The world felt heavy and dark as he tried to hold onto the images that passed before him; they came and went so fast, yet lingered forever when they became clear. Then the images changed from dark blues to reds; he blinked in the sunlight and all his dreams were forgotten. For a few minutes he lay there, futilely trying to remember his dreams, before rising from his bed to get dressed for the day. He glanced in the mirror, deciding his light brown hair looked acceptable, and entered the kitchen.
His mother was already there, feeding his little sister some fruit and reading the newspaper. His sister giggled happily with each bite, whining for more when his mother would become too engrossed in an article to serve another piece. His mother snapped up from her paper as he reached the counter.
"You're going to be late if you don't hurry up!" his mother declared as he took a piece of bread and got out some cheese.
"Good morning to you too mother." He said, taking a bite of his breakfast. He glanced at his watch and saw he really was going to be late. In an instant he was back in his room, stuffing books, paper, and writing supplies in a knapsack; he ran out the front door, hopped on a bike and zipped off down the hill that his house rested upon.
From his vantage point he could see almost the whole town: to the west hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland that changed eastward, slowly, as houses, shops, warehouses (and a few wineries), offices, and other buildings became more and more numerous. But it wasn't flat, it rose and fell in great swooping hills. To the east of the town were more hills, dotted with houses and more farms that became a mountain range far off in the distance. But he was too focused on getting to his destination to take in the familiar scenery.
The town was waking, as he sped towards it; people coming out, opening up shops, farmers heading back out to the farms after delivering the morning produce to town with promises of more later in the day, and many people stopping for a quick bite to eat from a café. There were a few militia personnel milling about, getting breakfast before heading home for bed. The weather promised more of the sunshine from last week so he didn't expect the militia to be very active today. He rode on, closer to the center of town.
"Camden!" shouted a person behind him. "Camden slow down!"
Camden squeezed the brakes, in a few swift motions had unclipped a foot from a pedal and stood, balancing the bike by leaning on his free foot. He unclipped the second pedal, swinging his leg over so his whole body was on one side of his bike, before turning to face the person calling to him.
A tall dark haired boy ran up to him, not looking as if he had just tried to catch up to a bike.
"You wake up late too?" the boy said, a smile on his face. Camden nodded. "Glad to see I'm not the only one!"
"I could be less late if I hopped back on my bike," said Camden.
"And leave your best friend to take all the heat?" he asked, spreading his arms out helplessly.
"Of course not Tommy," answered Camden.
"Hey, how 'bout later today we go treasure hunting in the forest! Charlie found an abandoned shack the other day while you were off with your dad, he said he marked it on his map" said Tommy. Charlie was always adding to his map of the surrounding area, complaining about how no-one had bothered to do so before him, finding exciting places to explore. This summer he had sucked Camden and Tommy into the adventures of cartography; they now had at least a hundred secret hideouts, and they were all itching to find a hundred more.
"Sorry, I can't, got work this afternoon," replied Camden. Camden worked three days a week at Mr. Nettle's general store; Monday was when he stocked the shelves with fresh goods, Wednesday and Friday he manned the counter and phone, and made deliveries.
"Well aren't you Mr. Responsibility?" Tommy mocked. Camden sighed, his parents decided he would be the first in the family to go to college, so he had to earn some extra money.
"Says the one who plans on joining the militia," said Camden.
"That's different, you know that's a part time job unless your rank is high enough," said Tommy.
"Except when an Attack happens," said Camden.
"Don't jinx it!" said Tommy, completely serious as they both turned their heads to the sky, sighing with relief as it's bright blue, cloudless, expanse entered their vision.
They continued talking till they reached the school, stopping when they saw the vice principal standing outside the door. His face told them all they needed to know even before he spoke.
"Classes started 30 minutes ago; I will see you both in detention after school," said the vice principal. "Now get inside."
They hurried in and entered the third door on the right. They were met by stares of 50 pairs of eyes and an awkward silence. Then some kids started to whisper and giggle causing the teacher up front to turn around. She was young but had a stern face; the black board behind her sported definitions of obscure words that none of the kids in the class would ever use. She appeared to have been interrupted, mid-sentence, by Camden and Tommy's arrival.
"Please take your seats before you take more time from class," she said, "now as I was saying the word Nebulous has its roots in ancient
" her voice trailed off, sounding fainter as Camden tuned out her voice. He quickly copied down the words on the board for memorization later and was soon doodling on his paper, taking notes when necessary. The teacher would switch subjects with remarkable ease that most kids never notice till they check their notes later on. Finally it was lunch time, the bell signaling the chaos of leaving the class as everyone tried to get out the door at the same time.
Tommy and Camden somehow found Naxy and Charlie in the hundreds of kids in the hallway and the four left the building, heading for the saloon. They were not the only ones heading there, all the kids over 13 went into town for lunch, watched jealously by the younger kids, who were kept inside the school yard at all times.
They headed to the town square where many students were already having lunch. Most sat on the Discovery Stump, which is what is left of the tree that was felled to start the town. It was too crowded to claim a spot on the stump so they went into a café.
The saloon was also crowded but service was fast, soon Camden was in front of the counter with a slip of paper in his hand with his friend's orders on it.
"Afternoon Camden," said the man behind the counter, "what'll it be today?" Camden glanced at his paper and saw all familiar items.
"The usual please." He stated.
"no problem, should be ready in 10 minutes."
Camden stepped away from the counter to let the next costumer order and went to sit with his friends. Chloe had joined them, a small girl with dark brown hair in a long but messy pony tail. She sat quietly sipping a large mug of coffee.
"Our order should be ready in ten minutes." Camden informed the company as he sat down next to Chloe. People chatted excitedly around them, students trying to use every minute of free time to catch up with friends, workers on lunch break with bag lunches who came in just to get a drink but decided to sit down, and the occasional teacher came by, checking in on the kids, grumpy looks on their faces. Some kids had put on some music. A new record from The West. Camden listened to it, one song about adverbs, another about a girl who killed her family in various ways: drowning, poisoning, cooking into stew. He wasn't listening to his friends conversation.
"So, are you coming?" Naxy asked Camden. Camden snapped out of it.
"Huh? Coming to what?" he inquired
"The tournament!" said naxy
"What tournament?" asked Camden.
"The big one in Almad County!" said Naxy excitedly. "We are going to win this time!"
Charlie snorted, trying to hide it as a cough. Of the junior women's teams theirs was the best in town, in the county, but Almad County's teams were better.
"Well then! Maybe you should have come to our other games!" she said. "You guys used to come all the time, what happened?" They all looked guilty.
A waitress appeared with a tray of food and drink, passing out each item to the correct person. Naxy took a long drink from her smoothie before continuing the conversation.
"So, are you coming?" her face eager and pleading.
"Where in Almad County will this be?" asked Charlie.
"Emmrayberg, it's right on the coast!" she said excitedly.
"Naxy, Emmrayberg isn't exactly close by, and the tournament is a week away! That's a big trip so soon and we would have to set up in a hotel
" Tommy said. Naxy looked so disappointed in them. "Rrrrr Fine! I'll come, who else?" Tommy said conceding victory to Naxy. Charlie said he would try to make it.
"I'm sorry Naxy, I can't come," said Camden, not meeting her eyes, "I have work."Naxy fumed and turned to Chloe.
"Well, how about you Bea?" she asked scornfully. Chloe sat silently stirring her coffee, he large dark eyes full of concentration, like she was focusing on nothing else but the question and nothing would matter till she answered. The silence at the table was intense; life was going on around them but was slowed down in their little section of the café.
"Yes, I will be there," she finally said in her low careful voice. Then she took a sip of coffee and spoke no more.
"Hey Camden, Tommy, want to go exploring this afternoon?" Charlie asked, a huge grin on his face, "I found this old building but it seems like there must be more around." Even with half a day of school left he was itching to go out.
"I'm down for that but Camden here has work today," answered Tommy. Camden sighed, there were so many things he wanted to do but couldn't; he had been letting his friends down all day.
"Don't worry! This place is too big to explore in one day, you can come tomorrow!" Charlie said excitedly. He rarely acted like this, it must be a great find.
Camden thought about what type of place this must be for the rest of the day that he hardly noticed when he walked back to school and into his classroom. The daze lasted till the bell rang and he snapped out of it.
He was just about to hop on his bike when he remembered his detention. He ran back inside and met Tommy, who was leaning on the wall, by the principal's office. Tommy opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by the office door opening and the principal calling their names. They worked in silence for the next hour, cleaning gum from under desks, under the watchful eye of the principal.
Finally the hour was up, Camden didn't have time to speak to Tommy before jumped on his bike and headed towards the general store. The sound of an engine reached his ears as he rounded a corner to Mr. Nettle's general store; a truck was in the back, empty of crates it had just delivered.
Mr. Nettle was also waiting for him, his arms folded across his chest, eyes glaring. The truck drove off as he hopped off his bike.
"Camden! You're an hour late!" snapped Mr. Nettle. "I had to do your job and unload the truck!"
"I know, I'm sorry. I had detention!" Camden explained.
"That's no excuse, I'm docking your pay, and be grateful I'm not firing you!" He growled, "now get to work!"
Camden sighed and rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to move the crates inside the back room. When he finished with that he opened the crates and sorted the contents. A lot of stuff from Almad like flour, fabric, and canned goods; things that could be made in faster and cheaper in new Almad's new factories than in the town's old ones. But even though it was cheaper to send produce to Almad to be processed in factories and then sent back, many people preferred to by town-made products only, so Mr. Nettle stocked both.
"How's it going back there?" Mr. Nettles strong voice sounded from the store front. Camden looked around him and found he was nearly done, maybe another hour and he would be out of here.
"Very well Mr. Nettle! Give me another hour and I'll be out of your hair," Camden called back.
"I'll be the judge of that in an hour!" was the reply. Camden organized the storeroom and Mr. Nettle came in to inspect his work. He looked at every can, bag, box, and sack of food, every box of supplies, judging, looking, trying to find a mistake. He didn't find one and stood up from a slump.
"Everything looks in order," He said "I need a couple things delivered today, if you take them I will forget about the pay cut for being late."
Camden glanced at his watch; 6:42, the sun was starting to set. He needed to get home, but he couldn't let this offer slide. Hopping on his bike he set out to deliver the packages.
When he finished he sped as fast as he could towards home. On the way he spotted Tommy and Charlie walking down a side path. They waved at him and he slowed down as they jogged up next to him.
"S-stop (huff) please!" panted Charlie. Camden slowed and unclipped his feet before coming to a full stop. Charlie stopped, bent over, hands on his knees and panting while Tommy stood next to him.
"Look, I'm sorry I couldn't come guys--" Camden started to say before he was cut off.
"Never mind that!" exclaimed Charlie "We didn't even get to it! we found something better!"
"What?" asked Camden.
"A cave! Concealed behind some fallen boulders. We went in for about two minutes before we decided to wait for you to come with us!" said Tommy "We spent the rest of the time making sure we could find out way back tomorrow!"
"What about the abandoned shack?" asked Camden.
"We found that on our way back, nothing interesting in it at all," said Tommy.
"We eventually found it on our way back, we can check it out tomorrow as well!" said Charlie. Camden still felt bad that he had to cancel on them today.
"No, let's go now!" he said, grinning. Tommy smiled as well, a late night adventure certainly appealed to him. Charlie looked apprehensive.
"I donno, what if we get lost?" he said, fiddling his fingers.
"Well good thing we have a first rate cartographer!" said Tommy, slapping Charlie on the back. "Come on!"
They trekked off into the forest; Camden struggled to keep up while bringing his bike but managed.
"Ok, just behind here! Strap your bike to a tree or something," said Charlie. Camden rested his bike by a peculiarly young tree and looped the chain around it. Then he took a lantern from his back pack. The three rounded the corner and found themselves at the mouth of a cave. After waiting for a second Tommy marched ahead, into the cave. Camden lit the lantern and he and Charlie followed.
It looked like an ordinary cave to Camden, but it was drafty, the rock walls were smooth in some areas and sharp in others, a few stalactites and stalagmites dotted the ceiling and floor. Suddenly Tommy turned into an offshoot and Camden and Charlie blindly followed. They slammed into Tommy and they tumbled forward, screaming as the lantern went out. They slid down a slippery incline in the cave floor, acquiring many cuts and bruises from the walls. When they stopped Camden stood and re-lit the lantern. The light reflected off the walls like starlight, the cavern was filled with amazing stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Tommy and Charlie stood as well, ducking to avoid the sharp stones hanging from the ceiling. They looked for a way out, but the way they came was not an option, the wall was slippery with water and smoothed by time.
"Next time we should bring rope," said Charlie.
"let's focus on what we should do this time!" said Tommy. They thought in silence. Then Camden felt a breeze from behind him.
"There must be an opening in that direction!" he said, pointing, his words sounded loud and came back at odd intervals. Camden led them down, deeper into the cave. Dripping water echoed around the cave and their footsteps sounded oddly messed up.
There was no real path or even floor, they had to climb over rock formations,, crawl when the ceiling became low, trying to avoid the sharp edges of the cave, following the breeze. Often they found themselves in enormous caverns, so deep the lantern light didn't show the whole room, They had to maneuver their way across them, taking care not to fall into the dark depths. Other times the passages were so small they were sure that only the wind could make it through.
As they trailed on they saw many amazing stalactites and stalagmites; in their way, in the caverns or through offshoots. Crystal white angel wings and brown fish gills seemed to hang from sections of ceiling, loops of thick spidery web rocks crawled up walls and hung on the roof, and large colonies of bulbs, spires, and protrusions were everywhere. On the floor were stacks of multi colored rocks, some stout, others almost touching the ceiling, some dark ones looked like short fat bald men, huddled together for some important meeting. Some of the walls and roofs looked like the sinews of some ancient beast; the ones on the wall where stacked in ledges and the ones on the ceiling were tipped with spiky white crystals. All of these sparkled and shone in the lantern light, revealing the many colors in them.
Charlie reached out to stroke one of the angel wings. He swore and drew his hand back; Camden saw a straight clean cut on his index finger, dripping shining blood.
"Uh, don't touch these kind!" said Charlie.
"I think we got that," said Tommy, whose sleeves were ripped up, exposing bleeding arms, his hands covered in scrapes. Camden suddenly became aware of his own injuries, which were more numerous than the others because he was holding the lantern. The cuts weren't drying, the caves atmosphere was so moist and the walls were dripping with water. He looked back at his companions, they were shining with moister and it was too cold to sweat.
Camden also noticed they were all breathing heavily and he became aware of his own exhaustion. The shadows revealed a large flat section of rock just ahead, turning towards it Camden guided them and sat down. Tommy and Charlie didn't question it as they to collapsed on the cold stone.
"We're going to die in here!" cried Charlie.
"We're not going to die in here, I still feel the breeze, I think it's getting stronger!" said Camden, half telling the truth. He could still feel the breeze, but it definitely wasn't getting stronger.
"We've been following that damned breeze for hours!" said Tommy. Camden checked his watch. Its glass had cracked and reflection made the face unreadable. At first he thought it was broken, but he turned and tilted it till he could see the face clearly and the hands were ticking away.
"It's only been an hour and a half" he said. He was surprised; it felt like much longer, maybe time worked differently in the caverns.
They continued to sit there, and the longer they did, the surer Camden was that time worked strangely here. It felt like hours but it was mere minutes. He decided it was best they get moving again, he started to stand up and his feet disappeared from under him as he slipped. He fell down on his behind, and his foot hit something. Hit something that moved away, something solid, something metal. The lantern! It skidded across the floor and crashed into the wall, shattering and going out.
Tommy and Charlie both screamed at the noise of the lantern shattering and the light going out, there voices magnified by the cavern. But it wasn't dark, the cavern changed from eerie flickering yellows, browns, and reds it became various shades of white, grey, and silver. They turned around, facing a small underground pond. Nothing was alive in it, it was crystal clear, white light illuminating it as it lay still as glass.
They stood in silence for a second, then Camden realized something.
"Where is the light coming from!?" he asked to the company. They snapped out of their trances, realizing that the light had to be getting in somehow, and maybe it was a way out!
They began to search, disturbing the water. It didn't feel right, like the water was not meant to be disturbed by anything alive, but they had to get out of here!
Their eyes adjusted enough to see pretty well and they spread out more. Camden turned a slight corner and found a hole with light coming through. But that wasn't what drew Camden towards it, the hole was much to small to escape through.
A silver moon beam shone on a small tree, who bark, even in the silver light, was reddish in shade. It would have been 2 feet tall if it hadn't been bent over by the weight of a single pine cone, which had its seeds still sealed inside. Camden reached out to touch the tree, the moment his fingertips pressed against a needle the tree straightened up and burst into silver red powder. Camden gasped, breathing in some of the dust and coughing. The dust settled into a neat pile.
The pine cone sat on top of the pile, looking abandoned, almost lost.
"Camden! we found a way out!" shouted Charlie from across the cavern. Camden snatched up the pine cone and slipped it into his pocket.
"Coming!" he said.
Camden arrived home long after midnight, soaking wet, bleeding and bruised. The light was on in the family room and something on the table caught his eye as he was sneaking to his room. An evening edition of the paper. The heading: DOUBLE ATTACK LEAVES 2 DEAD over a large black and white picture of a barn, or at least most of a barn. More than half was destroyed, and patches of the ground around looked shiny. He scanned the article. The double attack happened just a day ago, Snow Village had a small thunder storm the night before and then
the militia had just gotten one to run, when the second ran out of the forest, following the first, mercifully not stopping or heading towards the town, but devastating the field it had gone through.
Suddenly joining the militia seemed more beneficial than going to college. Camden thoughts wandered back to the last particularly bad attack on his home town as he placed the pine cone on is dresser and slipped into dry clothes. He remembered it falling down when a shell hit its back, and things got worse form there
but he had been rushed away to safety with the rest of the 2nd grade class before he could see anything else.