Chapter 1: Running (Andy) 3,655 words

There was a flash of light and then, almost immediately, a crash of thunder followed.

The storm that raged outside lashed at the roof with bullets of ceaseless rain and the wind howled as it tore at the trees and pushed them to a furious and chaotic dance. Inside, Andy was warm and dry, but he didn’t feel safe.

Dani and his father were missing. A couple of police officers were huddled in the doorway, discussing with themselves. Outside, blue and red lights flashed though the cars in the driveway couldn’t be seen from where he sat. Another police officer sat opposite of him, slightly shifted to the left. Directly opposite was a woman who looked like a slightly older version of his mother, or, rather, slightly older than his mother should have been, but he didn’t have a mother anymore.

“I know this must be terribly difficult for you,” the woman said, her hands wrapped around a blue mug with piping hot tea. The steam rising from the mug rose in snaking tendrils only to dissipate in the air.

“I’m your aunt, Euscille. Growing up, your mother affectionately called me Lily, perhaps Aunt Lily would be easier. Mmm?”

Andy wasn’t sure that anything would ever be easy again.

“They will find them, right?” Andy asked, referring to his sister and his father. He looked to the police officer.

The police officer merely gave him a sad look. It had already been more than a day since what remained of Andy’s family had gone missing. Andy hadn’t gone to school. Instead, his day and a half had been spent alternating between answering questions for the police, eating greasy fast food, and waiting in an anxiety stew. They’d told him to get some sleep during the night, but it was fitful at best with odd, terrifying dreams. The following morning found him more tired than when he’d went to bed.

If it had been up to Andy, he would have stayed in his room all day. However, just before noon a police officer had knocked on his door. The officer was a kind-looking woman with her straw colored hair pulled back into a bun. She’d informed him that his aunt was waiting for him downstairs.

Aunt Lily was an enigma to him. He’d never met her before, she had been notably absent from their small family gatherings. In fact, most of his extended family had been absent from their lives. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. How many they had, if any at all, Andy had never known. Neither his father nor his mother had spoken about their families, it was as if he and Dani were in some isolated bubble, cut-off from the world of familial ties that almost certainly lay out there.

The proof was in the woman gazing at him now. Her blue eyes so vividly reminded Andy of his mother that he had almost flinched and looked away. Her nose was a bit longer, maybe, slightly hooked. There were lines on her features as well. Aunt Lily was no wizened crone, but she wasn’t going to be mistaken for a young woman either.

Right now those blue eyes were sad.

“I wish I knew,” Aunt Lily replied, “I don’t want to make false promises.” She glanced at the officer, who himself was glancing between her and Andy.

“Er- well, we’re certainly going to do our best.” The officer said, doing his best to force an optimistic smile.

“…but, in the mean time, I think it would be best if you stayed with me for a little while.” Aunt Lily continued, as if the police officer’s statement were merely an extension of her own thoughts.

Stay with his Aunt Lily. Andy found the thought as alien as being told the Earth was flat or the sky was red. Their place in Douglas was his home. It was his sister’s home. It was the only home they’d ever had.

“Shouldn’t I be… ? I mean- in case my sister and my dad…” Andy was finding it difficult to locate the words to express his thoughts, but his aunt seemed to grasp it all the same.

“Unfortunately, since you’re not old enough to raise yourself, it’s not really an option. If you were a bit older…” She gave him a sympathetic look and reached out a hand.

Twelve years old. Not quite a teenager, and definitely not quite an adult. Andy and Dani together were quite a capable unit, even for twelve, but he had to admit that it was quite unlikely that he would be able to take care of himself.

His aunt’s hands were lined as well, with neat, trim nails that bore no polish or decoration. There was a golden bracelet which dangled from her wrist, a simple bird in flight was the lone charm on it. Andy took her hand and she squeezed his.

“I know this is hard, but we will do our best to help the police even from my place. We will do everything we can to find them.”

After that it was merely a matter of packing. Andy’s aunt had to remind him several times to pack as much as he could, and to include socks as well as underwear. She also insisted on helping him fold his packed clothes, telling him that his packing was roughly at the level of a frenzied baboon.

The police officers asked some follow-up questions, exchanged contact information with his aunt, and then they were off to Boston. At first Andy thought they were going to the airport, but his aunt explained that they would actually be traveling by train.

“I flew in,” she said as they were handing baggage to train staff to get loaded, “but you should see more of the country than some clouds. There’s a lot to go over, too, things I need to tell you before we get to my home.”

Andy wandered off just a bit while they were waiting to board, and watched in fascination as one man got to one knee in the sea of people at the train station. The woman he kneeled in front of was dressed for traveling in a wool sweater over a mid-thigh floral skirt, but she wore dark leggings underneath. Andy thought she looked pretty, her hair reminded him of his sister.

The guy wore square-rimmed glasses and a green fleece vest over a dark blue shirt and khaki cargo pants. As he kneeled there, something like a loose, protective circle of observer’s formed around the couple.

Andy watched as the woman’s hands went to her mouth. The man’s mouth began to move, speaking a question that couldn’t quite reach Andy where he stood. But the answer was evident enough when the woman nodded vigorously and swept the man up in her arms. Applause broke out and the man placed the ring on her finger before taking the woman up in his arms once more.

“That’s sweet.” His aunt said as she wandered over to join him, “though to propose in a train station of all places…”

“Perhaps one of them has to go somewhere.” Andy replied. The thought made him sad. Nothing had been more sad to him than watching his father struggle when Andy’s mother, his wife, had passed away.

“Perhaps you’re right.” Aunt Lily said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Either way, we should be going now. They’re about to announce boarding.”

Once he and his aunt were seated and comfortable, she took out a book to read. Andy waited for a little bit, to see if she was going to talk–she had told him that talking to him was part of the reason they were taking the train in the first place, but when it was clear that she had nothing further to say at the moment, he took out his sketchbook and flipped through it.

As he flipped through the pages, the faces of strange and unfamiliar creatures from his imagination stared back at him. He paused on the image of something that was vaguely wolf-like and vaguely fox-like. This particular creature had come to him after talking to his sister, but that wasn’t why it caught his attention. The night that his father and sister had gone missing, he had actually seen it, with his own eyes.

Andy was fairly certain it wasn’t a dream. He’d crept downstairs for some bread or a piece of fruit and some water. He tip-toed down the stairs, hopped the step that creaked, and made his way to the kitchen. But no sooner had he passed through the open doorframe that connected the kitchen to the hall than he had seen it. It seemed to fill the kitchen with its size, almost as high at the shoulder as a horse.

Graceful, slender horns like an elephant’s tusks curved around its lithe body and created a sort of reverse thrust, opposite the direction of its snout and head. The creature, whatever it was, appeared ghostly, as though it weren’t entirely there. Still, its pinkish-red fur could still be seen, even as he could see the cabinets and counters on the other side through it.

The creature gazed at him even as he gawked at it. There was almost a gentleness in its spirit and he found himself more awed than terrified. Then there was a flash of lightning and the creature disappeared. It had rained that night too, the night his father and sister went missing.

Andy looked down at the drawing he had started of the creature. He realized there were details he had now that he hadn’t been aware of before. Retrieving his pencil and eraser, Andy began to sketch and draw, losing himself in the task.

For a little while he forgot about his sister and his father. He forgot about everything.

But when dinner came by, his attention was jerked suddenly to the present. He chose a turkey sandwich, apple juice, and pretzels, not waiting for his aunt to order before he began. He hadn’t eaten much in the past two days and he found himself ravenous, asking for a second bag of chips and an oatmeal cookie before the attendant moved on.

“So,” his aunt said, putting down her plastic silverware after finishing her meal, “I imagine you must have many questions.”

There were so many questions, in fact, that Andy found it difficult to isolate and give voice to any one, specific thought. Eventually he settled on one though.

“How come dad and my mom never spoke of you? Why haven’t we met you before?”

Aunt Lily’s stoic features twitched slightly at the question and the sad look in her eyes grew more pronounced.

“I am truly sorry for that, nephew- Andy. We did it all for your safety, and the safety of your sister.”

“To keep us safe? How?”

His aunt pursed her lips, “there’s so much to tell you that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I shall try.

“When you and your sister were born, your birth was foretold. It was said that you would save our people and that your combined power would forever change our world.”

Andy took a moment to absorb his aunt’s words. He and Dani were chosen? That didn’t make much sense, they didn’t have any special talents that he was aware of. And what did his aunt mean by ‘their people’, did she mean Americans?

As if she could read his thoughts, she continued, “by our people, I mean those of us touched by the Spirit of Althon. You see, there are many of us who, though we, along with our mothers and their mothers before us who were born here, come from a lineage of persons who traversed here from another world over a thousand years ago.

“We who are descended from them are blessed with certain abilities, and are connected with spirits of the wild and it is from them that we draw our power. We do not wave wands or say silly incantations, the primal power simply courses through us and gives us abilities according to the spirits with which we are bonded.”

Andy didn’t know what to say. It, all of it, sounded too incredible to be true, and yet he found himself believing every word. His aunt didn’t seem to be the sort to chase after fanciful stories, and right now, with everything going on, wasn’t exactly the best time for some sort of elaborate prank. But if what she said was true, then everything he thought he knew was a lie. Well… not everything, but many things.

First and foremost was that not only were he and his family aliens to the Earth, if what his aunt was telling him was true, then he also had to accept that he and his sister were caught up in it somehow and that the fate of their people lay in his and his sister’s hands. That was an awfully heavy to weight to place on the shoulders of a twelve year old.

“I’m sorry to burden you with so much all at once,” his aunt said, reaching out for his hand like she had earlier, “you were meant to be gradually introduced to all of this over the next few years. Introduced to it when you had access to your powers and could better protect yourselves. In that way, I suppose it makes sense that those who would want to stop you would act now.”

Andy felt his insides freeze solid, “does that mean you know who took them?”

His aunt nodded, “yes, but not where or when. Yet.”

When?

“What do you mean when? They just took them.”

Aunt Lily paused for a moment, she had begun to take a sip of tea, “I’m afraid the answer to that will need to wait a moment.”

“You said we have powers?”

That question earned a smile from his aunt, the very first that he’d seen. She glanced around for a moment and then did something quick with her fingers which seemed to summon a sudden gust of wind which passed through the train car like the fleeting passing of a bird overhead. The quick breeze earned a few startled exclamations from their fellow passengers, but only Andy and his aunt knew the source of it.

Magic. Real magic.

True, it wasn’t the fire balls and lightning blasts of the stories he loved, but he knew that the source of that wind was from his aunt rather than more natural origins. There were so many new questions rising up to compete with the stampede of questions already racing around his thoughts.

“That…” Andy wasn’t sure what to say, so he just went for the first thing that came up, “…that was awesome!”

Andy’s voice was hushed, even as he struggled to contain his excitement. It must have been amusing to his aunt because her smile grew and she even chuckled a little bit.

“We may not be wand wigglers, but I think our power is ‘cool’ too.” Aunt Lily said, she danced around the word cool as though she was unfamiliar with it.

“Do you mean they exist too?”

His aunt merely gave him a knowing look and then gestured vaguely, “I know it’s a lot to take in, but you must surely have other questions.”

The statement from Andy’s aunt sobered him up a bit, drawing him back to the stark reality of why he was even having this conversation with his aunt at all in the first place. Dani was gone. His father was gone. In spite of these new discoveries, that situation remained unchanged and Andy couldn’t forget earlier that day when his aunt had specifically not promised that they would be saved.

He gazed at his aunt as she studied him back. It occurred to Andy that she likely had questions too. This was the first time she was meeting her nephew, yet she had put aside all of her curiosity for him.

“Do you really think we have a chance of finding them?” Andy’s voice was still hushed, though this time it was more from a hesitation to voice his fears than an intentional act to be secretive.

The empathy in his aunt’s gaze was intense. Andy could see the sadness there, but also the love that she had for him, love from a woman that he didn’t even know existed just the day before yesterday.

“I do think we will.” She responded after a pause.

Andy thought there was something strange about the way she responded, but he couldn’t quite figure out what. As he looked at her, Andy was certain she wasn’t lying, her response was earnest, it just lacked… something… which made it difficult to feel reassured by her answer.

“What are we going to do to help?”

There was another pause, Andy could see his aunt thinking about her answer before she finally responded, “as much as they want to help, law enforcement isn’t likely going to find them. “

She continued, “it’s going to be up to us to get your sister and your father back. And by us, I’m referring to more than just you and me. But… but, you will have an important role to play. As much as I would want to spare you from danger, I wasn’t exaggerating about the importance of you and your sister in our future.

“The fact of the matter is that we won’t be able to do this without you. That’s why it’s so important to get you up to speed. I know I’ve said some things will have to wait, and they will, but trust that I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can and soon.”

When she stopped, the silence that grew between them was profound. There was a sudden weight placed on Andy’s shoulders that he didn’t feel big enough to carry. Of course he wanted to help find his sister and his father, but that was a task he felt the grown-ups in his life would handle.

“I can’t… I…” Andy struggled to find the words.

His aunt leaned forward and took Andy’s hands into her own.

“You’re not alone in this.”

Andy nodded, “I’ve got you and… others. Who are the others?”

Aunt Lily squeezed his hands before letting them go and sitting up straight once more.

“That’s another answer that will have to wait a bit. I wanted you to know of them, but I would rather introduce you to them than try to explain them to you.”

Andy wanted to press her, but he realized her answer was likely fair. How would she explain him to others, even if she did know him? It wasn’t easy to explain a person, though she did mention having some time before they reached their destination.

“How long… how long is the train ride?”

His aunt rubbed her brow a little, but nodded after a moment, “A little more than a day to get where we’re going. We’ll need to switch trains halfway through, but you should get some sleep in a little bit. I imagine you haven’t gotten much in the past couple of days.”

That was true as well. It had been true earlier, but now he was beginning to feel the tugs of sleep pulling at him again. Maybe this time he would actually be able to give in to it. The fatigue made his thoughts swim in a thick, thick stew. It was helpful to not have them racing, but everything felt so full and blunted that it was difficult for Andy to grasp any one thought individually.

Still, one thought pushed through persistently, “where is your home?”

“Ah, well.” Aunt Lily replied, “we’re headed for Chicago. But where I live is a bit of a ways out from there. Chicago is more of a waypoint. The town I live in is called Fallsborough, but it’s a bit more difficult to get to. I have my ways, however.”

Douglas was only a little over an hour outside of Boston, but it was fairly remote. Andy wondered if his aunt was referring to backroads and what not to get to it, that might make the trip a bit more difficult but it wasn’t like they were going to need a horse and buggy, were they?

“Difficult?”

“Well, there’s no roads where we’re going. As a people, we’ve blended into society fairly seamlessly, but we still needed a place just for us. A place we could… run to.”

Running. That was certainly what it felt like to Andy. But were they running to or running from? At first, it had felt like they were running from it. They were running from everything Andy had ever known, from his home, and from the place where Andy felt certain his sister and father were. However, it was beginning to feel more like they were running to something. Something big.

He and his sister had been chosen, were chosen from birth, for something. If anything, their entire lives had been spent running from that destiny. According to Aunt Lily, it was to protect them, until they came of age, but it seemed whatever they were running from had caught up to them, and now everything was in a bad way.

“You should sleep,” his aunt reminded him, reaching out once more. This time she placed a hand on his shoulder, “you’ve got an entire seat to yourself. Stretch out and make yourself comfortable.”

“Okay…” Andy chose not to fight it. Whether they were running to or running from, the one thing that was certain was that running took a lot out of you. He curled up as best he could in the seat and, taking a pillow handed to him by his aunt, did his best to fall asleep.

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