Lynn the Ordinary
by Heather J. Frederick
part 1 of 2
By the time she faced the Beast, Lynn had endured many skirmishes of childhood, most of them victorious. Teething. Bicycles. Sleepovers. Even her failures, full of pain and humiliation, helped prepare her for the Final Battle. What better than a shattered friendship to harden a heart? Wounds heal, but scars thicken a hide. Lynn survived more than her fair share of human weanling drama.
The Beast was no mere foe. Over the millennia, it had left scores of planets lifeless out of boredom and spite. It had faced barbarian queens, enchanted princes, demon wizards, and an army of trolls. Not once had it lost more than an eyebrow, which had been easily replaced.
Long before their confrontation, it stalked her. It had heard the prophecy, but couldn’t believe it. This nothing of a girl, from this infested armpit of a world, was destined to face the Devourer of Souls? What did the mewling think she could do: piss on it?
The prophecy was, as prophecies were, unspecific: “Beware the human girl with her invincible delight. To fight the juggernaut, the banishment of life, rides the Lynn and dies the Beast, the Final Battle ends. Only one survives the day, forever she defends.”
It worried most about the last line.
This tiny, pinkish ball of flesh looked harmless enough. So the Beast tried to end the farce before it began. One second it poised over the crib, shredding her swaddling blankets. The next, a furred carnivore with needle-like claws and daggers for teeth howled and attacked its face. An angry “Mraoaw!” and the creature was gone, taking most of the Beast’s nose with it. Some fierce guardian spirit, obviously.
The Beast resorted to lurking in shadows and brooding from a safe distance. Say, the safety of her closet or under the bed.
* * *
By the time Lynn was five years old, she had a mysterious fear of gorillas.
“You never should have taken her to the zoo,” her father said.
“You call this my fault?” asked her mother. “You let her watch National Geographic.”
What Lynn feared didn’t come from television or the zoo, but she couldn’t tell her parents that. She couldn’t close her eyes without a black-furred, lumbering creature haunting her dreams. It had a dark, knowing gaze. A thin-lipped, stretched-mouth smirk. And too many thumbs.
Her twenty-pound gray tabby slept with her every night, and that helped some.
By age six, Lynn learned how to wield a tree branch better than any other on her street. She practiced against boys twice her size, and practiced some more. If Harvey couldn’t beat her, no primate could.
Harvey couldn’t understand how he kept losing to a girl. After one of Lynn’s powerful counter-strikes whacked Harvey’s nose, he punched her arm. Then, in a fit of spite, he broke her stick.
Lynn felt the first stirrings of righteous anger in her heart.
Mr. Green, her neighbor, saw it all and rejoiced. Like the Beast, he had been watching her, too. On this planet, he was a handsome man of average height, brawny shoulders, and reindeer sweaters. His first impression of humanity came from the L.L. Bean winter catalog.
He gave her tissues and offered hot chocolate.
Lynn’s parents had warned her about candy and strangers, but hot chocolate wasn’t candy, exactly. Feeling awfully thirsty from the fight, she accepted his offer.
Over cookies — treading close to candy territory, but not there yet — Mr. Green casually asked Lynn what drove her to such feats of swordsmanship.
She sniffed back tears and told Mr. Green everything. Even about the gorillas.
He nodded somberly and, almost as if he’d been waiting for the chance, gave her a leather whip. He apologized for its worn condition, blaming it on his years in the rodeo circuit.
“Were you a real cowboy?”
She accepted this explanation with the grace of innocence. As useful as the whip turned out to be, years later she would remember the hastily closed bedroom door, the glimpse of handcuffs on the ceiling — and blush.
Her friendly neighbor taught her how to handle the whip, hook it from her belt, and hide it from her parents. After he sent her home, he made a phone call to the only friend he could trust. “It’s found her. The prophecy is working. ”
“It had better be,” said Stewvane the Yellowish-Orange.
Mr. Green rolled his eyes. “Well, it’s always nice to be sure, isn’t it? Especially in this case?”
“You’ll teach her some form of combat, at least? I hate this plan. But humans are nothing if not trainable.”
“I gave her the whip.”
“That was our anniversary present!”
In the end, Mr. Green convinced his friend that, on this planet, swords were not an acceptable accessory for children, nor easy to camouflage.
And so by age seven, Lynn had dreams of being a rodeo queen.
Riding lessons were expensive; but, after discussion between parents and kindly, concerned neighbor, they were deemed a necessity. “There’s nothing like the relationship between a human and its hooved companion to build self-esteem,” advised Mr. Green.
The Beast, meanwhile, still feared her. Although the once speck-sized human was still no obvious match for it, she was bigger, and now armed. Where had she come by the Leather Lariat of Linzandoo? Stories had started circulating of its legendary powers...
The Final Battle was coming, and the Devourer of Souls prepared in the only way it knew: Feasting. Dark alleys, small towns, prisons. Humans were tasty, and it quite liked it here.
It also learned to avoid cats.
* * *
At eight, Lynn fell off a horse and broke her wrist. Her rodeo queen hopes were smashed like the distal fragments of her ulna. Bad dreams returned.
Quite sure she would never get on a horse again, she tried to return the whip. Mr. Green refused to take it, though he happily signed her cast in pink Sharpie. They discussed her new fear of heights and wondered what might be done about it.
Trees were plentiful in their neighborhood, which bordered a small park. He suggested climbing them.
“With one arm?” she asked.
“Start small.” He led her outside and pointed at a copse of adolescent saplings, barely as tall as the stamped row of houses in which they lived.
She shook her head, unimpressed, and pointed to an elderly, broad-trunked oak. “That one.”
Mr. Green nodded with approval and lifted her onto his shoulders, whereupon she scrambled to the lowest branch. He worried briefly at the thought of her father the lawyer witnessing the scene or, God forbid, should she fall and break another limb.
But her parents, as always, were at work. She made it to the top and back again. Many times.
When Lynn was nine, Mr. Green suggested martial arts. “Hand-to-hand combat is an excellent form of exercise.” Given her parents’ busy schedules, he even offered to drive her to lessons.
During the summer of her tenth year, he chauffeured her to camps in Parkour, Tae-Kwon-Do, Aikido, and kickboxing. Her only “elective” was fencing. Lynn wanted to do musical theater, but between Mr. Green and her parents, she was convinced that she’d never make black belt without putting in the extra hours at the dojo.
* * *
One cool autumn evening, near her twelfth birthday, she curled in the oak’s highest branches. The bird’s-eye view of rooftops used to bring sweat to her palms and panic to her heart. Now it was her haven from the most challenging trial of her life to date: sixth-grade. In the window of Mr. Green’s house, he stood at his kitchen counter wearing an apron and looked to be making moose-shaped cut-out cookies.
Was he making them for her? Lynn hoped he was. Heat crept up her neck to her cheeks.
The whip rode on her hip. It was increasingly unlikely she’d ever wrangle an actual cow. But today she’d sneaked out to practice with it in her back yard, hoping Mr. Green would notice. She felt powerful. Grown-up. It had been a long time since anything had scared her.
That was when she first glimpsed the Beast. Between two stunted trees, a thick-shouldered, man-shaped darkness crouched.
She felt its sudden attention, the way a field mouse senses a hawk, in the deep, hot marrow of her bones. Ragged breath and sharp claws waited. The Beast was steeped in blackness and filth, like an oily rag, and mildewed too. The odor of old basement, dirty socks, and spoiled meat arrived like a cannon blast.
She clung with hands thick with cold to the tree’s rough bark. The ground seemed suddenly too far away. And at the same time, too close.
Sweat gathered beneath her bangs. She knew this fear. Lying in the dark, knowing something was there, imagining its hungry gasps for air. Nightmares of rain and claws and eager, jagged rocks below.
She was engulfed, drowning in her own thundering pulse.
You are nothing, the Beast’s harsh, broken voice whispered in her head.
She opened her mouth to scream. Nothing came out but a trembling moan. But in her mind, she whispered back, You are wrong.
The Beast heard her, saw the shadow of the Lariat on her hip, and shuddered. Though it had the power to destroy her with a single leap, it waited. It can’t be time yet, it thought. It’s not raining.
The next morning it started to rain. Mr. Green cursed in the languages of seventeen dead planets. Like the Beast, he thought he’d have more time, but the prophecy was clear: “When the Final Battle’s time is nigh, the heavens will cry.”
The biggest problem, of course, was where to get a “steed.” He’d written that line himself, against Stewvane’s advice.
“Do you have anything to base it on? This has to work. If the Devourer takes Earth, we’re next.”
“I’ll make sure she knows how to ride. All little girls love quadrupeds.”
Stewvane had nothing to say to that.
Because in the end, the prophecy’s entire purpose was to keep the Beast from gobbling Earth, which would be naught but an appetizer on the way to Mr. Green’s world. Lynn may have appeared weak and tiny, but the Beast had to wonder if somehow she were a fearsome equal in strength.
Oh yes, the prophecy had worked wonders already.
Confident in the wording of the meticulously written document, inked with the blood of a phoenix, and scribed on sun-bleached dragonbone by blind monks, what Mr. Green was really wondering was why he hadn’t picked someone else to be its destined hero. He’d become quite fond of Lynn.
Mr. Green called his partner. “I need backup. The Final Battle is imminent. Carroll Middle School. Probably within the hour.”
Stewvane snorted, still derisive after all these centuries. “I suppose now you want your quadruped?”
“A dragon would be ideal. I’d settle for a unicorn. A moose, I don’t care. But bring a saddle with short stirrups.”
“Do you really think it means the same if you supply it for her?”
How many times would they have the same old argument? “The entire prophecy was written by committee. She’s been groomed to be the Hero since birth. Does it really matter where the steed comes from?”
“A prophecy’s not a prophecy if you make it up!”
“It’s working! There have been trials, breaks, and sacrifice! Now bring me an animal with four legs!” And pray it’s not too late, he thought.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Heather J. Frederick