The Guardian

My latest WIP is a Young Adult fantasy novel. It is still in the draft stage, but I would like to share my very raw first chapter with you.  Feedback welcome.

The Guardian. Copyright by L.M. Nelson, 2017. I own all rights.

tree druid

Chapter 1

Reaching across the back seat, Camryn Hunter attempted to retrieve her cellphone by prying it out of her brother’s hand. “If it’s not yours then don’t touch it!” she scolded him.

Toby held it behind his back. “If you want it, come and get it.”

“Give it back!” she insisted, smacking her brother in the arm.

The nighttime sky was pitch black. The headlights from the old car shone dimly down the backcountry mountain road while the windshield wipers slapped the torrential rainwaters away. There were no street lamps, no houses, and no other cars in sight; even the moon seemed to be hiding tonight. Their father turned away from the road to reprimand his children. “Would you two stop arguing, please? Toby, get your own phone and give Camryn’s back to her.”

“The battery’s dead on mine.”

Camryn’s mother released a blood curdling scream. Quick to react, her father turned his eyes back to the road just in time to see a large shadow of a creature blocking their way. He slammed on the brakes, causing the tires to squeal and the car to spin out of control. Camryn echoed her mother’s screams as the car began to roll, crashing into the blacktop with each turn. Her arm smash against the side of the door, and projectile objects hit her in the face. The twirling, spinning motion of the car made her dizzy. Then, with a sudden jolt, the car fell silent.

Camryn moaned, feeling disoriented, as her body hung limp. Still strapped into her seatbelt, something warm and wet dripped down her face. She reached to wipe it off, and her hand turned crimson red. She checked for gashes and bumps, but found nothing. Her younger brother was strapped in next to her. “Toby?” she called to him, hoping he was alive.

Toby groaned and wiggled his hand.

“Are you ok? Are you hurt?” Somehow Toby’s arm had become entangled in her hair. Blood dripped from his elbow onto her face. That’s when she realized the blood she had felt earlier wasn’t hers, it was Toby’s. “You’re bleeding,” she said to him.

“My elbow hurts.”

She quickly scanned the vehicle. Her mother was hunched over the dashboard, her forehead flush against the cracked windshield. “Mom?” Camryn called out, hoping to get a response from the lifeless body. “Mom?”

When her mother didn’t answer, she fumbled around for her seatbelt and set herself free, falling to the ceiling with a thud. Once she regained her stability, she crawled over to her mother and pulled her body back against the seat. Hoping to find signs of life, she felt for a pulse. Not even the faintest thump was felt.

Not wanting to look, she turned to her father, whose lifeless body hung halfway out the broken driver’s side window, and his arm was twisted into the steering wheel like a pretzel. Struggling to breathe, Camryn held her face in her hands and sobbed.

From the back seat, her brother asked, “What’s that smell?”

Camryn took a whiff. Gasoline. Panic-stricken, she climbed to him and helped release his seatbelt. “Toby, we need to get out of here. Now!” She supported his injured arm as best she could and drug him out the back window, which had been completely shattered.

Toby’s arm hit the door frame. “Ouch, Camryn! That hurts!” he wailed.

“Help me. Push with your legs.”

With his help, she directed him out the window. Once on solid ground, she supported her brother’s limping body and led him away from the car. The rain poured onto them, and their clothes were soaked. She could still smell gasoline. But because it was so dark outside, she really couldn’t see what kind of condition the car was in or even navigate where they were.

“Are Mom and Dad ok?” Toby asked.

Camryn looked around, trying to figure out where they were. Pitch blackness. She couldn’t see a thing.

“Camryn!” Toby yelled trying to get her attention. “Are Mom and Dad…”

A tremendous explosion lit up the darkness, startling them both. Flames immediately engulfed the overturned vehicle and black smoke spewed from the underbelly.

“No!” Toby lunged toward the enflamed vehicle, but Camryn grabbed his arm and held him back, sheltering him with her body. “No, no!” he wailed, then he buried his head in Camryn’s chest and cried. They held each other in the rain, sobbing as they watched the car burn.

The temperature was dropping rapidly, and both Camryn and Toby realized they were shivering. They had to find shelter soon or they would freeze. Huddled together, they traversed through the wilderness seeking anything that would provide them with protective shelter for the night. By now, the rain had let up a bit and the moon was glowing though the clouds just enough to offer a light source to guide them.

On the side of a hill, Camryn spotted what looked like a cave. “Wait here,” she said to her brother.

Toby didn’t like this situation. Not only was he left alone in the dark, but he also feared that an angry animal might try to attack his sister. “Camryn,” he muttered. “Come back here.”

“Toby, I’m fine.” She approached the rocky structure and peeked inside. The cave wasn’t a huge sanctuary, but it was a big enough and far enough out of the elements to house them for the night. “Come here,” she encouraged him. “We’ll be safe here.”

Together, they entered the cave and made themselves as comfortable as possible.

Toby’s elbow was still bleeding. Hoping to get a better look at it, Camryn said, “Let me see your elbow.”

He turned his elbow toward her.

Camryn tore a long strip of fabric from the bottom of her shirt and did her best to wipe the blood away. With the cloth, she wrapped his elbow, tying it off with a knot to apply direct pressure, which would hopefully stop the bleeding. “Does that feel better?”

“Thank you.” He pulled his elbow back. With tears streaming down his face, Toby leaned into Camryn. “What are we supposed to do now?”

“Let’s try and get some sleep. In the morning, when it’s light out, we’ll figure it out.” She put her arm around him and snuggled in closer to keep her brother warm. Slowly, they drifted off to sleep, fearing what morning might bring them.

Camryn awoke to the bright sunlight shining on her face. Every muscle in her body ached and she could barely move. Yet somehow, she mustered up the strength to stand up. Toby was on the ground next to her, curled up in a fetal position. The bandage on his elbow was blood-soaked, but by the rust color of the stains, it appeared that the bleeding had diminished. She took in a big breath of air and stepped out of the cave, dreading what she would see. The sight that met her eyes made her lose her breath. “Toby!” she yelled, trying to wake him up. “Toby, come out here quick!”

Toby rushed outside, wondering what Camryn was screaming about. “What is your problem?” That’s when he figured out why she was hollering. “Where’s the car?” He ran around the area but found no debris, no signs of wreckage, no indication that an accident had occurred there at all. “Where did it go? It can’t just disappear.”

Camryn was stumped too. Neither of them had called to report the accident. There were no signs of civilization in this area, no cell towers indicating phone coverage, not even electrical wires or mile markers. It was pretty unlikely that anyone had been in the area. Camryn raised her hand to her forehead, trying to put the pieces together. How could an entire vehicle go missing, leaving no traces behind at all? She stepped onto the road and stood beside a tree. A metal barrier separated the road from a large ravine, yet it was completely intact. The car hadn’t broken through it. She peeked over the edge thinking she might find the car down there. Nothing but rock and a few trees.

Toby called out, “Hey, Camryn. Look what I found.”

Puzzled, Camryn approached her brother. In his hand, he held two gold rings. “Where did you find those?” she asked.

He pointed to a large boulder. “Over by that rock.”

She took one of the rings and examined it carefully, wondering why such a treasure would be randomly lying around in a secluded area like this. When she glanced over at the rock, it appeared to have shapeshifted and was now in the shape of an arrow pointing toward the ravine. “That’s weird. Was that rock pointing that direction a minute ago?”

Toby shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t notice.” He held the shiny ring in his hand and admired it. “Let’s put them on. At least with these, we’ll have some sort of souvenir from this crummy vacation.”

He slipped the ring on his finger. Instantly, he vanished.

“Toby?” Camryn searched the entire area, wondering where he went. “Toby, this isn’t funny. Where are you?” Contemplating the meaning of this, she stared at the gold ring in her hand. Toby was standing right beside her, until he put on the ring. “No way. That’s impossible.” Uncertain what to expect, she cautiously slipped the ring on her finger.

Within seconds, Toby stood right beside her, gawking at the ravine with his mouth gaped open like a fish. Camryn turned to see what he was staring at.

All around the gorge, pine trees clung to the walls, bending their trunks upward, and their needles were a strange shade of metallic green. These trees grew among tiny cliff dwellings, each with a thatched roof and small round windows. The leaf-covered branches of the trees hung down low enough to shelter the houses from the elements and protect them from unwanted visitors. Some of these trees appeared to have faces with bright blue glowing eyes and leafy fronds protruding from the top of their heads. Some of the older moss-covered trees had green vines wrapped around their trunks, stretching from the elongated facial features all the way down to the roots.

“What in the world?” Camryn asked, thinking they had stepped into some sort of Oz-like land similar to the one she had seen so many times in her favorite movie.

The cliff village busily buzzed with odd-looking, furry creatures. They were about three-feet high with green-toned skin and floppy jackrabbit-type ears. These creatures had long, skinny arms and legs with oversized toes, able to grasp tree limbs like tree frogs. They walked upright like humans did, but upon closer examination of one of these creatures, it appeared to have pixie wings. Several shrew-like rodents with monstrous feet, and claws too big for their toes, ran around the village making squeaking noises. They had fuzzy striped tails, large eyes, and wore permanent smiles on their faces. When frightened, these creatures curled up like armadillos. Several brightly-colored tropical birds with multicolored plumes extending from the top of their head flew around freely.

A beautiful large-winged Phoenix fished in the river that flowed through the center of the village. This river, in the brightest shade of blue, didn’t meander like water naturally did. Instead, it ran perfectly straight with almost unflawed precision. Many giant beta fish with wispy tail appendages and large goldfish eyes happily jumped out of the water, acrobatically flipped in midair, then dove back in the river with a splash.

Alongside the riverbank, several large trees with retractable suspension bridges draped across the river, each connecting one side of the village to the other. Apparently this was their access across the water. The river itself fed into a small lagoon enclosed by a rock arch, which had a waterfall pouring down from all sides. The waterfall appeared to magically flow from thin air, and the water acted as a wall that blocked any entrance into or out of the village.

The aromatic scent of the sweet-smelling blooms, the colorful array of tropical flowers, and the caws and joyful songs of the local birds added a touch of spark to the entire scene. Camryn awed over the mysteriousness of it all. “Look at this place.”

“Where are we?” Toby asked, having never seen anything like this in the world he knew.

“I don’t know, but we are definitely not in Idaho anymore.” Camryn stepped forward.

“Where are you going? Get back here,” Toby insisted.

“I’m gonna go check it out. Come on.”

Not feeling as adventurous as his sister, Toby didn’t move.

Directing him to follow her, she said, “Come on, Toby.” She stepped further down and trekked toward the village.

Reluctantly, Toby ran after her.

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