Moving Fun and Sprained Feet: Happy October!

I’m thinking about doing weekly updates every Monday, just so I can get in the habit of blogging more regularly. Thoughts?

This past week I moved to a new place and had tons of work related issues going on. Hence, an abscence from reviews. I’ll be putting up two this week to make up for it.

The moving aspect of things was pretty fantastic, simply because I was more active than I’d been in two weeks. I sprained my foot in the middle of September, which meant that all the physical activities I love, from climbing to running, were out of the question. I could bike sometimes, but the weather didn’t always cooperate.

The good news is: my foot’s healed! Climbing awaits once again!

Despite the craziness, I still found time to write! I’m polishing a short exercise I did last week, so keeep an eye out for that in the next few days (it’s less than 300 words, I promise it’s a fast read!).

Prep for NaNoWriMo is in full swing. I’ll go into more details in a couple weeks, but I’ll be doing everything I can to keep myself accountable during November to finish this time around. All I have so far is the setting, a couple characters, and a title: Uncommon Eyes.

That’s all I’ve got for now. My life’s fairly quiet at the moment, which I’m perfectly content with.

 

Felix, Part 3: The Witch’s Brew

Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else. 

I shut the front door, taking care not to let it creak. I sniff, coughing. “God, it smells awful. I mean, worse than usual.” Even though our borough has always been called the Floral District, no amount of flowers can mask the rotten stench of the land. The philosophers of the Baress School claim that it’s something to do with the soil, but most people say it’s the witches curse from their banishment hundreds of years ago.

Filion pulls his hood up and wraps his cloak around him, shivering. He tugs on my cloak and starts down the cobbled street. I follow at his side, pulling my hood up. Only a few street lanterns are lit, hanging off the second stories of the houses. It’s perfect for sneaking around, but I struggle to see anything on this moonless night, stumbling every few feet.

The maiden with the sword shines brighter than ever in the sky. Ever since I first glimpsed the stars, she has watched over me. I glance up at her as we stop at a corner, wondering what she would do about the girl with the burning hands.

Bright lights illuminate the next corner. The Witches Brew, they call it. Everything in this city is named after the witches, to some extent. Even the city’s name, Haven, comes from the safety witches once felt here before people threw them from their homes and exiled them to the fields outside the city limits. Only a few witches live within sight of the city walls; the rest have vanished. Their legacy lives on, though. Anytime something mysterious happens, the witches receive the brunt of the blame until a better explanation surfaces.

Filion and I dash to the alley behind the inn. The doorman at the Witches Brew slumps against the wall, belching. I whisper to Filion, “How do we figure out where they are? Maybe if we drag the drunk at the door into the alley-”

Filion clamps a hand over my mouth. “Do you hear that?” I shake my head. Then I hear footsteps. Two figures in black cloaks materialize under a lantern. As their cloaks billow, I see a glint of metal at their hips. We crouch down as they walk past us. I see their faces as they walk past – a man and a woman with stern features. The woman and I make eye contact, and she tosses a coin my way. I catch it, and she puts a finger to her lips. Filion and I share a look. Does she think we’re homeless? Is she bribing us?

The man grabs a purse from his belt and places it in the doorman’s hand. “We were never here, understand?” His voice is smooth and warm. The doorman grunts and nods. The man pats him on the shoulder, and he and the woman enter the inn.

Filion stands up. “Stay here.” He walks up to the doorman, whispering to him. I feel the cold coin between my fingers, watching them talk. Who are these people in black, tossing money around like it’s no big deal? What do they want with the girl?

Filion comes back, saying, “I know where the woman is.” He points up to the second window three stories up.

“Did he mention the girl?” I ask. Filion nods, walking into the alley. He looks around, feeling the walls.

“Up this way, we’ll get to the roof.” He digs into the bricks and starts climbing. I shiver, watching him scramble up the wall like a spider. In minutes he’s on the roof, beckoning me up. I take a deep breath. If he can do it, so can I.

I reach up as high as I can and grab on, then thrust myself up with my feet. I dig into the wall with my boots, reaching the window on the second floor. I look up to the ledge, searching for a good handhold. They’re all out of my grasp. I glance at Fil, who’s pointing to my right. A rusty pipe leads all the way up the side of the building, and it’s within arm’s reach. I grab it and start climbing slowly, step by step. The pipe rattles with every movement, but before long I’m climbing over the berm of the building. I scurry to Filion, who sits across from the window. I crouch next to him, wondering how we’ll get down, but all thoughts vanish when I look through the window.

A young girl with light brown hair sits in a chair, gently kicking her legs and talking. She gestures with gloved hands. A figure in brown pants sits on the bed, writing in a notebook. Her face is obscured by shadows from the candle in the window, but from the way her clothes fit I can tell it’s a woman. She nods, never lifting her head. “Is that the girl you saw earlier, Fil?” I ask.

Fil nods. “I think so. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the girl, though.”

I glance at him. “Why not?” I turn my attention to the inn. The woman in the shadows sets her notebook down and leans forward. I gasp as she tucks her white hair behind her ear. She has shimmering green eyes and long fingers. She’s definitely young with no wrinkles on her face. “That’s her, isn’t it?”

Filion nods. “Oh, yeah.” He’s wearing this goofy grin on his face, and I wonder if he’s hypnotized. She hasn’t looked our way, so she can’t have hypnotized him like she did to Mom. The woman talks to the girl, who stops kicking her legs and grows serious.

I watch them with baited breath. “Fil, did she just hypnotize the girl?”

“What?” Fil hasn’t even turned my way. He’s still staring at the woman, who’s crouched down next to the fireplace.

“The girl, she stopped moving after the woman spoke to her.”

“Huh.”

“You’re not even listening to me, are you? She…” I forget what I’m about to say. The girl is staring right at me. I can see a spark behind her yellow eyes. “Fil, she sees us.”

“Okay.” Filion’s voice is vacant, but then he says, “Wait, what?”

“We’re looking at each other.” I barely move my mouth, paralyzed with fear. Filion pushes me down below the ledge, and I bang my head. “Ow! What was that for?”

Filion shushes me, peeking over the ledge. “She’s still looking our way,” he says, “but I’m not sure – hang on.” The air smells slightly of something rotten, as usual, but is otherwise still. I can hear muted voices from across the alley. “Felix, you’ve gotta see this.”

I lift my head up just enough to see over the ledge. The woman in white stands in front of the girl, arms outstretched as if protecting her. Two figures shift just outside of the candlelight.  I make out the outline and faint glint of a sword in the shadows, then one of the figures leaps towards the woman. I think she ducks out of the way, but in the low light all I can see is people spinning and striking. The only person I notice the whole time is the little girl. Her eyes dart around the room and out the window, and the longer the fight goes on the heavier she breathes. She fidgets with her gloves, ducking from an arm clad in black. A trail of blood spatters across the window, leaving a sinister streak. Filion gasps beside me. “Felix, let’s go!” He grabs my arm and drags me across the roof. A roar and a wave of heat rush past us, and Filion lets go of me. I fall flat on my back as another fireball barely misses my face. I dash to the ledge near the inn and crouch behind it. “Felix!” Filion shouts. His brown eyes are wide with panic, and he rushes to me. “We have to get out of here, now!”

“But what about the fire?” I ask, breathing heavily. I look back to the inn. The window has two shattered holes in it. There’s no sign of the mysterious assailants, only the girl and the woman. Flames from the bed illuminate the room with a flickering light. The girl puts her gloves on, sobbing. The woman closes the door and dumps water from a pitcher on the bed. She goes to the girl and wraps her arms around her, whispering into her ear. Her muffled sobs echo across the alley, and tears well up in my eyes. “Fil, what just happened?” I ask.

The woman snaps her head, and we make eye contact. Her eyes soften a bit. I try to move, but my body won’t respond. The world goes white, and my stomach lurches. The rushing of wind fills my ears. Voices tumble over each other in an indiscernible cacophony. I’m falling and falling until-

I land on hard earth, stumbling. Wind continues to whip around me, sending a chill down my spine. I wrap my cloak as tightly as I can, shielding my eyes. The sun reflects harshly off the snow, but I can still make out a narrow path that drops off to the left. I brace against the rock wall, heart pounding as I scan for any recognizable landmark. Hundreds of feet below lies a forest, the bone-white bark of the trees almost indiscernible from the snow. At least, I think they’re trees. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They go on as far as the eye can see.

“Hey!” someone shouts. A stranger waves at me from down the trail, beckoning me. I walk towards her, wrapping my cloak tighter. The wind bites at my nose and fingers, and I keep one hand on the wall for my own sake. I look ahead or to the wall, focusing on each step.

The stranger turns sharply to the right, and I follow. The wind dies down here, and I collapse with trembling knees. “Look,” the stranger says in a woman’s voice, “your answers are down there.” I follow her hand the way she’s pointing. The mountains open up on a basin filled with evergreens and streams. A village lays nestled at the base of the mountains, smoke rising from chimneys. The woman puts a hand on my shoulder. “They can teach you to protect the world. Find them.”

“Who are you? Where is this place?” The wind picks up, and I shut my eyes. The woman takes her hand off my shoulder. “How do I find you?” The earth vanishes beneath my feet, and the voices echo around me again. I open my eyes but see only white.

“Felix!” Filion’s deep voice cuts through the rest.

I gasp. The smell of Haven returns, and Filion’s hitting my chest. “I’m here, I’m fine,” I say, “What happened?”

“That woman turned to look at us, and you froze. I’ve never seen anything like it. She took the girl and left.” Filion grabs my face and looks at me, brown eyes full of concern. “Are you sure you’re okay? It’s like you weren’t here.” I gaze at the window across the alley. Sure enough, the room is empty. Apart from a few glowing embers and the broken window, there’s no sign of them. “Felix?”

I cough. “Yeah, I think I’m okay. Do you have any idea where they went?” I ask.

Filion shakes his head. “You’re shaking.” I look down. Sure enough, my knees are trembling. “Let’s go home, Felix. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I’m just glad we didn’t try to catch that girl. That would not have ended well.”

On the Ropes

The second story in my Out of Place Series. Enjoy!

“This is gonna hurt. I have to make sure the harness is secure, which means-”

“I get it.” I reply, bracing for the pain as I stand on the washed out trail. The overcast sky creates a dull backdrop behind the ponderosa pines.

Darren, the bear of a man who tied the rope around my legs, grabs the loop where I would later clip in and yanks up hard. I cough and let out a short “ow!” I had completely forgotten how much that hurt.”Oh, man…”

“Told you it would hurt.” Darren chuckles. “These things aren’t made to be comfortable. You alright?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“Great.” Darren hands me a locking carabiner with a rope tied in a figure-eight knot around it. “Go ahead and clip yourself in. You’ll anchor Robbie so if he falls your weight will stop him from swinging too far down.” I nod in compliance, clipping the carabiner to the loop Darren had just pullled and screw the locking mechanism tight.

“Tom, are we clipped in there?” Darren calls over his shoulder.

“Yep! He’s all set.” Tom replies. I glance over at my friend and coworker Robbie, who’s working with Tom, as he adjusts his white helmet. “Gary, we secure?”

Upslope Gary tugs on a rope fed through a contraption that’s supposed to stop the rope should we fall. “We’re good. Send them down.”

“Okay,” Darren says to me and Tom, “Step back, guys.”

I look to Robbie, who walks off what remained of the trail, never looking up lest his footing fail him. The rope between us goes taut, and I start back down the treacherous slope. I hold the rope, little faith in my footing. The soft, dry dirt shifts beneath my feet.

“Lean into it, Adam! It’ll take your weight!” Gary shouts to me. I try, but I feel myself falling and grab the rope even tighter. “Sit into it!” He shouts again. I obey, and the makeshift harness take my weight and press into my groin uncomfortably. The rope holding me into the tree vibrates as it goes taught.

As I adjust my harness to try and make it even a little more comfortable I look to Robbie, who’s talking to our team leader up the trail. The rest of our team waits several yards behind him. Two of them assemble the yellow, plastic litter to transport the patient; the rest stand on the trail, fiddling with their pack straps and exchanging anxious glances.

In front of me and Robbie our patient lies on his back, broken ankle braced, two team members supporting him on his left side so he doesn’t fall down the slope. The medic at his head has made it perfectly clear that if the patient’s ankle was moved even a little bit it would lead to serious complications. Two groups of hikers have been delayed for several hours on either side of the patient, and they’ve been getting restless. In the dying light of the setting sun, we don’t need to say anything to recognize the urgency of our situation.

“Okay,” Robbie says to me, “I’m gonna start handing you packs, just keep passing them to the other side.” He hands me a blue pack with poles and a tent strapped to the outside, and I grab it and hoist it up to Darren. This goes on for several minutes until one of the packs slips from Darren’s grasp. I don’t think; I leap to catch it, grabbing it with one hand and catching myself on the ground with the other. My heart races; my feet begin to slide out from under me, and I quickly scramble back upright.

“You okay?” Gary asks.

“Yep.” I say.

“You alright?” someone else asks.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Take this.” I say hurriedly, handing the pack off to an outstretched hand (I think it’s Darren’s). I adjust my harness again, grimacing.

“Adam, grab that shovel.” Robbie directs. “Start digging out footholds, we’re gonna send people across. Darren, sit there-” (he points to the trail near me) “-and act as a handhold so they don’t fall. Adam and I will spot them as they move across.” Darren hands me the small spade, and I attack the dirt across the slope in equal spaces apart. Before too long people are crouched down as they navigate the holds we’ve dug out for them so they can continue on their way. Fortunately no one slips like the pack did.

“Thank you guys!” One of the adults shouts back as he waves goodbye to us. I wave back, hoping they get to camp before dark.

“Adam, I need you to move up a little bit.” Our team leader commands. “You and Robbie are going to spot the rest of us on your side while we move the patient onto the litter.”

“Don’t let his leg move too much.” The medic reminds us. She looks down at the patient and says gently “We’re going to move you on to the litter now, this shouldn’t take long.” I scramble up the hill as more of the team sets themselves in the footholds we dug out. I put my hands up close to the backs of my teammates, fingers together. Different voices begin talking over one another.

“Get that vacu-splint!”

“Where’s the other blue strap?”

“Bring the litter over here, now!”

“They should cross over.”

“Can someone get me that pump?”

“Adam, can you get up here?” Amidst the confusion, I obey and get a hand on the patient.

“Alright, we’re ready to move him.” The team leader’s voice cuts through the rest, and the team falls silent.. “On three, roll him to his left and we’ll put the vacu-splint under him. One, two, three!” The people on the other side roll him over and shove the pad under him. When it’s completely under him, someone pumps the air out of the splint, conforming to the patient’s body and stabilizing him. “Good. On three, we’ll lift him and set him in the litter. Hand on. One, two, three!” The rest of them are lifting as I spot them. My friends and coworkers gingerly lower the patient into the litter.

“Adam, Robbie, unclip.” The team leader commands. “I need you to spot on your side so the people on the litter don’t fall. If you’re on the litter, secure the patient get your straps on. We’re going to lift the patient and start moving forward.”

Darren, Gary, and Tom begin to undo the rigging they had set up around the trees. As I unclip myself from my harness I massage my legs where the rope dug into my flesh.

I notice the ground in front of me was illuminated, but none of the surrounding earth was lit. I had turned on my headlamp at some point. Where did the time go? I look at my watch: nine-fifteen. I don’t remember how much trail we had to cover before the vehicle, but I remember hiking this trail years ago in the daylight. It keeps going up and doesn’t stop for what feels like forever. Massive rocks will create some serious obstacles.

At least I’m not clipped in to that harness anymore.