Chapter 1
The crunch and crack of rough pavement beneath his sneakers was the only sound Anthony heard as he trudged along the dead end road. In retro spec, it maybe wasn’t the greatest night for a walk. The fog rolled around him thick as waves blocking any light tonight’s full moon might have provided. The chill dampness, a side effect of walking through a cloud, penetrated his thin clothing leaving him shivering. But he had to walk, even for just a moment. He had to get away, clear his head, get air. Remind himself that he could breathe. He had to escape before he suffocated. He couldn’t be gone long he knew. Eventually he would need to turn around, go back home. Be the dutiful son and brother that he had to be. He couldn’t bite back the angry sigh as he buried his fists in his jean pockets. It wasn’t fair, he decided. It just wasn’t fair. Why should he have to throw himself behind everyone in support of their lives, even while he watched his own suffer? Why had no one ever been willing to move mountains for him? He had dreams too. Why didn’t his matter? It wasn’t their fault, he supposed. His mother had never asked for Lupis, and his sister had never asked for autism. But what about him? He never asked to be the one to take care of everything. Lost as he was in his own head, Anthony might not have noticed the change if it hadn’t been for the sudden loss of the noise that had accompanied him over the last two miles. There was no gravel. The road was gone. The hair went up on the back of his neck. That couldn’t be right. He’d have seen the dead end sign before the road ended and besides, the dead end fell away into a swamp and he wasn’t up to his ankles in murk. Rather the ground beneath his sneakers was soft and springy like the floor of a loamy forest, and indeed when Anthony looked up, for the few feet he could see through the fog, he saw nothing but trees. It was all wrong. A sudden, blinding, terror gripped his heart and he turned intending to flee back in the direction he’d come, desperate to be back on the road he knew but he found nothing but more trees and thicker fog. How was this possible?! It was a straight road! How could he have wondered away from it and not noticed?! Sure the fog was thick but it hadn’t been that thick had it? Enough to confuse him away from the straight and narrow, without him even noticing that he was confused? He stopped running. Better to be still then get more lost. He needed light. He yanked his cell phone from his pocket thinking of the flashlight but no matter how many times he pressed that little button the phone screen remained black. It was dead, but he couldn’t see how. He’d had at least half battery the last time he’d looked and that couldn’t have been more than a couple of hours ago. What was going on? It was then that he heard it. Rising out of the fog like a nightmare from a dream. Soft at first, almost unnoticed but growing in strength until it was terrifyingly real and loud. Yowls and yips and keening wails like a woman screaming. He wasn’t alone in the fog. Anthony’s breath caught in his throat and he fought to control the panic unfurling in his chest. He wanted to run but where could he go? The sound was distorted through the fog sounding like it was all around him. The fog was so thick now, it was almost cave like. And he was lost. Where can you run to when you don’t know where you are? He screamed bloody murder when a hand clamped down on his shoulder. “Quiet! If you want to live, come with me!” Anthony didn’t even hesitate. He turned toward the sound of the voice and took off running, holding tight to his rescuers hand. He was grateful for the contact because all he could see ahead of him was the fuzzy outline of what might have been a cloak out of The Lord of the Rings movie. The more rational part of his mind kept trying to tell him how stupid it was to go tearing off into woods after someone he didn’t know, on top of all else that was going down, but then he heard another yowl and told his rational self to shut up. They hadn’t run long when Anthony started to be able to see a vague fuzzy outline of what might be a structure up ahead. He figured it was their destination because the person leading him suddenly picked up the pace like a horse galloping for home. When they were closer he saw it was a structure. A cabin. They passed through a small waist high gate, pounded up across a stone path and up 3 stairs before Tony was shoved roughly through the door. His rescuer followed, quick hands latching the door with several bolts and locks, before they turned to him, body language angry, “What were you thinking!” she said, for he could now identify the voice as female, ripping the hood from her head, giving Anthony his first good look at his rescuer. She was an older woman of medium height and build, her age betrayed by the silver grey of her hair and the weather beaten wrinkles on her face. But her bright blue eyes were still clear and she stood straight as an oak. She was dressed strangely in what appeared to be a long leather vest over a dark green shirt and baggy brown pants tucked into black boots. A thin grey cloak adorned her shoulders. “Don’t you know…!” It sounded like she was ramping up for a rant but she was instantly silent when she turned around and she finally looked at Anthony. “No…” she said slowly stepping toward him, eyes raking up and down. “No. I don’t suppose you do. You’re not from here are you?” Anthony was pretty sure he was about to pass out. “What do you mean? Where is here? Is this some sort of cosplay or something?” The woman looked confused, “I’m afraid I don’t understand the reference.” She had an accent, lilting, very similar to Irish but not quite. “What is your name?” “Anthony De Luca.” The woman nodded and held out her hand. “My name is Katrin, and you Anthony, are a long way from home.” ~ After she’d gotten Anthony seated and given him something warm to drink, Katrin explained that “here” was the kingdom of Everbright. “It happens on occasion. People from The Other Place find their way here.” “The what now?” “The Other Place. The place Beyond.” “Beyond what?” “Beyond The Way.” “Holy Hell.” Katrin gave him a sympathetic smile, “I realize it’s a lot to take in…” Anthony interrupted her, “No. No more. Take me home.” “I’m afraid I can’t Anthony. The Way has not been known for centuries.” “I would give my left nut for anything you are saying to make sense right now.” Katrin sighed, eyes going to the ceiling. “Epoh help me.” She murmured, then turned back to Anthony. “Look my friend. You are in the kingdom of Everbright, how you got here Epoh only knows but the only way back is through a legendary passage known as the Way. Its story is based on the very foundation of Everbright’s history and culture. In times of great struggle, our Epoh will send one from Beyond who will help Everbright to it’s feet. Once that person arrives, the Way lights up. Without The Way there is no way for that person to return to the Other Place.” “Who is Epoh?” “Our Great Mother.” “So, a goddess?” “The Goddess. There is only one.” “Right. Okay. So this Epoh sends people to help you but won’t let them go home?” “No. As soon as the person arrives the Way lights up. Epoh sends them but they don’t have to stay.” Anthony tugged at his shaggy dark hair in frustration. “God, how did I get here?” “Perhaps a better question is why.” Anthony raised his eyebrows at her. “You think this Epoh sent me? To help you?” Katrin shrugged, “There is no real way of knowing, but it is a possibility.” “I’ve got to be dreaming.” Katrin smiled, “I’m afraid not Anthony. But perhaps you should be. Why don’t you go to sleep? We can talk more in the morning.” Anthony didn’t think he was tired but as soon as Katrin mentioned it, sleep was all he wanted to do. It had been a long day even before he’d decided to take this ill-fated walk. Katrin set him up in a small loft room with a wooden bed and scratchy woolen blankets. There was a small window to the right of the bed, giving him the perfect view of the outside, the dark trees and swirling fog. As he drifted to sleep he couldn’t help but think that Everbright wasn’t very bright.