Authors: Matthew M. Johns
The New Guard
Crossroads Book 1
By Matthew M. Johns
Text copyright © 2016 Matthew M. Johns
All Rights Reserved
To my family near and far who have helped my writing efforts
for so many years.
says ‘a’ as in ‘
Animals, Creatures, and Places:
I have in
front of me the paper. I have in my hand the pen. What happens next is not
fully of me. I am a vessel filled with the Spirit. He drives me, inspires me,
and adds His own flair. I have dreamed and imagined, yet this story is not of
my making. I am but the instrument in the hands of some greater force. I am
humbled by the power which drives me, and I pray I do not hinder the Creator as
through me He tells this tale.
sat maybe twelve miles outside of town on a two lane country road that
connected the various farms between one town and the next. One hundred feet
from the country road, a house was nestled in the woods. Though the house was
old, the architecture didn’t speak of any particular period in time. The house
was not grand, yet somehow all your brothers and sisters, your father, and I
fit in it. Yes, there were two or three people sharing each room and there were
times when that got on everybody’s nerves, but it was home. I’m not sure how
your father came to own the house; it was his from the time I first met him. In
fact, besides an oddly intelligent beagle, the house was the only thing your
father ever owned. This fact drove my parents crazy because they said they
hadn’t spent the best money to see their daughter married off to a penniless
woodsman. Oh, but I loved the way your father talked about the world, how much
faith he had, and how he treated and looked at me. So we married and moved into
his house, where your eleven brothers and sisters were raised. That was, of
course, until that summer evening when we all became lost in those woods and
found ourselves here.
school year was done and summer vacation was only three days begun. However,
for the Koen children it was as if a heavy pressure had been suddenly lifted
off them. It hadn’t been the best school year, as demands and trials seemed to
have plagued them all.
had to fight hard to maintain grades that had come easily before her junior
year. She had known this would be a possibility, because she had elected to
take college level courses offered by the high school from the community
college one town over.
Mel’s year has started out well with him making the varsity football team as a
sophomore, he too had struggled, though not academically. Internal team
pressures kept him constantly on his feet through every practice and even in
the hallways of the school. Additionally, the abuse he was being submitted to
by the opposing teams seemed to be more than the norm.
this, Nic had entered his freshman year of high school to constant harassment
for his decision not to try out for the football team. He understood why people
had expected him to go out for the team, for he was more built for the work
than his older brother. However, the pursuit of sports had never appealed to
him. Nic wanted to do something where he could make more of a difference.
Unbeknownst to any of his family, Nic had been investigating how he could go to
college and become a pediatric doctor.
and Silas, the school year was neither any better nor any worse than normal.
They had always struggled to fit in (outside of their older siblings’ shadows),
and typically scrapped by grade-wise. Eve was trying hard to forget school,
especially since she would have to share a school building with her older
sister once more this coming year. The only highlight of junior high had been
Deborah’s not physically being there. Silas was also trying to banish thoughts
of another year of junior high, as he had almost failed seventh grade. He’d
finally pulled out a C average in all of his classes except math, in which he
eked out a D.
Esther, the thought of leaving her beloved elementary had haunted her on and
off all year and dampened her whole sixth grade experience. Though she knew
Deb, Mel, and Nic had had fairly good junior high experiences, her outlook on
going there was tainted by the arguments and stress Eve and Silas had brought
into the household over the last year.
Ruth was the only child who didn’t look at the end of the school year with a
sense of relief and a big ‘good riddance’. She had enjoyed the challenges
fourth grade had brought. The only downside had been having to say farewell to
her close friend toward the end of the school year. Ruth’s friend’s father was
in the military and was being shipped overseas. She and her friend had
instantly started up a written correspondence, though the time it took to
deliver the letters was wearing on Ruth.
had her own problems, and they all started with her younger brother, Jeremiah.
Hannah was bright and excelled in school. She had proven herself from the
beginning and was accepted into kindergarten early. Then a year later, Jeremiah
did the same. He shadowed her progress when she was in first grade and kept
getting into all her work. Then last year, horror of horrors, Jeremiah had been
accelerated into second grade and ended up sharing a class with her the entire
year. There he was, doing all the same work, running at the same pace as she
was. Never, never could she have a hundred percent perfect on anything alone.
No, Jeremy was always there. It ruined everything, and now whenever she was at
school she didn’t feel she could relax, for fear he would surpass her.
Jeremiah, being a young boy wholly thrilled with the pursuit of new knowledge,
was oblivious to all this and was astounded by his sister’s newfound hostility.
there was Mary. Fresh from her first year of elementary, she could not tell you
one way or another what was going on with the other children. Kindergarten had
been both thrilling and frightening at the same time. Being true to her nature,
halfway through the year Mary took it upon herself to educate Dinah, so as to
better prepare her younger sister for her upcoming kindergarten experience.
Dinah, already upset at losing her older sister to school, did not take to the
lessons well; many times it caused upset feelings between both the girls, until
their mother came along and mended the rupture and set things right once more.
most of this had affected the Koen children well up to the last day of school,
it was fast becoming ancient history, because summer was something altogether
different. Summer didn’t often involve a lot of school friends, as they lived
on a county road surrounded by forest and farms. Summer mostly revolved around
the woods which surrounded their house. Within the shadows of those trees, time
slipped slowly by and the cares of the world were lifted away. Yes, there was
still bickering between Deborah and Eve. Silas still goaded his two older
brothers. Ruth still longed for her absent friend, and there was still some
tension between Hannah and Jeremiah. As well, Mary and Dinah could not shake
the newfound foreboding of the future away from the house. However, summer all
but silenced it to a whispered roar.
early summer and Rebekah Koen didn’t expect the children home until around
supper time. Many days during the summer, the children would wake up between dawn
and eight, eat breakfast, pack a picnic lunch, and then all eleven of them and
the family dog would go out into the surrounding woods to play the day away. At
first, when the oldest children were still young, she was nervous about this.
For several years she even went along with them. However, after a few years and
a few more children, she realized the children were safe in the woods. This
belief was reinforced time after time when the children would come home with
only minor scrapes or bruises. While they always came back tired, they rarely
came back cross with each other. Rebekah was now accustomed to the children
keeping each other safe, and summer had become her favorite season. It was the
time of year when the house was the quietest, and Rebekah got time to pursue
her own interests and callings. She was wrapped up in this very sense of
security and peace that infamous summer afternoon when her world view began to
PM, David came in the front door in a rush and out the back door just as
quickly. Rebekah was initially surprised as he had not expected him until 5:00.
However, it was his unusual behavior which quickly started turning her surprise
into worry. Alerted that something might be wrong, she looked out the window
after her husband and saw massive black clouds slowly rolling across the
horizon. As quickly as a seven
could move, she too went out the back door. Over the increasing wind she heard
her husband yelling for the children. That was when she noticed the scabbard
around his waist.
what’s wrong? And what is that thing you’re wearing?” The questions came out of
her mouth in quick volleys driven by fear and surprise. “Is that a sword?”
turned to her, “Grab some lanterns from the garage. This storm will be upon us
very soon and we need to find the children now.”
with such authority and urgency that Rebekah instinctively followed his order
and forgot her own questions. When she returned with the lanterns, he quickly
lit them and pointed to the left of the house.
to the left, but keep the straight line with my lantern light on your right.”
Again the authority of his voice stifled the growing questions in her mind, and
she instantly followed his directions.
was picking up even more as they moved deeper into the woods. The natural
daylight was soon eclipsed by the dark clouds. The lantern light, though
brighter than the gloom overhead, seemed dimmer than normal. Suddenly, there
was a blur of movement low to the ground and Rebekah jumped, startled by the
Beagle’s sudden appearance. David ran over at her scream and the dog’s bark. He
knelt by the dog and asked, “Where are the children?”
turned to face the woods to the right and let out a low series of growls. As
quickly as it had appeared, the Beagle ran off. David rose and began to follow.
Rebekah did likewise, but she was rapidly falling behind, unable to match the
pace her husband and the dog were keeping.
the woods, the Koen children had been playing the day away. As happened some
days, several of the children moved off from the main group and pursued their
individual interests. Jeremiah and Deborah had both walked off with books,
while Eve was wandering randomly through the trees, caught in her own thoughts.
Mel, Nic, and Silas were daring each other to do increasingly risky stunts. Mel
stopped them every now and then, bringing some reason back into the mix.
Hannah, Mary, and Dinah sat playing with stick dolls while their older sisters
Esther and Ruth snag and braided the little ones’ hair. The Beagle lay dozing
near the girls, seemingly oblivious to all around him.
was the first to notice the coming storm. She suddenly stopped singing and
looked up into what portion of the sky could be seen. The girls around her
quickly sensed her concern and became aware of the coming storm too. The Beagle
roused from its slumber and nudged the girls with its snout. Ruth stood and
looked around at the others.
Mel!” she called, a tinge of urgent fear in her voice. Everyone except Eve was
now looking around and truly taking in his or her surroundings.
should go home.” Mel spoke, voicing the thought which had started to form in
all their heads.
began gathering the various items they had brought with them into the woods. As
they worked, a few of the children spoke quietly to each other. Then one by one
they grew more and more quiet. There was something in the air, and even though
none of them had ever truly felt it before, they knew instinctively that it was
not right. Mel was the first to stop doing anything and look around, listening
intently as his eyes scanned the entire wood. Deborah quickly did likewise.
Soon, most of the children were silent and still, and that is when they heard
the first hound baying in the distance. It was a hollow, forbidding sound that
sent chills up everyone's spine.
that moment, all the children had been reasonably reassured that they would be
safe, but at the sound of the baying their smallest companion, the Beagle, shot
off quickly toward the direction they knew led home. This was a sure sign of
the wrongness of the day, for the Beagle was anything but scared and only left
their side when their father came home. Eve, who had not been present this
entire time, joined the group. Her eyes looked worried as another hound bayed,
closer this time. Keenly aware of some impending danger, Mel, Nic, and Deborah
simultaneously called the children to gather in a circle. Forgetting anything
not yet gathered, they began to move the now tightly packed group toward home.
every step the sky grew darker. Within moments the children were having trouble
picking their way through the forest in the false night. A creeping tendril of
fear took hold of all of them, galvanizing the older children and petrifying
the younger. As they older children tried to move faster, the younger children
tried to slow down and look for someplace to hide. The group was quickly
becoming a jumble of chaotic energy. Mel called for everybody to stop and had
to repeat himself as Silas and Eve kept trying to push the littlest ones
everyone. We won’t get anywhere in this state or in this light. We need to keep
together and look for some shelter.”
are some large boulders by the spring with spaces between them where we can
hide.” Jeremiah tried to make his shaking voice sound brave.
nodded, even though nobody could see he was nodding his head in agreement,
“Jeremiah’s right. The rocks should protect us against the storm or. . .”
Though he left the remainder unsaid, the others knew what he meant.
before they could turn back, they heard the bay of several hounds close at
hand. In addition, they could also now hear the rumble, not of thunder, but of
horses’ hooves. Mary screamed. Panic coursing through their veins, every child
looked around. It took only a moment for them each to find what caused Mary to
scream. Two sets of glowing red eyes were moving slowly toward them from the left.
Mary’s scream was followed by small screams from all of the younger children,
and even Eve fought to choke back a cry of surprise and fear. She was quickly
brought to her senses though as Mel, Nic, Deborah, and Silas joined hands to
make a protective circle around the other children. Eve joined the circle and
Mel squeezed her hand to comfort her.
glowing eyes crept closer and closer, but the children held their ground. Mel
was the first to realize that they truly had nowhere else to go, for several other
pairs of eyes were coming out of the woods surrounding the group of children.
Several of the animals began to growl, and the children felt the sound as well
as heard it. Several of the littlest children whimpered and began to cry.
Esther clutched tighter to the younger girls and, in hopes of calming them,
softly began to sing a lullaby. The oldest children began holding tighter to
their siblings’ hands and silently praying for help.