- I -
Todd sat on top of the sloped lid of a backlane garbage bin with his knees clutched tightly together, his elbows tucked into his sides, and a book in his upturned palms. He was hunched, leaning into the read, peering through his oversized glasses, almost unblinking. One eyebrow was slightly raised, his brow furrowed, concentrating. A tuft of hair hung down across his forhead, like a claw, pointing at his left eye. His eyes scanned the page, with robot-like precision. Now and then his eyes would shift side to side, as though watching for someone. No one came though, except Maggie, and he didn't even notice her approach.
"Whatcha you doin up there?"
"No. I mean why you up there?"
Todd didn't answer, but he did slip a bit, sliding downward on the slope, quickly righting himself and wriggling back up near the peak.
Maggie just stared, standing there with a grimmace on her face, wrinkling her nose at him. She crumpled a section of her dress in a fist, and then smoothed it out again.
"Lookit I got!" she said.
Todd looked. It was a stick, with a string tied to the end, and on the end was a bone-shaped rock.
"So? What is it?"
"I'nt know. A thing. It's neat."
She wiggled the stick and the stone danced.
"I can make you one."
Todd pushed his glasses back up his nose, and looked back at the page he was reading.
"Why you up there anyway? Readin?"
He flicked his eyes down at her, and then back onto his page, ignoring her question.
"There's benches in the park. Why'nt you read there?" She pointed with her stick at the fence across the lane, behind which an expanse of wood and grass grew.
Todd turned a page, humming a bit to himself. Maggie crumpled her dress in a fist again, and then smoothed it out.
"I can make you one of these if you want. They're neat. You just need some string and a rock. There's-"
"Shh!" Todd said, suddenly harsh. "They're coming!"
Maggie looked at him, and then down the lane to where his eyes were. There was no one there. She looked at him again, wanting to deride him for his silliness. What's wrong with your eyes? or You're seeing things! or some such jab. But the fear in his eyes killed those thoughts like a juke box with its cord yanked from the wall. She looked again and saw nothing, and fear bubbled up into her tummy as well.
Todd's book dropped from his hands as he sat for a moment in a daze. It slid off the garbage bin lid and fluttered onto the ground like a wounded bird. The Legend of Crowfeather. Todd slid down after it, landed on his feet, adjusted his glasses, and flashed his gaze back up the lane. Then he snatched up his book in one and, grabbed Maggie's hand in the other and dragged her as fast as he could into the park.
"We have to hide!"
"Why? Who's comin?"
Todd pulled her to a copse of trees and they ducked inside, panting from the burst of running, and crouching down into hiding.
He whispered, "I like your stick thing. It's a really neat stick thing."
Maggie did not reply. She looked at it and gave it to him. He took it and wound it up as fast as he could until the stone was hard against the layer of string on the end of the stick. He shoved it in his back pocket, and turned back to looking at the gate they'd run through coming into the park.
"I'm Todd," still whispering, not looking at her.
She scanned the bushes, the fence, the lane beyond. Nothing.
"You scared, Maggie?"
And she didn't even know why. But when Todd suddenly paled, tensed up, began shaking, and dropped to the dirt, struggling to get more hidden, tears started from her eyes.
"Don't be scared, Maggie. They won't hurt you."
A scruffy-haired blonde kid on a blue bike went by. Just a kid on a bike. He didn't even stop. But Todd didn't even seem to notice him.
"Who, Todd? Who's there?"
Now she was shaking too.
Todd looked back at her as she lie on the earth beside him, her cheek pressed into his hip. His eyes terrified her. They told her beyond doubt that though she couldn't see anyone, there was definitely someone there.
"Them," Todd said.
"I wan' go home," crying now.
"I'nt see anyone."
"Don't... move... They're right... over... there..."
His whispering voice cracked with a whimper. He shut his eyes tight and breathed deeply, as though wishing. Maggie lifted her face, looked past him, out the bushes, and saw... nobody. Trees, grass, sky, but no people. Only tall prairie grasses in an endless stretch of field where entire neighbourhoods of houses had stood only seconds before. The fence was gone. The telephone poles with their drooping wires... gone.
But before she had a chance to wonder where the heck they suddenly were, she saw them. Them! A small band of aboriginal warriors, with war paint, weapons, and cold, cruel grimmaces on their faces. They stalked through the prairie grasses, not a stones throw from where the children lay in hiding.
"They're looking for him," Todd whispered, his sound drowned out beneath the wind in the tall grasses.
"Who?" Maggie asked.
Todd turned the book toward her, showing her the cover, and tapped it twice.
And suddenly Maggie's vision blurred and everything went black.
- II -
Men were talking in a language Maggie didn't understand, their voices hushed, almost to a whisper, but amplified by the tension they felt. One spoke, giving orders. Another muttered a comment and was hushed. A third asked a question nobody answered. And they came forward.
Maggie lifted her eyes from the earth where she'd pressed them into her hands, trying to hide from the blurry terror. Todd was still lying there, his chin on his forearm, peering out of the thicket the two were hiding in. Maggie looked at the book he held in his hand, by his hip. The cover, beneath the title, showed a fierce yet young-looking aboriginal man crouched in waist-high grasses, staring intently off into the distance at some unseen foe. Maggie looked up but didn't see him anywhere. Apparently, neither did the band of warriors now on the hunt for him in the grass up ahead.
Maggie shook Todd's leg. He looked back at her, his eyes wild with panic.
"Where are we?" she asked him, whispering. "We're not at the park no more. How'd we get here?"
Todd looked away up at the dread warriors. Maggie shook his leg again, but he shoved her hand off of him and pointed.
Maggie looked, and just in time too. There was a whizzing sound, a thump, and one of the warriors, the one in the rear of the formation, suddenly grunted, grimmaced, turned and fell with an arrow in his back. The others barely noticed at first, but when he fell, he fell into the man in front of him. Then they all turned and suddenly were greatly alarmed, suddenly scanning the fields for movement, a shift of a shadow even. They saw nothing though. Neither did Todd. Neither did Maggie. Only swaying grasses on an endless prairie.
"Got him," Todd whispered. "That's one."
For a moment, Maggie thought it was Todd who'd fired the arrow. But he was simply counting. Maggie counted too, in her mind. Five left.
They closed into a circle, their backs to the centre, scanning frantically, muttering, some whimpering. Other hushed them. Finally one called out some unknown phrase, a taunt perhaps, or a challenge to reveal himself. His voice drifted across the empty plain and did not echo back. It disappeared into the wind.