Born blonde and Polish, Jennifer Turner writes action adventure thrillers and romances. She resides in Wisconsin with her husband Eddie, a red-headed Texan, and her three children, Dustin, Molly and Matthew. Raised by an eclectic assortment of artists and musicians, her upbringing helped shape and hone her imagination and dedication to the romantic arts. Between her commitments to family and writing, she actively pursues three things–white chocolate, dark chocolate, and more chocolate.
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I drifted in a weird place full of shadows. First, her song came from far away, but then drew closer.
Take the key and lock her up…
Lock who up?
Lock her up…
Yes, baby, it's me.
Why did you leave me?
So you could find me.
I spun in a circle, trying to find her in the shadows. Through the mists, I saw my parents come home. The mess freaked them out and they shouted for me. I tried to answer, but no sound came out of my mouth.
You've passed into the fifth direction, honey. They can't hear you.
Why not! You weren't supposed to go, Grandma. You left me all alone! Where are you?
Before me, her face, young again and beautiful came forward. The blue in her eyes swirled, moved like oceans beneath billowy clouds.
The old man rattled something I could hear, but couldn't see and the mist closed over her face.
Wait! Stop! Don't go!
A gust of wind burst into the hut and my eyes opened. The curtain broke apart, dried leaves spinning into the shape of a hideous face with an open mouth. A cackling, harsh and nasty laughter hurt my ears so bad, I covered them.
The shaman shook what looked like the rattler off a snake the size of a horse.
The laughter stopped and the leaves drifted down like burnt snowflakes all around us. He slumped and sat back on the floor.
I checked my palms for blood, but they were clean, though my ears still rang some. I asked, my voice shaking, "What was that?"
"Mercy," he said with a scowl.
I began to think whoever Mercy was, she had been totally misnamed. "Who's Mercy?"
He squinted, his face sad. "She is older than any, born when your earth was brand new and life sprang free and beautiful. In everything, there is light and dark, up and down, north and south, east and west. The beauty of your earth matched the ugliness of Mercy. Her children were hideous creatures and their children gave birth to bats, snakes, and the nightmares of your land.
"Greed and jealousy boiled inside her, the evil within rising like smoke. She used her magic and trickery to steal what she wanted. Then she began to steal knowledge from humans, plucking their minds like feathers from a bird. This is why humans cannot remember their own birth or much of their early times.
"She went too far and stole from the elders. They forgot their own children, forgot their tribes and where they had been, who they had loved. This frightened the heirs and they banded together to banish her and lock the fifth direction. But Mercy was already too clever and without a guardian, she found ways to return and steal what she wanted from your world.
"As is the duty of all rulers to lead their people into battle, a queen came to watch over the gates, to protect the ways. You have this queen's blood in your veins. You are the next heir."
"Me?" I squawked. "I’m not even thirteen yet!"
He smiled. "You will not take the throne for many years. Our queen has not yet had her crowning ceremony." He lost the smile. "Mercy tried to take the crown, but escaped with only a single jewel. Without it, the queen cannot have her ceremony."
I frowned. "If I'm not 'sposed to be queen, then why am I here?"
He shook his head. "No one knew your strength. None before has ever been able to cross this soon. We believe you are here to bring the jewel back. This is why she took our children."
"Because of me?"
"Not because of you, no. Mercy takes what she wants and now she wants a bigger army. The queen protects the way, but without the crown, there are... gaps."
"Gaps I made," I said forlornly. "I didn't know."
"Because Mercy stole that knowledge. She took just enough of what your grandmother taught you to make sure you opened the directions."
"That's not fair! All this happened because an evil lady came into my head and stole what I needed to know? Why do they call her Mercy anyway? There's nothing merciful about her!"
He gave me a sad look. "No. Not merciful, merciless."
Later, I sat on a ledge, in the dark and cried. I couldn't help it. I had seen Grandma, if only for an instant. I had seen her and I didn't even get a chance to hug her, to tell her how much I loved her. No. What did I do? I yelled at her.
Something warm and smooth touched my arm and I jumped in surprise. Beside me, a little brown puppy with reddish fur looked up at me with sad eyes, as if to say stop crying, you're breaking my heart. "Well hello there, little fella."
His ears perked up and he tilted his head. My belly growled and he dropped his front paws on the ledge, tail end in the air and growled back. He yipped, not loud, but like a command. The dog barked, this time louder, and I tried to hush him before he woke the whole village.
Inti appeared, a round loaf of blue bread in his hand. "Here, take this before he shouts at me again."
I took the bread. "You understand him?"
"Enough." He shrugged.
"Is he your dog?" I carefully tore a piece of the bread away and sniffed. Blue meant moldy back at home, but here, it meant fruity or something sweet. After the first taste, I didn't stop.
"No, he's a bush dog. He came after the children disappeared." He hunkered down and stroked the dog's fur. "His name is Digel and he's been waiting for you. He's your totem."
I didn't think I had seen Inti grin so widely before. "Why are you smiling?"
He shrugged. "A dog totem is good. You are loyal, not easy to break and a protector."
A protector? I couldn't even protect the pantry back home.
The next morning I woke to see a monkey staring at me through the window of Inti's hut. I rubbed my eyes, but the monkey didn't go away and he had a boy's face! I gasped in surprise and it must have startled him because he screeched like a chimpanzee.
"Saki!" Inti scolded. "He's a monboy, and they're all thieves."
Digel barked, but before any of us could stop Saki, the monboy took my bag and tossed it to another boy-faced monkey perched in the opposite window. Digel ran between the two, barking and jumping high as the monboy's chattered with laughter.
"Saki, Loki, stop!" Inti shouted. When they didn't, the warrior took Saki by the neck, but the other monboy bared long fangs and leapt onto his back, sinking his teeth deep into Inti's shoulder.
I screamed. Digel barked and growled. Three warriors burst into the hut and outnumbered now, the monboy's escaped out a window. Inti dropped to his knees, blood running down his arm and back from the punctures in his neck. Punctures like a vampire.
The men gathered around, their tattoos striking even through my tears for Inti's wounds. If I was supposed to take the throne one day, they'd call me the Weeping Queen. They helped Inti to the shaman's hut and I followed to help. This was all my fault after all.
The shaman kicked everyone out but me and muttered something that made Inti sleep. As he cared for the wound, he said, "You must get to the Queen."
"But I don't know how."
"You do. The same way you came here."
The letters! Did the monboy's get them? I hopped up and ran back. Digel jogged beside me and I said, "Help me find my bag, Digel. Help me, please!"
He panted, tail wagging at the window where Saki first appeared and I caught a glimpse of blue below. The strap of my messenger bag was hooked on a branch. On my tiptoes, I stretched my full length and snatched it back up, empty.
I threw it aside and covered my face. They took them. The box was gone.
Digel barked at the window urgently.
"What is it?" I went back to look and my heart leapt. They took the box, but left the letters. They were scattered in the branches of the tree far below. As I watched, a breeze took the orange letter from the stack and it flew out of sight. "No!"
I scampered out the window and knelt on the slim ledge. Digel barked like crazy behind me, but I concentrated on reaching the remaining letters. Just a little further and I would have them. I braced myself on a branch ten stories above the jungle floor.
As my fingers touched the top letter, the branch snapped and I shouted in surprise, tumbling forward.
Tune in next week for the exciting continuation of Letters to the 5th Direction!