The Search for Artemis (The Chronicles of Landon Wicker)

CONTENTS

Text Copyright © 2011 by Patrick Griffith

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recorded, photocopied, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

Published in the United States by Gryff Publishing, Ltd.

6300 E. Hampden Ave. #1310, Denver, CO 80222

www.gryffpublishing.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Design by Patrick Griffith

Text set in Adobe Garamond Pro

First American Edition

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ISBN 978-0-9837017-0-5 (Kindle)

ISBN 978-0-9837017-1-2 (eBook)

ISBN 978-0-9837017-3-6 (Paperback)

Follow the author on Twitter @PDGriffith

Follow the publisher on Twitter @GryffPublishing

To my mom, dad, brother and sister—my supportive and encouraging family

CHAPTER ONE

BLACKOUT

Landon Wicker scurried down the fire escape. Orange flecks of rust covered his bloodstained hands. Stumbling from rung to rung, he couldn’t get to the ground fast enough. His heart was racing; he felt lightheaded.

Then, in his haste to get away, his foot slipped off the ladder, causing him to clutch the crusty metal. Pressed against the steel, Landon shut his eyes and took a labored gulp as he fought to get past the nerve-wracking sensation of falling that briefly washed through his body.

As he paused to right himself, he heard the sound of the cell phone he’d dropped break into a million pieces on the asphalt below. He took a quick look back up the fire escape before continuing down. He could see the light from his bedroom as it shone out the window and cast a pale glow over the dark alley. Landon’s mind was still spinning from what had happened, and he couldn’t understand if he was making the right choice. What if he was wrong? What if he was overreacting? How could they blame
him
for what happened?

There was no time for second-guessing—he needed to get away. Whoever it was at the door had probably forced their way into the apartment by now and discovered the catastrophe waiting inside. To make it worse, Landon was clueless to what had happened; he just woke up, and the place was a disaster.

Unnerved and frightened, Landon clambered down the steel rungs of the fire escape and jumped to the ground, the remnants of his cell phone crunching under his tennis shoes. The impact of the hard asphalt caused him to stumble, but once he regained his footing, he stood up and pulled the strap of his duffle bag onto his shoulder.

Landon was running away from home—from what he might have done. He was running from an intuition that he was to blame for the crime. He was running, literally, as fast as he could. He was sprinting down the alley, not stopping to look back.

• • • • •

Five hours earlier.

Landon lay on his bed with a sticky film of sweat forcing the exposed parts of his body to cling to the sheets. The heat wave had been unrelenting for more than two weeks, and according to the weatherman, there was no end in sight. Even the sun setting didn’t seem to squelch the heat. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sunset; the deep golden hues and vibrant pinks crept through Landon’s window, casting an orange glow on his unlit bedroom.

The sweat that soaked his body penetrated the sheets, creating a watery outline that looked morbidly like the chalk at a crime scene. He hadn’t moved for hours. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, but the heat was so oppressive that the mere idea of moving was exhausting. He stared at the fan as it rotated on the ceiling, trying to keep up with the spinning blades as they whirled around and around—lost in his own world.

That was why he didn’t hear his mother knocking on his bedroom door, see the shadow as it opened, or notice she’d walked in. She stepped over to his bed and gently touched his arm.

“Whoa, Mom . . . I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Well, I knocked, so you know.” She spoke calmly but sternly. “Anyways, dinner is ready. Get out of your bed and come to the table. Tonight we’re having stroganoff.”

Landon flung his legs off the side of his bed, but for a few moments that was the extent of his ability to move. He stayed that way, awkwardly contorted, until it started to get uncomfortable, and then he forced himself to sit up on the edge of the bed. His movements were lazy. He looked like a rag doll: his head resting on his shoulder, his shoulders slumped, and his arms dangling from his sides. Finally, after contemplating whether dinner was worth the effort, Landon stood up and followed his mother out to the dinner table.

His entire life they had lived in the same small two-bedroom apartment. It was one of those city apartments that cost way too much for the size, but he was lucky—he had his own room. His mother and father slept in the bedroom at the other end of the apartment, and between them was a small living space with barely enough room for a couch, a TV stand, and a dining area with a kitchen along the back wall.

Books consumed the place. His mother, an avid reader, collected them like some people collect commemorative pins. Not only did they fill the two bookshelves she crammed into the living room, but they were also stacked on the end tables, on top of the TV and all around the unused fourth seat of the dinner table. Stacks accumulated by the front door, in the corners of every room, and on the two windowsills in the apartment. A collection of James Joyce novels (and the numerous books needed to comprehend James Joyce) sat atop the microwave. Lewis Carroll found his home next to a bottle of whiskey. Coincidentally, Ayn Rand’s
Atlas Shrugged
held up as the replacement for the missing leg of their old leather couch. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have needed Sherlock Homes to find a copy of one of his books amid the illogical library that congested the apartment.

But books weren’t all his mother collected; she had a fondness for figurines and tchotchkes. No matter where she went, she came back with a little piece of junk. There was the pink flamingo lawn ornament she got in Florida, a snow globe from Vermont, and a miniature bronze replica of
The Thinker
that she acquired from a dinky souvenir shop in New York near Columbia University. There were resin replicas of every landmark around the globe: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Mount Rushmore, The Great Pyramids of Giza, Big Ben, and Washington Monument, to name a few. It didn’t matter if she went there or not, she needed them. Countless more littered the apartment, generally resting on haphazardly constructed pedestals of bound paper and ink.

In an attempt to make the apartment a bit more normal, she put a bunch of framed pictures on the walls from their spontaneous vacations. For these trips, she would wake Landon up in the middle of the night, and the two of them would be gone as long as the money allowed. When they got back, she always seemed to pick the most embarrassing pictures to frame. As Landon neared the dinner table, he looked at one taken during their trip to Vermont last spring break. Dressed in layers of clothing, Landon stood awkwardly on a pair of rickety skis at the base of a large snow-covered mountain. He thought he looked like the Michelin Man in that photo.

It was embarrassing, but he didn’t care. It was what his mom did, and even if Landon didn’t always show it, he actually liked her. She told the craziest stories about her childhood growing up outside Atlanta, and she made the best food he had ever tasted. Her beef stroganoff was renowned throughout the apartment building. No barbecue commenced without her pasta salad. She also pushed Landon to try things, which he oddly appreciated. She saw too much of herself in him and didn’t want him to be unsuccessful because of a hereditary lack of motivation. Landon was what the school called “gifted,” meaning that he learned faster than the other kids and didn’t need to put in any effort to get by. And get by was all he did.

“Finally! I’m glad you could join us,” Mr. Wicker said as Landon shuffled toward his seat at the table.

“Sorry, sir. I didn’t know dinner was ready.” Landon pulled out his chair. His father seemed to be in a good mood that evening.

Mr. Wicker directed his attention to Landon’s mother.

“Babe! Bring me my plate! I’m not waiting any longer!”

Landon’s mom put a plate of delicious stroganoff in front of his father, and then set one each for Landon and herself, steam slowly rising from the piles of gravy-covered pasta. As the intoxicating smell wafted into Landon’s awaiting nostrils, he began to salivate, just waiting to dive into the Wicker specialty. It was a rule in the apartment that no one could eat until Mr. Wicker took his first bite. Over the years, Landon and his mom had received enough painful lumps on their heads from the heavy butt end of the butter knife to know this.

Mr. Wicker grabbed the salt and pepper off the table and shook copious amounts onto his plate. He then took his fork, scooped up a hefty amount of pasta and thrust it into his wide-open mouth. That was his cue. Landon began to devour his plate of food, not even taking a moment to breathe as he scarfed down his favorite meal. His mother calmly ate her food, constructing tiny, perfectly portioned bites on her fork. The table was silent. It always was during dinner. Not because they were eating, but because Mr. Wicker liked it that way.

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