Preview – Chapter 1

Across the Divide

The flash of light was blinding. Raising his arms and ducking, he could feel the heat against his skin, and then it was gone. In that flash he had seen her again, her auburn hair swirling off her face as she turned, her dark eyes flashing that steely determination. He had seen her countless times before and knew her every detail. He looked around, but no one else appeared to have seen anything. Their curious looks told him they noticed his strange behavior. He was used to that. It had always been that way.
It started as far back as he could remember. When he was a child, it was his “imaginary friend”. As he got older, though, he realized she wasn’t like the childhood imaginings of others. She was something much more. There was a time when it confused him, and he felt alone because of his secret, but ultimately it became his strength. He knew without a doubt that she existed. He didn’t understand it, but her strength was his strength.
In momentary glimpses, he watched her grow from a child to a woman, and she was always with him. The adorable little girl with flowers braided in her hair beaming up at her mother. The look of determination on her face as she fought her way up a tree, returning a hatchling to its nest; her tears of sadness at the sight of its lifeless body lying on the ground the following day. The countless images of her painted a picture of her innocence, her joy, her loving heart, and her passion for life.
As he watched her grow into a woman, he saw her suffer the pain of loss; he ached with the sense of her loneliness, witnessed the determined little girl become the fearless warrior. Yet what captivated him was that her pain had not turned to bitterness. It had molded her into a ferocious defender. Etched in his memory were scenes of her cradling a wounded child in the midst of battle, tenderly comforting a woman in front of the smoldering remains of a home, the look of joy on her face surrounded by young boys and girls playing, carefree under her watchful eyes. These scenes created a mosaic illustrating the beautiful spirit inside this amazing woman.
The affection he felt for her as a person frustrated him. How he wished he could ease her pain and loneliness and give her the comfort she so willingly gave to others. As much as her inner beauty captivated him, he also found the sight of her mesmerizing. Her long dark hair fell in waves down past her shoulders, her lean athletic frame was so strong and graceful. He had never seen a woman more beautiful.
At the behest of others, he had dated here and there, but to no avail, because she was there first. She was the standard that no other woman had ever come close to. He knew that to try to explain it to anyone was impossible. Either they would think him a fool or crazy. So he lived with his secret and the burden of carrying it. It was the thing that kept him separate from the rest of the world, living in the part of his heart no one else could see where he protected it willingly. There were times he thought she saw him too, looking at him with a warm smile or a longing gaze. She was his most precious possession, and yet he felt empty because of it. Like standing behind glass, seeing something so close, yet being unable to reach out to touch it.
He continued on his way down the busy streets, sliding unnoticed amongst the crowd, alone with his thoughts. It was times like this that being alone in a crowd was comforting. He didn’t have to talk to anyone and he could hold that image in his mind; rolling it around like a precious jewel. Suddenly it occurred to him that this time was different from the others. He had felt the heat. It didn’t register immediately because of his desire to get away from the looks of curiosity. He had never had an actual physical experience before. At first he dismissed the thought. Yes, it must have been his imagination. But no, he looked at his forearms and to his amazement saw some of the hairs on his arm were singed. How could that be? He considered it for a moment, and realized that, whatever the reason, things were going to change. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew something was happening.

***

She had barely escaped the ball of fire; her skin still stinging from the intense heat. She glanced briefly at the tree it had smashed into, splintering it like a twig as it toppled away from her. She had moved out of their line of sight and allowed herself to pause and catch a few breaths, then headed off again. Making her way as quickly as possible while trying to maintain her cover, she knew she was in trouble. They were driving her towards the open plain where she would be exposed, but she had little choice. Her only hope was to make it to the gorge and lose them there.
Her endurance would be tested, but she was not about to give up. She pushed her thoughts of physical strain away and replaced them with what she had seen. He had been standing there looking at her, and had put his arms up to shield himself from the fire. She was all alone; separated from her team weeks ago, but knowing he was watching over her buoyed her strength.
Her whole life, the visions of him had given her strength and comfort. As a child, he was her friend when she was alone, smiling when she was happy, and sympathetic when she was sad. She reached out for her favorite memories of him, struggling with a horse twice his size, tending to a birthing calf, running with glee to his mother’s welcoming embrace. He was unlike any boy she had known. She never saw him angry or mean. He always had a kind expression on his face.
She had endured a lot of teasing and looks of amusement when she spoke of him, but she didn’t care. She knew he was real, and no one was going to convince her otherwise. When she was young, she was certain they would meet someday. But as she watched him grow into a man; tall and strong, so confident and self-assured, she had her doubts. His life, his world, was so different from hers. She saw things she never imagined even existed. She had no idea where he was or how to get there, and her life, her path, was set; she could never leave to find out.
She had no interest in marriage. She was a soldier, and would not rest in the fight against these wretched men as long as she could draw a breath. He was not in battle, and she had seen him with other boys and girls. She thought that with his rugged good looks, light brown hair, strong build, and penetrating eyes, he would have found a woman by now. Yes, she thought he was handsome, but her life followed a different path. She could not stand by as others suffered, and do nothing. She buried her thoughts of a normal life deep inside.
His life offered her a respite from her trials and eased the constant loneliness she felt. She saw him many times, his gritty determination to complete some task, or sitting staring off at nothing, his look of lonely melancholy inspiring a feeling of kinship with him. She thought that as different as his life was, he was just as alone as she was, but at least they had each other. She never told anyone about him anymore. As a child, her parents would give her an amused smile. And when she talked about him to the other children, they would tease her. Now he was her treasured secret; the precious thing she always had with her that no one could take away.
It had been nearly ten years now that she had been fighting in this war. She couldn’t count all the missions and battles, but today for the first time she truly thought this one could be her last. Pushing that thought away, she reminded herself that she could not fail. She had to get “it” to the council; the tide of the war depended on it. She was being chased by well over fifty men; hard men who would fill her final moments of life with unimaginable torment if they caught her, and laugh while doing it.
She loathed all the killings, and felt the pain of it every time she dispatched even one of these wretched men. Long ago she had learned to live with it and let it go. She had no choice. If she hesitated, they would not. If she failed, someone else would pay the price. In spite of the overwhelming odds, she did not panic; panic was death. She needed her wits about her. She would fight to her last breath. With that in mind, she pulled forth her memories. She needed him now more than ever.

***

The next thing he knew, he was standing at his car door not quite sure how he had gotten there. Petersburg, a small city in northern Kentucky, sitting snugly on the bend in the river, was the epicenter for the larger farming community that surrounded it. David came into the city every Saturday and once a month during the week to take care of business matters. Because of its location on the river, it attracted tourists as well as serving as the distribution point for all the meat and produce for farmers like David. From here, ships and trains moved their goods off to other parts of the country, so the city was usually packed with people moving to and fro. The residents were friendly. Southern hospitality was alive and well here, but he was always ready to leave when the time came.
The countryside was where he felt at home. He had a strong connection to the outdoors. He longed for those days when he and his father had spent camping. In fact, he always kept camping gear in the car with him. He wasn’t sure why. Perhaps a part of him wanted to be ready to go, just in case. Every excursion they went on was an adventure; climbing mountains, and building shelters. Hunting and fishing for food. It seemed his father knew everything about, well, everything. His father told stories day and night and captivated his imagination. Tales of kings and queens, monsters, rescues, ferocious beasts; it seemed there was no end, and every twist in the road or plant or tree reminded him of something else to share.
Often gone for days at a time, when they would arrive home, his mother would always hurry out to meet them as if they had been on a dangerous quest, possibly never to return. Her beautiful face would light with joy, and oh, her lovely embrace. He could close his eyes, see her face, smell her hair, and feel her holding him close as if never wanting to let him go.
Those years growing up on the farm were filled with long hard days, and yet he never wanted them to end. He got along well with just about anyone, but at the same time he always felt different and separate. Home was where he felt connected; there was something about being on his farm that renewed him. Even after his parents were gone, that was where he could find peace.
He was outside the city in no time and gazed out at the rolling fields separated by small forests. Life teamed around him, even though fall was setting in. He always enjoyed the sights of the animals grazing and the plowed fields lying dormant, waiting for spring. He was a farmer, like his father, because he loved it. His trip to the city today was farm business. He had managed the farm well these past six years, and had just paid off their last loan. He was proud of himself for being a good steward, and only wished his parents were there to see it.
The accident that took them from him was still a mystery. They were driving home late one night, and the car was found in a burning heap. His father was badly hurt, but not from the fire. His mother’s body was never found. The authorities said that since the heat was so intense, they thought his mother must have been incinerated in the wreck. And now his father sat in a wheel chair staring off into space, unable to care for himself. It broke his heart seeing him that way, but he still went every week to visit.
His father had been so strong and could do anything. He made everything look easy. His father was the bravest man he had ever known. He never hesitated; when he was with him it always felt as if nothing bad could happen, yet as strong as he was, he had a gentle spirit. His father never belittled him, even when it came to his “imaginary friend”. In fact, both his parents always accepted it as a matter of fact, and never tried to convince him that she wasn’t real.
The drive home went by quickly, and the next thing he knew, he was turning off the road onto the driveway of the farm. As so often happens when he was remembering his parents, he lost all track of time. Feeling a bit melancholy as he drove up the dirt road to the farmhouse, it lifted his spirit to see Rusty, his chocolate lab, bounding out to meet him. Pulling to a stop, he hopped out of the Jeep, bracing for 100 pounds of furry love, and he wasn’t disappointed.
“Hey boy, I missed you too. Have you been keeping an eye on things today?” He asked Rusty, as he rubbed behind his ears. The dog’s paws pressed on his chest, while his hind quarters wagged in excitement. “Did anything happen while I was gone today? Come on, let’s go inside, and get you something to eat.” Rusty jumped down, and they walked up to the house.
He kept the house and yard just as it was when his parents were here. The plants in front of the porch were well tended and the grass neatly mowed. The front porch was inviting, even at dusk, with a swing and a few chairs to sit and relax on. They walked into the house, and everything was in the same place as the night his parents never came home. He didn’t use the living room much, and hadn’t had a fire in the hearth since then. He spent most of his time in the kitchen and den. He and Rusty made their way back to the kitchen, turning the lights on as they went.
The kitchen was warm, well worn, and large enough for a table and chairs. It was clearly made for cooking, canning, and preparing any other foods from the farm. Rusty was wagging his whole back end with the excitement of eating, as the bowl was placed on the floor. Looking out the window, while he filled the dog’s water bowl, he noticed some strange lights off in the distance.
He absentmindedly put the bowl down as the dog ate steadily. Then he made his way to the rear door. The back porch was just large enough to escape the rain and clean your boots before coming inside. Standing there he had a clear view, and off in the distance he could see lights dancing in the trees. Standing there, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and a tingling sensation that began to run through him like static electricity. Something was going on, and he knew it couldn’t wait until morning.

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