The Necklace

The rotors beat the air outside in a great whooshing drumbeat. Whirls of snow and icy air billow past the windows as I slide my boots into the straps on my snowboard. The pilot turns and nods at me through the cockpit door, giving a thumbs up. I pull my scarf and goggles over my face. Giddy, I slide open the outer doors and push myself from the helicopter. Falling blindly through the gales of snow, I brace myself, knowing the ground is coming up fast.

I land with a painful jolt, but the ground is steep, and I’m already moving. The din of the helicopter recedes as I speed down the mountain, which is bare for quite a while before sprouting a line of pine trees farther below. This is the only time I don’t mind the snow; here, where you can come as close as you can to flying without leaving the ground. The rushing of the wind sounds far away and muted through the scarf, and this high up, my ears are popped anyway.

The treeline is approaching rapidly, and the weathered pines behind it are mazelike and close together. But I knew what I signed up for when I booked the helicopter ride. I’m ready for this. Straightening slightly to catch more drag, I coast into the trees, swerving in long arcs to slow my descent. I know not to be misled by the sudden appearance of the trees; it’s still a long way down. I press a hand tightly against my coat and feel the sharp edge of my grandmother’s necklace. Good, it’s still there.

A low branch snaps off against my sleeve. I need to pay more attention. The woods are getting thicker. Weaving around a heap of toppled evergreens, I straighten my legs and stretch my back out in an effortless curve. I imagine I look something like a motorcycle racer rounding a bend, the way I’m hanging over the ground.

As I round the pile of fallen trees, I start to pull upright. Then something strikes the board so hard my toes go numb. The world reels around me as I tumble forward, head first, arms waving. I see a puff of snow rising off the hidden root I just stuck before I complete my revolution and my back hits the ground. A purple light flashes around the edges of my vision and black crop circles dance over my eyes. My sight clears in time for me to see the splash of white that shoots into the air all around me from hitting the ground. And in the center of the snowy wave, hung suspended in the air above me, is my grandmother’s necklace.

Then the world catches up, and I’m moving again, sliding through the woods down the mountainside as the necklace whistles through the air above. Momentum carries the necklace in the same direction as I’m moving. I dig my board into the snow, rising partway off the ground, and swipe at the necklace. I miss by a hairsbreadth and hit the ground again, now noticing the pine I’m undoubtedly going to connect with. I smash into the base of the trunk with a splintering crack, and the crop circles return, along with a pain like a migraine throughout my head. The impact sends me spinning diagonally through the trees and I strike another one, this time with my hip. My right side goes numb, and the jolt lifts me off the ground and propels me forward. In the periphery of my vision, I see a thread of silver cutting a thin line through the snow. It’s not far off, I can get to it.

I angle my legs to land board-first and ready myself to snatch the tumbling necklace as I speed past it. Just before I land back on the ground, a sizable pine bough seemingly stretches out from nowhere and catches me in the front of my ribcage. What breath I have left is knocked out of me. The bough splits in half and I move straight through it as I’m thrown down violently into the snow, my ribs bruised and my ears ringing. Gravity doesn’t care that I can’t see or hear or breath, and pulls me relentlessly down the mountain. I raise my head above the flurry of white and can still see the clear trail carved through the snow by grandma’s necklace. Raising my arms and legs off the ground, I cast my weight forward, aiming to intercept it.

Ten feet… five feet….

I stretch out as far as I can and seize the chain. Only now do I realize that I’ve barreled out of the trees and am heading straight for the edge of a precipice.

 

 

The Beginning of the Idea of a Quest

The sky was empty and the moon was full, shining beams of iridescent light onto the earth below. The rays struck the trees and set them dancing like quicksilver in the slight wind. The moonlight played upon the rolling fields with liquid brilliance, setting them ablaze with motion and subdued white fire, each blade of grass a little flame in the inferno. Other than the breeze and the chorus of the July crickets, the night was still and silent.

Then an explosion pierced the air and filled the night with screams.

Daisy had been asleep until that very moment. It was nothing like a restful sleep- she had been twitching back and forth all night to some subconscious tension which haunted her dreams. She attributed the restlessness to stress, and had no reason to suspect it was anything more; her husband Tom was sleeping fine.

Then the men came. They wore kerchiefs over their faces so that only their eyes were visible- gleaming with cold malice. They carried revolvers that whistled menacingly as they were waved through the air. They spoke no threats, no curses, nothing at all. They simply shattered the oaken door to the bedroom and poured through in an explosion of skittering fragments and tramping, spurred boots. The room was filled immediately with the heated odor of several bodies packed close together, accompanied by the subtle but sharp scent of human fear as Daisy and her husband were torn from the bed and locked in merciless arms.

Daisy cried out, hysteria coloring her voice, and scratched at her assailants, tearing their masks and bloodying their faces. Tom roared and tried to dislodge the men crammed around him, but there were so very many. Two or three men crashed backwards, but they were immediately replaced by others. The steel spine of a revolver whipped Tom across the jaw, spattering blood onto the wall, and he went limp. The assailants began to drag him from the room. Daisy renewed her fuss and kicked wildly into the air. A sharp slap dimmed her furor and momentarily stole her vision. She felt herself being lifted up and into the air, and then her attacker threw her across the room. She struck the bedroom window- an array of cracks shooting throughout the glass- then crumpled to the floor. She looked through wincing eyes to see the last of the assailants disappearing out the bedroom door holding one of Tom’s legs.

Fortunately, the cacophony had awoken the entire household; servants and masters alike found themselves in a rush of movement and noise as a mass of men poured through the old manor. Arming themselves, the residents pursued the assailants into the yard, where the men’s restless horses were tied to the fence.

Daisy struggled to her feet as the report of gunshots raged outside. A stray bullet whistled through the window, missing Daisy by inches. The already compromised pane collapsed on itself, loosing fragments of glass onto the wood floor with a sound like a thousand little icicles breaking at once. Daisy hurried out of the room, past the frightened people in the long, broad hallway, down the splintered mahogany staircase and out the bullet-riddled double doors of the manor.

When she saw the scene before her, she thought she was back in the war. A mess of turfed, bloodstained loam and writhing bodies covered the yard. The assailants lay dead or dying, their horses scattered around the yard or prancing fearfully in the distance. The manor’s residents appeared hammered, but not beaten, and one of them made his way to Daisy.

“Where’s Tom?” She demanded, her emotion making her drawl even thicker.

“He’s gone, miss.” The burly man replied. “We- I- it’s….” He started over. “One of those bandits, we missed ‘im. He had Tom.”

Daisy felt her knees weaken, but at the same time, she was elated that at least Tom was still alive; that was more than she had hoped upon seeing the carnage outside. All the same, she knew a posse would take ages to start the search for him.

Steeling herself, she snatched the man’s revolver from his grasp, darted to the nearest horse, leaped onto it, and drove her heels into its ribs. The animal rushed forward, leaped over the fence, and galloped down the road. The residents behind her called out, but she was gone. Daisy well knew her foolishness, but she wasn’t about to sit and weep when Tom was at the mercy of a kidnapper. Whatever the men’s reasons for taking him, Daisy was going to get him back.

 

 

Love, like Innocence

Through a gap in the treetops, a high patch of orange sky arched over the sleepy world below it. The leaves, set alight by the weathered sun, shone like little green lanterns. Their serrated edges rustled together at the suggestion of the slow, heavy air. The quick voices of finches chittered carelessly back and forth from the boles of the trees. The smell of old rain still clung to the tall grass under the trees. It felt like the earth itself was taking a breath.

The calm was shattered by a single, desperate footfall. A girl stumbled into the glade, her wide eyes searching to and fro, her hair in disarray. She turned and looked back where she came, trying to listen over her quiet panting. Somewhere in the woods, underbrush crunched and snapped. The girl’s breath caught, and she started running again, making entirely too much noise. She glanced over her shoulder as she ran, and she thought she saw him. She made a quick turn and shot through a dense clump of vines, aiming for a clearing that could be seen through the trees. She was a step or two from the clearing, and for a moment she thought she would make it. Then something hit her. She gasped and fell out of the trees and into a carpet of grass. Her pursuer landed over her, pinning her arms to the ground. Their eyes locked, and she stared intensely at him. He stared back, then, abruptly, he leaned in and kissed her.

A wry smile twisted across her lips. Cal. she thought. She gave him a playful knee, and he rolled to the side. “Caught you, Daisy.” he said in a tired drawl.

Daisy chuckled, pulled a strand of hair out of her eyes, and tossed a stick at him. “I let you.”

He pulled her over to him, and she took his hand. The lazy sun touched the horizon, igniting a razor-thin line of ground like a white-hot wire. One by one, the lanterns of the leaves went out. The palette of the sky grew muted, and stars started to glimmer. A purple non-light began to fill the nooks of the world. The finches yielded their chorus to the crickets and cicadas. Swarms of fireflies twinkled into existence, lighting the path back as if the woods were eager for the couple to be gone. But still they sat, content with each other’s company. Eventually, Cal stood, pulling Daisy to her feet. “I ought to get you home.” he said.

“You gettin’ tired of me?” she asked mockingly.

He smiled and said, “Can’t happen. It’s just I remember how your daddy reacted the last time I brought you home late.”

“‘I’ve to get Daisy back before her daddy tans my hide.'” she teased in his voice.

“Now quit, you.” Cal responded, giving Daisy a mock push.

She feigned outrage, then pulled the boy’s hat over his eyes and hit him lightly in the shoulder. Then together they left the woods, found and untied their tethered horses, and started the long ride home.