1:30 PM Day One
Just outside the quietest little town in the heart of New Hampshire, the intense afternoon sun peered through each leafy tree branch like a child peaking through the wooden rungs of a staircase. This was a quaint corner of our world, separate from the whimsical land caressed by the subtle glows from the Sisters of Night. The young saplings lining the heavily wooded forest danced to and fro as a fourteen-year-old boy whizzed by, seemingly sprinting for his life.
Without warning, he heard a startling voice bounce off the broad tree trunk nearby.
“I’m going to find you, Orion!” The voice threateningly beckoned. “You can’t hide from me. You’re mine!”
Trying to see where the voice was coming from, the boy swiveled around in each direction; his hazel eyes frantically scanned the terrain with hawk-like precision. The unexpected crunch of steps on the thick layers of leaves coating the timbered floor sent him racing deeper into the woods, all the while thinking, I have to hide. But where? Come on, she’s coming for you…hide…NOW!
His slightly taller stature made it difficult for him to use some of the more obvious hiding spots, but he knew these woods well and there were still some places he hadn’t outgrown.
There! His focus settled on a large tree ahead. Hurry…she’s almost here.
Plopping down behind the great oak tree, he tucked himself into the knotted roots left exposed from years of weathering. Brushing his shaggy blond hair out of his face, he closed his eyes trying to slow his panting, while also listening for nearby sounds. The birds chirping their soothing and melodic song began to calm him.
As he focused on his surroundings, the recollection of the last time he was out in these woods, just three and a half weeks ago, stole his focus. It was if he was transported to that time…
The sun shined as intensely then and the trees provided enough shade to keep things cool beneath its canopy. As Orion cleared the woods, his nanny Francine joined him on the leisure walk up the freshly cut lawn towards their home.
“There’s that motherly stare,” he mocked as her green eyes were glued on him like macaroni art to paper.
She chuckled, placing her chubby arm around his shoulders. The pair passed the well-groomed rose garden and made way for their mansion of a home. The teen always felt small in comparison to the towering home, but he loved the fact it had a charming feel about it, as if it were inviting you to come stay awhile. It was the house he’d grown up in and enjoyed as it was full of winding passages and dark hiding spots, perfect for the secret games of children.
“I promise you,” Francine started, “one of these days, I’m going to find you, and then you’ll sing my praises to Eagen, like you promised.” Her grin spread from ear to ear. “I’m going to be the hide-and-seek champion.”
“Well you’ll have to find me first. And even if you do, it’ll still be like a hundred to one.”
As they drew near to the house, the home’s elderly butler walked out onto the covered terrace. Orion saw him briefly rub his closely-cropped white beard, which blended in with the little bit of hair he had left atop his head.
“I see he decided to wear his usual—black shirt, black pants,” he joked.
The man yelled out to them, “You two, come quick! Bynam needs you both immediately!”
Francine, nervously tucking her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ears, stammered, “What the—”
After hoisting her tight blue jeans, which were probably one size too small for a plump woman of her magnitude, they both darted to the house. They entered the double doors into the enormous library, which was so full of unfamiliar books that Orion had often wondered to himself where all of them were from; the aroma of leather binding and aged paper poured out of the room when they opened the doors.
“Watch the lamp…” the nanny warned as the boy funneled past the Italian reading sofas, “and the laptop—”
Rushing their way through the adjoined television room, Orion pointed to the far wall. Oh crap. “He probably wants to yell at me about the T.V. being on again.”
He dismissed Francine’s vague brow raise as the two of them sprinted through the foyer to the grand staircase. It was a mahogany staircase that he had played on while growing up, sliding down the banister despite instructions to the contrary; it also served as the background for many family portraits. Orion hustled up the stairs, shielding his face from the blinding sunlight reflecting off of the crystal spires dangling from the ornate chandelier above.
Francine yelled out between heavy breaths, “Orion Landis Martins…do not take these stairs two at a time, young man. If I’ve told you once…I’ve told you a thousand times…you could trip and fall.”
Paying no attention to the middle-aged woman’s warning, the teenager continued racing up the staircase. As he reached the top, he nearly slid into a table holding some freshly cut flowers in a pink crystal vase. The sweet aroma of daisies was something his mother had always loved, so there was always the assurance of a fresh batch atop the staircase. He then headed down the hallway to a room where the door was wide open. The sound of blood-curdling screams coming from inside the room, screams of pain, halted him dead in his tracks.
Orion guardedly crept into the brightly lit room where he saw the elderly man who beckoned to them moments earlier. Standing next to a large, four-poster bed, the man looked upon him with dark, wisdom-filled eyes. Staring past the man in black, he zoned in on the pale, sickly-looking person underneath the disheveled bed sheets. It was uncanny how even at this moment of illness, the man in the bed looked like an older, but identical version of Orion.
“You must drink, Bynam,” the butler said forcing a glass of clear liquid to the lips of the ailing man. “It’ll help ease your pain, I promise you it will,” he encouraged.
Bynam weakly took the glass; the skin hung loosely from his arm like over-elastic rubber. “I can’t…” he said, choking on the contents.
“It’ll help you. Trust me. Finish the little bit left,” the elderly butler said, forcing the glass back to his lips. “Come on now.”
“Eagen…No, I can’t…I can’t, Eagen,” he replied, turning his head.
It was then that Bynam noticed Orion standing in the doorway with Francine behind.
“Son, please come here,” he said, looking up; the large purple bags hung underneath his strained eyes like saggy bags of water.
Orion cautiously shuffled to the bed, and held onto the tall bedpost at the foot.
“It’s okay, son. Come sit down…next to me.”
He hesitated before creeping slowly to sit alongside his father. “Dad, what happened? Why do you look so…weak? What’s going on? You’re scaring me here.”
The boy’s father looked at Eagen and then back to him as he struggled to sit up, grimacing in pain. He pulled the covers away from his body, revealing a bulky bandage covering the right side of his neck. Orion watched as he gradually reached up, pealing part of the bandage; his dark red and purple veins throbbed with each beat of his weakened heart.
“Son, something’s happened to me. It’s hard to explain.”
“How? How’d this happen?” I don’t understand what’s going on. “What’s going on? What happened to you?” He looked to the nanny and butler as they exchanged a silent glance. “Someone answer me, please!”
Bynam reached out and touched his son’s shoulder. “It’s so difficult to explain and I wish I had more time to do it. One day Eagen will explain everything to you.”
“Dad, what are you saying? Why are you talking like this? What do you mean more time? I don’t understand…”
“You remind me so much of your mother,” the sickly man shuddered from emotion. “She always asked so many questions, and you inherited her inquiring mind. You have so many good traits from her. Listen closely now,” he coughed, “you need to know I love you…and I always will, but Eagen and Francine will be taking care of you now.”
“Dad? What’s happening to you?” Orion’s eyes began to overflow with tears as the weight of reality set in.
“You’re going to be fine, trust me.” He turned his head, gnashing his teeth in pain as he let out a yelp. The tears streamed heavily down his cheeks. “Please make sure you do what you’re told,” he said through clinched teeth. “They know what’s best for you.”
“What about our family? Mom’s dead. Now you’re dying—what’s happening to us?” What am I supposed to do?
“It’s time he knows,” Bynam nodded at Eagen and Francine. “Make sure he knows the whole story.”
“What’s he talking about, Eagen?” Orion pleaded. “What ‘whole’ story?”
His father embraced him one last time. “Soon you’ll know everything. You’ll learn what happened to your mother, what happened to me, you’ll learn about our family. Most importantly, you’ll find out just how special you are. Promise me you’ll do as Eagen and Francine tell you. Promise me.”
Orion softly uttered the words, “I promise.”
He watched his father muster as much of a smile that he could. “I love you so much. Everything I’ve done in my life has been for you, and one day you’ll know exactly what I mean. I love you so much, son.” His saddened eyes slowly closed.
Orion was abruptly jolted from his memory by the sound of a breaking branch a few feet away. His eyes shot open just in time to see a figure rush through the brush.
He quickly jumped to his feet and shouted, “You know, you’re supposed to be finding me, not running from me. You better not be trying to scare me again.”
Francine stumbled up out of breath from the opposite direction. “What are you talking about? I‘ve been looking for you this whole time. That’s what we’re doing right,” she teased, “playing hide-and-seek?”
Snapping his head back to the brush, “I could‘ve sworn I saw something—I thought it was you.”
“It was probably an animal…most likely a deer. You know how this forest is just littered with them.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Ah, forget about it. How about you come in and I’ll fix you something to eat. I’ll make a cold peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, exactly the way you like it. What do you think? I’ll even have one with you.”
His determined focus remained on the foliage. “Okay, sounds good. Go on ahead though. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I want to see if I can find what it was—”
“Eagen already told you,” she interrupted, “that he wanted to finish your lessons for the day. And you know how he gets when he’s not able to stick to his schedule.”
“I hear ya. I won’t be long. I’m just going over there to see if I can find anything, and then I’ll be right behind you. I promise.”
“Okay. You have ten minutes young man,” she ordered, beginning to walk away.
Brushing off her final command, something glimmering in the sunlight caught his eye; it was a silver necklace.
“What in the world is this,” he asked himself aloud as he inspected the tiny bottle charm dangling from the piece of jewelry. “I bet this yellow stuff could glow in the dark.” Maybe Francine lost it.
As he pulled the charm closer to inspect, a deep breath from inside the shrubbery caused him to shift his focus beyond the charm. A pair of eyes, human eyes, was fiercely staring back at him.