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Banished (Chapter One)

Continued from Banished (Prologue)

The droning sound of my alarm clock shattered the peacefulness of my dreams, and I groggily hit the off button and then proceeded to stretch, stifling a yawn. The dim glow of the alarm clock read 6:00AM, and the sun had yet to rise. There was a lovely pink that colored the sky from my open bedroom window and a small draft of air carried my white curtains from their rest at the frame.

It was 6:15AM before I managed to roll out of bed and trudge downstairs, trying to rub the sleep from my eyes and wake up enough to help Mother and Dûrion with breakfast. The smell of bacon that Dûrion was currently moving around in a pan on the stove made my stomach churn, so I turned to Mother, who was preparing fruit bowls instead.

Mother had raised me a strict vegan, as she herself was, and I can’t remember ever having the taste of meat. Not that I wanted it. The scent of it always left me feeling nauseous. She tried raising Dûrion the same way, but he wouldn’t have it. He was hunting in the wood behind our home ever since Dad had taught him at a rather young age.

“Need help?” I asked, bumping into Mother’s side and smiling sleepily. She tugged on a string of my dark hair jokingly, and then scooted over, allowing me room to stand next to her. I grabbed a knife from its place on the counter, and then started to cut the strawberries that lay uncut on the cutting board.

“They’re predicting a pretty bad storm later today, so make sure you hurry along with your chores after breakfast.” Mother brushed loose blond hair from her face, and then grabbed the strawberries that I had cut and placed them into the bowls, which already contained pineapple, blueberries, and raspberries.

“I can handle a little storm,” Dûrion joked and Mother and I chuckled appreciatively. A couple years back there had been a nasty storm and Dûrion had been locking the animals away in the barn when it hit. The wind took him so much by surprise that he toppled over and couldn’t get up again for a good few minutes. It wasn’t his proudest moment.

After we finished preparing breakfast and sat down at the table, we talked about a number of things, like the harvest this year and how we had finally graduated high school. Dûrion had been valedictorian and I had not been far behind him. We were both taking a year off from college to help our parents out on the farm.

People had always wondered how our family had come from a small town in Kansas; they said we belonged to the likes of Hollywood. I had gotten my deep brown locks, young face, and small stature from my mother, while my fierce eyebrows, icy blue eyes, and quick wit from my father. Dûrion was even better looking though he wasn’t biologically my brother. He was tall, reaching about my father’s height at 6’6”, and he had broad set shoulders. His jaw was chiselled, square, and lightly shadow dusted with black hair. His eyes were clear, bore immense intelligence, and charcoal-grey in color.

“Ready for the camping trip this weekend, Peri?” Dûrion asked through a mouthful of bacon and I scowled at him. He knew how much I hated that nickname. I had forgotten about the camping trip this weekend though. We were just going into the woods on our land but we still considered it camping since we were staying deep in the woods. Dûrion and I had usually made this a frequent thing when we weren’t needed on the farm. This weekend it was to celebrate finishing high school. We hadn’t had time to all summer because the farm had kept them busy.

“Now that you mention it—no,” I said, poking my tongue out before grabbing a strawberry and putting it in my mouth. Dûrion stared at me for a moment, rolled his eyes, and then finished off his plate of bacon and stood.

“Well,” he said, taking his plate over to the sink, washing it off, and then putting it back in the cupboard, “time to do those big, bad chores.” He kissed Mother on the cheek and then disappeared out the back door, the screen slamming against the frame as he went.

Mother mimicked his actions, cleaning her plate and then pressing her lips to my forehead. “I’ve got to get started on cleaning the house. The laundry is by the door. Hang it up for me and then collect the eggs will you?” She smiled, gripping my shoulder, and left when I nodded my head.
_

The chickens were squawking when I came into the coop, empty basket balancing on my hip. “Shush,” I soothed the hens as I reached under their bellies and grabbed their eggs. Mother didn’t like having chickens, but their eggs provided money from the farmers market, and we couldn’t afford to get sentiment now. The cows we owned provided milk, as well as the old goat that my parents had gotten when I was a baby.

“Hurry up ya slowpoke!” Dûrion shouted from outside the chicken coop. “I need help milking the cows!” He banged against the coop, causing the hens to protest loudly, and I scowled, annoyed. I took another moment to calm them down, and then took the now full basket of eggs into the kitchen, where I would let Mother take care of them.

Dûrion was already planted on the stool next to Bessie, our younger cow. He glanced up when I walked in, the soft pitter patter of milk hitting the bucket ceasing for a moment before continuing after he gestured to the empty bucket next to our other cow, Gretel.

“Are you sure it was a good idea to turn down college for a year?” I asked suddenly, lulling myself to a calming state as I listened to the milk hit the bottom of the bucket. Gretel only complained for a moment before settling back down and eating her hay.

“What do you mean? It’s a break from school. You never liked school,” Dûrion said, raising an eyebrow in my direction.

It was true though. I did very well in school, but there wasn’t a moment in time that I wasn’t complaining about it or Dûrion wasn’t getting in trouble for a few harmless pranks. “I’m just worried we will grow lazy and then never go.”

Dûrion paused, his gaze catching hold of mine, a half smile curling the left side of his face. “Peridae, you and I both know how lazy we are. It can’t get any worse.” His laughter took hold of mine and ran with it, and we sat there for a moment, trying to catch our breaths.

We were both extremely hard working teens. We were born and raised on a farm that got its profit from growing apples in our orchard and selling milk and eggs off our livestock. Our neighbors had always found it strange that we had been able to grow apple trees in a land primarily consisting of wheat, but my parents always had a way with growing things.

“Besides,” Dûrion said, growing serious, “Da needs our help.” My insides grew cold at that thought. The tumor they had found in our father’s brain had been successfully removed when I was fourteen, but the cancer had never fully gone away. He had a chemotherapy appointment today, but his body hadn’t been responding well to the treatment.

I nodded my head, my hair shielding my wary, frightened eyes, and I turned my attention back to milking Gretel. I heard Dûrion sigh softly and then return to his work as well, and we finished the rest of the job in silence.

It didn’t take long to do the rest of our chores. After the horses were exercised and bathed, Dûrion and I headed back inside. “You couldn’t shoot a bow if your life depended on it,” Dûrion joked as he held the back door open for me.

I was about to retort when I saw Mother leaning against the counter, the home phone clutched dangerously tight in her right hand. She was nodding, but her face appeared pained, far away. “Yes, yes we will be right there.” She hung the phone back on the wall and folded her arms across her chest, her chestnut colored eyes strained with worry. “That was the hospital. You’re father has been admitted.”

I stared at her for a moment. Father had gone to the hospital this morning for a chemotherapy session, but being admitted was something different entirely. “Did they say why?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking and failing miserably at it. Dûrion slung an arm across my shoulders in a comforting way, and I could feel him shaking in anger. I got emotional when this kind of thing happened—Dûrion got angry.

“His other kidney is failing. They have to keep him there until they can find a donor.” Mother moved forward, wrapping her arm around the both of us in a giant hug. Her face was in my hair, and she mumbled, “Come on. Get your things. We’re going for a visit. I’m going to pack some overnight things, so that I can stay with him tonight.” She lingered for a moment longer, pressing her lips to the side of my head and squeezing Dûrion’s shoulder before heading up the stairs to her room.

As soon as Mother was out of sight, Dûrion slammed his fist against the table, causing me to jump. “Dûrion!” I protested, turning around and reaching one hand to rest on his shoulder. He shrugged it away, careful to avoid my gaze.

“I’m going to wait by the truck,” he growled before slamming the screen door behind him, leaving me alone in the kitchen to stare after him in a dazed expression. Father was in the hospital.

When he had been first diagnosed, it had been like a bad dream. He had been complaining about headaches for a while, but we children hadn’t really understood. Then he was making a lot of trips to the hospital, and Mother had explained to us that Father was very sick. He lost all his hair, and he hadn’t ever responded well to the treatment. He hung on far longer than any of the doctors thought, and now I guess it was catching up to him. It still felt like a bad dream.

It didn’t take Mother long to get ready, an overnight bag slung over her shoulder. She already looked tired, and I stared at her in concern for a moment before she grabbed her keys from the counter and then gestured at me to follow her.

“Is he going to be okay?” I just wanted some sort of reassurance. I felt like I was eight years old again—small, wide-eyed, and afraid.

“I-I don’t know,” Mother said, stuttering for a moment as she glanced over at me as we neared the truck, where Dûrion was leaning against it, shoulders hunched.

“Here, I’ll take that,” Dûrion said, rushing forward as he slipped his emotions behind a mask, taking the bag from Mother and then climbing into the middle of the truck. I was about to climb in as well, when something caught my eye.

We had a tree that grew almost right up against the house, and it had to be old judging by the size of the trunk. However, it wasn’t the tree that interested me. Peeking around the side of it was a little girl, no more than eight or nine years old. She had curly brown hair and freckles splashed across her nose and cheeks. Her eyes were wide, fearful, and her mouth was quivering.

“Hey, what is that little girl doing over there?” I asked, clutching the door of the trunk and squinting against the sun’s rays.

“Where?” Dûrion asked as Mother started the truck.

“What do you mean, where?” I asked, slightly irritated as my eyes slid to lock with Dûrion’s, “She’s right—“ my sentence caught off when I looked back at the tree, and the little girl was gone. “Um, never mind,” I muttered, shaking my head and climbing into the truck.

Dûrion was looking at me, concerned now, but I ignored his gaze and watched the road as Mother headed into town.

It was lucky that we lived near Salina, one of the bigger cities in Kansas, so that Father didn’t have to drive all that far in order to get his treatment. We lived only about twenty minutes outside of the city, but this drive seemed much too long.

Finally we pulled up to the hospital, and I gripped one of Mother’s shaking palms in my own as Dûrion threw her overnight bag over his shoulder and we walked through the sliding automatic front doors. My nose immediately crinkled up in disgust. I hated the clinical smell of hospitals. In fact, I hated hospitals in general.

“Hello, how may I help you?” The lady at the front desk was probably in her mid-thirties, curly red hair, and had fake long red nails. Her face was pinched, as if she had been working a long shift, and her lips smacked every few seconds as she chewed on pink bubblegum.

“My husband was admitted here. His last name is Smith. First name is Evendus.” The lady behind the desk clicked a few things on her computer and then directed us to the third floor, where they kept those waiting for organ donations. Mother thanked the lady and then headed towards the elevator, practically dragging me behind her. Dûrion appeared quiet, walking far too close to me. He didn’t like being out in public; other people made him feel awkward.

Father’s door was open when we got there, and he was propped up with a bunch of fluffy pillows. An IV ran fluids into his arm, but he still looked so incredibly pale. Purple and blue veins ran along his bare head, and I could barely even remember when his hair reached his waist. He smiled at us when we walked in, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Mother pressed her lips to three of her fingers and placed them on Father’s brow, something her and Father had always done when they greeted each other for as long as I could remember. “How are you doing, honey?” She asked quietly, busying herself by fluffing up his pillows and tucking in his blanket.

“Fighting, like you know I do best,” Father replied, chuckling appreciatively. He gestured to his two children and Dûrion and I rushed forward, wrapping our arms around him in a gentle way so that we would not hurt him.

“And how are my dearest children behaving?” He asked after we pulled away. I looked over at his monitors, noting how high his heart was beating. Was that an effect of the medicine? It didn’t look like the medicine was doing anything at all.

“Peridae?” Father’s voice snapped me back to reality, and he looked at me for a moment before he repeated himself. “Your Mother has told me that you and Dûrion are taking off a year before going to college. You have no idea how thankful I am to have such good kids.” I smiled and Father mirrored me and then turned to Mother, who was gripping onto him as if he were her life support. “Did the doctors fill you in?” Mother’s mask faltered for a moment, but then she nodded.

“All they told me is that your remaining kidney is failing, and they’ve put you on a waiting list.” Father nodded to Mother’s words, and while they spoke, I glanced over at Dûrion and cleared my throat. He had been gripping the metal poles of Father’s bed so hard that his knuckles were turning white and I had to nudge his shoulder with my own in order to get his attention.

“Father, we’re going to go now. The farm needs some supplies and we’re going to let Mother stay with you for a couple of days.” I gave Dûrion a meaningful look and he nodded his head and pushed away from Father’s bed, already heading to the door without another glance in his direction. I bowed my head in my father’s direction in respect, ignored my mother’s protests, and followed Dûrion out the door. The light felt bright, and I pressed my palm to my brow to block out the sun as I rushed over to Dûrion. “Dûrion wait for me!” He was walking too fast—his legs were longer than mine, and I had to pump my legs to keep up with him.

“Dûrion,” I murmured, grabbing for his arm as he swung open the truck’s door and then feeling hurt when he jerked away from me. I stood there for a moment as Dûrion’s hand lay on the handle of the door, his expression hidden from me. I jumped when he slammed the door and turned around, grabbing me by the shoulders. I wasn’t scared, just taken by surprise, but Dûrion must have realized what he was doing because he clenched his jaw and forced himself to release his grip. “Dûrion,” I said again quietly, not moving to touch him this time, “are you okay?”

“Am I—?” Dûrion let out a bubble of laughter, his hand running down and gripped the nape of his neck as he peered off in the distance. “No Peri, I’m not. Dad can’t die. He can’t leave me like my real dad did. He—” He cut off, swallowing heavily as his gaze hardened and he slammed his fist down on the hood of the truck. “It’s not fair to me, and I don’t want you to feel that kind of pain, or Mom!” Dûrion’s real father had been killed before he was born, and his mother had died in childbirth. Mother had always talked about another child, but they had never been successful at natural ways, so adoption had been the next choice. She had always seen Dûrion as a miracle that they had been waiting for.

“Dad is going to make it. He just needs a new kidney. You wait and see.” I pressed my fingers lightly to his back then, trying to remain soothing, comforting. He didn’t freak out on me again, and I started to say something again when she caught my eye.

It was the little girl I had seen back home, behind the tree, only she was standing on the other side of Dûrion. She had a dirty face, but fresh trails of dried tears coated her cheeks and her eyes were wide with fright. She also looked insanely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen her before. She was pointing at the hospital, but she remained silent, peering around Dûrion as if he were protecting her.

“Dûrion do you know her?” I pointed to the little girl and she shook her head frantically, as if I had done something to frighten her even more. Dûrion looked at the spot where I was pointing and then shook his head.

“Who, Peridae?”

I stared at him as if he had gone mental. The girl was standing right there. She was even touching his leg! In fact, she was tugging on his shirt, trying to get his attention. And still, she did not speak. “She’s right there, tugging on your shirt.” My eyes flitted up to meet with his concerned ones.

“Peridae, I think you’re a little upset about Papa, and I understand that. Come on, let’s get the supplies and then go home, where you can get some rest.” He stepped forward, and I started to retaliate, but the girl was gone. My retort died in my throat and I looked all around, thinking that maybe she had run off when I wasn’t paying attention or gone under the truck, but it was like she vanished in thin air.

“Dûrion, I swear I’m not going crazy.” I could tell that he didn’t really believe me as he rested his hand on my back and led me around to the passenger side of the truck, where he opened the door and helped me into my seat.

He paused for a moment, looking towards the hospital and sighing heavily through his nose. “Look, Peridae. I don’t think you’re crazy—” he shook his head irritably when I tried to interrupt him, “But I know you’re upset, and sometimes that causes us to see things.” I stared at him in smoldering silence until he bit down on his lower lip and shut the door, getting into the driver’s seat. We’d return in a few days to get Mother unless she needed us to come beforehand.

He pulled out of the hospital parking lot and headed deeper into town, towards a local farmer’s market called ‘Farmville: Farmers supplies & Misc’. Once we arrived he parked the car and then remained still for a moment before turning to me and staring until it grew uncomfortable and I looked away. “I’m going to go get the supplies. You can either wait here or go get us something to eat at Taco Bell.” He winked slyly, dismissing all the tension from the truck, and I nodded, a small smile of relief lighting up my lips.

We pulled out of town twenty minutes later, bags of feed and other supplies in the bed of the truck and the aroma of cheap, fake Mexican food in between us. Mother always disapproved of the food, but I couldn’t resist getting it every once in a while, as long as it didn’t have any meat in it. The car ride was silent, probably the aftermath of our little disagreement. We weren’t far from home, the sound of Five Finger Death Punch playing on the radio, when we started noticing things were strange.

“Hey, is that a hitchhiker?” I asked, pointing out to a figure standing on the side of the road. Dark clouds were moving in over the forest, a crippling wind bending the trees.

“Probably, and no, we aren’t stopping.” Dûrion knew me sometimes too well.

As we passed him, he stared at us and his eyes were eerie. They had a film of white coating the black, like he was blind. As soon as I got a good look at him, he seemed to fade away, being pulled away with the wind. “Dûrion, did you see that?” I asked, turning my head to appear behind me, trying to catch sight of the strange hitchhiker again.

“He—what?” Dûrion peered closer in the rearview mirror, and then the wind finally hit, and he had to focus on the road. The rain hit the car like miniature bullets, and the windshield wipers slid across the front furiously, trying to keep the rain away. “He probably just sat down or something.” He cleared his throat and leaned forward, squinting through the windshield.

“But Dûrion, you know that’s not true. I mean—”

“Not right now Peridae. We’ll discuss this later.” I wanted to protest, but Dûrion was hardheaded and I knew that he wouldn’t say anymore until he wanted to.

By the time we got home the cows were huddled together near the tree and our poor house was leaning like it was going to get taken away with the wind. A couple of the roof tiles were sliding off, and I could hear the screen door around back knocking against the wood paneling. “Come on. Let’s get the cows secured and then I’ll make us some hot chocolate.” I took a deep breath after Dûrion spoke, preparing myself, and then quickly swung the door of the truck open and barreled towards the cows, who were expressing their distress.

We attempted to soothe the cows so that we could lead them back into the barn, but when Gretel attempted to kick me, Dûrion instructed me to get inside. My tiny frame did little to intimidate the frightened creatures.

Once inside, I wrapped my arms around myself, tried to ignore how creepy the wind sounded as it whistled along the roof, trudged upstairs, and stripped off my wet clothes. I slipped an old gray t-shirt over my head, and nearly tripped when that little girl was standing in front of me. “Oh my god.” I clutched at my chest to calm my racing heart and backed up against my dresser. “You scared me.”

The little girl’s eyes were wide and she peered out of the window. “You should be in the basement. There could be a tornado out there.” Her voice sounded immature, as if she were four years old, and her bottom lip was trembling.

“What’s your name?” I asked, uneasy. “And why have I been seeing you around everywhere?”

“Hazel.” She ignored my last question, and she kept clutching at her hair, as if she were extremely distressed. “I bet he’s going to kill you. There’s no one here to stop him, and he’s so much stronger than you.” I followed her eyes to the window, which was facing the barn. Dûrion was locking the barn door, having finally successfully gotten the two cows tucked safely away.

“What? He wouldn’t hurt—” my voice died when my gaze flitted back to the girl, but she wasn’t there anymore. I shot forward, opening the closet near my bed. There was nothing in there but my clothes. It was as if the child had disappeared into thin air, which should have been entirely impossible.

I heard the back door slam against the frame, and then Dûrion’s annoyed grumbling sounded throughout the downstairs. I snickered quietly to myself – Dûrion absolutely hated being wet. When he was little our mother and father had issues with him stripping in public if he ever spilled anything on himself. He broke that habit years ago, but it never ceased to annoy him.

He barreled past me as I came out of my room, the water dripping from his hair, and I laughed at his irked nature. I guess it was up to me to make the hot chocolate, so I made my way down the stairs into the kitchen, where I snatched a pot from one of the cabinets and started to get the water boiling. I leaned against the counter as I waited, watching the storm that tore away at the farm outside.

“I know why you’re not going to college. Because you’re ugly, and you don’t want to be rejected by everyone,” a voice cut through the kitchen from the island that separated the kitchen from the living room, and I got so startled I nearly hit my hand against the smoldering pot.

“What?” I mumbled, somewhat disoriented, because I knew it wasn’t Dûrion’s voice and because it was an insult that I wasn’t expecting. My eyes finally rested on the owner, and I stared at moment before a piercing scream escaped my lips.

The stranger leaned against the island, smirking. His hair was black, cropped somewhat short, and I could see a green teardrop earring hanging from his right lobe. He was tall, thin, and wiry, and his fingers were slender and pale. When he smiled, it was dangerous, and I had absolutely no idea who this guy was or how he got into my house.

I continued screaming, the sound filling my ears and drowning out the thunder, and the stranger winked and then vanished, right in front of my eyes. He disappeared moments before Dûrion came bounding down the stairs, looking panicked. He looked around, trying to catch the source of my distress, but he wouldn’t.

I stood there trembling, and Dûrion stormed over and wrapped me up under his arm, leading me around the island and onto the couch, where he covered me up with the blanket. I was grateful – even in this Kansas heat I felt cold.

“I’ll finish the hot chocolate. I am right there where you can see me. You rest,” Dûrion commanded, eyeing me warily for a moment before trudging into the kitchen. He took the pan off the stove and refilled it with water before hunting for the hot chocolate mix, and I stood blankly ahead, trying not to think.

I felt like I was going crazy. I kept seeing things, things that others obviously didn’t see. I had read about this kind of thing in my AP psychology class, but I never thought it’d happen to me. I just wanted to wake up now and go on that camping trip with Dûrion.

“Here,” Dûrion murmured, holding a mug out to me before sitting down on the armchair and sipping at his own. I cupped my hands around my mug, blowing on the steam, and then looked over at Dûrion, frowning slightly.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” I asked suddenly, because I knew Dûrion was about to ask what I saw back there, and I really didn’t want to talk about it. After a moment, Dûrion nodded. “ Lord of the Rings? ” he guessed, an amused curl at his lips as he attempted to hide it behind another sip of his hot chocolate.

I shot him a look as I stood up, but then nodded. “ Return of the King, actually. You know I love that scene where Eowyn beats female stereotypes.” I slipped the first part of the extended version into the DVD player and then pressed play before returning to my spot on the couch. The thunder boomed outside, but it was now drowned out by the sounds of Middle Earth, and I could finally get away from reality for a while.

When I woke up later, my head was resting against the arm of the couch and the lights had been turned off. The final battle in Return of the King was in full swing on the TV and Dûrion must have gone upstairs so it had to be late.

I stood, yawning, and dumped the now cold hot chocolate down the drain before turning off the TV and heading upstairs to my room. I was back asleep before my head hit the pillow.
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