Chapter 1 of Elcarim

Fiction By Lucia // 2/8/2008

Elcarim
Chapter 1
Jason plopped a mound of orange, sticky, singed macaroni and cheese onto his sister Maggie’s plate. She wrinkled her slightly freckled nose.
“Eeuw, you know there’s no way I’m eating that,”
“Mrs. Freedy told me to make you guys macaroni, so I did. My cooking isn’t that bad,” Jason retorted.
Mrs. Freedy was his and his sister’s foster mom, and she had left to do some shopping. She had a husband, Mr. Freedy, but he was at work so Jason was watching Maggie for her. Maggie’s new friend, Althea, had dropped by to hang out with her. Althea was skinny, blonde, and timid.
“I’m going to have a popsicle,” declared Maggie.
“Mrs. Freedy won’t be happy when she finds out you haven’t eaten dinner,” warned Jason.
“Gosh, Jason, I’m twelve. I can baby-sit myself,” said Maggie, and she proceeded to pull two bright blue popsicles out of the refrigerator.
“Come on Althea, let’s go outside,” she said to her friend, and they exited by the sliding screen door, leaving Jason alone in the kitchen. He stood there, looking out through the window at the leaves that were just beginning to change. It was September, but the weather was warm yet. Jason looked at his own plate of pasta. Now that he took a closer look at it, it did look disgusting. He threw the rest of his distasteful meal out in the garbage and opted for a popsicle himself.
Jason wandered into the living room, settled himself on the comfortable leather couch, and turned on the television. It was the news channel, and they were playing a memorial service fro those who died on September 11th. Jason quickly switched to a football game, but he did not really pay any attention to it.
His thoughts were far away, going back to memories from his eighth year. The day his teacher had told him his parents died in the Towers. The day he had tried not to cry in front of little Maggie, but hadn’t quite succeeded. The day he held on to his stuffed dinosaur as if it could keep the world together. All those weeks of wondering what would happen to him.
Jason shook himself, not wanting to think about these things.
He turned the channel to a sitcom, but felt little impulse to laugh. Jason felt like a fantasy movie. Where was the remote that switched the television to DVD? It was there, on the end table. Jason reached under the shade of a very expensive lamp that Mrs. Freedy had received at her wedding shower to get it.
At this moment Maggie burst into the room, slamming the door against the wall loudly. Jason jumped in surprise, knocking the lamp. It tottered and wobbled, dangerously near the edge of the table. The lamp was about to fall, but Jason lunged and caught it.
“You almost made me break it! If I did Mrs. Freedy would kill me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t. It’s really ugly,” said Maggie,
“Why’d you burst in so fast?” asked Jason.
“Mr. McGillicuddy’s dog is in the garden again,” explained Althea.
Jason groaned. Mr. McGillicuddy’s Irish wolfhound often slipped in under the fence and buried bones under Mrs. Freedy’s favorite hydrangea bushes. They often had to chase him out.
“Why don’t you go take care of him yourself?” he asked, not wanting to get up and do it himself.
“Are you kidding me? That dog is ginormous!” said Maggie.
“Besides,” she added,
“You’re the babysitter,”
“Okay,” he replied, turning the television off.
He followed them out into the private backyard. They were lucky to have the Freedys as their foster parents; they were fairly rich and owned a large amount of land in a high-end neighborhood. Something stung him on his arm, and he angrily brushed the mosquito away.
The evening air had turned cold, and he shivered in his short sleeves. There, in the hydrangea bushes, was Mr. McGillicuddy’s dog Peewee. Jason thought that there never was a bigger misnomer as he yelled at the huge animal.
“Hey! Peewee! Get out of there!”
Peewee lifted his head, which was as large as Jason’s, gave him a solemn look, and resumed digging.
“Should I go get some leftover meat from the kitchen?” suggested Althea.
Jason agreed, and she ran while Maggie and Jason stood at a distance from the animal and rubbed their arms to rid themselves of goose bumps.
Soon Althea returned with a drumstick. Jason took it.
“Peewee, looky-looky,” he coaxed.
The big dog’s head turned toward him once more. Jason lifted the drumstick high up in the air. The dog’s neck craned toward it. Jason moved it down, two feet from the ground. The dog’s head followed. Saliva was dripping from its jaws. Jason tossed the drumstick over the white, picketed fence. With a yelp, Peewee jumped and crawled under the fence in pursuit of the meat. Soon, satisfied chewing sounds came from behind the white pickets.
Problem solved, the girls started toward the door, and Jason was about to follow them when something caught his eye. It was under some hydrangeas, a different bush than the one Peewee had been digging beneath. A strange bluish glow emanated in rays from between the tiny leaves. He walked up to it, knelt down, and curiously swept the branches aside.
“Jason, what are you doing? We’re getting cold!” Maggie called. Jason hardly heard her. The light had come from a sphere. It was light blue, with a mist surrounding it, circling it in tiny wisps.
“What are you doing?” Maggie’s voice came from his side now. Then she saw it.
“That’s weird,” she declared.
“Yeah,” said Althea.
“Maybe we shouldn’t touch it,”
Her warning was too late. Jason reached out, through the veil of mist. The air around it was cold, but when he touched the sphere the ball was as smooth as glass and almost hot. A breeze came up which was uncannily warm for that time of night. At first it was only a slight movement of wind, pulling the girls’ hair. Then it became stronger, pulling their bodies closer to it. Jason tried to pull his hand away but it felt as if it was attached to the sphere by a powerful magnet. It was impossible to pull away. He tried to call for help but his voice was lost in the gale. He was pulled closer and closer... and then everything went black.
Jason’s neck hurt. He put up his right hand to rub it, and felt rocks and mud beneath his head. He opened his eyes and saw rain, stones, and dirt. Confused, Jason sat up and looked around him through lids that he could hardly hold up in the torrential rain. Through the blur of drops, he could see nothing but rock walls rising up on either side of him, and the water-logged dirt that lay on the ground. Jason thought he must be in a trench of some sort. A trench that was filling up with water. It swilled around his ankles, where it hadn’t reached before. Jason gulped and tried to think clearly. When he touched the sphere he lost consciousness, then woken up here. Had someone brought him here? Or maybe… maybe the sphere was a magical portal of some sort. Wait- Maggie and Althea had been with him. Where were they now? Peering through the sheet of rain, Jason thought he could just make them out. They were leaning against the side of the ditch.
“Hey!” Jason shouted.
“Maggie! Althea!”
They sloshed through the water towards him.
“What happened?” asked Maggie.
“I don’t know. I think it might have been something magical—“
Maggie cut him off.
“That does make any sense! Someone must have brought us here!”
“Why would they bring us here, then?” asked Jason.
“I don’t know, but it can’t have been magic,” said Maggie.
“Guys,” interrupted Althea.
“The water’s coming up really fast!”
Jason looked down and realized the water level had reached his calves. It had almost become a large stream now, roiling and rushing past him, and getting higher every second. It was now almost at his knees. They had to get out of the trench before they drowned.
“What should we do?” Althea wailed.
Jason bent over.
“One of you step on my back, then I’ll stand up and you can try to climb out. Quick!” he shouted. Althea went first. As her shoes dug into Jason’s shoulders, he thought that she was heavier she looked. With a grunt he stood up.
“Okay,” Althea shouted back down.
“I think I can get up,”
The pressure of her feet increased suddenly as she stretched for a handhold, and then disappeared altogether as she pulled herself over the ledge. It was Maggie’s turn, but she was hesitating.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Jason.
“You know I’m afraid of heights,” protested Maggie.
“We don’t have time for that!” Jason said, trying not to look at the brown water that had reached his waist. Maggie bit her lip and waded over to him. Just as she was about to step up, a huge chunk of earth fell from the rim of the ledge and splashed into the water beside them.
“I can’t,” quavered Maggie.
“Just do it!” urged Jason.
Maggie climbed on his back and stood up. Althea’s voice sounded from above.
“I’ve got a vine. I’m sending it down!” and a length of rope-like plant fell from above. Maggie caught it and used it to help herself up. She struggled for she was a bit plump, but finally she disappeared over the rim.
Now only Jason was left. The water slopped at his shoulders. He grabbed the vine tightly and began working his way up. The rocks scraped his hands, and the vine was so slippery that several times he almost fell back into the swirling water below him. Finally, he reached the top, and rolled on to the edge. He lay there for a few seconds, catching his breath, and then stood up. He was in a forest, or more of a swamp. Great trees with twisting, snakelike roots were everywhere, and vines seemed to hang from every branch. Giant leafy green plants grew all over the place; moss covered anything that was not a plant itself. Althea and Maggie were huddled under a tree whose wide leaves and spreading boughs acted like an umbrella with hundreds of holes. Jason turned and saw behind him the trench, only that it now was a swiftly flowing river. He walked over to his sister and his friend. They were looking the worse for wear with their hair and clothes plastered to their bodies, and they were shaking with trauma and cold. Jason guessed he appeared the same.
“Thank goodness we’re all safe,” said Althea though a shaky voice and then burst out crying. Maggie did the same, and their tears mixed with the rainwater on their cheeks. Jason shivered and rubbed his arms to rid himself of goose bumps.
“What should we do?” he said more to himself than to anybody else.
“Try your cell phone,” suggested Maggie through hiccupy sobs. She tried to dry her eyes on her sleeve, but she was soaked so it only made them wetter. Jason wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before and reached into the pockets of his cargo shorts to get the phone. He opened it, but the screen was blank. It had probably shorted out from being wet, or maybe it didn’t work in this region.
“We need to build a fire,” said Althea. Jason thought it was pretty sensible idea, especially since through the murky gloom of the swamp he guessed it was nearing dusk. As he and the girls searched under bushes and trees for some semi-dry wood, he kept thinking how lucky he was that he had kept the two flint arrowheads that he had traded for a football card with a friend back home. Maybe they weren’t genuine, but at least they were flint and would start a spark. After they had piled a pitiful little stack branches and broken logs up in a space they had cleared themselves, Jason got to work. He tried several times to get the flints to spark, and even when he did it took a while for the flames to really get going. The fire was quite smoky, but it was hot and the Jason felt warmed by it, even though his clothes hadn’t really become dry yet. Soon, night fell. When Jason looked up through the trees he could see stars twinkling through the branches.
“What do you think happened?” asked Maggie, huddling near the fire.
“I don’t know, but I still think ‘ magic,” said Jason. He remembered the look and feel of the sphere, and knew that he had never encountered anything like it in his life.
“Whatever it is, it’s put us in a pretty bad situation,” said Althea.
“I wonder how we’ll find anything to eat?” and her stomach growled.
An hour later, the girls fell asleep from exhaustion, both cuddled together near the orange embers of the fire. Jason leaned back against a tree, and thought about that sphere. He felt as if he would never be able to get that image of the glowing ball out of his mind, as if he would always almost feel its warmth on his fingers. Just thinking about it made him excited. Why did his eyelids feel so heavy? No use keeping them up when there’s not any reason to. The whole scene before him swum before his eyes, and he retreated into welcome darkness.
With a start Jason woke up. He’d fallen asleep on his feet. The fire had all but died out now, and he could see the moon shining straight above him. Jason looked toward the slumped figures of Althea and Maggie. They were emitting gentle snores. With nothing to do, Jason went over to the fire and poked it with a stick, hoping to stir it up a bit more, but only succeeded in putting it entirely out.
He saw the moon shining through the branches above him, and a chill wind blew, going through his still-damp clothes. Jason felt cold and depressed. He was lost in the middle of nowhere with no food, no dry clothes, and no shelter. Jason turned his eyes skyward again, to take a look at what he could see of the stars through the thick forest. They were unfamiliar. He couldn’t find the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, or even the North Star. This gave Jason a panicked feeling. What if the portal had brought them to an entirely different world? He tried to calm himself but it was difficult. Then, there came a beautiful sound, drifting through the trees. At first Jason couldn’t figure out if it was music or song. He turned to where the sound was coming from, but he saw nothing. Quietly, being careful not to tread on a twig or noisily scuffle leaves, Jason moved toward what he now could tell was someone singing. He thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard. It was difficult to tell what language she was singing in—for he now thought it was a woman—but he was sure the words meant something. Something joyful and terrible at the same time. Jason passed a moss covered tree and saw who was lifting her clear and golden voice.
It was a barefoot woman dressed in a beautiful material that twirled as she danced, and when she paused it floated about her as if it had a life of its own. She wore no jewelry, but the decorations that bound her greenish hair sparkled in the moonlight. Her face was very pretty, but she did not look human to Jason. As she danced her dance that was wild but not ugly or impure, Jason watched. She seemed lighter and more comfortable on her feet than any ballerina he had ever seen. He watched her for a long time, wondering at this strange creature that danced in the forest in the middle of the night. Then Jason saw two, small, red lights glowing in the darkness under a bush quite near him. He wondered what they were and looked closer. Jason saw that they were two red eyes, and his heart skipped a beat in terror. The fiery orbs belonged to a hideous wolf-creature. Its taut body crouched in the darkness, ready to spring at the beautiful creature that sang and danced in between shafts of moon and starlight. For a moment Jason could not make a sound, so great was his terror. But then, as the creature jumped, he shouted,
“Look out!”
The woman turned just as the monster was in mid-leap, and there was a bright flash as she drew a knife. The wolf-creature died before it hit the ground. The woman stepped over the body and walked toward him. Jason shuddered as he stared at the shadowy mass that lay huddled on the ground.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A Hraken, or a werewolf, as I believe they call it in your world. You come from Earth, do you not?” Jason nodded. The lady’s voice had an accent which sounded almost like German, French, and Irish mixed together, but Jason was sure it was none of them. He got up the courage to ask one more question.
“Where am I now?”
“Elcarim,” she answered.
“Elcarim,” Jason repeated in a whisper to himself. It was wonderful to say.
“Thank you for saving me. I must give you a reward,” she said.
“Oh,” said Jason a bit bashfully. “I just sort of warned you. You don’t have to give me a reward.”
“I will give you a gift, then. Without your warning I would be dead now. I will not dance in these woods at night any more, for they are infested with Hraken,”
Suddenly Jason felt very nervous. He didn’t want any more encounters with werewolves.
“Close your eyes so I can give you your gift,” said the lady.
“It’s okay, I don’t need a gift,” protested Jason.
The lady looked at him sadly with her green and blue eyes.
“You will need this one,” she said quietly but firmly.
Jason closed his eyes. He felt a light, cool touch of fingers on his forehead, and then he heard the lady speaking in the language he had heard her singing in. This time the words were so powerful he could almost feel them. Coolness from the woman’s fingers entered his head for a moment, and then left. When Jason opened his eyes, the lady was gone. The wet forest was still. Remembering the lady’s words about the Hraken, he decided he’d better be heading back to where the girls were sleeping to start up the fire again. Wolves were scared of fire, so maybe creatures that were only half wolf were frightened of it too. Jason heard a twig snap. He gulped and began to jog toward where he now saw Althea and Maggie. Suddenly the ground below Jason seemed to give way. He was being pulled into the earth. It was sinking sand. Jason yelled for help, hoping that the girls would hear him. Maggie yawned, but otherwise they showed no signs of waking. The sand was sucking him in, pulling at his waist, his chest, his neck… and then his feet hit solid ground. The sand pit was shallow. Almost laughing hysterically with relief, he called out to Maggie, who was now stretching.
“Hey Mags, wake up!”
“Are you crazy? You made me get up in the middle of the night! Now it’ll take forever for me to go back to sleep because it’s so cold and wet out here. And don’t call me Mags.”
Maggie could not see him; or rather she could not see his head, because that was all that had not sunk into the sand.
“I’m sorry, Maggie,” apologized Jason.
“But I’m stuck and I need help,”
Maggie peered out into the darkness. Although Jason could not see her eyes pop wide when she saw him, he was sure that they did.
“What have you gotten yourself into now?” she asked incredulously.
“Quicksand,” answered Jason.
“Wake up Althea and help me out,” he begged.
Maggie groaned and shook her friends shoulder. Althea mumbled something and rolled over.
“Get up,” said Maggie,
“My brother went and got himself stuck in quicksand. We have to get him out,” she told her friend. Althea finally awoke. When she saw Jason’s plight, she began to giggle, the sound ringing out in the clear night.
“I don’t see anything laughable about this,” grumbled Jason.
Althea wiped her eyes.
“Sorry, Jason- it’s just that your head, sticking out of the ground like that- it’s funny.” said Althea between little giggles.
“How do we get you out of there?” asked Maggie. She was standing cautiously with Althea about six feet away from Jason’s head, because she didn’t want to gettoo near the pit of sinking sand.
“Get a stick and poke around in the sand until you find my hand, so I can get my arm out first,” said Jason. The girls found a dead branch and Althea inched as near Jason as she could on her stomach, and began searching in the sand with the stick. She jabbed him twice in the ribs, but he finally got a hold on the branch and Althea pulled his arm out of the pit. After another long five minutes that were filled with frustration, they found his other hand.
“Now find some brush and lay it on sinking sand in front of me so I can climb on top of it,” instructed Jason. Althea pulled up bracken for Maggie to place in front of Jason. Once Althea grabbed thorns by mistake, and she and Maggie had to switch roles because Althea’s hands were too scratched to do any heavy work. Finally there was enough brush sitting on the surface of the pit to support Jason. He used his arms to heave his upper body out and onto the bracken, and then wiggled his legs free. Ever so slowly and carefully Jason inched himself along until he reached the edge, and then he crawled over onto solid ground again. He brought himself to a sitting position.
“Thanks,” Jason said to Althea and Maggie in a breathless voice.. In every place on his body that sand could be, it was present. His damp clothes were caked with it. It was under his fingernails, between his toes, and some had even gotten into his mouth to make his teeth feel gritty. He took of one dirty sneaker and poured sand from it. As he proceeded to do the same with his other shoe, Maggie spoke.
“We really, really need to find a phone,”
“How are we going to find one out here?” asked Althea. Maggie had no answer.
Jason tied one of his sneakers back on.
“We’re not on earth anymore,” he said.
“Get serious, Jason. I don’t know how we got here, but it certainly wasn’t by magic, and we are definitely still on earth,” Maggie exclaimed.
“Look at the stars,” said Jason simply, as he tried to remove the sand from his shoelace.
Maggie and Althea craned their necks.
“I can’t see any constellations,” Althea said in worried tone.
As they stared up at the sky, he brushed off his pants and thought about telling them about the lady that he had seen, but he somehow didn’t feel like it. Jason looked at Maggie’s face and saw a tear roll down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly and met Jason’s eyes.
“So you were right,” she said softly.
“It really was magic. But now how do we get home?” said Althea in a subdued voice.
“I don’t know—look!” cried Maggie. She pointed to between two giant trees, where a light shone. It was not the cold silver light of the moon, but a warm yellow beam. It was lamplight shining through a window.

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