‘Lingering Echoes’ (Book Excerpt) by Erica Kiefer

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Erica Kiefer grew up living abroad in Asia, including Taiwan, Fiji, Thailand and Indonesia. She gained a great respect for the beautiful mosaic of cultures found in various parts of the world. After graduating from International School Bangkok, she attended Brigham Young University in Utah, where she earned a degree in Recreation Therapy. Her career as a Recreation Therapist has allowed her to work with at-risk youth since 2007.

Erica also loves singing, reading, writing, and satisfying her sweet-tooth with chocolate-chip cookies.

Lingering Echoes was signed by Clean Teen Publishing and released November 2013. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from her work, Lingering Echoes. Courtesy: Erica Kiefer.

My brisk walk carried me towards the grove of evergreens growing a short distance from the lake. With Hidden Pines located in the heart of the Sierra Nevadas, the mountain was full of pines, cedar, and Douglas fir—but with purposeful steps, there was only one specific pine tree that I was looking for. Dropping my flip-flops, I rubbed my hands along the thick tree trunk before me, feeling small pieces of bark peel away in my fingertips. Wrapping my arms around the trunk, I leaned back and hung my head, staring up at the intricate details above me. I loved how the branches grew out in circular patterns higher and higher, making perfect layers for climbing.

A cracking noise caught my attention from an indistinguishable area behind me. I whipped my head around and stood up straight. I listened for a minute, my eyes struggling to make sense of the shadows that leered behind the trees. Despite straining my vision, I could not see anything through the quiet darkness. Yet I felt certain that something was watching me.

If Nick is trying to scare me, he is going to regret it! I turned my back on the trees, remembering the cute brunette last seen in Nick’s arms as I fled the dance.  He wouldn’t leave her for something so dumb.

But someone else might have followed me.

I felt a sudden urge to get off the ground. Bracing myself on the branches above my head, I pulled myself up. More cracking noises from behind me caught my attention, this time closer—like twigs snapping under pressure. I threw a wary glance over my shoulder, biting my lower lip, but the sounds were buried again in quiet eeriness. I blew out a breath of air, unaware that I had been holding it.

I tried to reassure myself that it was probably just an animal. But then I thought of the crazy motorcyclist from that rainy morning, and Brooke’s fear of the strange guy watching her today at the festival.

What if it’s him, out there right now?

Images of a dark-haired maniac raced in my mind. My speeding heart urged me upwards through the spiral of branches. I ignored the pull on my hair, where it snagged on twigs and flaking bark.

I climbed higher. Perspiration dampened my palms.

I felt a presence boring into the back of my head. There was no doubt now. Heavy, shallow breaths caught in my chest. I scrambled through the thicket of limbs. An instinctive fear fueled me upwards.

In my haste, my foot slipped off the next branch as I reached for the one above my head with clammy hands. I lost all footing, swiping in vain for anything to grab onto. Gravity pulled me down, my back colliding with the branch below me. The propelling movement slammed the back of my head onto something solid as I continued my speedy descent.

In seconds, I hit the ground on my side, my thigh landing on top of a thick root jutting out of the ground.  I tried to cry out, but my breath caught in my throat. My chest felt weighed down with pressure. Quick, shallow breaths were all I could manage, pinching pain racing along my back. Squeezing my eyes shut, I laid my head on the dry dirt beneath me. My right thigh throbbed right down to the bone. I laid a hand on it, gripping the muscle.

Someone approached me in hasty, heavy steps.

This is it. Please let it be quick, I pleaded in my mind. I kept my eyes closed, yet sensed a nearby presence.

A rough hand slid under the side of my face and an arm swept my legs around, moving me into a sitting position. My aching back rested against the tree trunk. I grunted in protest, sucking in more quick breaths, unable to convey how much I opposed moving any part of my body. I chanced opening my watering eyes.

A dark-haired young man stared back at me with striking gray eyes. His disheveled black hair hung just over his ears, matching the day or two of shadowed scruff framing his face.  His mouth was closed tight, lips pressed against each other. Heavy eyebrows curved above his eyes, though at the moment, they were pinched together. I watched him scan my body from head toe, kneeling a mere foot from me. My face grimaced in discomfort.

“Try not to move,” he said in a deep voice.

It took another minute for me to regain some control of my breathing. I forced slow, even breaths.  Groaning once more, I adjusted my position. “You’re the one—agh—that moved me,” I accused, grumpiness settling in to replace my fear. Placing a hand on the back of my throbbing head, I winced at the sharp pain that coincided with my touch. “Who do you think you are, sneaking around in the dark? What are you, some kind of pervert?”

The young man continued to stare at me for a few moments with an amused look on his face.

Curious, I took the chance to examine him. He looked like he could be nineteen or twenty, wearing a fitted, solid blue T-shirt against his broad chest and thick arms. A hint of a tattoo was visible, black lettering not quite hidden under his left sleeve.  Small tears spread along his faded blue jeans. Returning my eyes to his, I noticed the gray was tinted with a light blue, like those belonging to huskies. It was hard to tell with the stray strands of hair falling over his eyes and, with him staring back, my nerves got the better of me.

He spoke with a soft, low voice. “I think I liked it better when you were having a hard time breathing.”

I glared back at him, daring him to say more. A hint of a smile deepened a small dimple in his right cheek.

“I’m sorry I scared you. That wasn’t my intent,” he said.

I tried moving again, feeling less resistance from my throbbing limbs. With hesitancy, I kicked out, testing the dead-leg in my right thigh. Frustrated at the embedded knot in my muscle, I scowled at him again. “Just what was your intent?” I inquired, blowing a strand of hair out of my own eyes. This time, he was the first to drop his gaze. In an instant, he stood to his feet.

“Come on,” he said, approaching my side and throwing a strong arm under my shoulders. He paused, turning his head towards me so that our faces were inches apart. “Do you think you can stand up?”

His breath was warm as it touched my face. With his face so close to mine, a sudden shyness erupted with a flush of red throughout my cheeks.

“Uh—I’m fine. Just fine.” I winced as I leaned forward, trying to get up on my own. The sudden sharpness returned and I sank back down, letting out a disgruntled huff. Succumbing to his aid, I leaned back against his steady arm, feeling his bicep tighten while he supported me to my feet.

“How do you feel?” he asked, keeping his arm under my own, though I didn’t think it necessary.

“Like I just fell twelve feet out of a tree and was stomped on by an elephant in the process,” I grumbled. I gave him a sideways glance and caught another small smile at his lips.  “Oh, so this is funny now?” I snapped.

He paused, calculating the irritation on my face. “No, I would not dare think one bit of this was funny. Now let’s get you home.” With a gentle push, he encouraged me to take a step.

“I can walk without your help.”  I released myself from his grip and stooped in quiet pain to retrieve my flip-flops from the ground. Taking a tentative step, I silenced a groan, feeling my body resist. Fortunate for me, stubbornness runs in my family and I leaned on it to carry me forward, my right leg limping in protest. I managed a few quick, short steps, trying my best to walk with dignity, when I heard a low chuckle behind me.

Apparently, I was failing in my efforts.

No sooner had I turned my head around, ready to battle him on his sense of humor, when I was swept up into the air by two strong arms.

“Hey! Put me down!”

With a full smile, he exposed his white teeth lined up next to each other, as his dimples teased me again. “With the pace you were making, you’ll never make it back before sunrise.”

Resisting the idea of being carried, I tried another tactic.

“You’re not supposed to move someone who’s fallen, you know. Everybody knows that. I could have a broken back or a broken neck—”

He cut me off. “Well, there’s obviously nothing wrong with your mouth.”

I fumed in resigned humiliation, though not before cursing at him under my breath.  Breaking the awkward silence, I asked, “Who are you, anyway?” It was a few moments before he responded.

“Damien.”

Neither of us said anything more on our trek back to the cabins. My thoughts remained focused on the strange circumstance I found myself in. Had this Damien been the one watching me, or had he seen me fall and decided to play the “good Samaritan”?

Tall lampposts ahead of us signified our approach to the cabins. Looking to the shore, I noticed the stage was still surrounded with quite a few people, hip-hop carrying through the air. I wondered if Brooke was still out there. Recalling Aaron’s arms around her, I figured as much. We reached my doorstep.

“Ok, ok. Now put me down—please,” I added. My efforts to hurry back onto my feet were less than graceful, and I stepped on his foot in the process. He grunted but made no comment. I had my hand on the doorknob, ready to flee inside. But I managed to pause and turn around.

“So, thanks, I guess, for helping me back to the cabin. I mean, it was sort of your fault I fell in the first place, with you spying on me and all. If that’s indeed what you were doing.  Because to be honest, I’m great at climbing trees, so there was no reason for me to—”

“Allie,” Damien interrupted, taking a step towards me and closing the gap between us.  I stopped my rambling, somewhat grateful for the disruption in my nervous speech, yet uneasy at the closeness of his body with mine. He looked down at me from the five or six inches that he towered over me, blue-gray eyes staring back.

Moments of silence passed. I swallowed.

He leaned his face close to mine.

“Good night.” He paused, a breath away. Then he straightened and turned his back, heading east along the cabins.

It was only after the shadows of the evening masked his silhouetted form that I realized two things: I had not told him which cabin was mine, and I hadn’t mentioned my name.

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