This story was originally written as part of NaNoWriMo 2015. To read the complete story, go to the MISCELLANY section of this website.

Jack Lightning felt the mists of morning against his pale skin. He was sneaking through the swamp in what should have been a messy business, but Jack loved the muck. He’d just stolen a pair of tall leather boots, tough as seal-skin, black as tar, so it was a pleasure to let them slosh in the inky mire. And the swamp was the shortest way. Jack always loved a short cut.

“Quiet, Twitch,” he said to the black and white stray inside his knapsack. The poor mangy cat was meowing nervously. Its green-yellow eyes didn’t like the water curdling below. Water was the enemy. Jack scratched the cat’s head just behind the ears, but Twitch didn’t like it and pulled away, sinking back down into the darkness of the knapsack.

“We’re almost there,” said Jack. The Old Heron was waiting. It was still hard for Jack to believe that the time had finally come. He allowed his left hand to wade softly into his trouser pocket, feeling the orb inside. What a price I paid to get this one, eh? he thought. The orb was smooth but irregular in shape — it was almost spherical, but somehow one half had decided to bulge a little more than the other, giving it the impression of a globe that had gone saggy. Jack didn’t take it out of his pocket, but he knew that by this time it was already glowing. The Heron would be happy. The orb was getting ripe.

The murky water was getting deeper and deeper with every step. Soon it splashed up around Jack’s waist, forcing him to adjust his knapsack so that it hung across his shoulders, away from the swirling blackness below. Twitch wouldn’t appreciate getting wet, and Jack didn’t fancy facing the Heron without his lucky cat. For the Old Heron — fierce, battle-scarred, and bitter — hated only one thing. The feline species. Cats made the Heron squawk. Twitch meowed and squirmed inside the knapsack. Jack wondered if the cat knew where they were headed.

“Not long now,” Jack said. “Got a fine tree for you to climb.” The Heron’s tree was fine, that much was true. But Twitch wouldn’t be doing much climbing. If Jack was lucky, they’d trade the orb and be gone before the Heron even opened both eyes.

If I’m lucky. Jack smiled. He was always lucky.

Eventually, Twitch stopped squirming and Jack knew he was asleep. Better for him, he thought. Let him rest before the work begins.

The swamp started to empty. Reeds and lilies started getting thicker. Jack sliced his way through the thicket with his knife. The ground rose steadily now; Jack’s boots found spongy footing as they made their way up the banks of the swamp. Soon the thick black boots were traipsing over wet earth and brown leaves. Thin, young saplings — the ones nearest the swamp — gave way to massive, ancient trees. Jack had found his way to the Herne at last.