Friday, September 7, 2012

Chasing Angels Chapter Samples 1-3


“Watch out! The dragon is right behind me! I can feel his breath on my neck. Run for your lives before he destroys us all.”
Nathan was just a young boy who had not seen much of the world outside the small town of Fairhaven, and yet, he was wise beyond his 11 years. He spent a lot of time on his own these days. His mother was often too busy to pay attention to him. Nathan didn't mind though. He used his imagination to stay occupied. Right now there was a fire-breathing dragon lurking at the edge of the woods. If he kept low to the ground, perhaps he’d be invisible to the monster’s yellow eyes. He hid for what seemed like forever, until the sky was clear with only a few motionless clouds drifting above him. 
Cautiously, he left his hiding place and walked along the banks of the Black River. The trees were amber and gold today, much brighter than they had appeared yesterday. The wind sent a chill through him. Kicking at the leaves, he picked up a stick that could have easily passed as an ancient sword of a warrior who walked this same path centuries ago along the old Black River. Nathan paused to think how the river had been there since he could remember. He thought of it more as a trusted friend than just simply a river. No matter what happened, he could always come there and find the comfort and warmth that was missing at home.
The sun was radiant today. So he took advantage of it and used his powerful sword to ward off evil and invisible enemies. He felt strong with the sun shining on his back. It was different from the night, when everything was colorless and cold. He turned quickly to make sure no one had followed him with a surprise attack from behind.
Nathan jumped and rolled in the crisp leaves on the soft ground. What a day! No mere human could make a day like this, even if they tried. He leaned up against a tree and listened for a while. The birds were rehearsing a new symphony that would be debuted tomorrow morning for lucky early risers. They didn't seem to mind him eavesdropping. As a matter of fact, they seemed to sing even louder now. Nathan closed his eyes and he could almost hear a piano and a distant flute. His imagination was perfect today. He paused a little longer, and then, as if something or someone had called him, he took off running down the edge of the river's bank, skipping and dragging his sword closely by his side. "Wait, was that the dreaded dragon hiding behind that tree?" he wondered to himself. Even a dragon couldn't conquer the magical sword he possessed. He posed himself like a brave knight about to do battle with his worst enemy.
“This will surely make me famous,” he thought. “Why, I bet there hasn't been a dragon slain in these parts in hundreds of years.” The dragon was breathing heavily now. Nathan could see smoke rising from his nostrils. “Be brave,” he whispered to himself. “You have your sword. Nothing can harm you as long as you swing it with all your might.” He steadied his hand and placed one arm behind his back. He ran at the tree with the sword outstretched and leapt on the other side to greet his opponent with surprise.
The fire-breathing dragon had disappeared. Apparently, too frightened to stay and fight. But something had been left behind. As Nathan bent to push some of the leaves away for a better view, he saw what looked like a human hand. He fell backwards, landing awkwardly on his sword. Could it be? Should he look again? He was trembling inside and suddenly felt afraid. But his curiosity was greater than his fear. He stepped closer and bent down again to search for what he thought he had seen. Yes, there it was, a small pale hand, like that of a child. He carefully removed more of the leaves until he could clearly see that it was a child, a boy, with dark hair and smooth skin. The small body was motionless and cold and his lips were a bluish color. Off in the distance, he heard someone calling his name. 

“Nathan, where are you? Are you playing out there? Nathan, answer me!”
He quickly covered the body with leaves again and ran toward the voice. He thought it was the voice of his mother, calling him for dinner, but as he ran, it grew more faint. “Wait,” he yelled back. “I'm coming.” He ran as fast as he could. “Please, wait Mom, I'm here,” he gasped, as he continued to run. Suddenly, he didn't know where he was. The woods had turned dark and confusing. Yet, he continued to run, listening for the voice in the distance to guide him.
The voice called him again, "Nathan! I'm here. Nathan, over here."
He stopped and listened. Was that his mother?
"Nathan, where you going?"
That wasn't his mother's voice, but who was calling him? He decided to run in the opposite direction, back to where he started. But an old man with thin white hair appeared right behind him, blocking his escape. His eyes were bright and open wide. He wore a white shirt and what looked like a wide blue sash running from shoulder to waist, almost like some kind of angel. His face seemed strangely hidden.
"Nathan, where you going?" the old man asked in an odd broken English. "Why you running away?"
Nathan was too terrified to answer, so he just stood and stared. The old man reached out to touch Nathan’s hair.
“You young,” he said softly. “You strong, but you look scared,” the old man said calmly.
Nathan wasn't sure if he was afraid, or just numb. “Who are you?” He asked in a quivering voice.
“Friend, Nathan,” he answered.
Nathan couldn't believe what he was hearing. “My friend?”
“Yes,” the old man spoke as though he knew him well.
Nathan backed away, “I've got to go home. My mom will be looking for me.”
“Okay,” said the old man. “I wait for you here, okay? Then we play.”
Nathan turned and ran until he reached home. Too afraid to stop, he slammed the door and ran past his mother as she stood in the front room.
“Where have you been, Nathan? I can't hold dinner for you forever you know. I have to be at work at seven tonight.”
He raced up the stairs and slammed the door behind him with his mother still yelling up to him.
“Nathan, get down here and eat your supper so I can go to work without feeling guilty that you haven't eaten.”
Nathan lay frozen on his bed. Dare he tell his mother what he had seen? Would she ever believe him? What if the old man he saw in the woods killed the young boy he found in the leaves? Maybe he would be next. He should tell someone.
His mother stormed up the stairs. “Nathan, are you deaf? I said your supper is getting cold. Why are you lying there like a mummy? Get moving.”
He slowly made his way past his mother, but he didn't utter a sound. She would never understand. She always said his imagination ran wild. This was a story he would have to keep to himself. Maybe it was his imagination. After all, the woods had always been full of games and wonders for him. His imagination, yeah, that's all it was.
That night in bed he was tired, but he was too afraid to close his eyes. He stared up at the ceiling counting the cracks that ran through the paint. The house was old, but it was the only thing his father had left him and his mother. His father died in an accident on a construction job. He could still remember his mother crying when he walked into the house from school that day. He could barely understand her through the sobbing, but he knew his father had died. Three men from the job site brought the news and they were still standing in the front room. They had those “we’re-sorry, but-what-do-we-do-now?” looks on their faces. They stood shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other until his mother told them it was all right for them to leave. He remembered his grandmother coming to stay with them that night. Both his mother and grandmother had cried way into the night, but for some reason, he couldn't cry. Nathan loved his father, but he still couldn't bring himself to cry. Maybe it would come later. As he studied the cracks in the paint, there seemed to be more than before, or was it just that he hadn't counted them in a long time?
A howling wind woke him at 3:15 in the morning. The window shade was flapping loudly against the woodwork. As he turned to face the other way, he thought he caught a glimpse of a face in the window. He turned to look again, but there was no one there. As he turned over, he heard a child’s voice calling his name.
“Nathan,” it called softly. “Come play with me.”
Nathan sat up in bed. Did he hear his name?
“Nathan, please come play with me,” the voice called again. “I've got nobody to play with me. The woods are great at night. The moon is shining full. Can’t you come out?”
He slipped out of bed and cautiously walked toward the window. He couldn't see a thing. Was it the wind? Was it his imagination again?
“Nathan,” the child called again. He seemed farther away this time. Yes, he clearly heard someone calling his name.
Nathan pulled on his coat and slippers and grabbed his flashlight from a drawer, testing it against the bedroom wall. Climbing carefully out of the window, he dropped quietly down to the ground and followed the voice toward the woods. The trees always drew him to the woods in the daytime, but at night they seemed scary and threatening. Everything seems different at night.
The child's voice was laughing now. “Nathan, I'm over here. Hurry, up!”
He walked quickly now to catch up to the voice. The wind seemed to blow him in the direction of the child's constant calling. He found himself at the river's edge, but he couldn’t see anyone there.
“Little boy,” Nathan called out. “Where are you? Why do you keep calling me?” There was no answer.  Nathan shined his flashlight toward the water, running the light up and down the Black River. At night the rocks looked like backs of crocodiles resting in the water. He stood very still, listening to the sound of the river rushing by him.
He turned his light in the direction of the voice. There he was, a young boy, maybe Nathan’s age, with dark hair. He stood in the middle of the river, perched on one of the crocodile backs, or rocks or whatever they were.
Suddenly, the boy started jumping from rock to rock. “Nathan, can you do this?”
“Of course I can,” he answered, “but it's the middle of the night.” The child seemed weightless and unafraid of the dangers of the river. “Hey, what's your name?” Nathan asked.
“Robert,” the child answered.
Then just as quickly as the child had appeared, he was gone. Nathan stood alone in the night with just his flashlight shining on the rock where Robert had been standing. “Where'd he go?” Robert was gone with no trace.
The woods were quiet. Nathan backed away, and then walked back toward home. He kept looking over his shoulder to see if Robert was behind him, but there was no one there. It was as though he had just vanished. Nathan began to wonder if he had just imagined him again. What was happening to him? He had a strong urge to look back once more as he was walking. As he slowly turned around once again, there, at the edge of the woods, stood an old man with white hair, waving at Nathan.
“Goodnight,” the strange man said in a low raspy voice. “Goodnight, Nathan.”


Nathan pushed the memories of Robert deep inside him and they weren't recalled again. However, he vividly remembered the dark, rich river that flowed near his home when he was a boy. He'd often sit in a trance thinking about that place. His Mother was gone now and he was a grown man. He had become a successful writer, having left the small quaint town of Fairhaven behind. He had outgrown a lot of his awkwardness, but not his ever-changing imagination. Inside, he still felt like the same young boy running along the Black River. Sometimes his writing would be interrupted by long pauses as his mind wandered back over that period of time again and again.
For now, he had decided it was time for a break from his busy life. He was heading back to Fairhaven for a return visit. He didn't know for sure exactly what was drawing him back home since his family was all gone now, but there were thousands of memories in that old town that somehow made him relax and feel at peace with himself. He decided he would just take some time off, do some fishing, see old friends again, and see whether there might even be some new stories there worth writing.
Driving back home, he stopped along the way to pause at a stream that emptied into the Black River. It wound its way through the woods, like a snake twists and turns over everything in its pathway. “Funny,” he thought. “Everything seems to change except this old river. It seems determined to rush past, no matter what's going on around it. Nothing can stop it.” Just hearing the rushing sounds of the water moving over the rocks and fallen tree branches made him feel at home. He felt as though he could stand and listen with his eyes closed for the remainder of his time off, but he finally tore himself away and drove on to town. The river paid no attention.
When he reached town, he took a room in one of the beautiful bed and breakfasts available, The Raven Inn, which was run by an old friend of Nathan's mother, Maggie Sanding, and her daughter, Marcie. It was as beautiful as ever, like an old friend welcoming him home.
“Nathan, Nathan, get yourself over here and give me a hug.”
Nathan turned to see Maggie walking as quickly as she could at her age with arms open wide and a big grin on her face.
“Maggie, how are you doing old girl?”
“Well, as good as a person my age can, I expect,” she said. “Where's your wife?” she asked, trying to see around behind him.
“My wife? Maggie, I'm not married. You know that. Don't you think I would have invited you to my wedding if I were getting married?” Nathan asked looking puzzled.
“Well, I guess you are going to die single, Nathan. I declare you ought to be married with nine children all around you by now.”
“Speaking of married, where's that daughter of yours, Marcie?” Nathan asked anxiously. “I heard a rumor she took the plunge herself.”
Maggie leaned closer to Nathan, “Well now, aren't we behind the times. That wedding knot never did get tied, honey. I reckon at the last minute Marcie panicked. If you ask me, she's still carrying something warm in her heart for you.”
Nathan looked down at the ground silently celebrating that Marcie hadn't married after all. “Where's she living nowadays anyway?”
Maggie pointed in an upward general direction. “Oh they bought a nice house up on the ridge there, thinking that's where they would live after the wedding. When they parted ways, David, that's who she was marrying, David Moore, decided to let her keep the house. I think he just wanted out as much as she did. It has more room than she needs, but I think she loves that house so much she just had to keep it. “Maggie looked past Nathan in the direction of the house up on the ridge. “I just want her to be happy.” Maggie walked back inside and slowly sat on the worn, antique couch in the living room. She looked tired, but peaceful.
“I'm sure she's happy, Maggie,” said Nathan softly. “She's got a lot going for her, always has. I've always been a little jealous of her myself,” he teased.
“Jealous? Why, what on earth of?” Maggie asked.
“Well, for one thing you're the best cook in the state and she gets to eat your cooking every day,” Nathan laughed. “Speaking of food, when's dinner?”
“Oh, you always did manage to change the subject to food when you were around me. Get up to your room and clean up a bit before you eat. Dinner is at six o'clock sharp. So don't be late.” Maggie started picking up and fluffing the pillows from the chairs.
“I'll be there,” said Nathan. He grabbed his bags and headed up the stairs, turning to watch Maggie shuffle off toward the kitchen. He knew she would prepare something special tonight.
That night, after a wonderful dinner, Nathan decided to go for a walk to enjoy the evening air. As he walked along an old dirt path that wound around the property of the Raven Inn, he couldn't help staring up at the house where Marcie lived. Did he really want to see her again after all this time? Deep down inside Nathan knew that he did, but his head wouldn't allow his heart to even dream about being with her again. She was so beautiful. He could remember her movements and her soft dark hair that always hid a little bit of her face. How would it be if they met again? Would it be like it was back then? Would he still feel at ease with her like when he was younger? They used to talk forever until her mother would start calling out her name in the quiet night. Nathan had left her and this town to pursue an unknown future, not knowing where he would finally end up. He only knew that it was something he had to do.
He stood in the dark and thought about the night he said goodbye to her. She sobbed quietly. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked deeply into his eyes. She seemed to be looking for something that he wasn't telling her. He didn't even understand at the time why he had to go away; just that he desperately needed a change.
The world always seems so much bigger when you're born and raised in a small town like Fairhaven. It almost calls you away, beckoning you to explore the unknown. At least, that's what he felt at the time, and so he left. But just as he had heard something calling him away, he now felt called to return for a while and he didn't know how he would even begin to explain that to Marcie. Would she even let him explain? Maybe tomorrow he would see her and it would be like old times again.
As he turned to walk back to the house he heard someone walking around in the woods near him. “Hello,” he called into the darkness. He continued to walk and again he heard the noise in the woods. It sounded like the cracking of twigs under someone’s feet. Nathan stood very still and listened, but he didn't hear anything. “Probably a rabbit,” he thought. But just as he started walking again, he heard the noise. This time it was going away from him and with quick steps. Nathan’s curiosity got the best of him, so he walked toward the wooded area and the footsteps. “Hello, is somebody there?” he shouted. But no answer came.
It was pitch black and Nathan couldn't see anything at all, so he decided to just give up and head back to The Raven. It was too late to be chasing things through the woods anyway. As he turned to head back, the noise started again, except this time it seemed to be coming toward him. Nathan kept walking but turned to see if he could see anything behind him, nothing but complete darkness. However, the steps seemed faster now and even sounded as if something was running toward him. He quickened his pace, but the steps sounded closer now and faster. Nathan could hear heavy breathing now, almost directly behind him. He stopped and turned to face his mystery stalker, but as he turned, the steps sounded as though they were right behind him. The steps continued closer and closer until suddenly, Nathan felt a heavy breath on his face and the steps seemed to run right through him. He closed his eyes, shocked that it just ran past him, through him or around him. He wasn't sure. His head bounced back and then forward as though something had actually passed through him. Then, it was gone. Nathan was gripped with overwhelming fear, making it impossible for him to move. He just stood still while the steps and the panting breath rushed by him. And then it was quiet again.
Nathan opened his eyes, but there was nothing to see. Only darkness surrounded him in the woods. Finally, he got the courage to look around him, but again, there was nothing there. Nathan backed out of the woods and out into the open. There was nothing as far as he could see. “Was it an animal just running scared? It must have been,” he reassured himself. “What else could it be?”
Nathan made his way back to his room still shaken. As he crawled back into his bed and closed his eyes he thought, “This is great. You get scared the first night back by some animal in the woods.” As he dismissed the whole thing and tried to put it out of his mind, he started to drift off to sleep. There was something very strange, but at the same time, very familiar about what had happened to him tonight. He didn't understand it, and he was too tired to try to figure it out now. He reached for the light by his bed and turned it off. Everything felt familiar to him here.


The next morning Maggie treated Nathan to a big country breakfast like he hadn't tasted since he left home. It was a beautiful day and he was eager to go check out the town and see what changes had taken place.
“Maggie, that was the best meal I've had in ages. You’re still the best cook around,” he bragged loudly.
“Oh, hush. It's been so long since you had a good home-cooked meal you're just bound to compliment my cooking,” Maggie said in a modest tone.
“Well, I still know a good meal when I eat one. Sorry to eat and run,” he said standing up from the table. “But, I really want to go exploring today.”
“Not too much has changed around here since you left us. Maybe a new store or two and a few different folks living here, but not much else.”
“Well, I still want to see—” Nathan was interrupted by a call from the hallway.
“Mom, could you please give me a hand? I've brought you some things from the store and I need some help carrying them in,” a familiar voice called from out front.
Just then Nathan looked up to see Marcie standing in the doorway. At first they just stared at one another without saying a word.
“I'm a little tied up, but I'm sure Nathan here will be glad to give you a hand with the things. Right Nathan?” Maggie teased, as she waited for Marcie's reaction.
“Nathan, it's you. I can't believe it,” Marcie said looking shocked. “When did you get into town?”
“Yesterday. You look absolutely, good. I mean, great. You look great.” Again there was silence.
“Of course, if you’re not going to help her I could carry in the things myself, even though I'm just an old woman with small, thin arms,” Maggie said in an amused tone.
“No, no I've got it,” Nathan replied, his eyes still fixed on Marcie.
“This way,” Marcie said pointing to the car outside, never taking her eyes off of him.
They both walked outside without speaking, totally unprepared for this moment.
“Well, I hear you almost got married.” Nathan didn't know how to even begin a conversation with Marcie. Already, he wished he hadn't mentioned her failed attempt to marry.
“Yeah, almost. I guess it was for the best that it didn't work out though. He was a busy man, always on the go. He didn't really know anything else except his work.” Marcie paused. “Well, look at me. We see each other after all these years and within moments I'm sharing my personal life with you.”
“Sorry, I didn't mean to pry. I was just trying to think of something to say to you after all this time. I picked the wrong subject.”
“Never mind, it's all right. It was over before it started. I think Mom's glad it never happened. She never cared for him much. Maybe she was right. Maybe it's best that the marriage didn't work out.” Marcie looked down at the ground and Nathan could see that it was a hard subject for her to discuss.
“Come on, let's get these things in the house before Maggie comes out here and starts carrying them in herself.” Nathan grabbed the bags and started toward the house.
Marcie lingered at the car a few moments to collect herself. Then she grabbed the last couple of bags and followed him inside.
“Nathan was just about to go into town, Marcie,” Maggie said, as she began browsing through the bags. “Why don't you go along and show him the changes around here?”
“Oh, where are you off to?” Marcie asked.
“I just wanted to take a drive around the town and maybe drop in and say hello to a few folks. But if you're busy—”
“Well, I was going to help Mom put these things away.” Marcie started to quickly go through the bags and sort out everything.
“I've got this darlin’,” Maggie said, grabbing the things out of her hands. “You two run along. I can handle it from here.”
“Oh, all right then.” Marcie picked up her purse. “Well, ready then?”
Nathan and Marcie drove into town with only polite conversation between them. It was really awkward being together after all these years with nothing to say to each other.
“Any particular place you wanted to go?” Marcie asked.
“How about a walk through the park?” Nathan suggested. “It's a beautiful day and I used to love going there as a kid.”
Walking along the brick-paved paths in the park brought back a lot of memories for Nathan, the smells, the sounds and the gorgeous gardens. He wanted very much to get to know Marcie again. Why did it have to be so hard? “Uh, let's sit for a while,” suggested Nathan.
Walking over to a nearby bench, they took a seat underneath an old maple tree. Marcie looked the same, just as Nathan had remembered her, with her hair hiding parts of her lovely face and a smile that always put him at ease.
“Marcie,” Nathan began.
“Nathan, please. You don't owe me an explanation. You did what you felt you had to do. I don't have any ill feelings about us, if that's what you're worried about. You did what you thought you had to do at the time and that's it. Maybe it was the right thing to happen for both of us. Anyway, look at you, a writer. Do you think that would have ever come about if we had gotten married and tried to raise a family? Would you have just gotten a job, any job, just to make ends meet? Your writing would have never taken off.” Marcie softly touched Nathan’s shoulder and smiled, “But I do hope we can be friends again.”
Nathan didn't know what to feel at this point. He couldn't think of how to respond to her right now. His world was turned upside down. Just looking at her took his breath away, but he tried hard to disguise his true feelings.
“We can always be friends, Marcie. I've known you since I was a boy. You and your mother are like family to me.” Nathan gave a quick smile and looked away. “Family,” he thought. He knew it was much more than a family feeling that made his heart beat twice as fast each time they looked at each other. Maybe it was best left alone. What if she was right? Nathan loved writing and he also liked his life right now. Was there room in his life for anyone else?
They just sat for a while saying nothing, stealing looks without the other noticing and then staring down at their feet. “This visit was a big mistake,” Nathan thought.
Marcie took Nathan around the town of Fairhaven and pointed out some of the changes that had taken place. Old favorite stores had gone out of business and had been replaced by more modern buildings. Some of the familiar faces were still around, but working in different occupations now. Little by little Nathan placed the names and faces together in his mind, drawing on his past memories. Sometimes his memory failed him, but he still smiled as though he had known them for years. He probably had, but he somehow misplaced more information than he could remember. It was almost like he was coming out of amnesia. Different faces jogged memory after memory, like various short frames of film running through his mind, until he was able to find their proper place in his boyhood.
“What about Mark?” Nathan asked. “I know he's bound to be still kicking around here someplace. What's he doing nowadays?”
“You won't believe this, but he's the sheriff now.” Marcie watched as Nathan's face drained of color.
“Sheriff? He stayed in more trouble with the police than anybody else in this town!” Nathan laughed out loud. “This I've got to see. Where is he now?”
“Probably in Jordan's Diner having lunch this time of day.”
“Jordan's, man it's been ages since I was inside that place. You want to go and grab something to eat? If I remember correctly, they had the best hamburgers I ever tasted. Even since I moved away I haven't tasted any better.”
“You go ahead,” Marcie replied. “I can't spend all day parading you around town. I have to go and help Mom. We're running an inn you know. I'll catch up to you later.” Marcie pointed the way to Jordan's for Nathan.
“Maybe we can have dinner.” Nathan said as Marcie was walking away.
“I've got to help Mom serve the evening meal.”
“That's right, I forget you're a working girl. Tell Maggie to hold my table for dinner tonight.”
Marcie smiled, “Maybe we'll have dessert together.” She waved goodbye and headed back to The Raven.
Nathan stood for a moment and watched her walk away wondering how or if Marcie would ever allow him back in her life again. He only knew one thing for sure. He had never stopped loving her.

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