Leona, and AM…congratulations on writing two fantastic short stories. Best of luck to both of you.
This cage match is going to be an epic battle to the finish, ladies, and gentlemen. Please read the following pair of shorts then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair, and unbiased, as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, September 28th. At that time, a winner will be announced. The winner will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, October 2nd.
I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for reading and voting for your favorite.
For decades, Fairview Quarry had been a favorite spot for local high school students to congregate. This unseasonably warm October Friday inspired a dozen teens to skip school and party atop the lofty heights of the abandoned sites granite cliffs. Clad in swimsuits, the teen’s employed their usual cajoling, as dares to jump off the quarry’s highest point echoed across the murky surface of the water, nearly 90 feet below. Known as “Freebird,” the spot had claimed the lives of three students in the past decade, the most recent fatality occurring just a year prior. Strangely, not a single body had ever been recovered, despite efforts by experienced search and rescue divers.
Now, the latest dead teen’s best friend, Jamie Daigle, was contemplating taking the same plunge that had robbed him of his childhood companion.
“C’mon, Daigle, you chickenshit…jump!” said one of the truant teens.
Several taunts later, eleven faces peered over the precipice as Daigle plummeted, upright, and pencil-straight, toward the frigid surface.
Daigle fought the tendency to gasp as he broke the surface, the water temperature falling with every foot deeper he descended. He began to employ powerful strokes in an effort to return to the surface when a frightening realization struck; his body was being pulled deeper toward the submerged portion of the cliff face. He felt a burning sensation in his lungs, the need for fresh oxygen acute.
As panic began to take hold, Daigle felt a sharp scrape rake his spine, then felt his body rise to the surface. However, the surface he encountered was deep within a subterranean cave, a strange light emanating from just around the corner of the dank granite enclosure.
Bring The Light
He trod water for a few moments, dragging in lungfuls of air while he got his bearings. The cave was empty and there was no reason that he could see for the current that had pulled him in. He turned to dive for the exit, then looked back at the light. Had Todd ended up here too? What would he have done?
Jamie thought for a second before rolling his eyes and laughing. Todd would have checked out the light. And called Jamie a pussy for being so cautious.
Jamie swam for the side, reaching it in two strokes. He’d always been a strong swimmer, stronger than Todd. He still couldn’t forgive himself for not going to the quarry that day. Maybe if he’d been there… He shook his head. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t get him anywhere.
He pulled himself out, wincing as the scrape on his back complained, and listened as water sheeted off his body. He couldn’t hear a thing apart from water lapping gently at rock, but the light remained steady. It was a strange colour, somewhere between blue and green, with some yellow thrown in. He moved forward.
The cave narrowed to a passageway that wound to the left and as he followed it, the light grew stronger, shimmering off the rock around him like so many emeralds and sapphires. The passage was high enough for him to stand and walk comfortably, to the point where he barely felt that he was underground. A gentle breeze caressed his skin, warm enough to dry him off without making him shiver. He moved faster, eager to see what lay ahead.
He rounded a corner and stopped in his tracks. The passageway widened out into a large cave, bigger than the one he’d found himself in when he surfaced. The air glittered as though filled with the dust of precious stones and in the centre hung a blazing light.
He stared at it, his eyes adjusting, and realised he wasn’t mistaken. Or maybe he was hallucinating. The light really was hovering about five feet off the ground in the centre of the cave, on its own, with no support. He walked slowly around it, looking up and down, but could see no wires. As he reached the passage he had entered by he realised something else. The cave was otherwise empty and there were no other passages leading off it. Todd wasn’t here.
His shoulders slumped. In the short time since he pulled himself out of the water, he’d managed to convince himself that Todd would be here, even if Jamie only found his body. He leant against the cave wall, looking at the light. It was a welcoming colour, not so fierce he couldn’t look at it, and he straightened up and moved nearer. As he did so, he felt the warmth coming off it and reached out. The light played through his fingers as they moved, allowing beams to flicker across his chest and face.
He lowered his hand and backed away. His friends would be going nuts by now. Not that any of them were real friends, but still. He turned back to the passageway and almost ran straight into Todd.
“Dude, what’s the rush?” Todd’s smile was as easy as Jamie remembered and as Jamie ran his eyes over his friend, he could see no indication that this wasn’t a real, live, flesh-and-blood human. He reached out quickly, before he lost his nerve, and poked Todd in the chest. “Dude!”
Jamie massaged his finger. Todd had always worked out, and he was definitely all there. Physically, anyway. Jamie took a step back and was brought up short by the warmth of the light behind him.
“What the hell’s going on, man?” He snapped. Todd had never been one for practical jokes. “You’ve been gone a year! Where have you been? You weren’t here when I got here, I’m not blind!”
“Dude, relax, everything’s fine.” Todd held up his hands, palms out. “No, I wasn’t here when you got here. And I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see you. I’ve been busy.”
“Busy? For a dead person?” Jamie stepped sideways, away from the light and his friend. No, not his friend. This couldn’t be his friend. It wasn’t possible.
“Dude, I’m not dead. And anything is possible.”
Jamie looked at Todd, or whatever it was, his mouth hanging open. Then he turned and ran for the passageway.
Jamie ignored the familiar cry as he raced down the passageway, into the first cave and threw himself into the water. He pulled hard for the tunnel he could see opening up in front of him, desperate to get away from the light and the thing that looked like Todd and spoke like Todd and acted like Todd, but couldn’t possibly be him.
He clawed at the water, but he couldn’t seem to escape. He could feel his hands cupping around it and pulling him forward, but something was holding him back so that he couldn’t enter the tunnel. His lungs burned as desperation overtook him and his vision was growing dark when something grabbed him and yanked him above the water before dumping him on the rock beside the pool.
He lay there, gasping and wheezing, and as he recognised Todd leaning over him, wet hair plastered to his skull and concern written across his face, Jamie started to cry.
“Why, man? You knew I needed you. My dad, my mom… You were the only real friend I had and you just left. How could you do it?” He wanted to reach up and punch his ex-best friend in the face, but he was too weak, like always. He could only lie there and let the tears burn down his face.
“Dude, I didn’t choose to come in here. It pulls you in and you don’t get a choice about that. But the rest of it, everything else, there’s totally a choice. You choose!”
Jamie squinted up at him.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Todd laughed and pulled him to his feet.
“Come on, I’ll tell you in the other cave.”
Jamie dug his heels in.
“I don’t want to go back in there.”
Todd’s face fell.
“Dude, it’s… It’s the only way. You can’t get back out through the water. But –” He held his hands up again as Jamie backed away. “But you can choose where you go. You can go anywhere. Just not back through there.”
He pointed into the water and Jamie frowned. Todd sighed and sat down on the floor.
“Fine, I’ll tell you here.”
Jamie approached the light. Just gotta have faith.
“That’s right, dude, you just gotta have faith. Just think about where you want to go and why.”
“You’re sure it’ll let me do this?”
“Dude, hell if I know. It’s a good idea and I would have tried it if I’d thought of it. You got a good reason and you won’t be sticking around, so…” He shrugged again.
Jamie reached out his hand, holding in his mind a familiar image.
Saskia Daigle climbed onto Jamie’s bed and sat on the edge, her feet swinging nearly a foot off the ground. Even a four year old could work out that something was wrong. Mom was crying instead of yelling, allowing Dad to hug her instead of hitting him. Saskia didn’t think it would last, so she was in Jamie’ room. The one place she was usually safe.
It was full dark now and she should have been in bed hours ago, but Mom and Dad weren’t thinking about her. As long as she didn’t turn on a light, they wouldn’t know. Where was Jamie?
She stared at the floor. After a while she realised it wasn’t so dark anymore and looked up to see a glow in the corner of the room. As she watched it grew, brightened, then faded, to reveal her big brother. She opened her mouth to scream a joyous greeting but he put his fingers to his lips and she simply slid off the bed and ran into his arms.
“Hey, Sass,” he murmured as he stroked a hand over her hair.
“Hey, JJ,” she responded quietly, burrowing her head into his stomach. He picked her up and carried her over to the bed.
“Where have you been?” she asked as he sat her next to him on the bed.
“Well, I can’t tell you, Sass. But I can tell you two things, and you gotta listen hard. Can you do that for me?” He spoke quietly, so as not to alert their parents, and Saskia nodded.” Okay then. First, I love you and I will always be looking out for you. You got that?” Another nod. “Second, Mrs. Dobson down the street makes the best chicken casserole and she’s always got enough for one more. You got it? Repeat it back to me.”
Saskia repeated what he’d said. Jamie only hoped that, as she got older, she’d realise that Mrs. Dobson always had spare beds, too, and knew exactly what was going on in the Daigle household.
“You going ‘way?” Saskia asked and Jamie bit his lip before replying.
“Kinda. You won’t see me,” he said. “But I’ll see you.”
He got up and backed into the room, waved, blew her a kiss. She giggled and blew one back. Then he held her gaze until he could see her no more and the scene changed.
As things came into focus he saw an alleyway, dumpsters, buildings rising high around him, dim light coming from fifty feet away on a main road and Todd standing next to him. Between them and the road could be heard scuffling and cries for help.
“No, no, no! Please… Help! Help me!” The woman’s voice was high, and the man’s laughter ugly as he cut her cries off with a hand around her throat.
Jamie swallowed, nodded. It was going to take a while to get used to this telepathy stuff, let alone the rest of it.
Jamie looked down at his hand. A small stone glittered briefly, somewhere between blue and green with a dash of yellow thrown in, before his fingers closed over it. They crept forward and Todd nodded to Jamie, who stepped forward and pressed the gem to the side of the man’s head. Light exploded, painting the alleyway the colour of Caribbean for a fraction of a second before fading.
The man stiffened, then let go of the woman who didn’t even look to see why before staggering towards the road, her one remaining high heel making her progress slow and ungainly. But it didn’t matter. The man watched her go as though he’d never seen her before, then followed her slowly to the street. He turned right at the top of the alley, the opposite direction to the one the woman had taken.
“He really won’t remember?” asked Jamie. For the moment, he was more comfortable with speech.
“With this,” Jamie held up the gem, “I can always find you, right?”
Todd grinned and it was so familiar, Jamie had to grin in response.
“You can find anyone, dude. That’s the point.”
They clasped hands, then hugged.
“Bring the light, dude.”
“Bring the light.” Jamie smiled as Todd faded, then tightened his grip on the gem. He closed his eyes. The instructions were clear, imprinted on his memory. This was his job now. And he would never tire, never age, never die. No one would ever hurt him again. He stretched and his smile widened. The scrape on his back had healed.
Someone in need, he thought. There’s gotta be someone else around here who needs help.
Lost and found
Had he died? The light made him wonder for half a second before the frigid cold convinced him otherwise. He needed to get out of the water. Now. He headed to the light, hoping it led to a way out. Crawl stroking in the surprisingly deep water, he made it to the corner.
Stone steps led up to the cavern shelf. Weird. He painfully climbed the stairs. When he stood up, the light pierced his eyes angrily. It was like looking at the sun after being in the theatre for a matinee. He took a step back, but his cold feet refused to cooperate. He stumbled, slipped, and suddenly slid toward the light’s source; a rock cutting a jagged tear down his left calf.
As he fell, he wondered if his friend had experienced this when he’d jumped. God, he missed Harry. He came to an abrupt stop when he hit his head hard, the impact throwing him back into the dirt.
“Damn it!” His voice echoed strangely, as if muffled by a pillow. He carefully opened his scrunched-up eyes. The light wasn’t so bright now, but it surrounded him. He looked back the way he’d come but saw only light.
He stood up shakily. Despite his bloody calf and tingling feet, he started walking again, his teeth chattering. The echo made him think of every scary alien show he’d ever seen. He had to keep moving. No one would find him here. He had no wish to stay all night in a cave freezing, concussed and bleeding, not because of fear. No, not fear. He was tough. The taunts of chickenshit rang in his ears as if the kid stood next to him, mocking him. Why the hell had he let himself be led around by those assholes? He swore that when he got back, he’d do things the way his dad was constantly lecturing him to.
As he walked, the ground under his feet hurt less and shapes appeared within the light. Probably people at the quarry looking for him. A sigh of relief escaped him despite his attempt at being macho. Thankfully, they were too far away to hear it. He quickened his pace, his calf throbbing in protest. It would suck to be missed by the Search and Rescue people.
He stopped abruptly when this horse with no rider and wearing medieval armor appeared a foot away.
Then the sounds around him permeated his consciousness, the sight causing him to fear for his sanity and his safety. Great brutish men dressed in armor like something out of The Lord of the Rings were fighting each other. Shouts, grunts and expletives mingled, sounding like a loud soccer match gone bad.
He jumped back as a black horse and its ferocious rider bore down on him, a loud war cry on the man’s lips. Jamie stood frozen in shock and fear, half convinced he had hypothermia and was hallucinating. But not wholly. It felt too real.
“James! What in the name of the king are you doing here? And dressed like a crazy man?” The man said as he stayed his sword.
“I don’t know?” he answered, confused. How the hell did this man know his name?
“Father will kill you, if you don’t die here. Ryan, Peter!” He yelled at two men close by. “Take my brother home. Protect him with your lives.”
“Yes, my lord, Aaron,” they said, immediately pulling Jamie between them.
Aaron smacked Jamie across the mouth. “If I had more time, I’d horsewhip you. Putting your life in danger. And now I have to send two of my best men back to the keep.”
Another horse bore down, the man’s sword slashing toward Jamie. He ducked and backed up at the same time and fell down in the churned up dirt and mud. For the first time, he realized he wasn’t the only one wet. It was raining. He heard the snicker of the man who helped him up.
Aaron and one of his protectors fought the attacker off, running the fighter through the stomach with his sword. The blood gushed out and the grisly bearded man fell off his horse. Rolling when he hit the ground, he stopped at Jamie’s feet.
Jamie nearly fell again as the man’s face came into view. It looked like an older version of the friend he’d lost. “Harry?”
The man opened his eyes, looking around. “Jamie?” the man asked.
“But, you can’t be you. I lost you last year!”
“It’s been ten years since I jumped off that cliff to end it all. I thought it was successful until I ended up in a cave,” Harry said, his words coming out in weak gasps.
“Jamie! How do you know one of the enemy? Your words, and his, are strange. I’ll expect a full answer back at the keep! Now leave!”
“I can’t! I have to know what happened to him,” Jamie cried.
Harry reached a hand over and grasped Jamie’s. “You have to go. This is no place for a teenager from our world. I was found and given a place to stay and adopted by the Duke of Kilntred. He’s the mortal enemy of the Duke of Honatine. Jamie, if you make it back, tell my parents I’m sorry.”
Jamie nodded but Harry would never know his answer. He was dead. Jamie looked up in time to see three more men on feet attacking them. He didn’t know what to do. He was practically naked, no shield, no sword, not that he’d know how to use either one. Not to mention no shoes. He stayed kneeling in the mud while Aaron and the others fought off the new onslaught.
When they’d beaten the men back and more of Aaron’s men had interceded, Aaron spoke again. “Now, you shall leave this battlefield. Peter, Ryan, remove him whether he wills it or no.”
“Yes sir!” Peter grabbed Jamie under one arm, Ryan the other, pulling him up. “Let’s go!” Jamie went willingly. His mind focused on assimilating his circumstances.
It was slow going. The first fifty feet of intense fighting, Peter and Ryan let go of Jamie to fight the combatants off. Each clash of metal caused his heart to race. He wished he knew how to use a sword and wasn’t mostly naked. His bare chest felt vulnerable in his current surroundings.
They were nearly clear of the battlefield when three men attacked. Peter and Ryan fought hard, but Jamie could see they were tiring. He saw a sword on the ground next to a fallen warrior and grabbed it. He lifted it how he saw the others handle their sword and tried to fight the third warrior off.
The man sneered. “You’re nothing but a boy!”
“I’m sixteen. Old enough,” Jamie replied indignantly.
“Sixteen?” the man laughed uproariously. “You need to work on those muscles, boy. You look like a girl.”
Livid, Jamie swung the sword like a baseball bat and connected with the man’s shoulder.
The man growled in fury, bringing his sword back to strike, but Peter blocked it. They fought hard, the metal clanging against metal. Jaime moved to the side as Peter and the other warrior circled each other. On they fought, while Ryan defended against the other two. Jamie felt useless and watched in desperate hope as his protectors fought on.
The sight awed him. He thought Ryan was a goner more than once when his opponent’s sword swung close, but Ryan was too good for his enemies. He blocked and attacked all in one smooth move. Peter had pushed the crude man back onto the battle field. After agonizing minutes, Peter slashed his opponent’s sword arm, the blood stain quickly spreading. The look of surprise on the man’s face made Jamie wish he’d had his iphone to take a picture. The man met his eyes just as he was smirking at the priceless joke running through his mind. Jamie shivered.
Fear trickled down his spine. Yellow teeth appeared when the warrior smiled. “Laugh now, boy,” he shouted. “You’ll be quiet soon enough.”
Jamie couldn’t comprehend the man’s meaning. He stared at Peter who’d suddenly started shouting at him.
“What?” he asked. I—“
Jamie opened his eyes. He didn’t remember closing them. Where was he? He remembered his friends calling him chickenshit for not jumping in the quarry right away. He jumped, then, what? His head started pounding, the pressure manifesting itself against his left eye. The light, he recalled walking, er, falling, into the light and being in the midst of a battle. No, that can’t be right. He must have hit his head when he fell. So where was he now?
Aaron strode into the room as Jamie was trying to put on pants with no zippers or elastic. As Aaron approached him, he tripped, falling face first against Aaron’s chest.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You’re not James.”
“I’m Jamie Daigle.”
Jamie backed up against the bed at the ferocity in Aaron’s voice.
“Where’d you come from?” Aaron stalked Jamie, their faces pressed nose to nose.
“I don’t know. I fell through this light and here I am,” he retorted, anger finally giving him the courage to stand up to the muscular man. He shouldered past Aaron, and went back to trying to make his pants stay up. “I’m not from around here. I’m from Long Beach.”
He looked up in time to see Aaron’s face pale. “It can’t be. Stay here,” he ordered as he stalked out the way he’d come in.
“Like, where the hell would I go?” he muttered rebelliously.
It seemed an eternity before Aaron came back. Wordlessly, Aaron pulled Jamie by his ear, down stone steps into a great hall. Jamie swung his arm up when they arrived. “I’m not five,” he said angrily.
Aaron just gave him a dark look then ignored him, joining the group of people waiting in the hall. “What’s happening? Where am I?” Jamie yelled at Aaron’s retreating back. Why wasn’t anyone saying anything?
“Aaron, there’s no need to be rude. Jamie, I’m Alaina,” she spoke softly, her voice like a haunting melody you wanted to hear repeatedly. He walked to her without conscious thought.
Aaron laughed. “Now I’m inclined to believe him. All otherworlders react to you that way. It’s the siren half of you.”
“Do you have any other family that found the light?” Alaina asked.
He started to deny it when he remembered the story of his uncle’s disappearance. “My uncle. About twenty-five years ago.”
“That explains much. As far as we can tell from others who’ve come, time in our world runs about ten years to your one.”
“But that means my parents are frantic! I have to get back!”
Alaina’s eyes told him the news before her words. “We cannot take you back. Your kind appear in the mist. We don’t understand why or how, nor can we predict when. But it’s why we’ve been fighting for that field. Each side wants the unknown power for themselves.”
“But I don’t belong here,” he said, frustration making him bold.
“You do now, I’m afraid,” the man on Alaina’s left spoke up. “I’m Jonathan. You’re family, related to the man who earned us our first title and began buying up land. Your uncle looked just like you, son. Look at James, and the portraits around you.”
Jamie looked closely at the man, then the woven tapestries and paintings that lined the walls. He saw many men and women who looked like him, his father, and his aunts. His ancestors. He swallowed. His uncle had lived a good life. Still, he didn’t want to be stuck here.
“We will take care of you. Teach you our ways,” Jonathan spoke firmly.
Jamie supposed Jonathan was right. His best friend was dead—again. His life had deteriorated to him jumping off cliffs to prove himself to idiots. What did he have to lose?
“I can’t wait.”