Erik reached up to pull the heavy chain that rang the bell to Monk’s Keep. The chime rang bright and clear across the purple-streaked skies, scattering a clan of blackbirds. Shafts of sunlight pierced the clouds, striking the ground in scattered pools of radiance. Morning had arrived. The small stone fortress, set against the lush greenery of the Adirondack Mountains, made it seem they’d crossed from New York State 1992 into some Medieval realm.
He adjusted his backpack and turned to face his three soggy companions. Arashi and Aileen grinned back at him, in good spirits despite the rough weather. Corrado was another matter. High school midterms were over, and everyone was looking forward to a week of games and wilderness adventure, along with the celebration of Zane’s fifteenth non-birthday. Not a party, just a gathering of close friends.
“Explain to me again why we had to walk.” Corrado slouched against a wall. His rounded cheeks were unshaven, his shoulder-length hair tangled. “And who wakes up early during Spring Break? We could have gotten a ride and slept to a reasonable hour.”
“Ha!” Arashi spun and kicked him on the shoulder, her long black hair flying. “It’s only hiking if you actually walk, lazybones.”
Corrado cast the petite girl a bleary look. “More wading than walking, Arashi-san.” He wrung a puddle from his cloak. “What are we, ducks?”
Erik crouched down, biting his tongue. If it were up to Corrado, he’d have been carried along the mountain pass in a palanquin, drinking wine coolers. The rainstorm had been a surprise on this, the first day of Spring, but weather forecasting was as fickle as Corrado’s mood.
“Quack, quack, quack.” Aileen wrinkled her lightly-freckled nose. “Maybe if you went to sleep at a reasonable hour, you’d be less of a grouch.” Beneath her hooded cloak she looked like a naughty, Scottish Red Riding Hood out prowling the moors for unsuspecting wolves. She gave Erik a quick wink.
“Is it my fault Princess Zelda needed help late last night?” Corrado placed a hand over his heart, his blue eyes overflowing with innocence. “When maidens are in distress, even video game maidens, I’m there.”
Arashi folded her arms. “Unless it involves moving furniture.”
“Or helping to fix my stable,” added Aileen.
Erik coughed. “Or, um, helping with my mother’s bake sale.”
Corrado slumped to the flagstones, a hand across his eyes. “That’s not distress. That’s dementia.”
This is my view of what Erik might look like, the very Norwegian actor and model, Thor Knai.
And these are reasonable representations of Erik’s three best friends, Aileen, Arashi and Corrado:
From left to right: Elena Satine, Ebihara Yuri and Robert Pattinson.