What you will be reading is the result of a writing dare shared among my online group of writing buddies (affectionately referred to as the Pack) . . . This picture was sent out, and a few of us chose to write something based off of it. I was one of them. And the fragment of story that spilled from my fingertips has since latched onto my brain. Even now, over three months later, it's still there. Percolating, I suppose--the stories I label "Wait" tend to sink into my subconscious and steep quietly. One of these days, with or without my permission, this little coffeepot will float back to the surface and demand to be made into a full-fledged novel.
But for now it's still a tiny scoop of coffee beans, not even ground up yet. Probably not even roasted. So. Without further ado, the dare--which, contrary to my description, has nothing at all to do with coffee:
Landon awoke with his face wet and damp leaching into his clothes.
He cracked open his eyes, but the grey daylight sent a wave of pain rolling through his head. Where am I? The surface beneath him was hard and unyielding, gritty with tiny pebbles. Pavement. His left hand skimmed through a shallow puddle on the way to his face. Shielding his eyes, he tried opening them again. This time the light was more bearable.
Overhead, grey clouds rushed by, scattering only a sporadic drizzle. Landon, still caught in the muzzy half-realm of waking, watched them for a while and thought of nothing.
But the damp pavement soon grew uncomfortable. Finally he stirred, and realized his right fingers were clenched around something. He looked over at his hand. A scrap of paper. Rather than being damp and wrinkled from the rain, it was smooth and dry. A single word was scrawled across it: Arcus.
Something whined at the edge of hearing range, almost more of a thought than a real sound.
Landon sat up. Why am I on the street? My street? Yes, it was his street. There was his house on the left, bordered with the riot of flowers that Mom tended every summer. There was the birch tree in the yard—
The tree lay across the front lawn, jumble of roots exposed. Uprooted.
“What’s going on?” Landon muttered. He scrambled to his bare feet. This is weird.
He scanned the neighborhood. No one in sight. Every window dark. All was quiet, still.
Panic jolted down his spine. “Hello?” he called. “Hello?” Stuffing the paper in his jeans pocket, he stumbled across the street toward his house. “Mom, are you home?”
What had happened? Landon stopped at the fallen tree and just stared. There was something . . . something terribly wrong. Memories struggled to return, as if being pulled out of a slurping, grasping muck. He’d been inside, doing . . . nothing, right? Doing nothing, or maybe sketching, and then . . .
Landon kicked the birch trunk in frustration, and pain flashed up his bare toes. He growled. Something had happened. Someone had knocked on the door or the phone rang. There was some sort of interruption. Mom had been in the backyard, filling the birdfeeder, so Landon had answered the door—or the phone—and then . . . The rest was a blank haze.
He bolted to porch and yanked the front door open. “Mom?” His foot brushed something.
Next to the welcome mat lay a black-shafted arrow.
He snatched it up. Brown fletchings, like bird feathers on one end; a roughly-made arrowhead on the other. That barely-perceptible whine buzzed in his ears again.
Landon was about to charge into the house to look for Mom when a voice from behind broke the silence.
He turned. A girl ran down the street, dark hair streaming behind her. She raced up his driveway and onto the porch, then threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, Landon, you’re alive!”
He pushed her off. “Who are you?”
The wide blue eyes searching his face, the freckles dusting her cheeks, the lips parted in surprise—and now trembling—none of it was familiar. A laughing sob burst out of her. “I—I’m Skylar.”
He stared uncomprehendingly.
She seemed to wilt, like a flower with its petals curling inward. “Your girlfriend.”