There’s the set-up: I follow a blog by Chuck Wendig, an author who issues a weekly flash fiction challenge. The challenge for this week was to take two random pop culture story worlds and combines them in a new story of about 2000 words. Through luck of the draw, the story worlds I ended up with were “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” I don’t know why I chose this week to participate, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I came up with.

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“Do Elves Believe in Aliens?”

Morning spilled light over the large river that was their last obstacle before being completely out of the dragon’s territory. The company was camped on a hill that overlooked the river, and the sunrise brought with it a sense that they’d finally completed their quest. They still had the river to cross, which meant packing all their gear in their cloaks and holding the bundles over their heads as they waded across, but then they would be free from the dragon’s influence.

“Thank you, again, for coming to get me,” Heather said, shaking off the dew from her cloak. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t found me.”

“What, I was going to let a dragon eat my sister?” Mark said, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving a squeeze. “Mom would’ve killed me. You know you’re her favorite.”

“I’m not the favorite, you ar—“

“I can’t take it anymore!” Carl growled. The company all stared at the dwarf with shocked expressions.

“Can’t take what, Carl?” Mark asked.

“This guy.” Carl jerked a thumb at the elf sitting beside the fire.

“Me?” John said.

“Him?” Mark and Heather said.

“You heard me.” Carl turned around to face John. “What in the four hells is wrong with you?”

“Me?” John said again, the shock still on his face. “What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m perfectly fine. I mean, other than that bit of memory loss, which is rather quite unsettling, I feel right as rain. Why? Is there something wrong with me? Am I wounded and I don’t know it? Is it the camp-site? I picked a bad camp-site, didn’t I? I knew I should have suggested a spot closer to the river, but I thought that here by the forest edge would be more advantageous should the weather turn bad.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Carl said, stepping back from the fire. “You’ve said more since leaving the dragon’s lair than I’ve heard you say in all the years I’ve known you.”

John rose to look down at the dwarf. “So? I’m just feeling glad to be alive. Is there something wrong with that? Traumatic experiences have a tendency to put things in perspective, you know?”

“Traumatic experiences?” Carl practically shouted. “We’ve been on hundreds of quests, killed at least six dragons, rescued a dozen fair maidens,” he glanced at Heather and winked. “You being the most important, of course.” She nodded, but said nothing. “We’ve killed more orcs and goblins than could possibly be counted in a day,” he continued, raging back at John. “You get knocked out for a few hours while we do all the work,” again he paused and winked at Heather. “Worth every minute, to be sure.” Heather nodded, but again said nothing. Carl returned his focus on John. “And you think that is a traumatic event? I swear by my grandfather’s beard, I will never in my life understand the mind of an elf!” With that, Carl went about the business of packing up his gear.

“Are your quests always like this?” Heather asked as Mark kicked apart the embers of the campfire.

“Not usually,” he replied. “I don’t know what’s gotten in to him.”

“You know,” Carl interrupted, “if memory serves, there’s a bridge a few leagues upriver. We could cross there.”

“But that would take almost all day to get there,” said Mark. “Besides, that bridge is owned by a troll, and we’d have to pay some sort of tax, or kill him outright. I’m not up for either of those options right now.”

“Hold on,” John said. “Let’s not be so hasty. Maybe the bridge isn’t such a bad idea.” He fiddled with the string on his bow, glancing nervously at the river from time to time. “I mean, why get ourselves soaked to the bone when it gets so cold at night, when there’s a perfectly good bridge to use?”

“Again with the cold?” Mark said, tightening the straps on his pack. “You complained all night about the cold. What’s up with that?”

“I’m just concerned for you guys, that’s all,” the elf said, glancing at the water. “Besides, we don’t even know how deep it is here. What if Carl can’t touch the bottom? He could drown.”

Carl stared at the elf in disbelief. “Are, are you agreeing with me? Now I know there’s something wrong with you.” Carl turned in one swift motion and held his axe with one hand and the front of John’s tunic with the other. “Start talking. What happened to you while we were in the dragon’s lair?”

To his credit, John remained calm, even with the edge of the axe resting against his neck. “I told you, the last thing I remember is going to scout one of the passages. My torch went out, and then I was knocked out. The next thing I remember is you guys waking me up outside the lair. That’s it, I swear by the veil of the full moon.”

“We’ve been over this already,” Mark said.

“Why would he make up a story like that?” Heather asked.

“I don’t know, and I don’t rightly care,” Carl said, releasing John and setting down his axe. “What I do know is that’s not the same elf that entered the lair. He’s…different, somehow. I don’t like it.” He thought for a moment, eyeing the elf. “Maybe if I hit you on your head again you’ll get your memory back?”

“Oh, you’d like to try that, wouldn’t you?” John said.

“You know, there’s no proof that works,” Heather said at the same time. “It’s really just an old wives’ tale.”

“Couldn’t hurt to try,” Carl said and reached for his axe. Several things happened at once then. Carl raised the axe over his head, the hammer end turned to strike a blow. Mark jumped up and grabbed Carl’s outstretched arm while John ducked low to tackle the dwarf, and Heather started screaming for them to stop fighting. Her cries going completely unheeded, they grappled and fell to the ground, rolling down the hill toward the river’s edge. The bank of the river was a slight drop-off, no more than three or four feet, but time seemed to slow as again, several things happened at once. The trio splashed into the river and released their respective holds on each other. Carl quickly sank to the bottom, finding it to be shallow enough that when he finally sat upright his head just poked out of the water. Mark stood and grabbed a large tree root sticking out of the river bank.

John’s reaction, however, was hard for the others to comprehend. They had all experienced the effects of witchcraft and sorcery on some scale, and Mark knew firsthand what happened to a man hit by dragon’s fire, but what they saw happen to the elf was something entirely different. For one thing, the sound that came from him when he hit the water was more than the shock of a cold river, more than just pure agony. It was a symphony of pain, as played by a thousand tone-deaf orcs languishing in the underworld. It was a sound that brought both sorrow and pain to them, and caused Heather to come close to losing the contents of her stomach. Carl felt as if his brain had been split with his own axe, and Mark started to weep.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

As the elf flailed about, the water began to churn and bubble like a pot of stew left too long on the fire. Smoke began to rise from the elf’s flesh, as it began to blister and bubble as though he were in that same pot of stew. John thrashed about desperately, finally finding the river bank and pulling himself out of the water, and slowly crawling a few feet up the hill, to collapse in a pile of smoldering flesh, no longer recognizable. The three companions just stared at the thing their friend had become as the screaming ceased, leaving behind crackling and popping sounds of melting flesh.

Slowly, Mark helped Carl out of the river, and they took a wide berth around John’s body as they made their way back up the hill to where Heather had collapsed on her knees, her hands clamped over her mouth, eyes wide in terror. The two joined her and just stared down the hill, not knowing what to say or do, just watching.

Finally, Heather said, “Should we—“

“No,” Mark said. “What could we possibly do?”

“Is he?”

“I hope to the high heavens that he is.” Mark swallowed hard. “There’s no magic I know of can fix that.”

“What the hells happened to him?” Carl asked. “Why didn’t it happen to us?”

“I don’t know,” Mark said. “I just. Don’t. Know.”

The trio sat in silence a while longer, watching until the smoke finally stopped flowing from the melted corpse.

“I guess,” Carl said at last, “I guess we should bury the poor bastard.” Mark was about to agree when the form moved.

“Did you see that?” cried Heather. Before the others could answer, the remains moved again, more deliberately. The three watched, almost as if spellbound, as the arms stretched out and pushed up from the ground. They could see chunks of flesh slide off the face and arms of their companion as he made his way to a kneeling position. Then, in a motion reminiscent of an animal shaking off wet fur, John began to shake his body back and forth, sending even more pieces of flesh and clothing flying off in all directions. When he was finished, what remained was certainly no elf, but rather some new creature they had never encountered before.

The pale white creature stood on wobbly legs, now freed of both skin and clothes. It was slightly shorter than John had been, and much thinner. It had large almond shaped eyes, no discernible nose, and a small mouth. Long arms ended in slender fingers. It gingerly stepped out of the pile of elf garments at its feet and began to walk towards them. Carl jumped up with axe raised in a protective stance. The two humans were too stunned to move.

“Stay back, demon!” Carl swung his axe back and forth. The creature paused, and tilted its large head to the side, as if sizing up the angry dwarf. Mark stood and drew his sword, standing between the creature and his sister. The creature tilted its head the other way to contemplate Mark’s weapon, and then held up both hands in front of it in a gesture of surrender.

“Guys, I can explain, really,” it said, the voice of their elven friend clear as ever. “Just give me a minute.” It began to walk closer to them, keeping its hands out to the side. “It’s me, John. Really!” Before any of them could say another thing, a silver arrow flew out of the wood’s edge, passed between them and embedded itself in the creatures left eye. It stood there motionless for a moment, then collapsed, dead.

The three spun around to see John, another John, running out from the woods. He quickly reached them, a mischievous grin on his face. “There you are!” he said, finally stopping just short of the tip of Mark’s upraised sword. “I thought I wouldn’t get here in time.”

“You have exactly one minute to explain yourself, before I run you through,” Mark said, barely above a whisper. Carl strengthened his grip on his axe and raised it above his shoulder.

“It’s me, I swear it. And have I got a story for you!”

“First things, first,” Heather said, and ran up to him. Before anyone realized what was happening, she grabbed John by the tunic, and in one swift move, swung him about and tossed him into the river.

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There you have it. Hope you enjoyed it!

Kevin…

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