this girl. out of nowhere. she's in danger...he must save her. but at what cost?
I leaned back against the whorled bark of the tall swaying tree, closing my eyes and letting the sun warm my face. I rested my half-whittled branch against my knees and flipped closed my knife. I flexed my aching, calloused hands, feeling my dark russet skin move smoothly over bones and tendons, reveling in how strong they felt. I had been whittling all morning, and I had no idea what time it was now, but I was starving! I’d need to go home soon.
The thought spurred me into action, and I sat up, stretching and yawning, reflexively catching my knife when it rolled off my leg and wedging my whittling stick in between two branches in the tree. The stick was half done, the pale, smooth inside shining faintly, the dark bark peeling off in places, with the healthy green underside of the bark glistening brightly. I admired it for a moment, and then froze.
Loud, cheerful singing echoed through the woods, coming closer and closer as I crouched on the tree limb 50 feet off the ground, thinking furiously. Why was someone even here? This was my domain, MY home. There weren’t any occupied houses for miles around-the only one was my uncle’s old house, and he had moved long ago, tired of the isolation. No one came to these woods-they scared people. So who in the world was here? And WHY were they singing?
I flipped open my knife cautiously, staring into the sun-dappled woods and listening to the singing. The singer was definitely a girl, I could tell that, and she had a really good voice actually, throaty and full of feeling. Then, with a start and a surprised smile, I recognized the song.
My oh my, what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine headed my way!
Mister Bluebird on my shoulder,
It’s the truth,
Everything is satisfactual!
I knew that song. It was always playing on the oldies station on the radio, and I sang it all the time, especially when I was in a cheerful mood. But the question still remained-who was in my woods?
I began slinking down tree limbs, avoiding spots of sticky tree sap, holding my knife carefully. I knew no one would be able to see me; I hid too well in the shadowy recesses of the tree branches.
Abruptly, the throaty singing cut off, and was followed by a series of thumps, crashes, and a long stream of curses came from the rustling bushes on the other side of the clearing where my tree was located. A very tousled sandy blond head poked out of the bushes, and brilliant green eyes peered up, scouring the trees as if she could sense that I was there. I kept very still, breathing shallowly to lessen my movement. I watched the girl with wide eyes. She stared straight at me for a few more moments, but she obviously could not see me. After a minute of squinting, she shook her head, and turned her attention to her scraped knee, wincing as she pressed on it. Her hand came away red with blood, and she made an “ew” face and wiped it on the grass.
She stood unsteadily and brushed the leaves off her clothes, straightening her shirt and picking up a small book bag that I hadn’t noticed before. She looked around one more time, and headed for the tiny bubbling stream-not ten feet in front of me. I panicked silently, inching around the tree without moving a leaf. For unknown reasons, I didn’t want the girl to find me.
And then, as the girl stopped and stooped down at the edge of the stream, I slipped on a huge pool of tree sap.
And I fell.
For the first time in my entire life.
Leaves crackled and branches snapped off as I fell twenty feet. All I could see for those short seconds was a whirl of green and brown. A huge branch about ten feet from the ground loomed out at me, and before I knew what I was doing, I reached out a hand and grabbed onto the limb, clinging to it for dear life. I clambered onto the branch and leaned back, breathing hard.
A strange gasping sound eventually made its way through the blood rushing in my ears, and I looked down curiously. There sat the blond spiky haired girl, sitting on her rump in the stream, vivid green eyes wide and water dripping from the end of her freckled nose. She was breathing hard, mouth wide open in surprise as she stared and stared at me, crouched on a tree branch like an oversized monkey. I was frozen, staring too, stunned by my first fall out of the trees I’d been born and bred in (Not literally).
Finally, I moved. I stood up on the limb and jumped to the ground, absorbing the impact by rolling back on my heels. The girl blinked and unfroze. She raised one eyebrow (what the hell?!), and opened her mouth.
“Can you teach me how to do that?”
The boy’s eyebrows rose high up into his hairline, and his mouth popped open in a little “oh” expression.
“Teach you to do what?” He cocked his head reflexively staring at me with dark eyes. His glossy black hair, long down to his neck, flopped in his face, and he shook it away impatiently. I pointed at the tree he’d fallen from.
“Teach me how to be a monkey,” I said brightly, and grinned at him. He smiled ruefully back.
“I'm not much of a monkey. I fell out of the tree.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but I bet it doesn’t happen very often. And I think even monkeys fall sometimes.”
He smiled again and nodded. “Okay. Right now?”
I shook my head, glancing up at the sinking sun. “It’ll be dark soon. I have to go home.”
“Home? There are no houses nearby. I thought you were camping or something.” He gestured around the dense woods.
“No. Me and my family just moved in, an old house by that wide, shallow stream.”
He looked surprised.
“Hey, that’s my uncle’s house. You live only like a half mile away from me. He sounded mildly pleased.
I blinked at him, smiling slowly. “So?”
The boy shrugged. “So nothing. It’s just interesting. I don’t know very many kids my own age. And in fact,” he turned to me, “I don’t even know who you are. What’s your name, spiky hair girl?”
I crossed my arms huffily, annoyed by the “spiky hair girl” comment. How rude. “My name is Jaimi. What’s yours, Indian dude?” I wrinkled my nose at him.
But just as the boy opened his mouth, looking irritated, a high keening sound issued from the trees surrounding us. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, blaring, high, painful, and so loud I could feel my eardrums tremble with the force of it. I clapped my hands over my ears, dropping to the ground and curling up in a ball as my head pounded and strange colors passed in front of my eyes. I saw a shadow walking towards me, reaching for me with long fingers. I shrunk back…lashed out with a foot and felt it connect with something hard but crunchy. I tried to stand but my vision was still messed up from the high frequency, the colors still swimming. I reached out a hand blindly, but just then something hit me hard over the head, and I blacked out.
Out for the count.
No. Nononononono. This could NOT be happening. I looked around frantically.
One of the creatures was reaching for Jaimi, who had clearly not functioning well with the creature‘s calls. Good thing I was immune. She hit it a few times but her blows had absolutely no effect on it, and I saw it whack her on the head. She dropped to the ground.
I quickly shot a burst of blue fire at it from my fingers, slicing straight through its heart. It fell to the ground, writhing before it fell still as its acid green blood soaked into the soil. I wanted to retch. This was disgusting. Sure I had been trained for this, but this was the first time I had killed any, or seen this many at once. The black, human-like creatures were jumping around the clearing, slicing and clawing at one another. Clearly, this was a fight between them. They’d simply stumbled upon me and Jaimi. That was all.
Which meant I needed to get us out of here as soon as possible. Without stopping to think, I darted toward Jaimi, trying to ignore the blood squelching under my toes. Ugh. What a time to not be wearing shoes. I scooped Jaimi up in my arms and started running, assessing her weight as I did. I might be able to carry her back to my house, but she was pretty heavy. We would see.
I pumped my legs, darting around trees and bushes, and ducking under branches and hanging vines. I could hear a few of the creatures start to chase us, but I kept running and they soon lost interest.