A start to a book. I've had plenty of these type of ideas, not enough structure to complete them.
I grew up in a small town called Ridge Creek, Utah. It was by the mountains and I heard that at one time it had been called Mapleton. That was before Rickety Ridge was formed by a massive earthquake that killed nearly all of the inhabitants of Utah. Eventually people from the east migrated and settled in the newly formed valley, with Rickety Ridge looming above them and Ridge creek flowing tightly tucked up against the Ridge. No one knew anything about what had been there before, all they knew was what they found when they got there. My name is Rick. Rick Hanson. I was a shy kid back then, a good worker, helping my dad grow crops in the fertile volcanic soil deposited by the creek into the valley. It was the main source of food for the entire country, since only half of it still existed… but more about that later.
One day, just before the summer, we were harvesting the last crop of potatoes for the year. I swung my hoe back and dug it into the rich soil as my father leaned on the handle of his hoe and stared at the looming Ridge.
“It’ll fall over soon.” He stated abruptly, shifting his eyes to me. I stopped and turned my eyes the direction my father had been looking. There was an old tree hanging on to the ridge by the last of its tendrils, swaying in the slight warm breeze that had started to sweep through the valley as the summer drew nearer. It was a tree my father had been staring at for the past three months, but I didn’t know why. I turned and asked,
“Why are you waiting for it to fall over? Won’t it just smash into pieces once it does?” He laughed and said, “Son, that’s one of the strongest trees in the world. Or what’s left of the world anyway.” He shifted his gaze to the tree way up above us on the ridge, and then back to me. He examined me with the deep dark wells of amber that were his eyes sunk back into his tan, leathery face before making his next comment, a statement that shocked me to the core.
“You’re almost a man, Rick. When that tree falls, it’ll be at about the same time that you have the Ceremony of Ages. I want you to come with me to get it when it falls, so you can put it up as the doorway to your new house.” I stood there dumbfounded, staring off into space as he spoke, as if this was just a dream. I remember I had felt overjoyed that my father had actually been thinking about that. It was true I was almost seventeen, only two months until my Ceremony of Age. I thought about all of the things I could do with my life as my father and I continued harvesting the potatoes. Would I be a farmer? A stone mason perhaps, mining the hard rock from center of Rickety Ridge. I was currently apprenticing as a Craftsman, someone who patched houses and made furniture and other goods. Maybe I would get married; after all there was a girl that lived in town that I really liked. All I knew was that I would be able live on my own, wherever I wanted, do whatever I wanted; it was all up to me.
We finished harvesting and I slung my sack of potatoes over my shoulder. We started along the path that lead back to the road that took us all the way to the village. As we walked, I looked around at the miles of fields and wilderness just waiting to be conquered. The sun was just rising up over the ridge, and it made the leaves on the trees glow with a green tint. It was my home, and soon it would be mine to conquer. We walked until we came to a fork in the road. We started towards the left path, and I looked to the right and stopped. Someone, or something, was standing a little farther along the right path. I grabbed my father as my sack slid from my grasp. My father turned and saw the….thing…. and then we both bolted for the trees. The thing began to slide towards us, coming into greater definition as it came closer. We shimmied up a tree, and I climbed to the highest branch I could find that would hold my weight. When we were both in the tree, we looked down at the thing that was below. It had a large, dog-like face with a protruding snout and sharp, needle thin teeth. The head was attached to a humanoid body that was as muscular as the strongest man in the village, and its arms ended in wickedly curved claws instead of hands. Its feet were wide and flat, and they protruded out at least three feet from the ankles. Its entire body was covered in spiny, white hairs. It stared through its slit-like eyes up at us. I stared into its eyes. Those evil eyes burned right into my soul as they stared back. It eventually broke contact and snuffed at the ground before nimbly lumbering into the trees.
Father and I climbed down from the tree slowly, taking care to make sure that the…thing… was gone. I turned to my father when we had made it down the tree.
“What was that?” I asked, looking in the direction the thing had run. My father simply shook his head and stared in the same direction as I was. We stood like that for a minute or two, thoughts racing through our minds. What was that thing? Should we tell anyone? It had looked dangerous. How many of those things were there? All of these thoughts raced through our minds as we continued down the path to the village in silence, consumed by our own thoughts. Slowly my thoughts turned to the Ceremony of Ages and what I was going to do with my life as we neared the village, and the smells and sounds reached our ears. A grin played at my lips as I thought about her. Haley was her name, and she was the prettiest girl in the village. I always loved our visits to the village, because I would always get to see her. My thoughts turned sour as I remembered her new boyfriend, some boy that was apprenticed to the Blacksmith. I had seen them together one day when I was at the village for a few days for my apprenticeship. I had been fixing a roof for one of the families next to where she lived, and I had seen them coming from the small pond that was at the back of her house. I remember the anger I had. It’s strange to think that I could feel anger back then. Perhaps they aren’t together now, I thought as we walked to the market square. It was full of activity, people rushing back and forth with product, fine cloths, leatherworks, a few metalworking shops, and then we came to our little shop on a corner of the square. We dumped our bags of potatoes in the back,
“You stay here and man the store for a few hours; I need to go take care of a few things. Think you can do that for me Rick?” I nodded, and he stepped out of the shop. I knew how to run the store from watching my father for countless years. People would come in, pick out a sack of potatoes or corn or some other type of food, and I would weight them, and based on the pound, I would charge them a certain amount of stones, then put it all down on a piece of parchment for the record. There were a few customers that morning, and eventually my father came back and took over, so I had a few hours before I had to go to the Craftsmen Home, where all the apprenticed crafters would go to get jobs. I ran through the square and down towards her house, hoping against hope that she would be home. As I walked up to the door, I noticed something odd. Normally, they had a dog that would bark as I walked up. I looked around, but the dog was nowhere to be found. That’s when I found the stake where they tied the dog up, and the frayed end of the rope, snapped off. I panicked slightly, wondering what could’ve happened before I ran up and knocked on their door quickly. Haleys’ mother came to the door,
“Haleys’ with Jacob today young Rick. They’re down by the pond.” I thanked her before running towards the pond. I withdrew the knife I kept on me, against my fathers’ wishes, as I neared the pond. I’ll kill him if he’s done something to her dog, I thought as I madly dashed through the final trees. She loved that dog, and it didn’t look like it had been pleasantly taken off of its lead in the yard. As my eyes scanned the pond, I stopped dead in my tracks. There, on the edge of the pond, was Haley. Her black hair loosely hanging about her shoulders, and her pale skin glowing slightly in the soft sunlight that filtered through the trees overhead, everything looked normal. Then I saw that she was crying, right before I noticed the blood on her dress. My legs found a new vigor as ran over to her. She turned and grabbed me, squeezing tightly as she sobbed into my shoulder. I looked around quickly before picking her up and running as fast as I could back towards her house. Just as I neared the trees, it appeared. The stupid white thing with claws for arms snarled at us as I slowed down, petrified by fear. I set her down,
“Run,” I said as I stepped in between her and the creature, brandishing my knife. She ran to the left as I locked eyes with the evil thing in front of me. This wasn’t the same one that had ambushed my father and me, but somehow it looked like it knew who I was. It was smaller than the other one I had seen, and a lot quicker looking. It growled and I twitched. I had never really fought before, that was for the Guard, an elite group that was supposed to protect the village. I swallowed my fear and took a deep breath, watching the creature as its hackles raised, and it bore its teeth at me. Suddenly something flashed in the sunlight, and the creature dropped to the ground, dead. I looked around as a man stepped out of the trees. He wore the garb of the Guard. I stared wide-eyed at him.
“Come here boy. What’s your name?” I walked over as “R-rick sir” Stuttered out of me. The Guard smiled a grim smile and tousled my hair. “It takes a lot of guts to stare down one of those things Rick. Time for you to run on after that girl though, eh?” He winked at me before drawing a knife and cutting out a tooth from the creatures jaw. He handed it to me and then turned me in the direction of the village. I started walking, stunned by the experience I had just endured. I stared at the tooth for a moment before slipping into a pouch at my belt and running towards Haley’s house. I ran up and pounded on the door. Haley’s mother opened the door, a look of worry and fear upon her face.
“Where is Haley?” I asked, pushing my way into the house. Haleys’ mother pointed towards the next room, and I ran in. She was sitting on a chair that I had made for their family when I had first become a Craftsmen apprentice. She was pale white, even more so than normal. She was in shock. I knelt down by her and grabbed her hand. Her eyes shifted to me for a moment, their blue-green color drowning me as wide as they were. We sat like that for a while until she slowly started to blurt out a bunch of questions,
“What was that thing Rick? What happened to it? It took Jacob and...” She began to sob, and I pulled her close as she cried into my shoulder for the second time that day. Her mother stood in the doorway, staring blankly at the door on the other side of the room. My father burst in through the door and grabbed me, shaking me as he bombarded me with loads of questions as well,
“Rick, what happened? Was it the thing we saw in the road? Rick, Rick!” I snapped out of my thoughts as I fingered the pouch at my belt. After relating the story to them all, we sat in silence for a moment. My father stood and gestured towards the door.
“Let’s go Rick.” I stood up slowly, staring at Haley. My father grabbed my arm and dragged me out into the street. I shook off the dream-like state I was in as we jogged towards the Main Hall. Had all of that really just happened? We walked in through the giant double doors of rough oak wood and into the Main Hall. My father began searching and found the Captain of the Guard. “Tell him what you told me Rick.” I related the story once again to the Captain, Rake. Rake stroked his beard as I told him about the creature, and the Guard that had killed it. When I had finished retelling my tale, he shared a glance with my father. My dad nodded before saying, “Rick, go back to Haley’s stay there with them until I come.” As I turned to go, Rake grabbed my shoulder. I turned, and he withdrew the sword from his belt. It was a standard issue Guardsmen sword, but it was absolutely breathtaking. I accepted it from Rake, holding it out for balance. It was a little heavy, but not too much, and I looked at Rake, gave him what felt like a stalwart salute, and then turned and started towards Haleys’ house.
On my way to the house, I stopped in the middle of the market square. Everyone was gone. There was no one in the square. All the hustle and bustle of the mid-day rush had been replaced by a dead silence.
I picked up my pace and nearly flew to Haley’s, the sword only weighing me down a little as I neared her house. I ran up the steps, and knocked on the door. At first there was no answer, and my heart leapt to my throat as I pounded on the solid oak door once again. This time I heard the shuffling of feet, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was quickly turned into fear and adrenaline as one of the creatures opened the door. One of the creatures. I swung the sword down without thinking as the creature lunged at me. It let out a canine like squeal before dropping to the ground. I leapt over it and into the room, where two more creatures stood sniffing and milling about. They both turned to look at me, and I noticed that one of them held Haley in its mouth by the hem of her dress. She was unconscious as far as I could tell. I held my sword aloft, running towards the one with Haley. It turned and ran out the back as the other lunged towards me. I turned and swept the blade to the right. I was taken aback by the contact of my blade with the creature, and then it fell to the floor, its head rolling along the ground. I was stunned for a moment. I was never trained to use a sword, yet I was doing things I had only ever heard Guards do. I shook the thought away as I run at the back door just in time to see the leg of the other creature disappear into the woods that lead to the pond. I ran after it, tossing the sword aside to gain more speed. I raced through the trees, drawing my dagger as I neared the pond. I got to the clearing as the creature stopped at the other edge of the pond. It turned, its evil eyes staring at me for a split second before it turned and dashed off into the trees once again. I hesitated for only a moment before running after it. I chased the thing for about a solid hour before I had to stop and take a rest. I found a small clearing and laid down in the cool grass, thinking about the day’s events.
When I awoke it was to a growl. I stiffened, slowly drawing my dagger as one of the creatures approached me. I could hear it sniffing to my left, drawing close to where my leg lay. I waited until I could feel its breath on my leg before leaning over, bringing my blade down and sinking it into the creatures head. I watched as it squirmed, but I held tight onto the blade, not letting go. I watched the creature as its eyes glared at me and its teeth gnashed while it wailed before finally it was silent and its evil eyes rolled back into its head. I withdrew my blade, and lay back in the grass. Finally my muscles relaxed and I sat up, cleaning my blade on my sheepskin pants. I examined the creature. The claws that made up the creatures arms ended at the elbows. I slid my finger along one of the claws, a red line appearing where the claw touched. I had an idea for these claws. I took my dagger and worked at the left arm, cutting through flesh until I got to the bone. I began sawing until I heard a loud snap and then the claw fell off.
In a few hours I had two very sharp blades, almost perfectly balanced and not quite as long as the sword that Rake had given me. I finished tying off the last bit of sinew that held the blade to the bone that made the handle before standing up and taking a couple of slashes at a tree. The gouges were deep, and I nodded with satisfaction. I started in the direction I had been chasing the creature that had taken Haley. I began to notice small signs, a twig broken here, a tuft of prickly white hair there. I followed the trail until it came to a stream where I stopped for a drink. As I knelt down, I realized that this was Ridge Creek, close to the source from the clarity of the water. I stood up and looked to my right, the Ridge rising up and casting a shadow on me. Then I noticed a small cave tucked in some of the rock, about midway up the face of the Ridge. It had distinct signs of…I should really find something to call these things. It had distinct signs of Whitehair activity. Whitehairs. Good enough, at least I had a name for them. I saw tufts of white hair and lots of scratch marks all around the outside rocks. I drew my blades as I walked to the bottom of the cliff, just in case any Whitehairs decided to ambush me. I kept my eyes locked on the cave as I tucked the blades into my belt. I shifted them to look at the face of the cliff. I grabbed at a hand hold and hoisted myself up onto a foot hold. I pushed off with my legs and flattened myself against the cliff face. I breathed in through my nose and out of my mouth as I grabbed another hand hold, shifting my right foot up to another foothold, lifting the weight of the left half of my body and finding new holds. I paused for a moment, staring at my hand. It was dirty and still had bits of dry grass sticking through my fingers. I could feel them, but it was like I had checked out for a second, my eyes slowly shifted down. I hadn’t realized I had climbed so high. I panicked, almost losing my grip on the cliff face as a gust of wind blew by me.
I hoisted myself up onto the lip of the cliff that jutted out before connecting to the cave. My sides heaving, I took a minute to catch my breath as I warily watched the entrance to cave. I couldn’t hear anything, but I could feel a sense of tension in the air. After I had caught my breath, I slowly stood up, drawing my blades as I approached the entrance to the cave. I stepped slowly and deliberately, taking care not to move rocks or make a lot of noise. It was only a few moments before I was enveloped in the darkness. I strained to see in the gloom, and then I spotted a light in the distance. I continued walking slowly, taking care not to make any noise. Gradually, the cave turned into a long tunnel that sloped downward.