Went on a quick vacation last weekend to a lake in Northern Idaho. So beautiful! and, of course, full of potential for writing. Here’s one of the ideas that came to mind from the trip. Hope you enjoy=)
Except for the few feet that sit against the shore, the water of the lake stands frozen, held still by the weight of countless pounds of ice. Light plays over the white expanse of snow that sits like a blanket across the ice. You could almost believe it solid enough for you to walk out into the middle of the lake, almost.
But holes in the otherwise broken expanse warn you it would be a foolish idea to test. It’s spring. There are bound to be soft spots.
One of those holes might have been created by Emma. You shake your head, refusing to believe she’d be stupid enough to run out onto the ice. Surely you would have heard or seen her if she had.
But she’s nowhere in sight. You were just out for a short walk, a chance to get out of the village and break the cabin fever that’s been plaguing everyone.
Five of you left the village, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your backs and the fresh smell in the air created by the melting snow. You ate lunch on the sand of the lake, threw rocks onto the ice like you would to skip them on the water and then, when the sun warned you only a few hours of light remained, you turned for home.
None of you can say when Emma disappeared. She just wasn’t with you when you decided to leave. It almost feels like you lost time somewhere.
The others span the shore, calling for the young girl. Their voices ring in the woods that grow almost all the way up to the water. You listen but there’s nothing except their shouting.
Emma’s high soprano does not answer them. A sick knot of worry sits tight under your ribs.
“Perhaps we should go for help,” suggests Travis as he approaches from the left. His steps leave large divots in the wet sand.
You stare at those marks. Emma’s boots should’ve left similar divots. It’s not like the lake’s quiet tides would’ve washed them away.
Something’s not adding up but you can’t put your finger on exactly what.
“Maybe we should,” you agree.
The other two walk up just in time to hear your words.
“Should what?” Megan asks.
You explain and then, to your horror, they all look at you for a decision. How did you become the unspoken leader?
With more important matters, you don’t ask them.
Taking a look at the too quiet shore and the surrounding forest, you gauge there’s maybe an hour left before dusk takes away your light. The village isn’t far. Maybe a fifteen-minute walk.
Head for Help?
Search a bit longer?
Emma-Head for Help
You’ve already looked for about an hour with nothing to show for the effort. A more in depth search would be better conducted with the aid of the other villagers.
“Let’s head back,” you tell everyone.
They agree silently, perhaps feeling the same struggle you are. Leaving without Emma feels wrong. She’s the carefree one, the one that bounces down the street with enthusiasm, but she’s also the one who needs a hand finding the lake even though you visit it weekly during the warmer season. If she’s lost wandering the forest, she probably doesn’t know north from south, much less the way back to the village.
It feels wrong leaving but you can’t think of a better option. Your feet trudge down the snowy, muddy trail back toward the village.
No one says a word, lost in his or her own thoughts or still looking around in hopes of spotting your lost companion as the light slowly fades.
Megan screeches at the back of the line and you spin just in time to see her booted feet disappear into the heavy pine branches above.
Travis jumps, trying to catch her ankles, but all he gets is needles in the face as whatever grabbed Megan cracks several large branches off the trees with its passage.
You stand in stunned silence.
“Any…anyone see what happened?” you ask, pulling it together.
Travis and Cooper shake their heads, still staring up into the treetops.
A small trickle of blood runs down Travis’ temple from where a branch smacked him.
“Then let’s run,” you say. Whatever grabbed Megan had to have been big and the three of you may not be able to fight it on your own. You desperately want the protection of the village.
You reach the village puffing for breath and immediately head for the tavern. It’s where half the village men stop before heading home for the night.
Bursting through the doors, all eyes swing your way but you’re breathing too hard to explain.
Travis blurts everything out instead. At first, everyone stares at him but then the room breaks out in a commotion as Emma’s father pushes toward the door.
You’re so focused on Emma’s father and the bright red tint to his face that you don’t see old Kevin until he taps you on the shoulder.
You look over and down to meet his light eyes. He stands no taller than your shoulder, so hunched that his already diminutive stature is gnarled like an old tree.
“Megan disappeared into the tree tops?” He whistles the question through his teeth.
“Hmmm,” he scratches his stomach and nods. “Sounds like the Roc. It’d have chicks this time of year.”
“What?” Cooper leans over your shoulder to hear. Old Kevin’s considered kind of insane but after everything you just saw, you don’t want to discount anything off hand.
“The Roc,” Kevin whistles, “a gigantic bird that hides up in the mountains. Think it got lost and never found its way back to the east. Young Emma would be a perfect snack for its young.”
“You’ve seen this bird?” Travis asks, his brows low in a deep frown. Oddly enough, the three of you are the only ones listening to the old man. The others in the tavern are all talking, setting up a regular search party.
“Ah, yes, I’ve seen it. Even know where it lives.”
You all look at each other.
The rest of the villagers will never follow old Kevin. He has proven in the past to be rather cracked.
As before, Travis and Cooper look to you for direction. You stomach clenches.
Join the Search Party?
The village men seem to have a large enough search party without you joining them. You look to Kevin and say, “show us this bird.”
He grins and whistles delightedly through his teeth.
Before heading back into the forest, you grab several lanterns from the tavern keeper. He hands you a few knives as well. Just in case, he says, you actually find Kevin’s bird.
The knives make your stomach roll. What if Kevin’s right?
But you put a confident face on for Travis and Cooper because they keep looking at you like they’re dubious about the whole situation. Their looks mimic your own doubts perfectly.
The slushy snow on the trail’s turned to ice now that the sun’s set. It crunches under your steps, echoing hollowly in the quiet.
Up ahead, you hear the searchers calling Emma’s name but before you reach the lake, Kevin leads you down a trail that heads up into the canyon. It’s not an area you visit often, particularly when there’s snow, because the canyon walls are perfectly slanted for avalanches.
But it’s almost spring and you hope the snow’s melted enough not to be a problem.
Kevin starts to whistle softly ahead of you. In the lantern light, his hunched form looks almost trollish. His shadow swings with the lantern’s motion, distorted even more than his twisted form by the trees and uneven ground the shadow passes over.
You hold in a shiver and glance back at the other two to reassure yourself.
“Won’t the Roc hear you whistling?” you ask as the sound starts to grate on your nerves.
“Oh, it hears all sorts of things. The other’s hollering, our steps in the snow. Won’t make a lick of difference if it hears me whistling.” Then he cackles under his breath like he made a joke.
But thankfully he stops whistling. Not long after, though, he starts humming, then kind of skipping down the trail.
“Emma and Megan are lost. What are you doing?” Travis finally speaks up.
Kevin just keeps on skipping. Travis growls behind you but doesn’t ask again.
Eventually, Kevin stops and points up toward a ledge on the canyon wall to your right.
“There,” he says, “the ledge recesses into the wall making a shallow cave. The Roc likes it for its nest.”
“How many chicks does it usually have?” you ask.
Kevin shrugs. “Couple, maybe. Don’t know.”
That’s helpful. Travis gives the man a dark glare.
“Well, let’s go.” You say.
Kevin doesn’t move. “My legs don’t work well enough to get up there.” He says.
You frown. “Then how do you know about the nest?”
“Climbed it once in nice weather. About cracked my noggin when I tumbled back down to the trail. Tricky business.” He skips in place and starts whistling again.
“Hush,” Cooper says before Travis can yell at the man. “Let’s not warn it we’re here if we can help it.”
Kevin stops the sound but keeps bouncing on his toes.
You give Travis a knife and keep one for yourself. Then you look Kevin in the eye as you hand him your lantern. “Stay here.”
He nods. “Of course.”
The climb’s slick with half frozen ground but thankfully there isn’t enough snow for an avalanche.
A screech ricochets off the canyon walls. Your ears ring in the silence afterwards and, when you glance over your shoulder, you spot a dark shape so large it blacks out the full moon’s light.
Above you, on the ledge, comes several answering screeches. They’re not as loud but there’s an insistence to them that reminds you of hungry children.
Then, just barely audible under the ringing in your ears, you catch a familiar voice.
“Help!” screams Emma.
You’re about to bolt up the hill to get to her when Cooper shouts behind you.
He’s holding Travis’ feet as the Roc tries to pick the boy off the hillside. The bird’s wings beat at you with their wind.
A cackling fills the air. “Feed my pretties!” Kevin cackles below. The lantern he’s holding bounces like he’s skipping again.
“Help!” Emma’s voice barely reaches you over the chicks screeching.
Before your eyes Cooper’s feet leave the ground as he continues to hold onto Travis. He kicks wildly, making the giant Roc waver in its attempt to fly upward.
You hesitate only for a second before sliding back down the hill to reach him before the Roc lifts too far into the air for you to help.
In your mind all you can picture is Travis’ attempt to grab Megan before she disappeared into the treetops.
Your feet slide out from under you on the slick ground and you end up tumbling past Cooper instead of stopping in time to catch his feet.
Throwing your arms out, you manage to stop, but end up loosing your grip on the knife in the process. It clatters down the hill and disappears into the darkness.
You wonder briefly where Kevin got to but, considering he led you here to be eaten, you push the thought aside, glad his bad legs keep him from climbing the hillside to help the Roc.
Scrambling back up to where Cooper’s still kicking wildly, you jump to catch his legs.
The added weight brings your feet back to the ground briefly. It’s enough for you to wrap your legs around the bare trunk of a tamarack.
Your legs scream in protest as the Roc regains the rhythmic beating of its wings. The buffet of wind from its movement brings water to your eyes but, even without clear sight, you see Cooper’s losing his grip on Travis’ ankles.
“Hold tight!” you encourage at the same time as you pull with all your might.
The Roc screeches and the tamarack bows and then cracks.
You pull again, hoping the dead tree will hold on a bit longer.
It snaps just as the Roc’s claws lose their hold on Travis’ shoulders.
Everyone tumbles to the ground. The boys roll head over heels down the hillside but your leg is pinned beneath the fallen tamarack. When the Roc circles and dives back to retrieve its prey, you’re the only one there for it to attack.
You scramble against the ground, trying to free yourself, but all you manage is to bloody your hands on the cold ground.
The giant bird grasps your torso in her claws and lifts into the air with ease, making the tree slide painfully off your leg.
You flail against her grip and below you, you hear the shouts of Travis and Cooper. When you look down, though, all you see are tiny dots on the ground. Only Cooper’s bright hair tells you which one’s which.
There’s a third figure down there too. It seems to bounce down the trail back toward the lake. You feel a small amount of satisfaction as you realize Kevin’s headed straight into the other search party.
You are never seen by the villagers again. They tell stories about how you drove the Roc away, saving your companions and, some of the more optimistic tales say, you wander the hills, keeping the bird from snatching more people but these tales are always accompanied by saddened smiles.
Your legend lives on, though, becoming larger and more extravagant with each telling until, eventually, you become known as the Roc Fighter who saved the whole village.
Blessings and thanks for joining in the adventure!