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.

Clouds darkened the moonlit sky while the old car’s windshield wipers slapped torrential rainwaters away. The headlights shone brightly down the backcountry mountain road, but there were no street lamps, no houses, and no other cars in sight; even the stars 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 smashed against the side of the door, and projectile objects hit her in the face. The twirling, spinning motion made her dizzy. Then, with a sudden jolt, the car fell silent.

Camryn moaned, feeling disoriented. Still strapped in her seatbelt, her body hung limp. Pain resonated from her forehead. She reached up, checking for gashes and bumps, but found nothing.

Her younger brother moaned in the seat next to her. Hoping he wasn’t injured, she called his name. “Toby?”

He groaned again.

“Are you ok?”

“My elbow hurts.”

She quickly scanned the vehicle. Her mother was hunched over the dashboard with her forehead flush against the windshield. “Mom?” Camryn called out, hoping to get a response. “Mom, are you ok?”

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 the front passenger’s seat and pulled her mother’s body back against the seat. Hoping to find signs of life, she felt for a pulse. Not even the faintest thump was felt.

Afraid to look, she turned to her father, whose lifeless body hung halfway out the broken driver’s side window. “Daddy?”

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

Camryn took a whiff. Gasoline. Panic-stricken, she climbed back to help him release his seatbelt. “We need to get out of here. Now!” She supported his body as best she could and drug him out the shattered back window.

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

“Then 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. But with only the moonlight to guide her, she couldn’t see much.

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

A tremendous explosion lit up the darkness, startling them both.

“No!” Toby lunged toward the inflamed vehicle. Camryn grabbed his arm and held him back, sheltering him with her body. He fought to break free, but it was too late. Flames engulfed the overturned vehicle and black smoke spewed from the underbelly. Toby buried his head in Camryn’s chest, and they both sobbed as they watched the car burn.

 

The temperature dropped rapidly, making them both shiver. If they didn’t find shelter soon, they would surely freeze to death. By now, the rain had let up a bit, and the moon peeked out through the clouds, offering just enough light to guide them. Huddled together, they traversed through the wilderness seeking anything that would provide them with protective shelter for the night.

Several yards into the woods, Camryn spotted what looked like a cave on the side of a hill. “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 big enough and far enough out of the elements to house them for the night. “Come on,” she encouraged him. “We’ll be safe here.”

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

Blood dripped from Toby’s elbow. “You’re bleeding,” Camryn said to him. Hoping to get a better look at his injury, she turned his arm toward her. “Let me wrap it for you.”

She 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?”

“I don’t know.” She leaned against the cave wall and snuggled in closer to her brother, putting her arm around him to keep him warm. “In the morning, when it’s light out, we’ll try to figure it out.”

 

Toby cried himself to sleep that night, and nightmares woke him several times. Keeping watch over her younger sibling, Camryn stayed awake. Their grim situation was not conducive to sleep anyway. Neither was the hard ground. Every muscle in her body ached, and uncertainty flooded her mind with fear. Yet somehow, with the rising of the sun, she managed to muster up the strength to stand on her own two feet.

Toby lay curled up in a fetal position on the ground next to her. His blood-soaked bandage was now dry, indicating that the bleeding had diminished and his wound was healing. Reassured that her brother was alright, Camryn stepped out of the cave and took in a big breath of air. She instantly lost her breath when an unusual sight met her eyes. “Toby!” she yelled, rousing him from his slumber. “Toby, wake up! Come out here quick!”

Toby rubbed his tired eyes and stepped out of the cave to join her. “What is your problem? Why’d you have to…” That’s when he saw why she had made such a fuss. “Where’s the car?”

Camryn scanned the entire area but found no signs of wreckage, no debris, no indication at all that an accident had occurred here. “This can’t be happening.” She raised her hand to her forehead trying to make sense of the situation. 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 to see the accident either. How could an entire vehicle go missing, leaving no traces behind at all? “It can’t just disappear.”

She stepped onto the road and stood beside a tree. A metal barrier separated the asphalt from a large ravine, yet the car hadn’t broken through it. It was completely intact. She peeked over the edge thinking she might find the car down there. Nothing but rocks and a few trees.

Toby plopped on the ground near a large boulder and picked at the grass around him. Two shiny, metal objects glistened in the sun. Curious, he rustled through the grass and pulled out a pair of shiny, golden rings.

Camryn drew her attention to her brother. “Where did you find those?”

“Right here in the grass.”

She took one of the rings and examined it carefully, wondering why such a treasure was placed in a secluded area like this. And the boulder next to Toby appeared to have shapeshifted. It 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. “Of course it was. Rocks don’t just move on their own.”

“Are you sure?”

He stared at the shiny ring in his hand for a minute or two before he slipped it on his finger.

Instantly, he vanished into thin air.

“Toby?” Camryn searched the entire area, trying to figure out where he went. She didn’t like her brother’s sick idea of a joke. “Toby, this isn’t funny. Where are you?” Staring at the gold ring in her hand, she contemplating the meaning of this. Toby was sitting right in front of her, until he put on the ring. “No way. That’s impossible.”

Not sure what to expect, she slipped on the other ring. Within seconds, she was transported right by Toby’s right side. “Where are we?” she asked.

But Toby stood like a statue, gawking at the ravine with his mouth gaped open. Camryn’s eyes focused on the ravine in front of her.

All around her, pine trees clung to the walls of a gorge, 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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