Title: Night Raiders
Word Count: 2000 (thanks for the new limit, mods!)
Rating: T, just 'cuz it's a bit scary
Summary: Jules is stuck for a month at her boring grandma's farm in Indiana, while her best friend is moving in on her crush back in California. It totally sucks, until...
Jules slammed her laptop closed in frustration. Seriously? Dial-up? Eight hours of helping her grandmother cut peaches, slaving away over boiling water in a hot kitchen, for an hour of internet time, and it's dial-up? It had taken thirty of her allotted sixty minutes of “screen time” just to load one email, and that had been a stupid forwarded joke she had already seen. The second email, which took ten minutes to load had been worse, though. Way worse. Brianna, her now former best friend, had emailed Jules to tell her that River had come over the night she left and had been keeping Brianna company ever since.
Her River, hanging out at Brianna's house? Going to the beach, and teaching Brianna how to surf? While she had to stay here, in Indiana at her grandmother's house picking and canning fruit for a month, with nothing but dial-up internet to keep her in touch? Life was so unfair. Jules opened her phone again, praying for bars, but alas, her carrier didn't have any towers in the middle of freaking nowhere. Looking out the window, Jules saw nothing but farmland stretching as far as her eyes could see, except for a small stretch of forest bordering her grandma's land from the neighbor's.
“Julliet, honey,” her grandma called from the bottom of the wooden staircase, “screen time's over now. C'mon down and have some ice cream, we'll listen to the radio a bit before bed.”
“Okay,” Jules answered, in her syrupy voice, reserved for older relatives and adults that needed placating, “be right down.”
She and her grandma ate their homemade ice cream quickly as the big band music played on the radio. Gran had the old portable in the window so it would play out on the screen porch, which was the only place to stay remotely cool and mosquito free at the farm. Grandpa had died years earlier.
“Don't you get lonely out here all alone?” Jules asked her, staring out over the several hundred acre corn field that a stout man from a few properties down was renting now. Gran just worked in her garden and harvested from the orchard that they had planted when Jules' mom was a little girl. The rest of the food she needed she bought in town at the Piggly Wiggly, which she visited on the first and third Thursday of the month, after quilting bee.
“Oh, no, child,” she insisted, “got all I need right here. Your grandpa is still with me, in my heart, and this land is all I have ever known.”
They sat in silence, watching as the bats came out, swooping down over the pond to catch bugs in the failing light. Gran fell asleep in her chair before finally admitting that she needed to go to bed. “Nighty, night, Julliet, you go on off to bed soon. We'll get an early start on those strawberries.”
Jules smiled, mentally checking off the day. Two down, twenty eight to go. Ugh! She followed her gran into the house, grabbing her novel to read for a bit before bed. Two pages into her reading, Jules heard something outside the window. Creeping onto the dark screened porch to investigate, she almost screamed when someone's head popped up over the windowsill. About her age and with a flashlight under his face, he was holding his finger over his lips in the universal 'shhh' position. He motioned for Jules to come outside. She shook her head, feeling slightly nervous, but he just kept motioning. Sliding her clogs on with a sigh, she decided that anything would be more interesting than bed.
The night air felt cooler once Jules was outside. She had also realized who this guy was, once she recovered from the shock of his grand entrance. Scott Middleton, the neighbor boy from the farm on the other side of the forest. He had been in the sledding parties back in their childhood when she had come here in the winter and gone sledding down the only hill in the area, on the Middleton's side of the woods. Once they were out of earshot of the house, down by the pond, he spoke.
“Sorry if I scared you,” he whispered, “it's me, Scott, remember? I know you're Julliet. My mom told me that you were going to be here visiting your grandmother. I thought you might want to hang out with someone. It can get pretty boring here in the summer.”
“I kinda remember you,” she told him. “So what do you do for fun around here?”
Scott laughed, then ran toward her at full speed. Before she could think to duck, he had lifted her into his arms and made her feel like she was flying. Opening her eyes to be sure he wasn't throwing her into the pond, she realized that they were up in the air – both of them. Instantly, she began to scream.
“What?” Scott laughed, “You asked what we do for fun. Well, we fly for fun, right guys?”
The moon had risen, casting the sky in a silver light that illuminated three guys about her age with no shirts on and huge feathery wings, extensions of their muscular backs, steadily flapping in the breeze. Turning to get a good look at Scott, she saw that he, too, had sprouted wings. He had grown up, and time had been very kind, chiseling away the baby fat to reveal his strong jaw and aquiline features. She realized he was very handsome with his dark hair flying behind him as he gained speed among his whooping friends.
“Right, Scotty,” said a blond haired guy, flying next to them. “Hi, I'm Shep, don't worry, he's a good flier.”
“We'll catch you if you fall,” came another voice, from a black haired emo kid closing in from ahead. “Hey, I'm Elliot.”
“Hi,” she croaked, “is this really happening?”
“Scott didn't warn you?” the third flying friend said, slowing to meet up with them, “how cruel. Lovely to meet you, I'm Sam.”
“What are you?” Jules asked, holding fast to Scott's left arm held securely around her.
“Angels.” “Devils.” Sam and Elliot said in unison. They flew off chasing each other, rolling in the air with laughter.
“Don't listen to them,” Shep answered. “we had a spell put on us by the bird goddess of the forest, long ago when we were kids. We had a camp-out at Scott's one summer night five years ago when they were ten, and I was twelve.”
“I dared them to come out to the forest with me,” Scott continued, talking as they soared over the plains, “see, I had planned this joke. I hid some fireworks out in this tree and I was gonna scare the crap outta them.”
“But instead of fireworks,” Shep cut in, “the bird goddess was at the tree. She was eight feet tall, with a dress made of feathers, wings growing out of her shoulder blades, and she glowed with blue light.”
“She told us to listen good, that we were to be the winged protectors of our homeland. Our job was to patrol the night skies from the Spring Equinox to the Fall Equinox, and to kill the night raiders who come to steal the souls of the sleeping humans. Then she put a spell on us, and we could fly,” Scott told Jules. He adjusted his arm so that she was nestled along side him, body to body. She was covered in goose bumps, but not because it was cold. Something about him just felt incredibly good.
“Are there really night raiders?” Jules was suddenly worried for her grandmother, and herself, despite how safe she felt in Scott's strong arms.
“Yes,” Shep replied, spitting as he said it, “though few. We have only had to kill twelve in the five years, and nine of them were in that first summer. Last year there were none. May you never feel the fear of meeting a night raider. I wouldn't have allowed Scotty to bring you up with us if I thought we'd run into one.”
“Oh, good,” Jules murmured, she was scared, but loving the feeling of flying and being held so close to Scott, who really seemed like an angel. Her life back in California paled in comparison.
She felt Scot swooping down, losing altitude, and noticed that Elliot and Sam were down below. The smell of earth and the warmth it held from the sun greeted them as they gracefully landed by a rushing river. All the guys had their wings retracted and were jumping into the cool water. “C'mon in, the water's fine.”
Jules didn't hesitate; the water was too tempting. She kept her shorts and t-shirt on, diving right in to the dark river without a second thought. Something about these guys made her feel adventurous, either that or she had been so bored and worried about Bree and River that this distraction was more than welcome. They splashed and played in the water, floating down to a rope swing, where they played for another hour. Finally, yawning, Jules got out of the water.
“Tired?” Shep asked. Jules nodded reluctantly. “Hey guys, we should get her back. Just because we don't sleep in summer, doesn't mean she can stay awake.”
The guys gathered on the bank, arching their backs oddly as they grew their wings again. Scott came up behind Jules, taking her in both his arms this time. She welcomed his body heat as they took off, into the sky. Jules was loving every second of the flight this time.
“Ho, up ahead,” Elliot called out from his lead position, “shit, it's two of them. RAIDERS!!! Get the girl out of here!”
Scott's grip tightened as he peeled off from his three friends. Shep sailed forward, flapping his dark wings intensely. Forming a triangle with Elliot at the point, Shep and Sam both had produced short spears, which they held ready to strike. Scott had taken a lower arc, away from his friends, and was flapping his wings as hard as he could. Jules could feel his muscles rippling with the effort. Looking backwards, she saw the three protectors engage the two hauntingly dark and evil looking night raiders. Despite the fact that they were a hundred yards away by then, Jules could feel the cold hate within the flying raiders. Horrifying sounds came from that direction, but Scott kept flying.
“Maybe they need your help,” Jules cried, “Just let me down and help them.”
Scott shook his head, shifting his line of flight back toward the farm. His arms tightened around her waist, and for a second Jules felt his lips touch her hair. Within minutes they were on the ground in the dark forest.
“This is the forest between my parent's property and your granny's,” he whispered, still holding her tight, though they stood on solid ground. He pulled a feather out of his own wing, wincing as it came out. “Run to your room. Wave this feather in an infinity pattern, like this. It will protect the house, in case we can't stop them. Run.”
Wishing she wasn't in clogs, Jules ran for her life while the battle raged above. Silhouetted against the moon, she saw the winged protectors struggle with the night raiders. Finally she reached the house, breathless. Up in her dark room, she watched out the window as she waved Scott's feather in the infinity pattern. It felt like hours, but finally, there he was - Scott, in the window.
“We got 'em,” he smiled, hovering in midair. “What a night! Wanna come back out tomorrow?”