Janet quickly pushed through the scratchy limbs of the largest fir tree she could find, until the trunk was only a reach away. The cool night air filtered through the branches as she tried in vain to cover her legs.
*Why did I wear the miniskirt?* she thought.
The sudden sound of a helicopter broke the silence as its searchlight began winking at her through the trees.
*I’m not moving,* she thought as she brushed her short, black hair from her eyes. *Even if they do see me, I would probably be caught by the creep who’s chasing me.*
“Janet!” screamed the man again.
The sharpness of his voice made her jump.
*Why did I agree to a blind date?* Her black eyes peered through the fir’s branches.
“Janet!” he screamed again, sounding even angrier.
*If he just hadn’t been so handsome.*
Then, a flash of movement to her left, caught her eye. It was so quick, it only afforded her a hint of his direction.
Almost afraid to move, she slowly turned to peer around the trunk of the tree. Shivering from the cold, October breeze, she heard the sound of a stick breaking behind her. She turned, and froze, staring at a pair of brown loafers standing right where she had crawled in.
“Peek-a-boo,” he said teasingly.
“Ohhh God,” she said weakly. “Please, James,” she pleaded, “You scaring me half to death. Stop this and go away right now and I won’t tell a soul.”
Peering through the little crawlspace she had made, she could see him from the waist down, but couldn’t see his expression. Then, the full moon reflected off of something in his right hand. It was big and bright enough to be chrome.
“Ohhh God,” she groaned again as she struggled for a better look. She still couldn’t see what he was holding. She pressed her back against the rough bark and remained quiet.
“I’m gon’na keep my promise and take you where you’ve never been, sweetie,” he said sarcastically.
Janet’s heart began to beat so loudly she could barely hear him singing. It was an old Credence Clearwater Revival song
called ‘Bad Moon Rising’.
“Come out. Come out and play,” said James Torrance melodiously, as he stooped down and peeked in at her. “Come out, sweet girl,” he added. The moon’s light reflected off the biggest hunting knife she had ever seen.
“Please, James,” she pleaded again, wiping tears from her eyes. “Let me go. Just let me go. I’ll get home by myself.”
“Ohhh no,” he answered softly. “Some booger bear might get you and spoil all my fun. Besides, I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. If you don’t come out, I’m going to come in there and do things to you with this knife you wouldn’t believe possible.”
Seeing no other choice, Janet dropped down to her hands and knees. “I’ll come out if you put the knife away,” she begged. “Please, put it away.”
“C’mon then,” agreed James as he put the knife back in its sheath and then backed up a bit.
Easing forward, she paused at the opening to look up at the six and a half foot Texan. His two hundred and fifty pound frame completely dwarfed her one hundred and fifty pound, five-foot-two body.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she pleaded. “I won’t resist you, but please don’t hurt me.”
“Come then,” he said, extending his left hand toward her.
Watching the moonlight halo his auburn hair, she reached for his hand. But as she neared it, he lunged for her head instead. Grabbing a handful of her black hair, he pulled her to her feet.
“Please stop!” she screamed. The huge Texan danced her around and over the pinecones and sharp needles. The stabbed her feet.
Sobbing profusely, she could do little else but dangle like a doll from his left hand.
He then slowed to a stop, looked into her eyes, and said, “I’ve always wanted to see much more of you, Janice. Now I’m finally going to have my wish. I’m gon’na peel you real slow, just like a banana.”
Noticing he was reaching for the knife again, she closed her eyes and continued to cry.
*This is it,* she thought as she felt the cold blade on her chest.
But before she could feel the sting of its edge, her head seemed to explode, jarring her eyes open. The trees all around her seemed to bow in slow motion. The ground rose up behind her, striking her shoulders and the back of her head. Lying there and completely unable to move, she felt the big man straddle her and then sit down on her thighs. One by one, she heard her blouse buttons pop off. He slowly opened her blouse. She felt the cold blade on her bare skin. Slowly it circled around her stomach.
*Maybe he won’t hurt me if he thinks I’m unconscious.* She remained motionless, her eyes closed.
But the knife was no longer moving. The cold, flat piece of steel was still.
Quick torrents of air whirled all about. Completely strange flapping sounds above her filled the air as she felt James struggling with something himself.
She tried to open her eyes, but quickly realized that her left eye wouldn’t co-operate. It was matted shut with a strange, sticky substance.
“No! No! Noooo!” exclaimed her antagonist as his weight suddenly left her thighs. But she could still hear strange, thrashing sounds.
With the weight of the cold blade being still close to her throat, Janet was still terrified. Hearing James grunting and gasping nearby, she gathered her courage and slowly opened her right eye. A blurry glimpse of the bottom of his shoes was all she could see. They disappeared into the darkness above her.
*How can this be?* she thought as she slowly removed the repulsive knife from her chest.
With her head still spinning, she tried to sit up. Her stomach lurched and she slowly laid back down. Then, as she attempted to pull her blouse back over her shivering body, darkness came and she remembered nothing else.
*I’m freezing.* She slowly awoke. *And where’s all this wind coming from?*
Rubbing her right eye with her free hand, Janet rolled her head to the left, but could see nothing at all. She felt as though she was lying on logs, with her head and feet not supported at all. Darkness seemed to be all about her—up, down, or in any other direction, and the cold wind never stopped. Her right arm was pinned to her side by something and her left was dangling down and not touching a thing. What’s more, something was making loud, almost deafening, flopping sounds, like bed sheets in the wind.
“Please,” she whispered, “I’m cold. Who’s got me?”
“Hold on, My Lady,” replied a deep, guttural voice. “We’re almost there.”
Her rescuer sounded old and impressive, but even so, *Who did it belong to,* she wondered. “Who are you, and where are you taking me? I’m so cold.” Her body shuddered.
“Phagan’s Rift,” came the reply from the darkness above her. “We’re almost there.”
She noticed the reflection of the moon off of what appeared to be water below her, and she fainted.
“Don’t stir it so much. Let it froth up.”
The words echoed as if it was coming from way down deep in a well. It was also from someone much older than herself, but certainly not the one she was last speaking with in the dark.
Her guessing soon gave way to the smell of fresh linen and burning oak. Warmth had also returned to her and she was now focusing on the crackling sound of a nearby fireplace.
Almost afraid to move, she tried her eyes again. Surprisingly enough, they both responded. Her face felt freshly washed. There was a slight fragrance of rose soap on her hands, and...she ran her hands under the rough blanket. *My clothes! Where are my clothes?*
They had been replaced by a long, cotton gown.
She was lying on a huge, leather couch. An oil lamp was on a table nearby. There was another couch beside her and both faced the fireplace. Looking up, she could make out huge oak beams and angled rafters. The room was two stories high. As she slowly raised her head, she could see a stairway rising up and over a stone wall on the far side of the room. It probably provided access to other rooms on the second level.
A slight movement caught her eye on the far, left corner of the room. Under the stairway, was an old man and a black haired young girl of about nineteen. Tall she was—a head taller than the old gentleman. With her hair pulled back in two, tight pigtails, she bounced around fetching this and that from shelves and tables as he worked on something in a bowl in front of him. Wiping her eyes a bit more, she could see he had long, white hair to his shoulders and a matching beard and mustache.
“Hello!” exclaimed a voice from the rafters above her.
The shrillness of it made her jump. It was most unusual, almost animated.
“Hello!” it spoke again, much louder this time.
*A parrot.* She laughed, noting the big, scarlet Macaw swaying back and forth.
“I see she’s awake, Apple,” spoke the old man without turning around.
“She’s awake! She’s awake!” screamed the bird.
“Go check on our guest, Prenn, before Apple gets upset.” The young girl immediately turned and walked over to Janet. I’m Prenntis Phagan, Prenn to my friends. “How do you feel?” she asked with a bit of a smile. “You’ve got quite a goose egg and a cut just above your left eye.” She shook her head. “And scratches all over.”
Janet slowly sat up, her head beginning to pound. Holding it with her left hand, she discovered a thick, white bandage. “Thank you for what you’ve done for me,” she said
weakly. “I think you probably saved my life.”
The girl smiled as though tickled. “We had a small part in it I guess,” she quipped.
“But . . . what happened?” Janet looked past the girl to the old man still working at the table. “Someone took James off of me and I didn’t see who it was at all.” She looked at Prenn. “Then, somehow, it must have carried me here. I must have been totally out of it because it was like I was floating most of the time.”
“What’s your name,” asked Prenn.
“Ohh. . . yes . . . I’m Janice Dunn. Where am I at?”
“You’re at Phagan’s Rift, dear. The old fellow over there is my Grandfather Andsell. He’s teaching me about herbs, cures, and medicines. We just made that poultice you now have on your head.” She took a closer look at the bandage, slowly shook her head, and said, “Why don’t you just lie back down for a little while. You’re starting to bleed again.”
“But, where is this place?” asked Janet as she lay her head
back upon the huge, padded arm of the couch. “How did I get here? Was I dreaming? I know I didn’t just float here.”
“Uhhh . . .” Prenn glanced back at her grandfather and replied, “I think I’ll let Grandfather take that one.” The girl turned and walked toward the fireplace, sat down on the
couch, and just watched the old man.
“I always get the hard ones,” complained the old fellow, but he stayed at his task.
The old fellow glanced back at her. “Sit up if you can, Miss Dunn. But I would prefer you to stay on the couch instead of falling on the floor. You’re not far from Richardson Landing. That’s on the Mississippi River, and just a little north of Drummonds, Tennessee. Do you know where that is?”
“North of Memphis, I think, Sir.”
“Exactly,” said Phagan. He walked to her couch and pushed a pair of brown slippers from under the oil lamp table. “I’m afraid the Pan didn’t find your shoes, but I believe my house slippers will work nicely for the time being. Move around if you can. Your feet are bandaged somewhat.” He then gestured along the wall past the lamp. “There’s some fresh cheese and bread with a bit of salted ham on the table by the brick oven. If you would prefer it warmed, I can do that also. You’ve slept most of the morning.” He then nodded toward his granddaughter. “Prenn will draw you some cool water from the well if you like.”
“Well?” queried Janet.
Phagan pointed to a circular rock wall, four feet wide and two feet high with a pulley and bucked suspended over it by a wooden arm.
“A cistern?” asked Janet.
The old fellow nodded.
With a bit of a grimace, Janet slipped her bandaged feet in the slippers and eased gingerly toward the table. “Wow. It is a brick oven, and complete with a smoker on top.” She noticed the butter churn sitting next to it.
“Wow,” she said again, with a bit of a smile. “This place looks like it just fell right out of the nineteenth century.”
“I have a small freezer and refrigerator under the stairwell if that will bring you back to the present.” Phagan chuckled.
Janet smiled. Her stomach rumbled. It seemed to echo in the room. Her cheeks burned. “I think this cheese will do the trick.”
“Gramps is pretty self-sufficient here,” Prenn said. “He doesn’t much like the modern world, but he has learned to cope with the fridge and freezer.” She walked to the refrigerator and took out a gallon of milk. “Will cold milk do?” she asked, shaking the half-full, plastic jug.
“Nicely,” replied Janet. “Ohhh my goodness,” she added upon removing the glass dome lid from the cheese platter. “This is the orangest cheese I’ve ever seen.”
“You’ve been eating that factory-made stuff far too long.” Phagan returned to his bowl. “There should be a knife under the cloth right next to the platter. If not, I’ll bring you
“It’s here, Mr. Phagan,” replied Janet. “I’ve found it,” she added as she cut the cheese.
“My word,” she said softly.
With cheese sandwich in hand, she got up, walked around the brick oven and paused in front of the bench. An odd, fuzzy plant slowly bobbed in a pot.
“It’s a raven’s foot,” explained Phagan without stopping his mixing.
Janet smiled. “How did you know what I was looking at? You didn’t even glance back at me.”
“That plant is the only reason anyone ever goes to that bench. Be careful if you touch it. It’s a bit grabby. It was given me by the very one who saved your bacon last night.”
“That’s right . . .” Janet stopped mid-bite and paused. “You called him Pan, didn’t you?”
Phagan, still distracted by his work, only nodded.
“I would like very much to meet him. I didn’t even get a chance to thank him for the kindness he granted me. After all, he saved my life, Mr. Phagan.”
The old man immediately stopped, pushed the bowl to the back of the bench top, and sighed heavily. “Very few have ever had the privilege of knowing The Pan.” He slowly turned toward
her, wiping his wet hands on a dish towel.
Janet glanced at Prenn. She had moved to the edge of the couch, eagerly watching her grandfather’s response.
The old fellow continued. “Even with the gift he’s already
given you, I’m not so sure you wouldn’t be like all the others.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Phagan.” She stepped a bit closer to the old fellow.
“That’s just it,” added Prenn. “Neither did they.”
The old fellow then plopped his towel down on the workbench and stepped from the table. For the first time, Janet was afforded a good look at the one called Andsell Phagan. In his seventies, at least, he still had the clearest, blue eyes she had ever seen. A bit taller than her, he wore his wire-rimmed glasses on the end of his nose, but seldom looked through them.
“I still don’t understand,” admitted Janet. “I am most fortunate to be here. I would at least like to thank him.”
“Fortunate indeed,” added Phagan, still studying her over his wire-rimmed glasses. “You and the goat are the only ones he’s cared enough for to fetch here. The goat, very young then, was about to be a meal for several coyotes and . . . well, he said it looked like you were about to be butchered by a mad man.”
“Then, can I see him?” asked Janet.
A tinkling sound from under the table caused her to step
back a bit. Looking under it, she asked, “What’s bumping those jars?”
“Jars?” echoed Phagan, squinting into the darkness below the workbench.
“The big, glass pumpkin-shaped ones under the bench.”
She knelt and tapped the glass of the first, and biggest one. Seeing the mulch and sawdust move about the jar, she noted its metal lid. ‘Helldrovite’ was written on a tag hanging from its handle.
“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” said Phagan. He stepped up behind her, gently took her arm, and helped her to her feet. “Those jars contain helldrovite larvae. If you poked your hand around in there they would likely gift you with a most painful sting. That would put you right back on the couch.”
“I see,” said Janet weakly, “but what of Pan?”
Phagan glanced back at Prenn and said, “If you still want to thank him, you can go through that door.” He nodded to the nearest one. “I’m quite sure you’ll find him less dangerous than what you would have encountered in either of those three jars.”
“Prenn,” said Phagan, “get her a wrap and show her to the stairway.” He turned and went back to his workbench and bowl.
The expression on Prenn’s face was one of a child who was
just handed a box of cracker jacks. “Ever had a moment in your
life that seemed to elevate its worth?”
“One or two, I believe,” answered Janet, watching Prenn’s smile widen.
Prenn then handed her a thick housecoat. After opening a heavy, oak and black iron door, she nodded toward a narrow, stone stairway. She added, “This is going to be one of them.”
“Really,” said Janet. Walking up the stairway, she asked, “What’s a helldrovite?”
“Something I wished wasn’t here. Those things grow into a wasp about the size of a raven. They come from England, but only from a place called Northumbria. There’s not many of them left, that’s why Grandfather’s got them. He said they’re like his kind—almost gone. Sometimes, he calls them ‘Troll Killers’.”
“Troll?” Janet shook her head. *These people sound like they live in faerie tales.* She slowed as she neared the top of the stairway. There were more oak rafters and cross beams. “Are we going into another building?”
“It’s a barn, about a hundred yards from our house.” Prenn smiled hesitantly. “It’s our old barn. Nothing to be afraid of. I can assure you. We just use it to cover the opening to Phagan’s Rift. It also serves well as the Pan’s home.”
“There’s that name again,” said Janet. “I’m not sure I
like that ‘I know something you don’t’ smile you’ve been giving
me. What’s really up there?”
“The one who saved your life,” answered Prenn. With a little nudge, she urged Janet up the rest of the stairs, following close behind.
The huge open area was fairly dark. The only light offered was through the open hayloft doors, above the main doors on the far wall. But even with that, Janet saw the hay-covered floor sported an oval, galvanized water tub and a Volkswagen convertible just beyond it. One stall had some kind of feed in it.
“We have a goat, at least the Pan does. That’s where she sleeps.”
“There’s that name again,” quipped Janet. “I’m getting an uneasy feeling about this whole thing. James was a big man and what ever pulled him off of me took him right up into the air like a rag doll. I must have dreamed the rest—the floating, the cold wind, and that strange, flapping sound.” Janet looked at Prenn and asked, “Does that make any sense to you?”
From the far, empty stall came the deep voice she had spoken to in the darkness. “I remember the same thing, My Lady.”
Janet froze and her eyes grew big. But the smile on her friend’s face immediately calmed her. It was of one who was about to offer an explanation to another who needed it
“Turn around,” said Prenn softly. “You’re about to meet the one who gave your life back to you.”
Janet turned slowly but saw nothing, at least nothing standing upright and close. Then, as the mid-day’s sun filtered through the cracks in the old barn, she watched something move on the floor at the opening of the far stall. It was dark green and as large as her tilt and pull suitcase. Furthermore, it was resting on a set of hands the width of any three men’s hands she knew.
*It’s something’s head.* “Ohhh my.” Janet backed into Prenn.
“Fear has no place here,” said Prenn. She gently took hold of Janet’s shoulders. “If he had it in his mind to harm you, you would not be here looking at him right now.”
“What is he?” whispered Janet. “I can only see his head, his horns, and,” she added weakly, “his claws.”
“He’s Phagan’s shadow—a very old dragon named Pandahar.
“A dra . . . What?”
“Stand up for me, Pan,” said Prenn. “Let her see how she
Dust flew in a spiral dance among the narrow beams of sunlight. The dragon exhaled heavily. “Why?” was the only thing he asked.
Prenn stepped up beside Janet and answered, “She wanted to meet the one who saved her. I think she deserves at least that. Besides, you must think she’s special to have brought her here.”
“I do. She reminds me of another I knew many, many years ago. But . . . I can feel her quake from here. If I stand, she will surely flee.”
“I will not,” Janet retorted daringly. She stepped forward a bit. “I’m just not used to seeing one so imposing, let alone
speaking to the same.”
Janet watched as the Pan slowly stood, unfolded his
wings, yawned, and shook them as one might stretch their arms from a deep sleep.
“We are all creatures, My Lady,” said the dragon. “At least, you didn’t call me a beast.” He added shyly, “Do I disappoint you?”
Janet slowly shook her head. “Not in the least. She responded as she stepped closer to the stall. “There are many who claim to be knights in shining armor, but I’ll take a dragon any time. I have a collection of them upon my shelves at home.”
Pan quickly looked at Prenn. She was laughing.
“I’m sure she means figurines, Pan,” explained Prenn.
Janet could only nod her head as she gazed into the Pan’s
huge, yellow eyes. “Who did I remind you of?”
“A Grand Lady who once lived in England,” he answered. He slowly lowered his wings and sat down in the hay. “She lived in a castle called Whitestone. Her blood runs through the house of Phagan also.”
Janet held her breath. The dragon leaned a bit closer, looked her in the eyes, and added, “When I saw him take you from under the fir tree, I thought I was seeing an illusion, so I came down for a closer look. By then, he had already hit you. So . . . I removed him from you and cast him out into the river they call Mississippi.”
The sound of a tractor engine broke Janet’s concentration. “Who is that?” she asked. “It sounds like it’s pulling up here.”
“That’s probably my brother,” Prenn answered. The dragon was nodding. “He’s bringing Grandfather’s lunch, and I hope ours also.”
Prenn walked past the Pan and looked through one of the cracks in the left door. Smiling, she opened it. As soon as she did so, a solid white goat ran through the opening and didn’t stop until it was right under the dragon’s head and
against his chest.
“Snowball,” said Prenn, laughing. “The Pan named her. Can you believe it? She’s quite taken to him.”
“Who’s hungry?” spoke a booming voice. A sandy-haired, young man stepped through the door with a box in his hands. “Well,” he grinned, looking at Janet. “I see you made it to the barn. You’ve also passed the ‘Pan test’ because you’re still here. I’m Johnathan, Prenn’s brother. How do you feel?” He handed the box to Prenn.
Janet smiled, self consciously, gathering her housecoat closely about her. Quickly drawn to Johnathan’s smiling expression and bright, blue eyes, she blushed.
“Better.” She smiled in return and looked at the Pan. The aroma of Old Spice mingled with the fragrance of fresh cut hay tickled her nose.
“That’s better than fear any day,” spoke the Pan, all but
smiling at the young girl he had saved. “Blood rushing to one’s face is a definite sign of approval, My Lady.” He leaned closer to her. “Johnathan won’t bite.”
“Ohhh my goodness.” Janet laughed.
“Dragons never lie,” said Johnathan. He stepped up to
Janet and lifted her chin with his right index finger. “That salve Grandpa put on your cut certainly did the trick. I must get him to teach it to me.”
“He thinks he’s a doctor,” Prenn said sarcastically. She dug out a cheeseburger and handed it to Janet.
Johnathan chuckled, sounding like his grandfather. “Well,
I guess you would fare better if you were Snowball.”
“A veterinarian?” Janet unwrapped the burger.
“And studying under the very best—my Grandfather.”
Janet pushed her hair from her face and tried to fluff it up. “Ohhh,” she finally complained. “It’s of no use. My shoes are brown and fuzzy. My hair is a mess. I’m in a housecoat and—”
“And from what I’ve seen, a very beautiful young lady,” interrupted Johnathan.
Prenn leaned close and explained, “Father called him to the barn when you arrived. He dressed your wounds, stitched the cut closed, and checked you for other damages.”
“Ohhh my gosh.” Janet could well imagine what he had seen. Her face burned at the thought.
“And you still live,” boomed the Pan.
Johnathan, giving the dragon a wide-eyed smirk, looked at Janet and said, “In perfect health, about twenty-four years old, five-feet-two inches, blue eyes, and beautiful in any light. I wish all my patients were so lucky.”
“Ohhh to be young again,” said the Pan as he laid back down in the hay and placed his right wing over his head.
“This ordeal must have addled me,” said Janet. “I had
better give my mother a call. She’s probably worried sick.”
“Come with me,” suggested Johnathan. He took her hand and
led her through the open barn door. “While Prenn feeds Grandfather, you can clean up in the house. I’m sure my mother has something that will fit you. After you call your mother, I’ll take you to Munford to see a real doctor. We’ll then speak to the sheriff and give that fellow who assaulted you a real run for his money. He should be somewhere just south of Richardson Landing by now.”
“Surely. Anything you say,” mumbled Janet. She allowed Johnathan to the white farmhouse.
“Just name it.”
“Don’t speak of the Pan, or of Grandpa, or of Phagan’s Rift. You see, a long time ago, the Pan was almost killed by another dragon belonging to an evil wiz . . . well, person. But another powerful person found him and nursed him back to life. That man’s descendants have kept him alive from then, to where we are now. I don’t know how much longer he has to live, but I intend to see he gets every day that’s coming to him.”
Janet stopped and looked back at the old and faded, red barn, the river just beyond it, the horses in the south pasture, and the pecan orchard to the east of them. “This is certainly a beautiful place,” she said, taking it all in.
“Glad you like it,” said Johnathan as he squeezed her hand. “Really, I had sort of hoped you would. If you’re not too awfully busy, I would like to come and get you for a little get-together we have planned for next weekend. Our family is having a bar-b-que and I’ll probably be the only one without a date.”
The smile on her face must have delighted him.
“I would be glad to,” she finally said. “Life is funny, isn’t it,” she mused, smiling at him again. “All my grown-up life I’ve dreamed of finding a life like this and someone like you. I just never thought I would almost have to die to do it.”