This isn't where I originally planned as chapter two, but is more akin to the first half of what I had planned. However, it seemed like a natural point to stop it at, and makes what comes next more of its own piece, which makes sense in the long run.
And any crazy person actually checking the wordcount of these two chapters, no they do not equal the word count above. I'm a chunk into chapter three as well.
Chapter Two - On the Banks.
While Darien found himself becoming surrounded by the people Rachel knew, his sister was instead more alone than she had been for some time.
Over the course of her entire life, she could recall the number of times that Darien was not at her side with clarity and speed. There was the time he had his tonsils removed and had to stay at the hospital, and despite her best efforts, their parents would not let her stay in the empty hospital bed beside him. When they were eight, Darien enrolled in some karate classes, and after the first few weeks, Alyson had been signed up as well. It was only in recent years that they moved into seperate rooms.
They were inevitably seperated by classes taking them to different rooms on different schedules like they were now, but at least at her old school, Alyson had her own group of friends. The twins shared many of them, but there was also a few people that only liked one sibling or the other. Here she had no one as of yet, only her family.
She could sense him, at the far end of the school from where she was outside the doors. A tree loomed overhead, blocking her view of the sky, and the school itself blocked the sun, leaving her in shadow.
The driveway for the school started on the other side of the building, and swooped around the high school in a wide, rough arch. Back in the day, it was probably smoother and more symmetrical, but as time drove onwards, it had become more filled with parking spaces. It carved a path between the two buildings of the high school and the elementary, making a canyon between the two, and cars parked along each side, leaving only enough room for a car to drive through in between the rows. In front of Alyson it turned back towards the main road that ran straight through the center of Kraftsbury.
Alyson took a brief moment to enjoy the cool breeze of an oncoming autumn. The tree branches above her head were still filled with green leaves, but a good number had already turned to various other shades. It was only mid September, and the air was by then quite cool. Alyson would be surprised if there were not more days ahead that were much warmer, but summer was fighting a losing battle.
Looking about, she saw that almost every student had vanished into whatever door they were going for. On her left she could see a pair of such doors set into the bricks of the elementary building. Whereas the high school was almost three stories tall, although the bottom floor was sunk into the ground, the elementary school, and attached facilities like the chorus and shop, were all contained in a single story building, sprawling across the grounds.
If Rachel's directions were accurate, Alsyon knew the door on the right was where she had to go. She had no reason to distrust the cheerleader, but Alsyon did not give that out easy to anyone except her brother. She turned towards the doors, the soles of her sneakers scuffing on the rough blacktop that had been laid on the ground so long ago it had become a very light grey, with cracks running through it where grass was beginning to grow back and reclaim what once belonged to it.
She took off at a brisk pace, not quite a run, and blocked her eyes as she exited from the shadow of the school and into the sun that shone down upon the parking lot and driveway.
Before Alyson could reach the nearest car, a voice called out behind her, "Hey! Wait up!"
Her feet skidded to a stop, and spun her around, shoulder length hair spinning out like a long skirt on a dancer.
Skipping down the concrete stairs and moving fast to catch up to her was another student, a young man.
His hair was dark enough to almost be black and dishevelled, unlike the rest of his appearance. He was more clean shaven than anyone his age Alyson could recall seeing. His clothes were neat and tidy, slacks with carefully pressed lines in them, a black sweater without a speck of lint on it over a white polo shirt, and black polished shoes, not sneakers. If not for his obvious age, it would be easy to mistake him for a teacher, or someone off to a job interview.
The young man skidded to a halt in front of Alyson, and he smiled at her with teeth as perfect as the clothes he wore. She felt a crinkle form in the bridge of her nose, uncomfortable at someone being so fastidious as to be off putting. However, she gritted her teeth and smiles back at him.
"You're new here, aren't you?" He was out of breath, and Alyson assumed it wasn't just from running the few feet to catch her.
Her head bobbed up and down, still smiling. "Yeah. I seem to be getting that a lot today."
"Well, you stand out just a bit." He gestured to her ensemble she was wearing. Fastidious and critical, thought Alyson. Great combination. "You and your, your brother, I assume?"
"Yeah, you both stand out, although in totally different ways. He's a bit imposing, huh?"
Alyson could tell he was nervous, and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Yeah, the ox does tend to leave an impression. I keep telling him it wouldn't kill him to smile more. I think mom told him at the wrong time his face might get stuck like that, and he tries not to smile."
The young man let out a hearty laugh that echoed off the brick walls surrounding them.
"Um, oh! My name's Marcus. I saw you and your brother walk into the school a few minutes ago, and saw Miss Ferris help you out. I had to take care of some stuff at my locker, but wanted to welcome you to the school." He paused and took a breath, long enough for a realisation to sweep over his face. "Oh geeze, you're probably on your way to a class, aren't you?"
Alyson looked back over her shoulder at the beckoning door to the chorus room. Marcus followed her gaze.
"Ah, cool. That's where I'm going. We should hurry."
The redhead shook her head and smiled. "What do you think I was doing before some guy came up to me and decided to shoot the shit in the middle of a walkway?"
The two of them started to sprint across the pavement towards the door, not paying any heed to cars, although Alyson shot a quick glance to either side as they entered onto the open area of the pathway.
"Sorry, sorrysorrysorry!" Marcus got ahead of Alyson and grabbed the brushed metal door handle, getting it open with a hefty tug, that told more about the weight of the door than the strength of the man, although the latter did not seem terribly great to Alyson either.
She gave Marcus a polite nod and a smile, pleased to see that while he may be a bit of an odd sort, at least he's a gentleman. She appreciated politeness above many things.
The two entered through another door on their immediate right. Alyson was first through the door, with Marcus behind her, and standing almost six inches taller than her, and where he stood, it looked like the pair of them were the start of a totem pole. Although the only person that may have been tall enough for a third head was Darien.
The teacher turned to the two arriving students. She took off her wire-frame glasses, and put them up in her greying red hair that may have once matched Alyson's own for vibrancy. She did not look very old, but the years were clear in her eyes. She sat at an old piano that showed more age than the teacher herself. The light colour of its wood must have once shone from the coat of stain, but that had become worn and scratched over who knew how many years. It was small and box-like, almost like one might see in the corner of an old saloon in the movies.
A heavy sigh escaped her lips, and Alyson got the impression that this was not Marcus's first time arriving late.
"Nice of you to make it to class, Marcus." Alsyon let slip only the tiniest of smiles at being right. "And you're Alyson. Nice of you to join us. I'm Mrs. Gerrold. Which one of you delayed the other."
Marcus sheepishly raised his hand, and the teacher gave him a look that said, "It figures" in a single glance.
"I was just showing her the way here," was his sole defense.
"Next time, show them faster." She shifted her glare down a few inches, and her eyes softened. "I know it's your first day, so you'll get a pass for now, but don't make it a habit like that one does. Anything you'd like to say to the class before we get started?"
Alyson looked out across the small gathering of students, a varied sea of faces, or closer to a pond in size, all looking back at her. No two faces were alike, all different ages from various grades and walks of life. She stepped next to the piano and gave a short, nervous wave and smile to the crowd.
She rocked back and forth on her heels as she spoke, picking her words with care, but fast enough that most people would not notice she was considering each and every syllable to escape her mouth.
"Hi! My name is Alyson, Alyson Montrose. Some of you might have seen me and my bodyguard, I mean, brother arrive not that long ago inside." A wave of polite, quiet laughter flickered through the crowd, and Alyson even heard some Mrs. Gerrold, and she was thankful for that after the horrible impression she must have made showing up late.
"My family just moved here. We arrived over the weekend from Colorado, where I grew up. We just decided it was time to move on, and wanted to find something somewhere else. We don't know what, but we'll know it when we see it."
Alyson could tell the class was getting restless listening to her, even if they were interested in the new student. There's nothing more boring than having to sit in a class room when someone's talking about themselves.
"Anyways, I'm really glad to be here, and hope that I'll become good friends with a bunch of you. But this class is about singing, so not talking, and wrapping this up is harder than it looks!"
Her face was flushed by the time she finished, and took a seat in one of the folding metal chairs that the class was using.
Mrs. Gerrold gave her new student some lyric sheets, and had her sing a few bars so she could see the best range for her, and decided to put her with the sopranos.
After 45 minutes, less thanks to their not so timely arrival, the class ended. Alyson had already spoken with most of the other students in the class, getting to know them on a more personal level than standing in front of them and babbling like a loon for a few minutes.
A few of the other sopranos were huddled around her as the class came to an end. The group were laughing and giggling like any normal group of schoolgirls, as they indoctrinated the newbie into the world of local gossip, while also trying to get the scoop on her brother.
Despite their best efforts, the task of getting Alyson to speak about her brother or herself in any great detail was proving to be a challenge. They just assumed the girl was guarded and unsure in her new surroundings, so they kept prodding and digging, but to little avail.
A few details crept out during their interogations. Alyson assured the crowd that Darien wasn't really dangerous. He only posed any sort of threat if he was threatened, or Alyson herself. The students could understand that well enough, most of them having siblings of their own. They had moved into the old Boxer house just up off main street on a road called South Hill. Their parents did a lot of travelling so the twins had learned to be pretty self-sufficient, or at least look out for each other.
Marcus hovered around the circle of young women, his head hovering above theirs, like a moon orbiting the planet Alyson, and her many rings asking questions. The girls started to lead Alyson out of the small room they were trapped in, not that she had much choice. She was trapped in the circle and moved with them, looking every bit the cork stuck in a pool of water, only able to move with the currents and ripples.
"What's your next class?" asked Marcus, trailing behind the cluster of chattering girls.
"Study hall!" drifted out of the crowd. Marcus was unable to see Alyson except for a tuft of red hair in the center of the group.
Marcus stopped trailing and came up alongside the group. "Great, me too, I'll show you the way."
The sopranos all paused and let out a collective sigh. To no one's surprise, they were all perfectly in tune with each other, which while not unexpected, Marcus also found it just the slightest bit creepy.
Alyson pushed her way out of the girls, and took a deep breath like the air was precious to her. She smiled at her new group of potential friends, and they went their seperate ways, with the grouping splitting up as if they were a racked set of pool balls struck by the cue.
As Alyson and Marcus headed back towards the school, she waited until the rest of the people were well on their way and asked just as they crossed the threshold into the darkened halls of the school. "So, what class do you really have right now?"
Marcus barked out a sharp, single laugh. "I'm flattered that you think I'm anywhere near that clever. I actually have a study period too. In the library?"
She nodded and followed Marcus to the middle floor of the school where her brother and herself had first entered. They passed the offices of the principal and Miss Ferris, and a stairway in the middle of the floor. Not far from her locker, and next to the photograph and plaque they had admired earlier, Marcus came to a stop and gestured towards an open door next to the stairs.
With a smile, Alyson passed Marcus and into the door. A half-sized dividing wall on their right that stopped just below Alyson's nose forced them to continue forward past shelves that were twice as tall as her. They were filled with exactly what one would expcet from a library.
Marcus stopped, crossing his arms over the top of the divider and waved to the librarian sitting behind her desk. Alyson continued forward while he grabbed a nearby newspaper resting atop the same wall.
Alyson passed by what would best be described as a reading area, next to the wall Marcus remained at. Inbetween that and a low shelf filled with thick books that looked like various encyclopedias, was a simple couch that looked like little more than a few blue cusions hastily attached to a wooden framework. Twin chairs in a matching style were on either side of it, but with cusions of red fabric. It looked like a comfotable, basic living room. A student was already sprawled out on the couch, also reading a paper, oblivious to the new arrivals.
Continuing past the reference shelf and a copy machine, as well as a few computers, Alyson came to a stop at the desk to her left. Beyond that was the rest of the library, half filled with tables and chairs, some occupied by no more than a handful of students. The other half was filled with stacks of books, and boxes of magazines lined every available inch of wall space up to Alyson's chest.
The librarian smiled and Alyson spoke in a hushed tone, respectful of the common rules of the library, despite there being no more than half a dozen other people in the room, and some of them weren't quite the quiet sort.
She explained who she was, and was grateful that the librarian didn't have too many questions for her. Alyson was beginning to wish she had made up brochures to hand out. The teacher said Alyson could take a seat anywhere, feel free to read, grab a book, a paper, whatever she liked.
The two of them were interupted by a rustle of paper. Marcus had stopped his reading, and came up behind Alyson. "Actually, if it's ok with you Ms. Campbell, since she doesn't have anything to really do yet, I'd like to show her around the school a bit. Don't worry, we won't bother anyone, and we'll stay quiet."
A moment passed and then another as the librarian considered his proposal. She tapped the eraser of her pencil against they keyboard in front of her. Finally she shrugged and waved her hand towards the door.
"Go. I shouldn't let you, but you're a good student, Mark. Just don't get into any trouble."
A cry from one of the students back towards the stacks came out of the mostly silent room, "No fair!"
As the two students left the room, they could hear Ms. Campbell admonishing the student who had shouted out, but their conversation was soon lost as they were down the hallway.
"Ok, forget the rest of the school, I want to show you some other stuff. I think you can figure out how this place works."
She smiled at his bait and switch. "Now see, you can be clever. Bell rings, the cages open, rats move from one room to the next to be indoctrinated with knowledge and rote repetition?"
Marcus arched his eyebrows in surprise. "You are way too young to be that cynical."
"You would be surprised how someone can become so cynical so soon. You should see my brother on a bad day."
"This was a good day?" Marcus retorted with mock surprise.
"Speaking of Darien," spoke Alsyon as they walked down the hallway and passed a room. Through the glass in the top half, she could see through into the class, and her brother was sitting there, straight backed in his chair and staring straight ahead. The only movement he made was twirling his pencil around his fingers.
He caught the flash of movement out of the corner of his eye as Alyson and Marcus passed by the window. His cold grey eyes darted towards the movement, and at the sight of his sister, the smile returned to his face. His pencil twirling paused and he gave a quikc wave to his sibling.
They were unable to hear anything more than muffles through the thick wooden door, but the sudden rise in volume from someone unseen that Alyson presumed was the teacher, and the look of shock on her brother's face followed by a rise in colour to his cheeks was all she needed.
"Busted," was all she sang out as the two continued on and out of the school.
Alyson beat Marcus down the few steps to the main door, and pushed the large steel and glass door open like it was almost not there. Marcus was surprised at how little effort she had used that he almost collided with it as it swung closed again, but caught it with his arm.
"So, where are you kidnapping me to, hmm?"
The corner's of Marcus's mouth crinkled. "It's a surprise?"
"Give me a hint? I don't like surprises."
"I just thought I'd show you my favourite spot in the woods near here. It's really not far."
On one side of the schools was the road, and the town it fed through, but past the elementary facility, it almost immediately became woods, trapping the buildings between the two extremes of mankind's expansion and nature's beauty. Alyson thought it was a far cry from the industrialisation of Denver she had grown up in. Trees in such numbers, and so close to civilisation were almost a novelty to her. Back home, she'd have to travel out of the city to even find anything resembling a real forest.
The pair didn't delay, not wanting to waste too much time and they moved at a light jog past the elementary building, leaving the high school at their backs. Eventually, the wall of the elementary building became windows, and the two slowed down so as not to draw attention to themselves.
Once they were past the building, and nothing stood between them and the beckoning woods, the pair took off at a sprint towards the treeline.
Their footfalls shifted from thudding against the pavement and the ground, to crushing the leaves that had already decided to make the journey to the ground ahead of the others. Dead leaves and twigs snapped with each step once they were encircled by trees.
Marcus stopped and turned, expecting that he would have to wait for Alyson to catch up to him. However, she almost plowed right into him when he stopped short.
Looking back, it felt like the school was an entire world away. It was still near, still large in their vision, even the high school looming tall over its smaller brother. Although with the trees between the two people and the buildings, they could not have felt farther away.
"Wow, you're fast," noted Marcus while he tried to catch his breath. He was winded, but it always felt good.
Alyson however only seemed the slightest bit out of breath. "You must be an only child. You have to be fast with an older brother. Survival instinct."
"True enough, I suppose. Come on." He turned and gestured with his arm to follow as he walked up the sloping hill and over its crest.
Once Alyson topped the hill and looked down its opposite slope, she saw a river cutting its way through the forest.
Straight ahead from where she stood, and where Marcus was heading towards, was a small clearing in the trees. It almost couldn't even be considered as such, it was just a spot about ten feet wide where there weren't any trees. Enoguh branches overhead kept it covered up.
In the small semi-clearing were several large boulders embedded into the ground, left there so long ago by passing glaciers. Marcus had taken a seat atop one of them, and Alyson made her way over to one opposite him in the clearing. Each stone was at such a height that they didn't need to be climbed upon, nor did a person have to almost fall atop them to sit on. They were the perfect height to just casually park yourself on.
Alyson closed her eyes and listened to the bubbling stream as it rushed by no more than ten feet from her. She breathed in deep the scent of the forest; the bark from the trees nearby, the cool scent of the water, the musty, mossy smell of the rock she sat on, and the scent wafting up from the dead leaves covering everything at their feet.
The were far enough away that only the barest hints of the town could be heard in the distant, low rumbles of cars passing by on the road, a train far, far away, nothing more reached their ears.
"I see why you love it here," she said, opening her eyes at last. The golden light of the sun filtered through the leaves above. Holes in the canopy open and closed as the breeze came through, shifting the branches. In the summer, she doubted the sun ever came here much.
With time having passed for her to settle in, she looked around again and saw something she was surprised she had missed before. Close to the river was a large, thin stone. At least, thin compared to the rest of the stones. It was still at least as thick as Alyson was wide, but half again as tall.
She hopped off the stoen, her short height not making the perch as easy as it was for most people, and walked over to the grey monolith. "Do you know what this is?" she asked, not turning away as she looked up to the top of the stone, standing almost right up against it.
"Yeah, I did some research when I first saw it. Took me awhile, but one day I stumbled across it when I wasn't looking, while reading a book on mystic places in the library."
"It's a standing stone, isn't it? Like Stonehenge?"
Marcus nodded, leaning back upon the boulder he had chosen. "Similar to it. Consider it the local equivalent."
"But different, yeah. I didn't know any place like this existed in the US."
Marcus shifted, sitting up and leaning forward. "Yeah, quite a few, actually. Especially in Vermont. We had a fair number of Vikings and Druids way back in the day. I figure this stone must have marked something important for them, and with the circle of boulders, this could have been a place of worship."
"A place of power."
The young man gave a smile, looking up at the stone. The sunlight broke through the sparse leaves in just such a way as to paint the top of the grey, moss covered stone in a golden crown. "Yeah. You can almost feel it, like a connection to something greater. A power that leads from the stone to us, through them, connecting everyone."
"Nah, the internet is way better at that."
"Do you take anything seriously, Alyson?"
"Not since..." She stopped, staring at the stone. "Not since last year. I've found it easier to deal with the shit life throws at you by laughing in its face."
Marcus slid off the stone, crunching leaves beneath his feet as he stood. "Something bad happened to you and your brother, didn't it?"
Alyson looked away, acting like something in the woods had caught her attention. "Something bad happens to everyone."
They stayed silent for some time. It felt like forever, like they were the only two people left in the world. Together, yet alone in their silence.
It was Marcus who at last broke the lengthy, awkward pause. "I wonder how much this river has changed since those days, when people would come out here, worshiping whatever it was they believed in."
Alyson walked around the stone, moving closer to the river. "What's it called? I feel like I don't know anything about this place. It feels so silly to ask the name of a river that's always been there."
"Nah, it's cool. You're new. I didn't know this stuff when I got here about eight years ago. It's called the Black River."
"Oooh, how spooky." Alyson smirked, and crouched down by the bank of the river, splashing her hand in the waters that moved past at a gentle pace. She shivered at how cold it had already become.
Droplets of water were flicked off her fingers with casual ease, some landing back in the river and causing ripples to spread out. They were soon dissipated by the rushing waters.
Marcus watched and stood beside her. "Not that spooky, it just begins in the Black Pond. It's probably a very dark pond. People tend to not be terribly creative when they named things back in those days."
"True," she replied, standing back up. "The standing stone, the circle, and all by a river. Quite a confluence of objects."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know about the stone, but rivers were important too. Many people believed they were a means to travel to other places, and full of magic in their own way."
Marcus nodded, and the two walked back into the circle of rocks. "Right, like the river Styx, taking people to the land of the dead."
"Or the Lady of the Lake, and Avalon. Not to mention the baptism aspect of the stuff."
"Life and death and rebirth, all wrapped up in one place."
They stared out across the river for awhile, which almost could have been jumped across at this point, with a good running start. It was not very deep or wide where they stood.
Finally, Alyson laughed and shook her head. "This stuff is way too deep for this early in the morning. I didn't come to school to think about deep subjects."
"I hope you didn't take philosophy for your next class, then," joked Marcus.
"No, much worse. Calculus."
Marcus shuddered, as much from the cool air by the river, as by the word. "I'm holding off on that 'til next year. How did you get into an advanced placement class in your junior year?"
"Darien's the brawn, and I'm the brains of dis operation, see?"
"Not to mention the one with the sense of humour."
Alyson stuck out her tongue. "Darien's funny, he's just been a bit, well, brooding since last year. We deal with things in our own way, in our own time."
The girl's companion took a step closer, leaning in. "If I was to ask..."
"No," was the only answer she gave, cutting Marcus short before he could even finish.
"But you didn't..."
"Can I at least..."
"No, you can't finish a sentence."
"Stop that!" He waited to see if the redhead would interject anything else. "Fine. I won't ask."
As those sorts of things tend to happen, the bell rang for the next class at that very moment. The sound wafted through the air, and sounded almost gentle this far from the school. At first, neither of the people standing in the woods took notice of the noise, coming almost from another time and place from where they were. Marcus was the first to come to his senses.
"Oh geeze, the bell." The words flew so fast out of his mouth they were almost a single word. If he could have vocalised it all as one syllable, he would have. "We've got a bit of a run, so we better hurry. Calc is on the third floor, I'll catch you at lunch!"
Alyson gave a nod, but she wasn't listening. Marcus was already sprinting back over the hill and out of the woods, but she went in a different direction.
She moved closer to the stone finger pointing into the sky, and placed her hand against it. The rock was cold and hard, as she expected, and the light spattering of moss was soft where it crept across the surface under her palm.
"But I think I may have found what we were looking for."