Author’s Note: To read more about this scene, visit the introductory blog post.
In the Distance
by Joel Caris
Birdsong overlaid the liquid murmur of the creek, a lulling melody dampened by the afternoon’s stifling heat and humidity. Fluttering into wakefulness, Kellan came aware of his entanglement with Madelyn, skin on skin and mingled perspiration, her legs wrapped around one of his, his face buried in her shoulder and her breast against his chest. Blinking, he lifted his head from the sour bloom of his own breath echoing off her skin. Dappled sunlight strobed across his eyes as it filtered through the leaves above. Scents enveloped him: moss and dirt, fern leaf and running water, the faint linger of sex—all of it a heady mixture of life and continuance.
In the distance, a terrible sound carried.
The thick air hitched in his chest. Gently, he disentangled himself from Madelyn, cautious despite how heavy she slept. The rhythm of her breath never altered; he did not quite know why he moved so carefully, why he didn’t want to wake her. The air hung still around them even as birds flitted in the branches above, lilting out song and chirping warning. He stood, slowly; losing balance, he jabbed a foot backward to steady himself, a moss-hidden twig stabbing at his heel. A sharp intake of breath and Madelyn stirred, just a moment, but did not awaken. Kellan let out the breath and it felt a greater release than it had any right to be.
The distant sound thrummed through him in its intent rhythm, stirring a rising anxiety.
He stared down at Madelyn’s sleeping form, her red hair a mess of leaf debris and tangles framing her delicate, freckled face. That fairness was a deception, though; she moved through their world with a quick-to-trigger fury, with a certainty of her righteousness, with an instinct for survival he often thought would bring her nothing short of a ragged, fierce end, forced upon her by probably the first fight she would ever lose and hopefully far in the future—though he feared otherwise.
It was then Madelyn stirred, her eyes opening as she shifted and turned her face skyward. For a moment she was lost to him, instead caught in the blue and white of the cloud-dotted sky, but then her attention sank back to earth and his presence, her eyes falling on his naked form standing over her. A brief smile flitted across her face before fading, crumbling, the sleepy haze of her eyes clearing as they focused into awareness. “What is that?” she asked, her voice sharp.
He tried to imagine how to tell her.