Name: Karel Hadacek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wayward Path
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wayward Path
Alyssa watched the raven watching her. Her grandma said they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message for her. Stepping toward the bird, she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her parents had pushed the leftovers to the side and were snuggled together, dozing. I won't be long or go far, she promised herself. I wonder if it would tell me its message.
Sometimes she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. Whenever she imagined how fun their walks were, Sparky rand to the door and jumped at his leash on the hook beside it. But when she was sad and didn't want to play, he'd settle in her lap and snuggle, ignoring the leash altogether. She didn't think they communicated with words; it was more like sharing feelings and pictures in their minds. Could she do the same thing with this bird?
The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? Hmmm, a boy, she thought he told her. Just when she felt a thread of communication with him, she lost it. The raven flew to a perch a few trees away and Alyssa hesitated, considering. She spotted a game trail through the woods and hurried to catch up with the bird. She felt safe knowing that the trail leading her a few steps away would also take her back, and she wanted to try to merge with the bird again. What else could I see?
Focusing on the raven again, her vision blurred. Blinking didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. In her mind’s eye, Alyssa thought she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. The colors were brighter and somehow different than the way the colors usually looked to her. Blinking, the scene cleared. She’d done it! Somehow, she’d didn’t communicate with him -- they’d merged, and she could look through his eyes! She never would have thought that was even possible, but she’d done it! She twirled and first pumped the air, wishing she’d had a friend with her to tell.
He fluttered to the left of the trail, and she increased her pace to keep up. She was eager to experience his vision again. The raven perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked. Following, she focused and tried to remember what she’d done to see through his eyes. More than anything, she wanted to do it again. He fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree.
The wind kicked up and big drops pelted her face before she looked around and saw the storm clouds overhead. Zipping her windbreaker and pulling up the hood, she wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up and away with strong beats of his wings, ending their game.
Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family’s picnic. She wasn’t worried, knowing she could return to the game trail. Alyssa looked around for the trail, frowning. Retracing her trail over a field of rocks, she couldn’t find the trail at the bottom where the grass grew again. She clutched her windbreaker, already beginning to chill.
“Mom? Dad?” She called periodically, hoping to hear her parents call in return.
Dark descended as she searched for the trail, finding only trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts for her help grew louder and more frantic. Although determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a child, she had to admit she was scared. Lightning cracked, making her cringe. She hoped the tall trees would attract the lightning first, rather than a small thing like her.
Stomach clenching, she left the long narrow meadow and moved into the trees. Soon she found a place that was almost dry under the thick branches of a prickly evergreen tree. It smelled dank and musty, making her sneeze. Her stomach growled and she tried not to think about her hunger, thirst, or the growing darkness. Tears pressed at her eyelids. She thought her parents would be anxious by now, looking for her. Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.
Wanting to look down through the raven’s eyes to hunt for her parents, she closed her eyes but couldn't do it. Not really knowing how she did it the first time, she had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it just kept running as tears soaked her face. She slumped, resting her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.
What was that? She raised her head. Stretching, she swiped at the dried snot on her nose and upper lip. She must have fallen asleep, but what woke her up? Holding her breath, she listened to the night. The rain had eased and she heard another sound. Something was moving among the trees. Could it be a bear? A mountain lion? She thought she heard furtive, heavy footsteps, then a pause. It didn’t sound like her parents or a search party. No one had a flashlight or called her name. Certain she heard something close, she wondered if she was too small and nice to frighten a hungry animal. Part of her hoped she was too scrawny and stringy to look appetizing while another part of her thought she could be tender and tasty.
She couldn’t remember what the rangers had said on their last trip. Am I supposed to make myself look big or small? Make noise or look dead? There were different rules for different predators. Big or small? Loud or dead? She searched for a weapon and grabbed a branch on the ground, only to discover that it was really a tree root, with the end buried deep in the ground. Oh my God, it’s coming closer! It can hear me moving around.
Abandoning the root, she leaped toward a shiny rock partially hidden in the murky shadows beneath the tree. She scrabbled at the rock, but it wouldn't budge. She heard the thing move closer. Loud or dead? Big and dead? Good as dead? Unable to see much in the dark, every instinct told her to run. She bolted, running as fast as she could through the trees.
The rain had slowed, and clouds absorbed the moonlight, leaving sullen darkness. She was one of the fastest kids in her class, but she couldn't run all-out here. There were hidden roots, and rocks everywhere that she couldn’t see. She fell, skinning her knees and hands. Jumping up, she looked over her shoulder. Has the animal stopped or am I too loud to hear it? There it was again! She ran through the woods, never seeing the rock that tripped her. One moment she was running, and the next she was sailing through the air. She threw her hands out to catch herself, finally landing hard and hitting her face. Pain stabbed up her arms, barely registering before she lost consciousness.
She woke to birdsong. Her head felt like she'd been clubbed, and panic rose as she realized she couldn’t see. She cried and her face stung as her tears found cuts and scrapes on her face.