Cole wiggled himself free from the sleeping bag in which he was tucked away, and he exposed himself to the cool air of nighttime with a slight shiver. After his eyes adjusted from the awakening of his slumber, he looked at Ruby and immediately sensed something amiss.
"What's wrong?" He asked, and while he anticipated her answer, Cole began to feel around the floor of the tree house for something.
"It's nothing." Ruby's response came with a feeling of concealed despondency. Her mind was still thinking of her night at the bar, and of Amber's admission.
Cole knew his friend with an intimacy equal to that of the back of his hand or the scar upon his cheek. He guessed the source of his companion's suppressed annoyance with near perfect exactness, and he decided it was best not to press the subject any further.
Finally his hand found what it had been searching for, and the sound of a double-click was heard in the dark, then he turned the metallic flashlight he was holding toward Ruby's direction.
"Hey! Cut it out, that's bright!" She shielded her soft, sapphire eyes from the source of light with a hand.
"Sorry - that's what you get for being late." Cole tilted the flashlight back to himself, and he held it under his chin. The shadows played upon him, and he distorted his face with comedic gestures attempting to lift the young woman's spirit. For a brief moment his plan succeeded, and a cheerful smile surfaced on her lips.
"I think it's an improvement" Ruby said teasingly, and already her mood was beginning to improve. The words she spoke had been said once before.
When the pair of friends were childhood playmates, Ruby had fallen from the rope ladder and injured herself upon the bare earth, and she relentlessly cried aloud from the tumble. The young Cole feebly attempted to stop her bawling, but all was in vain. Finally, when every other antic had failed, he made humorous looks and hilarious faces. The cries of the child subsided and turned to laughter, but later there was an unsightly bruise on her knee. Again Cole was quick to comfort Ruby, and he reassured his companion that it was "an improvement."
"Can you just get to your mystery, please?" She did not mean to be so straightforward or sound urgent, but it was already late and Ruby knew she still had to walk home.
Cole searched from side to side with the flashlight, then a look of remembrance seized his face. "Oh yeah," he said under his breath, and he grabbed an object he was previously using for a pillow. He plopped it to the table with a loud thud, and the glow of the light revealed something peculiar.
"What is it?" Ruby asked, and she perceived the object to be a large and ancient tome, thick with a myriad of worn pages.
"I found it at an antique store. I think it's the only book in this world you haven't read yet."Cole had a look of satisfaction upon his face.
The young woman was an avid reader, and she enjoyed spending her miniscule amount of free time dawdling in the fantasy of old stories. "Found it, or stole it?" Ruby inquired with a measure of seriousness, and she began thumbing through the pages of the book.
"If you don't like it I can always bring it back." Cole was somewhat hurt by the question, but the actions of his youth arguably justified Ruby's curiosity.
The young woman sensed the unintentional grief she had caused, so she was quick to respond with "No - I love it, and you're right. This is probably the only book I haven't read. Why are you giving this to me?"
"We've been friends a long time, Ruby. Do I need a better reason?" Cole hardly spoke of responsibility or serious issues, but he revered the bond between the two with great adoration.
"I guess not. Hey - remember the day we met, when Willy Ferguson knocked all of my books into the street? I bet if I had this back then, he would have thought twice about trying to push me around; with as many pages as this thing has, it could be lethal." Ruby joked and reminisced for a moment on the day of their acquaintance, and she held dearly to the fact that Cole rescued her from the torment of an obnoxious neighborhood bully.
Cole laughed along with her for a while, then he said "Well go on, give it a read."
"It's getting late Cole, I need to get back ho-" but her sentence was interrupted.
"Ooh, come on! Just a page or two. You know I hate books, but I like it when you read to me." Again the young man's infantile manners were surfacing, though he did not realize it. He placed the flashlight upon the table and slid it toward Ruby.
"Just a page or two, then I have to leave." Her voice was stern, but she gave into the demands of her companion with little resistance.
The first thing Ruby had noticed was that the tome bore a distinction unlike any she had seen before; the pages were filled with scribbled barbaric writings and strange pictures. There were images that were bizarre, and a few that were frightening; all of them appeared eerie and mysterious.
Cole focused on the pages, and he was in a joyous amazement. "It must be some kind of book about ghost stories. Cooool!"
"Some of these pages are illegible. Ah! I found something I can read. Are you sure I should, though? I don't want to scare you." It was Ruby's turn to hold the flashlight under her chin, only she made faces that were too adorable to terrify.
"Please, just one story." Cole was begging as anticipation swelled into suspense.
"It looks like a poem, but here goes nothing," then she cleared her throat and read aloud.
Underneath the pale moon, amid the summer's eve
Magic spell complete the doom, and awaken the ancient tree
A kingdom cries in lamentation, divided with no king
A monster yields untold damnation, seeking the ruby ring
A hero is born from a shooting star, to face the immortal foe
The time has come to lift the scar, and end the kingdom's woe
A mighty warrior of noble birth, with heart of determination
Will test the monster of its worth, and fearlessly lead his nation
Arise! Arise! The spell is cast, the portal has been unfurled
Mortal blood from distant past, you are called to save the world
After Ruby had finished reciting the lyrics, a deadening silence filled the tree house. A gentle breeze rolled past the sycamore tree, and its leaves sighed and swayed; all was still and quiet in that moment.
"Was that it? That wasn't scary at all. How boring." Cole abruptly dismissed the words, though they lingered in the noiseless air.
"If you didn't like it, that's too bad. Now if you'll excuse me I have to-" but Ruby never had a chance to finish her statement.
At first there came a shift in the atmosphere, and both companions were quick to glance in the direction of their friend. Slowly there came a trembling from the ground beneath the tree house, and within a few seconds the entire wooden fort was quivering and shaking. The creaky, old bench squeaked noisily as the quaking grew more and more immense. The table tipped over, and the metallic flashlight fell and rattled upon the floor.
"Cole what's happening?!" Ruby cried out, and she clenched her companion tightly as uncertain fear welled up within her.
"I don't know Ruby, just hold on!" The pair of friends embraced each other as the tumultuous trembling continued to shake the tree house.
Suddenly a bright glow illuminated from the ancient manuscript, and from a distance the wooden fort shimmered and shined on like the twinkling of a radiant star. The brilliant gleam sparkled through the windows, and it illuminated the surrounding trees of the forest. The light was so intense that Cole and Ruby sheltered their eyes from it, and just as suddenly as the circumstance had occurred, it ceased.
For a moment the pair of friends sat still in each other's arms, then Cole was quick to open his eyes and examine the aftermath of the quake. He stood up, but he was completely bewildered by what he saw; neither he nor Ruby were in the tree house, and the wooden structure was nowhere to be seen. The rope ladder, the flashlight, even the creaky bench was gone. All that remained from the fort was the ancient tome and the young adults.
Ruby rose from the floor of the forest, and she brushed off some grass from her clothes. As she peered at her surroundings she noticed the wooded terrain seemed different; the trees were more sparse than before, and they looked slightly smaller as if the touch of youth graced them once again.
"Where are we, Cole?" She inquired in a confused and fearful tone, then she grabbed one of his arms and wrapped her own around it, just as she had done the day she was protected by the neighborhood bully.
"I don't know Ruby, but I don't think we are in West Sparrow anymore..."