This extended excerpt from Among the Shadows is from a chapter that serves as an interlude in the story. In the midst of the dire situation Milena found herself in, this was an opportunity to see more into her mind and her husband’s, and explore deeper themes relevant to all of us. Enjoy…
As the Sun rose on the troubled morning, its rays reached into the dungeon through the tiniest of windows and awakened Milena. She sat on the damp dirt floor of the tiny cell deep under Saken Castle. The iron manacles around her wrists weighed heavy and she tugged on the thick chain bolted into the wall with no avail. She had dreamed of Kyra. No, it wasn’t a dream, she was here. They had spoken. Then she remembered killing a terrible beast and only a moment later being frozen by the touch of one of those hideous giants.
Her core still shivered, but light had found her even in this dark place. The weakness would pass and her captors would regret taking her. Exhausted, she fell asleep again. Then she dreamed.
A primeval rainforest surrounded her in every direction. Moss draped over the branches of sprawling Bigleaf Maples and Black Cottonwoods, dwarfed by towering Sitka Spruce and Hemlocks. The ground, thick with centuries of decaying debris, silenced her footsteps. The sunlight flirted among the leaves from its distant source, just enough to keep the forest inviting for visitors to its realm. Peaceful sounds came from birds flying tree to tree and squirrels chirping from branches above. Solitude and quiet. A wooded paradise untouched by man. Milena knew this place, but when was she here last? Was it real or just an image conjured by the mind? As she walked along a path, a river splashed nearby and a hushed rumble hid in the distance.
As the trees thinned, she came upon the river, perhaps forty feet wide. Swift and clear and not terribly deep, Milena knelt at its edge and drank pure water. The minerals fed her tired body. Her ears caught the rumble again, louder now. As she looked up and down the river, a cloud of mist hovered over where the water dropped over an unseen edge.
She followed the path along the waters, worn by animals who came to drink. Standing near the edge of the waterfall, the mist from the falling water surrounded her. Only a few feet further the water quieted and formed a deep, calm pool before flowing downstream through the forest. Milena then remembered her last visit to the hidden paradise.
She and Ethan had backpacked into the untouched forests of the Pacific Northwest on the Olympic Peninsula. For two weeks they intended to relax and completely leave everything and everyone behind. Here there were no people. No cars. No jobs. No clocks. The busyness that people often created for unclear reasons didn’t exist here. Nor did their malice and hate. Ethan’s profession — if it could be considered a profession — was taking its toll. Like most jobs, it eventually gained control over most of life, but this did so in a different, darker, manner. Milena joined him on many of the missions. She too was worn by the endless struggle against evil men. It didn’t matter that they had Gifts of the Light. They were still human. She wanted to step back from it all. Perhaps there would be another time and place for them to bring light to the shadows…
Looking up at the falls from below, Ethan caught himself being surprised that such a wonder still existed. An Eden hidden from the knowledge of most men. A reminder of a lost past. “When did we forget about places like this? It’s like we have gone so far forward that we have started moving backwards.”
“We forget that we don’t belong here on this world.” Milena had sat her pack down and removed her boots and socks. She sat on a rock at the river’s edge and dangled her feet in the cool water. “Or at least in what it has become. This was for all of us, but we — I mean people — aren’t like anything else in this world. Everyone is too busy to stop and wonder ‘Why are we so different?’”
Ethan sat down next to his wife.
“I don’t want to be busy anymore,” Milena said as the water moved slowly around the pool. “What did people do before they complained about not having enough time? In some ways our lives are better, but what did we lose in the process? I can’t remember a time before computers and cell phones and when having friends meant hanging out with people in person. Isn’t that sad?”
“We’ve forgotten what is important. Our families, our friends and places like this.” Ethan paused before turning to Milena. “And we have reached an end. The people we work for don’t get it either. Most of them are lost in their schemes and power struggles. The government doesn’t care about people. There’s more for us, but it’s not with them. We need to get back to finding our life before it’s lost forever.”
“It’s settled then.” Milena smiled and kissed Ethan quickly. “How about a swim?”
“Let’s see, I’m in this beautiful paradise with a gorgeous woman hundreds of miles from humanity…I’m not sure…”
“Hey, pal!” Milena punched Ethan in the side and then he grabbed her.
“I’m not sure if I could ever leave this place.” He kissed Milena, enjoying it for a few moments before she playfully pushed him away.
“You have to come catch me first.” She stood and quickly peeled off her clothes and dived into the water, quickly surfacing at the center.
“And they claim mermaids are myth.” Ethan followed his wife into the water. They would spend the next couple days camping near the falls. Time, here at least, had no meaning.
Those days were some of Milena’s fondest memories. Here she was again years later in a dream, or was it? Her dreams had become real doorways long ago. Though, of late, she and Ethan had little utilized that gift. She found the rock she had swam from during those days in the lost Eden. Real or not, she dived into the cool waters. Refreshing and invigorating, she could spend hours in the living waters, washed pure, almost reborn. She had no sense of how much time passed.
Then something from the other world tore her back to reality.
Her eyes readjusted to the dim dungeon cell. Sounds came from the corridor. Then a twisted, ugly voice, wheezed.
“The master would like to see his prize!”