Day 1: Molly
Molly Elizabeth Bennett is sixteen years old, lives in Los Angeles, attends Beverly Hills High School, likes to play the guitar, hike in the woods with her family and mutt Pandora.
What so special about her? She's the one who discovers the secret wormhole to New Earth, Arkana.
Fields of Elysium
A YA romantic fantasy
I crouched in front of my box of clothes and started to rummage for an outfit. The movers had delivered our stuff yesterday but there wasnâ€™t time to organize it yet. Not that seeing the dreary attire in my closet would be any better than seeing it folded in a box. The principal of my school in Hopewell tried to be conservative about dress codes, and my dad was very strict about what he allowed me to wear. In BHHS the kids had their own style and whatever they wore seemed effortless. I had already tried sporty, funky, stylish, but none of them felt as my own. Most of the time, I ended up putting on jeans and a plain T-shirt.
I yanked out a pair of khaki shorts and a black tee from the box, quickly assured myself that they weren't wrinkled too much, and started to get ready for a hike. The Griffith Observatory seemed like a great place to start. My dad drove us there yesterday, so I kind of had the idea what I was getting myself into.
As I pulled my shirt on, I glanced at my left wrist. There was a faint mark on it, where my skin was still lighter from the watch I had been wearing my entire life and I felt a shiver run down my spine at that sight.
Due to the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping that happened in my hometown, my dad had declared the world an unsafe place for children. When I turned two, he secured a built-in-GPS watch on my wrist, and he did the same to my brother when he turned the same age. My parents didnâ€™t track our every step, only paid a monthly fee for the service of a company that offered to locate us in case we went missing or got kidnapped. The strap of the watch needed a special code to unlock, and if someone tried to cut it, it would set off a silent alarm. As a little kid I never paid too much attention to it, but in the past few years it made me feel as if I were some kind of an endangered species. The only good side about our moving was that my dad removed the watch and granted me more freedom. My brother still wore his watch.
â€œIâ€™d never lie to you or do anything you wouldn't approve, I'd promised him, rubbing the spot where the straps almost became part of my skin. Without it I felt a little bit naked, vulnerable.
"You know. You're a smart girl and I trust your Dad said, a mixture of worry and love crossing his face.
I launched myself into his embrace. I was like a caged bird on her way to freedom.
Once we separated, he held the watch in his hand for a moment, then slipped it into his pocket. Just like that. A part of my life was over, and a new era was about to begin.
As I bolted down the stairs to eat breakfast, my dog joined me. Pandora was an interesting mix, having a small chicken head and barrel body. Her food had always been measured to avoid overfeeding; still she was always fat, while her head was way too small for her body. Years ago, we saved her from a pound when she was about to get the fatal needle. You would expect that after being rescued she would be the most obedient and grateful dog ever. Wrong. She never listened to me. Never listened to any of us for that matter. But I loved her. Well, who couldnâ€™t love a dog that wakes you in the morning with a slobbering tongue, brings your cell phone when it rings, and sheds her short golden hair onto your pants every day? She was just a sweet nuisance that I would miss if gone.
Pandora followed me to the dining room excitedly. She recognized my hiking shoes; they always meant great walks for her.
The rest of the family was busy in the kitchen, getting ready to eat. I grabbed the plates to help set the table.
Our new rental home was a charming courtyard, Spanish-style house with an open floor plan, three bedrooms and two baths. For reasons I didnâ€™t understand, I got the only upstairs bedroom, and even though Nick had to mount the rust-colored tiled stairs to share a bathroom with me, the whole top floor was pretty much mine. Still the house did lack privacy, as it was half the size of our former home. But I had a balcony and together with my sanctuary, I had no reason to complain.
While having breakfast, I announced my plans for the day. To my surprise Dad didnâ€™t try to talk me out of hiking on my own, but instead encouraged me. He only insisted that I take my emergency bag with me.
Dad was the type of man who kept a survival backpack in his car, with non-perishable food and basic tools, enough so we could outlive a major disaster. Of course he packed a smaller, portable version with pepper spray, a knife, a light stick, water, and a protein bar for me. I thought he was being way too paranoid, but if my carrying all this made him happy, I would gladly do that for him. Besides, carrying a survival pack instead of a tracking device didnâ€™t sound so bad.
When Iâ€™d finished eating, I hit the road with Pandora.
It was hard to believe that I was driving my first car. It gave me a feeling of independence yet scared the heck out of me. This mixture of emotions turned my toes and fingers cold. Yet the leather smell in the car enchanted me, even though the car wasnâ€™t new, and the soft touch of the steering wheel set every hair on my arm bristling.
Following the GPS, I navigated the route, gripping the black wheel so tightly that my knuckles turned white. The traffic was just as crazy as always, typical L.A., but getting to the park didnâ€™t require driving on the freeway so I managed.
To avoid the busy lot by the observatory, I parked closer to the bottom of the hillside. The parking was easier here because I didnâ€™t need to back up or maneuver my car into tight spaces.
There was no one around so I let my dog off her leash and ordered her to follow me.
As we hiked higher up on the bluff, I spotted tiny light beams dancing on the ground where the sunlight found its way through the parched, bare branches. This was a different type of forest, more open and baked, nothing like the dense and green woods I had grown up with. Still it was nice, and the diamonds of dew glistening on the spider webs added a magical touch. Surrounded by nature, and despite the obvious differences in the landscape, I felt a little bit like being back in Hopewell.
After a good twenty minutes of climbing the steep hillside and inhaling the dust that rose from the ground, I was out of breath. I slumped down onto a fallen tree trunk to rest and called Pandora closer. She positioned herself between my knees, seeking a little petting. I rubbed her head and she wagged her tail in contentment.
This path was peaceful and solitary. My eyes could wander as far as downtown Los Angeles where skyscrapers yearned to reach the heavens, surrounded by small buildings and houses as far as the eye could see. The entire picture looked as if slaves were about to bow before their masters. One of those slave-houses is ours I thought smiling.
Still stroking Pandoraâ€™s chest, I closed my eyes and controlled my breathing in order to hear every little sound. One minute just the usual forest hissing was audible, followed by the waft in the crown of the trees; then I heard a soaring hawkâ€™s shriek right above us. I looked up at the clear blue sky when Pandora flexed and tapered her ears between my legs. I followed her gaze and got a glimpse of a squirrel, making its way along the dirt path, jumping nimbly on the dry, lackluster leaves.
â€œNo!â€ I shouted, and tried to get a firm hold on my dog, but it was too late. She was gone, chasing after the little ball of fur. I leaped to my feet and ran after them. I knew if Pandora had a lead on an odor trail or she was hunting, she would not listen to anybody. I gathered all my strength to sprint between the trees, and yelled at her to stop. Even though I lost sight of them both I still heard Pandoraâ€™s barking clearly and it kept me running.
As I advanced higher on the hillside the whispering of the trees intensified. The wind picked up noticeably. Then the sun hid behind a single cloud and the bright light disappeared around me. I wondered if it would be wiser to head back to my car and hope for my dog to find me, but I loved her way too much to risk losing her.
Beginning to feel uneasy, I kept moving forward, deeper into the untamed area, while dry branches and twigs tore at my skin and scratched my legs. I only stopped when I reached a clearing, which I already learned was a firebreak.
I waited and listened when a repressed yip made me shiver.
â€œPandora, where are you?â€ I cried in frustration.
I heard heavy panting and the sound of thumping paws, but I couldnâ€™t identify from which direction. With a throbbing heart, I stood where I was, turning my head around and scanning my surroundings.
And there she was, behind a cluster of bushes by the mouth of a dark hole, padding into my view. She spotted me and started jumping elatedly on the edge of the rock shoulder, barking as if to give me a signal to follow her.
â€œStop fooling around, girl! Letâ€™s go home!â€ I yelled and motioned to her by slapping my thigh. She leaped back inside the gloomy opening, not paying attention to me at all. My anger began to rise from being ignored, but I was curious as to what was behind those bushes.
I opened the oversized pouch I wore across my chest to make sure I had everything I might need for an expedition. I did so I moved over to the jagged rock wall, trying to follow Pandoraâ€™s path.
About half way up I slipped and scraped my skin near the ankle. Although not a bad wound, it made me stop and think things through. But just when I was close to change my mind about this adventure, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds once again, and the warm sunrays drove all uncertainty from my mind.
I positioned my foot on the last jutting rock rim before I could pull myself up on the top of a boulder. Pandora showed up again, scaring me so badly that I almost slipped off the ledge. She must have seen something to get her so excited. My curiosity grew with every passing second.
With one last pull, I was finally in.
The temperature was much lower inside the cavern than out in the open and a moldy stale smell caused my nose to twitch. With my pulse throbbing rapidly, I advanced deeper toward the darkness, the hair standing on my arms.
Some light still penetrated from the side where I came from, through the barren bushes that concealed most of the entrance, but the stomach of the spacious cave was chillingly black. I pulled the light stick out of my bag and cracked it. The green neon glow vaguely lit up my path.
I wanted to yell for Pandora, but not one sound left my mouth. There was no sign that anybody had ever been here, but the darkness alone was enough to scare the wits out of me.
Running my fingers along the uneven wall, I pushed forward cautiously, sideways. The sounds of nature began to weaken but now my ears tuned in to a new noise.
â€œPandora? Are you there?â€ I asked in a low voice and stretched out the arm holding the glowing stick.
The same stupid squirrel ran by, down at my feet, sending adrenaline shockwaves through me.
This is not a good idea, I thought. I should turn back now and maybe come back tomorrow with my dad.
Ready to leave, I made one last attempt to call my dog back to me. My voice first echoed in the tunnel then was followed by silence. I narrowed my eyes as I thought I spotted a flickering blue light. My mind kept ordering me to head back to the safe open air, but my curiosity won the battle.
I made a few more steps forward when Pandora appeared in front of me, scampering back and forth toward the light.
What is that? I stared in wonderment at the sparkling bluish swirl blocking the path that looked like the gas in a fluorescent tube. Rays of violet, blue and turquoise swirled around in it slowly, while sparkling stars twinkled randomly on the mesmerizing surface. I saw a similar image in a planetarium once. It was called Aurora. But this couldnâ€™t be an Aurora. That effect is caused by the solar wind with charged particles that get agitated by the magnetic field of the Earth. But how could a solar current get into a cave? It made no sense.
Moving closer, I stared at the phenomenon, clueless, as the many different shades of blue and purple light beams began to coil together, turning the core into a blindingly bright white. Iâ€™d never seen a more beautiful thing.
Standing in the cavern and hypnotized by the light, I wasnâ€™t frightened. I was calm. I felt that going closer to it was the most natural thing ever. It called me, invited me nearer.
From the corner of my eyes I saw movement.
â€œStop!â€ I screamed at Pandora, throwing myself at her. But I couldnâ€™t reach her. She jumped into the field and disappeared. Just then a strong, overpowering energy seized me and started to pull on me. I tried to get a safe grip on the wall, and strained my feet, but it was no use. In spite of all resistance I was sucked in as well.
Written and illustrated by A.B. Whelan
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