Mias stand, p.1
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       Mia's Stand, p.1

           David Hartman
Mia's Stand

  Mia's Stand

  Book one of two

  Copyright 2012 David G. Hartman

  Cover and title page art by author

  Chapter 1

  Mia Murphy looked around through the clear, clean air at the miles of gently rolling hills of deep green, dotted with occasional clumps of trees. Only a moment ago she’d been seated cross-legged on her bedroom floor doing homework while she brushed her hair. Wow! I fell asleep fast, she thought. She tried to force herself to awaken from the dream. It didn’t work.

  The sun shone warm where she sat just beyond the edge of the cool shade of a huge tree. Distant birds sang their calls; cicadas buzzed insect music. The far away mountains were topped with an icing of snow that fed a stream, which meandered its lazy way through the broad valley below. She spoke aloud. “Okay! I need to wake up now!” Still the green fields rolled on; the birds sang, the cicadas buzzed, and the river meandered. Again she attempted to shake herself out of it. Still, she remained in the dream. She’d had dreams before that seemed real, and in fact once had confused a dream with reality, but she was only seven when that happened. This dream, however, seemed real real. Something wasn't right. She plucked a few blades of grass and glanced about for something, anything familiar.

  “Well,” she said aloud. “I’ll check the place out until I decide to snap out of it. Kind of pretty scenery.” She dropped the blades of grass and stood. Her cold, sweating hand gripped the hairbrush as if it were a security blanket. She looked to her right, then to her left, then far into the distance to her right. There she saw only wild countryside. A strong feeling inside told her that she had to move, and that she had to move now. She started downhill toward the stream a half mile away.

  “SSSSSSSStoppp!” a ghostly voice whispered. She froze in her tracks. Did she hear that right? Was that a voice? Or just the wind? She took two more careful steps.

  “SSSSSSStop go wesssssssst!” There was no mistake. Those were clear, audible words and they were directed at her! They had to be; she was the only one in sight. But where was the voice coming from? Her pulse doubled and every available pore she had goose bumped.

  “Uh...who...who said that?” She looked around. There was no place for someone to hide on this low grassy hillside. She was quite alone.

  “Wessssssst isssss that way.” The branches of the tree leaned hard to the right as if blown by a great wind, yet only a slight breeze stirred the air. It was the tree that was speaking to her!

  Her head swam. Her pulse raced. I gotta calm down! It’s a dream, so it's not like I’m gonna die or something. She turned to the tree and tried to speak in a calm and controlled voice. “Okay. So I’m talking to a tree. Who are you?”

  “I am Tree,” it said. The leaves swirled when Tree spoke. “You mussssst go wesssst.” Then Tree held very still. Her eyes dropped to the trunk. The patterns in the bark made the image of a smiling face.

  She locked her eyes on the face. “Why should I go west? You don’t know what’s west of here.” Mia grappled for words. “You’re a tree and you can’t go anywhere!” She took a few slow steps backward, out of Tree’s reach.

  “I am Tree. I am ooooooold. I know much. The river is bad way fffffffor you. Danger awaitsssss.” Tree’s voice mixed in symphony with the wind so that Mia had to listen carefully to what he was saying.

  She thought for a moment. “So, how is it a tree can talk anyway?”

  “Go wesssst!” Tree said as he again leaned his branches to the right. She looked to the west but saw nothing. No roads, no houses, nothing but countryside as far as she could see. Suddenly she felt very alone.

  “What’s over there...west?” she asked Tree. She looked back at the tree's trunk. The face was gone.

  “Tree!” she demanded. “If you can hear me, bend your leaves like you did.” She held her hands high above her head and bent sideways at the waist. Nothing. “Tree!” she yelled and stomped a foot. "Stupid tree!" She soon gave up. Again she looked around the countryside, now for what felt like the tenth time, and even far, far away, there were no roads or houses or any signs of people. Only wild countryside. She started walking in the direction Tree had pointed. What if he’s right, she thought. What if there’s something dangerous at the river?

  She kept the sun in front of her and walked for what must have been hours. She was getting hungry and thirsty and very frightened. She tried to wake herself up a few times, but now had serious doubts that this was a dream. And if it wasn’t, then where in the world was she? The grassy hills rolled into the distance and the mountains were getting closer. She could see where the plains turned to forest in the foothills, but that was quite afar.

  Could she have been kidnapped? Her mind raced. Hit on the head or something, taken out into the country and left for dead but wasn’t dead and now can’t find her way home and can't remember any of it? She felt her head and found no bumps or sore spots. The sun was beginning to set. She was tired of walking. Maybe she was drugged. Yes! That’s it! Drugged and dumped in the boonies somewhere. The only logical explanation so far. She stopped in her tracks. Drugs might make a person forget things. They might even make you talk to trees! She’d never done drugs in her life of sixteen years. Except once, when she had her wisdom teeth out, she had something narcotic, some kind of pill, but she didn’t like what it did.

  She sat on a log by a tree. Why were there no people? Anywhere? Where was she? She began to cry, and cried for some time, but for how long, she didn’t know. What would she do at night with no place to sleep and nowhere to go? And what if there’s dangerous, man-eating animals out here? She looked up across the hills, surprised that it had become very dark very quickly. She dried her eyes with her flannel shirtsleeve. Through her waning tears she glimpsed the lights of a town some distance to the west. I’m gonna be cold with no jacket or...I wonder if I could build a fire? Maybe rub two sticks together or something. Finding firewood in the dark might be a chore, too. Being so hungry didn’t help matters. Then it hit her.

  Lights! There’s people over there! And they’ve got to have a phone! She clenched her hairbrush and stumbled in the direction of the lights. They didn’t look so far off. She’d be there in a matter of minutes. She tripped on a rock and fell to the ground. She lay there and held her hurt knee for a few moments. She decided to slow down to a steady walk, but even at that she didn’t see a small stream, accidentally stepped in it and soaked both her tennis shoes to the ankles. The night air was cooling fast. Mia's breathing came rapid and irregular.

  The town was farther away than she thought. Daylight had faded quickly by the time she arrived at the edge of the township. It had just one wide street of dirt, and a few side streets better to be called paths. The buildings were one or two rooms at most, low built with thatched roofs with no glass in the windows. Dried mud carelessly oozed from between the planks that made up the walls of the buildings. She noticed that there were no cars. The whole place didn’t smell very good, kind of like old, rotten hamburger, or maybe freezer burnt bread, or both. Somewhere down the street she could hear several big dogs engaged in a fight. She was glad that she’d entered the town from this end.

  Something about the place didn't feel right. Playing the role of a cute, frail girl (which frail she wasn't, she just appeared to be) had worked for her often enough that she knew how to use it as a tool. So even if the inhabitants of the town were as weird as the town itself, she thought, she could not see how anyone could refuse aid to a poor, desperate little girl, cold, lost, and scared.

  The first few buildings she passed appeared to be deserted. In their front yards, which were bordered by thick, iron fences with crooked gates, grew dark, looming trees. Not big trees like Tree, but medium sized, with twisted, gnarled, leafless branches that looked li
ke skeletal hands reaching into the night. Mia kept a good distance from the fenced yards.

  There! The third place on the right. No fence, no trees, and lights in the window. And she could hear voices coming from inside! She ran. The double swinging wooden doors had no top or bottom, two hinged planks hanging side by side about a foot off the ground. She didn’t take her teary eyes from them for fear they would disappear.

  The place fell to a dead quiet upon her entrance. One of the door planks swung back and forth on rusty hinges, squeaking a slowing rhythm. Every eye in the place turned on her.

  She looked through the haze of the torch-lit room as they stared. The floor was as dirt as the streets and the air reeked of smoke, decay, old sweat and body waste. There was a bar, a few tables with benches for chairs, all made from raw wood with branches intact. Clay mugs along with large bones with half of the flesh missing crowded the tables. A fire smoldered in the middle of the room, just a pile of wood with no border, over which the half-burned corpse of some animal on a spit cooked.

  The most repulsive sight of all was the people that occupied the room. She had never ever imagined anyone or any thing could be so ugly. None of them were more than four feet tall. Their filthy clothes were made of a heavy canvas material tied fast with rope belts. The conical wide brimmed hats some of them wore were just as scummy. Each and every one of them was barefoot. Their noses were disproportional to their faces and had huge bumps, maybe warts, with twisted black hairs. So big were their noses that they nearly hid their huge ear-to-ear toothless mouths. She couldn’t tell which were women or which were men for the amount of body hair.

  For the hundredth time Mia hoped this were all a dream, but had become certain it wasn’t.

  “Uh...do you guys have a phone I could use?” she said. None answered her. One of them broke the silence when it emitted a wild scream, more like a yell or a shriek that chilled her to the bone. As if a cue, the entire barroom rushed her.

  They were on her before she could react. Vise-like hands grabbed her arms. She screamed in terror as a dozen strong arms ripped her from the floor. One of them was face to face with her, doing what might have been laughing. Struggling did no good against the iron grips, and they were hurting her wrists and ankles. Mia was terrified. Another of the people pulled the one that was face to face with her away. Her hopes soared. Maybe, she thought, this one was trying to stop her assailants. But then she saw that the newcomer was only trying to get a clear shot. He raised a huge bone above his head. She screamed as he bore down. The blow landed on her forehead. She stopped screaming only because she couldn’t scream. The room spun; she felt sick. Upon the second blow all went dark.

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