Tag Archives: sci-fi

Sundown Hill – Six

After leaving the antique shop, Maya made her way toward the hills.  It was not long before Old Duffy made his appearance.  As usual, he was a stone’s throw away and sitting down indifferent to the world around him.  At least he gave that impression.  Maya’s heart raced.  She could not be silent.  The frozen earth beneath her feet cracked like eggshells.  She could not run.  The field grasses were frozen in bunches and made the footing awkward.  Old Duffy turned his head toward her as he picked up the sound of her footsteps.  He got up and started a slow walk as if waiting for Maya.  Then, Maya started to get the feeling Old Duffy was leading her somewhere.  When Old Duffy got frustrated with her slow and mistrusting pace, he would circle back toward her, enticing her to pick up the pace with a few crouch and sprint movements.  Maya started to enjoy his taunts, especially his double take grins.  As they ventured deeper into the woods, the sunlight grew dim.  Maya lost sight of Old Duffy.  She picked up the sound of something running toward her and she took cover behind a tree.  She peeked around the trunk and saw a scruffy and dirty dog.  She pulled back.  As the dog began to pass she realized it was Cooper. Or, at least it resembled her dog.  She could not help but cry out.

“Cooper, over here!  Is that you?”

Cooper stopped short and turned to look at Maya.  Then, he bolted toward her.  He bounced up on his hind legs to look Maya straight in the eyes and got a good lick on the bottom of her chin while knocking her down to the ground.  The two wrestled around on the cold earth as they enjoyed seeing each other again.  The reunion was short-lived as Cooper let out a few barks.  He wanted Maya to follow him back the way he came.  When the two of them reached the trapped girl, Old Duffy was already there.  Maya calmed Cooper’s mistrust by saying, “It’s all right Cooper.  He was helping me all along.”

Maya saw there was no chance of moving the boulders to free the girl.  She was hunched forward and too weak to keep her head up.  Maya asked, “Are you Emily?”  The girl nodded her head up and down and gave out a few short rasps.  Maya pulled a bottle of water from her pack.

“Now don’t swallow.  Take a few sips and spit it out,” instructed Maya.

Maya examined the situation and came up with an idea.  Cooper could dig a hole big enough between the boulders and Maya could slip through.  If she could remove the girl’s sneaker that may just give Emily enough room to free her foot.

“Cooper, dig!” Maya commanded.

Cooper began digging but his pace was slow and sloppy.  From afar, Old Duffy watched the dilemma and it did not take him long to catch on.  He mustered up his trust and got right beside Cooper.  They both dug with a sense of urgency.  When the hole was wide enough, Maya slipped part of the way in, untied Emily’s sneaker and removed it.  She wiggled back out of the hole, grabbed Emily by placing both arms under her armpits and pulled.  As the girl screamed in pain, she opened her eyes revealing their dark, silver pattern.  Maya looked into those eyes and felt both anxiety and relief.  Emily was now free but not out of danger.

Maya thought aloud, “Now what?  You are too weak and we can’t carry you.”

Maya knew the only help was back at the town and darkness was fast approaching.  She reached into her backpack and pulled out the newspaper.  She tore off the heading about the missing girl, folded it, and placed it snug between Cooper’s leg and the friendship bracelet that remained strong through the entire adventure.

“I hope that holds, Cooper.  Now, follow my trail to the town and get help,” Maya said as she pointed in the direction of the town.

Cooper would make the trip in about an hour.  He picked up Maya’s scent all the way to the antique shop.  Wendell had just stepped outside the shop to end his day.  Cooper ran over.  At first, Wendell was startled and turned to defend himself.  Then, he realized what appeared to be a note on the dog’s leg.  He saw the friendship bracelet holding the note.  Wendell glanced at the bracelet on his wrist and then, back to the dog.  He reached down, removed the note and read it aloud.  “This is from the paper. Maya!” he whispered.

Cooper barked twice.

“You found Emily!” shouted Wendell.

Cooper barked again and as a show of inducement, he started to run back in the direction of the woods.  Wendell went back into the shop to phone the police.

Within five minutes, the police arrived with all-terrain vehicles and a canine crew.  Wendell gave a rapid, yet confusing set of details to the police.  However, the officers were inclined to believe.  They were filled with hope and wanted to act.  Hope was better than not being optimistic.  Wendell jumped on the back of one of the ATVs.  One of the officers placed a dog headlight around Cooper’s neck and Cooper led the charge into the woods.  As they made their way, the headlights picked up the eyes of several coyotes. All the coyotes began a group yip-howl that contained the rise and fall of yips and yaps.  Unknown to the rescue team, the coyotes were actually vocally guiding them toward Maya.  Maya and Emily had crawled back inside the space between the rocks to keep warm and to stay out of the brisk winds.  Old Duffy sat at the newly formed entrance between the boulders to protect the girls and shield them from the cold. When Old Duffy picked up the headlights of the rescue team, he bolted away.  Maya saw the lights and crawled out.  The police scrambled to retrieve Emily and carried her over to the rescue vehicles.  The police were preoccupied with Emily and turned their backs to the scene.  Wendell approached Maya and said, “I believed in you all along. You too, Cooper.  Now the town will believe in me and I will have a home and a permanent job.”

As his eyes turned from silver to a dazzling amber, Wendell said, “You will be unstoppable.”

Seconds after Wendell spoke those words, Maya and Cooper found themselves back on the summit of Sundown Hill.  In the distance, Old Duffy appeared on the hill to the left. He let out a few yips and yaps, then, finished with an approving howl.  A breeze was blowing at their backs and into the high bluestem grass.  The scent of warm, fertile soil filled the air, harmonizing the mood.  Maya could hear the jubilant screams of her parents.  She was not fazed and focused her eyes on the setting sun and its beams that were dancing in the amber sky filled with silky, glittering seeds of aspiration.

 

For now, this concludes the adventures of Maya and Cooper!  All six chapters combined only takes about an hour to read.

Image is not mine and is downloadable, free wallpaper.

Sundown Hill – Five

Maya and Wendell sat down at a booth in the diner.  Maya orders macaroni and cheese with a side of cornbread.  Wendell settles for a cheeseburger and steak fries.  The booth was clean and even Maya squeaked as she moved about on the white and comfortably padded vinyl bench seat.  The place was well maintained and that made her feel safe.

“Now that we are away from the loud noise of the train and in the quiet, you can tell me more about why you are here,” Wendell said while keeping his voice low.

“You would not believe me,” whispered Maya.

“I know you are here to help me but I don’t get how you got all the way here by yourself.  Besides, there was hardly a scratch on you until you ran for the train.”

“I found this object that transports me to the people I am supposed to help.”

“Like a machine?”

“No.  It’s a real simple tablet.”

The waitress comes over and served them their meals.

“However, I have never had such difficulty helping someone.  Usually, my journey is only a few hours and not days.  My parents must be worried about me.”

“They probably have a whole town’s worth of folks looking for you,” Wendell said as he chomped down on his burger, letting the tomato slide out and fall to the plate.

“The coyote that attacked me when I jumped for the train has been following me.”

“Following you?”

“Yes, but this time Old Duffy seemed to help.”

“Hmmm. Maybe the coyote really wants your help.”

“Really?  I never thought of it that way,” Maya said with the thinking gears turning in her head.  “I’ve never noticed if his eyes are silver, too.”

“Why do you call him Old Duffy?”

“A girl I helped previously had named him that.  I am not sure. Maybe because he sat on his duff all the time,” chuckled Maya.

“The only way to find out is to help me first,” said Wendell as he flaunted his still silvery eyes.

“I know exactly what to do!”

“Then, let’s sleep on it.  There’s a motel next door.  We’ll get a fresh start early tomorrow.  They know me.  If they ask, just tell them you’re my second cousin’s daughter and I am escorting you to Edmonton.”

“Got it.”

After the quick meal, they pay up at the register.  There is a stack of local papers on the counter. Maya grabs one as they head out the door and over to the motel.

Inside the motel room, Wendell laid down on his bed and instantly fell asleep. Maya propped up some pillows on her bed, and started to read the paper she grabbed from the diner.  Her heart began to race as she read the front page headline; Local Girl Four Days Missing.  She tried to wake Wendell but it was no use.  She read about all the efforts to find the missing girl, Emily.  She began thinking about the same efforts that her parents must be leading and she drifted away from the story and into a deep sleep.  It was the kind of sleep that would cure all the fatigue and struggle she endured the past few days.  She dreamed of being in a familiar setting where she sat on the floor of her living room, completing her math exercises.  When she was all done and mom gave her the approval, she would have a play break with her dog, Cooper.  She would chase Cooper around the house.  Each room had a different table, creating a unique racetrack to be mastered.  She named each room after a popular speedway.  As Maya was at the end of her dream, she started mumbling, “We used to leave the blue lights on.  It’s all caffeine-free.  None of them want to fight me.  Cooper, none of them want to fight me.”  She awoke.  Eyes staring straight up.  Maya sat up and felt wide awake.  Refreshed and ready to start the day, she looked over to the other bed.  It was empty.  She called out for Wendell but there was no answer.  She noticed a faint, blue light coming from the bathroom.  This triggered the memory of her dream and it frightened her.  She called for Wendell one more time.  Slowly, she walked to the bathroom and peaked around the doorway.  There was a note next to the blue night light between the double sink.  She read aloud, “We used to leave the blue lights on. Meet me at the antique shop around the corner, Combat Baby.”

Wendell stood at the street corner as Maya approached.  She noticed that he looked different in a clean cut kind of way.  He had on a burgundy plaid flannel, dark blue jeans, and a pair of penny loafers.

“Where did you get the clothes?” she asked.  “You shaved, too!”

“Oh, the waitress at the diner keeps a fresh change for me when I stop here,” Wendell said hoping to avoid any further explanation.

“C’mon, let’s get to the antique shop,” as Maya walked away from him waving her left hand in a moment of hyper positivity.

“Wait, I’ve got to give you the plan.”

“No need, Wendell. I got this,” Maya said placing emphasis on the verb.

The two of them enter the shop and they are greeted by Heather, one of the owners.

“How can I help you,” asked Heather.

With a twinkle in her eye, Maya jumps right into it and says, “We’ve run into a bit of bad luck and we are out of money to get all the way to Edmonton.  My older relative, Wendell, is a great cabinet maker. I was hoping he could help out for a few days and for just enough to be on our way.”

“You can start right away, Heather said with a sense of relief.  “We just got a few pieces in that we could turn around for resale quickly if someone makes some minor repairs.”

Maya’s delighted grin only lasted a brief moment as Wendell’s eyes did not turn back to their normal color. She still saw them as silver.

“Thank you. I’ll get started but excuse us for one minute,” Wendell said as he led Maya outside of the shop.

“You need to head out to those hills. That’s where you’ll find your answer.”

“But you,” Maya started to say.

“No buts, I’ve got a hunch.”

Maya started to turn, took off her backpack and reached in for a friendship bracelet.  She placed it around Wendell’s wrist.

“Here, something for you to remember me.”

Wendell kneeled down for a long hug.  Then, Maya turned and hustled off.


Cooper was transported to the same ridge Maya had found herself earlier in the week.  It was not long before Cooper picked up her scent.  He came across a crude pile of leaves and pine needles and sniffed at it repeatedly.  He rummaged through the pile with his nose, exposing the leftover strawberry yogurt container Maya tried to bury.  Cooper gave a few licks retrieving the slim pickings.  He trotted down toward the tracks, found a small piece of blue jeans, and gave out a low, angry growl.  Someone or something had messed with Maya and Cooper could no longer pick up her scent.  However, he recognized the scent of Old Duffy.  He determined that when he found Old Duffy he would also find Maya.  He followed the trail away from the tracks and into the woods.  Cooper tracked all day and all night.  There were numerous small ponds and larger lakes in the area so Cooper was never short of water.  He decided to bed down for the night in the safety of a rock outcropping near the shoreline of a small lake.

The next morning Cooper awoke to find a light dusting of snow on the ground. Winter was approaching fast in the North and Cooper knew to pick up the pace.  He trotted until he came to the next lake.  He stopped briefly for a drink of water.  Looking all the way to the far end of the lake, he noticed the figure of a girl.  He thought it could be Maya.  He ran quickly.  When he arrived at the girl’s side, he realized it was not Maya.  Cooper could sense the girl was in trouble.  She could not speak and she was trapped.  Her right leg was caught between two boulders, each must have been a thousand pounds.  It would later be known that she was walking across the tops of the boulders when one shifted.  She slipped and the boulder tilted, trapping her but not crushing her leg.  She just did not have enough space to slip her foot back out.  Trapped for days, dehydrated and hypothermic, she did not have much longer.  She pointed in the direction she thought the town would be.  Cooper sensed her feeble command and let out a reassuring bark as he sprinted away for help.

 

The story concludes next week. Don’t miss out!

Maya’s dream references the lyrics of Combat Baby by Metric.

 

Sundown Hill – Four

Sarah did not have much patience for her daughter’s elusiveness.  She promptly marched across the field and up the hill only to find Cooper. Sarah got down on both knees and called out for Maya as she gently dug her fingers into the fur on the back of Cooper’s neck.  Sarah asked Cooper if he knew Maya’s whereabouts.  He wagged his tail and barked while looking down the steep side of the hill.

“Did she fall down the hill, Cooper?” asked Sarah with hope and anxiety in her voice.

She called out a few more times for Maya but to no avail.  She could not attempt to walk down the steep hill and thought it best to call upon the fire rescue squad.  Before she left, she looked outward and saw a black coyote running away.  Cooper saw it too and snarled.

“I’m going to get help,” said Sarah.  “Cooper, you stay here.”

Cooper had no intention moving from his spot.  He nosed the go tablet under the dense thatch of bluestem and sat beside the tablet in order to keep it out of sight.  In the distance, he could still see the coyote’s shady form.  It was not Old Duffy. No white patch.  Cooper wondered how many coyotes were out there and waited for the chaos to ensue.


jaspercanada
As the train approached Edmonton, Wendell asked, “You don’t have a Canadian way about you.  Where are you from, Maya?”

“Oklahoma!”

“I hope you brought your passport.”

“What’s that?”

Wendell slaps his left hand onto his right cheek, holding it there and shaking his head.

“You have to have a passport in a foreign country, especially if you intend on getting out!”

“Don’t worry.  I’ve got a way about me.”

“Yes. You sure do.”

The train began to slow unexpectedly as they neared the next stop.  Wendell peaked out the side door and saw what appeared to be two vehicles ahead.  They were gearing up for a train inspection.

“We must have been spotted at a previous stop,” said Wendell.  “You have to make a break for those trees!”

Maya screamed through the wind, “I can’t leave you!  I have to help you!”

“Well, I’m going to have to help you first by distracting them.  Now go!”

Maya jumped off the train while somehow keeping her balance and ran to the trees for cover.  The large conifers with their thick trunks were more than wide enough to hide a young girl.  The situation did not look good for Wendell as there now was a truck on each side of the tracks approaching fast.  The trucks came to a halt, sending so much dust into the air, that for a brief moment Wendell almost had a chance to run away unseen.  It was a trick and Wendell stood motionless in the railcar.  All of the sudden, four black coyotes trot out of the woods howling and calling to each other.

Maya was terrified as goose bumps covered her arms. She thought to herself she was going to be either caught by the yard bulls or the coyotes. Either way, her good deeds seemed to come to close before they even began.  The coyotes broke into pairs and started harassing the yard bulls, trapping them in their vehicles, howling and making threatening moves at the trucks.  The yard bulls threatened back with hitting the gas pedal, trying to hit the coyotes.  As this happened, one coyote jumped into the bed of the truck.  The rear window was open and the coyote forced its head through the small opening. Growling and snapping, it nipped one of the men’s ear and the truck veered over the rail ties and onto the tracks.  Wendell watched intently as the adrenaline of fight or flight grabbed him. Finally, flight won over.  Wendell seized the opportunity and jumped off the train and into the woods well ahead of Maya.  Maya ran across a carpet of dry needles that generated a faint aroma of holiday spirit and caught up with Wendell.

“What a lucky break,” said Wendell clearly out of breath.  “I have not seen black coyotes up this way in years.”

“I don’t think it is luck,” said Maya.  “Let’s make for the town.”

Old Duffy

As they started jogging toward the town, Maya had this strange sense she was being watched. She stopped and looked back at the train and sees a coyote sitting next to the lead engine with its tongue hanging out.  Its mouth was wide open but the coyote appeared to be grinning.  She glanced at the ears and saw the white patch of hairs.  Old Duffy for certain.  He got up on all fours and bobbed his head up motioning at the town as if to say, “Keep going. I got you covered.”  Then, Maya reminded herself how things sometimes are just complicated.

The town of Stony Plain is just thirty minutes outside of Edmonton and is known for its many, old renovated buildings.  Its history is discovered while searching around town for over thirty murals on the sides of buildings.  The depictions tend to be literal, showing prominent residents and their contributions to the town which has grown to a minimal city status of over fifteen thousand residents.  Maya and Wendell stop to marvel at one of the more imposing murals of the town’s first sheriff chaining a locomotive.

“Who was that man?” asked Maya.

“He was Israel, the strong arm of the law. He forced the railways to pay their taxes,” proclaimed Wendell.  “Now that I have my bearings, let’s get to the diner.”


Back in Oklahoma, Sundown Hill had been overrun with volunteers to search for Maya.  There were several trigger happy huntsmen looking to get their next coyote.  The fire rescue team repelled down the side of the steep end of the hill as several others gathered to watch the spectacle instead of actually lending a hand.  In the town, word had spread that several coyotes had been spotted in residential areas.  Mr. Stubbs claimed that one of his goats had gone missing, although no one could verify its disappearance was due to a coyote and the report amplified the concern to a panic.  There was disorganization on the left side of the hill and excessive shouts on the right side.  Maya could have easily been overlooked.  As evening prevailed, everyone headed back home with reassurance they would return tomorrow morning.

Rick, Sarah, and Cooper were all that remained atop of the hill.  Rick held Sarah close as they watched the sun set.  Sarah could not stop the tears from rolling.  The pain of her lost daughter was so great she could not voice a cry.  Cooper gently licked the tears from her face as the sun’s disc finally sunk out of view.  Rick and Sarah got the strength to head home but Cooper refused to follow.  Instead, he knew the time was right as he pawed at the go tablet, retrieving it from its hiding place.  He flipped the tablet over and placed his nose in the center of the tablet’s nothingness. Cooper vanished and his quest for Maya was under way.

Sundown Hill – Three

Chapter Three

After spending a half day at the veterinary clinic, Cooper was back home with several stitches and a wrapped leg.  The father, Rick, had plenty of time in the clinic’s waiting room to speculate about the black coyote.  He brought home all the ideas the townsfolk had in regards to this aggressive animal.  He gave an open invitation to anyone who may know how to track it.

“Are they going to shoot it?” pouted Maya.

“No. There will be no shooting around this household,” proclaimed Rick.  “I think it is a good idea for us to find the coyote and send it to a safer place.”

“It may have been spooked away from the refuge by a hunter,” said Sarah, Maya’s mom.

The Witchita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one of the best kept secrets outside of southeastern Oklahoma.  The majestic acreage teeming with animals was just another reason the family moved to the state.  Maya called Cooper over and placed a blue and gold friendship bracelet on Cooper’s right leg as he gently licked the side of her face.

“That will help you heal faster,” said Maya with certainty.

A week had passed and the cold, morning air that crept through Maya’s window awakened her at last.  Autumn was arriving and she couldn’t rely on the sunlight to get her out of bed.  As she pushed the covers off with her feet, Cooper jumped to the floor.  Maya went over to close the window, brushed aside the loose-weave burlap curtain, and looked out to the rolling hills.  Today would be the day, she thought.  She could no longer deny the calling of Sundown Hill.  She went quietly down the stairs, opened one of the cabinets, and grabbed a pair of scissors out of the organizer.  Maya turned an ear to the stairs to make sure she had not stirred her mother to action.  She kneeled down, cut the wrapping off of Cooper’s leg, and tossed it into the trash.  They kept the dog food under the sink.  She poured out a small portion and filled the water bowl.  As Cooper began to eat, Maya grabbed a strawberry yogurt and had a quick breakfast.

“Come on, Cooper. Let’s sneak out before mom gets up.”

At the last second, she grabbed another yogurt and stuffed it into her backpack.  They made their way swiftly up to the hill.  Maya had no trouble locating the go tablet.  She placed her hand on Cooper’s head and touched the center of the nothingness.  However, at the last second, Cooper picked up the sound of mom’s callings and he lost contact with Maya.


canadafall2

Maya found herself on a ridge trail looking outward to the valley below.  The golden yellow hues of the leaves and the lush greens of the grasses and conifers were weaved together in such a graceful way, Maya shivered out a tear.  She could see railroad tracks extending for miles alongside a river as they disappeared between two mountains.  Farther out, the mountains were topped with snow and the view brought her into the reality that it was quite cold.  There was no sight of a town or even a building.  In that moment, she recognized Cooper, her chaperone and her protector, was not there.  She thought it best to make her way down to the tracks.  The trip down the valley would take a few hours.

When she finally arrived at the railroad tracks, she remembered an old trick her father taught her to determine if a train was coming.  Looking forward, she placed her right ear on the railroad tie and listened.  There was nothing to hear or vibrations to be felt.  She walked for ten minutes, kneeled down and listened again.  This time, she thought she felt something like the shimmy of car with a rough idle. She turned her head the other way to listen.

“Ahh!” Maya lets out a long shriek.

The train was approaching from behind her.  She scrambled to her feet and began to calm down once she realized how slow the train was going. Still, it only took three or four minutes for the train to reach her and when it did the conductor blew the whistle loudly.  The sound was deafening and Maya covered her ears as she watched the engine pass by.  The brakes squeaked and sparked as the cars slowly moved along.  She noticed some of the railcars were branded with Canadian National.  Now she was certain she was in Canada.  The train was still moving too fast for Maya to try and cling to a ladder or hop into an open side door if she could find one.  She spotted one side door open some twenty cars behind her. Only one.  She started to jog along to time a jump.  Suddenly, the air behind her filled with the sound of a coyote’s cry.  Maya looked back and over her shoulder.  It was Old Duffy and he was closing in on her fast.  She stumbled and fell forward.  Her hands kept her from a complete fall and she started to run.  Looking to the left, she could see that one and only one open rail car.  She had to make a jump for it as the coyote was nearly upon her.  Just as she leaped, a man appeared at the doorway of the open railcar and extended his hand as far as he could.  Maya clenched on as Old Duffy grabbed the bottom hem of the jeans on her left leg.  The jeans tore away and Maya was safe inside the railcar.

“What’s a young girl like you doing out here in the wilderness of Alberta?” asked the stranger.

Looking up at the man, Maya noticed his silver eyes and says, “I’m here to help you.”

“Oh, really!” said the man. “How do you intend to do that?”

“First, tell me your name. I’m Maya.”

“I’m Wendell.”

“Well, my dad always said if you want help, you always have to tell people your story.  So, what’s your story, Wendell?”

“For many years, my brother and I were in business together. He owned most of the business. He was the brains and I was the workhorse.  We made custom cabinets. He passed and I did not have the skills to run the business.  The economy slowed down two years ago and the money stopped coming in. I’ve been riding trains ever since.”

“But why? Why not get another job,” Maya said confusingly.

“I wanted to see the beauty of nature before my time came instead of wasting my life in a small workshop,” Wendell’s voice grumbled to a close.  “Besides, jobs are scarce now.”

“I’ll find you a job when we get to the next town,” Maya defiantly exclaimed.

“First, we’ve got to bandage up that left hand of yours,” said Wendell.

Maya looked down at her hand to see the skin all scrambled up and bloodied from her fall while running to catch the train. She faints from the sight and Wendell sets her down gently on the wooden floor of the railcar.  Wendell wraps her hand with gauze and applies a safety pin to keep it on tight.

“You are very lucky to even be on the train,” said Wendell.

“How’s that?” said Maya.

“These days it’s hard to find a freight car with its doors open,” said Wendell. “The yard bulls do a good job of train inspection and keeping riders off of them.”

An outcrop of rocks dotted with scrub trees and bushes came into view.  As the train passed, Maya thought she saw Old Duffy sitting atop one of the boulders.  A minute or two later, Old Duffy darts from the edge of the woods and starts running toward the train.  He is now sprinting alongside the freight car.  Maya freezes in panic as she fears Old Duffy is going to make a jump for it. He does.  Now inside the freight car he heads straight for Wendell.  The coyote bites him on his left bicep.  Wendell lets out an angry yell and Maya shrieks as she awakens rattled.

“Whew! It was just a dream.”

“You keep resting, Maya. We are still hours away from Edmonton.

Sundown Hill – Two

Chapter Two

The next morning Maya began her day eager to learn. She was a machine of discovery and needed fuel to keep all those levers, pulleys, and gears in motion.  Entering the kitchen, she could smell the aroma of toasted bread and the citrus of a freshly cut orange.  She sat at the table with an empty bowl in front of her. Mom reached into the cupboard and grabbed the graham crunch cereal and set it on the table.  Maya poured her cereal and milk as mom delivered the rest of the breakfast and sat beside her.

“Mom,” said Maya. “I know today is math day, but can you teach me more science?”

“Science?” Mom exclaimed quizzically. “What happened to my little count-bot?”

“I just want to learn more about the Earth, plants, and animals. Stuff like that.”

“Sure.  Well, the first thing you should know is that everything on Earth is connected.  The people, land, oceans, and animals are all here together interacting.”

“So, treating others the way we want to be treated goes for the animals and plants, too?”

“Yes. Every action you do has an effect. You have what is called responsibility to understand your actions and their effects.”

“If everything I do is good, will I always get a good effect?”

“We would hope, Maya. Sometimes things are more complicated than what they appear. Now finish your breakfast and let’s get school started.”

Maya spent most of the day completing her multiplication table assignments.  Her mom introduced her to the concept of skip counting.  Maya enjoyed counting by 5’s as fast as she could.  At the end of the schooling day, her mom handed her a new book to read.

“I borrowed this from Mrs. Jones. It’s a classic called Charlotte’s Web.  I am sure you will like it.”

The rest of the week went by slowly as the much needed summer rain showers interrupted any chance to be outside.  Finally, the weather broke on Friday and it was a wonderful, crisp morning with a light breeze blowing in from the west.  Maya received permission to go to Sundown Hill after lunch as long as she had Cooper as her chaperone.  She made her way playfully meandering through the meadow as Cooper nipped at her wrists trying to pull her down for a good face licking.  When they reached the top, Maya sat down on top of her green, flannel camp pillow and began reading her new book.  Cooper lay beside her with his head on her left leg.  She gently ran her fingers through his short, silky Goldador coat as she began to daydream about her love of animals just like Fern in the book.  She started to see her own life change.  The mysterious tablet was at her right side.  She had nicknamed it, “the go tablet”, because it simply took her places.  Out of impulse, she picked up the tablet and placed her finger in the center.  She did not take into consideration Cooper was still resting on her lap.  Maya instantly found herself on a playground along with Cooper.

“Oh no!” Maya exclaims. “Cooper, you shouldn’t be here!”

She noticed a group of kids playing kickball in the field to the right.  In front of her was a recreational area filled with playground equipment.  Maya noticed a girl sitting on the inside of a geodesic dome and against its bars.  She walked over as Cooper followed.  Maya grasped the warm, metal bars as she climbed up to the top and then, dropped down to the ground.  Cooper casually trotted between the bars to sit beside her.

“Keeping you back turned like that could get you into trouble,” Maya said to the girl.

“I’ve already got plenty of trouble and no friends, anyway,” said the girl.

“Well, you’re not going to make friends with your back turned to everybody.  I’m Maya.”

“I’m Melissa.”  As she looked up, she revealed her silver eyes.

“Hi, Melissa.  This is Cooper. I understand now,” Maya said as she looked directly into the nothingness of her eyes.

“Why aren’t you playing kickball with the others?”

“I’m no good at sports.  The kids make fun of me because one leg is a little shorter than the other.  Then, they make fun of me because I read too much and keep to myself.”

“I’ve got an idea to stop you from being picked on,” Maya said with excitement.

In that instant, Maya was once again not the Maya of the flesh.  Melissa projected her emotional being outward and Maya melded herself into the projection.

“C’mon.  You’re going to play but I’ll kick the ball. They can’t see me because I am really part of you,” Maya explained.

Melissa and Maya walked over to the game and approached the recess monitor.

“I decided I want to play after all,” said Melissa.

“Recess is almost over, said the monitor.  “We will give you last kicks.”

“But we have a chance to win the game,” said one selfish kid.  “If you put her up, we are sure to lose.”

The opposing team moves way in, not expecting any type of meaningful kick.  There were two outs and kids standing on second and third base.

“This will be any easy third out,” teases one of the opposing players.

The ball is pitched.  Melissa runs up to kick and just as she does Maya hits the ball.  The ball goes over everyone’s head and out into right center field.  Unable to run fast, Melissa still makes it to second and wins the game for the team.  The monitor blows the whistle announcing recess is over.

Maya and Melissa walk back to the dome to get their things.  Melissa bends down to pick up her backpack and notices a copy of Charlotte’s Web on the ground.

“Oh, that’s mine,” said Maya.  “You keep it.  It is a great story about friendship.”

Just as Maya finishes talking, Cooper lets out a snarl and starts to bark.  They look over to the edge of the forest and see a black coyote.

“Don’t worry about that coyote,” Melissa waves the animal off.  “We call him Old Duffy.  He’s not much trouble.  That’s why I sit inside the dome. Just in case.”

“How do you know there is just one of them?”  Maya asked.

“He’s got a white patch on his right ear.”

Cooper becomes restless and snarls a few more times.  Maya kneels down and pets Cooper to keep him calm.

A young girl approaches and says, “Let me give you a hand or you will be late for class.  We’ll walk together.”

Melissa leans over to whisper to Maya. “Hey, my first new friend.”

Maya catches a glimpse of Melissa eyes that are now emerald green.  Swiftly, Maya steps out of Melissa’s projection and is back on Sundown Hill with Cooper, however, it is cloudy and rain begins to fall.  She thinks to herself that this time there is no wonderful sunset to absorb after her good deed.  Maya folds her camp pillow into the stuff sack and looks over to the hill on the left.  She sees a black coyote.

“No, it can’t be,” she says under her breath.

Cooper senses her fear and takes a defensive posture as the coyote runs toward them.  Much closer, now, Maya recognizes the white patch on the coyote’s right ear.

“Old Duffy,” Maya shrieks.

Cooper runs down the hill to engage the coyote.  The other side of Sundown Hill is quite steep and rocky. Several large boulders jut out of the hillside.  Cooper and the coyote growl and bite at each other.  Old Duffy gets a firm grip on the back of Cooper’s neck and they both tumble down the hill.  Old Duffy rolls into a boulder, lets out a yelp, and releases Cooper from his grip.  The coyote retreats down the hill and out of sight.  Cooper limps back up the hill toward Maya.  His front left leg was gashed and bleeding from a scrape against the rocks.  As they both hurry home to seek shelter from the rain, Maya recalls the conversation with her mother and says,

“Cooper, things just got complicated.”

Autumn Labrador Portrait

 

Photo from 101dogbreeds.com

 

Sundown Hill

Chapter One

Maya was sitting on the bedroom floor with her friendship bracelet kit.  Being home schooled at eight years old, she escaped into her own world and imagined all her friends wearing her creative art.  The house she lived in was on the outskirts of town, so she had no close neighbors to keep her occupied.  Most of her playtime was spent with Cooper the family dog.  They had moved into the house less than a year ago and were still adjusting to its solitude.  The property had once been a prosperous apple orchard and several old trees still dotted the landscape on top of golden hills that rolled downward and to the west.  Maya heard the grinding of the earthen stone driveway and the soft squeal of brakes. She braced for her father’s entrance, hoping he had a good day.  The arguments would always start with a few bitter words. Then, mom’s refusal to give in unleashed an onslaught of emotions between both of them.  This time the house would echo the full release.  Maya had a fragile heart and could no longer bare the sound of the harsh tongues.  She ran down the stairs, into the kitchen, and out the back door.  The storm door slammed shut, drowning out her mother’s call.  Maya ran through the backyard, stepping on one of Cooper’s squeaky, toy bones, and down the hill.  She ran for her life, escaping reality once again.  She pretended to dodge the waking dead, with their rotting arms outstretched.  She could see their fists burst from the ground, hoping to grab her by the legs.  She escaped each grab and disappeared into the bluestem prairie.  Now she was too far from home to give in to the cries of her sympathetic parents.  Maya knew where her heart was racing toward.  She reached the top of Sundown Hill and absorbed the brilliant red and orange rays of the setting sun.  The hill was her favorite hangout for inspiration and for release.   The summit was dotted with blue and white asters hiding among the meadow grass that changed colors like a chameleon with each season.  The outward view was spine-tingling.  She only had tears and never words to describe its immensity.  This time, her sorrow poured down her faultless, pure complexion as she thought of her parents.  Maya cried until her lungs ached.  When her whimpering stopped, she picked up the pitter-patter of her tears.  At her feet, she noticed a slab of rose quartz.  The slab was thin and rectangular.  When she flipped it over, there was no surface.  Well, at least not of anything she recognized.  She thought the object was similar to a mirror that reflected nothing.  She touched it.  She was surprised as her finger responded with sensation.  Little silver ripples moved to the right.  She touched the right side and the ripples moved left.  She touched the center and vanished.

Maya suddenly found herself on a dark street.  On the other side, a man in a raincoat was leaning against the wall.  Maya slowly made her way across the street.  She stepped around puddles formed by the uneven cobblestone.  When she approached, the man turned to face her.  He was without eyes.  Maya froze as her mind thought only about those eye sockets and how they looked like the tablet’s liquid silver surface.  In her frightened state, she closed her eyes and found herself back on Sundown Hill, kneeling over the tablet.  She was quivering with a cold numbness, as if she had been out too long at night gazing up at the universe.  She ran home and when she entered the backyard, Cooper was there barking and welcoming her back.  Her parents stepped outside.

Grabbing her arm, her mom said, “Maya, where did you go?  You know better to run off like that.”

“I was only gone ten or twenty minutes,” said Maya trying to downplay her actions.

“You were gone for nearly two hours!” her father said with disapproval.

“I must have lost track of time watching the sunset on the hill.”

“Honey, we can see the hilltop from here and you were not there,” said her mom hoping to get the truth out of her daughter.

Maya washed up and changed into her pajamas to settle in for the evening.  Since she missed dinner, her mom brought a homemade bowl of chicken soup up to the room.  As she lay on her bed, she thought about her experience.  She replayed the sequence of events in her head and convinced herself to go back to the hill tomorrow.  Once again, she would wait until evening.  This time, she would not be afraid of the man with the silver eyes.


After excusing herself from dinner, Maya went outside.  She knew it was best not to go straight to the hill.  That would draw suspicion from her parents.  She wandered around the yard, whistling back at the calling birds pretending she was Rue.  Slowly, she disappeared into the tall grass and moved up the hill.  She set her alarm on her cell phone to remind her when to use the tablet.  Once she reached the top of the hill, she could not immediately locate the tablet.  She became fixed on the setting sun.  Its warm, yellow rays bounced off the tufts of the high bluegrass and her confidence grew.  Her alarm went off and she crawled around furiously for the tablet.  She grabbed the tablet, turned herself toward the sun, and gently put her index finger dead center into the nothingness.

Without fail, she emerged at the same damp, cobblestone street.  She walked over to the man and tugged on the right cuff of his raincoat.

“What is it that you want from me, young girl?”

“Pardon me sir. I think it is you that wants something from me.”

“Yes. Please call me Sam.  Can you see the world for me?”

Immediately, he turned his gaze upon her like a snake striking swiftly.  Maya was prepared and looked directly back.  It was like a game of cat and mouse, each waiting for the other to flinch.  Their heads began to sway back and forth.  Maya was put into a trance and became tired.  She found herself slipping into his world.

Sam was out of a steady job and living with his brother, Henry, and his family.  He was reminded every day that he was a burden.  Specifically, the burden came down to money.  More food, more cleaning.  Higher utility bills.  Maya watched and listened as Sam returned home.  Although, this was not Maya of the flesh.  Maya had been placed in Sam’s projection, separate from the actual Sam that walked the earth.  She was unaware of whether she could be seen or heard.  Through his eyes, Maya could see he was nothing more than a scapegoat.  Sam actually earned enough at daily odd jobs.  He did not sit with the family at dinner.  He even did his own wash.  He kept the spare room he occupied neat and clean.  The problem was no one gave any attention to his coming and going.  Sam arrived at his brother’s home, opened the refrigerator door, and placed his leftover sandwich inside.

Olivia, Henry’s wife, marched into the kitchen and said, “There’s nothing in there for you. Go on and mind your own business.”

Maya watched Sam, exhausted and downtrodden, walk up the stairs and shut the door behind him.  Maya heard some activity in the kitchen.  Thomas, the family’s youngest son, was begging his mom for a snack.

“Go on and eat that half of a sandwich your uncle brought home,” said Olivia. ‘It’s about time he gave something back.”

“Hey! That’s not yours,” Maya exclaimed but her cries could not be heard.

Thomas took the sandwich and ran outside.  Henry and his wife began to argue about Sam and money.  Henry was tired and did not want to discuss the matter, so he left the room.  Maya slowly peeked around the doorway and noticed Olivia taking money from the savings jar.  She pockets some money.  Then, Maya moves swiftly to her backside.  She bumps Olivia’s arm just as she tries to place the jar back in the cupboard.  The jar tumbles off the refrigerator and smashes on the counter.  Maya is already through the kitchen and up the stairs.  Henry rushes into the kitchen and sees the smashed jar.  Olivia tries to lie and make it look as if she was just cleaning the cupboards and she dropped it.  Henry counts the money and realizes twenty dollars is missing.  He forcefully reaches into Olivia’s apron pocket and pulls out a twenty dollar bill.

“It’s been you all along, hasn’t it?” Henry shouts with anger and disappointment.

“You’re the burden and you have been blaming Sam!”

In that moment, Maya stepped out of Sam’s projection.  The projection dissipates and she looks over at Sam sitting on the bed.

“Look at me, Sam,” says Maya.

Sam’s eyes were no longer silver.  Instead, they were clear and radiating amber rays.  Instantly, Maya finds herself on Sundown Hill watching the most beautiful sunset she had ever witnessed.

SundownHillMedium

 

Old Cabin Still – Part Three

After a long discussion, they all agreed to go back.   Before the crack of dawn, they set out for another trip across the lake.  The night had been rather cool.  A low-lying layer of steam fog made for an eerie experience.

“I feel like I’m crossing the river Styx,” Paul said.

“Well, I hope someone paid the ferryman,” Brad jokes.crossing_the_river_styx_by_andrethestrange-d3lkdtq

In the rolling mist, then he gets on board
Now there’ll be no turning back
Beware that hooded old man at the rudder
And then the lightning flashed, and the thunder roared
And people calling out his name
And dancing bones that jabbered and a moaned
On the water
And then the ferryman said
There is trouble ahead
So you must pay me now (don’t do it)
You must pay me now (don’t do it)
And still that voice came from beyond
Whatever you do
Don’t pay the ferryman
Don’t even fix a price
Don’t pay the ferryman
Until he gets you to the other side
 
-Chris De Burgh – Don’t Pay the Ferryman

The boat glides ashore and they drag it several feet up onto the sand.  After looking around for several minutes, an overgrown path is found.  The path was crowded with pignut hickory trees and low bush blueberry plants.  This made for a more bothersome than difficult trek.  When they had walked for five minutes, a crow takes off from the ground and disappears into the canopy sounding its warning call.  Everyone had the same thought. The crow was there to point the way toward another clue.  They walk swiftly to the point of the crow’s departure.  There were several grave markers.  Some had dates and names chiseled into them. Others did not.  Without warning, the ground gives way underneath Brad’s feet.  He quickly grabs the side of the collapsed grave and flips himself back up.  Part of an old casket is revealed along with the bones of the deceased.  Something catches their eye.

“Could it be?” Paul said.  “Another bottle?”

“Leave it be,” Rose said. “Unless someone is brave enough to go down there and dance with the dead?”

No one wanted to take a chance. They felt they had done enough desecration for the day and head back to the path.  After a twenty minute walk, a cabin presents itself to the group.  Everyone but Rose goes inside to investigate.

“I’m going to look around out here,” Rose said.

In actuality, the cabin looked exactly like the one Jeffrey created in the arts and crafts activity.  She really wanted to freak out and head back.  However, she kept it to herself because she was curious for answers.

The others enter the cabin. The air was quite stale.  The layout was a simple one room flat.  The kitchen and its table were to the right. A bed and a dresser to the left.  A fire pit that was used for heat and cooking was centered at the rear.  Paul opened the doors of the cupboard.  It was empty.  Erica went to inspect the dresser.  While Brad stayed at the door, Justin sifted through the fire pit.

“Looks like bones of a grouse. Maybe a rabbit, too,” Justin said.

Meanwhile, Erica is opening the dresser drawers.  She doesn’t find anything until she gets to the bottom drawer.  There she finds a photograph.

“Hey, an old photo,” Erica said in a puzzling manner.  They all rush over.

“Could be from the 1920’s or even earlier,” Paul said.

The picture is of a man and a woman standing next to a car.

“That is a Ford Model T.  I would say Paul is right,” Brad said.

stone-basement-stairsAround the back side of the house, Rose finds a cellar door.  The side walls were of old, quarried slate.  The door was a strong wood, perhaps oak.  The door handles were rusted.  There was a chain wrapped around the handles with a lock.  She notices it is actually unlocked.  She removes the chain and tosses it to the ground.  The lock tumbles.  Rose flips the right side door up with all her strength.  It locks in the open position.  Looking downward, it is pitch black.  Crumbling slate stairs lead the way.  Rose is unafraid and ventures into the cellar. She takes seven steps to a landing. The stairs turn right and there is another door.  Suddenly she becomes covered in cobwebs.  It feels as if tiny creatures are crawling all over her.  Before she can let out a scream, a hand touches here on the left arm.  In an instant, she sweats profusely.  Then, she is freezing cold.  Rose vanishes.

The inside of the cabin does not reveal anything important. The group heads out side and Erica calls out for Rose.  “Rose, where are you? Was that you making all that noise?”

They notice the cellar door is open.

“She must have gone in,” Justin said.

Carefully walking down the stairs, they all randomly call out for Rose. Paul gets out his flashlight. Erica looks back at him quizzically.

“I always carry it. You never know when you might need one, especially when you are in the woods,” Paul said.

After descending five steps, there is a door.  Justin grabs the handle. It opens inward with ease.  The darkness unveils a keg to the left and a wine rack to the right. There are several overstuffed burlap sacks along the back wall.  Erica investigates the rack.

“Hey, another bottle of whiskey,” Erica said.

“Yeah, I bet there is another note inside,” Brad said sarcastically.

“In fact it does have one!” exclaimed Erica.  “You should not joke about the mystery of Old Cabin Still.”

From the back of the room, a very faint sound of slithering is heard. Paul shines the light in its direction.  “Uh, those burlap sacks are moving,” Paul said.

The four scramble to get out of the cellar. The staircase is narrow. They do not realize they are fighting each other due to their own panic.  Brad stumbles and smacks his right knee into the stair case.  He falls down writhing in pain.  The pain is so intense he cannot speak or even move.  The others do not realize Brad’s predicament. They are already back outside.  A large gust of wind kicks up dirt and leaf litter causing the group to shield their eyes.  The cellar door slams shut.  In an instant, calm returns.  Paul realizes that Brad is not among them.  Paul runs over to the cellar doors.  He tries to open them but he cannot.  They scream out for Brad.  A faint voice is heard.  “Get back across the lake. Get help for me,” Brad said with desperation in his voice.

There would be no help for Brad.  Out of the walls, thousands of wolf spiders crawl out.   They attack Brad and he perishes a gruesome, painful death.

Paul, Justin, and Erica run back to the boat. Once again, Erica is holding a bottle.  Justin sees the bottle in Erica’s hand.

“Get rid of that bottle. It’s a curse,” Justin said.

“No, I won’t do it. Maybe it will free Brad,” Erica said.

“And unleash what?” Brad shouts in anger as he tries to take it away from Erica.

“At least let me read it now.”

Erica smashes the bottle on some rocks.  She picks up the note and reads it aloud, “She who reads will never know. He who loves will also go.”

Both Eric’s and Paul’s bodies begin to warp and dematerialize.  They spin upwards as if caught up in a tornado.  They are flung high into the air.  They plummet like missiles into the lake.

Justin’s survival mode kicks in.  He cannot even process what has just occurred.  He starts rowing frantically across the lake.  He notices the lake is still quite foggy.  He cannot see where he is going but he does not care.  Rowing harder, the oars do more splashing than accelerating the boat.  Justin gets halfway across the lake.  He is exhausted and stops.  Out of the fog comes another jon-boat.  Justin is relieved and shouts, “Over here.”

“There is no need to yell,” said the boy.

“Jeffrey, is that you?  What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

Jeffrey eases his boat closer.  “Take my hand, Justin.”

Justin’s hand is crushed by the grip.  Jeffrey begins a transformation. Skin splits from his bones as he grows larger and larger. Slimy scales start to protrude from the creature.  An overwhelming stench takes over. The smell was as if the bottom of a swamp was turned over.  Hot mucus drips from his fangs. His jaws gape open.  In an instant, Justin is consumed.

At the bottom of the lake, there is commotion inside an old Ford Model T.  Paul and Erica surface in an air pocket within the car.  They bang against the window in a futile effort to escape.  They realize they are trapped and only have a few minutes of air.  Paul stares at Erica. She is dressed in an afternoon tea dress. Atop her head, an elegant cloche hat.  Erica looks Paul over.  Paul in his dapper, flannel suit.

crowart

Back at the graveyard, Jeffrey had just finished covering up the collapsed grave.  He plunges the shovel into the soft earth.  The crow swoops down and lands on the end of the upright shovel and lets out a banter of caws.  “Yes, Kangee,” Jeffrey said.  “It was unwise to read the bottles out of order.  Although, we do still have Rose.”

 

-The End

 

Or, is it? I just may write a sequel. By now, you should see the Stephen King influence.

Photos and artwork are not mine.

Old Cabin Still – Part 2

Erica glanced at the bottle in her hand and remembered there was something inside. She would keep it to herself for now.OldCabinBottle

The morning events stayed on schedule. The day always began with raising the camp flag. Breakfast followed for the kids. There would be forty-five minutes for cabin inspections. This was more like stalling to get the activities arranged. Also, the kids were quite the litterbugs and keeping the grounds clean was a priority.  Once the last piece of trash was properly disposed, the day’s activities could begin.

Erica was the lead counselor for all water activities.  She was a high school senior and a member of the diving team.  She placed second in the state championship and made first all-team.  Today’s activity would be the water zip line.  The zip line was a little shy of one hundred feet in length.  Camp kids would climb wooden stairs to get to a nine foot high deck where Erica awaited them.  This was nothing in comparison to the Dragon’s Breath zip line in Labadee, Haiti.  She had bested that monster during spring break.  It is the longest zip line over water.  Adventurists reach speeds up to sixty miles per hour.  However, this zip line brought a much different thrill.  Putting smiles on kids’ faces was the task.  Some kids were nervous.  Others could not wait to cut the waiting line and go again.  While putting the life vest on one of the kids, Erica noticed something across the lake.  It appeared to be a rooftop.  She knew of no structures over there.  The storm must have felled a tree and exposed it.

Meanwhile, Justin and Brad were the swimming pool lifeguards.  Various races were conducted at the pool.  Primarily, they were relay races.  Inner tubes, body boards, and water noodles were included to enhance the element of fun.  Winners would get to race the lifeguards which would end in an all-out water fight.

Justin and Brad played baseball in high school.  Brad was one of the team stars and played left field.  Justin was the workhorse catcher.  He caught every game during his junior and senior year.  He struggled with the bat, though.  The two reminisced about all of Brad’s long throws to home plate.

“Remember when I threw three guys out at home in one game?’ said Brad.

“I sure do. I tagged them,” Justin jests, “Mr. William Hoy!”

The water races paused for an intermission.

“Justin, is that foot feeling ok?” Brad said.

“Yeah, it’s good. In fact, a little too good,” Justin said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I never really felt my foot tangled.  It was as if some force was holding me there.    More like I was running in a dream but not getting anywhere.”

“Just keep that thought to yourself.  Everyone will think you are crazy.”

“Agreed,” Justin said.

On the south side of the lake, Paul was busy trailblazing with the young adventurers.  He was intelligent and enjoyed the sciences.  He knew most of the local plant and animal species.  It was a natural fit for him to be the camp nature guide.  He did not participate in sports.  Instead, his goals were self-oriented.  Planning a ten mile bike trip to a friend’s house was more his style.  When he was younger, he went hiking in the White Mountains of Vermont with his family.  They hiked from Lonesome Lake Hut up to the summit of Cannon Mountain.  The smell of the freshly baked bread at the hut made his mouth water when he thought of it.  The pristine water of that lake and its smooth, glass-like reflection burned in his eyes.  The sight of the Franconia Ridge in the background was what beckoned him to explore.

The hiking event was more of a scenic walk.  An hour each way made it one of the longer activities.  That was plenty for the kids.  He would do two tours in a day but only once a week.  The path led them up a gentle, high ridge that overlooked the lake from a distance.  The view of the lake was frequently blocked by trees.  He would teach the kids both the common and scientific names of the trees.

As they wandered to collect leaves, something caught Paul’s eye. A reflection of some sort.  He thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.  He focused on the end of the lake.  Again, a shimmer of light.  It was not far from where they had gone ashore and discovered the bottle.  Perhaps, a few hundred feet into the woods.  Paul quickly forgot about it as the group turned back down the trail.

Rose hosted one of the most popular activities, arts and crafts.  She was a junior in high school and she was the camp’s leading artist.  She weaved her creative mastery into all the decorations that appeared in the cafeteria and the outdoor assembly area.  In high school, she took the lead with designing all the props and backgrounds for plays.  Everyone followed and learned from her because she was so good with the brush.  Today, she wanted kids to replicate their own home.  They could use any of the materials provided.  Construction paper, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks were all fair game.  They could choose to duplicate their home based on reality or make it abstract.  Britney decided to make hers out of pink pipe cleaners.

Rose offers some advice.  “What you really should do is make the roof and windows one shade and the rest of the house a second shade.”

“Ok, maybe I’ll use a few other colors.”

“Whatever you like.  It is your imagination,” said Rose.

PopsCAbin2Rose moved around the group.  She paused to see what materials Jeffrey was using.  He was a quiet child.  Rose could relate to him.  She had always been on the quiet side too.  He was using the popsicle sticks and bamboo.  He was off to a great start.  The home had an American rustic charm.  It was more like an Adirondack cabin.

“Is that where you live?” Rose said.

“No, this is the cabin across the lake,” Jeffrey said.

“There’s no cabin on that side.”

“Sure there is. I saw it in my dreams last night.”

“Well, you keep going.  It is really good,” Rose said.

Rose dismissed it as just a child’s imagination. She certainly would not be one to get in the way of creativity.  As the kids kept tugging her in every direction, she forgot about Jeffrey’s comments.

The day’s activities began to wind down.  Erica called upon her four friends.  They agreed to meet at Paul’s cabin to investigate the bottle.  First, a great barbeque was to be conducted for dinner.  Brad and Justin were elected master chefs.  Brad would grill the chicken.  A good portion had been marinated in a garlic and wine concoction.  He would cook it then sear it until the chicken was crispy.  There also was plenty with a barbeque sauce flavor.  Justin would handle the hot dogs and hamburgers.  A simple task for a laid back and simple man.  The salads were all premade.  A small food fight broke out with potato salad being the choice of artillery.  After everything was devoured, the grounds were cleaned up.  The children had been sent off to their cabins for the evening.

The five friends assembled in Paul’s cabin.  Only Paul and Erica were intrigued by the bottle.  Rose did think ahead.  She crafted a corkscrew out of an old wire coat hanger.  Rose took the bottle from Erica and had a go at the old cork.  The original stopper was missing.  Someone had replaced it and cut the cork off at the mouth of the bottle.  This made it difficult to remove.  With great care and patience, Rose extracted the cork.  The room was filled with the aroma of bourbon.  Something mystical also occurred that their eyes could not see.  It was as if a swirl of enchanted dust went around the room to envelop the teenagers and then dissipated.

“Now we have to figure how to get the letter out of the bottle,” Brad said.

“I’ve got that covered,” Rose said.

She had made a long pair of tweezers out of the coat hanger too.

“Careful,” said Erica as she cringed. “Don’t damage the paper.”

The letter was out.  With nimble fingers, Rose delicately unfolded the letter.  The paper was in great shape.  The residual whiskey vapors must have preserved it.

Rose began to read, “I never meant for things to happen as they did.  I am in love with you.  I will never forget you.  I cannot forgive myself for the things I have done.  I was only given one chance.  A chance in a lifetime.  But, it was not meant to be a lifetime.  Just a time in love.  So, I am going to a place without time.  There, I can love you always and forever.

“Wow! How romantic.” Erica dreamily whispers. “Is that all?”

“Yes. It is unsigned,” Rose said.

“Ah, it is just some poor guy who couldn’t get over being dumped. Then he ended his life,” Justin said.

“It doesn’t say that at all!” screams Erica.  “In fact, the author could be male or female.”

“We need to go back across the lake,” Paul said.

“Oh, no,” Rose said.  “We should respect what happened this morning and not take any more chances.”

“We learned our lesson,” Paul said.  “Besides, I saw something over there today.”

“Me too!” Erica shouts in excitement.

“What? This is getting bizarre. All the more reason not to go back,” Rose said.

After a long discussion, they all agreed to go back.

Remember to follow the story next week for its conclusion. What do you think will happen? Nothing good. It’s Sci-Fi Horror! I promise a twist or two!

 

 

Blind Triumph

BlindTriumph

Whether hate is premeditated or completely reckless and you seek resolution by destroying everything physical around you, the inner world deep inside you exacts revenge.

This concludes the Aftertaste Series. No more angst for now. Next week, I am going back the opposite side of the spectrum!

Resident Evil artwork taken from the internet.

 

The Deception

Chapter Seven – The Deception

The sun had gone behind the mountains in Mittenwald.  The lantern on Arnina’s front porch was lit.  She was expecting the four of them any second.  Engelchen perked his ears up and she knew they had arrived.  A soft knock on the door, then, Arnina shouted for mittenwaldbild-jungthem to enter.

As they stepped through the door, Arnina gracefully said, “Do come in. Tea is now served.”

“You are all here because you have the key.  I will take it now.”

Alden tosses the key onto the coffee table and says, “What’s in store for us now?”

“I’ll be back,” says Arnina. “Please indulge yourselves. Everyone must be tired and the biscuits are fresh.”

Arnina went down into the cellar.  On the back stone wall there was a small hole barely recognizable as a keyhole.  She inserted the four-sided key and made the first, quarter turn.  The wall began to recede.  Stone scraped against stone making a sound like the dragging of concrete block along a floor.  The movement formed a depression in the wall about the size of a doorway.  She made the next quarter turn of the key.  The depressed wall slid to the left.  The next quarter turn spun the wall 180 degrees around and then forward and flush to the original wall.  This time, a mahogany bookshelf appeared.  There was a drawer in the center but there were no books.  Arnina removed the key. She could hear a hollow thud every second. She believed it must be a timer.  A slight jolt of the wall caused some mortar to crumble to the floor.  This caused her to take her eye off the key just as she was about to insert it into the drawer’s lock. She missed and the key tumbled to the floor.  She had a good eye and trusted her memory of the fourth position.  She knew she had to get it right because the mechanism was most likely a trap if she did not succeed.  Closing her eyes with a deep breath, she inserted it into the drawer’s lock and made the final turn.  The drawer slid open.  Inside was a case.  She removed the case and stepped back.  Immediately, the entire sequence of events came full circle and the original wall slowly found its way back.  This time, the key was now on the other side.  Arnina brought the case upstairs and set it on the table.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is how we defeat the Rogue.”

She opened the case and sat down on the chair.

“Do not touch them, yet. Let me explain.”

The case revealed four stunningly radiant, gold bangles.  Each was distinct in their markings and the color of inset gemstones.

“The bangle I assign to each of you will give you special powers above and beyond the ones you already possess.”

“And, the catch is?” said Connell inquisitively.

“When you have the bracelet latched on, you are no longer Beholden,” said Arnina with much dismay.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” asks Madison.

“I am afraid not,” said Arnina. “If the little Prague girl were to perish, so would Stephan.”

“But…,” Alden started to say.

“Yes, I would lose both you and Connell because the two of you are beholden to Stephan,” said Arnina while shaking her head with frustration.

“This is a huge risk,” said Alden.

“One we must take,” said Arnina.  “I am hoping the four of you will agree.”

“Tell us more about these old bangles,” said Madison.

vos-julie-cabochon-baroque-bangleArnina went on to explain that the bracelets were found separately.  Each discovered within a secret chamber to their respective ancient wonder of the world. No one knows their origins or exactly when they were found.  In fact, no one is quite sure how they are used.  The bracelet of Artemis will go to Alden.  Artemis was the master of the animals.  The bracelet of Colossus will be used by Connell.  Stephan will be granted the Lighthouse bracelet.  Arnina imagined it would create powers in sight.  Finally, Madison will wear the Hanging Gardens bracelet.  A bracelet of mystery, intelligence, and creativity.  As for the other three bracelets, we don’t know if they exist.  Seven bracelets for seven wonders would be logical.  Maybe their creators never got to finish their plan.  They could have been destroyed or lost to time.  To demonstrate, Arnina picked up the bracelet of Artemis and placed it around Alden’s wrist.  Unlocked, you are still beholden.  Once you latch the bracelet, its power is activated and as I mentioned you are no longer beholden. Simply press on the gemstone to lock and unlock it.

“What if we choose not to accept this fate,” Stephan chides.

“Well, I don’t think my sweet puppy, Engelchen, will let you leave,” said Arnina.

The dog gets up off the floor and walks backward toward the front door, growling and showing its fangs to Stephan.

“Europe needs all of you,” proclaims Arnina.  “The world needs you. Please accept these bracelets and your next task.”

By the time Arnina finished her statement, the four of them had passed out.  The tea had been laced with a sedative.  Arnina latched the bracelets onto their wrists and waited for the demands of the network to whisk them away to Istanbul.

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