*Muses Note: This week, we’re featuring guest writer Marie Stump, in her debut of posting her writing out for the rest of the world to see. We’re really honored that she’s sharing her work with us and hope you enjoy it, too. It’s inspired by her larger work-in-progress.**
The storm rolled in suddenly. One moment, fourteen-year-old Loban Peters was emptying a bucket of apples into the back of the truck, and the next the sun disappeared. Rain pelted from the sky a moment later, and the workers began running for cover. Loban held an arm over his eyes to shield them, searching for his younger brother.
“Josiah! Loban!” Grampa shouted. He appeared from the next row.
Loban spun. “Ziah!”
Josiah ran out one of the rows they’d nearly finished. “Where’d all this rain come from?”
“Never mind where it came from, let’s get out of it! C’mon!” Grampa waved them both toward the edge of the orchard. “This way!” He led them on a sprint through the rain to the old cliffs. Loban wasn’t surprised when they came to a cave. Several of the harvesters were already there, passing around towels and blankets. Grampa took a lantern from one of them. “Better get comfortable, boys. We’ll stay here until it blows over.”
In no time at all, Ziah and Loban sat on one of the natural ledges near the mouth of the cave, listening to the rain outside and watching the lightning flash from the entrance. A particularly loud clap of thunder followed one of the flashes. The cave shook, and Loban jumped.
Beside him, Josiah gasped. “That was a big one, wasn’t it, Grampa?”
“It was. Don’t worry, it’s just a summer storm. Farmers and fishermen have weathered hundreds of these storms in this cave over the centuries.” He winked. “I think there have even been a few pirates in here.”
“But what about Mama and Daddy and Kaleb and Maz?”
Another thunderclap sounded, and Josiah grabbed Loban’s arm. If he hadn’t known already, the rare intentional physical contact would’ve told Loban just how scared Josiah was. Loban stayed as still as he could. If he kept fidgeting, his brother would only get more nervous. He kept his eyes closed. The dancing lantern flames made him more nervous than the thunder, in a shadowy place like this.
“The city will be fine. This isn’t the first big summer storm for them over the years, either.”
“Okay.” Josiah let go of Loban’s arm. Loban heard him stand and begin pacing instead. “How long until it’s over?” Loban looked up, eager for an answer to the same question. The stone was hard.
“I don’t know, Josiah. Maybe just until morning. If it’s a really big one, it could be a day or so. That’s why we keep this little cave well stocked.” Grampa passed towels to a pair of new arrivals. “Why don’t you boys try to get some sleep?” He waved his hand at the back wall, where the workers had begun to set up cots.
Josiah shook his head. He didn’t falter in his pacing. He would walk the length and breadth of the cave over and over until morning or until the thunder stopped, whichever came last.
Loban stood. “C’mon, Ziah. We’ve been working all day.”
“No buts. I know you’re tired.”
Josiah clenched his jaw. “You’re not Dad. Stop ordering me around.”
Grampa frowned. “Josiah James Peters.”
“Well, he’s not.”
“That isn’t a good reason for rudeness.”
Loban rolled his eyes. “He’s just cranky ‘cause he’s tired.”
Grampa turned his frown on Loban. “I think you both are. Bed. Now.”
Despite how tired all of them were, few of those in the cave slept well in the midst of the reverberating thunderclaps. The morning came far sooner than any of them wished. Only a lightening of the gray beyond their refuge and a cessation of the downpour heralded the new day. It dawned windy and wet, leftover rainwater still dripping into the puddles near the entrance. As tired as they were, everyone was up by 5:00, as on every working day.
Loban found his brother sitting at the entrance. “Did you even sleep at all?”
Josiah didn’t answer. “Truck’s hit.”
“What?” Grampa appeared.
Josiah merely pointed.
Loban peered out into the orchard. The space around the truck was littered with small debris – pieces of apples and baskets, bits of the red-painted metal of the truck’s body. A lightning strike had left the truck itself with a blackened hole in its hood and another on the outside of its bed.
“Well, that tears it,” Grampa mumbled. He turned to the workers straightening the cave and making breakfast. “Looks like we’re walking back, folks!” Loban agreed wholeheartedly with the responding grumbles.
From the orchard to the very western edge of the city limits, where the Peters family and most of their workers lived, was several miles. Even at a steady pace, they were still a half-mile from home two hours into the hike. Soon, however, they would leave the trees and be able to see the sun coming over the tall downtown buildings. It was a sight Loban had always loved. Already he could see bits of yellow-orange through the thinning trees.
“Grampa, can I-”
“You boys go ahead. We’ll catch up.”
Loban grinned and took off running. The sooner he got to the treeline, the longer he could look. Josiah followed, as usual.
It wasn’t until he broke out of the trees entirely that Loban saw it. He stopped in his tracks. The city burned. The color he’d seen came from the flames, not the sun. Downtown burned the worst, smoke rising thick and black. The wind blew the cloud of smoke eastward and away, mingling it with the clouds. Loban’s gaze fell to their house on its little cliff, and his heart dropped. It burned, too.
Josiah arrived. He gasped. “No!” He sprinted toward the house.
“Ziah, wait!” Loban chased after his brother. Before they’d reached the entrance to the little stone staircase, their mother ran out of it, carrying Maz. Maz looked petrified.
“Mama!” Josiah yelled.
Mama’s eyes were wild. “Boys! Go back! Get out of here!” She grabbed Josiah’s arm as he ran past. “Josiah, stop! You’ll get yourself killed!”
“Dad!” Josiah struggled, but by the time he broke her grip, Loban was there to stop him. He held tight, as much as Josiah wriggled. For once, he was glad to be tall and gangly, if only for the advantage long arms gave him.
“Where are Dad and Kaleb?” Loban asked.
“Your father went back to try to help your brother.”
“Kaleb-” Mama’s words choked off.
“Kaleb what? Mama, tell us!”
Pounding footsteps came down the stairs. Dad appeared, panting. He nursed a burned hand. “I can’t get him out. It won’t let go.”
“What won’t let go? Dad, what’s going on?”
“No time to explain. We need to leave.”
“No.” Mama’s panic had become resolve. She handed Maz off to Dad. “You need to leave. I can’t. Not without him.” She raced back up the stairs.
“Christine!” Dad passed Maz to Loban. Josiah had finally stopped struggling and stood with his head down. “Get her out of here. I’ve got to help your mother.”
Josiah looked up. “I dreamed this. You won’t come back.”
Dad put a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll come back. I promise.” He looked at Loban and then back to Josiah. “Get your sister back to your grandpa. Those are your orders. Got it, soldiers? I’m counting on you.”
Josiah straightened. “Yessir.”
Loban nodded. “We’ll take care of her.”
“Thank you.” Dad spun and ran up the stairs.
Loban hesitated, peering up the stairs after his parents. Their silhouettes diminished and vanished into the light from the flames. He put Maz down for a moment, prepared to grab Josiah again. “Ziah, we’ve gotta go.”
“I know.” Josiah whispered. He watched the stairs. “This is the one part I could never see very well.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Watch. Three more minutes.”
Even when they heard the screams, Josiah didn’t budge. He barely seemed to breathe. Loban picked Maz up again, more than ready to leave. “Ziah.”
“Just one more minute. We’ll be okay.” Even after the screams had stopped, he stayed.
“There.” Josiah pointed.
At the top of the stairs was a figure, descending slowly. It had a vaguely humanoid shape, with six long arms, but Loban could see the light of the fire through part of it, as if through stained glass. The rest of it- He gasped. “Kaleb.” Their brother was inside the creature, whatever it was, moving as it moved.
Josiah nodded. “That’s what I could never see.” He turned. “Now we leave. We can’t help. I’ve tried before.” His calmness was terrifying.
“What do you mean?”
“Later. We have to go now if we want to stop Grampa.” Josiah ran back the way they’d come.
Loban held Maz tightly and followed. She hadn’t made a sound.
When Loban returned later with Grampa and Josiah, they found two bodies burned beyond recognition, too far from the smoldering ruins of the house to have been burned in the blaze. Kaleb was nowhere to be found. They were not the first casualties, nor would they be the last. Kaleb’s captor had not come alone.
About Marie Stump
Marie Stump is a 20-something writer, reader, and student of language and literature from a typical tiny town in Midwest America. She holds a degree in English Literature and Spanish and has been a lover of books and stories for as long as she can remember. Marie has been writing her own stories since she could spell enough words to form sentences. (Okay, maybe that’s stretching the the definition of “sentence” just a bit.) She still has the first full “story” she wrote, a tale that explains why the sky is blue, which she wrote for a second-grade project. (Why, yes, it does come with illustrations, how did you know?) She became more serious about writing when she started high school and drafted a novel before graduating. She also dabbled in poems a bit while in college, though she is of the firm opinion that poetry is better left to better poets. While Marie has not been published, she has several works in progress, all at varying stages in the drafting and revising processes. Prior to her story for the Muses, she has not put out any of her work to be seen by the world.
3 thoughts on “Arrival”
Oh gosh, I loved how innocent the beginning felt and then, once they returned to the city and found it burning, the entire mood shifted, the tension rose and suddenly I was flying to reach the end. There is so much promise here, Marie, and I hope to read the larger story that inspired this, one day!
This was incredible!! The descriptions, the relationship between Josiah and Loban, the rising tension, and that ending! Thank you so much for sharing your writing, I can’t wait to read more!!!