(work in progress)
The sun was already sinking into the deep green of the hills to the west of the valley, the red and gray-pink of its shadows touching the corners of the land, when Kersic began his decent. The trail stretched out unevenly down the northern slope, winding through the huge boulders which studded the rugged terrain in massive clumps, disappearing into the thick forests of the lowlands to reappear in a brief glimpses in small clearings and thinning spaces of woodland. Kersic followed the familiar trail with his eyes as he trudged wearily along, his light pack slung loosely over one shoulder. His broad, windburned face bore a set, placid look, and only the wide gray eyes revealed the restless energy that burned beneath the calm exterior. He was a young man, though his stocky build and the grizzled brown hair and shaggy eyebrows made him look much older. He wore the loose-fitting work clothes of the Vale people and the pack he carried were several metal implements that rolled and clanked loosely against one another. There was a slight chill in the evening air, and Kersic clutched the collar of his open wool shirt closer to his neck. His journey ahead lay through forests and rolling flatlands, the latter not yet visible to him as he passed into the forests, and the darkness of the tall oaks and somber hickories reached upward to overlap and blot out the cloudless night sky. The sun had set, leaving only the deep blue of the heavens pinpointed by thousands of friendly stars. The huge trees shut out even these, and Kersic was left alone in the silent darkness as he moved slowly along the beaten path. Because he had traveled this same route a hundred times, the young man noticed immediately the unusual stillness that seemed to have captivated the entire valley this evening. The familiar buzzing and chirping of insets normally present in the quiet of the night, the cries of the birds that awoke with the setting of the sun to fly in search of food - all were missing. Kersic listened intently for some sound of life, but his keen ears could detect nothing. He shook his head uneasily. The deep silence was unsettling, particularly in view of the rumors of a frightening black-winged creature sighted in the night skies north of the valley only days earlier. He forced himself to whistle and turned his thought back to his day's work in the county just to the north of the Vale, where outlying families farmed and tended domestic livestock. He traveled to their homes every weed, supplying various items that they required and bringing bits of news on the happenings of the Vale and occasionally the distant cities of the deep Southland. Few people knew the surrounding countryside as well as he did, and fewer still cared to travel beyond the comparative safety of their homes in the valley. Men were more inclined to remain in isolated communities these days and let the rest of the world get along as best it could. But Kersic liked to travel outside the valley from time to time, and the outlying homesteads were in need of his services and were willing to pay him for the trouble. Kersic's father was not one to let an opportunity pass him by where there was money to be made, and the arrangement seemed to work out well for all concerned. A low-hanging branch brushing against his head caused Kersic to start suddenly and leap to one side. In chagrin, he straightened himself and glared back at the leafy obstacle before continuing his journey at a slightly quicker pace. He was deep in the lowland forests now and only slivers of moonlight were able to find their way through the thick boughs overhead to light the winding path dimly. It was so dark the Kersic was having trouble finding the trail, and as he studied the lay of the land ahead, he again found himself conscious of the heavy silence. It was as if all life had been suddenly extinguished, and he alone remained to find his way out of this forest tomb. Again he recalled the strange rumors. He felt a bit anxious in spite of himself and glanced worriedly around. But nothing stirred on the trail ahead nor moved in the trees about him, and he felt embarrassingly relieved. Pausing momentarily in a moonlit clearing, he gazed at the fullness of the night sky before passing abruptly into the trees beyond. He walked slowly, picking his way along the winding path that had narrowed beyond the clearing and now seemed to disappear into a wall of trees and bushes ahead. He knew that it was merely an illusion, but found himself glancing about uneasily all the same. A few moments later, he was again on a wider trail and could discern bits of sky peeking through the heavy trees. He was almost to the bottom of the valley and about two miles from his home. He smiled and began whistling an old tavern song as he hurried on. He was so intent on the trail ahead and the open land beyond the forest that he failed to notice the huge black shadow that seemed to rise up suddenly, detaching itself from a great oak tree on his left and moving swiftly toward the path to intercept him. The dark figure was almost on top of the Valeman before Kersic sensed its presence looming up before him like a great, black stone which threatened to crush his smaller being. With a startled cry of fear he leaped aside, his pack falling to the path with a crash of metal, and his left hand whipped out the long thin dagger at his waist. Even as he crouched to defend himself, he was stayed by a commanding arm raised above the figure before him.
To be continued
A Short Story
By: White Tiger
How the hell did I ever end up here hanging from the balcony of this dumb church? As I looked down at the empty pews below, it all started coming back . . ..
The invitation came in a white envelope with gold trim. The edges were sharp as my fingers fumbled with it. The return address sad it all: "John and Mary Tremble." It had been three months since I had heard from Amy.
The last time I saw her was almost a year ago when Jim and I visited her and Kevin for Octoberfest. We spent the entire weekend in her small, sleepy town of Albertsville. Being 50 miles from Rockford doesn't give you much to do in a town like that.
We went out there though and enjoyed ourselves. We drank some beer, talked with the locals. It had been almost a year. A year since I had seen my angel.
It had been five years since Amy and I had split up. We promised to stay friends, and for a while conversed regularly. Soon though, life was pulling us apart. My writing career took off and I became busier than ever. We ended up only seeing each other three or four times a year, talking on the phone once a month. Now, it was so bad I hadn't even heard from her in six months.
As I opened the invitation I could feel the wounds from our break up starting to open again. Time had healed my mind, but my heart was never the same. As I read, I could feel my gut taking another blow:
"Mr. And Mrs. John Trimble cordially invite you and a guest to the wedding of our daughter, Amy Tremble, and her fiance, Kevin Flattery, on November 22 at 3 p. m. in the St. Matthews church in Albertsville. The reception will be at 7 p. m. at the Elks Club, also n Albertsville."
I nearly fell to the floor. Kevin and Amy are getting married. Well, there was no way I was going to that wedding.
"You've got to go," said Jim as we sat at the bar later that night. "She wants you there. Why else would you be on the guest list?"
"I don't know," I said as I took a swig of my beer. "It would be a disaster."
"You have to go Johnny, you guys have a history together."
"Yeah, a history I'd like to forget," I retorted. "Plus I've just started to get over her. I don't need this now in my life."
"Alright," said Jim as he got this crazy look in his eyes. "How 'bout I be your guest to the wedding. We have a few drinks. We try and pick up some women, be just like old times."
"I don't know I said hesitantly as I drowned my sorrows in more beer. "Let me sleep on it."
"Alright buddy, you do that."
As I got back from the bar, the phone rang. The voice was hauntingly familiar.
"Hello," I said as I picked up the receiver.
"Hey," said the cheery female voice on the other end.
God, it's been six whole months since I had heard that voice. I had almost forgotten what it sounded like. Damnit!
"Hey," was all I could come up with.
"How've you been Sparky?"
"Hanging in there," I told her. "What's new with you?"
"Did you get my invitation?" she asked. "Kevin and I are getting married."
"Maybe," I replied.
"Are you going to come? It would mean so much to me if you did."
I really don't know Ames."
"C 'mon Johnny," she begged. "After all we've been through and you can't do me this one little favor."
"All we've been through," I said, "That's exactly why I can't come to the wedding."
"Oh Johnny, " she said, "Remember how we used to talk about each other's wedding and how great they would be."
"Yeah," I said, "except mine always had you as the bride."
An awkward silence came over us both. I could tell she was hurt by that last remark.
"Well if you don't want to come, that's fine," she finally blurted, "but if that's the way you want to be John Sheppard, then I don't ever want to talk to you again."
"Wait a minute," I sad, making sure she wasn't going to hang up on me, "Jimmy and I were talking about t today and the two of us are thinking about going."
"Well, that's good," she said, "I haven't seen Jimmy in a long time. It would be great to see the both of you."
"Listen," I sad, "I'm still thinking about t. I'll call you in a few days with my answer."
"Okay, good," she said. I could sense a smile coming over her. "It would mean a lot if you came Johnny."
"I know. I'll call you in a few days, my dear."
After I got off the phone with Amy I went into my room, got ready for bed then laid there for hours just thinking, thinking about all the good times me and Ames had together. I remember taking her to her prom. I remember the trips to the amusement park. I remember everything.
I also thought about what it would be like to see her at her wedding. Could I handle the sight of the one true love going arm in arm with another? I was barely able to control myself when Kevin and her were still dating. How could I even handle the marriage?
Even with all that, something inside told me I should go. I kept hearing her sweet voice echoing, "It would mean a lot." I would do anything for that girl. So maybe it was time to swallow my pride and see that she's happy.
I called Amy the next day and told her the good news. She was ecstatic.
"You just made my day Johnny," she said "See you in a couple of weeks," she stated as she hung up the phone.
After I told Jim that we were going, he seemed happier than Amy. "Man, this s going to be great," He said. "Just like old times."
Jim and I got our tuxedos. I was dong fine until the day of the wedding when Jim and I were driving up there.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," I said, moving uneasily in my chair.
"Man, you what you need to do," said Jim, eyes still focused on the road ahead.
"What?" I retorted back.
"Relax," said Jim, "Just let go."
"I can't," I said, almost in frustration.
"Johnny, you got to take a deep breath and just let go of her."
"I can't Jim," I said. "She just means to much to me. She was everything to me. Remember, she gave up. I never have."
"Man, the sooner you let go, the sooner you can move on with your life."
"Whatever," I sneered as I turned to look out the window.
The rest of the trip was silent.
We finally got to the church. Jim and I sat on Amy's side. All I could do was look around at all the statues and stain glass in this old church. I also noticed the balcony where the organist was. It was awfully high. Fifteen feet at least, maybe thirty.
Finally, I heard the opening line to "Here Comes the Bride." I swallowed my pride, along with the lump in my throat as I saw Amy make her way down the aisle. I couldn't stop thinking how that should be me she's exchanging vows with. That should be me she s marrying. As the pastor presented Mr. And Mrs. Kevin Flattery, a single tear ran down my cheek.
Jim leaned over to me and said; "Now the real fun begins."
As we moved across the street to the reception hall, everyone was in high spirits, everyone except me. I saw Amy standing there in her flowing white gown. It really brought her blue-green eyes to life. Her majestic brown hair was put up in the prettiest way. If only she were mine. She should be my bride.
Jim and I played it cool at the reception, having a couple whiskey sours. They really did nothing for my nerves. I still couldn't handle the fact that Kevin is marrying my girl, my one true love.
About halfway through the reception, I see Amy and her best friend Heather walking towards Jim and I.
"Hey boys," said Amy, batting her eyes, "Wanna dance?"
"C' mon loverboys," Heather chimed in.
"Alright!! Showtime," said Jim.
With that Heather grabbed Jim's arm and Amy grabbed me. We were off to the dance floor.
"Thanks for coming Johnny. It really means a lot," sad Amy as I took her hand in mine.
"I'm sure it does," I said quite dryly. At that point Amy knew something was bothering me.
"What's wrong John?"
"Nothing I replied looking at the many lights coming from the DJ onstage.
"No, tell me. I know something is wrong."
That s when I stopped dancing and looked straight into her eyes.
"Why couldn't this be our night?" I asked in desperation.
"We couldn't have, we wouldn't have worked," she said staring back at me with disappointment.
"You gave up too easily," I snapped. "You never gave it a chance."
"We were too far apart," she sad sadly, "Plus, I didn't know what I wanted."
"You didn't know what you wanted? I could've given you everything."
"I don't want everything," Amy remarked. "I want Kevin."
That was it. I couldn't take any more as I ripped away from her and ran out the door.
"Johnny, wait!" She cried.
"Leave him be," said Kevin as he grabbed her by the arm.
I ran across the street back to the church. I ran upstairs to where the organist was and looked over the balcony. The church was empty.
"Why me God!!! Why did you have to torment me like this!!!"
No reply. So I decided to climb over the rail and here I am, now dangling by my hands with nothing between me and the hardwood floor.
"Johnny, oh no!!!" In comes Amy to the floor below, Kevin right behind her.
"What are you doing, you nut. Amy get away from there. He's crazy. He'll fall and kill you both."
I'm not crazy, I'm mad."
"What?" They both say in unison.
"Yeah," I say, "Madly n love with you Amy."
"Oh my god, you can't be serious," retorts Kevin.
"Ever since I first met you Ames. You were the one for me."
"But Johnny, I told you, it would never work between us."
"I can't accept that as my fate," I yell as I loosen my grip and let my hands slide a little closer to the edge.
"No, don't do it!" She screams. "You just need to get over the fact that we weren't meant to be."
"No, no, no, no," I say shaking my head and taking one hand off the rail.
"If he's going to fall leave him be," Kevin says as he pulls Amy out from under me.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Jim just keeps popping in my head. Should I do it? Should I listen to what he said on the way up here? Yeah, I'll do what Jim told me to do. I just let go.