CHAPTER ONE: The Fall

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War of the Seasons, book 1: The Human

by: Janine K. Spendlove

For Will

CHAPTER ONE: The Fall

The first thing Story realized was she was somehow, miraculously, still alive. She knew this because every single inch of her body hurt; even her hair hurt. The second thing Story realized was she'd neglected an important rule in spelunking: always look up before you stand.            

* * * * *

Earlier that day

Gravel sprayed out from under the Jeep's tires as it skidded to a halt in front of the cave entrance. Story smiled as she saw the familiar, happy memory from her childhood. The longing—no, the need—to see it again had been consuming her for months. Set in a massive limestone outcropping that jutted out from the mountainside, the opening was shaped like a lopsided half-moon, as if someone had hooked the right side of the cave entrance and tugged upward. A warm, summer breeze rustled the treetops, and she took a deep breath, inhaling the sharp, piney smell of the surrounding woods.

"What do you mean if you go back to school?"

Story's smile evaporated, and she felt a flash of irritation over the interruption. Josh raised his fiery red eyebrows and peered over the rim of his sunglasses at her, waiting for an answer. Ignoring his question, she hopped out of the Jeep and after a quick look around noted that there weren't any other cars parked nearby.

Good.

Josh jumped out and slammed the passenger door shut before walking around to the back of the vehicle to block her access to their gear.

"I'm serious, Story. What do you mean if? You can't be thinking of dropping out of high school! What about your friends? What about prom? What about college?"

Story snorted. "Are you serious? Prom? College? Like those things really matter." She pushed past him and reached for her gear. "Besides, you're the only friend I have left."

Leaning into the back of the Jeep, she pulled out her daypack and slipped a headlamp over her purple-streaked black hair. She tossed some water and snacks into the bag along with a short length of rope and a few anchor points with carabiners.

Josh picked up his daypack and mirrored her actions, but stubbornly clung to the subject. "Of course it matters. You only get to go to high school once." His face softened. "Besides, didn't we have a good time last year?" He held her gaze with his sky blue eyes and, hesitantly, as if he was afraid he'd scare her away, reached up with his hand and gently brushed her chin-length hair back, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. His thumb came down to rest on her jaw, while his fingertips grazed the side of her neck.

Story looked up at him and felt a familiar ache rise in her chest: her breath became short and shallow. But she buried the rising rush of emotions before they could fully surface. She couldn't allow herself to feel anything anymore—not even good things like Josh, because, as her father always used to say, "You can't feel the good without the bad."

She jerked away from Josh, as if burned by his touch, and turned back to the Jeep.

Ignoring the hurt look she saw before she turned, she threaded the string from her battered lensatic compass through one of her belt loops and then shoved its considerable bulk in her front pocket. After pausing to make sure it was secure, she pulled on a faded, black hoodie with a peeling surfing logo emblazoned across the front; it would be enough to ward off the cave's chill.

Almost as an afterthought, she picked up the knife lying in the back of the Jeep.

Her father smiled and pulled a poorly wrapped gift from his back pocket. "Merry Christmas, kiddo!" He winked and tossed it into her lap.

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