SHADOWED – Part 1
High atop the craggy cliff, Talas peered down into the landscape, his steely eyes taking in every inch of the valley below. Silently he soared, past the Kettner farm, over the Reener’s auto shop and through the 1000 megawatt smile of mayoral candidate Jack Landon that shone down upon Freemont. Thoroughly familiar with the landscape, he weaved his way in and out of the stores, towers and electric lines that covered this sleepy town. He almost reached his destination when a sliver of darkness shot across his path. A razor thin maneuver allowed Talas to bank left and avoid a damaging blow. By the time he adjusted and whirled around, the shadow was gone.
“I’ll deal with you later” Talas thought. “Right now, though, I’d better be on my guard.”
“Hey Jake, where ya going?”
Jake Plummer was a typical small town teenager. Tall, brown haired with an athletic frame, Jake was well liked by his friends, a key player on the high school football team and an active member of First Church’s youth group. The gangly teen shuffling next to him was Sean Cook.
“Hey Sean” Jake replied “I’m headed over to Dillard’s. Wanna come?”
Dillard’s general store had been in business forever, started by Able Dillard at the turn of the century. Mason Dillard, the shriveled old man behind the counter was a fourth generation Dillard. Like his grandfather and father before, he spent all his life tending this crumbling real estate, the only general store in town. The walls were lined with shovels and hoes and all manner of gardening equipment, as well as pegboard filled with hand and power tools. Along the back walls were electrical and plumbing supplies, along with cold weather suits, boots, gloves and fertilizer.
“Good Afternoon”. A mop of blond hair shuffled into the store.
“Hello mister Dillard”, Jake offered, right behind Sean.
“Afternoon boys” the old man replied. The store was a favorite among youth members, many of whom stopped in before heading over to First Church’s youth center across the street. Jake and Sean grabbed their snacks and were almost out the door when Sean nudged Jake.
“Aw, man, look who’s coming,”
Randy Johnson. Tall, confident and obnoxious, Randy was the one guy keeping Jake from the starting linebacker position this season at Freemont High. As a junior, Jake had the talent but not the experience of senior Randy. Randy had played linebacker for Coach Harris the last 3 years and he made sure Jake knew it every chance he got.
“Hey Jake – basketball tryouts start tomorrow. I can put in a good word for you with Coach Bell.” Randy’s buddies laughed as Jake felt his face flush.
“You just worry about your own game”, Jake said. “We’ll see whose riding the bench next week.”
“Suit yourself”, said Randy. Jake and Sean brushed by them and headed out. No one saw the dark shadows in the corner moving toward the back door. No one except Talas.
Pastor Frank put down his guitar and faced his small band of faithful souls. “Thanks for coming out tonight” he said.
It had been a good service and Frank was tired after an emotional sermon on relationships. The kids responded with enthusiasm, several coming forward for prayer. He really enjoyed this group. They were a great set of kids; really on fire for God. And yet, something did not sit well in Pastor Frank’s spirit. Something dark, something foreboding hovered on the fringes of his group like a lingering fog on a frosty morning. At times he could almost feel its presence watching…waiting.
“Hey guys, let me walk you out” Frank said as he locked up and headed toward the parking lot.
Jake watched her from the edge of the field. Her long blond hair and trim figure was the envy of many a girl at Freemont. And the desire of many a boy. But Amy was too smart, and too selective to fall for most of the boys here. A dedicated member of First Church’s youth group, she shared a special bond with Jake. They spent a lot of time together on the youth worship team; she as a singer and he as a guitar player. Their commitments gave them time together – time to explore more than just their love for God.
“Hey Amy,” Jake said as Amy rounded the track.
“Hey Jake, how’s practice going?” Jake was already covered with sweat and grass stains an hour into practice. “Alright. Are you going to the carnival tonight?”
You bet, wouldn’t miss it” Amy replied. “See ya there?”
“Definitely” Jake watched as she sauntered past and broke into a run catching up with her friends ahead.
The annual Freemont carnival was a feast for the senses. Colored lights blinked everywhere. Calliope music blared through rented speakers, Cotton candy, roasted peanuts and foot long hot dogs tempted every passerby. Amy and Jake strolled hand in hand around the grounds. They stopped in front of the Bottle Toss.
“Oh Jake, look at that unicorn”, said Amy! “Wouldn’t that look great on my bed”?
“I wouldn’t know; I’ve never seen your bed” Jake laughed, as Amy poked him in the ribs.
“And you won’t either. Not anytime soon”, Amy smiled.
“Oh, yeah? Well, if I win it I want to see what it looks like sitting on your pillow.”
“Uh huh. Well, you’ve got to win it first, mister.”
Jake stepped up to the booth and plopped down his dollar. “Let’s give it a try” he said confidently to the pimply faced kid behind the counter. The kid gave him a dubious grin and three small red rings.
“Are you sure these rings are big enough to fit on those bottles?” Jake asked. The kid just ignored him.
The first ring hit the top of a bottle and sailed off into space, hitting the canvas wall at the back of the tent. Jake grimaced as Amy smiled at him. A bead of sweat dropped as Jake threw the next ring. It fell between two bottles and stuck fast without bouncing at all. Jake stared red faced at the little demon.
“Aw, c’mon” he muttered under his breath. He rolled the last ring around his fingers slowly. It was smooth and sterile and seemed to mock him with each turn. He studied it for a moment, then stared hard at the middle bottle, held his breath, and let it fly. It soared through the air like a bird, reached its zenith, and sliced like a knife downward.
“Oh, no. Too hard.” Jake thought as it dropped behind the bottle. It came down perpendicular, intersecting the top of the next bottle. It flew upward immediately, as if rejected and spun like a somersaulting diver. Time stood still as it plummeted and then danced like a frenzied pinball. It finally came to rest, spinning on the top of the middle bottle, then wobbling, then sliding gracefully onto the long, skinny neck.
“Yess!!!” yelled Amy, and Jake nearly came out of his skin as he was yanked back to reality. She threw her arms around Jake and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you” she whispered.
“Piece of cake” Jake said as his knees wobbled beneath him. Amy grabbed her unicorn from the frowning teen as they proudly headed off into crowd.
Hovering above the bottles, Talas smiled too.
They inspected the crafts and enjoyed the treats of the carnival as they made their way around each booth.
“What did you think of Pastor Franks’ message?” asked Jake. ”
“It was challenging”, said Amy. “It really made me think about my relationships; with God, my parents, with you…”
“What do you mean?” asked Jake.
“You know - I really want to please God in everything I do, but relationships are hard.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Sometimes I wonder if my parents are from another planet” Jake laughed.
“Definitely”, Amy added. “But I know they have my best interests at heart.”
They were standing in front of the Ring the Bell attraction, as Jake stared at the platform with the huge bull’s eye at the top.
“I’ve given a lot of thought to our relationship too, Jake” Amy said, “and I think…”
“Save your strength”, bellowed Randy coming up behind them with his buddies. “You don’t want to strain yourself.”
Jake twirled and started toward Randy, but felt Amy’s hand grab him gently. He turned back around and looked at the giant bell looming before him. He looked at Amy, then grabbed the big hammer and handed her the unicorn. “Hold this Amy”, Jake said. He stepped up to the platform and squared his feet. He gripped the mallet tightly. The wood felt good in his hands. He felt its power. How many men had swung this hammer before him, he wondered. How many had failed? He took a deep breath and raised it high above his head. As he brought it down hard he stumbled and watched in horror as the mallet swung wide and missed the platform, crashing violently to the ground below. He heard the wood splinter as he struggled to regain his balance. He spun around, mortified, expecting all eyes on him; instead, all eyes were on Randy. For an instant time stood still…then pain exploded in Jake’s body as he realized his wrist, not the hammer had shattered.
Amy looked at Randy with hatred. “What did you do, you moron?” Amy ran to Jake’s side. He was moaning in pain and holding his wrist. “C’mon, Jake. We need to get you to the hospital”
“What”, Randy stammered. “It was an accident. I was just joking’.” In the shadows behind the crowd several unseen beings smiled in approval.p>
High above, unseen by the crowd below, Talas winged his way westward over the canyon floor toward a hidden cave in the mountains.
“There is already a large gathering on the eastern sector “Talas explained as his comrades stared intently at him.
“What are they planning?” asked Argen. Talas smiled at his trusted lieutenant. For as long as they had served together, Talos had always admired Argen for his bravery and tenacity. They were traits that had served this group well; and would be put to the test again tonight. In the hollows of the cave Talas’ voice was even more commanding as he laid out his plan…