Prologue #1: Dani

Dani looked up at the sky and concluded that it was going to rain.

It was more than just looking up at the sky which informed her conclusion, though. She could smell the storm in the air, her brother would have told her she was smelling ozone, whatever that was. Dani would have described it as a tingling smell, with the freshness of the promise of rain, but a promise that as of yet remained unfulfilled.

More than anything, Dani could simply feel it in her bones. It wasn’t the same sort of feeling that old people got in their joints. A sort of arthritic pain which responded to changes in the weather with a particular intensity around storms. For her, it was an expansion on that fresh, tingling smell. The feeling electrified her muscles, it made the hairs on her body stand on end, including a certain fuzziness that invaded the hair on her head which was difficult to control and a complete bother to deal with.

Dani could taste it too. The air prior to a storm also shared in that tingling freshness. It was a theme which seemed to make itself evident in all of her senses, and it was unique enough that there was no mistaking it for anything else. It all told her one thing: it was going to rain.

Dani didn’t mind the rain, but storms typically meant less time outside and that was something she did mind.

Exploring the woods behind her house was a favorite pastime of hers and her brother, and their friends. All of the kids in the neighborhood claimed the woods of their street as their own. It wasn’t much of a forest, no more than a dozen or so acres, but to them it was its own world complete with a pond, streams, and caves. There were boulders as big as a small house, along with the usual clutter on the forest floor of dead tree logs, branches, and stumps where trees once stood.

In a light rain, the canopy provided by the trees was enough that the neighborhood kids could still play outside while only getting a little wet. Between the caves and the forts they had built in the trees, they could avoid most of the weather that way.

But in a serious storm, the protection that the woods provided simply wasn’t enough. The winds were enough to make the trees dance, and the rain was heavy enough to force the leaves to bend to the waters’ will, ensuring that everything beneath got drenched, if not in as even a manner as they would standing on the street. Dani wouldn’t have minded any of that, but neither Andy nor her dad tended to appreciate the mess that she tracked into the house after playing outside in those conditions. Though the hot shower she got to have after was heavenly.

Though, just because Dani knew a storm was coming, didn’t mean that she knew when it was coming. At least, that would be her excuse if she didn’t happen to make it back in time.

Dani reached down and slid her fingers into her jeans’ pocket.

She wore boy’s jeans more often than not. There were a lot of reasons for it, but perhaps the most poignant was the simple fact that their pockets tended to be bigger, deeper, and overall more useful than the very same pockets on girl’s pants. It was a crime, really. Her fingers quickly located the key she was double checking was there. Her father had been home when she left, but that didn’t mean he necessarily would be when she got back, and Andy could bury his nose in a book so deep that he’d drown if it were an ocean.

A plan was forming in her head. She wanted to try something, but it was risky. If it worked out though, she’d happily go back inside, likely beat the storm, but having succeeded in something so satisfying that she wouldn’t feel the near constant urge she had to be outside, to explore.

However, if things went badly, then there was a good chance Dani would be limping her way home, and she’d likely be caught out in the storm. It was reckless, brazen, but more than anything else: it was perfect.

Dani picked her way down through the trees to her destination, shoving her hands in her pockets as leaves crunched underfoot. Occasionally she saw a rabbit or a squirrel dash off, her attention drawn by the noises they made. There was less wildlife than usual at the moment, apparently they’d sensed the storm too.

When she finally arrived, Dani paused to look at her target. Two large boulders were half buried in the dirt. Each of them was large enough to be too big for the bed of a pickup truck. Yet, in spite of their size, neither of them rose much higher than five feet from the ground around them. Between the two rocks was a gap of maybe ten feet, the neighborhood kids had taken to calling it the no-bridge gap.

They’d tried to bridge it a few times, but none of the logs they could carry were big enough, or were too rotted.

It had been a long time since any of them had tried to jump the gap, though. The last time Dani could remember was when Tommy Higgins gave it a try. He’d fallen and twisted his ankle. Between the four or five of them that were there, they’d managed to get him back home, but the “boneheaded” attempt, as dad had put it, was enough to earn her and Andy a good talking to after they got home. She was sure her other friends had faced similar lectures, but no one had it worse than Tommy, who had to use crutches for at least a week, and a walking boot too.

When Dani stared at the imposing challenge, she felt a thrill go through her that raised her hairs and caused her muscles to tense. She could feel the blood pump through her body. It was as if a primal energy had taken over and she were merely a passenger for the ride.

She climbed up onto the one they called Pride Rock. It sloped upwards at a sharp angle, making it easier to get onto, as its leftmost base was nearly level with the ground. The other boulder, Flat Rock, made a far easier goal of landing, since it was mostly level throughout and didn’t have too many crags, depressions, or sharp angles. Still, if she wasn’t careful, it was entirely possible for her to make the jump and still injure herself.

Dani wasn’t sure if she’d consider that a failure, though.

If she managed to jump No-Bridge Gap, she’d be the first kid to do it in… perhaps a decade. She honestly wasn’t even sure, none of her friends were old enough to remember or talk about an older kid doing it.

Of course, if she succeeded, there was no one to witness the feat. There was a chance they’d believe her, but as a rule, among her friends, things needed to be seen to be believed. Still, if she managed to do it now, then surely she could do it again in front of others.

If Dani failed, the evidence of that failure would more likely prove to be obvious. All she could hope for in that scenario is that she could come up with a convincing story for her dad in which she didn’t have to tell him all of the details of her stupidity, and how she hadn’t listened to him when he’d lectured her and her brother first time.

The wind had begun picking up considerably in the past few minutes, but a particularly strong gust wound its way through the trees like a specter of bad luck. It tossed her shoulder-length hair into her face so that, for a moment, all she could see was the muddy brown of her hair. Reflexively, she pulled a hairband off of her wrist and put her hair up in a pony tail. She preferred to have it down, but for tasks like this, athletic things, the hair could become a nuisance real fast.

Dani felt as though she were on fire. Not in a literal comparison of course, the feeling was more pleasurable than burning. Perhaps it would have been better to say that she felt as though a shock of electricity was tracing its way through her body… no, that didn’t fit either. Honestly, Dani felt she should leave the metaphors to her brother.

Whatever it was, the energy of it surged through her body and she knew it was time. She had already walked halfway up Pride Rock, so she turned around and headed back to its base. Then she turned around, paused for a breath, and ran.

The key was pushing off from the edge of the rock at the right moment, and not bent so far down that she would have to cover extra distance to make up for starting behind. As her feet pounded the rock, she could feel the jolts pass up through her legs,, through her spine, all the way to the base of her skull where she could feel her teeth clatter.

Then, a moment later, she was flying through the air. Well, perhaps “falling with style” was a more accurate description. God, that movie was so old, but it was a good one, one of her favorites. She knew she would make it as soon as she reached the top of her arc, it was a bit more than halfway across, meaning if she managed to fall back down in the same way that she had risen up, she would land safely on Flat Rock.

Safely didn’t mean painlessly though.

Dani’s shoes impacted the rock with such force that her entire body was unsteady for a long, extended moment after she landed. It felt like she might fall, in which case she prayed it was forward, or even to the side, as long as it wasn’t backward. However, she recovered quickly and, after a few, staggering, steps forward, she managed to balance herself and remain upright. That didn’t stop her feet from complaining, though, and subsequently her legs and the base of her spine.

The pain was a price she was willing to pay, because the goal had become that important to her. Dani couldn’t say with certainty why, in that moment, the goal had overtaken her like the possession of a demon or spirit. She knew that, in general, it was something she wanted, but never before had it overridden her senses to that extent.

But whatever it was, Dani felt alive. She practically skipped her way back through the woods. Not all the way, she skipped for thirty seconds at most. Maybe only twenty. However, there was a hop in her step that didn’t go away even as she reached the front door.

In the way of things in New England, the sky chose that moment to finally open up. Only the slight overhang above the door saved her from getting soaked by the first seconds of the torrential downpour.

It turned out that dad was at home still. He was sitting at the dining table in the kitchen on the laptop he used to work sometimes, away from work. Dani equated that behavior on the same level as homework from school: it was stupid.

Still, he looked up and smiled, “what’s up, hun bun?”

Dani rolled her eyes, but leaned in to hug him even in his seated position.

“It’s pouring out so I had to come back in.” Was Dani’s only response. She didn’t dare tell her dad what she did.

However, there was someone she could tell. Dani took the stairs up. Andy would likely tell her off for her reckless behavior too, but he wouldn’t tell their dad, and that was the important thing. She trusted him. Dani also wanted to talk about the feelings she’d felt leading up to the jump. If anyone could help her sort it out, it was her brother.

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