Monday, June 3, 2013
1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Park
Name: Jennifer Park
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
They sent the old man again.
Part of me is insulted; they believe all it takes to stop a sixteen-year old girl is a graying man with a limp.
When I was young, I appreciated his demeanor; he didn’t scare me like the others, the ones who watched me with thinly veiled wariness. He reminded me of someone’s grandfather; if their grandfather looked like a crusty old pirate with gold hoops in his ears, minus the eye patch and flouncy hat. I get the feeling this place is nowhere near the ocean.
I don’t even glance at his sword anymore; I know he wouldn’t use it on me. But he’s not alone. He never is. Several pairs of yellow eyes watch me from the shadows, tucked behind the monolithic trees or lying beneath the lush covering of ferns that coat the forest floor. What they might do, I’m not sure. I’ve never had the nerve to test them, but I’ve never needed to. The day I do should be really interesting. I don’t consider myself brave. I have too many fears for that. But I would be for him.
We stare at each other, waiting. I take one step out of the circle. It’s the only way I can go back in. I feel the tension in the air as I do, not from the old man with the kind eyes, but from the others. I hear their breathing cease as they wait for me to move again. They should know by now that I won’t. We’ve played this game for nearly seven years now.
I look expectantly at him. I don’t speak or ask questions. He’s not allowed to talk to me, but it doesn’t stop us from communicating. If he did, I’m not sure who would know. I only want one answer. I asked the question years ago, and it was the only one he acknowledged. I think he just felt sorry for me. I suppose the tears of a child can weaken almost anyone. But now it’s become our routine. They know when I’m coming, and he’s always there. I wait for his answer, he gives it, and I leave; because it’s never been the right one.
I take a deep breath, already prepared to see him shake his head. I’ve grown used to it now, and it doesn’t hurt the way it used to. The old man smiles with sympathy, but I will never give up, never stop hoping. I have to find him again. This was the last place I saw him when we were separated. They told me to never come back; it wasn’t safe, that it could mean death for all of us; but telling me I couldn’t have him was their mistake.
He was the only thing I ever wanted.
It’s been months since I’ve been able to come back here. This summer has been unseasonably hot and dry, another season of drought. Though it’s late August, I was fortunate that the remnants of a hurricane have lingered over Central Texas for the past few days, because I desperately need the rain.
It’s the only thing that opens the gateway.
So I come back here after it rains, when the mushrooms that create the fairy ring grow up out of the moist ground, creating a gateway to another world, to meet this old man and get the answer to my single unspoken question: ‘Is he there?’
The old man nods his head, almost imperceptibly, and I turn to leave.
I look back at him, confused. He nodded. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. There is a glint in his eyes that has never been there before, a spark of understanding. The corner of his mouth lifts slightly, and he winks at me. It’s the first time he’s ever smiled.
My heart drops into my stomach.
He waits a moment, and then gives his head a jerk, my signal to go back. My eyes scan the forest, seeing too many reasons I wouldn’t make it very far. I look back at his face. He can read my thoughts, see me calculating. He might not stop me, but they would. He looks up towards the sky, and then carefully traces a finger in a circle on the back of his wrist, close to his body where the others can’t see. Come back tomorrow.
It’s something I’ve never done.
They won’t be expecting it.
I resist the urge to thank him. If I tried to hug him, I might not make it back to the circle. I turn and leave without another glance, the white light blinding me as I enter the gateway. The light fades and the strong scent of cedar and pine tells me I’m home.
But not for long.
I stare into my locker, trying to remember what I need. I can only follow a train of thought for a few moments before it derails, flinging me back to memories of yesterday. The warning bell rings, urging me to think faster. I check my watch and glance at the schedule taped to the inside of the orange metal door. It’s after lunch? I don’t remember eating. It’s the first week of school and I feel only a mild sense of relief that I am a junior. But it’s still two years.
I have Biology II next and then lacrosse, my last class of the day. A surge of adrenaline floods my body. I’m getting close. I still don’t know what to do, but the bright sun and sultry heat outside remind me I don’t have much time to decide. The mushrooms will fade with the lack of rain in the next day or so, the gateway will close, and I will have to wait weeks, months, or however long it takes for it to open again.
I am done waiting.
I grab my science book and hurry down the hallway. The cover is made from a brown paper grocery sack, and I’ve already covered it with Celtic symbols and knot designs, mostly due to my research of the fairy rings. The old accounts come from Great Britain, the long told stories of people disappearing into a mushroom circle and being gone for days or years at a time. Or forever. They say that they’ve seen fairies dance within the circle and call to them, but I think that’s a little ridiculous. But who am I to judge… I walk through the ring to meet an old gypsy man with a bunch of wolves.
I keep my head down and eyes averted as I navigate the halls. I am by no means a big fish in this mediocre pond.
A large muscular shoulder slams into me, and I spin out of the way, accidentally bumping another boy into his open locker.
“Hey! Watch it.”
I mumble out “Sorry,” and feel the eyes following me, but I don’t look back. I know the looks I will receive. They will say ‘where did you come from?’, ‘watch where you’re going’, or ‘who is that?’ No one looks at me, and if they do, it’s by accident. I prefer it that way. The old man might see me, but no one here does.