O gres    Ike    and    Nuel    are    thrust    into    the    middle    of    dangerous politics   and   persecution   when   a   troll   cop   is   unfairly   arrested   for murder   with   no   expectation   of   justice.   Rioters   prowl   the   streets shouting,   Ike’s   head   on   a   pike.   Resentment   for   ogre   success   and industry   rockets,   and   with   it,   the   fear   humans   hold   for   the   giants. There’s   nasty   history   between   their   peoples.   The   arrogant   Ike   and uptight   Nuel   may   not   be   the   best   candidates   to   sketch   a   path   to peace, considering they don’t even like each other. HumorSuspenseOgre romance
Ogreness  Chapter 1  With my lower lip worrying my right tusk, a habit I just can’t break, I peered down at Sissy the pit bull and she belted out a four note yodel. Pretty sure she was saying, “I told you.” Which she did. I was in bed though, and it takes a lot to get an ogre out of bed when they’ve gotten the blankets just right.  Must have been around eleven PM. That means the dozen eggs splattered against the house had gotten a good seven hours to dry and make like barnacles to the stucco and siding. They wouldn’t wash off with the hose. Maybe a little scrubbing with the brush I use on the Green Hornet, my truck. No. Would need something stiffer than that. Should just pull out the pressure washer and go to it. Even if it’s only 6 AM. Most neighbors don’t like me much already. Not much harm to be done to our relations. I took a step for the house to call Dave, to warn him our morning run was off, but I caught a shadow coming up the lane. Must have stared at those egg shells a while. I strode down to the street. “Let’s pick up the feet,” Dave said as he got close enough not to have to shout. My dreadlocks scraping my shoulders, I told him I couldn’t go. “You’re all dressed to run. Whazzup?” Dave trundled to a stop, drew his forearm across his brow, though he couldn’t have gotten too sweaty the block here. “Some dinkleberries egged my house last night.” “That stinks,” Dave groused a little loud. The Olstein’s shepherd ranted a five-second solo. “So after our run, have your guy call a guy to have it cleaned up.” I gave him a look. We ogres have what humans consider a mean look. But Dave and I go back. Harder to intimidate him. “What?” Dave asked. “You know I don’t have a guy.” Dave blinked. “You don’t have a guy? Everyone has a guy? Why don’t you have a guy?” I sighed. I like to do for myself. But I wasn’t going to tell this jerk that for the four hundredth time. I handed him my card key so he could let himself through my side gate, and into the state park my place abuts, so he could do his run without me. “You sure?” He asked. I nodded my dreads.  “You’re not locking yourself out, are you?” Dave asked. “Nah. I smelled the eggs the moment I opened the front door.” We ogres have a pretty good snout. Besides, I could use the keypad on the garage. Dave shrugged. Stepping into a jog for the side of the house he said, “You ottah get a guy.”  Yeah. My pa says that. My ma says that. The grands say that. I should get a guy. I whistled at Sissy, since she looked a little absorbed in her pmail catching up. She gave me that pit bull, go-to-heck look, and leaned back into her sniffing. I jogged at her flopping my runners onto the pavers. The go-to-heck glare turned into a you’re-a-butthead glance, before she sprinted away from my hand I swatted in the general direction of her rumpus. She beat me to the stoop. So all was well. But my hand jolted on a locked front door. Hm. Why would I have locked it? Oh well. I strode to the right-side garage, tapped at the keypad, only to get a red flashing dot. Oh, jeez. Pa had told me he was going to change it, since I hadn’t updated it since the construction was done on the place, and three hundred workers had my code. What did he say he changed it too?  I tried Pa’s birth date. Ma’s. Bro and Sis’. Of course I didn’t have my phone to call him. Ladies run with their phones. Tough ogres don’t have to worry about emergencies. Yeah. Ah jeez. I grabbed Sissy up and sprinted for the side gate. No card key, of course. In a wild hurdle I caught the right post with my right foot, used my left hand on the left jam and pulled and kicked. The ornamental edge of the gate still got me in the side of my thigh. Ouch. Maybe I wrenched my ankle when I hit the pavers on the other side. I settled Sissy in the grass midstride. She barked, a little irritated, ran after me with a gnarly attitude, threatening to draw blood from the ankle I’d just sprained. At the back gate I growled at her to stay. Had to give her a size twenty-seven runner to the chest to keep her from following me out.  We usually walked the dip in the ravine just outside my property, since it’s a little rough, but I didn’t want to catch Dave on the backside of his run. Of course I stumbled on the descent, never got my size twenty-sevens high enough, before I plowed my knees into the wash. Ouch. I think the gate drew blood from my thigh. I now had road rash on my palms, and definitely scraped knees. I considered settling on my bum and walking to Dave’s house and waiting for him. My luck, he’d decide to make a triple loop in the park this morning. So I walked across the ravine, climbed the far side carefully in the dark of the setting moon, before striking into a sprint on a sprained ankle to catch my neighbor. What a great way to start the day. ~Nuel~ I woke close to regular time. My head wasn’t in vacation mode yet. I considered rolling over. First night in a strange bed, of course I didn’t sleep well. Could stand another couple hours. But Silva suggested a six AM run, like the old days. Why didn’t I slap her? Twenty minutes of pillow time wouldn’t do me any good. So I forced myself out of bed. A cup of caffeine while I waited for my hosts to get up couldn’t hurt. To be a catty female, I pulled on my sexiest running bra, vee down to my knees. It was an old meow between us. Silva had to stuff her bra. Her Ralph was a boob man, probably from knowing me long before he met Silva. A nice gawk from her husband would give us a laugh. Last night, Silva reminded me mornings on the plains are chilly, so I pulled out my red running tights. If Ralph was going to stare, he might as well enjoy a view of my butt too.  Chapter 2 ~ A guy would think with my stride I’d catch up with a puny human pretty fast. I hit the main loop and optimistically turned right, since we always run counterclockwise. A mile later I was worrying I might-uh should-uh struck out the opposite direction. I passed the trail to the southern loop. Still no Dave. I should-uh caught up with him by now, right? I started worrying maybe Dave decided on a short run and headed south, for the wraparound trail back into our subdivision.  No light to speak of, I assumed the dark shadow blocking the trail ahead had to be Dave. He must have stopped to tie his shoe. The shadow split two ways, then three ways. A bit short, even for a human—oh boy. I straggled out of my hard run to face three wolves. Erp. They must have been gnarling down on something they killed, considering the way they wafted back and forth in the middle of the trail. The odor of the kill finally hit me.  Must have just taken down whatever they were hiding behind them, or Dave would have been footin’ it in reverse and we would have met. “So what are you guys doing on the plains this time of year, huh boys? Shouldn’t you be up in the hills?” The alpha of the small pack snarled. His two buds followed after him. The aroma of their breaths hit me. Deer breath. Lovely. “I don’t want your breakfast, but I have to pass you gents,” I said in my friendliest voice. The three growled. I growled back at them. Even to an ogre, our growls are intimidating. These three slunk backward, but they weren’t ready to give up their snack yet. I answered their louder snarls with my own. And stink, if the guy acting all alpha didn’t dash into a sprint toward me. I held still. A bluff. I’d never met a wolf that wasn’t scared stiff of my kind. He launched, straight for my face. That ain’t supposed to happen. Somehow I dipped low enough he went mostly over me, claws dragging across my shoulder and arm. The other two dudes approached at a sprint, and two seconds later I was surrounded. Oh boy. Time to get off the trail, or accept I’d have to rip a few wolves in half. I really didn’t want to do that. The highways kill enough of the little guys. Humans like to shoot ’em. Yeah. Wolves take a couple sheep and goats down every year, but the species can’t even keep the varmint population down, much less the deer, which has them impacting the future of our pine forests.  I plowed off the trail, branches dragging across my forearms I braced in front of me. Needles slashed my face. The pine scent drowned my sinuses. I veered right, but at this point, did I really think I’d be able to catch up with Dave? What choice did I have? I picked up my pace. My arms would be shredded by the time I got back on the trail. At least I didn’t hear, or smell, my four-pawed buddies on my heels. I stuck to the trees longer than I probably needed to but I didn’t need another dust up with three bull wolves. Back on the trail I tried to push back into a sprint. Maybe it was the blood I knew trailed down my leg from hurdling my gate, or the sprained ankle, or the gazillion scratches burning my arms. I should have worn a tee instead of a tank. Maybe my attitude was slowing me down too. I had those stinking eggs to wash off the house. A mile later I reached the cutoff for my ravine and still hadn’t caught up with Dave. I staggered to a halt, slung my arms in a mini-tantrum, and said darn a couple times. “Enough of this nonsense,” I hissed. A yelp thread from the gloom. “Who’s there?” Uh. “Just me,” I called back. “Uh. Ike.” “You’re with an ogre, woman. Chill,” a deeper voice returned from the wash below. Two forms folded out of the dark. Another pair of running enthusiasts. I was rather shocked. A human woman and an ogre hen. There aren’t that many humans willing to be seen with an ogre these days, as though we’re the enemy.  Dave doesn’t count. He isn’t socially aware. I recognized my human neighbor Silva in the gloom. “What are you doing lurking around?” I think that’s what she said, but my tongue was wound around an ankle or something. No words made it through any synapses. The sky might have clouded over. In other words, I was struck by the ogre hen standing in front of me. Wow. What a looker. “What happened to you, Ike?” Silva blurted. Actually I was surprised she bothered to ask. She and her husband have never appeared very happy I built next door. My place doesn’t exactly fit in, spread across four regular lots. The ogre hen reached out, began pulling parts of forest out of my dreads. “You’re bleeding,” she said matter-of-factly. “Uh.” They both gazed at me. Silva bolted her head forward a bit, I think to provoke me to explain. “Oh,” I gushed. “There are wolves east of the southern spur. I’d avoid that section of the loop.” “Good to know,” the ogre hen mumbled. “You afraid of wolves?” The grin was uncalled for. “They were supping on a deer,” I said. “And you didn’t want to disturb them?” The smirk was clear in the ogre hen’s voice. “We better go,” Silva told her companion, nudging her in the arm. Before they got away I asked her if Ralph was home, though what I wanted to ask her was who was the babe. “I locked myself out and need to borrow a phone.” Both females laughed. “Ralph’s doing his machines with earbuds in. Ring the bell but he probably won’t hear you.” I barely caught the last of her statement as they blended into the dark. A last ogre hen chuckle reached me a moment later. Females. Meaner than cougars. Not a lot of sympathy. I scratched at my forearm without thinking, which wasn’t a good idea. Burned like the dickens. Speaking of felines, I was clawed up like I’d gone to war with a gaggle of the creatures. I managed across the ravine without wrenching my good ankle. Got a good poke in the butt climbing my gate, but I don’t think that drew blood. I might need to visit a blood bank as it was. Sissy barked her head off as I came over. Stinking girl couldn’t smell it was me? She had her teeth on my ankle before I think she realized I wasn’t a favorite foe. Though some of the raccoons she despises that visit the bird feeder could eat her for brunch. ~Nuel~ “Who was that?” I asked. “Eh. Neighbor,” Silva answered. “From the mausoleum?” I cracked up when she first called it that. “The one.” “You’re right. He is cute. But seemed a little space cadet.” “There you go girl. Best thing to do, get right back on the horse.” That irritated me more than a little. Girl. She knows our kind don’t like that. We’re bulls and hens. Not boys and girls. And there was no way I wanted to look at another bull for at least a year. It wasn’t a bad break up. But a break up is a break up.  Chapter 3 ~ Five rings didn’t bring Ralph to the door. I strode off the stoop and glared up the street. No, I didn’t wanna knock on Gozer’s door. No shutting up a troll once he gets talking. Very irritating creatures. Okay, I had to admit I didn’t want to face Dave. Just a short block away. Maybe already be home. He’d never let me live this down. Take one look at the scratches up and down my arms, probably have a few across my face, and every time he saw me for the next ten years he’d ask if I’d danced with any wolves lately. He’d give me grief every morning run. Every day on the basketball court. Every staff meeting. I spend too much time with the jerk. Never should have hired him into the group. Or joined his mixed league. Though he’s a natural leader. Knows his technology too. People seem to like him. Go figger. I looked up toward Gozer’s. And maybe lurched. What was all that piled in front of the empty house next to Gozer’s? Looked like the pieces of a giant erector set, but these parts were all ecru-hued steel waiting to go into a high rise up North.  It all blocked the view of the houses up the block. That couldn’t meet code. Good thing this isn’t a deeded community. My pa skipped a week mowing his lawn and received a nasty note from his board. I pushed off to explore. Stood in front of a gazillion tons of beautiful rust-flavored steel when Gozer’s door opened. He strode toward me, coffee cup in hand, robe flowing open, chest bare, pajama bottoms, what, decorated with day-glow-yellow dolphins?  “Must be a million dollars’ worth,” Gozer groused.  More like three. One beam probably cost ten grand. “Surprised you didn’t join us neighbors when the truck come unloadin’.” Gozer wasn’t a happy camper. “It’s a blight,” he continued. “A danger. An insult to all of us. What is this, Sanford and Son. Despicable.” “Last night, huh?” I mumbled. “You out late or something?” Gozer asked. “What are you going to do about it?” He snorted those words and coffee slopped out of his cup. “Me? Why should I do anything about—” “You’re the only Range privileged in the neighborhood with the power to make anything happen.”  I really don’t like being interrupted. And don’t like to be called Range privileged. “Hey,” I said. “Our neighbor Silva was out for a run with an ogre hen this morning. We have a new ogre family in the hood?” “Don’t change the subject.” Gozer growled. Trolls like to growl almost as much as us ogres. I dared to tell him I was more interested in an ogre hen neighbor than a pile of steel. Of course he growled again. I asked him if he had his cell on him.  His face brightened up. “You gonna call about this yard of—” “No. I locked myself out. Got to call my pa.” Gozer’s chest did that trollish thing no other race can do. Supposed to be a laugh. More like a volcanic eruption in the esophagus. Yeah, yeah. Very funny. I locked myself out. His eyes narrowed. “What happened to your arms?” I looked down. The sun was daring to peek over the horizon soon, so the blood coating my arms was a little more dramatic. I mumbled about having to take a detour in the park. “Some detour.” Gozer handed me his phone. I dialed Pa. On the second ring he was grumping about being retired and not appreciating early morning calls. “You’re sitting drinking your coffee, reading the news, right?” I asked. “Doesn’t matter. Retired is a thing. I put in my fifty years. Deserve my morning peace.” He was never one to be overly perky in the morning. Maybe had something to do with dragging in from the office after ten in the evening most nights. I suggested some old goats love to hear from their adoring sons. He growled high, which is an ogre’s laugh. “I hear from you too often anyway. What. Was just last month, huh? Get a life, youngling.” Ma was probably swishing a firm fist at him. “You changed the code on my security thing. What’s the new one?” He was silent. “Used to be my birthdate,” I hedged. He remained silent. “Did you write it down somewhere?” “You locked yourself out?” Thankfully he sounded surprised. I waited. Uh oh. He didn’t remember. I’d have to hunt down Dave. Last thing in the world I wanted to do. “I’d been telling you—” Yeah, yeah. Pa harangued me for six weeks. I told him, “If you ever touch my computer again I’ll break your arm,” and hung up.  I’d pay next visit. Not from Pa. Ma would slap me around a couple times, maybe give a dreadlock a hard pull. Being the youngest of three, at least I got a break from serious repercussions. Didn’t matter if I was forty, or fifty like my brother, we toed the line or answered to Ma. I dialed the office quick, left a message the crew was on their own for the day. The morning was slipping by. I hadn’t taken a day off in five months anyway. They needed to learn to survive without me. “You know anything about that.” Gozer sloshed his cup toward the mountain of steel when I handed him his phone. “Not my biggest concern this morning,” I said. He shook his head, dreads swinging, brow arched, not a happy troll. “They must have taken down the for sale sign, or buried it in all that.” Gozer sloshed what had to be an empty cup now toward the expensive debris pile. “Not a portent of good neighbors,” Gozer continued. I gave him a shrug as I turned up the block, and thanked him for the phone. I considered breaking into a jog, but the wrenched ankle had been swelling up some while we talked.  As I neared Dave’s, his garage door opened, car backed out, and vroom, he pushed his little sport car as though a fire flicked at his skinny little butt. I ran after him, waving my arms. Jerk. Must have taken the shortest loop. ~Nuel~ Silva hadn’t stopped talking. How did I survive college with a human roomy? The wolves barely gave me a reprieve from her blah, blah, as we backed up to take the short trail home.  © R. Mac Wheeler