Authors: Derrolyn Anderson
THE ATHENA EFFECT
Copyright © 2012 by Derrolyn Anderson
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions of it.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
It was a moonless night, cold and dark. The fine mist that hung in the air started thickening to form a light drizzle. A boy and a girl walked alongside a roadway, looking over their shoulders frequently and ducking off the pavement to hide from the occasional headlights. He held her up when she began to falter, helping her stumble along until they were finally forced to stop and rest under the cover of some brush.
“It’s okay babe. It’s gonna be alright,” he told her.
He took off his denim jacket and draped it around her frail shoulders. She started convulsing, her small body racked with violent tremors, her breath coming in ragged gasps. He held her tightly to his chest, murmuring soothing words that he didn’t really believe.
When the seizure finally subsided she moaned, “Oh no… What will it do to the baby?”
“Wait here,” He said firmly, brushing the fine brown hair back from her forehead. “I’m going to get us a ride.”
The trucker flipped his wipers on and rounded a bend to see a lone figure standing with his thumb out. His first impulse was to keep going, but years on the road had given him a sixth sense about people, and this kid looked too young and skinny to be a threat to anyone. Besides, it was raining. He sighed, pulled over, and sat idling.
The kid climbed up and opened the door, looking in warily.
“Where you headed?” the trucker asked.
The boy was young, probably not too far out of his teens, the driver thought. He had an extravagantly curly head of blonde hair, and thin arms that poked out of a plain white T-shirt.
“N-north,” he answered, poised cautiously in the threshold.
“Hop in. I can take you as far as Eureka.”
The boy paused, and after taking a good look around the cab, he finally nodded. “My girl’s with me… I’ll go get her.”
The driver watched suspiciously, adjusting his side mirror to see the boy retreat into the bushes. He was just about to pull away when he saw him come back out leading a girl, a girl so pale and cold-looking that the trucker automatically reached over to turn up the heater. The boy helped her climb into the cab, and she turned to face the driver with a tremulous smile and the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen.
“Thank you for the ride,” she said timidly.
Good Lord, he thought. These hippy kids didn’t have the sense God gave a chicken, dressed like that out here in the cold and the wet.
He nodded curtly, turning to glance over his shoulder as he pulled back out onto the road. “No problem.”
“I’m Jenny,” she announced after they got back underway, “And this is David.”
At least she has some manners, the driver thought, looking sideways at his two damp and disheveled passengers.
“Name’s Bob. You kids thirsty?”
He gestured to a small cooler that sat on the floor of the cab. “I got some pops in there. You can help yourself.”
The boy took out a can of cola and opened it, urging her to drink. She passed it back to him and dropped her head to his shoulder with a sigh. He took her hand and wove his fingers through hers.
The trucker cleared his throat, “What are you two doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“We’re going camping,” David said defiantly.
The driver shrugged at the obvious lie, but something made him hold his tongue. He’d picked up hitchhikers before, and everyone had a sob-story. It was none of his business who they were or what they were running from. They drove along in silence for a while.
The girl saw the stuffed bear he kept on his dashboard and asked him about it.
Before he knew it, she had him going on and on, telling her all about Margaret and the kids, describing his life back home in Oklahoma. She peppered him with questions, listening avidly, and hanging on every little detail about his family. He noticed how her hand kept involuntarily straying to her midriff. Poor kid, he thought.
When they reached their destination, he pulled up to a diner and insisted on feeding them despite their protests, again noticing how pale and weak Jenny looked. He ended up giving them some money, admonishing them to dress warmly and be careful. Margaret always complained that he was a soft touch, but he knew she’d do the same thing if she took one look into that poor child’s tortured eyes.
He watched them walk away hand in hand, shaking his head.
They had nothing but the clothes on their backs and each other. They were running from a troubled past, and heading towards an uncertain future; he wished them well. They rounded a corner and disappeared from view.
They were heading north.
Chapter One – CAL
She moved silently through the dense forest, springing over a small stream effortlessly despite her chunky hiking boots and the bulky satchel she had slung over her shoulder. She stopped to tighten a sisal rope cinched around her waist that served as a makeshift belt; it was the only thing that held up the ill-fitting pants that threatened to slip right off her slender hips.
Her quarry preferred the disturbed earth at the edge of the woods, and she scanned the ground with a practiced eye, swooping down with swift grace to scoop up one cluster after another. She hunted along abandoned logging roads that were little more than dirt trails, pathways only rarely frequented by marijuana growers, game wardens, or the occasional dirt-bike rider.
Careful never to be seen, she was skilled at blending into the background when she needed to disappear. The machines were easy to hear coming, unlike the stealthy cats that could be all around her without making a sound. She shivered a little, fingering the parallel lines of scar tissue that ran down the length of her forearm.
She followed the trail a little ways, finally veering off onto a narrow path that led deeper into the woods. She stooped to gather the first tender leaves of spring, picking bright tangy sorrel, tart purslane and some fleshy pads of miner’s lettuce. It would be nice to have some fresh greens for a change, she thought, looking up at the clear blue sky with a smile.
Her father used to always joke about “Living off the fatta’ of the land”, but she never knew what he was referencing until she got hold of a collection of Steinbeck books that were packed tight in a dusty box from the local swap meet. She’d read ten of them back-to back before she reached “Of Mice and Men”. From that point on, she teasingly referred to her father as Lennie, whereupon he’d call her George, reciting lines from the novel until Mama had enough of listening to the two of them and begged them to stop.
She smiled when she thought about how pleased Papa would be with her latest haul, guessing that she must have gathered nearly an entire pound of the valuable mushrooms. She shifted her burden, careful not to crush the spongy little treasures.
She finally reached her favorite spot, a small clearing in the dense woods that concealed a glorious hidden meadow. It was a magical place in the spring, filled with blue lupine and orange poppies that were almost too bright to look at. The edge of the grove was ringed by coiled ferns stretching up from the shadows, poised to spring open at the first touch of warm sunlight.
Sunlight was precious to her too, and she carefully set down her burden, reaching into a side pocket to pull out a small yellowed paperback. She took a seat on the smooth side of a fallen tree, tucking a loose curl back into the careless braid that reached most of the way down her back. She cracked open the book and lost herself in the story.
A movement caught her eye, and she drew her knife in a flash, glancing up to see spring’s first rattlesnake sunning itself on a nearby rock. It glowed pale peach with contentment, and she knew that it meant her no harm. Rattlesnake
pretty tasty, but she decided to return the favor and leave it in peace.
The knife hung from her makeshift belt, its sharp edge facing outwards on her dominant side. She could pull it from its sheath in an instant, clenching it tightly with a lethal ready-to-slash underhand grip. She kept it honed sharp, unable to forget the day that she’d received the twin scars on her arm.
She’d been slow then, caught unprepared, and it was something she vowed to never let happen again.
When the afternoon shadows lengthened and darkened her spot on the log, she closed her book and gathered her things to head home. Her parents would be back soon, and she should get the fire stoked and the kettle on. She was feeling a little uneasy, because when Mama got up this morning her color was bad, and she suspected that a flashback might be coming on.
“Cal, stop that right now!” Mama had scolded her when she caught her daughter staring intently. Cal had perfected changing any animal’s color with ease, but making her mother feel better hovered frustratingly just beyond her reach. Now that her parents were aware of her talents, they’d become self-conscious, uneasy about the prospect of being manipulated.
Shocking attacks had plagued her parents as far back as she could remember, and Cal had endured years of watching them helplessly as they suffered through their terrifying hallucinations. Her parents shared a dark secret that they rarely spoke of, something terrible that had happened before Cal was born. Something that kept them all hidden away, scratching out a living on land tucked in the foothills where the redwood and oak forests met.
They only visited the nearest small town in order to pick up things they couldn’t grow or gather. People around these parts valued their freedom, and minded their own business. Ranchers, loggers and orchardists had populated the area for well over a hundred years, and they were a self-sufficient lot; the only strangers they saw were the tourists that passed through town infrequently, taking the scenic route on their way west to the sea.
Over the years hippies fleeing the city had come to build their geodesic domes and yurts in these woods, earnestly eager to get back to nature. The locals tolerated them, as they were generally harmless, and they usually didn’t stick around very long. Their romantic notions of going back to nature always collided with the harsh reality of living completely off the grid.
Cal’s parents were different. They clung tenaciously to a plot of land with a seasonal creek running through it. They impressed the natives with their stubborn refusal to give up their homestead, and eventually became a thread in the fabric of the place. They were friendly, but they kept to themselves; no-one from town had ever been invited into the snug little cabin they’d erected on their remote acreage.
Nobody even knew they had a child until Cal was nearly ten years old, and after a few half-hearted attempts to enroll her in a distant school, they forgot all about it. The parents insisted they were within their rights to educate her themselves, and from what the Sherriff could see, the child was as smart and happy as could be. Cal’s parents were better educated than the entire town combined, so who were they to argue?
So Cal grew up wild and free, tall and strong. Her little family lived a peaceful life in nearly complete isolation, in tune with the untamed land and the changing seasons.
A voracious reader, Cal mowed through books as fast as her father could bring them home from the various junk bins and thrift stores he’d scavenge for supplies. He’d pull up on his precariously overloaded motorcycle, and she’d come running, delighted to see the heavy boxes tied down with bungee cords.
By the time she was twelve she’d read most of the classics, as well as stacks of nonfiction on everything from botany to motorcycle repair. At the bottom of one box she came across a cache of books about astral projection, crystal healing, and reincarnation. She was entranced by the tales of mysterious crop circles, alien abductions, and spirit channeling.
Cal’s parents were scientifically minded, and that they only believed in things that could be measured subjectively, recorded and proven. They made fun of the books, scoffing at what they called “New Age mumbo jumbo”. They tore out the pages, using them as kindling to start the morning fire.