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The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 1

 

The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I


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The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I


  THE CREATOR’S EYE

  MOVER OF FATE: PART I

  Copyright 2014 Roni Feldman

  CONTENTS

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Map of Arimbol

  Map of Ennor

  Chapter I: Discovery Day

  Chapter II: Crossroads

  Chapter III: The Drop Out

  Chapter IV: Guiding Light

  Chapter V: The General

  Chapter VI: Will and Destiny

  Chapter VII: The River

  Chapter VIII: Light and Shadow

  Chapter IX: Roak

  About the Author

  Other Books by R.N. Feldman

  Connect with R.N. Feldman

  To all those Creators who help

  make the world a better place.

  Acknowledgements

  Many thanks to Morgan Just, Maggie Light, and Caroline Miller for their keen advice, and to all my friends and family who patiently nodded their heads every time I uttered, “I swear, the book is almost done!” My apologies for any whiplash that I may have induced.

  CHAPTER I

  DISCOVERY DAY

  Michael took a deep breath as he watched another seizure wrack his mother’s body. It was a small one, but he dutifully laid her on the floor just in case it became violent. He stood nearby as she twisted and shivered. He had to remind himself not to interfere— to let the attack run its course. The seizures always caught him by surprise, but the procedure to deal with them had become almost banal— lay her on the floor, make sure she didn’t hit her head, then wait until it was over.

  After a few moments, she lay still and stared vacantly at the ceiling. Michael helped her sit up. He wrapped an arm around her waist and lifted her to a chair at the dining table. Her wiry brown hair tickled his ear. It was the same color and curliness as his, but no amount of combing seemed to keep it in place anymore. He could barely recognize his own face in her sallow cheeks and sunken eyes. He looked more like his father anyway, with his golden skin, green eyes, and broad shoulders. His mother, meanwhile, had grown thin and frail, but when he lifted her up, her limp body felt as heavy as a sack of wet dough.

  “Are you okay?” Michael asked as he arranged her in her chair.

  Her dull, dark eyes stared ahead blankly.

  “Mom, do you want to eat?” he asked, although he didn’t actually expect a reply. It had been years since she had articulated a full sentence, but he didn’t like treating her like a vegetable. Once in a while she was lucid enough to grunt a response, but this time, she did not even move.

  “I’m going to make dinner now,” Michael told her, tentatively leaving her, hoping she would not fall or have another seizure the moment he turned away.

  He went to the kitchen sink where he had only just finished washing the vegetables when he had been interrupted by her collapse. He sliced the sweet, white ghost carrots— a summertime favorite of his town— into big chunks and put them in a pot with the other vegetables. He covered them with stock and turned up the heat on the stove. The pilot clicked a few times, but there was no whoosh of flames springing to life. Michael grumbled at the malfunctioning burner as he set the pot aside and lifted the enameled stove lid. The firebox was out. The small carton of rocks that usually glowed red with potential heat were instead an ashen grey.

  Michael had boiled some water for tea that morning, so he knew that they should be working. Usually when they died, they went out slowly, becoming weaker over the course of a few days, but these had just inexplicably lost their oomph. He wondered if he had accidentally spilled something on them. Regardless, he would have to light them, but he didn’t hunt for matches. Instead, he took it as a chance to practice his Moving.

  He set the kitchen timer for five minutes, rolled up his sleeves and pointed his finger at the small cluster of stones. He stared at them, or actually focused his eyes on an imaginary point beyond them. He would make them catch fire. According to the books his uncle Sefu gave him, he should not hope, need, want, or pray for the fire to manifest. He had to imagine it was already there. Anything less merely affirmed his lack of will. It was a small nuance, but made all the difference.

  Michael focused his thoughts like a beam of sunlight, pushing all foggy doubt out of his mind that what he was doing was impossible. His mind wandered occasionally, but he kept bringing it back to its goal, to the reality that he required— that there was already fire in the firebox. His concentration reached a frenzied tension and his vision blurred. Unable to hold his thoughts anymore, Michael relaxed his stare. His vision re-focused and to his satisfied surprise, a small spray of sparks issued from his fingertip. It surrounded and warmed the firestones. Without stopping his Moving, he checked the kitchen timer. Two minutes had elapsed. It was not a personal record, but Michael acknowledged that there was at least merit in consistency.

  The dull stones crackled, catching fire on their own. Michael ceased his Moving, lowered the stove top, and replaced the soup on the revived flame. While waiting for it to boil, he chopped garlic and parsley. Even though his mother was about as responsive as the firebox was a moment ago, he did his best to make her meals taste good. He hoped that a well-cared for meal was somehow healing or imperceptibly uplifting to her spirit.

  Michael added some herbs and salt, and when the vegetables had softened, he turned off the flame and crushed the whole concoction with a sturdy slotted spoon. It was kind of a shame to mash it up, but lengthy chewing was beyond his mother’s ability.

  “Here you go,” he said, serving her a bowl. “Eat it while it’s hot.”

  At first it seemed she hadn’t heard, but a ghost of awareness flitted across her face. She dipped a spoon into the beige puree and after a slow moment, dragged it to her lips. Michael watched her mechanically eat for a while. He listened to the clumsy clink of the metal spoon against her teeth and the sloppy glug of her throat. Once he was sure that she was underway, he got up to wash the dishes and perhaps find a moment to pour himself a bowl. But before he took a step, he heard the rustling of packs at the front door. His father was home.

  Michael hurriedly opened the door for him. His father was still rifling through his pocket for his keys. “Ah, thanks!” his dad, Simon, smiled through crow’s feet and a thick salt and pepper beard.

  Michael took his father’s bags.

  His dad stepped into their living room, shutting the door behind him. “So?” he asked as he peeled off his coat and slung it over the sofa. “Is your mom okay?”

  Michael described her recent seizure and added with measured assurance, “I think she’s fine now.”

  “Was that the only one?” his dad asked, but did not sound particularly concerned.

  “No, she had a series of them a couple hours after you left. She’s been mostly absent since then. I had to stay around the house the past couple of days keeping an eye on her.”

  His dad nodded aloofly and patted his belly, which along with a slope to his shoulders, had grown more pronounced since his wife took ill. He strode over to the stove and ladled himself a bowl of soup. “Is this all there is?” he asked disappointedly.

  “Um,” Michael began, a little frustrated by his father’s dissatisfaction, “I think there’s some phoenix in the ice box from last night,” he suggested.

  Phoenixes were a fiery-colored, long-plumed fowl commonly raised in the region, but lacked any of the powers of resurrection borne by their mythological namesake.

  Michael’s father wrinkled his nose at the prospect of cold bird and glumly muttered, “I’ll stick with the soup.”

  Michael tried not to make a face and instead asked how his
trip was.

  “Interesting,” Simon began as he took a seat at the far side of the table away from his wife. “This was an exciting one.”

  Michael’s father worked as an assessor for the government’s environmental insurance agency. Arimbol, the island chain on which they lived, was full of unexplained natural phenomena colloquially called Folds. They were places where nature and physics would bend. Most Folds were so subtle that unless you were paying close attention you could pass through them without notice, but others were beautiful, miraculous places. Michael had heard of some where water flowed uphill, optics went awry, or wind burst from the ground with the force of a hurricane. There were also Folds that were quite dangerous, that could make you sick, crazy, or even kill you. Most Folds were relatively small though, only affecting an area the size of his living room, while the largest engulfed the entire Arimbolean archipelago.

  Michael had never had the chance to travel, so loved to hear stories whenever his dad returned from one of his many trips. He had seen more of Arimbol than anyone else in their village, so knew a great deal about its flora and fauna, most of which existed nowhere else on Earth. Some were widespread across the islands and were even farmed. Besides the phoenix and summer ghost carrots, their town of New Canaan was particularly famous for the blue wine squeezed from coastal cobalt grapes grown on the surrounding hillsides. East of Canaan, towards Alexandria, was miles of black wheat. While the hills around Canaan were called the Blue Mountains, that area was sometimes referred to as the Burnt Plains.

  Some plants and animals were less widespread. They were so specifically adapted that they might inhabit a single pool of water. His father had told him about the white thorn fish that clung to the slippery rocks of a single stream north of Urgench, or the roaks, the giant birds that nested on the tallest peaks of the Morningstar Buttes. Michael’s father told him that they were so large that they could easily carry off hesats— the shaggy, one-horned buffalos that grazed on the southern grasslands.

  Michael was anxious for his father’s story. He sat down with him, keeping an eye on his mother to make sure she was still eating. “So what did you see?” he urged.

  “Well, a few days ago, a farmer in Skarra claimed that a long chasm had opened in the ground and green fire just shot out of it, destroying a huge swath of his crops. But when I arrived, the fields were burned, but there was no sign of a Fold. For all I knew the farmer had lit the fields on fire himself while burning leaves. But upon closer inspection, there was a series of cracks running down the center of his land. It looked like the ground had unzipped like a pair of trousers.” He gave a sharp snort then slurped back a spoonful of the thick stew. “Hmm, needs salt,” he said, reaching for the shaker across the table before going on. “I told the farmer, ‘Look, I can fill a report out, but there’s nothing indicating that a Fold did this. For all I know, you just got drunk and did something foolish.’”

  “The guy looked offended and exclaimed, ‘It’s happened more than once! Just stick around tonight and you’ll see!’” Michael’s father sighed. “I didn’t particularly want to stay there any longer than I had to, but he seemed sure of his tale. Plus, in my job, I’ve seen stranger things than fire shooting out of the ground, so I agreed to spend the evening there. He and his wife were hospitable and offered me dinner, but I couldn’t take it, of course. Regulations, you know. I fortunately had the sandwich you packed for me.”

  Michael nodded, glad his cooking had been of some use.

  “I waited there until midnight, but nothing happened, so I got up to leave. The farmer begged me to stay just a little bit longer, but I was tired from the trip and wanted to go back to the inn. Just as we stepped out onto his front porch, I noticed a green glow coming from the field. We stood there watching as the ground began to hiss and jets of green fire streamed from the earth. It followed the jagged slit I had seen earlier, but it cracked wider. The crops around it caught fire, and the line jutted quickly across the field. It ran straight for their house.”

  “What did you do?” Michael asked, leaning in.

  “We were dumbfounded at first. I mean, we just sat there with our jaws hanging open like a thirsty hesat. It was probably only a couple of seconds, but the fire moved quickly. I got my wits about me and yelled at the farmer and his wife to get inside and go out the back.”

  Folds rarely appeared in places people had inhabited for a long time. Usually his father was called in to examine some place that people had wandered into while traveling. It was his job to categorize and map them, and to file claims for people if they were injured or lost property, but this was unusual that he had to rescue people himself.

  “I ran out into the field and the damn farmer followed me. There was an irrigation ditch running nearby. I quickly Moved the ground with blasts of energy until I carved a trench running to the fissure. The water flowed through it and made the flames die down a little, but the ground was still cracking and burning and running for the house. So, the farmer and I built up a huge mound of dirt to bury the rift.”

  “For a moment, it seemed like we stopped it, but then it just shot straight through the mound. A few seconds later, the farmer’s entire house was gone— just burned to ashes. The Fold finally stopped just short of the tree line at the end of their property.”

  “Was his family okay?”

  “No one got hurt, but it’s a hell of a mess for the agency. We don't know if the land will be safe to live on, or even their neighbor's land for that matter. I’m going to have to go back with a crew and run a bunch of tests on it. For now, the farmer and his neighbors are staying with friends, but we're going to have to find somewhere permanent for them. It’s going to cost the crown a lot of money.”

  “What a mess!” Michael added.

  “But we'll solve it,” His dad said confidently as he got up to drop his bowl into the sink. “I’ll probably have to go back there next week. Are you okay with watching your mom again so soon?”

  “Sure,” said Michael, his willingness buoyed by his father’s heroism. “But I was wondering if you could do me a favor tonight? My friends have been back from college for the past few days and I haven't had a chance to see them, plus tonight are the Discovery Day fireworks.”

  Michael’s father sighed and rubbed his temples. Michael could feel the refusal coming on.

  “It’s been a long couple of days, son. I could really use a night to relax…”

  “But I haven’t seen them in almost a year!” Michael implored. It had been a while since he had used such an insistent tone with his father, but his friends were back for summer from the Moving Academy in Alexandria and he was dying to catch up with them.

  His dad grimaced, “Alright, just come back in time to help me get your mom upstairs.”

  Michael was elated. He thanked his father and set about finishing his chores so he could hurry to see them.

  •••

  It was evening, but the sun was still high in the summer sky when Michael left the house. He lived near the edge of town, so the trailhead was not far away. The wood-paneled ranch houses of his neighborhood were spread some distance apart, separated by large, wild gardens. Despite the remaining daylight, birds chirping, and the buzz of summer insects, the few street lights in his neighborhood were already on, as if in anticipation of the night's festivities. Kids waved sparklers and tossed poppers in the street while young couples walked hand in hand towards the center of town. At the intersection, a few neighbors loaded a donkey cart full of jubilant toddlers to take to the festival.

  Instead of following the procession, Michael turned left at the intersection towards the outskirts of town. He could see his three friends waiting for him at the end of the street. James, a tall, slim boy with dirty blond hair tucked under a red bandanna leaned against a lamp post, smoking one of his fastidiously rolled cigarettes while the other two boys appeared to be in a heated debate. The stockier one with curly brown hair was Jake. From the distance, Michael could see
him gesticulate widely as he tried to make his point. Meanwhile, Sam, who was short, round, and black-haired, smiled patronizingly at him and shook his head. Michael recognized the bright yellow chevron with the letter “A” emblazoned on the front of his shirt as the emblem of the Academy of Alexandria.

  James saw Michael approach and ground out the cigarette with his foot. “Hey, Michael!” he announced. They embraced each other with hearty pats on the back.

  The other two stopped bickering and welcomed their friend. “Good to see you, old chum!” said Sam. “Looks like you've been taking good care of the town while we were away.”

  Michael laughed, “You probably thought it would fall into the sea without you.”

  “I bet it hasn't been much fun without us,” speculated Jake.

  “That's for sure!” Michael agreed. “I haven't done much since you guys left. It’s been downright boring.”

  Jake asked if he hung out with any of the kids from the class below them.

  “Sometimes,” Michael replied, “but honestly I spend most of my time taking care of my mom.”

  “She's not any better?” asked Sam, caringly. He was always the most sensitive of his friends.

  Michael shook his head.

  “Well, I’m studying medicine,” said Sam. “Maybe I'll find something.”

  “Don't count on it,” chortled Jake. “Sam is last in his class!”

  “I'm not last!” Sam scowled and barked at Jake.

  “You're not winning any races though,” Jake prodded again.

  “Stick it up your round brown!” said Sam, making a crude gesture with his thumb and forefingers.

  “Aw, I miss you guys bickering,” said Michael with a sarcastic smile. “You sound like an old married couple. But seriously, Sam, I appreciate that you want to help.”

  “You're welcome,” he said, clapping Michael on the back. “Honestly, I think watching you take care of your mom is what made me want to study healing.”

  Michael was about to ask him how his program was going when James cleared his throat. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, “but we really should get going if we're going to return in time to see the fireworks.”

  Michael and the others concurred and followed James onto the trail. It passed through farms and vineyards, whose trellises were lined in neat rows adjacent to the path. Blue grapes appeared pearlescent against the leaves curling in the summer heat. Jake stopped to pluck a few ripe ones and popped them in his mouth.

  “I've missed these!” he slobbered.

  Michael grabbed a few as well. The juice was sweet and tart. “If you still lived here, you could be having these all the time,” said Michael, spitting out a few small seeds.

  “Yeah, right!” snorted Jake, with blue juice staining his lips. “Like I would ever quit the Academy!”

  “Is it great?” Michael asked enviously.

  “It’s amazing!” he beamed, oblivious to Michael’s tone. “I never liked school much before, but learning how to do these things— how to Move— it’s fantastic!”

  “What have you learned?” asked Michael, no longer salivating just over the grapes.

  James waved anxiously at them from further up the trail. “Hurry up!” he called.

  They were lagging behind their ever punctual friend. They grabbed a few more grapes for the road and picked up the pace.

  “Well,” said Jake, “we’re really just learning the basics. Like for Moving class, we've been working on increasing and decreasing energy.”

  “Like Moving energy to power a home?” asked Michael who had been practicing on the lights in his house at night once his mom fell asleep.

  “Psh!” scoffed Jake, “Are you kidding? This is beginning Moving! We started by heating and cooling a glass of water, but for our final exam we had to Move the air to lift a sheet of paper off our desk. I was first to do it— top of my class!”

  “That's awesome!” cheered Michael, impressed by his friend who was not such a star student in high school. However, Michael found it odd that lifting a piece of paper was perceived as an outstanding accomplishment. The book his uncle gave him had him gusting his bedroom into a pigsty by the second chapter. He was only able to rouse the tempest for a moment, but a big blast was not so different than Moving something much smaller. Even his text said that. Michael didn’t want to insult his friend though, so he beckoned him to continue. “What else are you learning?”

  “Well, I’m taking applied metaphysics and philosophy of Moving. Those are our required classes. And then for my elective I’m taking beginning engineering.”

  “What's that?” asked Michael as they trotted along the trail, trying to keep up with James’ long legs.

  “That’s where you use Moving to build things— you know, machines, architecture. I mean, we're not making anything like that, yet. Just small clockwork objects, making water flow uphill, small self-powered lights. It’s really cool— I'm even thinking of majoring in it.”

  “Nice!” said Michael. “My dad uses some of that in his job. There’s a lot you can do with it.”

  “Sam is studying healing, of course, and James is taking an environmental studies class.”

  “That makes sense,” said Michael. “He’s always been a nature boy. I bet he knows more about these hills than anyone else.”

  “Probably,” agreed Jake, “but they're teaching him about all the plants and animals unique to Arimbol. There’s all kinds of uses for them, you know.”

  The four young men had now passed beyond the farms through a golden, rolling meadow shaded by great, gnarled oaks. At the end of the field, the trail met a small stream and turned upward, following the flowing water into the hills. Soon they were huffing and puffing as they ascended the winding trail. They could hear the burble of the stream throughout their climb.

  “Whew!” gasped Sam as he struggled up the hill. “This trail used to be so easy!”

  “It still is easy!” James called back from further ahead. “You've just gotten soft from all that greasy dorm food. I bet Michael's doing okay, aren't you?”

  “Uh-huh,” Michael agreed, but was not so sure. He hadn’t had much time to hike in the last year either.

  “I'm just looking forward to some fried cheese sticks at the festival,” Sam drooled. “It'll be a reward for this long walk.”

  “If you keep rewarding yourself with cheese sticks we'll have to roll you to class from now on,” laughed Jake, wiping sweat off his brow.

  “Actually I prefer if you and James carry me on a palanquin. You should also address me as King Sam the Magnificent.”

  “I'm going to call you the Stench King,” joked Jake, batting his hand in front of his nose. “I don't like walking down wind of your sweaty rump.” He then charged past Sam and the other two, jumping over rocks and tree roots as he ran. James and Michael took off after him.

  “Aw, come on!” griped Sam, falling into a lumbering jog.

  The trail wound back and forth through the trees before leveling out at the ridge. Here the creek bubbled out of the ground forming a shallow pool only a few inches deep, but it flowed steadily enough to feed the long stream down the hill. The spring also had a Fold around it that made the water glow blue when the sun went down. Most people believed that it was that blue water that gave the local grapes their special hue.

  No one quite knew how they worked, but as Folds went, this was a pretty small and harmless one. The best guess was they were a fold in time and space, or between other dimensions that allowed strange physical anomalies to occur. Regardless, this one was always a beautiful sight when paired with the Discovery Day fireworks far below.

  Beyond the pool was Roak Rock, a large outcropping of stone that overlooked a forested canyon below. Jake and James climbed up the crag while Michael knelt by the burbling stream. He drank a few handfuls of water before running some through his wavy hair. It was blissfully cold and refreshing after the sweaty hike. He admired its subtle blue glow as it dripped off his hand
s.

  Sam finally came chugging up the hill. “Sweet lord, I think I'm going to throw up!” he gasped. “Why do you guys always have to run?”

  “Have some water.” Michael suggested.

  Sam plopped down and stuck his face right into the stream.

  “Criminy!” called Jake, stretching his legs on top of the rock, “You're gulping like a horse!”

  Sam pulled his dripping face out of the water. “I wish I was one! Maybe then I wouldn't be so winded.”

  Once they had their fill, Michael and his sopping friend ascended the outcropping. Roak Rock was pitted with convenient footholds eroded by the rain, but was still steep and tall enough to get Michael and Sam's hearts beating again by the time they reached the top.

  “Magnificent view!” pronounced James.

  “Completely worth it,” Sam panted in agreement.

  While the rock rose no more than thirty feet above the ridge line, its face towered above the ravine. From their perch, the boys had a panoramic view of the countryside. Ahead of them they could gaze across a great sea of rolling hills.

  “That’s where the Academy is,” said Jake pointing northeast.

  “Yup,” said Michael. “And to the west of there is Palmyra Forest. That’s where my uncle Sefu lives.”

  Sam turned around and exclaimed, “Check out the sunset!”

  Behind them, over the hill they had just climbed, was their town, and beyond that shimmered the Atlantic Ocean, with the sky and clouds above it burning a glorious orange. The house lights of their town were just flickering on as the sun sank into the sea. They could hear the distant pop and whistle of small fire crackers, children playing, and dogs barking.

  Discovery Day was Arimbol’s biggest national holiday. It celebrated the settling of the mid-Atlantic archipelago some twenty-eight years before. Michael learned in school that it was founded shortly after World War II when a group of scientists were commissioned to research a navigational anomaly noted by supply ships heading to Europe. The anomaly turned out to be the Shield Fold that surrounded, hid, and protected the island chain. From the outside, the Fold flattened the archipelago into a thin strip making it appear as only a fraction of an inch wide and visible only from certain angles. Meanwhile, the interior remained completely three-dimensional. Anyone wishing to travel to Arimbol needed to approach with specific bearings guiding them straight into either end of the thin Fold, or else be forced to sail around it.

  With support from the U.N., the researchers established the first colonies, but due to the islands’ isolated nature, the colonists soon broke off and established a monarchy, headed by King Leyon, one of the lead scientists. Under his guidance, they constructed the first cities and Moving schools, and began recruiting people to move to Arimbol in greater numbers.

  Michael’s own family was from the U.S. as were most of his neighbors, but he knew people from all over the world. Sam’s parents came from Japan and Germany and James was part Argentinian. While Arimbol’s first inhabitants were largely scientists, government officials, and urban planners, the second wave of immigrants were nick-named “wounded doves” as they tended to come from hard situations. Sam’s father escaped poverty and oppression in East Berlin. He found himself hungry and alone in West Germany before being invited to Arimbol. Meanwhile, Jake’s dad lived on the streets of Chicago and James’ mother lost both of her parents and sister in a car accident forcing her to grow up under an abusive aunt. Michael also knew a handful of refugees from poor or war-torn countries. They all immigrated to the islands with dreams of a better life, a chance to forget, or an opportunity to start over.

  The Shield Fold allowed only minimal contact with the outside world, and imports of foreign goods and technology were largely banned by the crown on the grounds that they corrupted the unique nature of the islands. However, the Folds and Moving provided a gratifying alternative for most everyone invited to live there. Life in Arimbol was not without its challenges, of course, but it was considered a relatively utopian place to live.

  Michael was proud of Arimbol’s history and he appreciated Discovery Day as a chance to celebrate new beginnings. He unfortunately knew little about why his mom and dad opted to move to Arimbol. His father was always vague on what trauma, if any, brought them there. Regardless, Michael loved their adopted homeland and felt lucky that they opted to immigrate.

  With a contented sigh, he turned away from the view of New Canaan, knocked the trail dust off his jeans, and sat down on the edge of the ravine. There was a cool breeze blowing up through it. He felt at ease and was glad to have his friends back. It was a pleasure to joke around and think of something besides his obligations. He had not had the opportunity to act like a kid for some time.

  The other three sat down next to him. “So you guys have left out something very important from your stories,” Michael posited.

  “What's that?” asked Jake.

  Michael gave them a cockeyed look and cleared his throat, expecting them to know what he was talking about, but they just stared bewilderedly at him.

  He threw up his hands, “The girls, of course! What are the girls at the Academy like?”

  The three of them laughed. “Aw, that’s where you're really missing out!” grinned Jake. “They're gorgeous!”

  “Too bad you can't get any of them,” James mocked Jake.

  “Hey,” Jake argued, “I went out on a date just last week!”

  “That wasn't a date,” laughed James. “She was helping you study!”

  Sam whispered to Michael, “Jake has been pining after this beautiful blond girl, for the whole term.”

  Jake gave Sam an icy look. “First of all, I was helping her study. And second, it was too a date! She even gave me a kiss afterward.”

  “There is no way she snogged you!” James gibed. “She's like the hottest girl in school!”

  “Yeah, I heard about that kiss,” snickered Sam. “You made a pass at her in the library and she rejected you.”

  “Go chew a pinksnake!” snapped Jake, red in the face.

  Michael smiled and turned back to the view. A flock of birds took off from the ridge to their north. He could hear dogs barking in that direction, louder than those from the distant town. “Do you hear that?” he asked.

  “Hear what?” asked James.

  “The dogs,” he said. “I think they scared those birds.”

  “So what?” snipped Jake, still irked. “It’s probably someone out for a walk.”

  “I just thought that's weird,” Michael shrugged. “I didn't think anyone came here except us, especially during the holiday.”

  “Not everyone likes a party,” Jake replied.

  “Well, it does sound like they're getting closer,” Sam observed.

  They listened as the barking became louder, moving through the trees and chaparral toward their perch on the rock. It sounded like there were at least two dogs and they were pretty agitated.

  “I’m going to go check it out,” said Michael. He climbed down the rock with James and Jake after him.

  “I’ll stay up here,” said Sam, warily wringing his hands, “Those dogs sound pretty ticked off.”

  Michael, James, and Jake reached the bottom of the rock and stared out across the haunting glow of the spring into the thick bushes. It was becoming quite dark and Michael’s eyes could not pierce the tangle of grass and brambles. The dogs were quite loud now.

  “Someone’s coming,” announced Sam unexpectedly from right behind Michael, making him jump. He had panicked standing alone and joined the other three.

  They could hear the frenzied steps of someone crashing through the bushes. Snapping twigs and tromping shrubs, a figure emerged. He stood across the water, panting heavily, arms held out from his sides. His clothes were ragged and torn and a hood covered his head. His face was dark beneath it, but the cerulean light of the Fold glinted off his eyes. They looked terrified.

  “Please!” the man begged through tattered breath,
Please help—,” but before he could finish his thought, a barrel-chested dog with a gnarled face and shaggy black mane burst from the undergrowth. It vaulted against the man's back, knocking him face first into the stream. With another swift flurry of black fur, it clamped down on the back of his neck and shook him violently.

  The boys stumbled back in shock. The dog twisted the man’s neck as a second hound came snarling out of the bushes.

  Michael wasn’t sure what made him the first one to react. Maybe it was seeing the man fall that reminded him of rushing to keep his mother from hitting her head whenever she suffered a seizure. Whatever it was, he knew from the dog’s fury that he had mere seconds to save the stranger.

 
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