Content warning: Strong language
Dom burst through the back door of Duke’s and out into the dark alley.
The door crashed behind him but he didn’t stop. What good his half-drunk brain thought running away would do wasn’t clear, but he did it anyway. Arms pumping furiously at his sides, he ran like his life depended on it.
It was no use. With a primal roar, Jeremy launched himself at Dom, tackling him to the ground. Given how small and lean Jeremy was, Dom would have been impressed had he not been the one slammed into the gravel and dirt.
There was a struggle; a mess of confusion and fists. In the end the booze worked against Dom’s coordination. He found himself staring through bleary vision up at his assailant.
“Why did you lie to me?” Jeremy demanded, one fist clutching Dom’s collar, the other cocked and ready.
Dom winced and sputtered, trying to right himself without doing anything to encourage a beating.
“Answer me!” Jeremy hauled Dom onto his knees with a force that did not fit his size. “This is fucking important!”
“What do you want with her?” Dom shouted back, wrestling his way to his feet. His bearings were coming back to him. He focused on the forest just beyond the next row of buildings, calling for support in case things came to that.
Trina and Matti scrambled out into the alley, clamouring through the back door like animals on the hunt.
“Hey!” Trina bellowed, storming over to where Jeremy stood blocking Dom’s path. Matti scrambled in her wake. “What’s going on? Let him go!”
To Dom’s surprise, Jeremy released his grip, letting him go without averting his intense glare. Dom rolled his shoulders and stood up straight, returning the stare with one of his own.
“You haven’t answered me,” he growled. “What do you want with Em?”
There was a flicker of uncertainty in Jeremy’s eyes and he licked his lips before answering. “We need her help. Why did you lie about knowing her?”
Trina and Matti, flanking the stranger on either side, flashed Dom looks that mirrored his own skepticism.
“Because you’re not the first person to come sniffing around here looking for her.” Dom took a step forward into Jeremy’s personal space. Jeremy didn’t flinch at the display of dominance. “And we’re not about to sell out a friend.”
With a sharp inhale, Jeremy’s demeanour changed. No longer on the offensive, his shoulders slumped and his expression fell.
“So the Loyals have already been here,” he muttered, more to himself than to the others.
With a huff, Trina stepped up. She flexed her fingers, the tips calloused from scaling mountainsides, before balling them into fists.
“Who is she to you, anyway?” Being petite in both frame and height didn’t stop Trina from holding her own in an altercation. She was a swing-first kind of girl and it was evident just by looking at her.
Jeremy eyed her fists before giving both Dom and Matti withering looks.
“Listen,” his voice was calmer now. “I’m not trying to pick a fight-”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Trina snarked.
“We’re not looking to hurt her,” Jeremy pressed on, ignoring the interruption. “But I mean it; we need her help. Do you know where to find her?”
The three friends shared another look.
“No,” Dom answered, his voice impassive.
“Why does it have to be her?” Matti asked, less confrontational than the others. “Can’t someone else help you?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes but corrected himself when he caught Dom glowering in his direction.
“No,” Jeremy answered through clenched teeth. “If she’s who I think she is, it has to be her.”
“And who exactly do you think she is?”
Closing his eyes, Jeremy let out a long, slow exhale. He seemed to be weighing his options between being honest and possibly getting somewhere or keeping what was clearly an uncomfortable truth to himself.
“She looks different, but I’m sure it’s her.”
His next words sent a shock through the trio.
“She’s the love of my life.”
[ Read Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Strong language
“Do you think we should be worried?”
Trina was four drinks deep and hunched over the table, whispering conspiratorially. It was evening now, yet the mysterious group of strangers was still top of mind for the SAR team these many hours later.
From their regular table at Duke’s Pub, Dom and Matti cast uneasy glances around the room. It felt dangerous to be talking about this in public. Then again, they had been there for a while and inhibitions were getting lower by the sip.
“Well, I sure am,” Matti admitted, picking nervously at the label on his bottle of beer. “What do you think they want from Em?”
Dom shifted uncomfortably in his chair and frowned into his drink.
“I don’t know,” he replied gruffly. “But hopefully everyone remembers to keep their mouths shut.”
When Em had finally confessed her secret to Dom – thanks in no small part to May’s insistence – she made it clear the woman pursuing them likely would not be the last of her ilk to turn up in Tenna. Dom may not have understood who these Loyals were but he recognized danger when he saw it.
To help ensure Em and May’s safety he had charged the rest of the team with keeping her existence a secret. They had devised elaborate stories – practiced their lies until they felt like truths – and spread the word around town that, should anyone come asking about their former teammate, the best response was to deny, deny, deny.
Em was a charismatic sort, and even though her time in Tenna had been relatively brief, people were keen to do what they could to take care of someone who had spent so much time taking care of them.
Sure enough, strangers had come to the remote mountain town – first in droves to investigate and later in smaller numbers until the flood dried up completely – and everyone had stayed the course. Still, every visit from someone who asked too many questions put the team on high alert. Dom in particular found it difficult to relax until the strangers eventually gave up and left Tenna behind.
But there was something about this new group that felt different to Dom; something less militant and more desperate. Whomever they were, Dom got the sense they weren’t part of the regular outfit that came sniffing around after his friends.
“Sammy’s drunk again,” Trina noted, derailing his train of thought. “Duke really has to let that guy go.”
Dom lifted his eyes to the bar where, sure enough, the youngest bartender on staff was laughing loudly over his own glass with a group of patrons on the wrong side of the bar. He was supposed to be working.
“What a mess,” Matti tutted with a disapproving shake of his head. “Can you imagine if we got drunk on shift like that?”
“To be fair, our line of work is a little bit different than his,” Dom retorted. “Serving drinks when you’re hammered isn’t quite as problematic as trying to save lives.”
Matti shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose.”
“Whatever. Duke still needs to fire him,” was Trina’s two-cents worth.
From there they let the conversation shift from subjects of worry to shop talk and idle gossip. Trina made eyes with a scruffy hiker across the room while Matti bemoaned the trouble he was having sourcing a part for one of the team vehicles.
“I love it here – I really do. But, damn, sometimes being so remote drives me nuts.” He waved his now empty bottle around with inebriated gusto. “They said it’s gonna take a month to get this thing all the way up here. What a joke!”
“I hear ya, bud.” Dom reached out to pluck the bottle from his friend’s hand. He threw back what was left in his own glass and stood. “Another round, kids?”
His friends nodded, Trina half-heartedly offering to pay knowing full well that Dom would say no just like always. It was a comfortable routine between the three youngest members of the team – Dom more so in spirit than actual age – and they all appreciated the predictability of it.
By now the pub was crowded with Friday night revellers. Dom had to push through the mass of people milling and dancing, throwing smiles and ‘hey, how’s it goings’ to one familiar face after another. The bar itself was especially busy and a quick scan showed Sammy was nowhere in sight.
“Great,” Dom muttered, pressing in closer to the counter in search of another bartender. Amara, Duke’s daughter and bar manager, was swamped at the other end of the room. Her face was flushed and scowling as she picked up the slack for her flighty co-worker.
Placing Matti’s empty bottle on the bar, Dom was steeling himself for a long wait when he felt someone tap his shoulder.
“Dominic, it’s Sammy.” His neighbour Luis leaned in close to be heard over the boisterous crowd of the pub.
“Yeah, he’s gonna get his ass fired if he keeps this shit up,” Dom replied.
Luis shook his head and Dom suddenly noticed the panic in his eyes. Hitching a thumb over his shoulder, Luis stepped to the side so Dom could see Sammy, face aglow with intoxication, sitting at a table by the far wall. He was talking loudly, his hands animating his words.
Sitting across from him, back to Dom, was a man with wild red hair.
Dom’s stomach bottomed out. He realized what Luis was trying to tell him and lurched forward, barrelling unceremoniously through groups of friends and strangers alike and eliciting scandalized shouts and curses as he went.
Wordlessly he tried to signal for Sammy to stop talking, to shut his mouth for the love of all that was good in this world.
Sammy raised his glassy eyes and, spotting Dom just steps away now, smiled.
“There he is!” Sammy boomed so loudly the din in the room seemed to fade away. “That’s the guy I was telling you about. He worked with the girl you’re looking for. Tell ‘im, Dom!”
The red-haired man turned in his seat, his eyes narrowing in on Dom with a look that could scald.
Dom wasn’t imagining it: the room had fallen silent.
Jeremy Parker got to his feet.
“I knew you were fucking lying to me.”
[ Read Next Chapter ]
If you’re subscribed to my blog there’s a good chance you’ve noticed when I post new chapters of The Wind and the Horizon and… you can’t actually read them.
Now that we’re a couple weeks into the book’s launch, I’ve realized I never really explained how the scheduling was going to work!
Here’s the run down:
Subscribers to my mailing list get to read chapters a week before anyone else. When you see those password protected posts go live, you can expect them to stay that way until the following week to give those subscribers exclusive access (this excludes any post labeled “Mailing List Exclusive”. Those will always be password protected).
The following week the password protection will be lifted for the first chapter on Wednesday and the second chapter on Friday (the same chapters will go live on Wattpad at the same time).
Want to get in on the early access? Sign up for Maggie Mail here.
Don’t want to have to scroll back to find out what chapters are live? Check out the TWATH landing page here.
Happy reading, everyone!
Genre: Children’s book
Content Warnings: None
A free copy of this publication was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.
The “Golden Rule” is for everyone. When a young girl starts to learn about the different ways to say it, she finds that every culture and faith has their own way to express the “Golden Rule.” Celebrate a love of diversity and acceptance in this beautifully illustrated tale.
I will preface this review by stating that I do not have children of my own. I do however, have a young niece, and when it comes to gift-giving I prefer to focus on building her a library full of diverse and empowering stories. While the storytelling in Jessica Marie Baumgartner’s The Golden Rule felt a bit contrived and disjointed to me, there’s no denying that the overall message of one belief shared by many faiths (the idea what we should treat others the way we’d like to be treated) is important for everyone, especially young minds.
What works well:
The “golden rule” is an important lesson that most children are taught quite young. Using it as the means of showing kids that, regardless of faith, we all share a pretty core conviction is a smart way to show children that, no matter how different we may seem, most people generally have something pretty important in common. This book is also a great introduction to different systems of faith (the narrator’s family is Pagan) and kinds of families. Laura Winship-Fanaei’s art was also lovely and really fit the theme.
What doesn’t work well:
As I was going through this book I imagined myself reading it out loud to my niece once she gets a little older. As important as the message is, the story didn’t feel especially engaging. Instead, the narrative came across as a bit forced with more focus on teaching than telling a story. Don’t get me wrong: I think the content is incredibly valuable, but I can’t help but feel as though this story would have a hard time keeping the attention of a young child. As such, it might be better suited for a young reader who is on the cusp of graduating to chapter books than as bedtime or story circle reading.
There were four of them. They stood in a close huddle at the bay doors talking to Sean and Trina.
Dom and Matti stayed out of sight on the staircase to the dorms and watched. The sound of the conversation didn’t carry well enough for them to hear , but Dom couldn’t help notice one of the strangers seemed fairly fired up.
While his company listened to Sean with worn and weary expressions, a stern-faced man with wild crimson hair eyed his host with a hostile gaze.
Deciding it was time to investigate, Dom cleared his throat and made his way down the metal staircase.
“Hey there,” he called out in a jovial voice. “Do you folks need some help?”
The red-haired man turned his stare to Dom. Short in stature, Dom could tell he was the sort of person who made up for it with a big attitude. This stranger was on a mission; it was written all over his knitted brow and tight frown.
“We’re looking for someone,” answered another of the strangers. Broad bodied with a golden mane and tired green eyes, he looked like an angel with a broken heart. “We’re pretty sure she spent some time in this town a while back.”
The red haired stranger kept his unwavering glare trained on Dom as he thrust forward a tattered piece of paper. It was a grainy photo printed from a computer. Based on its condition it had been passed around quite a bit. The image was of two women in matching uniforms; Em and May on the run from the hospital and a pursuing Loyal.
“Her,” he said, jabbing his finger at Em.
From over his shoulder, Dom heard Matti draw a sharp breath. They were thinking the same thing: anyone who came around asking about Em was bound to be trouble.
Dom pursed his lips and considered his next move carefully. The uniforms Em and May were wearing in the photo were the same ones the rest of the team wore at that very moment. There was no way these people hadn’t noticed.
Setting a nonplussed expression across his face, Dom handed the photo back and shrugged.
“Can’t say I’ve seen them,” he lied. Behind the strangers’ backs he saw Karin shoot him a dubious look.
The red-haired man opened his mouth, ready to argue, but the angel beat him to it.
“Are you sure?” he asked in a voice so desperate Dom almost felt bad for lying to him. “Based on how they’re dressed they look to be part of your team.”
Dom didn’t miss a beat.
“All SAR teams in these mountain regions wear the same gear,” he explained with a nonchalant air. “It’s specialized for alpine terrain.”
“So you’re telling us you’ve never seen either of these people before?” the red-haired man demanded with barely-concealed frustration.
Sean stepped in to field the question, his demeanour gentle to Dom’s aloof. “Like I said earlier, they could be part of a different unit. We can put in some calls if it would help.”
A small wave of relief settled over Dom at knowing the rest of the team had remembered to follow the same carefully crafted story.
“Thank you,” replied a young woman with skin like freshly-turned earth and eyes of glittering amethyst. She gave Sean a polite smile while pulling the red-haired man back and out of his offensive stance. “That would be really helpful.”
She gave the team the name of the local inn where the party would be spending the night and thanked them for their time. With a silent nod of his head, the angel motioned for the doors and his friends followed suit, leaving the team to flood into the space they left behind, eyeing one another warily.
As the strangers made their way into the courtyard, a thought flashed across Dom’s mind and he shouted after them.
“Say we find anything – who should we ask for at the inn?”
The red-haired man turned, eyeing Dom severely.
“Ask for Parker,” he answered. “First name Jeremy.”
Dom leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
In the quiet of the forest he let the crisp morning air envelope his body while the first rays of morning sunshine warmed his face. He swayed in place, keeping time with the natural rhythm of the trees. Every bird song, every snap of twigs or skittering in the underbrush let him know all was well in his first home.
He appreciated these quiet mornings – the ones that afforded him the time to sneak away from Tenna for a few hours and let his glamour fall while he reconnected with the forest. He needed this time to rejuvenate his magic.
To a passerby, Dom would be easy to mistake for a tree of some kind. Vine-like tendrils sprouted from his skull and cascaded down the dark, earthen clay of his shoulders, fluttering in a short-lived breeze. The clay of his body gradually darkened to black, reaching roots at his feet and fingers. With slow, deliberate movement, Dom lifted the ends of his vines and surveyed how they were coming into bloom with a satisfied smile.
Spring had always been his favourite season.
When he was ready – refreshed and revitalized – Dom lurched back toward town. With each step his glamour rose until at last he strode from the tree line as a smiling, contented woodsman.
“Welcome back!” Trina called as she spotted Dom ambling into the courtyard of the Tenna Search and Rescue headquarters. “Mail’s here.”
She waved a small stack of envelopes over her head, taking great pleasure in watching Dom’s face light up.
“Another one?” He picked up his pace, trotting to the large bay doors of the garage where the rest of his team chatted over steaming mugs of coffee.
Karin, sitting atop a skid of fresh supplies, raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun and shouted back to him. “We’ll know once you open it. Hurry your ass up, boy!”
Dom reached the others and, after a brief game of keep-away on Trina’s part, surveyed the manila envelope that had arrived that morning. The size of it was a little unusual, but the regular markers were all there: the carefully printed address (always directed to him) in familiar chirography. There was never any return address, only a tiny, hand-drawn star in a corner on the back of the envelope.
A giddy rush surged through him when his eyes caught sight of the star. Without pause he slid a finger beneath the fold and tore the paper open in one smooth swipe.
“What have they been up to this time?” Mattie craned his neck to watch over Dom’s shoulder as he pulled from the envelope a folded piece of heavy stock paper.
“Looks like a poster,” Dom muttered in reply to a different question altogether. He unfolded the paper with gentle hands and surveyed its print in surprise.
A title in exciting, hand-sketched typeface was splashed above an image of three brightly coloured acrobats tumbling through the air.
“A circus flyer?” Trina balked, poking her head over Dom’s arm to get a better look. “Why would they send us this?”
“I was hoping for more photos,” Sean grumped over his mug. “What’s this supposed to mean?”
Sean sulked surprisingly well for a man of his intimidating stature.
But Dom simply grinned.
“It means they’re brilliant.”
After the team finished passing the poster around, Dom stole away with it up to his dorm. In his closet he pushed aside the hangers of jackets and shirts, exposing the back wall. He surveyed the collage of photos and postcards he had pinned to the space and mentally mapped out what would have to move to make room for the poster.
It had been close to a year since Em and May had last been in Tenna. Dom remembered that day vividly – the day he helped his friends flee a mysterious pursuer from Em’s past. It was the same day Dom learned the truth about Em; it still baffled him that he had been so close to a living Star without realizing it.
But even with the truth being as shocking as it was, Dom never once wished anything but the best for his former lover, nor for the woman she now found herself devoted to. And so, when he received the first mysterious envelope containing a single photograph, he was relieved.
It had been a photo of May, beaming at the camera over her shoulder. He assumed it was Em capturing the image of her girlfriend kneeling on a blanket. Beyond her the sunset was frozen from their perch atop a grassy hill.
The images that followed told a story of roving adventure. Usually they were of May, Em ever the photographer. May learning to play guitar around a campfire in the company of fellow backpackers. May, her face painted in bright and vivid colours, dancing with strangers in a lively street festival. May hanging like a sloth from a high tree branch in what looked to be a rainforest with a wide, childlike grin stretched across her freckled face.
When Em was in the photos, she was usually captured in candid moments almost out of frame: helping prepare a meal in a communal kitchen, kneeling excitedly amidst a herd of long-eared goat kids, napping in a heap on the bank of an emerald coloured glacial lake. And in the rare picture that featured them both, they were shining, happy, and overflowing with love.
Dom smiled as he rearranged the collection, living vicariously through their documented travels. He had no idea where they were, but for every unmarked envelope he received, he at least knew they were alive and well. He tacked the circus poster up in the freshly cleared space and sat back on his heels to survey his work.
When he stood to close the closet, the sound of frantic footsteps stole his attention.
“Dom,” Matti hissed, sticking his head into the room. His face was ashen with distress. “You need to get downstairs.”
Before Dom could ask why, Matti swallowed hard and answered his unspoken question first.
“There are people here,” Matti whispered, looking fearful. “They’re looking for Em.”