The summer air was slowly gathering a bite, giving way to autumn. Though the grass was green and fresh, the smell of life and growing things still heavy in the air, the wind brought with it a cold dread, a sense that the waiting would soon be over. The cold would sweep in and tear the life away from the world soon. Summer had clung on too long already.
The sun hung near the horizon, the cheery blue sky streaked with the vibrant colors of twilight and watched over by the first star to come out of hiding. It was pale and dull, but as the evening went on it would become dazzling. This was his favorite time of year; nothing could quite compare to late-summer nights, when the threat of the season's change hovered chillingly in the background and yet time still seemed suspended infinitely. He could live in this night forever and be content.
Almost. There was one thing remaining that he needed to do. He'd been waiting so long, it would be a shame not to finish now. And he was close.
The park was alive with the songs of insects and night birds waking, the long grass soft and damp with dew. The breeze kept the air from becoming stale and heavy but was light enough that it was still warm. He walked and watched the stars come out, the sky above fading to the deep blue of night. The moon was a sliver scratched across the dark backdrop, clear but for the few wisps of clouds that remained.
This place was as close to heaven as he could get. Even haunted by its bloody past—by the past he had been so dangerously entangled in from the time of his earliest memories he sometimes had trouble sorting out the happier details—it was his favorite place to be. Nobody bothered him here. He never felt overwhelmed by so many presences he couldn't think or control himself. It was peaceful. His mind and soul could rest here. There were too few places like this in the world.
The only one to disturb him was a dog settled in the grass across the playset. It was thin and dirty, lying beneath a metal picnic table and licking at something clutched between its forepaws. Through its matted fur a collar could be seen, long since bleached white by the sun and battered by the elements, still attached to a bit of torn leash. The man made his way towards it, unable to help but smile. Few animals dared to remain here.
"Hello," he murmured, crouching in the grass before the dog. It growled once, shifting away, but the man didn't flinch. He did nothing but remain in place, waiting patiently. A moment passed before the dog looked up, quiet. "How long have you been here?"
It gave a single thump of its tail in answer and returned to its chewing. "My name is Maize," the man continued, perhaps because he was starved for conversation or perhaps he had nothing better to do. The dog's ears perked at his voice and it raised its head once again, allowing Maize to catch his gaze. The piercing green of his eyes bore into soft brown, both locked together for an instant of time that to them was eternity. At last the dog whined and looked away, ears flat to its head, and Maize's lips curled into a dark smile. He said nothing as it stood and began to trot away, only to glance back at him briefly.
"There you are," Maize said gently as he reached over to help the animal. The collar unsnapped easily and was tossed aside. "Now go."
The dog obediently continued on its way and Maize stood slowly. He shut his eyes, eerily still in the summer night, and then turned and walked away.
They were coming, soon. So soon.
And he was ready.
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Six Waking: Book 2 of the Otherworld Trilogy (Free Sample)Fantasy
Having finally escaped the ghost town and all its horrors, Fox, Griffin, Rowan, Lightning, and Blue are ready for the answers they've been looking for. But all they find when they return to the real world is more secrets. Guided by figures from a...