Chapter six – The Woman
Late afternoon. Bobby Pendrake was one of the last people in the school building. He’d stayed behind on purpose, as studying here was always more effective than studying with his group of friends, who always succeeded in distracting each other. Plus, it kept them from trying to copy his homework, too.
Just as Bobby was about to round the corner and leave for home, a feminine voice stopped him dead in his tracks.
Walking up to him was Evelyn, the recent transfer student in his class. She was also the girl that Bobby, along with half the school, had a major weakness for.
‘Good timing, you’re just the person I was looking for. Mind if I ask your help with something?’
‘Sure. What do you need?’
Her eyes turned away from Bobby, and she looked at the ground shyly.
‘You know how Chase saved my life the other day?’
‘I remember. I think everyone remembers, honestly.’
‘Yeah, about that. I wanted to thank Chase for what he did, but I don’t know him that well yet. Plus, Jamie and the other boys would probably just tell me to get something to prank Chase with, but you’re not like that. You’ve been close to Chase for a while now, so you know what things he likes, right?’
‘Great! So…mind helping a girl out?’
As she said that last sentence, her large, beautiful green eyes rose up and looked straight into Bobby’s. That was too much for his teenager heart. Although he was disappointed that the request was for Chase, and not for himself, he nodded and smiled at the girl in front of him.
‘No problem, Evelyn. The guy absolutely loves lasagna. If you happen to have leftovers, he’d be over the moon if you shared it with him.’
‘Lasagna, huh?’ Evelyn laughed. ‘I guess it’s true what they say about the path to a man’s heart. Thanks, Bobby. I’ll remember that.’
She’d already turned to walk away, when suddenly Evelyn seemed to remember something. Quickly, she spun back to face Bobby.
‘Incidentally, what’s your favourite?’
Bobby had not expected that. Caught off-guard, he stuttered:
‘Good, that shouldn’t be too hard. See you around, Bobby!’
With a love-struck smile, he watched her leave.
‘Yeah… see you around, Evelyn.’
A few days later, my training began.
As I warmed up my muscles in advance, I could feel my own heartbeat. It was a cloudy morning, unusual for these hot summer days. I’d decided on my strategy the night before. There were multiple ways to run. One could train in order to become a sprinter, or a long-distance runner.
Both seemed attractive, but I saw the problem with both of them right away. You just had to add the threat of a pack of wolves on my tail, pun intended. If I merely trained to sprint, I’d be exhausted after a few minutes and they’d effortlessly catch up to me. If I trained my endurance, I’d last a long time, but I would not be able to outrun them in the first place.
So I had to do both. I had to be both fast and strong. My life would be on the line. It would be the absolute highlight of challenges, and I was loving it already.
As I finished my warming-up, my mind involuntarily drifted off to the phone conversation that I’d had with Tristan yesterday. He didn’t look like it, but Tristan was the most knowledgeable member of our gang. He took pride in it, and I figured he would be the perfect person to ask. Was it possible for a human to outrun a wolf?
His answer had been less than satisfactory.
‘Hell, dude, of course not.’
‘Because those things are too damn fast, that’s why. It’s a fact. Super-sprinters that have trained for their whole lives aside, the average running speed of a human is 15 kilometers an hour. Wolves have a speed of 35 kilometers or faster. Plus, they’re high-endurance animals. You do the math. It’s not possible.’
The conversation had left me a little annoyed, and with the pressing feeling that I had something to prove. If anything, it had made me more determined in my training. My warming-up was complete. It was time to start running.
And so I did. I started off easy, keeping a pace that was just above speed-walking, to see how long I’d last. I gradually picked up speed after that. People in the houses around me were just starting to wake up, and I’d glance at their morning rituals as I ran past. Bringing in the newspaper. Taking care of the animals on their property. Basically the same ritual as at our home.
It was… a bit boring, actually. I could set my own path, but the streets of Appaloosa Plains were something that was absolutely not new to me. I quickly grew tired of observing my fellow townies as I ran. Then, the running itself became slightly boring. It was worrisome. As I reached the Town Hall and slowed down to a walking speed, I instinctively knew.
Just running for the running itself wasn’t enough. I needed something else. Something to work towards, something that I could easily measure my progress against.
I needed something else.
It was almost as if Maker herself had heard me. At that exact moment, something hit my shoulder from behind. As I turned my head in annoyance, to see who had bumped into me, I was greeted by a pair of eyes that I had never seen before. They were light, almost grey, but with brown and green specks surrounding t. I’d never seen an eye colour like this before. Their sharp contrast with her caramel skin was staggering.
Before my mind could register more, the woman had already sped past me. My gaze automatically followed. Almost involuntarily, I observed her back. My first thought was that this woman had the body of an athlete. Man, she looked buff. But in a good way. Beautiful, too. Her strong legs kept her going forward effortlessly and she almost seemed to float, rather than run. Long, black hair was practically pulled back into a ponytail.
My second thought was that I had never seen this person before. And for a tiny village like Appaloosa Plains, where everyone knew everyone and their cousin, that was very strange. Where did she come from?
Then, the woman suddenly stopped. She turned around and faced the only other person in the square- me. For a whole second, the dark-skinned woman looked at me with those staggering light eyes…
And gave me a single, devious smile.
She was clearly mocking me. Making fun of the fact that I had already ended my run. Making fun of my endurance. Then, she turned around again and took off. A third thought appeared in my mind.
“Oh, no you don’t.”
I accepted the challenge. She wanted speed? I’d show her speed. She was going to bite my dust.
The game was on.
I took off as fast as I could. My heart started beating fast, reacting to the excitement of being challenged. It was a good thing my muscles had been warmed up already. I picked up speed, storming across the road and towards the Town Hall, where the woman had turned a corner just seconds before. She couldn’t be that far ahead yet. My legs were pumping. I was going to catch up in seconds. I turned the corner.
And the woman was nowhere in sight. Surprised, I slowed down. Where had she gone? She couldn’t have outran me, not in a few mere seconds. Was she hiding in between buildings somewhere? Why would she do that?
My gaze drifted off into the distance, and suddenly I saw her. She had already reached the end of the wide path around Town hall, Her running figure was getting smaller rapidly. How on plumbob had she gotten there that fast?
I quickly picked up speed again, chasing her trail as fast as I could. She was running with such ease, it was as if her feet weren’t even touching the ground at all. It was as if she was floating. This woman was a professional. No doubt about it. I had the greatest trouble just keeping up.
But I wouldn’t be beaten that easily. I willed myself to move faster, forcing my legs up and down like the piston rods on a train. It was working. For a few seconds, it looked as if I was gaining on her.
Then that illusion shattered. The woman looked over her shoulder a second time, laughed, and jumped over someone’s back yard fence, with the ease of a trained athletic. Through the vegetable garden, and out on the other side. Within moments, I had lost track of her.
Man, she was fast.
I tried to follow, I really did, but my endurance had finally run out on me. With heavy breathing, I leaned against the fence that she had so effortlessly skipped over. It almost came up to my chest. That was amazing. This fence almost came up to my chest, and she had skipped over it like it was nothing.
I let out a hoarse laugh as the realization hit me. This was exactly what I needed. She was exactly what I had needed.
I had found a goal to surpass. It was time to start training.
Miles from the peaceful village of Appaloosa Plains, deep in the woods, an old ruin lay hidden. Most mortals had forgotten it still existed. The remnants of an old civilization, now abandoned and left to the decay of nature. After many decades, there was little more left than broken pillars and old stones, overgrown by thick foliage.
However, there was one structure that remained intact. A large, ominous Gate of dark stone stood tall amidst the ruins, untouched. It was in stark contrast with the wreckage around it, and a chilling vibe radiated off the structure. In Ancient times, these Gates had been worshipped as places of crossing. In present times, they had been largely forgotten.
In front of the Gate, two figures could be seen. One of them, a young woman with auburn hair, lay on still the floor. Her eyes were closed and her body was unresponsive. If one were to touch her, they would be greeted with an icy cold skin… for this woman was no longer among the living.
The other figure, a man with dull grey eyes, had placed here there. He was engrossed in a ritual, not noticing anything else in his surroundings than the Gate and his wife, who had died from illness. With a sharp knife, he cut his own hand. A few drops of blood fell on the cold, dark stone and were accompanied by a single sentence, spoken in the Ancient tongue.
‘Raos Nyigull, Urün Heshkta.’
Point of no return.
The Gate came to life. Eerie blue mist started to swirl around the clearing, giving it the appearance of having changed into another world. The same mist filled the inside of the Gate, creating a blue vortex, a passage that led to the other side. The man let out a surprised gasp, before regaining his composure. Gently, he lifted his late wife off the ground. With her in his arms, he approached the Gate.
‘Almighty Maker… if you can hear me, please… she was too young to die. I will do anything. Please… Give me back her soul. I beg of you.”
There was no answer. But the blue mist swirled around the couple, drawing them closer. Cutting them off from the rest of the world. Inviting the man to place his precious possession inside. He took a deep breath, and seemed to steel himself. Quickly, the man stepped forward. He barely had to lift his arms. His wife was pulled from him, drawn into the Gate of Life as a fierce blue light enveloped her body. Seconds later, she was gone. The light grew brighter.
Suddenly filled with hope, the man took another step forward. His eyes shone with desperation. Slowly, he brought his hands forward, inches away from the vortex inside of the Gate. Inches away from the other side.
‘Anna? Are you there? Can you hear me?’
A soft sound, almost like music notes, drifted out of the Gate. From the other side, almost invisible, a dark shape was moving. The man came even closer.
‘Anna! It’s me, Charles! I’m here now, It’ll be okay! I’ll bring you back!’
His hands touched the vortex.
Without warning, two hands shot forth from the swirling energy and grabbed hold of the man named Charles. They were a sickly yellow, transparent, and definitely did not belong to his wife. The man let out a scream. He tried to wiggle free, but the thing inside had an iron grip on his waist and effortlessly lifted him from the ground.
“No! Let me go! Let me go!‘
Slowly, ever so slowly, the transparent arms started pulling him in. Terrified, ear-piercing screams sounded over the clearing. But they were to no avail. There was nothing that he could do. His fate was sealed. Within twelve mere seconds, the man named Charles was pulled into the vortex by the spirits that lurked on the other side and lost his life.
It did not end with that.
After a few, silent moments, the Gate’s vortex started swirling frantically again. The yellow spirit, that had dragged in poor Charles and claimed his life, had used his energy to change shape. With long, sharp fingernails, it literally clawed its way through the vortex, towards the Gate. Before long, it would have dragged itself out, and the world would have another abomination added to its ranks.
Until it was stopped.
As the blue glow from the Gate intensified, suddenly other life forms could be seen moving around in the shadows. They were hidden between the bushes, cloaked from the moon’s pale light. But not for long. As the yellow thing clawed its way out of the vortex, the creatures stepped out into the open.
Wolves. Four of them, in fact. On a sign of their leader, a dark-furred alpha male, they slowly and deliberately made their way towards the dark platform. Their eyes were locked on the scene in front of them. On the creature struggling to make its way back into this world. Almost breaking free.
A second sign of the pack leader. They positioned themselves directly in front of the platform, closing in on the Gate. A single wolf broke free from the pack. The largest, with specks of grey in his dull brown fur. It cast a quick look to the other members of its pack, as if looking for approval. They glanced back sternly. In that moment, a descision was made.
The wolf charged. It aimed straight at the Gate of Life, picking up so much speed in mere moments that the beast became a single, hairy blur. The others looked on from behind as their chosen one launched itself in the air… and violently slammed into the yellow spirit.
With a terrible screeching sound, the evil soul’s hold on this world was severed. The brute force in which the wolf had slammed itself into the soul pried its claws loose from the dark stone, unbalancing it and catapulting it back into the vortex. The soul let out an enraged bellow. It sunk its claws deep into the wolf, but not before the beast had pushed it back in. The vortex started shining fiercely as it retook hold of the spirit that had tried to escape it…. and the wolf with him. A dazzling light came forth, blinding everything in reach. From the depths of the vortex, a last, horrifying screech sounded.
Then… it became quiet.
When the wolves’ eyesight returned, must of the eerie mist had cleared up from the clearing. The Gate had gone back to its usual state: cold. Empty. Just a Gate. The vortex had closed, and save for a few new scratches on the dark stone floor, there was nothing indicating that a horrible being had almost clawed its way into this world. Nothing moved.
It was as it should be.
The three remaining wolves looked upon the Gate in silence. They bowed their heads slightly, as if they were paying their quiet respects towards the sacrifice of their comrade.
Then, after a short bark of the pack leader, the now three-membered group scattered. They vanished between the thick forest foliage, disappearing as quickly as they had come. Within seconds, the scenery around the ancient ruins had gone back to the way it was before.
Hidden, forgotten by most mortals. The remnants of an old civilization, now abandoned and left to the decay of nature.
Untouched, as it should be.