Chapter three – Fateful encounters, part two
Evelyn and I had talked a lot that afternoon, before finally parting ways. About everything, really. My life here in Appaloosa Plains. Her new classmates. And horses. Especially about horses. We’d set up a plan of action already. She would take a week or two to get used to the town, after which I’d agree on a day to give her her first riding lesson. Of course, I wasn’t completely for free. Her payment was help with history- a subject that I absolutely sucked at, but which she loved. It was a win-win situation for the both of us.
Not long afterwards, our path home together ended. I said goodbye to Evelyn with a smile on my face, satisfied to have gained her friendship so easily.
Today was turning out to be a good day.
Or maybe not that good. As I climbed the porch to my house, I could hear my parents’ voices from behind the door. They were arguing. That came as a complete shock to me- my parents never argued. Ever. They had their differences in opinion, and they did not try to hide that from me. But both my dad and my mum took pride in the fact that they could talk those conflicts out peacefully. Hearing mum raise her voice like that was a completely new experience.
With caution, I slid my key into the door and pushed it open. The metallic click and creaking of the wood drowned in the sound of my dad arguing, somewhere near the kitchen.
‘You agreed to it!’
‘So did you!’ mum’s voice bounced across the hallway, tense but not yet yelling. Neither of them yelling. ‘And I don’t recall you ever digging them up afterwards, either. Admit it, you’d just as rather have they didn’t exist.’
Whatever they were arguing about made no sense to me. I dumped my backpack in the corner of the room, silently walking over to the kitchen. Eavesdropping was a bad thing… I knew that. But in situations like this, I couldn’t contain myself. I wanted to know what they were talking about so tensely. Inch by inch, like a ninja, I peeked around the corner.
They were, indeed, in the kitchen. It looked like mum had been working on something that was supposed to become an evening salad. The vegetables lay in pieces and forgotten on the kitchen sink, the knife put back in its chopping block. Mum herself wasn’t anywhere near the block; both her and dad were standing on opposites of the dinner table, facing each other tensely. There was something white on the table in between them, but I couldn’t see what it was.
Until dad grabbed one of them from the table. It was a tiny envelope, the paper turned yellow from old age. He held it up angrily, dragging mum’s eyes down from his face.
‘What do you suggest we do with it, then? Wait for his next milestone birthday? Or the one after that? When are we supposed to stop this?’
Stop what? And why did it seem like they were talking about me?
‘When he is old enough!’ mum growled, snatching the envelope from her husband. She clutched it tightly with her fingers, crumpling the paper. ‘Just as we promised when we took him in!’
‘And when is that?’ dad snapped back at her, his voice finally starting to raise. ‘When he moves out? When he graduates from higher education?’
‘Now is too early-‘
‘I agree. But when is it nót too early anymore? These are not going to go away, you know. Not unless we burn them-‘
‘We can’t just-‘
My curiosity had finally gotten the better of me. I stepped out from behind the doorpost and into the kitchen, catching my parents’ attention instantly. They both gasped. That reaction confirmed my suspicions- they really had been talking about me. They had been arguing about me. Those envelopes on the table- they were for me.
Mum jumped. She tried to muffle away the papers behind her, failing horribly. I could see her eyes nervously darting back and forth between me and the table.
‘Ch-Chase! You’re home early!’
‘I’m not early at all. It’s almost twilight.’
A quick look out the window showed her that I was right. The sun had started to set, basking the front yard and the horse barn in an fiery orange glow. I always came home before twilight arrived- it wasn’t safe outside of the village anymore after that time. My mother had practically hammered that into me when I was a child. Her losing track of time like that was another sign that something was seriously wrong. I frowned, moving my finger to the pile on the table and pointing out the obvious.
‘What are those?’
‘J-just some letters from long ago,’ dad said, visibly trying to keep his expression in check. ‘Why don’t you go check up on the horses, Chase, and we’ll-‘
‘They’re mine, aren’t they?’ I interrupted him. ‘Those letters on the table. And the one in your hand, mum-my name is written on them.’
I shook my head, cutting off mum’s speech. My hand moved to the letter that was still clutched in between her fingers.
‘Show me!’ I said, my voice rising with sudden anger. Something about all this was wrong. I could see it in the way mum and dad both froze, her fingers refusing to let go of the paper even after I started pulling it from her hand. A second later, the letter snapped loose and I could read the crumpled address. My name really was on it. And my address, as well. The back of the envelope had been opened once already, and I effortlessly pulled out the contents.
I was not prepared for what came out.
Two letters, together with a tiny photograph. I squinted my eyes at the two people on the paper in front of me. They were unfamiliar… I’d never seen them before. And yet… they weren’t. In a way, I saw myself. I saw myself in the way that the woman looked into the camera. I saw myself in the man’s hair, mouth and shape of his chin, held up high just like mine when I taught my dogs a new trick. My gaze lingered on his arm, wrapped around the woman’s waist as his other arm held the camera that no doubt had made this picture.
I knew these people.
With every second that tickled by, that became clearer.
And with every second that ticked by, it made me angrier.
‘Tell me the truth,’ I growled, flicking up my gaze and looking mum directly in her eyes. She flinched, trying to look away. ‘Are these my parents?’
An answer stayed absent. Mum’s eyes were everywhere but on me, and she seemed to be trying her best to dissapear into the background. Dad merely looked, his mouth opening and closing a few times. Their silence was all the confirmation I needed. I felt the anger rise within me, smothering my chest and making a small red haze appear in front of my eyes.
‘Those,’ I growled again, my teeth clenched while I pointed back at the table, ‘Are all from my parents. Aren’t they? Every single one.’
‘Chase, we only wanted to-‘
Maybe there was something in my eyes. Maybe mum had never seen me truly angry before. But the words got stuck in her mouth as she froze a second time, the colour rapidly draining from her face. I looked away from her and marched up to the kitchen table, sweeping away all the letters in one go. The haze in front of my eyes became thicker, and when dad grabbed my shoulder to stop me when I walked to the back door, I pushed him away. A moment later, the door was open and I was halfway through the doorway.
‘Don’t follow me,’ I mumbled, looking back over my shoulder. My parents barely had time to react before I shut the door in their faces, jumped off the porch and disappeared into the woods behind our house.
Appaloosa Plains was built right next to the southern woods. Back in old times, there had been plans to turn the little village into a bustling city. But for unknown reasons, that plan had been denied. Now part of the forest had been riddled with jogging roads and horse trails- many people came through there during the day.
That part of the woods I knew like the back of my hand. I quickly skimmed through the trails and tracks, ending up at a random clearing in the woods. It wasn’t far from the edge, I knew.
At this time of day, I couldn’t go any further.
With a sigh, I lowered myself on the grassy ground. The red haze had long since disappeared from my vision, but the anger was still there. I would not be able to forgive my parents for this. Not for something this big. My gaze dwelled down to the bundle in my hands, crumpled and torn from the wild run into the woods. Every envelope had the same handwriting on it. Was it my mother’s, or my father’s? I didn’t know. But I would soon find out. Still slightly panting, I spread out the envelopes on the ground. Five of them. They were marked by date, the first one dating all the way back to my birth year.
‘You were placed on our doorstep with a single letter in your blanket.’
I growled at the lie. Mum had shown me that letter… of my parents begging them to bring me in and raise me as their own. But this one she had told me nothing about. Neither of them had. I picked it up, opening the envelope and revealing the contents.
It looked like a man’s handwriting. My father- I still didn’t even know his name- wrote his t’s in the same angle as I did. He’d written to me. And my mother, too, perhaps.
They’d written to me five times.
I gulped, trying to get rid of the nasty feeling in the back of my throat.
I hope you’re old enough when you read this, Chase. For your own safety, we can’t come anywhere near you. Please know that it was not something we chose because we wanted to. We chose to leave you with the Nelsons to protect you- to give you your best chance.
But I think that anyone has the right to know where he came from. Your mother and I have written you five letters, Chase. One for every childhood stage you’ll go through, and a last one that explains everything. I’m going to put these letters with you when we bring you to the Nelsons. I’m also going to ask them not to show you any before you are old enough- before you are ready. If they heed my wishes, please don’t hate them for it.
Chase, I know that you’ll probably have hundreds of questions by the time you’re able to read this. If there had been another way, a safe way for you to grow up with us, we would have taken it. But there was not, and I can only hope that your childhood will be a happy one. And know one thing. Your mother and I – we love you. With all our hearts, we love you and we always will.
I might not have the right to call myself your father anymore, but I- and your mother- we are so proud of you. For having come into our lives. For the wonderful person that I know you’ll grow up to be.
I’ll always be proud. And… I’ll always love you.
Your father- Tybalt
‘I’ll never… ever forget you, Chase.’
It was the earliest memory I had.
Slowly, my eyes turned misty. I could feel tears starting to form in their corners, and blinked furiously to get rid of them.
With shaking hands, I put the letter down. A wave of emotions was tearing my inside apart. Hope, confusion, anger, relief, fear- they all crashed down into my chest at once. I fell backwards, my back hitting the nearest tree and my fingers digging into the ground underneath me.
My actual parents.
I’d imagined their story a thousand times over, ever since I’d been old enough to think about it. They’d been forced to give me up because of a scandal. They couldn’t afford to raise me. I’d been abducted and orphaned because of a grudge. They had died and left me behind. Or, the worst one, they just hadn’t cared about me.
And all this time, the proof of just how much they’d cared had been in the house. Right under my nose.
Just waiting for me to be old enough to handle it.
My fingers were still shaking when I picked up the second envelope. And the third one. They were in a different handwriting, but contained the same, warm message of love. With every word that I read, the knot in my chest became a little looser.
They really hadn’t abandoned me. They’d tried to give me my best chance. They’d even put in a detailed report about how they had found the Nelsons. It had taken months and months of preparation.
All for my sake.
But there was one thing that was severely missing in each of those letters. Not once was my fathers’, Tybalt’s, last name mentioned. My mother wasn’t named at all. Any hint at their lineage, age, job or whereabouts had been completely left out. There was not a single lead for me to grab onto. And the reason why I discovered quickly, in the fourth letter.
Chase, it read in the female handwriting.
When you read this, you will be a teenager. I’m sure you’ve already noticed that you can’t even hint at who we are throughout all of our letters. We’re doing this on purpose, Chase. We want you to know the whole truth- but not before you are ready. Not before you are old enough to know exactly what the reason is that we gave you up – and the danger that comes with it. I’m not going to make this sound nicer than it is, son. If you try to find us before you are ready, it will get you killed.
What you do after you’ve gotten old enough, though, that is up to you.
There will be one last letter for you – on your adult birthday. Tybalt and I will explain everything in there. You might not believe us at first, but every word that is written in there is the truth. We will let you read my- our, story. And yours, in a way.
If you wish to seek us out after that, I will not stop you. But I will ask this one favour of you, Chase. After leaving you in the care of the Nelsons, we can never come back to Appaloosa Plains. It would not be safe. So we will give all of those letters to you at once. Including that one.
Don’t read it before you are ready. You will know best of all when that moment will be.
Because you are my son.
I love you.
The letter ended. There was no name. No further goodbye. But the message in that letter had been clear- If I read further, everything would be revealed. No doubt they’d asked my parents to hide the final message until I was truly ready. But now I had every single one of them here. My eyes darted across the papers until I’d found what I was looking for: the one envelope that was still sealed shut.
If I read that, I’d know where I was from. Where I was really from.
I was old enough.
I was ready.
My fingers had already started to tear open the paper when I heard the voice in my head. It halted all of my movements, making my nails slip away from the envelope.
“Don’t do that.”
For a moment, it was as if my mind was in a fog. The forest around me faded from sight as I slid down from the tree trunk. My head went completely blank. I was floating motionlessly, just like in that dream from long ago. Nothing else was there, except for that one voice.
“You are not ready.”
Slowly, the fog lifted. I was back in the forest, my head still resting against the tree trunk. The sun was about to dissapear beneath the horizon, from the looks of the sky. My hand was still curled around the edge of the last envelope. I stared at it, not moving for a full minute.
Just… what had I been doing? This was exactly what my parents must not have wanted to happen. That letter had been meant for my adult birthday for a reason. I’d barely turned into a teenager.
I wasn’t ready. Not by a longshot. As much as I wanted to know… it made sense. I knew myself well enough by now. As soon as I’d find out who or where they were, I’d try to find them. At any cost. It was the biggest challenge thrown at me yet.
And, according to my mother, it would get me killed.
With a sigh, I gathered the letters scatted across the ground. I put neatly put them back in their envelopes, turning them into a neat pile again. One by one they went into my back pocket. I’d store them somewhere safely in my room. Away from prying eyes. That’s what I would do.
That was probably for the best.
A few moments later, I got back up from the ground and started the long walk back home. I’d run a long way into the forest… too far for my liking. The gypsies at the edge of town had told us all about the dangers in the woods at night. And while most people laughed it off as being superstition, I’d always believed them.
The woods weren’t safe at night.
With my shoulders slumped, I slowly made my way back to our house. I owed my parents an apology. A pretty big one, too, given how had I acted. They’d just done as my biological parents had asked them, after all. More, even. They could have thrown those letters away at any moment, but instead, they’d kept them safe all these years. Probably even forgotten about them at some point. But they were still here, because they knew that one day, I’d want to read them. That’s how much they cared about me.
And how had I repaid them? By getting angry, shoving dad and storming out of the house.
I wasn’t just not ready. I was pathetic.
By the time that darkness had fallen, I’d finally made it out of the forest. From there on out, it was a single road to my house. A long walk, but a straight one. There were barely any cars left at this late hour. I could finally zone out, letting my thoughts wander freely as my legs walked by themselves. I needed time to think. Desperately.
But just as I’d started to zone out, a tingly feeling in the back of my head snapped me back into reality. The kind of feeling that you got when you knew that you were being watched. I snapped back around, half expecting one of the villagers to be behind me. But the roads were just as empty as a few minutes ago, save for some hay strands that were being blown away by the wind. There was nobody there.
Just my imagination, then. I shrugged, continuing my walk along the road. But the feeling didn’t go away. Instead, the tingling got worse until I could feel the hairs in my neck starting to rise. It wasn’t just a feeling anymore. Someone was definitely watching me.
And at this time of night, it couldn’t be good.
I looked around me, searching for a piece of wood. A pipe. Anything, really, that I could run to in case the worst happened. A chill ran down my spine when I realized that there was nothing near me that I could use. Not even a single pebble. I sped up, walking across the road as fast as I could. The feeling of dread inside me became worse and I could swear the stars were shining less brightly, a very bad omen in the countryside. My breathing became ragged and before I knew it, I was running.
Suddenly, to my right, a sharp squeal sounded. Something cracked, after which I could see an entire pile of hay come crashing and pushing an old, rusty wagon away. The squeal abruptly ended, changing into a small whimper.
I stopped running. Part of me wanted to shout out: ‘Is anyone there?’ But I stopped myself. Cautiously, I left the road and made my way over to the place where the sound had come from. There was… something over there. As I climbed over the fence, I could see something white trashing between a pile of crates. The falling hay had crashed into a broken hay wagon, slowly pushing it downwards and pinning the thing that was under it to the ground. Sharp nails clawed into the grassy soil, kicking up dirt as the creature tried to break free.
My eyes widened. We had wolves in the countryside, but not this close to the village. And definitely not one on its own. They stayed in groups, on their side of the forest, far away from human eyes.
‘What are you doing all the way out here?’ I mumbled, approaching the creature. Maybe the poor thing had gotten lost, and in the confusion, it buried itself under that wheel. Maybe I could set it free.
When I took another step, the wolf bared its teeth at me and growled. It were sharp teeth, sharp enough to look like they could rip through anything. I suddenly remembered that this was not one of my pet dogs. This was a wild creature. In groups, they killed people. Easily. It would probably be able to kill me on its own, judging the state of mind I was in.
I backed off quickly. I was an animal lover at heart, but I wasn’t stupid. That wolf would get out on its own, eventually. Probably.
‘See ya,’ I mumbled to the beast, backing off more. It stopped growling as I walked away backwards, back out. The fence was already in reach when I noticed the red marks on its hind legs. Strands of thick, dark red blood ran down from its lower legs to its claws, dying them a deep crimson.
Was it hurt? It had to be. And if it was, then it would not be able to bust itself out of there in time.
And that meant that it was going to die out here if I left it like this.
Just my luck.
‘If you eat me,’ I snapped at the wolf, cursing my own kindness, ‘I will haunt you for the rest of your miserable canine life, you hear me?’
It didn’t seem to understand me, because it kept growling as I once again came closer. I circled around to its back, making sure to stay as far away from the claws and mouth as possible. Cautiously, I grabbed onto the wooden wheel. It was heavier than it looked, being pushed down by all of the hay. It took a tremendous effort to lift. The bottom had basically been drilled into the ground, inches away from the wolf’s head. At least it kept the beast from biting me. I stressed my muscles, slowly pulling the wheel and the hay up from the ground. The wolf abruptly stopped growling. It sunk through its front legs, tilting its head slightly towards me. Maybe I was doing a very, very stupid thing by setting it free. But I’d come this far already. With another heave, I lifted the wheel a little further when it suddenly broke loose. Hay was sprinkled all over my face and I went into a coughing fit from the dust. Covering my eyes, I quickly stepped back.
I couldn’t see a thing. Where was that wolf? Was it going to leap for my throat?
…No, it wasn’t. In fact, it was nowhere to be seen. I blinked, trying to wipe the dust from my eyes as I checked around me. The road was once again abandoned. The surrounding bushes were completely still- where had that darn wolf gone?
I turned around, and the answer immediately became clear. There, in the distance and a few meters away from the forest edge, was the wolf. I blinked a few times from confusion. How in the name of Maker had it gotten all the way over there so fast? To make it even weirder, it was standing there. Just standing. Looking in my direction. No, not just in my direction. It was looking straight at me. I held my breath when I made eye contact with the beast, not knowing what I was supposed to do. Walk towards it? Turn by back and run away? Wave at it, or something?
The wolf growled again. I could see its teeth flickering despite the dark night sky. The next second, it turned its tail to me and disappeared behind the trees. Just as abruptly as it had come, it had gone. I was alone again. Slowly, I felt my heartbeat return to normal. A sigh escaped from my lips.
Well. Today’d been weird. I’d crashed into a girl, found out my parents were keeping things from me, found out about my real parents and gotten close to being eaten by a wild animal. All in under twelve hours.
Just another ordinary day in Appaloosa Plains.
Sorry for the abrupt ending and lack of pictures there. I was running out of time. There’s never enough time. xD
Also, I’m pretty sure you noticed the change in theme and picture size. Tell me what you think; are they too big like this? Is larger better? I’d like your opinion very much. ^w^ I’m going to try and make the text size bigger, at least, as soon as I figure out how to. xD -Yimi