Embers (Wings of War Book 1)

By: Karen Ann Hopkins

Genesis 6:1-4

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

PROLOGUE

“What do you reckon them people do in there?” Ronnie asked no one in particular. He continued to twirl a piece of his reddish-brown beard between his fingers as he stared at the twelve foot high wooden wall before him. The warm breeze did nothing to stop the chill from absorbing into his skin, sending goose bumps along his arms.

“No telling. I heard they were crazy city folk and foreigners who came up here to grow a new kind of weed.” Bobby Dean tentatively poked at a weathered board with his finger.

Ronnie was about as experienced a mountain man as there was, knowing the backwoods as well as the roads that crisscrossed the small town of Oldport, but the strange feeling he had standing beside the tall barrier rattled his nerves something fierce. The total lack of sound didn’t help his apprehension either. He glanced around wondering where all the birds were hiding.

Oscar wasn’t feeling the same uncertainty that his companions were. He was busy catching his breath, leaning his hefty body against the trunk of a large Poplar tree. Propping his elbow on the butt of his twelve gauge shotgun, he waited a minute more before putting his two cents in. “Sheriff Riggs will have our hides if he gets wind that we’re up here nosing around the compound. If I was a betting man, I’d say he’s been paid off by the people that live in there to discourage visitors.” Oscar said the words with a strong confidence like he knew what he was talking about.

“Maybe the Sheriff does have something going with them, an arrangement like. Wouldn’t that just beat all?” Bobby Dean reached into his backpack and pulled out a rope with a metal claw on the end. He never went into the deep woods without it, figuring that a day would come when he’d need to climb a tree right quick if he failed to make a death shot on a large bear.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Ronnie hissed, grabbing hold of his cousin’s arm.

“I aim to find out what’s behind this wall. It’ll satisfy my curiosity and it might even benefit my wallet. You all can stay behind if you want. No skin off my nose.”

Ronnie wiped the sweaty bangs off his forehead in frustration. “Oh, man, Bobby, we came out here to nab us a bear, not go mingling with the weirdos.”

“I reckon we can have us a look around without anyone being the wiser.” Bobby’s voice went to a low whisper without him even thinking about it. He stared at Ronnie with his one blue eye as steady as a boat on a calm river, while the hazel one twitched. It was unnerving to look at a man’s face when his eyes should have belonged to two different people. As usual, Ronnie glanced away quickly, not able to hold his older cousin’s gaze for long.

Oscar came away from the tree, slinging the long gun around his shoulder. Even with his hulking size, he managed to move fluidly.

“I’m game, Bobby—if you think that rope will hold me.” Oscar grinned, flashing his tobacco yellow teeth.

“No worries about that,” Bobby Dean chuckled, backing up a few steps.

After whirling the claw around several times, he let it fly, the whoosh of air from the rope making the only sound in that part of the woods. The claw met its mark, catching the top of the wall securely. Bobby Dean tugged it into place, testing its strength before he began pulling his lanky body up.

It took Oscar a minute longer to make the climb. He grunted and groaned the entire way, but true to Bobby Dean’s word, the rope held the big man. Oscar’s round face was bright red from the exertion. He smiled down at Ronnie for a second before he climbed over the wall and disappeared.

Ronnie stood cemented to the ground, his hand shielding his eyes from the glaring sunshine. He frowned up at the place where Oscar had just been. Now that he could no longer hear Oscar’s heavy breathing, the forest was dead quiet again. As quiet as the Oldport library, which he hadn’t been to since he was a kid, but it was the only other place that he could remember that was so forcibly absent of sound. Even the critters seemed afraid to make any scurrying noises in the dried leaves beneath the trees.

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