… wasn’t I?
And so, here I stand. I stand ready to run for glory, money, salvation, for mankind…for cheese.
Everyone is prepped and ready. The crowd is larger and the ranks are swelling, more so since the announcement of the cash prize. Everyone wants to see if Gyde will win yet again or if someone else will claim the curdled crown. Carmen smirks at me again and I notice she’s wearing boots. Smart, although cleats might work better. It’s an improvement over bare feet at any rate. Gyde doesn’t seem to notice her and I wonder if, after their initial encounter, something happened to the point that I’m the only one who could see her.
More people have arrived and I spy Mr. Deever amongst the rabble. I wonder if he knew, teaching a child these arcane words, these symbols and runes. Is he a part of this…? If so, I’d have words with him…provided I win. I just…really wanted that cheese wheel. Yeah, that’s it.
Amidst the crowd, I catch a green glow. I shield my eyes and peer further in. Mum is there, scanning the sea of runners for me, one hook nosed peon amidst the starting line. I never noticed her jewels glowing like that. It (she) is beautiful.
I feel ready. The MC (The Master of Cheese [oh my God]) is some local bloke named Trey or Jay or something like that. He stands at the ready, a plump and sumptuous wheel of cheddar clutched in his hands. The rabble of the crowd dies down and is replaced with quiet anticipation and nervous titters. Carmen blows me a kiss from across the way and I scowl in return.
And then… it’s loose.
The cheese is rolling, by God, the cheese is rolling!
A mighty rally cry washes through the crowd and chaos reigns supreme as the competitors surge downhill in one feverish, hollering mass of humanity. I immediately stumble and eat a face full of dirt. I glance up and see that Carmen hasn’t left her starting post. Christopher Gyde is in fine form as usual as he sprints past, a grim mask of determination painted on his handsome features.
Clive Yates stumbles but regains his footing, much to his own surprise. “Good God!” he cries. “I think I’m going to -URP” He squeals out loud as a burst of purple light blossoms at his feet. The dullard seems to freeze in place. Around him the mass of excited, reckless revelers sprint down the hill, unaware (or not caring) of their opponent’s plight. Various feats of fleet footedness and oafish pratfalls resound around as Yates falls at an unnatural and weird angle. He thuds to the ground and I hear a wicked crunch as I pick myself up, coughing dirt.
Carmen giggles from the high ground and I begin my descent, concentrating on the slick and treacherous terrain ahead. Damn, this hill is a lot bigger than I thought. Just keep moving, one foot in front of the other. Pivot, foot placement, swift yet efficient. Sidestep that fallen fat man in the unitard. OK, we’re back on track.
Around me, more bursts of light begin to erupt. Gabrielle tumbles off into the sea of spectators at the hillside. Other runners begin to fall but there are no real cries of disbelief or shock. All par for the downhill course. Broken bones, raucous injuries and hilarity of the most tragic is far too much of a familiarity for this event. I can only imagine that the witch’s magic is somehow veiled to all but those who know of her true nature. Why else would these violent wipeouts and brain rattling falls elicit anything other than excitement and good natured jeers? Garish costumes fly wildly, practically dressed elite athletes tumble head over heels and that buck-naked bastard in the fanny pack blasts down the hill on his plump, bare ass. One could only conjure up images of two slabs of tenderized meat, pock mocked and bloody!
Meanwhile, I continue, pressing on. Step by awkwardly angled step. I stumble, tumble, regain my footing. Ploughs of fresh dirt skirt into the air behind me, propelled by my own determined momentum. Satisfied with the carnage she wrought, Carmen begins her run. Bolts of viole(n)t light prism beneath her boots against the rain coated grass in a display of blighted beauty. She takes her time smugly, prancing and humming gaily as she tiptoes over each fallen runner (some of them reaching weakly for aid, of whom she callously swats and kicks aside).
There were three of us still standing now, four if you count the cheese. The rotund hunk of tangy gold still hurtles ever onward, determined to outpace the daredevils following in its wake. Anthropomorphism-wise, Gyde leads the pack. As she brings up the rear, Carmen brings her hands up and begins to conjure, speaking soft words of oblivion under bated breath. I see the bursts of light forming and brace for the worst. And then – black collides with violet, a jolt of dark energy from my very self deflecting her sabotage into a bloom of bruised light. Green light bursts from the side of the hill amongst the spectators and I find myself lifted to my feet, running unimpeded. I glance to the source and see Mum beaming back at me, urging me on with a pleading yet prideful gaze.Behind me, Carmen snarls, smugness surely vanishing from her alabaster face. Christopher Gyde continues his well paced descent, white and gold light sparkling from around him and I gasp as I see eaves of lights burst forth, unmistakably conjuring an image of wings.
Someone once wrote “There are more things in Heaven and Earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I was never one for plays, I was always more embroiled in straight fiction. But at the time, I could thing of no better phrase to describe what I was witnessing. As our hometown hero fled down the hillside on wings of golden light nearly neck and chunk with the cheese, I knew there were things out there further than I could ever hope to fathom. Even further than the depths of wherever that alabaster witch had sprung forth from. This was Heaven and Hell competing with myself caught in the bum-fuck middle. This was all my fault, yeah. I take full responsibility. And if I wasn’t to win the race, at least someone aside from her would. The prize money though, damn.
And then: tragedy. He and I were protected from her meddling. I knew I wasn’t going to win, Gyde was simply too fast. Just…too damn fast. It wasn’t an errant bolt of dark magic that struck him down. It was simply a single brown stone, jutting from the Earth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the devil himself planted it there for this very course, for this very day, for this very purpose. He thuds to the ground, tumbling end over end. Finally he comes to a rest just before the finish line. I hear a wild cheer but pay it no heed.
At the bottom of the hill, a phalanx of able bodied men stand ready to catch the winner or anyone who makes it down. Undoubtedly, their forward momentum would propel them far past the official end point and would jettison them into the crowd were it not for the line of catchers to arrest their propulsion. On this day though, fair hero Gyde would need no catchers. He was deadweight, groaning yet immobile and before I can react, the cheese wheel thuds down over the finish line into the hands of the MC and Carmen scoots along past me. She takes just a moment to smirk at me before crossing the line and into the hands of the catchers. She flows right through their arms and they do not react. I’m not surprised. I follow swiftly after, mere meters behind. I stare forward into the line, tears of disappointment and fear blurring my vision. There is a burly man in the front of the phalanx, arms poised to catch me… he looks like…I recognize…
And then, another burst of light. Every color from this odd day rings forth. Violet, green, gold… the absence of all color.
What the fuck is going on?
Carmen is there, hands on her hips in triumph. I fall from the catcher’s arms, sit up and cough, blood running down my lip as I wait for the hellish onslaught. The townsfolk let out a raucous cry and rush forward to greet the victor. And yet they rush past her, and collect the ailing Christopher, pulling him up and then onto celebratory shoulders.
She and I look at each other quizzically, neither of us quite comprehending. And then the air itself seems to rip in two. A pulsing, purple fire bursts out of an area from which there was naught but thin air. Carmen arches an eyebrow in confusion and I see fear cross her face for the first time. Her pristine, lovely features suddenly begin to melt, contort and conform into a congealed mass. Her hand shudders before it is pulled into the rippling vortex by an unseen force, white hot fire belching forth, unseen by all by she and I. All the while, I sit there like a bleeding idiot.
“But I…I…won…?” She asks more than states.
In a moment, she’s gone, purple ash raining from where she so smugly stood. I stand up, ailing and find myself supported by familiar, warm hands. I turn around and immediately collapse into my father’s arms. And then…he’s gone. A large, tattooed man whom I’ve never met before gives me a consolational pat on the arms and moves beyond to celebrate with the apparent victor. Another glint of green light…Mum is there, ready to embrace me. She whispers things to me, quickly and quietly and promises she’ll explain more later.
I still don’t understand what happened at the end of the run and Gyde doesn’t seem to know where he is. Then, the MC presents him with his victory cheese and a novelty check, his winnings for a race well run. As he hoists his prizes in triumph, the edible trophy wheel glints in the budding sun, columns of grey wafting away in the forthcoming dawn. It’s a true moment of triumph and the only thing missing is a victorious swell of music. And then the cheese shines gold and something wisps away from it. Softly yet swiftly, a blur of gold, wings on the dawn. I feel it pass through me and the music I had sarcastically anticipated suddenly sweeps through my mind, orchestral and magnificent.
Then, I understood. Divine intervention. The other side of this supernatural run had their own tricks up their ethereal sleeves. An avatar, an inside man. Not through the legs and muscles of a human. But…a fucking wheel of cheese.
Are you serious?
I guess…they found a loophole. Carmen said she needed to win the race. And I guess the customary wheel of cheese could be considered a participant, one of unbridled forward momentum and immune to the sabotage efforts of one who serves the deep and the dark. She wasn’t the first to cross the finish line after all, wasn’t the first to make the descent.
I pull away from Mum for just a moment and sit on the ground, collecting my thoughts and holding my aching back.
Christ, what a day.
Things quieted down after that. After the wounded had been tended to (Yates was unconscious, but swiftly recovered; one often needs a brain in the first place to be concussed!) everything broke apart to normalcy. Back to average. The gawkers and tourists departed our little town and returned to Edinburgh, London, Sicily, hell, even as far as America. The event was over for now. For another year. And yet I knew in just two years after that, the stakes would be higher. If I wasn’t involved, I would find a way to make sure I was. I didn’t know if Carmen would return or if there would be a new runner conjured in their place, but I would be ready. I decided this would become my life’s mission. This would become my trade.
Yet what money is there to be had in stalking demons and devils and ensuring they don’t win footraces? Turns out none, but there IS money in the tales that come from such unique circumstances. Not just from the race itself but also the history of our region. Mum explained to me that Cairnrook Isle holds more sway over the town than I knew. Things tended to drift from that speck of land all the time. She told me about the time she discovered that most unique glowing green gem, how it inspired her to fashion her jewelry and most importantly, how the gem lead to her discovering a whole world beyond the veneer of our own. One of magic, mystery, darkness and light. One I was now accustomed to. She gave me permission to include such facets in my stories; she knew they would make everything a touch more interesting and assured me they would all be though of fiction. But stories take time to tell, you see.
Christopher Gyde, God bless the bastard, was kind enough to dedicate some of his winnings to the second place runner, yours truly. From that, we were able to subsist combined with any small change I pulled in from the fish market and her own sales. In the downtime, I worked on telling my tale. The new librarian (Mr. Deever was nowhere to be found, a fact that didn’t surprise me in the least) found my stories fascinating and agreed to publish them in the library. At the next year’s run, the crowds returned including a publisher from America who, luck would have it, stumbled into our humble book depository and happened upon the history of the Cheese Run… both the historical texts and a particular fantastical “fictional” account.
The rest happened in a veritable whirlwind. And here I sit, dictating under a deadline the original experience that lead to this tome you might just soon hold in your hands.
Think it fictional if you wish. But one day, aye, one day soon, you’ll hear talk of an athletic event that seems to suffer from some unusual, dare I say, otherworldly events.
And you can bet that I’ll have a hand in it. Keep an eye out for Joshua Anderson, Jr. (Sid Crow no longer: I wear my father’s name with pride, no matter how plainly ordinary and average it may be). I’ll be there. After all, there is much at stake here.
Our very way of life. My Mum and I. The rest of humanity. Glory and gold.
And hopefully cheese.
Mustn’t forget the cheese!
A note from the Collective: The Cheese Run is a real event. We find it delightful in a most agonizing way. We invite you to view for yourself and revel in the insanity and bodily destruction. If the fate of humanity truly rests on the errant wheel of cheese, we haven’t heard of it…
Click the link..
Cheesy Glory and Bodily Harm