A TOUGH LIFE
Nathanial "Nate" McGray, a lanky fifteen-year-old boy, pounded along the
dirt road leaving a wake of dust. A glance over his shoulder confirmed
the bullies were not far behind. Mustering all his strength, Nate
ignored the intense burning in his legs and sprinted even faster. The
sight of the bridge brought a flicker of hope—escape into the Darkoak
Forest was near!
Three thugs scrambled out of the ravine, blocking Nate’s path.
Fighting off a wave of panic, Nate lunged at a gangling elf with curly
black hair. They toppled onto the cobblestone bridge. Nate attempted to
scramble away. The elf grasped Nate’s foot long enough for his
cohorts—a red-headed, freckle-faced dwarf and a baby-faced, beefy
young man—to seize Nate’s upper arms and yank him to his feet. They
turned him around just as Derik—an abnormally tall, flabby
seventeen-year-old human—reached the bridge with the rest of his gang.
"Caught . . . you!" Derik panted, wiping his shirt sleeve across his
sweating bald head. "We have a . . . surprise for you! Let’s go!"
Nate thrashed in protest. His captors tightened their grips and dragged
him into a secluded area within the trees.
"How do you like flirgoo?" Derik leered. He nodded to a spiky-haired
halfling. With a snicker, the halfling retrieved a wooden bucket from
behind a thick mulberry bush. Tilting it mischievously toward Nate, he
revealed its contents—red flammable sap from a flirgrossa tree.
"W-w-what’re you going to do with that?" Nate cringed.
"You’re about to become The Great Flirgoo Wizard!" Derik mocked. He
grabbed Nate’s hair.
In a coordinated strike that surprised even himself, Nate jerked his
head free and kneed Derik in the groin. Derik stumbled backward.
Tripping over a raised root, he crashed with a screech into the mulberry
bush. The gang erupted with laughter. Nate grinned.
Smeared with purple juice, Derik pulled himself out of the bush. "Shut
up, you punkler nicklers!" Derik ordered. "Step on his feet!"
Derik stormed toward Nate with clenched fists. His face was bright red.
A vein pulsed in his neck. He slugged Nate in the stomach, hard. The
bullies lost their grip. Nate dropped to his knees and gasped for
Derik yanked Nate’s shirt over his head. "Hold him still!"
Despite Nate’s squirming, Derik and the halfling used bark to smear
flirgoo on Nate’s back and chest. Then Derik, the two elves, and the
baby-faced young man each grabbed one of Nate’s limbs.
"Oh Great Flirgoo Wizard, what shall we do with thee?" they chanted
"Put me down you idiots!" Nate struggled to break free.
They carried him ceremoniously from the cover of the trees. Guffawing,
the gang continued their charade, marching toward a bloated,
moss-covered stump rooted on the embankment near the bridge.
"Great Flirgoo Wizard, receive thy throne!" They chortled wildly,
wedging Nate into the decaying log until only his skinny legs flailed
out of the stump.
"Get m-m-me out!" Nate hollered. His frenzied scream echoed inside the
log. In an instant, tiny, fiery lights lit up all around him. Nate
realized, with alarm, he’d disturbed a nest of fire wasps.
"Hope you know a good spell to get out of there," Derik taunted. He
kicked the log. The fire wasps swarmed menacingly around Nate.
"H-h-help me!" Nate pled. A fire wasp embedded itself in the flirgoo on
Nate and exploded. Screaming in pain, Nate called for help again,
stopping only when he heard indistinct arguing.
With a swift yank on his legs, Nate was freed from the stump right when
another wasp exploded. Stumbling backward, Nate was grateful to see his
older brother—Ted, Ted’s best friend—an elf named Nordof, and
another shorter elf Nate didn’t recognize. They ducked to avoid a
cluster of fire wasps raging out of the narrow opening.
Ted—a stockier version of Nate with brown eyes, short golden blond
hair, and the large, distinguished McGray snout—bolted down the road
after the bullies. Nate and the others followed. They easily caught up
"Hey ya dorker, what were ya doin’ ta my brother?" Ted challenged
"We were just having some fun with the wannabe wizard." Derik clenched
his fists and looked down his nose at Ted, "Why do you care?"
"Cuz I’m the only one who treats my brother that way!" Ted insisted.
They circled around each other, fists poised to fight. Everyone else
surrounded them, roughly jockeying for the best view. Nate fought his
way in from the edge of the circle.
The sound of approaching horses made everyone freeze.
"Well, well, well, if it isn’t two of Burrowville’s most infamous
troublemakers." A young knight approached the crowd with another knight
on horseback. He eyed Derik and Ted. "What’s going on here?"
Ted and Derik lowered their fists slightly. No one else moved or
"I said, what’s going on here?" The young knight demanded,
straightening up on his horse. After a brief silence, he declared,
"Looks like we might have to escort some of you home for disturbing the
. . ."
"Ah, just let them fight," the older, pudgy knight interjected in a
gruff voice, waving off the other knight’s look of contempt.
This was all the encouragement Derik needed. With a wild swing, Derik
connected with Ted’s cheekbone, knocking him to his knees.
Grasping Derik’s pants, Ted pulled himself up, exposing Derik’s red
satiny underwear. With Nate cheering him on, Ted redirected all of his
weight and drove his head into Derik’s flabby belly.
"Blaaaaaaaaaaaah," Derik gagged. He lost his breakfast with such force
that the vomit ricocheted off Ted’s back.
Nate, and everyone else in the circle, was splattered with regurgitated
onions and spicy hog. The revolting smell hung in the air. Chaos
prevailed. Everyone, including the knights, scattered. The baby-faced
young man rushed past Nate, shoving him in the chest.
Nate’s feet flew out from under him. He landed on his back with a
thud, striking his head on a rock. Bright lights flashed in his eyes.
Drums pounded inside his skull. He willed his body to move, but it laid
still. His world went black.
Excerpted from "Scrolls of Zndaria: The Golden Wizard" by J.S. Jaeger. Copyright © 2013 by J.S. Jaeger. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.