Rain smashes down in thunderous sheets as I race inside. My four friends follow close behind. The storm rages as we slam the door behind us with a resounding beat.
We stand in the foyer, panting and soaked, for what feels like hours. We’d been told today would be the day the weather got worse, but we hadn’t expected it to be like that. My friend’s mother comes down the stairs, tells us all to come to the kitchen. We move and sit.
Wind rakes the windows; hailstones smash into the roof. The storm rattles the house.
We all feel it.
This isn’t a normal storm; something far worse is afoot. Had our parents misinformed us? Given our proclivity to spend time outside, we agreed that that was unlikely. Surely our parents weren’t that malicious.
We move into the basement to continue the debate.
As the rain pounds the house, we can all see the monsters waiting below perfectly in our minds.
Still, there are four of us. Onward, adventurers, into the darkness!
Just as we’re about the flip on the lights, the power dies. An omen? A test, I say to my fellow adventurers, a test for us.
We grab flashlights and foam swords, and head into the understory.
The maelstrom continues into the night.
That thought only fills my head as a figure stalks through the pine trees, up on the high hill. It slithers through the shade, giving the shadows a life of their own, slowly making way down the far slope, until finally disappearing from sight. I let out a sigh of relief, I haven’t been found. I move on again.
I’d been hiding for at least an hour, that’s how long ago they all appeared. I knew they’d be coming but not from where, so large was the space surrounding the stalking-ground. The hill lay at the center of the place, facing two rows of houses converging off-center to form two sides of a shallow triangle. Behind this row was another, with trees in between to help keep me from sight. Beyond the homes there is a large, overgrown field with swaying, golden grass. My ultimate destination.
Getting there is the hard part. If they see me, they’ll give chase, and if they catch me they’ll make me one of them. I can’t have that. I MUST reach the field.
As I slink into a narrow path between a retaining wall and pine trees, I hear the footsteps. They come, slow and heavy, making way towards my position. I start to turn back, start climbing the wall to my right, but more footsteps come from the other direction, I don’t have enough time. They become faster, lighter… They know I’m here.
I break from the trees, jumping down the wall they sit on and on to the street, sprinting towards the gap between the houses in front of me. I’m fast, I think, they won’t catch me now. Then I feel the hard pressure right between my shoulders…
“TAG! Got you!”
I force my eyes open and immediately strain. I can’t see anything, save for an extremely dim rivulet of light streaming in through the window. My brother isn’t in his bed, he must already be up.
My mother walks in, flips on the light; I’m blinded for a moment, but I get out of bed.
It’s 2:45 a.m.
“Why?” I mumble to my mom.
“You know why, we have to get to the airport in time.”
Yeah, I know. But sleep is calling my name like a siren’s song.
I almost get back in bed.
“Oh no you don’t, E! Come on, I made you pack last night for a reason. Get dressed and come downstairs,” she commands.
Fine, mom. Fine.
I put on comfortable clothes, it’s going to be a long day. If only time could move faster; sitting on a plane for several hours is exactly what I don’t feel like doing. I take my suitcase and my backpack, make sure I have the books I want, and take everything out to the car. As I pack it all into the trunk and sit down, the drowsiness comes back.
The next thing I see is the citadel of the airport.
It’s a special kind of boredom that claws into my brain, festering like a plague. Why can’t I just return to my castle? I ask myself, I’ve got the hold down the fort.
“Get excited, E! You’re on your way to a new land, with new beasts and new adventure!” my mom tells me, always knowing just what to say, “besides, your friends can defend the castle for a week, it’ll be fine.”
She hugs me, but I can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. Not all who have left the castle before have returned home.
The road is long and treacherous. My brother tells me he’s feeling it too.
Summer came weeks ago, yet its customary humidity hadn’t. Curious, though none of us were going to complain about it. Instead, we steadfastly remain intent on exploiting this extraordinary opportunity to do battle in the field behind our houses.
It’s a special field, really. Filled with knee-high grasses, golden in summer, it provides our usual battlefield when we head to sally forth and defeat the beasts of the forest beyond. Never mind that we can see the other neighborhoods beyond the trees, ancient custom (of associating malicious monsters with woodlands) must be observed! We WILL defeat them!
Earlier in the day, my friends and I had planned this little escapade. We woke up, ate muffins, and grabbed all our foam swords and nerf guns. No one would stand in our way with such fearsome arsenal at our disposal. Bandoliers of darts strapped about us, we gathered, and discussed our strategy.
I’d take my brother and Kriti to the slope on the far right, setting up the heavier nerf guns on tripods. Kriti also had a bow and arrow she’d made, so she went to get some dead branches to make cover. My brother would command the emplaced gun, its belt-fed fusillade ready to tear apart any massed charge. I double-checked the dart supply, since running out meant resorting to using the foam swords from Legoland, and they weren’t the most reliable.
After setting up, and as the other groups finish their preparations, we realize that none of us have any armor to speak of.
Well that won’t do at all! What’s a knight without his armor? A knight with guns, surely, but equally surely far less of a knight!
We go on a search, as armor is of the utmost importance in battle. In the confusion, however, my friend Reid disappears.
When we finally noticed, our nervousness intensified. “He must be a traitor! He’s leading them to our positions!” I exclaimed, furious.
“No way,” says Kriti, with a strongly-implied calm down.
We didn’t have to wait to find out.
Apparently, Reid had prepared for exactly such a battle as would be fought today. He’d made armor out of golden-yellow duct tape.
As we sallied forth, the gilded knight stood at the head of our column. I knew then that the day would be our most glorious in a long, long time.
Stranger in a Strange Land
It’s happening. I knew it would, my brother and I had talked about it before, but we never realized its gravity.
We were moving.
How could this happen? We hadn’t quelled the monsters of the woods behind the neighborhood; we hadn’t elected the neighborhood king, we hadn’t gone to save the villagers in distress! So much was left to do!
No, we have to go. “Because I said so,” Mom says.
After an hour’s drive we pull into a foreign driveway. The new house is much larger, and so is the back yard. The forest comes right up to the deck in the back, my brother and I will have to fortify it from whatever strange and powerful creatures reside in those woods.
It’s not the same. Our party of adventurers isn’t here. This is a weird new place with weird new customs. I don’t want to go out and try to find a new group of like-minded rogues and swashbucklers with which to seek new thrills. I just don’t want to.
But life must go on.
“Because I said so,” Mom says again.
Life goes on.