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The Other Time
Author's note: When I got the idea for this book I was sitting at my downstairs computer, waiting for it to finish loading. Thank God it took forever because that's when I started to doodle. It was just a bunch of random shapes and scribbles but when I looked closer I began to see shapes. I realized it vaguely resembled trees, then a field of grass, then mountains. This inspired the main idea of the book. A group of kids traveling through forest, fields, and finally to the base of a mountain.
I walked past the elementary school along the sidewalk that led to the playground. Leah, my sister paused behind me to wait for our cousins, Tom and Jeremy, to catch up. Tom was looking around at the soccer fields down the street. Jeremy was behind him, taking forever as usual. They were visiting from Maine and apparently, our parents thought it was a great idea if we go down near the school for a while. I walked past the slides and play structures to the swings and sat down. I rocked back and forth idly as I waited for Tom and Leah to get bored. I watched them run across the field to the monkey bars. They jumped up to reach one, but Tom couldn’t grab it. Tom was a year older, but Leah was still taller than him. They were almost complete opposites as far as appearance. Leah had light brown hair and was very skinny with hazel eyes, while Tom had dark brown hair that was almost black and was a little rounder with brown eyes. Jeremy and I on the other hand looked very similar. We both had dark brown hair and brown eyes. In addition, we both were in the eighth grade and he was only slightly taller than me.
Leah and Tom were both currently racing down slides. Jeremy was walking in circles kicking wood chips out of his way until he finally sat down on the swing next to me. We were the only ones there besides a little boy and girl. They were on a seesaw, but the girl was smaller and kept getting stuck in the air. They both had blonde hair and the girl looked about four and the boy around seven. Their mom eventually had to get the girl down and they ran off near one of the slides.
I watched them stop suddenly in front of the slide. They pointed at something on the ground. Tom was getting down from a tower and going to look at it. Leah also went over to check it out. I stood up and strained my neck to see what it was. I caught a glimpse of something sparkly and black before Leah obscured my vision. What is that, I thought. Curiosity gnawed at me and I started walking over. I could hear Jeremy coming up behind me.
I leaned down, over Leah and Tom. I looked down at the ground and was utterly amazed. Time seemed to stop as my mind tried to comprehend what I was seeing. The thing on the ground looked like a small black tornado or whirlpool going into the ground. There were specks of colors and flashes of light inside of it and the bottom was a bluish color that almost seemed entangled in green. It was wavy and a black dust was sparkling out of it. The thing was only about the size of a bottle cap but it was slowly getting bigger. All of a sudden, it expanded to the size of a bracelet. Then it expanded again to the size of a necklace. Jeremy leaned down to pick it up, but never got the chance. I put my arm in front of everyone to try to push them all back, but it was too late. The thing expanded again and we all fell into it.
There were lights spinning around my eyes and there was something like lightning all around. I could feel the shocks of electricity and it was rapidly changing from extremely hot to freezing. There was thunder, screams, and crackles of electricity everywhere and I was faintly aware of my sister and cousins as well as the two other little kids in the vortex with me. We spun into each other and ended up twisted and upside down; if there was as upside down here. Everything felt numb too, like when you’re just waking up. When I tried to move, it felt like I couldn’t focus. It was like moving through jelly or trying to walk when your feet had gone numb only on your whole body. Then suddenly I couldn’t breathe. There was no oxygen in the vortex. I gasped and sputtered but air wouldn’t come. The spinning lights faded. The thunder stopped roaring. The changing temperature settled down in the middle. The last thing I felt was a dull thud and everything went black.
Cold. Cold and grass. Why was it this cold in the middle of April? And why was I lying in the grass? I opened my eyes slowly but my mind wouldn’t process the sights I was seeing. We were all there, Tom, Leah, Jeremy, those two little kids, and me. There were trees all around us and we were sitting in a small field. It was nearing sunset and I could see swirling smoke rings billowing up from one direction. This was too weird. I had to be dreaming or something. There was no way this could be happening. What was this? Some kind of cruel joke? Dread, fear, and confusion swept over me as I began to process the information my brain was trying to send me. I was having a memory loss for a few moments that’s all, any second now I’d remember the camping trip or the trail we followed. But that wasn’t it, I remembered it all now, the playground the vortex. It all made no sense, the way we were dropped here somehow. A part of me wanted desperately to believe this was a dream, but I knew it wasn’t. The reality was so much more frightening. It could be aliens or a portal to another universe, maybe it was even a kidnapping device and we had fallen for it. A million scenarios passed in front of my eyes. Everything felt unreal. Some instinct seemed to click into place, telling me that whatever it was, it was gone now, and we needed to do something before it came back or it happened again.
Everyone was slowly getting up off the ground. The boy from the playground was sprawled on the ground rubbing his head and looking confused. The other child from the playground was crying, bent over her arm near a rock. Jeremy was looking around, propped up on his arms. A look of disbelief was on his face. There was a large cut running down his arm but it didn’t look deep. Tom was lying farthest from us near a couple of trees. He looked pained and scared. Leah was still unconscious and there was a cut on her leg. A few drops of scarlet blood were dripping slowly down onto the grass. Tom was the first one to get up. He walked unsteadily toward the middle of the group before sliding back to the ground. The little boy was looking around now, probably for his mom, I thought as I felt a stab of sympathy for him.
Leah was up now and was the first to say what we were all thinking, “Where are we… how did we get here, Sarah… what’s going on?” She turned around and looked at me in desperation. She was trembling.
“I have no idea,” I answered; it was the truth. I had absolutely no idea where the heck we were. All I knew was we were in the middle of a forest with no food or water and it was getting dark. I could already hear animals calling to each other from deeper in the woods.
“Come on,” I said as I stood up and started walking… and fell back down again. Note to self: when you’re twisted around in a black vortex a million times and then faint because of lack of air, and probably banged your head when you landed you tend to be just a little dizzy. Common sense took over as the rest of my head screamed in confusion and fear. I stood back up again and pointed my finger at the smoke stacks gently blowing above the trees. “We need to go that way, there must be people there that can tell us where we are,” I said while shaking off my dizziness. I desperately tried to come up with a rational explanation for all this. Nothing made sense.
The others slowly got up too, wobbling and shaking, all except the two smaller children. They sat huddled next to a rock sobbing and trembling. I walked over to them; it wasn’t like we could just leave them there.
“Come with us, we’ll take care of you, and then in a little while we’ll bring you home to your parents,” I said in a soothing voice, trying to calm them down. I had no idea if that was true or not, but I felt the need to say something encouraging to the two little crying children. I reached out to take the girl’s hand, but when I grasped it with mine, she cried out in pain.
I jumped back in alarm as fresh tears rolled down her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked nervously.
“My aaarmmmmm,” she cried out, “It hurrrrttttttsss.”
“Well we’ll find some nice people to fix it up, OK,” I said. I hoped the words would end up true, because I knew nothing about First Aid.
I took her other hand and we walked back to the others. “Please tell me you have some idea about this,” Jeremy said. His face was expressionless, but I could hear the underlying fear in his voice.
“I wish,” I answered, “nothing makes sense.” We all started walking into the woods as the truth started to sink in… we were alone in who-knows-where going towards our only chance of finding people. I found out that the boy’s name was Jack and the girl’s was April. They were seven and five years old. As we walked along I noticed the trees where tall, like taller than any trees I’ve ever seen or even heard about. Most of them had a hint of yellow or orange in their leaves too. We didn’t talk too much; we were all way too shocked to make conversation. There were several small clearings like the one that we landed in. We would walk for a few minutes and then stumble upon another, only to plunge back into the forest. Every time we found one of these clearings we checked our direction, making sure we were still headed towards the rising smoke. All the while, my mind was reeling with possibilities. Trying to figure out something to explain this. Hundreds of possibilities flashed in my head. There had to be a logical explanation for this. Nothing fit though.
Then after walking for what seemed like at least an hour or more, we found it. Out of all the things, I was expecting… this wasn’t it. I guess the best way to describe it was a primitive village. There were about thirty little wooden huts scattered in a large field slightly below us (we were on a hill) with many outdoor fires. The huts were all made of wood and it looked like some of them had mud scraped over the tops too. Some were made in a teepee type way, while others were more of a wigwam style. They were scattered around the largest one that slightly resembled a modern one floor house made of sticks. Very slightly.
People walked around the village doing various tasks. Some were talking, others chopping wood. Many were carving various things out of wood or making what looked like pottery. There were small dirt roads between huts where trampling feet had killed all the grass and flowers. The people themselves were a mix of dark and light, although most where somewhere in the middle.
“Are we in Africa?” Tom asked while looking down in puzzlement.
“I guess we’re gonna find out,” Jeremy said, and with that he started to walk down the hill.
Tom gulped and started to run after his older brother.
I took Jack’s hand and put it in Leah’s, “Take Jack,” I said while helping April over some of the scattered rocks and occasional tree stump. Leah frowned, but began following me anyway, Jack stumbling on beside her. Jeremy and Tom had stopped at the bottom of the hill. When Leah and I came to a halt beside him, we realized why. Everyone in the village was starring straight at us.
“Oh great,” Jeremy said, “Just what we need, a welcome party.”
“Do we have to go there?” Leah questioned from behind me. I could here the fear in her voice.
I looked at the moon, it was slowly becoming more and more visible. Soon it would be night and we would have to sleep out here if we didn’t find a spot in the village. I took a deep breath and said, “Yep.”
“We better go now then,” Jeremy said. We started walking down one of the paths. The people shrunk away from us when we passed. Woman hid their children behind themselves or shooed them indoors. They were afraid of us… or at least most of them were anyways.
We were near the center hut now. There were two men in front of it talking. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. One of them started to walk up to us. He had long black hair and towered over us. The other man walked behind him. He was shorter and looked troubled by something.
The first man frowned and said, “Salir, gir espalda de donde yoo comenen, nosotro na gusta yoo har.”
Jeremy and I had both been taking Spanish for about a year now so we could tell he was sort of speaking Spanish. Unfortunately, the only words I recognized was that nosotro meant we and de meant of. That didn’t help us much. Not only that, some of the words I didn’t even recognize as Spanish. This wasn’t good.
Jeremy said, “Nosotros, no uhh… hablar espanol buenno. Do you speak English?” It was pitiful.
The man was angry now and he started shouting at us, “Gir, gir gir, salir, salir naaw.” The other man was talking to him. When Jeremy tried to talk again the first man grabbed his shirt and shoved him back. He fell into Tom who crashed into me. The two men were arguing now. The second man was standing in front of us shouting at the one who shoved Jeremy. Then an old man came out of the hut. They instantly stopped arguing. His eyes widened when he saw us. He said something to the first man. The man walked away after a last glare at us. The old man said something to the other guy, then he went back into the hut.
“Sorrows, comenen, yo well tomo yoo a un pueblo, ustedes salir en manana.” He said as he waved his hand in a motion indicating us to follow.
“Wait,” I said, “We need a doctor.” I pointed at April’s arm.
He turned around and stared at me with a blank expression.
“A hospital,” I said again. Still nothing. “Medicine…her arms broken,” I said desperately. No reaction. I grabbed Jeremy’s arm and pointed at the scab that was beginning to form, “A healer.”
Finally, he seemed to have realized what I was asking. He turned around, and repeating the hand motion said to us again, “Comenen.”
We were headed to the farthest hut away from the village. As we got closer, I began to hear bangs and clattering from inside. The man put his hand up in a signal for us to stop and wait. He moved a flap, which was used as a door, and walked inside. We heard talking and then he waved us inside and left.
The hut only had one room, and even that was small. It was circular and about the size of a small bedroom. There were two cots against one side of the wall and a fire on another side. At least I guess you would call them cots. They looked more like grass and straw thrown together with a thin sheet on top to me. A clay chimney let out smoke through the side. The rest of the walls were lined with shelves that had wood and clay containers stacked on top of them. Different herbs, flowers, and plants were scattered on the shelves too. I guessed that the different pots and bowls contained these as well.
Standing in the middle of the room was a woman. She had tan skin and dark brown hair that was graying. Her face was wrinkled and she had dark brown eyes. She looked like she was in either her forties or fifties. She wore a skirt of what looked like wool over some sort of leggings or pants. Her shirt looked like it was an animal skin, and she had a beaded necklace on.
“Welcome, me name es Xantha, Dervin tells me you es speaker of thee old language, es positive or negative,” she spoke in an odd accent and she paused between words.
“Umm, yeah … positive,” I said nervously.
“You not com from here, no?” She said looking at our clothing, I shook my head, “No… you com from thee other place, thee other … time. Thee time of house-mountains and wagons that move-no animals. Thee people from thee other time have been coming since third war.” She was putting a pot over the fire now. She started stirring the pot with a wooden spoon.
A sick, terrible realization was setting over me. But unlike the vortex, people had been worried about this for years. The thing was it had never happened… yet. “What is the third war?” I asked tentatively.
“En thee old world there waz three wars. Thee two that comed first happened… how do yoo say… close ta each other. The third war happendd… a many, many… turns of thee seasons later… and it waz a … disaster. Many died en heat blasts an theen, there waz crop fail from thee… murder-dust left from thee heat blasts, an again many died. They called it… World War Three,” she said.
Yeah, I would call that a pretty sickening thought.
Jeremy and I exchanged looks of horror. Leah and Tom both looked scared, but I don’t think that they really grasped the enormity of a world war three. With Tom in fifth and Leah in forth grade neither of them realized what a disaster a World War Three would be since they really hadn’t learned about it yet.
“So how are we here, how did we get here?” Leah asked in a confused tone. Desperation creased her face.
The woman put the spoon on one of the shelves and turned to face us again, “Befoor thee new time, befoor thee third war, thee people had… many… mechanics items, many like-magic items. One of these waz a time mix mechanics, this es no … worked well, es how yoo are here.”
My throat was dry with the question I was about to ask. I was afraid of the answer, “Is there a way to get back to, to the old time?” I fought down my rising panic.
She paused for a moment and then answered me, “Yes… yoo must travel a long time to meet Terreako, he can get yoo back.” Relief along with unsettling uncertainty overwhelmed me. Here she paused to take a look at us again, “Yoo tell Dervin yoo waz hurt, no? Com, mi will help yoo.” She took April’s hand and brought her over to one of the cots.
She examined her arm carefully and then wrapped it in some stiff cloth and gave her some plants to eat. Jack was next. She gave him some plants too. She examined Jeremy’s arm, then waved him over to a bucket of water and started washing his arm roughly with something that vaguely resembled soap. He cringed as she used a scrap of cloth to clean the wound thoroughly. She had some ground-up herbs, that when added with water, formed a paste. She dried his arm and wrapped it in a softer-looking bandage that was coated with the paste. She wrapped a similar bandage on a couple of Leah’s cuts. After glancing at Tom and me, she dismissed us with a wave of her hand.
“Naw yoo are ready, we will talk about toomaaro, this is when yoo are to leave. I gather yoo thee items, that yoo will need, and I shall find thee map. Tonight yoo sleep.” She pointed at the cots. She took one while Jack, April, and Leah occupied the other. Jeremy, Tom, and I slept on the ground next to the others with our heads resting on the cot.
“Sarah, this is going to sound weird… but are we dead already, was that the tunnel, maybe… it’s just, I mean…this can’t be real,” Jeremy stopped there and let that thought sink in.
I thought about that for a second then looked at Jeremy’s arm. Then I looked at April’s arm, Leah’s cuts and finally to my own bruises. I faced him and said, “No I believe her, as crazy as it seems I think she’s right.” He nodded slowly, thinking. Then turned around to go to sleep. I don’t think any of us fell asleep until well after midnight though.
I woke up from a troubled sleep before everyone else. The woman, Xantha, was up already and was bustling around the room like a frantic bee. She kept moving containers and selecting some occasionally to put in a bag that looked like it was made of a kind of animal skin. I could see the beginning of the sun’s rays through a small window. Suddenly she turned around, saw me, and shouted, “Bueno! Yoo up! Wake thee… elder childs an yoo help wit thee… gather.”
I got up slowly and started to shake Jeremy, Leah, and Tom awake. “Yoo,” Xantha said as she pointed at Jeremy, “Take thee… paak an putt et en wagon, out.” Then she pointed at the door. Jeremy went and picked up the bag, struggling to find a grip because the bag didn’t have any straps or handles. Then he carried it awkwardly out the door. “Yoo,” This time she pointed at Tom, “Git all ov thee jars en shelf.” She pointed at one of the lower, smaller shelves. He jumped, and then started putting jars in a new bag that Xantha found. She then pointed at Leah and said to her, “Mix theet.” She waved her hand at something boiling in a pot above the fire. Leah glanced at me quickly, and then she went over to the pot and began stirring it with a thin piece of wood.
“An yoo, com,” she said in my direction. I followed her uncertainly to a small table on one side. On the table was a piece of thick paper, almost like parchment. On the piece of paper, there were different faded blotches of colors and lines. “Es map,” she said, “We es en.” She was pointing to a spot that was black. It was in the center all the way to the left. Then a red line extended along the page in a zigzag line to another dot that was black. Most of the left half was a darker green and most of the right half was a lighter green. Close to the left edge there was a band of brown that looked like mountains. The other spot was in the mountains on the left side in the top corner. The spot she was pointing to was near the middle-bottom on the right side. There were several other black dots along the red line.
“Yoo travel thees line… northwest… mostly,” she said while moving her finger across the red line, “take about too… months, must bee at time mix mechanics before three months, if no at time mix mechanics at three months no work. Take two suns.” She said this while pointing from the first dot to the second, there where ten in all. “Take one sun,” and she pointed from the second dot to the third, “thees take before one sun.” She was now pointing from the third to the forth and then to the fifth dot, they where all close to each other. “Es 17 suns an 8 suns,” and she pointed first from the fifth to the sixth dot. Then she paused, and went from the sixth to the seventh. “Yoo then find thee…nooooomadss,” she struggled over the word nomads as if she was trying to remember it. She pointed at a spot slightly to the left of the seventh dot. Then she followed the red line for a longer distance where there were no dots at all until she got to the base of a mountain. “Take about 8 suns,” she said while pointing out our finale destination.
Jeremy walked back in and Xantha waved for him to bring out another bag. She gave me one and Tom took the one he was packing. She then woke up the younger kids and told them to keep stirring the pot while she motioned for Leah to come outside with the rest of us.
Outside there was a small wagon made of wood about four feet by three feet with edges about one foot high. There were four thick wheels that were made from the trunk of a tree with the center drilled out for an axel. At both corners on the front side of the wagon there was a piece of rope. Both pieces of rope were also attached to a wooden bar on the ends.
Xantha picked up the bag that Jeremy first brought out and opened it up, inside there where two spaces. She pointed at the left side and said, “Medicine an bandages.” She pointed at the right side and took out a bundle then unwrapped it carefully. She first took out a compass covered in rust with slightly cracked glass. It looked like it might have been green at some point in time, but the paint had faded and chipped away. She tapped the glass twice and the dial began to spin. “Northwest,” she repeated and put it back. She took out three knives then paused as if thinking, then took one more out. They each had skin coverings. She gave the two larger ones to Jeremy and me and the two smaller ones (they looked like daggers) to Tom and Leah. There was flint and steel which she showed us how to use by striking them against each other. There was also a small portable tripod made of wood, a couple of bowls, two more knives, a hatchet and some string and rope.
She indicated the bag Tom brought out and grunted, “Food, water.” Then she pointed at the bag Jeremy just brought out and said, “Blankets.” Then she pointed at the last bag and said, “Tarp an cloths, important theet yoo no lose cloths.” I was a little confused by this until the man from the day before, Dervin, came by. He motioned for Jeremy, Tom, and Jack to go with him. After prying April from Jack, they did.
We followed Xantha back into the hut and she produced two shirts, leggings and long skirts as well as a smaller one-piece suit that looked similar, but the skirt was attached at the bottom and the top. We changed into the new cloths. My shirt was loose, but the leggings and skirt fit pretty well. Leah’s cloths also fit fine, but April’s were too big and she looked funny in the oversized outfit. Tom, Jeremy, and Jack came back wearing cloths of the same material, but they all had pants and thick shirts with long sleeves. We all had leather shoes that looked like moccasins, only they came up above your ankle by a couple of inches.
“It’s too hot,” Jack said in a whiney tone, frowning.
“Yoo well need et fooor… for thee cold, later,” Xantha said while putting the map inside the wagon. “I well send for Necita, she well travel with yoo today an tonight,… en morning tumero she well com back an yoo well go on too thee other villages.”
She then left to go find her. While she was gone I had time to wonder how in the world we were expected to do this. I mean, on a good day Jeremy, Tom, Leah, and I could walk all day, but what about Jack and April. There was no way they could, and we would be traveling through a forest pulling a wagon. On top of that I had seen the supplies of food and water we had and sooner or later we were going to run out and then what? What if we couldn’t start a fire? It was late fall from what I could tell and soon we would need one just to keep from freezing. This whole thing was so messed up. There was no way we could make it. What if we were attacked, she didn’t give those knives to us for no reason. There could be wolves or bears or mountain lions or something. The whole thing seemed hopeless. Despair engulfed me. Well, why not try, right? We’ve got nothing to lose, I guess. We could stay here of course, but I was not about to do that.
Xantha got back quickly, with her was a girl who looked to be in her late teens. She had very tan skin with golden-dark brown hair and brown eyes. She had on a dress with leggings underneath like ours. Her face was blank and revealed nothing. “Necita knows small amount of thee other time speak,” Xantha said indicating Necita. “I wish yoo good travel.” And with that, she walked away.
Necita motioned for Jeremy to come over to the wagon. She picked up the wooden bar on the wagon and stepped under it. She stood so that her back was to the wagon and she was facing the bar while holding it. She waved her hand as an indication for Jeremy to do the same. He ducked underneath the bar and copied her. They started walking in the opposite direction as the hill we climbed down to get here. The rest of us followed.
Soon we had past the last hut and the trees began to get thicker. At first, there were a few, then they surrounded us. There was still space in between, so you could still see the village. After a while, the trees got thicker and we couldn’t see even the nearest hut. We were traveling on a thin trail that the wagon barely fit through. In many places, the path was overgrown with weeds and bushes.
After about an hour, April started to complain. We were already walking several yards behind everyone else because she couldn’t go fast enough. Reluctantly, I bent down and let her hop onto my back. She wrapped her arms around my neck and I held up her legs. She wasn’t very heavy, couldn’t be more then forty pounds. She was short and thin, but after a while, my back was aching and my legs burned with each step. I finally put her down and decided she would have to walk for a little while. By now Jack, Leah, and Tom where whining and complaining too about being tired and hungry, I guessed it was about noon.
“Jeremy,” I called from behind the wagon, “I think we should stop and eat lunch now, I don’t think April and Jack can walk much longer.”
They stopped pulling the wagon and walked around to the back. The rest of us collapsed on the ground, thankful for a rest from the constant walking. So far the ground was pretty level, but it would become more difficult when we started going up hill. I slowly got up and walked over to where Jeremy was getting some food and water out of the wagon.
“These kind of look like blueberries,” he said, shaking a jar. “And we could eat some bread and a little… meat?” He asked holding up another container of something that looked like raw chicken.
I made a face at the chicken then put it back in the bag, “How about just the bread and berries, we’ll have the meat for dinner if we can start a fire.”
“OK, but if we don’t have the meat can we eat the-.”
“Jeremy, we need to save the food or we’ll run out, this will be plenty,” I said impatiently.
He frowned, but reluctantly put the container he had been observing back in the cart. Then he took out one water jug and another smaller cup. “I guess we drink out of this one,” he said shaking the smaller one. Necita started looking around the edge of the path, then she disappeared into the forest altogether. The rest of us had gathered in the middle of the path. I was cutting the bread with the knife Xantha had given me.
I gave everyone one slice, saving a piece for Necita. She came out shortly holding a stack of large leaves. She placed one in front of everyone then divided about half the jar of blueberry’s among us and put them on the leaves. “Thanks,” I said to her. She nodded to me, but I don’t think she really understood.
After we finished we put the rest of the food and water back in the bag in the wagon. “I’ll pull the cart, can you carry April for a while,” I said to Jeremy.
He looked happy not to have to pull the wagon anymore and he nodded and replied, “Sure.” Necita looked surprised when I took Jeremy’s place. She quickly erased the shock off her face and returned to her usual blank composure.
It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to pull the wagon, but I suspected that was partly because Necita was pulling most of the weight. If she wanted to do all the work though, that was fine by me. I was exhausted. We walked for a while until I heard Jeremy yell from behind us, “Sarah, wait, stop.”
I halted and turned around. They were several yards away and Jack was sitting on the ground with Jeremy next to him. I put down the bar and walked back to them. As I came closer, I started to hear what Jeremy was saying, “… I can’t carry you, you’re too heavy and I have to carry April, she’s too little to walk the whole way, now… come… on.” He was lifting him up, but every time he did, Jack just sank back to the ground. He was almost yelling at him now, with the combination of walking all day and now this I could tell he was getting really irritated. Not to mention the whole vortex, time warp thing.
“No, I can’t walk anymore, it’s too hard,” he whined defiantly.
Jeremy put his hands up in exasperation and yelled, “You deal with him” He walked off angrily and sat down, against a tree. I looked down at Jack and I knew there was no way I could make him walk anymore. Leah and Tom were sitting thankfully on the ground with their legs spread out. April was lying near Jack
“Jeremy, why don’t you let Jack ride in the wagon for a little while, then Leah, then Tom,” I suggested. Jack’s face immediately lit up. Leah looked hopefully at Jeremy.
“Sure, why not,” he said, but I could tell he was still agitated.
“Come on Jack,” I said. We walked over to the back of the wagon. I moved one of the bags over and lifted him into the cart. He curled up next to the bag and looked like he was going to fall asleep. I walked back to the front of the wagon and we continued along the path. After a long time we stopped, had some water and Leah started riding instead of Jack. She wasn’t huge or anything, but man, she sure weighed a lot more than Jack. Later Tom switched with Leah.
I was just about to say we should probably find a place to sleep for the night when Necita stopped abruptly. “Sleep, eat,” she said curtly. I think everyone was fine with that, I sure was. We were next to a small, grassy space.
I took out the bags that contained the blankets and tarp. Then I got the flint and steel out. I handed them to Jeremy. “Get Tom and the little kids to help you gather wood and see if you can start a fire,” I told him. He nodded and they started rummaging around in the woods after he told them. Leah got out the rope and we found that the tarp had a whole on each corner for it to go through. I contemplated not even putting it up, but there were gray clouds in the sky and rain was a definite possibility. We ended up tying all of the corners around low-hanging branches only a few feet off the ground. Then (as we found out in the experience) there were another two wholes in the center that we put a rope through. I figured we could put the rope over a tree branch to make a pyramid.
I was worried about how we would get the rope over the branch. I was about to suggest throwing it up when Necita grabbed it and climbed up the tree like a squirrel. Meanwhile Tom had gotten some meat and water out of the bag and was waiting patiently for Jeremy to start the fire. Jeremy was bent over a carefully constructed teepee made out of small sticks. He was trying unsuccessfully to light some bark and wood shavings in the center of it. He was muttering under his breath so the little kids couldn’t hear. Necita went over to help him.
“Hey Tom, while your waiting why don’t you skewer some of that so that when the fires ready we can cook it,” I said pointing to the container in his hands.
“If it’s ever ready,” he said quietly, walking over to get some sticks for skewers. Jeremy shot him a murderous look. Necita took the flint and steel and showed him a better way to do it, then gave it back again. After about fifteen more minutes, one of the sparks caught and we had a small flame. Jeremy yelled in triumph as the flame grew into a fire. Tom had put all the meat on one skewer, which rested on two forked sticks that were on either sides of the fire.
While the meat was cooking, I took the rest of the food and water out of the bag. There were four containers of water, we had used half of the first one. We would need to find a river or stream, there had to be some sort of water near the village. There were also thirteen containers of other food. Three had various berries in them, and one more had fruit. Four had vegetables, one of which resembled cucumbers. Two, including the one Tom had, were filled with meat that looked like chicken. There were also three small sacks, two filled with apples and one with bread. The sack with the bread was slightly larger.
I was guessing we could get about two weeks off the food.
Our trip would take over two months.
We had a problem.
It wasn’t a happy thought to know that if we couldn’t get or find food we would starve in a matter of weeks. There wasn’t anything I could do about it right now though. It was almost dark and the food was almost finished cooking. I would see if we could get some food at the next town. Hopefully, we could get water there too.
I packed all the food back up and then walked over to the fire. Jeremy had taken Tom’s smaller knife and was cutting off pieces for everyone. He gave me a piece and it was surprisingly good. It tasted mostly like chicken but with a weird flavor thrown in too, like a sauce or something. I didn’t remember seeing it in anything though.
When we were done we crawled underneath our makeshift tent. Everyone got a blanket except April who shared one with Jack because Necita was using one. It was surprisingly cold at night. Because of all that happened, I expected to have trouble falling asleep. After the exhausting day though, I fell asleep almost instantly.
When I woke up, I heard the sounds of birds and wind in the tree. At first, I didn’t remember where I was. Then, like a wave engulfing me in water, it all came back and the wariness that had been following me returned. Leah and April were already up. They were outside the “tent”, rummaging in the wagon. I got up and noticed that Necita was also awake.
She walked up to me and in a thick accent said, “I leave, yoo go.” She pointed first in the direction we came, indicating herself, then in the direction we would go. I yelled a thank you as she left.
The yell had woken up Jeremy who hazily walked out of the tent. He looked around quickly, then he asked, “Where’s Necita.”
“She left,” I said simply.
“Oh,” was all he said.
We ate some more bread and the rest of the blueberries for breakfast. Twelve jars left, I thought to myself, thinking of the thirteen jars of food. Now we had one empty. Jeremy and I pulled the wagon. April road on the back for a while, then Jack got a ride. By the time we stopped for lunch though, April was practically being dragged by Leah. We each got a slice of bread and an apple for lunch, April didn’t finish hers though, so Jeremy ate it. I was still hungry, but I refused to let anyone eat anymore. I didn’t want to run out of food any faster then we had to. Leah, Jack, and Tom all got turns on the cart, but April had to stay on for most of the time.
It was getting darker and even the warm orange-red of the sunset had fallen below our view. The trees had become less dense. Finally, I said, “Jeremy, we have to stop, it’s almost dark.”
“We’re not at the village though, we’re supposed to get there today,” he said, not looking at me, still walking on.
I stopped walking, pulling the cart back with me. He banged against the pole we were pushing and turned to glare at me. I said to him, “We’ve been going too slow, we’ll get there tomorrow. Everyone’s exhausted, we need to stop.”
He sighed and slowly let the pole drop and stepped over the rope that connected it to the wagon. “Fine I’ll start a fire, you get the tarp ready.” He walked off and called for Jack, April, and Leah to come with him in search of firewood. Tom and I walked up the path a little ways and found a large boulder. We had been seeing more and more of them along the way. We draped one side of the tarp over the top of the rock and put more, smaller rocks on top to keep it in place. Then we pulled the opposite side tight. We laid it on the ground with wood and rocks over it to create a sort of lean-to tent with two openings on each side. The two walls were made of stone and the tarp.
By the time we were done, there was a sizeable amount of wood for the fire and Jeremy had the flint and steel. There were plenty of sparks, but nothing was catching. I put the blankets under the tent. When I was finished, Jeremy still hadn’t started the fire. I watched the sky slowly get darker and darker. I eventually took the flint and steel from Jeremy, but I was doing worse then him. Leah and Tom had taken out the rest of the bread and the cucumber-like vegetable. We gave up on the fire and ate, then we went to sleep. Eleven jars left and only two of water I thought, then an idea occurred to me. I crawled carefully out of the tent around the sleeping bodies. I took the two empty water jugs and left them out under the cloudy sky.
My eyes fluttered open. Jeremy was leaning over me, shakeing me awake. I couldn’t see the sun yet, only the tips of the rays were visible. “I wanted to make sure we get to the next town today,” he said, to explain the early time. This new responsible Jeremy was starting to freak me out. Was this some kind of post-traumatic stress thing? He had always been the one to suggest the stupid, crazy ideas and I was supposed to be the mature, responsible one who told him what an idiot he was.
We woke everyone else and got ready to leave. The constant terror and dread that engulfed me since we had landed here had been subdued to mild terror and semi-dread as the initial shock wore off. Then, remembering the empty water jugs, I ran out to were I had put them. It had rained in the night and now sitting in the water jugs was cool, clean water. There wasn’t a lot in each, but I was happy anyways. We had an apple each and some more cucumbers for breakfast. The morning passed as we walked along the path. We kept seeing lots of rocks. We finished the cucumber-things for lunch.
We reached the village soon after eating lunch. It was similar to the other one except that there weren’t any tepees, only wigwams. The center house, the largest one, was made of rock instead of wood. This one was in a clearing too, but it looked like it was a man-made one, not natural like the other village. Instead of the woods gradually getting denser from the center it stopped abruptly at the edge of the village.
“Try to blend in,” I said to Jeremy. April and Jack were on the back of the wagon. Leah and Tom nervously walked closer to the cart. We got a lot of curious glances, but none of them held hostility. We made our way to the opposite side of the village near where the path continued. “Can you set up the tarp and a fire, I thought I’d take Leah and we would see if we can get some more food or water,” I said to Jeremy. We had eaten all the apples in one sack and the cucumbers. Nine containers left I realized we’re running out faster then I thought.
Leah and I walked towards the center of the village. I was carrying the two empty water jugs and Leah had the empty apple sack along with the cucumber jar. I was looking around for a well when I saw a woman carrying a bowl of water. Her eyes were kind and she gave us a friendly nod as we approached. I took a deep breath and decided to take a chance. I walked up to her and pointed at the water, “Where is the water?”
She gave me a puzzled and surprised look. Then, seeing me gesturing towards the bowl, she pointed in the direction that she had come from. “Thank you,” I said even though I doubted she understood.
I walked down the path and Leah trudged after me, “Do we really need more water? We still have two jars left of it.”
I answered her, “Yes, we really do need it. Who knows if we’ll find water at the other places, besides it’s better to be prepared than die of thirst.”
“Your just being paranoid.”
“No, I’m being careful.”
I swallowed my reply, knowing she was just being irritable because she was tired, oh and did I mention the whole vortex thing? We walked on until we got to a well. It didn’t resemble any well I’d ever seen before though. It was just a hole in the ground with one bucket attached to a rope that was tied to a tree on the other end. There was a row of stones around it about a foot high.
I kneeled over next to the well and threw the bucket down. I heard a loud splash, then I pulled the bucket up, it filled one of the jugs almost all the way up. I did the same with the second jug. When we were done I started walking around the perimeter of the village. We were already at the edge. I was looking for more food.
“Where are we going, can we go back now,” Leah asked.
“No, we need to find some food,” I said curtly.
“We have plenty.”
“No, we don’t.”
“Yes, we do, we still have, like ten left.”
“We have nine.”
“Whatever, its plenty.”
I finally snapped and spun around to glare at her, “We barely have enough for a week and after the next two towns we’re going on a two and a half week trip!”
That shut her up.
We walked on, not finding anything even remotely edible. Finally, I was just about to say we should head back, when we turned around a corner and saw it. Rows and rows of apple trees. A couple of people were picking them, but there wasn’t a lot left. Plenty for us though. The trees were easy to climb. Many had large rocks next to them that we used to climb onto the lower branches and then higher into the tree. We filled the sack and the container and then we each ate one. It took a while though because most of the apples where gone. Out of the ones that were left, half of them were rotten. We had to climb many trees to get them all, and many of them were smaller than average.
When we got back, the tarp was set up so that the four corners were tied to trees. There was a stack of wood near the front where Jeremy was attempting to get a fire started. He had dug out a shallow hole and put rocks around it.
I couldn’t suppress the smile that was creeping onto my face, “Look what we found.”
He turned around to see us carrying the full water jugs and the overflowing jars, “Great, can we eat some now, I’m starving.”
“No, we need to stock up, after the next two villages it’s more than two weeks when we stop again,” I said while shaking my head.
The smile on his face instantly vanished, “Oh.”
Jeremy got a fire going this time and we finished the chicken for dinner. That left us with ten jars again because we had filled two with apples. A voice in the back of my head whispered to me is this what the rest of my life is really going to be like, always worrying about food and water and never staying in one place for more than a day. No, when we got to the mountain we would go back and everything would be fine. Everything would be fine. Yeah, if we live that long.
It was the middle of the night. I was still lying next to April like I did every night now. Nothing was unusual, yet something was terribly wrong. I never wake up in the night, ever. I laid still and listened. The only sound was the rhythmic breathing of April and Leah who were closest to me and the wind flowing through the trees. Their branches raking against each other and leaves falling to the ground. I was drifting back asleep again, the leaves falling, falling, falling, thump, thump, thump.
I shot instantly awake, that wasn’t leaves, something was stepping on the ground and the fallen leaves were crunching. More than that, a feeling of dread had woken me up. Holding my breath, I froze in terror as I heard more sounds. I slowly lifted my head slightly up to peer out of our tent. There was a person bent over our stuff going through it. My first thought was that maybe he’d take it and leave; my next was that we needed that stuff.
I rolled slightly so that I was up against Leah, I shook her awake then clamped my hand over her mouth before she said anything, “Don’t move there’s someone going through our stuff, wake up Jeremy.” I saw my terror mirrored in her eyes. She wiggled up and to the side silently until she was close enough to talk to him. I barely heard her whispers.
I saw him start to crawl silently along the edge towards the intruder, who was now examining the food. Jeremy was about five feet from the intruder when he was finally heard. As the person spun around Jeremy jumped up to aim a punch at his face. The intruder stepped back and grabbed his outstretched arm. Then he twisted Jeremy’s arm in back of him. Jeremy had just enough time to scream in pain before the person pulled out a gruesome knife with his other hand and brought it to his throat.
By this time Leah and I were sitting up, staring at the scene that just unfolded in front of us like a movie. Jack had woken up, his eyes wide with terror. April was still asleep somehow. I didn’t look back to check but I assumed Tom was awakening like the rest of us. The edge of the knife made a shallow cut on his throat. The man nodded at me and then at the wagon containing our supplies. A new surge of terror ran through me, but I got up, almost as if by some other force and walked over to our stuff. I thought briefly of the knives near where Jack was lying on the other side. Even if I could get to them though, he would slit Jeremy’s throat before I had a chance to do anything.
He kicked a large sack over to me, I stooped to pick it up and then brought it back over to the wagon. He nodded again at the wagon. I started filling it up with our stuff. Our stuff that we need. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark shadow walking swiftly up behind the intruder. There was something in its hand. At first, I thought it was a second person come to steal from us, but then as he stepped out of the shadows I saw that it was Tom. I gasped as he raised a thick, short branch over his head like a club. Then he brought it down with a massive thump!
I screamed as the knife fell and both Jeremy and the thief went down on top of it. The man was lying on Jeremy who was groaning in pain. The man’s hair was matted with blood and it dripped down his neck. He was unconscious, maybe dead. I managed to hide my disgust long enough to roll him off of Jeremy. Jeremy twisted, grabbing his leg. His eyes where shut in pain.
“Jeremy, are you OK? Leah, get the bandages from the cart,” I shouted franticly. His neck wasn’t bleeding anymore, so at least that was good.
“I’m fine, just… my leg,” Jeremy said, groaning again. I started rolling his pants up to his knee. There was a rip where he fell on the knife. Underneath on his leg was a gash about the length of my hand. A wave of relief washed over me as I saw that it wasn’t too deep. Leah dropped a pile of bandages, herbs, and cloth on the ground next to me.
“Get water,” I said to her. She ran back to the wagon and returned quickly with a jug. I took one of the cloths and dipped it in the water. Then I used it to wipe the blood from the cut. A thin line of red continued to trickle out.
“She put this on our other cuts,” Leah said, while handing me a small bag of herbs. Xantha had used it to make a paste that she put on the bandages. I guessed that it was probably for infection. They were already in a sort of thick powder. I held some in my hand and dropped some water on it. Instantly it became a thick, goopy mixture. I spread it on his cut. Then I mixed some more and put it on a bandage that I wrapped around his leg.
All this time Tom had been watching from a few feet behind us. When we were done he spoke tentatively, almost in a whisper, “Di-did I kill him?” He was staring in horror at the man. He had dropped his stick which was now covered in blood.
I had completely forgotten about him in my worry for Jeremy. Now that I knew he was fine though, I couldn’t put off dealing with the thief any longer. I watched him steadily until I could clearly make out the rise and fall of his chest. “I don’t think so, he’s breathing.”
I glanced down at the body, realizing what we had to do, “We need to drag him away from here, we can’t have anyone finding him here like this, they’ll think we attacked him.”
Leah looked appalled, “Can’t we just leave early or something?”
I shook my head, “Even if we did that, they could send people after us.”
Tom looked at the thief’s bloody form, “Do we really need to.”
I looked at him and answered, “Yes.”
We ended up putting him in the wagon and pulling him half way around the village before dumping him near the edge. We got a couple more hours of sleep before waking up early to leave.
Nothing unusual happened on the way there. April and Jack took turns riding on the wagon and we continued to see more rocks along the way. The trip was longer than I thought it would be because of Jeremy’s leg. We ate apples for breakfast and lunch. We arrived a few hours later to find a village very similar to the one we were just at. This one also had the trees cut off to form a circle and a stone house in the center.
We set up our tarp like a tent because it was already raining considerably and seemed to be getting worse. Jeremy and Leah left to get water and food if possible. Tom and I used sticks to dig a shallow trench around our “tent” in order to keep the water from flooding us. April and Jack were jumping in puddles to see who could make a bigger splash. We brought the wagon into a corner of the “tent” to keep the supplies from getting wet.
The sky was dark now and I was beginning to worry when I saw Leah running towards us and Jeremy coming behind her, “Sarah, Sarah, guess what,” she was jumping up and down, barely containing her excitement, “We found more apples and there was this lady and we were getting water, and, she had this little girl with her, but the little girl, she was wandering around and she was really close to the edge. We were waiting to fill our containers an the girl slipped and fell! Then she screamed and we all turned around an Jeremy jumped in! The river was goin really fast an the girl was under water and Jeremy kept goin under then comin back up and he almost crashed into a rock, but he grabbed the girl and brought her to shore. Then the woman made us come back with her to her house. She kept thanking him and she gave us some soup and some food to bring back!”
Coming up behind her was a grinning, soaked Jeremy. His hair was plastered to is face and he was shivering, “I could really use some hot chocolate right now… or at least a fire.” He was carrying two baskets of corn that were oversized and had a reddish tinge. Leah had a water jug and a sack of apples.
“Sorry, I didn’t even try and start a fire in this,” I said indicating the pouring rain, “there’s no way anything would catch.” Leah had gone under the tarp and was sitting with Jack and April with a blanket around her. Tom was looking at the corn suspiciously. We ate some berries that were a purple-black color and some sort of vegetable that’s taste reminded me of lettuce. The ground was damp despite our efforts with the trench and everyone was cold. April was crying so I let her use part of my blanket to sleep on top of and soon Jack was there too, begging for a part. In the end they slept on top of one together then used April’s on top of them and I was left with Jack’s.
We awoke to a sunny morning and after packing up and eating a rushed breakfast of berries and apples we left. The sun dried our cloths on the way there, but it was a miserable trip because everyone was so tired. We ate apples for lunch and soon we arrived at the last village we would see for another two and a half weeks. Besides the fact that this village was smaller than the last one they were identical. We stopped near a small stream and unpacked the tarp. The grass was wet here so instead of using it to make a shelter we just laid it on the ground. We arranged the blankets on top of it. As usual, Jeremy got a fire going and we filled the water jugs and collected a few more apples.
I took out the tripod and a bowl that was made to hang under it. I put them over the fire, filled the bowl with water, and then put the corn in. When it had been boiling for a while, I used two sticks to maneuver them out without burning myself. The corn wasn’t very good. It was a little overcooked and had almost a bitter flavor. I took a bite of mine and grimaced at the taste.
April took one bite and spat it out, “That’s grossss… I want apples… pleassseee,” she said while looking hopefully at me.
Leah was rummaging around in the food bags. “Try it like this,” she said taking out the purple-black berries. She used her knife to squish the berries and then spread them over the corn.
April obediently took a bite, “It’s okay, but can I have an apple now.”
I sighed, “Sorry April, but that’s what we have for dinner tonight, we’ll have apples for lunch tomorrow.”
April frowned then took another bite of the corn, “Oookayy.”
Tom had copied Leah and spread berries over his corn and soon we were all eating corn and berries. April and Jack fell asleep by the fire. I carried them to the tarp and gently pulled the blankets over them. Jeremy was sitting near the fire unwrapping the bandages on his arm and leg. It reminded me that Aprils arm still wasn’t healed. She still complained about it if she bumped it, even lightly. The cut on Jeremy’s arm was only a thin scab now. His leg was another story, it looked red and raw.
I cringed at the sight of it. I could see where the skin had been cut away and there was still blood there. “You should wash it, then put more of that leaf stuff on it.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said while taking the container that held the crushed-up herbs.
“I’ll get some water and a new bandage,” I said, grabbing a bowl and quickly filling it with water from the stream. I picked up a new bandage on the way back. “Here,” I said, handing the water and bandage to Jeremy. He took them and poured a little water on the old bandage, then he carefully washed away the remains of the dried blood. He must have scrubbed too hard though because fresh blood started to drip down his leg. He winced and finished bandaging it up. Then he put the supplies back. We let the fire burn out in the night.
The first thing I noticed when I got up was the cold. Even with the warm cloths and blanket, I was cold. I sat up and saw that the ground was covered in a gleaming frost. The air in my mouth felt sharp and I could see my breath. I realized that I was the first one up once again while looking around at the sleeping bodies. It was early, the sky was just starting to brighten. The cold must have woken me up. I draped my blanket over the sleeping figures of April and Jack. There was no use waking them up this early.
I walked over to the wagon and counted the food again. We also had two empty jars. I sighed, it wasn’t enough, we would have to find more on the way. Besides that, we had four jugs of water, I estimated that would last about a week. I decided to fill the other two jars with water, and we would just have to be careful not to spill them.
When I got back from filling the jars with water, everyone was up. Leah ran over to me. “Where were you?” she demanded to know.
“I just filled these with water for our trip,” I answered holding up the containers.
“I told you she was fine,” Jeremy said while packing up the tarp.
Leah turned to me and said quietly, “I was afraid. I thought you were gone” There were tears in her eyes.
I hugged her close to me and said softly, “I know, its OK.”
I should have know she would have worried. She had always been like that. I should have woken someone else up and told them where I was going.
We ate the rest of the sweet, dark purple berries for breakfast before continuing on the trail. We ate a lunch of apples as I told April we would and we found a nice grassy spot to stay for the night.
The first few days passed without anything unusual happening. We walked along the trail all day and found a place to sleep for the nights. It didn’t rain, but it did get steadily colder. We didn’t find any more food or water. Jeremy’s leg was healing slowly and I didn’t see any sign of infection, so that was good. April’s arm, on the other hand, still wasn’t any better.
We were just going around a bend on the forth day when the road forked in two different directions. I was surprised to see this because so far we hadn’t hit any forks or side paths anywhere. Jeremy must have been just as surprised as I was because he stopped abruptly and the whole wagon lurched.
He turned towards me and asked, “Which way do we go?”
“I don’t know, I’ll check the map,” I said while going around towards the back of the wagon. I got the map out of one of the bags and found the spot we where at. There was no fork in the road on the map though. I searched the map for any clues to which path to take but found none.
I was getting nervous now as I put the map back. The only logical solution left was to take out the compass and take the path that went northwest. My hand closed around the compass inside the bag as I pulled it out. I walked back over to Jeremy and tapped the glass twice. The dial spun until it was pointing at the road to the right. Northwest would be the road to the left.
I pointed to the road on the left side, “That one heads northwest, and the town we’re trying to go to is northwest.”
“So we go that way?”
“We go that way and hope it doesn’t turn in another direction later along the path.” The path went on for about another hour when we stopped for lunch.
April swung her legs over the side of the wagon and jumped down. I lifted the food bag out to go through what was left. I passed apples out to everyone while I emptied the bag and put the containers in rows. There where only four full jars now, I realized in dismay. These consisted of more purple-black berries, large reddish carrots, and two of apples. Besides that, there were a few pieces of fruit that was kind of like a mango, some apples, and corn left. We were also down to three jugs of water.
Tom came over and looked down at our dwindling food supply. “There’s enough of that fruit-stuff for us to each have one more,” he said hopefully.
I sighed and handed him the jar after taking one for myself, “Make sure everyone gets one.” He ran off, happily distributing the rest.
The next two days went by, and we came across three more forks in the road. Each time we took the path that headed northwest and it seemed to be working. It was the sixth day now and I was exhausted. This wasn’t the usual end-of-the-day exhaustion though. Normally a little after lunch is when my legs start to ache and then I have to force myself to go on a while after that. This was different though, it was midmorning and I had to strain for each step. We had begun to go slowly uphill, and at this particular spot, the hill was steep. Jeremy was panting beside me at the effort, but we were barely making any progress.
“April and Jack, we need you to get off, Leah can you help them down,” I called over my shoulder.
“Sure,” she said while lifting them down. I could hear there protests and complaints from the back of the cart.
Almost immediately, it became easier. We still had to work hard to get it to go anywhere, but it was much better than before. We stopped for an early lunch because we were all tired from going up hills all morning. Jeremy gave everyone an apple and two carrots, which I ate quickly, still hungry.
Soon after starting to walk again, we encountered a very long, steep, hill that was going downwards. A flood of relief washed over me at not having to pull the wagon uphill anymore. That was quickly replaced with a question of how we would go downhill with the cart. “How are we going to pull it downhill?” I said out loud.
“Uhh, we’ll pull it,” Jeremy paused for affect, “downhill.” He said it sarcastically.
I glared at him, “If we just try it normally, it’ll run us over, it’s too steep.”
He shrugged, “Then let’s just turn it around and walk behind it.”
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to make it all the way down, that it’ll be too heavy.”
“We could always give it a push and jump on…,” he said, grinning.
I glared back, “Yes, we could do that and hit a rock, break the wagon, and most likely end up severely hurt or dead, but go ahead and jump on if you want.”
He frowned, “Fine, what’s your great idea then.”
I lifted the bar we used to pull the wagon over my head and started pacing, “Either we need some sort of break or we’ll have to turn the wagon around and hold on to the bar while we walk down slowly so it doesn’t go too fast.” I knelt down to examine the back wheels to see if it would be possible to make some sort of brake system. The structure was very simple. Four thick wheels extended out near the four corners. The two wheels in the back shared one axel that it rotated around, same with the front. The floor of the wagon rested on blocks of wood which where attached onto these axels. The only way you could create a break would be if you had something to jam in between the wheel and the floor of the wagon.
“I don’t think we could make a break system that would let us stop it quickly and then start again, like on a bicycle or car, but we might be able to jam some rocks or wood in between the wheel and the wagon to make it go slower down the hill,” I said while searching the ground for some small rocks. “See if you can find any,” I said to Leah and Tom.
By experimenting for a while, we found out that rocks didn’t work, they either stopped the wheel all together or fell out. However, Tom discovered that if you stick a thin, flat piece of wood on top of the wheel and below the floor of the wagon, it worked. The wood created a resistance, so that the wheel could still turn, but slower.
We ended up turning the wagon around anyway, so that we didn’t have to pull it. April and Jack climbed back onto the wagon and waited impatiently. “I wanna go too,” Tom yelled. He ran towards us and jumped in before I could do anything.
“Oooohhh, me too, I wanna ride,” Leah said, excitedly as she hopped in.
I sighed as they all crammed in together. I turned around and looked at Jeremy. He shrugged, “It doesn’t really matter if they ride down hill, does it?”
“No, I guess not,” I said while grabbing the bar. Jeremy leaned down to push the wagon so it would start on the downward slope. It gave a lurch followed by a “whoa” from the wagon and we started to descend. We held the bar at arm’s length and walked slowly down the hill.
“You know, this would be a lot easier if we just let go,” Jeremy said hopefully.
“No,” I said flatly. I wasn’t in the mood for joking. I had a headache and my stomach was protesting with hunger. The knowledge that we were almost out of food was not helping.
When we reached the bottom of the hill Leah and Tom got off the wagon and took out the wheel-brakes. We found a small clearing where we slept for the night. During the next two days, while walking, we encountered three more large hills, on one of them Tom and Leah had to help push the wagon. The path had turned into more of a series of clearings and hills linked together than a road.
The sky was turning gray and I was silently praying for rain because we were down to one jar of water. Besides that, there was one full jar of apples, half of berries, and another half of apples with a little less than a week until the next village.
To say this was bad would be an understatement.
The only thing I had for breakfast was half an apple. Normally it wouldn’t have been a big deal, I’d just wait until lunch, no problem. Except that Jeremy and I weren’t eating lunch anymore to try and save food. As if that’s not enough, we’re also pulling a wagon all day over hills. Everyone had lost weight, at first it was just because we where getting more exercise. Now though, none of us were eating right. Jack and April complained all day, even though they’re probably getting more than anyone else. Tom, who had always been a little overweight was around normal now. In comparison Leah looked gaunt.
When I called for us to stop, Tom collapsed where he was. Leah slumped down too. Jack and April were asleep in the cart. I really wanted to lay down in the grass. The grass that suddenly looked so soft, but I couldn’t. I had to get the tarp set up in case it rained and we had to have supper.
I forced my aching body to hang the tarp at two corners around two trees. The opposite side laid on the ground where I put rocks over it to make a lean-to. Jeremy didn’t bother with a fire, we ate an apple each and some berries. We each drank one cup of water and no more. We left the empty jars out in hope of rain.
In the morning, we checked the empty containers for water. There was a little in each and we poured them all into the same one. We each had an apple for breakfast and one cup of water. My headache was back, not to mention the hunger pains that never seemed to go away. Eating didn’t help anymore, it only sharpened the pain.
We were about to start leaving when April tugged on my shirt, “My tummy hurts, an my head tooooo, I’m too tired to walk.”
“I know April, everyone’s tired and everyone’s stomach hurts too,” I said soothingly, “Just walk for a little bit, then you can ride in the cart.” I had been hearing complaints like these for days, but for once, she really did seem too weak to go on much longer.
We stopped for lunch where everyone but Jeremy and I had an apple. It took all my self-control not to rip one out of Jack’s hands and shove it in my mouth. We all had some water.
We still had a couple hours left of traveling before we stopped when Leah yelled, “Sarah, I don’t… I don’t think…I can walk anymore, I don’t feel….”
I turned around just in time to hear the thud of my sister falling on the ground. “Leah!,” I yelled as I jumped over the bar on the wagon and around a very startled Jack. “Leah,” I yelled again, “Get the water.” I cradled her head in my hands as I knelt by her. She was unconscious and there was a cut on her head that was oozing blood on the sleeve of my shirt. I assumed it was from a rock she must of hit her head on when she fainted.
Jeremy was suddenly next to me with the water and the bandages. I splashed water on her face and her eyelashes fluttered. She grimaced at the pain as she regained consciousness. Her eyes looked glazed over and she slowly began to move. “Sarah, is that you, uhh… why is my head so sticky, oww! Oh, is that blood, Sarah, my heads bleeding! Owww, get mom, oww, where… am I?”
Relief washed over me as the glazed look began to fade. “Don’t worry, Leah, we’ll put a bandage on it.” Jeremy applied some of the crushed plant stuff and I wrapped a bandage around her head. “There, you’ll be fine, let’s just stop here for today.” Everyone was quite happy about that decision.
“Could I have some water Sarah,” Leah asked.
“Sure, just let me-,” my blood froze as I looked at the empty water bucket laying on its side. In my panic, I had dumped all of it on Leah to try and wake her up. “Oh no.”
“Well this is definitely not good,” Jeremy said from behind me.
“Oh no,” I repeated. Did I just write our death sentence. What are we going to do now.
“Where are we gonna get water?” Tom asked worriedly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll think of something,” I said almost automatically. Inside my head was whirling.
“Maybe it’ll rain,” Jeremy said casually. I glanced at him and my anxiety was mirrored in his eyes.
I decided I hated the sun. We were in a small patch of grass we had found about fifty feet down the road after Leah collapsed. There was just enough of an opening in the trees so that you could see the sun. I was laying in the grass on my back with my hands behind my head. It was mocking me. The first night it had rained, and a lot too, it had gone into the next day and night. When we had woken up on the second day here, the sun was out.
The food was gone. It was around noon on the third day. We drank all the water. I had gotten used to the hunger, but I wasn’t worried about dying of starvation.
We would die of thirst long before starvation got us.
It was the sad reality, but we never really had a chance in the first place. I mean six kids, alone in the woods. Looking back I can’t believe I even tried, can’t believe we even made it this far. Soon it wouldn’t matter, we’d all be dead. I had read somewhere the average human could go about two weeks without food while they could only last three days without water.
I closed my eyes, better to die in your sleep I guess. I could feel myself falling. Is this really the end? I could feel my senses start to dim as reality floated away. I clung to them as I fell asleep. I listened to the rhythmic breathing of the sleeping bodies around me, then to the gentle breeze blowing leaves down from the trees. The feeling of the grass underneath me. I smelled the lush scents of the forest. I listened to the flutter of wings as a bird flew by, something falling from a tree made a thudding noise, a swooshing sound in the distance, almost like…. “Water,” I said, suddenly sitting up. The word sounded raspy in my throat. I tasted blood from my split lip, all the moisture was gone.
I got up shakily, amazed I could still gather the strength to stand. I’m hallucinating, the rational side of my brain said. But adrenalin was pumping through my veins now. I crashed through the woods in the direction I thought I’d heard it from. I fell and stumbled, but it didn’t matter, all that mattered was the water. I was semi-aware that I was getting cut up by thorns and branches, but I didn’t care.
After some time I saw it. A glittering river of water, water. I think it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I ran over to it and plunged my face in immediately. It was ice cold. I nearly choked on it as I tried to suck in all of it at once. After I had drank as much as I could possibly hold…I puked. I drank in some more, slowly this time.
The effect was almost immediate. My vision cleared and I made my way back to the clearing. I could feel the strength flowing back into me. I grabbed two jugs and filled them with water. Then I brought them back to the group.
I collapsed next to April, I figured she was the youngest and probably the closest to dying. For one terrifying second I thought she was already dead. Her breaths where shallow and labored. I tilted her head up and poured water down her throat. I tried to rub her throat so that she would be forced to swallow it down. She coughed a lot of it back up, but I kept trying until she had swallowed a few mouthfuls. Next, I did the same thing to Jack and Leah.
Tom woke up after I spilled some on his face. His eyes were clouded and he moaned weakly. I poured some water into his mouth. He choked on it at first, but after his initial surprise, he swallowed freely. He managed to sit up on his own and I had to stop him from dumping the whole thing into his mouth. I crawled over to Jeremy who was already awake. He was trying to turn around when I got over to him.
His eyes shot up in surprise as he stared at the jar half-filled with water like it was a hunk of gold or something. “Is that…water?” it sounded like he had swallowed rocks and gravel.
“Yeah, and there’s more too,” mine didn’t sound much better.
He reached for it and I gratefully let him take it. I was just about to tell him not to drink it all at once, but then exhaustion finally took over. I fell asleep with one thought, We have water, we can make it.
I woke up the next day sometime in the afternoon. Jeremy and Tom where awake, everyone else was asleep. As soon as I was awake Tom’s voice cut into my thoughts, “Where did you find the water, can you get more, now.”
I sat up and looked around, listening. I couldn’t hear the river anymore. It probably swelled and rushed faster because of all the rain, enabling me to hear it. Now I couldn’t. Regardless, I wondered if I could find it again. “It came from a river, I heard it and followed the noise,” my voice sounded considerably better today.
“Let’s go get more,” Jeremy said. I staggered up and we each took two jars to hold water with. I looked around and found the spot where I thought I had entered the woods. We trudged through the underbrush, following the broken twigs and crushed grass I had made the day before. Finally, we got to the river, the beautiful, wonderful river. We drank from the river and filled our jars before going back.
We managed to wake up everyone else and get them to swallow a few gulps of water. “Jeremy, can you make a fire to boil the rest of the water? It’s probably not very good for us to drink,” I said, “I’m going to get some more.”
Jeremy nodded so I walked back into the woods. Despite the energy I had gotten from the water, I was still weak from lack of food. I had to stop and rest multiple times. I walked along the bank for a little while, until I found a fast-flowing spot to take water from. I was filling the second jar when I noticed a red bird flying towards a bush. The bird started eating something on the bush. It was a very pretty bird, almost like a robin, but with some black on the edges of the feathers. That’s when I noticed what it was eating.
It was the mango-like fruit. I dumped out the water in the jar I had been filling and rushed across the stream. I didn’t even notice the freezing water up to my knees. I grabbed one of the mangos and shoved it in my mouth. The juice flowed down my chin and swirled in my mouth. I almost choked on the fruit. I stopped myself after eating three, remembering the water. I filled the jar with mangos and brought them back.
After trudging back, I found everyone around a blazing fire. Jack, April, and Tom were asleep. Leah was drinking some water while more was boiling. “You’ll never believe what I found,” I said, holding the mangos. Leah drew in a breath and Jeremy just stared at the fruit. “Don’t eat it too fast, or you’ll get sick.” I put the jar down and laid down next to the inviting fire. How quickly your life could change.
When I woke up the next day, everyone was up already. Someone had gone into the woods and filled five jars with mangos and the four jugs with water. April and Jack where dumping twigs in the fire while Leah watched some water boil.
I sat up and looked around, Tom and Jeremy where gone. “Is everyone all right?” I asked warily.
“We’re fine, well, I have a headache and I’m still hungry, but Jeremy wouldn’t let us have any more,” Leah said while picking at the long grass. “Look what I made, it’s a bracelet.” Leah held out her wrist to show a band of braided grass.
“Cool,” I said distractedly. I wondered how many days it had been, we really should get going. “Where are Jeremy and Tom?”
“The river, their getting us more food,” said April, happily.
“OK, I’m going there too, I’ll be back in a little bit,” I said.
“Can I come?” April asked.
“Well-,” I started.
“Oh me too,” said Leah excitedly while getting up.
“Actually-,” I tried.
“I wanna go,” cried Jack
“Fine! You all can come alright!” I finally said, “But you guys are going to have to carry buckets, OK?”
April and Jack each took one jar while Leah and I took two. We carried them down to the river. Jeremy was standing knee-deep in water with his knife in his hand, poised to strike. Tom was also in the water, arranging rocks and sticks to block the river behind Jeremy. Tom didn’t look very happy.
“What are you doing?,” I asked.
“Shhh, I’m trying to catch a fish,” Jeremy said.
I laughed, “You’ll never catch one that way.”
“Well how would you do it then?”
I thought carefully for a minute. I ran back and grabbed one of the baskets that held the corn, a rotted apple I found underneath the food bag, and the twine. Halfway back to the river I stopped at a thorn bush. After cutting one off and some mangling, I managed to tie it to the twine.
When I got back to the river Jeremy was splashing around in the water, stabbing here and there. “The…(stab) stupid…(stab)…things are too…(stab) quick!,” he yelled. I dropped the twine and ran toward the river with my basket. I waded in behind the barrier and stuck my basket in front of it.
“Force it into the basket!,” I yelled above the splashing. Jeremy slashed at it towards the basket. The fish couldn’t swim very fast against the river so it tried darting to the side. Jeremy pounced on it and the fish, while trying to avoid Jeremy, swam straight into my basket. “Got it!,” I yelled triumphantly as I brought it over to the shore.
“You got a fish!,” Jack said excitedly while clapping.
We caught two more with the twine and thorn by putting some apple on it. One of them was big but the other two were pretty small.
As we were walking back I asked Jeremy, “Do you know how to gut a fish?”
He grimaced, “My dad did it once, first you have to cut its head off and-.”
“So you can do it?,” I cut him off.
“Well sort of, but, I’ve never really tried to-.”
“Well, you can try now,” I said handing him the basket of fish and taking two jars of mangos from him.
“Hey, I-.” but I was already heading for the fire to get a nice warm drink of water.
We found out later that fish tastes really good when your starving and the only thing you’ve eaten lately is mangos. Jeremy ended up boiling it in water. I saved the fish bones, I’m not really sure what I’ll use them for, but why not? We drank the water it was boiled in. Who knew boiled fish water actually tastes pretty good?
It was getting dark and we were finishing the fish when I said, “I think we should leave tomorrow and start traveling again. We have seven jars of mangos and eight of water. There are no more mangoes left at the river either.”
Everyone stared into the fire. No one really wanted to leave. “We probably should,” Jeremy said finally.
“But I like it here, I don’t want to leave,” Jack said.
“Me neither,” said April defiantly.
“The sooner we leave the sooner we can go home,” I said
“Can’t we just go home now, I miss mommy and daddy,” April said.
“Aren’t they coming to get us?,” asked Jack hopefully.
“No, we have to go to them, and to do that we have to leave here,” I said.
“This isn’t a very fun camping trip, why aren’t mommy and daddy with us?,” April gazed up at me expectantly.
“It’s complicated, but we have to leave here to get to them,” I tried to explain.
“O.K, we can leave then,” April said while yawning.
In the morning we left what I had thought would be our graveyard. Somehow we were moving on. We had to stop more often because everyone was weak.
The next few days past, and we were almost to the village. We stopped for the night on top of a hill. There was a large meadow in the middle of the hill with trees on either side. We set up near the edge of the meadow.
I was setting up the tarp when Leah, who had been collecting firewood, ran up to me. “I found these berries in the woods, there’s a whole bunch of them,” she said. She held up a handful of black berries.
“Did, you eat any,” I asked, anxiously.
“No,” Leah answered with a confused look.
“Bring me to them right now,” I ordered, “Where’s Jack and April?”
“What about Tom.”
“I dunno, why?,”
I ignored her and said again, “Show me where they are, quick.”
“Just do it!,” I screamed.
On our way to there, we passed Jeremy. “What is it?,” he asked, seeing my frantic state.
“Where’s Tom?,” I asked.
“I thought he was with you, why?” A new wave of panic engulfed me.
“What about Jack and April,” I ignored the question.
“They’re right here,” he waved behind him as they walked out from behind a tree, “Sarah, what is wrong?”
“Don’t bother asking, Sarah’s not answering questions today,” Leah said as I dragged her forward.
Jeremy followed us with Jack and April. “It would be really nice if you told the rest of us what’s happening, we didn’t develop mind reading abilities when we came here,” Jeremy said it sarcastically, but I saw fear in his eyes.
We finally got to the berry bushes. “Tom, Tom,” I yelled. A few seconds later, he walked over.
“What is it, is something-, oh you found some berries!,” he said. My fear dissolved.
“So why did you drag us back here like that?,” Leah asked.
“The berries could have be poisonous, if you ate some…,” I trailed off.
“Ooohh,” Leah realized what could have happened, “So we can’t even eat it?” Her face was a mask of disappointment.
“We might be able to eat them,” I examined one of the berries, “If we know it’s not dangerous.”
“How could a berry be dangerous?” Jeremy said while walking towards us. April and Jack followed.
“Sarah said it could be poisonous,” Tom said.
“Humph, how can we tell?,” Jeremy asked.
We all stood in silence.
“Well-,” but before I could finish Jeremy reached out and grabbed a single berry and popped it in his mouth. It was all so quick no one had time to stop him. “Jeremy!,” I screamed, “Spit it out right now, you idiot, do you want to die? That could be highly poisonous!”
“Already swallowed it, can’t spit it out,” he said.
“You could die!”
“But you don’t know that.”
“The chance of one berry killing me is not very likely.”
“But you don’t know for sure.”
“Well I wasn’t gonna sit here starving when there’s food right in front of me!”
“I was going to suggest we see if any animals where eating it you moron! If they were then it would probably be safe!”
No one said anything. “What does it taste like?,” Tom eventually asked.
“Sweet,” answered Jeremy.
“Can poisons taste sweet?,” Tom asked.
“I saw a show that said almost all poisons taste sweet,” said Leah. Jeremy’s face noticeably paled.
Jack tugged on my sleeve, “Is Jeremy going to be OK.”
“I don’t know,” I answered angrily, “Do you feel sick?”
“No,” Jeremy said.
“Sarah, look, some birds are eating it, just like you said, look,” Leah was pointing at a black bird that was picking at one of the berries.
We waited another few minutes, but nothing happened. “Eat a handful and see if you start to feel sick.”
After another couple of minutes of standing in a tense group, Jeremy said immpatiently, “I’m still fine, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.”
“Eat some more and if you’re still fine in the morning we’ll pick them,” I said.
We made our way back to our tent. The sky was a navy blue now and if it weren’t for all the trees we probably would have seen the sun disappearing. There were no clouds so we fell asleep around the fire.
I woke up the next morning with sun shining in my eyes. I sleepily got up and checked that everyone was there. Jeremy seemed to be fine so I started to get the empty jars out. April got up and walked over to me. She tugged at my shirt and said, “I’m hungry.”
“We’ll have breakfast when everyone’s up,” I said.
“Can I wake them up?”
She went running back to our little group and started yelling, “Wake up! Wake up! It’s time to get uuupppp! Come on Jack, up! Jeeerreemmyy, get up! Leeeaaahh, Tom, we’re goin to eat now!” She was jumping and dancing around everyone while they tried to block out the noise.
“April!,” I yelled in exasperation.
“You said I could wake them up,” she said.
“Oh forget it,” I said. Then I actually laughed. I had forgotten I was even capable of laughing anymore.
Jeremy stood up and started mumbling something about annoying little kids. “So do you still feel OK?,” I asked.
“Besides waking up to that,” he pointed at April, “fine.”
I shoved a jar into his hands, “Then we’re going to get breakfast.”
About two hours later (if only I had worn a watch), we had gorged ourselves on berries and had filled three jars. After that, we packed up our stuff and left.
The village came into sight three days later. I was breathing hard because we had just reached the top of a hill. We turned a corner and it was like the trees just disappeared. Before us was a much larger town than the others. In addition to rows of houses there seemed to be a central square. There were several large buildings along with what looked like a market. There were also fields of crops growing on the far side. A river that looked to be about 20 feet across at its widest parts flowed through the middle. I wondered how deep it was. We made our way to the edge as usual and set up the tarp. Jeremy and Jack stayed to get a fire going while the rest of us went to get water and food.
The difference between this town and the other villages was amazing. In comparison, this was like a huge city. We had gotten a lot of sideways glances and curious looks before. No one even looked at us here. Everyone was concerned with whatever they were doing, which was fine with me.
After filling a few jars with water, we started looking around for food. The town, did in fact, have a market place. People had all sorts of food, clothing, and various objects they were selling. It was actually kind of fun looking around. Unfortunately, we had zero to trade with.
There were tons of people, yelling and buying things. I wondered if in the confusion I could slip a few pieces of fruit off some of the tables. The keen eyes of the sellers were everywhere though, and I didn’t want to know what they did with shoplifters. Instead, I scanned the ground for any food that had fallen there.
“If you see any food on the ground pick it up,” I yelled above the roar of the crowd. We quickly filled two jars with an assortment of partly rotted fruit and burnt bread. I led our group out of the market and towards the river. There was a wide bridge constructed of tree trunks split in half to form a smooth surface. We crossed and started walking through the rows of houses. The houses were smaller and looked like stick boxes with rounded roofs in this area.
“Where are we going?” asked April.
“To the fields,” I answered.
“Why?” asked Leah.
Good question. “To see if we can find any food.” Even though there was probably no chance we could get any of the crops growing there. I assumed the fields were owned by someone, not just free for anyone to take.
We neared the edge of the town, where the crops were. There were people harvesting them. We walked aimlessly along the edge looking for food until we had walked the length of the fields. We finally gave up and walked back.
Jeremy and Jack where sitting next to the fire cooking something. “What is that?,” I asked.
Jeremy held up the stick that was in the fire. There was something stuck on it “Grilled Mango, try some, I’ve actually managed to improve the taste by about two percent.” He gestured with his other hand at a pile of already-grilled mangos. When cooked they resembled greenish-yellow blobs.
I picked one up and examined it before taking a tentative bite. It tasted… different. It wasn’t exactly worse, but it wasn’t much better either. I handed one each to everyone else. We also ate some of the burnt bread we found, which wasn’t all that bad. It rained that night and we left early the next morning.
The next few days went by without much happening. I started to get used to pulling the wagon every day. This trip was supposed to take about a week. Then at the next town we were supposed to meet with a nomadic tribe that would take us across the fields. I wondered if it would be easier or harder once we met them. There would be no more towns that we could get water from for a while. Food was always a struggle. Then there was the tiny nagging thought that they might not want us following them. What if they didn’t allow us to travel with them? What would happen to us then? We were barely hanging on now, I doubted our ability to cross the fields on our own. Along with that was the hope that it would all be easier once we met them. That we would have plenty of water, warm beds, waterproof tents, animals to pull the wagon, and a whole lot of food that actually tasted good for once. I decided I would be content with plenty of food and water, however animals to pull wagons certainly wouldn’t hurt.
We had two more days of traveling before we arrived at the final town. We had just emerged from the woods to a small clearing at the top of a plateau. I thankfully stopped pulling the wagon and walked over to the edge. The long grass folded under my feet. The land fell sharply away in front of us and curved out on both sides while gradually declining. It overlooked a meadow that got narrower farther out until it disappeared back into the forest. The sky was light blue near the ground and faded to a darker shade higher up.
A series of grayish dots seemed to be moving in the breeze with the other flowers and grasses near the forest on the opposite side. The gentle breeze blew my hair in front of my face. I gasped suddenly as I brushed the hair away. Oh my gosh, they are moving! What is that? I thought while trying to make out what the dots where. They were closer now, definitely moving.
“Hey Jeremy, look at this,” I said while watching the things intently.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Do you see that.”
“Those things, moving.”
“The gray ones?”
“Yeah, can you see what it is?”
“Looks like some kind of animal, a whole bunch.”
“They’re coming right at us!”
“How big do they look.”
“I dunno, maybe… wait… they look…uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh, what do you mean uh-oh,… Jeremy!” I shook his arm, but he was just staring. I turned back to the meadow and I could just make out what looked like gray, ragged, lumps with legs, running toward us.
Just as I realized what they where Jeremy said it out loud, “Wolves.”
We froze, looking at each other for a second, my fear mirrored in his eyes. Then, simultaneously we dashed away from the edge. “Leeeaaahh, Tooomm, we need to go NOW!,” I screamed.
“What, what is it?” Leah yelled.
“Wolves, coming, NOW!” I turned quickly and grabbed April’s hand.
“What’s going on?” April asked.
“Jeremy!,” I yelled
“I’m here, let’s go, I found Tom,” Jeremy said as he ran toward us, followed closely by Tom. I ran over to the cart and started pulling it. “Leave it, we don’t have time,” Jeremy shouted.
I jumped over the bar and ran after them while dragging April. Our feet pounded across the ground as we charged into the forest. Leaves crunched under our feet as we ran with a panicked adrenalin. I scooped up April and swung her onto my back, but I barely noticed the added weight.
That’s when we started to hear them.
It started out as a series of short, high-pitched calls. First, it was soft and indistinct. They gradually got louder though, until we could make out each individual howl. Each call started out low and got higher until it formed into a screech.
They were getting closer.
There’s no way we can outrun them, I realized. Thoughts raced in my head, and my eyes darted everywhere. Jack fell and Jeremy picked him up and started carrying him. I looked for trees we could climb, or someplace to hide. None of the trees had low enough branches to climb quickly though. There were a few we passed that we might have been able to get up if April and Jack weren’t there and we had some time.
We could no longer hear them howling. You would think that would be a good thing. You would be wrong. I looked around in confusion. We had just heard them a minute ago. They had seemed louder than ever; had they left? A glimmer of hope shined, but the feeling of dread never left me. I glanced back and saw something, moving, in the shadows. Just a flicker of movement and all hope died. I listened intently, blocking out the sound of our own footsteps. I heard twigs snap, leaves crunch, but not anywhere near us. They were running, not only in back of us, but beside us now too; trying to cut us off. They were closing in for the kill.
Complete and utter terror consumed me. In a matter of seconds, they would surround us and attack. We were about to pass a large rock when the first one jumped out. My heart rate soared, and not from running.
It came from in front of us, suddenly turning to face us. It was gray and ragged with only one ear, the other had been ripped to shreds. A long scar stretched from it’s neck to one back leg. The fur along it’s spine stood straight up and it had it’s head down low. It’s teeth were a sickly yellow and razor sharp. It made a low growl from deep within it’s throat.
We skidded to a stop and Leah grabbed my arm tightly. I dropped April and pushed her behind me. I backed into one of the larger trees and pulled out the knife in my pocket. Jeremy, Tom, and Jack were against the rock parallel to us. Another wolf came forward from behind us, and two more to the side. April screamed and they attacked.
The first one sprung at Tom, who awkwardly dove to one side, out of the way. The wolf banged into the rock and fell to the ground. Jeremy immediately drove his knife into the wolf, who screeched and ran back into the woods. Another one jumped from behind and landed on Jeremy’s back. Jeremy screamed and they both fell to the ground. He twisted and flailed his knife uncontrollably. The wolf jumped back and circled him while growling. Blood dripped down Jeremy’s side.
I saw the eyes first, they were a cold yellow. I saw the eyes, and then the body launch itself at Leah and me. I screamed and shoved Leah down, away from the tree. I followed. We tumbled down and I pushed her towards Tom. The wolf circled me with those cold, hungry eyes. It jumped suddenly and I did the only thing I really could. I thrust my knife out, closed my eyes, and waited for the feel of it’s teeth in my neck.
It didn’t come though. Instead, I fell forward with the sudden weight of the knife and heard a long piercing howl. My hands slipped away and the wolf limped a few feet away before it dropped dead, my knife either buried within it or lost in the carnage. The wolf had impaled itself on the blade when it had leapt at me.
I looked around for something to use as a weapon. I spotted a large stick and I reached down to grab it. As I stood back up I heard a loud growl next to me and swung instinctively at it. Fear screamed inside of me. I heard a loud crack as it connected with the wolf’s head, but not before it clawed me with a massive paw.
Blood flowed from my leg near my ankle and it stung with pain. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wolf circling April and Jack. In that moment, with the pain, came an icy clarity. It was like everything came into focus. Things seemed to play by a half-second slower, and pure adrenalin mixed with a strange ferocity pulsed through my veins and fed on my panic. Every system in my body was in overdrive and my mind was controlled by an instinct that left no room for rational thought.
The stick in my hand felt thick and solid. I no longer felt the pain. No longer noticed the bloodstained grass. No longer felt the grip of terror or panic that was masked by this intensity that flowed in my blood. I ran by instinct to April and Jack. Without really making the conscious decision to do so, I swung my stick in a wide arc like a baseball bat. It hit the wolf and heard ribs crack. The wolf flew through the air and hit the ground with a thud, then it scurried away.
Another one came forward. I didn’t wait for this one to spring. Instead I stepped forward and brought my stick down on it’s head. It howled and I kicked it away. It rolled on the ground before disappearing into the forest. One more attacked from behind me. I jumped away before spinning, bringing my stick with me. I swept it low and it hit the wolf in the head. It staggered away into the darkness.
Jeremy was standing in front of Tom and Leah. He must have lost his knife too, because he swung a long branch at two wolves in front of him. Tom was picking up rocks and throwing them at the wolves. Jeremy brought the branch down and crushed one of the wolves. Unfortunately that left room for the other wolf to jump up at him. The wolf slashed at his face with his front paws. Jeremy shielded himself with his arm. The wolf landed on the ground and turned to Tom. He hurled a fist size rock that bounced off the wolf’s nose. The wolf howled in anger and charged at Tom. Jeremy managed to swing the branch and deflect the wolf to the side. Instead of hitting Tom in the face, the wolf slashed his ankle. Tom howled in pain.
The sounds of screams, growls, shrieks, and cracks filled the night. The smell of blood was everywhere, metallic and nauseating. Another wolf came at me from the right. I brought my stick back, behind my left shoulder. I swung in an arc and as the stick connected with the wolf in front of me… just as another appeared. This one came from the left. I watched it run and get ready to jump right at me. I was already swinging and could do nothing to deflect it. The wolf jumped and buried it’s teeth in my left arm.
I let out a high-pitch screech. The adrenalin evaporated and I was left with only panic and terror again. This was a hundred times worse than before though. That thing is in my arm! Blood was gushing out and I screamed again. My mind could not produce even a single coherent thought besides to get that thing off of meeeeeeeeee! I battered it with my fist and dropped to the ground. Panic was all that was inside me. It bubbled and streamed from within me. Every molecule in my body was screaming at me to run, fight, do something. I was barely aware of Jeremy grabbing my stick and crushing the wolf’s skull with it.
The wolf let go and ran off; it was the last one. There was no adrenalin left to fuel me. The indescribable terror was ebbing away. My panic had subsided. And with all of them gone, there was nothing to mask the pain. It came like a tidal wave as soon as the wolf was gone. The agony hit me full-force, completely engulfing me. It wasn’t even as if it were just my arm either. It was like an earthquake of pain, where my arm was merely the epicenter. It rolled in waves down my body.
Somewhere, in the distance, beyond my world of suffering there was Jeremy. “Sarah, Sarah, its all right, they’re gone, oh… oh no, oh no.” There was a scratch on his head and he was looking down on me. “Leah, run back, get the bandages now, go, Sarah’s hurt bad.” His worried eyes looked at me. “It’s gonna be fine Sarah, it’s gonna be fine.” He was ripping his shirt and trying to stop the blood with it. The blood which my shirt was soaked in, that I was lying in. He kept talking, but I had retreated to a nice dark place where the agony was slightly reduced to a gentle throbbing.
I was in an ocean far, far down into the murky depths. On the surface was a brilliant light. Every time I started floating to the top the pain would slowly intensify. When I broke the surface of the water into consciousness the searing light would blind and burn me. Then I would retreat back to the cooling water and dive as deep as I could.
I could feel myself begin to rise as my senses slowly came back. I fought to stay in darkness, but I only returned faster. I braced for the rush of pain as I broke the surface. I was suddenly aware of a steady throbbing that pulsed with my heartbeat. I turned my head away from my arm where the pain was emanating. I waited for the rest; the horrible avalanche that always came when I awakened. Except for this time.
I waited for a few more seconds. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes slowly. My vision was blurry and I waited as it cleared. Staring down at me were two sea-green eyes. I opened my mouth and blinked in surprise. The person stepped back out of my line of vision. I was left starring at a canvas roof. I tilted my head up and glanced around. The room was fairly small with a lot of boxes and containers around. I was lying on a bed that seemed to be about a foot off the ground. There was a soft blanket on top of me.
I started to use my elbows’ to prop myself up. “Ahh,” I shifted my weight to my right arm and pushed. Black dots obscured my vision and I felt light headed. Strong hands gripped my shoulders, “Easy, you’ve been asleep for a long time now.” He gently lowered me down.
“Leah,… Jeremy?” I croaked as things came back to me, “where are they?”
“First drink this,” he said. He was kneeling next to me and for the first time I could see him properly. He had sandy-brown hair and bright green eyes. He looked to be a year or two older than me and had pale skin. He gently tilted my head up and brought a cup to my mouth. A bitter tasting broth trickled into my mouth. I swallowed a little bit at first and gradually managed to take larger gulps. When I finished, he brought it back to the opposite side of the room.
Then the room lurched upwards. My eyes went wide, “What was that!”
“We just hit a bump, it’s fine, your in a wagon,” he said. He put his hands up in a calming gesture.
So the room was actually a wagon. “Where is everyone, are they alright?” I asked anxiously.
“They’re fine, they’re fine, calm down, I’ll tell them you were awake.”
“How long was I asleep?”
“About three treks.”
“What’s a trek?”
“I’ve been asleep for fifteen days!” I said in astonishment.
“You where injured badly,” he said while kneeling next to my arm. The part above my elbow was covered in bandages which he began unwrapping. “You all were really lucky.”
“I don’t feel lucky, in fact I was thinking pretty much the exact opposite,” I winced as he gently examined my arm.
He laughed, “Yeah I guess you have a point, but under the circumstances, it’s still amazing nobody got more hurt then they did. You were the only one who was badly hurt. Not to mention the fact that the wolf didn’t tear anything important.” I looked away as he rewrapped my arm and coated it with something sticky.
“What about everyone else?” I asked.
“Leah, April, and Jack all got only minor wounds. Jeremy had a couple of bad scratches, especially on his back, and Tom’s ankle looked really bad at first.” He saw my expression and added quickly, “They’re fine now, of course.”
“Can I see them now?”
“Not yet, I can’t leave you to get them unless my mother, Lira, or Kasirah comes back. I’ll find them tonight when Kasirah’s here.”
“Who’s Kasirah and Lira?”
“My sisters, Kasirah’ll be back later today.”
“What’s your name?”
“Leaf?” It seemed like an odd name even for this time.
“My grandfather and his brothers and sister were named after things in the old language. His name was Leaf and he had green eyes which is rare. When I was born with green eyes my parents named me after him.”
“Oh,” my eyes were beginning to feel heavy and I fell asleep.
I was back in the ocean, but I was floating near the edge. My subconscious mind was now anticipating the sunshine above the water instead of fearing it.
I could feel myself awakening. First came the feeling of soft sheets and the ever-throbbing pain. Next I was aware of voices talking softly in the background. Then there was the bitter taste in my mouth and the subtle smoky scent.
I cracked one eye open, then the other. I breathed deeply and turned my head to the side. Leaf and Jeremy where talking. April was sitting on the ground next to them. Her eyes darted up and met with mine. I smiled weakly.
“Sarah!” she said and ran over to me. She looked like she was about to jump on me. Right before the collision Leaf scooped her up and brought her back down next to me.
“Careful, she’s still healing,” he said gently.
She leaned down and hugged me. “You were asleep forevvveeerr, and he,” she stopped to point accusingly at Leaf, “wouldn’t let us see you.”
Leaf gave a half smile and shrugged, “Sorry.”
“I want you to meet Matty, she has dolls made of wood! Jeremy promised to make me one!” she tugged on my good arm.
“He did?” I glanced up at Jeremy who didn’t look very happy. Leaf was obviously trying not to laugh.
“You were lucky you were in a coma, ohhh look at Matty’s dolls, oohh its sooo cool, Jeremy pleeeaaasse, pllleeaasse, uggh it was the only way to get her to shut up about it,” Jeremy mumbled.
“He’s gonna make me one just like hers,” April continued happily.
“That’s great,” I said.
I looked back at Jeremy and asked the question that had been filling my head since I woke up, “What happened to you guys after I, uhh… passed out?”
He frowned, “We got some bandages and sort of dragged you back to the wagon. Then we put you in and walked to the next town. At first you kept waking up, but by the time we got there you were completely unresponsive. While we were walking through the village Kasirah saw us and brought us to where they were camped. Then they took us here.” He spread his arms out, indicating the wagon.
Leaf brought over a cup filled with the same bitter liquid as before, “No more questions until after you drink this.” I managed to sit up by myself and take the cup this time.
When I finished I handed it back to Leaf, “So you guys have just been living with them?”
“Pretty much,” Jeremy answered, “We lean the tarp against this wagon at night and walk or ride during the day. April usually rides in Matty’s wagon and Jack plays with the other boys. Sometimes Tom or Leah will hang out with someone.”
“What about food?” I asked.
“At night one of the families has a big fire and hands out food, for breakfast and lunch we get our own.”
“We have our own and there’s an emergency barrel or something, right?” he glanced at Leaf.
“Yep, we have extra and don’t worry about the food, despite his first attempt Jeremy is actually very good at hunting,” Leaf added. He was smiling widely and his green eyes danced with laughter. Jeremy’s face had gotten red and he was frowning. It made me wonder what had happened. Instead I moved on to another question.
“How long until we have to leave for the mountains?” I asked.
“Two weeks, maybe three,” said Jeremy
“What’s a week?” Leaf asked Jeremy.
“Seven days,” he answered.
“Wait a second,” I said, remembering our conversation earlier. “Hey! You’re speaking English!” I suddenly realized.
“Great observation Sarah,” Jeremy said sarcastically.
Leaf looked confused, “English?”
“The old language,” Jeremy explained.
“How do you know English, or umm… the old language?” I asked. He started to explain but I couldn’t concentrate. I was getting too tired.
“Sorry to break it to you Leaf, but you’re boring Sarah to sleep,” Jeremy said. Then Leaf said something else but I was already gone.
I awoke suddenly and realized that I felt much better today. My arm didn’t hurt as much and my head felt less fuzzy. I leaned against the wall behind my bed so that I was in a sitting position. There was a woman on the opposite side of the wagon who seemed to be sewing something.
“Hello,” I said.
She jumped in surprise and looked up at me, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were awake, are you hungry?” She put her sewing down and went over to one of the baskets.
“Yes, very,” I answered and for the first time in weeks I realized just how hungry I was.
“I’ll get you some bread and fruit, oh and some water, just a moment,” she said. She came back with the food on a piece of flat wood. I ate it all and she brought me more. She said I would get sick if I tried to eat anything else after that.
“Umm… what’s your name?” I asked hesitantly.
“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t even think to tell you, well my name’s Kasirah,” she said quickly.
“Oh, Leaf said something about you,” I remembered.
“Humph, he insisted on being here, for what reason I can not imagine,” she added.
“Yes, he keeps coming back here when he should be out there, working. It’s such a shame, he is such an excellent fighter and hunter, yet he would rather spend his time watching over the sick and injured, it just isn’t right.” She shook her head sadly.
That reminded me of yesterday. “How can you speak English?” I couldn’t remember what Leaf had said. “And how come it hasn’t changed very much? You don’t seem to have a lot of different words or anything.”
“The umm… old language.”
“Well, our people use to live in the mountains and beyond it. Because of this we became very isolated and the language and customs didn’t change much.”
“When did you come down here, then.”
“Four generations ago the earth moved and shook, soon after there was a terrible rainstorm that went on for many days. Together they opened up an easier path to the land below the mountain.”
After that I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until morning the next day. Leaf was sitting on a box while sharpening what looked like a spear.
“Do you want something to eat?” he asked when he noticed I was awake.
“Yes, and some water too, please” I said. He brought me food and water then went back to the spear.
“What are you doing?” I finally asked.
“Sharpening this,” he said.
“Do you hunt with it?” I asked.
“No, this is a practice spear, I broke mine yesterday,” he said.
“Well actually, I was trying to teach Jeremy how to fight with it.” A smile spread across his face, “He really needs some help.”
I laughed, but then frowned, “Do you get attacked by people?”
“Well there’s always a few groups of criminals or raiders occasionally, but not often. We do have to be careful in the northern region though. The people up there hate the people in the mountains. Since we’re decedents from the mountains and we trade with them a lot, they hate us too.”
“Why do they hate the people who live in the mountains?”
“Until the pass was opened they were the most advanced group and were taking over the entire region bit by bit. Then they tried to take over the mountain and couldn’t. It was their downfall, so they blame us.”
Just then, a girl came into the wagon. I immediately realized that this must be Lira because she looked exactly like Leaf except with longer hair and her eyes where brown like Kasirah’s.
“Hello, father sent me, he needs you to get to the front right now, he said that mother will be back soon and I should stay until she gets here,” she looked around eleven, maybe twelve years old.
“OK, thanks Lira,” he grabbed something out of a basket and walked over to the door. He gave me a quick half-smile and jumped out, “Bye,”
“Bye,” I called back right before he left.
“Hello,” Lira said, “Are you feeling better? You were very sick when you got here.”
“Yes, much better, thanks,” I said.
“You must have been really bad, mother even called for Leaf to come in,” she added.
“Does she not do that a lot?” I asked.
“Only when they’re really terrible,” she said.
“Was I really terrible?” I couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh, yes, but not as bad as some.”
“Why does she only get Leaf when their really bad?,” I asked.
“I don’t know, she never says why. She hates when Leaf tries to help, but it’s always different when someone’s really hurt or sick or something,” she paused as if thinking then added, “It’s cause Leaf is really better than her or Kasirah and she just won’t admit it. She knows she might not be able to keep them alive, but he will.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper. She smiled a wide, mischievous grin revealing crooked, almost-white teeth.
“Why does she not want him to help?” I asked.
“Cause,” she said like I should know, “He’s not supposed to, none of the boys are.”
“So they’re just not supposed to.”
“Yep.” she paused, “I met your sister Leah, she’s nice but she won’t play with the rest of us, she only talks to Tesina,” she went on.
“I don’t know.”
“She must just be being shy.”
“What does shy mean?”
“It’s like when you’re afraid to talk to other people.”
“Ohh… I’ll tell her she doesn’t need to be afraid the only one who’s mean is Acrilian and she doesn’t play with us.”
“Is it true you came from the past?” her eyes sparkled with curiosity.
“Yes,” I said.
“How?” she asked with wonder.
“A machine with very advanced technology.”
“Yes, but how does it work?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly.
“Is it magic?”
“I don’t think so.” How did the machine work? More than that, when was it made? When would world war three happen? Would it happen when we were alive, assuming we even made it back that is. The questions made my head pound louder.
I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until I woke up. Jeremy was back, with Leah this time.
“Sarah, are you OK, how do you feel?” she asked.
“I’m fine, well… better any ways. What have you been doing?” I said groggily.
“We stopped by a lake yesterday and picked this fruit that tastes like watermelon, you should try some. Does your arm still hurt a lot?”
“Not really,” It was definitely better at least. It was more of a constant ache.
“When can you, ya know, walk around and stuff?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I had been wondering that myself. “Do you know?” I asked Jeremy.
He shrugged, “Leaf said a couple of days, but Kasirah said more like five or six.”
I smiled, “Leaf said he was teaching you sword fighting.”
His face took on a blank expression, “It’s not my best skill.”
Leah’s face suddenly went angry red and she sucked in a breath, like she was remembering something, “Tell her what you did.” She put her hands on her hips and looked expectantly at Jeremy.
“She’s mad because I killed her chicken,” he said flatly.
“Her name was Lilly, and he killed two bunnies,” she added.
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “They don’t even look like bunnies, they’re more like tiny kangaroos,” he muttered.
“Why’d you kill her chicken?” I asked sarcastically.
“And the bunnies!” Leah said.
“And the bunnies?” I added.
“I told her I was gonna have to kill it eventually, but she didn’t listen,” he mumbled.
“That’s not the point! And you didn’t explain the bunnies,” Leah continued.
Jeremy rolled his eyes again, “Uggggghhhh, we need food Leah.”
“You, didn’t have to have that food!”
“We need more.”
“We have plenty of food.”
They continued to argue for a while, then settled into normal conversation. When it started to get dark they left, promising to return the next day.
A few days went by, Leaf argued that I was fine and was well enough to be going outside. His sister said that I shouldn’t leave bed for another five days at least. Their mother finally decided I could get up, but had to stay inside the wagon.
All in all I was incredibly bored. I rotated from the bed to a chair in the far corner and to the boxes that lined the sides. When Kasirah found me whittling a doll for April she seemed appalled. After declaring it an “unsuitable occupation for a young woman” she brought me some string and taught me how to weave it into patterns. After trying for a couple days I managed to produce a piece of cloth that held a slight resemblance to a hat.
I was sitting in bed drinking some water alone in the wagon. Suddenly, Leaf, Kasirah, and their mother burst in the door. Leaf and Kasirah held another man between them on some sort of stretcher. The man moaned in pain.
“We need to get something to push on his head,” Leaf said.
“He’ll bleed to death if we do that,” his mother said.
I scrambled out of the way and let them use my bed to put the man down. “His head is practically falling off!” Leaf yelled in exasperation.
“That would be why we need to stop the blood!” His mother screamed back. The man’s head was covered in blood that dripped everywhere.
“He’ll be dead by the time you reach a decision!” Kasirah yelled above them.
“He’ll die if we don’t get the wound closed anyways!” snapped Leaf.
“Fine, Kasirah get some bandages, Leaf, quickly, run and get some leather strips,” said their mother.
“You’re going to tie his head together!,” Leaf said.
“Do you have a different suggestion!” their mother snapped.
Leaf rushed by and jumped out the door, then took off running. My head swam from all the blood. It smelled metallic and dotted the floor with red splotches.
Their mother wrapped the bandage around the man’s head, but it didn’t seem to be helping,
“Sit him up,” she barked. Kasirah quickly pushed him up and helped hold him still. His eyes where glassy and his head rolled from side to side. There was something about the shape of it that wasn’t quite right, the top was too wide.
Leaf burst in again with what must have been the leather strips. I jumped backwards, out of his way. He wasted no time, wrapping the strips around the top of the man’s head. My stomach churned. I couldn’t take it anymore, I opened up the door and jumped out. It was the first time I had been outside since the accident.
The first thing that I noticed was how bright it was. After being inside for so long and having only the candlelight, it burned my eyes. I squinted and my vision returned to normal. There were many large animals that seemed almost a cross between an ox and a horse pulling the wagons. The wagons themselves had thin wooden sides and a tarp that arched over it. Many people walked around. Most of the woman had bows and all of the men carried some sort of long stick or knife.
I walked along in between the wagons, dodging people and animals. I searched the faces looking for my family, April, and Jack. As I walked towards the outer edge, I noticed a group of boys. Tom and Jack were among them. I felt dizzy, and I wondered if it had been a good idea to jump out of the wagon.
“Jack, Tom,” I called. I carefully walked over to them. They both turned around and ran over to me.
“You’re out, how come they didn’t tell us you could leave,” Tom said.
“Are you all better now?,” Jack asked.
“Well, I sort of just left, they needed room for someone else,” I told them the short version. “Where’s everyone else.”
“I dunno. Leah and April are playing with the girls, I don’t know where Jeremy is,” Jack said.
“Can you take me to them,” I asked.
“Sure,” Tom said. They happily ran off, showing the way. I followed.
They led the way to the front of the group of wagons. Leah, April, and a bunch of other girls were picking flowers in the grass
Leah turned around when she saw Tom, “What is it.” Then she saw me. “Sarah, I didn’t know you could go out of the wagon.”
I cringed, “It was kind of… unexpected, someone else needed my place.”
She gave me a big hug, “That’s okay, do you have to go back again tonight?”
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully.
“I’m making a bracelet from the flowers, see,” she held up flowers that had been braided together like the bracelet she had made before .
“That’s pretty,” I said.
That night I slept under our tarp in my old blanket. The tarp leaned against Leaf’s family’s wagon. The next day I walked with Leah and Jeremy. Since I didn’t see Leaf, Kasirah, Lira, or their mother I assumed they were still busy with the man. I enjoyed my time being outside.
It wasn’t until the next day that I saw Leaf again. Leah and I were picking berries. The caravan of wagons had stopped where the forest began again. A group of people had gone into the woods because there was a village nearby. They planned to sell some of their yarn and other things.
Leaf walked over to us. “Sorry, for you know, forgetting about you,” he said apologetically.
“It’s fine, you had bigger problems, is that guy okay?” I waved it away with my hand.
He cringed, “We don’t know, he stopped bleeding but he’s still in a coma. We don’t know how to wake him up.”
“I hope he’s all right. How did he get hurt?” I asked.
“He fell out of a tree and hit his head on a rock,” he cringed again.
“Oh,” I said flatly.
“Anyways, Kasirah needs to change your bandages again, or they’ll get infected,” he gestured towards my arm.
I glanced sideways, below my shoulder, “Okay, right now?”
“Yep,” he said.
We walked back to his wagon and met Kasirah inside. The man was lying in the bed near the back corner.
I looked away as she unwrapped the bandages. You would think that after everything I had been through this wouldn’t bother me. The problem was during everything else; the thief, the wolves, almost dying of dehydration, everything; well, there had always been the adrenalin, the insanity of the situation. Everything had happened so fast, it was almost unreal. There wasn’t time to process all the blood and gore to be grossed out by.
I clenched my teeth to keep from moaning as she washed it out again. Leaf was kneeling next to me, holding a bowl of water for Kasirah. He put a hand on my shoulder and smiled down sympathetically at me. It was the first time I realized just how much his eyes reminded me of the ocean. I glanced down quickly as I realized I was staring.
When she was finished, Leaf and I walked out. “Come on, I want to show you something,” he said.
I followed him to the outskirts again. He picked up a bow and a few arrows on the way. “What’s that for?” I asked nervously.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to teach you how to shoot it,” he smiled and waved me forward.
“Why…?” I asked.
He shrugged, “All of the women know how, in order to defend themselves.”
“Why not a different weapon?” I asked.
He shrugged again, “It’s just what it is. All of the girls learn to shoot arrows and all of the boys choose one weapon, or more than one.” He smiled mischievously. “Here,” he held out a rough leather guard with two straps. “Just slip your left arm in.”
I pushed my arm in and let him adjust the straps by tightening knots on them.
“Okay…,” I took the bow from him and held it up, aiming at a tree about twenty feet away.
“Higher, like this,” he moved behind me and gently put his hand over mine. He raised the bow slightly and folded my fingers in. “Now take the arrow…,” His movements were careful, uncertain almost, like he was waiting for me to flinch away. He knocked the arrow on the string. “Now just move your thumb…,” He used his forefinger to guide my thumb, “up… right there, so the shaft rests on it.”
His other arm wrapped around me to hold my elbow. He tilted my arm up a tiny bit, then guided it backwards. My skin tingled where it brushed his. “Now let go,” he said. My fingers unclenched and the arrow flew towards the tree. It stuck into the right side, a little lower than I was aiming.
“Nice shot, that’s pretty good for a first try,” He smiled and handed me another arrow. I decided not to mention that I had been in an archery club for three years now.
I laughed again as Leaf disarmed Jeremy. Leaf had been attempting to teach Jeremy the “art of the sword” for the past few days. Their “swords” where mostly thin, hard sticks with sharpened metal or rocks on the end. They were about the length of my arm or shorter. Right now they were using practice ones which were sticks without the metal and rocks made of a slightly softer type of wood.
Jeremy jumped back up and grabbed his stick.
“Again?,” Leaf’s voice was comical.
Jeremy slashed out at Leaf uncontrollably. Leaf jumped back and brought his sword across Jeremy’s with an overhand cut. The two weapons collided and Jeremy spun to the side with the force of the blow. Leaf stepped in close to Jeremy and pushed him over with his hand. Jeremy, already off balance, fell to the ground. Leaf whipped his sword up, but Jeremy had already rolled away. He jumped up and swung at Leaf’s head. Leaf brought his stick up to block it. Using Jeremy’s momentum against him, Leaf stepped under the stick. He let Jeremy’s sword slide off his own. Jeremy spun and managed to deflect Leaf’s weapon, but not entirely. The stick bounced off Jeremy’s and hit him in the arm instead. Jeremy brought his down and then up with an underhand cut this time. Leaf parried it easily and caught Jeremy off balance again. He hit the ground hard. Leaf kicked Jeremy’s weapon away into the dirt. Then he brought his own to Jeremy’s throat.
“You can’t just lash out uncontrollably, you won’t get anywhere doing that,” Leaf said. He lifted his weapon away and held out his hand to Jeremy. Jeremy took it and Leaf helped him up. Kasirah had been right, Leaf was incredible with a sword. I had seen him fight other people too. Some of the fights were over quickly, like with Jeremy. Others lasted almost an hour or more.
“Done now?,” Leaf asked.
“Yeah,” Jeremy grumbled. He rubbed his arm angrily.
Leaf walked over to me. “Do you ever lose?” I asked.
“Have I ever or do I ever now?” he put his hands behind his head and laid down in the grass next to me.
“Do you ever now?” I asked.
“Yeah, sometimes,” he said. His eyes went foggy for a second before returning to normal.
“To who?” I asked.
He paused for a moment and the distant look returned to his eyes, “Well not to Jeremy, that’s for sure.”
I laughed. “Well who than?” I persisted.
“My brother,” Another flicker in his eyes and a twitch of his eyebrows. Was that anger, resentment even in his voice?
“You have a brother?” I asked in surprise.
“And three sisters,” he added.
“Three? There’s Lira and Kasirah, who’s your other sister, and your brother,” I questioned him.
“My sister’s name is Mareeta, she’s married and lives in a village to the east,” He said.
“And your brother,” I asked again.
He hesitated than said, “His name is Tigre. He has his own wagon, he’s married too, and will have his first child by the end of the winter. He will take over this tribe when one of my parents die or become incapable of leading. His wife will become the new healer.”
“What about you and your sisters,” I asked.
“When I’m sixteen I will either get married within the tribe or become a leader of one of the smaller tribes to the north. I would only be able to do that if either their leader suddenly died or I killed him in single combat though. Lira and Kasirah will probably become healers in other villages to the east or south. In fact Kasirah will probably leave this year.”
“How old are you?”
“Is there someone that you want to marry in the tribe?” Did I really just say that out loud? I resisted the urge to cover my mouth with one hand and hit my head with the other. Idiot. It just kind of came out. I wasn’t sure why I said that.
“Yes,” he said simply. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. I should be happy for him. Happy that there was someone he would like to marry, but I wasn’t. I was disappointed he liked someone else.
He sat up and looked me in the eyes, “You.”
My heart stopped beating for a second. Me. It was me. This information did not compute. He liked me. I just sat there, like an idiot with my mouth hanging slightly open. I stared into his soft, green eyes. His mouth, a perfect, gentle smile.
At this point most guys would just yell “forget it” and walk away since all I was doing was staring at him. He didn’t though. Actually, scratch that, most guys wouldn’t even say that to begin with. I was frozen in a swirl of emotions and questions. He took my hand and just sat there with me.
My heart pounded. Something deep inside me swelled and overflowed my senses. He leaned toward me, ever so slightly. Desire. Joy. Happiness. I identified the foreign emotions. Love. I leaned in too, and his lips met mine. My hand slipped out of his and I buried it in his hair. His arms folded around me. It was as if they were always meant to be there and I had been incomplete until now. I forgot about getting food and water, about the wolves, about getting back, about everything. The only thing in my world was me and Leaf. We filled this world up until it was overflowing. There wasn’t room for anything else.
He broke away and said, “Sarah, we really shouldn’t.” But his eyes told another story. We kissed again.
We broke away again and Leaf glanced around quickly, “We really should stop.” He held my hands and I leaned against him.
“Why,” I asked him, still in a daze.
“It isn’t considered right,” He fingered my hair.
“You couldn’t be fifteen yet, are you?”
“Even so, we are not even engaged let alone married.”
“You’re not allowed to kiss someone until your married?”
“It’s not exactly forbidden but it is discouraged greatly.”
“Umm… I don’t understand.”
“Do you really care.”
He paused and then said, “You know what, I don’t really care, not anymore, not after meeting you.” And he kissed me again.
The next few days were a blur. It was like the eye of the storm during a hurricane. In the middle of this crazy adventure there was this little, tiny piece of happiness, and I clung to it.
There was of course that irritating voice in my head saying it can’t last. You have to leave in a couple weeks. You can’t stay with him and he can’t go with you. But it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t listen and whenever that voice came up, I ignored it.
We walked slowly, behind the wagons where no one would see us. The long grass flowing in the wind. Just being with him, it was perfect. There was no other way to describe it. Perfect. Complete and utter perfection.
We were walking in the morning again. Leaf was holding my hand and had his other arm around my shoulder. “Tell me about your world,” he said.
I frowned. The last thing I wanted to talk about was going back.
“Just tell me about what it’s like, I know almost nothing about you, about your life,” he added.
“You don’t need to know about my life to know me,” I argued.
“Yeah, but I want to know,” he continued.
I thought for a moment and then said, “Well, in my time, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl, you can have any job you want. Well at least in most of the world.” He looked down and remained silent. “So you could be a doctor if you wanted to,” I added quickly. His head remained down and his eyes were cloudy. “Oh come on Leaf, I’ve seen you in there, it’s what you love doing, don’t try and tell me you don’t,” I gestured at his wagon.
He shook his head sadly, “There’s no point fantasizing about something I’ll never be able to do, not as an actual job any ways. It doesn’t matter if I’m the best healer in the world. They won’t care. They’ll never change their customs and I can’t be a healer unless they do.” A note of disgust crept into his voice as he waved at the caravan of wagons.
“We’re against their customs too, but you’re still here,” I gripped his hands in mine.
“That’s not fair, that’s different,” he smiled that sweet, gentle smile and my heart flew.
“It is too fair, I made a good point,” I argued.
“I love you more than any job, I couldn’t stay away from you if I wanted to,” Leaf said.
“So now you don’t have a choice, but to be with me,” I teased.
He leaned down and kissed me for a long moment. “Does that answer your question,” he whispered next to my ear.
“I guess that works,” I whispered back before we kissed again.
I was not going to let the subject of being a healer drop. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him about it for a while though. All of the young men in the tribe where competing in a tournament. Leaf was of course expected to win. They fought with the stick-swords. Jeremy was in it too and to everyone’s surprise he actually did pretty well.
The last match of the tournament was between Leaf and another guy. He was at least an inch taller than Leaf and a lot more muscular. He had dark skin and long black hair in a single braid. His eyes where cold, so unlike Leaf’s own comical ones.
Their was a large circle drawn in the dirt where it took place. Everyone in the tribe gathered around it. I stood with my family, April, and Jack. I could see Leaf’s parents and his sisters standing across from us. I also noticed Leaf’s brother. I had finally gotten Kasirah to tell me who he was. She had kept hesitating though, like their was something she wasn’t telling me. My suspicion that something had happened between Leaf and Tigre deepened. Tigre was standing to the left of us, alone. He had slightly darker hair than Leaf and light brown eyes. He was taller than Leaf and had a thoughtful look on his face as he watched the match.
Leaf and the other competitor stood across from each other. Leaf stood poised on the tips of his feet. He was grinning at his opponent. A fire danced in his eyes that was only there when he was fighting. The other guy barred his teeth and took an offensive stance. His eyes still cold and unmoving.
The fight began. Immediately the guy (I heard someone call him Roque) sprung at Leaf. Leaf jumped back easily and sidestepped out of the way, then jabbed at his stomach. Roque spun and blocked the jab, countering with his own. Leaf was obviously surprised by the sudden thrust and barely managed to avoid being hit by it full-force. Even with his quick back step the sword hit him hard in the ribs.
The crowd sucked in a breath as he staggered backwards holding his side. I cringed for him and resisted the urge to run out and make sure he was OK.
Roque didn’t even pause as he moved forward and swung his sword down at Leaf’s shoulder. Leaf dived into the dirt and rolled before popping back up. Roque’s sword missed and he spun it back towards Leaf again. Leaf parried it and launched into a series of thrusts and blocks with Roque. They moved one-step forward then one-step back again. Leaf landed a blow to Roque’s side twice, but he didn’t even flinch.
Their fighting styles where so different, it really was interesting to watch. While Roque used strength and power, Leaf relied more on quickness and agility.
Sweat ran down Leaf’s face and he had obviously not recovered from the jab to his ribs. Leaf landed several more blows, but Roque didn’t seem to notice.
Roque turned unusually quickly and Leaf didn’t have a chance to block the powerful strike to his shoulder. The blow drove him to his knees. He cried out in pain and Jeremy actually grabbed me to keep me from running out to help him. My heart was racing. Roque raised his sword again. In a last attempt Leaf threw himself to the side and the stick hit him in the leg instead. He groaned again as he stumbled out of the way.
“Come on Leaf, you can do better than that,” a voice called out from the crowd. I looked and realized it was Tigre.
Pain was written clearly on his face, but Tigre’s words seemed to energize Leaf. He stood back up and took a defensive stance. Roque and Leaf continued for another few minutes. Leaf hit Roque several times, but it made no difference. Meanwhile Leaf was losing energy and Roque managed to hit him in the ribs again. Then Roque aimed at his leg, but feinted, instead swinging it upwards. Leaf’s head snapped to the side as it hit him in the face.
There was a sickening crunch and blood gushed from his nose. People started murmuring about stopping the fight. Leaf’s father, who basically judged the match, didn’t say anything though.
Leaf and Roque went into another round of strikes and blocks. Leaf landed more blows, but they just weren’t hard enough. Roque was ready to end the fight. His movements became more controlled and Leaf stopped being able to hit him. Roque thrust again and hit Leaf in the ribs. He had obviously been aiming at the same spot he had originally hit in the beginning of the match. Leaf screamed again and dropped to his knees. I bit my lip to stifle a cry.
A look of triumph was on Roque’s face and he moved in to finish the fight. To everyone’s surprise Leaf spun and stood on his feet, still crouching down. Then he swung with all the strength he had left. Roque was so surprised he had no time to react. Leaf’s sword connected solidly with Roque’s knee. He howled in pain. He fell to the ground, but didn’t posses Leaf’s speed to jump back up, or roll out of the way. Leaf stepped on Roque’s weapon and pointed the tip of his sword to Roque’s throat.
The crowd started cheering and Leaf’s father pronounced the match won by Leaf. In the sea of faces I found Tigre. He was standing still, smiling.
Kasirah rushed in and led Leaf away, to their wagon. I followed numbly. Their mother started looking at Roque’s knee.
I entered the wagon. “Really Kasirah, it’s not as bad as it looks,” Leaf was lying on the bed. The man from before was gone. Kasirah was examining his nose first. She had wiped away the blood to find he also had a split lip. “I don’t even think it’s broken, really.”
Kasirah dabbed it with the cloth she was using to wipe away the blood. Leaf screamed more from surprise than pain, “O-K so maybe it is broken.”
“You and your stupid pride, you couldn’t just end it, could you, no you had to fight until you practically couldn’t stand!” Kasirah said. Leaf offered a weak smile.
“I’m serious Kasirah, I’m fine, it always looks-Ahhhhh!,” Leaf cried out as Kasirah poked his ribs on the right side.
“Uhuh, yeah, sure Leaf,” Kasirah said sarcastically as she helped Leaf out of his shirt. A large bruise was already forming. Leaf closed his eyes and clenched his teeth as Kasirah checked each rib. Kasirah shook her head. “Two are cracked, ones bad the others minor, but-,” she pressed to fingers into his side at once. Leaf stifled a moan. “This third one, I just can’t tell, there’s too much swelling….” She looked pointedly at Leaf.
“Oh come on Kasirah, I’m sure it’s fine,” Leaf said.
“You of all people should know-,” Kasirah said.
“It’s not broken, it would hurt more than this,” Leaf interrupted. Kasirah poked him again. “Would you stop that! I’ve broken a rib before and trust me it’s not broken.” Kasirah gave him another pointed glare.
“Ugghh just do it,” Leaf leaned against the wall and clenched his teeth again. Kasirah bent down and carefully pushed her fingers around the rib, deeper this time. I glanced at Leaf who was breathing steadily, his eyes were closed again. Kasirah pushed quickly down on the rib itself. Leaf jerked, then groaned.
Kasirah took out a small sharp knife. She made a shallow cut over the rib and blood trickled out. Leaf moaned and turned his head to the side, keeping his breaths steady and controlled. She soaked it up with a cloth. I watched in stunned silence, feeling appalled.
“What are you doing!” I yelled.
Kasirah looked up in surprise. Even Leaf looked up. “I’m bleeding him, to let the damaged blood out,” Kasirah said.
“But you don’t-, you can’t just-,” I stammered. That was preposterous! Damaged blood, I mean how did they come up with that? It was like how the pilgrims bled people who were sick, then the people would die of loss of blood instead of the sickness. I started to explain how it would make no difference but they just looked at me like I was crazy. Hah! Me, the crazy one while they where the ones bleeding people! I finally gave up and slumped into a chair.
“Really Sarah, I’m fine, it’s not that bad or anything,” his concern for me when he was the one hurt was touching. He reached up and took my hand. He smiled again at me.
Kasirah made several more small cuts before wrapping it up. She decided it wasn’t broken but quite possibly cracked. His shoulder and leg would have huge bruises, but nothing serious.
I met Jeremy while getting dinner. “How’s Leaf?” he asked.
“He says he’s fine but…,” I hesitated, “He looks pretty bad to me. He has two cracked ribs, maybe three. Did you know they bleed people, like they used to in Europe, you know like around the 1600’s or something.”
Jeremy cringed and said, “Yeah, they did that to me actually, and Leah. They didn’t to you or Tom though because you lost too much blood already and April and Jack weren’t hurt really bad.”
Jeremy shrugged, “It’s what they’ve always been taught. To tell them everything they’ve always thought doesn’t help at all… well it’s better just to let them do it. I mean it’s not like they do it excessively, they only take a little blood. It doesn’t really hurt anyone, I mean like, they won’t die from it.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I reluctantly agreed.
Early the next morning I went to visit Leaf. He was still lying in the bed. He was leaning against the wall. There was a large bandage on his shoulder and another wrapped around his damaged ribs. He looked up when I entered and smiled.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Don’t tell Kasirah, but horrible,” he said, “My ribs kill, my shoulder throbs, and my nose feels like its going to explode. Oh, and I also have a headache.”
“I thought your shoulder wasn’t that bad,” I said.
“It got worse. My mother thinks my shoulder blade is cracked or damaged or something.”
“I don’t think so but it hurts enough to be.”
Kasirah walked in, “What hurts?”
Leaf smiled wide, “Nothing, I am perfectly fine and should be allowed to get up and go outside.”
“You’re stuck there for at least another day and it’s your own fault too. Everyone would have understood if you wanted to stop the fight. You were injured and it was only a practice match, nothing important.”
“I didn’t get really hurt until the end,” Leaf argued.
“It’s not a lie, if that last trick didn’t work I was going to let him beat me.”
Kasirah snorted, “If that last trick didn’t work he would have won whether or not you let him.”
“You know I did win, you could show a little encouragement now and then.”
“I will be happy for you when you realize that sometimes it’s just not worth it to win.”
She walked over to him and held out a cup of water and something leafy. He looked down at the plant and cringed. “You know Kasirah you really are an amazing healer, I’m feeling so much better already. In fact there’s practically no pain at all, you did such a good job.”
“Don’t even try it Leaf. It amazes me that you can stay in that fight for so long, enduring so much pain, and yet you make such a big deal over a couple of herbs.”
He frowned and started eating the plants, cringing at the taste. “That’s completely different.”
“He needs something for a headache too,” I told Kasirah. She turned around and rummaged through the various jars. She produced the greenish-yellow stem of some sort of plant.
Leaf glared at me, “Traitor.”
I laughed, “You’ll feel better.”
“You’ll thank me-,”Kasirah stopped short.
Walking in was Tigre.
Kasirah sighed and continued with her work.
Tigre walked towards Leaf. Every move he made screamed complete control and authority.
Leaf started to look pale. “What do you want?” he said dryly.
“I only wished to congratulate you on your win yesterday.”
“You never “only want” something,” Leaf said in the same dry tone.
Tigre sighed, “Can’t a man congratulate his brother on a good fight.”
Leaf said nothing, glaring at Tigre.
Tigre sighed again, “I see you haven’t overcome our past differences, it really is childish of you.” Leaf looked like he was ready to punch him. “If it wasn’t for me you would have lost yesterday and you know it. Just stop and think for a moment Leaf. You’re letting your temper get the best of you.”
“Says the man who broke my arm in rage!” Leaf screamed.
Kasirah glanced between them nervously.
“I am not the short-tempered, arrogant person I used to be, you should know that by now.”
Leaf took a few deep breaths and managed to calm down. He continued in a steady voice, “And I am not a little kid anymore, you can’t intimidate me any longer.”
Tigre chuckled, “You are still a child Leaf, you need to remember that”
“What do you want, Tigre?” Leaf growled through clenched teeth.
Tigre chuckled again and said, “I simply felt the need to point out that you owe your win to me.”
Leaf fumed, “So you’re here to gloat about my win.”
“I mentioned it purely for learning purposes.”
“That you need my help and to try and get you to realize that I am trying to help you.”
“I don’t need or want your help,” Leaf clenched his fists.
“You wouldn’t have won if I didn’t show you that move.”
“I would’ve figured it out, he had already injured that leg in another fight, I simply found his weak spot.”
“Even if you had been able to find it on your own, you know you wouldn’t have won without my training.”
“Your training almost killed me.”
Again with the insistent chuckle, “You are exaggerating Leaf, in no point in time did I almost kill you, and I was referring to our recent training.”
“Are you done?” Leaf asked abruptly.
“You have also shown that we need to work on your reaction time,” he pointed at Leaf’s ribs. “I’ll see you when you have recovered enough to start practicing again, little brother.” Then he jumped out the door.
I stood, frozen in the corner. What had just happened? Training? Practice? Tigre broke Leaf’s arm?
Leaf sat, seething. How changed he was, from only a few minutes ago.
Kasirah made a weak attempt to break the silence, “You know, he really has changed. He’s not like he used to be, he’s not going to do it again. You should give him a chance.” She rummaged around in a box for a while before saying, “I have to go, I’ll be back in a few hours, and don’t even think about getting up and going anywhere!”
I walked over and sat on the edge of his bed. “OK, spill,” I crossed my arms in front of me and glared at him.
“I have no idea what your talking about,” Leaf said sarcastically, his anger fading.
He sighed, “When I was younger Tigre asked to train me. It wasn’t exactly an odd request so my father agreed, he was busy anyways.”
“And he was a jerk.”
“He was a big jerk.”
I glared at him.
“He tried to teach me advanced techniques and moves. When I failed to fight well enough he would get mad,” Leaf cringed and rubbed his arm subconsciously, “really mad.” He paused before continuing, “A few months ago, when I started being able to beat even my father, he decided that I was ready to start training with Tigre again.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before.”
“It’s not exactly something I like talking about.”
Just then Leaf’s father walked in. I slipped off the bed quickly, moving to the corner again.
“Kasirah said Tigre came in to talk to you.”
Leaf sat there, unmoving.
“Do you realize now, why I had to let him train you.”
He sighed and sat down on a box, “He’s the only one left to teach you Leaf, you know that.”
His father sighed again, “Trust me Leaf, it might not be fun, but it’s necessary. You’re making it worse than it needs to be, he’s changed.”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you say that, it doesn’t make it true,” Leaf snapped.
“He has obviously been helping, you have improved significantly.”
Leaf continued to remain silent.
“You need to forget about the past Leaf, everyone makes mistakes.”
“One big mistake,” he grumbled.
His father walked over to the door and before leaving said, “Someday you’ll understand Leaf, for now you’ll just have to trust me.” The door shut
Leaf was able to leave a few days later. Apparently his ribs weren’t hurt as badly as they originally thought. Whatever happened between Leaf and Tigre must have been pretty bad. Leaf didn’t strike me as someone who held a grudge. They practiced every day each afternoon.
I was sitting, watching them fight. Neither of them were aware I was there. I had found a nice vantage point in a tree. It wasn’t very high, but it was a comfortable spot. As much as I hated Leaf’s brother for what he did to him- I had to admit he was an amazing fighter. He made Leaf look clumsy and inadequate in comparison.
Leaf advanced on Tigre, swinging his sword in an arc over his head. Tigre blocked and performed an overhand cut in one movement. Leaf scrambled to block it. Tigre spun his sword around, lightning fast, and swept it across Leaf’s ankle. The blow sent Leaf sprawling to the dirt. He twisted and jumped back up before Tigre had a chance to attack again.
It went on like that. Leaf would land a blow occasionally and Tigre would disarm him every once in a while. They would stop sometimes and Tigre would point something out or make Leaf repeat a move.
The practice ended. Leaf walked away, towards my tree. Tigre went in the opposite direction. I climbed down.
“Hiding in a tree?” Leaf raised an eyebrow.
“I decided to wait for you,” my hand slipped into his, so natural, like it had always belonged there.
“Do people fight in your world,” he asked suddenly.
It seemed like an odd question. “Not like you do. They fight with guns, they’re like these metal things and you pull a trigger. When you pull the trigger a piece of metal flies out, faster than you can see. And bombs, they explode and can kill thousands of people. They only fight like you for fun,” I said, thinking of fencing.
He thought about that and said, “That sounds so terrible. Your world is so different.”
“Same world, different time.” We walked towards the sunset in the distance.
Leaf stopped and looked me in the eyes. “You will have to leave soon.” And there it was. Leaf managed to sum up all of my dread and sadness in six words. We sat down in the grass. The sun was setting and the wagons were parked in the distance. The fires glowed in the dusk.
“You could come with me,” even as I said it I knew it was impossible.
I could see it all in his eyes. He wanted to. He desperately wanted to. “I can’t. You know I can’t. Believe me Sarah, I want to. I wish I could, but I belong here and you belong there,” He swept his arm up to the mountains, “Back in your time.” His voice was laced with sadness.
“I could stay,” and even as I said it I knew I couldn’t.
“I wish you could Sarah.”
“I can’t leave you behind,” tears welled in my eyes.
“You’ll have to,” Leaf whispered. He pulled me close and buried his face in my hair. I leaned against him and wrapped my arms around his waist. I pressed my face into the soft wool of his shirt. I never wanted to let go. Never wanted to leave him. When he looked again at me his eyes were red.
“I love you Leaf, I don’t think I can leave you.”
“I love you too, but you have to leave.”
“How can I leave when I know I’ll never see you again?” my voice cracked.
“Maybe we will.”
“How could that happen?”
“What about when you die, do your people know what happens when you die?” he said earnestly, almost desperately.
“Well, lots of people have ideas but… no one really knows for sure.”
“Than I can let you leave.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can let you leave with the hope that we might see each other again, even a slim hope, I don’t think I could without it.”
And his words sparked a tiny flame of hope in me too. And that’s when I knew that I could leave him, as much as it would hurt. I would be able to, just barely. We sat there as the sun went down, not saying anything, not needing to.
Four days. We had four days. We had four measly, inadequate, unsatisfactory, insufficient days. Four. It had officially become my least favorite number.
Our wagon was ready, we had plenty of food and water for the trip. It would take about eight days. That meant we would be home in twelve days. If we made it that is. I still couldn’t believe we had gotten this far. I refused to let myself believe we would be going home, that everything would return to normal. It was like if I let myself think that, then I would doom us all.
We would arrive at a village in couple of days. Most of the people in the tribe would be going to the village to sell their goods. Everyone was making last-minute preparations. Apparently, this was one of the major trading cities.
“You’ll love it Sarah,” Leaf told me, “it’s my favorite city, just wait.”
“I wish you could see the cities in my time Leaf, they have buildings taller than trees,” I said.
“That is ridiculous,” he said in mock seriousness.
“No, really, some are twice as big as them,” I continued.
“Well, I still think you’ll like it,” he said, unwavering.
And soon it was the day to go to the village. We had collected some extra food and planed to sell it. Jeremy and I pulled the wagon and April and Jack rode in it. They had refused to stay behind. Leaf and Lira walked with us. They each had a large bag filled with things to sell.
Leaf was right, the city really was beautiful. The houses were built with wood, like log cabins. The inner streets had stone pavers. Lots of houses had flower gardens in the front. The city streets were made in boxes so that they were parallel and perpendicular to each other. In the center of the town there was a marketplace. Lira went into one of the stores to sell her things. Leah and Tom wandered around. Leaf and I left Jeremy with April and Jack near the wagon. We were having a great time, laughing as we passed another store.
And that’s when it all went wrong.
They came out of nowhere. The first thing that happened was the silence. We were just standing there, talking, when suddenly everyone went quiet. We heard distant cries and then the person next to me dropped to the ground. He screamed and fell like a rock. Then he was dead. An arrow was stuck in his chest. Blood welled around the wound. His eyes rolled in his head, glazed over.
Then the screaming started.
It was chaos. Everyone was running in every direction. There was no cover, no place to hide. Arrows rained down, and then people started cutting into the crowd. They where armed with swords and clubs. Oh, and torches.
At first I couldn’t make sense of any of it. This was not happening. This was not supposed to happen. Why were they killing everyone, why where they shooting into the crowd? Why were they setting everything on fire? All of the beautiful wooden houses, burning.
It was Leaf who snapped me back to reality. “Sarah, come on, we need to get out of the village, come on,” he pulled my arm in a random direction.
My heart raced as my mind caught up with the situation. “Leah!,” I screamed, “We have to go back, what about them!”
“There’s nothing we can do, we need to get out, now!”
My panic overflowed inside me. We ran among the crowd until we reached a narrow, deserted alley.
Well, we thought it was deserted. A man ran down and approached us casually. He held a sickening, jagged sword. It was already stained with blood. He grinned wildly at us.
“Well, what do we have here?” Leaf pulled out his own sword. He always carried one. “A little boy with a big sword and his little girlfriend huh?”
Leaf’s eyes sparkled with fire, his anger showing in his voice, “I don’t want to have to kill you.”
The man cackled and said, “Trust me little boy, you won’t have to worry about that.”
He lunged at Leaf. Leaf blocked it and swung back. The man flattened against the wall, so that the blade only made a shallow cut on his arm. The man hissed in anger, “You’re gonna pay for that little boy.”
He thrust again and Leaf jumped back, but he didn’t have anywhere to jump back to. The blade ripped through his shirt and pierced his stomach. Leaf groaned and knocked the weapon aside. Then he launched into a quick succession of offensive moves. He cut the mans other arm and made a long cut down his side. Blood welled and quickly soaked the man’s shirt. He screamed in pain and fell to the ground.
“Come on,” Leaf grabbed my hand and jumped over the withering form of the man. I followed numbly.
We raced through the streets, toward the edge of the city. “What’s going on?” I asked desperately.
“It must be one of the nations from the north, this is one of the major cities, they want to capture it for themselves,” Leaf said, “They’ll head for the inner city, where the capital is, to take over.” We dodged fallen bodies, sprayed with blood.
“Are you alright?” I glanced fearfully at his shirt which was stained red with blood.
He glanced down quickly and winced, as if just realizing the pain, “Just a scratch, looks worse than it is, come on.” He pulled me onward.
“Jeremy!” I saw him running toward us, “Where’s April, Jack, and Leah?” Tom ran up with him. Something was wrong with Jeremy’s arm, and his sleeve was soaked with blood.
“April, Jack, and Leah are fine, hidden outside the village with the wagon,” Jeremy said, “I came back for Tom” His eyes where glazed with pain. A small amount of relief swarmed into me.
“Oh, no, Lira,” Leaf said quietly. Then he repeated it again, louder, “Oh, no, she’s still in the store! She wouldn’t have left with the arrows outside, oh my gosh!” Leaf’s face became a mask of fear as he spotted the store she had gone into. It was engulfed in flames. One of the men stood at the door, holding it shut. The door trembled with fists banging on it from the other side. One of the windows shattered, but it was too small for anyone to fit through.
Leaf took off at full speed. When he reached the building he whipped out his sword and drove it through the man’s neck in one motion. The man fell over instantly. The sword was still stuck in his neck, with his heart still pumping out blood. Leaf immediately broke down the door and ran inside.
And the building collapsed in an inferno of flames.
I let out a bloodcurdling scream.
It felt like someone ripped my heart in half. There was no way to describe the crushing pain. There was no “maybe he’s still alive”, no “maybe he’ll crawl out”, no “maybe there’s a cellar he fell into”. I knew in my heart that it was over. I couldn’t even pretend he was alive. I screamed again in anguish. There was nothing I could do. There would be no point in trying to save him, it was too late.
Leaf was dead.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I cried out again. I didn’t even have the last two days with him. It wasn’t fair. We weren’t supposed to be separated like this. No goodbye. No last kiss. No last conversation or something to remember him by. He was simply gone. I was overcome with the grief and pain.
“Sarah, we have to leave,” Jeremy tugged my arm away from the house, away from Leaf. Part of me wanted to go after Leaf, to throw myself onto the burning building even though there was no chance of saving him, to do it anyways. The pain of burning flesh couldn’t be worse than this. It would be a relief.
But Jeremy was already dragging me away. Tears obscured my vision as I stumbled after him. At some point in time we left the village. We kept running into the woods. We finally stopped when we reached a large rock with an overhang. Sitting inside were Leah, April, and Jack.
Leah’s eyes were red. She saw us and ran over to me. She swallowed me in a hug. “I didn’t think you would come back, I was sooo scared,” she sobbed. I hugged her back and cried too.
“Maybe we should go back and see if he got out or something, maybe-,” Jeremy started.
I shook my head, “He’s dead, there’s no point.”
We all went silent
“Leaf?,” Leah’s sad eyes looked up at me. I nodded, it was all I could do. Leaf was gone.
And then Jeremy passed out.
“Jeremy,” Leah yelled in surprise.
“Grab the first aid stuff,” I hastily pulled myself together. I wiped away the tears and knelt next to him. I ripped his sleeve and tore it off at the shoulder. Blood gushed from his arm, near his elbow.
“What happened?” I yelled without expecting an answer. April and Jack would have been the only ones with him when he got hurt. Leah handed me a cloth and I dabbed away the blood. I tried to get a better look at the wound, but it was impossible.
“An arrow,” I realized, it must have been an arrow. It hit him in the arm, tearing through. “But just how deep is it?” I wondered. I wrapped a bandage around his arm, but the blood soaked right through. I tried to remember back to some first aid class I had taken. Nothing.
I wrapped more bandages. When we ran out I pushed on his arm, desperately trying to apply pressure. I wasn’t sure if he was awake or not, but he was groaning. His eyes where glazed over, like the dead man at the market.
You will not die. You will not die. You will not die too. I won’t let you. You don’t get out of this that easy. We didn’t make it this far for you to die now. Somehow all of my fear, sadness, and grief was transformed to anger. It’s funny how emotions can change like that. You owe me, Leaf died, he can’t too. You can’t let me live and kill everyone I care about, I won’t let you. I wasn’t sure who I was talking to. God? Leaf? The world? Death?
Okay, so I had officially gone crazy. I was yelling at death, well in my head anyways. That’s better than out loud right? I guess it’s understandable, I did get mauled by a wolf, my practically-boyfriend just died about twenty minutes ago, arrows rained down on me, and oh yeah, let’s not forget the whole sucked into a vortex and transported to the future part! Let’s just say I was pretty messed up.
Jeremy’s breathing became steadier and his eyes closed. I let out a relieved breath. The blood had stopped. I collapsed and instantly fell asleep.
April was shaking me awake. For a moment, just a moment I forgot everything. I was thinking about meeting Leaf before he went to practice, we would have about an hour. Then the hole in my heart opened up again.
Images, like snapshots came back. The glazed over eyes. Blood running down his arm. Leaf driving the sword through without a moment’s hesitation. The first man to fall, right next to me. The arrows raining down. The houses, the beautiful wooden houses… all burning. And the store collapsing. Just as Leaf dove inside.
Somehow I had known he was dead. And like I knew he was dead without a doubt, I knew he had died instantly. It was like a fire that had been burning inside my heart had suddenly been put out. There was no slow decline to a mere flicker. It had been a blazing, towering fire, now there was only cold emptiness. When Leaf died he took back the part of him that was inside me. It was devastating.
“Sarah, I’m hungry,” April whined.
I sat up and blinked my eyes. I felt drained, instead of rested. The sun was up high, above the trees. It was almost noon. I stood up and walked over to the wagon. I took out a few apples and handed one to April. My body told me to eat, but my mind was occupied. The pain in my stomach was meaningless. Leah and Jack were still asleep. Tom was trying to start a fire, but wasn’t succeeding. I numbly took the steel and flint and struck it until a spark caught. I walked over to where Jeremy was lying. I sat next to him, still in a daze.
He groaned in his sleep. I got back up and brought water over to Jeremy. I poured some down his throat. He coughed at first. I think he woke up after that and started drinking. His eyes snapped open and he moaned again. I put the water back and laid in the grass. I stared up at the clouds blankly. I didn’t have any tears left to cry.
I managed to think coherently the next day. I had to. Now that Jeremy was injured, everyone was relying on me. When I got up, I woke everyone, well except Jeremy. We gathered firewood and ate breakfast. We had enough food for ten days. I estimated I could stretch it to fifteen if we were careful.
About noon, I gave Jeremy something to drink again. This time he definitely woke up. He moaned and grabbed for his arm. I pushed his hand away and started unwrapping the bandages. We had found a small stream south of our campsite earlier.
“Tom, go wash these in the river,” I handed him the blood-covered bandages. He made a face. “Hurry, I need them back.” He took them and ran off.
I washed his arm with a cloth. I was careful not to reopen the wound. Under normal circumstances, I figured, this would seriously need stitches. I gagged as I tried to ignore the ragged cut. Tom was back with the bandages and I wrapped them tightly around his arm.
I knew we couldn’t stay here forever. We had to start traveling again. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate. Right when things started getting better, when it looked like we might actually make it back… this happened. We weren’t going anywhere until Jeremy was better.
He leaned up against a tree and groaned again. “How bad is it?” he glanced down as I tied off the end.
“Well… it’s definitely not good,” I cringed as the bandage turned a pale red.
“It doesn’t feel good either,” he winced when I let go of his arm.
“Do you think we could leave tomorrow?” Which really meant do you think you’ll be able to pull the wagon tomorrow.
He cringed, “Tomorrow?”
“The next day?”
“Yeah, probably,” he glanced back down at his elbow.
The eye of the storm had past.
So two days later we left. It started out fine. We packed everything back up in the cart. The tarp and blankets were on the bottom. The food and water were all inside along with the other bags of items.
“Uhhh… Jeremy, we have a problem,” I realized.
“What?” he asked worriedly.
“Where do we go?” I asked him.
“Umm, the mountain, to the time machine guy. Are you feeling alright Sarah, wasn’t this the plan since we got here?” he said sarcastically.
All of my pent up fear, grief, and anger exploded inside me, “You know what Jeremy, I am not feeling alright, I am no where near feeling alright! Everything about this situation along with what just happened is, not, ALRIGHT!”
He flinched back and put his hands up in apology, “You’re right, sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
I took a deep breath and waited a second before glaring at him. “I meant what direction,” I said flatly.
Realization dawned on him, “Ohhh….”
“Idiot,” I murmured.
“Uhhh… northwest?,” he offered an apologetic smile.
“We were supposed to travel with the tribe longer, two more days,” my voice caught as I started to think of Leaf again. I took a deep breath and continued, “They were going to show us the path that would take us to the guy. Do you think you could find your way back to the village? We could travel in the fields until we get to the next village and then we cou-.”
“Sarah,” he interrupted me, “There is no way I can find my way back. It’s a miracle I did it once, I was half-delirious. I don’t even remember going back, just waking up here.”
My hopes deflated, “Then we’ll have to go northwest and hope we get lucky.”
“Because luck is really on our side,” he said sarcastically. He had a point.
“If you have a better idea feel free to let me know.”
He remained silent.
I took out the compass, found northwest, and put it back.
“OK, we need to go that way,” I pointed the direction out.
We walked until midday when we stopped to eat lunch. After that we encountered a large hill.
“Well, we are heading to the base of a mountain,” I said.
We trudged upwards. Leah and Tom pushed from behind. About half way up Jeremy started to look really pale. His breathing was labored and he looked like he was going to pass out again.
If we stopped though, the cart would roll back down. We continued until we made it to the top. When we stopped, Jeremy dropped the bar and stepped out. He put one hand on his forehead, groaned, and sat down in the grass.
“I just need a sec,” he said in between breaths.
What you need, I thought, is a doctor.
We went up two more hills, both smaller than the first. When it started getting dark we stopped. Jeremy immediately collapsed on the ground and fell asleep. The rest of us had dinner, but we didn’t bother setting up the tarp.
Four more days went by just like before. It was getting so cold out now that my fingers often felt numb. Jeremy didn’t seem any better and Leah was getting sick. She had a bad cough. I figured it was only a matter of time before we all caught it. So far though, it didn’t look serious.
We were traveling continuously uphill now. We found a road that went northwest so we decided to follow it. Everyday was exhausting. Not only did I feel like I was going to collapse with every step, Leaf’s death hung over me like a cloud. It got to the point where I just blocked out everything. I walked and pulled the cart without seeing, without feeling. My mind receded to the blackness that had enveloped me when I had been injured. Two different kinds of pain had driven me to the same place for different reasons. I saw the same hollow expression in the others too. This journey was slowly picking away at our lives.
We had just gotten to the top of a particularly steep hill when I snapped. “That is it!,” I yelled. Jeremy had collapsed on the ground and stared up at me with questioning eyes that asked, what are you ranting about now? “We are not pulling this stupid thing up one more hill!” Normally he would have made some sarcastic reply, but he didn’t have the energy. That only fueled my anger more, “We are getting rid of this.” I started rummaging in the bags and taking things out.
“Sarah…,” Jeremy said weakly. I ignored him and spread out our stuff on the ground. There were four bags. One of them, made like a backpack, held our blankets. I took them all out. Then, taking one of the knives, I made a large slit in the side of one of the blankets
“Sarah! What are you doing?,” Jeremy yelled in horror.
I continued to ignore him and made another slit on the opposite side. Then I continued to do this to the other five blankets. I took one and put my arms through the slits and used string to tie the ends around my waist. I stood up and held out my arms for Jeremy to see.
He gaped, “You have no idea how ridicules you look.”
“Yeah, but I bet it’ll look great on you,” I said sarcastically and threw him a blanket and some string.
“You can’t be serious,” he frowned at the blanket.
“Try me,” I smiled and went to give everyone else their new “coats”.
Once everyone was outfitted in the latest futuristic jackets I returned to the wagon. I filled the backpack with food and water, then set it to the side. I took another bag and cut two holes in it. I threaded rope through the holes to make a strap. This bag held the medicine supplies and the other items. There was one more bag that was made like a backpack. I put the tarp and our old cloths in that one. We had one bag left. This one was in the shape of a cylinder. I took out some of the food and put it in that bag instead.
“OK, we are ready to go,” I announced.
I had to laugh at the way Jeremy was glaring at me in his new “coat”.
“Done ripping holes in all our stuff,” he said flatly.
“Yep,” I replied cheerfully. I dumped a backpack next to him and gave the other to Leah. I handed the bag with the rope strap to Tom and I got the cylinder-ish thing.
“What do we do with the wagon?,” Jeremy walked over to it.
“Just leave it, I guess,” I shrugged.
“We should at least move it off the path,” he started pushing it in between two trees.
“OK,” I helped him get it off the path. It felt weird, leaving it behind. After walking for a while I realized that carrying the bag wasn’t much better. The backpacks and the one with the strap were lighter, but mine was hard to carry. I ended up putting it over my shoulder and holding it there.
Two days later it snowed. It was early afternoon when it started. The first flakes were large, fluffy ones.
“Oh my gosh,” I said out loud as one landed on my arm.
“It’s snowing!,” April yelled. She stuck out her tongue and spread her arms wide. Soon they came down faster, all around us. It was beautiful. Leah smiled wide and held out her hands. By the time we stopped for the night the ground was covered in a thin layer of white.
We cleared a spot of snow and put our tarp up. When we woke up it had stopped snowing. There was only a couple of inches, but April and Jack were ecstatic. They made snow angels and Tom made a mini snowman. He poked holes for the face and put two sticks in the sides. It was perfect for that. The snow was hard when you packed it together. Jeremy scooped up a snowball and threw it at me. I shrieked and ducked. It sailed over my head to hit Leah hard in the face. She screamed and fell backwards. She turned around and put her head in her hands. She sounded like she was crying.
I shot a glare at Jeremy who had gone pale and I started walking over to her. Jeremy ran up behind me. I put my hand on her shoulder. “Are you OK,” I asked.
He walked up in front of us and started to kneel next to Leah, “Hey are you alright, sorry I-.” Then his head jerked up and to the side. He fell onto his back, his arms splayed to the sides. Snow was sprayed all over his forehead. The look on his face was perfect. Utter confusion as he contemplated what had just happened.
Leah burst out laughing, “You completely fell for it, you should see the look on you face!”
I leaned over him and barely managed to stifle my own laughter, “Really Jeremy, you should have seen that coming.” She had done the same thing a few years ago to him, throwing a snowball right in his face once he got close enough.
He started to get back up, “I’ll get you for that, Leah!”
She squealed and ran off. He grabbed another snowball and chased after her.
After another two days, it snowed again. The good news was that Leah felt better and Jeremy’s arm seemed to be healing, finally. The bad news was that this time, the snow pelted down furiously.
We ended up stopping around the middle of the day. We found a spot where a few trees grew close together, forming a wall almost.
“Get the tarp!,” I yelled above the wind.
Jeremy retrieved it from one of the bags and helped me set it up around us. The trees grew close together, so we used them. The end result was a small, semi-circle shelter. The tarp was the rounded wall and the roof. The trees were the other wall. The wind whipped all around us. We cleared out the snow and huddled against the trees.
“Sarah, I’m cold,” April whined.
“Do you think we could make a fire?” I asked Jeremy.
He glanced outside, “There’s no way we can with that wind.” He shook his head worriedly. We ate and fell asleep.
I woke in a panic. Something was on top of me, smothering me. I thrashed wildly and tried to stand up. The thing pushed down on me, driving me to the ground. It was suffocating me. I tried to stand up, but it forced me back onto the ground.
I screamed and cried out, “Jeremy! Leah, Tom! Help!”
The thing lifted off me and a howl filled my ears. Snow whipped around in the night. The “thing” was just the tarp, heavy with snow. The others were standing around, trying to shield themselves from it. I helped Jeremy put the tarp back up and we went back inside.
“When do you think it’ll stop?,” I asked Jeremy.
“Hopefully soon, there’s already a foot of snow out there,” he answered.
“There’s not that much,” Leah said.
“Pretty close,” Tom grumbled.
“Too much more and we might not be able to walk through it,” Jeremy said anxiously.
“Maybe we could make an igloo!,” Leah’s face lit up.
“If we have enough snow to make an igloo, then we’re really in trouble,” Jeremy continued.
“You don’t need a lot of snow to make an igloo, we could make one now,” Leah argued.
“Well, if you want to go out in that,” he pointed outside, “Then go ahead.” Leah pouted and went back to sweeping out the snow that got blown under the tarp.
It stopped snowing the next day. Our food supply was dangerously low. We had enough for about another three days. It was going to take us about ten days to get there. We had traveled for nine. But since we had been going slower and now with the snow… well, let’s just say we were cutting it close.
“This is gonna be interesting,” Jeremy said.
“Interesting is not a word I would use,” I said while packing the tarp back up. “Difficult, exhausting, impossible, hopeless, those are all words I would use,” I lifted the cylinder-bag up, over my shoulder and handed Jeremy a backpack, “But not interesting.”
“Think of the great story we’ll be able to tell afterwards,” Jeremy slung the backpack over his shoulder.
I laughed, “Yeah, because people are really going to believe that story. Hey, mom and dad, guess what. You know how we went to the school, well we also got sucked into a vortex and were sent to the future. Oh, and by the way, we got stuck in a blizzard while we were there.”
“I never said anyone would believe it,” Jeremy handed the other backpack to Tom.
We trudged through the snow. The wind had blown it so that in some places it was up to our knees and others there was only a light covering. We were moving way to slowly. We had to stop a lot because of April and Jack.
After two more days of getting nowhere, I was starting to worry. The food was almost gone. It was late that night and I was lying awake. Jeremy turned next to me.
“Jeremy,” I whispered.
“Whaaatt?,” he said groggily.
“What if we missed the town,” I said with a hint of panic in my voice.
He sat up next to me, fully awake now, “We’ll have to find a town soon, if it’s not the one we’re looking for then we’ll find out where it is.”
I shook my head, “Xantha said we had to get there within three months or something, we don’t have enough time to do that.”
“Then we’ll just have to hope we’re on the right path,” he laid back down and turned over.
It was the next day. We would be stopping for lunch soon, a lunch we didn’t have.
“Do you see that?,” Jeremy said.
“See what?,” I said.
“That,” he pointed to the sky.
I squinted at the pale blue sky above the trees. “Oh my gosh,” I gasped, “Is that…”
“Smoke,” he smiled.
“We’re almost there!,” I said in amazement.
“We’re almost there?,” Tom echoed.
“Yes,” I said.
Tom and Leah exchanged excited looks. Please, I prayed, please, please, please, be the right village. We kept walking, with new energy. Almost there. Then suddenly, like an oasis in a desert, the village unfolded before us.
The path opened up and led to a huge city. The houses were made of stone and wood, and some of them were carved right into the mountainside. Most of the people here had lighter skin and brown hair. We made our way to the city’s outskirts, almost like we were in a trance. It was hard to take it all in. They spoke English and glanced curiously at us. We must be a sight to see, I thought as I glanced down at our “coats”. We wandered farther in, to the center of town.
“What’s that?,” April pointed to a large building.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Can we go inside there?” she asked.
“Sure,” I answered. Why not?
I took her hand and we walked into the building. It looked kind of like a church from the inside. There were rows of benches and a stage on the far end. The building had two floors.
I spotted a man wearing a long robe. He held himself high and strode toward us with an air of dignity. He looked to be in his fifties and had a long grayish beard.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot permit you to enter in your condition,” he said with distaste.
“Excuse me, but who are you?” I said irritably. I did not come all this way to be chastised about my appearance.
The man looked taken aback, “I, I am Fallador, and may I ask who you might be?” He looked over us carefully.
“I,” I said pointing toward myself, “Am Sarah and this is my sister Leah, my cousins Jeremy and Tom and our… extended family, April and Jack.”
“Wonderful, now if you would please just step out…,” he gestured towards the door.
“Actually,” I said , “I was wondering if you could give us some help.”
“With what?,” he said disgustedly.
“We’re actually looking for someone…”
“And who is this most fortunate person.”
“A man named Terreako.”
“WHAT? He wishes to see you,” he looked like he was about to have a heart attack.
“Well, not exactly, we were told to meet him here by someone else,” I explained.
“I do not believe you,” he said simply, “there is in no form that he would see you anyways, now please leave before I call authorities.” He gestured towards the door again.
I hesitated, not knowing what to do. Before I could say anything else Jeremy stepped in, “Oh, could you, I bet that they’ll be much more helpful than you have been.” He faked a disgusted look.
“Excuse me,” he looked at us distrustfully.
“I’ll be sure to tell Terreako that you were the one to delay our visit though,” he continued, turning around.
“What are you talking about?” he looked nervous now.
“Don’t worry, we will get assistance elsewhere, from someone better than youself,” Jeremy started to walk out.
“Wait,” he scrambled to catch up with us. Jeremy hid a grin as he turned around again.
“I’m sure he won’t be mad that you delayed us… much,” he said.
“Well, if he’s really waiting for you…,” he hesitated.
“I’m sure someone else could direct us to him,” Jeremy turned one last time.
He took the bait. “No, no, I will show you, follow me,” he said quickly. We all had to stifle our laughter.
We followed him up a windy road, higher, out of the city. We stopped at an enormous house overlooking the forest below. The man knocked politely at the door. We heard footsteps before the door swung wide open.
“Yes?,” a man stood in the doorway. He had long, curly brown hair and he spoke quickly in a booming voice.
“Greetings Terreako, these children say they were sent to see you,” Fallador said respectively.
“Why heeelllooo Fallador, what a nice surprise, you know you should visit more often, come in, come in, would you like something to drink, water, tea?,” He whisked everyone inside and brought out a tray of drinks before Fallador could respond.
“Yes well, Terreako, I was only bringing these visitors to see you, I really must be leaving now,” Fallador said hastily.
“You must stay at least a little while,” Terreako insisted.
“Actually, I’m late for a meeting, really I must go,” Fallador continued.
“Well, next time then, right,” Terreako called as Fallador made for the door.
“Umm, sure see you then,” he shut the door with a bang.
“And who would you be to request my presence,” he gestured lavishly to himself.
“Umm, Xantha sent us,” I said uncertainly.
“Xantha, why yes, I remember her, such a nice lady, yes, yes,” he said quickly. “You must be famished, wait just a moment, here, take a seat.” He pointed into a room with a large stone fireplace and three benches around it. He walked down a hallway and entered one of the rooms. We walked in and sat down on the benches.
“I don’t like him,” Leah said.
“Me neither,” Jack said.
“Is he getting food?” Tom’s face lit up.
“Can I have some of the water?” April asked.
“Sure,” I answered.
Terreako came back in, carrying another tray with food on it. My mouth watered at the sight. There was some part of me that agreed with Leah and Jack though. There was something wrong with him.
“There, we go,” he placed the tray on the table. “I believe you have heard of me, but I have not of you,” he said.
“Uhh… I’m Sarah, this is my sister Leah, my cousins Jeremy, Tom and April and Jack,” I pointed to each of us.
“Ahh… strange names, and why did Xantha send you to me,” he continued.
“Well, umm, we sort of… uhhh,” I struggled to explain it, “we sort of-.”
“Got sucked into a vortex, magically appeared in the middle of a forest, which is apparently in the future, met a woman who tells us you have a time machine to send us back, and trekked across a valley, through the woods and up a mountain ,” Jeremy said in one breath. Yep, that pretty much summed it up.
“You’re from the past, you actually used the Time Machine?” he stared at us in wonder.
“Well, it wasn’t exactly voluntary,” I said.
He gripped his head between his hands and started pacing franticly. “Hah! I told them the thing still works!” he yelled in excitement.
“This is amazing,” he continued, “Standing in front of me are children from the past! Tell me, what is the past like, I know they were much more advanced than us, but just how much. Oh, the things you must tell me, oh I need to get something to write with,” he dashed off and returned with some thick paper and a small cylinder with a point on one end. He started writing furiously with it.
“Oh, where to start,” he looked at us expectantly.
“Uhh, so you do have a time machine?” I asked uncertainly.
“Oh, that, why yes of coarse, so why don’t you tell me about how your time lives, in general,” he continued to look at us in awe.
“Well, than can we see it,” I asked, ignoring the question.
He looked disappointed, “Well, yes, I suppose you can, but you must tell me all about your lives…” He walked outside and we followed. We had to hurry to keep up with his long strides.
We walked up a short path to a small stone building. I guess I was kind of expecting a huge, high-tech science lab or something like you see in movies as he opened the door. The reality though, was that it looked just like any other room. The only exception being it had a small metal cube with a screen on top that was rusted and falling apart.
“This is it,” he said putting one hand on top and smiling widely.
“That’s it,” I stared at it in horror. The rusting metal wasn’t exactly reassuring.
“Can you send us back?” Jeremy asked abruptly.
His smile deflated, “Why would you want that, I have an opportunity to learn so much from you.”
“Can you?” he persisted.
“Well, theoretically, yes…,” a hesitant look crossed his face.
“What you mean?” I asked.
“Well, the last time, it was many years ago, I was a mere child then, the two men, well…. They didn’t make it, they had been gone too long. And you, being children, will have grown since you left, changing your physical form to much.”
Panic trickled into the mix of irritation and anger towards Terreako. “Well, we could try right,” I said, I could here the panic in my own voice.
“Well, it doesn’t work like that exactly…, besides wouldn’t you much rather tell me all about your world,” his eyes became hopeful.
“What do you mean it doesn’t work like that?,” I said.
“Well, the last two men, came back after they went in, they were cut up and dead,” he said.
My heart stopped.
“It was such a shame too, they could have taught us so much, being selfish really, insisting on going back,” he continued. My heart rate skyrocketed.
“How long were they here?” my mouth had gone dry.
“They said about six months if I do recall correctly,” he said. “You see, it would be much better if you stay, you would be well taken care for I assure you.”
“We were only here three months, a little less,” a spark of hope remained.
His features deflated again, “Yes well, even so, I would benefit so much if you would stay, oh and not just me I would of course share my knowledge.”
“Come on,” I said to everyone as we headed towards the door.
“So you will stay,” he sounded delighted.
“No, we’re going to get changed, I’m not going back, looking like this.”
I fingered the purple shirt I had been wearing that day, the first day. It felt so weird to be back in my old clothes. April had been delighted to put on her pink dress and sneakers again. We had gone back to the house to get dressed. Now we walked back to the shed where the machine was.
As we entered again, Terreako stared at us in astonishment before scribbling something else down. I walked up to him and said, “OK, we’re ready to go back.”
“So soon,” he whined.
“Yes, right now,” I gritted my teeth and swallowed an angry reply.
“You could at least stay for a few days,” he continued.
That’s when I snapped.
I stepped close to him, so our faces were inches apart, “Look buddy, we’ve spent the last three months hiking through the woods in order to get here, just so we could go back. We were attacked by wolves, we ran out of water, some guy tried to steal our food, Jeremy got shot by an arrow, and Leaf…,” my voice caught, “We are going back right now!”
I took a step back and let out a breath. He sulked and walked over to the machine, “Fine, if you really must.” He pressed a couple buttons and watched the screen.
“What do we do now?,” I asked.
“Now we wait for it to generate a vortex,” he sat back down in a chair.
“Then what?” Jeremy asked.
“Then you step into it,” he replied.
“That’s it?” I said in astonishment.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then we just appear back in our time?” I asked, making sure.
“Theoretically, you will return in the same condition as you were when you left, in the same exact spot,” he said.
“What do you mean theoretically?” Jeremy asked.
“Well sir, you will probably not make it,” he replied snidely.
Everyone looked at Jeremy in shock. His face went pale, “What are you talking about?”
Terreako stood up and walked over to Jeremy. He grabbed Jeremy’s arm and pointed to the thick bandage near his elbow, “You’re badly injured, which I’m assuming you were not when you left. Because you must return in the same form physically that you were in when you left, it won’t work. In the vortex any small cuts or bruises you may of attained during your travels here will heal. This is too deep though,” he tapped his arm and Jeremy flinched away, “In the process of returning, the vortex will ultimately kill you trying to heal your injuries. The speed at which the vortex will try to heal you will overwhelm your body and shut it down.”
My heart rate soared and panic overwhelmed me. “You said probably,” Jeremy clenched and unclenched his fists, “Do you know for sure?”
“Well, no, there’s a chance you could make it back, but it’s a slim one.”
“Then I’m going.”
“Did you not just hear what I said!,” Terreako cried, “You will die.”
“I might die,” he countered.
“That’s insane, I assure you, you will be perfectly happy here with me,” Terreako said.
My mind shut down, I just watched the conversation play out.
“I’m not staying here.”
“My gosh, you really have lost your mind!”
“Rant all you want, I didn’t come here just to stay and be your little science project.” A stubborn glint entered his eyes.
“But we could learn so much!”
“The vortex!,” I shouted. It was forming the same way. It was in the middle of the room, the size of a bottle cap. It spit out sparks and was green and blue.
I took April’s and Jack’s hands and stood in front of the vortex. Leah and Tom stood across from us. Jeremy ran up beside me. It was really happening, we were going back.
“What are you doing!,” Terreako yelled. “You’ll die!”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Jeremy shouted.
The vortex expanded to the size of a bracelet.
Terreako grabbed Jeremy’s shoulders and attempted to pull him back.
“You’re making a mistake!”
“Let me go,” they struggled for a moment.
The size of a plate.
“You won’t make it anyway!”
“You don’t know that!,” Jeremy screamed.
It grew again.
“It’s going to expand again, the last time,” I yelled.
Jeremy broke free and punched Terreako as he tried to pull him back again. Terreako stumbled backwards.
“I’ve wanted to do that since we got here,” Jeremy said while smiling widely. But he was still too far away.
The vortex expanded.
Right as Jeremy jumped next to me.
And then we fell.
The trip was different this time. It was still dark with crackles of electricity and the changing temperatures. I still felt like I couldn’t move and I could sense the presence of the others. The difference was that this time it hurt. My arm, where I had gotten bit, was on fire. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out. My head exploded with pain and I felt like some one was crushing me, trying to squeeze me back together. A million other cuts stung with pain. Then came the familiar feeling of lack of air. The pain was erased with the severe feeling in my lungs as the oxygen in them was used up. Then it all went black.
Then the blackness was gone. Like a million little dots fading away. It was replaced with the sunshine and the sounds of birds and people talking in the distance. We were standing up. In the same exact spots as we had been three months ago. April blinked and spun around.
“Mommy!,” she yelled. Jack and her raced up to their mother.
I took in the surroundings. The new playground, the soccer fields with the rusty goals, the parking lot with the one basketball hoop. “We’re back.” I said in disbelief. “We’re back.”
Tom and Leah stared at me in shock.
I looked around suddenly. “Jeremy,” I whispered, “No.”
Dread filled me.
He didn’t make it.
He wasn’t there.
He was dead.
Jeremy was dead.
“Oh, no, Jeremy,” I said again
“What,” a voice said behind me.
I spun and came face to face with a grinning Jeremy.
“But your arm…” I couldn’t believe he made it.
He held out his arm and pointed to a small, jagged scar, “Healed.”
A flood of emotions and images and feelings washed over me. But it didn’t matter, we were back. I let myself experience the pure joy that seems to come with getting back from a disastrous and unexpected adventure… for about three seconds.
Then a thought struck me. I watched April and Jack jump up and down as they told our amazing story.
They’ll think it was all a dream, or a game, they won’t remember, no one will believe them. What about Leah and Tom? Would they still remember five years from now? Ten? Twenty? Fifty years from now? Would they convince themselves it was all a dream too, would they think it was an interesting show they watched. No one would believe us if we told them. They would forget it eventually, even if it took a while.
I looked at Jeremy and thought, will we even remember? Will we forget too? Even if we don’t anytime soon, what about when we get older? The memories and experiences will fade.
Maybe it was better that way. Maybe it would be better to forget. Most of the memories were horrible, terrifying, gruesome. Who would want to remember that? The wolf attack. The cold yellow eyes. The saliva hanging from their mouths, the blood dripping off them. The man who tried to steal our stuff. Jeremy falling on the knife. The man’s hair matted with blood.
Swarms of images overwhelmed me.
April’s pale form as she slowly suffered from starvation and dehydration. Leah fainting and cutting her head on the rock. Jeremy’s eyes clouded with pain and the ragged wound on his arm where the arrow had torn through.
So many gruesome sights.
Fire everywhere. Blood spattered ground. The whipping wind and snow all around us. The intense pain of hunger. The blood dripping from Leah’s leg. The scratches on Jeremy’s back. The endless days of walking. Leaf’s blood soaked shirt. The crushing pain as he dived inside. The house collapsing. All of it.
And then there was Leaf. The opposite side of the deal.
His sea green eyes. The feel of his arm around my shoulder. The feeling of belonging and love. His earthy scent and his dirty blond hair in my hands. The way we kissed in the long flowing grass. Shooting the arrow. His sweet, gentle smile. Everything about him.
I didn’t want to lose that. I couldn’t forget that, could I? I had to remember all the pain and suffering in order to remember all the good things. I couldn’t block it out without blocking out Leaf too. But would it be enough? Would it be enough to want to remember? I could write it down, but that wouldn’t make me really remember it. I wouldn’t have the memories to call up, only a book to read. It’s the memories that make it real. Reading about it can’t substitute for the real thing. I’d think it was made up, fiction, something I wrote as a kid. Or even if I did know it wasn’t made up… you can only describe things so well.
I spun around and breathed in deeply. Then I looked down at my arm. It had still been pretty bad when we came back, a half-healed gouge right below my shoulder. The bandage was gone along with the wound.
Then I smiled as I realized I would never forget. I wouldn’t be able to, even if I wanted to. It was impossible. Because there, on my arm, where the wound had been was a small, pale scar.
That formed the shape – of a leaf.